Friday, June 03, 2005


A good fact-based comparison between the Soviet gulag system and the U.S. prison camps in Guantánamo here. A snippet:
Deaths as a Result of Poor Treatment:

Gulag: At least two to three million. Mass burials were often employed to keep death rates secret (camp commanders sometimes received permission to remove gold fillings before burial). In some particularly brutal periods, camp commanders simply executed thousands of prisoners. But deaths due to overwork were much more common. It is estimated that 25,000 gulag laborers died during the construction of the White Sea Canal in the early '30s. One convoy of "backward elements" destined for the Gulag in 1933 included about 6,000 prisoners; after three months, 4,000 were dead. "The survivors had lived because they ate the flesh of those who had died," according to an account cited by Applebaum.

Guantánamo: No reports of prisoner deaths.

Typical Treatment:

Gulag: For the most part, Gulag prisoners provided labor for the Soviet system. Treatment varied widely, but most prisoners lived in overcrowded barracks, and prisoners occasionally killed one another in an effort to find space to sleep. Deadly dysentery and typhus outbreaks were common. Prisoners often had inadequate clothing to protect themselves from the elements, and most camps lacked running water and heat.

Guantánamo: A recent Time magazine report found that "the best-behaved detainees are held in Camp 4, a medium-security, communal-living environment with as many as 10 beds in a room; prisoners can play soccer or volleyball outside up to nine hours a day, eat meals together and read Agatha Christie mysteries in Arabic. Less cooperative detainees typically live and eat in small, individual cells and get to exercise and shower only twice a week." Human Rights Watch and other watchdog groups have collected firsthand testimony from prisoners alleging abuses, including the use of dogs, extended solitary confinement, sexual humiliation, and "stress positions." An official investigation uncovered only minor abuses, and most detainee accusations have not been verified.
And the proper conclusion:
The detention center at Guantánamo is legally dubious and has been a public relations disaster for the United States. The treatment of certain prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan has been far worse. Amnesty's president Irene Kahn says that these practices are "undermining human rights in a dramatic way." Her outrage is valuable and essential. If only she could express it without employing obscene moral parallels.


According to the KCNA:
Korean children marked the International Children's Day with various sports and amusement games Wednesday. Every nursery and kindergarten were beautifully decorated with stringed miniature flags, balloons and flowers. They were animated with children, nurses, kindergarteners and mothers in holiday best.

I couldn't help but wonder if the "various sports and amusement games" included these ones (thanks to The Marmot for finding these photos)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


a site in which GW students explore a variety of urban legends and invented traditions, is now up and running. The folks at can't have all the fun!

Sunday, May 29, 2005


Saw the latest Star Wars flick with my wife and kids yesterday. A few thoughts and reactions (warning: possible spoilers).

1) The special effects, scenes, and sets were, as expected, exotic and exquisite. I want to go see the movie again on the big screen simply to enjoy the visual aspects of the film.

2) The dialogue was not quite as painful as the last two films. This does not mean that it was by any means well-written but it just wasn't quite as a bad as before (with the additional plus of having Jar-Jar nearly non-existent and completely silent).

3) The story was, for anyone who has followed the previous five films, predictable. Most of the Jedis get wiped out. The Emperor comes out of the closet to assert overt control over his new galactic empire. Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi go into hiding/exile waiting around for Luke and Leia to grow up. Etc. Etc. None of this is surprising. The hard-core fans watched as much to see how Lucas would handle impending continuity problems as for any real plot development.

4) Anakin's motivations for turning to the dark side were not terribly convincing. More compelling and believable (to me) would be the simple lust for power and the slightly more subtle and complex desire for absolute power in order to impose order on chaos (and ignoring the dictum that absolute power corrupts absolutely). But trusting in a Sith Lord's empty promise of immortality seemed rather stupid and terribly tragic.

5) Just like Arwen in The Return of the King, the once powerful and dynamic Amadala/Padme is reduced to a whining weakling who has no control over her own life, let alone events at large. This really bothered my wife, with good reason.

6) Why the shock at the news that Anakin killed "the younglings"? After all, he had already massacred men, women, and children before (in Episode II). Apparently it never occurred to Padme that this might be indicative of a character flaw. Nor did it ever occur to her to mention this fact to the Jedi or any other potential law enforcement. Young love trumps all I suppose.

7) The force, in the end, didn't seem to be all that useful. It didn't give Yoda and other members of the council any insight into the nature of the cancer in their midst. It didn't give any of the Jedi any inkling of warning about the clone storm troopers who would eventually kill them all. It apparently didn't occur to any of the Jedi to wonder about the efficacy and desirability of employing a clone army whose creation was commissioned by unknown hands.

8) Obi Wan violates the number one rule of dealing with bad guys (or good guys for that matter): don't ever assume they're dead. Make sure of it. All he had to do was give Anakin's burning corpse a little kick into the lava and the course of future history would have probably been a bit brighter.

9) Lucas's attempts to relate this movie to contemporary power politics were crude and not terribly convincing. If Bush is the Emperor, taking control (to great applause) of the Republic, this must mean that Bin Laden and Al Zarqawi are the righteous rebellion? Have I got that right?

UPDATE: I forgot to mention two responses to the film by my fellow viewers.

In response to Anakin's statement "I will not betray the Republic," my intense six-year-old son (who had been sitting on my lap for some time because he was a bit anxious and nervous about all the fighting and killing) screamed back at the screen: "YOU ALREADY HAVE!"

After Darth Vader's agonized but horribly cliched "NOOOOOOOOOO!" my increasingly worldly-wise ten-year-old daughter leaned over to me and whispered, "OK, that was stupid."

That, in a nutshell, captures Lucas's appeal to key demographics and his inability to transcend them.

UPDATE II: Good (spoiler filled) plot summary here. A snippet:
Obi-Wan - "The Jedi in the temple have been murdered with a lightsaber! And all the Jedi are dead, except...I'd better look at the security video."
Yoda - "You need to look at the video to figure out who did this? Oy. Stupid you are."

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