Saturday, September 29, 2012


Do you have a central purpose in your life? Do you know what it is? Can you define it clearly? Are you very familiar with that definition? Do you know thyself, as Socrates admonished?

When you were a child, someone probably asked you, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Now that you are, presumably, grown up, the question becomes retrospective: "Are you happy doing what you are doing, being what and who you are?"

Having a central purpose to your life – and being able to do that thing as your life's work – is probably what brings happiness. I've talked about happiness before on this blog. I've maintained that happiness can't really be set as a goal like concrete things: "I want a nice house." "I want a new 4x4 truck." "I want to be happy." I want to work at Walmart."


Happiness? Happiness is not a "thing," so it doesn't translate very well into the step-by-step attainment of goals you've written down. Happiness isn't a thing; it's a condition. When you are doing something that brings you joy, happiness "ensues." This is old territory for this blog, but it bears rehashing from time to time.

So, happiness is not the thing you feel so much when you actually attain a long-term goal (indeed, some people have even felt a sense of sorrow or let-down when the goal was attained and there was nothing to go to work on in the morning), but rather a life-long feeling of joy when you are STRIVING in some worthwhile endeavor.

Now we return to, "What is your central purpose in life?" Maybe you really enjoy playing in the mud with your new 4x4. Maybe it really makes you happy when you do that. But is playing in the mud with  your cool 4x4 really your central purpose in life? Probably not.

To me, a "central purpose in life" is something you gravitate towards, if at all possible, to earn your livelihood from. At the very least, you try to incorporate some of it into your livelihood. You mostly get a good feeling when you are doing this thing, because it just seems "natural."

Are we born with come sort of "purpose" wired in our genes? Maybe. I wasn't, that I know of, although, looking back, I can think of things that I have always done ever since I can remember. I envy, or used to, the people who seemed to be born knowing what they were supposed to be doing. I think of musical prodigies, like Mozart who did nothing but play and compose music all his life. Then I think of his father MAKING him do that as a child, and I wonder. I can't imagine Picasso doing anything with his life other than painting. Pavarotti. Yeats. Shakespeare. Dickens.

I read where W.B. Yeats went to medical school, even getting his apothecary credential. But he didn't practice medicine. His life's passion wasn't medicine. "I'm a poet," he explained to those who asked why. Could YOU turn down financial security because you had a burning desire to write poetry? Was  poetry in Yeat's genes? Maybe. I don't think he wrote any serious poetry until he was 19 or so, so it wasn't something he was obsessed with in childhood.

So, some people seem to know what they are "meant" to do from childhood, and do nothing else. And some (many) stumble through various things until they "hit upon" the right thing that makes them sing. Or dance. Or do math. Whatever.

How do YOU find out what your purpose in life is? I'm not going to use the word "vocation" because that means "calling" – and calling implies a Caller, and this post is not about religion. I think you find out over time, just by recognizing what it is you enjoy doing. Then, theoretically, you think up a way to make a livelihood from that thing or group of things, or activity. Or, if you are a poet, maybe you just keep your day job. Dunno about that one.

Sometimes when you walk into a person's house, you can tell right away what they like to do, even if they don't seem to know themselves. I mean, if there are three sewing machines in the spare bedroom, or a bunch of camera equipment all over, or a fancy kiln out back, those are clues to what a person likes to do which bring him or her enjoyment. Happiness.

Books, too.

Are there books all over the house? Books tell you something about what makes a person happy. No books tells you something about the person, too.

A lot of self-help books which purport to guide you to your "right livelihood" tell you to look for clues like the above. And, if there are a lot of books in the house, what kind? Fiction or non-fiction? What kind of fiction? What kind of non-fiction? I know, I know – self-help books. Ha!

With me it is books that tell the history of some event or person, or books that tell how to do something, or how things really are or were. The inside story. The truth. On my own bookshelf you would also find a fair amount of books written by political people, too. Unread, mostly - started but never finished, since I really don't like politics except for the sake of argument or theorizing - but I have a failing in that I think one of them might have the answer. Not so far.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012



If the world were run according to my personal values, it would be a lot different than today.

There would be no hungry or homeless.

Two people would have the right to marry no matter who they loved.

Fantastic medical care would be freely available to all.

We would all be color blind and race blind.

We all would live each day peacefully, with a genuine spirit of helpfulness.

No one would make anyone else feel bad because they were different.

We would not do things to others we would hate to have done to ourselves.

Not much time would be spent on war and preparing for war.

Everyone would be afforded a top-notch education with excellent schools and teachers.

We would all breath clean air and drink clean water and clean up after ourselves.

That's my top ten.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gentle Giant

The Bible speaks of giants walking the earth, "Sons of God" married earth women and their children became giants and men of renown. Apparently they survived the deluge, because giants are mentioned again as occupiers of the "Promised Land" before the Children of Israel took it over. King Og was a giant. Other ancient writings mention giants too.

Today, our giants are people with growth hormone problems. Oddities. Many basketball players are giants by definition. Our giants today don't match the height of the fabled giants of old who were supposed by many to be children of extraterrestrial beings.

The tallest human on record, one who was actually alive and walking around among us, that is, was one Robert Wadlow of Indiana, who stood nearly 9 feet tall (8 ft-11 inches.) He only lived to be 22 years old. I found his story to be sad and tragic, yet somehow heroic and inspirational at the same time. He was a very gentle giant. He died in 1940.

As a child I saw one of his shoes on a traveling display at a shoe store downtown.

Below: Robert Wadlow (1) as an adolescent and (2) shortly before his death.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Some Miscellaneous Guantanamo Thoughts

On the Purpose of Guantanamo Bay "Prison"

What I think.

I think this place maybe was never intended to be just a regular prison where people were sentenced and served out their time, but rather a place to interrogate special prisoners to get information out of them that will help us get the top leaders of Al-Qaeda, and also to try and learn about their major plans for attacks so we can thwart them.

That would explain a lot. It would explain why only certain captives are sent to this place. It would explain our relentless interrogations instead of just leaving them alone like prisoners. And it would explain why we don't want to see them go free until they talk.

Obviously, that is just speculation; a thought that occurred to me.

Why Guantanamo Bay?

Apparently a prisoner who is taken on the battlefield who doesn't qualify for the protocols outlined in the various Geneva Conventions presents a problem to his captors as to how and where to detain him and under what circumstances.

Common fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan (un-uniformed belligerents shooting at American soldiers) were simply placed in prison camps in Afghanistan. However, some of the people captured on the battlefield (all that could be killed were killed, but some were only wounded or surrendered) were leaders and probably knew helpful information.

In a normal war, uniformed prisoners who are attached to a country of origin, are housed in POW camps per Geneva and interrogated only in the manner Geneva prescribes. At the time this writer was in the military, the Geneva Convention only required a prisoner to give his name, rank, service number, and date of birth. The enemy was supposed to be satisfied with that, and not beat the rest of it out of you. I don't know if that has changed; the Conventions are modified over time. Of course, one is not always lucky enough to be captured by a signatory to the Conventions, or be assured that one's captors will abide by the Conventions even if a signer.

Of course, Al-Qaeda isn't a Geneva signer and doesn't abide by Geneva's rules of war, i.e., Geneva requires soldiers to wear identifiable uniforms, be attached to a recognized country, and not behead people or blow up buses carrying women and babies. I think it is also against the rules of war (god, but that sounds funny, even ridiculous, as I type the words - "rules of war") to hijack jets full of innocent passengers and crash them into buildings with thousands of innocent people inside. But I can understand why much of the world is outraged at America for draping a damp washcloth over the faces of the masterminds of 9/11 and dripping water onto it. That does seem extreme.

Thus the Americans were faced with a unique problem. In earlier days, non-uniformed combatants, civilian night fighters and the like, were simply executed at the will of the commanding officer. Hanging or shooting such illegal combatants was commonplace. The British executed American guerillas in the American Revolution and the Germans executed French resisters and so on in every other war. The treatment of non-uniformed disorganized fighters on a battlefield or who blew up things at night was easy: you executed them when you caught them.

But Al-Qaeda was different. NONE of them were representing any particular country and NONE of them wore uniforms, and NONE of them wanted anything to do with the Geneva way of making war. At least not until they were captured.

What to do?

The Americans and other NATO forces killed as many as they could, but some were only wounded and some simply surrendered. What do you do with these people? I know what the Germans in WWII would have done with them, and what the Russians would have done with them back then. However, as terrible as the world thinks Americans act, they didn't seem able to bring themselves to simply execute the illegal combatants.

One other point as to trials and guilt: these people were "caught in the act" you might say. As are all POWs, actually. Normally, POWs are not given lawyers and trials. They are thrown into prison camps. And that is what the Americans did to the bands of free-lancers who were killing them and otherwise shooting at them. Threw them in prison camps for the duration of the war. Mostly. Some, however, the Americans wanted further conversations with.

Going back to the title of this post, "Why Guantanamo Bay?"

For this, not being there, all I have is the word of George W. Bush. Even though few of you reading this are likely to be disposed to believe President Bush, I have evaluated his statements and have personally made the choice to believe him about "Why Guantanamo Bay".

"Initially, most al Qaeda fighters were held for questioning in battleground prisons in Afghanistan. In November [2001?] CIA officers went to interrogate Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners detained at a primitive nineteenth-century Afghan fortress, Qala-i-Jangi. A riot ensued..."

Bush goes on to recount how one of the officers was killed, the first American fatality of the war, and how it soon became obvious they needed to come up with a better and more secure place to hold and interrogate these prisoners - or "detainees" as he calls them.

Bush goes on to say that they tried putting them on Navy ships in the Arabian sea, but that wasn't suitable. Then he considered putting the prisoners on some remote island with a military base, such as Guam, but Guam belonged to the U.S. and that would mean American courts might start extending constitutional rights (such as the right to remain silent) to the prisoners of war, something that had never been done in any previous war. That would never do since the whole idea was to gain intelligence from the prisoners. We desperately needed intelligence on al Qaeda early in the war, according to Bush.

"We decided to hold detainees at a remote naval station on the southern tip of Cuba, Guantanamo Bay." [...] "The Justice Department advised me that prisoners brought there had no right of access to the U.S. criminal justice system." [.,.]

"At Guantanamo, detainees were given clean and safe shelter, three meals a day, a personal copy of the Koran, the opportunity to pray five times daily, and the same medical care their guards received. They had access to exercise space and a library stocked with books and DVDs. One of the most popular was an Arabic translation of Harry Potter."

On Torture

I used to think I knew what torture meant. Instinctively. When I thought of torture, images of the Japanese abusing British and American soldiers in WWII came to mind: how they starved them and beat them and crippled them and simply shot them. How they marched them without food and made them go nearly mad from thirst in the tropical sun. How they put them in hot boxes on rocks for days at a time with no food or water. Then there were the bamboo slivers pushed up under their fingernails.

Or I think of the Rape of Nanking by the Japanese, and the German doctors experiments on brain surgery and other surgeries on women and twins without anesthetic. The horrors were beyond my imagination as I read the accounts.

I can't even talk about the routine tortures in Elizabethan England.

I read about the Spanish Inquisition going on when Columbus sailed for the New World in 1492. I learned about the ingenious devices for torture. Strappado and squasation. The pear. The Judas cradle. The cat's paw. The heretic's fork. The rack: how bones and connecting tissue could be made to make crackling sounds before they snapped apart. Burning flesh. Hot coals in tongs brought near victims' eyes (I read somewhere that that is how Sampson was blinded by the Philistines - the Palestinians and the Jews have been going at it for thousands of years, you know.)

The thought of torture made me cringe. I felt sure I knew what it was, all right. And I felt sure my country didn't do those things.

As it turns out, according to the UN and organizations like Amnesty International, torture is much more than I thought it was.

Torture can be the act of making someone feel uncomfortable, inferior, controlled, humiliated, afraid, embarrassed. Making a person feel intimidated can have long-lasting emotional scars and even occasional sexual disfunction years later.

In other words, torture can be anything at all. Detention after school. Being made to listen to boring lectures in college. You think I am making fun? Go read the the UN definition of torture. If a person doesn't want to be there, that's torture.

Worst of all, I discovered that my own country tortures people mercilessly. They put prisoners in cages.  Guards react, often with obscene language, when urine and other bodily fluids are thrown through the bars on them. Often, it is said, American Marines will openly frown at helpless prisoners under their control, thus causing long-term feelings of inferiority and helplessness.

Americans need to be ashamed of this. And yet, is not the scorn of the world against the dastardly Americans also a form of torture in and of itself, according to the UN High Commissioner? Is not Europe, thus, also guilty of causing Americans to feel bad? Full of feelings of shame and inferiority? Bet your ass.

How I wish I had known all these things when I was a youngster, when my drill sergeant pressed his nose against mine and screamed obscenities in my face and described my low parentage in vivid and cruel terms. RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FELLOW DETAINEES! I mean "trainees." Is the statute of limitations still running on that? Can I still sue? Will the international courts hear my pleas of recurring nightmares while nodding sadly? Probably not.

If Americans think it is hurtful to have their premier city blasted by hijacked airplanes and watch as people burn and jump from high buildings to their death, how much MORE hurtful it is to offend the perpetrators and make them feel inferior, rather than simply inviting them to repeat the attacks over and over again. Treat them with respect and they will surely leave you alone.

On Waterboarding

What is waterboarding? Sort of like being placed on the rack or the impaler, right? Sort of like having one's intestines removed while still conscious and smelling them being barbecued on a grill next your face, right? - like they used to do did for Good Queen Bess I in England?

Not quite.

Waterboarding consists of placing the subject on his back on a board (duh) and strapping him to that board so he is helpless. Then a wet cloth is placed over his face. Then water is slowly poured over the cloth. Although the water doesn't actually go into the lungs, it feels like it does. The gag reflex kicks in and a very real feeling of drowning pervades. You feel like you are going to die and you can do nothing about it, struggle as you may.

Well, not "nothing" exactly. You can say, "Stop this and I'll talk."

The closest I have ever been to being waterboarded is when I go to the dentist and I am lying on my back and the hygienist is spraying water in my mouth and I can't talk and the suction is not keeping up with the water and I am trying to close my throat instead of letting it run down my throat and gagging. If the water DID go down my throat I guarantee I would start gagging an coughing and (since my arms were not restrained) trying to punch her in the gut to make her move the water thing away, I digress.

Waterboarding is (or maybe "was") a fairly common component of college fraternity "hazing" or initiation in yesteryear. Even at West Point - several generals have admitted that they were administered the procedure when they were plebes. Who else? Well, the American interrogators get it done to them so they know how it feels. Navy Seals and Army Special Forces "might" have undergone waterboarding during interrogation resistance training. They won't say for sure.

It is very realistic. You BELIEVE you are drowning, dying. You don't want it to continue. You panic. You will do ANYTHING to make them stop. You tend to even forget your religion.

When I first heard about waterboarding, I thought thousands of al Qaeda got it done to them, the way the TV news and newspaper columnists went on and on about the horror of it. But it wasn't thousands. It wasn't even two hundred and thirty. How many, then? "Three" says George Bush. Three of the top ringleaders.

1. Abu Zubaydah, a top personal associate of bin Laden, senior recruiter and operator of the training camp in Afghanistan where the 9/11 hijackers had trained. He was planning to attack America again. He was to give up much, much valuable information about al Qaeda leadership and operations. He gave up the mastermind of the 9/11 attack himself, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

2. Hambali,* chief of al Qaeda's operations in Southeast Asia and architect of the infamous Bali terrorist attack that killed 202 people.

3. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed himself, planner of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, and personal killer of kidnapped journalist Danny Pearl. He was harder to break, but when he broke he squealed like the rat he is. He gave up Hambali too.

Bush on Abu Zubaydah:

"Zubaydah had been severely wounded in a gun battle prior to his arrest. The CIA flew in a top doctor who saved his life." [...] "The FBI began questioning Zubaydah, who had clearly been trained on how to resist interrogation. He revealed bits and pieces of information that he thought we already knew. Frighteningly, we didn't know much." [...]

"Then Zubaydah stopped answering questions."

Bush goes on to say that the CIA believed Zubydah had more information to reveal, was hiding other important things, and we needed to avoid another attack on the U.S. Bush asked the CIA what the options were. Bush says he rejected one option outright. He doesn't say what it was.  Bush says he was assured that all interrogations would be performed by experienced professionals who had undergone extensive training, and that medical personnel would be present to guarantee the "detainee" would not be physically or mentally harmed. Bush further claims that the Department of Justice and CIA lawyers conducted a careful review and concluded what they were about to do would not violate the constitution or even the laws that ban torture. Bush gave the go-ahead to waterboard Zubaydah.

The "new techniques" proved highly effective. Zubaydah revealed large amounts of information on al Qaeda's structure and operations. He also provided leads that helped reveal the location of Ramzi bin al Shibh, the logistical planner of the 9/11 attacks. The Pakistani police picked him up on the first anniversary of 9/11.

At this point, Mr. Bush says something I found at first unbelievable.

"Zubaydah later explained to interrogators why he started answering questions again. His understanding of Islam was that he had to resist interrogation only up to a certain point. Waterboarding was the technique that allowed him to reach that threshold, fulfill his religious duty, and then cooperate. 'You must do this for all the brothers he said."

That's hard to believe. That's hard to swallow. And yet, in some odd way it makes sense and unlocks a portion of how these people think. I'm not sure I fully believed Bush when I read this part. But, later, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured and waterboarded, he ended up saying much the same thing, and suddenly began cooperating fully, after taking what he felt was an honorable amount of duress.

President Bush:

"Kalid Sheikh Mohammed proved difficult to break. But when he did, he gave us a lot. He disclosed plans to attack American targets with anthrax and directed us to three people involved in the al Qaeda biological weapons program. He provided information that led to the capture of Hambali..." [...] "He provided further details that led agents to Hambali's brother, who had been grooming operatives to carry out another attack inside the United States, possibly a West Coast version of 9/11 in which terrorists flew a hijacked plane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles."

"Years later, the Washington Post ran a front page story about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's transformation, [...] "It described how Mohammed 'seemed to relish the opportunity, sometimes for hours on end, to discuss the inner workings of al Qaeda and the group's plans, ideology and operatives...He'd even use a chalkboard at times.' "

Bush continues:

"Of the thousands of terrorists we captured in the years after 9/11, about a hundred were placed into the CIA program. About a third of those were questioned using enhanced interrogation techniques. Three were waterboarded."

*Possibly the third person waterboarded was Ramzi bin al Shibh instead of Hambali. Bush was not clear on who the third person definitively was.

On Muslims Hating America

Many people, for many years now, seem preoccupied with why Muslims hate America and want to kill Americans. Where did al Qaeda come from? Personally, I have never cared that much whether Muslims, or anyone else, for that matter, loved America or not. Their loss. I know I probably should care, but I just don't stay awake worrying about it. America steers her own course, except during weak indecisive times, like now and like Jimmy Carter's era. Perhaps that in itself pisses off other countries, that we don't consult with them enough. I don't know.

In the case of al Qaeda, though, it isn't a nameless hatred. It isn't just Muslim kids being taught hatred by their teachers in grade school and it isn't just that Muslim "clerics" preach hate of the infidel to their flocks every Friday, either.

Saudi Arabia is key with al Qaeda hatred of America. America the infidel set foot in the holy of holies, Saudi Arabia, home of Mecca and Medina and The Prophet, during Gulf War One. bin Ladin is a Saudi. His insult and idignation knew no bounds when America used Saudi Arabia as a base to beat back Sadaam in the early 90s. Never mind that Saudi Arabia would have certainly be overrun by Iraq had not the Americans intervened. It doesn't make sense, but that's how the fanatics think. Stay the hell out of Saudi Arabia.

I once advocated to anyone who would listen that we should make a firm threat that if al Qaeda attacked America again - ever - we would bomb Mecca. Preferably with a dirty bomb that would thwart any thought of pilgrimages there for a thousand years. I still think such a threat is a good idea. No, even I can't recommend that. But it is sort of like taking a hostage without having to lift a finger. The fanatics understand that. Even they have a few things they care about more than martyrdom and virgins.

Now, that is the spark that set al Qaeda off against America. There is an older and more personal reason that they hate America, and that reason is at the root of all the terrorism against us. It stems from the fact that America recognizes Israel as a legitimate entity, a real country.

Will all the hatred subside and all the fighting stop if suddenly Israel were to magically disappear? No, America would still be hated because it ONCE supported Israel. The fighting would also continue unabated. They would simply begin fighting among themselves as they did before Israel existed. It is their nature to feel slighted and seek unending revenge for this or that perceived injury. It is just the nature of the beast.

All of the friendly Palestinians have long since moved to Dearborn.

Knowing this, your job is to simply support the people who treat you with respect and with friendship while protecting yourself from the crazies as much as possible. No, don't think that switching sides and condemning Israel will make any difference with these people.

The Palestinians never miss a chance to miss a chance. Don't forget that. This is a sport to them.

How do you tell who the fanatics are?

Islam is a peaceful religion. We hear that all the time and I believe it, generally. Even though the Quran is pretty violent in places. But there is a way to single out the fanatics who are NOT peaceful and who want to kill you. Here's how: sit in an embassy compound and when a group of "protesters" approach yelling "Death to america!" and begin shooting at you and cursing you and try to bomb you and burn your flag and hang the President in effigy, this is a clue that these are your enemies. These are the fanatics. These are the non-peaceful segments of Islam. Kill them all. Kill them each and every time they congregate. You will be killing people who hate you and want to reenact 9/11 on America tomorrow. You will be doing America a favor. You will be doing yourself a favor. You will be doing peaceful and friendly Muslims a favor. You will seldom be able to kill that many of your enemies together in one convenient place, knowing without a doubt that they ARE your enemies. Such things are gifts from providence.

Or you can try to reason with them and win their hearts and minds over. You can try to capture them and give them fair trials. Perhaps they will love you and America tomorrow if you do.

I'm guessing not.

I see a breath of fresh air in Libya now, though. Today, Muslims of good will took to the streets to confront the haters who attacked the American consulate last week, killing a good friend of Libya. It almost restores my hope. Godspeed to these peacemakers.

On Fair Trials and Habeas Corpus

Unless you can learn to separate military-style attacks and battles from criminal acts by people who live in a civil society, you will never understand why some are treated differently and afforded different legal rights.

I have heard silly statements on various blogs and newspapers, by otherwise intelligent people, such as "Everyone has a right to a speedy and fair trial" and "Habeas Corpus is basic human write that is inviolable." Or similar.

What balderdash!

You can't equate civil rights and the rule of law in a peaceful society to acts of war! You treat people who attack your country much differently. First, you fight back as hard as you can and with as much military force as you can muster and you kill your enemies and take the fight to his land and take what he owns. You subdue him. You put your foot on his neck and keep him at bay and away from your shores. You don't worry about if you offend him or not or if you treat him poorly and unfairly. Fair treatment and human rights are for people who are not trying to destroy your country and your way of life. See? They really are two separate things.

1. Do what you have to to protect your land, property, life.

2. Worry about the civil rights of your enemies after the war is over.

It's quite a simple concept. It's called self-preservation.

When someone attacks you and doesn't win, why, you get to take their stuff. If you are not nice, you get to enslave them. You change the lines on the map to show you now own what they used to own. They will call you "occupiers" and cry to the world to make you give their stuff back, but you don't have to because they attacked you and lost. So Israel was attacked several times, and each time Israel took more and more of their enemies' lands because they won those wars. They gave some back. They may give more back in the future if they feel they won't be attacked by those people again.

The U.S. was attacked. It now holds some of those attackers in a prison camp called Guantanamo. Speedy trials? Innocence or guilt? Civil rights? Well, those things are up to their captors. It is a sad consequence of you attacking and losing, you see. Since they were taken from battlefields and safe houses, there is really no need for a trial. They are simply at the mercy of those they attacked.

I know, I know, you still can't get it out of your head that these people are human beings, by god, and innocent until proven guilty, just like your next door neighbor. Well, it just doesn't work that way in war, bucky. In war, they take you off the battlefield and throw you in a prison camp. For how long? Until the war is over or until you get traded for some of our prisoners. Don't you get a trial? No. You stay in the POW camp until the war is over or you escape without being shot. No, no, no, no - don't get it confused with people who commit "crimes" on places other than battlefields. That is very different than war rules.

How about the Geneva Convention, dadgummit? Well, aside from the fact that, again, these folks don't qualify for Geneva Convention protections under Convention rules, we are still trying to treat them humanely by not letting them starve or live in filth and disease. This is because we are a civilized country. They are not, you see.

But what if they are innocent victims? Holy Moley! What about THAT?

Again, these people, these supporters of savage, rabid, senseless slaughterers of innocent civilians minding their own business, were not taken at random from movie theaters in Karachi or Kandahar. They were captured on battlefields engaged in mortal combat with America's finest. Except for the cowardly ringleaders and planners of mass murders who were in hiding and had to be tracked down, and except for some fighters who were on their way to the battlefield and got interrupted.

Now here's a bad thing that we did: Bush caved in to demands by outsiders who weren't involved in the war, like the UN and mindless protesters at home who apparently don't care if their country was attacked or not, and gave these military prisoners lawyers. Yeah! We did that! Can you imagine lawyers in a military prison camp? I can't. The only thing more ridiculous is the notion that these wartime fighters should be entitled to habeas corpus. Are you kidding me? Military fighters don't go before civil courts. C'mon. Two different things here. Get a grip.

Military tribunals will decide who can leave and go home, who will be sent to another prison for life, and who will be executed. That's how these war things work. They need to quit dragging their feet and get on with it so any of those who were small fry can get released to a prison in their own country and get their civil rights back when they arrive. The civil rights of their home countries, not ours. In the meantime, at our sole discretion as captors, we decide if they are still a threat to the U.S. We have been pretty poor judges so far, in that those few released seem to have a penchant for just returning to the battlefield and continuing the fight.

On Adnan Latif

Adnan Latif was a Yemeni national who traveled to Afghanistan at the wrong time. He says he thought  it was a good time to get medical help in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The U.S. says he was with a crowd of other Arabs of various nationalities who were on their way to help fight the Americans in Afghanistan. He spent his time in Guantanamo being belligerent and uncooperative, unlike someone who wanted to convince his captors that a mistake had been made. In such a situation, a person who was mistakenly imprisoned would, one assumes, be overly cooperative and make continual pleas to be allowed to talk to someone about his innocence. One assumes such a person would not spend as much time as Latif did spitting in the guards' faces.

Despite the Bush administration's contention that the prisoners at Guantanamo were not entitled to Geneva Convention provisions, the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2004, ruled that the prisoners were entitled to be informed of the allegations against them and were entitled to try and refute those allegations.

Most prisoners of war are detained "extrajudicially", usually simply as enemies of the state without presenting any other formal charges.

"Why am I being held prisoner?"

"Because you are an enemy combatant against the United States of America in time of war."

Case closed. Unless he can refute that allegation. For example, by demonstrating he was really a French citizen on holiday in Islamabad at the time of his capture.

Here is a picture of Latif. The orange jumpsuit signifies he is considered a "non-compliant" prisoner (troublemaker.)
Outside sources say there were no charges against Latif except the enemy combatant one which allowed the simple extrajudicial detention. However, records show that he DID have actual allegations against him, mostly as a group with other enemy combatants, to wit:

"The U.S. Military alleges that Latif is an al Qaeda fighter."

"The U.S. Military alleges that Latif traveled to Afghanistan for jihad."

"The U.S. Military alleges that Latif took military or terrorist training in Afghanistan."

"The U.S. Military alleges that Latif fought for the Taliban."

"The U.S. Military alleges that Latif was one of the captives whose "names or aliases were found on material seized in raids on al Qaeda safehouses and facilites."

Here are his names and aliases:

  • Agnahn Purhan Abjallil
  • Allal, Ab Aljallil
  • Allal Ab Aljallil Abd Al Rahman Abd
  • Abdelrahman Abdulla Abdel Galil
  • Adnan Farhan Abd al Latif
  • Afnahn Purhan Abjillil]
  • George Jones (kidding)
(Why in the world does an innocent traveler seeking medical attention need that many aliases?)

"The U.S. Military alleges that Latif served on Osama Bin Laden's security detail."

What? A bodyguard for bin Laden? Could this be why we thought he had important information he wasn't sharing? His name showed up on a captured list of bin Laden's personal aides??

"The U.S. Military alleges that Latif was an al Qaeda operative."

At any rate, his supporters assert the U,S. Government and military is lying and that Latif was just a harmless poet criminally detained.

Latif says he was force fed with a tube and that it caused great pain when it was placed up through his nose and down into his stomach. Those of you who have been in a hospital probably have had such a tube placed up your nose and down into your stomach, but for continual evacuation, not feeding. At any rate placing the tube is not really torture. He had a history of going on hunger strikes. Were the Americans wrong to keep him alive by force-feeding him like that? If it really hurt, then I suppose he could have just started eating again the normal way. If it really hurt, I personally would have been tempted to feed him in 8 or 10 daily snacks instead of in one or two big meals. But that's just me.

Latif died in prison recently and is considered an example of U.S. torture and inhumanity.

On America Supporting Dictators in Central America

To be continued...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Helping the Mentally Ill

Caution: this post contains graphic pictures and a graphic video clip. 

A lobotomy is an operation on the brain.

The reason it sometimes works is not entirely clear, but it is used to calm agitated or aggressive mental patients, and for other reasons, such as to relieve depression or some obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

A lobotomy (more correctly a prefrontal lobotomy) involves cutting the connections to and from the prefrontal cortex of the brain. That is, the two lobes of the brain in front, behind the forehead. Initially, the operation, which was first used in the early part of the 20th century, was quite crude. The head had to be cut open. Risk of infection was pretty high, as you might imagine in primitive brain surgery. But it had a high rate of success in calming the patient down. Often, of course, this calming was to the extent that the patient didn't care one way or the other anymore, or, in some cases, became rather unresponsive generally.
This picture is purported to be genuine, though I have my doubts. It is a bit too Hollywood, I think.

As the science progressed through the years, ways were discovered to perform the cutting of the brain without opening the skull radically. For example, in one technique, a small hole was drilled in the side of the head and a cutting instrument was inserted in that hole.
Perhaps the most famous of the people who popularized lobotomies and pioneered new techniques in them, was Dr. Walter Freeman. In his lifetime he performed almost 3500 of the procedures.

Dr. Freeman was the inventor of the transorbital lobotomy. In this procedure, and ice pick-like device was inserted through the patient's eye socket and tapped with a hammer to break through the thin bone layer, and into the brain's frontal lobe. The patient was "anesthetized" prior to this by using electric shock to induce convulsions. The procedure was done through both eyes, cutting both frontal lobes.

You can watch a short video of the procedure here, from a PBS documentary on Dr. Freeman.

One of the most famous lobotomies, and one of the most tragic, was performed on Rosemary Kennedy, daughter of Joseph Kennedy and sister of President Kennedy. Rosemary wasn't that abnormal. She was prone to mood swings and was a little "slow" compared to her brilliant siblings, perhaps a little clumsy, but not severely mentally deficient (she could do division and multiplication) She was presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1938 (her father was the American Ambassador to the Court of St. James's) and, it is said, she stumbled a bit on her curtsey, which embarrassed her father. But she was all right. She spoke well, dressed well, kept a diary. Her older brother John doted on her. The lobotomy, performed by Dr. Freeman, left her an incontinent vegetable who could only babble. A tragedy. You can read a bit more about her on the below link under the pictures.

Rosemary is standing left, rear, in the below photo.

If you would like to read a list and descriptions of some of Dr. Freeman's lobotomy patients, including Rosemary Kennedy, it is available online here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mental Health of Yore

Long ago there was a different attitude toward the mentally ill and mentally deficient in the U.S.

We are much more enlightened today.

Between the 1920s and the 1960s, it was thought that state-ordered sterilization was part of the solution. This was the era of the Progressives' eugenics ideas, though much of it was pre-WWII.

These people were often put in state hospitals, the mentally ill for treatment and the mentally deficient or "feeble-minded" as they were called, for warehousing. Warehousing and experimentation sometimes.

Epileptics, embarrassments to their parents, were housed in other state hospitals and often lived out their lives there. Obviously these people were not mentally deficient (for the most part) nor mentally ill, yet they were separated from society anyway. Experimental surgeries were performed and different medications were tried.

I have read that the Nazis got a lot of their ideas about racial cleansing from us and our progressive society. I don't like to think that is true.

For the mentally ill, Electro-shock therapy was common - it still is used today - and then came the rise in popularity of the lobotomy. Next post, I would like to introduce you to the father of modern lobotomy, perfecter of the transorbital method, performer of nearly 3500 lobotomies, Dr. Walter Freeman. Some people hailed him as a true medical pioneer, and some probably still do. Personally, I think of him as Victor Frankenstein incarnate.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Nevada to retain "None of the Above"

A federal appeals court decided this week to allow Nevada's controversial "None of the Above" voting option to stand as the printing of the state's November ballots proceeds. Nevada has had that option since 1976. Although the ballot item can't technically win an election, it does let the candidates who do win know the people don't really like them. The first federal judge tried to delay his decision until the ballots had already gone to the printer. The appeals judge struck down the lower court's decision to remove, and also chastised the judge for dragging his feet.

In 1998, Senate Leader Harry Reid beat the Republican challenger by just 428 votes. "None of the Above" got 8,000 votes. The provision can't force a new election, however.

Still, Nevada says the ballot item boosts voter turnout, bringing out disgruntled people who would otherwise simply not have voted.

The Mitt Romney camp was reportedly disappointed with the decision because they felt people who don't like either candidate might vote for him in larger numbers than for President Obama.

In President Clinton's speech last night to the Democratic Convention in Charlotte - the best speech of his life, many say - he made a better case for Barack Obama's reelection than Obama himself has ever made. Some say the President may be reelected in November because of Clinton's brilliant explaining of the issues last night. Michelle Obama's perfect speech on Tuesday (in her unique "purposeful stuttering" style) set the stage though, emotionally. The President will speak tonight, accepting his party's nomination (one assumes) and closing the convention.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Existential Angst

Each man and woman creates the meaning of his or her life. Meaning is not determined by a supernatural god or any earthly authority. One is free.

So say the existentialists. Nietzsche, Sarte, et al.

According to them, this freedom to choose ones own way, this "free will" gives rise to anxiety or dread when life-decisions are made, and this feeling of "angst" can be overwhelming when you realize your choice can kill you and nobody will stop you or even care.

The Danish philosopher, writer on existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard gives the example of a person standing on the edge of a high cliff. Of course he feels the instinctual fear of falling off, but there is also the fear that he might throw himself off. No one would stop him from doing so. This "anxiety of free will" lasts only a second before he steps back, but the thought that he is alone with his choices brings on that moment of dread. This dread arises form the individuals brief encounter with true freedom of choice, and the gut-wrenching realization that no one will interfere with that choice.

Angst is more than just fear. In regular fear, one can take steps to remove the object of the fear. Angst is the fear of what you might do, if you so chose.

I never said Nietsche or Jean-Paul Sarte made sense.

Anyway, with this in mind, I now consider Adam and whether he experienced angst before he took a bite of the apple. I think it was "forbidden fruit", not "apple." If there were any angst it would not arise from a concept of good and evil, since Adam had no such knowledge yet. Any angst would have simply come from the perceived consequence of disobeying a being he felt great respect for, such as a child contemplating disobeying his parent. It was only after his first bite that he realized he had done something wrong. This is rather a complex thing to sort out. Add to this the realization that God KNEW what choice Adam was going to make, it boggles the mind even more. This "free will" thing is pretty hard for me to understand.

After talking about the angst of true free will, Kierkegaard went on to consider the concept of "despair". Despair is loss of hope, and ensues when the prime motivation for happiness in your life, your driving force, is taken from you. If a famous singer has built her entire life around being able to sing beautifully, and then suddenly she loses that ability, she feels despair if she has nothing to fall back on. Imagine the feeling which a long-time fan of The Heart of Midlothian must feel. That is true despair. Utter hopelessness. I think it was Nietsche who gave that particular example.

"Let each one learn what he can; both of us can learn that a person’s unhappiness never lies in his lack of control over external conditions, since this would only make him completely unhappy." (Kierkegaard: "Either/Or".)


"When the God-forsaken worldliness of earthly life shuts itself in complacency, the confined air develops poison, the moment gets stuck and stands still, the prospect is lost, a need is felt for a refreshing, enlivening breeze to cleanse the air and dispel the poisonous vapors lest we suffocate in worldliness. ... Lovingly to hope all things is the opposite of despairingly to hope nothing at all. Love hopes all things – yet is never put to shame. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of the good is to hope. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of evil is to fear. By the decision to choose hope one decides infinitely more than it seems, because it is an eternal decision."  (Kierkegaard: "Works of Love.") 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Are Americans too stupid to be allowed to vote?

Things are getting worse in just about all points of measurement. So say the people to the pollsters. Few people think they are better off than their parents were and few think the future prospects are bright. The number of people who think Congress is doing a good job has never been lower, say the polls. If you ask people who they blame for whatever is wrong with America today, mostly it is the politicians.

The crooked, lying, cheating, bought-and-paid-for politicians. The politicians who live high on the hog and get wined and dined by special-interest lobbies. Thieves, mostly. Looking to get elected and reelected and saying what they think the voters want to hear. And most of them WILL get reelected: the voters are saps.

There are a few good politicians. Precious few. Many start with good intentions but get lost in the "system" of corruption and end up just like all the rest. The ones that stay true to their values find the road difficult and fraught with compromise.

Why are these uncaring, selfish, racketeers allowed to live the way they live, pass bills that benefit their benefactors, ignore the will of the people? Because the people keep voting them in, that's why. And after they vote the thieves and rascals into office, the people don't demand accountability.

Believe it or not, there are some Americans who have a clear vision of how they want to live and how they want their country to be, have informed themselves of the issues and what is going on. How many? I don't know - maybe 5%. The rest? Well, half of them are so lazy or uninspired by the available criminals to vote for that they just don't bother to vote at all. The other half, the ones responsible for continuing to vote these arrogant useless scalawags into office, vote for their own reasons. Analysis of what is best for the country seldom enters into their voting decisions.

They vote for a candidate because he or she has black skin. They vote because their candidate is hispanic. They vote because their guy is Jewish. Or they vote for the candidate who is NOT black, hispanic, jewish, or bald. Whatever. Many vote for the person or party they are told to vote for: union members vote Democrat. So do minority groups. Each party claims its automatic voters from various special-interest groups, from environmentalists to lumberjacks to Southern Baptists. I suppose. Some have educated themselves on the issues and know exactly what direction they want to see America go. Too many, however, as so dumb they couldn't tell you where the Statue of Liberty is located. They live for their next fix and they vote for the candidate who promises not to cut off their welfare check.

That brings us to a dilemma: should all Americans be allowed to vote? If so, should all votes be equal? What if continuing to do it that way insures that we continue down the same path of corruption we see today? If the answer is "yes," then we probably are doomed to continue to deteriorate and see our standard of living continue to fall. But if the answer is "no," then what? Who gets to vote? I mean, besides ME, of course.


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