Empty Days

Saturday, May 22, 2004



Minors as ubermenschen

This is my ad-hoc translation of an editorial in the russian newspaper Izvestia by a Maxim Sokolov, who is best known for trying to imitate Dostoevsky's olden wit and cutting style.
___________________

A superman must be beautiful in all respects

The story of the american soldiers' amusing passtimes made a big splash because these funnymen did not consider the context of their actions. For, to speak callously, quite a few other armies in many other a war made quite a bad impression, not to mention that an occupation's jail in a country swarming with insurgency is hardly a resort facility. But even so, the US Army - partly because of the objective course of things, partly because of its very own propaganda - found itself in a rather unique situation. The official line kept talking about soldiers bringing freedom and democracy to the world, which raised expectations from these soldiers of freedom to unprecedented height - set up by their very own commanders.
Objectively speaking, the US Army also stands out among other world's armies because of its outstanding military potential and the unmatched scope of its objectives. Demoralization of the most powerful and most active army in the world has quite a different impact from similar degradation in the armed forces of Burkina Fasso.
Finally, the american soldier has been declared an indestructible superman of the fifth generation, one whose excretional needs even are satisfied in the bushes with the help of a special microprocessor chip.

All this lead to expectations that in a superman everything should be beautiful: face, dress, soul and thoughts. Face and dress are indeed beyond dispute, but soul and thoughts proved less than satisfactory, and it became unclear in what way this superman pourveyor of freedom is essentially different from the old ubermensch of the einsatz-grupp.

The most aggravating characteristic of the latest Ubermensch is his lack of maturity. Even though maturity is hardly an all-around positive (degenerated adults are capable of things compared to which these soldiers of freedom would seem like angels) it would still be a good idea to determine what constitutes intellectual and moral maturity. This will allow us to understand what one should expect from these ubermenschen in the future, regarding their capacity to appreciate the significance and consequences of their actions.

Explanations such as war-induced violence (cf. the case of colonel Budanov who kidnapped, raped and killed during interrogation an 18-year old local girl suspected of ties with chechen guerilla) is hardly applicable here. The colonel was mad at seeing so many of his soldiers ambushed and killed, he got drunk, then committed his crime, then tried to conceal the deed. This is the logic of an adult - it would be very difficult to imagine the said colonel Budanov posing happily in front of a camera with the body of Elsa Kungaeva in the background. What's more, even if the accounts of reporters Politkovskaya and Gluksman about russian evil-doing in Chechnya are all true and not in the least exaggerated, even so it would mean that we're talking about men who had lost all of their humanity, but not their maturity - who are fully aware that it is better not to boast publically about such deeds, let alone produce forensic evidence on purpose. "Say cheese" and click - that sort of deed is characteristic of quite a different personality type, rather more infantile and convinced of total impunity.

The version that points to the dirty realities of war is also problematic - that is, obtaining operational intelligence about the enemy at any cost, when special methods of information extraction are sometimes unavoidable. Let us not dwell on just how felicitously this matches the victorious reports claiming that the US Army has finally dispensed with the "fog of war" described by Clausewitz, that is - the fundamental lack of understanding of the enemy. There is no more fog, yet the methods of information gathering are still rather reminiscent of the foggiest historical eras.

Something else should be pointed out. NKVD and Ghestapo were unmatched in the application of special methods, but they managed just as well without taking pictures. One could view a forceful interrogator as an executioner, or a firm practitioner performing difficult work. But in either case we are talking about a mature adult, aware of what he's doing, and that certain things are not destined to print, or be it photoprint. Not to mention that traditionally information was forcibly extracted during individual interrogation sessions - compared to which gymnastic pyramides of naked Iraqis seem rather strange as a way of obtaining necessary operational intelligence.

This most ressembles crimes committed by minors. Their deeds usually demonstrate a sometimes unbounded cruelty together with a sincere lack of understanding of possible consequences and a total absense of any signs of repentance. The words of one of the american female executioners - "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time" - are a typical reaction of a teenage delinquent.

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn once wrote that the most horrifying face of Gulag was examplified by its criminal minors. And now we find that this is also the face of the new superman, bearing us freedom and democracy. "
_____________________


I think the author forgets that rank-n-file Germans in the einsatz-gruppen regularly took photos of mass executions of Jews - and passed them around proudly and at will.

As to Chechnya, I do remember seeing a documentary where French reporters were welcomed by beefy 20-something Russian mercenary soldiers who cheerfully displayed to the camera ears and fingers cut from the enemy as trophies.

But I agree with the main gist of the article - that too much is expected from too many people, due to dangerously superhuman propaganda.




Late night lyrical inspirations - rather better than rage, I would say.

In trying to strengthen my credibility as an occasional cyanide-buyer for my next attempt to acquire the goddam chemical after all, I've been reading very technical papers on jewelry-making processes and the chemistry involved - and I find it properly fascinating.

The ingenuity and forceful delicacy of manual crafts is something that has a deep and incomprehensible appeal to me - a book-reader and a white-collar come into disuse.

I wish I could allow myself to run amock and focus all my desires on some such dirty deeds as working with metals and castings and making objects of dubious beauty out of solid things. But for some reason deep inside me I cannot so invest myself - half-way things will fall out of my hands and I know this in advance. There is a kind of peace of mind and oblivion to self that manual crafts require - and I just don't have it, not an ounce.

Why this is I cannot say. But it's pretty much at the heart of all my woes - that I cannot abandon myself to the solid things of life, that life falls out of my hands half-way through, that I cannot hold on to the basics.

***

I once tried to realize my old longing for casting tin-soldier figurines. I've always been rather good at arts, drawing and miniature sculpting. There was a time in my life when I had some of that peace of mind - in not judging myself, in letting myself be. But the project fell short because of that pervasive anxiety: that somehow it was too much of a wanton occupation and I had no right to engage in wanton things.

There is a monster that lives inside me that says I must not be - because, apparently, I haven't accomplished some impossible goals that I never set myself, except for the fact that I am held responsible for not accomplishing them.

Here I should perhaps conveniently analize some parental pressures in early childhood of which I remember nothing in any case - and so let's just say that I don't know where this inner monster comes from. All I know is that it ate me alive and I never figured out a way to kill the beast.

See Aliens III (or whatever).

***

On the other hand, I can see how things could have turned out different if my parents died in a car accident early on. I never found a way to cut myself off from the family grip - every time I tried I failed miserably. Due in very large part to the fact that I could not breach a passage into the larger world - either through timorous heart or through lack of vital vigor that propulses young people into strange environments.

The family has been my ghetto and I could never break loose.

What is particularly dire is that I kept collapsing inwardly - imploding, so to speak - whenever I tried to find a footing in the world. Everytime it felt very much like a rejection of alien tissue post-operation. The tissue was me - trying to implant myself in a hostile environment. Or vice-versa.

I am a bad implant that can't adapt and keeps dying. Heh.

No wonder I hate this world and this life so much - it made me die so many times, through no fault of its own, except that I wasn't suitable. I cannot stand up to it, it's too fucking crushing, and I find nothing to hold on to inside my guts.

My brother is very much in the same straits, so I guess it'd be safe to say that the blame lies with some very unhealthy dynamics in the family make-up.

I think what happened is that the parents, while devoring each other and having cut themselves off from their own world, pretty much sucked the life out of both of us - for their own sustainment. I don't imagine it was in any way a conscious decision, it just happened naturally and fairly early on. It would be fair to assume that, had this tragedy not befallen them, we the kids would have turned out somewhat different as well.

That's destiny - and the children bear the sins of their fathers, like it or not.

***

Of course it would be great not to whine and dwell on the past, and rather focus on some glorious plans and futures instead - but whether I say it or not, it's still there, a thorn in the side, and no chance to get away.

It's a ticking-bomb in the pit of my gut - always there ready to explode whenever I make too brusque a movement. In other words, I am gutted out and have long been.

***

I've been looking for something to believe in and yearn for - but I can't come up with anything. I don't know why that is, or maybe I do, but it doesn't help to know.

Fell apart so long ago, can't find the pieces.




Memories of past beliefs and attachments, things that used to be sacred and the love I bore them - are like whiffs of tender breeze touching my mind in its wintry desolation.

Rare and ultimately sorrowful, because every time I am made aware that none of this can be resurrected, repeated, re-lived.

It's a series of small intagible coffins that float by from time to time - all dear and all gone. I don't mind the tinge of sweet regret - I mind the black hopelessness ahead.

Such is the message of the past - and the future cannot stand up to it.




"Nothing is more uplifting to the human spirit than the presentiment of approaching death. The meeting with death fills the soul with a strange elation from touching on some otherwordly mystery, entirely different from life. We rarely reflect on the liberating power of death. In a literal and a wider sense death means vigor of spirit, awakening, appraisal of true values. One who never thinks about it, relying entirely on the mechanics of life, never tries to change anything. But when one feels that only a month or a year is left one becomes serious about life.

Death is a heavenly experience - being ripped away from the well-known into something incomprehensible, unusual, undescribable.

Strange as it may seem, only when a man remembers his own death, his finite state and mortality, does he start to live for real.
He is seized with horror when he begins feeling with all his being that, worse that bodily death, is death of the spirit - everything that one was and hoped to be is slipping away."

Friday, May 21, 2004



Dostoevsky was a superb observer of reality and especially of its hidden hinges. But he regularly extrapolated to pent-up ideologies and as soon as he did that he lost hold of the truth he had just uncovered. Which is not a big deal, and he shouldn't be judged by his stupidity but rather by his keen eye.

The miraculous nature of reality, which means - something beyond grasp and yet active and present - is what he found consistently. Life is a story that is written every day with invisible ink. Who can read ahead of it?

Rational descriptions of reality are a sad muck-up of how it all is. But arguing against this reasoned make-belief is about as hopeless as trying to uncover the hidden part. The best you can do is make an effort and disregard that awfully shallow picture.

Let us just say that rational "philosophical" constructions are like a huge bureaucracy of the mind - stupid, stubborn, narrow-minded, and supremely inadequate.

***

Desperation comes from realizing that everything is barred due to some fundamental flaw in one's nature. That it can't be corrected or avoided. And finding nothing better to balance the books.

Condemned to be this and nothing else.

***

I do not declare defeat just yet. The battle is very much still ongoing and I have no choice but to continue looking for the right cue. It can be anything.

I am past the age of Christ, as they say - it's only normal that I can't go on like this much longer. Do not want to waste more time.

***

My idea is that the closer to hitting the wall, the better. It's no use trying to hide in the thick of things - the demi-comfort that this demi-life affords is not worth it and never will be. Maybe it will open a crack in my head at some point, if I drive hard enough into the wall.

I might be misenterpreting events at this point.

***

This probably sounds somewhat obscure but I have no choice but to be obscure since in any case I can't put it all together - even to myself.

I know that every small defeat and humiliation of everyday life drives me up the wall disproportionately - because it invariable evokes two things: all the cumulative past blows, and the ever-present consciousness of my own powerlessness. I can't say to myself - it doesn't matter, it'll be alright. Because I do not believe anywhere in my heart that things will come out ok - they never did, never do, never will. Complete absence of faith in life as represented by myself.

Something like that.

Unfortunately there is nothing I can take refuge in. Everything is subject to this powerlessness - no possible vindication.

Under these conditions it is not surprising that ceasing to exist seems like the best and only way out - the one thing still in my power. And even that is not entirely within reach. But it's a test of will - one I cannot turn away from at this stage.

I do not regard this as a bad spell - it is a culmination of a long road and hapless struggle for a life that I could never live. The exact and precise reasons are hidden from me and I do not presume to understand. All I know is that it is a good thing. Paradoxically perhaps, but then it really depends on the limits of the common doxa - which is rooted in ignorance, unavoidably.

It is also true that I've never been good at thinking for myself and it's perhaps the first time I got to the point when I really have to - with all the consequences.

It's a sort of self-condemnation and I can find no strength anywhere to lift that verdict.

***

Raskolnikov (in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment) comes from the russian "raskol" which means - rift.

On the suicide group (ash) there was a guy with the nickname Raskolni - he made some splash in the news when he killed himself in an Amsterdam hotel-room in the company of a disabled woman he met on the group. I suppose the nickname is a good indication of what was wrong with this guy - he couldn't find a foothold in the world and made a philosophy out of it.

I am not making a philosophy out of my situation - I think it's a waste of time, given that nothing can be explained without intellectual lies and far-fetched conclusions.

Coming to grips with death is a live experience - it's ongoing, half-blind, and filled with ridiculous trifles.

***

My father, at the height of his suffering, used to go under a huge highway bridge and scream his lungs out.

I don't want to reach that far into the "experience of life".




Motives must be pure - and I gotta be serious. Which means I can't take it upon myself to understand everything but must be dead earnest in my desires - I can't back off from gifts. I have to take what is given when it is given, because there won't be a second chance, it does not depend on my will only to reproduce and arrange circumstances.

I can tell you right now that I do not understand reality. Because it's not what I see - it's more.

And now I have to look further into things and get hold of the overall thread - instead of raging blindly and presume I can do whatever I want in this blindness.

***

Note to concerned readers (you know who you are): it's a bit beyond all of us so let's not panick and let's not be impressed, because in any case no one really knows what's going on in life.

For one thing - no one really knows whether death is bad or good. All we know is that it's damn sad when somebody disappears from the visible circle of things. That's not a very major argument, this unilateral sorrow.

***

Beyond which it's all just more words.




Apparently I am not supposed to talk about this lightly - my post just got destroyed - but I must at least say that I went there again to buy cyanide and the configuration was completely different, another person at the counter, much less naive than the one who was there last time, other nosy people around in the small place - there was just no way I could play it cool and get my hands on the stuff without provoking suspicion and an awkward situation.

All of which made me appreciate just what a miraculous concourse of circumstances presided over my first forray into that venue - it was not normal, it was arranged for me to do my thing easy, but I backed off and didn't go through with it.

Can't enter the same waters twice, as they say.

The difference is that the first time I appealed to the helper, and this time I just did it out of rage and to satisfy my will. No go.

I couldn't sleep all night and raged and debated in my mind and finally found respite in the idea that I could do it on my own whenever I want. Mistake. Nothing happens on my own - and never will.

I have to align myself with those underlining powers and try to understand and appeal. Basically I am entirely unaware as to what's going on with all of this.

Thursday, May 20, 2004



3.2 INHALATION EXPOSURES

3.2.1 Acute Toxicity

3.2.1.1 Human

Numerous cases of acute cyanide intoxication via inhalation have been cited in the literature. Of the different routes of exposure and different cyanide compounds, inhalation of hydrogen cyanide results in the most rapid onset of poisoning, producing almost immediate collapse, respiratory arrest, and death within minutes (EPA, 1985). Inhalation of 270 ppm is immediately fatal; exposure to 110-135 ppm is fatal after 1/2-1 hour or longer. The estimated LC50 after 10 minutes is 546 ppm (Hartung, 1982).

[ Cyanide salts + sulphuric acid = hydrogen cyanide big time ]

Addendum.




From Luzhin Defence
by V. Nabokov


Luzhin remained sitting in the dining room and continued from time to time to slap himself on the knees. And there was really something to celebrate. The combination he had been struggling to discern since the ball, had suddenly revealed itself to him, thanks to a chance phrase that had come flying out of the next room. During these first minutes he had still only had time to feel the keen delight of being a chess player, and pride, and relief, and that physiological sensation of harmony which is so well known to artists. He still made many more small motions before he realized the true nature of his unusual discovery - finished his cocoa, shaved, transferred his studs to a clean shirt.

And suddenly the delight vanished and he was overcome by other sensations. Just as some combination, known from chess problems, can be indistinctly repeated on the board in actual play - so now the consecutive repetition of a familiar pattern was becoming noticeable in his present life. And as soon as his initial delight in having established the actual fact of the repetition had passed, as soon as he began to go carefully over his discovery, Luzhin shuddered. With vague admiration and vague horror he observed how awesomely, how elegantly and how flexibly, move by move, the images of his childhood had been repeated (country house... town... school... aunt), but he still did not quite understand why this combinational repetition inspired his soul with such dread.

He felt one thing keenly, a certain vexation that he had gone so long without noticing the cunning sequence of moves; and now, recalling some trifle - and there had been so many of them, and at times so skillfully presented, that the repetition was almost concealed - Luzhin was indignant with himself for not having reflected, for not taking the initiative, but with trustful blindness letting the combination unfold. But now he resolved to be more circumspect, to keep an eye on the further development of these moves, if there was to be one - and of course, to maintain his discovery in impenetrable secret, to be merry, extraordinarily merry.

But from that day on there was no rest for him - he had, if possible, to contrive a defense against this perfidious combination, to free himself of it, and for this he had to foresee its ultimate aim, its dire direction, but this did not yet appear feasible. And the thought that the repetition would probably continue was so frightening that he was tempted to stop the clock of life, to suspend the game for good, to freeze, and at the same time he noticed that he continued to exist, that some kind of preparation was going on, a creeping development, and that he had no power to halt this movement.

***

The typewriter, geography and drawing were abandoned, for he knew now that all this was part of the combination, was an intricate repetition of all the moves that had been taken down in his childhood.

***

And what did Luzhin care about all this? The only thing that really interested him was the complex, cunning game in which he somehow had become enmeshed. Helplessly and sullenly he sought for signs of the chess repetition, still wondering toward what it was tending. But to be always on his guard, to strain his attention constantly, was also impossible: something would temporarily weaken inside him, he would take carefree pleasure in a game printed in the newspaper - and presently would note with despair that he had been unwary again and that a delicate move had just been made in his life, mercilessly continuing the fatal combination. Then he would decide to redouble his watchfulness and keep track of every second of his life, for traps could be everywhere. And he was oppressed most of all by the impossibility of inventing a rational defense, for his opponent's aim was still hidden.

Too stout and flabby for his years, he walked this way and that among people thought up by his wife, tried to find a quiet spot and the whole, time looked and listened for a hint as to the next move, for a continuation of the game that had not been started by him but was being directed with awful force against him. It happened that such a hint would occur, something would move forward, but it did not make the general meaning of the combination any clearer.

***

What's the matter? thought Mrs. Luzhin, looking at her husband. Goodness, what's the matter? And she had an aching feeling of impotence and hopelessness, as if she had taken on a job that was too difficult for her. Everything was useless - there was no point in trying, in thinking up amusements, in inviting interesting guests. She tried to imagine how she would take this Luzhin, blind and sullen once more, around the Riviera, and all she could imagine was Luzhin sitting in his room and staring at the floor. With a nasty sense of looking through the keyhole of destiny she bent forward to see her future - ten, twenty, thirty years - and it was all the: same, with no change, the same, sullen, bowed Luzhin, and silence, and hopelessness.

***

The pill did not work. Luzhin stayed awake for long after his wife fell asleep. To tell the truth, the hours of night, the hours of insomnia in the secure closed bedroom, were the only ones when he could think peacefully without the fear of missing a new move in the monstrous combination. At night, particularly if he lay without moving and with his eyes closed, nothing could happen. Carefully and as coolly as he could, Luzhin would go over all the moves already made against him, but as soon as he began to guess at what forms the coming repetition of the scheme of his past would take, he grew confused and frightened by the inevitable and unthinkable catastrophe bearing down on him with merciless precision.

On this night more than ever he felt his helplessness in the face of this slow, elegant attack and he tried not to sleep at all, to prolong as much as possible this night, this quiet darkness, to arrest time at midnight. His wife slept absolutely soundlessly; most likely - she was not there at all. Only the ticking of the little clock on the bedside table proved that time continued to exist. Luzhin listened to these tiny heartbeats and became lost in thought again, and then he started, noticing that the ticking of the clock had stopped. It seemed to him that the night had stopped forever, there was not a single sound now that would indicate its passing, time was dead, everything was all right, a velvet hush. Sleep imperceptibly took advantage of this happiness and relief but now, in sleep, there was no rest at all, for sleep consisted of sixty-four squares, a gigantic board in the middle of which, trembling and stark-naked, Luzhin stood, the size of a pawn, and peered at the dim positions of huge pieces, megacephalous, with crowns or manes.

***

A lull, thought Luzhin that day. A lull, but with hidden preparations. It wants to take me unawares. Attention, attention, concentrate and keep watch.

All his thoughts lately had been of a chess nature but he was still holding on - he had forbidden himself to think again of the interrupted game with Turati and did not open the cherished numbers of the newspaper - and even so he was able to think only in chess images and his mind worked as if he were sitting at a chessboard. Sometimes in his dreams he swore to the doctor with the agate eyes that he was not playing chess - he had merely set out the pieces once on a pocket board and glanced at two or three games printed in the newspapers - simply for lack of something to do. And even these lapses had not been his fault, but represented a series of moves in the general combination that was skillfully repeating an enigmatic theme. It was difficult, extremely difficult, to foresee the next repetition in advance, but just a little more and everything would become clear and perhaps a defense could be found....

But the next move was prepared very slowly. The lull continued for two or three days; Luzhin was photographed for his passport, and the photographer took him by the chin, turned his face slightly to one side, asked him to open his mouth wide and drilled his tooth with a tense buzzing. The buzzing ceased, the dentist looked for something on a glass shelf, found it, rubber-stamped Luzhin's passport and wrote with lightning-quick movements of the pen. 'There,' he said, handing over a document on which two rows of teeth were drawn, and two teeth bore inked-in little crosses. There was nothing suspicious in all this and the cunning lull continued until Thursday. And on Thursday, Luzhin understood everything.

Already the day before he had thought of an interesting device, a device with which he could, perhaps, foil the designs of his mysterious opponent. The device consisted in voluntarily committing some absurd unexpected act that would be outside the systematic order of life, thus confusing the sequence of moves planned by his opponent. It was an experimental defense, a defense, so to say, at random - but Luzhin, crazed with terror before the inevitability of the next move, was able to find nothing better.

***

Luzhin waved his cane in sign of farewell and climbed into a taxi, bending his back roundly. 'A small maneuver,' he chuckled, and feeling hot, unbuttoned his overcoat. After the very very first turn he stopped the taxi, paid, and set off home at a leisurely pace. And here it suddenly seemed to him that he he had done all this once before and he was so frightened that he turned into the first available store, deciding to outsmart his opponent with a new surprise.

***

The key was found. The aim of the attack was plain. By an implacable repetition of moves it was leading once more to that same passion which would destroy the dream of life. Devastation, horror, madness.

***

And suddenly Luzhin stopped. It was as if the whole world had stopped. It happened in the drawing room, by the phonograph.

'Full stop,' she said softly and burst into tears. Luzhin began to take things out of his pockets - first a fountain pen, then a crumpled handkerchief, then another handkerchief, neatly folded, when she had given him that morning; after this he took out a cigarette case with a troika on the lid (a present from his mother-in-law), then an empty, red cigarette pack and two separate cigarettes, slightly damaged; his wallet and a gold watch (a present from his father-in-law) were removed with particular care. Besides all this there turned up a large peach stone. All these objects were placed on the phonograph cabinet and he checked if there were anything he had forgotten.

'That's all, I think,' he said, and buttoned his jacket over his stomach. His wife lifted her tearstained face and stared in amazement at the little collection of things laid out by Luzhin.
He went up to his wife and made a slight bow.
She transferred her gaze to his face, vaguely hoping she would see that familiar, crooked half-smile - and so she did: Luzhin was smiling.

'The only way out,' he said. 'I have to drop out of the game.'

***

The first thing Luzhin did after locking the door was to turn on the light. Gleaming whitely, an enameled bathtub came into view by the left wall. On the right wall hung a pencil drawing: a cube casting a shadow. At the far end, by the window, stood a small chest. The lower part of the window was of frosted glass, sparkly-blue, opaque. In the upper part, a black rectangle of night was sheened mirror-like. Luzhin tugged at the handle of the lower frame, but something had got stuck or had caught, it did not want to open. He thought for a moment, then took hold of the back of a chair standing by the tub and looked from the sturdy white chair to the solid forest of the window. Making up his mind finally, he lifted the chair by the legs and struck, using its edge as a battering ram. Something cracked, he swung again, and suddenly a black, star-shaped hole appeared in the frosted glass. There was a moment of expectant silence. Then, far below, something tinkled tenderly and disintegrated. Trying to widen the hole, he struck again, and a wedge of glass smashed at his feet. There were voices behind the door. Somebody knocked. Somebody called him loudly by his name and patronymic. Then there was silence and his wife's voice said with absolute clarity: 'Dear Luzhin, open, please.'

Restraining his heavy breathing, Luzhin lowered the chair to the floor and tried to thrust himself through the window. Large wedges and corners still stuck out of the frame. Something stung his neck and he quickly drew his head in again - no, he could not get through. A fist slammed against the door. Two men's voices were quarreling and his wife's whisper wriggled through the uproar. Luzhin decided not to smash any more glass, it made too much noise. He raised his eyes. The upper window. But how to reach it? Trying not to make a noise or break anything, he began to take things off the chest; a mirror, a bottle of some sort, a glass. He did everything slowly and thoroughly, it was useless for the rumbling behind the door to hurry him like that. Removing the doily too he attempted to climb up on the chest; it reached to his waist, and he was unable to make it at first. He felt hot and he peeled off his jacket, and here he noticed that his hands were bloodied and that there were red spots on the front of his shirt. Finally he found himself on the chest, which creaked under his weight. He quickly reached up to the upper frame, now feeling that the thumping and the voices were urging him on and that he could not help but hurry.

Raising a hand he jerked at the frame and it swung open. Black sky. Thence, out of this cold darkness, came the voice of his wife, saying softly: 'Luzhin, Luzhin.' He remembered that farther to the left was the bedroom window: it was from there this whisper had emerged. Meanwhile the voices and the crashing behind the door had grown in volume, there must have been around twenty people out there - Valentinov. Turati, the old gentleman with the bunch of flowers... They were sniffing and grunting, and more of them came, and all together they were beating with something against the shuddering door. The rectangular night, however, was still too high. Bending one knee, Luzhin hauled the chair onto the chest. The chair was unstable, it was difficult to balance, but still Luzhin climbed up. Now he could easily lean his elbows on the lower edge of the black night. He was breathing so loudly that he deafened himself, and now the cries behind the door were far, far away, but on the other hand the voice from the bedroom window was clearer, was bursting out with piercing force.

After many efforts he found himself in a strange and mortifying position: one leg hung outside, and he did not know where the other one was, while his body would in no wise be squeezed through. His shirt had torn at the shoulder, his face was wet. Clutching with one hand at something overhead, he got through the window sideways. Now both legs were hanging outside and he had only to let go of what he was holding on to - and he was saved. Before letting go he looked down. Some kind of hasty preparations were under way there: the window reflections gathered together and leveled themselves out, the whole chasm was seen to divide into dark and pale squares, and at the instant when Luzhin unclenched his hand, at the instant when icy air gushed into his mouth, he saw exactly what kind of eternity was obligingly and inexorably spread out before him.

The door was burst in, 'Aleksandr Ivanovich, Aleksandr Ivanovich,' roared several voices.
But there was no Aleksandr Ivanovich.




Another unusual and spectacular news. I didn't know such brave war tactics were still possible in the age of remote shooting and bombing:
OUTNUMBERED British soldiers killed 35 Iraqi attackers in the Army’s first bayonet charge since the Falklands War 22 years ago.

The fearless Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders stormed rebel positions after being ambushed and pinned down.
Despite being outnumbered five to one, they suffered only three minor wounds in the hand-to-hand fighting near the city of Amara.
The battle erupted after Land Rovers carrying 20 Argylls came under attack on a highway.

After radioing for back-up, they fixed bayonets and charged at 100 rebels using tactics learned in drills.
When the fighting ended bodies lay all over the highway — and more were floating in a nearby river. Nine rebels were captured.

An Army spokesman said: “This was an intense engagement.”

The last bayonet charge was by the Scots Guards and the Paras against Argentinian positions.
I am impressed, all I can say.




I am trying to have a break from news at the moment but this one is kinda too pathetic to disregard. US military bombed out a wedding-party in Iraq and are still denying it. Juan Cole rightly asks:
Can't they just say that they are deeply sorry for the Iraqis' loss, and that they are not sure what went wrong, and will investigate? If they did kill so many women and children, surely that is a mistake no matter how you parse it, and they may as well admit it.
And then cites a letter from a reader of his which sums up the whole thing and incidentally goes to show, once more, that US is like a blind bat in Iraq:
As someone who has spent 8 years in the Middle East, mostly in Saudi Arabia, I just had to shake my head when I read the following quote:

"Ten miles from Syrian border and 80 miles from nearest city and a wedding party? Don't be naive," said Marine Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis in Fallujah. "Plus they had 30 males of military age with them. How many people go to the middle of the desert to have a wedding party?"

This guy obviously doesn�t know Arabs or Arab culture. On many occasions, Saudis I know spent the weekend �in the desert� for a wedding or other celebration. On one occasion, a Saudi that I worked with, Khalid Abu Boutain, asked me if we could trade cars for the weekend so he could attend a relatives wedding being held �in the desert�. I had great fun driving his Mercedes around Riyadh that weekend while he had great fun driving my jeep to and from the desert. And his �30 males of military age� comment? That�s truly ridiculous. I�ve been to LOTS of weddings that had �30 males of military age with them�. That comment was just plain stupid."
Would be stupid if it weren't properly tragic at this stage.




The "human" face of Bureaucracy

There is a type of low-level bureaucrat that is most dangerous if you're not aware what great importance these people attribute to their paltry powers - over whoever happens to be in the range of that power.

These people are implacable and are possessed by a great urge to impose their views and dominance on whoever falls prey to their purely administrative ardor - for they have no other stake in the business.

Most of them are female, probably because men usually move up in the ranks and thus are not in contact with the public. The low-level bureaucratic female is a full-fledged dominatrix in terms of the way she approaches the letter of her department's scriptures.

It is a very dangerous type - an unsurmountable barrier and a stirrer of vengeful gossip among the higher ups - in regards to the hapless visitor who has somehow crossed her idea of bureaucratic rectitude.

I have just met yet another one in the dental office and it is safe to assume that she will perdure in her steady persecution of me as a reluctant subject - as I was not careful enough to make it seem that I agreed with all the nonsense she's tried to impose on me.

These people are everywhere - in a way, it is the hallmark of all bureaucracies (I've met throngs of such when I lived in France for instance).




All of his life Dostoevsky suffered acutely from social exclusion (imagined or not) - and while in Siberian jail, his greatest suffering had to do with the fact that the vast majority of inmates shunned him and ostracized him as a member of an other social class.

It is possible to say that he was ardently looking for a world as a family - and the warmth of brotherly love that he finally found in his nationalist ideas had to do with this sense of orphanhood and desire to be part of a world-as-family.

Dostoevsky loathed individualism - because it kept killing him, as all his books testify so very eloquently.

But with all that I have no idea what made him who he was.




Dostoevsky is one of the very few writers I know who've explored the dynamics of suicide in almost baffling detail.

While most writers and thinkers kept poking at this "phenomenon" as if it were nothing but one of the many oddities and, frankly, trifles of life in the world, Dostoevsky kept digging and finally arrived at the strange and appalling realization that it was in fact central to the whole problem of human consciousness.

It would be safe to say that all of his most dramatic characters are somehow suicidal. The question paraphrases Plato: what makes life worth living? The appalling answer is that very little does - regardless of all the mighty rhetoric to the contrary.

But it is also true that suicide is indeed a trifle in the grand scheme of things. In fact, it happens to people who somehow fall out of that grand scheme and become disenfranchised of the bigger world. Everything about individual life is futile on its own - and reasons for suicide are always and invariable ridiculous when seen from that perspective.

Which is why examining suicide "scientifically", as if it were something of general import, is such a losing game (see Durkheim and such). The whole point of suicidal thinking is that it examplifies a rift between the general and the individual - a loss of perspective.

Of course, I am talking of "modern suicide" - very different from the Roman and Japanese Samurai variety. While in ancient cultures it was a sort of tribute to certain long-honored principles of society, in our times suicide is not a tribute and is thoroughly unlawful in the eyes of the world. It is nothing but a mishap and bad manners.

But it's also a drama, albeit shameful - because of the rift.




Life after Death or Death before Life

The predicament of life-after-death is based on the observable assymetry between beginning and end - when a child is born into life from the warm blind womb he is devoid of consciousness, memory, reason. These woeful characteristics later develop organically to produce what is known as the "human being" of which so much has been made. Birth is thoroughly involuntary and unremembered. But of death consciousness makes us aware - and the exit is unequal to entry in quality and impact.

Some have rightly pointed out that the whole of conscious life is nothing but a preparation for death.

Thereof comes never-ending speculation about life eternal and consciousness perduring after bodily death. It is entirely impossible to decide definitively whether death is nothing but death of brain which is the seat of reason and thus perhaps of consciousness or whether things are just not that simple.

A "human being" relies on ad-hoc beliefs regarding possible contents of death or lack thereof. A decision must be made as to what to believe, but it is always made to satisfy a certain agenda of the mind, and nothing more can be said about it.

Rationalists and materialists have argued that the idea of life-after-death is nothing but an extension of various irrational fears that the mind is filled with regarding its own anihilation.

But I believe they've been arguing out of fear themselves - otherwise why would it be necessary to entirely exclude the possibility of consciousness surviving the body?

Because it's just way to scary and incomprehensible, that's why.




Dream of a Ridiculous Man
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

second installment

The sky was horribly dark, but one could distinctly see tattered clouds, and between them fathomless black patches. Suddenly I noticed in one of these patches a star, and began watching it intently. That was because that star had given me an idea: I decided to kill myself that night.

I had firmly determined to do so two months before, and poor as I was, I bought a splendid revolver that very day, and loaded it. But two months had passed and it was still lying in my drawer; I was so utterly indifferent that I wanted to seize a moment when I would not be so indifferent - why, I don't know.

And so for two months every night when I came home I thought I would shoot myself. I kept waiting for the right moment. And so now this star gave me a thought. I made up my mind that it should certainly be that night. And why the star gave me the thought I don't know.

***

I stay awake till daybreak, and have been going on like that for the last year. I sit up all night in my arm-chair at the table, doing nothing. I only read by day. I sit - don't even think; ideas of a sort wander through my mind and I let them come and go as they will. A whole candle is burnt every night. I sat down quietly at the table, took out the revolver and put it down before me.

When I had put it down I asked myself, I remember, "Is that so?" and answered with complete conviction, "It is." That is, I shall shoot myself. I knew that I should shoot myself that night for certain, but how much longer I should go on sitting at the table I did not know. And no doubt I should have shot myself if it had not been for that little girl.

II

You see, though nothing mattered to me, I could feel pain, for instance. If anyone had stuck me it would have hurt me. It was the same morally: if anything very pathetic happened, I should have felt pity just as I used to do in old days when there were things in life that did matter to me. I had felt pity that evening. I should have certainly helped a child. Why, then, had I not helped the little girl? Because of an idea that occurred to me at the time: when she was calling and pulling at me, a question suddenly arose before me and I could not settle it. The question was an idle one, but I was vexed.

I was vexed at the reflection that if I were going to make an end of myself that night, nothing in life ought to have mattered to me. Why was it that all at once I did feel a strange pang, quite incongruous in my position. Really I do not know better how to convey my fleeting sensation at the moment, but the sensation persisted at home when I was sitting at the table, and I was very much irritated as I had not been for a long time past.

One reflection followed another. I saw clearly that so long as I was still a human being and not nothingness, I was alive and so could suffer, be angry and feel shame at my actions. So be it. But if I am going to kill myself, in two hours, say, what is the little girl to me and what have I to do with shame or with anything else in the world? I shall turn into nothing, absolutely nothing. And can it really be true that the consciousness that I shall completely cease to exist immediately and so everything else will cease to exist, does not in the least affect my feeling of pity for the child nor the feeling of shame after a contemptible action?

***

I seemed clear to me that life and the world somehow depended upon me now. I may almost say that the world now seemed created for me alone: if I shot myself the world would cease to be, at least for me.

***

These were idle and superfluous questions for the revolver was already lying before me, and I knew in every fibre of my being that it would happen for certain, but they excited me and I raged. I could not die now without having first settled something. In short, the child had saved me, for I put off my pistol shot for the sake of these questions.

***

Yes, I dreamed a dream, my dream of the 3rd of November. They tease me now, telling me it was only a dream. But does it matter whether it was a dream or reality, if the dream made known to me the truth? If once one has recognized the truth and seen it, you know that it is the truth and that there is no other and there cannot be, whether you are asleep or awake.

Let it be a dream, so be it, but that real life of which you make so much I had meant to extinguish by suicide, and my dream, my dream - oh, it revealed to me a different life, renewed, grand and full of power!

Wednesday, May 19, 2004



Misguided Patriotism eternal

From historical commentary to Dostoevsky's House of the Dead


<< The person behind the character Akim Akimych was in fact Efim Belykh. His case documents state that:

"The accused Belykh and platoon-commander Kuzin were on army duty at a forepost in the Russian Caucasus (Kuban) and Belykh was acting as commanding officer. The forepost was set on fire in the night of November 15th, 1845 but the cause of the fire was not determined. The fire was extinguished by soldiers. Belykh suspected that the culprit was a chechen warlord, prince Kubanov, and in talking to his mates Belykh sounded vengeful."

On December the 15th prince Murza bek Kubanov came to visit the forepost. Belykh and Kuzin conspired to kill him not only for setting the fire but also because, according to intelligence, his visit was meant to "appraise the location of the forepost for a future bandit attack". Belykh and Kuzin invited Kubanov into their lodgings and left the room on the pretext that they wanted to order some tea. After which a seargent with a few kossaks entered the room and hit Kubanov on the head. At this time Belykh returned and ordered to slash the prince's throat with a knife. The whole garrison learned of this affair. Belykh and Kuzin readily admitted guilt. The court-marshall sentenced them to death by firing squad. But the temporary commander of the Caucasus division appealed for a pardon and a lesser sentence on the grounds of "previous causes to the crime, that showed no personal greed or entrenched moral corruption in the accused except for their false idea of patriotism, that was due to their lack of intellectual development which lead to a wrong interpretation of their authority..." >>

All this happened a very long time ago - but somehow it rings pretty up to date when you look at what's happening in Iraq these days.





Dream of a Ridiculous Man
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

in my own voice


I am a ridiculous character. They call me a madman now. It'd be a promotion if I weren't still as ridiculous in their eyes as before. But that doesn't get me angry anymore, I like them now, all of them, even when they laugh at me - and somehow I get to like them even more for it.

I'd even laugh with them - not quite at myself, but out of love for them, if only they weren't so sad to look at. Sad, because they don't know the truth and I know the truth. Oh how hard it is to be alone to know the truth! But they wouldn't understand. No, they won't.

And before I used to be so grieved because I appeared ridiculous. And it wasn't just appearing - I was ridiculous. I've always been ridiculous, and I've known it since birth maybe. Since I was seven years old I've known it maybe, that I was ridiculous. After that I went to school and then to university and guess what - the more I studied, the better I learned to understand just how ridiculous I was. So that in the end, the more I delved into science, the more all these universities studies seemed only to exist in order to prove and explain to me that I was ridiculous.

And in life it went the same as in studies. With each year passing the consciousness of my universal ridiculousness grew and took firmer hold of my mind. Everybody, everywhere laughed at me. But none of them knew or suspected that if there existed one person on earth who knew better than everyone else just how ridiculous I was - it would be myself. And this was the most offensive part to me - that they didn't know this, but it was my own fault: I've always been way too proud to ever admit as much to anyone else under any circumstances. This pride grew inside me with time, and if it were to happen that I somehow allowed myself to admit to someone that I was ridiculous, I think I would have blown my brains with a gun that same evening.

How did I suffer in my teens that I would somehow let myself go and admit this to my shoolmates. But ever since I became a young adult, even as each year brought a new and deeper understanding of my horrible predicament, for some reason I calmed down about it somewhat. For some reason indeed, because even to this day I can't really determine how and why. Perhaps it was because my soul was gradually over-burdened with a new realisation that actually surpassed my own self - it was the onset of a certain conviction that everything everywhere in the world was all the same.

I've long had this inkling, but the conviction came only last year, as if all of a sudden. I suddenly felt that it would be all the same to me whether the world existed or whether there was a nothing everywhere. I began to feel and sense with all my being that nothing ever existed in my time. At first I kept imagining that there used to be a lot of things before, but then I figured out that before there was nothing either, and that it was all just a sort of semblance. Little by little I became convinced that there will never be anything either. And that's when I suddenly ceased to be angry with people, I almost ceased to notice them. Really, it transpired in the smallest trifles even: for example, I would be walking in the street and I'd bump into people. And it wasn't even because I was lost in thought or something - what was there to think about, I ceased to think almost entirely at that time: it was all the same to me. And it's not that I've figured out some questions - no, not even one, and there were so many there. But I realized that nothing mattered, and all the questions sort of went away.

And it was after that that I found out the truth.




I'm mildly digusted by the number of people who are still looking for that Nick Berg video - as stats show. Mildly, because I can well understand the curiosity for the fruit forbidden, but the tape is of such poor quality that, frankly, it's not worth all the titillation.

Ok, folks? It's at informationclearinghouse.com.

And if you want serious snuff-n-gore, procure yourself a tape of Pasolini's Salo or 120 Days of Sodom - it's fiction but it's so ingeniously filmed you'll be shocked.




It turns out that of all things that I've let go and abandonned in disuse, I can't quite refuse Dostoevsky - it is very strange, but the bizarre, desperate and ironic words of this man have a calming effect on me - probably because I feel in kindred company.

In the end only trust matters. And trust arises through evident kinship - I have no faith in the Gospels but Dostoevsky never fails to touch me and especially in the most dire circumstances. He has found those few words that I can't speak out. And it feels good to be laughed at and yet also understood.

Don't you think?

I like his rage - it is entirely unbounded.




It seems the more beautiful the day, the harder it is to bear.

I am well used to these feelings - trying to hold on and not breakdown despite the immense and glorious force of life that throbs everywhere on a gorgeous afternoon in May.

In other words, early blossoming of Nature can be a terrifying experience - if you can't join in.




The Dream Of a Ridiculous Man

by Fyodor Dostoevsky from Writer's Diary 1877


I am a ridiculous person. Now they call me a madman. That would be a promotion if it were not that I remain as ridiculous in their eyes as before. But now I do not resent it, they are all dear to me now, even when they laugh at me - and, indeed, it is just then that they are particularly dear to me. I could join in their laughter - not exactly at myself, but through affection for them, if I did not feel so sad as I look at them. Sad because they do not know the truth and I do know it. Oh, how hard it is to be the only one who knows the truth! But they won't understand that. No, they won't understand it.

In old days I used to be miserable at seeming ridiculous. Not seeming, but being. I have always been ridiculous, and I have known it, perhaps, from the hour I was born. Perhaps from the time I was seven years old I knew I was ridiculous. Afterwards I went to school, studied at the university, and, do you know, the more I learned, the more thoroughly I understood that I was ridiculous. So that it seemed in the end as though all the sciences I studied at the university existed only to prove and make evident to me as I went more deeply into them that I was ridiculous. It was the same with life as it was with science. With every year the same consciousness of the ridiculous figure I cut in every relation grew and strengthened. Everyone always laughed at me. But not one of them knew or guessed that if there were one man on earth who knew better than anybody else that I was absurd, it was myself, and what I resented most of all was that they did not know that. But that was my own fault; I was so proud that nothing would have ever induced me to tell it to anyone. This pride grew in me with the years; and if it had happened that I allowed myself to confess to anyone that I was ridiculous, I believe that I should have blown out my brains the same evening. Oh, how I suffered in my early youth from the fear that I might give way and confess it to my schoolfellows. But since I grew to manhood, I have for some unknown reason become calmer, though I realised my awful characteristic more fully every year. I say 'unknown', for to this day I cannot tell why it was. Perhaps it was owing to the terrible misery that was growing in my soul through something which was of more consequence than anything else about me: that something was the conviction that had come upon me that nothing in the world mattered. I had long had an inkling of it, but the full realisation came last year almost suddenly. I suddenly felt that it was all the same to me whether the world existed or whether there had never been anything at all: I began to feel with all my being that there was nothing existing. At first I fancied that many things had existed in the past, but afterwards I guessed that there never had been anything in the past either, but that it had only seemed so for some reason. Little by little I guessed that there would be nothing in the future either. Then I left off being angry with people and almost ceased to notice them. Indeed this showed itself even in the pettiest trifles: I used, for instance, to knock against people in the street. And not so much from being lost in thought: what had I to think about? I had almost given up thinking by that time; nothing mattered to me. If at least I had solved my problems! Oh, I had not settled one of them, and how many there were! But I gave up caring about anything, and all the problems disappeared.

And it was after that that I found out the truth.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004



Death of Prisoner Detailed in Testimony
When CIA officers took the Iraqi detainee to Abu Ghraib prison, his head was covered with an empty sandbag and Army guards were ordered to take him directly to a shower room that served as a makeshift interrogation center at the overcrowded, shell-damaged facility outside Baghdad.

An hour later, during intensive questioning by intelligence officers, the prisoner collapsed and died. Only then did interrogators remove the hood to reveal severe head wounds that had not been treated.

The dead prisoner, whose identity has not been made public, would become famous around the world through a photograph of a body wrapped in plastic sheeting and packed in ice — among the most indelible images yet made public in the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.
...

After the man died, the documents say, officials argued over who was responsible for the body. Eventually, the body deteriorated to the point that it had to be disposed of.

The official documents describing the episode, obtained Monday, were based on testimony at a secret military court hearing last month on the charges against Sgt. Javal S. Davis, one of seven members of the 372nd Military Police Company accused of beating and humiliating Iraqi detainees.

"He wasn't dead at first," Spc. Jason A. Kenner said of the unidentified detainee, adding that guards were told not to remove the prisoner's hood when they took him to the shower room.

"We didn't know how much he was injured. He went into the showers for interrogation, and about an hour later he died on them. I was sent to find out what was going on. Later that day, they decided to put him on ice….

"After he passed, the sandbag was removed and I saw that he was severely beaten on his face," Kenner testified. "At the time, they would interrogate people in the shower rooms. He was shackled to the wall…. The shower room was just used because there was no other space available."

Another guard in the 372nd, Spc. Bruce Brown, said, "I heard of a dead detainee being stored in the hard site. We would spray air freshener to cover the scent…. They finally took the body away."

In their testimony, Kenner and Brown agreed that the CIA had taken the prisoner to Abu Ghraib and ordered guards to take him to the interrogation center without removing the hood. They disagreed on who was involved in the subsequent questioning: Kenner said it was the CIA alone, while Brown said the CIA and military intelligence officers had worked together.
...

Separately, a key defendant in the scandal said in a sworn statement to Army investigators that mistreatment of prisoners was condoned throughout Abu Ghraib and that no one ordered a halt to the abuses or to the photographing of humiliated inmates.

"Everyone in the company from the commander down" knew what was going on, said Pfc. Lynndie England, the Army soldier seen in photographs laughing, smoking and flashing the thumbs-up in front of naked Iraqi men. "The pictures were shown to anyone who wanted to see them. Cpl. [Charles] Graner told me he showed them to his platoon sergeant and platoon leader."

England told investigators that guards forced detainees to crawl on their hands and knees on broken glass, threw a Nerf football at handcuffed prisoners and forced male detainees to wear women's "maxi pads."

She also said Graner, by whom she is now pregnant, applied needle and thread to prisoners after beating them.

"Cpl. Graner would personally stitch up detainees if the wounds weren't too bad," she said. "He would take pictures of his work. One particular incident, Cpl. Graner ran a former Iraqi general into a wall and split his lip. Cpl. Graner stitched up his lip."

England, interviewed May 5 at Ft. Bragg, N.C., said that she did not believe the guards went too far in punishing detainees and that much of what happened in the prison's notorious cellblock 1A was done in sport.

"We thought it looked funny, so pictures were taken," she said. It was "basically us fooling around."

England described abuse by six defendants, including herself, but not by the seventh: Spc. Megan Ambuhl, who is not seen in any of the prison photographs. "She rarely participated," England said. "She really wasn't part of all this."

As have other defendants, England described Graner and Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II as the leaders of the guard unit, and she said Davis was close behind.

Davis "was the intimidator," she said. "Very big. He would push them around or into walls. He also stepped on their toes. He would help with rowdy detainees.

"Personnel from MI [military intelligence] and OGA would tell us to keep it up, that we were doing a good job," she said. "I was just told we were doing a good job."

She said there were many other abuses, but "I can't remember all of them." She said she didn't think guards should be punished because "we did what we were told."

That is at the heart of the defense of the seven accused guards.
Via OTB who has more from other sources.

It's pretty clear none of these guys feels any shred of guilt over this. But not necessarily because they were told it was ok - just low-life mentality in all its splendor. What's also clear is that their superiors didn't think it deserved discipline - because it served them well in the end. It was an interrogation block, after all.

Plus, when a CIA unit brings banged-up people in - it means banging people up is the most natural thing. And why not practice it on the inside as well? Nice atmosphere - and who needs written orders. It's a war on terror, after all.

The phenomenal thing is that this Army is supposed to be the big policeman and protector of law and order in Iraq - for Iraqis' own security. I think blacks had this sort of "protection" from police in the american South somewhere in the 1960's. Was that fun or what. And for some reason it also lead to riots - but as we all know, blacks are unfit for democracy. Right? :-0




Arbitrary detentions in Iraq - pervasive abuse

As much of the world focuses on Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, dozens of detainees and their families, along with scathing reports from international human rights groups, describe mistreatment at detention centers under U.S. control from Basra and Umm al Qasr in the south to Tikrit and Mosul in northern Iraq.
...

Guards regarded their charges with hostility and "general contempt," the Red Cross said.
...

From the time she arrived at the jail, she was questioned regularly by an American officer she described as tall and fit with blondish hair and blue eyes, accompanied by an Iraqi interrogator.

Mirza is the rare woman who has come forward and talked about her imprisonment � most are too ashamed or terrified. Mirza said she was not physically abused. But her interrogators repeatedly threatened her family in an effort to extract information. They threatened to have her daughters raped and her house looted, she said. They jailed her, initially, in a crowded cell with common male criminals who she believed were on drugs.

"This woman is a terrorist," she said she overheard the U.S. officer telling the Iraqi. "Treat her in the worst possible way."
...

"The Iraqi people are angry, primarily because so many people are being detained arbitrarily. It's a harsh and inhumane detention," said Thamer Sultan, a tribal leader from the largely anti-American town of Tikrit. Now, with the Abu Ghraib scandal revealed, he said, "anger over the mistreatment is just an extension of that already pervasive anger. It only adds to the outrage."

Sultan, whose son, nephew and cousin are or have been detained, is a former army general who had a falling out with Saddam Hussein several years ago and now is a consultant to the occupation authority in the Tikrit region. His son, Omar, was held for a month and beaten by military police in December, he said, even though the young man was pointing out arms caches and providing other intelligence.

When Sultan complained about his son's beating to Bremer's representative in Tikrit, he was told that such treatment at the hands of U.S. soldiers was impossible.

"The bruises and marks were visible," Sultan said.
Sounds like Israeli "liberating" Palestinians to bring democracy and reconstruction - an outlandish scenario, but not much more than what's come to pass in Iraq :-0

"Let's "liberate" those terrorists".




Former Abu Ghraib Intel Staffer Says Army Concealed Involvement in Abuse Scandal
"There's definitely a cover-up," the witness, Sgt. Samuel Provance, said. "People are either telling themselves or being told to be quiet."

Provance, 30, was part of the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion stationed at Abu Ghraib last September. He spoke to ABCNEWS despite orders from his commanders not to.

"What I was surprised at was the silence," said Provance. "The collective silence by so many people that had to be involved, that had to have seen something or heard something."
...
Provance also described an incident when two drunken interrogators took a female Iraqi prisoner from her cell in the middle of the night and stripped her naked to the waist. The men were later restrained by another MP.
...
Maj. Gen. George Fay, the Army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, was assigned by the Pentagon to investigate the role of military intelligence in the abuse at the Iraq prison.

Fay started his probe on April 23, but Provance said when Fay interviewed him, the general seemed interested only in the military police, not the interrogators, and seemed to discourage him from testifying.

Provance said Fay threatened to take action against him for failing to report what he saw sooner, and the sergeant fears he will be ostracized for speaking out.
...
The officials said, however, that Fay and the military were committed to an honest, in-depth investigation of what happened at the prison.

But Provance believes many involved may not be as forthcoming with information.

"I would say many people are probably hiding and wishing to God that this storm passes without them having to be investigated [or] personally looked at."
Surprised? Not. Hopefully the media will continue collectively sodomizing the Army - otherwise it won't talk.




Suicide is "unlawful death" because of deep-seated moral/social instincts that it offends in people - in fact it's just another form of murder. Faced with murderous desperation people experience fear - which is expressed as panicky compassion. Those who try to stay reasonable and fight their own insticts have to make an effort - against that same moral imperative. Philosophical indifference to that instict is also experienced as offensive.

Which is why somebody like Dr.Kevorkian was unanimously jailed - as a violator and an accessory to unlawful death.

The social fear-factor here is that anything done by one person is a potentiality for anyone else - including the onlooker. It is a selfish fear and one that is designed to insulate the onlooker from the onslaught of that potentiality. Suicide and murder are taboo. But of course you don't have to go far to find out that enough people end up breaking the spell - it is breakable, very.

***

There was a story on the news the other day about an elderly man who jumped into the river right in the middle of a crowded touristy area - apparently the 86-year old tried to kill himself but was of course immediately "saved" by passer-by's who were later hailed as heroes - which is also something inevitable, the do-gooder award.

Committing suicide in public is a blatant violation of social order, ladies and gentlemen. Assisting suicide is criminal, ladies and gentlemen, and so is non-assistance in view of self-murder.

In other words - spare me that show and don't offend my humanity or I'll smother ya with compassion, man!

And then I'll get my do-gooder award.




Reuters, NBC Iraqi staff abused by U.S. Troops

BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. forces beat three Iraqis working for Reuters and subjected them to sexual and religious taunts and humiliation during their detention last January in a military camp near Falluja, the three said Tuesday.
The three first told Reuters of the ordeal after their release, but only decided to make it public when the U.S. military said there was no evidence they had been abused and following the exposure of similar mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
An Iraqi journalist working for NBC, who was arrested with the Reuters staff, also said he had been beaten and mistreated, NBC said Tuesday.
Two of the three Reuters staff said they had been forced to insert a finger into their anus and then lick it, and were forced to put shoes in their mouths, particularly humiliating in Arab culture.
All three said they were forced to make demeaning gestures as soldiers laughed, taunted them and took photographs. They said they did not want to give details publicly earlier because of the degrading nature of the abuse.
The men said the soldiers deprived them of sleep, placed bags over their heads, kicked and hit them, forced them to remain in stress positions for long periods and told them they would be taken to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
The U.S. military, in a report issued before the Abu Ghraib abuse became public, said there was no evidence the Reuters staff had been tortured or abused.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, said in a letter received by Reuters Monday but dated March 5 that he was confident the investigation had been "thorough and objective" and its findings were sound.
The Pentagon has yet to respond to a request by Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger to review the military's findings about the incident in light of the scandal over the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Asked for comment Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said only: "There are a number of lines of inquiry under way with respect to prison operations in Iraq. If during the course of any inquiry, the commander believes it is appropriate to review a specific aspect of detention, he has the authority to do so."
The abuse happened at Forward Operating Base Volturno, near Falluja, the Reuters staff said. They were detained Jan. 2 while covering the aftermath of the shooting down of a U.S. helicopter near Falluja and held for three days, first at Volturno and then at Forward Operating Base St Mere.
The three Iraqis -- Baghdad-based cameraman Salem Ureibi, Falluja-based freelance television journalist Ahmad Mohammad Hussein al-Badrani and driver Sattar Jabar al-Badrani -- were released without charge Jan. 5.
'INADEQUATE' INVESTIGATION

"When I saw the Abu Ghraib photographs, I wept," Ureibi said Tuesday. "I saw they had suffered like we had."
Ureibi, who understands English better than the other two detainees, said soldiers told him they wanted to have sex with him, and he was afraid he would be raped.
NBC, whose stringer Ali Muhammed Hussein Ali al-Badrani was detained along with the Reuters staff, said he reported that a hood was placed over his head for hours, he was forced to perform physically debilitating exercises, he was prevented from sleeping and struck and kicked several times.
"Despite repeated requests, we have yet to receive the results of the army investigation," NBC News Vice President Bill Wheatley said.
Schlesinger sent a letter to Sanchez Jan. 9 demanding an investigation into the treatment of the three Iraqis.
The U.S. Army said it was investigating and requested further information. Reuters provided transcripts of initial interviews with the three following their release and offered to make them available for interview by investigators.
A summary of the investigation by the 82nd Airborne Division, dated Jan. 28 and provided to Reuters, said "no specific incidents of abuse were found." It said soldiers responsible for the detainees were interviewed under oath and "none admit or report knowledge of physical abuse or torture."
"The detainees were purposefully and carefully put under stress, to include sleep deprivation, in order to facilitate interrogation; they were not tortured," it said. The version received Monday used the phrase "sleep management" instead.
The U.S. military never interviewed the three for its investigation.
On Feb. 3, Schlesinger wrote to Lawrence Di Rita, special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying the investigation was "woefully inadequate" and should be reopened.
"The military's conclusion of its investigation without even interviewing the alleged victims, along with other inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the report, speaks volumes about the seriousness with which the U.S. government is taking this issue," he wrote.

ABUSE SCANDAL

The U.S. military faced international outrage this month after photographs surfaced showing U.S. soldiers humiliating and abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad.
An investigation by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba found that "numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees" in Abu Ghraib.
Seven U.S. soldiers have been charged over the Abu Ghraib abuse and the first court-martial is set for Wednesday.
U.S. officials say the abuse was carried out by a small number of soldiers and that all allegations of abuse are promptly and thoroughly investigated.

05/18/04 14:47 ET
The obvious irony is that, had these guys tried to go public with this story *before* Abu Ghraib scandal, they'd be dismissed right away as "lying Arabs" or at best just "grumpy Arabs" :-0

And it also shows you just how great the Army is at investigating itself - especially when some insignificant foreigners are concerned.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Please disregard

I'm having quite a time outta here. Statistically speaking, I get to cry at least once a day and I can't say I do it on purpose - it just happens, especially at waking up and opening my eyes to a new day. Heh.
In a way, I wish I could just breakdown and cry buckets and get it all out of my system once in a while but I can't, it's more of a "oh fuck not again" kind of lacrimosity, bitter and reluctant.

Oh well, what else is new.

I am probably not entirely aware of the true depth of my depression - I know I am not doing well, but I have an inkling from time to time that what I am conscious of is peanuts compared to the extent of this thing. I suppose it's a defence-survival mechanism that consistently minimizes the situation in order to endure something that needs enduring. And who cares how bad it is.

So in a way I am deluding myself of course - for the purpose of not sinking like a rock but more like a log, gradually and inevitably, due to being too far away from shore. At the same time, I can't really think myself either deeper in or right out. The thing about self-delusion is that everything is denied - the good as much as the bad - and it's a distorted picture of the real state of affairs as a result.

But I'd much rather sink like a rock at this stage, if only I could find enough focus to bring it all together and tighten the noose, so to speak. I came close anough recently and it's a big first - after years and years of slow-burner. Hopefully this trend will not go away because I am dead tired of gradual rot as it is. Would very much like to dispense with more of the same - it's a tired old adventure by now.

The central fact is that I cannot reconcile myself with being a broken jar. You know what they say - it can't hold water, and let's just say water is life or something like that. It is beyond dispute at this late hour that being a broken jar is all that's left - and it's entirely beyond repair, realistically speaking. I'd love to delude myself further in that respect but I can't do it anymore - facts are staring at me and I cannot avoid looking.

Maybe my aesthetic sentiment is offended, what'd'ya know.

It is a peculiar and strange experience to perdure in a world that is so full of beauty and to be such an ugly spot of shit in that picture. The fact that there are many other such sad spots is not comforting - I know they're not happy :)

Of course hope is never far away - but the problem with hope is that it is part of self-delusion and does nothing against basic facts, only veils them for a while, so I can have a break from seeing things for what they are.

I've been trying to compose a farewell note to family and friends in my mind, in a sort of day-dreaming, but it doesn't come out that good - basically, the truth of this whole matter is that I just don't know why it came to this, I can't think of no explanations, justifications, blames or coherent arguments. I truly and honestly have no clue - as to why exactly. Too many factors and too many of those factors are nearly intangible.

So now you know that all life-stories are basically just lies and pent-up constructions - nobody really knows how and why and what.

On the other hand, there is still the possibility that I actually need to go where I've been adamantly refusing to go up til now - it is entirely possible that that's where the bad root of all this is buried. I've been refusing because it means surrender. Maybe I need to surrender and be defeated. Acknowledging the broken jar, so to speak.

I'll see if I have the guts though.




Who is behind the "rise of antisemitic attacks" in Canada
MONTREAL (CP) - A man charged with arson and conspiracy in the firebombing of the library at a Jewish school was granted bail Monday after friends and family came up with $20,000.
Simon Zogheib, 18, also had to hand in his passport, was ordered to keep the peace and was told not to enter a large area of Montreal that includes the United Talmud Torah elementary school, where the firebombing occurred April 5.
Zogheib, Sleiman Elmerhebi, 18, and Rouba Elmerhebi Fahd, 36, were arrested last Friday.
Elmerhebi also has charged been with arson and conspiracy, while his mother faces a charge of being an accessory after the fact.
Crown prosecutor Anne Aube opposed bail for Elmerhebi Fahd and her son, saying only that their circumstances are "different."
Their bail hearing was set for Wednesday. All three pleaded not guilty on Saturday and opted for trial by judge and jury.
A note left at the school after the fire said the attack was in retaliation for Israel's killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Montreal police have not released any details on the background of the three accused.
Rejean Laforest, who is defending Zogheib, said he was happy his client had been released because "that's what was supposed to happen."
Laforest said the $20,000 he was carrying in his pocket after Zogheib's brief court appearance came from family and friends of the accused.
"It came from people around him who couldn't stomach the idea of an adolescent, a person who has just turned 18, being incarcerated," he told reporters.
Aube said the perimeter is an important condition of Zogheib's bail.
"What we want at the moment is to protect people who feel like victims and who are scared," Aube said.
Jeff Boro, head of the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said the bail conditions are serious, especially the perimeter.
"The Crown decided in their wisdom that this person should be released and I'm sure they didn't take the decision lightly," Boro said.
"Obviously, it's an English and Jewish section and there are several schools that Jewish children go to in that area."
The firebombing prompted widespread support, including a financial pledge from Russell Crowe to replace books burned in the fire.
The school reopened about 10 days after the incident.

The Canadian Press, 2004
05/17/2004 18:28 EST
Predictable news. It's a known fact that this whole anti-semitism rise-in-Canada thing is of imported origine and can be safely blamed on rather recent immigrants - those who have not integrated as yet and whose thinking is entirely non-canadian and very anti-jewish.

Any questions?




Sarin Nerve Agent Bomb Explodes in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent exploded near a U.S. military convoy, the U.S. military said Monday. Two people were treated for "minor exposure,'' but no serious injuries were reported.
"The Iraqi Survey Group confirmed today that a 155-millimeter artillery round containing sarin nerve agent had been found,'' said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman in Iraq. "The round had been rigged as an IED (improvised explosive device) which was discovered by a U.S. force convoy.
"A detonation occurred before the IED could be rendered inoperable. This produced a very small dispersal of agent,'' he said.
The incident occurred "a couple of days ago,'' he said.
The Iraqi Survey Group is a U.S. organization whose task was to search for weapons of mass destruction after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in last year's invasion.
The round was an old 'binary-type' shell in which two chemicals held in separate sections are mixed after firing to produce sarin, Kimmitt said.
He said he believed that insurgents who rigged the artillery shell as a bomb didn't know it contained the nerve agent, and that the dispersal of the nerve agent from such a rigged device was very limited.
"The former regime had declared all such rounds destroyed before the 1991 Gulf War,'' Kimmitt said. "Two explosive ordinance team members were treated for minor exposure to nerve agent as a result of the partial detonation of the round.''
In 1995, Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult unleashed sarin gas in Tokyo's subways, killing 12 people and sickening thousands. In February of this year, Japanese courts convicted the cult's former leader, Shoko Asahara, and sentence him to be executed.
Developed in the mid-1930s by Nazi scientists, a single drop of sarin can cause quick, agonizing choking death. There are no known instances of the Nazis actually using the gas.
Nerve gases work by inhibiting key enzymes in the nervous system, blocking their transmission. Small exposures can be treated with antidotes, if administered quickly.
Antidotes to nerve gases similar to sarin are so effective that top poison gas researchers predict they eventually will cease to be a war threat.
05/17/04 11:05 EDT
The cyanide capsule that Goering swallowed in prison and died instantly was likely also of "binary" design - since it is hydrogen cyanide gaz and not cyanide salts per se that kill really fast (they metabolize into gaz when mixed with acids and water in the body upon digestion).

I suppose "one drop of sarin" is something else than sarin-as-gaz. More like strychnine and such, I figure.




Abu Ghraib urban-legends

Post Scriptum. Among the various misconceptions that this story gave birth to is apparently the idea in some liberal minds (after reading comments such as this at Kevin Drum's blog) that those prisoners at Abu Ghraib who figure in the photos were somehow "innocent people", or just accidentally-jailed people, in other words - all-around victims.

That's stupid.

The point should not be: "who deserves having a broom-stick pushed up his ass" or not. And thus the point is *not* whether those guys were thugs and scum or angelic innocents.

Pro-war folks are trying to justify the whole thing with "revealing" and underline what total scum those particular Iraqis were - I suppose it's just the other side of the same mentality that needs to imagine those guys as pitiful innocents.

And just to make sure: when the case is being made for "systemic" abuse-practices it does *not* imply nor suggests that all/most US troops were ever involved in anything like this - or will be, for that matter.

For one thing, the US and UK troops are pretty disciplined on the whole - and I am not expecting them to be all college professors. Most are just pretty provincial-minded folks from small-towns and it is the duty of higher command to ensure they stay on track in their thinking and acting. Most people are not dumb and narrow-minded naturally - a lot is due to education or lack thereof. So yeah - let's not expect every single soldier in US Army to be a thoroughly comprehending, sympathetic, bright kinda of fellow. Nah. Let's rather have a clear chain of command and officers with a wider outlook to impart wisdom of this outlandishly "humanitarian" mission to their troops.

I can only imagine just how hard this last part must be in view of the confusion on the ground.

That home-made video (broadcast on 60 Minutes II) made by a US gal at a desert detention camp "somewhere in Iraq" is telling - complete and unabashed hatred of everything Arab. I don't find it in me to blame her personally - knowing what sort of undiluted messages she's been sucking up ever since 9/11 and the War on Terror rallying-cry.

Yeah, I know - sounds condescending. And why not? I'd love to see a brave ideologue like Victor Hanson for instance go command a platoon of those wonderful American guys and gals out there - I am sure this would prove a blasting reality-check as to how a good chunk of "average Americans" actually think and feel in that incomprehensible land.

It's outlandish to demand clarity and unbending rightiousness from real people facing real blood and hardship when the underlying ideology is all fucked up.

There is this coy reference all the time to "liberation of Germany in WWII". Oh yeah? It would help to remember that half of Germany was "liberated" by Soviet troops - who also freely raped and banged-up half of the population in the process: through all the accumulated hate of the Nazis and it was payback time. Somehow the US never had that same personal hatred of Germans - maybe because Germany never managed to fuck up their home-towns. Their biggest shock came with seeing extremination camps - yeah, that was shocking, but still it wasn't seeing a pile of American civilian bodies, right?

So let's say the hate-factor that 9/11 brought about should really be taken into account here. It's a fucking first for America, face it. Pearl Harbor was bad. I'd contend WTC was much worse. And you can't just pretend and say it's not there - it is, very much so.

A lot of this hate and anger is blended into that incredible "liberation"-alias-"war on terror" dynamic in Iraq. And there is no way you can reconcile this inherent contradiction - it's a thin lie and it bursts open whenever push comes to shove. The real rationale, the one that the whole of US felt deeply and swallowed whole was "war on terror" - getting back at the bad guys - and not "liberation" or sudden concern for the plight of some backward Arab people.

Yeah, the idea of "beacon of freedom in the ME" and all that crap sounds so very noble. But at heart it is a war of retribution first and foremost. And I really don't understand what else it could be - and neither do a lot of those troops out there. Notwithstanding all the breathless bigotry involved.

Can we please shoot the enemy already? Nah - first you have to earn the love of his brethern. Say what??

Good luck with further nonsense, folks. Just try to keep the discipline though and pray for speedy return home.




Abu Ghraib follow-up

I am relieved to announce that the story has not been dropped in a dire void of freshly supplied "visual material" (as I feared it'd happen in a previous post) but is being further investigated - and The New Yorker is leading the way once again ("The Gray Zone").

The rest of the press is jumping on the band-wagon big time and if they hold on long enough, maybe the wagon will turn out to be part of a whole freight train - slow, heavy, and hard-hitting. As long as somebody is in the driver's seat - and that's clearly been Sy Hersh aka The New Yorker so far.

***

NBC visual material exclusive and it's not sex: Photo may show intelligence officers in charge



Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., leaning against the wall and labeled as No. 1, identified four other soldiers in this photograph (Nos. 4, 5, 7 and 8) as military intelligence officers. No. 2 is a civilian translator.

***

And it's not about just Abu Ghraib or just Iraq. It's about "The roots of Torture", as Newsweek pretty aptly put it. And it's about The Policy of Abuse, as per Washington Post. And it all started right after 9/11 and the Patriot Act and The War on Terror and Guantanamo - this story hits right at the solar plexus of this WH.

Of course the Pentagon is denying everything - which is expected and cannot be believed until verified.

Detailed blogger round-ups and pointed comments of this ongoing saga are to be found at the Reading A1 blog and Intel Dump.

What I regret however is that the press was so feckless as to demand resignation of Rumsfield *before* any sort of substantial investigation was done - crying wolf big time.

Sunday, May 16, 2004



Technicalities

Blogger has refurbished its program and now we have all this for free:

- in-built comments system with many special features (needs enabling)
- blogging by e-mail (needs enabling)
- permalinks ID is cued from the first few words or Title of the post
- displays post by itself when clicking on a permalink (needs enabling)
- detailed profile for your blog - and searching for other bloggers' profiles (needs setting up)

Notably, trackback is lacking. Perhaps because it's not such a priority - Technorati will tell you who's linking to your posts and there are standalone Trackback services to send pings.

I think there are other new features but these are the main ones. I am intending to dispense with this blog soon enough so it's not really important to me - but maybe some reader will profit from knowing.





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