Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Wretched of the Earth

Just read Frantz Fanon's controversial book The Wretched of the Earth . More than a bit troubling, even today.
Fanon was born to a middle class family in Martinique and moved to France to fight with the Free French during WWII. There he became a psychiatrist and eventually became Head of the Psychiatry Department at the Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria. While listening to the stories of torturers and revolutionaries, Fanon became more radicalized than he had been previously (although his book Black Skin, White Masks had dealt with the psychological effects of racism) and eventually became a sort of spokesman for the Algerian independence movement.
The Wretched of the Earth is Manichean in its suggestions for decolonialization. Fanon literally advocates violence as a means for the colonized peoples to remake themselves outside of the former binary divisions of colonialism (colonized/ colonizer, black/ white) and to avoid the current capitalist/socialist binary that much of Europe was obsessed with.
While his sanguinary rhetoric is unnerving, even more so is his prescience. Consider:
"National consciousness in nothing but a crude, empty fragile shell. The racks in it explain how easy it is for young independent countries to switch back from nation to ethnic group and from state to tribe- a regression which is so terribly detrimental and prejudicial to the development of the nation and national unity." Written some 30 years before the Rawandian genocide.
The last chapter, which details the case studies of patients suffering from mental disorders related to the colonial war, is perhaps the strongest in the book. One case that sounds like it could be a movie plot: "A European police officer suffering from depression while at the hospital meets one of his victims, an Algerian patriot suffering from stupor." Fanon details affective disorders that are well understood now. He argues convincingly that growing up in a binary system in which you are the animalistic other forces one to ask constantly "Who am I?" Of course, this is old news now, but it is because of Fanon.
Much of the book is troubling and hard-line, but still fascinating in this time of constant talk of freedom.


Identity/ Violence

Pattern Recognition

"These vagrants, these second-class citizens, find their way back to the nation thanks to their decisive, militant action. Unchanged in the eyes of colonial society or vis-a-vis the moral standards of the colonizer, they believe the power of the gun or the hand grenade is the only way to enter the cities. These jobless, these species of subhumans, redeem themselves in their own eyes and before history."
-Frantz Fanon, 1961

"The loss of individual and personal meaning via the electronic media ensures a corresponding and reciprocal violence from those so deprived of their identities; for violence, whether spiritual or physical, is a quest for identity and the meaningful. The less identity, the more violence."
-Marshall McLuhan, 1976

"I kill, therefore I am."
-Phil Ochs


More Anti-Kid Bigotry From Me

Another thing: where are the movies for adults?
Claire and I go to the movie theatre about once a month. Usually, it's packed with thirteen year olds, which is fine. They're loud, but I can deal.
But, every movie there is aimed at thirteen year olds. It makes sense, right? The place is packed with thirteen year olds and every movie is made for thirteen year olds. Big whoop.
You can tell it's a movie for thirteen year olds if it's a historical epic and the dialogue is like:
Soldier: Dude! Something just exploded!
Soldier 2: No way Dude! We've got to tell General Lee!
Soldier: Look over there bro! Titties!

I mean, I've been looking for an adult drama for us to go see and the most mature thing out now is Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which is more like:
Mr. Smith: Holy shit, dude! You tried to make me explode!
Mrs. Smith: Dude! Titties!

Remember the "art house" dramas that adults used to go to? Are they gone? Or is this a US thing? Everytime we rent a nuanced, emotionally engaging adult drama it's inevitably from another coutry. American movies tend to be like "Gong Show: The Movie!" and "The Misadventures of Stupid Guy and His Hot Wife" or "Dude! Titties!"


Kids Say the Stupidest Things

So, Claire and I went to a bar-b-que this last weekend at the home of an old friend of her's from University. I was miserable. (I know, I know. I like to bitch. It's part of my charm. I hope.) Luckily, she was miserable too, so I didn't feel so bad about complaining when we left.

First off, we show up with our friend Laura and the hosts do not introduce us to anyone! There are like five people in the living room who we don't know and the hosts say something like "Hey..." and that's it. So, from the start, we're amongst strangers and we feel like we crashed or something.

Secondly, no beer. No beer at all. WTF mate? It's a bar-b-que and we're all at prime drinking age and there's no beer. Worst off, I suspect this had something to do with the host's kid being there.

Thirdly, there's a dude there who has to tell everyone who enters all about his job. Now, I tend to agree with the French custom in which you absolutely do not ask or tell people at parties about your job. I know that it is different here. But, the guy would not shut up. And he was a High School shop teacher! So, it was all about how his kids are so misbehaved and how hard it is to deal with misbehaving kids. zzzzzzz... Isn't shop class intended for the JDs?

Fourthly, there was a girl next to him who said "Nice!" in response to everything anyone said.

Fifthly, there was another girl who worked at a Children's Museum who also complained about the kids who she had to deal with. I wanted so badly to say "You know, there are jobs where you don't work with any kids at all. No, seriously..."

Sixth, the host's kid was the center of attention for like two hours. I'm sure he was cute, but for crying out loud! How long can you watch a three year old eating dirt in the backyard? Claire and I are not breeders! So the constant questions "When are you two going to get an addition to your family?" are annoying. And then you say "Oh, we don't really want kids..." and they act like you just said that you hate Jesus. All quiet and uncomfortable.
Then, all they can talk about is children. "Yeah, he wanted a girl, and everyone wanted us to have a boy. But, I don't really care." To which I had to bite my tongue not to say, "Yeah, we want a girl... but trapped in the body of a boy."
I mean, I know that children are precious; I'm the one who thinks that they should be locked in a safe after all. But, god! It's like these people's lives were boring and so they added a kid to heighten the boredom. And what Puritans! I wanted a Pepsi ("Just one Pepsi and they wouldn't give it to me! Just one Pepsi!") and the guy said, "Oh yeah, I wanted pop, but she'll only have Diet Pop in the house. So, I didn't think anyone wanted that." No. No we don't. We want a Coke and Rye. Heavy on the Rye. And horse tranquilizers. Make it snappy!

It's a child's world really. We just live in it. God forbid going to a party and listening to music/ drinking alcohol/ drinking pop/ smoking/ etc. The little ones might see. Oh the little ones! Pint-sized fascists.



Okay, it took all morning, but I've finally figured out how to post links.
I know- I am computer illiterate. You know, I met a woman at a party back in 1995 who made $100 an hour teaching people how to program HTML! Those really were the good old days, weren't they?


Question for everyone

I have an essay that I'm working through. It is a continuation of some of the things I've put here before. But it will be long. Should I post it anyway?


Google and the Libraries

Okay, so many of you know that Google is planning to "digitize" millions of books and offer them for free on-line.
Here is an argument in support of the project.
Here is an argument from a librarian who is worried about the project.

Many Europeans are quite upset by this project. They feel that an American company is stealing their culture for the corporate blob. Many authors are worried that they stand to lose a fortune when people no longer have to purchase their books. Of course, libraries already offer books for free.
But, again changing information from one media to another changes the information. The computer requires the user to think in a much different way (fragmented, quickly, non-linear) than the book does (linear). So, it doesn't really matter what the content is that's on-line. The user has to think and read the way that the computer requires. Have you ever noticed that nuance does not come across on-line?
Imagine reading an episode of "I Love Lucy" in book form.
So, do I support this project? A little.


Blowing Minds in Buffalo

Here's another magazine out of Buffalo, NY: The Maybe Logic Quarterly.

The Maybe Logic Academy offers online courses by counter-cultural icons (And what a horrible term! If anything, they're pro-culture, pro-art, and pro-literature!) like Robert Anton Wilson, Erik Davis, Patricia Monaghan, R.U. Sirius, and Douglas Rushkoff. In other words, you get taught by people who know a thing or two about broadening mental landscapes! It's not stretching the truth to say that every one of the instructors has changed the way that I think about something in the world. So, these should be great courses.

Anyway, the courses are on-line, so there's not really a physical academy, or a physical journal for that matter. But, the on-line journal is editted right here in Buffalo by a fellow named Kent Daniel Bentkowski who I would love to meet.
P.S.: That first link is worth following just to see the cover art!


Monday, May 30, 2005

Marx for the Computer Age

David Brooks, of all people, wrote this updated Marxist manifesto for the new economy. Obviously, it's a parody, but he has some great points about academics, and our role in the information economy. To wit, we may be "leftists", but we're also the gatekeepers to the unequal society that so many of us bitch about. The "uneducated lower class" will never be educated or move up, because who can afford to go to university anymore? Tuition is through the roof! Besides, we let the public schools crumble years ago because we thought it would be easier than pushing inner city kids to work harder. So, the irony is that the last Marxists anywhere in the country (and for the record, no I am not a Marxist, or "Marxian") are the ones who fundamentally maintain a class system that is more rigid in this country than it's been since the Gilded Age (according to The Economist).
Best line:
"The information society is the only society in which false consciousness is at the top. For it is an iron rule of any university that the higher the tuition and more exclusive the admissions, the more loudly the denizens profess their solidarity with the oppressed. The more they objectively serve the right, the more they articulate the views of the left."


Saturday, May 28, 2005

Cows and History

Amusing review, by a cattle rancher, of aHistory of Barbed Wire. Apparently, the book is a cultural history, and true to form, its subtitle "an Ecology of Modernity" is rather bewildering. I'm all for writing histories of things like barbed wire, but I wonder why cultural historians always think the worst of their subjects. Here barbed wire was not created to keep cattle on property, but instead to satisfy a rancher's taste for cruelty and power which was stymied by the end of slavery. So, they were racists and sadists, but isn't everybody in cultural histories? The reviewer points out that barbed wire is disappointing for the sadist since cows learn to avoid it. Also, I'm not sure how those grated ditches that they use now would fit in, since cows will never step in them at all. Anyway, interesting review.


Buffalo Shuffle

Apaprently, there are lots of
Bloggers in Buffalo. Who knew!


Thursday, May 26, 2005


Here's a History text for homeschoolers who want to teach their kids history. Apparently, the student is encouraged to constantly ask "What was God doing at this time?" Number one answer- crying.


More on Why Chapters Bookstore Sucks

Here's a pretty interesting story about the historic theatre that gave way for a shitty box store and how said box store was supposed to close down in 1991. See, in Canada, most book stores are either Chapters or Indigo, and they're the same company. This is sort of like Blockbusters' plan to buy Hollywood Video so that they would control most of the market. It's basically a monopoly. The problem for us consumers, of course, is that Chapters and Indigo are already indistinguishable. They're not bad stores, exactly- it's just that they sell a lot of kitschy shit for overpriviledged yuppies who like to pretend that they read, and the staff is a mixed bag of teenagers. Just like every box store on the planet.
So, why is this monopoly legal? I have no idea. Ask Canadians.
If buying books in Toronto, go to:
This 'Aint the Rosedale Library
488 Church St.


Random McLuhan

"The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village."
-Marshall McLuhan, 1967.


Poetry Blog

A Burning Patience.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Life in Armenia

This blog's interesting too.
Life in Armenia- Birthplace of Cher.


When Teachers Attack.

Public School teacher hands out essay to fourth grade students in which he insults those students for behaving like "animals". I'm sure every educator can relate. But, I'm suspecting that the guy is one of those public school teachers who's at about the emotional level of his students.


Corporate Bookstores Still Suck

I wonder when I'll look respectable enough not to get trailed by security in stores. Claire and I just went to Chapters books to get a CD of music for the wedding band and some cooking books. The entire time we're there the staff follows me, and stands next to me, and absolutely does not offer help. Just trails me. It's irritating beyond belief. I've never stolen anything in my life. But, I don't look rich enough or old enough not to fit into the "thief" profile.
The place sucks anyway because it was built inside an old movie theatre, which is just beautiful architecturally. So, it's like beautiful architecture crammed with all the kitschy shit that Chapters sells. "Love yourself scented candles!" "Biblical Exegesis for Dumshits!" etc. etc.
I swear sometimes that corporations want us to steal from them. I hope they go broke.
For the record:
Runnymede - Chapters
2225 Bloor Street West,
Toronto, Ontario
M6S 1M7Canada


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Random McLuhan

"The future of the book is the blurb." -Marshall McLuhan


Philosophy blog

A blog by an upcoming philosophy grad student. Just started, but interesting so far.


Glee Chip

The FDA is considering approval of a medical device to fight depression that consists of a chip implanted in the chest and wired into the brain. The article notes that most patients who have the $15,000 chip implanted show no actual signs of recovery.
A spokesman for Cyberonics, the company that makes the implant said, "These people have no other options, so we need to consider anything that shows potential to help..." before muttering under his breath "... us to make big money!"


Friday, May 20, 2005

More Summer Walking

And so, I think about all of this while I walk down the block. How am I ever supposed to become wiser when my mind is monopolized? Where does this fear of contemplation that seems to consume my culture come from anyway? Why can't I escape it? Where does my identity go while my thoughts are occupied?
More importantly, is it possible to become wise with a computer in the house?


What the Royal Effigy meant.

The idea behind the royal effigy was summed up in the latin phrase "Dignitas non moritur", which means "(royal) dignity never dies". There were considered to be two Kings; the body and the role. So, the King would die, but the spiritual king would live irregardless. Until kingship passed onto the next role-holder. The effigy was the "incarnate representation of the virtual monarch". (Le Roy Ladurie) Eventually, the practice died out in France as the transmission of kingship came to be tied more to blood than a virtual kingship. This is why effigies are burned; burning the effigy means literally destroying the role of King, while letting the man live.
When I spoke of the Nobility of the Image, what I meant was those image-creators who have filled the void left by the removal of virtual kingship. The leader now fills a physical role, but the ideational role is filled by media images. The King is dead; long live the image.


Nobility of the Image

So, I guess what we could say is that the nobility of the robe comes to replace the nobility of the sword in the eighteenth century and the nobility of the bureau comes to power in the nineteenth century. Now, I think the Nobility of the Image has overtaken the Bureau Nobility. The shamans have stripped the Emperor.
But, where does this leave the rest of us?


Images of War

The formation of the modern state involves monopolizing certain services and undermining traditional face-to-face relationships. The reason that the King has a power that the seigneurial lord lacks is because the King is removed and illusory. The idea of the King is stronger than the reality of the Master in the mind of the peasant. This aloofness is most pronounced in God, who is ever-present in spirit, yet never seen. And so, the highest power is that which is completely removed.
Perhaps them the War on Terror will succeed in returning the state to a monopoly over images that it was formerly lacking. This was a serious problem at the end of the Cold War. If the state loses its dialectical strength without an Evil Empire, how can it remain more powerful than advertisements? The answer, of course, is that it can't. The corporate nobility always threatens the government. Conservatives fear liberal Hollywood, and Liberals fear Corporate control of the mental commons. But, it's all the same problem; the figure in the deodorant ad has more power over our imagination than the figure in the White House.
Until bin Laden came along, there was no dramatic core to the state. Now, it has an emotive purpose again. And Madison Avenue must be raving over the buzz on bin Laden. He makes a video a year, yet he's still bigger than Ben Affleck!
The problem is that the dramatic core to this war is trite. There was a sort of Shakespearean tragedy to Communism; watching people kill their culture for a dream they once had. It was sorrowful, whereas Islamicism is simply nihilistic. "We hate you so much we kill ourselves." All that's left is ashes. Nothing to think about or hope fore. Bin Laden is the spiritual leader of suicides.
And, Bush, who should be the man on the white horse in this story gives us nothing to think about either. He's like Napoleon III, but at least he built up Paris. There's nothing worth writing about Bush. His thoughts all come from self-help books and religious workshops. People like Michael Moore obsess over Bush because he speaks the same dumbed-down language that they do. But, simplicity and nihilism aren't far apartl.
It's as if Bin Laden and Bush are dumbed-down versions of Hitler and Woodrow Wilson. Maybe they're starring in the remake, which has been simplified for the mass audience.


Lives and Lifestyles

There are few sane people who would prefer being made up to look healthy while starving to eating a feast. Yet, this is what we seem to be expected to do. Every billboard asks us to buy the illusion of psychic nourishment. Buy the image and play the role. But, spiritual nourishment comes through effort and time. It is not downloaded into an I-Pod or painted on our faces. There is a difference between lives and lifestyles.


Beware the Image

The image compels us; it contains the power that all illusory things possess. It instills the terror of ghosts and spirits in us. In the ancien régime, when the King died, his effigy was posted outside of his bedroom to let his people know that Kingship survived in the image. The image has the power of the unseen that we ourselves lack. The image condemns us from afar, then lures us closer and beckons us to the out-of-reach. Beware the image: Hsun Tzu writes “He who comes to you with censure is your teacher; he who comes with approbation is your friend; but he who flatters you is your enemy.” I want to write this on every billboard in Toronto. “He who flatters you is your enemy.”


Summer Walking Thoughts

This evening I took a walk down to the store. This was a journey of maybe five blocks at best, but it reminded me of walks I had taken years ago. The honeysuckle was in bloom and I could smell the pollen in the air like a gauzy olfactory blanket hanging over the city. There was a slight breeze and I could smell marijuana wafting down from the windows of the houses that the college kids rent on this block. I could hear them arguing happily in their rooms and I wondered if I would ever have that sort of relationship again; the kind of friendship based in having un-colonized hours to spend together.
I sometimes wonder what happens to these thoughts when so much of my mind seems to be occupied by other things. Do they cease to exist? Or does that part of my mind that seems to be constantly occupied by politics and advertisements and general crap represent who I really am?


A Must Read

Which brings me to the NYTimes today, and why the conservatives fucked up.
See, for a week now, all we've been hearing from the right is, "Oh, my god! Newsweek must be destroyed!" because a ten-line article in Newsweek was factually suspect and claimed that US troops threw a Koran in a toilet. Okay, so let's all agree- Newsweek screwed up. Probably ran the article too early. Maybe they're a bunch of dirty liberals.
But, will the Bloganderthals be upset if the truth turns out to be worse? Or, in their selective outrage, will they stick with bashing Newsweek? I mean, do you think that the following report will make US troops look worse than Newsweek? And, does anyone on the right or the left have a single ethical standard anymore?

Here is the entire article from today's New York Times. It is absolutely a must-read.

May 20, 2005
In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths
Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.
Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.
"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"
At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.
"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.
Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.
The story of Mr. Dilawar's brutal death at the Bagram Collection Point - and that of another detainee, Habibullah, who died there six days earlier in December 2002 - emerge from a nearly 2,000-page confidential file of the Army's criminal investigation into the case, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.
Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths.
In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.
In sworn statements to Army investigators, soldiers describe one female interrogator with a taste for humiliation stepping on the neck of one prostrate detainee and kicking another in the genitals. They tell of a shackled prisoner being forced to roll back and forth on the floor of a cell, kissing the boots of his two interrogators as he went. Yet another prisoner is made to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning.
The Times obtained a copy of the file from a person involved in the investigation who was critical of the methods used at Bagram and the military's response to the deaths.
Although incidents of prisoner abuse at Bagram in 2002, including some details of the two men's deaths, have been previously reported, American officials have characterized them as isolated problems that were thoroughly investigated. And many of the officers and soldiers interviewed in the Dilawar investigation said the large majority of detainees at Bagram were compliant and reasonably well treated.
"What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone's standard for humane treatment," said the Pentagon's chief spokesman, Larry Di Rita. "We're finding some cases that were not close calls."
Yet the Bagram file includes ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity. Prisoners considered important or troublesome were also handcuffed and chained to the ceilings and doors of their cells, sometimes for long periods, an action Army prosecutors recently classified as criminal assault.
Some of the mistreatment was quite obvious, the file suggests. Senior officers frequently toured the detention center, and several of them acknowledged seeing prisoners chained up for punishment or to deprive them of sleep. Shortly before the two deaths, observers from the International Committee of the Red Cross specifically complained to the military authorities at Bagram about the shackling of prisoners in "fixed positions," documents show.
Even though military investigators learned soon after Mr. Dilawar's death that he had been abused by at least two interrogators, the Army's criminal inquiry moved slowly. Meanwhile, many of the Bagram interrogators, led by the same operations officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, were redeployed to Iraq and in July 2003 took charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison. According to a high-level Army inquiry last year, Captain Wood applied techniques there that were "remarkably similar" to those used at Bagram.
Last October, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command concluded that there was probable cause to charge 27 officers and enlisted personnel with criminal offenses in the Dilawar case ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter. Fifteen of the same soldiers were also cited for probable criminal responsibility in the Habibullah case.
So far, only the seven soldiers have been charged, including four last week. No one has been convicted in either death. Two Army interrogators were also reprimanded, a military spokesman said. Most of those who could still face legal action have denied wrongdoing, either in statements to investigators or in comments to a reporter.
"The whole situation is unfair," Sgt. Selena M. Salcedo, a former Bagram interrogator who was charged with assaulting Mr. Dilawar, dereliction of duty and lying to investigators, said in a telephone interview. "It's all going to come out when everything is said and done."
With most of the legal action pending, the story of abuses at Bagram remains incomplete. But documents and interviews reveal a striking disparity between the findings of Army investigators and what military officials said in the aftermath of the deaths.
Military spokesmen maintained that both men had died of natural causes, even after military coroners had ruled the deaths homicides. Two months after those autopsies, the American commander in Afghanistan, then-Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, said he had no indication that abuse by soldiers had contributed to the two deaths. The methods used at Bagram, he said, were "in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques."
The Interrogators
In the summer of 2002, the military detention center at Bagram, about 40 miles north of Kabul, stood as a hulking reminder of the Americans' improvised hold over Afghanistan.
Built by the Soviets as an aircraft machine shop for the operations base they established after their intervention in the country in 1979, the building had survived the ensuing wars as a battered relic - a long, squat, concrete block with rusted metal sheets where the windows had once been.
Retrofitted with five large wire pens and a half dozen plywood isolation cells, the building became the Bagram Collection Point, a clearinghouse for prisoners captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The B.C.P., as soldiers called it, typically held between 40 and 80 detainees while they were interrogated and screened for possible shipment to the Pentagon's longer-term detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The new interrogation unit that arrived in July 2002 had been improvised as well. Captain Wood, then a 32-year-old lieutenant, came with 13 soldiers from the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Bragg, N.C.; six Arabic-speaking reservists were added from the Utah National Guard.
Part of the new group, which was consolidated under Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, was made up of counterintelligence specialists with no background in interrogation. Only two of the soldiers had ever questioned actual prisoners.
What specialized training the unit received came on the job, in sessions with two interrogators who had worked in the prison for a few months. "There was nothing that prepared us for running an interrogation operation" like the one at Bagram, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sgt. Steven W. Loring, later told investigators.
Nor were the rules of engagement very clear. The platoon had the standard interrogations guide, Army Field Manual 34-52, and an order from the secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to treat prisoners "humanely," and when possible, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. But with President Bush's final determination in February 2002 that the Conventions did not apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda and that Taliban fighters would not be accorded the rights of prisoners of war, the interrogators believed they "could deviate slightly from the rules," said one of the Utah reservists, Sgt. James A. Leahy.
"There was the Geneva Conventions for enemy prisoners of war, but nothing for terrorists," Sergeant Leahy told Army investigators. And the detainees, senior intelligence officers said, were to be considered terrorists until proved otherwise.
The deviations included the use of "safety positions" or "stress positions" that would make the detainees uncomfortable but not necessarily hurt them - kneeling on the ground, for instance, or sitting in a "chair" position against the wall. The new platoon was also trained in sleep deprivation, which the previous unit had generally limited to 24 hours or less, insisting that the interrogator remain awake with the prisoner to avoid pushing the limits of humane treatment.
But as the 519th interrogators settled into their jobs, they set their own procedures for sleep deprivation. They decided on 32 to 36 hours as the optimal time to keep prisoners awake and eliminated the practice of staying up themselves, one former interrogator, Eric LaHammer, said in an interview.
The interrogators worked from a menu of basic tactics to gain a prisoner's cooperation, from the "friendly" approach, to good cop-bad cop routines, to the threat of long-term imprisonment. But some less-experienced interrogators came to rely on the method known in the military as "Fear Up Harsh," or what one soldier referred to as "the screaming technique."
Sergeant Loring, then 27, tried with limited success to wean those interrogators off that approach, which typically involved yelling and throwing chairs. Mr. Leahy said the sergeant "put the brakes on when certain approaches got out of hand." But he could also be dismissive of tactics he considered too soft, several soldiers told investigators, and gave some of the most aggressive interrogators wide latitude. (Efforts to locate Mr. Loring, who has left the military, were unsuccessful.)
"We sometimes developed a rapport with detainees, and Sergeant Loring would sit us down and remind us that these were evil people and talk about 9/11 and they weren't our friends and could not be trusted," Mr. Leahy said.
Specialist Damien M. Corsetti, a tall, bearded interrogator sometimes called "Monster" -he had the nickname tattooed in Italian across his stomach, other soldiers said - was often chosen to intimidate new detainees. Specialist Corsetti, they said, would glower and yell at the arrivals as they stood chained to an overhead pole or lay face down on the floor of a holding room. (A military police K-9 unit often brought growling dogs to walk among the new prisoners for similar effect, documents show.)
"The other interrogators would use his reputation," said one interrogator, Specialist Eric H. Barclais. "They would tell the detainee, 'If you don't cooperate, we'll have to get Monster, and he won't be as nice.' " Another soldier told investigators that Sergeant Loring lightheartedly referred to Specialist Corsetti, then 23, as "the King of Torture."
A Saudi detainee who was interviewed by Army investigators last June at Guantánamo said Specialist Corsetti had pulled out his penis during an interrogation at Bagram, held it against the prisoner's face and threatened to rape him, excerpts from the man's statement show.
Last fall, the investigators cited probable cause to charge Specialist Corsetti with assault, maltreatment of a prisoner and indecent acts in the incident; he has not been charged. At Abu Ghraib, he was also one of three members of the 519th who were fined and demoted for forcing an Iraqi woman to strip during questioning, another interrogator said. A spokesman at Fort Bragg said Specialist Corsetti would not comment.
In late August of 2002, the Bagram interrogators were joined by a new military police unit that was assigned to guard the detainees. The soldiers, mostly reservists from the 377th Military Police Company based in Cincinnati and Bloomington, Ind., were similarly unprepared for their mission, members of the unit said.
The company received basic lessons in handling prisoners at Fort Dix, N.J., and some police and corrections officers in its ranks provided further training. That instruction included an overview of "pressure-point control tactics" and notably the "common peroneal strike" - a potentially disabling blow to the side of the leg, just above the knee.
The M.P.'s said they were never told that peroneal strikes were not part of Army doctrine. Nor did most of them hear one of the former police officers tell a fellow soldier during the training that he would never use such strikes because they would "tear up" a prisoner's legs.
But once in Afghanistan, members of the 377th found that the usual rules did not seem to apply. The peroneal strike quickly became a basic weapon of the M.P. arsenal. "That was kind of like an accepted thing; you could knee somebody in the leg," former Sgt. Thomas V. Curtis told the investigators.
A few weeks into the company's tour, Specialist Jeremy M. Callaway overheard another guard boasting about having beaten a detainee who had spit on him. Specialist Callaway also told investigators that other soldiers had congratulated the guard "for not taking any" from a detainee.
One captain nicknamed members of the Third Platoon "the Testosterone Gang." Several were devout bodybuilders. Upon arriving in Afghanistan, a group of the soldiers decorated their tent with a Confederate flag, one soldier said.
Some of the same M.P.'s took a particular interest in an emotionally disturbed Afghan detainee who was known to eat his feces and mutilate himself with concertina wire. The soldiers kneed the man repeatedly in the legs and, at one point, chained him with his arms straight up in the air, Specialist Callaway told investigators. They also nicknamed him "Timmy," after a disabled child in the animated television series "South Park." One of the guards who beat the prisoner also taught him to screech like the cartoon character, Specialist Callaway said.
Eventually, the man was sent home.
The Defiant Detainee
The detainee known as Person Under Control No. 412 was a portly, well-groomed Afghan named Habibullah. Some American officials identified him as "Mullah" Habibullah, a brother of a former Taliban commander from the southern Afghan province of Oruzgan.
He stood out from the scraggly guerrillas and villagers whom the Bagram interrogators typically saw. "He had a piercing gaze and was very confident," the provost marshal in charge of the M.P.'s, Maj. Bobby R. Atwell, recalled.
Documents from the investigation suggest that Mr. Habibullah was captured by an Afghan warlord on Nov. 28, 2002, and delivered to Bagram by C.I.A. operatives two days later. His well-being at that point is a matter of dispute. The doctor who examined him on arrival at Bagram reported him in good health. But the intelligence operations chief, Lt. Col. John W. Loffert Jr., later told Army investigators, "He was already in bad condition when he arrived."
What is clear is that Mr. Habibullah was identified at Bagram as an important prisoner and an unusually sharp-tongued and insubordinate one.
One of the 377th's Third Platoon sergeants, Alan J. Driver Jr., told investigators that Mr. Habibullah rose up after a rectal examination and kneed him in the groin. The guard said he grabbed the prisoner by the head and yelled in his face. Mr. Habibullah then "became combative," Sergeant Driver said, and had to be subdued by three guards and led away in an armlock.
He was then confined in one of the 9-foot by 7-foot isolation cells, which the M.P. commander, Capt. Christopher M. Beiring, later described as a standard procedure. "There was a policy that detainees were hooded, shackled and isolated for at least the first 24 hours, sometimes 72 hours of captivity," he told investigators.
While the guards kept some prisoners awake by yelling or poking at them or banging on their cell doors, Mr. Habibullah was shackled by the wrists to the wire ceiling over his cell, soldiers said.
On his second day, Dec. 1, the prisoner was "uncooperative" again, this time with Specialist Willie V. Brand. The guard, who has since been charged with assault and other crimes, told investigators he had delivered three peroneal strikes in response. The next day, Specialist Brand said, he had to knee the prisoner again. Other blows followed.
A lawyer for Specialist Brand, John P. Galligan, said there was no criminal intent by his client to hurt any detainee. "At the time, my client was acting consistently with the standard operating procedure that was in place at the Bagram facility."
The communication between Mr. Habibullah and his jailers appears to have been almost exclusively physical. Despite repeated requests, the M.P.'s were assigned no interpreters of their own. Instead, they borrowed from the interrogators when they could and relied on prisoners who spoke even a little English to translate for them.
When the detainees were beaten or kicked for "noncompliance," one of the interpreters, Ali M. Baryalai said, it was often "because they have no idea what the M.P. is saying."
By the morning of Dec. 2, witnesses told the investigators, Mr. Habibullah was coughing and complaining of chest pains. He limped into the interrogation room in shackles, his right leg stiff and his right foot swollen. The lead interrogator, Sergeant Leahy, let him sit on the floor because he could not bend his knees and sit in a chair.
The interpreter who was on hand, Ebrahim Baerde, said the interrogators had kept their distance that day "because he was spitting up a lot of phlegm."
"They were laughing and making fun of him, saying it was 'gross' or 'nasty,' " Mr. Baerde said.
Though battered, Mr. Habibullah was unbowed.
"Once they asked him if he wanted to spend the rest of his life in handcuffs," Mr. Baerde said. "His response was, 'Yes, don't they look good on me?' "
By Dec. 3, Mr. Habibullah's reputation for defiance seemed to make him an open target. One M.P. said he had given him five peroneal strikes for being "noncompliant and combative." Another gave him three or four more for being "combative and noncompliant." Some guards later asserted that he had been hurt trying to escape.
When Sgt. James P. Boland saw Mr. Habibullah on Dec. 3, he was in one of the isolation cells, tethered to the ceiling by two sets of handcuffs and a chain around his waist. His body was slumped forward, held up by the chains.
Sergeant Boland told the investigators he had entered the cell with two other guards, Specialists Anthony M. Morden and Brian E. Cammack. (All three have been charged with assault and other crimes.) One of them pulled off the prisoner's black hood. His head was slumped to one side, his tongue sticking out. Specialist Cammack said he had put some bread on Mr. Habibullah's tongue. Another soldier put an apple in the prisoner's hand; it fell to the floor.
When Specialist Cammack turned back toward the prisoner, he said in one statement, Mr. Habibullah's spit hit his chest. Later, Specialist Cammack acknowledged, "I'm not sure if he spit at me." But at the time, he exploded, yelling, "Don't ever spit on me again!" and kneeing the prisoner sharply in the thigh, "maybe a couple" of times. Mr. Habibullah's limp body swayed back and forth in the chains.
When Sergeant Boland returned to the cell some 20 minutes later, he said, Mr. Habibullah was not moving and had no pulse. Finally, the prisoner was unchained and laid out on the floor of his cell.
The guard who Specialist Cammack said had counseled him back in New Jersey about the dangers of peroneal strikes found him in the room where Mr. Habibullah lay, his body already cold.
"Specialist Cammack appeared very distraught," Specialist William Bohl told an investigator. The soldier "was running about the room hysterically."
An M.P. was sent to wake one of the medics.
"What are you getting me for?" the medic, Specialist Robert S. Melone, responded, telling him to call an ambulance instead.
When another medic finally arrived, he found Mr. Habibullah on the floor, his arms outstretched, his eyes and mouth open.
"It looked like he had been dead for a while, and it looked like nobody cared," the medic, Staff Sgt. Rodney D. Glass, recalled.
Not all of the guards were indifferent, their statements show. But if Mr. Habibullah's death shocked some of them, it did not lead to major changes in the detention center's operation.
Military police guards were assigned to be present during interrogations to help prevent mistreatment. The provost marshal, Major Atwell, told investigators he had already instructed the commander of the M.P. company, Captain Beiring, to stop chaining prisoners to the ceiling. Others said they never received such an order.
Senior officers later told investigators that they had been unaware of any serious abuses at the B.C.P. But the first sergeant of the 377th, Betty J. Jones, told investigators that the use of standing restraints, sleep deprivation and peroneal strikes was readily apparent.
"Everyone that is anyone went through the facility at one time or another," she said.
Major Atwell said the death "did not cause an enormous amount of concern 'cause it appeared natural."
In fact, Mr. Habibullah's autopsy, completed on Dec. 8, showed bruises or abrasions on his chest, arms and head. There were deep contusions on his calves, knees and thighs. His left calf was marked by what appeared to have been the sole of a boot.
His death was attributed to a blood clot, probably caused by the severe injuries to his legs, which traveled to his heart and blocked the blood flow to his lungs.
The Shy Detainee
On Dec. 5, one day after Mr. Habibullah died, Mr. Dilawar arrived at Bagram.
Four days before, on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr, Mr. Dilawar set out from his tiny village of Yakubi in a prized new possession, a used Toyota sedan that his family bought for him a few weeks earlier to drive as a taxi.
Mr. Dilawar was not an adventurous man. He rarely went far from the stone farmhouse he shared with his wife, young daughter and extended family. He never attended school, relatives said, and had only one friend, Bacha Khel, with whom he would sit in the wheat fields surrounding the village and talk.
"He was a shy man, a very simple man," his eldest brother, Shahpoor, said in an interview.
On the day he disappeared, Mr. Dilawar's mother had asked him to gather his three sisters from their nearby villages and bring them home for the holiday. But he needed gas money and decided instead to drive to the provincial capital, Khost, about 45 minutes away, to look for fares.
At a taxi stand there, he found three men headed back toward Yakubi. On the way, they passed a base used by American troops, Camp Salerno, which had been the target of a rocket attack that morning.
Militiamen loyal to the guerrilla commander guarding the base, Jan Baz Khan, stopped the Toyota at a checkpoint. They confiscated a broken walkie-talkie from one of Mr. Dilawar's passengers. In the trunk, they found an electric stabilizer used to regulate current from a generator. (Mr. Dilawar's family said the stabilizer was not theirs; at the time, they said, they had no electricity at all.)
The four men were detained and turned over to American soldiers at the base as suspects in the attack. Mr. Dilawar and his passengers spent their first night there handcuffed to a fence, so they would be unable to sleep. When a doctor examined them the next morning, he said later, he found Mr. Dilawar tired and suffering from headaches but otherwise fine.
Mr. Dilawar's three passengers were eventually flown to Guantánamo and held for more than a year before being sent home without charge. In interviews after their release, the men described their treatment at Bagram as far worse than at Guantánamo. While all of them said they had been beaten, they complained most bitterly of being stripped naked in front of female soldiers for showers and medical examinations, which they said included the first of several painful and humiliating rectal exams.
"They did lots and lots of bad things to me," said Abdur Rahim, a 26-year-old baker from Khost. "I was shouting and crying, and no one was listening. When I was shouting, the soldiers were slamming my head against the desk."
For Mr. Dilawar, his fellow prisoners said, the most difficult thing seemed to be the black cloth hood that was pulled over his head. "He could not breathe," said a man called Parkhudin, who had been one of Mr. Dilawar's passengers.
Mr. Dilawar was a frail man, standing only 5 feet 9 inches and weighing 122 pounds. But at Bagram, he was quickly labeled one of the "noncompliant" ones.
When one of the First Platoon M.P.'s, Specialist Corey E. Jones, was sent to Mr. Dilawar's cell to give him some water, he said the prisoner spit in his face and started kicking him. Specialist Jones responded, he said, with a couple of knee strikes to the leg of the shackled man.
"He screamed out, 'Allah! Allah! Allah!' and my first reaction was that he was crying out to his god," Specialist Jones said to investigators. "Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny."
Other Third Platoon M.P.'s later came by the detention center and stopped at the isolation cells to see for themselves, Specialist Jones said.
It became a kind of running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out 'Allah,' " he said. "It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes."
In a subsequent statement, Specialist Jones was vague about which M.P.'s had delivered the blows. His estimate was never confirmed, but other guards eventually admitted striking Mr. Dilawar repeatedly.
Many M.P.'s would eventually deny that they had any idea of Mr. Dilawar's injuries, explaining that they never saw his legs beneath his jumpsuit. But Specialist Jones recalled that the drawstring pants of Mr. Dilawar's orange prison suit fell down again and again while he was shackled.
"I saw the bruise because his pants kept falling down while he was in standing restraints," the soldier told investigators. "Over a certain time period, I noticed it was the size of a fist."
As Mr. Dilawar grew desperate, he began crying out more loudly to be released. But even the interpreters had trouble understanding his Pashto dialect; the annoyed guards heard only noise.
"He had constantly been screaming, 'Release me; I don't want to be here,' and things like that," said the one linguist who could decipher his distress, Abdul Ahad Wardak.
The Interrogation
On Dec. 8, Mr. Dilawar was taken for his fourth interrogation. It quickly turned hostile.
The 21-year-old lead interrogator, Specialist Glendale C. Walls II, later contended that Mr. Dilawar was evasive. "Some holes came up, and we wanted him to answer us truthfully," he said. The other interrogator, Sergeant Salcedo, complained that the prisoner was smiling, not answering questions, and refusing to stay kneeling on the ground or sitting against the wall.
The interpreter who was present, Ahmad Ahmadzai, recalled the encounter differently to investigators.
The interrogators, Mr. Ahmadzai said, accused Mr. Dilawar of launching the rockets that had hit the American base. He denied that. While kneeling on the ground, he was unable to hold his cuffed hands above his head as instructed, prompting Sergeant Salcedo to slap them back up whenever they began to drop.
"Selena berated him for being weak and questioned him about being a man, which was very insulting because of his heritage," Mr. Ahmadzai said.
When Mr. Dilawar was unable to sit in the chair position against the wall because of his battered legs, the two interrogators grabbed him by the shirt and repeatedly shoved him back against the wall.
"This went on for 10 or 15 minutes," the interpreter said. "He was so tired he couldn't get up."
"They stood him up, and at one point Selena stepped on his bare foot with her boot and grabbed him by his beard and pulled him towards her," he went on. "Once Selena kicked Dilawar in the groin, private areas, with her right foot. She was standing some distance from him, and she stepped back and kicked him.
"About the first 10 minutes, I think, they were actually questioning him, after that it was pushing, shoving, kicking and shouting at him," Mr. Ahmadzai said. "There was no interrogation going on."
The session ended, he said, with Sergeant Salcedo instructing the M.P.'s to keep Mr. Dilawar chained to the ceiling until the next shift came on.
The next morning, Mr. Dilawar began yelling again. At around noon, the M.P.'s called over another of the interpreters, Mr. Baerde, to try to quiet Mr. Dilawar down.
"I told him, 'Look, please, if you want to be able to sit down and be released from shackles, you just need to be quiet for one more hour."
"He told me that if he was in shackles another hour, he would die," Mr. Baerde said.
Half an hour later, Mr. Baerde returned to the cell. Mr. Dilawar's hands hung limply from the cuffs, and his head, covered by the black hood, slumped forward.
"He wanted me to get a doctor, and said that he needed 'a shot,' " Mr. Baerde recalled. "He said that he didn't feel good. He said that his legs were hurting."
Mr. Baerde translated Mr. Dilawar's plea to one of the guards. The soldier took the prisoner's hand and pressed down on his fingernails to check his circulation.
"He's O.K.," Mr. Baerde quoted the M.P. as saying. "He's just trying to get out of his restraints."
By the time Mr. Dilawar was brought in for his final interrogation in the first hours of the next day, Dec. 10, he appeared exhausted and was babbling that his wife had died. He also told the interrogators that he had been beaten by the guards.
"But we didn't pursue that," said Mr. Baryalai, the interpreter.
Specialist Walls was again the lead interrogator. But his more aggressive partner, Specialist Claus, quickly took over, Mr. Baryalai said.
"Josh had a rule that the detainee had to look at him, not me," the interpreter told investigators. "He gave him three chances, and then he grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him towards him, across the table, slamming his chest into the table front."
When Mr. Dilawar was unable to kneel, the interpreter said, the interrogators pulled him to his feet and pushed him against the wall. Told to assume a stress position, the prisoner leaned his head against the wall and began to fall asleep.
"It looked to me like Dilawar was trying to cooperate, but he couldn't physically perform the tasks," Mr. Baryalai said.
Finally, Specialist Walls grabbed the prisoner and "shook him harshly," the interpreter said, telling him that if he failed to cooperate, he would be shipped to a prison in the United States, where he would be "treated like a woman, by the other men" and face the wrath of criminals who "would be very angry with anyone involved in the 9/11 attacks." (Specialist Walls was charged last week with assault, maltreatment and failure to obey a lawful order; Specialist Claus was charged with assault, maltreatment and lying to investigators. Each man declined to comment.)
A third military intelligence specialist who spoke some Pashto, Staff Sgt. W. Christopher Yonushonis, had questioned Mr. Dilawar earlier and had arranged with Specialist Claus to take over when he was done. Instead, the sergeant arrived at the interrogation room to find a large puddle of water on the floor, a wet spot on Mr. Dilawar's shirt and Specialist Claus standing behind the detainee, twisting up the back of the hood that covered the prisoner's head.
"I had the impression that Josh was actually holding the detainee upright by pulling on the hood," he said. "I was furious at this point because I had seen Josh tighten the hood of another detainee the week before. This behavior seemed completely gratuitous and unrelated to intelligence collection."
"What the hell happened with that water?" Sergeant Yonushonis said he had demanded.
"We had to make sure he stayed hydrated," he said Specialist Claus had responded.
The next morning, Sergeant Yonushonis went to the noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Sergeant Loring, to report the incident. Mr. Dilawar, however, was already dead.
The Post-Mortem
The findings of Mr. Dilawar's autopsy were succinct. He had had some coronary artery disease, the medical examiner reported, but what caused his heart to fail was "blunt force injuries to the lower extremities." Similar injuries contributed to Mr. Habibullah's death.
One of the coroners later translated the assessment at a pre-trial hearing for Specialist Brand, saying the tissue in the young man's legs "had basically been pulpified."
"I've seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus," added Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, the coroner, and a major at that time.
After the second death, several of the 519th Battalion's interrogators were temporarily removed from their posts. A medic was assigned to the detention center to work night shifts. On orders from the Bagram intelligence chief, interrogators were prohibited from any physical contact with the detainees. Chaining prisoners to any fixed object was also banned, and the use of stress positions was curtailed.
In February, an American military official disclosed that the Afghan guerrilla commander whose men had arrested Mr. Dilawar and his passengers had himself been detained. The commander, Jan Baz Khan, was suspected of attacking Camp Salerno himself and then turning over innocent "suspects" to the Americans in a ploy to win their trust, the military official said.
The three passengers in Mr. Dilawar's taxi were sent home from Guantánamo in March 2004, 15 months after their capture, with letters saying they posed "no threat" to American forces.
They were later visited by Mr. Dilawar's parents, who begged them to explain what had happened to their son. But the men said they could not bring themselves to recount the details.
"I told them he had a bed," said Mr. Parkhudin. "I said the Americans were very nice because he had a heart problem."
In late August of last year, shortly before the Army completed its inquiry into the deaths, Sergeant Yonushonis, who was stationed in Germany, went at his own initiative to see an agent of the Criminal Investigation Command. Until then, he had never been interviewed.
"I expected to be contacted at some point by investigators in this case," he said. "I was living a few doors down from the interrogation room, and I had been one of the last to see this detainee alive."
Sergeant Yonushonis described what he had witnessed of the detainee's last interrogation. "I remember being so mad that I had trouble speaking," he said.
He also added a detail that had been overlooked in the investigative file. By the time Mr. Dilawar was taken into his final interrogations, he said, "most of us were convinced that the detainee was innocent."
Ruhallah Khapalwak, Carlotta Gall and David Rohde contributed reporting for this article, and Alain Delaqueriere assisted with research.


Torture and Blogs

So, again I should note that I was okay with this whole "removing Saddam from power" thing. Sure, I knew the WMD line was probably crap, but I still dug the idea of overthrowing a tryant. Because, well I hate torture, mass killings, and all of that.
Now, one would think that Blogganderthals on the left would oppose US torture and oppression and Saddam's torture and oppression, especially of the Kurds. On the other hand, we might also expect the Conservative Blogganderthals to actively oppose US torture of prisoners with the same vehemence that they argued Saddam's tyrany could not be allowed to exist.
Unless, those left and right bloggers were all partisan hacks...


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Patriot Act 2: The Revenge

Senator Pat Roberts (R. Kansas) is working on a bill to expand the Patriot Act. The New Patriot Act will greatly expand FBI powers to search private records and so forth. Seriously though, what can't they do after the last Patriot Act? Are random public anal probes still off limits?


The Lighter Side of Creeping Fascism

Here's a news story that's just too priceless to ignore. Three Oregon teachers were ejected from a Bush rally, roughed up and threatened with arrest for wearing tee-shirts reading: "Protect our civil liberties".
No, I'm not making that up. Apparently, they were arrested by members of the Oregon Police Department's crack Irony Task Force. One Secret Service official even claimed that the tee-shirts were "obscene". Of coruse, to a certain mentality they probably are.


Academic Non-Issues: "Porn Class"

The University of Iowa is offering a class on Porn. Actually, lots of universities have classes on porn, which sort of shows that we try to market these classes to students. This class in particular "will examine the impact of porno on mainstream culture." Of course, that actually makes sense because this generation has come of age with porn in a much different way than previous generations.

When I was a kid, you had to go downtown to a creepy building to get porn. Most of us weren't willing to track it down. So, when the scaremongers claimed that women were kidnapped, raped and killed to make porn, many people believed them.

But, the net changed all of that. Now, most kids in university have seen porn, and many of them even have stashes of it. Porn is mainstream. So are its values. Why else would kids come to the insane conclusion that pubic hair is "dirty"? So, teaching kids to think critically about the values of porn seems fairly intelligent. And the "porn class" doesn't seem so terrible when you consider that the kids won't even see any porn in class.

Iowa House representative, and apparently aptly named, Chris Rants is upset about this. "The lawmaker said the pornography class isn't something that should be taught with taxpayer's money." Okay, but again it's not a "pornography class". Also, aren't university students adults? Moreover, did this guy actually read the syllabus? Or is he just another grandstanding blowhard? Why do we elect representatives who get righteously upset, but not ones who can read a syllabus, or even think about an issue before becoming righteously upset?


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Great News

I'm still adjusting to the great news that Claire and I will be suffering through grad school together in the Fall. Actually, I think it's still sinking in for her too. Her university is beautiful! Apparently, they represent "Canadian excellence" which is actually trading a bit higher than American excellence right now due to the exchange rate. American pluck is still doing very well. Sorry, just being silly... Anyway, it's great news!


Bad News

Great editorial on Military justice, which apparently consists of shafting the lowest grunt on the totem pole. Again, people will ask "Could this really be considered torture?" I don't know. Beating someone in the head until they die and then taking "funny" pictures of yourself smiling next to their dead body seems pretty much like torture to me.
For the record, the body count is now at 25 tortured to death by the US. And God knows how many thousands tortured to death by Saddam. And you know what? It's not acceptable in either case.


Monday, May 16, 2005


Claire got into the master's program in social work! So, yay! Gotta go.


Internet Fasting Redux

I posted this idea here a few weeks ago, but since then my readership seems to have shot up to 2-4 people. Feeling the heady excitement here, I ask:
Would anybody be up for a 1-2 day Internet Strike?


Blogging Question

Often, I see people's blogs that have a list of links on the side that connect to blogs they enjoy.
If I could do this, I would link stuff like:
I Still Have a Snake
library Chronicles
What Blows My Skirt Up
No Rock'n'roll Fun
panties panties panties
and well, quite a few really.
But, alas I know not how.
Any help?


Librarians on Libraries

The Divine Miss Daisy, from the blog I Still Have a Snake, responded to my griping about libraries and so forth. Since she is a librarian, and quite cool, here are her thoughts:

"It seems to me that what they've done at University of Texas is to move the books away from the undergrad library and into the stacks at the main library. I can't say I think that's a great idea, but I sort of get it. What they've done is turned the undergrad library into something between a library and a computer lab, but not quite either."

Yes, I guess I can see the idea behind it. People do find worthwhile information on the net. I use Gallica Classique all the time. I mean, I'm not a complete luddite, although grad student is pretty much a monastic position. I think our undergrad library actually has no books on the main floor, although it does on the other two floors.
I guess the problem I have is that I'm on the end that assigns course-work and we don't really assign the internet, you know? I'd love to think that students would order books and have them delivered, but I hate to think that we're giving them the impression that we really take crap factories like Wikipedia seriously.

"That's a wonderful idea, actually, although I don't think I'd call it a library any more. I'd have built it in a third building and left both libraries alone."

And that actually could work pretty well. We'll have to write UT Austin.

"I also can't really think of a reason to build a books-only library. Even a collection of historical books, or an archival collection, should include online finding aids. Of course information is found in books. But there are many reasons to provide access to the Internet and databases as well. To name two: reliable online sources give breaking news on a topic; and if someone's checked a book out, it's inaccessible until (and if) returned, whereas online/database information can be shared among several users."

Okay, I can see that.

I guess my issue is that I'm sort of surrounded by the effects of living in a post-literate culture. Students generally can read, but they don't really understand what they read, don't really read at all, and don't like to read. They will read the internet, but even there, most sites they read are grammatically suspect, simplistic in thought, and tend towards inaccurate information. So, we don't like to assign the internet. The problem I think is that there are plenty of profs who say: "Why should they have to read if they don't want to. Just assign them a movie on DVD!" and plenty of us who say: "It's not our job to encourage the formation of an idiot culture." So, I guess the real question for both academics and librarians is where do we draw the line between living in the modern era and remaining a bullwark against its particular flaws.

"You ask why librarians would be supportive of this trend. If you mean the trend to build bookless libraries, I'd say most librarians -- and certainly all the ones I know -- would be dead set against it, as am I."



Sunday, May 15, 2005

No Bureaucrat Left Behind

Utah tells the federal government to blow the No Child Left Behind Act out their ass. Apparently, the Utah Governor thinks the Act is a rigid, simplistic, bureaucratic, big government mess... imagine that. Seriously, what do you think Republicans would call something like the No Child Left Behind Act if Hillary Clinton had sponsored it? Hmmmm?


How to Tell that You're a Poor Grad Student...

Your fiancee is having a wedding shower and all you're thinking is "God, I hope we get some good loot!"


Wars, Star and Otherwise

George Lucas, creator of the most overrated B-movie of all time argues that his new Star Wars film is not actually intended to warn Americans about the dangers of war fever or conservatism. There are, however, parallels to Rome and Weimar in the story, especially considering Hitler's use of the lightsaber.
Off the record, Lucas added: "Really, I just want Americans to wake up to the dangers of giant asteroid-dwelling slugs and bounty hunters with rocket launchers on their wrists. These things are serious people!"


Oh, Those Poor Gays

Amusing article about one of the downsides of gay marriage; now Massachusettes gays are getting pressured by their parents to settle down and get married. Oy!
To any gays out there, just wait until you start having to arrange a wedding with your in-laws. You know nothing about oppression until you have to pick out seating arrangements with a mother-in-law!
I guess it is worse for the gay couples though. When they have rain on the wedding day, or the band they hired shows up late or drunk, there's always going to be some douchebag homophobic relative in the corner grumbling, "See! It's God's wrath!"


Bookless Libraries?!

I still can't wrap my head around the idea of bookless libraries. According to the vice-provost of the University of Texas at Austin's libraries, the reason they are emptying their undergrad library of books is:
"In this information-seeking America, I can't think of anyone who would elect to build a books-only library." Am I wrong in thinking that you can get information from books? Or that it is higher-quality information than you might get from Wikipedia? Or that a librarian might agree with that?
A senior in Business Management with some sense said:
"Well, this is a library - it's supposed to have books in it. You can't really replace books. There's plenty of libraries where they have study rooms. This is a nice place for students to come to. It's central in campus." Right. Nor can you replace readers.
An architect tells us that the "challenge" with designing these new "libraries" is to adapt them to what she called "the Barnes & Noble culture, making reading and learning a blurred experience." Ah, yes. I'm glad that someone who can use a phrase like "making reading and learning a blurred experience" is justifying doing away with books.
Trust me, learning is a blurred experience for most undergrads these days. As is every other experience they have.
The, ahem, president of the Association of College and Research Libraries reminds us:
"This is a new generation, born with a chip. A student sends an e-mail at 2 a.m. and wonders by 8 a.m. why the professor hasn't responded."
Right, and there's nothing wrong with that? A generation that can't read and that believes everything should be done to serve them and we're supposed to placate that mentality? How about we add "adult" masseuses to the "libraries" to do to the students what the profession requires these days?
The article notes:
Significantly, librarians are big supporters of the trend.
Okay, I'm open. Why would librarians be big supporters of the trend?


Saturday, May 14, 2005

More on David Horowitz

As some may have noticed, someone responded to my post on David Horowitz inviting my comments. Actually, their handle linked directly to the blog on Discover the Network, a controversial site that Mr. Horowitz edits. So, I'm assuming it was the man himself. Anyway, here is the response I sent him, which may or may not have gotten though; the site seems to have some blips.

Good afternoon! I recently recieved an email at my blog "Grad Student Madness" from someone who claimed to be Mr. Horowitz. Following the links, I now suspect that it was the man himself and am quite happy to hear from him. It was in regards to my post on Mr. Horowitz in which I said that I believed that academic liberals, of which I am one (although honestly I'm of a pro-Israel, anti-Chomsky slant that might be more receptive to Horowitz than others) should actually discuss Mr. Horowitz's ideas with him instead of sniping and snarking. So, here I am.

Where I agree with Mr. Horowitz:
1) I think that political lobbying has no place whatsoever in the classroom. Not only because it's boorish and stupid, which it is, but also because it encourages meeker students to toe the line instead of expressing their own opinions.
2) I agree that there are several disciplines that have been so ideologically shuttered that their scholarship has declined dramatically. I believe that debate and give and take is healthy for the intellect and the soul.
3) I suspect many parts of the academy really are closed off to those who don't toe the ideological line. Witness Larry Summers's current misery. I agree that this is a remarkably unhealthy situation for the university to find itself in, and it must be improved for the future of academia.

Where I disagree:
1) Because of the "self-esteem movement" in High Schools, there are already many students who come to college thinking of academics as employees who serve them. While I agree that students should have a way to challenge those profs who make their own politics part of the course load, I also fear that this sort of "anti-indoctrination" movement encourages students to treat academics with contempt, which goes against the traditional hierarchy of a teaching situation. I am not a 60s radical. I do not believe it's healthy for students to treat authority figures with contempt solely for the sake of "self-expression". I criticize leftists for taking that stance just as surely as I do conservatives. Restoring the dignity of the profession will mean that leftist academics will have to stop behaving like boobs, but it will also mean that young people will have to start behaving like students.
2) I have never been in a classroom situation in which I felt preached to or indoctrinated. Admittedly, I went to William & Mary, which may be more conservative than many schools. After all, Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher have both served as Chancellor there. But, it's hard for me to sympathize. I've been friends with many conservative students and still am, and we discuss Horowitz. None of them have told me that they've found themselves in the ideological classroom. I suspect that there are many academics who agree that the classroom or seminar hall is not the place to push one's politics. In fact, I'd suspect there are a lot more of us who agree with that than Mr. Horowitz is aware of.
3) I do not think these sorts of sites constitute "McCarthyism". Yet, Senator McCarthy was not the first anti-communist crusader. I worry that these sorts of approaches; the endless "Watch" sites, the intense hyperboly, and so forth; do not really solve the problem so much as demonize the political "opposition" and make solutions much less likely to be reached. Since academics like myself see our role in society as searching for truth in our field of knowledge and serving as stewards of culture for the next generations, I simply cannot see why we should get lumped in (by aspersion) with pedants like Noam Chomsky, or psychopaths like Ward Churchill. It seems to me that Mr. Horowitz should be treated with more respect than he has been. But, I believe that he should be willing to return the favor. Perhaps, it is just a tense time in American cultural life, and there won't be many pleasant debates happening. But, I would much rather discuss these issues over drinks with people who I respect, yet disagree with, than read their opinions over hyperbolic websites. Hopefully, this email will be recieved in the spirit in which it was sent- namely, respectful disagreement.
Best wishes,
-Carlton Hickok


Friday, May 13, 2005

Calling All Librarians!

You know who you are. :) What do you make of libraries that are
doing away with all of their books? Am I wrong for thinking that that's a bit strange? Maybe I'm old fashioned but going into a library and finding that, of course, they don't have books seems to me like going into a bakery and hearing, "Bread? Why would we have bread? This isn't Bread-Mart." Actually, yesterday I and a few friends did indeed walk into a "Pizzeria" at 5:30 in the afternoon only to have the man working there respond, "No. I don't make pizza. Okay?" So, we left and I spent all night trying to wrap my head around that.
But, bookless libraries? Huh?


Thursday, May 05, 2005

David Horowitz

Interesting Chronicle of Higher Education article about David Horowitz, who is leading the campaign to get more conservatives in academia. Quite a scarcity of conservatives here, especially in the humanities. I'm fairly liberal myself, but I'd love to see more conservatives- it would make the discussions much more lively!

I'm not fond of groups that seek to micromanage the universities and certainly not fond of the idea that students have paid money and so can expect to enjoy every minute of school. However, I also think that prostelytizing in class is boorish.

However I have spent the last six years in higher education and I have never not once, seen a professor engage in indoctrination, prostelyzation, or political advocacy in a classroom situation. So, I think the problem may be overblown. (On the other hand, I was not at UC Berkeley either.) Who knows? It would be interesting to have a discussion with Horowitz. He says that he would like to hear from liberals. My only fear would be that, if I disagreed with him, he'd write a book against me.


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Wal-Mart Plantation

Amusing article about how much it sucks to work at Wal-Mart. Particuarly amusing was the corporate rep's comment:
"If people tell you that Wal-Mart is leading the so-called 'race to the bottom' in terms of job quality or pay, they're not only wrong, they're dead wrong."

Well, that settles that, eh?


Monday, May 02, 2005

Giant (non-tenured) Penises on Campus

College Republicans go for the easy laugh by staging Penis Day at Roger Williams University. No, this is not a salute to Bush, but a parody of those kitschy V-Day celebrations that get staged on campuses every Feb 14th. The highlight of the Republican parody was a frat boy in a giant penis costume harassing the university provost. Ha-ha.

Formal charges were filed, but we can wait to see if the case stands up in court. (Ba-Dum-Bump!) Christina Hoff Summers, in the linked article, notes that the giant penis is perhaps inappropriate in a place of learning, but argues that students at Arizona State (a totally different university for those who are keeping track) erected (ahem) a giant vagina, which was not confiscated. Apparently, there is no across the board rule for dealing with giant prosthetic sex organs in an academic setting. But, in our favor, I don't think McDonald's
has any hard and fast rule about giant vaginas either. (yes, I know- hard and fast, heh-heh)

I guess I'm hopelessly old-fashioned for thinking that neither a giant penis nor a giant vagina has any place in a university setting. Summers argues: "Unhappily, P-Day may be the only effective means of countering V-Day with all its c-fests, graphic lollipops, intrusive questionnaires, outsized effigies of vaginas and its thematic anti-male play." Um, yes. Or, the College Republicans could simply ignore V-Day like the rest of us do. Would William F. Buckley really approve of giant penis costumes as the political voice of spoiled frat boys? Also, is there anything left to college activism besides dick and pussy jokes?