340 meters per second

Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.

&mdash Alfred Adler (1870-1937)

Friday, November 04, 2005

Don't shit where you live, I guess.

When I was a kid, I read a lot of fantasy novels: robed wizards, glistening barbarians and chainmail bikinis were my bag, baby. I devoured a lot of mediocre stories, but a pair of classics were my favourites: The Sword of Shannara and the original Dragonlance series. To this day, I can easily rattle off the names of the Heroes of the Lance and vividly recreate the battered book covers in my mind: a grizzed Tanthalas challenging the reader with a cynical glare, mischievous Tasslehoff poised to spring off a snow-covered rock and the frail yet menacing Raistlin Majere leaning on his staff, appraising me with his hourglass eyes.

The brothers Majere were always interesting to me, maybe 'cause I was an only child and I didn't really 'get' their relationship. To paraphrase River Tam, I understood fraternal loyalty, but I didn't comprehend it. Maybe it was the striking contrast between the massive, maniacally strong Caramon and his sickly, scheming little brother that appealed to me; I'm not sure. Anyway, this intro-by-way-of-anecdote is getting away from me a little, so:

The point is that in the books, Raistlin begins his path to power by learning slight of hand as a young boy. He's small and frail and he quickly learns that he can avoid getting beat up by the other kids if he entertains them with little tricks. A recurring image throughout the stories is of Raistlin sitting quietly, his knuckles gracefully rippling so that a copper coin fluidly dances across the back of his hand. Naturally, I took out several books on slight of hand and became enchanted with the idea of performing similar feats of prestidigitation. I bugged my parents until they bought me a magic set and I practiced every trick until I could do them with my eyes closed (which a few of them called for, if I remember correctly).

My favourite was the one where I played an involved shell game with three brightly-coloured cups and a series of small white balls: I could make the balls move from cup to cup, cluster up under one or vanish altogether. Even my parents, who'd seen me perform it a hundred times, seemed to enjoy that one. The trick to it, as with most stage magic, is misdirection: make the audience look at an obvious thing so you can get away with doing the subtle thing that needs doing. Trouble is, if you keep tricking people over and over again, they'll walk away from the table. If you shuffle something around often enough and expose one falsehiding place after another, eventually people stop looking--even if the hiding places are in plain sight. It's just too damn frustrating.

This is why the CIA's 'ghost prisons' in Eastern Europe are so troublesome. As Dana Priest reported in the Washington Times, the American Central Intelligence Agency has been detaining "combatants" in one-time Soviet bloc countries; countries which are currently members of the European Union. The National interviews a lawyer who draws the obvious parallel to the "disappearing" of political prisoners during the various wars and civil conflicts that raged across South America in the 70s and 80s. CBC's story is archived here.

The assorted dailies all report that the US has been using these so-called "ghost prisons" to hold suspected terrorists since 2001 and Human Rights Watch has said it's pretty sure that Poland and Romania are two of the countries whose prisons are being used by the CIA. They've denied the claims, natch.


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