The Town Scryer is a mixed bag of humor, socio-political observations and ephemera from the perspective of a eclectic Pagan veteran of the counter-culture.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Just Because They Are Pleasing To The Eye

Royal Cthulhu Chapeau

                              Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!*
                             * On the head of Princess Beatrice dead Cthulhu waits dreaming

Princess Beatrice's apparent gambit, to wear a chapeau representing "a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind" really paid off.
Before Wills and Kate had even shared their reluctant micro-kiss, Beatrice's Cthulhu hat already had acquired its own Facebook page with more than 5,000 fans. By 8 p.m. ET, it was closing in on 44,000 devotees.
This is no great surprise, considering the cosmic entity Cthulhu, originally depicted in H.P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu," is worshiped by a worldwide doomsday cult.
Stolen from:
because I couldn't improve perfection.

Be seeing you

Myth: By Popular Demand

    Like most Americans I was raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which is to say I was taught to revere a rather stern, vengeful patriarch who, if you were not very careful indeed, would get to smiting in pretty short order. This was hard for me, since I was raised by a Lutheran minister who was kindly and gentle and not much into smiting. As I got older I began to ask the big questions. As the kindly minister, my grandfather, had passed beyond the veil by then, I was left to search for my own answers.

    Somewhere along the line I discovered Joseph Campbell. I learned a great deal from watching several series of his lectures on Public Television. If you haven't met him let me introduce you.

     Mr. Campbell too alas, has passed beyond the veil. Fortunately much of the body of his work has been recorded on one media or another and a foundation has been formed, as you may have noticed, to preserve and disseminate it and to encourage the flow of ideas on the subject of Myths and comparative religion. This strikes me as a worthy endeavor. You may learn more of them at the link.

    If the universe has to be run by a patriarch, (I always preferred a mother figure. More nurturing and protecting implied), I rather hope He is a bit like Mr. Campbell. I cannot imagine him doing much smiting. Here's one of my favorite short segments from his lectures. There's no video alas, but give it a listen.

     Be seeing you.


Above is the propeller-driven Scheinenzeppelin  built in Germany before the Nazis came to power. It reached a speed of 140 MPH in 1931!


Conceived and built in 1930 by the German rail company Deutsche Reichsbahn, the Schienenzeppelinwas a design alternative to the streamlined steam locomotives of its day. It was a slick and relatively lightweight at 20 tons, running on but two axles and powered by a 46-liter BMW V-12.

Concerns with propeller safety kept it from reaching full production.

For more see:

Against Stupidity, The Gods Themselves Contend in Vain

Techdirt posted an article about the TSA: We've Trained The TSA To Search For Liquid Instead Of Bombs.
It's just another security theater example. But somebody posted a comment that might be the best example of TSA absurdity yet:
As a federal agent, I'm authorized to fly armed, so on one trip, I was clearing through security, the airport cop had checked my ID and paperwork and approved me to pass through the checkpoint, but the TSA guy stopped me and said he needed to inspect my carry-on.
I asked why, seeing as how I'd already identified myself as carrying a loaded handgun, what could possibly be in my carry on that would make me a threat, and out of hundreds of flights, I've never had to be inspected before.
He claimed it was just procedure. (If that's true, it's a procedure that has never been followed before, to my knowledge.) But not wanting to create a hassle for myself, I said fine and let him look through it.
              Well, he came up with my Leatherman knife (basically a fancy Swiss Army knife) and said that I                         couldn't bring it on the plane because knives are prohibited items.
I looked at him like he was insane and said, "Let me get this straight, you're letting me carry a loaded handgun onto the plane, but not a pocket knife? In what conceivable world does that make sense?"
He responded that per FAA rules, I was authorized as a federal agent to carry the gun on board but the rules don't mention knives except as a general prohibition for everyone.
Not wanting to lose a $30 knife, I asked to see his supervisor, figuring this was some low-level zombie unable to exercise basic common sense. But no, the supervisor said the same thing!

Eclectic Powered Whimsey

Theater of Cruelty


 In the twenties the French surrealist playwright Antonin Artaud introduced the "Theater of Cruelty". Cruelty referred not to sadism, but to a violent stripping away of illusions. 

    Now the Army wants to stage readings of Sophocles  Ajax and Philoctetes for the troops at Gitmo. 

     Called “Theater of War,” the program takes the martial themes of the plays and treats them like “ritual reintegration for combat veterans by combat veterans.” Panel discussions with veterans typically follow the readings, “to increase awareness of post-deployment psychological health issues, disseminate information regarding available resources, and foster greater family and troop resilience.”

     No word yet as to whether the prisoners will be forced to work as extras.


     Be seeing you.

     Danger Room

Facebook: Now With Stalker Software!

...Well, not quite yet, but very soon.

From PC World:

In early April, Engadget posted a short article confirming a rumor that Facebook would be using facial recognition to suggest the names of friends who appeared in newly uploaded photos. You’d be allowed to opt out of tagging, and only friends would be able to tag each other in albums. Nevertheless, a commenter beneath the story quipped, “Awesome! Now I can take pictures of cute girls at the grocery store or at the park, upload them and Facebook will tell me who they are! (I’m pretty sure that’s not [how] it works but I’m sure it will get there.)”

As it stands, Facebook’s current feature uses facial recognition technology to pick out faces in your photos. Once you’ve uploaded your album, Facebook will take you to a new screen where you can enter the name of each person below their face. Sometimes (depending on your privacy setting), Facebook will go a step further: If a face matches one you previously tagged in another album, Facebook may suggest that person’s name for you. Facebook quietly added the feature to the Privacy Settings, allowing users to disable the peppy-sounding ‘Suggest photos of me to friends’ option. Most Facebook users probably don’t know that the extra privacy setting is there.

Facebook and all to many other major companies have a history of introducing a new feature without telling you, and claiming it was OK because you have an "opt-out" option. It isn't an option if you don't know it is there.

Be seeing you.

PC World

The FDA Raids the Amish in Raw Milk Sting

A yearlong sting operation, including aliases, a 5 a.m. surprise inspection and surreptitious purchases from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania, culminated in the federal government announcing this week that it has gone to court to stop Rainbow Acres Farm from selling its contraband to willing customers in the Washington area.
The product in question: unpasteurized milk.

“It is the FDA’s position that raw milk should never be consumed,” said Tamara N. Ward, spokeswoman for the FDA, whose investigators have been looking into Rainbow Acres for months, and who finally last week filed a 10-page complaint in federal court in Pennsylvania seeking an order to stop the farm from shipping across state lines any more raw milk or dairy products made from it.

While it is the position of the FDA that there are no benefits from raw, (unpasturized) milk that cannot be obtained from commercial milk, advocates point out that there are helpful bacteria and enzymes that are destroyed by heating. 

For the full story see the link:

Friday, April 29, 2011

Just Because I Like It

Makpal Abdrazakova, the the only female eagle hunter (berkutchi) in Kazakhstan.
“I love eagles since my childhood. And I have started taking care of them when I was 15. First I tried to feed them and was putting traps to catch ground squirrels, to give eagles fresh meat. When I was 15 my father and I went to an eagle-hunting contest in the town of Yesyk. There the elders have allowed me to take part in the competition as well. They have agreed because they remembered that long time ago there few women who hunted with eagles and dogs. Since then I regularly take part in competitions,” said Makpal.

Her father Murat, was her first teacher of eagle hunting. He thinks Makpal was born to become berkutchi. “Not everyone can hold an eagle, it is very difficult. Once when Makpal and I were in Astana, one girl wanted to be photographed holding an eagle. But she couldn’t hold it until her father came to help and they were holding it together. But Makpal could hold an eagle from the first time, without any help, very easily. Everyone was amazed with her,” said Murat.

The Vertical Man

     A friend of mine is currently fighting cancer. There is nothing quite like the visitation of cellular anarchy upon a friend or relation to initiate a mood of melancholy contemplation. Such has been happening all too often of late. I understand that losing friends and family is to be expected once one has entered into middle-age, but still, one begins to wonder and entertain strange, dark notions. Perhaps they are only projections born of the fear of being faced yet again with the truth of one's own mortality, but in the small hours of the night I wonder.

     A few months ago I saw a small item in the news to the effect that the average lifespan of the American male had actually dropped by a month or so in the latest set of actuarial tables or whatever it is they derive such things from. The article was quick to postulate several causes after noting first that the change was within the margin of statistical deviation. It was probably simply a side effect of the recession as fewer people were able to afford quite as much health care, combined with more people making "quality of life" choices over an extra month or two of pain. 

     Perhaps this is true, but lately I have begun to wonder if at long last the sheer overwhelming mass of crap dumped into our air, and our water, and the shoddy substitute that passes for food that we settle for out of expediency or habit has passed the ability of our medical technology to sustain us. 

     Yes, I am aware that smoking causes lung cancer, but since nearly all metastatic cancer eventually spreads to the lungs before it kills, how much of the work of industrial pollution and allegedly edible food additives is being written off to smoking?

    Is this the thin end of the wedge? All I know for certain is that ten years ago I could see the Sierra Nevada Mountains from my window all year long, except for a few weeks in July and August when the inversion layer set up...and of course when it was overcast. Now I can only see them for a few days after it rains.

     Maybe it is time we made another sort of "quality of life" decision, not about what should be done to keep us alive when we are gravely ill, but how much we are willing to allow our bodies to be poisoned for the sake  of expediency and ready access to cheap toys.

     Think upon it for a few moments if you will. While you are thinking consider this also: Take a moment to tell a friend or a loved one all of the kind things that we wait too damn long to say. The reason for half the tears shed at a funeral are words left unsaid too long. Trust me on this one. It will make both of you happier once you get past that awkward reluctant moment. 

     We must honor while we can
     The vertical man
     Though we value none
     But the horizontal one.

     W.H. Auden

     Be seeing you.

Son of Ephemera

Chesham's new town crier is believed to be the first person with a learning disability to be elected to the position.

William Ellis, 32, who has Down's syndrome, was officially proclaimed to the public on 27 April 2011. His first official duty will be at the town's royal wedding celebrations later today.

He was introduced to the public by Anthony Church, Town Crier of Banbury, who made a formal proclamation of William's appointment on the steps of the United Reformed Church in The Broadway.
Mr Church is a fellow member of the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Town Criers and will be acting as William's mentor as he settles into this traditional role.

and Finally... "But Honey, I Can Explain!"

A farmer was left stunned when her flock of 37 white sheep gave birth to 60 lambs - that are all black. Sally Du Toit, 39, and husband Jacob, 29, helped deliver the first black lamb on April 2 this year at their smallholding near Royston, Herts. Since then their flock of 37 white ewes has given birth to a total of 60 black lambs, all sired by a one-year-old ram called Rowley. Incredibly, the South African Dorper ram also has a white fleece, leaving mother-of-one Mrs Du Toit baffled by the freak births.

In sheep, a white fleece is the result of a dominant gene that actively switches colour production off - that is why most sheep are white. This means a black fleece in most sheep is recessive, so if a white ram and a white ewe are each heterozygous (have the black and white forms of the gene for fleece colour), in about 25 per cent of cases they will produce a black lamb.

    Swiss researchers have evidence suggesting leprosy, or Hansen's Disease as it is now called, can be contracted by eating the flesh of infected armadillos. It has been known for some time that the armadillo is one of the few animals other than humans, who are susceptible to the disease, but no one was aware that it could be transmitted from one species to the other. 

The team of researchers, including a team from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, looked at 50 leprosy patients in the United States and 33 wild armadillos with the disease.
The findings are the first to confirm a long-suspected link between the disease in armadillos and humans, but are not a sign that a new epidemic is underway, researchers said.
Rather, the report published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the disease, most often found in India, can originate in the United States and infect humans who hunt armadillo and butcher the meat.

In the latest findings, the researchers were able to identify a never-before-seen armadillo genotype of the bacterium, Mycobacterium leprae – a new strain named – in 28 animals and 22 people who had not gone abroad and could not have contracted the disease elsewhere.
"It became clear that leprosy patients who never traveled outside the US but lived in areas where infected armadillos are prevalent were infected with the same strain as the armadillos," said the study.
The armadillo genotype of leprosy was found in human patients in the five Gulf Coast states – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.

Be seeing you

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Scream On

    The Wilhelm scream, is a film stock sound effect that has been in use since 1951. Its use has become an in-joke in film production at this point. Some assembled examples are at the clip and more information at the link.

Franz Kafka Comes to America


 Tanya McDowell, a homeless mother in Connecticut, is currently facing up to twenty years in prison and a $15,000 fine for "stealing" something that is given away for free. She is charging with using a friend's address on paperwork so that her five year-old son could go to a better school.

     "There has to be a penalty for stealing our services," school board president Jack Chiaramonte countered in The Daily Norwalk. (The school district did not press charges against McDowell, however. She is charged by the city.)

McDowell, who used to work in food services, told the Stamford Advocate she occasionally stayed in a Norwalk homeless shelter--but she didn't register there, which would have made her son eligible to attend the school. "I had no idea whatsoever that if you enroll your child in another school district, it becomes a crime," the 33-year-old told the paper.

More at the link:

A Few Words For Donald Trump and Ilk

      Barack Obama and mother. Hawaii, circa 1964.

     1964. That is the same year the Civil Rights Act passed. Before that the fiction of "Separate but equal" still prevailed in the American South-East. Blacks had to use separate drinking fountains and swimming pools and go to different schools than white children. Can you even begin to imagine what it was like for a Caucasian woman raising a mixed-race son alone in America any state? Can you imagine what it was like to grow up in that world as a mixed race child?

    I grew up in those years and I was proud of the progress my country made until all of you racist peckerwoods came along with your thinly disguised longing for "them knowing their place" dressed up as a bullshit demand to see another copy of the birth certificate of the President of your country.

   Now at long last, will you shut the fuck up?

   While he is a far cry from the President I hoped for, you make me ashamed to be an American.

   Be seeing you.

The Eye Of Sauron...Home Edition

Irony,n. See illustration.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"...and there before me was a black horse!"

"... Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!"

     The Revelation of St. John

 One of the side effects of corporate farming is a trend toward monocultures, the reliance on a single strain of plant for the overwhelming majority of the crop. This has come about over the years because one strain might be easier to harvest, or more pleasing to the eye, or taste sweeter than others. The disadvantage is that a pest that affects one farm can now ravage the fields of an entire nation. We are seeing two examples of this now. It is likely they will not be the last.

    "The Australian pistachio crop has been ravaged by an epidemic of anthracnose -
According to Nelson, the outbreak isn’t just a function of weather. It’s likely a result of monoculture crop practices, in which just one or a few varieties of a crop are planted.Australia’s pistachios are descended almost entirely from a single cultivar developed in the early 1980s; selected for the nuts’ flavor, aesthetically pleasing color and easy-splitting shells, the variety was an easy choice for farmers — but with that choice, the seeds of an epidemic may have been planted."

     An even worse situation exists with the banana. Not only are almost all commercially produced bananas of the same strain, but the banana does not produce seeds and is spread by humans manually splitting off shoots to make new plants, essentially cloning them. The bananas we eat today aren't the same variety I ate as a boy. That variety, the Gros Michel, was wiped out by Panama Disease in the late 50s. It was replaced by the Cavendish which is also threatened with annihilation now by a pesticide resistant form of that same disease.

     We can live without pistachios or even bananas, but how many varieties of corn are planted? How many of wheat? Agribusiness giants are pushing a reliance of patented genomes of GMOs. I suggest that putting all of our eggs in one genetic basket is a very bad idea.

     Be seeing you.

The Unfortunate Sex Life of the Banana



Stealing the King's Sword and Assorted Curiosities

"This famous image from the camera of Robert Lebeck is much anthologized as the ‘ African moment’. A gutsy young Congolese has jogged along the limousine of King Baudouin of Belgium and the Belgian Congo as then was. And, on the very eve of independence, 29 June 1960, he has reached gently down and lifted the King’s ceremonial sword and has begun to run with it.
Looking at the photograph fifty years on there is the suspicion that in part Lebeck’s shot became famous because of the sensitive features of the thief, the fact that he was in a suit and, of course, the entirely harmless nature of his protest."

    More at Strange History

The great American documentary photographer is hoping to find the subject of this photograph that he took in 1960 when he visits London to receive an award.
Girl Holding Kitten, posed somewhere in London in 1960, was taken when he was travelling around Britain in a Hillman Minx convertible. "She was with two friends and they were on their way to a concert which, as I remember it, took place on an island," Davidson, 77, said. "I hung around with them for a few hours. The girl with the kitten, the bedroll and the beautifully innocent, hopeful, mysterious face has stayed with me ever since."

Davidson is known for his closeness to his subject matter. He befriended a group of teenagers for his seminal book, Brooklyn Gang (1959), and spent three years living among the residents of East 110th Street in the late 1960s.
"I don't do detachment," he says. "I often start off a project as an outsider and become an insider."

The Guardian

     And now for something completely different:

Be seeing you.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Existential Star Wars

Takes me back to my Philosophy of Modern Literature class. I had to read three novels by Camus and a play by Beckett. It was futile to struggle against the despair.

Have to Love San Francisco

Proponents of an initiative banning the practice of circumcision in the city of San Francisco turned in over 12,000 signatures to the Department of Elections. Only 7,168 have to be from registered voters who live within the city for it to qualify for the ballot. They were wearing buttons bearing the slogan:


     Be seeing you.

Photo from The San Francisco Chronicle

Casting the Circle

  Thanks to thefightingtemeraire

Getting His Ducks In a Row

"We thought the way he was always lining up toys was just a quirky thing he liked to do... but later realized it was a very strong indicator that he had autism.
Note: Someone pointed out that he has the ducks positioned in a Fibonacci sequence here -- 1, 1, 2, 3"
Evidently there is something profound below the surface in autism? 

April is Autism Awareness Month.


Be seeing you.

The True Face of War

The above picture shows a child whose parents have just been killed after their car inadvertently approached an American patrol at dusk in a Northern Iraqi town in early 2005. The photographer was Chris  Hondros. He was killed April 20 while on assignment in Libya. More of his work at the link. This photo from TYWKIWDBI.

Thoughts on Capital Punishmant

   My definition of capital punishment has always been, "If you don't have the capital, you get the punishment."
                 Sam Howard, "A Letter From Death Row."

   The criminal justice system in America is seriously broken, and I've news for you; no matter what some actor playing a cop on TV says it isn't broken because the criminals have all the rights. If you are accused of a serious crime all of the resources of the police department and the District attorney's office are arrayed against you. If you are poor, and the vast majority of those tried for major crimes are, chances are you get one over-worked Public Defender and a clerk. Add to that the automatic presumption of guilt in the minds of a jury that is sufficiently ill-informed to pass voir dire, (I keep getting rejected because I admit I read the newspaper), and your odds of acquittal suck. Better have an alabi. The Governor would be nice.

      There was a case tried in Sacramento a few years ago, I was called for jury excused, where the prosecution's entire case against a mildly retarded teenage boy rested on tape recorded evidence obtained by an informant the prosecution admitted they paid approximately $250,000. 

     The jury convicted him.

     There was a case somewhere in the Deep South where a man was imprisoned for murder, even though the inside of the barrel of the shotgun supposedly used to commit the crime was rusted.

      Jurors have admitted they voted to convict "just in case". They would rather risk putting an innocent man in prison for life than let a guilty man go free. 

     It happens all the time.

     For me, I go the other way. One innocent man killed in my name is too many. If a killer does go free, the chances are slim that he will kill again. Murder has the lowest rate of recidivism of any major crime.

    A criminal justice major told me that one.

    Finally, after all of the logic and ethical arguments are trotted out, there is this: I remember watching the crowd assembled outside the walls of San Quentin before an execution on TV years ago. It was back when they still used the gas chamber in California. The camera panned across two different groups outside the gates. There was the candlelight vigil of the people opposed to the death penalty. They were mostly quiet with their signs. There may have been a Pete Seeger song being sung, but mostly I remember hushed solemnity and candlelit earnest faces.

    Then there was the other group. It was like a tailgate party cheering on the executioner. I remember one sign:

                  PLOP PLOP FIZZ FIZZ
              OH WHAT A RELIEF IT IS

    I am sure there were more than a few coolers full of beer in that crowd. 

    All other considerations aside, I am damn choosy about the company I keep. 

    Be seeing you.

Monday, April 25, 2011


                                or things might get ugly!

Jesus Wept

   The American Family Association, a Conservative Christian group, evidently believes that the best way to glorify Jesus is to fill your arteries with suet the week after the festival of the resurrection, which is ironically, a moveable feast.

     The so-called "buycott" is in response to an "attack by homosexual activists against the Christian-owned Chick-fil-A company," the group said. They were also pleased that the chain plays "Christian music" in their stores and closes on Sunday.

    Chick-fil-A's corporate purpose states that the business exists to "glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us" and "have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."

     According to an investigation by the progressive blog EqualityMatters, the restaurant chain's charitable division has provided more than $1.1 million to anti-LGBT organizations, including the Alliance Defense Fund and Family Research Council. Because of the fast food chain's donations, students at Indiana University South Bend have pushed to have Chick-fil-A products removed from their campus. In addition, LGBT groups have initiated boycottsagainst the fast food chain.

    The president of Chick-fil-A has insisted that the company is not anti-gay, but is merely operating a business according to Biblical principles and supporting healthy families.

               ("Healthy Families" support product pictured above)

       Be seeing you.

      Addendum: Because the ad service does not understand snark, but uses key words to choose ads,  the sidebar on this post features things like "Christian Bankruptcy Attorney" and "Christian Film Mission". To be clear, I have no quarrel with Christianity when practiced with compassion. 

Behold, The Lowly Armadillo

Armadillos are the only known vertebrate that gives birth to identical quadruplets. The leprosy vaccine was created through the study of armadillos as they are one of the very few species other than humans who can contract that disease.

The hard shell of then armadillo was once used to make the Andean lute. This may explain why the armadillo is extinct in the Peruvian Andes.

    "Another reason armadillos have problems multiplying and regenerating their species is due to the unusual reproductive system they have. Along with being polyembryonic, they have a delayed embryonic implantation, and even though it usually only takes about 60 to 120 days for an armadillo to be born, in some cases it may be 2 years before the embryos attach in the uterus. This is believed to be due to stress."

    Much more at: Environmental Graffitti

President Obama is Offered a Remedial Course in Constitutional Law by His Old Teacher

  More than 250 of America's most eminent legal scholars, including Lawrence Tribe, who taught President Barack Obama Constitutional Law, have signed a letter protesting the treatment of accused Wikileaks source, Bradley Manning by the United States Military justice system under conditions tantamount to torture.

    The letter follows in its entirety.


Private Manning’s Humiliation

APRIL 28, 2011

Bruce Ackerman and Yochai Benkler

Bradley Manning is the soldier charged with leaking US government documents to Wikileaks. He is currently detained under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral.
For nine months, Manning has been confined to his cell for twenty-three hours a day. During his one remaining hour, he can walk in circles in another room, with no other prisoners present. He is not allowed to doze off or relax during the day, but must answer the question “Are you OK?” verbally and in the affirmative every five minutes. At night, he is awakened to be asked again “Are you OK?” every time he turns his back to the cell door or covers his head with a blanket so that the guards cannot see his face. During the past week he was forced to sleep naked and stand naked for inspection in front of his cell, and for the indefinite future must remove his clothes and wear a “smock” under claims of risk to himself that he disputes.
The sum of the treatment that has been widely reported is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against punishment without trial. If continued, it may well amount to a violation of the criminal statute against torture, defined as, among other things, “the administration or application…of… procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.”
Private Manning has been designated as an appropriate subject for both Maximum Security and Prevention of Injury (POI) detention. But he asserts that his administrative reports consistently describe him as a well-behaved prisoner who does not fit the requirements for Maximum Security detention. The brig psychiatrist began recommending his removal from Prevention of Injury months ago. These claims have not been publicly contested. In an Orwellian twist, the spokesman for the brig commander refused to explain the forced nudity “because to discuss the details would be a violation of Manning’s privacy.”
The administration has provided no evidence that Manning’s treatment reflects a concern for his own safety or that of other inmates. Unless and until it does so, there is only one reasonable inference: this pattern of degrading treatment aims either to deter future whistleblowers, or to force Manning to implicate Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in a conspiracy, or both.
If Manning is guilty of a crime, let him be tried, convicted, and punished according to law. But his treatment must be consistent with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There is no excuse for his degrading and inhumane pretrial punishment. As the State Department’s P.J. Crowley put it recently, they are “counterproductive and stupid.” And yet Crowley has now been forced to resign for speaking the plain truth.
The Wikileaks disclosures have touched every corner of the world. Now the whole world watches America and observes what it does, not what it says.
President Obama was once a professor of constitutional law, and entered the national stage as an eloquent moral leader. The question now, however, is whether his conduct as commander in chief meets fundamental standards of decency. He should not merely assert that Manning’s confinement is “appropriate and meet[s] our basic standards,” as he did recently. He should require the Pentagon publicly to document the grounds for its extraordinary actions—and immediately end those that cannot withstand the light of day.
Bruce Ackerman
Yale Law School
New Haven, Connecticut
Yochai Benkler
Harvard Law School
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Additional Signers: Jack Balkin, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Alexander M. Capron, Norman Dorsen, Michael W. Doyle, Randall Kennedy, Mitchell Lasser, Sanford Levinson, David Luban, Frank I. Michelman, Robert B. Reich, Kermit Roosevelt, Kim Scheppele, Alec Stone Sweet, Laurence H. Tribe, and more than 250 others. A complete list of signers has been posted on the blog balkinization