Saturday, June 29, 2013

Fire in the Shire: Wherefore Art Thou New Hampshire?

Daniel Webster
Holderness Graveyard

North Beach, Hampton
Lake Winnipesaukee from Mount Major

In the "Lord of the Rings"  a small, modest, happy Hobbit has greatness thrust upon him, much to his chagrin, and he has to embark from his happy Hobbit home in his beloved shire to meet threats and to have adventures in the greater, threatening, astonishing world.

In some ways Mad Dog thinks the same story may be played out for the children of New Hampshire, whose schools are conceived and restricted within the confines of their small towns, rather than, say across larger counties. 

And yet, having visited some of the town high schools, Winnecunet, Exeter, Portsmouth, Mad Dog has been impressed by, if nothing else, the architecture, and the presence of some enviable technology--particularly the TV studio at Exeter.

Mad Dog wonders whether life in New Hampshire prepares the rising generations to deal with the world marketplace of talent.  One indicator of this might be looking at the numbers of New Hampshire high school graduates who leave the state for college in other states.  Recently, this indicator of adventurousness has been affected by the sheer cost of going to an out of state university: Somehow the University of Colorado at Boulder seems to attract New Hampshire students, but how many go to Berkley, The University of Chicago, Rice University, any of the Ivy League schools, Swarthmore, Haverford, Carlton College, Grinnel, Vanderbilt, Duke, Stanford, New York University?

If there are very few New Hampshire Hobbits sallying forth, cost may be the major factor, but somehow families in other parts of the country manage to send their children to these far flung schools.  Mad Dog suspects there is doubt among New Hampshire parents about the value of such exposure for their children, or perhaps simply, there is fear: How you gonna keep them on farm once they've seen gay Paree? Or Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.?

If New Hampshire really is inward looking, as Mad Dog thinks is possible, is that good for New Hampshire or for the country, or the world?

In some ways, New Hampshire conjures up in Mad Dog's lame brain the Amish, a group which has looked around at the world and said, "No."  Of course, the Amish, admirably, encourage their children to leave their farms and to live among the gentiles for a year or two and to come back only when and if they are convinced life is better among the Amish. Mad Dog is not sure a similar exposure happens in New Hampshire.

Mad Dog hastens to add, he has no reliable data. His only source of impression is a very unscientific observation that he rarely sees college decals on the back windows of New Hampshire automobiles or T shirts or sweatshirts  for any of the above mentioned schools as he drives and bikes around New Hampshire.  When you do see a decal, it's usually UNH, Keene State or Plymouth State, or its on someone summering on the New Hampshire beach before they vacate for Boston or New York. This is certainly different from a drive around the Washington, DC suburbs or from observations in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Richmond.

Mad Dog recently met a woman who once owned a flower shop in Portsmouth, which had been the law office of Daniel Webster. She was proud of that. She was pleased New Hampshire once played a role in the nation's life which placed it at the center of what was happening.  There is a marble bust of Webster in the Supreme Court and a statue of him looming over a traffic circle not far from the Capitol.  New Hampshire once sent the flower of its youth out to meet the world, and to mold it.

Lincoln sent his son to Phillips Exeter Academy and visited. George Washington rode through New Hampshire.  The state was important enough then.

Walking around a graveyard in Holderness, New Hampshire, Mad Dog was stunned by the gravestones:  Row after row of young men who died between 1861 and 1865.  New Hampshire may have been far away from the monumental  struggle of those years,  between the forces of darkness and the forces of righteousness, but its men were in it. They stood up; they stepped forward;  they were counted. 

The same is true in the graveyard in Gilmanton, where Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place, is buried: There are graves of soldiers from the Civil War through Vietnam surrounding her. And her artistry touched the nation and moved it. At the time, her book was dismissed as an inconsequential pot boiler, but no one can read that lurid opening paragraph, one of the best in American literature of any generation and fail to see the deep New Hampshire well of knowledge and affection from which it sprang. And, Mad Dog notes, one of its essential plot lines explored the moral conundrum embodied in the decision to do an abortion on a teenager who had been impregnated by her own father.  Huckleberry Finn was much admired by Hemingway. Peyton Place is much admired by Mad Dog, which likely explains its obscurity.

Fly home from Europe and you watch the screen on the back of the seat in front of you and the first thing you see which is identifiable on the map is Lake Winnipesaukee, the first landmark in America is New Hampshire.

Of course, we have the primaries, and all that attention those bring, but nowadays what happens in New Hampshire is quickly forgotten as campaigns move quickly on to other states and the TV cameras leave yesterday's news in the dump.

We have great talents visiting the Music Hall in Portsmouth and the Casino in Hampton and the Ogunquit  Playhouse, just across the river. 

But are we being left behind as the world globalizes? Are the people here, who have the intelligence and the talent being stoked with the ambition to change the world?

And, Mad Dog wonders, should we care much if the answer is "No"?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DOMA Goes Down

"The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. "By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment."
--Justice Anthony Kennedy

With those words, the Supreme Court, or rather the liberal portion of the Supreme Court found an ally to strike down a hate law. 

Justice Scalia was particularly scathing and personal in his dissent, even by his own standards, suggesting those who opposed the law suffered from an obvious character disorder.  Justice Roberts, in his typically obtuse style,  suggested there was no malice intended by those who passed the law--they were simply trying to embrace a positive view of marriage. 

Mad Dog has said in the past and now says again he does not embrace gay marriage, because he does not embrace heterosexual marriage as an institution the state has any place in injecting itself.  It is an institution and an ideal which has nothing to recommend it in either ideological or practical terms.  At best, it is an absurd notion, the "Bride's Day" image of marriage as a happily ever after state of bliss and at worse, it is a destructive fantasy, which dooms people who discover the psychological impossibility of eternal psychological faithfulness and unchanging adulation.  From a practical point of view, marriage is unnecessary, as long as laws do not require it for health insurance, and all the other things which marriage automatically conveys. Legislatures have found  legal aspects of marriage convenient--it is convenient to convey a "package" of rights and benefits on a couple which has registered at the courthouse as a married couple. You could award the same package to a couple who simply signed a contract, but that would require the legislatures to do some work.

Some people want to believe they see the hand of God at work at a wedding. God wanted this particular John to marry this particular Jane. Most Americans in the 21st century, at least the people Mad Dog knows, do not buy this.

Some people say you need marriage for stable relationships to raise stable, well grounded children.  Mad Dog is not sure. He sees plenty of unstable people who were the product of strong marriages and plenty of stable people who are the products of a "broken" home. Perhaps the home was not "broken" but simply more flexible. 

But, as Mad Dog is well aware, marriage exists in American society, at least in some parts of the country.  In Hollywood, in the inner cities,  marriage hasn't been seen for years. Couples live together and ignore the whole idea, happily enough. Where there is enough money, two people live together and raise kids or one parent raises her kids alone, and hires help for when she is shooting a film. Where there is no money, women often choose to not wait for a husband to support her, because she knows the man she chooses likely won't hang around long enough to be a real source of support.

Today, the court displayed itself to be a political instrument, with the 4 conservative horsemen predictably voting to "uphold" marriage as between opposite sex partners and the 4 liberals saying, "ridiculous."

As far as Mad Dog is concerned, he is with Chris Rock on this one: Gays have a right to be as miserable as the rest of us.

Reading back over this, Mad Dog realizes it sounds as if it has been written by someone who has had an unhappy marriage or who has never seen what appears to be a happy marriage thrive among others. This, actually, is not the case. Mad Dog has witnessed "happily married" couples, and more in New Hampshire than in Washington, D.C. and New York City, although there are happily married couples even in those places, from all appearances. 

But these happy marriages have little or nothing to do with other people, or with  the government "sanctifying" the union.  These couples would have been happy without anyone else's blessing.  What Mad Dog cannot understand is the idea of a couple needing other people to share the joy at the wedding or to support the joy afterwards. Either it is there between the two people involved, gay or straight, or it is not --a thousand wedding guests and twelve angels blowing horns as the clouds part and the sun shines will make no difference to those two people, if what happens within each of them and between the two of them does not work.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Problem of Female Libido

Chris Rock
Dr. Freud

Erica Jung
Inspector Libidinous

Here are some random musings on an under analyzed conundrum in today's world: The mystery of female libido.

Chris Rock, who, along with Bill Russell and George Carlin  ranks high on the Phantom's  list of trenchant observers, has noted that women are different from men. One difference, which affects behavior is men, for the most part, cannot have sex whenever they want it, whereas women, for the most part, can. For women, it's simply a matter of who, when and where--demand is never an issue in the supply/demand equation. For men, supply is the big issue.

"The Fall," a British TV series has a scene in which the newly arrived chief inspector is being driven along the road and spots a good looking male on the road, a police officer, and she stops the car, and walks over to the male cop and tells him she is in the Hilton Hotel in room 203, and follows up by pulling him into bed, when he arrives. 

"The Wire" has a political consultant who likes to bed men on short notice.

These are not women most men recognize: Women who forthrightly solicit sex for no other reason than libidinous urge. No money is involved. No power trip. No social advantage. The woman looks at a man as men are accustomed to looking at women and says, "Let's have sex."

In medical practice, women occasionally consult physicians because they have lost all interest in sex. This is, for the physician, usually a very frustrating experience. Nothing works. 

One woman presented saying she had great sex with her partner, until he got her to move into his apartment with her, and that night, she lost all interest in having sex with him.  The diagnosis there was no mystery: As Gloria Steinem once remarked, "I cannot mate in captivity."

A Harvard gynecologist, speaking at a conference on the hormonal basis of sex drive, said her group had tested a group of women who had sought advice for loss of libido and they had tested all  they could think of which might possibly be relevant: testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, thyroid, cortisol, prolactin. No differences were found among the women with low or no libido and the control population who had normal libido. "Then we tried every known pharmaceutical--from Viagra to estrogen--and nothing worked," she said. "In fact, the only thing which was reliably effective in restoring sexual drive, satisfaction and libido was a new partner."

The laughter in the room was resounding and emanated mostly from the women in the audience. Knowing laughter.

The idea that women might have strong sexual desire which is unconnected to a desire for a cuddling relationship with a man,  unconnected to desire for protection, for an improved lifestyle, for creature comforts, for bragging rights, for a connection to fame, power or glory,  has been thought to be threatening to social stability, to men, especially in certain cultures,  where women are literally kept under cover. One wonders about those cultures, where women are considered so tempting and explosively disruptive you literally must hide them under a black tent of cloth.

One striking difference between the sexes, for people who are involved with trying to help women regain libido, is the answer to this question:  What are your fantasies about sex? 

With women, this is often met with a deer in the headlights look.  What fantasies?  

Men fantasize about sex, if not constantly, then frequently, and they do it from puberty until death.  Women, if they are reporting accurately, do not. Or may not.  Or if they do, they do not feel comfortable sharing those fantasizes, whereas with men, you cannot get them to shut up about it, ad nauseum.

In that difference, the Phantom believes, may be an important clue.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Government Surveillance: A Sartre Moment

Louis Brandeis

Samuel Warren

Hendrick Herzberg

Jill Lepore

Huis Clos ("No Exit" or "Closed Doors") is one of those rare works which made the agonizing work of qualifying in French in college almost worthwhile.  Sartre's thesis, as elaborated by this excruciating, funny and mesmerizing play is, simply put: "Hell is other people."
 The obverse of that coin is nirvana is also other people. You can read alone in your room, camp in the wilderness, paddle down the river alone, but essentially, like D.H. Lawrence's caretaker, Mellors, living alone  in his stone hut, in the woods, eventually, you need other people, (in his case, Lady Chatterly.)

And so it is in the debate about privacy, which is, in itself, not the most intensely interesting or important debate extant in our public discourse today, but look at the people it has brought to surface, and listen to the music pouring forth from their souls.

Jill LePore, writing in this week's New Yorker, traces the intellectual history of the notion of a legal guarantee of privacy back to the famous paper by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, "The Right to Privacy."  Brandeis, of course, would later expand his thinking in his erudite dissent in Olmstead v United States, saying Olmstead's right to be left alone had been violated by the wire tap of his telephone which led to his conviction for boot legging illegal alcohol.  Brandeis argued that before our Constitution prohibited it, the government could break into a citizen's home without warrant to obtain incriminating evidence, could obtain incriminating evidence by torture and this amounted to, among other things, espionage by our government on our citizens. It constituted forced testimony of self incrimination.

Of course, the response to this intrusion has been largely determined by what other feelings the speaker has about the government: Rush Limbaugh said the NSA spying program is just another example of Mr. Obama's "totalitarian nature," a nature he did not see in the same actions and programs when they were directed by Mr. George W. Bush.

Professor LePore sums up the quandary: "This has led, in our own time, to the paradox of an American culture obsessed, at once, with being seen and with being hidden, a world in which the only thing more cherished than privacy is publicity. In this world, we chronicle our lives on Facebook while demanding the latest and best form of privacy protection--ciphers of numbers and letters--so that no one can violate the selves we have so entirely contrived to expose."

Mad Dog spent an entire blog trying to say what Dr. LePore has said in a single paragraph.

On NPR today,  the history of the program subsumed by the NSA was explored. The CIA had demanded of the phone companies that as they switched to digital technology they not employ technology which would make it impossible for the government to tap it. The companies agreed, despite the substantial costs involved in making phone records accessible to the government, but insisted the data be obtained with warrants.  The conversations themselves were of little interest to the government, but the patterns of calls were of great interest: If a caller orders surveillance equipment and information about airports and the World Trade Center and makes phone calls to Pakistan, Berlin, Qatar and Saudia Arabia, then flies to Somalia and then to New York, the NSA wants to be able to connect all that and to track that caller.

 In fact, just such a program was being developed at an Army base in suburban Washington, D.C. prior to 9/11 and the analysts there were on the trail of the plotters when they were shut down by Army lawyers, who saw Constitutional issues as violations of the Fourth Amendment.

The main question, of course is this:  If you knew allowing the government to collect this data for millions of Americans and non citizens would have prevented the attack on the World Trade Center, would thwart future attacks, would you still say, "No, you cannot gather this data" or would you say, well, we need to balance the loss of a sense of inviolability against the loss of life and treasure?

Mr. Obama said, "This war, like all wars, must end...We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us...difficult questions about the balance we strike between our interests in security and our values of privacy."

The best thing about this argument, of course, is the pleasure of watching good minds at work.

Of course, the answers are far simpler than the subtly and complexity of the argument:   You do not need a Harvard degree to know the answer here. You have only to have watched the 5 seasons of "The Wire" (yes, there it is again) to understand how that balance must be struck. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

When The United States Intervenes

Mad Dog occasionally is compelled to venture out of the Shire and wander among the creatures far from his Hobbit realm.

San Francisco is filled with wondrous creatures doing odd and fascinating things and just looking at them is enough to set Mad Dog's eyes spinning--Eurasians with their high zygomatic arches, a couple, white and black walking down the street with their beautiful blue eyed son; this is definitely NOT whitebread New Hampshire.

The meeting is international, languages Mad Dog recognizes but cannot speak (German, Spanish, Swedish, Portuguese) languages Mad Dog can understand but not speak (French, Irish) and languages he can only guess at (Hindi, Arabic, Russian, Polish).

In the midst of all this cacophony comes news a married male doctor in Afghanistan attempted to examine a female patient who was not his wife in an examining room in his office--an unremarkable event which occurs all across the USA, Europe, South America, Africa, Asia, but in Afghanistan all hell was unleashed. The doctor and his patient were chased out of the office by a howling mob, and both were stoned. Reports are sketchy and it not clear whether either survived but both may have--the doctor may have been removed to India for treatment of head wounds. 

When Mad Dog studied anthropology in college, there was a strong effort to discourage students from judging the values and actions of other people of other cultures by American standards. 

This idea has been supported by many since--the most emphatic example being The Spirit Moves Me and I Fall Down, about the efforts of American doctors in California to save a Hmong child who was suffering from epilepsy, whose parents refused to treat her with anticonvulsants, and the child was brought repeatedly to the Emergency Room in status epilepeticus, and the child eventually died in a convulsive event. But it was the American doctors, not the family, who the author faulted, for their lack of understanding of this ancient Hmong culture. The doctors and social workers viewed the parents as child abusers. For shame--the parents were merely viewing a seizure disorder as a universe which was out of harmony.

So Mad Dog understands he will be viewed as intolerant of other people and other cultures when he says, Let Us Get Out of Afghanistan, poste haste. And more than that, let us withdraw from all those places around the world who consider women as nothing more than baby making machines, who ought to be veiled, kept uneducated, treated like possessions and children and generally made to live half lives under the thumb of male domination. 

Mad Dog realizes that Franklin Roosevelt was reviled in some quarters for not doing more to intervene in places where Nazis were mistreating Jews. And Clinton still regrets not having done more to intervene in Rwanda.  But Mad Dog would submit, you cannot change some people and you cannot change cultures and you have cultures which, as their basic premise are intolerant. 

The one thing Americans ought not tolerate is intolerance, the unwillingness of any culture to hear the other side. Parte.altera tantum parte,  Hear the other side. 

We did not understand what was going on in Vietnam and we staggered around like demented Green giants for 5 years, killing and maiming and doing the Devil's work.

We may understand Afghanistan better, but that doesn't mean we have to like it or that we owe them anything. We will certainly never change or reform that way of thinking.

So let us simply remove our gallant young men and women and Bring 'Em Home. 

And let us resolve to not make that same mistake twice--no we are already into twice. Let us not make it a third time. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Privacy. I Feel So Violated. Wah. Wah. Wah

Gail Collins is irate. The Tea Party is irate--always. Democrats are irate. Republicans, well, they are the Tea Party, so I repeat himself. Everyone is just as indignant as they can be over the government "snooping" into their private lives.

What will come next:  Some Orwellian  monitor screen in your bedroom a la 1984? Well, actually, it is already there: It's called a computer with Skype  or a smart phone, and it wasn't the government who put it there.

What is this thing called "Privacy" anyway?  

I consider my paycheck "private," but the IRS gets every last detail of that and more.  So does a bank, if I want a loan, or an auto dealership, if I am not going to pay cash. If I earn some outside income, the government must be told, and that is not new.

I have a driver's license,  and to get that my Social Security number and all sorts of things about me got taken in. And my picture got taken and stored in some government database.

I do not want my "private" bank account number to be published, and I want to keep my credit card numbers from public exposure, but every time I eat out in a restaurant or shop at the grocery store waiters and clerks handle this information. 

My friends  all have Face Book accounts, through which they publish astonishingly personal things to the world, pictures of themselves in wet swim suits, guzzling beer, and they "friend" people on the basis of having mutual friends. The woman on the train, three seats away, jabbers from Boston to New York City about where she had dinner, who she is sleeping with, who her mother is sleeping with, where her boyfriend is taking her on vacation, what she plans to eat for dinner, what her favorite color is. I wish that woman valued privacy more. I wish most people who talk on cell phones cared one tenth as much about privacy as the Attorney General Holder does, if he cares at all.

It strikes me this is an exhibitionist age, full of people trying to make connections.  Complaining about government looking at you through your phone bills is just one step beyond the woman at the nude beach complaining about men staring at her.

If you want to keep a communication "private,"  write a letter.  You don't even have to hand deliver it--the government never has opened mail--except during war time, when soldiers wrote home and their mail was censored on the basis of "security." Loose lips sink ships.

As Yosarian said in Catch-22,  it was pretty depressing having to read the letters from GI's to the folks back home so he could censor them,  because it made him realize what inconsequential things they talked about and how their lives were just as boring as the lives of officers.  (Eventually, Yosarian blacked out everything in the letters but "Dear Mom and Dad" and "Yours truly.") 

 But nobody today is talking about the government changing the content of phone calls or emails, although, now that I think of it, this may hold great potential for improving the national discourse. If we could at least correct some of the grammar, never mind the spelling in the case of emails and texts or the content, in the case of phone calls.)

As any addict of The Wire knows, listening in on telephone conversations can be of great value in criminal investigations, even when criminal organizations are very disciplined and cautious when talking on phones. 

For the most part, police and government types are simply bored by what they hear on telephone calls.

This is where I hope Mr. Obama takes us:  Let the NSA intercept all emails and cell phones and Facebook postings--which would eliminate all complaints about "profiling"--and put government workers to work improving the content of these things. Let's begin by eliminating photos of people floating in swimming pools holding cocktails and wearing sunglasses.

Let us move in the direction of enhancing privacy by refusing to allow citizens to indulge their exhibitionist tendencies.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stranger than Fiction

Mad Dog would never have chosen to watch a movie about Sarah Palin, especially a docudrama in which an actress portrays Ms. Palin in a bio docu drama politico thriller, but sometimes it is best Mad Dog finds himself over ruled.

In "Game Change," Julianne Moore plays Ms. Palin with such uncanny verisimilitude Mad Dog had to keep telling himself he was watching an actress, not the real thing. 

The story confirms what the average citizen could have concluded on his own, that Ms. Palin was astonishingly ignorant when she was chosen to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency. 

The great parallel, subtly drawn in the film, between Palin and her hero, Ronald Reagan, is that they were both empty shells, but great actors, who could deliver lines and electrify crowds when they had been given the right lines to deliver, but neither had more than the minimal number of functioning brain cells.

Ms. Palin did not understand why there were two Koreas, really did think Alaska's proximity to Russia was her major foreign policy merit badge, needed remedial current events lectures, had no clue about what the Constitution actually says or means and, generally speaking is, in the worse sense of the phrase, a true hockey mom, and not far from the lipstick on the pit bull she described herself to be. 

Two things watching this remarkable movie did, which Mad Dog found astonishing: 1. It engenders a certain sympathy for Palin, who is portrayed as being genuinely hurt and humiliated as her deficiencies are exposed, particularly by the deft and brilliant interview by Katie Couric and the lancinating satire of Tina Fey.  2. It reminds you why Palin was such a potent force and such a seductive choice--she is a consummate entertainer. She delivers a devastating performance at her convention speech after the teleprompter fails, and she simply launches into her familiar, well honed populist script. She knows the lines that will inflame the crowd and she delivers.  

The movie reminds us that John McCain did have an honorable streak once, showing him refuse to stoke the racist, lunatic hysteria always present in his audiences.

"Game Change" is a reminder about how American politics really does have an Emperor's New Clothes aspect: Sometimes what you see what really is all there is.  You assume because she was chosen, Palin really had a depth and a background which was not evident on television, but the truth is, she was even more ignorant and backward than she appeared. She was the lipstick on the pit bull.

Listening to the Lyndon Johnson tapes, available on line from the Johnson library, you can get the same sensation, listening to Johnson struggle with the truths which are so apparent to any citizen who watched Walter Cronkite's nightly reports on Vietnam: The war had nothing to do with defending freedom, defeating Communism or helping a beleaguered people yearning to resist the onslaught from a dark, blood thirsty regimen allied to Communist China. It was simply a war forced on an agrarian people who didn't care who was in power in Saigon, but just wanted to be left alone after the French colonists had departed.  Johnson refuses to see what is right in front of him, even when Richard  Russell, his good friend from Georgia, tells him the Vietcong and North Vietnamese know we don't want to stay in Vietnam and eventually we will leave, so they have only to wait us out. We can never win.

Sometimes the thing which is most obvious, most plainly presented in front of you, whether it is the woman from Alaska or the war in Vietnam is just so plain, you cannot believe what you are seeing is real. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Truth and Private Bradley Manning

Trials, lawyers will aver, are about seeking the truth.
This is, of course, hogwash. But then again, we are talking about what lawyers say.

Mad Dog is reading all he can about the Bradley Manning trial, and it is not easy. Discerning "the" truth is always a dicey proposition.  Likely there are many truths, and whose truth is more important is difficult to say.

Mr. Manning, Mad Dog suspects, was and is a tortured soul.
He may have been struggling with his sexual identity. His father may have pushed him into the military to "make a man" of him.
But so far, as far as the testimony has leaked out, according to the New York Times, when he was asked by a fellow hacker why he did not want to sell the documents he was planning to leak to Wikileaks, Manning replied he did not want to sell them because he thought they ought to be public property. Of course, we need to know more details, but this, at first blush, does not sound like an opportunist or a traitor. It sounds like a man of conscience.


And what exactly was contained in those thousands of documents? 
Did any of them actually expose agents who had worked on behalf of the United States to danger, as one would think revealing a spy might do?
Come to think of it, did Dick Cheney and company get thrown into a cell with 24 hours lights when he revealed Valerie Plame was a spy, and did that revelation endanger the lives of agents she ran?

The trial is young, but so far it appears what was really exposed was a raw nerve in the Obama administration, an administration which got us out of Iraq, saying it was the wrong war, which we could all understand because it looked just like Vietnam- no real purpose, no real achievable mission, a no win situation. 

Then there is the issue of 20,000 documents. If you want to really hide something well, like the Arc of the Covenant, you hide it among 20,000 other documents or boxes, as they did in "Raiders of the Lost Arc."

So far, Mr. Obama and Mr. Holder look no better than Richard Nixon when it comes to vindictiveness against those who would embarrass them. 

The thing is, embarrassing an administration, revealing the lie behind a war ought not be a crime. It ought to be considered an act of patriotism. When Daniel Ellsberg released a voluminous document from the Pentagon, the famous Pentagon Papers, detailing the lies which led us into Vietnam and which underlay that war's prosecution and raisen d'etre, he was not imprisoned. He was cheered. How is his case different from that of Private Manning?

On the other hand, if Mr. Manning did not examine those documents to be sure he would not be exposing and endangering lives, maybe he does deserve to be behind bars.

But one thing is clear, from the way he has already been treated, this is not a prosecution by a deliberate, clear headed, objective administration. This is a personal vendetta in which a man who has not yet been convicted of anything has already been tortured, when, in fact, he ought to have been treated with elaborate respect and courtesy. 

There will be time enough for meanness, after a conviction. Until then, if you treat any prisoner with anything less than complete politeness it is the accuser on whom most suspicion must lie.

If the Wikipedia article on Private Manning is accurate, it suggests the signs of Bradley Manning's personal angst were so obvious it beggars the imagination why a man as manifestly in crisis was allowed to be:  1. In Iraq, i.e. a war zone 2.  In the military (after at least one prior attempts to discharge him) 3. In proximity to any sort of secret or sensitive documents.  You do not put the boy who plays with matches, who burned down his school in charge of the ammunition dump. 

One thing which must be true if even a sliver of what is on Wikipedia is true is the Army must be the worst organization in the world when it comes to evaluating its own people. It is hard to imagine how it could be any worse. 

Remember Major Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who opened fire on unarmed soldiers at Fort Hood?  Now, there is another example of a soldier who had trouble written all over him, but his commanders responded to his palpable craziness by simply transferring him to some other unit.  The man gives a lecture at the Army medical school in Bethesda saying Muslims should kill infidels and his superior officer transfers him to Fort Hood, Texas. The rest is history, or rather, infamy.

Evidently, the Army can compete any day with  the Catholic Church, when it comes to dealing with problem personnel.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Obama Misgivings: Naked in the Cell

Mad Dog has the Fairey poster of Obama in his house, but he put it on his wall with some misgivings. Putting up a poster of a political figure seemed uncomfortably reminiscent of Hitler posters and photos found in private homes throughout Germany after WWII.  For years, after the end of WWII, maybe still, no magazine cover photos of Hitler were allowed to be published in Germany, for fear they would wind up framed in bars or in private homes. 

And, the fact is, when we get to "know" a political figure it is always a slow process of revelation. Putting up a poster or photo of a politician is an act of demi-worship at worst, and strong endorsement of a man, at best, and the fact is, what we ought to admire about a man is his philosophy, his policies, knowing that as a human being, he may have many failings, knowing, if we had him over to dinner, we may not like him much.  (Although, Mad Dog has always thought he would like Mr. Obama, personally, until now.) But Mad Dog has long harbored uncomfortable qualms about putting a photo of a human being on the wall. Just too many echoes of hero worship, and those photos of Kennedy right next to Jesus Christ on the walls of so many of Mad Dog's Catholic friends always made Mad Dog cringe a little.

After 4 years, despite some disappointments related to passivity or failure to push hard enough, most of Mr. Obama's failures have struck Mad Dog as failures of our Constitutional form of government, which intentionally created a weak president, bound by laws and Congress into a position which rendered him the persuader in chief, but faced with a determined minority opposition, or worse yet, faced with the opposition controlling either chamber of Congress, the President has few options and little power.

So, when Mr. Obama failed to close Gitmo, one could say his heart was in the right place but the dolts in Congress simply thwarted his best intentions.

Now there is news concerning the incarceration of Private Bradley Manning at Fort Meade, Maryland. Private Manning has been stripped naked, kept in a cell with lights always on, forced to say, every 5 minutes, to his guards, "I'm okay," not allowed to sleep with his arm over his eyes to cover them against the constant light. In other words, for 9 months, before ever being convicted of anything, he has been punished, and torture is not too strong a word.  Altogether, he has been in jail 3 years without trial.

Either Mr. Obama knows about this--and it is hard to imagine he does not-- and Mr. Obama approves,  or he does not know, which in a way is an even more egregious lapse in leadership.  In either case, that he would allow such nastiness prior to a conviction, that he would embrace torture, diminishes the man substantially. 

Now that you mention it, Mr. Obama's administration has been missing in action when it comes to opposing strip searches in jailhouses. Surely, there is some case out there which could be brought before the five conservative  jackasses on  Supreme Court, to force them, once again to endorse this form of torture, to make them squirm a little, or possibly even, back down.

Taken with reports of more raids and deportations of immigrants than occurred under Mr. Bush, these indicators of Mr. Obama's embrace of torture and police state tactics are very disturbing. 

Mad Dog applauded killing Osama Bin Laden without trial. But that was a case of a man who had gone all youtubey, a man who admitted and even bragged about his crimes.  And we do not put foreign antagonists on trial before the hostilities end. Had we been able to kill Hitler or Tojo while hostilities were underway, we would and should have done that. We have a tradition of "wanted dead or alive," but in that case the fugitive has the option of turning himself in.

Private Manning is not Hitler. He may turn out to be  more like Daniel Ellsberg. In fact, it is entirely possible that far from putting any American soldier at risk, what Private Manning really put at risk were embarrassing revelations regarding the conduct, the goals and the reality of the war in Iraq.

Joe Nocera is all upset about force feeding hunger striking prisoners at Gitmo. Mad Dog can see the case for force feeding. 

There is no justification Mad Dog can imagine for keeping an accused prisoner naked in a cell lit 24 hours daily.