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A Wonderful New Norwegian Band!

While doing a research-related search for the term "up the asspipe", I stumbled upon the MySpace page for F**khole, a delicious new Norwegian snark-punk ensemble. Visit them here. (note: "up the asspipe" is filed under the myspace category "sounds like").

And in case you're put off by the charmingly passe "punk" sounds emanating from the website, I can assure you that, like almost all Norwegian punk bands, F**hole are almost certainly composed of kind, patient, self-effacing young men, most of whom probably still live with their parents.


A Fine Roman Snail

While bicycling along the Rhine last weekend, I came across this glorious beast ambling across the trail:

Weinberg Schnecke

This is helix pomatia, known in German as a Weinbergschnecke (lit: vineyard snail). It belongs to the category of animals known in German as Weichtiere (lit: soft animals!). It has various names in English, such as Burgundy snail or Roman snail (since we know the Romans liked to eat them). They are generally what you get in a French restaurant when you order escargot.

In the wild, they can live 6-8 years, in captivity up to 20.  Specimens found in the wild are protected under the German equivalent (g) of the Endangered Species Act. They are hermaphrodites who nevertheless mate in pairs, a process which involves two snails rearing up, locking their moist bodies together, and stabbing each other with 11-millimeter long "love darts". Not unlike what goes on in my apartment of a Saturday night.

The snail made me think of this stanza of a poem by Kenneth Koch: 

Look at this wolf.

He is lighter than a car

But heavier than a baby carriage.

He is highly effective.

Each wolf manifestation is done entirely in the classic manner of a wolf.

He stands completely still.

He is not "too busy to talk to you,"

Not "in conference" or "on the phone."

Some day there may not be any more wolves.

Civilization has not been moving in a way that is favorable to them.

Meanwhile, there is this one.


Kebriaei Speech Wrap-Up

Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights gave a very interesting speech yesterday about her work defending Guantanamo Bay detainees as part of the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative.
 
Here's a videotape of the speech. The first speaker is Lars Wildhagen of the Freundeskreis (Alumni Association) of the Law Faculty, then comes Sven van Teeffelen of the University Group of Amnesty International (who's a theoretical physicist!), and then I give a potted introduction to habeas corpus. While swaying back and forth annoyingly. That's probably because I usually walk around a lot during my normal lectures, but didn't have room to do that this time. After that, Ms. Kebriaei discusses the legal situation of the 220 remaining detainees at Guantanamo Bay (I hope the embed works):
 
 
As she makes clear, one of the principal goals of her trip is to try to convince European governments to take in Guantanamo detainees. Dozens of detainees who have been cleared for release, but who remain incarerated at Guantanamo because they can't be sent back to their home countries, and no "safe third country" can be found which is willing to take them in. Most of the detainees would be happy to relocate to Europe.
 
She acknowledges that the Bush Administration created this problem, and that European governments therefore don't feel any particular sense of responsibility for solving it. She's also aware that the recent grandstanding by Republican Members of the U.S. Congress on the issue of relocating Guantanamo inmates to the U.S. mainland (and the Democrats' pusillanimous response to that grandstanding) is unhelpful. Why, indeed, should European governments agree to take in detainees that American politicians denounce as dangerous?
 
Kebriaei, by the way, disagrees with that characterization. Many of the detainees were seized by farmers and peasants in return for dollar-denominated bounties which were huge by the standards of rural Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is credible evidence against some detainees, but almost all of the rest protest their innocence, and the evidence against them is often speculative or the product of torture. She points out that about 500 people have been released from Guantanamo so far, and that the vast majority of them have simply begun rebuilding their lives. She urges Europeans to see the issue in terms of people who have been locked in a high-security prison for years, subjected to isolation custody and other forms of abuse, and who have never been convicted of any crime. The U.S. is ready and willing to relocate them right now, but is just waiting for a suitable third-country destination to declare its willingness to house them. I found it a pretty convincing case.
 
After her evening speech, we all went out and had a pint or two at a local Kneipe. Ms. Kebriaei had lots of fascinating stories about her work. Like most of the lawyers who represent Guantanamo detainees, she had to obtain a security clearance, which was a 3-month-long invasive process. As a result, there are aspects of the cases she's working on which she not only can't discuss with us, but which she can't even discuss with her own clients. This makes representing them extremely difficult. In 2003 and 2004, it was difficult to find enough pro bono lawyers willing to take on the cases of Guantanamo detainees, but in the meantime, it's become much easier -- in fact, it's almost fashionable these days for a big law firm to represent a Guantanamo detainee. Nevertheless, she can't see how Obama is going to be able to keep his promise of closing Guantanamo in one year. The court proceeding against the remaining detainees are just moving much too slowly. If anything's going to solve the problem, it will likely be a large-scale political settlement.
 
In any event, it was a thought-provoking speech, and elicited rapt interest from the audience, who had plenty of questions.

Town and Gown in Iran

StratFor, an intermittently interesting think-tank, highlights one aspect of the unrest in Iran that seems pretty relevant:

This is also what happened in Iran this week. The global media, obsessively focused on the initial demonstrators — who were supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s opponents — failed to notice that while large, the demonstrations primarily consisted of the same type of people.... [R]eporters failed to notice that the uprising was not spreading to other classes and to other areas. In constantly interviewing English-speaking demonstrators, they failed to note just how many of the demonstrators spoke English and had smartphones.

The media thus did not recognize these as the signs of a failing revolution. Later, when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke Friday and called out the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, they failed to understand that the troops — definitely not drawn from what we might call the “Twittering classes,” would remain loyal to the regime for ideological and social reasons. The troops had about as much sympathy for the demonstrators as a small-town boy from Alabama might have for a Harvard postdoc. Failing to understand the social tensions in Iran, the reporters deluded themselves into thinking they were witnessing a general uprising. But this was not St. Petersburg in 1917 or Bucharest in 1989 — it was Tiananmen Square.

...[T]the social difference between someone living in a town with 10,000 people and someone living in Tehran is the difference between someone living in Bastrop, Texas and someone living in New York. We can assure you that that difference is not only vast, but that most of the good people of Bastrop and the fine people of New York would probably not see the world the same way. The failure to understand the dramatic diversity of Iranian society led observers to assume that students at Iran’s elite university somehow spoke for the rest of the country.



Talking Guantanamo on Wednesday

This coming Wednesday I'll be moderating an English-language talk by Pardiss Kebriaei, an American attorney from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) who's representing several detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The talk is a joint project of DIAS (a Duesseldorf-based foreign policy think tank) and the Heinrich-Heine University Group of Amnesty International (g). A preview of the talk in German can be found here.

The CCR is the pioneering force behind the Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, a program whose purpose is to provide high-quality legal representation for all of the individuals detained at Guantanamo:

Nuts and bolts: The talk will happen on Wednesday, 24 June, at 12:30 PM  in the Grosser Vortragssaal (Large Lecture Room) of the main library of the University of Duesseldorf, Building 24.41 (identifed with the word Bibliothek on this map (g)).

The speech will be held in English. We're anticipating good turnout, and the Large Lecture Room actually isn't all that large, so come early to get prime seats. Of course, there'll be a question-and-answer period after the talk, and I'll translate questions from German into English if need be. 

We'll try to keep the talk as accessible as possible, but the legal issues are fairly involved, so you might want to read up first. Here's a fact sheet about the Supreme Court's landmark 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush. If you're one of those people who wants to go straight to the source, go here (.pdf) to find all 134 pages of the court opinion (including a nice potted history of the right of habeas corpus). I don't want to give away any spoilers, but let's just say Jack Bauer probably wasn't pleased at the result.


The Finest Schnaps in Germany

I had it last night. It comes from the Peter Klas distillery/winery, located on the Mosel river. Klas makes Schnaps from, among other things, forest berries, Riesling grapes, and peaches. It comes in plain 1-liter bottles with screw-on caps, it's completely clear and 80 proof, and it's lusciously fruity without being sweet. A joy to the senses.

Peter Klas is a traditional family business who probably sees having any sort of website as a dangerous concession to modernity, so I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to get more of this stuff. But if you join me in my quest, you won't be disappointed, I promise.