The Nation, 18 May 2009

nation-18-may-2009It was William Wordsworth who asked “Where are they now, those wanton boys/ for whose free range the daedal earth/ was filled with animated toys/ and implements of frolic mirth;/  with tools for ready wit to guide,/ and ornaments of seemlier pride,/ more fresh, more bright, than princes wear;/ for what one moment flung aside,/ another could repair; what good or evil have they seen/ since I their pastime witnessed here,/ their daring wiles, their sportive cheer?”   

That was what Wordsworth asked.  As a columnist for The Nation, Katha Pollitt isn’t allowed to ask such congenial questions.  In this issue, she asks where the Bush-Cheney administration officials responsible for the torture regime are now.  Wanton boys they are, indeed.  But no longer do they range quite so freely over the daedal earth; Judge Baltasar Garzón has ruled Europe off limits for them.   Former assistant attorney general, now federal judge Jay Bybee gave an opinion that treatment which did not result in permanent physical injury could not be considered torture; as if “what one moment flung aside, another could repair.”  Their “animated toys” are to be released from the Satanic toyboxes of Guantanamo Bay and the leftover Gulags of eastern Europe; the “implements of frolic mirth” the wanton boys once directed to be used are to be relegated to the ever-more distant past, along with the photos that came from Abu Ghraib prison five years ago.  True, the new administration’s reluctance to prosecute the architects of the torture regime does raise the worry that they may be looking on that regime as so many “tools for ready wit to guide.”  And the wanton boys themselves do not seem to be suffering; banks, investment firms, universities, and think tanks have given the worst of them positions that could pay for “ornaments of seemlier pride, more fresh, more bright, than princes wear.”  Pollitt jokes that she herself would be better off had she quit journalism and taken a job marketing torture:

I could have nicknamed waterboarding “drinking tea with Vice President Cheney,” although come to think of it, waterboarding is a euphemism already. Maybe that’s why people didn’t catch on that it was the same thing we prosecuted Japanese interrogators for doing in World War II. In the Tokyo trials it was called “the water treatment,” or “the water cure,” or just plain “water torture.” Calling it “water torture” was probably what got those Japanese into trouble. That, and losing the war.

Even in the course of her joke, Pollitt makes a sobering aside:

I should have been a torturer. You too, reader. Well, maybe not an actual physical torturer, because then there’d be a small chance I’d go to prison like Lynndie England or Charles Graner. My picture might be in the paper doing nasty things to naked men with a goony smile and a thumbs-up. I might even have disturbing memories and bad dreams, because surely, unless one is a sociopath, throwing people into walls and hanging them from the ceiling all day is likely to have its troubling moments. What I mean is, I should have been a member of the torture creative class.”

“What good or evil have they seen, since I their pastime witnessed here, their daring wiles, their sportive cheer?”

Stuart Klawans recommends two new films, Three Monkeys by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Julia by Erick Zonca.  He has mixed feelings about Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control.  The bit I found irresistible is Klawans’ summary of Three Monkeys.  Unable to get into an advance screening of the new Star Trek movie, Klawans writes:

I can’t tell you on which notch the picture’s been set: stun, kill or fizz. What to do? I suppose I’ll have to report that the most exciting new film I’ve actually seen is a hand-crafted, microbudget production featuring four no-name actors speaking Turkish.

(He concludes his review of Three Monkeys by declaring it “set to stun.”)

In a column about teens who have faced criminal penalites for sending sexually suggestive images of themselves via text message, Jo Ann Wypijewski reports on recent cases in which prosecutors have made decisions that would strike most of us as bizarre.  Some teens may face prison sentences, potentially even life sentences, for the “crime” of taking pictures of themselves that would not be out of place in the underwear section of the Sears catalogue and sending them to friends.  Preposterous as these cases may seem, the charges are in line with the standard enforcement of antipornography laws in the USA.  She quotes Amy Adler’s 2001 Columbia Law Review article, “The Perverse Law of Child Pornography,” which argues that our current regime is not only ineffective as a means of combating pedophilia, but that it reinforces and expands it.  Wypijewski goes further than Adler, defending sexual experimentation among adolescents and warning that the antiporn brigades aren’t likely to stop with “protecting” teens by hauling them into court.  “Grown-ups, don’t get comfortable. A bill in the Massachusetts Legislature proposes to criminalize nude pictures of people over 60 and people who are disabled, for their own protection.”  We take child pornography very seriously around here; just look at our posts about what happened to Australian journalist Harry Nicolaides when he tried to blow the whistle on child pornography for sale on the Thai-Burmese border.  So when the law trivializes child pornography by charging teens in these “sexting” cases, and when authorities try to use pornography laws to infantilize the elderly and the disabled, you can expect Los Thunderlads to take notice.


  1. cymast

     /  May 4, 2009

    It irks me that people still insist on calling it “waterboarding.” Waterboarding is surfing!


    Teens sending underwear pics isn’t a big deal. Teens sending nudie pics/sex act pics is a big deal, IMO.

    “criminalize nude pictures of people over 60 and people who are disabled” On what grounds? That doesn’t make any sense. What’s supposed to happen when one turns 61?And why not people over 59, and how disabled must they be? A cane or wheelchair? An IQ below 70 or above 150? A missing limb or an extra one?

  2. acilius

     /  May 4, 2009

    I can see if oldies or the disabled are forced or tricked into posing nude, sure, the state should act. But surely that must already be a crime. And going by the “sexting” cases, there’s no reason to suppose that prosecutors, given a mandate to stamp out sexually explicit images of old or disabled people, would stop with cases where the people in the images actually regarded themselves as victims.

  3. cymast

     /  May 4, 2009

    Well yeah, forcing or tricking somebody into posing nude is a crime. And people who are under 61 and can walk without a cane could also be forced/tricked. I don’t see how 60 is supposed to be a magic number for dementia, or whatever the legislation is supposed to be implying.

  4. acilius

     /  May 4, 2009

    The legislation certainly doesn’t sound like it rests on anything very wise.

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