Hamdan and Article 3

There's a lot of digital ink being spilled over today's Hamdan decision, understandably enough, and I think the most interesting element of the case is the Supreme Court's holding that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to Al Qaeda, or at least to Hamdan (who was captured by our Afghan allies in Afghanistan).

We talked a good bit about the Geneva Conventions at the JAG School, and it was considered particularly important that we be able to identify the types of conflicts when the conventions do and do not apply. Suffice it to say that the War on Terror has made this an extremely difficult project, though I was definitely left with the impression that the great majority of instructors were convinced that at least Common Article 3 should apply to the Al Qaeda detainees.

Stuart Benjamin at the Volokh Conspiracy has a good post pointing out that even the dissenters don't argue that this is the wrong interpretation, merely that the court should defer to the President's own plausible interpretation.

Many others are discussing the merits of this issue, but I want to focus on a related tangent. In comments to Benjamin's post, I pointed to an even more vexing question that no one at the JAG School could answer to their own satisfaction.

While it might be hard at first glance to see how the strict language of common Article 3 ("armed conflict not of an international character") applies to Al Qaeda, it is at least as confusing to understand how the administration continues to hold, which it does, that the full Geneva conventions still apply to the conflict in Iraq. Here's the relevant text of Article 2:

In addition to the provisions which shall be implemented in peace time, the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.

The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets with no armed resistance.

In Iraq, whom is the conflict between? I think it is hard to argue that there is still an armed conflict between two or more "High Contracting Parties" as the strict language of the convention requires. Furthermore, we have been quite clear that the occupation of Iraq is now over, so the conventions don't sneak in that way either. What basis is left for application of Article 2? It is a question posed by many and satisfactorily answered by none.

Harry's Death

Hot on the heels of J.K. Rowling's ridiculous announcement that people will die in the last Harry Potter book, Ros Taylor at the Guardian has produced several hilarious scenarios for Harry's own death. My favorite:

Harry embarks on a gap year teaching quidditch at Durmstrang, the German school of magic. The trip starts badly after his attempt to divert a Ryanair flight away from a cloud of Death Eaters is misunderstood by the Muggle authorities. Extraordinarily rendered to a detention camp run by Draco Malfoy and an army of house-elves, Harry spends months being tortured with Blast-Ended Skrewts. He manages to liberate the elves, but as they quarrel about whether freedom is worth the effort, Malfoy tips off the Muggles and Harry vanishes on board a dragon somewhere over the Atlantic.

We'll miss you, Harry. As for Rowling's need to blab about the book: first off, her characters have been dying left and right, so what's the news? Second, why can't she keep her mouth shut and just let people read the book? I'm not saying she has to pull a Pynchon and learn to disappear completely, but really, just keep quiet.

Quite the opposite on this side of the Atlantic, where it is nice to see that Harper Lee has published for the first time in many years, though why she did so with Oprah's magazine is a bit of a mystery. I love that she still loves books, even in this age of technology, as it gives me hope that I too can hold on to the paper and glue for years to come.

In other book news that I can quickly link to on the Guardian website, Nathaniel Hawthorne's wife is now buried beside him, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's hometown has wisely rejected an attempt to rename the city after the fictional Macondo from One Hundred Years of Solitude. All seems right with the world.


nprThe bulk of my commuting time is still spent listening to the lectures offered by The Teaching Company: I just finished Ancient Greek Civilization, which was excellent, and am moving on to the 48-lecture History of Ancient Rome. But when I've finished a lecture and don't have time to start another, or am just in the mood for something different, my alternative is always the same: National Public Radio.

My taste for public radio has only recently emerged, but the seed for my devotion was planted years ago, in the classroom of John Krenkel, a social studies teacher at Park City High School and one of my best friends. I used to eat lunch with him, and eventually several other teachers and students would join us, and there would consistently be a hot debate on some topic or another. But in the quieter moments, you could here KPCW, Park City's public radio station, in the background, often playing the contemporary folk that John loves.

While the contemporary folk habit kicked in while I was in college, it has taken a few more years for me to really appreciate public radio itself (and the education it provides). But between the national programs produced by NPR and the local programs offered by Georgia Public Broadcasting, I've got a new fixation. As soon as I get a chance to fiddle in Photoshop, I'll be adding NPR and GPB to the "giving" section of my sidebar.

Pride and Sci-Fi

rainbowflagWhat a very gay week I've had! This last weekend was the Pride celebration, and Atlanta has one of the biggest parades and festivals in the country. A little rain and some thunder delayed the start of the parade, but my wife and I still made it out to watch about 20 minutes of the procession. Lucky for us, the route took the parade directly past our condo, so all we had to do was walk out to the gate and we watched from there.

The event was especially moving for us since we'd just seen Brokeback Mountain for the first time the day before. We hadn't made a plan to watch it the same weekend as Pride, that's just how the Netflix queue worked out. But it was certainly emotionally satisfying to be out there and help the paraders celebrate the progress the country has made, hopefully to the point where two men like Ennis and Jack would not endure the fear and suffering that they do in the film.

To top it all off, I just finished reading Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, an excellent science fiction anti-war novel that stems from the author's own experiences in Vietnam. It also, rather coincidentally, includes the evolution of human society to an all-homosexual orientation, largely a result of the effort to control Earth's runaway population growth. This turn of events leaves the protagonist, who has been off fighting the war, as nearly the sole remaining human heterosexual, a provocative twist that showcases the unique way in which science fiction can function as social commentary (the novel was written in 1975).

Sandals Royal Bahamian

Beach vacations were never my thing, but sometimes you just have to make sacrifices for the ones you love, and if that means spending a week at an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas, so be it.

The weather is good, the water is clear, the people are friendly, the food is bountiful, the drinks just keep coming, and the Blackberry stays stateside. Not a bad way to relax for a couple of young lawyers. We'll do Europe next year.

Book Miscellany

Here is some book-related miscellany, to whet your appetite for a summer of reading. I'll be posting my summer reading plans as soon as I make them.

The Guardian has the summer plans from several dozen leading lights of contemporary literature, including Banville, Barnes, Ishiguro and Mantel, as well as the execrable Eggers. Though I confess the book that Eggers recommends, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, intrigues me (I'd love to read a story about Namibia that doesn't involve Brad Pitt), I'm tempted to ignore it solely on the basis that Eggers had something nice to say. That's probably not fair to Peter Orner.

And I couldn't agree more with this rant from Bookslut, particularly now that I'm trying to buy all my books in hardcover:

There's something really irritating about discovering that books you love are out of print. Even though used bookstores, and sites like Abebooks, Alibris and Powell's have made it pretty easy to find them, it sucks that the publishing industry has given up on some great work from some great authors, while books like M is for Murder and N is for No, Seriously, Murder and O is for Oh My God Someone Just Got Murdered are readily available at every chain bookstore in the land. You might say that there's a good economic reason for this, to which I respond: I failed economics, bitches. So take that!

Finally, I love this collection of rejection letters. I'm tempted to start writing a manuscript for submission just to say I got rejected by The Paris Review. I doubt that's quite the approach most aspiring writers take, but I'd have a much better shot at meeting my ambitions!

Reading the World Cup

Sure, reading the World Cup is not ideal. I would much rather be sitting on the couch, watching ABCHD. But that won't pay the bills, so I've got to work with what I've got. And the best I've got, in my opinion is the text commentary from Britain's Guardian newspaper. ESPN's Gamecast comes in a close second for its visual features, but the wit and wisdom of the Guardian commentators (and readers who submit their thoughts) stand it far above the rest. Not to mention that it seems rather appropriate to read about the World Cup with English slang:

"You miserable bugger," writes Bernie Ross. "Fancy not mentioning that this is by far England's best showing for years. And it's a great game of footers. And, by the way, Owen Hargreaves isn't doing too bad at all, eh?" Agreed on Hargreaves - he's getting plenty of tackles in. But if this is England's best showing for years, then it's a particularly damning indictment of Sven's regime. They're doing okay, but hardly pulling up any trees.

And there you have it.

Wal-Mart Jews

Whether it's the image of a synagogue in rural Arkansas or the splendid unintended consequences of the corporatization of America, there is much delight to be had in this story about the so-called Wal-Mart Jews:

Residents of Benton County, in the northwest corner of Arkansas, are proud citizens of the Bible Belt. At last count, they filled 39 Baptist, 27 United Methodist and 20 Assembly of God churches. For decades, a local hospital has begun meetings with a reading from the New Testament and the library has featured an elaborate Christmas display.

Recruited from around the country as workers for Wal-Mart or one of its suppliers, hundreds of which have opened offices near the retailer's headquarters here, a growing number of Jewish families have become increasingly vocal proponents of religious neutrality in the county. They have asked school principals to rename Christmas vacation as winter break (many have) and lobbied the mayor's office to put a menorah on the town square (it did).

Wal-Mart has transformed small towns across America, but perhaps its greatest impact has been on Bentonville, where the migration of executives from cities like New York, Boston and Atlanta has turned this sedate rural community into a teeming mini-metropolis populated by Hindus, Muslims and Jews.

Is there not something really worth celebrating in this story? A much-maligned corporate mammoth has encouraged cultural diversity and tolerance by doing no more than hiring the most qualified corporate executives, regardless of their religious background. It probably won't change anyone's opinion on Wal-mart, good or bad, and it certainly doesn't change mine. But it's nice to see a heretofore unexplored angle get some attention.

Steinbeck's Back

I'm glad, I think, to relay the news that John Steinbeck's family has won back the copyright to several of his most famous works:

In a case that could have significant consequences for families of artists who fought for creative control, New York judge Richard Owen ruled that Penguin Books must forfeit the copyright of 10 of Steinbeck's works, even though the novelist had signed the rights away in 1938.

The court battle pitched the novelist's granddaughter, Blake Smyle, and his son Thomas Steinbeck against Penguin Books and Paramount Pictures. Thomas Steinbeck had alleged that he was the victim of "a 30-year conspiracy to deprive John Steinbeck's blood heirs".

The judge argued that American copyright law acknowledges the reality that young authors could not know in advance "the high stature they would attain" and that it was therefore fair to allow them or their descendants to renegotiate copyright agreements.

I qualified by pleasure above for two reasons. First, as the article recognizes, if not for the absurd extensions of copyright by Congress, these works would already have been where they properly belonged: in the public domain. Second, though the idea of the family wresting control of their ancestors work away from a big corporation is facially attractive, I suppose it's not necessarily going to be a good thing for Steinbeck's work, or his audience. It certainly could be, but who knows? Perhaps the big corporation made available works that the family would not, or will not. It might not be the case with Steinbeck, but one can certainly imagine an artist's family having motives that are not necessarily ulterior or negative, but fail to line up with what the artist wanted.

At first I was also going to point out that it seemed strange that I should come by this item via a British newspaper, but perhaps it is not so strange. Where better to get your news about books than from a country that seems, at least on the surface, to still worship the novel?