Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11: Behind the Eyebrows

Reading Stiff by Mary Roach. And, hey, it's 9/11, which seems to be an unending day because we're never allowed to forget it.

I read this passage today, on the train home, and thought it'd work as well as anything else to mark the occasion. Of 9/11, not my train-ride home. To mark the occasion of my train-ride home, you'd need a different book. To mark 9/11, you need something grand.

The seat-of-the-soul debate has been ongoing some four thousand years. It started out not as a heart-versus-brain debate, but as heart-versus-liver. The ancient Egyptians were the original heart guys. They believed that the ka resided in the heart. Ka was the essence of the person: the spirit, intelligence, feelings and passions, humor, grudges, annoying television theme songs, all the things that make a person a person and not a nematode. The heart was the only organ left inside a mummified corpse, for a man needed his ka in the afterlife. The brain he clearly did not need: cadaver brains were scrambled and pulled out in globs, through the nostrils, by way of a hooked bronze needle. Then they were thrown away. (The liver, stomach, intestines, and lungs were taken out of the body but kept: They were stored in earthen jars inside the tomb, on the assumption, I guess, that it is better to overpack than to leave something behind, particularly when packing for the afterlife.)

The Babylonians were the original liver guys, believing the organ to be the source of the human emotion and spirit. The Mesopotamians played both sides of the argument, assigning emotion to the liver and intellect to the heart. These guys clearly marched to the beat of a freethinking drummer, for they assigned a further portion of the soul (cunning) to the stomach. Similar freethinkers throughout history have included Descartes, who wrote that the soul could be found in the walnut-sized pineal gland, and the Alexandrain anatomist, Strato, who decided it lived "behind the eyebrows."

With the rise of classical Greece, the soul debate evolved into the more familiar heart-versus-brain, the liver having been demoted to an accessory role. Though Pythagorus and Aristotle viewed the heart as the seat of the soul--the source of "vital force" necessary to live and grow--they believed there to be a secondary, "rational" soul, or mind, located in the brain...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

POGO's Stick

Yesterday, the amusingly-acronym’d Project on Government Oversight (POGO) sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hardcore gay porn: a letter detailing the actions of private contractors hired by the government to protect diplomats and Embassy staff in Afghanistan. The porn-letter charged those private contractors, employees of ArmorGroup North America, with hazing, simulated sexual acts, sexual humiliation, vodka butt shots, and unwise ownership of a digital camera. Of all the charges, it is the last one which is most damning, since no one’s gonna read a 10 page letter of formal charges when there’s hardcore gay porn picture proof.

I’ll save you the trouble of reading the letter. It basically says: “Afghanistan is deteriorating, government officials need strong, reliable protection, and currently both the country and the officials are being guarded by the cast of Animal House XXX. Oh, and you guys have known about these behavior issues for years but haven't done shit.”

Just as with Abu Ghraib, it will be the photographs, and not the allegations, the realities, the testimonials, which stick with the American public. Which I guess is fine. It’s something, anyway. Too many scandals fade away for lack of salacious visual representation. In the end, the only reason we remember the infamous 18 1/2 minute gap of Nixon's tapes is because of Rose Mary Woods' sexy stretch.

Unlike Abu Ghraib (or Rose Mary Woods), there are no females in the photographs. Also, no prisoners. No obvious coercion (though, as POGO's letter points out, a great many young men employed by ArmorGroup were threatened with disciplinary action when they chose not to participate in the Randy Blue bacchanal, and Afghan nationals were collateral damage to the action). Without context, these photographs from Camp Sullivan, the place ArmorGroup calls home, could just as easily be from a party I once went to on the Lower East Side, only with more visors and Hawaiian shirts, and less jock straps and scented candles.

There are men drinking vodka shots from the cracks of other men’s asses. Happily, this isn’t a crime in most states--I’m not even sure it’s a crime in Afghanistan. In fact, it should be a right of all people, in all countries, to, if they want, enjoy a whimsical libation filtered through the hairs of another man’s ass.

There are men simulating sex acts with other men. Most of the time, the simulation of homosexual acts is not a crime (not so with actual homosexual acts, of course, so perhaps that’s why these guys were faking it). I have no problem with guys dry-humping other guys. I encourage it.

But in context? It’s pretty harrowing what went on in Camp Sullivan, and in other places controlled by private contractors, funded by tax-payers, hired to keep government officials out of harm’s way.

The pictures might drive the story, so before the context is lost, here’s some select quotes from POGO’s letter:

Guards have come to POGO with allegations and photographic evidence that some supervisors and guards are engaging in near-weekly deviant hazing and humiliation of subordinates. Witnesses report that the highest levels of AGNA management in Kabul are aware of and have personally observed—or even engaged in—these activities, but have done nothing to stop them. Indeed, management has condoned this misconduct...

One email from a current guard describes scenes in which guards and supervisors are "peeing on people, eating potato chips out of [buttock] cracks, vodka shots out of [buttock] cracks (there is video of that one), broken doors after drnken [sic] brawls, threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity…."

An Afghan national employed as a food service worker at the guard corps' base at Camp Sullivan submitted a signed statement dated August 16, 2009, attesting that a guard force supervisor and four others entered a dining facility on August 1, 2009, wearing only short underwear and brandishing bottles of alcohol. Upon leaving the facility, the guard force supervisor allegedly grabbed the Afghan national by the face and began abusing him with foul language, saying, "You are very good for fXXXing." The Afghan national reported that he "was too afraid of them I could not tell them any thing."

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