Friday, September 22, 2006

Is Savagery Good For America?

Photo of Bush demanding torture (or "alternative" interrogation) by Khue Bui for Newsweek September 25th issue

If we are too busy, if we are carried away every day by our projects, our uncertainty, our craving, how can we have the time to stop and look deeply into the situation---our own situation, the situation of our beloved one, the situation of our family and of our community, and the situation of our nation and of the other nations?

---Thich Nhat Hanh

Negotiations then turned to the amount of time that a detainee's suffering must last before the tactic amounted to a war crime. Administration officials wanted "prolonged" mental or physical symptoms, while the senators wanted something milder. They settled on "serious and nontransitory mental harm, which need not be prolonged."

---from The Seattle Times edition of the LA Times story by Julian E. Barnes and Richard Simon



The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantánamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

---from Financial Times (London) September 20, 2006 [link]

I can't recall a morning when the headlines were more confusing and even contradictory. The LA Times says "Bush Bows to Senators on Detainees." [link] The Washington Post says, in editorial, "The Abuse Can Continue; Senators won't authorize torture, but they won't prevent it, either." [link] Bloomberg has it that "President to Define Prisoner Abuse in Agreement With Senators By James Rowley Sept. 22 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush would be able to write secret rules on how to treat suspected terrorists during interrogations under an agreement the administration worked out with dissenting Republican senators." The New York Times editorial says, "Here is a way to measure how seriously President Bush was willing to compromise on the military tribunals bill: Less than an hour after an agreement was announced yesterday with three leading Republican senators, the White House was already laying a path to wiggle out of its one real concession. About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush’s agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant. The White House agreed to abide by the rules of courts-martial, which bar secret evidence." [link]

The bottom line of course is to get some kind of legislation before the election in November to protect the Bush-Cheney gang from prosecution under our own War Crimes Act. Should the Democrats win control of either House or both and regain subpoena power in committee, the business-as-usual of spreading the neo-Con brand freedom might be slowed down a mite. Incidentally, Robert Kennedy Jr. unblinkingly expands his campaign about the "e-government revolution" (that's a Diebold Electronic Elections Systems slogan by the way) in the October 5th issue of Rolling Stone, now online. [link]

But let me ask you this: what does it take to reduce a relatively civilized population to a condition of animal savagery? And if it happens, is that necessarily a bad thing? Animals are creatures of nature with instincts of survival. Savages are people with traditions of tribal gathering, hunting, celebration and warfare that perhaps are closer to nature than citified people. The Wild West was tamed sometimes in savage ways to show who was boss. Is this not how the world always has been? Is this how things really are?

There were reports the last few days about bodies found strewn around Iraq. They show signs of "alternate interrogation" techniques, some of which perhaps caused death. Acid was poured on the people. Electric drills were employed to illicit information. Hot wires burned them. If they die from this...and everyone finds out they did...what lesson does the population learn? Now the United States revives its tradition of getting tough. I'm sure my military friends, particularly from VietNam, will tell me we've always done this stuff, only it's been secret. Yeah, we've got to credit Bush for going public about it...although the photos from our "detention" centers may have had something to do with it. But is all this good for democracy and freedom?

I'd like a clean election this time to find out how Americans really feel about all this. I know there may be too much power and money involved to allow a clean election, but I'd really like to find out. Are we now the tough guys, the fearless rangers, the hanging judges the rest of the world must respect...or else? Are public executions good for the village morale? Is it invigorating and disciplinary at once for the tribe to see the enemy intestines dragged out of his body and into the campfire? Are we ready to enjoy the enemy torn apart by hungry animals in the stadium? Is it all really only a pep rally, with bonfire, before the homecoming game?

What happens to a civilization that goes this way? What does history tell us? Does it matter...when we are on a courageous path of creating our own reality? I have a friend who retired this year. He's a soldier who saw action and suffered from it. He's given his civilian career in a very helpful way to others, but he's maintained a hard edge about life. He knows how to survive and fishes and hunts and always has a weapon on hand. He doesn't take a walk in the woods without a handgun. He's fed up with government and will not be surprised if his pension and other funding vanish. He has a plan: he will live in a cave...and if necessary, eat other humans. He's kidding of course...or is he?

For a lighter view, here's Molly Ivins on Wednesday~~~ [link]

For statistics about torture and how well it works, here are 2 links to current Newsweek articles~~~ [link] [link]

Friday, September 15, 2006

Why Have Liberals Been Afraid?

The picture's of Daytona, in 1957. Posted by Picasa

The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of the divine.

---St. John of the Cross

The hermit doesn't sleep at night:
in love with the blue of the vacant moon.
The cool of the breeze
that rustles the trees
rustles him too.

---Ching An

The trouble is that you think you have time.

---Zen master

Yes, we accuse Rove/Bush of keeping the masses in cowering fear, but who's scared? My redneck neighbors have decals on their pickups pissing on fear. Their kids tool through the woods on their 4-wheelers with nary a care everyday. Those folks Support Our Troops with flags waving, trusting the security of the heartland to the War on Terror. The biggest horror of kids at school is if pizza gets taken off the cafeteria menu.

Yesterday I emailed a link Bob Sheak had sent along to an article at TomPaine by Robert L. Borosage. My friend Paul Quintanilla left a couple of comments about it at jazzoLOG, but concluded with these questions~~~

14 Sep 2006 @ 22:43 by Quinty @ : And yet another thing -
Why haven't the Democrats abopted Borosage's strategy?
After all, the idea of a "Manhattan project" for clean and self-sustaining energy resources has been around for a long time. The biggest argument, I guess, against it being cost. But we have no problem throwing billions away monthly on a wasteful war. For that we have unending funding.
(For the simple minded - dare I say? - violence is always an easy solution. By exerting a superior force of arms you can be sure to win. No questions asked. That is the current course we are on now.)
And the other approaches Borosage raised are fairly obvious too. But do many Democrats still feel they are too hot politically to handle? Does Bush's ship have to sink further before they may become palatable? What are the Democrats afraid of? Of the unknown? The future? Of getting it wrong? Of not being loved?
Then they don't deserve to lead. But then who do we got?

Others have been asking similar questions lately...including some members of Congress and even Colin Powell (finally!) who've seen through Bush's legislative attempt to be sure he and his people never can be tried for war crimes. When TruthOut sent us to Bill Fisher's blog yesterday to reminisce about the radio commentators of the McCarthy era , I realized as someone who was a teenager at the time how much like those days this country has become again.

One commentator Fisher didn't mention was Fulton Lewis Jr. I imagine Paul Harvey considers him something of a mentor. He broadcast everyday on the Mutual Network, one of whose stations I happened to work for after school. My sophomore high school year, WJOC was "honored" with the arrival of his son, Fulton Lewis III, for a few weeks. He apparently was training to take over his father's work and he broadcast over the network to the entire country every evening from our little station. During the day Fulton tooled around town in his sports car and visited the school libraries. Imagine what he found! Dirty communist books. I think Catcher In The Rye (1951) was one. Lewis III began a series of stories about the corrupt, unAmerican schools in Jamestown---a public school system that previously had been considered among the best in New York. The Superintendent of Schools was named Carlyle C. Ring. His son Gordy was a classmate of mine and a friend since kindergarten. Following Fulton's scathing series on how the Reds are in all the libraries...and the desired public panic, Dr. Ring was forced to resign. Shortly afterwards he died of a heart attack.

Today Fulton Lewis III, and probably his father, are forgotten. Carlyle Ring eventually got a school named after him that I see is listed at But at the time Dr. Ring's career and life depended on them, liberals were hiding under desks. And today we face a similar, and maybe worse, challenge. The current London Review of Books carries a column by NYU historian Tony Judt. Professor Judt's opinions are hotly contested around the world, but here he writes an answer of sorts to Paul's question about liberals...and challenges us to revive our fighting traditions. Have a good day!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Pictures And Prose For 9/11

Patricia McDonough, a professional photographer with a fisheye lens, made this picture from her apartment’s living room within minutes of the first airliner’s impact.Posted by Picasa

You are the light,
You are the refuge,
There is no place to take shelter but yourself.

---Inscription over the Buddha's ashes

Let us be poised, and wise, and our own, today.

---Ralph Waldo Emerson

The morning after the storm
the melons alone
know nothing of it.


You have to grit your teeth just to get through Garrison Keillor's gripping review this morning of a new book called Watching The World Change: The Stories Behind The Images Of 9/11. I'm trying to imagine what reading the book would be like. Here is Garrison, taking you through it~~~


The New York Times
September 3, 2006
Bearing Witness

It was a perfect late-summer day in New York, the sort of day when a person feels terribly lucky to be in the city. A man named Pavel Hlava was showing his brother Josef around town and raised his video camera toward the World Trade Center just in time to catch a bright object flashing in the sky and then a puff of smoke from the north face of the north tower. A French filmmaker, Jules Naudet, who was making a documentary about firefighters, was with a fire truck responding to a gas leak at Lispenard and Church Streets downtown when he heard the roar of a jet engine and raised his camera to catch the plane too. And so did two Webcams from an apartment window in Brooklyn. It was 8:46 a.m. on the 11th of September, 2001. At 8:49 a.m., CNN went live with a shot of the towers from a camera on the West Side. The second plane hit the south tower at 9:03, and by that time dozens of cameras were on the scene, aiming upward.

In his apartment at Broadway and Franklin Street, Lyle Owerko heard the first explosion, grabbed a Canon EOS 3 with a 400-millimeter zoom lens, dashed downstairs and around the corner to Chambers Street. “Life was still oddly normal,” he tells David Friend. “People stood buying bagels and coffee [from] corner street vendors.” Tom Flynn, a CBS News producer, was reading the morning paper on his deck in the West Village when “a plane went over the trees in my garden. It was low, it was loud, and it was determined. It was not right. It seemed to be revving up. Then there was a pop, like the sound of a softball hitting a glove.” He said to his wife, “We’re under attack,” and jumped on his bike and headed downtown. At the trade center, he found a Merrill Lynch employee, Eddie Remy, shooting video, and signed him up for CBS. By the time the south tower collapsed, shortly before 10 a.m., there were hundreds of photographers on the scene, some on assignment, some freelancers, most of them amateurs. Grant Peterson, shooting for Brides magazine in his studio near Broome Street and Broadway, turned his 4-by-5 view camera toward the burning towers. A woman named Kelly Price bought disposable cameras at a bodega and was taking pictures of the fires when the south tower pancaked to the ground. She raced down Broadway, running for her life, stopped at Pine Street and took a picture of the advancing Niagara of dust and debris and a man running ahead of it. He is holding a camera in his right hand and glancing over his left shoulder.

Friend, who was director of photography at the old Life magazine, writes: “As the morning crept on, New Yorkers poured into the streets, many to help, many in flight, all of them aghast. Out, too, came their cameras. Men and women by the hundreds, then thousands — bystanders with point-and-shoots, TV news teams, photojournalists by the score — felt compelled to snap history, fiery and cruel against the blue. People photographed from windows and parapets and landings. They photographed as they fled: in cars, across bridges, up avenues blanketed in drifts of ash and dust. They even photographed the images on their television sets as they watched the world changing, right there on the screen.” And soon thereafter, rescue workers in dusty yellow slickers started showing up at the Time & Life Building in Midtown trying to sell pictures they had taken.

A brief review can’t do justice to “Watching the World Change,” a lucid, thoughtful and wide-ranging book. In truth, Friend’s excellent writing conveys more of the truth of the day than photographs can. The picture of the three firemen raising an American flag over the ruins, which became an icon of 9/11, is not nearly so gripping as the story he tells of the exploitation of the picture, the feelings of the photographer, Thomas Franklin, and the stoical refusal of the three firemen to be lionized (though they did approve plans for a bronze statue of themselves, 18 feet tall on a 12-foot marble pedestal).

Photography is meant to convey reality, but some realities were judged unbearable. Jules Naudet arrived at the north tower with the men of Engine 7, Ladder 1, his camera running. He saw a screaming woman who was burning in an inferno of aviation fuel that had poured down an elevator shaft and decided, “I didn’t think anyone should have to see this.” An Associated Press photograph of a dark-skinned man falling through the air, upside down, his arms at his sides, one leg lifted, was printed in some newspapers; most considered it too graphic. The Daily News, after debate among the editors, published a picture of a severed hand lying in the street — “You can’t do the story without doing the story,” said the editor, Edward Kosner. French television, but not American, showed “scenes of plummeting people . . . one after another. Some tumbled. Some held hands, jumping in pairs, or three and four at a time.” Owerko, shooting the burning north tower, heard the crowd around him let out a long gasp: “I looked up to see an object descending from the tower. I recognized it to be a person and stood frozen as the body flipped and turned in a slow, tragic ballet, down to the courtyard. People screamed and cried. I watched in shock as another human shape began falling to earth. . . . I clicked away. . . . I wasn’t photographing death, it seemed to me. I felt, instead, that I was preserving the last moment of these individuals’ conscious existence.”

We saw photographs that week of buildings burning, stunned onlookers, dust-covered firemen. Very few pictures conveyed the fact that people just like us, our fellow passengers on the subway, suddenly found themselves in a mortal predicament and many died horribly. We who weren’t downtown that morning tried to comprehend the horror. The most electrifying picture I remember from that week was a snapshot by a Port Authority employee, John Labriola, descending with other office workers in a stairwell of the north tower. A handsome young fireman is ascending the stairs, his eyes open wide, perspiring, hauling gear. All week one had seen distant images of fire and smoke, but here was a shot from inside a building about to collapse, and you looked at the fireman and thought, “My God, that man is about to be crushed to death.” (In fact, he escaped with a minute to spare, Friend reports.)

But mainly a cool decorum prevailed. We were shown pictures of this and not of that, allowed to see this and not look over there. The mainstream media seized upon inspirational and patriotic images, such as the picture of the three firemen; thus began a sort of mythification of the day into which George W. Bush and Rudolph Giuliani entered, bearing spears and shields. Photography assisted in that. Photography couldn’t convey the failure of national defense and intelligence, or the failure of the city of New York, even after the 1993 bombing of the trade center, to coordinate police and fire communications, a failure that cost many lives that morning, or certain tragic choices in the design of the towers. You need prose reporting for that. And in the end the images become common and one turns to words to find the reality. “The one conclusion I came to on 9/11 is that people in the stairwell . . . really were in ‘a state of grace.’ They helped each other. They didn’t panic,” Labriola says. “Most people are basically good. I knew this, with certainty, because I had gone through the crucible. What a great example people left: be selfless, help the person around you and get through it.”
Garrison Keillor is the host and writer of “A Prairie Home Companion” and the author of 16 books. He is the editor, most recently, of an anthology titled “Good Poems for Hard Times.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company