Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Betrayal

My last post was about how interesting I found ancient Roman history, particularly the period around the fall of the Republic. Little did I know then just how relevant that history was to my personal life.

One of the most intriguing series of events was around Julius Caesar. History has no consensus on Caesar - was he just a power hungry tyrant? Or was he a true patriot of Rome, taking the step he thought necessary to save Rome from herself?

We can never know the thoughts of the man, but we can judge him by his actions. The most striking to me was Caesar's leniency, his forgiveness of his enemies. As opposed to precendent, Caesar did not kill his (real or imagined) enemies.

In Caesar's lifetime, there was regular chaos of civil war. Both Marius and Sulla used their armies to kill their enemies in the streets of Rome. Most accounts of that time comment how the streets ran red with the killing of heretofore noble citizens of Rome, all because they made the hit list (proscriptions) of Sulla.

And after Caesar, the same - Marcus Antonius and Octavius Caesar issued their own proscriptions, and again citizens of Rome were killed outright, their properties taken, their families brutalized and killed, because they were a political enemy.

Gaius Julius Caesar, on the other hand, forgave those who took up arms against him. He did not confiscate their property. He did not strip them of their place in society, or even of their place in the Senate of Rome. He tried to work with them in passing new laws which even today clearly were to the betterment of Rome.

Caesar was no angel. He did use his armies to fight in the civil wars, and he did kill other Romans on the battle field. He did use his armies to intimidate the Senate and to keep the peace in Rome. But never to kill the citizens of Rome, in Rome, just because they were his political enemies.

And for this, be was betrayed yet again. Not politically, as civilized men would have it, but in blood, in his own death. By the very people he forgave and trusted again with the future of Rome. By cowards who wielded their knives not on the battlefield or even in direct confrontation, but on the very symbol of civilization and representative government, the Senate floor itself.

I gained a new empathy with Caesar today. I had a personal event occur in my life that was ironic in it's timing with my new found fascination with Caesar. It is the worst feeling imaginable to have those in whom you place your trust turn on you and stab you in the back.

While I cannot compare my feelings to those of Caesar, who was after all killed, I least he didn't have to live with the shame, humiliation, shock and betrayal for long before he died.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Rise And Fall

I've been watching the 1st and 2nd seasons of the HBO series Rome for the past week. I've always been interested in the history of the Roman Republic. It's fascinating, and has so many lessons that are directly applicable to the times in which we live.

(Side note: if history teachers would use historical fiction - books, miniseries - as a way to get people to engage in learning history, I think students would be much more interested, and learn more. Sure, they might have trouble at times sorting out fact from fiction. But which is worse - learning a few unverifiable fictions in addition to the documented facts, or knowing no history at all?)

The time of the fall of the Roman Republic is filled with drama enough to engage any vidiot. Sex, War, Political Intrigue - Caesar, Cicero, Cleopatra. How a civilization can go from a vibrant, creative global economy to feudal peasants rooting for food in the mud of the dark ages. How a representational democratic republic can rapidly turn into a authoritarian military empire - this is the stuff on which civilizations are made and broken. Literally.

So many lessons. So many lives swinging on the honor (or is it vanity?) of men. How the guys with the guns will always rule at the end of the day.

So many ideas to blog about. So few people who would care to read them :-)

So I guess I won't. But if any of you are interested in seeing that there's nothing new under the sun, and how fragile our peace and democracy can or buy HBO's "Rome." (Or better yet, read some accessible historical fiction, like Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series).

My Cold, Dead Privacy

If only the gun nuts felt as strongly about the 4th amendment as they do about the 2nd...

Court rules US air travelers can't refuse security searches at airports
Citing threats of terrorism, the court ruled passengers give up all rights to be free of warrantless searches once a "passenger places hand luggage on a conveyor belt for inspection" or "passes though a magnetometer."
This made me wonder how many other ways I could be subjected to warrantless searches.

A quick primer here was interesting. Bottom line - if an authority has "probable cause" (which can be just about anything - including a completely subjective "I thought they were drunk," or "I thought they looked like that suspect we were looking for."), then they can search you and your immediate "area of control."

The current US Administration doesn't even believe they need probably cause. (Of course, they don't believe they need to be accountable to the other two branches of government, either, so I guess that's not a big surprise. But to be fair, apparently all Presidents believe they are not subject to 4th amendment restrictions.)

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Just Say No To Dissent

More parallels between China's government and the US government - neither one likes speech which runs counter to the official propoganda.

(The main difference is that we still have an independent judiciary.)

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Help! Police! (2)

I was just catching up on a friends blog, when I caught a post that floored me.

This video is from Fox News in LA.

Watch it.

Then tell me why this didn't make national news. Tell me that the trends toward abuse of power are on the rise in the U.S. Tell me that the suppression of dissenting speech isn't getting disturbing.

(And to my friends of the conservative persuasion - you can't ascribe this to liberal media bias - it comes from your own Fox News...)

Postscript: Thank god for "activist" judges...the fascists may be on the rise, but our courts can hopefully stem the tide...

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dreams of Torture

"Wake up Kalid."

I heard my name from a great distance. I tried to move, but could not. I tried to open my eyes, and succeeded - somewhat. The light was painful, but I could make out a man with a beard and an umamah. Another prisoner?

"Keef halak, Kalid," I heard. How are you? I realized I was hearing my own language again. Another prisoner, to be sure. Do I know him? He seems to know me.

"Sho...," I try to say "Who are you?" but only a raspy croak emerges from my parched throat. "Sho Ismak?"

"Insh'allah," I hear. "You survived!" The face comes into view again, closer this time. He looks familiar.

"Kalid, listen to me. You were hurt in the escape. Your neck...can you move at all?"

Escape? No, I try to shake my head, but feel nothing. "Nothing..." I try to say.

"Ok, lie still. We have to move you again, get to a safe place. Stay with me, brother!"

Brother...I fade again into unconsciousness.

Some time later I awake again. The light is dim, a little easier to see. I still can't move - not even my head. A rising sense of panic wells up within me, and the frustration that I cannot even flail my arms adds to the wave of fear that has taken hold of me. Am I paralyzed? Will I ever move again? What has happened to me?

I hear someone coming closer, and once again a familar visage crosses my field of view. Ahmed? My brother? It cannot be - he is far away, fighting the infidels in Afghanistan. When I was captured he was still living out of his safe refuge in the caves of Pakistan.

"Can you hear me?" he asked.


A broad smile took over his face. "God is truly great. Yes, brother, it is I. You are safe now."

Safe? How can this be? I am trapped in this land forsaken by God, undergoing interrogation day by day. A trick! This is another trick?

"It cannot be you," I say. I close my eyes to slits.

I don't feel him grab my shoulders, but the room shakes around me. "Kalid - it is me. I shall explain when you feel better. Now rest."

A trick...I sleep again.

When I awake nothing has changed. Still cannot move. Still the ceiling of the cave the only thing I can see. I shout "Where are you!" but my voice is still muffled in my ears. Weak. I shout again. And again. Eventually I hear someone coming, but they don't come to where I can see them. "Who is there?"

"I am Abdul. Can I get you something?"

"Water, please." I feel the trickle of coolness on my lips, and I open my parched mouth to drink in what is give. "More..."

"I must go get your brother, he will want to know you are awake," I hear the man called Abdul say, and I hear him leave. Not long, I hear another approach.

"Kalid, I was told you were awake. How are you feeling?" It was the voice of the man who claimed to be Ahmed.

"I cannot move. What have you done to me?" I asked.

"Brother, brother...I am so sorry. We were betrayed, and you were hurt. I am trying to get a doctor, a real doctor to come and look at you, but it is difficult."

"Betrayed? Explain."

I saw the face of Ahmed again briefly as he leaned over me, then settled somewhere on my side, perhaps sitting. "You were released as part of a trade. We had some of their soldiers, one of them the son of one of their politicians. We worked out a deal."

Then his voice bitter, he said, "But those spawn of Satan tried to trick us! As you were coming across, they shot you - in the back, Kalid! In the back! Cowardly dogs!" He stopped, breathing hard. "But we knew their perfidy, we were ready. Our men came out of hiding, and we managed to get you out."

A long pause. I felt the slightest of pressure on my hand. A feeling! "Kalid. Da'ud was killed in the escape."

Da'ud. My friend from the time of our childhood. Captured the same time as me, I saw him only once more at the prison. Even beaten and abused, his smile when he saw me managed to sustain me for weeks.

"I don't remember any of this," I said.

"What do you remember?" asked Ahmed.

"I remember being captured. I remember being tortured - the dogs, the drowning, the beatings where no one could see."

"Kalid. I am so sorry, my brother." A long pause. "Kalid?"


"We must know - what did you tell them?"

Was this truly Ahmed? "Ahmed, when we were children, our mother...what was the last thing she told us before she died?"

"Our mother is dead?! This cannot be - I saw her only days ago! Kalid, why do you say this? What do you know?"

I relaxed. The Americans could not know this - our mother had been in hiding for almost as long as we had.

"Ahmed." I sobbed. The weeks of torture, fear, loneliness came flooding over me. "Am I really free?"

Once again the slight pressure on my hand. "Yes, Kalid. You are safe. You are back with us, thanks be to God." He leaned over me, and I could see him once again. "Now please, Kalid - it is important. We must know what operations to shut down, who to move. What did they get out of you? Do not be ashamed - many of our brothers break down. But we must know - lives depend on it."

I sighed. "I told them next to nothing, Ahmed. Only operations long over, brothers long ago captured, cells we already know were blown."

Ahmed smiled. "That is wonderful, brother. I want to catch you up. What do you remember about The Fist of God?"

The Fist of God. In the works for two years, it would bring a crushing blow down upon our foes.

"I remember the planning. I remember the date. I remember dreaming of the day."

"We've had to make some changes, Kalid. We've had to change the date as well. What was the last you remember?"

"It is no longer to be on the anniversary of our first strike? But that was when their politicians were supposed to be in full session! The President is only speaking there that one day."

A pause. "Somehow they got wind of the date, Kalid. We've had to find a new date. We may not be able to get their President. And we may need a new volunteer to carry out the final phase."

"What happened to Ali?"

"We think he may be compromised," said Ahmed.

"Ali? Never! I don't believe it! His cover as a page was perfect!" I remembered their conservative senator, so proper in public, so soft with his pretty boy Ali - our pretty boy Ali - in private.

"Perhaps, brother. But it has been difficult to get close to him since you were captured."

"Why? That makes no sense! It was Da'ud that he trusted most." Da'ud. My Da'ud. My dead Da'ud.

Suddenly I felt so heavy, so tired. "I think I must sleep some more Ahmed. Let us talk more on this later please."

"Of course, Kalid, of course. Rest now." I drifted off once again.

I did not see or feel the men tear the helmet off my head, pull the straps from my limbs. I did not feel or see them as they moved me to a gurney and started to wheel me out of the room, the room that no longer sounded like a cave.

But in my dreams, my nightmare, I did hear them...

"That was a pretty close call with the Mother thing. How did you know she was still alive?"

"That was the easy part - didn't you ever listen to the tapes of his drug sessions? She was all he talked about for a while. Must have been quite a momma's boy."

A laugh. "Well, we have a lot to go on. We had nothing on that operation - now we may have enough to roll it up completely! I gotta hand it to you - I never thought that high-tech sci-fi crap would work for shit."

"Ye of little faith. Time to put away your water boarding and guard dogs, Billy. That's so medieval. And useless. You see how much more we get with a little twenty-first century tech."

"I do now. Who would have thought that those virtual reality video games had such a promising future in prisoner interrogation?"

"Me, for one. And what's even better, those Red Cross weenies can't even complain - nothing "cruel and unusual" in letting a prisoner play a little immersive video game, is there?"

Another laugh. "You're too much, man. Let's get this intel to ops pronto - and get this bozo back into his tank. I'm thinking it's maybe Da'ud's turn next. What do you think?"

"I'm thinking I have a new convert. Go get Da'ud, buddy - I'll run this stuff up to ops."

My nightmares...Allah, hast thou forsaken me? What have I done? Da'ud! Ahmed!

My nightmares...

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Help! Police!

I wouldn't recommend being a female in Houston. (Of course, I wouldn't recommend living in Houston at all, be you female, male, or of indeterminate gender...especially if you're of indeterminate gender, come to think of it...)

In this post from a fellow Austinite, we not only see an abuse of power (a cop promising not to arrest a woman if she'll give him head), but the implicit support of such abuse by the HPD Assistant Chief in charge of internal investigation, who wrote that "the encounter sprang from consent on both sides."

Your choice is sex or arrest - can they spell "duress" in Houston? Apparently not.

Consent my ass.

(Side note to Houston PD - the statement "consent my ass" does not imply that I am consenting for you to do anything with my ass...just so we're clear...)

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Erotica Anesthetica

Very interesting article by Naomi Wolf. The gist - that porn overexposure makes men yawn at "the real thing."
The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy”...Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete, and they know it.

I guess I haven't been browsing enough internet porn lately - I still view a lot of women as "porn worthy." Just old fashioned, I guess

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

And Then Depression Set In

There's not much I can write about depression that probably hasn't already been written. (Although that's probably true about most topics).

But I can't help but wonder - does a depressed outlook occur because bad things are happening? Or do bad things happen because of a depressed outlook?

While I don't think I go as far as to buy the whole "If you believe it, it will come" philosophy, it does seem that when I am upbeat about life, good things continue to happen. When I'm down, it seems that a string of bad events come one after another.

Is it just a matter of attitude? And can attitude affect reality? Or do I just shrug off the bad when I'm up, and dwell on it when I'm down?

I do think that it's true that if you want to ride on a boat, you need to stand by the river. Seek and ye shall find, and all that. So attitude can change reality, but not in a metaphysical sense. With a positive attitude you notice the opportunities, and have the energy to capitalize on them.

So now the question does one simply change an attitude?