"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen

"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister

"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont

"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister

"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Friday, May 14, 2004

Not just another brick in the wall
Buried in his report earlier this year on Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba praised the actions of three men who tried to stop the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees. They are nowhere to be seen in the portraits of brutality that have touched off outrage around the world.

Although details of their actions are sketchy, it is known that one soldier, Lt. David O. Sutton, put an end to one incident and alerted his commanders. William J. Kimbro, a Navy dog handler, "refused to participate in improper interrogations despite significant pressure" from military intelligence, according to the report. And Specialist Joseph M. Darby gave military police the evidence that sounded the alarm.

"It is sometimes the case that they themselves have been scapegoated or turned on by the crowd,"said Dr. John Darley, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton. "If you go back into the lives of these people you can often find some incident that has made very vivid to them the pressures of conformity working on the others in the group."

People who break from the crowd to blow the whistle, history shows, are often the most psychologically distanced from the situation. In 1968, Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot, was flying over Vietnam as G.I.'s were killing civilians. The soldiers on the ground had been told that the vilage, My Lai, was a Vietcong stronghold. But from above Mr. Thompson could see there was no enemy fire. He landed his helicopter, rescued some villagers, and told his commanders about the massacre.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Rum Sodomy & the Lash*

When Winston Churchill was at the Admiralty, he was reported to have said that "the traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy, and the lash." The MPs who tortured Iraqi detainees in order to soften them up for the interrogators from MI and "OGA" were often drunk during the insanity. The Taguba Report found credible evidence of MPs "Sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick." No doubt you've read or heard about or have seen photos of the other instances of torture, rape, humiliation and abuse. (Did you read that the prison was being hit constantly by mortar fire? I'd resort to drink too.)

I watched Major General Antonio Taguba testify in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning. You could tell he was a "straight shooter" and he spoke well of the team who helped him compile the report. I agree with the Times here:
Under the scope set by his superiors, the inquiry was limited to the conduct of a military police brigade. But General Taguba used it to deliver a much broader indictment.

Among the findings laid out in the report was what General Taguba described as his strong suspicion that military intelligence officers and private contractors "were either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses."
(General Fay's report on this will come out at end of this month or perhaps the first part of June.) The choice of General Taguba reflects well on General McKiernan, who assigned Taguba to the case.

Then there's Joseph Darby, the lower-class reservist who was working at Wendy's before being shipped off to Iraq. (Darby was an average student who started at tackle on the football team in high school and had done a stint in Bosnia.) The 24-year-old was the one who blew the whole thing open with the photos, first anonymously, then by testifying. Men like Taguba and Darby keep hope alive - to use a shopworn phrase - that America can help Iraq and hence the Middle East move in the direction of democracy and justice. (Darby still believes the cause in Iraq is a just one, even though he wasn't convinced at first.) Not surprisingly, Taguba received a shit reassignment and Darby and his wife are afraid of retaliation from other military families. Both knew what would happen, no doubt, but did what they felt was right no matter the consequences.

* Three Pogues albums became available again last month as imports. One is titled Rum Sodomy & the Lash and features Gericault's Le Radeau De La Medusa as its cover art. I recently saw the excellent documentary "If I Should Fall from Grace - The Shane MacGowan Story" which came out last year. It features Nick Cave and a Pogues video which stars a Johnny Depp during his drinking days, before he had kids.

Fucking Goddamn Cocksuckers
Heather Havrilesky finally writes about HBO's Deadwood:
What really sets "Deadwood" apart, though, is that unlike other dramas on TV, which introduce a few compelling figures or satisfying scenarios then repeat them episode after episode, "Deadwood" expands in every direction like a well-written novel. Somehow, even as the scope of the show widens with more characters and more complicated story lines, instead of losing us, the writers keep drawing us in deeper.
Here's a fun drinking game: take a swig each time someone cusses during the show.

Adam Michnik interview
(Via Norman Geras via Matt Welch)

Fulan Gong Show
Yet Chang supplies welcome detail about the religious roots of Falun Gong -- and this, in an indirect way, helps explain both the Bush administration's silence and the comparative indifference of the Western human-rights community. It is, as it turns out, an extraordinary belief system. Li Hongzhi, a one-time junior government official in a provincial grain bureau, began practicing Qigong when he was a park police officer in Jilin province in the 1980s. Within less than a decade, he had devised his own take on the universe -- including the belief that all matter is essentially water, that human beings trace their origins to "the highest levels of the universe" and that aliens came to Earth around 1900, some of whom look like humans and others -- "most frightening!" he says -- live inside our bodies. Li claims to have divine powers to cure the sick, to fly and to walk through walls. Chang's explanation of Li's teachings is a salvation of sorts, both sober and unsentimental. Her book is written with welcome detachment. More valuable still is her attempt to place Falun Gong in the long history of cults and sects in China. The comparisons with the Boxers, the Taiping rebellion and, in particular, the White Lotus Society -- each in its own way a messianic sect that was a harbinger of dynastic instability -- will prompt anyone interested in the future of China to take Falun Gong more seriously