President George W. Bush has been a little worried, in the wake of the Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld decision which held, lo and behold, that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to the United States of America even when it is torturing or beating the living shit out of an Arab or a sort of Arab-looking person (such as an Afghan) in some American hellhole like Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. That is (get this) the U.S. military, the CIA and any mercernary hired to do the rough stuff is subject to the War Crimes Act, even though the scum or lower life form on the receiving end of the mayhem is not actually part of a regular army of a country which is signatory to the Geneva Conventions. The Supreme Court, "in other words" (in Georgie's favorite phrase), has ruled that the Arab or Arabo-human is entitled to protection just because he is a human being. Prior to this decision, on the basis of legal opinions bought and paid for by the Bush Administration (including, to my lasting shame, the opinion of John Yoo of UC Berkeley), Bush & Co. had proceeded on the assumption they could do any damn thing they wanted with complete impunity. Not so, said the Supremes. After the Hamdan decision was explained to Bush, he must have had a Jimmy Durante moment: What a revoltin' development dis is!
Indeed, it does pose a parlous situation for W. That's because the War Crimes Act is a little austere in its disapprobations:
August 19, 2006
Can Bush's Ex Post Facto Amendment to the War Crimes Act Shield Him From An Ex Post Facto Amendment of the War Crimes Act?
Posted by Waldenswimmer at 10:28:00 AM
August 14, 2006
I suppose the thing I like most about Thoreau is his unquestionable sincerity and enthusiasm. The prose of "Walden" is a little archaic, even after considering that most of it was written in the early 1840's; nevertheless, he got his ideas across, sometimes with stunning insight. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." He wondered, mainly, whether this condition was necessary. I don't know what his answer really was. I think he may have found answers for himself but not for the mass of men, although he never had intentions of being an elitist. He was trying to find, in his noble experiment, answers of general application. The peroration of Walden dwarfs the loftiest self-help bromides of Dr. Phil or Dr. Wayne Dyer (all these "doctors.") "I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." For years I kept those words taped to my bathroom mirror.
Thoreau, perhaps, was not what we would now call a "complete" man. He wasn't fully "realized" because he didn't have a wife, or family, or even a solid body of work. His writing is full of the untempered defiance of youth because he didn't outlive his youth. He was born in 1817 and died of tuberculosis in 1862, just short of his 45th birthday. The two years and two months at the Pond were spent in his late twenties. Nevertheless, his penetrating intelligence was such that he saw through to eternal verities from the start. This seems to me the defining characteristic of great genius. It seems impossible for someone to overcome the limiting prejudices and conceptions of his era and write something true not just for the moment, but for the ages. Thoreau did exactly that. Living and writing in an environment, the New England of the first half of the 19th Century, that we might now consider idyllic, he nevertheless foresaw and described the horrors of the Industrial Revolution and what it would mean for modern life as men were increasingly forced into roles as cogs in an immense social machine.
160 years after Thoreau spent his 26 months at Walden Pond, we now see what life is in a "globalized" economy and observe, in its fully realized form, the sense of pervasive helplessness that now afflicts a human species completely alienated from its natural environment. I think about problems like global warming and reflect that Thoreau, musing in 1845, noted that even then there were "professors of philosophy but no philosophers." So today, while everyone continues to drive the same cars, heat the same huge houses, fly anywhere they want in the jumbo jets that deposit CO2 right at the atmospheric level where it does the most damage, we judge the relative "virtue" of our polluting friends and neighbors by their "attitudes" about what they're doing. If they feel bad about it, and talk about the books they've read on the subject, they can do whatever they want. Someday we'll begin dealing with the problem, someday when it's not as inconvenient. A celebrity might have houses in West L.A. and in Martha's Vineyard and sear the atmosphere with a CO2 contrail of Heat Death, but if she drives a Prius and makes the right noises, she's a heroine for the modern age.
Thoreau would have laughed ruefully at all of this, then gone for his morning swim. His virtue was its own reward. He would have been more out of place in this day and age than ever, his drummer striking a cadence, measured and far away, which we simply can't hear anymore.
Posted by Waldenswimmer at 9:10:00 AM