Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

May 14, 2004

Up to the line

Donald Rumsfeld has defended some of the practices used in Iraqi prisons by saying that Pentagon lawyers approved the practices ahead of time. One of the interrogation methods used, with the lawyers' approval, was the tying of prisoners to a board and dunking them under water, making them think they were going to drown.

That is schoolyard bully behavior, crude and sadistic. The fact that the lawyers approved it ahead of time means that it was not the work of a few renegade troops. It was planned.

Threatening prisoners with drowning is torture plain and simple.

Of course, the troops on the front have done bad things to their prisoners in other conflicts--but never has it been planned out and run past Pentagon lawyers.

There's a lot of people hoping that this mess was created by a very few troops, those poor saps who are now being hung out to dry. I don't think so.

The thought of a Pentagon lawyer sitting at his desk reviewing methods of torture to see if they pass muster with the Geneva Convention makes me sick. It reeks of the old Soviet Union. It is inhumanity sanitized by bureaucratic procedure to the point where hundreds of people can be aware of the abuse without protesting.

May 13, 2004

Surprise visit

I looked out into the muddy yard yesterday afternoon and saw a car with Florida plates. Out stepped Warren and Teresa, friends from my baseball trip last summer. They actually live in Shakopee during the summer, Florida in the winter. They told me last summer they would drive up to get some tomato plants this spring, and I wondered if they would.

Great to see them. Warren and Teresa are in their 80s, a classy couple. They were the grandparent figures on the baseball bus. "Everybody took such good care of us," Warren said yesterday. Well, their warm smiles and handshakes every morning made everybody's day and raised the mood of all forty people on the bus.

After buying some tomatoes, Warren and Teresa checked into the Shooting Star hotel. I met them there for dinner in the evening. We sat and talked for a couple of hours. Warren played minor league baseball in the Red Sox farm system in the early 1940s before he was drafted. He then fought in Europe.

Warren was a roomate to Wes Westrum at one time. Westrum was one of the best catchers of his generation. He later managed the Mets. When Mets manager Casey Stengel developed heart problems, he pointed to Westrum and said, "there's the man who's going to replace me." Westrum had no desire to manage, but couldn't turn down Casey. Westrum was born and raised in Clearbrook, MN, and died their a few years ago. Warren and Teresa paid him a visit not long before he died.

Such warm people, Warren and Teresa. They charm everybody they meet, including the employees at the nursery and the table attendants at the buffet in the casino--one of whom kept bringing more and more mints until we had a pile of them we didn't know what do do with.

Warren told about playing a night game in Duluth and then getting on a bus and driving all night to Winnipeg, arriving at 11 in the morning, and playing an afternoon doubleheader. I can't imagine. Buses in the 1940s couldn't have been very comfortable, and the roads must have been miserable.

"It was a great time," Warren said. "I would have paid them to play."

After the war, Warren took over his family's seed and feed business. But he always had wanted to be a teacher. So, when he was in his 30s, he sold the business and became a high school history teacher.

It was a thrill for me to see them step out of their car--great memories of the nice people on the baseball bus last summer. I think I have seen nine or ten of the forty people on the bus since the trip.

May 12, 2004

Ihofe sticks hoof in mouth

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma said at a hearing yesterday that he is more outraged at the outrage over the photos of American soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners than he is over the abuse itself. He added that this outrage is coming from "humanitarian do-gooders" for whom he has obvious contempt.

Sen. John McCain, himself a prisoner of war for five years during the Vietnam era, took Inhofe to task. McCain, sensible as usual, thinks it of the utmost importance to treat prisoners well.

Digital War

Digital technology and the internet are changing warfare. Lately, we have had the images of American troops tormenting Iraqi prisoners of war. Yesterday there were the awful images of the beheading of an American contractor by al Quaeda thugs. These events are one thing in print, another entirely with pictures.

Digital cameras and video equipment are cheap and available to all. They also allow people to post pictures for the entire world to see instantly and for free.

This new technology will be used both for good and ill. It will bring home the horrors of war more quickly than ever before. Pictures change things. The image of the naked girl running away from a napalm attack was a turning point in the Vietnam War.

Now such powerful pictures come out every day and immediately after the fact. It is difficult to say how such instant communication will have an effect. In fact, the effects could be entirely unpredictable, depending upon how and when the pictures are distributed. One picture at the right time could change the politics of the war entirely.

With the internet, there is no filter through large media organizations which often have their own agendas. Of course, the people who post on the internet have their own agendas, but those agendas are much more diverse than the agendas of the media giants.

It is more important than ever that people's critical facilities be honed. Pictures are convincing, but even they can be faked.

May 11, 2004

Iraq, cont.

As a child, I was interested enough in history and world affairs to know that we were in a Cold War against a government that knocked on people's houses in the middle of the night and took away the males of the household to who knows where. It was my greatest nightmare, but I took comfort in the fact that unless the big bad communists took over, we would be safe from that sort of thing in this country.

Thus, it is particularly disturbing to me that American soldiers were arresting Iraqis by breaking down the doors of their houses in the middle of the night, herding the women and children in one room, and taking the men away, often beating them in the process. This is the very stuff I feared as a child, and the notion that our soldiers are doing that somewhere in the world bothers me a great deal. Bad enough that Iraqi children have had to live with the fear of the knock at the door under Saddam. When the Americans came, you would want to think that they could sleep sound and well!

Horizontal rain

A strong east wind is pelting my office window with rain, just as it pelted the bedroom window during the night. Good sleeping weather, but tough to get going in the morning.

The rain should settle the dust. It was awfully dry here. Cracks in the ground. Lots of dust. As I am writing this, the thunder is rolling and it has started to pour.

This'll get the grass growing.

May 09, 2004


I always hesitate to write about current affairs, but sometimes they so dominate my thoughts that I have to write a column about what's going on in the news. Such was the case tonight. I know people would rather read about my old station wagon or something rather than a serious topic, but sometimes it just doesn't seem right to be irrelevant. The column is posted at left.

THIS WEEKEND was probably the busiest ever at the nursery. An immense crush of people. That's what you want in business, I guess. However, it is exhausting for the crew and customer service sometimes suffers. People have to wait for help. One woman stormed out today. She probably had a point.

After I heard that, I dropped what I was doing and went to the till area just to BS with the people who were waiting in line and make sure that the donuts were refilled regularly. It was hard to keep the donut box full, even though it holds about four dozen donuts. The new Bunn coffee maker also got a workout.

It rained a couple of tenths this afternoon. Nobody minded, it has been so dry. Man, did it smell nice outside this evening--the sun popped out late, illuminating the fresh May greens. Beautiful.

Until I came home to find that my sewer was blocked. What a mess. Spent the early evening with the dry vac. Had to shut off the water to stop the flow. Mostly fresh water, thank goodness, but the basement was wet. My plumbing is quite screwed up, and I don't look forward to untangling that mess! Have to call in the professionals in the morning.