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The format for tonight's Friday Night at the Movies will be a little different than usual, focusing on the work of a single filmmaker.  I'll try to say things provacative enough (or at least stupid enough) that there is stuff to talk about in the thread.

According to a common cliche about film, film is incapable of conveying even a single idea.  I was reminded of this cliche after finally watching "Frost/Nixon" via Netflix recently.  It occured to me that Ron Howard's career as a film director seems to be devoted to proving the cliche correct.  

Is there a single serious movie director in Hollywood -- by which I mean a non-Michael-Bay -- more frustrating than Ron Howard?  Time after time he picks a story or a subject matter for his next movie that should be fascinating, should be thought provoking; he proposes to make a film that should provide some kind of insight into the issue at hand.  But this simply never happens.

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From the New York Times, this is stunning:

By Sunday night, officials in Washington said they had spoken with Mr. Zelaya and were working for his return to power in Honduras, despite relations with Mr. Zelaya that had recently turned colder because of the inclusion of Honduras in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA, a leftist political alliance led by Venezuela.

The effort to engage Mr. Zelaya differed from Washington’s initial response to Venezuela’s brief coup in April 2002, when the Bush administration blamed Mr. Chávez for his own downfall and denied knowing about the planning of the coup, despite the revelation later that the Central Intelligence Agency knew developments about the plot in Caracas on the eve of its execution.

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Sun Jun 28, 2009 at 06:00 AM PDT

Notes on Force Feeding

by LithiumCola

An article in the current issue of Harper's Magazine, which I will get to in section III, led me to look into the practice and history of force feeding prisoners.


Warren Lilly was arrested in 2002 for beating his wife and sentenced in 2003 to ten years in prison. In 2004 he began a hunger strike "to protest, he said, the high rates of incarceration of blacks, nonviolent offenders and the mentally ill," according to a June 18, 2009 article by Bill Lueders at Isthmus. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections began a practice of force-feeding him via nasogastric tube.

This year, Dodge County Judge Andrew Bissonnette ordered the practice stopped.

Most significantly, Judge Bissonnette argues that the DOC cannot continue what it's doing to Lilly because of how cruel it's become.

While forced feeding is always "painful and dangerous," the judge notes that for the first couple of years Lilly's feedings took only about 10 minutes each and prompted no resistance. In February 2007, this grew to 20-30 minutes, and eventually to two hours or more. On occasion, Lilly has also been Maced and Tasered.

Bissonnette speculates that "DOC staff have intentionally tried to ratchet up the intrusiveness and the difficulty and the discomfort experienced by Mr. Lilly in carrying out his self-imposed hunger strike."Photobucket
-- snip --

Bissonnette's decision ties the DOC's treatment to the larger issue of torture. He evokes the national debate over waterboarding and suggests the DOC decided to use the restraint chair on Lilly for long periods after seeing news accounts of this being done to hunger-striking prisoners at Guantanamo, in violation of medical ethics and the Geneva Convention. Certainly, he concludes, there's "no evidence [it's done] anything positive for Mr. Lilly's health."

Video that Judge Bissonette watched of Mr. Lilly being force-fed may be viewed here.



<sp>In 1913 the British parliament passed the so-called Cat-and-Mouse Act. Prior to the act, British prisons had been force feeding suffragettes on hunger strike. The Cat-and-Mouse act ended the practice, instead allowing women on hunger strike free when they were too weak from hunger to protest, to be re-arrested when they regained their strength. The Cat-and-Mouse Act was passed because the force-feeding of women was an embarrassment to the government.

In a smuggled letter, suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst described how the warders held her down and forced her mouth open with a steel gag. Her gums bled, and she vomited most of the liquid up afterwards.

Her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women's Social and Political Union in the UK, was horrified by the screams of women being force-fed in HM Prison Holloway during hunger strikes in which she participated. In her autobiography, she wrote: "Holloway became a place of horror and torment. Sickening scenes of violence took place almost every hour of the day, as the doctors went from cell to cell performing their hideous office. ... I shall never while I live forget the suffering I experienced during the days when those cries were ringing in my ears." When prison officials tried to enter her cell, Pankhurst, in order to avoid being force-fed, raised a clay jug over her head and announced: "If any of you dares so much as to take one step inside this cell I shall defend myself."

As a side note, the Cat-and-Mouse Act backfired. It turned out that releasing and re-arresting women who wanted the vote was more public and no more acceptable to the British citizenry than was the force feeding.


Luke Mitchell writes in the current issue of Harper's:

As of this writing, at least thirty men are being force-fed at Guantánamo. They are being force-fed despite the departure of the administration that instituted force-feeding, despite the current administration’s order to shut down Guantánamo, and despite its even more specific order requiring prisoners there to be treated within the bounds of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which—by every interpretation but that of the U.S. government—clearly forbids force-feeding.

Most of these prisoners are not facing imminent death. In fact, force-feeding is itself a risky "treatment" that can cause infections, gastrointestinal disorders, and other complications. The feedings begin very soon after prisoners begin a hunger strike, and continue daily—with military guards strapping them to restraint chairs, usually for several hours at a time—until the prisoners agree to end the strike. This hunger striker is not an emaciated Bobby Sands lying near death after many weeks of starvation. He is a strong man bound to a chair and covered in his own vomit.

In two footnotes, Mitchell adds:

The conventions forbid "humiliating and degrading treatment," and doctors who advise the Red Cross, which in turn has considerable oversight in interpreting the conventions, have repeatedly made clear that force-feeding is humiliating and degrading. See, for instance, the judgment of Red Cross adviser Hernán Reyes, in a 1998 policy review: "Doctors should never be party to actual coercive feeding, with prisoners being tied down and intravenous drips or oesophageal tubes being forced into them. Such actions can be considered a form of torture, and under no circumstances should doctors participate in them, on the pretext of ‘saving the hunger striker’s life.’"

-- snip --

 Dr. William Winkenwerder, who served as Bush’s assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and was therefore responsible for the force-feeding policy at Guantánamo, explained this peremptory approach to me three years ago with an almost poignant question: "If we’re there to protect and sustain someone’s life, why would we actually go to the point of putting that person’s life at risk before we act?"


President Obama has declared that America does not torture -- an overly careful use of verb tense. However, even granting the present tense, and that the President's claim is strictly about the current moment, the claim is false. According to the Red Cross report, force-feeding is never justified, is always torture. I am inclined to agree with the Red Cross. However, we need get into no debates about the morality of allowing a hunger-striker to die. It is inarguable that force-feeding a hunger striker who is not on the verge of death is a form of torture, and nothing other than a form of torture.  

A final quote from Mitchell's article:

David Remes, an attorney who represents fifteen detainees at Guantánamo, wrote in an April petition to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that one of his clients, Farhan Abdul Latif, had been suffering in particular. When the nasogastric tube "is threaded though his nostril into his stomach," it "feels like a nail going into his nostril, and like a knife going down his throat." Latif had in recent months resorted to covering himself with his own excrement in order "to avoid force-feeding and that, when he was finally force-fed, the tube was inserted through the excrement covering his nostrils."

The practice of force-feeding people at Guantanamo and other U.S. prisons around the world must end.


Wed Jun 24, 2009 at 07:08 PM PDT


by LithiumCola

According to a story in The Guardian, Two Freshman students at the University of Chicago are writing a book called "Twitterature," in which they try to summarize the world's classics in twenty "tweets" or less.  Each tweet is 140 characters or fewer, including spaces.

I thought 20 Tweets was pretty wimpy, and wanted to see if I could summarize some classic works of literature in a single tweet. This is not as easy as it sounds! Especially when you're trying to be funny, too.

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Earlier today I printed out the text of President Obama’s May 21 speech on national security and American values. I had previously listened to the speech live and skimmed the text online, but I had not actually sat down and read it. What struck me was an overwhelming sense of the strangeness of the speech. I want to talk for a moment about that strangeness.

As an aide to seeing what I am getting at, imagine that it is the summer of, say, 1998, in some nearby alternate universe. Imagine a President. Not Bill Clinton, not George W. Bush and not anyone else from around here; just some ordinary President: put him or her in a suit, make him or her as politically bland as you please. Traveling to this alternate America, you expect things to be ordinary.

Now out of his or her mouth comes this:

[I]t was my judgment – informed by my national security team – that releasing these photos would inflame anti-American opinion, and allow our enemies to paint U.S. troops with a broad, damning and inaccurate brush, endangering them in theaters of war.

I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government.

We are reforming Military Commissions, and we will pursue a new legal regime to detain terrorists. We are declassifying more information and embracing more oversight of our actions, and narrowing our use of the State Secrets privilege.

As our efforts to close Guantanamo move forward, I know that the politics in Congress will be difficult. These issues are fodder for 30-second commercials and direct mail pieces that are designed to frighten. I get it. But if we continue to make decisions from within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes.

At this point one supposes that half of this alternate America consists of smoking nuclear craters, or that Russian troops are massing at the Mexican border, or that some kind of weaponized biological agent out of a Michael Crichton novel -- or maybe Captain Trips from Stephen King’s The Stand -- has wiped out 1/3 of the population. One imagines, in any case, that the Americans whom this President is addressing are traumatized.

The President in this imaginary universe, as I read this text, is trying to calm these traumatized people. But he or she sees calming them as a struggle, a task just as daunting as defeating the god-only-knows-what monstrosity that crouches over them like a behemoth.

So much for thought experiment. Returning to the present day, and to the actual occasion of President Obama’s speech: The apparent need for this speech was not created by Captain Trips. It was not a bunch of smoking nuclear craters, it was not Russian troops massing at the border. And, note, it was also not Al Qaeda. I can say that because nary ten months ago President Obama was able to say these words at the Democratic National Convention:

I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

One of the more remarkable rhetorical achievements of the Obama candidacy was the way he repeatedly put terrorism in with a group of other world-wide problems such as disease, poverty, and climate change, thus putting terrorism in its proper place: a non-singular, non-unique, and non-traumatizing problem to be dealt with. A problem to be dealt with by adults in an adult fashion, and no more.

No events in the world have dramatically increased the importance of terrorism since then; there have been no attacks on American soil. Yet somehow now-President Obama is forced into using the other-worldly rhetoric we heard on Thursday.

The explanation is simple enough. The monstrosity crouching over the American people in the real world is the Republican party. The rhetoric of the Republican party is the traumatizing force. It is what creates the "climate of fear" that made the President’s speech on Thursday necessary, and made that speech sound like something out of an asteroid-hits-Earth movie -- the part of the movie where the President appears on national television to read the names of people who get to live in sheltered caves.

But then again: it’s not that simple. It’s not that simple as saying "the Republican party did it" because at the moment there is, in effect, no Republican party. What there is, rather, is a disparate group of right-wing power-seekers who are willing to say anything to regain their hold on power. Newt Gingrich, I am quite willing to wager, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Cheney’s agenda, nor vice versa. John Boehner: neither one.

Yet all of them are on television shrieking bloody murder to the tune of "O Fortuna - Carmina Burana" and worse ("You have people out there today who want to kill Americans, who would like to set off a nuclear weapon in an American city, who would like to set off a truck bomb down the street from where we are right now." – Newt, today) for the sole purpose of restoring, not the Republican party, which may as well not exist, but their own rightful places in the world. Free agent terrorizing buffoons with a national stage. What do they hope to accomplish?

We can see some of what is going on here, I think, by taking a look at the Pew report on "Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2009":

The proportion of independents now equals its highest level in 70 years. Owing to defections from the Republican Party, independents are more conservative on several key issues than in the past. While they like and approve of Barack Obama, as a group independents are more skittish than they were two years ago about expanding the social safety net and are reluctant backers of greater government involvement in the private sector. Yet at the same time, they continue to more closely parallel the views of Democrats rather than Republicans on the most divisive core beliefs on social values, religion and national security.

There are many more independents than Republicans, right now; but more independents than usual are leaning right in every area other than national security. That is to say, the weirdness gets deeper: if Republicans want to win back some of these independents they are decidedly not going with their best play. They should be going with the economy; they are going with war. This is puzzling, but it seems to me that it admits of an obvious, if troubling, interpretation.

Perhaps the Republican strategy is not to win over these burgeoning independents by enlarging the Republican tent, but rather to scare them into voting R even if they remain too disgusted with the GOP to actually join the party. The Republican party, with a strategy so understood, need take no heed of moderation or of ordinary political practice at all.

The Republican party so understood need not engage in politics in any traditional sense. They may act rather as political saboteurs firing noxious quasi-political lobs from a pup tent on the margins of discourse. There is no reason, in principle, that this could not work. They could win a reasonable share of elections and sometimes a majority. Political party as character assassination guild with a stable membership of only 20% of the population. There is, after all, only one other political party. When there is only one other party there is no need for yours to be rational.

That strikes me as the bet the Rs are making right now. They need not even "win anyone over to their side." That would explain why the Rs are not leading with their strengths; the remnants of the Republican party don’t care about those strengths. "Small government" can go screw for all they care.

In such a "climate of fear" as would be generated by such a perverted "political party" the independents would not necessarily run to the other side, i.e. the Democrats, even if the independents think the Dems have got it closer to right on the very issue about which the character assassination guild is shrieking most loudly, i.e. national security. What the independents would want, after all, is a choice; the minimum requirement for living in a democracy; an a-or-b switch to flip, and that in itself would be enough to keep them from crossing over to the D-side. In the words of the endless litany of independents, "On some things I'm liberal and on some things I'm conservative."

Perhaps this is not convincing. After all, my hypothetical strategy does not really seem like it would help Republicans gain stable seats in congress. So I'll go further with this guess of mine and say: So what? Exactly which of the remaining Republicans are supposed to care? The ones on television lately? As we have seen from Obama's speech, it makes no difference how many seats they have in Congress: Dick Cheney can influence the national conversation from the margins. In the absence of any better ideas, why not do more of that? Being a congressperson probably sucks anyway.

It seems to me that under the surface President Obama’s speech had little or nothing to do with actual terrorists and everything to do with the climate of fear generated by a nothing-to-lose political party that is not a political party at all but a pack of disparate and disproportionately influential scaremongers wanting their rightful place at the roundtable on Meet the Press. A semi-organized bunch (at best) who somehow got President Obama, the most intelligent and well-educated President we’ve had in many, many years, to say weird crap like this . . .

I know some have argued that brutal methods like water-boarding were necessary to keep us safe.

. . . like the Last Sane Man in some kind of cyberpunk novel. (Which he may actually be, provided the cyberpunk novel is Washington: the Senate voted 90-6 to keep Guantanamo open.)

How are the Republicans going to get out of this spot they’re in, a spot that is damaging not to them but to the country? How are they going to regain actual political, as opposed to visceral, relevance? Bobby Jindal? Are you kidding me? This both is and is not our problem. It is not our job to figure it out for them, but it is our job to figure out how to respond to the political landscape as we see it.

What I see right now is a discombobulated jihad of right-wing extremists with nothing to lose but a lot of facetime with a massively over-valued punditocracy. A punditocracy whose very attention keeps the R's disastrous claims looking just sane enough to those independents who have no one else to lean towards in a poll. This vaguely Rovian strategy is not new: what is new is the lack of concern for how much the party dwindles; not caring how disorganized it is. (Michael Steele? What?)

What I suppose all of this amounts to is this: my response to President Obama’s speech on national security is that we need (a) to somehow compel the Republicans to engage in political discourse like adults, or (b) to force the punditocracy to stop behaving like "neutral arbiters" between, on the one hand, a discombobulated jihad of right-wing extremists and, on the other hand, all three branches of government, or (c) give independents who are not in agreement with us about social issues some avenue of political expression so that their non-agreement with Republicans on national security and war can have some weight.

Independents don't have to become Democrats for Democrats to win, but it seems paradoxically that independents have to have a voice for progressives to get anywhere.

Any of (a), (b), or (c) would have the effect of allowing President Obama and the Democrats on the Hill the breathing room to do what we voted for: decisively end the dangerous experiment in terror democracy begun or at least perfected by Obama’s predecessor, Dick Cheney. And all of (a), (b), and (c) amount to giving independents avenues for political thought that don't involve the unhappy choice of either siding with madmen or creating what none of us would want anyway: a one-party country consisting of nothing but the following: Democrats, disorganized independents, and whatever you want to call the current Jihad-O-P.

We need rational people to be able to disagree with us without their thereby agreeing with irrational people. Perhaps that is what would give President Obama the room to enact a Democratic agenda.


In one of the more bizarre culture trends in recent memory, all across the nation white male politically right-wing pundits and radio talk show hosts are voluntarily having themselves shot in the foot to demonstrate that, in the words of Michael Savage, "Gettin' shot don't hurt."

Savage said it live on morning radio while in a field outside of San Francisco as a former U.S. Marine cocked a Beretta M9 9 mm Pistol and aimed it at Savage's foot.  An ambulance and two paramedics stood by just in case, in Savages words, "anything goes wrong."

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Dear all Important Pundits who think the new torture photos should not be released because doing so would endanger the troops.

I look forward to your expressions of outrage at the publication in GQ of Donald Rumsfeld's cover sheets for the Bush White House, wherein Biblical quotations are used prominently to caption photographs of U.S. troops in combat. Surely, these slides are at least as likely to raise the ire of Muslim peoples in occupied lands as would be more photos of torture victims.

Go to the GQ website and have a look at them. Please do that now.

I look forward to seeing you TV pundits and you Republicans go on and on and on about the safety of the troops. Because, as we all know, the real, actual, no-kidding reason that you didn't want the torture photos released was not to protect Cheney. It was not to influence political discourse on the acceptance of torture. And it was not to promote the unitary executive. No. It was "to protect the troops."

So the publication of these cover sheets created by the former Secretary of Defense for the Bush White House, in which the Department of Defense explicitly equates the war on terror with a Christian war on infidel countries, is sure to give you all just as much reason to express outrage and criticism.

I'll be waiting.

Thank you for your time.

(h/t SteinL.)


Sun May 17, 2009 at 09:26 PM PDT

Our Once-Expanded Hearts

by LithiumCola

I'd like to quote a passage from an essay by  Breyten Breytenbach, that he wrote about a visit to Senegal.  It appeared in the March Harper's Readings (subscription link.)

After that I will muse a little and ask a question.

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Ever heard of the city of Gwadar, in a region of Pakistan called Balochistan?  I haven't.  For reference, Balochistan is (1) on the map to the right; the Swat Valley, where much of the recent news has been, is at roughly (2). (GNU license for map from wikipedia here)


It might be that we're going to be hearing a lot more about Gwadar and Balochistan in the future.  For those of us who are inclined (either because of a cynical disposition or an appreciation of history, if those are different things) to see the U.S. fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban as primarily a pretext for moves by the US in a Great Game with China, the following is an interesting development.  

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Important Pundit number 2,435 has decided to come forward and take a brave stand against the prosecution of officials who authorized the torture of detainees. This time it is Thomas Friedman, and as usual none of the other 2,434 Important Pundits is as good at accidentally making the case for the other side as Thomas Friedman.

Friedman first tries to show us that he Understands the Gravity of the Events which cause some people to want prosecutions.

After all, we’re not just talking about "enhanced interrogations." Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has testified to Congress that more than 100 detainees died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, with up to 27 of those declared homicides by the military. They were allegedly kicked to death, shot, suffocated or drowned. Look, our people killed detainees, and only a handful of those deaths have resulted in any punishment of U.S. officials.

(Friedman's italics.)

Look, we know that our people killed detainees, Tom. And we know that the deaths are directly attributable to policies cooked up, encouraged, justified, and signed-off on in the White House. You didn't need to invoke Lawrence Wilkerson to establish that.

But, funny thing, since you did invoke Wilkerson, I think I will too.  This is from a March 17 guest post by Lawrence Wilkerson at The Washington Note that I guess Friedman never got around to reading or at least never got around to relating to his audience:

The fourth unknown is the ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people, called the mosaic philosophy. Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib). All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals--in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.

Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees' innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.

What Wilkerson says here kind of takes some of the bite out of Friedman's reasons for avoiding prosecutions. Friedman's reasons are all about how awful Al Qaeda is. Neat. How many of the dead 100 detainees were Al Qaeda? How many were 100% innocent?

I mean, Mr. Friedman, if you're the kind of person who thinks it matters to the justification of torture whether a person is guilty of planning some act, however hazily, then it ought to be of interest to you to know that so many of the people the U.S. was holding were known to be likely to have planned nothing at all. That is, as I say, if this sort of things matters.

To me it doesn't matter whether a person knows anything. I don't think (absent a ticking time bomb, in which case an interrogator should break the law, commit assault on the suspect, and hope for a reasonable jury) torture should go unpunished. Apparently Mr. Friedman also does not think it matters whether a torture victim is even suspected of knowing anything, but for the opposite reason: perhaps he does not think torture should be punished in either case.

Friedman writes:

Al Qaeda was undeterred by normal means. Al Qaeda’s weapon of choice was suicide. Al Qaeda operatives were ready to kill themselves — as they did on 9/11, and before that against U.S. targets in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen — long before we could ever threaten to kill them. We could deter the Russians because they loved their children more than they hated us; they did not want to die. The Al Qaeda operatives hated us more than they loved their own children. They glorified martyrdom and left families behind.

Yes, yes, yes; awful ,awful, awful. Let me repeat something:

The detainees' innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.

Actually, Friedman states two reasons why it would be a mistake to prosecute White House officials for authorizing torture. One, as quoted up top, is that the group of which so many detainees were never members in the first place was really scary. The other is "because justice taken to its logical end here would likely require bringing George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and other senior officials to trial, which would rip our country apart . . ."

Ah, it would "rip our country apart." So says Friedman and the other 2,434 or so Important Pundits. Now let me quote something else that Friedman's go-to guy Wilkerson said:

The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.

But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers. They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released. I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.

Wilkerson notes that this is "largely unreported." It is entirely unreported by Thomas Friedman and those other 2,434 or so pundits. All they can report is their own firm conviction that the officials Wilkerson describes must not be prosecuted because Al Qaeda is scary and prosecutions would rip our country apart.

To quote Friedman, "look." Look, I am not sure that I have ever seen such intellectual and moral cowardice on such blatant display as on the national stage of late, from our Very Important Pundits.

Update 04/29/09 10:11 PM by LithiumCola: Link Fixed.

Update 04/29/09 11:02 PM by LithiumCola: bebacker in the comments convinced me that the struck-through passage was a mistake.  See comments for discussion.


Sun Mar 22, 2009 at 10:11 AM PDT

Twenty Four

by LithiumCola

The Fox television show "24" premiered on November 6, 2001. It quickly became the ideological lighthouse for the right, both among the populace and in more rarified venues. Last year, Dahlia Lithwick documented in Slate the main character's influence upon Administration and military officials.

According to British lawyer and writer Philippe Sands, Jack Bauer—played by Kiefer Sutherland—was an inspiration at early "brainstorming meetings" of military officials at Guantanamo in September of 2002. Diane Beaver, the staff judge advocate general who gave legal approval to 18 controversial new interrogation techniques including water-boarding, sexual humiliation, and terrorizing prisoners with dogs, told Sands that Bauer "gave people lots of ideas." Michael Chertoff, the homeland-security chief, once gushed in a panel discussion on 24 organized by the Heritage Foundation that the show "reflects real life.

John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who produced the so-called torture memos—simultaneously redefining both the laws of torture and logic—cites Bauer in his book War by Other Means. "What if, as the popular Fox television program '24' recently portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location of a nuclear weapon?" Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking in Canada last summer, shows a gift for this casual toggling between television and the Constitution. "Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. ... He saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Scalia said. "Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?"

Although the shows creators, Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran, deny that "24" is deliberately made as political propoganda in the service of militarism, it was apparently bought by Fox because it might as well be. In 2007, Jane Mayer wrote in the New Yorker:

Yet David Nevins, the former Fox Television network official who, in 2000, bought the pilot on the spot after hearing a pitch from Surnow and Cochran, and who maintains an executive role in “24,” is candid about the show’s core message. “There’s definitely a political attitude of the show, which is that extreme measures are sometimes necessary for the greater good,” he says. “The show doesn’t have much patience for the niceties of civil liberties or due process. It’s clearly coming from somewhere. Joel’s politics suffuse the whole show.”

It's therefore especially ironic to see the number 24 gain a new relevance in the war on terror. "24" is also, apparently, the number of people held in GITMO, out of approximately 750 total (or, who knows), who were actually suspected of being terrorists. This, according toLawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, writing in the Washington Note:

Simply stated, even for those two dozen or so of the detainees who might well be hardcore terrorists, there was virtually no chain of custody, no disciplined handling of evidence, and no attention to the details that almost any court system would demand. Falling back on "sources and methods" and "intelligence secrets" became the Bush administration's modus operandi to camouflage this grievous failing.

But their ultimate cover was that the struggle in which they were involved was war and in war those detained could be kept for the duration. And this war, by their own pronouncements, had no end. For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years. Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office.

In addition, it has never come to my attention in any persuasive way--from classified information or otherwise--that any intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement.

Now, is it just me, or is it interesting to you, too, to learn that the war against what Senator John McCain called around a thousand times last year on the campaign trail "the transcendent evil of our time" has nabbed a total of twenty-four likely terrorists? That would be five more than were on the planes on September 11, 2001.

That is what we got for the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. That is what we got in exchange for giving up our civil liberties (not that we were asked) and God knows how much money. That is what we got for the all the lives of our soldiers and the lives of all those civilians. Suspected terrorists numbering "a dozen or two." Not enough people to fill a Greyhound bus.

Let that number "24" resonate for a new reason, whenever the title of the television show is heard.

(Big h/t to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse for the OND with the Wilkerson piece.)


Mon Mar 09, 2009 at 09:20 AM PDT

The Kids Are Alright

by LithiumCola

Ron Charles, an op-ed columnist at the Washington Post, penned a strangely pessimistic column about the lack of political activism in college-age kids for Sunday's edition. His primary complaint is that not enough intellectucally engaging, lefty books are popular among the demographic. College kids are reading Twilight more than On the Road.

Well, all right. I suppose a moment of snobbery grounded in over-generalization is allowed for everyone, sometimes. But there is no excuse for putting this paragraph in the paper, where a lot of readers are going to see it and be, you know, misinformed, dumbed down, exactly the things that Charles says he finds distasteful in college kids:

A new survey of the attitudes of American college students published by the University of California at Los Angeles found that two-thirds of freshmen identify themselves as "middle of the road" or "conservative." Such people aren't likely to stay up late at night arguing about Mary Daly's "Gyn/Ecology" or even Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."

This is extremely weird. The report of the study that Charles cites begins like this:

College freshman are more politically engaged today than at any point during the last 40 years, with 89.5 percent reporting that they frequently or occasionally discussed politics in the last year, according to UCLA's annual survey of the nation's entering students at four-year institutions.

The portion of incoming freshmen who frequently discussed politics in the last year - 35.6 percent - surpasses the 33.6 percent level recorded in 1968, itself a 40-year high mark of student political engagement. The 2008 level was also higher than in other recent presidential election years, including 1992 (29.7 percent), when Bill Clinton was elected, the survey found.

And about Charles' that claim that "two-thirds of freshmen identify themselves as 'middle of the road' or 'conservative.'"?  You gotta watch that kind of formulation -- it allows for a lot of weasel-room. Here is what the study actually says:

An increase was also seen in the proportion of students who characterize themselves as liberal, which reached its highest level in 35 years in 2008, at 31.0 percent. The percentage of incoming students who characterize themselves as politically middle-of-the-road, however, has seen a steady decline and in 2008 reached an all-time low of 43.3 percent, roughly the same percentage as in 1970. One in five students (20.7 percent) identified themselves as conservative in 2008, down from 23.1 percent in 2007.

So, yes, 64% of American college kids identify as "middle-of-the-road" or "conservative."  But 74.3% of American college kids identify as "middle-of-the-road" or "liberal." And the number identifying as liberal is at a 35 year high, while conservatism is dropping on college campuses.

So what is Charles complaining about? The popularity of Twilight? Who cares? It's possible to be politically aware and also enjoy pop lit. In fact, the stats Charles alludes to are good evidence of that very fact.

Charles does point out that the current generation of college kids lacks a Kerouac, but maybe that's the fault of the writers, not the readers. A new Kerouac, a new Nin, would be pretty cool.

So . . . anyone sitting on a good book?

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