My saved links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Movies I've watched recently:

  • Best F(r)iends (2017) - IMDb 5/10

    2017-10-11 19:42
    * * * * *

    I saw an unfinished screener of this film, which divulged a work in progress that I nevertheless think will not be far from the finished product. Sestero plays the lead as a vagrant man, whose past leads him to convince a mortician, as played by Wiseau, to give him employment. Even though the plot is unclear and thin, the references to the film "The Room" and Wiseau's wonderfully weird acting brings this film some kind of life, Sestero's uncharismatic portrayal and the loose direction, the poor screenplay and some strange casting choices makes for a somewhat entertaining and funny, but ultimately forgetful film. Sestero told me the follow-up will probably be made in 2018.

  • Death Note (2017) - IMDb 2/10

    2017-08-28 08:20
    * *

    This remake of a near-perfect manga series, which has in turn spawned films, is now here and presented by Netflix. It starts out like a teen-angst emo trip, paired with death. Ryuk, a much-beloved character in the manga, is a Death God, who drops a notebook onto Earth. The book allows its owner to write the name of somebody and the person subsequently dies. However, there are loads of rules and caveats surrounding its use. This version is quite like "Hunger Games" was a version of "Battle Royale"; I can recall somebody saying that "Hunger Games" was "Battle Royale with cheese", which is an apt description for this version of "Death Note" as well. While the manga and prior films both contained elements that made the Sherlock Holmes short stories and novels successful through thinking and wondrous twists and turns, this film does not contain anything in the least good, apart from how the film makers opted to not display the character Ryuk much, other than in shadows. Lakeith Stanfield's acting is the only saving grace in this film, albeit short and boxed within its severe constraints (as it should be, I think). All in all: expect a high-school special without intelligence, and you will be alright.

  • Manchester by the Sea (2016) - IMDb 3/10

    2017-04-16 15:28
    * * *

    Just because the film naturally carries a containment of sorrow and gloom, it does not explain its complete dreariness. It's got bits of chronological experimentation and nice views of the sea, but otherwise, this is forgettable. See Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm" instead.

  • Fifty Shades Darker (2017) - IMDb 1/10

    2017-04-15 18:28

    I actually thought this film would not be as bad as the first one, but obviously, I was wrong. This is overwrought in no sense of the word, and if it were human, it would be incarcerated indefinitely. This film actually violates basic human rights in ways the first one didn't, so I guess that's what this new version brings to viewers. In no way is this erotic, interesting, or entertaining. The people involved in this should look themselves in the mirror and not make a third film, which _will_ be made.

  • T2 Trainspotting (2017) - IMDb 6/10

    2017-02-22 22:58
    * * * * * *

    This is more a film, I think, which is about aging and repeating your past than anything else. Sure, the characters are older, but I cringe a lot as Boyle has chosen to have them repeat some of their "fave lines" from the first film, 21 years later, for no apparent reason. The slow parts move best, for example, where Renton visits his father, despite that one being sappy. The "new girl", basically a Renton, doesn't bring much to the table. However, Robbie Carlyle steals the show; where Ewen Bremner's "Spud" previously did, by being a comedic maestro with his movements and druggy cadence, he is now converted into a caricature of himself - and yes, I am aware that druggies who have been on dope for more than two decades tend to turn into caricatures in more ways than one - while Begbie offers more. A lot more. Carlyle's acting is so strong that even Begbie's most obvious characteristics - e.g. as displayed where his son stands up against him by wanting to go to college to learn hotel management instead of joining his dad in a life of crime - turn interesting. He's a tour de force. Still, while this film is interesting and entertaining, it is too much of a parody of itself to become a truly interesting introspective. And the plot turn at the end was really a bit too tell-tale and boring to me.


Review: Susan Harlan – “Luggage”

Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between a traveler and his or her luggage. We become our things.

This is a longish monograph about luggage: some history, but mainly a quite unedited barrage into what luggage has been throughout the ages, what constitutes luggage, some anecdotes about luggage, how people treat it, worship it, forget it, have it plundered, words on the evolution it it, et cetera.

At the best of times it’s introspective and funny, like this:

And the boring black suitcases cause confusion. Excuse me, but I think that one is mine. No, I’m pretty sure this one is mine—let me check the tag. Oh, I’m so sorry—it looks just like mine. This is the baggage carousel dance. Trying to reclaim our property. Trying to identify it. Some people monogram their luggage. This is practical—a monogram helps you to pick out you suitcase— but it is also tied to identity in deeper ways. A monogram is the textual distillation of your identity and a declaration of ownership. This is mine. It becomes another brand: your brand alongside the brand of the suitcase; a mark the self, endlessly reproducible and immediately recognizable.

At its worst it’s filler and seemingly just advertising, as with the favorable mentions of Louis Vuitton.

There’s quite some matter-of-factly stand-ins:

Commercial airlines now estimate 190 pounds per passenger, including his or her carry-ons, and 30 pounds per checked bag. Four hundred passengers and their luggage, or approximately 75,000 pounds, makes up only 10 percent of the total weight of a fully loaded 747. (Fuel often accounts for a third or more of a plane’s total bulk.) But you can still travel on Cunard’s Queen Mary with unlimited luggage.

Still, as a whole, paragraphs can be interesting:

Disasters leave luggage behind. Genocide leaves luggage behind. In David Foster Wallace’s 1995 essay for Harper’s about the absurdities of luxury cruises “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” the invisible handling of baggage brings to mind the Holocaust: “A second Celebrity crowdcontrol lady has a megaphone and repeats over and over not to worry about our luggage, that it will follow us later, which I am apparently alone in finding chilling in its unwitting echo of the Auschwitz-embarkation scene in Schindler’s List.”

All in all, if you are a fan of luggage and factiods, I do recommend this book.

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Review: Nina Hemmingsson – “På a svarar jag hej då.”


Sad, happy, concentrated, down-and-out, experimental, angry. This is a collection of art by Nina Hemmingsson, one of the best graphical artists in Sweden. Her “crudely” drawn strips expose Swedes with the inherent darkness that surrounds us, as we try our best to push it away even though it’s blatantly there.

Reading Hemmingsson often makes me think that she is eerily able to pinpoint both the oh-so-slackly referred-to human condition to a T, while simultaneously varying her art so that it feels fresh and timeless at the same time, which is an art in itself, and all the while I often laugh aloud at her observations.

The human sex is often brought up, not at all crudely; Hemmingsson carries interesting views on gender, and these are almost always on display. I can often feel anxiety in single-frame strips where a character is at a party, sporting an extremely unsettling face while saying the most mundane stuff aloud.

Almost all of the characters drink wine, almost all of the time. It’s also interesting; perhaps it’s one of the more Swedish bourgeoisie things that exist, in order to try and hide anxiety, even though alcohol heightens it. The irony is that Hemmingsson’s pages display all of the anxiety that you can shake a stick at by simply displaying it, always on point.

I strongly recommend picking this book up; all the while, Hemmingsson’s stuff is always so good that if you’ve never read her before, feel safe in the knowledge that you can pick any of her books up and feel great value in delving lowly, perhaps wondering why you’re laughing at sadness.

Examples from the book:

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Review: “A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law”, Ifill, Lynch, Stevenson, Thompson

This is a book that consists of a discussion between four persons: Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), Loretta Lynch, the eighty-third attorney general of the United States, Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and Anthony C. Thompson, a professor of clinical law and the faculty director of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at New York University School of Law.

It’s a quite varied and senseful debate, if one can call it as such, where those persons speak of inequality, indifference, inherent racism, and the consequences of capitalism, almost entirely in regards to the USA. If one has read Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Jill Leovy, and similar thinkers, this will not be entirely new information that will blow your mind.

However, it is quite a necessary book that brings much-needed stuff and information to the surface. For example, from Stevenson:

Bryan Stevenson: I think if you don’t hold people accountable for the narrative assaults that they make, then you’re never going to prevail. Because the South never voted for the Voting Rights Act, or the Civil Rights Act. They regrouped, started organizing in precisely the way you are describing, and then, forty-eight years later, they won a Supreme Court case, Shelby County, because their narrative persuaded the United States Supreme Court that we don’t need the Voting Rights Act anymore (at a time when we still saw the same suppression efforts). So I agree.

I look at domestic violence. When we were young, there was a show on TV called The Honeymooners. And the punchline was Jackie Gleason saying to his wife, “To the moon, Alice,” which was a threat of violence. And everybody laughed. We didn’t take domestic violence seriously. When women called the police to their homes after being assaulted, the cops would tell. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a piece of federal legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in nearly every sphere of American life, including voting, public accommodations, public education, public facilities, and employment. jokes to the guy to get him calm. As long as he was calm, they wouldn’t make arrests. And then we began to work on the narrative. We actually allowed women who are survivors of that violence to have a voice. They made the movie The Burning Bed. And we started talking about the pain and the injury and the suffering. Before you knew it, we started to think differently about that. And today, even these elite, professional athletes are risking something—not nearly enough, we still have a long way to go—when they engage in these acts of violence.

I think we’ve seen the same thing on climate change. But we haven’t made that kind of effort on race in my view, to direct things at the communities that need a narrative shift. And I think until we do that, we’re not going to make progress.

What all of the participants speak of is mainly the need for change via grassroots movements; naturally, the corporations (which are effectively in power in a plutocratic oligarchy, which the USA is in 2018) will not do this for us:

Loretta Lynch: We have to focus on growing the next group of people who are going to join the political discourse, and in fact wield that power at a local level. I think it’s important, because we were blessed for eight years. We had a wonderful president. He will go down in history as one of our greatest presidents. I was tremendously proud to work for him. But politics is about more than who the president is. Law enforcement is about more than who the Attorney General is. It’s so much more than that. What we were trying to do is to travel across the country and empower local voices, to highlight people who are dealing with these issues in communities at the grassroots level. And we were trying to lift their voices up, amplify them, and share them with the nation. Those voices are still out there.

This is a little book which exudes eloquence and honesty. Another example:

Bryan Stevenson: Well, it’s sort of funny. We’re doing this cultural work, and for me it’s been very energizing, because I went to South Africa, and what I experienced there was that people insisted on making sure I understood the damage that was done by apartheid. When I talked to Rwandans, you can’t spend time in Rwanda without them telling you about all of the damage done by the genocide. I go to Berlin, and you can’t go a hundred meters without seeing those markers and monuments that have been placed near the homes of Jewish families that were abducted during the Holocaust. The Germans want you to go to the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. And then I come to this country, and we don’t talk about slavery. We don’t talk about lynching. We don’t talk about segregation. And so, our project is really trying to create a new landscape. I never thought during my law practice that I’d be spending so much time working on a museum, but our museum is called “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.” We have to get people to understand the damage that was done to this country with this legacy.

We kidnapped 12 million Africans. Kidnapped them. Brought them across the ocean in this torturous journey. Killed millions of them. Held them in captivity for centuries. And we haven’t acted as though we did anything wrong. We must increase a consciousness of wrongdoing: lynching over four thousand people, taking black people out of their homes, burning them alive, hanging them from trees, brutalizing them, causing one of the largest mass migrations in the history of the world, when 6 million black people fled the American South for the North and West as refugees and exiles from terror. And then segregation: saying to black children every day, “You can’t go to school because you’re black. You can’t vote because you’re black.” And we haven’t really developed any shame about this history. So what I want to do is, I want to increase the shame index of America. Because we do a lot of things great—we do sports, we do all that stuff. But we don’t do mistake very well. We don’t apologize very well.

And if you don’t learn to be shameful about shameful misbehavior, you’ll keep doing that behavior over and over again. I think if you say, “I’m sorry,” it doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong. You show me two people who’ve been in love for fifty years, and I’ll show you two people who’ve learned how to apologize to one another when they get into trouble. I think we have to create that cultural moment where apologizing becomes okay. And part of the reason why we don’t want to talk about this history, is we’ve become such a punitive society. Most people think, well, if we talk about slavery, lynching, segregation, someone is going to have to get punished. And I just want to say to people, “I don’t have any interest in punishing America for its past.” I represent people who have done really terrible things. I’m not interested in prioritizing punishment. I want to liberate us. I want to get to the point where we can say, “That was bad and that was wrong and we need to get to someplace that’s better!” I want to deal with this smog created by our history of racial inequality, so we can all breathe something healthy, feel something healthy.

All in all, this is a great book to read for injecting some much-needed voices that are not likely to be aired over mainstream media.

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Review: “Waco: A Survivor’s Story” by David Thibodeau

When Bill Hicks, stand-up comedian and philosopher, witnessed FBI’s and other authorities’ siege of the compound of the “Davidians” in Waco, Texas, he decided to go there himself. While there, he saw murderous gas being jolted into a building, along with numerous shots from several different high-calibre weapons, not to forget how tanks drove into the compound itself. Most of the persons inside of the building had either died from FBI’s (and other American law-enforcement authorities) bullets, fires that had started because of the extremely volatile gas, or from having the building collapse on them due to tanks entering the building.

Hicks later added the following to his stand-up routine:

“If the FBI’s motivating factor for busting down the Koresh compound was child abuse, how come we never see Bradley tanks smashing into Catholic churches?”

There’s quite a lot of truth in his words about this, as you will note when reading this book, originally penned by compound survivor David Thibodeau in the 1990s and now revamped for the TV mini-series about “Waco”, due to be released in January of 2018.

I first started reading this book wary of it; I’ve read a multitude of pop-culture books, studies, monographs, research, and criminological forensics to be very tired of these kinds of tomes; most have a kind of “HE WAS A MONSTER” feeling that surrounds them, mainly as a) the culprit(s) are mainly male and b) shock tactics are used in a kind of tabloid fashion.

However, I was very glad to note that Thibodeau (who is bolstered by the skills of his co-author, Leon Whiteson) has produced a book which is not only an easy read, but skips the entire fire-and-brimstone thing that often, sadly, envelops sensationalistic happenings such as the mass-murder of civilians in Waco, Texas.

He starts off with a highly sensoric paragraph on what the end of the Waco siege was about:

It is hell. Day and night booming speakers blast us with wild sounds—blaring sirens, shrieking seagulls, howling coyotes, wailing bagpipes, crying babies, the screams of strangled rabbits, crowing roosters, buzzing dental drills, off-the-hook telephone signals. The cacophony of speeding trains and hovering helicopters alternates with amplified recordings of Christmas carols, Islamic prayer calls, Buddhist chants, and repeated renderings of whiny Alice Cooper and Nancy Sinatra’s pounding, clunky lyric, “These Boots Were Made for Walking.” Through the night the glare of brilliant stadium lights turns our property into a giant fishbowl. The young children and babies in our care, most under eight years old, are terrified. The dismal racket and the blinding lights are tortures invented by the small army of law enforcement officers armed with tanks, armored vehicles, and automatic weapons who’ve surrounded the complex we call Mount Carmel for the past seven weeks. These torments are intended to sap our wills and compel us to surrender to an authority that refuses to accept that we are a valid religious community with deeply held beliefs. All our attempts to explain our commitment to what we believe have been dismissed as mere “Bible babble.” As the days drift by, we’ve begun to fear that, in their disregard for our faith and their frustration at our refusal to submit to naked force, the seven hundred or so agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), plus the officers of several state and local police forces besieging us, may be edging toward an action that will end up wiping our small community right off the map.

Jon Ronson, an English author, noted in his famous book “The Men Who Stare At Goats” that the US government has since long been experimenting with audio as psychological warfare, actually interviewing American generals and others who attest to these experiments becoming life during the Waco siege.

After the shattering introduction of the book, Thibodeau quickly describes his adolescence, always wanting to travel and experience things, not knowing where he stood until he found music. He became an adept drummer, left home for music school where drumming was everything, and subsequently happened to meet David Koresh, who played the guitar.

Koresh is described as charismatic, with an intense knowledge of the Bible. As Thibodeau was not Christian, he was still drawn to Koresh who – according to Thibodeau – used a very non-violent way to get Thibodeau into his way of thinking; never preachy, always speaking fluently, they discussed the Bible, which Koresh interpreted via adventism, which bases a belief that armageddon is neigh.

So, Thibodeau moved to Texas, where Koresh had forged a tight-knit community of followers. After a while, Thibodeau started believing Koresh’s flavour of God.

Sometimes he’d deliberately provoke us, to jar us out of a trance. “You know, I hate black people,” he said once, out of the blue. I cringed reflexively. The crowd, which was around one-third black, was shocked. You could cut the hush with an axe. “And I hate yellow people,” David went on after a pause. “And I hate white people. The people I value are people of light.”

Speaking of light, Koresh proclaimed something he called “New Light”:

As David’s grasp of his role in the fulfillment of prophecy evolved, he had a further series of revelations. One of the most important and startling of these was his “New Light” experience during the summer of 1989, in which he foresaw the crucial role of sex and procreation in what he called the coming New World Order—a phrase later echoed by President George Bush around the time of the 1991 Gulf War. The New Light revelation was so radical it shocked some of his people and shook their faith. Simply put, it mandated celibacy for everyone except David. Single men in the community had to give up sex. Married men, such as Steve Schneider and Livingston Fagan, had to separate from their wives and cease making love altogether. Sex was a distraction, David told his people, an untamed power seducing the spirit away from its focus. Only David was given the right to procreate with any of the women, married or single, to generate the inner circle of children who would rule the coming kingdom to be established in Israel. In David’s spiritual logic, he saw himself assuming the burden of sexuality for the entire community, both male and female. The children David would have with these women, married and single, ranging in ages from fourteen to forty, would represent the most sacred core of the community. “They are our hope and our future,” he said simply.

I feel that the best and worst of Thibodeau’s writings lie in how he portrays Koresh; at one point, he is obviously sucker-punched into the whole sect mentality, not questioning the totalitarian leader’s claim to be “the Lamb from Revelation” (which he actually made) while classifying homosexual persons as “sinful”; also, women cooked, men worked on the building. Thibodeau writes of this “jarring” him, and at the same time, anybody who has ever been subjected to and fallen for peer pressure can relate to bowing down to ideas of others even though they may feel to be utterly wrong.

Whether or not Koresh raped children, even though that may not be the case according to Texan law, having sex with 14-year-old girls is pedophilia in my eyes. And yes, Koresh obviously abused his place of power much like Charles Manson, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump have, in their autocratic and totalitarian ways.

According to Thibodaeu, Koresh and others at the top of his gang did not force people to stay at their compound. Children were apparently well looked after, people were not worked to the bone, and it seems as though Koresh was mostly an OK person (apart from raping children and believing he was “the Lamb”). Apart from that, just.

Still, to me, the most interesting thing about this book apart from Thibodeau’s personal experiences with being drawn into Koresh’s being and collection of humans, is how both the FBI and the American justice system utterly perverted everything that occurred during the siege, not to mention the judicial process that followed.

To begin with, the ATF wanted to attack the compond. The basis for this deserves a full quotation:

The keystone in the ATF’s attack plan was the scripting of an affidavit as the basis for a warrant to search Mount Carmel and arrest David. A corrupt document on its face, the affidavit served as the original act that brought about the obliteration of our community. The ATF affidavit was built upon deliberate deceptions concerning charges that were legitimately under ATF jurisdiction, such as firearms violations; however, it raised issues that were not the agency’s concern, such as child abuse and drug trafficking. (We only got to see the sealed warrant during the siege, on March 19, weeks after the ATF attack. For the public, the warrant remained sealed until after the fire, too late for the media to examine it and question its validity.) The most blatant lie in the ATF affidavit was the drug charge. ATF agents told Texan officials that the community was “involved in drug trafficking.” In addition, the ATF involved IRS agents by dropping hints of drug “money laundering.” These trumped-up allegations allowed the ATF to requisition military materiel, normally forbidden to nonmilitary agencies under the 1878 Posse Commitatus Act. (The drug charge dated back to George Roden, who had allowed speed dealers to operate in Mount Carmel during the mid-1980s. But local law officers knew that when David—who hated drugs—took over Mount Carmel in 1987, he’d kicked out the dopers and called the Waco sheriff to have the methamphetamine lab removed.) A few weeks after the initial ATF assault, ATF spokesman David Troy blandly denied that there ever was any “suspicion of illegal drug activity” in Mount Carmel. Later, sources within the ATF quietly admitted to reporters that the drug-lab story was “a complete fabrication,” concocted to deflect sharp questions from Texas officials about the deceitful use of the National Guard and other state agencies. When challenged for their “dishonesty and misrepresentation” by the then-governor of Texas, Ann Richards, Troy contradicted himself with a claim that an “infrared overflight [by] a British military aircraft brought over from England” had found evidence of a meth lab in our building. According to Bill Cryer, her former spokesman, Richards “was surprised, and she was furious about the original attack. She thought it was unnecessary.” At the 1995 congressional hearings a New Hampshire Republican congressman, Bill Zeliff, commented that “ATF agents responsible for preparing the affidavits knew or should have known that many of the statements they were making were false.”

The US government paid over 30 million US dollars, to keep 700 law-enforcement officers, helicopters, tanks, arms beyond belief, and the media to some extent, to deal with Koresh and his friends. The FBI committed 250, the ATF 150, including agents and support personnel. In addition, there were officers from the Texas Rangers, the Waco police, the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Customs, the Texas National Guard, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the U.S. Army. Thibodeau goes into clear detail to describe what happened and when, much like Åse Seierstad in her ubiquitous account of the Utöya mass-murder by Anders Bering Breivik. Congressional hearings and other law business has clearly shown how FBI top brass lied about vital points, and evidence – for example the bullet-struck right-hand side of the compound door – has vanished from the trace of the Earth, by the way, evidence which only did the law enforcement agencies disservice.

Everyone who was allowed to see the mass-murder that was about to happen could see the obvious signs on the wall:

David’s suspicion of the FBI remained high all through the discussions about the surrender. “You are all going to kill us,” he told one negotiator during the morning. Another negotiator, trying to reassure him, said that the military vehicles circling our building were there “for tactical reasons only,” whatever that meant. “They took their guns off,” a guy named Jim argued over the phone. “It’s strictly a bullet-proof shield.” We were suspicious of this jargon—rightly so, as it turned out. And we weren’t the only ones wary of the feds. Noting the FBI’s mobilization of military equipment, former McLellan County District Attorney Vic Feazell lamented the FBI’s Storm Trooper tactics (his words) and the “vulgar display of power on the part of the feds.” Feazell told the Houston Chronicle on March 1: “The Feds are preparing to kill them. That way they can bury their mistakes and won’t have attorneys looking over what they did later.… I’d represent these boys for free if they’d surrender without bloodshed, but I’m afraid I’m going to wake up and see the headlines that say they all died.”

The media also did their bit to whitewash everything that the government did, after the fact.

A prime example of this “pernicious dualism” was displayed on the March 25 episode of Oprah. In front of millions of viewers, and while we were in the midst of the siege, the popular host linked David’s name with that of Jim Jones by inviting Jones’s former attorney as a man who “understands the cult mentality.” Oprah’s program that day was titled “Inside Waco and Other Cults.” On the show, Oprah tried to manipulate Jeannine and Robyn Bunds into admitting that we were all under David’s diabolical spell. Though Jeannine repeatedly denied this, Oprah kept pushing. “Did you, at the time, recognize that—that it was indeed a cult and that you were being brainwashed?” she persisted. “No. I didn’t feel that way at all,” Jeannine replied. “Do you believe he’s evil?” “I don’t believe that he is evil,” Robyn Bunds answered.

It’s interesting to know that the FBI called their attack plan “Jericho”. It included a process to drive tear gas into the compound over 48 hours. The FBI chose to use the so-called CS gas. In January 1993 the United States and 130 other countries had signed the Chemical Weapons Convention banning the use of CS gas in warfare; apparently there is no prohibition on its use against American citizens.

Federal Laboratories, which supplies CS to the FBI, warns in its manual: “Under no circumstances should [CS] grenades, cartridges or projectiles designed for use in riots be used in confined areas. A hazardous overdose could be created by the release of… even one full-sized grenade in a closed room.” CS is effective at a concentration of ten milligrams per cubic meter of air. Over a six-hour period on April 19, the FBI delivered 1,900 grams of CS chemical agent into our building, creating concentrations in some rooms almost sixteen times that amount, or twice the density considered life-threatening. No greater concentration of CS has ever been sprayed by government agents at U.S. civilians.

Compounding the terrors of this gas mixture is its potential for causing fire. The Dow Chemical Company’s Material Safety Data Sheet on methylene chloride states that this chemical “forms flammable vapor-air mixtures.” The warning adds: “In confined or poorly ventilated areas, vapors can readily accumulate and cause unconsciousness and death.” Eric R. Larsen, Ph.D., a retired Dow chemist, confirmed a later Associated Press report that “MeCl [methylene chloride] vapors will reduce the flash point of hydrocarbon fuels and thus will enhance the rate of flame spread. One might as well toss gas on a fire.” Poorly ventilated areas “could have been turned into an area similar to one of the gas chambers used by the Nazis at Auschwitz,” Larsen added.

Janet Reno took the ultimate decision to allow the FBI to attack the compound and mass murder the civilians, based on what she stated was “hard intelligence” that “children were beaten”. Further from the book:

On the evening of April 19, hours after our tragedy, Reno would appear on talk shows and state that the FBI had “hard intelligence” that children were being beaten. It was bunk. Two days later the FBI denied Reno’s claims, dropping her in the soup. “We did not tell the Attorney General there was evidence of abuse during the siege,” an agency spokesman declared. “We passed on the 1992 reports from last year.” That is, the FBI gave the Attorney General a copy of the report of the intense investigation carried out in early 1992 by the Texas Department of Child Protective Services, which had been terminated for lack of evidence. Sessions himself later admitted that the bureau had “no contemporaneous evidence” of such abuse. In fact, Child Protective Services officials, who immediately examined the kids who came out during the siege, uncovered no evidence of child abuse. They found the children to be “surprisingly healthy, happy, well adjusted, well educated, and only wanted to return as soon as they could to their friends and relatives in the compound.” In the March 8 issue of the New York Times, Texas correspondent Sam Howe Verhovek wrote that none of these children “show any signs of physical abuse.”

The following paragraph shocked me extra, actually:

Official lies survived the blaze intact. The day after Mount Carmel burned, FBI spokesman Bob Ricks stated that the agents in charge had not expected a fire. However, a nurse in the burn unit at Waco’s Parkland Memorial Hospital reported that an FBI agent contacted her at 5:00 A.M. on April 19, an hour or so before the feds sent in the tanks to inject Mount Carmel with tear gas. The agent, said the nurse, wanted to know how many casualties the unit could handle. Two other local hospitals were also approached by the FBI early that morning. (As it turned out, the feds refused to pay for the treatment of our people in the Parkland burn unit, and the hospital administrator had to file a lawsuit against the agency to get the government to pay up. The hospital’s claim was settled out of court.)


The charred corpse of six-year-old Star, David’s oldest daughter, was found with her spine bent into a backward bow until her head almost touched her feet. Her muscles were contracted by the combined effect of the fire’s heat and the cyanide in her body, a byproduct of CS suffocation. Cyanide contraction is so violent it can break bones, which is why prison death-chamber officials who use the gas strap their victims down.

Very apt:

The Israeli mother of my friend Pablo Cohen, herself a survivor of the Nazi death camps, said that never in her worst nightmares did she expect her son to die by gassing and incineration in America.

Thibodeau adds this:

I now realize that David Koresh made huge mistakes. He was guilty of statutory rape and slept with a number of women, among them Michele, who was fourteen at the time. […] It should be noted that the age of consent in Texas at that time was fourteen (with parental permission) and although David’s actions might have been legal at the time, they were morally reprehensible, as well as bigamous.

In the end, 80 persons were slaughtered by an indifferent, wrong, and judging authority that received no penalties for their actions. Thibodeau’s introductory 10% of the book are brilliantly told, even though I feel that the style is later lost. Still, due to how clearly the story is told, without any seeming want to seek pity or to disregard truths about the compound attack (from both sides, as it were), this books is worthy of four out of five stars based on its sheer historical importance, reminding us to always keep watching the watchmen, be they leaders of cults or governments.

Bonus video: Bill Hicks!

The online news site The Guardian describes this video clip as Hicks riffing on religious cult, but the description should have been based on what Hicks says in the last half of the clip: “The Branch Davidians did not start the fire. They were murdered in cold blood by the p*ssies, the liars, the scumbags — the ATF.”


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