Thursday, September 28, 2006

I Was Never So Scared of Terrorism as I am of this Law

As a follow-up to my post last week about the torture bill, I note that the compromise that was worked out between Bush and McCain gave the president pretty much everything he wanted, and then additional changes subsequent to that made the law even worse. Now that the bill has passed both the House and Senate, and the President is poised to sign it, we are at a crossroads, where I truly fear for the existence of our Republic -- this quite possibly is the most dangerous law Congress has ever passed. This law "authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights." It is left to the government to decide who is an enemy combatant, and anyone so designated can be "detained" indefinitely, and tortured during that detainment. As I noted in my earlier post, even when acting in good faith the government can make mistakes, and this legislation removes some of the vital safeguards that could limit the harm inflicted on such innocent people.

I don't expect to one day vanish at the hands of our government, my employer, but until today I never considered it even a remote possibility.

Tonight I can't help but feel that America is anything but the Land of the Free or the Home of the Brave. To pass such legislation, collectively we are afraid of our own shadows and so we yield some of our basic freedoms.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Counting Down

We're a little over five weeks away from Kathy's due date, and Friday and Saturday we did "The Berthing Class." I hadn't realized that someone could assemble a 10-hour class on how to stow your baby on a ship, but it seems that everything about expecting your first child is focused on preparing yourself for that for which you can't prepare. Let's face it -- when someone tells me, "You're whole life is going to change," all I can do is say, "Yes, I know that (and try to avoid any snippiness in that response), but I don't know what that means." Still, there are classes out there on everything -- seriously, the instructor over the weekend told us that they were going to be offering a class on Infants and Pets.

On Friday night, we only covered a few things, most notably a couple of birth videos. After the last video, right before class finished up, the instructor informed us that the video was several years old, and that the loving and caring environment surrounding the mothers-to-be doesn't really exist anymore. The nurse won't be there the whole time, though she'll still check in with the Mom every half hour or so. And don't expect the doctor in much at all. So you need all the support you can get, and did I mention we offer doula services? She wasn't quite that direct, but the men in the class all could see that connection drawn pretty clearly (the women, being bathed in pregnancy hormone stew, were still all teary from watching the births and refused to acknowledge even the slightest link). For those of you who haven't dealt with the whole pregnancy thing in a few years, doulas are all the rage -- a doula is a non-medical person you hire to be there with you throughout the labor process (even before you get to the hospital), who is there for support, advice, and calmness when the nervous father-to-be is a bucket of jelly.

So on the way out to the car, Kathy was rather distressed. Her sister is planning to come down and be with us, serving as an unofficial doula, but it wasn't clear that she'd be down at the right time, or that she'd even get down here in time. Her doctor has sort of bailed on her (the doc is a high-risk pregnancy specialist, and we don't know if Kathy not having any problems is the reason why, but the fact is that she has no appointments available until the week before Kathy's due date). And if the nurse won't be there the whole time, then there's only me, and what if I become a bucket of jelly.

"Kathy my love," I do my best to explain, "I will be there, focused 100% on you -- it's all about you, and I promise not to be all queasy in the corner while you're having contractions that make Joe Theismann's broken leg seem like a mosquito bite. Until you're at the delivery stage, there's no blood or gore, so even if I'm susceptible to faintness then, you'll have the nurse and doctor with you for that final stretch. So you see, you'll have someone looking out for you the whole time. I even promise to pee in between contractions."

Somehow this bit of spontaneous logic got through the haze caused by the instructor showing those damned birthing videos before she covered pain management techniques (I still think that was deliberate).

One of the things covered on Saturday was the fact that more women than ever before are having babies early. And the three factors that seem to contribute to the likelihood of an early delivery is age (35+), whether IVF was used, and if you have a short cycle. Kathy fits all three, plus her mother delivered her six weeks early (though admittedly we have no idea if there's a genetic tie to this). But just in case that's not enough, we've determined that based on the descriptions provided in the rest of the class (confirmed by the instructor), Kathy has gone through lightening, i.e., the baby's head has dropped into the pelvis. That's not a sure sign of anything, but it makes it likely that the birth is only 2-3 weeks away.

On one level, that's fine by me -- I'd much rather an early (but not too early) birth than a late one. On another, however, it makes the reality of the situation that much more palpable -- the imminence is a bit daunting. We have lots scheduled in the next few weeks, and I guess we won't be able to do it all. At last night's DC United game (which United won), I couldn't help but think that I was saying goodbye instead of good night to my friends at evening's end -- the next home game is in two weeks, and by then I may have had to call it a season. Not that I'm complaining!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Turn It On, Turn It On Again

After beating the Columbus Crew on July 15, D.C. United's record stood at 13 wins, five ties, and one loss. Since that time, however, United has only won once in nine league games, tying five and losing three. Having jumped out to such a great record in the first half of the season, the team is still all-but-assured of winning the Eastern Conference and having home field advantage in the playoffs, but it's not clear which set of results is the correct reflection of the team.

Early in the season, I recall thinking that we were getting much better than deserved results -- we tied games where we deserved to lose, and won games which easily could have ended in ties. But as the season unfolded, United began earning its wins. Either the team was gelling, or it gained confidence from the early good fortune. Before our record turned south, we had won seven consecutive games. At the same time, however, the team beat the weak foes in its conference -- we played all four of our games against both last place Columbus and fourth place Kansas City in our first 19 games, and had won seven of them, tying the other. Take away the games against those clearly inferior opponents, as well as our three games against the 5th place Red Bull New York (a win and 2 ties), and our record against the rest of the league is 6 wins, 7 ties and 4 losses -- better than average, but nothing special.

Then again, we've had injuries to several of our top offensive players in recent weeks, and knowing that the regular season isn't very important, Coach Nowak has exercised caution with the injuries. Similarly, we've had several stretches where we've had midweek games, and Nowak has rested some of the starters in order to ensure they'll be fresh at the end of the season. In an important game, the best players would be on the field if they're able to be.

And I guess that's really where we sit right now -- the recent slide seems due to not being as good as our record indicates, and a mentality that at this point, each game isn't critical. One of the enduring questions in sports is whether a team, having taken the foot off the pedal, can regain its edge when it wants to. Often this is a matter of a team having clinched a playoff spot with a couple of weeks to go, and so they want to rest their starters -- the last five games of an 82-game NBA season means little to a team that won its division with eight games to go. The difference, however, is that in the case of D.C. United, the resting up involves the most recent 9 games in a 32-game schedule -- over 25 percent of the season -- during a stretch of over two months. I have trouble believing that it's as easy as turning on a light switch after such a long period of suckitude.

United has four games left in the regular season. Hopefully its next game, Saturday against likely first-round playoff opponent Red Bull, shows a return to the early season form as the team gears up for the playoffs. Best regular season record or not, I don't see this team making it to the championship game, much less winning it, if it doesn't get its act together soon.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How Can We Even Be Having this Debate?

I can't believe that anyone can seriously advocate the use of torture in interrogation. Were it just a single nutcase it would be bad enough, but that its use is advocated by the President and a significant number of members of Congress is a sad reflection on our country. It's fine that a group of Republican senators led by John McCain are concerned about the precedent that it sets for the treatment of captured American soldiers, but their concern should go well beyond that:

1. The people being tortured have rarely (if ever) been charged with any crime, much less convicted of one. In other words, they're being treated as guilty until proven innocent (in the rare instance where they get the opportunity to show their innocence). And evidence is mounting that many detainees have done nothing wrong other than to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or to be named by unreliable "witnesses."

2. People die from torture.

3. Torture doesn't work.

a. Despite a claim from the Administration, not substantiated, no one has stepped forth with evidence that torture produces reliable intelligence. Given how eager the Administration is to continue its torturing, it doesn't take a great leap to make an reasonable assumption -- if the Administration had any proof whatsoever to support this naked assertion, it would be trumpeting it.

b. As the article in today's Washington Post about a Canadian sent to Syria (admittedly he was under suspicion based on a tip from Canadian authorities) under "extraordinary rendition" (yet another behavior the U.S. shouldn't engage in) demonstrates, torture induces the victim to say anything necessary to make the torture stop.

He was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan -- where he never has been -- and then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for 10 months before he was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found.

O'Connor concluded that "categorically there is no evidence" that Arar did anything wrong or was a security threat.

Let's keep in mind that the information provided by the Canadian government was probably more reliable than some of the "evidence" used to keep detainees in Guantanamo and the secret prisons in Europe. It also bears noting that this is one of the very few cases we can examine, and only because Canada decided to investigate (the U.S. refused to particpate or cooperate with the investigation). How many more innocent people have confessed to crimes they didn't commit, only to get the torture to stop?

c. Then let's consider the broader picture --

Exhibit A is the torture-extracted confession of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al Qaeda captive who told the CIA in 2001, having been "rendered" to the tender mercies of Egypt, that Saddam Hussein had trained al Qaeda to use WMD. It appears that this confession was the only information upon which, in late 2002, the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state repeatedly claimed that "credible evidence" supported that claim, even though a now-declassified Defense Intelligence Agency report from February 2002 questioned the reliability of the confession because it was likely obtained under torture. In January 2004, al-Libi recanted his "confession," and a month later, the CIA recalled all intelligence reports based on his statements.

Talk about a spectacular failure -- one could argue that rather than saving lives, this confession has contributed to every casualty from Iraq.

4. Any effort to "win the hearts and minds" of Muslims around the world is meaningless as long as the talk about our freedoms, constitution, and justice system are belied by our actions that stand in complete disregard of our principles. As Colin Powell noted in an understated letter, "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 [of the Geneva Convention] would add to those doubts."

Last night the Bush Administration offered a compromise to McCain and the other "rebel" Republicans, and it's unclear how the proposal (or future ones) will be greeted. Anyone with senators (unlike those of us in DC), I urge you to contact them and express your opposition to any legislation that will permit torture.