Archive for March, 2009

Torture and the Courts

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment
Baltasar Garzón

Baltasar Garzón

In case you missed it, Scott Horton wrote at Harper’s yesterday about actions taken by a Spanish national security court with regard to Bush administration lawyers who approved torture at Guantánamo:

Spain’s national newspapers, El País and Público reported that the Spanish national security court has opened a criminal probe focusing on Bush Administration lawyers who pioneered the descent into torture at the prison in Guantánamo. … Público identifies the targets as University of California law professor John Yoo, former Department of Defense general counsel William J. Haynes II (now a lawyer working for Chevron), former vice presidential chief-of-staff David Addington, former attorney general and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, now a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.

The Spanish criminal court now may seek the arrest of any of the targets if they travel to Spain or any of the 24 nations that participate in the European extraditions convention (it would have to follow a more formal extradition process in other countries beyond the 24). The Bush lawyers will therefore run a serious risk of being apprehended if they travel outside of the United States.

Judge Baltasar Garzón is involved in the investigation, according to the El País report. Garzón is Europe’s best known counterterrorism magistrate, responsible for hundreds of cases targeting the activities of ETA and related Basque terrorist organizations. He also spearheaded the successful investigation of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations operating in the Maghreb region, including Spanish enclaves in Morocco. But Garzón is best known for his prosecution of a criminal investigation against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet that resulted in the issuance of an arrest warrant for Pinochet while he was visiting England.

I don’t imagine Yoo and his colleagues will be traveling much. Perhaps our own courts could follow suit.

Categories: Politics, Today's News

Border Fence

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment


The photo accompanied a NYT story three days ago on Secretary of State Clinton’s arrival in Mexico City, during which she acknowledged that “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.” She also announced a new initiative to deploy 450 more law enforcement officers at the border.

But I include the photo simply for its own sake, since it is so stunning. The caption describes it as “a recently completed section of the fence the United States is building along the Mexican border crosses desert sands between Yuma, Ariz., and Calexico, Calif.” I was tipped off to it in a blog post by David Gibson at the Commonweal blog. Gibson notes that “at first I thought it might be a new installation by the artist Richard Serra.” I thought instead of Christo. For example, here is a shot of Valley Curtain in Colorado, 1970-1972.


Categories: Arts, Politics, Today's News

The Silent Man

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment


Over the last two months, I’ve fallen into my usual book-reading pattern of starting books and not finishing them. I’d been doing pretty well for a while. For instance, in January I finished three books, all mentioned in earlier posts. (The Naipaul biography, the book on McGeorge Bundy and the Vietnam War, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection.) Meanwhile, I am still in the middle of the book by Harvard economists Goldin and Katz on education and technology and Jeff Madrick’s book on big government.

This was the context in which I read Nick Kristof’s blog post two weeks ago on two hot books. He began by writing

I’ve just read two terrific books by Times colleagues that I commend to you. For those who like thrillers, Alex Berenson is emerging as one of the best and he has just published “The Silent Man.” It’s a continuation of the series he started with “The Faithful Spy” and “The Ghost War” and it’s just as good as those two. He has a wonderful character in his protagonist, John Wells, who infiltrated Al Qaeda and became a Muslim in the process.

Don’t tell anybody, but I love thrillers. The problem is that the genre went downhill after the Cold War. Lee Child is superb, but he and Alex Berenson are the only great ones around now. And Alex’s novels always land on the best-seller lists, so he’s one of the few people in journalism with a proven business model.

Kristof’s praise of Lee Child made me a little nervous about his judgment. Last summer I explored the thriller genre a bit, having not read an international spy thriller in years, or maybe decades. The first one I read, thanks to Janet Maslin’s review in the NYT, was Lee Child’s latest, Nothing to Lose, the 12th Jack Reacher novel. I found it downright silly. (Then again, I did start it on a Friday night and finish it Saturday afternoon, unable to put it down except to sleep. And going to Lee Child’s website now, I see the clock ticking on Jack Reacher #13, due out in the UK 24 days, 14 hours, 44 minutes, and 13 seconds. US publication is 26 days later. I’ll have to decide whether to pay extra to order it from or wait to get the US edition.)

Anyway, deciding to trust Kristof, I ordered the Berenson book. (See Berenson’s website for more information.) I read it this past week, finishing it Thursday night rather than spending time with Gail as she prepared to head off to Scotland Friday. Had I written this post two days ago, I might have had something interesting to say, but by now, Sunday morning, the book has all but faded from my memory. That’s the thing about thrillers. They don’t stay with you. I don’t feel tempted to go back and read the earlier John Wells books. I do better with crime novels. What I’m really waiting for is George Pelecanos’s new one, due out May 12.

Categories: Books

Baby Farasi

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment


Before tossing two weeks of Wall Street Journals yesterday, I made sure to take a look at each one’s daily front page feature article, thereby stumbling on the March 13 feature story about the Basel Zoo’s baby hippo Farasi, pictured above with his mother. It’s a troubling story, the main problem being that when Farasi matures, he will not be able to stay in Basel, since there’s no room for more than one male hippo and he will become a competitor to his dad. For the same reason, other zoos will not be keen to adopt him. As the article explains, surplus mammals, especially meaty ones such as hippos, generally are killed and then fed to the lions.

I should add that this is a European zoo issue, not an American one. Here in the US, the animals are generally on the pill, to avoid this problem. In Europe, reproduction is considered part of a normal life:

European zoos say sex, pregnancy and parenting are fundamental needs. “A chimpanzee spends 24 hours a day with its young for four years,” says Robert Zingg, chief curator of Zurich Zoo, which works closely with Basel Zoo. “How do you replace that?”

So why am I posting this depressing story, beyond just taking the opportunity to post a cute baby picture? Well, for one, I used to spend a lot of time at the Basel Zoo, during a brief period of my life in which I found myself in Basel regularly. It’s one of Europe’s great zoos. And for another, I liked the metaphor at the end of the passage below.

It’s extremely difficult to find a hippo a home. Farasi’s bigger sister Heidi found a home in 2002 only after a hippo at the Dublin zoo choked to death on a tennis ball lobbed into its pen by a visitor. “It’s especially difficult to find a home for a male hippo because you can only have one per zoo,” says Christian Wenker, Basel’s chief vet. Hippos also live to be in their 50s, so the lucky male in any zoo is like an old man in a rent-controlled apartment.

Plus, there’s this drawing:


Categories: Animals


March 29, 2009 Leave a comment


I can’t resist posting today’s Get Fuzzy comic strip. I don’t generally read Get Fuzzy, or any other comic strip, but thanks to Mark Liberman at Language Log , I’m alerted to the strips that deal with language. As Liberman notes, “In today’s Get Fuzzy, Bucky’s exploration of English compound-noun semantics continues.” Bucky is Bucky Katt. See here for more background on Bucky and on his housemate, the melancholy Satchel Pooch.

Categories: Animals, Language

Life After War Crimes

March 23, 2009 Leave a comment


Not a bad gig, I guess. As I noted in my last post, Mark Danner’s article in the current New York Review of Books on the ICRC report on CIA torture of detainees is a must read. It provides (yet more) unequivocal evidence of the authorization of torture by President Bush and his fellow lawbreakers. Yet, we are somehow supposed to be charmed and amused by Condoleezza Rice’s appearance yesterday at the NFL owners meeting at the St. Regis in Dana Point, on the coast in Orange County. Here’s the start of the AP report:

Condoleezza Rice finally got her chance to address the NFL. Judging by the numerous standing ovations she received, Rice scored a touchdown.

The Secretary of State under the Bush administration, who once aspired to be the league’s commissioner, was invited by Roger Goodell to speak to the “NFL family” Sunday at the owners meetings. She spoke to several hundred rapt listeners about everything from football to politics to the need for American optimism in a trying time.

“I am prepared to answer any questions on Russia, the Middle East, advice for the draft, the zone blitz,” Rice said, drawing laughs from everyone, especially Goodell. “And why no one should ever run a prevent defense.”

Rice was mentioned as a potential candidate to replace Paul Tagliabue, and Goodell thanked her “when you were busy three years ago when they selected a commissioner.”

“I’ve invited somebody who wants my job in front of the same people who hired me,” Goodell joked.

On a related note, see Glenn Greenwald’s blog post last Tuesday on the shocking disrespect shown by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in speaking of Dick Cheney. He may be head torturer, but he’s a former vice president. Deference, please.

Greenwald’s closing passage is below:
Read more…

Categories: Politics, Sports, Today's News

ICRC Torture Report

March 23, 2009 Leave a comment


When I was away in Detroit last week, I read several references in blogs and the news to Mark Danner’s article in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books about the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the treatment of fourteen “high value detainees” in CIA custody. The report was submitted on February 14, 2007 to John Rizzo, then the acting general counsel of the CIA, and intended only for senior American officials. I got my copy of the NY Review on Saturday afternoon and went directly Danner’s article. You should do so too. It provides yet more clarity for those who might still think, as perhaps President Bush actually does, that our government did not torture people.

At one point in the article, Danner draws some conclusions. “In the wake of the ICRC report one can make several definitive statements:
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Categories: Politics, Today's News

What Service Economy?

March 20, 2009 1 comment


A few weeks ago I wrote about Jeff Madrick’s book The Case for Big Government, published last fall by Princeton University Press. I learned about it in Richard Parker’s New York Review of Books review and ordered it a couple of days later. I got about halfway through the book before getting distracted by other business.

As I anticipated from the review, I’ve enjoyed reading Madrick’s argument that government spending throughout US history has had much to do with the country’s becoming the world’s leading economic power by early in the twentieth century, as it moved from an agricultural to a manufacturing economy. This simply would not have happened without government investment in education and infrastructure, or without government land policies and land giveaways. Well, that’s a simplification of his argument, but part of it. In particular, the claim that government spending interferes with economic growth and initiative, which has come to be taken for granted since Reagan’s presidency, as Milton Friedman’s ideas have moved to the mainstream and dominated conservative-based economic discussion, is simply false, without data to support it.

Madrick also discusses the next stage in our country’s economic evolution, from a manufacturing to a service economy, and as one reads his discussion of this, one need only look at events of the last half year to realize what an illusion that was. You can’t make something out of nothing. Wall Street did for a while. Enron did. Madoff did. But eventually it collapses.

With my two recent trips to Detroit, this has been much on my mind. Michigan (and surrounding states) became the country’s manufacturing center in parallel with the growth of a manufacturing-based economy in the first half of the twentieth century. Now Michigan is an economic mess. Yet, I can’t help thinking that the revitalization of this region and more generally of our industrial base may be an essential component of the country’s economic recovery.

This was on my mind when General Electric’s annual report arrived in the mail yesterday. (Joel owns 10 shares, a Bar Mitzvah present from my brother, which is why we receive GE mailings.) Given GE’s own problems and its announcement three weeks ago that it was cutting dividends from 31 cents a share to 10 cents a share, I decided this morning to see what chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt had to say in his opening letter. It’s a long one, about six pages of small print. I still haven’t read it all, but I did come across a passage near the end that prompted this post and that I wish to quote. Here’s what Immelt says:
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Categories: Business, Economics, History

Second Lunch at Rover’s

March 20, 2009 Leave a comment


Two months ago I wrote about our lunch at Rover’s, the famed Seattle restaurant that’s just down the street of us. We returned today for our second lunch, which I will describe in due course. First let me review.
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Categories: Food, Restaurants

Electric Car Network

March 20, 2009 Leave a comment


David Pogue, the NYT technology writer, interviewed Better Place chief executive Shai Agassi on the CBS News Sunday Morning last Sunday. Better Place has been much in the news lately for its plans to build an electric car network. You’ve probably read about it — this is the idea that you don’t have to charge your car at home or work and get limited range. Instead you can drive into the electric equivalent of gas stations when you’re on long drives and have the battery swapped for a fresh one. For shorter drives, charging the one in the car overnight or while at work should work fine, but for long drives you do battery swaps. Plus, the company owns the battery, so the price of the car drops. And as battery technology improves, the company drops in better batteries, so you don’t have to worry about having an out-dated battery that doesn’t perform as well as those in new cars.

I didn’t see Pogue’s interview of Agassi, but yesterday Pogue had a blog post containing an edited transcript of the interview that, though shorter than the full interview, is longer than what was shown on TV. It’s fascinating. I urge you to read it. The ideas underlying the network, as described partly above, fit together brilliantly. A short excerpt is below, but read the whole transcript.
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