A secular analysis of news, culture and kitsch. Following the slide into theocracy and fascism and encouraging signs of resistance.
Saturday, December 31, 2005
Friday, December 30, 2005
Good taste is such a relative thing. Consider this submission from Austria.
pix link via Pime Forest). The BBC has the best coverage of the story plus some (realtime) video. Boing Boing has more, including a link to a torrent of a pdf which has pix of all of the submissions to the show.
The BBC also has up a link to an earlier story about a controversial New Zealand newspaper ad for prostitutes for a club "downstairs at the White House."
The crossed Stars and Stripes and bald eagle logo may appear to suggest the Bush administration has branched out, but the advert is in fact for a brothel in Auckland looking for new ladies for its nightclub, Monica's.Speaking of good taste...mm...brains...there is a political zombie movie playing this month on Showtime. Dead veterans break out of their flag draped coffins to get revenge on the corrupt politicians who sent them to die in a pointless war (via One Good Move).
It appeared in newspapers shortly after New Zealand's Parliament voted to decriminalise prostitution and pimping and allow licensed brothels to operate under public health and employment laws.
The US Embassy has sent a letter to the business complaining that the advert, especially the logo, is in poor taste.
First there was the theft of the Mother Theresa bun, now they won't leave the Virgin Mary alone. The censored South Park episode "Bloody Mary" has been resurrected. Boing Boing summarizes the plot:
In this season finale episode, which first aired on December 7, a local statue of the Virgin Mary bleeds from its ass. Townsfolk think it's a miracle.My favorite quote: "They say her divine ass-blood has miraculous healing powers." It reminds me a bit of the Father Ted episode The Tentacles of Doom. But if you really want to celebrate the spirit of the holy mother of god, you might look here or here.
Emperor PalpatinePope Benedict XVI visits to inspect the statue in person, determines that it is instead bleeding from its vagina, and declares: "A chick bleeding out her vagina is no miracle. Chicks bleed out their vaginas all the time.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
"Every sensible man, every honest man, must hold the Christian sect in horror. But what shall we substitute in its place? you say. What? A ferocious animal has sucked the blood of my relatives. I tell you to rid yourselves of this beast, and you ask me what you shall put in its place?" -- Voltaire (1694-1778)
Save Voltaire from the fanatics!
And now for a word
No more meaningless or offensive than any other commercial, Rejected starts out a bit slow but gets funnier and funnier.
The myths of Juan Cole
Juan Cole has up a kind of New Year's list of the top ten myths about Iraq. At least two of them are self-serving and to say the least contentious.
8. Iraq is already in a civil war, so it does not matter if the US simply withdraws precipitately, since the situation is as bad as it can get. No, it isn't. During the course of the guerrilla war, the daily number of dead has fluctuated, between about 20 and about 60. But in a real civil war, it could easily be 10 times that. Some estimates of the number of Afghans killed during their long set of civil wars put the number at 2.5 million, along with 5 million displaced abroad and more millions displaced internally. Iraq is Malibu Beach compared to Afghanistan in its darkest hours. The US has a responsibility to get out of Iraq responsibly and to not allow it to fall into that kind of genocidal civil conflict.This is in essence a straw man argument against immediate withdrawal from Iraq and in favor of so-called the responsible withdrawal scenarios favored by, for example Cole and Tom Hayden. These scenarios envision a substantial withdrawal of US ground forces but are based on a liberal helping of fantasy.
They assume that we can substitute air power for troops on the ground, that air support is merely a defensive tactic, that the US will give the Iraqi troops it trains adequate equipment and that the US actually gives a flying fuck about Iraqi lives, democracy etc. Earlier, I thought Cole had come around to understanding this. I was mistaken.
Nonetheless, I do think that Cole is right about the possibility, the extreme likelihood, of a huge increase in casualties, perhaps into the millions following the American withdrawal. I understand his desperation to try to imagine some scenario that might ward off this further horror. The inevitable withdrawal of US forces does matter: it will bring untold chaos, suffering and death. And it is utterly our fault. But in the absence of good intentions on the part of the leadership of this country, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
3. The guerrillas are winning the war against US forces. The guerrillas are really no more than mosquitos to US forces. The casualties they have inflicted on the US military, of over 2000 dead and some 15,000 wounded, are deeply regrettable and no one should make light of them. But this level of insurgency could never defeat the US military in the field.Again Cole's formulation is disingenuous. The war is not a set piece field battle. The insurgents can win, have already won, because the US forces can not achieve their goal of securing the territory and installing a US puppet regime. They are relatively safe inside their military compounds, but they can't even secure the safety of roads inside the green zone, the most heavily fortified sector of Baghdad.
Update: Eliot Weinberger has a less problematic year in review list: What I heard about Iraq in 2005.
Spectators at the Rubicon
Chris Floyd weighs in on the decisive nature of the current crisis:
Some of us have been writing for years about Bush's piecemeal assumption of dictatorial powers. We have watched in rage and amazement as the Establishment meekly accepted Bush's repeated, brutal insults to democracy. Time and again, I've quoted the words of the Emperor Tiberius, after the lackeys of the Senate grovelled to do his bidding: "Men fit to be slaves." In one sense, then, the Rubicon was crossed long ago. Yet "we live in hope and die in despair," as my father always says. In the back of the minds of many an embittered dissident, there has been a spark of hope that somewhere down the line, one of the many, many Bush outrages would somehow take hold, gain critical mass, and force the Establishment to act, to rein in the renegade, break him, box him in if not remove him from office.Another good piece by Floyd, well worth reading in full.
For let's be clear about this: only the Establishment -- the institutional powers-that-be -- can break an outlaw president. Millions marched in the street against Nixon and the system; whole city quadrants went up in flames in those days; but none of this was decisive in the corridors of power. (Nor to much of the American public, to be frank; after Kent State, after My Lai, after Cambodia, Nixon was still re-elected in a landslide.) It was his insult to the institutions -- the Watergate break-in of Democratic headquarters, the subsequent cover-up and subversion of the legal system, the defiance of Congress -- that led to his downfall. He pushed too far, tried to grab too much -- and the Establishment pulled him short.
And it will have to be the Establishment that breaks Bush -- or he won't be broken.
The militarization of American culture
It has become a thought crime to say anything even mildly critical of the military. Swaddled in patriotic sentimentality, praised for heroism irrespective of deeds, built up as the supreme symbol of nation, the American soldier has become the face of 21st century hyper-patriotism on the left as well as the right.
On the left, there is the opportunistic promotion of so-called fighting Dems (Air America, Daily Kos) to challenge Republicans for office. Status as a veteran, preferably of the latest imperial war, has become a virtual sine qua non for party support in the next election. The militarization of Kerry's image at the last Democratic convention is just a taste of what is to come. Alexander Cockburn writes
The latest evidence is that Rahm Emanuel, in charge of selecting Democratic Congressional candidates for 2006, is choosing millionaires and fence-straddlers on the war. He shunned Christine Cegelis, who nearly beat sixteen-termer Henry Hyde in 2004, and whom Illinois polls show to be a popular contender to succeed Hyde. But Cegelis has the disadvantage in Emanuel's eyes of not being very rich and of agreeing with John Murtha on immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Emanuel picks Tammy Duckworth, who embodies the cynicism of the "Democratic strategists", being a double-amputee woman Iraq veteran who is not from the district, has a hot-air position on the war and is thought to espouse a "pro-business/centrist platform."Fueled by the myth that returning troops from Vietnam were spit upon by cowardly and traitorous war protestors, and perhaps by the fact that only soldiers, not civilians have been called upon to sacrifice, soldiers have been transformed into icons.
For civilians, the chance to directly touch a military member or family can be irresistible, so much so that people break the comfortable anonymity of public places--airports, hotels, supermarkets--to walk up and pat a soldier on the back.Valorized as near supermen, as steely in character as they are in battle, soldiers are nonetheless treated like fragile flowers that can be undermined by the slightest criticism of the war on the homefront. The ubiquitous slogan Support our Troops encourages this conflation of the real physical danger they face with the fantasized danger of criticism. Despite the fact that they are the instruments of an unjust war in which the killing of innocent non-combattants is a matter of routine, it has become impossible to say in public that what they are doing is wrong. And that is the point of course.
Me? I don't support the troops. I pity them. They are tools in an unjust war, called upon to risk their lives and to murder others in pursuit of rich men's fantasies of empire.
lenin's tomb offers some historical context on sentimentalizing the soldier.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Bad argument clinic
"Well, I'll tell you something, if a nuclear weapon goes off in Washington, D.C., or New York or Los Angeles, it'll burn the Constitution as it does. So I'm very happy we have a president that's going to wiretap people's communication with people overseas to make sure that they're not plotting to blow up one of our cities." --U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R CA)So the president is breaking the law and conducting systematic wire tapping of American citizens in order to save the Constitution that he will, regretfully, be forced to burn if we are attacked again. I imagine Dick Cheney's torture rooms and gulags serve much the same purpose.
As Kennedy once said, "Let every nation know that we will sacrifice any freedom, allow any tyranny, cheer on any atrocity in our relentless pursuit of absolute freedom of action for the commander in chief." Pull out another fingernail for liberty--please.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
A decaying empire
When there's no future how can there be sin
We're the flowers in the dustbin
We're the poison in your human machine
We're the future your future
God save the queen, we mean it man
There is no future in England's dreaming
No future for you, no future for me
No future, no future for you
The Sex Pistols -- God Save the Queen
The future will look back on us as gods, certainly in this city, lucky gods blessed by supermarket cornucopias, torrents of accessible information, warm clothes that weigh nothing, extended life-spans, wondrous machines."In his review of McEwan's Saturday, Richard Rorty explores the radically diminished horizons of Western secularism and western societies. "Not just affluence will vanish, so will hope." Western society has already passed it zenith of power and influence and the best it had to offer, the ideals of the Enlightenment and the hope for a just secular society, have been tarnished and compromised beyond recall, its credibility as a model and ideal squandered.
Ian McEwan -- Saturday
The tragedy of the modern West is that it exhausted its strength before being able to achieve its ideals. The spiritual life of secularist Westerners centered on hope for the realization of those ideals. As that hope diminishes, their life becomes smaller and meaner. Hope is restricted to little, private things and is increasingly being replaced by fear.Rorty argues that the increasingly difficult challenge of merely defending hard won freedoms and civilization against the medieval revival of torture, tyranny and fundamentalism makes it near impossible to sustain any grand visions of the future or even any plausible mid-size ones.
In any case, it is a good review of McEwan's book and a thought provoking essay.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
When John Conyers calls for Bush to be impeached it is no big surprise. But Barrons?
Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later. The members of the House Judiciary Committee who staged the impeachment of President Clinton ought to be as outraged at this situation. They ought to investigate it, consider it carefully and report either a bill that would change the wiretap laws to suit the president or a bill of impeachment.There is more discussion of what is at stake here in Jonathan Schell's The Hidden State Steps Forward. Bush's open defiance of the constitution has already created a constitutional crisis. Now, if he is not impeached, the expansion of presidential power toward dictatorship becomes nearly irreversible.
It is important to be clear that an impeachment case, if it comes to that, would not be about wiretapping, or about a possible Constitutional right not to be wiretapped. It would be about the power of Congress to set wiretapping rules by law, and it is about the obligation of the president to follow the rules in the Acts that he and his predecessors signed into law.
Secret law-breaking has been supplanted by brazen law-breaking. The difference is critical. If abuses of power are kept secret, there is still the possibility that, when exposed, they will be stopped. But if they are exposed and still permitted to continue, then every remedy has failed, and the abuse is permanently ratified. In this case, what will be ratified is a presidency that has risen above the law.I think they would even rather stop meeting or accept a horse as senator than impeach Bush, but I'm a bit of a cynic. And if he has lost Barrons, who knows?
... The Administration of George W. Bush is not a dictatorship, but it does manifest the characteristics of one in embryonic form. Until recently, these were developing and growing in the twilight world of secrecy.
... If Congress accepts his usurpation of its legislative power, they will be no Congress and might as well stop meeting. Either the President must uphold the laws of the United States, which are Congress's laws, or he must leave office.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Emotional fascism, the musical
- Ramones -- We're a happy family
- Vandals -- A gun for Christmas (lyrics)
- Elvis Costello -- Watching the detectives
- Sex Pistols -- No feelings
- Big Boys -- Baby, let's play god
- Velvet Underground -- Femme fatale
- Marianne Faithful -- Why'd ya do it (lyrics)
- Elvis Costello -- Two little Hitlers
- The Dicks -- Shit on me
- The Dicks -- Saturday night at the the bookstore (article/lyrics)
- Green Day -- Dominated love slave
- Vandals -- Christmastime for my penis (lyrics)
- Diamanda Galas -- Baby's insane
Thursday, December 22, 2005
The original title for Elvis Costello's album Armed Forces was Emotional Fascism. I have always thought that the phrase captured a certain something about mass society in America.
I was treated to a particularly poignant expression of this phenomenon while trapped in a hospital cafeteria behind enemy lines in beautiful Spring, Texas. The giant TV was tuned to Fox news which had an entire program devoted to the war on Christmas. It was the first time I had ever watched more than 5 minutes of Fox, and what I saw could fairly be termed a hate rally.
The hosts focused on a resolution applauding the symbols and traditions of Christmas, which had just passed the House 401 to 22.* The lopsided results of the vote were more than sufficient to belie the constant complaints of persecution and stories of the secret liberal war against Christmas. Nonetheless, the studio audience all booed on cue as the names of the representatives who dared defy the demand for total conformity scrolled across the screen. It is not too much as stretch of the imagination to imagine this audience in a torchlight parade.
This wholly manufactured sense of persecution and self-righteous indignation was clearly critical to their group identity. Only total conformity will be tolerated. And not just conformity of action, but conformity of emotion. Toleration is not enough. Acquiescence is not enough.
Embrace the spirit of Christmas or be destroyed.
*kudos to my representative Earl Blumenauer for resisting the pressure to conform.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Both the power-mad Bush regime and its critics have been conjuring up the Nixon's ghost in an attempt to explain Bush's assertion of heretofore unknown presidential prerogatives. On the one hand, Dick Cheney aggressively defends the president's right to discover new powers. The LA Times reports
President Bush's decision to bypass court review and authorize domestic wiretapping by executive order was part of a concerted effort to rebuild presidential powers weakened in the 1970s as a result of the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday.This is one of the clearest statements to date of the administration's goal of reversing not just the reforms of that era but even the history. Impeaching Nixon was wrong. The Vietnam war was right. The real reason Bush didn't seek authorization for the wiretaps wasn't national security but the expansion of his own authority-- to restore the presidency to its lost Nixonian grandeur.
Returning from a trip to the Middle East, Cheney said that threats facing the country required that the president's authority under the Constitution be "unimpaired."
"Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the 1970s, served, I think, to erode the authority I think the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area," Cheney told reporters traveling with him on Air Force Two. "Especially in the day and age we live in the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy."
The opposition is of course also starting to raise the specter of Nixon with an eye to the threat of impeachment. However, 2005 is not 1974. It is impossible to imagine a Republican Congress impeaching Bush. And even if they did, we'd get Cheney.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Victory in Dover
Everyone has their own favorite part of today's decision to expel intelligent design from the classroom. This is mine:
The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.The judge actually called them liars and hypocrites. And he is a Bush appointee. Pharyngula of course is all over this.
Beyond intelligent design, beyond deometry, there is the calculus of fundamentalism. Harpers has up some excerpts of a precalculus textbook from (racist, xian fundamentalist) Bob Jones University. The text finds creative ways to mix ideological indoctrination and mathematical instruction. Here is a taste of Original Sine:
A person is eccentric if his behavior deviates from normal. Jesus Christ expects His disciples to be eccentric, since living a Christlike life is not normal in this world (Titus 2:14). Likewise, in mathematics, conic sections are eccentric if they deviate from a circle. Eccentricity is a measure of this deviation. The eccentricity of an ellipse (e) is the ratio of focal distance (c) to the length of the semimajor axis (a): e = c⁄a. Since c and a are distances and c < a, the eccentricity of any ellipse is 0 < e < 1.I wonder. Is their children learning?
Sunday, December 18, 2005
"L'etat c'est moi"
We are supposed to believe that this is the man who will be bringing democracy to the Middle East? According to a story in the Washington Post, the reason Bush doesn't think he needs anyone's permission to spy on American citizens is that the war gives the president plenary power. This means absolute, total, unchecked power.
Bush's constitutional argument, in the eyes of some legal scholars and previous White House advisers, relies on extraordinary claims of presidential war-making power. Bush said yesterday that the lawfulness of his directives was affirmed by the attorney general and White House counsel, a list that omitted the legislative and judicial branches of government. On occasion the Bush administration has explicitly rejected the authority of courts and Congress to impose boundaries on the power of the commander in chief, describing the president's war-making powers in legal briefs as "plenary" -- a term defined as "full," "complete," and "absolute."Oversight by the judiciary or the legislative branch. Irrelevant. Presumptuous. In short, there is only one branch of government. As Anthony Wade put it: "It became official today; President Bush named himself King of the United States."
Our new motto: who cares about the law, just do it.
And then George III blames the spineless, sycophantic New York Times for the fact that he has to even answer questions about it. Cockburn and St. Clair analyze the striking gulf between coverage of this story in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Despair.com now has up audio and video podcasts detailing some of their tested demotivational management techniques (via smays.com).
And in the ongoing war on xmas, comic Sarah Silverman has a music video Give the Jew Girl Toys. Link via horsesass, which also has a nice post about the antisemitic background of the hysteria being whipped up about the supposed war on Christmas.
The roots of the culture of torture in the US prison system are pretty much an open secret. As Leonard Cohen says, "everybody knows." We all know it is not just spontaneous prisoner on prisoner violence. We all know that it's not about justice.
Now everybody can see too, courtesy of BBC 4, which has a documentary on line about US prison guards torturing prisoners (via Lenin's Tomb).
We all know. But it is so much worse than you think.
Another Demonstration Election
Juan Cole has a pithy run down of what to expect from today's election.
The LA Times probably reflects the thinking of a lot of Americans in hoping that these elections are a milestone on the way to withdrawing US troops from Iraq. I cannot imagine why anyone thinks that. The Iraqi "government" is a failed state. Virtually no order it gives has any likelihood of being implemented. It has no army to speak of and cannot control the country. Its parliamentarians are attacked and sometimes killed with impunity. Its oil pipelines are routinely bombed, depriving it of desperately needed income. It faces a powerful guerrilla movement that is wholly uninterested in the results of elections and just wants to overthrow the new order. Elections are unlikely to change any of this.As Edward Herman noted about the Iraqi elections earlier this year, these elections follow a well established pattern.
...such elections were mainly designed to placate (and mislead) the home population of the United States rather than to decide anything important in the countries in which the election was held. In each of the earlier cases the election did help consolidate the power of the U.S.-chosen leaders, but its most important function was to demonstrate to the U.S. public that we were on the right track in the occupied countries, helping them on the road to democracy. The fact that the peoples there came out and voted was interpreted as proof that they approved our occupation and wanted us to stay and finish the job.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
With friends like these
Sam Harris is riding a wave of popularity very rare for an atheist. His book the End of Faith has even made it to the New York Times best seller list.
Although he has written some good articles on atheism,* he also has a couple of major problems. He is on a Hitchens-like, borderline genocidal, crusade against Islam and he not only embraces but prescribes spirituality and mysticism as a rational alternative to religion.
Indian biologist and philosopher of science Meera Nanda, who is particularly knowledgeable about the type of mysticism Harris recommends, takes Harris to task for both of these positions in Trading Faith for Spirituality: The Mystifications of Sam Harris.
Harris can barely curb his enthusiasm for George Bush's disastrous wars, announcing gleefully that "we are at war against Islam" not at war against violent extremists, mind you, but against the very "vision of life prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran" (p. 109). He finds tortured justifications for torturing suspected terrorists in America's Gulag...
The villains who are beyond the pale of reason and who deserve to die are all Muslims. While he has some harsh things to say about Christians and Jews as well, he spares them the wars and the torture, for unlike the Muslim barbarians, they have had their reformations and their enlightenments.
This bilious attack on faith only sets the stage for what seems to be his real goal: a defense, nay, a celebration of Harris' own Buddhist/Hindu spirituality. (He has been influenced by the esoteric teachings of Dzogchen Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta and has spent many years practicing various techniques of meditation, Harris informs his readers). Spirituality is the answer to Islam's and Christianity's superstitions and wars, Harris wants to convince us. While he is quick to pour scorn on such childish ideas as the virgin birth, heaven and hell, the great rationalist has only winks and nods to offer when it comes to such "higher" truths as near-death experiences, ESP and the existence of disembodied souls, all of which he finds plausible. Our fearless crusader against faith puts his reason to sleep when it comes to the soul-stuff of the Eastern faith traditions that he himself subscribes to...
What I find particularly galling about spirituality is its pretensions of "higher" rationality, its false and dangerous claims of being "empirical" and "scientific" in the sense of being testable by "experience" (which invariably means non-sensory experience). Western converts to Eastern spirituality, along with Eastern apologists themselves, end up presenting an air-brushed, sanitized picture of the real thing. That is the reason why I felt that Harris' brand of rational mysticism had to be examined carefully and challenged.
The article is well worth a read. I just recently discovered the writings of Meera Nanda with her article Godless States, which compares the current dilemmas of secularism in India and America. I think she is emerging as one of the more important voices of modern secularism.
* link via Pime Forest Collective, which excerpts the best parts.
Monday, December 12, 2005
A joyful noise
Some of the holiday appropriate music I have been listening to.
- The Sermon On The Mount 1 -- William S. Burroughs
- Rats -- Rasputina
- The Jezebel Spirit -- Brian Eno & David Byrne
- Let My People Go -- Diamanda Galas
- Antiworld -- Nina Hagen
- Christianity is Stupid -- Negativland
- Banging in the Nails -- Tiger Lillies
- Bar-B-Q Pope -- Butthole Surfers
- Love Your Enemies -- William S. Burroughs
- A Little Priest -- Sondheim
- Jesus Entering From The Rear -- The Feederz
- Plastic Jesus -- Mojo Nixon & Jello Biafra
- Are You Drinking with Me Jesus -- Mojo Nixon
- Jesus Loves Me (But He Can't Stand You) -- Austin Lounge Lizards
- Pastor Dick -- Negativland
- Devil's Chasing Me -- Reverend Horton Heat
- Hell -- Squirrel Nut Zippers
- Christian Soldiers -- Rasputina
- Jesus -- The Feederz
- Personal Jesus -- Marilyn Manson
- God's Away on Business -- Tom Waits
- The Lord Is My Shepherd -- Diamanda Galas
- The Sermon On The Mount 2 -- William S. Burroughs
- American Jesus -- Bad Religion
- Mary -- Tiger Lillies
- Asylum -- Crass
- Will the Fetus be Aborted -- Mojo Nixon and Jello Biafra
- Satan Cigs -- Wammo
- Hail Satan -- MDC
- Sermon 1 -- Warlock Pinchers
Boxing with Buzz Aldrin
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin punches out Moon Hoax promoter Bart Sibrel.
Shamelessly stolen from Bad Astronomy. Phil Plait, who runs the BA blog, had a debate (presumably verbal) with the same crackpot earlier today.
Aldrin also had a hilarious interview on the Ali G Show in episode 4 of his first season. Aldrin is totally unfazed by the stupidity of the questions. It's like he gets them every day.
ALI G: When you went to da moon, was da moon people friendly, or did they scare you?Sadly, not everyone gets to be an astronaut.
BUZZ ALDRIN: We had no hopes of finding any life there whatsoever.
ALI G: When is man going to walk on de sun?
BUZZ ALDRIN: It's much too hot on the sun; we can never go there.
ALI G: We could go in de winter, when it's colder.
Take the x out of xmas
Sunday, December 11, 2005
More freedom fry journalism from the NYT
Why does the New York Times hate Europe?
In another article about the reaction to Condi Rice's tour of denial in Europe, the newspaper of record goes out of its way again and again to paint public opinion in Europe as reflexively and irrationally anti-American.
The author of the piece, Richard Bernstein, contrasts a polite and accommodating response from the leadership to the wild suspicions of much of the public,
those still inclined to feel that Ms. Rice papered over some specific, nasty truths about the abuse of American power - and, more generally, that the United States is an out-of-control superpower whose abuses are widespread and deeply troubling.Thankfully, European leaders were too polite to suggest anything of the sort and welcomed Rice's statement, although alas "to welcome a statement is not the same as to be persuaded by it."
But European newspapers were unconscionably harsh. Even center-right Die Welt complained that it wasn't particularly reassuring that America had to swear that it wasn't torturing prisoners.
The paper said this was especially the case at a time when Vice President Dick Cheney continued "actively to advocate the legalization of torture in secret U.S. prisons."Incredibly, the author of the Times article professes not to be aware of what Die Welt is referring to.
Precisely which activity of Mr. Cheney the German paper was referring to is unclear, possibly the opposition of the Bush administration to legislation proposed by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, that would make torture illegal, an opposition that has gotten plenty of attention in Europe.What planet is Mr. Bernstein on? More to the point, does he even read his own newspaper? The Times and virtually every other newspaper in the US have discussed Cheney's advocacy of torture repeatedly and at great length. The editorial board of the Washington Post condemned Cheney for this in unusually harsh language, suggesting that Cheney would find his place in history as the Vice President for Torture. But perhaps they're French.
Rational reasons for skepticism about Rice's mission thus exhausted, Bernstein is forced to look for deeper reasons.
There has always been a segment of public opinion in Europe, most notably on the intellectual left in Britain, that has been angrier at the United States over the years than at American enemies, whether the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (a big part of Mr. Pinter's concern) or, for that matter, Al Qaeda's followers in Iraq who behead kidnapping victims on videotape.
That might explain at least part of the differing reactions in Europe to Ms. Rice's diplomatic visit.
Equating the Sandinistas with Al Qaeda? The Sandinistas were our enemies? Oh, that's right, they were going to invade Harlingen, Texas. And it's not just the left, it's the pansies of the intellectual left. Well, no wonder.
Thus spake the lackey of record. Hail Victory!
Earlier: How to write propaganda like the New York Times
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Chickens in the hands of an angry god
Doug Ireland reports on how Tyson foods has launched a faith based marketing campaign to cover up its trail of corporate slime. Who knew that god demanded sacrificial chickens?
Still hungry? Check this out.
Meanwhile, Jesus' General reports that Ford, in an attempt to market heartland values, has launched a new truck, the Klansman.
Friday, December 09, 2005
- Daniel Ellsberg considers how Bush might respond if there is another terrorist attack
In a recent speech (article/mp3*) Daniel Ellsberg takes this scenario as a starting point for exploring some of very darkest possibilities that might lie ahead, possibilities that he thinks we need to start planning to respond to now.
Ellsberg believes that in such an eventuality the majority of the US population would rally behind authority and that Bush would get everything he wants. Evidence suggests that what he wants includes:
- A new Patriot Act, like the original likely to have drafted in advance of the event to which it responds, that would make the old Patriot Act look like the Bill of Rights.
- Military rule in parts if not all of the country. Bush has already sent up trial balloons for this in his militarized plans for responding to a bird flu epidemic or future hurricanes.
- A draft
- War on Iran and Syria
- An Official Secrets Act
- Mass detentions of Moslems and their sympathizers. The gulag we are establishing across the globe might then be viewed as a pilot program.
* The audio of Ellsberg's talk, which is really worth a listen, via the excellent weekly show Unwelcome Guests (ug 281)
Update: There is recent interview with Ellsberg here.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
The role of amnesia in the perpetuation of atrocities
"...inside US collective memory, the disappeared are being disappeared all over again..."Earlier, I discussed the forgotten history of American torture over the last several decades. This week, Naomi Klein has a very important article in the Nation explaining why remembering and acknowledging this history is essential if we really want to work towards rooting out torture.
In 'Never Before!' Our Amnesiac Torture Debate Klein argues that without an acknowledgement of this history, reforms will be incomplete, eliminating one part of the torture apparatus while allowing the prerogative to torture to survive in loopholes and bureaucratic evasions.
Every time Americans repeat the fairy tale about their pre-Cheney innocence, these already hazy memories fade even further. The hard evidence still exists, of course, carefully archived in the tens of thousands of declassified documents available from the National Security Archive. But inside US collective memory, the disappeared are being disappeared all over again...
And that's the problem with pretending that the Bush Administration invented torture. "If you don't understand the history and the depths of the institutional and public complicity," says McCoy, "then you can't begin to undertake meaningful reforms." Lawmakers will respond to pressure by eliminating one small piece of the torture apparatus--closing a prison, shutting down a program, even demanding the resignation of a really bad apple like Rumsfeld. But, McCoy says, "they will preserve the prerogative to torture."
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Signs of hate
Poetry of freedom
THE LEADERA poem about George III in a Pakistani textbook. The Prince of Darkness, aka Richard Perle, must be so proud.
Patient and steady with all he must bear,
Ready to meet every challenge with care,
Easy in manner, yet solid as steel,
Strong in his faith, refreshingly real.
Isn't afraid to propose what is bold,
Doesn't conform to the usual mould,
Eyes that have foresight, for hindsight won't do,
Never backs down when he sees what is true,
Tells it all straight, and means it all too.
Going forward and knowing he's right,
Even when doubted for why he would fight,
Over and over he makes his case clear,
Reaching to touch the ones who won't hear.
Growing in strength he won't be unnerved,
Ever assuring he'll stand by his word.
Wanting the world to join his firm stand,
Bracing for war, but praying for peace,
Using his power so evil will cease,
So much a leader and worthy of trust,
Here stands a man who will do what he must.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
How to write propaganda like the New York Times
A single sentence in a New York Times article about the poor reception Condi Rice's denial of US torture received in Europe very concisely illustrates the paper's current function as a willing vessel of Bush administration propaganda.
To some Americans at least, the way the charges about secret prisons and C.I.A. flights have gained currency illustrates the readiness of many Europeans always to believe the worst about the United States.This is the only statement about American opinion anywhere in the article. The statement is unsourced and does not name any Americans who hold this view. It ludicrously intimates that the charges about secret prisons and CIA flights only have gained currency in Europe, when in fact all of the US papers are full of these stories, even the New York Times itself. The sentence also ignores the fact that there is a whole lot of corroborated evidence that the US is in fact engaging in widespread torture--from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo to the renditions program. And the majority of Americans believe it too.
Whatever their personal tolerance for various practices, 51 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government is employing torture "as a matter of policy" as part of the war against terrorism. And two-thirds think the government is using physical abuse that stops short of torture.And on top of all this, this sentence momentarily "forgets" the most recent evidence for believing that the US engages in torture that this very article earlier admitted
There have been too many reports in the news media about renditions - including one involving an Lebanese-born German citizen, Khaled el- Masri, kidnapped in Macedonia in December 2003 and imprisoned in Afghanistan for several months on the mistaken assumption that he was an associate of the Sept. 11 hijackers - for blanket disclaimers of torture to be widely believed.To sum up: hiding behind the conceit of "some Americans believe," this sentence, without having to bother to cite any sources and in plain contradiction to all the evidence, is able to plant the suggestion that Europeans only believe that we torture because they are reflexively anti-American.
A nice piece of work by the paper of record. Hail Victory!
The opposition vision
All the credibility of concentration camp guards
"The President has made it very clear that we do not torture, he would never condone torture or authorize the use of torture. If someone doesn't abide by our laws, they're held accountable, and we have done that.
That's the difference between us and others. When it comes to human rights, there is no greater leader than the United States of America, and we show that by holding people accountable when they break the law or they violate human rights. And we show that by supporting the advance of freedom and democracy and supporting those in countries that are having their human rights denied or violated, like North Korea. We show that by liberating people in Afghanistan and Iraq, some 50 million people. And no one has done more when it comes to human rights than the United States of America."
-- Presidential Press Secretary Scott McClellan 12/2/05
"Torture is a term that is defined by law. We rely on our law to govern our operations. The United States does not permit, tolerate, or condone torture under any circumstances.
Moreover, in accordance with the policy of this administration:
International law allows a state to detain enemy combatants for the duration of hostilities.
- The United States has respected - and will continue to respect - the sovereignty of other countries
- The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture
- The United States does not use the airspace or the airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to a country where he or she will be tortured
- The United States has not transported anyone, and will not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured. Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.
Detainees may only be held for an extended period if the intelligence or other evidence against them has been carefully evaluated and supports a determination that detention is lawful.
The US does not seek to hold anyone for a period beyond what is necessary to evaluate the intelligence or other evidence against them, prevent further acts of terrorism, or hold them for legal proceedings.
With respect to detainees, the United States government complies with its constitution, its laws, and its treaty obligations.
Acts of physical or mental torture are expressly prohibited.
The United States government does not authorise or condone torture of detainees. Torture, and conspiracy to commit torture, are crimes under US law, wherever they may occur in the world."
--Speech by Condoleeza Rice 12/5/05
Does anyone still really believe?
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Christmas in R'lyeh
from a nice collection of Cthulhu Circus Toons.
More Cthulhu fun here.
Other classical cephalopods here (via Pharyngula).
And from a while back but still classic are Tales of Plush Cthulhu, and the Chick Tract parody Who will be eaten first?
And then there is the enemy within.
UPDATE: Put the x back in xmas with plush Cthulhu slippers! (via Boing Boing)
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Spine and spine, what is spine?
The Black Commentator takes Obama to task for the amazing feat of being even more mush mouthed than Kerry on Iraq.
Meanwhile, the London Times discusses the transformation of Hillary, a long time supporter of the Iraq debacle, into a human weathervane.
U.S. Senator Barack Obama has planted his feet deeply inside the Iraq war-prolongation camp of the Democratic Party, the great swamp that, if not drained, will swallow up any hope of victory over the GOP in next year's congressional elections. In a masterpiece of double-speak before the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, November 22, the Black Illinois lawmaker managed to out-mush-mouth Sen. John Kerry - a prodigious feat, indeed.
Obama's speech had the Democratic Leadership Council's (DLC) brand stamped all over it. Triangulating expertly, Obama first praised the war record of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), who has called for immediate steps towards U.S. military redeployment out of Iraq, hopefully in six months, then dismissed both Murtha's bill and any hint of "timetables" for withdrawal. In essence, all Obama wants from the Bush regime is that it fess up to having launched the war based on false information, and to henceforth come clean with the Senate on how it plans to proceed in the future. Those Democrats who want to dwell on the past - the actual genesis and rationale for the war, and the real reasons for its continuation - should be quiet.
Indeed, it appears that Obama and many of his colleagues are more intent on consulting the Bush men on the best ways to "win" the war than in effecting an American withdrawal at any foreseeable time.
They want "victory" just as much as the White House; they just don't want the word shouted at every press conference.
These Democrats would "perfect" the process. One might just as well perfect the act of rape....
Everyone with a political antenna understands that Obama is jockeying for position as a VP or presidential nominee-maker in 2008. He has created a political action committee, HopeFund, to finance 14 of his senatorial colleagues - ten of whom are DLC (that's half of the DLC presence in the Senate.) Although not a formal member of the DLC, Obama's stance on the Iraq war places him squarely in their camp on this issue - and he is advertising the fact. The arc of his ambition dictates his position.
A good indicator of the way the wind is blowing in Washington is often the position of Senator Hillary Clinton. A human weather-vane, Clinton has been a long-time supporter of the Iraq war, has visited Iraq, kept close contact with the military, served on the relevant Senate committees, and made hawkish noises that helped her with her rural New York state voters, but slowly alienated her anti-war liberal base.The piece goes on to argue rather convincingly that the difference between her position and that of President Bush is "not much more than rhetorical." Like her husband, she sees the critical question of the war as one of proper management. Unlike congressman Murtha, she still sees the war as winnable. There is still no difference of principle on the war between Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Obama, Lieberman and Kerry on the one hand and Chenny and Bush on the other.
Now, as with the rest of Washington, she’s shifting a little with the breeze. Yes, she recently voted against both Senate resolutions demanding immediate withdrawal or a fixed timetable for withdrawal. But last week she sent out an e-mail to constituents, finessing things. “We are at a critical point with the December 15 elections that should, if successful, allow us to start bringing home our troops in the coming year,” she wrote.
Death Star over Saturn
For a new Enlightenment
Much of the horror of the present moment lies in its relentless assault on what little social and cultural progress we have made in the last 250 years. The renewed valorization of fundamentalism, the rapid proliferation and unashamed advocacy of torture, the strengthening of patriarchy, the resurrected specter of fascism and the assault on science, rationality, and even the reality-based approach to the world all hark back to the terrors of the medieval world.
The Enlightenment has long been in disrepute because of its supposed excessive focus on instrumental rationality, and it has been criticized on the left "as imperialist in its intent and a form of domination that privileges the white, male, bourgeois scientific, capitalist and imperialist worldview associated with the West." More recently, the misappropriation of its heritage as the foundation for a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West or as justification for bloody "humanitarian interventionism" by opportunitstic imperialists such as Samuel Huntington and Christopher Hitchens has poisoned its vocabulary.
In this context, Stephen Eric Bronner has written a very interesting and thought provoking article Enlightenment Revival for the latest issue of Axess. He argues that a renewed commitment to enlightenment and a reappropriation of its history is a necessary starting point for fighting our way out of the current cultural and political slaughterhouse.
As terror and war stalk our world in the aftermath of 9/11, as human rights are so often employed as an excuse for the exercise of arbitrary power, and ever more varieties of intolerant fundamentalism contest the hope for an open society, it has become ever more important for progressive activists and thinkers to understand their philosophical and political roots. Ideas long associated with reactionary movements the privileging of experience over reason, national or ethnic identity over internationalism and cosmopolitanism, the community over the individual, custom over innovation, myth over science have become pervasive on the left. Its partisans have thus become increasingly unclear about the tradition into which they fit and the purposes their politics should serve. This collapse of intellectual coherence reflects the collapse of a purposeful politics. That is why reclaiming the Enlightenment has become a matter of such importance...The whole issue of Axess in which this article appears is devoted to a discussion of Enlightenment and its discontents, including Godless States by Meera Nanda, comparing the dilemmas of secularism in India and America.
Understanding the current clash between secularism and religious fundamentalism in the present, no less than the most profound political conflicts of the past, calls for recognizing that the counter-Enlightenment was not some dialectical response to the success of the Enlightenment but an immediate response, born of fear and loathing, against everything associated with its spirit...the political spirit of the Enlightenment crystallised around the principles connected with fostering the accountability of institutions, reciprocity under the law, and a commitment to experiment with social reform...
Illuminating the spirit of the Enlightenment, the best that it had to offer, is the point at which a new critical theory begins. But this involves less a philosophical than a political, social, and economic commitment to challenge the arbitrary exercise of power. Especially when the salience of the Enlightenment can no longer be taken for granted, when its values have come under attack from both the right and the left, more is necessary than analysing a few thinkers or some abstract philosophical propositions, let alone embracing a clash of civilisations. For any new understanding of critical theory, indeed, it is now a matter of presenting the Enlightenment as an overarching political enterprise and a living tradition not merely in its ideas but in the actions it inspires.
Earlier: The Idea of Progress
Friday, December 02, 2005
The Withdrawal Method
Another perfect illustration from Steve Bell.
Monsters from the id
At the level of the ego, George Bush declares a strategy for victory in Iraq and the LA Times cheers along with a piece of fantasy headlined Bush is now in step with his generals, the exact opposite of reality, as we learned earlier from Seymour Hersh, who noted that Congressmen Murtha's call to withdraw from Iraq was likely channeled from those very generals. Military experts agree that Bush's pollyanna assessment of the prospects for victory has little to do with reality. Even the gullible New York Times isn't buying it. In an editorial assessment of Bush's speech they called it "the most grandiose set of ambitions for the region since the vision of Nebuchadnezzar's son Belshazzar, who saw the hand writing on the wall."
And at the level of the id, we have more and more torture, death squads, and planning for genocide. Robert Parry argues
Despite pretty words about democracy and freedom, George W. Bush's "victory" plan in Iraq is starting to look increasingly like an invitation to genocide, the systematic destruction of the Sunni minority for resisting its U.S.-induced transformation from the nation'’s ruling elite into second-class citizenship.Clearly the death squads operating in Iraq are organized by the US as an instrument for the "democratization" of Iraq. That the Salvador option has been exercised hardly comes a surprise after they put someone with the relevant experience like John Negroponte in charge of policy.
Now here's the proof that this is not just the work of unaccountable Shia militias in an excellent and detailed article by Max Fuller. Chris Floyd comments on the implications.