Monday, October 30, 2006

Tea Viburnum - Monday garden blogging 2

Another image taken elsewhere that conveys very accurately the look of a plant growing in my garden. Some years the leaves of the tea viburnum (Viburnum setigerum) turn the smoky red seen here; in others -- I'm looking at you, 2005 -- they just blacken before falling. The reason for growing the shrub is its bright red fruits, which stay red and hang on long past leaf fall, deep into winter.

There are many native viburnums with similar-looking fruits, but birds eat them almost as soon as they color. By the time the leaves have fallen, those berries are long gone. Tea viburnum is native to China. Maybe Chinese birds eat the berries; here, I've watched mockingbirds try them and immediately spit them out, shaking their heads in disgust. Many shrubs' fruits need repeated freezes to make them palatable, which helps assure that some food is available for birds in the more desperate winter months. Nothing seems to render the tea viburnum's bright red raisins edible, though.

This quality allows the shrub to put on a show when there's no other color at all. A tea viburnum in mid-December, seen against an early dusting of snow, is the essence of the winter solstice.

Viburnums are almost all tough, resilient plants. V. setigerum is adaptable to sun or part shade. It's thrived in heavy clay here, but would probably be even happier in more well-drained soil, barring drought. The only work required is pruning for shape after the first couple of seasons; it tends to get leggy and send up gaunt, sucker-like shoots that should be cut off at the base. In its eleventh season, my tea viburnum seems nearly full grown at 7-8 feet tall. It's stopped sending up rangy shoots. The berry show is the best ever, almost enough to have me wishing for a grey day in December.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sorta like mowin your lawn 2

Dick Cheney proudly confirms in an interview with a right-wing radio host that the U.S. waterboards detainees, blandly denying in the same breath that we torture.

In the interview on Tuesday, Scott Hennen of WDAY Radio in Fargo, N.D., told Cheney that listeners had asked him to "let the vice president know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives. Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?"

"I do agree," Cheney replied, according to a transcript of the interview released Wednesday. "And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high-value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation. ... We need to be able to continue that."

"Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" asked Hennen.

"It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president `for torture.' We don't torture. ..." Cheney replied.
So, for glass-half-full adherents, the Pincus article blogged here previously can be viewed as playing a constructive role in setting the baseline that waterboarding is torture.

Sourpusses like me object to any such moving of the goalposts, and insist on maintaining the pre-September 2006 clarity that torture is torture. Sleep deprivation is torture, forced standing is torture, forced nudity is torture, dousing with cold water is torture, sustained loud music is torture, sexual humiliation is torture. Not "aggressive interrogation techniques that some human rights activists say border on torture". Torture. Crimes against humanity and war crimes, for which Dick Cheney will someday stand trial.

Laura Rozen is the journalist and blogger who's kept the sharpest eye on this issue as it plays out in Europe, where torture is still not remotely like mowin your lawn. In particular, she's highlighted two recent instances in which it's becoming clear that the Italian and German intelligence services have known all along that U.S. operatives were snatching people off the streets of their countries to be tortured.

Nicolo Pollari, the head of Italy's SISMI, may be forced out of his job and even charged for having knowingly allowed CIA operatives to kidnap an Egyptian imam in Milan in 2003. The current evidence that German intelligence officials knew is at a lower level, but it will eventually become undeniable.

We're way beyond that here. Advocacy of torture has become a get-out-the-vote tactic for the ruling party.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Virginia sweetspire - Inaugural garden blogging

Readers of A Lovely Promise complain, justly, about the irregular and infrequent posting here. And when a new post appears, more often than not it's about something grim. Say, what about that "gardening" that the subhead seems to promise?

So here's a resolution intended to brighten up the blog and guarantee a certain amount of posting each week: Monday garden blogging.

The plant in the image above looks exactly as it does in my garden, although the picture was not taken there. It's a selected variety of a native shrub, Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), called 'Henry's Garnet'. The leaves color in late September and stay on the plant through Thanksgiving, blazing especially brightly when backlit by the ever-lower sun. Sweetspire's natural habitat is moist stream banks. Even the wild, unselected forms turn brilliant colors in the fall. Another nursery selection I've grown is called 'Saturnalia', which lives up to its festive name when its leaves turn: each is a different shade of crimson, scarlet, orange, gold, or yellow.

Despite its natural preference for moist, acid soil, sweetspire seems to thrive in a sunny, unsheltered part of my garden in alkaline clay soil, where I provide no extra water except in drought conditions. Each spring I scratch in a little Holly-Tone (an organic fertilizer for acid-loving plants), mulch with chopped-up oak leaves, and that's it.

The long spires of white blooms in late May are pretty, but not as fragrant as advertised, and not reason enough to grow a plant with a somewhat rangy habit that takes up three or four feet in each direction. That reason is the month of November. When things are getting grey and bare all around it, sweetspire glows on. I hope not to need as much cheering-up this November as in others past, but if so, 'Henry's Garnet' can be counted on to help.


Accountability for atrocity: eyes averted

Here's a story from last week that sank like a stone, or, rather, like three stones placed in a sack and eased gently into the water:

U.S. service members will face military trials in three separate cases for the murders of Iraqi civilians, including the gang rape and murder of a teenage girl and the killing of her family in their home in Mahmudiya, the military said on Wednesday.

An Army general ordered the court-martial of four soldiers in the Mahmudiya case and said two of the four could face death if found guilty. One of the accused will testify against the others, according to his Washington attorney, David Sheldon.

Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Turner also ordered military trials for four other soldiers accused of murdering three Iraqi detainees during a raid on a suspected insurgent camp near Thar Thar Lake, southwest of Tikrit.

In the third case, three U.S. Marines will be tried on murder charges in the death of an Iraqi grandfather kidnapped from his house in Hamdania in the middle of the night, the U.S. Marine Corps said.

... The killing of 24 people in Haditha ... is still being investigated and no Marines have been charged.
Hardly a ripple. It appears that the news, which the Army and Marines put out by press relase on Wednesday, Oct. 18, made it into the print edition of only one national paper, the LA Times (apparently because of the Camp Pendleton connection to the Hamdaniyah case). The story also ran on NPR; there's no sign of it having been mentioned on any national television news.

Reuters and AP stories ran briefly on the web editions of many media outlets, and the AP story was picked up by local papers, mostly in areas near bases or the hometowns of the accused. Lacking NEXIS-LEXIS access, I can't be absolutely sure that the coverage was as skimpy as it seems, and welcome any information to the contrary. The news has also gone almost completely unblogged.

These decisions are the equivalent of indictments in the civilian legal system. Like their civilian counterparts, military prosecutors use severe charges as a tool to reach plea agreements, as noted in this rare bit of additional reporting from a Pennsylvania paper.

Update: 27 Oct midnight - First plea agreement not long in coming. Pfc. Joe Jodka will testify next month on the Hamdaniyah murder.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sorta like mowin your lawn

Today in the Washington Post, almost five years to the day since the front-page article there that introduced torture as a debatable subject, Walter Pincus appears to be working comfortably within the new norms: 'Waterboarding Historically Controversial'.

Remember back in the old days, when torture was controversial, period?

And back before that, in the quaint twentieth century -- when it wasn't even controversial, but was considered a settled, closed question, like slavery?

Good times, good times.

Update: 9:45 am 6 Oct - Thomas Nephew has persuaded me in comments that I was unfairly blaming the messenger.

Update: 6:00 pm 29 Apr 2014 - On the other hand, Pincus is a blame-able messenger: He has faithfully conveyed CIA thinking over a long career, and his torture talk piece came right after Bush signed the "gloves come off" Memorandum of Notification spotlighted by Marcy Wheeler). __ Find link for Pincus' article (in which David Cole took the bait and discussed torture, instead of refusing to address it as anything but the crime it is).