A Man with a Flashlight

Bruce Bawser puts his finger on it
May 23, 2007, 9:10 am
Filed under: The West

Andrew Sullivan gets it. In an interview:

BILL MOYERS: You describe so well the values of democracy, pluralism, tolerance and sexual equality that took root in modern Europe. Why aren’t they powerful enough to absorb and assimilate and mitigate these tribal customs?

BRUCE BAWER: I think that for one, I think that European leaders in many cases have lost confidence in the values of their own society. They’ve placed multi-culturism above democracy and freedom.

I sensed a similar attitude among many of my friends in the young left in America who were and are active in anti-globalization politics. I might not use the word muliticulturism, but there is a widespread devaluation of freedoms that are too hard-won to be treated with indifference. In this day and age it’s considered bad form to say we are better than anyone else – not in general, but even in any particular way. The irony, as Bawer points out, is that this hurts not only ourselves, but also the powerless within other countries and cultures who would be protected most by Western freedoms.

Two U.S. laws
May 19, 2007, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics

that the President might want to consider his own exposure to.

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 113C > § 2340A

§ 2340A. Torture

(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.
(c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 118 > § 2441

§ 2441. War crimes

(a) Offense.— Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.
(b) Circumstances.— The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).
(c) Definition.— As used in this section the term “war crime” means any conduct—
(1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;
(2) prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;
(3) which constitutes a violation of common Article 3 of the international conventions signed at Geneva, 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party and which deals with non-international armed conflict; or
(4) of a person who, in relation to an armed conflict and contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians.

A glimpse into the Death Star
May 18, 2007, 11:13 am
Filed under: Politics

that the Bush white house has been these six years. Alberto Gonzales (when he was still on his way to the top, and a hot prospect for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and White House chief of staff Andrew Card tried to extract John Ashcroft’s approval for their illegal wiretapping program at his hospital bed, when he was so incapacitated that he was not the acting attorney general. Ashcroft stood up to them even though he was lying down. I must say I gave the man too little credit.

Oh, and they were sent by the President, according to Bush appointee James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee (free partisan HQ).

Comey’s testimony caused Chuck Hagel to join the ranks of Republican senators calling for Gonzales to resign. The Washington Post reads Gonzales’ demise in the stars. Pray that they speak true. If ending American torture were a video game, Gonzales would be the boss at the end of level 1.

Politics in America start breathing again
May 18, 2007, 11:06 am
Filed under: Politics

Is this an unfair characterization? For several hair-raising years, it seemed that the opportunity provided by the 9/11 attacks would be successfully exploited by a cabal within the Republican party to seize the Congress’s (the voters’) power, re-draw the boundaries of freedom within the country on much smaller lines, and strangle all dissent.

I am by no means sanguine about what the Democrats can deliver – to me their mettle is not yet proven, and there is much reason to doubt them. But Senators Leahy and Spector (yes, not all Republicans surrendered) are trying to breathe life back into democracy. Letters like this one are a sign of life for our republic that I have been waiting far, far too long to see.

Somehow I don’t think the 1 Rove email that Justice found after “scouring” their computers will satisfy Leahy and Spector. Nor should it.

Right on the nail, from Ron Paul
May 18, 2007, 10:55 am
Filed under: Politics

“We should have a strong president – strong enough to resist the temptation of taking power that a president shouldn’t have.”

Paul cuts open the central fallacies of the Bush administration like so many tomatoes. And he exposes Giuliani and Romney for the fearful, compromised men that they are. You can see why the Republican establishment is terrified.

Then again, he also opposes the law giving citizenship by birth on American soil, blames volcanoes for global warming, and doesn’t seem to think Israel deserves our support. So I am charmed but not won.

Gonzales’ testimony in the House
May 12, 2007, 12:42 pm
Filed under: Politics

Keith Olbermann observes Gonzales reading from the same script he used in April:

“So that’s why you’re not going to answer the question, because you want to protect the integrity of the investigations.” Conyers speaks with deceptive slowness, but before you know it he’s around your neck like a boa constrictor.

Congressman Schiff used to be an Assistant U.S. Attorney. He seems to relish the twist of fate which now lets him grill the U.S. Attorneys’ boss. And he’s about the only one in the House who brings the sort of heat that the Senate brought to bear on Gonzales in April.

On the whole, a disappointing performance by the Representatives after April’s Senate hearings. Schumer alone, in his shark-like attack, made for great television then. These hearings were sleepy by comparison.

The Washington Post covers related stories here and here.

Pretty pretty
May 12, 2007, 11:50 am
Filed under: The West

The animated Bayeux Tapestry.

May 12, 2007, 11:04 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I was going to say the far left does crazy quite well. But this is so far left it almost becomes right again.

On one level the video is a disgusting attack on actual thought. No, actually it’s that on every level.
The disturbing thing about it, and what gives it potency, is that it draws its power from some kernels of truth. The images of arms production reflect an anxiety that I feel also: why do we need to produce so many weapons? And why are we so indiscriminate about who we will sell them to?

The Dems: waiting for a better opportunity???
May 12, 2007, 10:55 am
Filed under: Politics

The president is weak, unpopular, and embroiled by scandal. The war continues to deteriorate and the public opposes it. Republicans are calling for the close of Guantanamo and the restoration of Habeas Corpus has bipartisan support.

So why are the Dems so shy about restoring Habeas Corpus? At the end of the day, are they made of anything more than pretty talk?

It’s like you’re playing basketball and you cherry-pick a pass with no defenders around, it’s just you and the basket. There is no more perfect setup for the Democrats to take action. This is a downhill charge in every respect, the wind is favorable, the sun is shining. If they do nothing now, I will never forget it.

Obama: close Guantanamo and restore Habeas Corpus
May 12, 2007, 10:36 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics

“We need to bring to a close this sad chapter in American history, and begin a chapter that passes the might of our military to the freedom of our diplomacy and the power of our alliances. And while we are at it, we can close down Guantanamo and we can restore habeas corpus and we can lead with our ideas and our values.”
Barack Obama, Richmond, VA, May 8th

Ron Paul clips from Youtube
May 12, 2007, 10:18 am
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror

It’s gratifying to hear a Republican say this:

The catchall phrase “the war on terrorism,” in all honesty, has no more meaning than if one wants to wage a war on criminal gangsterism. Terrorism is a tactic. You can’t have a war against a tactic. It’s deliberately vague and non-definable in order to justify and permit perpetual war anywhere and under any circumstances. Don’t forget the Iraqis and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with any terrorist attack against us – including that on 9/11. Special interests and the demented philosophy of conquest have driven most wars throughout all of history. Rarely has the cause of liberty, as it was in our own revolution, been the driving force.

It’s also disturbing that we so rarely hear Democrats saying it.

Ron Paul in the Republican primary debate:

It’s good for Ron Paul that 65% of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. Unfortunately they are mostly not Republican primary voters.

Now the bad news: Paul doesn’t think the science is settled on global warming.

Vote for Ron Paul: sidestep the coming apocalypse of the Forever War, but bring closer the coming environmental apocalypse.

It’s a dilemma.

Yes, yes, yes
May 11, 2007, 12:20 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics

So how about it Senators Clinton and Obama? You too John Edwards. It’s not your vote yet, but you could sure tell us where you stand on what should be the least controversial topic of our time: respect for habeas corpus (a well established principle in the Western tradition since…the freakin’ Magna Carta!). If you can’t spine up about that, what good are you.

-Eric Martin of American Footprints.

Not much good at all, if they can’t. Frankly, and I am speaking as a liberal, on this subject I have more faith in John McCain’s credentials (remember it was McCain who passed the bill forbidding the military to torture) than any democrat running. I would be happy to learn otherwise.

Eavesdropper’s paradise
May 7, 2007, 11:54 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ever wish you could be a fly on the wall and listen to users of ecstasy and hard drugs talk about their gnarliest experiences?
How about a group who all have family members in prison discussing how they can support their loved ones?
How about Christians of all denominations debating theology?

Welcome to forum-dropping. An addictively guilty pleasure. Especially for writers.

Prison Talk
Christian Forums

Susan Aldous interview part 2
May 7, 2007, 10:45 am
Filed under: Depression, Drug Prohibition, The East, Undiscovered writers

Susan Aldous is back! In the second part of our conversation we talk about her current charity work at a Thai women’s shelter, her wild adolescence, and being a mother.

See previous posts on Susan here, here, and here.

Hi Susan,

Good stuff! Thanks for such substantial answers, I’ve put them up on the blog, for all five of my readers! Here are my next questions. If this starts to take up too much of your time, just let me know and I’ll understand completely.

HI there Jonathan,
Back in the saddle and getting settled in Thailand after a grueling convoluted trip back home from my original home. Hi to all five readers by the way!
Ok, so here goes round two!

You’re still working part-time with prisoners, but you write that most of your time now is spent at a women’s shelter with abused women, single mothers, and women with HIV. Tell us a little about what you bring to these women, or indeed what they bring to you.

I spend a good amount of time with the women, perhaps not as much as I’d like, but each little bit surely counts in such a place. Number one is just being a friend, someone who cares and shows attention and encourages them with their lives and the lives of their kids. I help them feel good about being mommies, I help them feel important in their illnesses, I strive to be a part of all that they go through as best I can. Something that they particularly like is having their photos taken, especially with their kids and newborns. A tiny gesture on my part, but huge for those participating. A photo magically cements their relationships with their children and builds self-esteem. As for the HIV girls, it shows they will not be forgotten; they have a souvenir to send to their families back home, they will not be erased after they pass on. We play and glam it up, it’s so fun.
As for me, wow, somehow going to spend time with the girls is an exercise in serenity, happiness and the celebration of life, it’s a blessing of love to them and in return in my own life. Serenity in the sense, it’s a beautiful, quiet, safe place and I feel that the women are given dignity and that is so rewarding, I partake of the spirit.
Additionally it’s a joyous venture having twenty-something snotty nosed kids jumping all over you, hanging off of your arms and grabbing your legs so that you cannot escape. It can go from serenity to a madhouse in mere seconds. We all hug and kiss a lot too-joyful, joyful!

Shifting gears somewhat – I confess that for me, one of the most entertaining parts of your book was the description of your teenage years. I can call it entertaining because I know you survived and put it behind you, otherwise it would be depressing. To say you raised some hell wouldn’t really do it justice – you had probably done more drugs at the age of 14 than most people manage all their lives. You describe putting on shows for your friends where you would cut and pierce yourself, and burn yourself with cigarettes – sort of exhibitionism and self- destruction at the same time. I thought it was fascinating because it seems like you were trying so hard to escape the normalness of life. Indeed you told a friend you might kill yourself.
Not everyone goes through this, but many young people do. What can be done to make their struggle easier? How do you feel looking back at your adolescence?

It’s very surreal looking back as if that person died when I was born into a new life of caring for others. Somehow though, the old person is my bridge to reach those who hurt and ache now, a gift if you will. I respect all that I went through as being a great teacher. It’s been odd for me to hear how shocked folk are by my past when they read the book. I suppose it was normal to me and par for the course. In fact, I just read the book in print for the first time yesterday, and I felt that even by today’s standards I was definitely hard core and it was nothing short of a miracle that I survived to tell the story and to even make something good of the mess.
My greatest desire is that some young person will pick up the book and be affected for the better by it, that they will identify and it will offer hope and a way out. So many folk are affected by suicidal notions and attempt to kill themselves, many sadly succeeding. I think we can all make it easier on those who suffer by being honest about our own failings and weaknesses. It starts by being honest with ourselves, then by being real, open, available
and really listening.
Not only did I threaten to kill myself, I tried to several times, all in hopes that someone would rescue me and plant me on a more satisfying path. I was trying to escape normalcy, but more accurately, I wanted to find truth, a way of life that did not match the nine to five box that I was told I should get into. I was desperate for answers; I searched in all the wrong places. Finally I found what I needed to not only give me purpose, but to arm me for life’s difficulties and reach out to others. We live in hugely materialistic societies, where we are building walls against each other. Folk are isolated and lonely. The latest trinkets, the unfulfilling education, the grand job and the perfect marriage do not satisfy-there has to be more soul satisfaction, something to get passionate about.
Nothing better than being a part of the solution. If we want friends we have to be one. We can all reach out to a soul who is hurting and in turn find happiness as a bonus byproduct. We don’t have to have all the answers to help someone; we just need to be a friend.

At the age of 16, you leave all of that behind and decide to give your life to serving others. In your book the transformation seems almost effortless. Was it really that smooth? Can you describe how it happened? Did those feelings of being lost or desperate ever come back later in life?

It was a fast and easy transformation initially. Not dissimilar to asking someone to leave poison, fear and loneliness behind and showing them where to dump it, someone did that for me, so I walked from my past into something way better. That was the easy part, I had nothing to lose but the harder bits followed later. I battled with life, obstacles, lack of funding and relationships that left me sad. I met with folk who did not want help. I battled with my own selfishness, pride and anger. I had much to overcome within myself and to learn how to love and unselfishly care for others. I had to deal with disappointment time and time again in so many forms; I had to deal with the knowledge that I had disappointed others. It can be a
lonely job and sometimes you have to fight those closest to you to keep on going. The path that I have chosen, so few walk on it and it can be a solitary process at times.
All my battles and sadness though have a purpose and they teach how to empathize and help another, they are productive, therefore the old feelings of being lost have never returned in 30 years. Even the worst day now is better than my past, while some of my present days can be pretty frustrating, I can now make them work for me and others. A higher purpose!

You’re now a mother. Like a lot of hippies who have started families, you must struggle over what to tell your daughter about that era of drugs and free love. How do you deal with that question?

I have always been exceptionally honest and open with my daughter; of course all information has had to be age appropriate too. I have used my past to share with her the pitfalls of life and the solutions to these situations-I have tried to give her the tools to deal with such situations. She in turn, as all teens will do has hidden some things from me. However, she is on the overall extremely open with me and usually ends up ‘fessing up. She can ask me anything and sometimes she asks some pretty heavy sexual questions, which I welcome as it’s better to hear it from mom than to have misinformation from her peers. She knows she’ll not get in trouble for asking, and only a wee bit when confessing some wrong, but there’ll be big trouble if she lies and hides things and I find out later. Honesty pays in my house, even when it’s a hard truth to bear.
Like me, she’s had to learn some things the hard way, but we work through them and she’s a great kid with many gifts and even on her bad days she always somehow draws on her resources and pulls through.
Life was hard for me as a teen, but I’d hate to live in my daughter’s generation, I feel it’s much harder and the peer pressure is insane. I admire her for her fighting spirit at times, it’s just not easy and it’s hard being a mom at times.

That’s it for now, thanks again for taking this time!

Thanks to you too. All the best,
Love, peace and tie-dyed,

“Dusty” Susan Dustin
P.O. Box 33 Suanyai Post Office
Nonthaburi Thailand

Even after learning the hard truth about my blog’s limited readership, Susan comes through with another batch of detailed, hard-hitting answers. Much appreciated!

One last round of questions is coming up, so if you have any questions for Susan you’d like me to ask, this is your chance to email them to me.

Susan Aldous’ new book is The Angel of Bang Kwang Prison, published last month by Maverick House. Maverick House also published the memoir of Chavoret Jaruboon, Thailand’s last prison executioner, The Last Executioner.

Will Ferrell does Bush on global warming
May 6, 2007, 10:15 pm
Filed under: Comedy, The Earth

A classic, revisited.

Peak Oil, in 1881
May 6, 2007, 12:33 pm
Filed under: The Earth

Peak Oil has worried me ever since I watched “The Road Warrior,” though I didn’t know the term for it at the time.

The theory was refined and publicized by Marion King Hubbert in 1956 and accepted by the National Academy of Sciences in 1975. But you may not be aware that in the mid-nineteenth century, scientists already knew fossil fuels were not permanently exploitable.

William Thomas, a professor at Glasgow University, in 1881:

subterranean coal stores of the world are becoming exhausted surely, and the price of coal is upward bound… windmills or wind motors of some form will again be in the ascendent.

(Arnold Pacey (1974). The Maze of Ingenuity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.)

The Zeer Pot: Refrigeration Without Electricity
May 5, 2007, 8:18 pm
Filed under: Design, The Earth

Freakin’ cool man. The Zeer, or “pot-in-pot refrigerator,” is made by putting a small clay pot inside a large one. The space between the pots is filled with sand, which acts as an insulator. Water added to the sand evaporates steadily, cooling the inner pot. There’s more:

Each zeer can contain 12 kg of vegetables, and costs less than US$2 to produce.

Experiments assessing its ability to extend shelf life show that tomatoes and guavas can be kept for 20 days, compared to just two without. Even rocket, which usually lasts only a day before wilting, can be kept for five days.

And it was invented in Nigeria.

I wonder where they got that idea?
May 5, 2007, 7:08 pm
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror

A Pentagon survey calls into question the image of the gentleman soldier. To wit:

“Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect,” the Army report stated.

About 10 percent of the 1,767 troops in the official survey — conducted in Iraq last fall — reported that they had mistreated civilians in Iraq, such as kicking them or needlessly damaging their possessions.

Army researchers “looked under every rock, and what they found was not always easy to look at,” said S. Ward Casscells, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. The report noted that the troops’ statements are at odds with the “soldier’s rules” promulgated by the Army, which forbid the torture of enemy prisoners and state that civilians must be treated humanely.

But right in line with their commander-in-chief. Whatever he says.

How can we blame soldiers who are facing death for doing this, and not blame their commanders for doing the same thing, from the safety of Washington?

Iraq was going to bring democracy to the Middle East. Instead it brought Middle East attitudes on human rights to America. That’s Bush’s legacy.

Medical marijuana: a different Colbert debates Steve Carell
May 5, 2007, 6:45 pm
Filed under: Comedy, Drug Prohibition

An old episode of “Even Stephen” from The Daily Show. Carell and Colbert start out on medical marijuana but gradually the focus of the debate changes.

Drugs and Prostitution: Colbert King on the D.C. Madam
May 5, 2007, 6:26 pm
Filed under: Crime and Punishment, Drug Prohibition, Politics

How could you tell if drug prohibition were a terrible policy? This Washington, D.C. “victory” would be one bad sign:

For example, there’s the case of the 27-year-old quadriplegic who used a chin-operated wheelchair and who, in 2004, as a first-time offender, was sentenced to 10 days in jail for marijuana possession. He died on the fifth day of his incarceration because of a lack of appropriate medical treatment.

Colbert King assembles the evidence, but I’m not sure how I feel about where he goes with it.

King goes on to describe how Washington, D.C. prosecutes johns paying prostitutes for sex. The point of all this? King wants the “government officials and military officers” who may have bought sex from prostitutes employed by “D.C. Madam” Jeane Palfrey’s escort service to be prosecuted with equal vigor.

I don’t know where to stand on this. I don’t think government should be using our tax dollars to prosecute victimless crimes or protect people from themselves. Then again, if government is going to do this, I guess it should go after the rich and powerful as well as the poor and voiceless.

I don’t really share King’s disdain for men who sleep with prostitutes. He quotes “one expert” who says that men who buy sex acts “don’t respect women, nor do they want to respect women.” This may be true, or it may not, and I’m sure King’s “expert” has no idea either way. Was a survey of johns performed? Were they asked if they respected women? And if they wanted to respect women? No – and had it been, even that would be pretty unreliable. If there’s any common trait that prostitutes’ customers share, it’s probably that they are having trouble getting laid.

Isn’t it crazy to ban a commercial transaction which meets a demand that can’t be eradicated? When the offenders are harming no-one and are otherwise law-abiding? And when it means making criminals out of young women, making them even more vulnerable and hard to help?