Thursday
Oct182012

Department of Conservation

I know, the scan is a little freaky, but we were trying not to crease the pages. Machines and me don’t always see eye to eye. The point though, which is relevant to the 15 or so people who share my obsessions, is that I got my hands on this rare document: Dialogue Before Death: Transcript of a Tape-Recording of an English Conversation between Dan Mitrione and an Unidentified Uruguayan Tupamaro, August 1970. Catchy title, no? Dan Mitrione, in case you didn’t know, was a former FBI agent who worked with the US Agency for International Development’s Office of Public Safety, training police officers in Brazil from 1960 to 1967, and later in Uruguay, where he directed the OPS office from 1969 until his death in 1970. OPS postings, in case you didn’t know, frequently provided cover for CIA operatives in Latin America in the years before the OPS was dissolved by act of Congress in 1974. On July 31, 1970, Mitrione was kidnapped by Tupamaro guerrillas. As ransom, they demanded the freedom of 150 political prisoners. The Nixon administration offered the Venezuelan government its full support in securing Mitrione’s release, which apparently extended to torturing Tupamaro prisoners and murdering their relatives, but not to actually negotiating with the guerrillas. (“I am confident,” Nixon wrote in a personal message to the Uruguayan president, “that … you will not foreclose any actions which could bring about the safe return of Mr. Mitrione.”) On August 10, one day after the Tupamaro's deadline had passed, Mitrione’s body was found in the trunk of a stolen Buick. He had been shot twice in the head. His body showed no signs of torture. In the weeks that followed, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis would perform in a benefit concert for Mitrione’s family and a White House spokesman would call him “an example for free men everywhere.” Before the year was up, the former head of the Uruguayan intelligence service, himself a CIA asset, told a Brazilian newspaper that Mitrione had instituted torture as a routine measure and escalated its use in the interrogation of Tupamaro prisoners. A few years later, a Cuban CIA operative who had worked under Mitrione in Uruguay alleged that Mitrione had taught torture methods to local police in the basement of a Montevideo home, demonstrating the effects of electrocution on live subjects, including beggars kidnapped off the city’s streets. He recalled Mitrione advising that, "You have to act with the efficiency and cleanliness of a surgeon and with the perfection of an artist." It is safe to assume that Mitrione’s Tupamaro interlocutors did not survive the decade. 

I can’t tell you much about the provenance of this document, except that the original is unbound, printed on heavy paper fastened with staples. An unsigned "Editor’s Note" claims that portions of the transcript were published in the English-language press and that Spanish-language newspapers published the full transcript in translation. It says nothing, however, about the original source of the full English transcript, except that unnamed "official U.S. sources" believe it to be authentic. As far as I can gather from some reasonably intrepid googling, the publisher, Squirrel Publications, was responsible for printing only one other text, also in the summer of 1970, a bilingual edition of Peru’s General Law on Industries. 

Sunday
Oct142012

Borenboim’s dream

He dreamed a dream: he was a teenager, at his stepfather’s dacha in Sosenki, standing at the gate and looking out at the street. Vitka, Keras, and Gera were walking down the street toward him. They were supposed to go together to the Salarevsky dump.  The guys were approaching. They held sticks for poking around in the garbage. His stick stood next to the fence. He picked it up and walked toward them. They walked quickly and happily down the street. It was early in the morning, midsummer, the weather dry and cool. He was enjoying himself and his step was light. They came to the dump. It was enormous, stretching to the very horizon.
    “We’re going to go through and turn it up from south to north,” said Karas. “There are turbines in there.”
    They picked through the garbage. Borenboim sank in to his waist. Sank even lower. There was an underground vault. An intolerable stench. The heavy, sticky trash quivered like quicksand. Borenboim cried out in fear.
     “Don’t be chicken,” Gera giggled, grabbing him by the feet.
    “These are positive catacombs,” Vitka explained. “This is where the parent accelerators live.”
    People walked through the catacombs. Odd, fearsome machines passed by.
    “I have to find the computer dough, then at home I’ll make traveling boots for super-powered diesel locomotives,” Borenboim thought to himself. He kept picking through the trash.
    All sorts of objects turned up. Suddenly Karas and Gera broke through a wall with their sticks. A glooming din emerged from the opening. “It’s the turbines,” Borenboim realized. He looked into the opening and saw a huge cave with bluish turbines rising in the center. They produced a dismal roar: smoke spread from them, stinging the eyes.
    “Let’s get out of here before we’re squashed!” Vitka advised.
    They ran along a twisting path, getting bogged down in sticky, squelching garbage. Borenboim bumped into a piece of computer dough. A silvery-lilac color, it smelled like gasoline and lilac. He pulled the dough from the heaps of trash.
    “Mold it in the form, or else it will come unsoldered,” said Karas.
    Suddenly, a rat jumped out of the computer dough.
    “Bastard, he ate the computer program!” Vitka shouted.
    Vitka, Gera, and Karas began to beat the rat with their sticks. Its gray body shook with the blows, and it squeaked pitifully. Borenboim looked at the rat. He felt its palpitating heart. It was a tender little bundle which sent waves of the subtlest vibrations across the whole world, sublime waves of love. And the most remarkable thing—they were in no way connected to the death throes and the horror of the dying rat, they existed all by themselves. They penetrated Borenboim’s body. His heart contracted from a powerful attack of tenderness, joy, and delight. He pushed the guys aside and lifted the bloody rat. He bent over it and sobbed. The rat’s moist eyes closed. Its heart quivered, sending its last farewell waves of love. Borenboim caught them with his heart. He understood the language of hearts. It was untranslatable. Sublime. Borenboim sobbed from happiness and pity. The rat’s heart shuddered for the last time. And stopped: FOREVER! The horror of losing this tiny heart seized Borenboim. He pressed the little body to his chest. He sobbed aloud, as he had in childhood. Sobbed helplessly on and on.


—Vladimir Sorokin, Ice

Monday
Oct082012

I apologize

I’ve been negligent, I know, I’ve been distracted, as always, so hard to focus these days, what with this and that, and I know it’s irresponsible of me to let myself wander like that, but really, I’ve been busy, so busy with this and that, and they called on me, that’s right, they called, and when they call you can’t say no, or you could but they wouldn’t listen, they’d do something dreadful, something unimaginably dreadful, so, you know, I did what they asked, I played the “candidates,” the presidential candidates, in the recent “debate,” because the “candidates” themselves couldn’t be bothered, they said, because they had more important obligations, and they didn’t say more because they didn’t have to, because I couldn’t compel them to, because I simply don’t rank and they don’t owe me anything, not even spittle, and certainly not an explanation, so I did what they asked with no further questions, I was even a little flattered that they asked me, I won’t lie, because they never asked before and never really even noticed me, but I didn’t have time to practice as much as I would have liked, maybe you noticed, I hope not, god my hands hurt, mainly the fingertips and that weird muscle beneath the index finger across from the thumb, it aches no matter how much I ice it and of course I can’t hold the ice to it well because the other hand hurts just as badly and I don’t remember now which hand held which “candidate” and I fear I may have failed to differentiate their voices adequately, to present them as two distinct options, but I kept forgetting which hand was which because of course I couldn’t see, I was all stooped over and I had that cloth over my head because it was essential that I not be seen, but no one ever considered that it was equally essential that I be able to see, if only well enough to know which "candidate" was on which hand, and now I’m certain I got their lines mixed up and I may have even put them on the wrong hands, so that the right candidate was on the left hand and the left candidate was on the right hand and lord knows who said what and I am mortified by my amateurishness, but it seems from all the commentary that no one noticed, so please don’t tell, please just shush, or of course there will be consequences, unimaginable consequences, and for the time being I am relieved that it’s blown over, that the commentators were convinced and the public thought there was a winner and a loser and hence a choice, a clear choice, two options and not just one and now if you don’t mind terribly, even typing this is causing me considerable discomfort, and I do fear that they will call me again for the upcoming “debate,” since no one noticed the hash I made of this last one, since everyone seemed to really enjoy the show, the drama and the disappointment of it, so I should really go now and immerse my hands in a bucket of ice water and I plan to remove my hands from the bucket of ice water only to pray that I escape their notice entirely, that they call off the next “debate” or find someone else, someone more experienced, more capable, someone more suitable for the job.

Friday
Sep282012

Serenity

"The Orad Group is a major player in the perimeter security field, with a specialty of integrating technologies pertaining to access control, biometrics, and Intelligent Video Surveillance. According to its deputy CEO, Orad is now looking into the creation of virtual or, more precisely, invisible security apparatuses. The idea is to transform cities or different facilities into military bases of sorts whereby people inhabiting a space are secured by all the technologies used to secure a military base but that these technologies are invisible. One will not need guards in booths at the entrance of the gated community, which might not be gated at all; the fences, cameras, sensors and other technologies that are used for perimeter security and safety (as well as social sorting) in a military base will all be there, but they will be unidentifiable from the surface so that the inhabitants can enjoy the serenity of the space."

—Neve Gordon, "The Political Economy of Israel’s Homeland Security Industry"

Saturday
Sep222012

Names of bars

Take And Drink, This Is the Cup of My Blood

Drinking Makes You Hard

You Break Your Glass You Buy It

This Place Is Home

Drink And Pay Tomorrow, No Problem We'll Worry About It Later

Even The President Drinks *

—names of bars in Alain Mabanckou's African Psycho

*While Take And Drink, This Is the Cup of My Blood is unambigiously a single establishment, it is unclear from the text if the remaining clauses each refer to separate bars, or if, linked by commas, they together form a single, lengthy name that refers to one establishment.