Archive for July, 2010

Rope’s End

(In the 1990s, while working for Moon Publications, I offered to assist another editor with Puerto Vallarta Handbook. There I encountered a sidebar that presented a seriously bollixed up version of director John Huston’s legendary presentation of gold-plated derringers to his film’s principals prior to shooting The Night of the Iguana. I happened to know a lot about this tale—Iguana, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire, my favorite transformed-Tennessee Williams films—and in an excess of zeal I rewrote the sidebar . . . and then went completely out of control, adding about five pages of additional material. I thought the author would be pleased. Wrong. He huffily rejected my effort, and I stuck it in a drawer. Where it re-mained until I was up against a deadline for one of the shooting-star newspapers I worked for later in the decade; I dug out the Puerto Vallarta thing, entered it into the tubes, and thereby was done for the week.

(When that paper’s website went dark, together with the paper, I figured the piece was lost. Then today, looking for something completely different, I stumbled across it in this strange ghostly wormhole on the tubes. I don’t know how long it’s going to persist in that place, so I’m bringing it here.

(I am charmed by loose location stories like this one, because they remind me of the lubricious, bibulous mayhem I experienced while working with other young rebels in putting out fine and feisty “alternative” newspapers, back in the day. Of course, no one can live forever in such a manner—the Iguana people who went at it hardest (Gardner, Burton) were the first to leave their bodies. It’s not really necessary, I know now, to live like that at all. William Blake, for instance, managed to behave himself, and he did alright, art-wise. He was even visited by angels.)

Without John Huston’s 1963 film The Night of the Iguana there would not exist today the gringo tourist mecca of Puerto Vallarta. Before Huston & Co. arrived to transfer the prizewinning play of Tennessee Williams to the big screen, Puerto Vallarta was an unknown, “undiscovered” village just entering the age of electricity. As The Night of the Iguana became one of the most publicized film shoots in the history of the movies, the town was transformed from a sleepy backwater on the heat-plagued west coast of Mexico into one of the most attractive jetset destinations on the globe.

Ray Stark brought the Iguana property to Huston. The rookie producer had put but one film upon the screen when he acquired the rights to the play, believing it “would make a wonderful picture, especially in Mexico. John, of course, was the guru of Mexico. I just got him at a lucky time when he wanted to go back there.”

Huston had shot The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Unforgiven in Mexico and had planned to lens The Misfits there until overruled by that film’s writer/producer, Arthur Miller. Williams had specified Acapulco as the location of his play, but Huston scoffed at the notion of staging his film there. He sought a place more wild and forlorn, one that would reflect the torment of the work’s characters, par-ticularly protagonist T. Laurence Shannon. This defrocked clergyman, locked out of his church for fornicating with a young parishioner, finds himself adrift, awash in alcohol, reduced to escorting elderly churchwomen on fourth-rate bus tours through fifth-rate sites in Mexico and the southwest US. The Night of the Iguana is, in Huston’s words, the story “of a man, desperate and full of despair, at the end of his rope.”

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The Heart Of The Matter

The light ahead grew larger, brighter, but there were no drafts, sounds, or smells from that direction. The emotions, the plans, the feelings, the objectives I had seen swirled like floodwater through the city of facts I was slowly erecting on the grave of my other self, and though an act is an act, in the best Steinian tradition, each wave of interpretation that broke upon me shifted the position of one or more things I had thought safely anchored, and by this brought about an alteration of the whole, to the extent that all of life seemed almost a shifting interplay of some never to be attained truth. Still, I could not deny that I knew more now than I had several years earlier, that I was closer to the heart of matters than I had been before, that the entire action in which I had been caught up seemed now to be sweeping toward some final resolution. And what did I want? A chance to find out what was right and a chance to act on it! I laughed. Who is ever granted the first, let alone the second of these?

—Roger Zelazny, The Hand of Oberon

Head Case

Malaysia is a Muslim-majority nation struggling to accommodate people of differing religious faiths. While Islam is the state religion, the country’s constitution guarantees religious freedom. Malaysia, like Turkey and Indonesia, at least attempts to function, in many areas, as what we in the West might recognize as a secular state.

Perspective is important. Malaysia as a nation is barely 50 years old. When the United States was 50 years old, it gave birth to the “Know Nothings,” politically powerful Anglo-Saxon Protestants who sought to disenfranchise and expel the country’s Catholics. When England was 224 years old, it rounded up all its Jews, stole all their money, and then shipped them to the Continent.

Even when non-Muslims get a little sneaky, in attempting to bypass the country’s prohibition against pros-elytizing to Muslims, Malaysian authorities may decide in their favor. As I noted here, on December 31 of last year the Malaysian High Court ruled in favor of the Catholic Herald, a paper serving the country’s small Catholic population, and which had insisted upon the right to use the word “Allah” to refer to its version of the Abrahamic deity.

And now Muslims who last summer took to the streets to make mischief—publicly abusing a cow’s head in protest of the construction of a Hindu temple—have been told to knock it off by a Malaysian judge, who admonished and fined them, and sent one of them to jail.

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God

Moving Parts

So it is not only the bones of the Admiral that have not been allowed to rest in peace.

Last week we learned that the (alleged) remains of former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and his wife Elena, have been brought out of the ground there in Bucharest, so that Science Men can paw over them in an attempt to determine whether those bodies are really who they say they are. The Ceausescus’ heirs successfully sued to reopen the graves, in response to two decades of wild Romanian rumors insisting that the bodies Are Not Really Them. If the bodies are Them, the heirs want to reinter them in a family plot.

Give us about six months, said the Science Men after the exhumation, then we’ll give you the Truth.

Meanwhile, over in Italy, the Galileo Museum in Florence has decided that The Thing To Do is to put bits of Galileo’s body on display—”three fingers and a gnarly molar.”

“He’s a secular saint, and relics are an important symbol of his fight for freedom of thought,” said Paolo Galluzzi, the director of the Galileo Museum, which put the tooth, thumb and index finger on view last month, uniting them with another of the scientist’s digits already in its collection.

“He’s a hero and martyr to science,” he added.

Jesus wept. Is there a reason why people can’t let moldering corpses lie? And what in the sam hill is it?

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Finger Of Fate

She rounded a thicket of pomegranate trees which were shaking bare limbs in the cold wind and saw him leaning on his axe, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. He was wearing the remains of his butternut trousers and one of Gerald’s shirts, a shirt which in better times went only to Court days and barbecues, a ruffled shirt which was far too short for its present owner. He had hung his coat on a tree limb, for the work was hot, and he stood resting as she came up to him.

At the sight of him in rags, with an axe in his hand, her heart went out in a surge of love and fury at fate. She could not bear to see him in tatters, working. His hands were not made for work or his body for anything but broadcloth and fine linen. God intended him to sit in a great house, talking with pleasant people, playing the piano and writing things which sounded beautiful and made no sense whatsoever.

—Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind

26 De Julio

In the week leading up to 26 de Julio, the annual celebration of the Cuban Revolution, officials in Spain expressed hope that Cuba’s announcement that the “government’s wish is to free all the people”—at least all those not convicted of murder—might lead to better relations with the nations of Europe, and perhaps even the cessation, at last, of the US blockade of the island.

Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told the Spanish parliament that such a release would yield “political consequences” for relations with the EU and the US, in particular a possible “lifting of the embargo” that the US has stubbornly maintained since 1962.

In a Spain-brokered deal between the Vatican and Cuba, the latter agreed this month to free 52 of 75 prisoners sentenced in 2003 to prison terms of up to 28 years. Twenty have already emigrated to Spain with their families. Moratinos said there was nothing “coincidental” about these releases—they are the fruit of a six-year dialogue between the Spanish and Cuban governments.

Moratinos said the freeing of these prisoners should enable the EU to soften its joint position on Cuba, enacting a “cooperation accord”—despite reluctance from such US-friendly EU nations as France and Germany.

Cuban dissidents claim that, besides the 52 prisoners due for release, Cuba continues to imprison 115 political prisoners. Though that number, as the Miami Herald pointed out today, seems somewhat inflated.

The US embargo is deeply dumb, and should have been tossed in the dustbin of history, long ago. Whether Barack Obama—who, as is well known, is a Marxist, just like Fidel Castro—will elect to set off the ceaseless screaming that would commence, from both GOoPers and the more retrogade elements of the Cuban exile community, in lifting the embargo, no one at present knows.

Though Cuba has been the subject of ceaseless bloviations, in numberless American political campaigns, over the past 40-some years, not much is really known about the country and its history, up here in its historically meddlesome neighbor, but 90 miles to the north.

Two years ago Alexa wrote for Never In Our Names several superb, illuminating pieces centering around 26 de Julio. Long excerpts from two of them, “Subpoena Power, Sugarcane and Sundries on Sunday” and “History Will Absolve Me, v.1.0.” are featured beyond the “furthur.”

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What’s Good: Malaysia

It’s Monday, so what the hell: let’s put on the Happy Face.

Collected here are some genuinely good-news pieces from out of Malaysia. Malaysia, like all artificial European-colonial constructs, has had its problems, some of which I’ve addressed here and here. But the people there, they’re trying. As these pieces will hopefully show.

Malaysian immigration officials in Kedah state raided a house of bondage and rescued 71 women who had been forced for more than two years to work without pay as housecleaners. The women, originally from Indonesia, had been lured to Malaysia on promises that they could earn $160 a month as maids. Once they arrived, recruiters seized their passports, locked them up in a house, and sent them out every day to work, without pay, in cleaning houses. Some of the women were as young as 17; the men who enslaved them could face up to 15 years in prison on human-trafficking charges. It is estimated that some 2 million people from countries outside Malaysia, mostly its poorer neighbors, work in Malaysia in construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and service industries. Claims of overwork, underpay, and sometimes even physical abuse, it is said, “are common.” Sorta like in the US.

Malaysian Muslim clerics have decreed that while soccer uniforms featuring devils, crosses, and skulls promote the “wrong value,” they do not believe such items should be banned.

For reasons I do not want to think about right now, the British soccer team Manchester United is particularly popular in Malaysia. The team’s emblem is a red devil holding a trident, and the players are ofttimes referred to as “the Red Devils.”

Though he and his fellows are not interested in banning the things, Muslim cleric Harussani Zakaria says: “We just advise people not to wear this. Satan is, for us, our enemy. It’s the wrong value. Satan is always bad.”

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Logging The Library Of Congress

Always I’m reminded of French Peak up here. French Peak, for those who haven’t kept track of it in the last ten years, is a place that they have been wanting to log so bad for so long that they don’t really even want to log it any more, they want to fight about it. There are no roads through it, no wires through it—it exists at an elevation, about an hour from Eugene here, that no other wilderness area exists at.

At one argument we were having about the French Peak area, a logger stood up and said, “All these long hairs, these ecologists, and stuff like that, they never go up there. They’re just talking about it like it’s an abstract idea. We’re loggers and we know the place. We want to get into it.” He says, “You’re probably not even going to go up there this year.” And I said, “That’s probably right. I’m probably not going to go to the Library of Congress, either, but I don’t want it logged.”

I want it there forever, just like I want the Great Pyramid there forever so that I can go and look at it. “My God, look at that. There’s that pyramid. I’ve seen it all my life on a pack of Camels; it’s there; it exists on the face of this earth; it belongs to me.”

—Ken Kesey

Sunday Services

Good morning, good people.

None of us were promised this day, so it is well that we begin by acknowledging it. As Brother Sephius says:

A new day I never seen before nor will I ever again.

Be glad in it.

Our first reading is from the Gospel of Thomas.

To the disciples, who are having trouble getting it, Jesus is explaining the nature of the Kingdom, and how to apprehend and enter it.

Jesus said: “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over all things.”

“If one has knowledge, he receives what is his own, and draws it to himself. Whoever is to have knowledge in this way knows where he comes from, and where he is going.”

“What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it. The Kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.”

“When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, then you will enter the Kingdom.”

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The End Of History

A Scottish brewery has chosen to “bottle” the strongest and most expensive ale ever produced within the bodies of stuffed animals.

BrewDog, which fancies itself a “maverick” brewer, “bottled” the 110-proof beer inside squirrels, weasels, and a hare. The blond Belgian ale retails for $765 to $1200, depending upon which animal it is presented in.

All 12 “bottles” produced by BrewDog sold out within four hours of going on sale, to customers in Scotland, England, Canada, the United States, Denmark, and Italy.

Company co-founder James Watts said the beer was titled “The End Of History” in homage to Francis Fukuyama’s inane The End of History and the Last Man, which Watts is apparently unaware is a thoroughly discredited text. According to Watts’ muddled thinking, “this is to beer what democracy is to history.”

Watts says the “decision to wrap the bottle in a dead animal was taken to indicate how special the beer was, blending brewing, taxidermy, and art.” BrewDog has specialized in creating abnormally strong experimental beers, and “for the final installment in the strong beer series, we wanted to create something epic, something monumental.

“We wanted to challenge people’s perceptions about how beer can be packaged; taxidermy helps open people’s eyes to the fact that beer doesn’t have to be made by a multi-national organization.”

No, the beer “opens people’s eyes” to the fact that human beings remain capable of behaving like disgusting cretins, grotesque louts, and howling imbeciles.

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Unthink

We hear there is a substance and it is called plutonium. We hear that “they” are somewhere (do you remember the name of the state?) manufacturing it. We don’t know how it is made. We think the substance uranium is used. We know it is radioactive. We have seen the photographs of babies and children deformed from radiation. The substance plutonium becomes interesting to us when we read that certain parts of the building where it is manufactured have leaks. We don’t know really what this means, if it is like the leak in our roofs, or the water pipe in the backyard, or if it is a simple word for a process beyond our comprehension. But we know the word “leak” indicates error and we know that there is no room for error in the handling of this substance. That it has been called the most deadly substance known. That the smallest particle (can one see a particle, smell it?) can cause cancer if breathed in, if ingested. All that we know in the business of living eludes us in this instant. None of our language helps us. Not knowing how to drive, to cook on a gas stove, to soap the diaper pins so that they pass more easily through the diaper, to wash cotton in cold water so that it doesn’t shrink, to repair the water pipes, or dress a wound. No skill helps us. Nor does quickness of mind, nor physical strength. We are like an animal smaller and more vulnerable than any nature has ever created. We have no defense. We try not to remember whatever we may know of plutonium.

—Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature

New Year’s Day

As someone who has been on the inside of jury trials and numerous other criminal proceedings over the past decade, I know that it is most often folly to attempt to pass judgement on a case that one has not been a part of it. But I am going to go ahead and pitch in my two cents on the Johannes Mehserle trial anyway.

Mehserle was convicted July 8 of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Oscar Grant. Mehserle, a transit officer for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), pulled out his firearm and shot Grant once in the back, as Grant lay prone on the ground, mostly under the control of a fellow officer. Mehserle’s defense was that he had meant to fire his taser at Grant, not his .40 caliber handgun.

Grant was one of several celebrants pulled from a BART train at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station on suspicion of fighting and generally acting Wrongly in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day. According to witness statements and cell-phone videos, prior to being shot and killed by Mehserle, Grant was assaulted by BART officer Tony Pirone and possibly another officer: punched in the face several times, thrown against a wall, kneed in the face, and condemned as a “bitch-ass nigger.”

After Mehserle fired the shot that killed him, Grant said, “You shot me! I got a four-year-old daughter.” He died seven hours later.

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Network

Local television news, and increasingly national news and overall television programming, has become the domain of fear, viciousness, snooping, and suffering. Decent media people, who usually sought a career in journalism or the media with the highest motives and ethics in mind, are pushed to value only ratings and profits. Last year a national show was launched that featured home videos of viciousness and suffering, and its ads—which were foisted on anyone who happened to be listening to that network in prime time—depicted a person tending his garden being attacked by a neighbor and a child being abused by a babysitter. In Philadelphia, my hometown, a major network’s local news reporting on escalating racial hostilities be-tween Hispanics and whites showed repeat-edly—and advertised—throughout an evening their “exclusive” video of a “drive-by shooting” by a Hispanic. The anchor’s voiceover urged calm in the white neighborhood as the picture was full of violence, fear, and provocation. The station had no comment as it later appeared that the video actually showed only part of a series of complex, violent events that did not include a drive-by shooting. Such events, and maudlin interviews and intrusions on basic privacy and respect, are now commonplace.

—David Kairys, With Liberty And Justice For Some

In The Box

In the last millennium, in the days pre-tubes, I read a piece somewhere—Harper’s I think, maybe Rolling Stone—by a shamefaced scribe who confessed to working for some years in the wacky world of Generoso Pope, Jr., late titan of the tabloid empire that churned out such wonderments as The National Enquirer and The Weekly World News.

Two anecdotes from that story have stuck with me for years. The first involved the day when the writer realized that, notwithstanding the fat salaries that Pope paid to his people, he had to get out of the place. Seems one of the rags was set to feature a piece about an alien spacecraft hovering on the far side of Mercury, undetected here on earth. One of the writer’s fellow workers, assigned to author the caption for the image accompanying the spacecraft nonsense, approached a member of the graphics department, bearing with him the image, and asked of it: “Is this a photograph, or an illustration?”

The writer understood that if he remained in Pope’s employ much longer, he too would reach the day when he would genuinely not know whether an image of an undetected alien spacecraft on the far side of Mercury might be an illustration, or a photograph.

The second anecdote concerned a new and zealous female coworker of the writer’s. The writer and she were assigned, for some reason that I have forgotten, to dog Frank Sinatra. Sinatra, as was his wont, arrogantly blew off these people. After several frustrating encounters, the woman angrily shook her fist at a retreating Sinatra, and vowed: “You’ll get yours, Frank! We’ll get you in your box!”

This was a reference to the Enquirer‘s then-practice of surreptitiously obtaining, then publicly printing, photographs of dead celebrities in their caskets—known in the Pope trade as “in the box” pictures. Apparently the first such Enquirer “in the box” shot was of Elvis Presley, which the paper obtained by bribing a member of Presley’s entourage. The Enquirer issue featuring on its cover Presley “in the box” sold more copies than any other edition of the Enquirer in history. Word then went forth to Pope’s Enquirer people that they should move heaven and earth to obtain similar “in the box” photos of future dead celebrities.

I don’t recall whether the paper succeeded, when Frank did pass, in skewering Sinatra “in the box.” I do know the practice continues with Pope’s spiritual heirs: OK! reportedly shelled out $500,000 for a picture of Michael Jackson “in the box.” And there has recently developed a perhaps even uglier sub-genre, in which tabloids print photos of celebrities taken just before they die: Gary Coleman’s heirs sold pictures of his “last moments” to the Globe for $10,000. “They are going to sell a crazy amount of magazines,” a Globetrotter noted before the images appeared. “Yes, it’s an ugly decision to run pictures of a man in his hospital bed minutes before he died, but dead celebrities sell.”

Why am I remembering and recounting all this? Because in recent days this site has begun attracting a tremendous number of page hits for a photograph of Jesse James “in the box,” that I unwittingly posted here nearly a year ago.

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The Said Admiral Is Dead

They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fuku americanus, or more colloquially, fuku—generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World. Also called the fuku of the Admiral because the Admiral was both its midwife and one of its great European victims; despite “discovering” the New World the Admiral died miserable and syphilitic, hearing (dique) divine voices. In Santo Domingo, the Land He Loved Best, the Admiral’s very name has become synonymous with both kinds of fuku, little and large; to say his name aloud or even to hear it is to invite calamity on the heads of you and yours.

No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fuku on the world, and we’ve all been in the shit ever since. Santo Domingo might be fuku’s Kilometer Zero, its port of entry, but we are all of us its children, whether we know it or not.

—Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

Much about the Admiral is not known. Where he was born, and when: these are not known. The arc of his early years, when and what he studied at the University of Pavia: these, too, are not known. Where he obtained his ideas of geography, this is not known. The Admiral, it developed, did not know geography: he believed, to the end of his days, that where he landed in 1492 marked the far eastern fringe of Asia.

What is known is that when the Admiral stepped ashore on Hispaniola, he brought Original Sin to the New World. The policies he pursued there exterminated that island’s people, the Taino, every one. Today, “the Taino survive in the shape of one’s eyes, the outline of one’s face, the idiom of one’s language.” All the rest is gone. From Hispaniola, the Admiral and his works brought destruction too to all the native peoples of all the rest of the Americas—north, central, and south. And to replace the falling bodies of the Taino, who died extracting gold and silver for him, the Admiral birthed the transatlantic slave trade, bringing to the New World in bondage people from the place where people were born.

The Admiral was eventually returned in chains to Spain, accused of misgoverning his New World. Fallen from favor, he spent his remaining years in litigation against the king, seeking to regain lost wealth and titles. He became a nonperson. And when he died, the official chronicle of the inland northern town where he expired, Valladolid, did not acknowledge his passing. It was not until several weeks later that a town document noted simply that “the said Admiral is dead.”

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Sea-Green Incorruptible

I think Rudy Giuliani is a bigot. I don’t mean he hates Jews, Negroes, or Italians. I mean, bigotry is the feeling that people need to be hounded off the face of the earth. Bigotry is not prejudice; it’s a commitment to erase from the face of the earth people that you don’t happen to like.

When I first met Diane Giacalone, she said to me, “Are you going to compare me with Robespier-re?” So I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “When you called Rudy Giu-liani ‘a sea-green incorruptible.'” Now, what fascinated me was, how did she know where that came from? I mean, [New York] is a city of eight million people. There could be no more than twenty who ever read all the way through Thomas Carlyle’s French Revolution, which, by the way, is the most wonderful book I’ve read in years. Anyway, she knew where this remark came from.

Now, if you say to Giacalone, “I think the witness you’ve served up is absolutely repellent to every civilized man,” she will say to you, “All right, but where else can I get a witness?” But if you say to Giuliani—I remember, he said to me during the Friedman trial, “What did you think of Lindenauer?” And I said he was so awful that I had been saving a line for ten years, and that was, “I have read Louis-Ferdinand Celine and I have communed with Roy Cohn and I will say to you that he is the worst ambulant creature that I have ever seen. Period.” Now, I’m not proud of that line because it’s stolen from Disraeli, who said of somebody, “I have known Bulwer-Lytton and I have read Cicero and I will tell you that he is the most conceited man I have ever known.”

Giuliani said to me, “How could you say that? Lindenauer is very sorry for what he did.” Now I’ll give Giacalone one credit. She knew these guys weren’t the least bit sorry for what they did. They were in a jam; they turned in their friends. But Giuliani believes this, he really does believe in the shriven soul, in the penitent. Such men pile the faggots under the feet of anybody who comes into their path.

He’s a “sea-green incorruptible.” I just don’t like him. I don’t like his pale face, his pale eyes. And I don’t like him. I don’t think anybody goes to glory if Giuliani wins a case.

—Murray Kempton

The Bridge

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled that War on Terra prisoner Belkacem Bensayah cannot be considered a “part” of Al Qaeda, based on the “evidence” the government presented against him.

The 17-page opinion, written by Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, was declassified on July 1. Like the recent order from Judge Henry Kennedy commanding the release of War on Terra prisoner Mohamed Mohamed Hassan Odaini (see here and here), significant portions of Ginsburg’s opinion have been “redacted.” And also like Kennedy’s order, those redacted portions reference information provided by Abu Zubaydah.

Zubaydah is the Original Sin of the War on Terra. Zubaydah is a grievously mentally ill man who, shortly after he was taken into custody in March of 2002, was dubbed by the FBI’s premier expert on Al Qaeda as “insane, certifiable, split personality.”

Acknowledged by top officials at both the FBI and the CIA as a mentally damaged nobody, Zubaydah was nonetheless waterboarded and otherwise tortured on hundreds of occasions. During which, in his agony, he would “speak of plots of every variety—against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty,” causing “thousands of uniformed men and women [to] race in a panic to each target,” and ensuring the continued incarceration of untold innocents like Bensayah and Odaini.

Ginsburg’s opinion, like Kennedy’s, indicates that men and women of the law (before whom this nation’s War on Terra cases have at last landed), once they are confronted with Zubaydah, his treatment, and his “testimony,” will lend his words little or no weight whatsoever.

Ginsburg is no wild-eyed “liberal activist” judge. In 1987 he was selected by President Ronald Reagan to sit on the United States Supreme Court. His nomination was withdrawn only after the Puritans recoiled at the news that he had occasionally smoked marijuana with his students at Harvard.

That judges from all over the political spectrum are refusing to credit tales torn from Zubaydah by torture leads inevitably to that day when the US government must admit that with Zubaydah it mortally erred.

Until, as Sinead O’Connor recently said of the Holy Father and his hierophants, it will be required that, in some secular and metaphorical manner, they “get on their knees and confess the full truth in the same language they make us use in Mass. They need to get on their knees, open everything up, be transparent, tell the truth, ask the people for forgiveness and prayers. That confession is their only hope of survival into the 21st century. It’s a rickety bridge, but it is a bridge. And personally, I would be willing to bring them across that little bridge into the 21st century, and help them.”

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Life In Hades

And he didn’t like being dead. He hated not having a body. He scorned the way everyone just lay around Hades all the time, complaining about conditions and talking about the good old days on Earth. He himself wouldn’t stoop to complain. Show a little spirit, he told them. Stay in condition. Even though the dead aren’t able to build muscle, Odysseus exercised faithfully. “You have to retain the ability to do things,” he told dead people who asked about this, “even if what you do makes no difference.”

—Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley, If At Faust You Don’t Succeed

Water From The Moon

Wednesday evening there was rain. Though there were no clouds in the sky. Nothing but blue. Far, far to the north, floating still, the wispiest of a thin white cloud, but overhead—nothing. The rain was very light. Each droplet could be perceived as softly it struck. And also heard . . . because otherwise all was utterly silent. No breeze. All of the animal kingdom holding its peace.

This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I think of it as “water from the moon,” from the ancient Javanese expression for something that is impossible. For as the Javanese know, the impossible does happen. Not often. But often enough to illume that it is sometimes but the thinnest of scrims that separates the possible from that which is impossible.

I find it melancholy, these soft, single-falling drops from a clear blue sky. I feed on it while it lasts, and always after I think of three things.

The first something that long haunted George Orwell, and which he wrote about several times, but expressed best like this:

When I think of antiquity, the detail that frightens me is that those hundreds of millions of slaves on whose backs civilisation rested generation after generation have left behind them no record whatever. We do not even know their names. In the whole of Greek and Roman history, how many slaves’ names are known to you? I can think of two, or possibly three. One is Spartacus and the other is Epictetus. Also, in the Roman room at the British Museum there is a glass jar with the maker’s name inscribed on the bottom, “Felix fecit.” I have a vivid mental picture of poor Felix (a Gaul with red hair and a metal collar round his neck), but in fact he may not have been a slave; so there are only two slaves whose names I definitely know, and probably few people can remember more. The rest have gone down into utter silence.

The second the final lines from Andre Schwarz-Bart’s The Last Of The Just, the only book I have ever really pressed on people, like an evangelist pushing scripture.

And then he knew that he could do nothing more for anyone in the world, and in the flash that preceded his own annihilation he remembered, happily, the legend of Rabbi Chanina ben Teradion, as Mordecai had joyfully recited it: “When the gentle rabbi, wrapped in the scrolls of the Torah, was flung upon the pyre by the Romans for having taught the Law, and when they lit the fagots, the branches still green to make his torture last, his pupils said, ‘Master, what do you see?’ And Rabbi Chanina answered, ‘I see the parchment burning, but the letters are taking wing.'” . . . “Ah, yes, surely, the letters are taking wing,” Ernie repeated as the flame blazing in his chest rose suddenly to his head. With dying arms he embraced Golda’s body in an already unconscious gesture of loving protection, and they were found that way half an hour later by the team of Sonderkommando responsible for burning the Jews in the crematory ovens. And so it was for millions, who turned from Luftmenschen into Luft. I shall not translate. So this story will not finish with some tomb to be visited in memoriam. For the smoke that rises from crematoriums obeys physical laws like any other: the particles come together and disperse according to the wind that propels them. The only pilgrimage, estimable reader, would be to look with sadness at a stormy sky now and then.

And praised. Auschwitz. Be. Maidanek. The Lord. Treblinka. And praised. Buchenwald. Be. Mauthausen. The Lord. Belzec. And praised. Sobibor. Be. Chelmno. The Lord. Ponary. And praised. Theresienstadt. Be. Warsaw. The Lord. Vilna. And praised. Skarzysko. Be. Bergen-Belsen. The Lord. Janow. And Praised. Dora. Be. Neuengamme. The Lord. Pustkow. And praised . . . .

Yes, at times one’s heart could break in sorrow. But often too, preferably in the evening, I can’t help thinking that Ernie Levy, dead six million times, is still alive somewhere, I don’t know where . . . . Yesterday, as I stood in the street trembling in despair, rooted to the spot, a drop of pity fell from above upon my face. But there was no breeze in the air, no cloud in the sky . . . . There was only a presence.

The third an observation from a character in a novel I will probably never finish. That given the fact that life is suffering, and that the chemical composition of seawater is more or less identical to that of human tears, it is not at all unlikely that the seas, from which life began, are formed of all the tears shed by all the human beings who shall ever live, these waters transported via some temporal mobius strip from all our ends, back there to the beginning.

And on those waters we sail and we sail and we sail . . . .

I Am The Future

Call me a pessimist, call me Ishmael, but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea. We live in a literate time, and our children are writing up a storm, often combining letters and numerals (U R 2 1derful), blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Alanon to non-sequiturs, sequins, pen-guins, penal institutions, and it’s all free, and you read freely, you’re not committed to anything, you’re like a hummingbird in an endless meadow of flowers.

And if you want to write, you just write and publish yourself. No need to ask permission, just open a Web site. And if you want to write a book, you just write it. No problem. And that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.

The upside of self-publishing is that you can write whatever you wish, utter freedom, and that also is the downside. You can write whatever you wish and everyone in the world can exercise their right to read the first three sentences and delete the rest.

—Garrison Keillor

“What Is Wrong In It?”

Less than a week after Asha Saini and Yogesh Jatav were tortured and murdered in New Delhi by members of Saini’s family—for the “crime” of pursuing an inter-caste love affair—Monica and Kuldeep Singh, who four years ago had eloped and married outside their caste, were slain by members of Monica’s family.

The same men then proceeded to kill Monica’s cousin, Shobha Nagar, for both supporting Monica, and pursuing an inter-caste love affair of her own.

Shobha’s younger sister, Khushboo, and her new husband Ravi, who recently eloped and married against family tradition, are currently receiving police protection.

While the men who committed the killings were on the run, friends and relatives defiantly told the police and public that their actions were justified. Says Dharmaveer Nagar, uncle to Mandeep Nagar, who shot his 20-year-old sister Shobha in the forehead at point-blank range:

“This is not at all wrong. What is wrong in it? Murder is wrong but this is socially the best thing that has been done. This cannot be termed as wrong.”

“[Inter-caste marriages] will break our society, bring down self-confidence. I would say that the youths have done the best thing. This will send a message in society.”

Prior to shooting his sister, Mandeep and two other men killed Kuldeep in his car, then shot Monica at her home, after gaining entrance on the pretext of delivering food for her parents’ marriage anniversary. One of the killers was her brother.

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Spy Vs. Spy

Spy stuff that surfaces in public print rarely reflects what’s really going on. Such was the case with the 10 Russian “sleeper agents” recently arrested in the United States, and swiftly exchanged for four people held as spies by the Russians.

From the get-go, it was clear that these people were neither serious nor important. They had been under FBI surveillance for more than a decade, and thus it can be presumed they were able to do no harm. The methods and equipment they employed were said to be “right out of the Cold War”—and so they were. Real spies, particularly in more or less “friendly” countries, long ago moved on from the sort of “brush-pass handoffs” and radio transmissions (radio?) relied on by these goofballs.

Reading about these nimrods was like reading John le Carre’s The Looking Glass War, in which a serious British spy outfit assists a rival outfit—one that is a sort of vestigial appendix of World War II—in committing operational seppuku, bumbling about with methods and equipment so archaic that when the Russians first latch on to the operation they refuse to believe it; it’s like these people fell out of a time machine.

This Great Spy Scandal Of 2010 quickly descended into utterly embarrassing farce when the tabloids breathlessly dubbed accused spook Anna Chapman a “femme fatale,” and then her disgrace of a loose-lipped ex-husband obligingly rushed out to yammer to all and sundry that “Anya was great in bed and she knew exactly what to do”—though she annoyed him with her “arrogant and obnoxious” manner in “always going on about the powerful people she was meeting,” and had breezily admitted that her father was “a senior KGB agent.” (First problem with this is, the KGB hasn’t existed since 1991).

I’m sorry, but serious spies just don’t move their mouths like this. I once lived next door to the widow of a CIA contract employee, who hadn’t known her husband was an occasional agent until long after he was dead—and then learned the truth only because of a bureaucratic fuck-up. She was told he had died in “a helicopter crash”; throughout their 15 years of marriage, she had always believed that his extended sojourns to South America were necessitated because he “worked for an oil company.”

The essential buffoonery of this Gang Who Couldn’t Spy Straight is revealed in the story of the 2004 meeting between fellow sleepers Christopher Metsos and Richard Murphy: Murphy lifted from Metsos his cash and ATM card, and then took off. Murphy and his wife, Cynthia, were such dedicated agents that they refused the suggestion of their handlers that they seek jobs in the US government—that was apparently just “too scary.” Many of these goofs also hung out on a Russian social-networking site, Odnoklassniki, which does not display a lot of intelligence for folks supposedly posing as Normal, Patriotic Americans.

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When I Worked

July 2010
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