Saturday, August 26, 2006

Weekend food for thought

Arcturus, who occasionally graces my comments with all sorts of cool suggestions for poets to check out, dropped this joint over at Mo Betta Meta:
Reality (as in the words of Ms. Kelly) too is often more satisfying leavened with fiction. The following "letter," written in 1979, is from an open-ended, epistolary novel (From A Broken Bottle Traces Of Perfume Still Emanate). The setting is when the band, the Mystic Horn Society, goes down to the local record store to 'face their critics.'

24. IX. 79

Dear Angel of Dust,

Funny what a odor can do. This afternoon in the produce section of the supermarket I bent over between the oranges and the nectarines and unexpectedly caught a brief whiff of what was exactly the scent of the Nago incense David used to bring back from New York four years ago. I wouldn't exactly call what I went into a swoon, but it did carry me back to the night he and I sat up late drinking port and listening to the album of Tunisian music he'd brought over.

In any case, I'm writing not so much to play Proust as to tell you about the, press conference we held this morning. The band decided it was time we confronted our critics face to face, so we reserved some space down at Rhino Records, the hip record store in town, and sent out invitations. A pretty large crowd showed up. The people at Rhino were nice enough to provide refreshments, so it turned out to be something of an event. Things got under way with a fellow from one of the local radio stations clearing his throat to say that while he admitted being "somewhat uninformed" on recent developments in music the trouble he has with our compositions is their tendency to, as he put it, "go off on tangents." He then said that "a piece of music should gather rather than disperse its component parts" but insisted that he wasn't asking that our music be made easier exactly, "Just more centered somehow," etc.

This line of argument was a piece of cake, as they say, for Lambert, who sat fidgetting, smirking and jotting notes on the back of an album cover he'd been looking at the whole time this fellow spoke. (I have to give Lambert credit, knowing his temper, for even hearing him out.) Anyway, the guy did at last finish, at which point three people back towards the budget classical section applauded. Lambert stared at them a moment, then began by saying that all the talk of being "more centered" was just that, talk, and had long ago become too easy to throw around anymore. He then asked what, or where, was this “center" and how would anyone know it if it were there. He went on, tilting his chair back on its hind legs, folding his arms across his chest and saying that he wasn't sure anyone had anything more than the mere word "center," that it didn't simply name something one doesn’t have and thus disguises a swarm of untested assumptions about. Then he shifted his argument a bit, saying that if our music does have a center, as he could argue it indeed does, how would someone who admits being "somewhat uninformed" recognize it, that maybe the fellow from the radio station wasn't saying anything more than that our music churns out of a center other than his, one he's unfamiliar with. He pointed out that, as he put it, "you don't know any center you don't go to" and finished the matter off by rising from his chair, wagging a very preacherly right index finger and admonishing, "But if, 'somewhat uninformed,' you refuse to make the journey to that center and instead pontificate on its need to be 'more centered,' then you're asking for nothing if not an easier job, that your work be done by someone else, that our music abandon its center and shuffle over to yours." With that he sat down to cheers and stamping of feet from the folk imports section.

Next a fortyish, not bad looking lady from one of the neighborhood weeklies spoke up. She had a lazy way of talking-not a drawl exactly, but a way of almost retracting what she had to say. And not exactly lazy either, considering the care she took, the effort it must have taken to sustain (like a sigh, only longer) that blase way of speaking she took for charm.

Anyway, what she had to say was that she considered herself not a critic but a fan of our music, but that she wondered why we couldn't, to quote her, "place the music within the context of the whole culture, rather than just the African, Asian and generally 'Third World' references you like to make. " She sat down and those of us at the table, the members of the band, looked around at one another for a moment. Finally Heidi, whom I don't think I've mentioned before but who plays violin and congas and also calls herself Aunt Nancy, spoke up. "All I can say"-- she said, "is that the culture you're calling 'whole' has yet to assume itself to be so except at the expense of a whole lot of other folks, except by presuming that what they were up to could be ignored at no great loss." She went on to accuse the lady of "speaking right from the heart of that exclusionary sense of dichotomy to even ask such a question." There was a bit of rumbling at the back of the room but she went on. "What makes you think of Africa, Asia and other parts of the world," she asked, raising her voice, standing up and putting her hand on her hip, "as not a part of 'the whole culture'? What makes you feel excluded by our sources if not the exclusionistic biases of the culture you identify as 'whole' boomeranging back at you?" The lady from the neighborhood weekly blushed, and Heidi (or Aunt Nancy) went on to say that while she was standing she might as well reply to something in the first guy who spoke's remarks which'd bothered her. And what she said she said so eloquently I have to quote her again. "I don't know where you get this business of gathering vs. dispersing," she argued, turning to the fellow from the radio station, "the sense of them as an either/or proposition, one a choice against the other. We inhale as well as exhale, the heart dilates as well as contracts. Those of us in the band want music that shows similar signs of life. You may want something different, something more modest maybe, but your modesty betrays its falseness, shows itself to be the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing it is, when you saddle up your high horse to tell the rest of us we have to likewise lower our sights." She then took a drink of water and sat down. Again there was applause. This time from some people over near the used reggae bin.

Well, things went on pretty much like that, back and forth, for three hours or so. I'd go into more detail-and maybe at some other time I will-but I've begun to get hungry, so I have to bring this to a halt. But that reminds me: You may be wondering what Penguin had to say during the press conference. I forgot to tell you he wasn't there. Yesterday, as you know, was John Coltrane's birthday. Penguin, by way of homage and celebration, insisted on eating three sweet-potato pies, just as Trane did one afternoon in Georgia in the late forties when he was in the Cleanhead Vinson band. We all warned him but he wouldn't listen, so he ended up sick and had to have his stomach pumped. Won't get out of the hospital till tomorrow, perhaps even later.

I'll be in touch.

Yours truly,

N.

fr. Nathaniel Mackey's Bedouin Hornbook, pp. 10-13 (Callaloo, 1986)
Something tells me that my reading list is going to expand exponentially (a good thing, of course).

Mickey Z sez

As a result, dissent in America is pretty much limited to marches, protests, boycotts, petitions, Michael Moore documentaries, the occasional vote for a third party candidate, and articles like this one. All of these methods (at least in their safe-for-mass-consumption versions) are deemed "legal" by those with the guns and, in their own way, legitimize the power held by those with theguns. Thus, all such tactics are ultimately impotent in terms of provoking systemic, long term change. If you don't believe me, ask yourself why you haven't taken your rebellion beyond the methods listed above. Your answer is likely the same as mine: "We've got the numbers, but they've got the guns."

Maybe author Derrick Jensen had it right when he said:
"We still think we have something to lose. That's what's stopping us. As soon as we realize we have nothing left to lose we'll be dangerous."
After all, as Jim Morrison sang: "No one here gets out alive."
Nerdified Link.

Bob Dylan (from "Like a Rolling Stone") sez:
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose

Hurricane Katrina vid by Ava of "Peace Takes Courage"


Ava's blog is here.

Ava sez:
Also please remember that victims of Hurricane Katrina are still struggling to recover almost a year later. At least 1,836 people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their homes. Peace Takes Courage has put together a list of organizations that are still working to help victims of the storm. Even the smallest amount helps, so please donate.

Please visit www.peacetakescourage.com/aid for information on how you can help Katrina victims.


Aesop sez:
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

From the mailbag: "Katrina - A Man Made Disaster"


Nearly a year later, and this shit still pisses me off.

From the mailbag: "Surviving Katrina"

Y'all know that in the past I've made mention of the everyday people who summoned up tremendous courage and grace under pressure in the aftermath of Katrina. Maybe it's having been brought up on the writings of Studs Terkel as I was growing up that made me more accutely atuned to the triumphs and tragedies of the average Joes and Janes in the struggle to make their way in life. There are countless such stories in the Gulf Coast region to be told, as the storm came in, and then as the levees failed, leaving the people of New Orleans left behind largely to fend for themselves.

The story of people from such places as Biloxi or the Lower Ninth Ward facing a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions might not have quite the romantic nationalistic appeal as NYC residents struggling to rescue and revive those caught in the middle of the 9-11 bombings - in large part I suspect because the enemy faced by the former is basically the sort of governmental incompetence and corruption that we Americans prefer not to think about. The date 8-29 is one that we Americans should remember, and as the anniversary approaches we should remind ourselves of what went down, and the valiant efforts of those left behind.

Of the numerous specials appearing either currently or over the next several days is one on the Discovery Channel, "Surviving Katrina" which will air this Sunday, August 27th at 9 pm Eastern Time and 8 pm Central Time. To give you just a flavor of the special, here are the profiles of the people featured:

  • Greg Henderson is a doctor about to start a new job in a New Orleans hospital after years away practicing out of state. He is New Orleans born-and-bred and longed to return to his hometown of jazz and Mardi Gras. Greg is forced into a heroic role of helping those around him as the city collapses. A trained pathologist, Greg becomes the only medical professional tending to 20,000 of the city’s residents after they seek refuge in the Convention Center.

Since the Hurricane: Greg’s wife and two daughters evacuated to Jackson, Mississippi, where they lived with his parents until January 2006. Now they’ve rejoined Greg in the New Orleans house they had bought just weeks before the storm. Despite some roof damage, their house escaped any flooding and domestic life is getting back to normal. In recognition of his work during the disaster, Greg has been awarded the first-ever “Distinguished Patient Care Award” by the College of American Pathologists. The presentation ceremony is on September 11, 2006.

  • Mark Mornay is an African American police officer who volunteers to help Dr. Henderson at the Convention Center. Personally affected by the horrors of what he saw and battling the disbelief that this could happen to people in 2005 in the United States of America, he stuck by the doctor and helped as many people as he could.
  • Ivor van Heerden is a hurricane expert at Louisiana State University. Using computer modeling, he predicted the fate of New Orleans in the face of a major hurricane. As Hurricane Katrina approaches, he works frantically to warn people of the impact the storm will have.
  • Tina McCovins decides to stay in New Orleans to look after her feisty 87-year-old grandmother who is in a wheelchair after having one leg amputated from diabetes complications. As the city floods, Tina manages to get through to her mother by telephone on Monday morning. Her mother says that the water is rising fast...and then her phone cuts out. Tina tells her grandmother that they both need to get upstairs. Tina’s grandmother won't budge even when a wave bursts into her ground-floor apartment. Tina picks her up, kicking and screaming, and carries her upstairs to safety through the rising water.

Tina, who is legally blind and wears very thick glasses to make out shapes and figures, makes a sign using a sheet and parcel tape to try and attract helicopters - 'HELP ELDERLY WOMAN IN WHEELCHAIR'. They stay trapped for 2 days, while rescue helicopters buzz over the city. They are rescued by boat and taken first to the Interstate and then, by truck, to the unmanned and unsupplied Convention Center. Tina calls her sister, Roxie, in New York and discovers that her parents are safe and also at the Convention Center. She meets up with her parents in an emotional reunion and calls her sister in New York City. Tina’s sister, Roxie, and brother, Rendell, perform a rescue mission by driving a second-hand SUV—with the fortune of still having it’s State Police sticker in the windshield—into New Orleans, where they rescue their family.


Since the Hurricane: After spending two months with her parents, Tina has been living in Baton Rouge. She works as a supervisor at a nursery school. At some point, she may be moving back to New Orleans and to the school where she used to teach. Since working in Baton Rouge, she has already helped save the life of a little girl, after she suffered a stroke. Tina has two sons in their twenties, Jonathan and Kenny.

  • Robert and Edna McCovins are hurricane veterans will not be driven from their family home of 50 years. The waters quickly overwhelm the first floor of their house and they escape to the 2nd floor and wait three days before being rescued by the Coast Guard. They are dropped off on a local freeway, severely dehydrated and suffering from heat exhaustion. They are picked up from the highway and dropped off at the Convention Center where eventually they are reunited with family.
  • Roxie McCovins grew up in New Orleans and worked as a waitress. In 1989 she moved to New York where she started working as a hotel concierge. After hearing from her sister Tina and father Robert, Roxie flies from New York to Lafayette, Louisiana, to meet her brother Rendell, who evacuated New Orleans before the storm. Together they mount a rescue plan, and, controlling their fear, they talk their way past the authorities all the way to the Convention Center. Armed with the knowledge their father gained from the local radio station, WWL, that “the River Road is high and dry”, they manage to find and rescue all of their family members and drive out of New Orleans.

Since the Hurricane: Roxie is living on the West Side of Manhattan. She recently left her job as a hotel concierge to set up her own business ‘New York Creative Concierge Services’ based in Soho. Roxie keeps in close contact with her family and the resilience of her parents remains the biggest inspiration in her life. She is also the official “family organizer.” Rendell managed to sell his old house in New Orleans and has now moved to Baldwin, Louisiana, with his fiancé and two children. Rendell runs an electronics store

  • Dorothy Stukes is a 54-year-old African American diabetic who once worked as a Deputy Sheriff in New Orleans and also worked for the New Orleans parish school board. Dorothy sits out the hurricane at her boyfriend Adam’s house. She has grown up in New Orleans and knows the hurricane mentality well – it either turns or you sit and wait it out, rather than getting caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic. She is at Adam’s house on Monday morning and the phones are working, the sun is shining. Then the weather takes a turn for the worse. The storm sounds like an “18-wheeler truck crashing.” After the storm subsides, Dorothy looks out the window and notices that water is coming up the curb. She opens the door and steps out into the street and the water comes up to her knee. Dorothy turns to Adam and tells him that they “gotta get the hell out of here!” She sees some looting as she makes her way through the floodwaters down the street. They make their way up to higher ground and are taken to the Superdome by police officers.

Arriving in the Superdome Monday afternoon, the conditions are fine. It is not too crowded and the bathrooms are working. Dorothy is worried, however, because right after the storm she called her daughter and her grandkids and they were begging for help as their house was flooding, and then the line went dead. On Tuesday, rumors of rapes and violence circulate and the sanitation rapidly deteriorates. She sees a woman go into labor and is caught in a stampede. She describes the smell as being worse than the smell of rotting bodies. Her nightmare continues as she waits in line for the busses, being pushed and crushed while the National Guard point their guns at the crowd, screaming at them to get back. Eventually she gets on a bus with Adam on Friday and goes to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. Dorothy is angry and feels betrayed by a country she believed in, feeling like she and her community were abandoned and treated like 'slaves'.


Since the Hurricane: Dorothy is now living Houston, where she intends to stay for the foreseeable future. Dorothy was a member of ACORN, the Katrina Survivors Association and has now set up her own campaign group.

  • Andrew Charles is an African American National Guardsmen who, after 3 weeks of training abroad, is called up to be part of the Special Reaction Team for hurricane duty in the Superdome. He joined the National Guard so his mother would not have to work two jobs to pay for his tuition. He loves the National Guard and feels good about serving Louisiana. He has friends who are or have been in Iraq.

It is a near-impossible job as the situation in the Superdome spirals out of control. As people become desperate, they vent their anger on him. He is so personally affected by what he sees that he tells his commander he needs to do something and takes matters into his own hands. He commandeers 2 trucks, loads them up with water and military rations and drives them through the crowd. Appalled that this can happen in the U.S. to his people, he continues to help in any way he can. At one point he has to carry a lost little girl around the Dome looking for her family.

Since the Hurricane: Now back at Southern University, Andrew continues life with a positive outlook, despite the memories of what he experienced at the Louisiana Superdome. Andrew is still in the National Guard which is allowing him to fund his studies.


  • Dr. Ben de Boisblanc is chief of the intensive care unit at Charity Hospital, one of New Orleans’ only two public hospitals which serve the city’s poorest and uninsured patients. When the power fails, temperatures soon exceed 100 degrees, and nurses and family members manually operate respirators and work by flashlight to carry patients up to higher floors of the hospital to escape filthy water flooding their buildings. The media reports that Charity Hospital has been evacuated, but it’s not true. He and his team save the life of a 23-year-old male patient, Hunter Reeves, by performing open chest surgery without sedation or anaesthesia and using only flashlight.
  • Celeste Waddell is an African American respiratory therapist, and 22-year veteran at Charity Hospital. Tending to critical patient Hunter Reeves, she is one of the reasons that he survives. After the hurricane hits, the situation at Charity Hospital deteriorates quickly. Celeste had previously suffered the loss of her own son, who would have been about Hunter’s age. A bond is forged between nurse and patient. Celeste spends hours at his bedside manually ventilating him. She is sure he will die and comforts him saying if he senses death approaching to go peacefully. This is something she would have liked to have had a chance to do with her own son.

Since the Hurricane: Celeste is now living in Mesquite, Texas and works at Baylor Speciality Hospital. Celeste’s mother and two brothers, Jerome and Paul, have already moved back to New Orleans with their families. Celeste returned to New Orleans for a visit in May but has no immediate plans to move back permanently.


  • Regina Prout was just a few weeks into her new receptionist job when Hurricane Katrina arrived. She has two sons, Shamar and Raejan, and loved to write poetry in her old house in New Orleans.

Since the Hurricane: Regina is living with husband, Dimetrius and two sons in Hempstead, Texas. Despite missing New Orleans, she has no plans to move back because of the huge problems still facing the city. That doesn’t stop her five year old son, Shamar, from asking her every day why they can’t go back to New Orleans. Regina is a stay-at-home mom and is looking for receptionist jobs in Texas. Regina still loves to write and she aims to get her poetry published in the not too distant future. Dimetrius is currently managing a Jack-in-the-Box Restaurant in Hempstead. He has no plans to move back to New Orleans. His eldest son, Raejan, helped take the local high school football team to the state playoffs for the first time in 21 years.

You can find more about Surviving Katrina here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A meeting of some jazz/funk minds

Something I discovered via the Gil Scott-Heron discussion forum:
My partners and I are wanting to get the word out about a project that we are working on signing right now..

Ron Carter, Airto Moreira, Mike Clark(drummer for the Headhunters) Brian Jackson(of Gil Scott Heron partnership fame) and I (Kentyah Fraser) have put together a jazz/funk record that has elements of soul and hip hop and is trippy and progressive and generally really funken cool!!! As special guest we have Ladybug Mecca from the Digable Planets and Grammy winning soul singer Linda Tillery who both as per usual rip it up...

We are wanting to set forth for the youth market some really heavy and funky music that illuminates the truth.

Please be looking for more information about the project. We are working on placing the record now and really need support from the community to bring something deep to the scene...

I'm telling you, we put out hearts and souls into this and the music is really really deep. Spread the word around please, and be looking for more info soon!!!!

Support real music yall!

Peace,

Kentyah
dj/producer
You can check out Kentyah's Myspace page here - the cat has some very interesting projects in the works that fit in well with my own listening interests as a jazz fan. Brian Jackson also has a Myspace page as well as a website. Even in this age of soul-less corporate music, the good shit is still around, if you're willing to look for it.

Some more street art: V for Vendetta


More of the artist's work (under the nom de spraypaint can, Ssenkrad) can be found here.

Some stencil art

Nerdified link. Click the pic for a full-size image.

"Move to the back of the bus." WTF?

COUSHATTA -- Nine black children attending Red River Elementary School were directed last week to the back of the school bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white children.

The situation has outraged relatives of the black children who have filed a complaint with school officials.

Superintendent Kay Easley will meet with the family members in her office this morning.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also is considering filing a formal charge with the U.S. Department of Justice. NAACP District Vice President James Panell, of Shreveport, said he would apprise Justice attorneys of the situation this week. He's considering asking for an investigation into the bus incident and other aspects of the school system's operations, including pupil-teacher ratio as it relates to the numbers of white and black children, along with a breakdown of the numbers of black and white teachers employed.

"If the smoke is there, then there's probably fire somewhere else," Panell said in a phone interview from New Orleans. "At this point, it is extremely alarming. We fought that battle 50 years ago, and we won. Why is this happening again?"
Nerdified link. My emphasis added.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Gullability Factor

Your GF score is 91.

(Out of a range of 0 - 100, where 0 = mind slave, and 100 = free thinker.)

Mind slave

Free thinker
0
(You) 100

Free Thinker

Welcome to the top 5%. You're a true free thinker and a person who is well informed about the reality in which you live. Although you may have been easily manipulated earlier in life, you eventually gained lucidity and developed a healthy sense of skepticism that you now automatically apply to your observations and experiences. You are endlessly curious about human behavior and the nature of the universe, and you have one or more lifestyle habits that most people would consider odd or unusual. You are not only of very high intelligence, you are also extremely creative in one or more areas (music, art, software development, inventing, etc.)

If you were in The Matrix, you would have taken the red pill, completed the combat training, and started fighting (and beating) agents from day one.

Your architects: You have cast off reality distortions taught to you by your parents, schooling, corporate advertising and government propaganda. You create your own beliefs based on what serves you best, without much regard for what the rest of the crowd is doing. You are guided by your own internal code of ethics (which may or may not agree with politically-correct ethical codes) rather than any pre-set system of ethics (such as from any one religion).

The test can be found here. Props to Inspector Lohmann.

Katrina: One Year Later. What Other Bloggers Are Saying.

Want to know what some other bloggers are saying about the aftermath of Katrina, and the on-going struggle to rebuild the Gulf Coast region affected by the storm? Well, here's a partial list nicked from another blogger:

Facing South

After the Levees

Reconstruction Watch

Covenant with Black America

MoJo Blog

The Third Battle of New Orleans

There have also been some great diaries over on Daily Kos. Here are just a few that deserve another look:

Breaking Report: One Year After Katrina

Spike Lee, Katrina, and Daily Kos . . .

Coming Home: The Katrina Blog Project

Little Progress in New Orleans One Year Later

New Orleans, The Forgotten City

Mississippi After Katrina

The Mental Health Crisis in New Orleans

Plenty to read and much to think about.

All in a day's work

This Says it All...

Dozens of women and children shot at close range by marines not considered "unusual."Not worthy of an investigation.

The Marine officer who commanded the battalion involved in the Haditha killings last November did not consider the deaths of 24 Iraqis, many of them women and children, unusual and did not initiate an inquiry, according to a sworn statement he gave to military investigators in March.

"I thought it was very sad, very unfortunate, but at the time, I did not suspect any wrongdoing from my Marines," Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines, said in the statement.

Rest of the article is here. It's an interesting glimpse into the mindset of the army. The Marines seemed to believe that everything that happens is the fault of the enemy.

Nerdified Link.

Say hello to

nihilix.

From his profile:
i am for subversion and desire and against corporate dominance and fascism.
Sounds like my kind of blogger.

Gil Scott Heron: B-Movie


Thing of it is, a quarter of a century later this one's still goddamned relevant. Change the names, and it's still the same ol' same ol'. We are still stuck in a B-Movie. The sequel was no equal, and the original was pretty lame.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

This hits the nail on the head

George W. Bush at a press conference Aug. 8, 2006:
"You know, nobody likes to see innocent people die. Nobody wants to turn on their TV on a daily basis and see havoc wrought by terrorists."

Barbara Bush on "Good Morning America" March 18, 2003:

"Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? Oh, I mean, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"
[...]

But read President Bush's quote again: "You know, nobody likes to see innocent people die. Nobody wants to turn on their TV on a daily basis and see havoc wrought by terrorists."

What he does not say is "Nobody wants innocent people to die."

He does not say it because the loss of innocent life apparently is not important to him. What is important is that nobody sees it.

This is more than just semantics. Tens of thousands of Iraqis who never had anything to do with the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, Saddam Hussein, terrorism, crime of any sort, have died in Bush's illegal, unjust and unnecessary war.

It is the loss of innocent lives that is appalling. Americans should see the results of this tragedy. Then perhaps people would be less eager for war, less eager to seek military action against Iran. If people saw the results of war on their televisions -- not the far off drifting smoke from distant explosions, but the horrific results -- perhaps people would support diplomacy and negotiation at every opportunity and war would be seen only as a failure of effort and not a cause to support.

Nerdified Link. Carnacki is also right on when he says we must all bear witness.

Judge Taylor's NSA decision in plain English

Steven D. has a way of distilling a judicial decision down to the basics:

Let me put that in plain English for you.

The DOJ said to the judge: "You can't decide this summary judgment motion because the NSA program is so super-secret and important that we can't let you decide whether it violates any laws or not."

The Judge replied: "Bullshit. I'm not going to disregard the ACLU's motion just because you claim it is so super secret important. Come back with a proper response as to why I shouldn't rule in favor of the ACLU and find the NSA spy program illegal."

So the DOJ came back with its response to the ACLU's summary judgment motion which said (in effect): "Dear stupid Judge, we aren't going to tell you why the ACLU is wrong about its various claims that the NSA spy program is illegal and violates federal law and the US Constitution because you don't have the right to decide if its illegal or not, because its so super duper secret. So there!"

And then the Judge replied to the DOJ: Ok smarty pants. In that case, you lose, the ACLU wins and I am enjoining you, your fearless leader (who thinks he's a King or a Dictator or some other kind of blasphomous deity) and anyone else in the Federal Government from continuing to spy on Americans under this crappy warrantless surveillance program. How do you like them apples?"

That really is the gist of it. Basically, the Department of Justice lawyers assigned to this case knew they didn't have a legal leg to stand on regarding the legality of what Bush and the NSA had done when the "decider" chose to disobey the express provisions of the FISA law. Bush's decision to wiretap and peruse the electronic communications of millions of Americans without first going to the FISA court and obtaining a warrant, as required by law, was "slam dunk" illegal on his part. The DOJ knew it, the ACLU knew it, and any credible legal scholar knew it.

[...]

You see, the significant thing about this case is not that the ACLU won. That was a foregone conclusion once Judge Taylor decided she would not accept the "State Secrets Doctrine" as an excuse not to hear the case. The significant point is that Bush's own, no doubt hand picked, Department of Justice lawyers, given every opportunity to attempt to defend the legality of Bush's actions, refused to do so. Even they knew it was wrong for Bush to spy on us without first getting a warrant. Even they.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Time for a musical interlude

Just checking Iron Sheik's website, to see what that cat was up to. I became a fan after seeing the video to Neocon Luv. He has a new song Impeach Bush (which you can download here here), that will appear on his next cd (not sure exactly when that'll come out, but I'm guessing fairly soon, as the last cd was released in 2004).

For those of you not familiar with his work, he's a Palestinian-American hip-hop artist who's been dropping some socially aware rhymes over the last several years. Well worth checking out.

One of the many tragic Katrina stories

This just blew me away:

Katrina blew in, and the storm was strong. Still, Beenie was safe in her little home. The storm passed. Only...

The levee a couple of blocks from Beenie's house gave way. After the storm, the levee gave way. No one expected that the levees would breach. The levees were supposed to hold. Three levees gave way, three levees, three different parts of the city, three breaches to drown a city.

Beenie's levee, it gave way because it wasn't built strong enough. The water soaked the ground twenty feet under the levee, turned the base to muck. The levee just slid back on the muck, the water pushing the levee over the muck, until it buckled, and the levee melted in a boiling, crumbling mess. The water came rushing in, rushing through, rushing over, spreading over the streets, over houses, over everything. The water came rushing in, rushing over lives. Rushing over people's lives.

In the area around Beenie's house, the water came rushing over people's lives, and it was rushing fast. Beenie's house was flooded, was drowned, fast. An hour, maybe two, maybe three. Beenie's life was drowned, fast, and deep. Fast and deep. And then, then...it was drowned for a long, long time. One of hundreds, thousands of lives that were drowned fast, deep, and for a long, long time.

As the water came rushing in, Beenie had no choice, even if she wanted to leave. Beenie heard the water, Beenie saw the water, Beenie was too old to climb the pull-down attic stairs, too old to battle the water rushing over. Beenie sat down in her easy chair, and Beenie drowned with her little dog in her arms. A lady of light and laughter and kindness, she drowned in the flood of the levee breaches. Beenie's body was found in her house, with her little dog in her arms, 19 days later.

And after Beenie's body was found, the authorities took her away, to a morgue, a morgue where they held her. The authorities did not release Beenie's body for many months, many months before she could be cremated, and interred. Many months. So many months. So many people, so many months.

Beenie trusted the authorities, she trusted the levees to hold, she didn't think the levees would breach. Beenie planned to leave her house, after the storm, if the utilities were going to be down for too long, if conditions were going to be too bad for too long. She told her relatives that she would do so. And I know that this is true, in my bones, I know this is true.

[...]

The front door of what used to be Beenie's house stands open. It has stood open, wide open, for the past year. It stands wide open today. On a chair, the chair that has always stood and continues to stand today beside the front door, in the foyer of what used to be Beenie's house, there are four objects. The four objects were placed there before the storm, placed on the chair by Beenie. Placed there as part of the final preparations for the storm. Those four objects remain untouched, unmoved, not disturbed by flood or hand, untouched today. Even today. Untouched. The four objects are covered by mold and ruination, still they are untouched. Beenie put those things there, by the door, so she could leave with them in a hurry. There, beside the door, these things remain.

[...]

Beenie, may she rest in peace.

For us, may we witness. May we not be turned away.

That's merely a portion of the story. The author writes a good deal about who Beenie was, what she was like as a human being. Maybe she'll remind you of someone you know or once knew. Hers was one of many such stories. It is important to put a human face on last year's tragedy, rather than merely abstractly cite some statistics. It is equally important that we never forget, and to the extent that there was so much government neglect that caused so many to die needlessly, to never forgive.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

What does the American Psychological Association really think of torture?

On the one hand, Avila (whose coverage of the issue of torture at DailyKos is outstanding) reports what appears to be a reversal of the APA's previously wimpy stance:
The American Psychological Association (APA) issued the following press release on 10 August 2006.
New Orleans - The Council of Representatives of the American Psychological Association (APA) has approved a resolution reaffirming the organization's absolute opposition to all forms of torture and abuse, regardless of the circumstance. The resolution furthermore affirmed United Nations human rights documents and conventions as the basis for APA policy.
[...]
"It is not enough for us to express outrage or to codify acceptable practices. As psychologists, we must use every means at our disposal to prevent abuse and other forms of cruel or degrading treatment," said Gerald P. Koocher, PhD, President of the APA.
Quite a contrast from Dr. Koocher's "dead wrong" on torture response six weeks ago to a petition by members of the APA which called for an unequivocal end to psychologists' participation in detainee interrogations.
That's just a clip. You should read the whole diary. Sounds good. But (and y'all knew I would have to add that qualifier), Stephen Soldz isn't exactly so sure that the APA's stance now is all that different from what it was prior to their August convention:
But it is clear that the APA reaffirmed its existing policy that psychologists should not participate in torture. However, they did not specify clearly what activities constitute torture, nor did they ban psychologists’ participation in coercive interrogations. On the definition issue: Is waterboarding torture? Is prolonged sesory deprivations? How about prolonged heat or cold or lound noises? They do not say. In legalistic jargon they state:
“BE IT RESOLVED, that the term “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” means treatment or punishment by any psychologist that is of a kind that, in accordance with the McCain Amendment, would be prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as defined in the United States Reservations, Declarations and Understandings to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment done at New York, December 10, 1984.”
Note the key “as defined in the United States Reservations, Declarations and Understandings to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment done at New York, December 10, 1984” phrase. I have yet to make a careful examination of these Reservations, as I haven’t been able to locate them [can anyone send them to me, or a relevant analysis?]. But it appears to be the language used in the so-called McCain Amendment that appeared to ban torture by the United States but was immediately proclaimed to be null and void by President Bush, when he said in his signing statement he would decide if and when it should be followed.
Benjamin Greenberg, on his Hungry Blues blog discusses the history of the McCain Amendment and its apparent weakening of the definition of the definition of torture and abuse from those previously existing.
More importantly, as Greenberg clearly points out, the APA did not vote to forbid psychologists participating in coercive interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere. As Greenberg explains:
While yesterday’s APA statement “condemns any involvement by psychologists in torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” there is no mention of BSCTs [Behavioral Science Consultation Teams]. There is no explicit prohibition against psychologists continuing in this “consulting” role.
Let’s connect the dots.
The DOJ and the DOD work to maintain intentionally vague definitions of torture that allow for Category II interrogation techniques. The APA resolves to oppose torture but continue allowing psychologists to participate in interrogations. Interrogations revolve around Category II techniques, which are determined and orchestrated by BSCTs. The only Behavioral Scientists allowed on the Consultation Teams are psychologists. Psychologist participation in interrogations is essential to the continuation of current US torture policy.
Thus, last week’s “victory” at the APA Convention is largely a figleaf used as a PR stunt to blunt criticism of psychologist participation in coercive interrogations. Nothing substantive has changed, so far.
There is little room to doubt that psychology been up to its ears in assisting the government's refinement of "coercive interrogation" techniques for some time now, and that helps to explain at least some of our profession's movers and shakers from taking a more definitive stand. So is this latest APA statement a signal that the profession is changing its tune in the direction of stronger support of human rights, or is it merely a cleverly worded document that allows business as usual? I am still reading and re-reading the document, but let's just say that Dr. Koocher's previously dismissive attitude towards those of us who are staunchly opposed to any psychological involvement in the perpetration of torture (whether as part of one of these BSCTs or whatever) I suppose I remain skeptical.

Quick postscript: PSYACT appears to be skeptical too, calling the recent resolution a good first step, but admonishes the APA to go further.

See also another good DailyKos diary for yet more skepticism about the APA resolution: American Psychologists Save Torture for BushCo (or How to Read Bullshit Resolutions).

A picture for old time's sake


You can click the pic for a larger image.