August 26, 2009 § 1 Comment
Reporter Chisun Lee at ProPublica has been following the legal wranglings over the release of prisoners at Guantanamo with a very sharp eye. For those with an ongoing interest in the issue it’s worth reading through her work.
In an article published on August the 21st she scrutinises how the constitutional right to habeas corpus has been scrambled into an unrecognisable state as a result of legal decisions by “the jailor at Guantanamo, the executive branch.” Well worth a read. A snippet:
The federal judges who are reviewing lawsuits filed by Guantanamo inmates have found that 29 of the 35 men whose cases they’ve completed have been unlawfully detained. For ordinary convicted criminals, that would mean that the authorities who imprisoned them would have to let them go. But the jailer at Guantanamo – the executive branch – is still holding 20 detainees the judges have cleared for release.
… Two weeks ago, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly blasted the government’s evidence for detaining Khalid Abdullah Mishal Al Mutairi, a Kuwaiti citizen, for more than seven years, saying the case was based on nothing but “speculation.”
Lee notes that Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court in Washington has written that the failure of officials to find a suitable country to take detainees he had directed the government to immediately release, amounted to flouting “the court’s authority to safeguard an individual’s liberty from unbridled executive fiat.”
Unbridled executive fiat and rejection of the legal demands for the fulfillment of the constitutional promise of habeas corpus are (quasi-fascist, I’d argue) trends that deeply disturb, even more so given they come under a Democratic administration that came to power with a popular mandate for sweeping changes and promising to close Guantanamo.
August 26, 2009 § 1 Comment
Guantanamo Bay and the whole putrid salmagundi of the post-September 11th U.S. torture-fest have once again wafted into our nostrils as a federal judge places a report by the CIA inspector general in the public domain. We’re amnesic beasts, we humans, and allied with our capacity to absorb and deflect shock, the sheer inhumanity of what went on in the name of fighting terrorism has begun to drift from many a memory.
Similarly, the crimes of our self-styled political leaders in the rear view mirror begin to appear like specks of dust on the great highway of history; there is no justice, no truth and reconciliation committee, no tribunals. Those party to decisions that breached international law, moral law, public trust, still parade on CNN and the BBC in an unrepentant disport of lies .
The most egregious of falsehoods and bloody of war crimes are swept under the rug with a forgiving broom of “looking forward” and “moving on.” So when Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. , after much testing of the water and hint-dropping, announced a few days ago he would appoint a veteran prosecutor to determine whether a full criminal investigation of the conduct of CIA agency employees or contractors was warranted, it seemed anomalous.
Holder has to be applauded, despite the narrowest of remits (the investigation is clearly not going to go up the food chain), but that the decision came as news was released that the administration for which he works will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, seemed the cruelest of ironies.
So this is what happens when we “move on”. We spectators sitting slack-jawed at this sick circus shuffle off at the firmly voiced injunction that there’s “nothing to see here” and head to the pub for a few beers only for the spectacle to continue without us. Perhaps we are powerless to stop this, the subcontracted kidnapping and torture that goes by the neutered name “extraordinary rendition”; the extra-legal detention of “enemy combatants”; the whole smorgasboard of repressive techniques needed to keep domestic dissent at pathetic levels and citizens pliant.
And whilst we have to face the smashing of alternatives to a consumer-driven, increasingly violently-policed state, what we can do is remember: Never never forget what happened in the name of freedom and democracy; that our elected representatives lied through their teeth to us; that a complicit media channelled their twisted logic with as much critical acuity as a doormat; that innocent men were detained without trial of any kind; that detainees were systematically broken until their mental state was beyond repair and they became shuffling vegetables; that doctors and pychiatrists spat on and trampled the Hippocratic Oath and that we sighed in a deep, fangless apathy and turned away to our drinks and families and nine-to-fives.
It took years for the truth to emerge: that there had been no screening process for the “worst of the worst,” and that, although perhaps 40 of the 779 prisoners who have been held at Guantánamo were involved with al-Qaeda, the other 95 percent were either completely innocent men — humanitarian aid workers, missionaries, economic migrants, drifters or others fleeing religious persecution — or foot soldiers for the Taliban, recruited to fight an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before 9/11.
By Andy Worthington (The Future of Freedom Foundation, 2009)
A number of critics, including human-rights officials, detainees’ lawyers, and others with knowledge of the inner workings of the detention center, believe that the problems at Guantánamo are the result of a more systematic effort. The strange accounts of torment that have steadily emerged, these critics say, are connected to decades of research by American scientists into the psychological nature of warfare and captivity.
By Jane Mayer (The New Yorker, 2005)
(Jose Padilla) was classified as an “enemy combatant” and taken to a Navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was kept in a 9-by-7-foot cell with no natural light, no clock and no calendar. Whenever Padilla left the cell, he was shackled and suited in heavy goggles and headphones. Padilla was kept under these conditions for 1,307 days. He was forbidden contact with anyone but his interrogators, who punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload, blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds. Padilla also says he was injected with a “truth serum,” a substance his lawyers believe was LSD or PCP.
By Naomi Klein (The Nation, 2007)
Let’s be clear: it is good that Holder has decided to take a more serious look at the use of torture during the Bush-Cheney years. But he has done so in a disturbingly cautious manner that is described by the American Civil Liberties Union as “anemic.” That runs the risk of encouraging the campaign by Missouri Senator Kit Bond and a handful of senators to narrow the scope of any inquiry to such an extent that it will yield little in the way of accountability. Republican partisans in Congress are going to fight hard to block any inquiry that might expose and hold to account members of the Bush-Cheney administration. Bond, in particular, has made it his mission to thwart anything akin to a real investigation. Taking the lead in the campaign to block an investigation of officials who initiated, authorized and encouraged the use of torture, Bond has shown no qualms about using his position as the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee to protect partisan allies and prevent checking and balancing of executive excess.
By John Nicols
August 21, 2009 § 1 Comment
As Erich Fromm noted in his criminally under-read book the Sane Society, many of those who have adapted to prevailing cultural norms and expectations have succumbed to a “pathology of normalcy.”
The antonym of pathology being apithology (“the systemic study of the nature of wellness and its causes, processes, development and consequences in emergent systems”) what creative, dissenting human beings who don’t want to adapt to dehumanising conditions may need to invoke is essentially an “apithology of abnormality”.
Fromm gives a few pointers: individual communities (and society as a whole) must find ways to address certain universal human needs, including needs for 1) relatedness, 2) transcendence, 3) rootedness, 4) a sense of identity and 5) a framework of orientation and devotion.
For absent the above, fissures begin to emerge in the mind of the individual. With all the logic of a man who looks into a cracked mirror and believes his body itself is fractured rather than the glass, we begin to pathologise our feelings. “Look at my wretched, broken reflection in this spotless mirror! How have I come to this?”
As Eugenia Tsao writes in Counterpunch:
What is revealed about a society, in which drugs are touted with increasing regularity as a treatment of choice for entirely natural responses to conditions of unnatural stress? How have we been persuaded to equate such things as recalcitrant despair (“Dysthymic Disorder”), adolescent rebellion (“Oppositional Defiant Disorder” ) and social apathy (“Schizoid Personality Disorder” ) with aberrant brain chemistry and innate genetic susceptibilities rather than with the societal circumstances in which they arise?
Let’s be candid. [An] ongoing campaign to pathologize entirely natural emotional responses to hunger, humiliation, financial insecurity, racism, sexism, overwork and isolation is a mercenary tactic, designed to create markets, maximize profits and minimize dissidence. Whether intended or unintended, the consequence is that we have come to reflexively view ourselves – our bodies, brains, and genes – rather than our societal environment as pathogenic, against all evidence to the contrary.
Or as the American poet Emily Dickinson had it:
Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
‘T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur, — you’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.
August 17, 2009 § Leave a Comment
One can flick through the portfolios of most photographers registering only polite disinterest. Like the reams of stale poetry out there, one has to rummage through silage endlessly before finding that odd, glittery, spiky needle of a poem or photo with the je ne sais quoi; the honed tip to it that jabs you awake. The photos of Jake Dobkin, a Brooklyn-based amateur photographer have that edge:
Abandoned industrial monoliths pose like hulking memento mori for a bygone age; rooms emptied of the transient clatter of day-to-day commerce reluctantly allow in streaks of ecstatic sunlight like a colourful tie at a wake; the sun sets on shacks, garages, blocks that look both oddly vulnerable and timeless at the same time.
It’s great stuff and I urge everyone to check out his work here.
August 17, 2009 § 1 Comment
Pigeons shake their wings on the copper church roof
out my window across the street, a bird perched on the cross
surveys the city’s blue-grey clouds. Larry Rivers
‘ll come at 10 AM and take my picture. I’m taking
your picture, pigeons. I’m writing you down, Dawn.
I’m immortalizing your exhaust, Avenue A bus.
O Thought, now you’ll have to think the same thing forever!
By Allen Ginsberg
August 14, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Tell any group of intelligent, motivated and creative people they can’t, shouldn’t or that “it’s impossible,” and they are going to do it. Even if it might get them in trouble”, begins a story in Wired Magazine on five hacks you can explore with your kids; before enticing parents and offspring alike into trying security cracking, lock picking and laughing out loud at copyright protection.
I read it with interest, as one of my young kids is attending a Korean kindergarten. South Korean education is not famed for favouring creativity; it does churn out some spectacularly good mathematicians, engineering and science graduates, but encouraging them to stick their heads above the parapet in any sense doesn’t seem to be the forte of the system here and a little rule-breaking, along with some really hands-on challenges are often just what children need to spark their intellectual curiosity and innate creativity.
Nassim Taleb, the financier, epistomologist and essayist has written recently that “universities are better at public relations and claiming credit than generating knowledge.” Knowledge and technology are generated by what he calls “stochastic tinkering”, (from the Greek for “random”, or, if I understand correctly, the presence of random variables in any conjecture), rarely by top-down directed research.
There are very few institutions that favour providing space for such stochastic tinkering, and the tradition of rote learning in East Asia renders the creation of such places even less likely. In the brief few months I spent volunteering with North Korean defectors at a school here one of the things I heard again and again was how horrendous the education system here seemed to them; it’s competitiveness, the sense that learning was a race to be won and other students competitors, the obsession with English etc.
It struck me that these kids (who have already displayed a fierce independence — or at least bravery — in fleeing the North) could be precisely the people who are best placed to push in some sense for reform of the education system here. For comparatively wealthy, technologically advanced South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the OECD. Year after year plenty of students top themselves after failing exams. It borders on the surreal to suggest that a bunch of malnourished escapees from a totalitarian state may prove to be the critics this country needs, yet it may well prove to be the case…
When it comes to suicide, Andrew Lam of New American Media has written a fascinating piece about its prevalence among Asian Americans. Lam (who’s Vietnamese-American) writes that:
Long before America existed, something of the American dream already had taken root in East Asia through the scholarship and examination system of the Mandarins. Villages and towns pooled their resources and sent their best and brightest to compete in the imperial court, hoping that one of their own would make it to the center of power.
One friend literally went mad and had to be hospitalized because he broke under the pressure of failing grades. Another was an “anchor kid,” someone whose family sold practically everything they owned to buy him a passage on an escaping boat out of communist Vietnam. He barely had time to think.
Alone in the United States, he faced the burden of having to support his family back home while going to school full time. If he didn’t succeed, it could very well mean death for the family that relied on his income to survive back in impoverished Vietnam. Failure was not an option.
Back home in Vietnam, an army of hungry, ambitious and capable young men and women were dying to take his place, and for him, a boat person who barely survived his perilous journey across the South China Sea, “dying to” was no mere idiomatic expression.
Meanwhile, thanks to Wired, I’ve been poring over this guide to lockpicking and think it may indeed — perhaps counter-intuitively to some — be a good thing to teach my son when he’s a bit bigger. It’s a mini engineering puzzle with a clear built-in satisfactory reward of getting the thing to open; empowering and fun. It also teaches responsibility; much like those who know how to handle themselves rarely get into fights, those who can pick locks are unlikely, given the right guidance, to use it to nick stuff. The ability itself is the reward.
Such stochastic tinkering finds a perfect expression in Malawian kid William Kamkwamba, who was only 14 years old when he built a windmill to provide his family home in a remote village with enough electricity to read by and to listen to the radio with. After dropping out of school at 14 because his parents couldn’t afford the fees, he got his hands on an old school library book called “Using Energy” and set about building a windmill with materials that were to hand including an old bicycle, broken PVC pipes, a pair of worn out shoes, copper wire and a tractor fan. As the Institute of Science in Society reports:
William’s motivation for his invention was the health of his sisters. At night their home would be lit with paraffin candles that emit toxic fumes similar to those of burning diesel, which was making his sisters ill from the smoke. At first his neighbours mocked him saying that he was going mad, but William persevered with the design because the book told him that it worked.
In Malawi only 2 percent of the population enjoy household electricity, so Williams’ neighbours, who had no electricity at all, soon changed their minds when they heard the sound of Malawian music coming from his house. They were even happier when they realised that William’s windmill could re-charge their mobile phones too.
His first attempt at a windmill gave his family enough energy to light one room so William decided to adapt the design further by adding a fourth rotor blade to create more power. He asked a local tinsmith to cut more efficient steel blades from a recycled oil drum and added a second windmill below the original blades that had been fashioned from heated, flattened and shaped PVC pipes . He also replaced the bicycle chain that doubled as a pulley rotor with an old car fan belt that worked much better.
That’s the kind of stuff I want my kid doing; building windmills and picking locks; creative, a healthy disdain for authority and with the ability to build a new world should this one come crashing down.
August 12, 2009 § Leave a Comment
In the busiest day in New York Stock Exchange history, panicky investors dumped stocks en masse. . . . ‘There is a downward spiral of fear,’ said Richard Sparks, senior equities analyst at Schaeffer’s Investment Research.”
The New York Times
You want to know where to find it,
want to hold it in your hands, this thing.
Want to name it, tack it to a board,
scrutinize it under bright lights. Don’t turn here
for answers; ask the mad friar on the corner
waving his cup of pins. All you’ll get is riddles
and mist, myth and wriggling. Ask the dog
streaming fleas about actual value versus
notional value. Indeed, why not ask the asphalt,
salt cellar, slate pavers, the papers rolled
in a whorl in the bin by the door, growing brittle,
showing yellow, hour by hour. I promise you,
you’ll get no better answer than colorless,
odorless, invisible, intangible, yet strong enough
to hobble nations, topple notions. Break you, even,
if you let it. Watch it soar and crash, Icarus in indices
plummeting from an indigo sky. Think about
that butterfly in Beijing, that hurricane in the Atlantic.
Believe that the pattern is nothing
but noise, the beautiful ordered disarray
of fractals, fern frond, snowflake, river. Hold this.
This round stone, its halves coarse in each palm.
Run your thumb across the brilliant colored bands.
Feel the crystals, rough as a row of teeth.
Imagine that the world is a geode. Imagine
that in cracking open, it reveals its beauty.
Courtesy of Box Car Poetry Review
August 11, 2009 § Leave a Comment
In an order on Aug. 5th, the judge of the federal district court in Manhattan said it would be unfair to the public to accept the settlement, which would resolve SEC allegations that Bank of America made false and misleading statements to shareholders about bonuses promised to Merrill employees.
Bank of America had agreed to pay $33 million to settle the civil lawsuit and, along with the SEC, had sought the judge’s approval for the settlement. Rakoff set a hearing on the matter for the afternoon of August 10.
Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, Judge Rakoff said, “effectively lied to their shareholders.”
The $3.6 billion in bonuses paid by Merrill as the ailing brokerage giant was taken over by the bank was effectively “from Uncle Sam.”
The Merrill bonuses, which were the subject of a state investigation and prompted an outcry in Congress, were paid even though Merrill Lynch lost $27 billion last year. Its deepening red ink later forced Bank of America to seek a second taxpayer-financed bailout
“Do Wall Street people expect to be paid large bonuses in years when their company lost $27 billion?” the judge asked, refusing to approve the deal, saying too many questions remained unanswered, including who knew what and when about the controversial payouts.
More on the story here.