Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Black Sites

New Yorker articles tend to be fairly long and exhaustive (as is this one about the CIA's secret interrogation program).

A Reporter at Large

The Black Sites

A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program.

by Jane Mayer August 13, 2007

In the war on terror, one historian says, the C.I.A. “didn’t just bring back the old psychological techniques—they perfected them.”

In the war on terror, one historian says, the C.I.A. “didn’t just bring back the old psychological techniques—they perfected them.”

Mohammed’s interrogation was part of a secret C.I.A. program, initiated after September 11th, in which terrorist suspects such as Mohammed were detained in “black sites”—secret prisons outside the United States—and subjected to unusually harsh treatment. The program was effectively suspended last fall, when President Bush announced that he was emptying the C.I.A.’s prisons and transferring the detainees to military custody in Guantánamo. This move followed a Supreme Court ruling, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which found that all detainees—including those held by the C.I.A.—had to be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions. These treaties, adopted in 1949, bar cruel treatment, degradation, and torture. In late July, the White House issued an executive order promising that the C.I.A. would adjust its methods in order to meet the Geneva standards. At the same time, Bush’s order pointedly did not disavow the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that would likely be found illegal if used by officials inside the United States. The executive order means that the agency can once again hold foreign terror suspects indefinitely, and without charges, in black sites, without notifying their families or local authorities, or offering access to legal counsel.

Article here

Friday, August 24, 2007

Overwhelming to behold

(From the New York Sun)


Special to the Sun
August 23, 2007

Eveline Yang / The Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library

Monks unveil a Tibetan tangka, a gigantic fabric painting, depicting Buddha Shakyamuni at the 2005 Drepung Yogurt Festival in Tibet. A new exhibit at the Rubin Museum of Art, ‘BIG! Himalayan Art,’ showcases the largest tangkas from the museum’s collection.

Big art seeks to awe. It also seeks to speak to many people at once, in the context of public festivals or religious observances. The Rubin Museum of Art exhibits Donald and Shelley Rubin's outstanding collection of Himalayan art, and currently features an exhibition that provides a fine introduction both to that art and to the museum: "BIG! Himalayan Art" showcases more than 30 large-scale artworks from the collection. These include textiles, ritual objects, and especially tangkas (scroll paintings on cloth).

A large-format photo shows a tangka unfurling down a mountainside, suggesting how these works appear in situ. The works on the walls here aren't that big, but many were parts of series that must have been overwhelming to behold. As with Western religious art, the makers have aestheticized devotion for admonitory purposes. We who have not experienced Buddhist art from the inside may nonetheless feel the "emotional rush" that Mr. Rubin has said he wishes visitors to his museum to feel. And the rush from "BIG!" is, well, pretty big.

The critic and philosopher Arthur C. Danto once observed, "Ordinary Tibetans, who may have seen these often dauntingly intricate representations of enlightened beings Â-- human, divine or semi-divine Â-- must have been nearly as diffident in supposing they understood what was meant by the art as are we, coming from another tradition, when we encounter them as artifacts from a remote artistic culture. The difference of course is that they must have felt that the truths embodied in these hangings and sculptures were momentous and urgent, and in consequence they had to have felt an accompanying gratitude that there were those who grasped such truths and labored for the redemption of the others who barely understood them."

That's an important point. The iconographic panoply on display at the Rubin Museum could not but daunt any but the most advanced scholar of Eastern religion. Yet I wonder if we need be from within those cultural traditions in order to feel the "momentous and urgent" emanating from the extraordinary tangkas. For one thing, while the noninitiate may find the symbology abstruse, enough parallels exist with the art of the West to aid us over such humps en route to a real emotional payoff.

For example, 14th-century Tibetan tangka shows, surrounding the central figure that is the main structuring device in these works, 146 squares in which appear haloed, prayerful figures whose particular import may elude the viewer yet whose obviously Gothic resonances may nonetheless transfix him. So, too, do we find that terror is terror, death is death, and sex is sex: So many of these images, for all their iconographical complexity and inscrutability, convey powerful raw emotions. The dark ferocity of the 18th-century Tibetan Vajrakila, or the seriously steely, mesmerizing gaze of the yellow fat man, resting on a shell, rendered in pigmented clay from 17th-century China exude a force that is at once alien and unmistakable. Monsters, beheadings, ominous brandishings of sharp, shiny blades, and intertwinings of sex and death that would make a fèn de siecle Viennese blush Â-- all these exert an unmistakable, elemental, universal force. And might not the maker of the orange and blue chubby figures, rendered so zestfully, from 19th-century Bhutan, have seen prints by Rowlandson?

Among the fiercest, most complexly composed, and vigorously colored, of the tangkas are three 17th-century Vajravali tangkas from a set of 43: How could viewers or idolaters possibly have registered such richness? Then, again, we may say the same for the worshippers at Chartres.

In this realm of Tantric numerosity, topographical painting should have its due, and it does: The Khon Family History paintings from 17th-century Tibet feature towns, mountains, forests, people, animals, radiating from the central seated figure. They evoke a teeming world projecting from, almost being called into being by, the individual consciousness, something that Western literature, though not Western painting, has accomplished as successfully.

And so much of the pictorial style of tangka painting found its way into American pop culture Â-- album covers, posters, etc. Â-- that it got thoroughly kitschified. Now at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "Summer of Love" features "psychedelic art" that sometimes found its inspiration in Himalayan imagery. Forty years ago, Nepal, Tibet, and India enjoyed enormous cultural prestige among the adventuresome young. At the Rubin as much as at the Whitney, Moby Grape tunes long consigned to memory's dustbin waft unbidden to the mind.

So what? The show, curated by Jeff Watt, is a gem: though mostly tangkas, we also see some eétraordinary applique textiles, ironwork, clay sculpture, and wood sculpture. Mr. Wattsensiblykeeps the number of works low, so that the modern viewer may bear the sensory overhead. A present-day mural painting, on wood, by Pema Rinzin, included in the show, features themes and techniques inspired by the other works on display. The Rubin's artist in residence, Mr. Rinzin, wows with his color and virtuosity. And finally, the skylighted rotunda displays these works to profoundly good effecté The view down Andree Putman's dramatic, mandala-like staircase, which never looked so good at the old Barney's, may make you feel eight miles high.

Until March 3 (150 W. 17th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues, 212-620-5000).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Iraqi parliamentarian calls for Levin's ouster

In a remarkable show of ignorance, a member of the Iraqi parliament called for the removal of US senator Carl Levin; AN ELECTED OFFICIAL!

People worldwide were startled that an elected official, and someone in a position of public responsibility, duly elected into Iraq's budding democracy could be so ignorant of the democratic process, and could possibly do something so wacky and hare-brained as to imagine that he could call for the removal of an elected official in some other country!

Read article here

"It is obvious that the people of Iraq have a long way to go to understand democracy," said a US State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity, "Carl Levin was elected for crying out loud. What'll it be next? People from other parliaments telling us to get rid of President Bush?"

(article courtesy of Steven Jares)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Iranian guard cont.

This article in the Lexington Herald-Leader affirms and extends the increasingly widespread negative reaction to the US considerations to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite military force that serves as the guardian of Iran's Islamic state, as a foreign terrorist organization.

Bush's treatment of Iran irks U.S. allies
As President Bush escalates the United States' confrontation with Iran across a broad front, U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East are growing worried that the steps will achieve little, but will undercut diplomacy and increase the chances of war.
The more horrifying news in this article is that this push to call Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization represents Rice's efforts to effort to blunt arguments by Vice President Dick Cheney and his allies for air strikes on Iran!!
The Revolutionary Guard would be the first military unit of a sovereign government ever placed on the department's list of terrorist organizations.

Germans increasingly targeted

One would imagine, from the standpoint of violence prone Islamists that Germany (for the most part) did not fall too far onto the wrong side of the ledger vis a vis the non-UN approved US led invasion of Iraq.

Despite this there has been a spate of "anti-west" violence against Germans recently, now with yesterday's events in which armed assailants abducted a German woman from a restaurant in Kabul on Saturday. [Article here]:

In Saturday's abduction in Kabul, the armed men pulled up next to a barbecue and fast food restaurant, and one of the men went inside and asked to order a pizza ...

The man in the restaurant then pulled out a pistol, walked up to a table where the woman was sitting with her boyfriend, and took her away

It is possible, I suppose that the selection of this woman was caused by conducive circumstances, but this writer thinks it unlikely. Two factors must be considered:
  1. The woman is in Afghanistan representing a Christian organization.
    1. The German woman abducted Saturday worked for a small, nonaffiliated Christian organization called Ora International,
  2. The spate of "Islamist" attack against German targets is directly related to legislation in Germany called "the headscarf ban."

German state backs headscarf ban
The southern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg has become the first in the country to ban teachers from wearing Islamic headscarves.

The state assembly approved the law almost unanimously, but Muslim groups said it eroded religious freedom.

Another five out of 16 states are in the process of passing similar bans.

Teacher Fereshta Ludin
Teacher Fereshta Ludin's case prompted states to legislate

While Germany has enjoyed some cover from continental Europe's distance from US foreign policy, it has a long history of policy issues regarding its Turkish immigrants, and has a very bad habit of violating UN standards of human rights when it comes to religious freedom.

I hope Christians will be safe and welcome in Afghnistan, but in the mean time folly like headscarf bans are wrong, and now not only wrong but will prove to be increasingly dangerous.

Friday, August 17, 2007

US risks foreign-policy blunder with plans to slap terrorist label on Iran's military

One of the reasons listed for US's saber-rattling against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is the claim that the Guard funds terrorist activity abroad including that of Hizbollah. The government of Lebanon has suffered greatly due to the operation of Hizbollah on its southern front, yet here in a moderate and mainstream Lebanese press we find criticism of this most recent case of US saber-rattling.

The editorial explains:

If the measure is approved, it would mark the first time in history that the US government has designated a military wing of a foreign country in such a way. It would also mark another disastrous foreign-policy blunder in a what is already a long list of mistakes made by the Bush administration...

The Bush administration's policy of dealing with Iran by using sticks, tough talk and threats has already proven ineffectual on all fronts. The only measurable impact of backing Iran into a corner - without offering a way out - is that the regime has been given a perfect excuse to impose domestic restrictions in the name of national security.

Read the editorial here.

Similar positions are also echoed in the New York Times:

Amid mixed US reactions to the plan, The New York Times denounced the move as clumsy and ill-conceived, in an editorial titled "Amateur hour on Iran."

"The dangers posed by Iran are serious, and America needs to respond with serious policies, not more theatrics," it wrote. Iran has already been on the US government blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism for more than two decades."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Karl Rove quits White House

275 articles here, (1,000's more to come)

It is the view of this writer that Rove leaves to protect the WH from investigation, and that Rove does not need his formal title and position to continue his core activity, namely to politicize the executive and drain it of its role to lead on behalf of the country.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Musharraf Addresses Closing Jirga Session in Afghanistan

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told more than 600 Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders Sunday that the two countries must work together to end the rise of extremism and violence along their border.

President Musharraf met briefly with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, before speaking to the jirga. Many Afghans have expressed hope that the conference will help reduce violence in both countries.
(Article here )

How different is Musharraf's effort and leadership compared to a saber rattling junior senator in the US threatening to bomb positions in Pakistan.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Urgent call for Arctic-global peace coalition (AGPC)

The Times of London reports today

Arctic military bases signal new Cold War
Canada fired a warning shot in a new Cold War over the vast resources of the far North by announcing last night that it will build two new military bases in the Arctic wilderness.

A week after Russia laid claim to the North Pole in what is rapidly becoming a global scramble for the region’s vast oil and gas reserves, Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, said that Canada would open a new army training centre for cold-weather fighting at Resolute Bay, and a deep-water port at Nanisivik, on the northern tip of Baffin Island

Under international law, each of five Arctic countries – Canada, Russia, the United States, Norway and Denmark – controls an economic zone within 200 miles of its continental shelf. But the limits of that shelf are in dispute.

This writer calls for the immediate establishment of the Arctic-Global Peace coalition, consisting of civil-society leaders (arts, sciences, media, business leaders) to envision an era of harmony and world prosperity aided in part from sustainable relationship with Arctic natural resources.

Concurrently there should arise in support of the Coalition a global movement (beginning in the 5 countries) protesting the militarization of the Arctic.

Celestial show this weekend

clipped from
The annual Perseid meteor shower will reach its peak during the early hours of Monday, but it will be visible from Saturday night until Tuesday morning.
Perseid meteor (Image: Nasa)
The celestial show will be most apparent in the north-eastern part of the sky near the Perseus constellation.
If the skies remain clear, it will offer stargazers the best opportunity for a few years to see the Perseids.
The shower this year coincides with a new Moon, providing sky watchers with the dark skies necessary for excellent observing conditions.
Diagram showing location of the Perseid shower in the night sky (Image: BBC)
The best viewing conditions will be where the sky is clearest and darkest. However, meteors should be visible, to a lesser degree, in cities despite light pollution and smog.
Both hemispheres will receive good views but the prime locations will be Western Europe and North America.
As an added bonus, watchers should be able to see Mars, which will be in view as a bright red dot in the eastern sky after midnight.

The Forbes article has some good viewing tips.

Friday, August 10, 2007

How sad - reduced to this

The United States of America - the richest and most powerful nation in human history has been reduced to a grade school-yard nyah nyah and bullying session with Iran.

Here are the headlines:

Listen up, Bush tells Maliki: Iran is a danger to the Middle East
In a warning to the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, President George Bush said Iran was a danger to the Middle East, and that if Mr Maliki did not share that view, Mr Bush would have a "heart to heart" talk with him.

Iran Warns Iraqi Leader U.S. Exit Is Key to Peace
TEHRAN -- Iranian officials told Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Thursday that only a U.S. pullout would bring peace to his country and asserted that Tehran was doing its best to help stabilize its neighbor.

Thinking world citizens should begin serious reflection on a leadership concept for human affairs that diminishes the status of politically elected leaders of nation states . The infantilism with which we are represented cannot persist. The gap in consciousness between citizens and virtually all who seek and gain elected office is growing simply too great to perdure.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Keep an eye on this!

Religious Israeli troops refuse orders
From correspondents in Jerusalem
August 08, 2007 05:28am
Article from: Agence France-Presse

ISRAEL plunged into bitter debate over the source of authority for many of its soldiers overnight after a group of officers and troops refused orders to evacuate hardline Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.

The four hour operation overnight in the flashpoint town of Hebron sparked fiery rhetoric over the future of the Jewish state's army after a dozen soldiers decided to listen to their parents and rabbis, instead of their commanding officers, and refused to participate.

Startlingly, virtually none of the coverage of this significant development mentions the 1956, landmark, Israeli Supreme Court ruling (following the Kfar Qasem massacre):

The Israeli Supreme Court made a new ruling on the right and duty of soldiers to disobey unlawful orders. That ruling has been incorporated into Israeli martial law. On the 43rd anniversary of the incident (1999), Israeli civics teachers were instructed to lead a one-hour discussion on Kafr Kassem in their classes. Israel wants its future soldiers to understand the need to identify and disobey an illegal order in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling.

For a quick grasp of what's going on here, read on:

Many religious soldiers in Israel - whose military service sometimes combines studies at a yeshiva religious school - identify themselves with right-wing national religious ideology and themselves live in settlements.

Although there are no figures on their exact number, they form the backbone of many elite combat units. During the 2005 Gaza pullout, a number of them refused to follow orders to forcibly remove the settlers who refused to leave.

"The Jewish Bible is above the laws of the state of Israel," Rabbi Yishai Babed of the Judea and Samaria, as the West Bank is known in Israel, rabbis' council said.

"Expelling people from their homes contradicts the Bible and therefore the morality overrides any military orders," he said.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Headlines call for annual irony award

Three headlines conspired last week to recommend the institution of US government irony awards. These are:

Senate OK's eavesdropping measure for Bush administration
The Senate voted to approve a White House-backed measure that extends the power of the government to eavesdrop on foreign terror suspects without the need for a court-ordered wiretap beforehand.

Congress Enacts Bush's Anti-Terrorism Spy Measure
The U.S. House completed congressional passage of anti-terrorist legislation that gives President George W. Bush more power to conduct electronic surveillance for the next six months.


Bush To Mandate Aid To End Tyrannies
WASHINGTON — President Bush today is scheduled to sign a law mandating that America develop strategies to help tyrannies and police states to make the transition to democracies.

The irony here of course is the fact that, we have just witnessed our own opposition-gorged democracy devour itself (through the impact of threat and fear- "we might get blamed if anything bad happens while we're on vacation, we better vote for warrantless wiretapping even though we have ranted about the forsaking of constitutionally guaranteed civil rights") and disgorged legislation found in tyrannies and police states!

That democracy has blessed us with Hamas, Ahmadenijad and others, and partisan politics creates two votes giving a secretive and imperial executive added powers, has to force thinking political scientists to question the sacred devotion evoked with every utterance of the word democracy.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Obama warns he would attack Al-Qaeda in Pakistan

I believe this is the single most important statement from any candidate on either side of the aisle since the premature and exhausting '08 presidential race began.

The Iraqi government is unraveling

BAGHDAD - Iraq's largest Sunni Arab political bloc announced its withdrawal from the government Wednesday, undermining efforts to seek reconciliation among the country's rival factions, and three bombings in Baghdad killed at least 70 people.

The present administrations continues to expand US military presence. Language has shifted before our eyes from UK's Brown's "generation long battle," and Gates now speaking of years of military presence in Iraq ("but not 50 years" he assures us).

And all of a sudden the nation's supposedly most moderate candidate (the same one who runs attacking H. Clinton's Iraq invasion vote) states flat out that as commander in chief he would be willing to invade Pakistan even against the will of the Pakistani government?

Such a statement should properly and promptly bring Mr. Obama's otherwise interesting candidacy immediately to a close.

Sudan agrees to 26,000 UN troops in Darfur

Article summary:

The Security Council resolution, passed unanimously on Tuesday, would have boots on the ground by the end of the year.

The force will be largely composed of Africans and will consist of nearly 20,000 military personnel and 6,000 police officers. Known as the UN African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the force is expected to select its commanders by October and take over operations from the 7,000 African Union (AU) peacekeepers currently in Sudan by the end of the year, reports the UN News Service. For the first 12 months, UN forces will incorporate the AU troops into their mission.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the mission "historic and unprecedented." It will come after months of Sudanese resistance and will cost about $2 billion in its first year, reports The New York Times.

Read the entire article here

While there are no words to describe the horror that persists in Darfur and the urgent need for a world response, one has to ask if spending 2 billion dollars a year to build an army of 26,000 mostly African men, plus mercenaries from other countries without gainful employment for their able bodied men, is such a cause for celebration.

The world needs more armies?

Why are these people called "peacekeepers"? There is no peace to be kept

It is reported:

The Security Council resolution grants the peacekeeping mission authority to use military force to protect its personnel, guarantee the safe travel of humanitarian aid workers and provide protection for civilians.

Increasingly it seems all world problems are approached solely through military solutions, now also in the United Nations, as it devotes at least 2 billion dollars a year to create yet another army.