Monday, February 27, 2006

In the service of power

As U.S. destabilization of Iran continues to unfold, the New Yorker features an archived 'Letter from Iran' from December 1978 (via Laura Rozen).

The opening paragraphs were enough to confirm that I'd read it when it first appeared, and that I'll have to put it aside for now. Should I feel old, or young again? Lunchtime near Dupont Circle... a brisk walk past the usual dozens of young men in masks screaming about torture by SAVAK. Wince, sighing, try to put it out of mind long enough to eat. Open up the magazine... oh, look. Oh. The old master of the field of courtier reporting, Joseph Kraft, at pains to make clear that his interview with "our kind of Shah" is not that of a journalist but an advisor:

There had been demonstrations in many parts of the country, and strikes, but Teheran, apart from the university, seemed calm, and the Army was in thorough control. Moreover, the opposition was headed by the Moslem clergy, and they were clearly divided. Surely, I said, the factions could be played off against each other.
...I further noted that, while there was obvious unrest in the country, the Shah himself had lifted the lid by easing up on security and initiating reforms. Maybe all that was required was a slower pace and more publicity for the changes he had made.

Much more of the same if you'd like to recreate the atmosphere of official Washington back then. Excuse me; I need something to settle my stomach.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Fundamental values

Jane Mayer profiles Alberto Mora, the former Navy counsel who was a major actor in the military's internal struggle against torture and abuse of detainees. In taking the reader through each step in the bureaucratic battles, Mayer makes it clear beyond any doubt that torture was and is a policy of this administration.

The article is also an insightful portrait of Mora. Alberto and I were part of the same circle of friends in college, though we weren't close; among other things, we were poles apart in our politics. When his name surfaced in 2004 as an early critic of detainee torture, I was pleased and proud, and not a bit surprised. It must have been especially galling to the son of an anti-Castro emigre that Guantanamo, Cuba would be the the place where the highest officials of the United States would wilfully discard our most fundamental values.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

National Religious Coalition Against Torture

Formed at a conference a month ago, the organization fills a much-needed role by emphasizing the inadequacy of Congressional and administration response so far to revelations of U.S. torture. The NRCAT campaign promises to be an effective way of keeping the issue alive. It also offers that vital antidote to despair in the face of an issue as overwhelming and painful as torture: a concrete action that will make a difference. Sign the statement, make a contribution, and encourage others in your church and community to join you. As the statement asks,

What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed?


Friday, February 03, 2006


This morning I noticed that the innumerable husks under the American beech in the backyard have opened, releasing the triangular nuts inside. I gathered about a hundred, scattered them on a muddy spot in the field, trod them in, and "mulched" with bits of hay and manure. Conditions are as good as they'll ever be. After a week of freezing and thawing, today's balmy sun following a night of spring-like rain seems to be calling every plant to swell, sprout, and shoot.

The odds of a seedling beech appearing in the field this spring are low. If it should happen (oh, please let it happen!), the tree will take a decade to reach my height. And I might not live long enough to see it thicken into a massive, silvery sculpture like its parent, which dominates the view from my bedroom window.

But the way to begin is to start.