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:: 6.26.2003 ::

Independent article on detention and torture

There's an important article on detention and the war on terror in today's Independent. It raises an issue that always was in the back of my mind when the Washington Post article came out on the CIA interrogations and torture of prisoners, but wasn't prominently raised:

What is perhaps most disturbing about all this is that the US officials who have leaked the information have not done so out of a need to expose something that they see as shameful. On the contrary, they have made it clear that they wanted the world to know what is going on because they feel it is justified.
No fewer than 10 serving US national- security officials - including several people who have been witnesses to the handling of prisoners - came forward to speak to The Washington Post, which has published the most graphic account of what is going on in Bagram, and in several other unnamed US interrogation centres across the world. "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, one told the paper, "you probably aren't doing your job". He and the others involved are, in effect, saying: we are doing these things because we have to, and we want the world to know.

:: Incadenza 12:00 PM [link] ::
:: 6.25.2003 ::
Tom Engelhardt on the Harry Potter phenomenon

Today's posting on TomDispatch is a good meditation on Harry Potter and the publishing business, something that I spent five years with when working in a bookstore. It was an independent, campus bookstore, a place uncomfortably situated between a local independent bookstore and a corporate-minded business. It's a good piece to read if you have any interest in the Wal-Martization of bookstores and other areas of culture:

In the almost thirty years I've been a book editor, I've watched the triaging of my world as small, independent publishing houses and then larger ones were engulfed one after another by giant entertainment conglomerates trying ever more desperately to scale those global heavens product in hand. The book is such a modest object (even if its goals -- to take you into another universe -- are immodest indeed), and because the effort that goes into breaking the code of any good book, of turning those squiggles of ink into worlds of being, is so intense, the book sits uncomfortably in today's entertainment package, where the codes are generally already broken for you. Because, Harry Potter and his ilk aside, publishing is not really a mass medium, publishing houses now exist more or less in the sub-basement of the entertainment conglomerate. They are mostly relegated to the Third World of our noisy culture and in the chain book palaces -- those "destinations" -- which now pass for bookstores, most books turn into wall paper. They fill the shelves and then, after a brief period, they disappear.

:: Incadenza 10:53 AM [link] ::
:: 6.24.2003 ::
Election day

I just voted in the moveon.org primary. At least I think I did--the confirmation screen didn't load, and I couldn't go back to my ballot. It took several attempts to successfully get my ballot to load also. High traffic? A good sign, but not so good if it prevents ballots from being counted.

I was pleased to see that there is a separate section from the main vote to select candidates that you would enthusiastically support, so they can get a sense what Democrats are out of touch with the MoveOn members. I have a feeling that they will be the same ones on most ballots, mine included.

I was disappointed that MoveOn didn't take the opportunity to make the primary an IRV election, to avoid multiple ballots in order for a candidate to get 50%.
:: Incadenza 9:28 AM [link] ::
:: 6.23.2003 ::
What's been angering me lately

That Union Pacific officials initially balked at paying for hotel rooms for the City of Commerce residents whose homes were destroyed in Friday's train derailment:

Residents, 150 of whom were unable to return to their homes, spent Friday night at local hotels. Many returned Saturday to survey the damage.

Commerce city officials took 54 residents shopping Friday night at a local Target and spent about $10,000 to replace clothingshoes and underwear that was either lost in the crash or inaccessible because of the tons of debris still being cleared.

Union Pacific officials "just sat there and looked at each other when we talked about the need to put these people up last night," said City Councilwoman Nancy Ramos on Saturday.

"After a while we got tired of it and said, 'We'll just do it ourselves.' Our city manager whipped out his own credit card."

Gil Torres, a litigation manager for Union Pacific, said the railroad has agreed to reimburse the city for expenses and pay to rebuild houses.

I'm not sure how widely this story was reported, but last Friday 31 rail cars rolled out of a switching station without a locomotive to stop them, and they were deliberately derailed by Union Pacific. The cars were switched to a different rail line and eventually crashed in a working class residential neighborhood. I'm not a religious person, but it was something close to a miracle that no one was killed by the cars or the thousands of tons of lumber that were spilled.

The article from the LA Times linked to above quotes UP workers and officials to the effect that once the cars rolled out of the yard (27 miles away and almost 800 feet uphill than the crash site in Commerce) there was no hope of catching them with a locomotive.

But that scenario was not the only possible outcome, and UP could have taken steps to lessen possible damage and loss of life. For example, UP failed to contact emergency personnel before the derailment, and alerted the city after the crash had already been shown on television.

Also, the cars could have been derailed in a less populated area:

[UP spokesman John Bromley] also would not comment on speculation by company employees that there was an opportunity to divert four miles earlier, on a track headed toward Santa Fe Springs. Two Union Pacific conductors, who would not give their names, said Friday the freight cars would probably have derailed there as well, but in an area far less populated.

The Times story on Saturday noted that there is a rail yard past the neighborhood where the cars could have been derailed:

Commerce Mayor Jesus M. Cervantez was critical of Union Pacific officials.

"I do not know why they did this," he said Friday evening. "If they had thought about this, less than a mile away there is a railroad yard where there are no residents and they would not risk anyone's life. If they decided to do this intentionally, they should have at least informed the city. I'm very, very upset and the whole City Council will be demanding a complete investigation."

Cervantez said he spoke briefly with Union Pacific representatives earlier in the day who told him only that they had had a problem while switching rail lines.

"I believed them at the beginning, but I do not believe them anymore," the mayor said. Depending on the outcome of an investigation, he said, "we will hold them responsible for their actions."
:: Incadenza 11:51 AM [link] ::
Back from hell

Actually, Bakersfield is not that bad. I spent the weekend in the dusty city for my friends' engagement party. It was actually nice to be in the sun, which was missing in SoCal for most of last week.

:: Incadenza 11:32 AM [link] ::

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