July 31, 2006

Discouragement + Self-doubt = Hope

A friend told me recently of a project about which he'd become discouraged. At the end of his crestfallen lament he said, "... but maybe I'm wrong."

It was a curious moment in which self-doubt became a force to propel him.

July 29, 2006

Impossible to Believe?!!

The US army continues to amaze. But amazement comes from having our expectations of an honorable military repeatedly dashed to bits. The latest is an order for soldiers to "kill all military-age males".

Such an order, we are told by a military expert for the New York Times is "clearly unlawful."

But what is truly remarkable, and very telling about our culture of obeisance is that despite the fact that commanders "acknowledged that they gave that order," this same expert says he finds it "impossible to believe such an order was given."

Why is it so difficult to believe, after all we've come to know of this military, this war, this Bush administration, that theirs is a moral vacuum.

No longer is there reason for any benefit of doubt. It's safe now to assume that they are always lying, always covering up, always breaking the law, completely barbaric, and without regard for common decency. No evidence exists to counter this assertion.

PS - If you didn't hear about the order to 'kill all military-age men', perhaps it was because the major papers, if they carried the story at all, buried it deep inside.

July 27, 2006

No Blood, No Foul

Human Rights Watch recently issued a gory report about Camp Nama, the sequel to Abu Ghraib. The report is chocked full of firsthand accounts by the torturing soldiers. It's a disgusting page turner and perfect beach reading.

The story of Camp Nama, located at the Baghdad airport, was first reported by the New York Times on March 19, 2006, but the Charleston Gazette was the only other paper to run the story. It seems torture by the US is just not newsworthy even though the story proved that abuse continued after the images of Abu Ghraib were made public.

Where the new report differs from the NYT version in March is that the testimony of soldiers makes absolutely clear that torture was not the work of a few bad apples, but sanctioned Pentagon policy. But this too, seems not worth telling people about, as only one paper, the Washington Times, reported it.

PS - If you prefer your torture porn in magazine form, Esquire has the story.

July 25, 2006

oops, Your Dead

Last week, English authorities announced that the cops who killed an innocent man in the London subway will not be charged with any crime. On July 22, 2005, gunslinging officers of an anti-terrorism unit shot a Brazilian man 7 times in the head. The world was told the victim resembled a suicide bomber in all sorts of ways that turned out to be untrue.

The men who carried out this execution could not be held responsible because they "genuinely believed" that the victim, Jean Charles de Menezes, was a suicide bomber — an honest mistake, they said. It seems such genuine belief is a vital part of a system of authoritative murder.

We saw this in the Amadou Diallo case when the jury acquitted the officers who shot the unarmed man because they genuinely believed at the time that their own lives were in danger.

In this system, if a police officer is sincere when he testifies, 'oops, I made a mistake,' then killing innocent people appears to be OK.

July 22, 2006

Sending a Message

This image of Israeli children writing messages on missiles destined for Lebanon creates a distinct queasiness. At first, there is disgust, but it's laced with ambiguity. Are we to think that hatred is so rife in Israel that even children thirst for the blood of Arabs? Some say yes.

For children to hate, it must be learned, so who has done the teaching here? Although a bunker-bound Israeli's blog suggested this picture was set up by the press, Columbia Journalism Review tells another version in which the children were just copying their parents who had just emerged from a 5 day stay in a bomb shelter.

Corrupted innocence is disturbing, but a greater burden lies in knowing that hatred and war are the lessons we teach our children.

It may be a comfort to consider that these girls passing notes on missiles are merely playing. Like George W. Bush playing soldier on an aircraft carrier, playing war has little to do with real war. So, like the Commander and Chief, these girls have very little understanding that the missiles with which they play, are the same missiles that destroy the children of Lebanon.

July 20, 2006

Tunnelling to the White House

Mitt Romney's Giuliani moment came when a slab of concrete killed a woman in a Boston tunnel. On 9/11, Rudy Giuliani showed that a tragedy is also an opportunity to create a hero out of one's self, a chance to become an adored legend, a moment that can erase all previous doubt.

And Romney's doing his best sort of off-Broadway version. My favorite pictures are the ones where this presidential hopeful looks like he's going to do the repairs himself.

July 18, 2006

No Nukes is Good Nukes

It's hard to get as excited about nuclear power as Jon Gertner gets in his New York Times Magazine cover story. Gertner makes the point many times over that the industry has a lot of new gizmos that make it worth investing in, and it's now completely safe (but wait, didn't they say that before T.M.I. and before Chernobyl too?).

In the past 30 years, there hasn't been a single nuclear power plant built in this country, but the industry hasn't had a single new idea in all that time about what to do with the nuclear waste. The Times refers to this issue only in passing as if it were some minor detail. Our grandchildren will not be impressed that we made a bunch of energy to cool our malls, then left them with all this dangerous crap to deal with.

And every new plant built is a new target for terrorist attack, as well. Gertner describes this possibility as "increasingly worrisome." Phew! I was thinking terrorist threat was something really important.

I shouldn't worry, the article says, because there's all sorts of concrete and barbed wire. There's even employees with guns, and I suppose the industry should be responsible for its own security, just like the airlines used to be. That was awesome.

The article has photos by Mitch Epstein who's been making really nice images of "America's cultural investment in energy."

But my favorite images of nuclear power are in Paul Fusco's photo essay on the surviving orphans of Chernobyl.

I am not convinced that there is, or should be, a "nuclear renaissance" but if you're interested in more, Leonard Lopate did a segment on the same question, but without the nukes-now! cheerleading.

July 17, 2006

For Want of a Nail . . .

With every penny pinched, there is increased risk. And with a debacle like Boston's Big Dig, somebody finally died. I'm sure several others profited in some way, too, because why else would someone choose to use substandard concrete, for example?

These falling ceiling panels seem to be more about epoxy on screws, but really, how does a construction project take twice the projected time to complete, and four times the projected cost?

Oh, and then still be so lame that it kills someone?

Somebody's making money, somebody’s asleep at the switch, and somebody's dead.

P.S. - Crime or no crime?

July 16, 2006

Obscene Crime Systems

Steven Green, the Army private who allegedly raped a 14 year old Iraqi girl and then killed her and her family, represents a near perfect breakdown of a system. A fundamental concept of General Systems Theory is the notion that elements of the world relate to each other and affect each other. Basically, there are consequences to decisions, actions, and natural phenomena. Some consequences are good, and others are like Steven Green.

After invading Iraq, the Army had trouble meeting it's needs for willing soldiers. So military recruiters increased deployment of "moral waiver". This is the device used by recruiters to make exceptions to their own rules that disallow the enlistment of those without high school diplomas and those with criminal histories.

It is clear that Green should have never been allowed to carry a weapon for the US Army. He never graduated high school, he had a criminal record, and was eventually discharged for psychological disorders.

So the approach here was not to increase incentives for young people to join the military, but a relaxation of restrictions on who is eligible to join. This is classic conservative strategy, and can be seen in all areas of government regulation. The idea is to simply reduce regulations that impede the goals of the larger organization, be it industry or government.

What is ignored in this approach is the original purpose of the discarded regulation - generally to protect individuals who may be harmed by the goals of government and industry.

One must only ask, why did the military restrict its recruitment to those without criminal histories in the first place? With this question in mind, obscene crimes like rape and murder by US soldiers should not be unexpected.

And neither should we be surprised by the effects of such crimes. (more)

July 14, 2006

Perverse Excpetionalism

The theory that Bush's claim to respect the Geneva Conventions is completely meaningless, is proven no less then 24 hour later by the White House itself, pursuing congressional measures to make subverting the Geneva Conventions "legal," as an order of the legislature.

As the NYTimes says, "The court left it to Congress to decide what kind of trials to set up for detainees and what protections they should be granted in interrogations and handling before trial."

So it seems the strategy of the Bush legal team is to use all means necessary to delay accountability while they carry on their illegal actions (syn: crimes).

It's not me saying they're acting illegally, it's the highest courts declaring this administration so illegal.

It is completely perverse that the right to be exempt from the law is not really argued as a legitimate position by the American Exceptionalists in the White House now. It is fought for through the system of partisan legislation rather than principles of law based on a version of morality.

July 12, 2006

Nothing is the Matter

It doesn't really matter that the Pentagon has decided to set a policy that article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to all prisoners held by the military. It also doesn't matter whether this is, or is not, a change in policy for the Bush Administration. (The White House says there is no policy change, even though Bush said in a February 2002 that “Common article III of Geneva does not apply to either al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees.”)

But none of this matters, just as the Supreme Court ruling on the Hamdan case doesn't matter, and the closing of prisons at Guantanamo won't matter either.

The reason these things matter not at all is the Bush White House lies. They lie about everything. They have lied about their torture from the very start, and at every turn. They lie about what they have done, and they lie about what they will do.

For example, they say Abu Ghraib was only a few bad apples, yet documents reveal the systemic nature of the torture, and the approval of the bad apples' behavior. They claim to not condone torture, but there are memos by Alberto Gonzales and Don Rumsfeld explicitly encouraging abuse.

So let's cut the pretense. Anybody fooled is a willing fool. None of what they say will ever matter.

But what will make them stop?

PS - Don't beleive me? Just ask if this new policy applies to the CIA and their secret prisons all over the world.

July 11, 2006

Ahab's Townhouse

It's quite sad to see a man create tragedy to save what he thinks is the most important thing in life - his property. According to the NYTimes, Nicholas Bartha blew up his townhouse, and almost himself, yesterday because "he wanted nothing more than to remain in that house."

Purchasing the house, "the love of his life," was "validation, proof of success". The sad part is that this man's wife and two daughters never held that same meaning for him.

Instead of complying with a court ordered divorce settlement to sell the house to provide alimony for his wife of nearly 30 years, this "workaholic" vowed, like the men of the NRA, that the house would have to be pried from his cold, dead hands.

Such stubbornness is not exclusive to men, but I associate it with Melville's Ahab, and stories of murderous husbands and boyfriends who cry 'if I can't have you, no one else will.'

It is a fascinating brand of love; a love of blind selfishness; a love of owning things, and a pride that comes from possession and control.

Is this the quintessence of manliness? And if so, is there no love more true than that which leads to violence?

July 10, 2006

Role Reversal

When three prisoners of Guantanamo killed themselves last month, the commanding officer there accused the men of committing asymmetrical warfare on America by taking their own lives. He said the suiciders had no respect for human life.

The notion that these men coordinated their suicides is now referred to as a "plot". Basic rights, like attorney-client privilege, must now be suspended, as sealed envelopes are clearly the tool of terrorists.

And so the Army captors become the victims at Guantanamo - the victim of suicide attackers who take no life but their own. And basic civil rights, become the weapons of terrorists.

July 9, 2006

Self Doubt

What I can't figure out is why the US government is holding these men at Gitmo, when it seems so clear to everyone else that these interrogators, these prison guards, defense dept. torturers, they don't know what they are doing?

Bush talks in press conferences about these "darn bad" men but they don't get any convictions, or useful information out of what the are doing to these men.

So it's just talk, and I don't know any one who buys it. But I'm sure somewhere there are people who believe it, and those people may not know anyone who disagrees with them either.

So why do they still believe they know what they are doing?
Why does there seem to be no self doubt?

Self doubt is worth its weight in gold.

July 7, 2006

Another Drip

Tiny drops of horror. At what point do we decide we are just too wet, or that the constant drip is actually a problem?

Another story today of a man taken to a secret prison to be tortured by the CIA. Like so many others, he was released without charges after 16 months.

Why is this right?
Why is it OK?
Why does no one seem to care?

To care amounts to nothing much anyway. It's easy and required to care, but this is just a word, a claim, a descriptor of ourselves - I, Liberal.

Power lies in action. And what are the possibilities of action?

Suicide was all they could do in Guantanamo. With only limited control of their own bodies they denied their American torturers the final say so.

The prisoners of a CIA prison in Afghanistan used their memory to hold on to each others' phone numbers so they might stay in touch should they survive, or contact one another's families should they die. This is all they could do, to press their bodies into service to the cause of banding together whether on earth or in the afterlife.

What is it that we can do? And what is it that I, Liberal, actually does?


An artist told me that she was bothered by 'consumer culture', and that was what she wanted to paint - the bother. What about consumer culture bothers you so much, I asked.

She paused. She began to explain but stopped several times. It occurred to us both that the bother was something not so well understood.

Articulation requires specificity.

Do the general terms by which we describe the world and its imperfections do enough to help us fully understand our discomfort?

That thing we want to say, are we sure it's really worth saying? Exactly what is so interesting about that message we want so badly to deliver?

Are we even clear about what the message is?

July 6, 2006

Language of Self-Destruction

I saw a guy recently become invalidated by his own words. This guy has a habit of saying things he later can't remember saying. It is denial for convenience and raises the question of whether there is any value ever to saying things we may later feel the need to deny. In the case of my friend, nothing he says comes without the question of it being cancelled later.

Shakey credibility is a corrosive agent.

So is it possible to present one's self in a manner that undermines one's own presence; the function of a communication to create a hollowed out shell of meaning?

Conversely then, can language make us actual?

July 5, 2006


Lately there are questions. So many. With every notion one can wonder.

Paper or plastic?
Boy or girl?
Bad or good?
Oral or anal?
Jail or probation?
To give or to get?
Forgive or forget?
Stay or Go?