Wheels are turning. The Just Above Sunset computer was just declared real dead, and the shop has just transferred the recoverable files from the carcass of that system to a new external hard drive to plug into the laptop, which now becomes the new Just Above Sunset server. Let's hope it's up to the task. Now it's getting things set up and settled down. This will take some time. Much must be reinstalled or reconfigured. Much will have to be reconstructed. This will take some time.
And while that work goes on, the far wider world, as far as any reasonable person can tell, has gone mad. This is not the usual madness, where you shrug and grin sardonically at the foolishness of those who run things, or think they run things. One expects much of life to be absurd, often in a deadly way, and the only reasonable response is a certain cynicism and determination to do one's best to do one's best, and fix what one can fix in one's own small sphere. But it's almost as if these guys in charge of things are actually trying to test us all. How much utter nonsense will we accept, nodding in reluctant agreement - this must be done, that must be done? They say some things are so, and those things just doesn't seem so, but the majority put them in their positions of power, so you attend to what's in the press and other media, and they aren't laughing scornfully, so what are you going to do? Black is white, up is down, and everyone has his or her own private troubles, so what does it matter?
Too abstract and generalized?
In lieu of more specific commentary this date, here's a bit of what other have been saying about the business down Guantánamo way.
Andrew Sullivan here -
And Sullivan points to someone using the pseudonym of "Jon Swift" saying, among other things, this, in "Guantánamo: Kafkaesque, in a Good Way" -
Every time I have tried to write something about the cancer and shame of Guantanamo, and the thought that the United States has strapped dozens of randomly captured individuals in metal restraints in order to force-feed them, I find myself so flummoxed that I give up. It has come to this? Remember: scores of these inmates have almost no evidence against them or have been detained on evidence tainted by torture, and have no way out of an insane system. Remember also: it is perfectly obvious that whatever interrogation techniques we may have used against these people, we have completely failed to get their cooperation to an almost farcical degree. And when some then commit suicide, which is one rational response to the situation, a U.S. general describes their deaths as a form of "asymmetrical warfare?" Again, it is hard to know what to say. These defenseless suicidal inmates are a threat to the U.S. military? Some things are so absurd that they can only be addressed in fiction or satire or silence.
And then you try and use logic that might appeal to a caricature like Rumsfeld and you find yourself thinking: Since whatever intelligence we have procured from these prisoners must now be either moot or exhausted, since they will never be released, and since almost none have had or will have access to anything resembling a fair trial, isn't allowing them to commit suicide the first rational policy we have entertained yet? These prisoners cannot be a threat dead. They are no use alive any more. They clearly prefer paradise to the eternal Cuban limbo they are now enduring. So why keep them on earth? When they're all dead, you can shut the place down, whatever the Supreme Court says. Win-win, no?
Absurd, no? This Swift, not the one from the eighteenth century, says this about himself - "I am a reasonable conservative who likes to write about politics and culture. Since the media is biased I get all my news from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Jay Leno monologues."
This week three prisoners at the Guantanamo prison camp committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells using bed sheets. "They have no regard for life, either ours or their own," said the commander of the base, Rear Admiral Harry Harris about men who killed themselves. It's easy to understand the frustration of Admiral Harris, who has cared for these prisoners for years only to be repaid with this kind of planned and coordinated attack. Indeed, American guards have already saved 23 inmates from 41 suicide attempts and force fed hundreds of inmates who have gone on hunger strikes while these terrorists continue to wage homicidal campaigns against themselves. One of the men was even set to be released, although no one had gotten around to telling him yet. If there is a better illustration of the different values our two cultures place on life, I don't know what is.
Critics claim that the inmates are in a state of despair and have a sense of hopelessness because officials continue to resist efforts to charge the prisoners and give them trials or release them. Already, nearly half of these dangerous men (and several children) have been released after spending years at the camp, meaning that the 460 who are left must really be bad. Many of these men have not been released for humanitarian reasons because of a very sincere concern that they will be tortured or killed if they are repatriated to governments that are not quite as civilized as our own. Senator Arlen Specter has accused the Bush Administration of "stonewalling" him on the fate of these prisoners and claims that the charges against them are based on "the flimsiest sort of hearsay." He has vowed to fight what he perceives to be this injustice by scheduling hearings that will be postponed indefinitely and writing very frank letters. Unfortunately, these men and their lawyers are not permitted to see the evidence against them because it is Top Secret, which has led Amnesty International to call the Guantanamo prison camp "Kafkaesque." But I think Guantanamo is Kafkaesque in a good way. By not forcing the detainees to contend with the stress of due process, they are being spared the negative outcome of a trial, since it would almost certainly end in a guilty verdict, although they seem to want to carry out the inevitable sentence prematurely.
Although the media has generally been good about not giving these detainees undeserved attention, the failure to prevent this incident, which brings the prison's survival rate from 100% down to a still commendable 99%, has regrettably played right into the terrorists' hands. State Department spokesperson Colleen Graffey called these suicides "a good PR move" and "a publicity stunt," by which I think she means these detainees are sort of like David Blaine, although more successful ultimately in achieving the intended outcome.
Admiral Harris contends ominously that the suicides are in fact an act of war against the United States. "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but rather an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us," Harris said. Asymmetrical warfare is a tactic used by a weaker enemy to surprise and disorient his opponent. In order to restore symmetry to the battle, our side will have to engage in increasingly self-destructive tactics of our own and abandon certain principles and ethical values that hold us back and hand our opponents weak points they can exploit to strike back at us, a strategy we are already using with some success in Iraq.
Coincidentally, Harris predicted that someone would die at Guantanamo in an interview last month and speculated on the aftermath. "We're going to be subjected to a lot of questions, and rightfully so. Legitimate questions. Why did this person die? Did you have something to do with it? Was it of natural causes? And I believe, if it is of natural causes, we're still going to be criticized," Harris said. Unfortunately, these kinds of attacks by the press and other members of the left on U.S. credibility will just turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy as Peter Ingemi explained: "The real danger is that we who support the war will reach the point that we say 'we might as well be taken as wolves then as sheep.' At that point the left can celebrate that they have made our military and those who support it the people they claim we are. Once that happens however any compunction about respecting them will be gone, and remember one side is armed and one is not." In other words, the more the press delves into stories like Haditha, Abu Ghraib and the conditions at Guantanamo, the more likely it is that regrettable incidents will occur. If people are just going to believe the worst mo matter what we do, why should we bother to behave honorably? On the bright side, this will free up our side from certain restraints that limit our ability to fight back.
It seems that any effort we make to appease critics of Guantanamo have only backfired anyway. Some of the men who were released have begun to wage a PR campaign against the United States, another insidious kind of asymmetric warfare. One of the men we released is now claiming that he was tortured at the prison, which, of course, the Bush Administration has repeatedly said in no uncertain terms that we don't do, although if we wanted to torture, we wouldn't be subject to the laws of the Geneva Convention (a treaty some other administration signed anyway) because these detainees aren't lawful combatants, so theoretically we could if we wanted to, but we don't because it is against our principles except in certain circumstances. In the end, however, we may discover that the only way to save the principles make our country great will be to sacrifice them.
It is madness. There was always a touch of the surreal in decisions of the administration, and a certain amount of dreamlike absurdity in the explanations of those decisions - Kafka meets Tom Stoppard, with a touch of the most sardonic of the French existentialists of the early fifties. This is beyond that. Out here in Hollywood this is called "jumping the shark" - and this a major case of that. We are victims here, of three guys who hanged themselves? Right.
And the guys in charge want us to take them seriously? For some, hearing all this must be like waking up inside the Dali painting, with all the clocks melting and the nightmare seascape. How'd we get here?
Minor note - see this from Daniel Engber -
Oh. That's clear. Both sides are mad as hatters.
Are Muslims allowed to kill themselves?
No. There's a clear prohibition on suicide in the collected sayings of the Prophet, known as the hadith. In particular, anyone who kills himself must spend an eternity repeating the act in the afterlife: "He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell Fire."
You won't find as clear a statement in the Quran. This passage provides the closest thing to a ban: "Do not consume your wealth in the wrong way - rather through trade mutually agreed to, and do not kill yourselves." But the word for "yourselves" could just as well be translated as "each other" - which would make this a ban on homicide, not suicide.
Muslim scholars throughout history have noted this ambiguity but have tended to support the prohibition nonetheless. Eight hundred years ago, Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi acknowledged that the passage could be interpreted either way but argued that it's better to assume that it's about suicide.
The long-standing prohibition - which had become entrenched by the ninth century - may have something to do with the low suicide rates in Muslim countries. On the other hand, not all suicides get reported as such. In some cases a family will deny that a suicide has occurred, or they'll keep the cause of death to themselves. Entire communities sometimes join in the denial.
? What about suicide bombers? There's no general agreement about how to distinguish between suicide (intihâr) and martyrdom (istisyhâd). Some argue that you're not committing a sin if you're trying to kill the enemies of God. It's only suicide if you're taking your life for your own benefit.
And who's in charge?
In the National Review (major conservative journal) John Derbyshire breaks ranks with his kill-them-all war buddies here -
Ah, no one is in charge, and there's no way out. Absurd, and just like the play, No Exit -
We are not controlling events in Iraq. Events in Iraq are controlling us. We are the puppet; the street gangs of Baghdad and Basra are the puppet-masters, aided and abetted by an unsavory assortment of confidence men, bazaar traders, scheming clerics, ethnic front men, and Iranian agents. With all our wealth and power and idealism, we have submitted to become the plaything of a rabble, and a Middle Eastern rabble at that. Instead of rubbling, we have ourselves been rabbled. The lazy-minded evangelico-romanticism of George W. Bush, the bureaucratic will to power of Donald Rumsfeld, the avuncular condescension of Dick Cheney, and the reflexive military deference of Colin Powell combined to get us into a situation we never wanted to be in, a situation no self-respecting nation ought to be in, a situation we don't know how to get out of.
Sartre, 1944 - just stuff on stage. Now in 2006 it makes perfect sense. We're here.
The play begins with a valet leading a man named Garcin into a room that the audience soon realizes is in hell (many people believe that hell is portrayed as a gigantic hotel because of the "rooms and passages" mentioned in the play). The room has no windows, no mirrors, and only one door. Eventually Garcin is joined by a woman (Inès), and then another (Estelle). After their entry, the valet leaves and the door is shut and locked. All expect to be tortured, but no torturer arrives. Instead, they realize they are there to torture each other, which they do effectively, by probing each other's sins, desires, and unpleasant memories. At first, the three see events concerning them that are happening on earth, though they can only observe and listen, but eventually (as their connection to Earth dwindles and the living move on) they are left with only their own thoughts and the company of the other two. Near the end of the play, Garcin demands he be let out; at his words the door flies open, but he and the others refuse to leave.