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August 29, 2005


Paging Charles Bird; Charles Bird to the white courtesy blog.

More oxymoronic intelligent design stuff.

Senator Warner is calling Rumsfeld in for hearings on Iraq. Next week.

Man caught via cameraphone he stole after he uploads pictures he took to the stored website.

A certain effing town in Austria. (Bad Word Used repeatedly.)

More journalists killed in Iraq than during 20 years of Vietnam War.

Fantastic quotes on what the future of radio/movies/tv will bring, said when they were new.

2004 Election Cartograms.

British judges out of Wodehouse.

Space elevator news.

Army contractor inspector who is chief critic of Halliburton is demoted.

Saudi Arabia finds Israeli paper cups, freaks out.

This picture is for you, Slarti.

Complain to tv stations to let them air the Darfur commercial critical of the networks.

Other stuff.

Well, you said "open." :-)

British judges 'out of Wodehouse?' Take it from an ex-court reporter, they're not that funny. 'I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.' No judge ever came out with one like that in a summing up.

If Fox had reported Katrina like Iraq.

"Take it from an ex-court reporter, they're not that funny."

Well, did you read the story, or were you exercising your precognitive talent?

1. Everything you knew about lemmings is a lie:

Lemmings do not commit mass suicide. It's a myth, but it's remarkable how many people believe it. Ask a few.

"It's a complete urban legend," said state wildlife biologist Thomas McDonough. "I think it blew out of proportion based on a Disney documentary in the '50s, and that brought it to the mainstream."....

In 1958 Walt Disney produced "White Wilderness," part of the studio's "True Life Adventure" series. "White Wilderness" featured a segment on lemmings, detailing their strange compulsion to commit mass suicide.

According to a 1983 investigation by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation producer Brian Vallee, the lemming scenes were faked. The lemmings supposedly committing mass suicide by leaping into the ocean were actually thrown off a cliff by the Disney filmmakers. The epic "lemming migration" was staged using careful editing, tight camera angles and a few dozen lemmings running on snow covered lazy-Susan style turntable.

Heh, Gary, I emailed that WashPost story by Sally Jenkins to PZ Myers at Pharyngula this morning as soon as I read it in the dead-tree edition at work. The poor man is probably only two or three more articles like that away from a stroke.

Katherine: thanks -- I love it when some tiny piece of my mental world becomes more accurate. (Not in the least sarcastic.) Now I wonder: what on earth were the Disney people thinking? Why that bizarre myth? Hmm.

Sheep, however... (See bottom paragraph).

Change of subject: Wes Clark is on TMP Cafe, Table for One. As a Clark obsessive, I have been looking forward to his visit for weeks!

re: British judges being a bit behind the times.

This story is about a British don, rather than a judge, but still a propos, I hope.

De Montfort University is a perfectly respectable provincial British University around Leicester. It used to be called Leicester Polytechnic; then in '92 it got its new name, to honor Simon De Montfort, Earl of Leicester back in the 1200's.

Reflecting the population of the neighboring cities from which it draws its students, it has (or at least had back in the early '90s) a large percentage of students from South Asia and the Middle East. When the new name was being debated, some of them felt that it was absurd to name it after another Dead White Male, and wanted something more up to date (Mandela U? Gandhi Poly? I don't remember the competition).

I was having breakfast at a college in Oxford back in '93 when several people at the end of the table took up the topic--"De Montfort", "controversy", and "racialism" drifted down the table.

Across from me, a very old boy whom I knew to have been a first-rate scholar from the '40s right through the '90s was hearing the same scraps of conversation that I was, and mumbling to himself trying to put them together:

"De Montfort...? Racialism...?"

He frowned in great puzzlement, bushy white eyebrows joining in the middle.

"De Montfort...?" Again, puzzlement mixed with incomprehension.

"Ah! Yes!" he said, to no one in particular, now satisfied that he had it sorted out, "Yes, well the *name* is French of course, but I don't see the problem--the *family* has been here for *generations!".

That's right--he thought the concerns about "racialism" had to do with giving an English university a French name.

Another Wodehouse moment.

Clark is blogging (well, we'll see) here.

2. The two Canadians tortured in Syria before Maher Arar, Ahmad el-Maati and Abdullah Almalki, have given extensive interviews to the press for the first time.

El-Maati was arrested in Syria in November 2001:

The Syrians told him he should do better, and suggested he invent things if need be. He says they threatened to bring Rola to the prison. "They said they would rape her in front of me."

It got even rougher, he says. He was stripped down to his shorts and forced to lie on his stomach on the floor, his hands shackled behind his back. Ice water was poured over him and then his feet, legs, knees and back were beaten with cables.

This went on for two days until Mr. El Maati says he broke. He says he agreed to concoct a story that the Syrians wanted to hear, a fanciful tale naming Canadians of Middle East origin he said had trained in Afghanistan. He also said that his brother Amr had wanted him to become a suicide bomber and drive a truck full of explosives into a target in Ottawa.

Yes, the Syrians said. "The American embassy."

Mr. El Maati says he had to think quickly. If the American embassy was supposed to be the target he might get sent to the United States for trial. Hoping to go home to Canada, Mr. El Maati says he "confessed" that the target was the Parliament Buildings.

Even better, the Syrians said. They asked him to write it down. He says when he balked at that the torture began again.

Mr. El Maati says he couldn't take it any more. He agreed to sign a written statement they prepared for him and seal it with his thumb print. He says he was not allowed to see the final document.

During one of the interrogations, he says he was asked for the names of Canadian Muslim men. The interrogators were curious about Maher Arar and Abdullah Almalki, men he was acquainted with in Canada but didn't know well.

El-Maati was transferred from Syria to Egypt in 2002; in this article he made allegations of torture in Egypt which were new to me:

Mr. El Maati says the torture was slightly more sophisticated in Egypt, although no less painful. In an interrogation room, he says, he was forced to crouch low, causing great pain in his bad knee; then the torturers used a martial-arts type of kick to attack him all over his body....

In early March, he says, it was clear the Egyptians had new information from Canada. They had a copy of the Ottawa map. But even more strangely, he says, they knew all about a $70 Sony TV remote control he had purchased in Toronto.

"I knew these questions were not theirs," he says.

Mr. El Maati transferred to a compound in suburban Cairo where he suffered what he says was the worst torture of his ordeal. An electric prod was used on his hands, legs and genitals during interrogations. His hands were cuffed so tightly his wrists bled. His food was thrown on the floor of his cell where he had to compete with rats and cockroaches.

"I felt like an animal," he says. "I was sweating. I was rotting away."

In July of 2002, he says, he was transferred to a third Egyptian security facility. He was kept blindfolded and handcuffed in a hallway with other prisoners for what he estimates was about two weeks. It was during this time, Mr. El Maati says, that he developed anal bleeding. Canadian doctors later diagnosed an anal fissure requiring surgery.

Almalki was apparently a suspect even before September 11 (the details are in the article), and Arar apparently first came to the attention of Canadian intelligence because he had lunch with Almalki.

That spring Mr. Almalki says he went by himself to visit his ailing grandmother in Damascus, arriving on May 3, 2002. He was detained at the airport.

He was told by an officer that Syrians were acting on a report that had been received from “an embassy” of another country. Mr. Almalki says he was then taken to the infamous “Palestine Branch” prison of Syrian military intelligence, relieved of most of his belongings, blindfolded and taken into an interrogation room.

Mr. Almalki remembers one of the interrogators asking him what he had been doing in Canada and “why the Canadians, Americans, the British and the whole world” were so interested in him. He was asked about the pilot friend, and also about Mr. El-Maati. Mr. Almalki didn't recognize the name....
Mr. Almalki says he was forced to take off his jacket and shoes and lie on his stomach on the floor with his hands behind his back and his legs bent up. He remembers one of the torturers standing on his back while another lashed the soles of his feet with a thick, twisted cable. “It felt like they were pouring lava on me.”

He says they questioned him as they were beating him: Had he sold equipment to al-Qaeda or the Taliban regime in Afghanistan? Had he ever met or communicated with Osama bin Laden?

Occasionally, he says, they poured cold water on his feet and legs to keep the swelling down and made him stand and jog to keep blood circulating.

The pain was so intense, he says, he lied to stop the beatings. He told them he was a member of al-Qaeda. He said anything he thought his torturers wanted to hear. The beating went on throughout the night, with almost all parts of his body thrashed. He says his interrogators told him he had endured more than a thousand lashes.

In the morning he was hauled off to a tiny, dark basement cell — he says it was about a metre wide, two metres high and two metres long.

He remembers that the coagulating blood on his feet stuck to the stone floor and to the blanket he was given. He wept.

“I was in huge pain. I didn't want to get up ever again. I just wanted to be left alone.”

He says he lived in that cell for 482 days.


These two cases are not in themselves renditions--though it's possible that the U.S. took part in sending El-Maati to Egypt; I just don't know. Almalki and El-Maati traveled to Syria on their own. But:

1) it looks overhelmingly likely that they were arrested at the request of Western intelligence--and I doubt that Canadian intelligence has a relationship with Syria and Egypt that's completely indpendent of the U.S. intelligence relationship.

2) there's probably a comparable level of ongoing collaboration with these countries' intelligence services after a rendition.

3) Arar seems to have been deported mainly on the strength of his acquaintance with Almalki and El-Maati and their confessions under torture in Syria.

4) El-Maati had alleged torture in Syria to Canadian officials at least two months before Arar was sent to Syria.

"Now I wonder: what on earth were the Disney people thinking? Why that bizarre myth? Hmm."

That was explained in the story, towards the bottom. It's based on fact, their pattern of dispersal when their population pops up, and this can result:

"Sometimes it's pretty directional. The classic example is in the Scandinavian mountains, where (lemmings) have been dramatically observed. They will come to a body of water and be temporarily stopped, and eventually they'll build up along the shore so dense and they will swim across. If they get wet to the skin, they 're essentially dead."

"There's no question that at times they will build up to huge numbers," Jarrell added. "One description from Barrow does talk about them drowning and piling up on the shore."

So it's not as if the Disney people made it up out of whole cloth; they just rather misinterpreted and mislabeled and misdescribed actual behavior.

Admittedly, that's a lot of "mis-es."

Besides, did you notice the bit where it mentioned that lemmings can be cannibalistic?

I don't even want to think about cannibal sheep.

And don't let Slart get started about "canniballistic" vs "cannonballistic".

Lili, I'd wanted to ask you earlier whereabouts in the Yukon you'd been travelling. And how did you find Whitehorse? (I've family up there.)

And how did you find Whitehorse?

Turn right at Juneau.

(Apologies to John Lennon. Or to Alan Owun, in any case.)

I was going to say, Follow the white hoofprints, but thought better of it.

Turn right at Juneau.
More like turn right at Skagway, where there's a highway! I've taken a "direct" flight from Juneau to Whitehorse: at the time the best option was a six-person bi-plane, cutting across glacial fjords.

"Follow the white hoofprints" makes some sense given that the river there made the city possible and that until the dams went up in the early 20th, the Yukon River was pretty heavy there.

But as I've been making fun of my Yukon relatives forever, I won't deprive you all of the opportunity. Hell, I might even write up more of my ornery old Grandad's stories.

"Apologies to John Lennon"

Also: "Women should be obscene and not heard."

This I disagree with. It's fine with me if women are obscene and loudly opiniated about it.

P.S. Beatle irony just to see what happens.

"Are we living like this? Two lives, the outer ideal life and the inner imaginative life where we keep our secrets? ..

Yes, we are. So, apropos of nothing, I've been thinking about the perennial subject of pop/rock music (cause I work with with people who write the stuff and have some ideas myself) and how the great pop/rock songs are about unrequieted love, not about the requieted love we've got right in front of us. ( for that, tune into country-western) You know, how come you can't have that over there, and why is that so fascinating when fascination is right in front of you .. and why doesn't that little quandary go away, you idiot?

This is all smaller-scale metaphysical and outrageously imaginary, of course.

By the way, this is the best post leading into an open thread -- ever. Thank you.

http://tacitus.org/?op=displaystory;sid=2005/8/26/85234/9275>Character href> attack on Clark if you want forewarning. Probably worthwhile, it did/will have some traction. Separately, sparticus' quote list is a nice reminder.

As far as random highfalutin quotations, here are two from Polish poets who wouldn't cooperate with the Communist Regime:

1. From Another Beauty, by Adam Zagajewski

We find comfort only in
another beauty, in others'
music, in the poetry of others.
Salvation lies with others,
though solitude may taste like
opium. Other people aren't hell
if you glimpse them at dawn, when
their brows are clean, rinsed by dreams.

2. A Matter of Taste, Zbigniew Herbert

It didn't require great character at all
our refusal disagreement and resistance
we had a shred of necessary courage
but fundamentally it was a matter of taste

Yes taste
in which there are fibers of soul
the cartilage of conscience
Who knows if we had been better and more
attractively tempted
sent rose-skinned women thin as a wafer
or fantastic creatures from the paintings of
Hieronymus Bosch

but what kind of hell was there at this time
a wet pit the murderers' alley the barrack
called a palace of justice
a home-brewed Mephisto in a Lenin jacket
sent Aurora's grandchildren on into the field
boys with potato faces
very ugly girls with red hands
So aesthetics can be helpful in life
one should not neglect the study of beauty

Before we declare our consent
we must carefully examine
the shape of the architecture
the rhythm of the drums
official colors
the despicable ritual of funerals
Our eyes refused obedience
the princes of our senses proudly chose exile

Oops; the second one is actually called "The Power of Taste".

Lily (sorry for earlier typo),
I'd love to hear about your travels via email mine blog or wherever. For now, to bed.

I am so disappointed about the lemmings I can not bring myself to comment snarkily about the Kentucky pardons. Just devastated. We need...I was going to say Elliott Smith or Cobain but that would be in bad taste...we need a saintly depressive to preach suicide to the lemmings so my world is right-sideup again.

I don't even want to think about cannibal sheep.

Is it time to start resurrecting the Geoffrey Howe jokes?

Via Gary's blog-whoring linkfest comment, the last sentence of the Warner-Rumsfeld NYT article:

Mr. Warner has also said he will schedule a hearing in the next several weeks on whether the Pentagon has failed to hold senior officials and military officers responsible for the prisoner abuses that took place at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, and at other detention centers in Iraq, Cuba and Afghanistan.


Is that really the right question? Is the oh-so-obvious answer not official until the Senate Armed Forces Committee issues it? I'm so tired of being glad for the merest, wispy scraps of accountability.

And Katherine, thank you so much for the links to the further torture / rendition stories.

to katherine. nightmare-free sleep is highly overrated; thanks for the post.

since this is an open thread, and since tomorrow, tuesday, is my 40-something birthday, my birthday request is that Jes and Gary try to work stuff out.

jes: you are a powerful, passionate poster. i love reading what you write. but you do, sometimes, overreach, and when called on it tend to dig in your heels. i know that Gary can be incredibly aggravating, but please understand that he frequently is making legitimate points.

gary: as a fine old lawyer once told me, you have a great instinct for the capillaries. while i appreciate your sense that you're the one who's been wronged, please try to understand that in this debating society, sometimes passion exceeds precision. even you are sometimes guilty of that flaw. you too are an interesting poster but this spat with jes is distracting and detracting from your other work.

anyway, that's my birthday request.


Francis wishes for world peace, or practically. Happy b-day despite your annoying utopianism.

If wishes were ponies, then bloggers would ride...

Yeesh, that's not in google. What's wrong with you people?

Need a break from serious political debate? Have a go at my first-ever caption contest.

Here I was, at 4 am, thinking this thread would be a useful diversion to a dreary night. So I thought I'd go to Chekhov and find something, since I like Chekhov so damned much. You know, I can't think of anything in Chekhov's stories that sounds good outside of its context. But it all sounds so trite when you aphorize it. Maybe that could be a contest: try to make Chekhov sound good minus the context.

That's the beauty of Chekhov -- you need to read the whole thing.

A very different writer -- Cormac McCarthy (sp?) -- is the same. Take a single sentence from "Blood Meridian" and you have absolute senseless bombast. But in context and in the aggregate that book is biblical (isolate a sentence or two from that tome just for laughs) in its cadence and impact.

Or maybe I just like bombast IN context.

Yeah, I know what you mean about Cormac McCarthy. That's just the trait of his that that BF Meyer fellow was able to fixate on and ridicule. Makes you kind of think that you have to suspend disbelief as much with style as with plotting.

jackmormon, How lucky you are to have relatives in Whitehorse! Do you ever go up to visit? I tried to email you at your website but I couln't get registered. The site kept rejecting my user name. In any case, you can email me if you like. I have been to the Yukon five or six times, the Arctic Cirle twice, Alska more frequently, but always in the summer which means I'm still a cheekako. I'm trying to talk my boyfriend into moving up there after we no longer have elderly folks to care for.

I used to visit every other summer but haven't been for a little while. I've never been in the winter and I've never been further north than Dawson, so you're more hardcore already than I am. Are you thinking of moving to Alaska or to the Yukon?

Charles Bird to the white courtesy blog.

And what do I do when I get there? Is there something wish you to discuss?

Well, I was trying to offer you some support for one of your pet causes, but, hey, if that's your way of saying "thanks, interesting," I'll keep that in mind.

"And what do I do
when I get there?"

You ask for a pony
to ride mon frere.

How do I ride
the white horse?

Wear your boots
or blog in morse.

What if that horse
has two headaches?

Ride or swim
till your heart breaks.

okay, this is really rilkefan's bailiwick; I'm a basically prosaic person. TAD

Evening all, just gotten back from the US (apologies to Anarch, we never got over to Wisconsin, the folks in Minnesota said something about visas...) and am now trying to explain to our six year old why the fact that she is wide awake does not mean that she doesn't need to go to bed. (We've given up on trying to get the 1 yr old asleep) Any hints for explaining jet lag to this demographic would be greatly appreciated.

My folks are in Carriere, Mississippi (60 miles inland from Biloxi), so I'm waiting to make sure they are ok, so I'm staying up, unfortunately.

Beyond the usual striking things that I see when I go to the states (immense portions! tipping! driving on the wrong side of the road!) I was amazed by the almost complete absence of anything about Iraq. Obviously, I'm not going to go up to people on the streets and ask, but if it weren't for the magnetic yellow ribbons on the back of people's cars, I would have no idea.

Since this is an open thread, Piscator, if you are dipping into Chekhov, you should take in some Turgenev.

lj, I thought The Hunter's Notebook (approximate title, books terminally out of order) was pretty good, what would be next?

Tad, "poised" is a little hard to rhyme. Once is happenstance...

" Maybe that could be a contest: try to make Chekhov sound good minus the context."

It's certainly not entirely context-free, but in Neil Simon's _The_Good_Doctor_, adapted from Chekhov short stories (?), there's a wonderful audition scene where the director asks the would-be actress "How old are you?" and she immediately responds "How old would you like me to be?"
(Quoted from memory ...)

Tad, very clever. I only wish I had had the chance to see it in the sidebar. As it was, it took me a minute to figure out what on earth you meant.


Thanks. I think the fact that it was over before anyone could see it means that it was performance art.

"it took me a minute to figure out what on earth you mean"

I only wish I had as good an excuse all the other times....

Anyone like the First Amendment? Good. Here is a cause and project I've been meaning to tout for weeks; pass on the information, please.

Fathers and Sons and Rudin are the other two that I have read. I especially liked the former.

If anyone wants to discuss a country where proven confiscations have taken place, for a new move to take away property rights, see here.

Back on Katrina, it's turning out that the death and destruction is far worse than thought earlier today. The camera crews have only just been getting through to the more extreme places. I'm watching NBC now doing long helicopter tracking shots, over Biloxi and elsewhere; words kept being repeated "hard to imagine it could be worse than this," "catastrophic," "devastation," and so on. And New Orleans is 80% under water, and the water is still rising, the levee having broken. Plus looters. National guard in amphibious troop carriers have gone in.

A day after Katrina ripped through here, city officials announced that they were moving their government out of town, which they said was 80 percent under increasingly contaminated water, and state officials ordered everyone else except emergency workers to evacuate as well.

Electric power was out, phone service was spotty and the supply of food and clean drinking water was dwindling, officials said. Tens of thousands of people were reported in shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi, the states hardest hit by Katrina.

"The situation is untenable," Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana said at an afternoon news briefing. "It's just heartbreaking." But, she vowed, "we will recover."

Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans said on CNN that his unique and historic city, which had been jarringly transformed overnight, was "in a state of devastation."

"We're not even dealing with dead bodies," Mr. Nagin said, according to The Associated Press. "They're just pushing them on the side."

Gas fires were erupting throughout the city, looters were raiding abandoned businesses downtown, hospitals were making plans to airlift critically ill patients to other cities, numerous roadways were buckled, and residents who had tried to ride out the storm were frantically waving for rescue from their rooftops. A spokesman for the Coast Guard said that more than 1,200 people had been taken to safety by boat and helicopter on Monday and "thousands today."

This is just awful.

Along with the looting, the flooding, the trapped people, the people being evacuated, the dead body in the street, and everything else, NBC just showed, good lord, a horde of people on a toweringly high elevated highway, seeking safe high ground.

Paging Rilkefan.

"She served as a judge for the 2004-2005 National Book Awards."

Gary, my book of poems will not get published by someone who would write that poem, or someone who would appoint such a person as a judge, or ...

Oh lord, it looks really bad in New Orleans. Just this morning, I was saying to myself well, now I really must plan that long-delayed trip to New Orleans!. I was even feeling self-righteous, thinking that my tourist-dollars would help with relief. Now it all looks very different, and I feel like an ass.

The good Nielsen-Haydens have been link-farming on this disaster like crazy.


There's no hyphen in their name.

Correction acknowledged.

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