Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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Location: New York, United States

The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Doing bin Laden's job for him

I came up with the idea for the art before reading the column (click on title to read the whole thing), so I guess that Molly's mind and mine run in parallel courses.

Habeas Corpus, R.I.P. (1215 - 2006)
Posted on Sep 27, 2006

By Molly Ivins

AUSTIN, Texas—Oh dear. I’m sure he didn’t mean it. In Illinois’ Sixth Congressional District, long represented by Henry Hyde, Republican candidate Peter Roskam accused his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth [who lost both legs while serving in Iraq], of planning to “cut and run” on Iraq.


The legislative equivalent of that remark is the detainee bill now being passed by Congress. Beloveds, this is so much worse than even that pathetic deal reached last Thursday between the White House and Republican Sens. John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The White House has since reinserted a number of “technical fixes” that were the point of the putative “compromise.” It leaves the president with the power to decide who is an enemy combatant.

This bill is not a national security issue—this is about torturing helpless human beings without any proof they are our enemies. Perhaps this could be considered if we knew the administration would use the power with enormous care and thoughtfulness. But of the over 700 prisoners sent to Gitmo, only 10 have ever been formally charged with anything. Among other things, this bill is a CYA for torture of the innocent that has already taken place


The version of the detainee bill now in the Senate not only undoes much of the McCain-Warner-Graham work, but it is actually much worse than the administration’s first proposal.

The bill also expands the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant to cover anyone who has “has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” Quick, define “purposefully and materially.” One person has already been charged with aiding terrorists because he sold a satellite TV package that includes the Hezbollah network.

The bill simply removes a suspect’s right to challenge his detention in court. This is a rule of law that goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215. That pretty much leaves the barn door open.

As Vladimir Bukovsky, the Soviet dissident, wrote, an intelligence service free to torture soon “degenerates into a playground for sadists.” But not unbridled sadism—you will be relieved that the compromise took out the words permitting interrogation involving “severe pain” and substituted “serious pain,” which is defined as “bodily injury that involves extreme physical pain.”

In July 2003, George Bush said in a speech: “The United States is committed to worldwide elimination of torture, and we are leading this fight by example. Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes, whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit.”

Fellow citizens, this bill throws out legal and moral restraints as the president deems it necessary—these are fundamental principles of basic decency, as well as law.


To find out more about Molly Ivins and see works by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Friday, September 29, 2006

Give me liberty or...oh, never mind.

Hang your head in shame. Obviously Bill taught his fellow Democrats nothing on Sunday. From an editorial in the New York Times - not always one of my favorite news sources (I just can't seem to write anything myself these days - luckily others have been more than eloquent):
Here’s what happens when this irresponsible Congress railroads a profoundly important bill to serve the mindless politics of a midterm election: The Bush administration uses Republicans’ fear of losing their majority to push through ghastly ideas about antiterrorism that will make American troops less safe and do lasting damage to our 217-year-old nation of laws — while actually doing nothing to protect the nation from terrorists. Democrats betray their principles to avoid last-minute attack ads. Our democracy is the big loser.
We don’t blame the Democrats for being frightened. The Republicans have made it clear that they’ll use any opportunity to brand anyone who votes against this bill as a terrorist enabler. But Americans of the future won’t remember the pragmatic arguments for caving in to the administration.

They’ll know that in 2006, Congress passed a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy, our generation’s version of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Speaking of our early history, here are a couple of quotes from Benjamin Franklin:
"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."

At the close of the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked Franklin what type of government the was being formed. “A republic, if you can keep it,” replied Franklin.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A thing of beauty and a joy to behold

I haven’t liked the way he’s been buddying up with George H.W. and Rupert Murdoch over the last few years, but Bill Clinton’s smackdown of Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday shows that the Big Dog still has what it takes. Just imagine Dubya giving such a reasoned, point-by-point rebuttal to a challenge like this one if he’d had a week’s warning! About Chris Wallace’s smirk, though – after watching that and also the appearance he made to discuss how shocked! shocked! he was at Bill’s “going crazy” on him, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s actually a face that he made once and, as all our mothers warned us would happen, it froze that way.

Go, Bill! Democrats, this is what someone with a backbone looks like. Please (except for Russ Feingold and one or two others) watch over and over again, and take notes.

One more thought: We also heard two words from Bill that we have only heard from one other person in the government regarding 9/11 (Richard Clarke, whose book is now #19 at Amazon in the hardcover edition), and I can guarantee that we will never hear them from Dubya or any of his cronies: "I failed." Yes, sir, you did, but it wasn't for lack of trying, and you are a big enough man to admit it and to feel remorse for it. For that I respect you.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Our soldiers are risking - and giving - their lives - for THIS?

Excerpted (click on title for full story). And the former governor’s furious lobbying to insert the right to torture into U.S. law is an apt illustration of the caution to “choose your enemies carefully, because you will become like them.”

New terror that stalks Iraq's republic of fear
By Patrick Cockburn in Arbil
Published: 22 September 2006

The republic of fear is born again. The state of terror now gripping Iraq is as bad as it was under Saddam Hussein. Torture in the country may even be worse than it was during his rule, the United Nation's special investigator on torture said yesterday.
The brutal tortures committed in the prisons of the regime overthrown in 2003 are being emulated and surpassed in the detention centres of the present US- and British-backed Iraqi government. "Detainees' bodies show signs of beating using electric cables, wounds in different parts of their bodies including in the head and genitals, broken bones of legs and hands, electric and cigarette burns," the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq says in a new report.
Human rights groups say torture is practised in prisons run by the US as well as those run by the Interior and Defence ministries and the numerous Sunni and Shia militias.
The pervasive use of torture is only one aspect of the utter breakdown of government across Iraq outside the three Kurdish provinces in the north.
Iraq is in a state of primal anarchy. Paradoxically, the final collapse of security this summer is masked from the outside world because the country is too dangerous for journalists to report what is happening. Some 134 journalists, mostly Iraqi, have been killed since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The bi-monthly UN report on Iraq is almost the only neutral and objective survey of conditions in the country. The real number of civilians killed in Iraq is probably much higher because, outside Baghdad, deaths are not recorded.
Nobody in Iraq is safe. Buses and cars are stopped at checkpoints and Sunni or Shia are killed after a glance at their identity cards. Many people now carry two sets of identity papers, one Shia and one Sunni.
The Iraqi state and much of society have been criminalised. Gangs of gunmen are often described on state television as "wearing police uniforms" . One senior Iraqi minister laughed as he told The Independent: " Of course they wear police uniforms. They are real policemen."
It has long been a matter of amusement and disgust in Iraq that government ministers travel abroad to give press conferences claiming that the insurgency is on its last legs. One former minister said: "I know of ministers who have never been to their ministries but get their officials to bring documents to the Green Zone where they sign them."

Beyond the Green Zone, Iraq has descended into murderous anarchy. For several days this month, the main road between Baghdad and Basra was closed because two families were fighting over ownership of an oilfield.

Government ministries are either Shia or Sunni. In Baghdad this month, a television crew filming the morgue had to cower behind a wall because the Shia guards were fighting a gun battle with the Sunni guards of the Electricity Ministry near by.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I'm hopeless, I admit

I was so intimidated by the powerful 9/11 tribute/indictment delivered by Olbermann (as detailed in the last post) that I was silenced for a week. I tried to write something that came anywhere near it but gave up in despair, although as it turned out what I wrote was more personal than political. (Maybe I will finish it and post it later.) Since then I’ve been unpleasantly riveted by the campaign being waged by the former governor of Texas (how horrible that he should share that title with the late lamented Ann Richards) to legalize torture. It’s a little like a bad accident on the freeway – it’s sick, but you have to look.

The thing that I found most offensive was the press conference, where (if the photo I saw on the front of the NY Times was from that) he stood in front of a bunch of American flags and demanded the right to torture, or else he was going to essentially stop any interrogation of prisoners. That may not be what he was saying, but it sounded that way to me. There are plenty of ways to interrogate people without breaking the law, and if he even stops those because (WAAAAAAHH!) he can’t have his way, then he is responsible for anything that happens and should be impeached for a willful refusal to protect this country even in undoubtedly lawful ways.

The great Paul Krugman says it best:

So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?

To show that it can.

The central drive of the Bush administration — more fundamental than any particular policy — has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president’s power. Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it’s a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of U.S. policy, they’re asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary.

And many of our politicians are willing to go along. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is poised to vote in favor of the administration’s plan to, in effect, declare torture legal. Most Republican senators are equally willing to go along, although a few, to their credit, have stood with the Democrats in opposing the administration.

Mr. Bush would have us believe that the difference between him and those opposing him on this issue is that he’s willing to do what’s necessary to protect America, and they aren’t. But the record says otherwise.

The fact is that for all his talk of being a “war president,” Mr. Bush has been conspicuously unwilling to ask Americans to make sacrifices on behalf of the cause — even when, in the days after 9/11, the nation longed to be called to a higher purpose. His admirers looked at him and thought they saw Winston Churchill. But instead of offering us blood, toil, tears and sweat, he told us to go shopping and promised tax cuts.

Only now, five years after 9/11, has Mr. Bush finally found some things he wants us to sacrifice. And those things turn out to be our principles and our self-respect.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Keith Olbermann hits another one out of the ballpark

I was trying to come up with something meaningful to write on this fifth anniversary of 9/11, but while I may be able to within the next couple of days, I doubt that I will come up with anything better than this.

Some excerpts below (full transcript available at link):
Of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast — of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds… none of us could have predicted… this.

Five years later this space… is still empty.

Five years later there is no Memorial to the dead.

Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country’s wound is still open.

Five years… later this country’s mass grave is still unmarked.

Five years later… this is still… just a background for a photo-op.

It is beyond shameful.
Five years later, Mr. Bush… we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir — on these 16 empty acres, the terrorists… are clearly, still winning.

And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.
Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President — and those around him — did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused; as appeasers; as those who, in the Vice President’s words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."
A mini-series, created, influenced — possibly financed by — the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.
The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death… after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections… how dare you or those around you… ever "spin" 9/11.
When those who dissent are told time and time again — as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus — that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American…
When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"… look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:

Who has left this hole in the ground?

We have not forgotten, Mr. President.

You have.

May this country forgive you.

Thank you once again, Keith, for saying what needs to be said, and for saying it so eloquently. You are truly showing yourself to be the heir of the great Edward R. Murrow.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A trio of fiery patriots

Last week was kind of rough for me so I have to apologize for not posting much. I also would like to get back to my Torah commentary at least after Rosh Hashanah. We will then be studying the sixth aliyah.

In the meantime, I'd like to highlight a couple of great speeches (well, one commentary and a speech) that took place last week. The first was given by Ross C. ("Rocky") Anderson, mayor of Salt Lake City, at an anti-war rally on the same day (I believe) that Dear Leader was arriving for a visit. Talk about chutzpah! One particularly memorable quote (although the speech is worth reading in its entirety):

Blind faith in bad leaders is not patriotism.

A patriot does not tell people who are intensely concerned about their country to just sit down and be quiet; to refrain from speaking out in the name of politeness or for the sake of being a good host; to show slavish, blind obedience and deference to a dishonest, war-mongering, human-rights-violating president.

That is not a patriot. Rather, that person is a sycophant. That person is a member of a frightening culture of obedience – a culture where falling in line with authority is more important than choosing what is right, even if it is not easy, safe, or popular. And, I suspect, that person is afraid – afraid we are right, afraid of the truth (even to the point of denying it), afraid he or she has put in with an oppressive, inhumane, regime that does not respect the laws and traditions of our country, and that history will rank as the worst presidency our nation has ever had to endure.
The second was a response by Keith Olbermann to Rumsfeld's speech to the American Legion (also in Salt Lake City), comparing those of us who oppose the war in Iraq to Chamberlain and the "appeasers" of Hitler and calling us "morally and intellectually confused." (As Frank Rich points out in his column from this weekend, "Since Hitler was photographed warmly shaking Neville Chamberlain’s hand at Munich in 1938, the only image that comes close to matching it in epochal obsequiousness is the December 1983 photograph of Mr. Rumsfeld himself in Baghdad, warmly shaking the hand of Saddam Hussein in full fascist regalia.") A quote from Olbermann:

[Rumsfeld's speech] demands the deep analysis - and the sober contemplation - of every American. For it did not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence - indeed, the loyalty - of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land; Worse, still, it credits those same transient occupants - our employees - with a total omniscience; a total omniscience which neither common sense, nor this administration’s track record at home or abroad, suggests they deserve. Dissent and disagreement with government is the life’s blood of human freedom; And not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as "his" troops still fight, this very evening, in Iraq. It is also essential. Because just every once in awhile… it is right - and the power to which it speaks, is wrong.
From Iraq to Katrina, to flu vaccine shortages, to the entire "Fog of Fear" which continues to envelope this nation - he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies, have - inadvertently or intentionally - profited and benefited, both personally, and politically. And yet he can stand up in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emperor’s New Clothes.
Mr. Anderson, Mr. Olbermann, and Mr. Rich, we salute you!