Archive for April 15, 2009

ICRC Torture Report, II

April 15, 2009 Leave a comment


Three weeks ago I had a post on the February 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross to the CIA on “the Treatment of Fourteen ‘High Value Detainees’ in CIA Custody.” In the post, I linked to and quoted from Mark Danner’s article about the report in the April 9 New York Review of Books. A week ago I began to see references to Danner’s follow-up article, but I preferred to read it in the print edition of the New York Review rather than online, so I waited until my copy finally came, two days ago. I’ve not finished the article yet, but let me once again provide a link, this to Danner’s second article, in the April 30 issue. And the New York Review has posted the report itself, here.

As we await tomorrow’s decision by the Obama administration on how much to make public from three 2005 Justice Department memoranda providing legal guidance on CIA interrogations, I’ll quote just one excerpt from the second Danner article.

It is a testament as much to the peculiarities of the American press—to its “stenographic function” and its institutional unwillingness to report as fact anything disputed, however implausibly, by a high official—that the former vice-president’s insistence that these interrogations were undertaken “legally” and “in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles” continues to be reported without contradiction, and that President Bush’s oft-repeated assertion that “the United States does not torture” is still respectfully quoted and, in many quarters, taken seriously. That they are so reported is a political fact, and a powerful one. It makes it possible to contend that, however adamant the arguments of the lawyers “on either side,” the very fact of their disagreement makes the legality of these procedures a matter of partisan political allegiance, not of law.

I hope Obama and Attorney General Holder release the memos in full, without redaction.

Categories: Politics, Torture

Niner Delta Whiskey

April 15, 2009 Leave a comment
Doug White and the King Air 200

Doug White and the King Air 200

The last three Septembers, we have flown from Boston to Nantucket on Cape Air’s Cessna 402s. They are twin propeller aircraft with a single pilot and a single cabin. The passengers are distributed according to weight, with one passenger getting to sit next to the pilot in the co-pilot position. Gail did that three falls ago. I have flown in the seat just behind the co-pilot twice, affording an excellent view of the control panel and all the actions the pilot takes. It’s kind of fun, but I have yet to make the flight without thinking about what would happen if the pilot had some kind of attack in mid-flight and could no longer fly the plane.

Well, as you may have read, something just like this happened on Sunday, but in a private airplane. Doug White and his family were returning from Marco Island, Florida to Monroe Louisiana aboard a King Air 200 after attending his brother’s funeral. Like the Cessna, the King Air 200 has two engines. White was in the co-pilot’s seat, with the family behind, when the pilot suddenly died a few minutes after takeoff. Fortunately, White had some flight experience, all in a single-engine Cessna, mostly years earlier, but he had resumed flying in January. You can read more about what happened next at the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association website. Better yet, when you have some free time, listen to the audio recording of White’s conversation with the air traffic controller. (You’ll find a link to the audio at the bottom of the webpage linked to above.) White is simply amazing to listen to. I started listening yesterday afternoon and couldn’t stop. While I was at it, I opened a new tab in my browser so I could go to google maps and get a map of the Fort Myers, Florida region, including the airport. This allowed me to follow (or guess at) White’s position as he talks to the controller.

The best reason to fly United Airlines is channel 9 on their audio, on which one can listen to the air traffic control conversations. I love it. And I always root for our pilot. The best parts are when he or she talks or is given a command by the controller. What’s so stunning about White is that he sounds just like the veteran United pilots. Completely in control.

See also yesterday’s blog post by the Atlantic’s James Fallows, which is where I learned about this recording, and a follow-up Fallows post just a few minutes ago. I couldn’t say it better than Fallows in concluding the second post: “If Tom Wolfe were re-writing the intro to The Right Stuff, which so memorably begins with evocation of the slow, confident drawl of airline pilots who can’t be ruffled by anything, he could do worse than to recreate this recording of a man landing an airplane he had never flown before, while returning from his brother’s funeral, with his loved ones aboard.”

Categories: Flying

Hockey Years

April 15, 2009 Leave a comment
Dave Schulz, Philadelphia Flyers, 1974-75

Dave Schulz, Philadelphia Flyers, 1974-75

I’m trying to remember every morning to turn to the Wall Street Journal’s new sports page so I can see what their daily feature article is about. I remembered today. It’s about hockey fights, how they used to be an essential tool for winning teams, but how in recent years, thanks in part to rule changes, the Detroit Red Wings have achieved success without fighting.

This isn’t exactly news. But what got my attention was the writer’s strange way of describing hockey years. This is a confusing matter, since hockey seasons start in October and run into May or June. To be accurate one must speak of the 2008-2009 season, or the 1974-1975 season. Reed Albergotti wrote, “Fights have always broken out during physical hockey games, but in the 1960s it became a strategy. The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers used intimidation to win Stanley Cups between 1969 and 1975.” At first I thought he was confused or failed to do his research. After all, neither team won the Stanley Cup in 1969.

I was a close follower of hockey in those years, a Rangers fan from childhood through the 1972-1973, and then a converted Bruins fan over the course of the 1973-1974 season. This is the same time that I also converted from fanatical Knicks fan to Celtics fan. For the four years that I lived in Cambridge as an undergraduate, 1969 to 1973, I remained an ardent New York fan. But in September 1973, I remained in Cambridge, started graduate school, moved from university housing to an apartment, and began to feel like a local resident. I started reading the Boston Globe, started watching local sports coverage on the evening news, and realized that the hated Celtics John Havlicek were interesting guys, as were the equally hated Bruins Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. In fact, though I chose to deny it for years, Bobby Orr really was the greatest player in hockey history, and my bull-headed devotion to the Rangers got in the way of my appreciating greatness in my midst. This is one of the great regrets of my life. My sports fan life anyway.

The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970, at the end of the 1969-1970 season, and again in 1972. And in 1974, now that I was finally a Bruins fan, I was confident they would win it again. But they didn’t. Something odd happened. The Flyers of Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent, the Broad Street Bullies, got in the way and beat them. This bordered on the unimaginable, not unlike the Jets’ Super Bowl victory over the Colts a few years earlier. An original-six hockey team had never lost a Stanley Cup final to one of the expansion teams. But it happened. And to show it was no fluke, the Flyers won again in 1975. Okay, so how does one describe that? I would have thought one might say that the Bruins and Flyers won Stanley Cups between 1970 and 1975, not 1969 and 1975. On first reading, I found Albergotti’s wording jarring. But before I ran to my computer to send an email, I realized he might have started with 1969 since that’s when the season started that culminated with the Bruins’ 1970 Stanley Cup. I decided to let it go.

Until I came to this sentence near the end: “The 2007 Ducks … won the Stanley Cup in 2007 with a league-high 71 fights.” Huh? Why aren’t they the 2006-2007 Ducks? And in what other year would the 2007 Ducks have won the Stanley Cup? Yet again one must wonder what happened to copy editing.

Categories: Language, Sports

Playing Hard to Get

April 15, 2009 Leave a comment


Restaurant version, that is. It’s a rare Wednesday when the restaurant reviewed by the New York Times gets zero stars. Today was such a Wednesday, so Frank Bruni’s review of the new restaurant Charles in Greenwich Village is worth a look. Apparently, Charles takes hard-to-get to a new level. The review is written in a cutesy way as a letter from a fan of hard-to-get restaurants to Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair editor and part owner of the Waverly Inn, another hard-to-get restaurant. The following passage describes some of Charles’ innovations.

And it was all so enigmatic: the nonsensical name (it’s not on Charles, or owned by a Charles), the lack of any sign out front.

Actually, there was and is a sign, but it’s for the fusty French artifact that used to have the space, Les Deux Gamins. How genius is that? When I went the other night, two people who’d apparently been fans of that restaurant were walking out the door looking exasperated, and they were muttering: “It’s some totally different place now. Who knew?”

… While Waverly doesn’t answer its phone, Charles doesn’t even have one, at least not one that’s published. To get a table I would send an e-mail message, and some unseen, unknown, disembodied reservations deity would write back. It was like I was in a “Bourne” movie, arranging a secret meet. I was the Joan Allen character, but with a better colorist.

I haven’t yet told you the wildest part, which is the restaurant’s windows — so Salinger, so Garbo. They’re covered in old newspapers and blue tape, as if the space is under construction or even condemned, and they’ve been that way for so long that when I paused on the sidewalk the other night to read the fine print, I learned that Sarah Palin had resuscitated the McCain candidacy.

See the photo above for a sense of how elusive the restaurant is, and see also the slide show that accompanies the review. As for the food, here’s more from the review: “The lamb kebabs should be called tartare. That’s how close to raw they were. The salmon, supposedly pan-seared, was more like pan-spurned, by which I mean it was nearly raw, too. Charles is as stingy with heat as it is with light. Maybe it’s saving on utilities.”

Categories: Restaurants