Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tortured logic

Y'know what may be the saddest part of the whole "I guess we DO torture..." business?

The degree to which being opposed to torturing helpless prisoners is being cast as a "liberal" issue.

Fuck that.

Torture is among the lowest, vilest, most despicable of crimes. There is no excuse for it other than fear and desperation. As I said earlier; I would harm a captive if I believed that it would save people who depended on me. But then - I would I hope, if I was man enough - I would accept my own guilt and turn myself in with the evidence of my acts as the criminal I was and stand trial for my wrongs.

Torture IS wrong. The wrongest of wrongs. There shouldn't really be any argument over that; it's not a liberal wrong or a conservative wrong, it's a human wrong.


But somehow this is all getting twisted around into a "liberal" versus "conservative" issue. The peripatetic "conservative" commentor "no one" - who has made his appearance here before as well as over at the MilPub and Jim and Lisa's joint - just described my disgust and horror that my country is now unquestionably in the same class as Imperial Japan and Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany as industrial states that torture their captives as a "liberal rant" (it's over at the 'Pub, but you get the picture).

And, y'know what? That just saddens and sickens me even more.

Because I grew up in a "conservative" house. My father the Master Chief was a rock-ribbed Republican up until the Eighties when he grew sick of Reagan's "government is the problem" bullshit. Many of the most decent, honorable people I know are or were "conservative".

But by that very definition the notion that the nation they love, that I love, could act like the Kempeitai or the NKVD is sickening and saddening to them as it is to me.

I'm sorry, but if you think that wanting to coldcock Dick Cheney for being a cowardly sonofabitch who ran like a frightened sissy when his country called on him to fight but loves the idea of having one of his lackeys torture some A-rab is a "liberal rant" rather than just being justifiably insanely outraged at the craven fucker's utter gall you are completely fucked up like a football bat.

Russia's "interesting position" gets a little more interesting

Back in August (when the Guns of August were thundering in the eastern parts of was still nominally "Ukraine") over at MilPub my buddy Al wrote about the Curious Case of Russia. He noted that:
"The Cold War was primarily a standoff between two military powers. The Soviet impact on, and involvement in, the world's economy was negligible. Probably one of the major reasons the USSR collapsed. It was Soviet military, and the resultant political power, that we wanted to keep in check. We are now dealing with a new Russia, and that new Russia has become an economic player far greater than the old Soviet Union. Now, when Russia rattles it's political saber, there are economic ramifications of concern. Yet we still seem to be stuck in the Cold War mentality that Russia is always to be opposed."
and quoted an editorial from one of the Athenian newspapers that in their opinion "...a "stable and powerful Russia" is a key ingredient to global economic security."

I'm kind of intrigued by this for several reasons.

One is that it tends to reinforce my suspicions that the rump-Soviet state is, in fact, what I called it back in August: "...a lot of the Soviet weaknesses...overlaid...with 1) a thicker layer of corruption and 2) an excessive, almost-Nigerian-level of extraction resource dependency." The Post article makes an interesting point, that:
"There's one way, and only one way, that this ends: with capital controls. Or, in plain English, by making it illegal for people or companies to turn their rubles into foreign currency. That would get rid of the selling pressure, and let the ruble settle at a new, lower equilibrium. Putin, though, is loath to use capital controls, because his political base—the oligarchs—wants to move their money abroad, whether that's to their London or New York hideouts."
So the "tyrant" is an economic hostage to his political condotierri, another little reminder of the old saying about doing anything with bayonets (or in this case, the long knives of your criminal crony-capitalist "pals"...) except sitting on them.

The other is that it gives me a nasty little cat-smile remembering all the Usual Idiots who were fulminating about how manly Vladi Putin was and how the United States needed a sharp dose of his shirtless manly manliness to counteract the emo-girly-man Kenyan Usurper.

To quote O'Brien from the Post: "At this rate Putin will be riding around shirtless because he can't afford one anymore."
Perhaps the single most worrying part about this is the reminder that Russia - still a major Eurasian power and a nuclear one at that - is neither stable nor as powerful as it thinks it is.

This isn't to talk up my own country, whose political response to the Great Recession has been to double- and triple-down on the great shift to oligarchic meanness and stupidity that characterized the fucking Hoover Administration, but to note that for all that my country seems to be overrun with morons who think that "government is the problem" that if you deliberately set things up to govern badly it will be badly governed. And that after a bad government the next-worse idea is to turn the levers of power over to a bunch of rich pricks whose only concern is their own profit. That's the sort of thing about the incoming Republican Congress (as expressed recently in the loathsome Wall Street Welfare rider to the cromnibus spending bill...) that makes me sleep poorly at times.

But I don't think I'd be sleeping nearly as well if I lived in Gdansk, or Tallinn.

Friday, December 12, 2014

It profits a man nothing to sell his soul for the entire world...

...but for Wales?

I'm having a hard time saying anything coherent at the moment because my mind keeps circling the sewer drain of torture that is the national honor of my country, the country I served for 22 years as a soldier, the country I pledged to defend from all enemies foreign and domestic.

Because the domestic enemies who committed these crimes shat on that honor, and all for nothing.

Why do I say that? Given that the "defenders" of these crimes are raging and swearing that the crimes were done to protect me, that the crimes DID protect me in that they obtained intelligence that defeated nefarious plots and evil plans.

To which I say: bullshit.

Let's stop a minute and think about this.

Let's say that all this went down like the torturers and their buddies say it did. Let's say that the heroic CIA torturers knew that Evil Abu Badguy knew where the nuke was hidden. Knew it. Let's say that was you, or me, and we knew that the goddamn dune coon was holding information that could save lives if we just electrified his nuts long enough.

Would you be crankin' that generator?

I would.

Yes, I would. I know because I had to think about the possibility that I might end up with enemy prisoners of war that I knew had intel that could save my troops if I could get it quickly enough, and what would I do then?

Here's the thing, though. I'd be a criminal, a war criminal. My guys would be alive, so to me it'd be worth it. But I couldn't - and, I hope - wouldn't try to deny what I'd done.

I hope I'd have the guts to hunt up the nearest provost marshal and turn myself in.

So ISTM that the thing that sets off my bullshit detector is that the torturers and their masters went to such lengths to hide and destroy the evidence of what they did. If this really was "worth it", if I'm the torturer and my torturing really had produced some sort of valuable intelligence?

I'd have kept those cameras rolling.

Rolling through every horrific thing I did, every vile atrocity I worked on some helpless sonofabitch, every sob, every scream. Rolling as the broken bastard choked out the address of the hidden nuke, the name of the contact, the details of the murderous plan.

I'd present myself and that tape before a judge, or a jury, and say, look, here is what I did to save you. Here is how I did save you.

And then I'd throw myself on the mercy of the court.

Because I would be guilty. I'd just know that no judge, no jury, in America would convict me and if they did no President would be able to refrain from pardoning me. Because my guilt was their guilt, too; they lived because I did horrors in their name.

And yet...there is none of this.

So I know there was no hidden nuke. No contact, no plan, no secret. Just what torture does best at producing; what the torturer wants to hear.

These people tortured because they wanted confessions, for the same reasons that the Inquisition and the NKVD tortured. They wanted confessions. They wanted what they needed for their auto-de-fe, for their show-trial, they wanted to hear that we needed to fight them there so we didn't have to fight them here, that the smoking gun was going to be a mushroom cloud, that they hated our freedoms, that they were coming to kill us.

They wanted to make us afraid, and they did.

So these fucking bastards sold our honor, my honor, for nothing. Nothing. Not a goddamn thing. For worthless fucking bullshit to support their goddamn lies. For a mess of goddamn pottage.

And I think I'm as furious about the worthlessness of the reasons as for the infamy of the torture itself.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

"We do not torture"

You don't say?

To me the saddest part about this hot mess is that we pretty much all knew all of this all along. We knew what was going on, or, at least, that something fairly awful was going on, and didn't care enough to make a fuss about knowing the details or care enough to stop it.

And make no mistake; without punishment there is no reason to assume that this won't happen again. There's always a good reason for breaking the laws. Smoking guns become mushroom clouds. Not fighting them there means fighting them here. They hate our freedoms. They're coming to kill us.

But then you find that if you cut down the laws to get at the devil, when you catch him you'll find that there is nowhere for you to shelter from the broad highway of evil you've opened up, the laws all being flat.

Update: The always-eloquent Charlie Pierce has more. And worse. And much, much more and much, much worse.
"I no longer take seriously anyone, in or out of government, who talks about "the debate" over whether the United States tortured people. The only debate left is the debate over whether or not it will remain the policy of this nation to torture people, or to outsource the job of torturing people, or to otherwise commit moral and national suicide by euphemism.

Anyone who still believes there's a "debate" over whether or not the United States, using techniques previously used by the Japanese Imperial Army, the Gestapo, the North Korean People's Army, and the KGB, tortured people is an idiot and a coward and I have no time for them. Not any more. Debate's over. We became what they think we are. And worse. This is not debatable and, alas, it is anything but a surprise."

Sunday, December 07, 2014


I got pulled over the other night.

Reason I thought about that is that Mannion - whose opinion on cinema I just cited - has a post up about being jacked around by cops.

The thing about my experience is that it was clearly a bullshit stop. I was under the speed limit, in a very quiet street, and other than that these gomers had no real reason to pull me over. The excuse the sheriff's deputy used was that I "had a headlight out", which is something you can see every night you drive around here - we have no annual state inspection, so there's no real pressure to replace a dud headlight - but the real reason is that I was tired and driving cautiously which to these jokers probably meant "this guy's probably had a few, so let's stop him and see what we can find."

They went into full-on "Cops" mode; lit up the searchlight, came up on both sides of the vehicle...and suddenly realized that 1) I was a white guy wearing a safety vest 2) driving a pickup with a company logo on the side. They did the usual ID check just because otherwise it would have been WAY too obvious that is was a bullshit stop and then let me walk even though the insurance card I presented was expired (I had the current one in the key-pouch but had forgotten that was where it was).

I didn't get jacked around...other than 15 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. And I was very polite and cooperative, so there were no other consequences. But I drove away swearing a blue streak at the Washington County Sheriff's Department from the Sheriff himself to the lowest garage mechanic as a bunch of ticket-happy officious assholes.

There's been a lot of coverage about "militarized police" and the like in the wake of fairly obviously moron-grade fuckup shootings by trigger-happy cops. But IMO these sorts of bullshit traffic stops are just as bad for the coppers' standing in the public eye. They're so obviously about "we can fuck with these peons so let's do it and find out what happens" that it's difficult for the citizens involved to walk away with much respect for the cops. Which is pretty crucial, given that when the impartiality of the enforcers of the law becomes obviously questionable respect for the law itself comes into question as well.

So much for Officer Friendly.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Spit Spot

By purest happenstance the Bride and I watched Saving Mister Banks last night.
To get the film itself upfront let me say that we both enjoyed it and Tom Hanks' and Emma Thompson's work as the two central characters Walt Disney and P.L. Travers despite the reality that both portrayals were, shall we say, less than full realizations of the actual people portrayed.

And that the story itself played more than a little loose with the truth. We weren't watching it as a documentary but as an entertainment and as an entertainment it succeeded.

But I'm not here to review the film. For one thing, I certainly couldn't do better on the subject than Lance Mannion already has, so if you're interested in more about the film, the actors, and the Disney-Travers imbroglio itself let me direct you to his two posts on the subject, here, and here.

For another, what I wanted to talk about is what the film made me think about the peculiar relationship between books and films - specifically children's books and children's films - and the relationship between them both and the adults whose children encounter them.

I've talked about my general approach to cinematic adaptations of beloved books when discussing the ongoing Peter Jackson adaptation of The Hobbit. I'm just not a purist about the whole business of "book versus film". Perhaps it has something to do with having tried to write both "literary" stories, plays, and screenplays. They're very different, and the sorts of things that work well on the printed page often fail disastrously on a stage or a screen. Perhaps its just that there are very few books I'm "passionate" about to the point of being seriously arsed if someone changes bits and pieces of them to make a flick out of them.

Whatever the reason I just don't have much trouble with a screenwriter, or director, or playwright, making changes - even big changes - in a book or story to adapt it for the screen or stage.

But I do look at the results this way.

Making those changes make the resulting play, or film, a different work, and sometimes a very different work.

So the film version of The Hobbit isn't "The Hobbit", a story written by J.R.R. Tolkien. It's a film by Peter Jackson that contains many likenesses and ideas from the Tolkien story, but it's not the same story. It's "based" on the story. It may have a few, or many, critical differences. You can be pleased, or disappointed, by characters or scenes or dialogue or storylines added or dropped (get me going some time on the whole Disappearing-Faramir-Eowyn-Romance business from the Jackson Return of the King segment of his Lord of the Rings cycle) and your love or loathing for the film adaptation may well be affected by that pleasure or disappointment.

But it seems foolish to me for the reader or viewer to be incensed by the changes existing. It's a film, it's not the book. It's going to be different. You can like or loathe the sort of changes, but not that there ARE differences. Difference is as certain to follow a film adaptation of a book as the night the day and railing at them is cursing the darkness - and the candle for not being the sun - instead of appreciating the candle for what it is.


That said, I can understand an author being arsed enough to forbid giving permission for her or his work to be adapted for the screen, in that there WILL be those changes. The author has only two choices after selling the rights; to be in charge of overseeing those changes (as, for instance, J.K. Rowling is said to have been with the Harry Potter series), or to be so un-wedded to their work as to be unconcerned how it is changed and how it affects their written work.

Because there's a very great danger that the film version, being louder and brighter and more kinetic than the written version, will become the work itself, the commentary will become the canon, and copy will eclipse the original in the minds and hearts of the viewers.

That happened to my own spawn with the film version of Cressida Cowell's How To Train Your Dragon.

They luuuurvvvved the movie. Loved it, loved it, loved it. They watched the much-lesser television series with drooling enchantment and dragged me off to see the second installment of the film at the movie house; fortunately I enjoyed both films well enough to find them tolerable and in places genuinely enjoyable. But something in me prickled at the thought of leaving the porch-monkeys there.

Being a bookish sort of daddy I thought that we should go to the well, so I picked up a copy of one of Cowell's "Dragon" books (it was the fourth in the series, How To Cheat A Dragon's Curse, if I recall correctly) and announced that this was the next in the "Bedtime Story" series.
[Let me insert here that the Small One loves to be read to at bedtime. She reads well enough one her own and could read the sort of young adult/middle reader/"chapter books" we choose. It's not the stories, it's the act of reading; the selection of the book, the cuddling together on the grownups' bed, the reminder of where we left off the evening before...and then the performance art of reading the story, with Daddy acting out the voices of the characters and Little Missy asking all sorts of pointless questions that Daddy will invariably answer with the caustic reply "Why don't we read the story and find out?" applied over the rim of his reading glasses. It's a sort of performance art, and Missy loves it well beyond the value of the stories themselves, and I have to admit I enjoy it, too.]
The result?

"Ewww! I hate this book!" "Its sooooo boring!" "I hate that Toothless!" (this was The Boy, who never really got past the fact that in the book his beloved film version giant-black-cat-like dragon was a petulent little serpent about the size of a fox terrier)

We never got past page fifty or so; the kiddos just flat-out refused. For them the film version was the "real" story, the canon; the genuine, original story was for them a sort of poor reworking of what they'd seen on the screen.

Whatever Cressida Cowell got from selling the rights to her story, what she didn't get was the affection of my kids for it but the complete opposite; they now consider her work an inferior version of the film.

After seeing Saving Mister Banks the first thing I did was go to the computer and reserve a copy of Mary Poppins, She Wrote, Valerie Larson's biography of Travers...and the original Mary Poppins.

Because, you see, I've never read the book.

The only "Mary Poppins" I know is Julie Andrews, singing and dancing cheerfully through the primary-colored Disney version of the story. Mannion has read the Travers book and loathes it, but I'm not sure whether my taste will run with his. But now I'm curious to find out what Travers was protecting.

Because she was protecting it, and not from her fantastic fears or her daddy-issues, but from what it has become since 1964; a piece of incunabula, something more spoken of than read, the lost source of what became the great river of Disney-Poppins merchandising. From the coating of sentimentality that the Magic Kingdom lays over everything like sweet venom. From Julie Andrews sunnily playing the character Travers wrote like this:

"What did I say?" said Mary Poppins in that cold, clear voice that was always a Warning.

That isn't - as Hanks' Disney claims in the film - "letting the story finish itself". That's a whole different person in a whole 'nother story. And I suspect that Travers knew, complex soul that she was, that now that she'd sold her soul for 5% of the gross that she was going to have a very, very difficult time living with that.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Bad Samurai

Came across this little snipbit while researching the Bun'ei 11 post from last month and it was too good not to share with you. It's from Thomas Conlan's In Little Need of Divine Intervention; his 2001 study of the Mongol Invasion Scrolls of Takezaki Suenaga.
Keep this in mind; this is Suenaga's own story, most likely as told by him to his artist(s)/calligraphers, and intended to win him recognition from the bakufu. This is our Boy from Higo trying to make himself look good in front of the boss. Got it? So, here's Suenaga in 1281, having finally weaseled his way onto an assault boat and gotten some Mongol, reporting to his superior, Gota no Goro Totoshi (who is described by Takezaki as having been "despatched from the Kanto", meaning that he was the shikken's direct appointment as commander of forces in Hakata in 1281):
"At dawn on the sixth, I arrived at Gota Goro's temporary lodging and explained in detail what had happened in battle.

"I knew this is what you would say," he said. "You haven't changed from (the) previous battles. Without your own boat, you repeatedly lied in order to join the fighting. You are really the baddest man around! I will notify our commanders about you. I also heard that Shikibu no bo will stand for you as a witness. If there are any further questions, have them contact me." And so Gota Goro also volunteered to stand as a witness for me."
Stand as a witness? Stand as a witness to you being the biggest damn fuckstick in Kyushu sounds more like, Takezaki.

Keep in mind that the Japanese are among the most circumspect people and written Japanese the most euphemistic language in the known world. Gota Goro calling our boy Takezaki the "baddest man around" translates into modern American English as "Jesus Fucking Kami, what a ginormous goddamn fucking asshole you are, Suenaga!" But this is the Higo Hellraiser's idea of "standing witness" for him; he deliberately included this story in the most polished resume' he could think of as a way of claiming a reward.

Did this guy Takezaki have some big brass ones, or what?

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Out of the mouths

My kid used the word "worshed" the other day and I realized that I have several peculiar verbal tics. That's one of them.

For the English word to describe what you do with dirty clothes I say "Did you put your socks in the worsh?"

I don't know why I do this. I don't call folding money "corsh" or a mixture of meat and potatoes "horsh". It's just how I pronounce the word wash, and I don't remember why the hell I do it.

Now that I have had to actually think about it I'm embarassed by it and have consciously tried to amend my speech to the correct pronunciation, "wash".

Now that I think of it, I realize that I've picked up a couple of these odd verbal tics.

I use the word "arsed" in the sense of "worked up over" or "bothered to"; "It isn't something I got arsed enough about to get done...". This is a Britishism, and I suspect I picked it up from listening/reading about English soccer.

When I'm exasperated about something I will often say "Jesus wept!" as a way of saying "What a ridiculous fuck-up!" I do know wherte I got this; from reading that the two words are the shortest verse in the Bible. I liked that, and somehow it found its way into my speech.

If someone tells me something obvious, or something that I have already agreed to, I will often reply "There you go." (or if in rough company "There you fucking go."). This was my old drill sergeant SSG Layne's reaction to anything he agreed with (spoken, by the way, in his very distinctive Caribbean accent with the accent on the first word: "Dere you fokkin' go!") and it has stuck with me.

When I was little we had a cat named "Possum", and ever since all cats (when speaking to the cat) are "possum", as in "Who's da sweet fluffly li'l possum?" (said in babytalk voice while rubbing cat's chin).
The cats don't seem to care one way or the other but, then, cats should all be named whatever the sound of a can of cat food opening sounds like.

So. Those are my verbal tics, oddities, and peculiarities. I have no idea why this suddenly occurred to me, but there it is. Embarrassing, perhaps, but better than running around a comic convention in nekomimi ears, so there's that.

Do you have any of these odd little verbal tics, and, if so, what are they?