Monthly Archives: November 2010

Santa Claus Coming to Town?

It is almost Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and that means the season for me to play Christmas music non-stop for an entire month is just days away.  There is no mystery here that I love Christmas. But, alas, this year we won’t be home for Christmas. It will be the first Christmas ever in my lifetime that I spend away from home.

The good news is that over the past few years I have done everything I can to infect my wife with the joys of Christmas, and just as I have learned to love Ramadan from her, she too is catching on. And while we spent the last couple of Christmases in the U.S. with my family there, this year we get to build our own Merry Little Christmas in Madrid. The bad news, though, the possibly traumatic news goes something like this: Continue reading

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Filed under Digressions, Friends / Family, Parenthood

Colonies of Organisms

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This morning on the metro, I was listening to a stomach churning segment entitled “Dirt, Mircobes and the Immune System” on the Leonard Lopate Show with guest Dr. Joel Weinstock, chief of gastroenterology/heptology at Tufts University Medical Center. Weinstock was discussing “his research into how exposure to certain microbes may help us develop resistance to allergies and autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes, asthma, and multiple sclerosis.” In particular, he explained how various living organisms, bacteria, worms and the like, live harmoniously within our bodies. Apparently, for example, a particular type of worm that was very common in our bodies at the turn of the past century, has now due to enhanced hygiene been largely eradicated to our detriment.

While most of this topic was unpleasant, I found Weinstock’s concluding remark that we as humans “are not creatures onto ourselves but colonies of organisms” ground breaking. Beside the fact that we have an obsession with the self and thinking of ourselves as unique and uniquely autonomous individuals, consider how this notion of not being a single entity but rather a colony of smaller entities (most of them kind of gross) ups the ante in the traditional conversation in metaphysics about the mind-body spectrum. It looks like the materialists and the Buddhists (who reject self outright) have the hands to beat.

Maybe no man is an island after all . . . he’s an archipelago.

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A Little Monk Coincidence

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This morning before leaving the house, instead of uploading podcasts onto my Ipod Shuffle for the daily metro commute, I opted for two Jazz albums dedicated to Thelonious Monk compositions that I had acquired earlier this year: Reflections: Steve Lacy Plays Thelonious Monk recorded in 1958 and Anthony Braxton’s 1987 Six Monk Compositions.

While listening in shuffle mode on the metro on both legs of my commute, I was really digging the pianists but couldn’t identify who they were and couldn’t recall who had been the sidemen for either recording. Just now I checked, and much to my surprise, both albums share the same pianist and bassist, Mal Waldron and Buell Neidlinger respectively, with almost 30 years separating the two recording dates. Also, both albums share the same following compositions: Reflections, Four in One, Ask Me Now, and Skippy. Ask Me Now, fantastic all around. I had not picked up on any of these facts at all when I purchased the two albums, coincidentally at the same time: 52 and 23 years respectively after each was recorded.

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Casting the First Stone

Isn’t is pretty to be able to cast a stone like this:

When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues — deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate — let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together. But the …carnival barkers that so dominate our public debate today are not going away — and neither is the Internet. All you can hope is that more people will do what Cooper did — so when the next crazy lie races around the world, people’s first instinct will be to doubt it, not repeat it.

when you have been unapologetically wrong about almost everything, all of the time over the past decade? The above coming from the blood-thirsty Thomas Friedman whose passionate, factless and baseless musings were a major factor in successfully selling the Iraq war to mainstream America. Here is a guy who complains about the “next crazy lie rac[ing] around the world” but of his own past fabrications, regardless of the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis in a war unrelated to terrorism that he promoted, he brushes away with the cold-blooded “suck on this”. Friedman is just another “carnival barker” who is still allowed to have his own major news column. So what is he complaining about?

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The King, Consequences, Actions, and a Little Justice

Today, Glenn Greenwald describes how the recent criminal conviction in civilian court of accused terrorist Ghailani, despite cries to the contrary from the Right, has proven that our justice system works. Not only does this case prove that our civilian justice system is both the best forum for trying terrorists and fully capable of doing so, it also highlights the underlying cynicism behind Bush’s false bravado.

Let me begin with a few basic facts about the case that the press, out of its love for sensationalism, largely ignores:

  • Ghailani has been convicted of conspiracy and will spend a long, long time in jail. The idea that somehow our civilian courts have given him a free ride is blatantly false. Simply, he was found guilty of only one of the accounts against him. In other words, he has not been fully absolved of all wrong doing and will do serious time.
  • The military tribunals would not necessarily have favored his prosecution. The same evidence that was excluded from trial in the civilian court would most likely have been excluded in the military forum, as the “current rules governing those military tribunals bar the use of torture-obtained evidence to roughly the same extent as real courts do.”
  • Furthermore, civilian courts to date have a better track record at prosecuting accused terrorists than the military tribunals do, and
  • The whole problem of tainted evidence would never have become an issue if President Bush and his men had not approved torture in the first place. In other words, these impediments to trying terror suspects in both military and civilian courts are the direct result of the former president’s policies. So if the argument is that Ghailani was acquitted on the other counts because of evidentiary rules, then in legalese, “but for” the Bush White House, Ghailiani would have been convicted on all accounts. In other words, the Bush Cheney policies were the direct cause of Ghailani’s acquittal on more than 280 charges.

So take a look at that last point in view of Mr. Bush’s “I gave the order and would do it again” boasting. Mr. Bush and his Republicans have a fondness for “personal responsibility”, so shouldn’t Mr. Bush and company then recognize their responsibility in light of both the acquittal of Ghailani and the difficulties that the standing president now has in trying the remaining Guantanamo detainees? “But for” the torture and illegal detention – all proud Bush policies — these “evidentiary” and constitutional issues would certainly not be hindering due process, the rule of law, and bringing to justice those who have tried to reek havoc on our nation.

Finally, let’s revisit Mr. Bush’s courage under fire:

  • When American soldiers were accused of torture at Abu Ghraib, did Mr. Bush stand up for them, say he gave the order to protect American lives and would personally accept the consequences? No, he scapegoated the few “bad apples”.
  • When CIA operatives suddenly realized that they could all go to jail for torture, did Mr. Bush stand up and say, don’t burn the evidence? I gave the order, I will take the heat? No, he let it burn, like a criminal fleeing the scene of a crime (but with the presidential presumption of innocence).
  • And when the White House realized that it had to do damage control before people learned the truth about torture, did the White House courageously tell the truth about waterboarding? No, it leaked that waterboarding had been administered twice and in each case the “worst or the worst” spilled the beans in a matter of seconds. What a great, effective, efficient and necessary tool at its disposal, we all thought. Then, later we learned the whole truth that the two detainees had been waterboarded over one hundred times each. So much for the efficacy of waterboarding.

A tough guy who takes responsibility for his actions and accepts the consequences would certainly then accept either of the following sacrifices, lest he risk nothing at all:

  • Request a full and transparent investigation into the black sites, torture regime, and other extra-judicial practices, making the argument that he took a risk in favor of the country and is willing to accept the outcome of the investigation, even if that means criminal charges (and a sympathetic presidential pardon, a la Ford-Nixon); or
  • Accept that by torturing terror suspects to gain invaluable information in the short term he took a risk that the suspects would very well be later released due to a lack of admissible evidence.

But that’s not how it went down, was it? The tough guy who lied and leaked and scapegoated, now brags once the coast is clear that he did something brave and would do it again (like the rich kid who gets away with drinking and driving). And when the moment of truth finally comes – far off his watch and in the safety of his presidential library with the presidential “stay out of jail” card in hand – all of the ex-president’s men now tell us that somehow – regardless of the fact that the difficulty in convicting terror suspects in both military tribunals and civilians courts is the direct result of the Bush White House’s actions –Obama’s failure to convict on all charges is making the country less safe and as a result Guantanamo should definitely not be closed (ignoring the multiplier effect of hindering future prosecutions).

But then again, these are the same people who insist that we must return to the pre-crisis status quo and follow the same exact economic policies that got us into this situation in the first place. Feed the cancer with another cigarette.

UPDATE: Today’s (November 19, 2010) New York Times editorial reaches the same conclusion:

The problem was never the choice of a court. The 12 civilian jurors were not too weak-minded, as Mr. King seems to think. The judge was not coddling terrorists. He was respecting the Constitution and the law.

The problem with this case was President George W. Bush’s authorizing the illegal detention, abuse and torture of detainees. Susan Hirsch, whose husband was killed in the Tanzania attack, understood that. “I can’t help but feel that the evidence in the case would have been stronger had Ghailani been brought to trial when he was captured in 2004,” she said.

And in an op-ed by Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Davis describes why the assertions about the efficacy of military commissions being made by certain Republicans are baseless and erroneous. Specifically he notes the present track record of the military commissions:

In any case, Mr. Ghailani now faces a sentence of 20 years to life. Even if he gets the minimum, his sentence will be greater than those of four of the five detainees so far convicted in military commissions. Only one defendant, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, has been sentenced to life, and this was after he boycotted his tribunal and presented no defense.

Of the four detainees who participated in their military commissions, Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was 15 when arrested, is serving the longest sentence after pleading guilty to murder. Yet he will serve no more than eight years behind bars, less than half of Mr. Ghailani’s minimum incarceration. Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver, was sentenced to five and half years in 2008 but given credit for time served; five months later he was free. There is no reason to assume that a military commission sentence will be more severe than one from a federal court.

If Liz Cheney and the rest of her clan want to ignore the consequences that daddy’s policies have had and will continue to have on prosecuting detainees, then instead of pretending we are something we are not, she should just come out and say that the U.S. is entitled to be a rogue, human rights abusing nation whenever it feels like it. That way, we don’t even need to get into these discussions in the first place.

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Filed under Essays, Obama 44

Eggplant Parmesan

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My favorite dish. With my mother and grandmother on the other side of the ocean, I resort to my own means.

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Filed under Digressions, Friends / Family

Sí a la Guerra

During the first two years of the war in Iraq, my neighbor sported a large banner on his balcony that read “No a la Guerra” or “No to War”. Then last January he hung a flag of the pro-Sahrawi (Algerian and Libyan backed) Polisario, in favor of Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco. And over the past few days following the recent disturbances in the region between the Polisario and the Moroccan government, he has decided to once again hang the Polisario flag.

What I find interesting is that a person — not to mention the whole gang of self-righteous Spanish actors — who was so vehemently against one war in an Arab country when the American right claimed to be toppling a human rights abusing dictatorship is now so eager to favor another war in an Arab country, but this time with the difference that it is the Spanish left who gets to denounce a human rights abusing dictatorship. I suppose in retrospect the original slogan should have read “No a Esta Guerra” instead of the moral condemnation of war of in general.

If anything, what we learned from Iraq is that the world becomes a very wicked place when people so confidently and self-righteously believe that they have the truth on their side.

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Filed under Essays, Living la vida española