Is this who we are?

What do you feel about the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay?

In 2001, thirty-year-old Syrian Abu Wa’el Dhiab was in Kabul, running a food import business.

When 9/11 brought war to Kabul, Dhiab, his wife and four children left Afghanistan for Pakistan, hoping for safety. He was picked up by the Pakistani police. They turned him over to the American military, probably for a bounty. He was not charged with any crime. Dhiab was transferred to the prison at Bagram Airbase in June 2002. Two months later he was sent to Guantanamo Bay.

American taxpayers pay $2.7 million per prisoner per year  to keep Guantanmo running. Of the 149 prisoners still there, 79 are cleared for release.


Photo Source: Global Issues

Dhiab was cleared for release in 2009.

Four years later, he joined other detainees in a hunger strike protesting their incarceration without charge.

Prisoners who are judged to be dangerously underweight are force-fed. If uncooperative, they are “forcibly extracted” from their cells, strapped down, a tube jammed down nose and throat. The procedure often causes choking and vomiting.

One U.S. Navy nurse at Guantanamo has refused to administer force-feedings, calling the practice a “criminal act.”

Guantanamo Bay Facility Continues To Serve As Detention Center For War Detainees

A restraint chair used to force-feed detainees on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images. Source: The Guardian

In 2013, Dhiab  filed a legal challenge to the force-feedings (Dhiab v. Obama).

This month, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler rejected a Department of Justice’s bid to hold Dhiab’s hearing in secret, and in a separate decision ruled that videos showing Dhiab being force-fed, be released to the public.

The Department of Justice has appealed.


U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed the DOJ’s bid to seal Dhiab’s hearing. Image source: Legal Times blog

Dhiab, now 44 and confined to a wheelchair, waits. The Uruguayan government offered to resettle him and five other prisoners, but the transfer is mired in politics, both American and Uruguayan.

His wife, Umm Wa-el writes:

More than a decade has passed since Abu Wa’el was taken from us in the night. I had just given birth to our fourth child; our other children were just toddlers. My husband is a kind man and a superb cook. I miss the dishes he learned to prepare in his father’s restaurant. He is guilty of no crime, has never been charged, and was told by President Obama five years ago that he would be released from Guantanamo.

This year has been one of the hardest to be without him. Last July we were still living in Syria. The civil war forced us to leave for Lebanon, and then to seek shelter in Turkey. I tried to rejoin my family in Jordan but was immediately taken in for questioning at the border and refused entry because of Abu Wa’el’s detention at Guantanamo. The stigma travels. We’ve made it back to Istanbul now. I’m proud that the children are registered in school, and that their teachers tell me that they have already caught up in their studies.

I had to do all that alone. Abu Wa’el is nearing his 13th year at Guantanamo Bay. When I speak to his American lawyers, I can tell that they are shocked and appalled by his case. I’m not so shocked. I was a teacher in Syria. The government locked me up twice in the past just because of Abu Wa’el’s detention, so I know what it means when politics disregards the law.

Excerpted fromThe Obama Administration Must Let the American People See Footage of My Husband Being Force-Fed in Their Name” 7/15/2014



In a May 23, 2013 speech, President Obama stated: “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? … Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that.”

President Obama’s legal team is debating now about whether a treaty ban on “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” applies to U.S. military prisons overseas. In 2005 President Bush said it did not apply, that torture overseas in prisons or by the CIA was legal. As a senator Barack Obama supported legislation making it clear that cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners was not legal, anywhere. Since becoming President, however, he has never declared his position on the treaty ban.

What do you think? Have you been following Abu Wa’el’s case, or of any of the other Guanatamo prisoners? Seen any of the protests supporting the detainees?

Book Review: A solution to global warming right under our feet

We know there are billions of tons of carbon floating around in the atmosphere that weren’t there 200 years ago.

What if there was a way to put it back, for free?

There is.

Microorganisms  —  billions in a tablespoon of healthy soil — can absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turn it into soil carbon, reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified seed, protecting land and crop from drought, improving crop yield, restoring range and grasslands.

It sounds too good to be true.

That’s why New York Times bestselling writer Kristin Ohlson’s book, The Soil Will Save Us, is worth a read. Ohlson takes readers on an around-the-world tour, from Zimbabwe to Oregon to Australia, visiting agronomists, horticulturists, farmers, ranchers and herders who are changing the way we grow food. She profiles farmers experimenting with low tech solutions to some of our biggest challenges — sustainability, food shortages, obesity, and yes, climate change.


Not necessarily because farmers are joining the fight against climate change by design. 70%, according to the industry-connected American Farm Bureau, don’t believe humans are causing climate change. Farmers do, however, prize carbon in soil. It’s what makes soil black, rich and fertile.

Take her introduction of a farmer in North Dakota, Gabe Brown:

          He [Gabe Brown] had been carrying around a slim 4-foot metal rod. … We walked into the cornfield, which seemed to be at least a foot taller than any of the neighbors’, and he nudged it into a bit of bare soil. And then — and then! — he pushed all 4 feet of the rod straight into the ground, all the way up to his knuckles.
         “I can’t believe that!” I think I dropped my recorder. “Do it again!”
          So he walked a few feet away and shoved the rod into the soil again, then it pulled it out and held it out to me. “You try it.”
          My arms aren’t nearly as substantial as Brown’s. Where his arms bulge with muscle, mine jiggle. Without much expectation of success, I took the rod and pushed it into the ground. I tried it in several places. And each time, I pushed the rod all the way up to my knuckles.
          I knew what an amazing thing this was, since I’ve been a backyard gardener ever since I was 25. Even after years of babying my beds with bags of compost, I never had soil like that… I could hardly stick a fork in my lawn back in Cleveland! But through his management of this harsh landscape, he had created soil that was so rich with microbial life that they had built aggregates going down at least 4 feet. Four feet of carbon-rich soil, stacked with billions of tiny cups to hold water.
          Brown shrugged. “I don’t worry about drought.”    
                                                              from The Soil Will Save Us, Kristin Ohlson


Brown, who owns land outside Bismarck, started out as a conventional farmer. “He tilled, he applied fertilizer, he sprayed pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and he hung fly-killing ear tags on his cows.” He also experimented with no-till and organic farming, but with mixed results. Then, a 4-year cycle of hail, drought and late frost left him too poor to afford fertilizer. He took another look at the soil in plots he’d been experimenting with and realized it had improved dramatically. He began to study and apply practices such as no till and mixed crop farming. Before long, his neighbors were asking for tips. Then farmers from all over the world began consulting him.


Gabe Brown in one of his fields. Photo credit: Prairiefire Newsletter

Brown’s expenses are now a fraction of what he paid as a conventional farmer. His yields are above average in the community. He hasn’t used fertilizer since 2008, doesn’t use fungicides or pesticides, and only uses an herbicide every couple of years.  Brown has no doubt that what he calls regenerative agriculture can help solve our problems with atmospheric carbon.

The hitch? There are several. Our current farm program is geared to a monoculture system. As Gabe Brown says, we are “stuck in the current production mode.” Many people are invested in the sale of chemicals. Farmers are understandably risk-averse, and leery of the 4 to 5 years it takes to restore soil health.

But we can change. Ohlson writes, “As entrenched as chemical farming seems to be, it’s only been with us for 50 years.” It won’t be easy to turn this boat around, but we can do it. A lot of people have already started.

Ohlson’s book will make you rethink the potential for soil management and farming, and offers hope for a new way to address many of the challenges we face, including climate change.

Don’t miss this great 3 minute talk by Gabe Brown, on his farm.

Here’s an interview with Ohlson on Science Friday.


What to do in the Middle East

What do you think about President Obama’s decision to start a new round of bombing in Syria and Iraq?


Most US citizens support the President, but there are a few quavery hands raised, a few voices saying, wait a minute. Scribbler’s hand is waving.

Every military intervention since 9/11 has failed. Not one Jihadist group has been wiped out. That at least should cool everyone’s jets. No doubt about it, a new, bigger-than-ever iteration of extremist jihadists is scary. Something must be done. But by whom? And how? Here’s Scribbler’s admittedly superficial summary of how we got here.


Photo credit: Vice News

IS is a shaky coalition, and it is facing a lot of pressure. What IS needs is a badass from somewhere else to threaten them, a David vs. Goliath template to unify their barely-holding coalition.


IS needs US to intervene, and with thirteen years of lessons, IS leaders have a pretty good idea of how to push our buttons. Beheadings! Makes us look like wusses. Bombs away.

Once IS starts posting videos of dead babies next to US shells, there will be a lot, they hope, more than 15,000 fighters for their cause.

And look what’s coming in the US in November? Elections. Politicians who start wars go up in the polls. All aboard! Finally, something the Democrats and Republicans can shake hands on.

But wait. The countries that are threatened by IS, Iran and Saudi Arabia — are refusing to help. Worse, they funded the extremists that are causing the crisis (Iran backed the Shia and Saudi Arabia the Sunnis). Won’t it muck things up if we take the lead? Aren’t we going at this backwards? Shouldn’t our beheading-happy friends the Saudis be begging us for assistance, not the other way around?


Photo credit: Headline Politics

OK, OK, it looks like a done deal.

Given what looks like the inevitability of war, Scribbler reluctantly agrees that parceling out bombs to “moderate” Syrian rebels, forcing them to YouTube the use of those bombs and return the empty cannisters; pretending to set up another Iraqi army — is better than sending more US soldiers to Iraq for another goose egg war.

Hopefully though, the quavery hands will keep waving.



When was the last time you visited a public library?


Stairway of our library, looking up. Photo source: WBDG

Fifteen years ago, ours was packed to the gills and falling apart. For every new book purchased, one had to be discarded because the storage area was full.

People fought for years over whether to build a new library. No one reads. Waste of taxpayer’s money. The Internet will make libraries obsolete. Boondoggle.

Finally, voters approved a bond. A new library was completed in 2002.


Photo source: WBDG

People line up at the door every morning before it opens. Kids fill the teen and children’s wings after school, on weekends and during vacations. The 100 computers are in constant use.

The Internet has made libraries better. Librarians spend less time doing chores and more time helping people.


Poetry reading by Billy Collins at the Eugene Public Library. Photo source: Poetry Loft

The only braille printer in town is at the library.

Book groups can check out sets of books.


There are DVDs, puppets, music CDs, community classes, concerts, resources for job hunters, electronically searchable microfiche, tax forms. The library provides online access to to e-books, audiobooks, consumer reports, magazines, homework help, genealogy websites. It puts on over 1000 programs a year.

Bummed out about the state of human kind?

Support the library.


The library stairs, looking down. Photo credit: Eckert Photography

How is your library doing? 

Wise Ones Correspond About Monsanto and GMO’s

Where do you stand in the GMO debates?

Oregon (my home state) and Colorado, will vote this fall on whether or not genetically modified foods should be labeled.



The vote is not, of course, about labeling, but about how easy it should be for people to opt out of the grand GMO experiment.

In 2012 and 2013, Pepsi, Monsanto, DuPont, General Mills, Kellogg, Dow, BASF, Cargill, ConAgra, PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Hormel, Syngenta, Bayer, and other corporations donated $68 million to defeat similar labeling measures in California and Washington.

It’s no wonder. Eighty percent of the foods produced by these companies contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Also, these companies no doubt would like to keep the focus on whether or not to label, rather than on whether or not messing with the gene pool and saturating the soil and water with glyphosate is a good idea.

The issues aren’t simple. Genetic engineering is credited with saving the papaya industry, and almost all of the sugar beets in the US are genetically engineered — how that happened is a whole other story.

Scribbler relies heavily on friends and family to help untangle sticky wickets like this. Professor M and Judge A, who are in their mid 80’s (and request anonymity), agreed to share part of their e-mail discussion on the subject.


Aug. 22

M –

I feel hornswoggled, bamboozled, deceived. Monsanto, in its latest reincarnation, proposes to become a universal ag. extension agent, advising its customers how to cash in on carbon credits.

They will do this by farming with new GM products while using carefully selected, superficial, organic methods; methods to reduce but not significantly eliminate environmental, biological and soil degradation. Run-off, water pollution and erosion caused by glyphosate, pesticides and manufactured fertilizers will be less troublesome. Promise! A little improvement will be better than none, I guess, but hardly worth further experimentation on us by bio-fuel manufacturers, junk food producers and cattle feeders.

As before, Monsanto has produced zero science that proves its products (as distinguished from sound agronomy), will benefit yields or crop quality beyond a few years. Soil improvements it promises are likely to be near the surface rather than deeper down where needed. Great PR though.

Most countries outside the US are not buying this latest, cynical ploy and there has been vigorous opposition here also. But Monsanto is now too big in the US to fail? Right?

Have a pastry made with GM flour. Protect yourself against agent orange.


August 23 2014. 8:35 PM

A –
We agree the world is going to the dogs. They made the catastrophic error of not letting you and me run it when we were younger.

Monsanto has indeed significantly replaced the ag. schools in dealing with the farmers. Not quite sure why. They cost much more, but maybe they also more often deliver what the farmer wants?

Data on CO2 impact of deforestation in today’s Economist. Not as bad as I thought. Comparable to international flying, such as we do next week. Much less than auto use.



August 23, 2014,. 10:04 PM

M –

I expect you will enjoy your flight even more now that Monsanto will take care of your plane’s CO2.
What a brilliant marketing tool: use faux extension agents to sell product! Much better than writing mortgages for people with no money.


Monsanto at Oregon State University? Using organic methods? Hiring themselves out as — expensive — extension agents?

Clearly more investigation is called for.

Where have your inquiries on GMOs led you?



Who’s Who in the ISIL War?

Who and what is ISIL?

Here is Scribbler’s armchair analysis, researched exclusively on the Internet (so it must be true). Opinions are omitted as much as possible. I have them, but there are more than enough opinions on the subject. The aim here is to untangle the religious conflicts.


Yazidis fleeing from ISIL. Photo credit: SAFIN HAMED/AFP/GETTY IMAGES, “Yazidi under attack again”

There are followers of every religion in the Middle East, plus factions, splinters, sects and denominations, but this war is primarily between two branches of Islam, the Sunnis and the Shiites.

ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is a group of hard-line Sunnis who want to create an Islamic caliphate, that is, a Muslim state, to rival the ancient Muslim empires.

Previous name: ISIS, or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

Previous name: AQI, or Al Qa’ida in Iraq

85% of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis, and ISIL is Sunni. About 15% of Muslims are Shi’a.  Here is a breakdown showing which branches hold the majority in the Greater Middle Eastern countries:

SUNNI majority             SHIITE majority  (Lebanon – mix of Sunni, Shi’a & others)

Saudi Arabia                        Iraq

Jordan                                  Iran



Saudi Arabia and Iran are the largest powers in the region. Saudi Arabia provides support for Sunnis, and Iran for Shiites. Photo Credit: Vice News

IRAQ: Saddam Hussein, a Sunni President in a country with a Shiite majority, was deposed and his government dismantled when the US invaded Iraq. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, was installed. Sunnis aligned with Al Qa’ida of Iraq (AQI), which took control of Sunni areas of Iraq. AQI, however, was cruel and extremist, so moderate Sunnis allied with the Iraqi government and the US, and ran the AQI out of Iraq. AQI joined other fundamentalist groups and became ISIS.

SYRIA. In 2011, Sunni groups rebelled against the Syrian government and Shiite President Bashar al-Assad. The US and Saudi Arabia, among others, sided with rebels. Lebanon, Russia, China and Iran, among others, supported the Assad government. The rebels weren’t very well organized or trained. As the conflict dragged on, Sunni hard liners got more involved, and the fighting devolved into conflicts between competing Islamist groups, as well as between rebels and the government. ISIL emerged as the dominant rebel group, acquired a lot of the supplies and weapons that poured into the region, and took over part of Syria.

IRAQ. From it’s new base in Syria, ISIL attacked and took over part of Iraq, killing minorities, journalists and other heretics along the way.

ISIL’s tactics were too brutal even for Al Qa’ida, who broke off from the group in Feb. 2014.


ISIL and allies gain control of Fallujah. Photo credit: BBC news

What a stew.

Saudi Arabia’s support of Sunni rebels in Syria helped fund ISIL. Now ISIL presents a threat to Saudi Arabia.

Iran, loyal supporter of Syria, the Shiites and Assad, and not so long ago deemed part of the “Axis of Evil,” is now working with the Iraqis, Kurds, the US and allied forces to fight ISIL.


Photo Credit: Vox, “Twenty Seven Maps that Explain the Crisis in Iraq” This is roughly how things stand. The Iraqi government controls the red part, Kurds beige, ISIL light brown and Syria dark brown

The Assad government has probably become the lesser of two evils as far as the US is concerned, which is fine with Assad who reportedly hopes the US will attack ISIL in Syria, in effect supporting Assad.  Hezbollah Shiites from Lebanon who sided with Assad in the Syrian rebellion, now find themselves aligned against ISIL, too.

On it goes.

In sum, a war between Sunni & Shi’a, and between religious moderates and extremists, with fighters and countries changing sides, depending on how the wind blows.

Now to tackle the influence of oil money, climate change, politics, economics?

Maybe not.

What do you think? What are the chances that the US, by joining this fight, will help bring about a happy outcome?



Writing to Sell

Are you a novelist, short story writer or essayist? Do you do it for love or money? Both?

The bar for publishing is lower than ever. All you need is internet access and a few instructions from WordPress or Blogspot. But making a living at writing? Not so easy. Nowadays even J.K. Rowling would have a hard time breaking into the business.

It isn’t enough to write. Writers who want to get paid need to produce work that people are willing to pay for, and, usually, to be willing to advertise themselves, their work, and their publisher, be it indie or traditional big name companies.  See this cautionary tale by best selling author Claire Cook, Why I Left My Mighty Agency and New York Publishers (for now), featured this week in Jane Friedman’s blog for writers.

Marketing isn’t for everyone. Ken Kesey found writing to advertise so demeaning that after publishing two epic novels, Sometimes a Great Notion and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he quit.


Ken Kesey, photo by Ken Lanker. Source: Further Down The Road Foundation

“Look at Esquire or look at PlayboyYou can read the ads and see that they are aimed at a certain audience, at a certain people, to sell a certain product. You can read the short stories in [these] magazines the same way. Those things are designed to fit a certain length, to hit a certain audience and to push a certain philosophy. And although it isn’t soap or Mennen Skin Bracer, it’s still an ad man writing a very complex commercial to sell you something.”                                                               –Lecture by Ken Kesey in 1965. Source: Oregon Quarterly


Not deterred? Do you write because you can’t help yourself, even if it means marketing yourself or a publisher?

OK then. How to improve the chances of making money?


I’m guessing this guy won’t mind if I post a photo of his van.


This week’s edition of Wattpad offers an entertaining set of guidelines from Hugh Howey, whose indie sci-fi book Wool made it to the best seller list. Here’s a summary:

1. Write well. You produce a sloppy novel, you’re toast.

2. Help readers find you by writing within a genre. Ideally it is a genre you enjoy writing in.

3. Set up Twitter and Facebook accounts, or other social media of your choice, and start a blog, if you haven’t already.

4. Learn to write blurbs. Engage people with just a few words. E-mails, blog posts, twitter and Facebook are the venues for this. Be able to summarize your plot line or subject matter in a pithy sentence or two.

5. As soon as you finish writing one book, start the next one, even if the first one is the most amazing piece of authorship ever. The next one will be better.

6. Focus on getting published. Don’t worry about being discovered — not until you have a dozen works of whatever, articles, novellas, short fiction. Readers who like one thing you write will move to other things you’ve written. This is much better than brow beating people to read your latest creation.

7. Give your stuff away for free. Don’t ask people to buy it. Invite them to read it. If you’re good, they’ll want more.

8. Exhaust potential formats for your completed masterpiece. Release an audio version. Use CreateSpace. Publish printed copies.

9. Be nice. Support other authors, bloggers, Twitter feeders and Facebookers. Promote them. Thank them. No cheating. Being nice just because you want to be rewarded for it won’t work. You will be rewarded, if you are genuine.

10. Work hard. Keep writing, tweeting, blogging, even when you don’t feel like it, even when you have no followers, even when you’ve gotten a hundred rejections. Edit several times, then have someone else edit.

11. Have fun.


What’s your advice for writing to sell? Who inspires you?