Outrageous Conduct verdict against Thomas Wierdsma, Sr. V.P., GEO Group, Inc.

Back in September S&R pointed everyone to the story of Thomas Wierdsma. We began that piece this way:

Let’s see, what have we here? Private prison corporation executives: check. Abusive husband: check. Witness tampering: check. Threats to use political clout to have abused spouse deported if she doesn’t keep her mouth shut about being slapped around: check.

We’re used to hearing stories of appalling corruption and thuggery all the time, but this one was especially galling (especially considering the plight of his abused wife).

Review that story, then watch this video.

What a piece of work, huh?

Tournament of Rock IV: REO Speedwagon vs. Def Leppard

In our first Sweet 16 matchup, Aerosmith laid a beatdown on Bad Company. Probably no surprise in that. Congrats to BadCo for making it this far, and we send them off with a copy of our home edition and a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat!

Up next, a match we expect to be a little closer: #4 seed REO Speedwagon vs. #13 Def Leppard.

fikshun: Regardless of your criteria, Def Leppard out-whored, out-slummed, and out-rocked the Spudwagon. Hand me the coffin nails.

Me: Usually fan videos on YouTube are amateurish and cheesy, but in this case I think I found one that just about perfectly captures the essence of REO’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore.” Which, by the way, was the archetypal ’80s power ballad, wasn’t it?

Bonesparkle: Admit it. You like this song.

Me: Do not. Shut up.

Bonesparkle: Are…are you crying?

Me: No. Go away.

Bonesparkle: You are! You’re crying!

Me: Leave me alone! [sniff]

Me: And now, the Leppard with their own monster power ballad. They’re right, you know. Love really does bite.

Bonesparkle: Done properly, anyway.

Here’s the up-to-date bracket.

Click to vote.

Burma’s buddhists determined to de-romanticize Buddhism for West

Burma — from its president to its Nobel laureate — has failed to address Buddhist violence in its Rakhine state against Muslim Rohingyas.

Monks with gunsDoes any religion in the world have a cleaner rep than Buddhism? With much of its efforts devoted to helping one realizing the divinity within him or her, it’s disinclined to repressive morality or proselytizing. More to the point, much less violence is committed in its name than that of the other great religions. The operative word is “less.”

For instance, Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka committed violence against Christians and Tamils. Even worse, during World War II, the Buddhist establishment — even Zen — cooperated, for the most part, with the militaristic Japanese regime. For more, read Buddhist Warfare (Oxford University Press, 2010) by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer.

Recently Burmese Buddhists — incited by monks, no less — have been conducting violent attacks against the Muslim Rohingyas with whom they share the Rakhine district, which borders Sri Lanka, from where the latter emigrate. Robert Fuller reports for the New York Times.

The Buddhist monastery on the edge of this seaside town is a picture of tranquillity, with novice monks in saffron robes finding shade under a towering tree and their teacher, U Nyarna, greeting a visitor in a sunlit prayer room.

But in these placid surroundings Mr. Nyarna’s message is discordant, and a far cry from the Buddhist precept of avoiding harm to living creatures. Unprompted, Mr. Nyarna launches into a rant against Muslims, calling them invaders, unwanted guests and “vipers in our laps.”

“According to Buddhist teachings we should not kill,” Mr. Nyarna said. “But when we feel threatened we cannot be saints.”

As if, Mr. Nyarna, there isn’t a world of difference between simply not being a saint and advocating ethnic cleansing. Earlier this month, at Reuters, Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall detailed some of the violence.

Tuesday [October 22] began with a massacre. … By 7 a.m. … hundreds of Rakhine arrived on boats to surround [the village of] Yin Thei, said a resident contacted by telephone. By late afternoon, the Muslim villagers were fending off waves of attacks. The resident said children, including two of his young cousins, were killed by sword-wielding Rakhines. Most houses were burned down. … A Yin Thei villager telephoned Musi Dula’s neighbours and said police were shooting at them. Another farmer nervously told Reuters how he watched from afar as police opened fire from the village’s western edge, also at about 5 p.m.

The official death toll is five Rakhines and 51 Muslims killed at Yin Thei, including 21 Muslim women, said a senior police officer in Naypyitaw, the new capital of Myanmar. He denied security forces opened fire or abetted the mobs. … As Yin Thei burned, the last of nearly 4,000 Rohingya Muslims were fleeing the large port town of Pauktaw, in a dramatic exodus by sea that had begun five days earlier.

Returning to the Times article, Fuller writes, “the country’s leading liberal voice and defender of the downtrodden, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been circumspect in her comments about the violence.” For their part, Szep and Marshall write that Suu Kyi’s “studied neutrality has failed to defuse tensions and risks undermining her image as a unifying moral force. Suu Kyi, a devout Buddhist, says she refuses to take sides.” [Emphasis added.]

Besides that she’s a Buddhist, how does she justify her silence? Seasoned Burma watcher and activist Roland Watson speculates. In April of this year he wrote:

It is difficult to fathom her actions, but a number of explanations are possible, including: She didn’t know how bad the Tatmadaw [Burma’s army] was treating the ethnic groups; … she censored herself; she thinks the problems that the ethnic nationalities have are their own fault (as many Burmans [the majority ethnic group] believe) … or, she noticed that since the international community ignored the atrocities it was safe for her to do so as well. (Of note, the United States, her close advisor, for two decades only backed her and refused to acknowlede the regime’s war crimes.)

During his recent visit, writes Fuller, President Obama at least made a nod to violence against the Rohingyas.

Mr. Obama spent a considerable portion of a speech at Yangon University focusing on the importance of diversity, singling out the “danger” of the Rakhine situation and telling his audience “there is no excuse for violence against innocent people.”

But (Fuller again), like Suu Kyi, Burma’s President Thein Sein keeps the issue at arms length.

… President Thein Sein told a visiting delegation from the United Nations in July that only Muslims who have been in the country for at least three generations would be allowed citizenship. The rest were a “threat to the peace of the nation,” he said, and would be put in camps and sent abroad. The United Nations rejected the idea, saying that it was not in the business of creating refugees.

Diplomats say that Mr. Thein Sein has retreated from that position and is now talking about resettling displaced Muslim populations inside the country. He sent a letter to the United Nations just before Mr. Obama’s visit saying that once passions cooled he would “address contentious political dimensions, ranging from resettlement of displaced populations to granting of citizenship.” But he offered no details or time frame.

Let’s return to Mr. Nyarna, who has a talent for putting his foot in his mouth, who said

… many Muslims do not “practice human morals” and should be sent to Muslim countries to be among “their own kind.”

Clearly, even some Buddhists need a refresher course in “human morals.”

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Telling History vs. Making Art: Killer Angels, real and fictional

Part five in a series.

In my last post, I began to discuss Michael Shaara’s aesthetic choices for constructing The Killer Angels as he did, and how he adopted a Lost Cause-interpretation of Robert E. Lee as a central choice for his novel.

Where Shaara deviates significantly from Lost Cause tradition, though, is his choice to make Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet a hero of the novel. Longstreet was Lee’s left hand and second in command. However, Lost Cause advocates, particularly Confederate generals Jubal Early and Fitzhugh Lee, scapegoated Longstreet (and others) for the Southern defeat at Gettysburg—all in an attempt to absolve Lee and preserve his Marble Man status. Longstreet didn’t help his own case after the war by becoming a Republican, accepting various government jobs, and criticizing Lee. History has not been kind to Lee’s “Old Warhorse.” Shaara’s sympathetic treatment of him in The Killer Angels almost single-handedly resurrected public interest in Longstreet’s controversial career.

On the Federal side, Shaara focuses on cavalryman John Buford and, most significantly, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Infantry. Posted at the far left flank of the Union army on a piece of topographically important ground, Chamberlain’s men had to beat back a series of Confederate attacks on July 2, 1863. “You cannot withdraw,” Chamberlain’s commander tells him in the novel. “Under any conditions. If you go, the line is flanked. If you go, they’ll go right up the hilltop and take us in the rear. You must defend this place to the last.”

The action as depicted in the novel and, later, in the movie Gettysburg, and as recounted in Ken Burns’ The Civil War, has become the stuff of legend—in fact, “far more legend than history,” says historian Tom Desjardin. “Shaara’s novelized version of Chamberlain’s day at Gettysburg exceeds by any measure the historical fact of the event.”

But Desjardin points out that Shaara isn’t attempting to chronicle Chamberlain’s day. Rather, he says Shaara “meant to expose a wonderful, glorious, and tragic past to a generation of Americans still soured on the idea of war as a just and honorable entity. He sought perhaps to reinstill a sense that America and Americans had once been something more noble and honorable than the legacy of Vietnam made them seem.”

Those ideas, very much in keeping with the heroic deeds of valor central to the Reconciliation Tradition but given a 1970’s spin, drive an agenda far different than the objective conveyance of facts a historian would advocate. “Novels are not bound by fact,” Desjardin says. “They have an emotive quality that only fiction can provide and often must provide in order to succeed.”

“Shaara’s story is told so well, his character portrayals are so believable, that the unknowing reader might believe what they are reading is history,” writes historian Scott Hartwig, the National Park Service’s acknowledged expert on Gettysburg. Hartwig had to discard initial prejudices against the book as a historian—“or tried very hard to,” he admits:

and found that there was more to this novel than met the eye. It held deeper meaning than simply to tell the story of the Battle of Gettysburg, and it was beautifully written…. Still, the number of people who read this novel and came away thinking they had read a history of the battle, annoyed me.

The blurry line between fact and fiction in The Killer Angels is best exemplified by Buster Kilrain, a fictitious sergeant in the 20th Maine who serves as Shaara’s personal voice (for more on Kilrain, check out this piece). “It does not seem to bother people that the character is a middle-aged, overweight private who follows his commanding officer around telling him what to do while calling him ‘darling,’” says Desjardin. The fictitious Kilrain interacts with the historically real characters because Shaara needs him, as a literary device, to do so. If Chamberlain is the American hero in the classical style, Kilrain contrasts against him as the modern everyman, too cynical for his own good yet someone who can still see the value in Chamberlain’s goodness and appreciate it. Shaara’s myth-building uses Kilrain’s voice to help sculpt Chamberlain’s heroic stature:

You are damned good at everything I’ve seen you do, a lovely soldier, an honest man, and got a good heart on you too, which is rare in clever men…. The strange and marvelous thing about you, Colonel darlin’, is that you believe in mankind, even preachers, whereas when you’ve got my great experience you will have learned that good men are rare, much rarer than you think.

In service to his myth-making, Shaara isn’t afraid to subvert facts. For instance, on the third day of the battle of Gettysburg, he repositions the 20th Maine squarely behind the Union center along Cemetery Ridge. “[A] lovely spot,” a lieutenant tells Chamberlain as the regiment gets ready to move. “Safest place on the battlefield. Right smack dab in the center of the line. Very quiet there.” Most readers know the area won’t be quiet at all, so not only does Shaara create a touch of irony that serves as a foreboding end-of-chapter cliffhanger, it positions his hero to witness the climactic Pickett’s Charge. “We’re right in the path,” Chamberlain thinks as the Confederates hit. “Would not have missed this for anything, not anything in the world.”

“This is pure fiction,” says Hartwig. In reality, the 20th Maine was positioned some three-quarters of a mile away from the battle—but because Shaara literally is creating “pure fiction,” the move to Cemetery Ridge serves several artistic functions and contributes to the myth of his noble hero.

Shaara’s son, Jeff, has not inserted himself as a Kilrain-style literary device into his own Civil War books the way his father did—as a stylist, he’s not nearly that sophisticated—but he otherwise takes similar liberties with his characters. “If you have read any of my books, you know that these stories are driven not by events, but by characters,” he writes in the introduction to his most recent novel, A Blaze of Glory, about the battle of Shiloh. “For me, the points of view of the characters in this story are more appealing than the blow-by-blow facts and figures that are the necessary products of history textbooks…. [M]y goal is not to offer a complete detailed history of the event. If that’s what you seek, then by all means, read Shelby Foote or Jim McPherson. I hope that when all is said and done, you will accept that what I am trying to offer you is a good story.”

Nonetheless, Shaara professes to engage in “painstaking (and voluminous)” research, making “a strenuous effort to be historically accurate, to get the facts straight.” As a result, he almost seems to begrudge the fact that his book “has to be described as a novel because there is dialogue, and you are often inside the thoughts of these characters.” He tips his hand further in the introduction to Gods and Generals, his first novel, which he dedicates to “those who learned their American history in often impersonal textbooks.” The implication is that they’re about to learn some history from him.

When his readers walk into the Jackson Shrine, I’m delighted that the book has inspired them to stop. From that point on, the onus rests on me to be sure they leave with the story set straight.

Next: The Civil War’s great storyteller