Good, Bad, and Ugly

Jesse Loop

Three quick stories this morning, ranging across the spectrum of human experience, from hope to despair:

  • The Good:  A NASA animation depicting its forthcoming Mars revisit:  the Mars Curiosity Rover.  It’s good that this can’t be recalled, since looming budget cuts will no doubt decimate the space program.
  • The Bad:  Of all the detritus remaining after the fall of the Soviet Union, the small Baltic country of Belarus is in the running for stupid-sad-bad story of the intervening two decades.  It’s gone from ridiculous to … well, even more ridiculous.  Now you can be imprisoned for — can you believe it — just standing around:

A draft law published Friday prohibits the “joint mass presence of citizens in a public place that has been chosen beforehand, including an outdoor space, and at a scheduled time for the purpose of a form of action or inaction that has been planned beforehand and is a form of public expression of the public or political sentiments or protest.”

Anyone proven to be taking part in such a gathering would be subject to up to 15 days of administrative arrest, the draft says.

There are times when we in the U.S. should really appreciate our First Amendment, one of the few civil liberties that seems to be largely protected and respected.

Belarus, on the other hand, has Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, its “leader” for 17 years, who brooks no dissent and against whom demonstrations have become — by necessity — more and more inventive.  Hence the new law.

This month, a group of men spotted the [teenage] couple riding together in a car, yanked them into the road and began to interrogate the boy and girl. Why were they together? What right had they? An angry crowd of 300 surged around them, calling them adulterers and demanding that they be stoned to death or hanged.When security forces swooped in and rescued the couple, the mob’s anger exploded. They overwhelmed the local police, set fire to cars and stormed a police station six miles from the center of Herat, raising questions about the strength of law in a corner of western Afghanistan and in one of the first cities that has made the formal transition to Afghan-led security.

The riot, which lasted for hours, ended with one man dead, a police station charred and the two teenagers, Halima Mohammedi and her boyfriend, Rafi Mohammed, confined to juvenile prison. Officially, their fates lie in the hands of an unsteady legal system. But they face harsher judgments of family and community.

Ms. Mohammedi’s uncle visited her in jail to say she had shamed the family, and promised that they would kill her once she was released. Her father, an illiterate laborer who works in Iran, sorrowfully concurred. He cried during two visits to the jail, saying almost nothing to his daughter. Blood, he said, was perhaps the only way out.

Ugly, ugly, ugly — but let me not leave you in total despair this Sunday morning.  There’s hope:

The immediate response to the violence in Herat was heartening by comparison [to the Taliban-directed stoning death of a young couple in Kunduz]. Top clerics declined to condemn the couple. Police officers risked their lives to pull the two teenagers to safety and deposit them into the legal system, rather than the hands of angry relatives. And the police reported that five or six girls had fled the city with their boyfriends and fiancés in the weeks after the riot. After discussing the case, the provincial council decided that Mr. Mohammed and Ms. Mohammedi deserved the government’s protection because neither was engaged, and because each said they wanted to get married.

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Corrections Department

For those who read yesterday’s post early (before 12:30 p.m. CDT), I’ll note that I referred to the wrong Gladys Knight classic.  I had said “Georgia on My Mind,” whereas I had intended “Midnight Train to Georgia.”  The post has been amended.  The former is Good Knight, but the latter is Great Knight.

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One of my more dynamic interpreters of the “Loop.”

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