Monday, December 31, 2007

Memo

To: Former members of X-tal
From: Long time listener

I don't know how often you hear this from people or whether you find it embarassing, lame, irrelevant to the concerns of your status quos, whatever.

But this afternoon, as I often do, I put on Everything Crash and began going through my normal routine of paperwork, writing, etc. And then "Easily Impressed" came on, and my brain just stopped everything and listened to it all the way through...and again. Then did the same with "Pacemaker." I probably listened to those two songs over and over for a good 20-25 minutes. Let them really get deep into my mind.

And I just wanted to let you know, you got it. You really got it. I'm happy to see the continuing, growing interest in your stuff, because you really went somewhere musically and politically few dared to go. Well done, and thanks. --mjs

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas 2007 : "cast out our fears and open eyes, o give us voice today!"

Most years I can write up a brief Christmas message for my friends, full of a little personal insight and a fair amount of polemic. This year it's been harder. It's been a challenging one on almost every level, happy mostly (as the past six years have been) but with challenges to nearly every level of my life and consciousness...and tough times for many friends and family. I'll be thinking of a few of those people, sending them happy and constructive vibes during my two-week "break," talking to people who need conversation, and spending a lot of time reflecting on my own limits. And, of course, playing with the children.

Long story short, I can't find anything profound to say for Christmas this year. But Stephen Leah, a progressive Christian activist, wrote this updated hymn that I found very moving--even as someone who's tried to be equally critical of the violence on both sides of the Israeli occupation, to the point of pissing off my friends--and not just accurate, but poetically accurate. I don't agree with the theology of the guy giving the sermon where the Leah hymn appears, but the hymn itself is simple, unapologetic, and makes me shiver a bit.

O Little Town of Bethlehem
Imprisoned you now lie.
Above thy deep and silent grief,
Surveillance drones now fly.
And through thy old streets standeth,
A huge illegal Wall.
The hopes and dreams that peace will come
Are dashed in this year’s Fall.
O morning stars together,
Look down upon this crime.
The people sing to God the King
But justice, who can find?
Yes, Christ was born of Mary,
God’s love remains supreme.
But mortals sleep as children weep,
Their pain is never seen.
How silently, how silently,
The world and Church protests.
As checkpoints grow and towns confined,
As settlers steal and rest.
No ear may hear the outcry,
As Israel’s Wall is built.
While meek souls muse, Apartheid rules -
We speak or share in guilt.
O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Give strength to us,
we pray.
Cast out our fears and open eyes.
O give us voice today!
We stand against injustice,
The Occupation must end.
May justice rule our Lord’s birthplace,
May now Christ’s peace descend.

Maybe this Christmas, Christians in the U.S. could think about what agents of the Israeli government are doing to Christians as well as Muslims in Palestine. It's time for a mass demand that violence, brutality and misleadership stop there, and everywhere. And the next time you hear a Christian in the United States assume that the default position on Israeli occupation is uncritical support, do some homework and challenge them on that. (And I'll include my obligatory but important acknowledgement that Palestinian leadership is cynical and exploitative, and unconditional support for either side in this conflict is not the answer). Peace on earth, good will to all. Yeah, that's what I was looking to say...something like that. Happy holidays everybody.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Orgasms, Peace, and Population Control: Err…that’s a yes on the first two and a no on the third, y’all…




I’m very happy to see the second annual Global Orgasm for Peace is tomorrow/actually today for those of us here in the U.S. I’m a fan of orgasms and peace, and despite how some stuffy old lefties might feel about it, I think there’s a clear, if not always enunciable, relationship between the two. It’s not merely that sexuality is energy; it’s that even the possibility, the memory, and the anticipation of sexual joy generates happiness in those who experience it. It’s a universal happiness—at least for the sexually emancipated—and is both literally and metaphorically life-affirming. For a small time commitment, a whole lot of people will be bringing on (or is that bringing off?) sexual joy for peace. Even linking the two rhetorically is a healthy, progressive act with no real disadvantages.

But this part of
the announcement upset me greatly:

“Remember, over-population (6.8 billion people and counting) is a major cause of ‘peak everything’, so please don’t make more babies in the Global-O.”

With that single, out-of-place sentence, BaringWitness.org turned their advocacy of unbridled joy into bridled partisanship. The problems of “overpopulation” are really the problems of imperialism and class inequality, and the invocation of overpopulation without any prior acknowledgement of classism or imperialism is a tired and dangerous discourse indeed.

Others explain it better than I could: Steve Rosenthal has a
fine piece elucidating the fascist nature of overpopulation science (tied to sociobiology and a fixed view of human nature) in the context of Africa. More sweeping commentaries address the way in which population discourse is used to obscure the role of capital and class inequality in either enforcing an artificial scarcity or ignoring real scarcity (see, for example, Louis Proyect). Population control isn’t progressive. Repeating unreflective causal assertions about population is not pro-peace. In fact, it’s a pointless and potentially dangerous distraction.

Not to mention, it’s a serious downer. What if a baby is made during this all-important moment of collective bliss? That could be a very special baby. Who is BaringWitness.org to tell me, or anybody, not to make a baby while participating in a worldwide collective sex act for peace, for crying out loud?

Finally: If anything, progressives need to make more babies. Nuff said.

I’m open to discuss any of these arguments, but all I am saying is the little self-righteous warning was neither necessary nor desirable, it’s in poor taste and if it does indeed reflect a dominant ideological outlook in the people responsible for the Global-O, then it’s time for them to re-think this or turn the project over to somebody else. I’ll close with some
vintage Fred Engels:
it is absurd to talk of overpopulation so long as "there is 'enough waste land in the valley of the Mississippi for the whole population of Europe to be transplanted there"; so long as no more than one third of the earth can be considered cultivated, and so long as the production of this third itself can be raised six fold and more by the application of improvements already known.
Seriously, though: We should all participate in the Global Orgasm for Peace tonight/tomorrow. There’s simply no downside to it. It will lift our spirits and has the potential to make us aware of a fundamental, deep and ineffable connection between the individual erotic and the universal imperative of love. Happy orgasming. Remember: Solstice Day - December 22, at 06:08 Universal Time (GMT)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

We visited the cemetery during our last full day in Paris, last Wednesday.

Paris is a site of multiple perspectives, multiple struggling forces, a plurality of currents sometimes cooperating and sometimes competing. This is fully reflected in the Père Lachaise. The cemetery seemed to me to be a site of free expression, within the boundaries of acceptable communication about the dead (and such boundaries are relatively loose and negotiable) and political struggle. Royalty being royal, military heroes glorifying their sacrifices, communists and socialists (graves piled with flowers) displaying the symbols of revolution for a better life, Holocaust victims and survivors... As in other parts of Paris, the self-reflection and contradictory nature of the French state, and French civil society, was apparent in the very design of things, in the the way the materials were themselves arranged, from the stone work and symbols to the layout of the whole place to the management of the many trees and bushes growing in it. This feeling is difficult to describe in writing, but maybe the photos will help make sense of it.
A vast, town-sized cemetery with neighborhoods of graves along twisting cobblestone paths, separated (regimented, like much of Paris's attempt to regulate the chaotic) by "divisions."



I'm standing next to the Communards' Wall, where the leaders of the Paris Commune were executed. I was overwhelmed by the understated nature of that memorial, as well as the fact that it wasn't mentioned in any of the "official" tourist literature on or in Paris. I knew what I was looking for only because I had read extensively about the Commune a couple of years earlier. A very important site, in a cemetery likely shared by some of the Communards' executioners.


The communal grave of many activists, most famously Paul Lefargue and Laura Marx Lefargue, married best friends who took their own lives together when they felt they were growing too old to do any more good...Paul wrote a wonderful pamphlet entitled "The Right to Be Lazy," and Laura, of course, was the most Marxist of Marx's daughters.


Various symbols, from the socialist Prometheus to a Rodan-like sculpture by a lesser-known sculptor.
Jim Morrison's grave after the removal of the famous bust that was always getting vandalized and stolen. I'm not a Morrison fan, btw...and even suggested to Andrea that a great punk cover would be a picture of one or both of us flipping off the grave. But we had come all that way, why not see it...
This cat was the only live animal I saw personally at the cemetery, and it seemed to me to be very determined and purposive in sitting in that particular location.
Memorials of the Shoah in general, and specific Holocaust survivors and victims, were especially disturbing, underscoring a kind of rebellion against the holiness of cemeteries...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What can congress do? Something crazy!

They won't, but what could they do when a president improperly grants relief to a convicted subordinate? Ian Samuel suggests this solution, admitting of its implausibility in the current system:
The remedy for improperly pardoning one's own convicted subordinates to cover up one's own ongoing criminal conspiracies is already in the Constitution. We do not need a new amendment. The remedy is impeachment and conviction. The House of Representatives should impeach both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for their role in this entire conspiracy to obstruct justice. A simple majority in the House of Representatives would be sufficient for that. The Senate poses a somewhat more difficult problem, because it can be expected that the Republicans (either as parties to, or in furtherance of, the same conspiracy to obstruct justice) will not vote to convict. The remedy for this is also in the Constitution; it is Article I, Section 5.
The Senate is perfectly free to determine the "Qualifications of its own Members," and the Democrats could thus refuse to seat the Republicans if they refused to convict. (The Republican Senators could be re-seated after conviction, if they agreed to be bound by its result.) President Pelosi would then presumably direct the Justice Department to initiate ordinary criminal prosecution of both Bush and Cheney, for their roles in the conspiracy. Think it's radical? It is--but not unprecedented. Our Constitution's guarantee of the "equal protection of the laws," the Fourteenth Amendment, was ratified 139 years ago this Monday, in exactly that
fashion. Some things are worth fighting for, and the rule of law is one of them. I doubt very much that Congressional Democrats will do these things, but I don't doubt whether they should.
And to anyone who suggests this is a stretch, even an elaboration of the original intent of I:5, well, is your objection that our leaders shouldn't creatively interpret the law for their own purposes? Is your solution, then, to Presidential and Vice Presidential "creativity" to look the other way, or to find a more legitimate way of holding the executive accountable? My question for you is: If impeachment proceedings should not begin now, what, precisely and exactly please, should happen? If nothing can happen...is the admission that there's nothing we can do about it an admission that the system is broken?

4th of July

The reason I didn't post these earlier is that I was trying to block out parts of our Independence Day... We were selling cotton candy and drinks to benefit the childrens' museum, of which Andrea was just elected board president. Scortching hot. Next to us, and I mean literally next to, was the Stage of Extremely Bad Musical Acts who nonetheless should so very *%&# clearly be given the opportunity to shine, their ten to fifteen to fifty seven minutes of fame singing off-key and so very, very, very out of context. More importantly, it seemed, they should be given that opportunity right frigging next to us. In fact, the guy who did the sound came up to us, still fairly early in the day, and said "Oh man, do you folks have to be here all day, next to them? Damn, I feel sorry for you. Hee hee hee..." It was like "Little Miss Sunshine" on acid, not that I'd know, and it was also like a David Lynch movie. Indeed, the sounds of talentlessness (most commonly in the form of off-key "Let Freedom Ring" covers, although yes, someone covered "Proud to be an American"--dammit, that's my song--and passed out flags to wave ONLY during the chorus.) forced us all in and out of consciousness just like Henry in Eraserhead, even though we sold a crapload of cotton candy, enjoyed delicious polish dogs, watched our aspiring artist-children, and nearly lost Andrew twice in the midst of thousands of people...thousands of hot, sweaty, patriotic human bodies...because freedom, after all, isn't free.
Thanks to other members of the WCM board, there was much handling of snakes and spinning of the candy cotton...


Not yet two, Abigail paints and draws for a significant portion of every day. We set up huge canvases for kids (of all ages) to express themselves. Nobody took advantage of the free space for any political slogans, electing instead to paint anti-republican jokes on port-a-potties (see below)...
Although undoubtedly talented and creative, Andrew isn't quite as much of an art junkie as his sister, but he's capable of wearing the proverbial smock...

And they say cowboys have no sense of humor...well, I guess they don't actually say that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More Fidel on the CIA

It's not exactly a beautiful, flowing composition, but as a follow-up to his previous interviews on the CIA "family jewels," here's Fidel Castro's piece written exclusively for Counterpunch.

For a long time now Castro has deployed a skill that he undoubtedly views as necessary to his, and Cuba's political survival: Talk like a socialist to your own people, but talk like a left-liberal to the rest of the world. Notice, for example, early in the piece, his sentimentality when speaking of JFK junior...

Nevertheless, the piece is insightful...Castro finds "the high level at which the decisions for actions against our country were taken" to be an especially surprising revelation in the new information. His skepticism about the project is probably on-point:
It is notable that the administration which has declassified the least information in the history of the United States, and which has even started a process of reclassifying information that was previously declassified, now makes the decision to make these revelations. I believe that such an action could be an attempt to present an image of transparency when the government is at an all time low rate of acceptance and popularity, and to show that those methods belong to another era and are no longer in use. When he announced the decision, General Hayden, current CIA Director, said: "The documents offer a look at very different times and at a very different Agency."
Needless to say that everything described here is still being done, only in a more brutal manner and all around the planet, including a growing number of illegal actions within the very United States.
Although much has already been made of his insistence that Lee Oswald couldn't have acted alone in shooting JFK, this piece of information is even more provocative:
Oswald wanted to come through Cuba on his trip to the USSR. He had already been there before. Someone sent him to ask for a visa in our country's embassy in Mexico but nobody knew him there so he wasn't authorized. They wanted to get us implicated in the conspiracy.

So he's seen better days and it's disappointing that he doesn't use this unique forum to mention the relationship between intelligence agencies and global capitalism, but viva a free press, and the opportunity to hear the rather reasonable memoirs of a U.S. "enemy."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

weird london business...

Some pointed and thought-provoking questions by Andy Ellis, cross-posted from edebate...

why is al queda in iraq "dropping off" car bombs in london? Suicide attacks seem to be their typical MO.

Granted IED's have been an oft used weapon, but these cars are not seemingly the way to introduce ied's to the west when much smaller easier to build devices are more simple and in some senses more terrifying.

Car bombs of this style seem to be the work of secular terrorists like tim mcveigh or the ira at points during the last several decades, But AQ-I car bombs seem their most effective when the driver sticks with the car till the bomb goes off, and this makes sense given the ideology of the org (as represented in the west). Why would AQ-I waste valuble resources like doctors on half assed car bombs, clearly they have people who can build car bombs.

And apparently they have strategic interest in doctors, but it seems like its against the stated strategic interest to have doctors who dont die in car bombings, get arrested.

It seems like before these guys blew up aq-i 's british doctor spot they would have done the things that doctors can uniquely do and would have risked it on something that a variety of people could do better.

Why is the terrorism link to the british medicine system being drawn out in the media right as michael moores critique offers it as an alternative?


I already told Andy that I think he may be discounting one possibility: that Al Qaeda, as lucky as it has been in the past (and really only a few times, kind of like a lucky streak), is an incompetent organization. Their high-casualty attackes (only a few successful ones, and we're not exactly talking mass casualties even in those) are creditable mainly to the even more blatant incompetence of the west. But my answer doesn't make even a few of Andy's questions go away. What's going on doesn't make any sense. Someone's narrative has been disrupted.

His last question--about Michael Moore--is only wacky-sounding in proportion to the likelihood of strange things happening. But how many times have strange things happened--things so outlandish that they seemed utterly inconceivable beforehand? Did Zarqawi even exist? Remember that conversation?

When one considers how closely tied are the original, foundational and most powerful financial and political interests in both the west and "radical islam," it doesn't seem so farfetched: the idea that their strategies and the representations of those strategies bleed in and out of one another.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

just sayin'...


Castro charges CIA more murderous than ever

HAVANA (Reuters) - Convalescing Cuban President Fidel Castro charged on Sunday the release of classified CIA documents detailing past abuses was a smoke screen behind which the Bush administration hoped to hide even worse methods. "I think that this action could be an attempt ... to make people believe that these methods belong to another era and are no longer used," Castro wrote in an editorial published by the communist country's official media. "Everything described in the documents is still being done, only in a more brutal manner around the entire planet, including an increasing number of illegal actions in the very United States." The CIA declassified on Tuesday hundreds of pages of long-secret records that detailed some of the agency's worst illegal abuses during about 25 years of overseas assassination attempts, domestic spying and kidnapping. The documents are known in the CIA as the "Family Jewels" and some describe the agency's efforts to persuade Johnny Roselli, believed to be a mobster, to help plot the assassination of Castro. "Sunday is a good day to read what appears to be science fiction," Castro began his three-page editorial, titled "The Killing Machine." He went on to quote extensively from material covering the attempt on his life, as well as a New York Times analysis of all the documents. Cuba charges that Castro has been the target of hundreds of assassination attempts. The Cuban leader has said numerous times that President George W. Bush has ordered him killed. Castro also reiterated in detail his long-held belief that U.S. President John F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1963, was the victim of a plot involving elements of the CIA and militant anti-Castro Cuban exiles. Castro, a
master sharp-shooter with a telescopic rifle, insists Lee Harvey Oswald could not have been the only shooter in Dallas. "You lose the target after every shot even if it is not moving and have to find it again in fractions of a second," he said. Castro has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July last year, when he handed over power temporarily to his younger brother, Raul. But the 80-year-old revolutionary has returned to public life since March by writing occasional articles, called "Reflections of the Commander in Chief." He has been writing more frequently in recent weeks, fueling speculation that his health is improving.



Listen to your Uncle Fidel, kiddies...






Friday, June 29, 2007

proletarian paperclip


Assessing the Goracle

What follows is more gamesmanship than serious political argument. If a democrat loses the White House in '08, people like me will be blamed for it. Gore's a hack, sure. But it's important to understand why many progressives, and even a few aspiring socialists, will vote for him. He looks good pragmatically and, if you put on some rose-colored glasses, he even starts to look good ideologically. I think he can win the general election.


Gore is in a lot of corporate interests' back pockets, and has a pretty sordid history of supporting systems that hurt working people (issues I will explore here in the near future). But let's see what the progressive pollyana argument about him really is... It begins with a piece by Ted Daley--a smart left-democrat activist with loads of experience, including working for the Rand Corporation (ouch) and serving on the staffs of Alan Cranston and Dennis Kucinich. His case for the merits of a Gore presidency is indeed rather rose-colored, but his confidence that Gore can win is not, in my opinion, misplaced. On the question of Gore's electability, Daley writes:

there is one more asset that Al Gore brings to the table. Something unique only to him. In 2000 --even with Ralph Nader siphoning 2.8 million votes from just over 100 million ballots cast -- the sitting vice president still beat the sitting governor of Texas nationwide by more than half a million votes. In addition, a great deal of evidence indicates that more Floridians tried to vote for Al Gore than for George Bush -- which means, of course, that Gore actually won in the Electoral College as well.But, at least according to five Supreme Court justices, George Bush won and Al Gore lost. That means that millions of Americans, even many who might not necessarily adore the former vice president, hold a rough recollection that in 2000, Al Gore had something taken away from him that he rightfully earned. And deserved. And won. And that is why the "RAG" bumper sticker, in itself, will be worth ten million votes next time around, for this candidate and this candidate alone. First in the primaries, then again in the general election.What is the "RAG" bumper sticker? "RE-ELECT AL GORE."

Pretty optimistic, Ted. But realistic? I think so. Keep in mind I won't vote for Gore and people like me will be blamed if he gets robbed again... But yesterday's AP reported that "A New Hampshire presidential poll by WHDH-TV and Suffolk University shows that local Democrats prefer Al Gore to any of the current contenders ... Al Gore ... could enter the race as the leader. When his name is added, Clinton loses more than a quarter of her support, while Gore is backed by 32 percent."

Here's what Gore has that I think establishes a higher level of "charisma" than any of the other democrats; I'll address only Clinton, Obama, and Edwards.

1. Moral capital from the 2000 election. Nobody else has it, obviously. He's handled the debacle amazingly well, balancing acceptance with focused political anger.

2. Intellectual capital that has less of a chance being turned against him at this particular political moment than eight years ago. There's a backlash against both real preachers and the preacherly logic of neoconservatism. There's a fashionable religious liberalism movement emerging. Gore comes off as smarter and deeper than Hillary, more wise than Obama, and more broadly knowledgable than Edwards.

3. Experiential capital. He's been there but doesn't have to defend Clintonism, and his beating Sen. Clinton will simply reaffirm that distinction.

4. War capital. He doesn't have to take the blame for any of the Dems' inevitable stumbling on Iraq since the mid-terms. He opposed it from the beginning and was the first biggie to call Bush out for becoming a dictator. The Senate dems, and Edwards, look good compared to any Republican contenders on this issue, but they look bad compared to Gore. Oh, and Gore also has a squeaky clean record on support for Israel. Not even any clumsy photo-ops with Arab extremists like Hillary has...

Frankly, I think anyone besides Gore stands a decent chance of losing if the Republicans figured out a way to play smart rather than desperate. But Gore could beat the best, most unthinkably good Republican candidate in 08.

Gore's negatives? Please, there are no new ones. Climate change "extremism?" I suppose that might be a risk, but it's a purely defensive one: Being a warming believer doesn't COST you capital these days. At worst it's a neutral, but all the momentum is going positive. He's boring? Arrogant? Umm...none of that mattered then, and it matters even less now. Plus we know he's funny. He's the motherf****n Goracle, for hells' sake. Self-depricating humor always rules...

Is he sexy? Rection is somewhat mixed, but his looks certainly aren't a liability. Here's what a quick buddy list poll revealed:

--"U bet!"
--"not in the traditional sense, but in the nerdy sense"
--"Obama's got him beat, but yeah, I could see it"
--"i don't find al gore sexy because he put on that weight and is championing a fight against global warming."
--"not just kind of sexy...he's SEXY, even after putting on weight."
--"Obama is sexier than Gore, but Gore is sexier than Senator Clinton."

Here's the clincher, though, folks: What most people believe killed Gore in 00 was his willingness to alienate the left. I disagree that Nader "cost" Gore the election, but in any event I don't think it would happen again; Gore will be able to exploit his opponents' weaknesses in the primaries to get his lefty credentials out early and often. In the bitterest of ironies eight years after the proclamation that liberalism is dead, a liberalism that includes not sending troops to die for lies is extremely fashionable. Gore's eventual Republican opponent, whoever it is, will not be able to spin a countervision that overcomes Gore's multiple tiers of capital (see above). Next thing you know, he's in the White House...possibly for two terms.

Daley also points out that a Gore-Obama ticket will look very attractive to Obama's handlers.

Remember, all this is just speculation. I'm open to competing thoughts and predictions. And I doubt the Democratic leadership will ever make the right choices; if the dems win it will be because the repubs are extremely weak, which will be the dems' own dumbass luck. But if they suddenly get smart, they'll run this guy again, and I think he'd give any number of republican candidates a country ass whipping.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

profiteering part what?

Can't believe we still periodically mention this after four bloody and miserable years.

From Robert Scheer's well-titled "The Banality of Greed:"
This week's evidence of the continuing corruption of Halliburton and its subsidiaries profiteering from contracts costing American taxpayers an unbelievable $22 billion stems from a report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. The report, only one of many about Halliburton's recently severed subsidiary KBR, focuses on work done in Baghdad's super-secure Green Zone. While parent company Halliburton insults U.S. taxpayers by relocating its headquarters to the tax shelter of Dubai, subsidiary KBR has been spun off to focus more directly on the American military contracts that form the core of its operations. Those operations have already produced a litany of condemnation by congressional and administration oversight bodies, and the June 25 report hardly details the company's most egregious activities. However, the Green Zone, the site of this latest instance of taxpayer fleecing, is instructive because, safely removed from the risks of battle, it deprives these war profiteers of their favorite excuse: that construction in a battle zone is inherently more costly. While KBR's Green Zone shenanigans covered by this report may seem small in comparison with the enormous waste attendant to the U.S. reconstruction program in Iraq, they are illustrative of the feeding frenzy that has fueled the American effort.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Will Paris Really Change???


If so...Jimbo made this excellent new representation. He has amazing skills with this sort of thing, and you can see it all here.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

the debilitating silence

Pages and pages, reams and reams, of mainstream media articles about Iraq, not one of them mentioning economic motivations for prolonged conflict and permanent U.S. presence. It just doesn't exist. The war, the decisions to go to war (however dubious), the post-invasion planning and administration (privatized and handed undisclosed billions), the formation of government, the "surge," all motivated by either blessed or misbegotten spirits (or the world historical Spirit) but not about money. Class is boring. Yawn. It's so 1981.

"Stop being a reductionist," you say. I'm proud to be a reductionist, thank you, but seriously, this isn't even about reductionism. This is about excluding any mention whatsoever of economic motivations, of ignoring even the mention of economic motivation alongside a dozen or so other factors for this or that situation or this or that individual policy decision.

Would it kill them to do that? Just consider economic interests alongside other things? As a matter of fact, it would. Literally, if by "them" we mean the business interests that sustain the increasingly useless and boring mainstream media mansions like the NYT and the Washington Post. It would kill them in the short term because they would be bombarded with accusations of "class warfare" from the far right, upon whose approval they depend far more than they ever admit. It would kill them in the long term because they are the corporate interests they'd be exposing.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Sometimes good people don't die young
















Wed May 16, 2007
By Deborah Cohen
CHICAGO (Reuters)
American original Studs Terkel, the author and oral historian who for decades gave a voice to working men and women, turned 95 on Wednesday. But don't worry about his memory. He's sharp as a tack. In fact, he's the one doing the worrying -- about what he describes as the memory loss of a country he suggests may be more interested in the transgressions of celebrities than more substantive affairs such as thepolitics of the Bush administration, which he characterizes as a "burlesque show." ... Terkel's latest book attempts to connect Americans with their past, touching on themes where he staked his claim -- labor, war and race. ...Terkel, a pro-union voice who was blacklisted during the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s McCarthy era, bubbles with strong opinions and surprising bursts of energy for a man who had heart surgery at age 93. He sits upright in his easy chair, dressed in his trade-mark red-checkedshirt and matching red socks, sawing the air for emphasis. In less than an hour, he ranged over topics from President Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada to Enrico Fermi and the creation of the atomic bomb to "Medium Cool," the film by Haskell Wexler that chronicles Chicago during the tumultuous summer of 1968 when protests against the Vietnam War included bloody clashes in the streets at the Democratic Convention. ..."I have great faith in the people, provided we give them the news," said Terkel, who thinks the American media has moved too far to the right. ... "If I did one thing I'm proud of, it's to make people feel that together, they count," he said.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

reflections on the democrats "backing down" on iraq funding

"These hazards are compounded for those who are buffeted by the day-to-day swings and tactical divisions reflected in bourgeois public opinion." (Jack Barnes)

This is a big deal. Although many of us weren't surprised they would do it, the Democratic leadership's compromise on Iraq has provoked an outrage that has the potential to expose the duplicity of the so-called opposition party, perhaps the bankruptcy of the "twin parties of imperialist war," as Jack Barnes often calls them.

Olbermann says both parties have failed the American people. A letter-writer suggests to the New York Times that, the next time Democrats are pissed off that people are voting for third parties instead of them, they should remember that they backed down on Iraq. They didn't need to; in a legal sense they could have done what voters allegedly (in the cotton candy narrative of bourgeois politics) elected them to do. That they did not means that more people will die, with certainty in the immediate future, with likelihood further on.

This will surely cause at least a hard ripple against the Democrats, and at least a few people will rethink things...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bush admin fires back at Carter

Yep, they called him "irrelevant." This from an administration that is routinely surrendering its key figures to federal authorities while erasing as many emails as possible. And this is where I get to clarify something I wrote yesterday. Yeah, it was funny when I wrote it, and subsequently I saw that great (?) minds think alike; others had written similar jokes comparing Carter's attack on Bush to, say, Bill O'Reilly accusing Bill Bennett of moral hypocrisy.


But Carter is right about one thing: "We now have endorsed the concept of pre-emptive war...a radical departure from all previous administration policies," he says, in reference to the fact that, well, the U.S. now claims the right to attack any country it deems a threat, before said threat is even close to being realized. Following Bush, the U.S. can even do so on the flimsiest of evidence, using a perverse "magnitude massively outweighs actual risk" calculability that requires only that possible magnitude be increased in proportion to lack of evidence concerning risk.
That Bush the Younger was the President who did this is obviously not attributable to his unique identity as Bush the Younger. Political, social, material, economic, yes even "cultural" forces had to converge a certain way. But Carter is right: That policy has now been endorsed, even if subsequently (and nearly universally) condemned. That is unprecedented.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Too bad Gerald Ford isn't here to toss in his two cents...

Jimmy Carter called the Bush administration "the worst ever."

Now, this might very well be true. And it's always nice to see various sections of the ruling class tearing each other down.

But in other news, Charles Manson called John Wayne Gacy a murderer. Augusto Pinochet came back from the dead to condemn the human rights violations of Idi Amin. Peter Griffin called Eric Cartman a cartoon character. Snoop Dog accused Li'l Jon of smoking weed. Matt Harpring called out Steve Nash for being a caucasian player in the NBA. George Walker Bush called George Herbert Walker Bush filthy rich. The American Watersports Association accused the American BDSM Society of having weird sex fetishes. And Ann Coulter accused Michelle Malkin of being intellectually shallow and a poor writer.

"You'd disappear in the system."

If true, this story from Kansas Mutual Aid is disturbing, especially the part about being threatened with "disappearance." I'll update it as more information becomes available.

Tornado Ravaged Greensburg, Kansas:
Kansas Mutual Aid Relief Workers forced out of city by police

Saturday May 19, 2007
by Dave Strano

Infoshop News

On Saturday May 19, five members and volunteers affiliated with Kansas Mutual Aid, a Lawrence based class struggle anarchist collective, made the trek back to Greensburg to again help in relief efforts in the tornado ravaged city. A week earlier, four KMA members had traveled to Greensburg on a fact finding mission to assess the situation there. What KMA members found was a militarized, entirely destroyed city where relief efforts were moving tragically slow.

Today's trip back to Greensburg by KMA members and volunteers was intended to solidify the bonds we had created in the first trip, and establish a base of operations for future relief efforts. KMA spent the morning working on a house with members of AmeriCorps, and then proceeded to meet with contacts with the Mennonite Disaster Services.

We then headed out of town to a church just outside of city limits that we were told would be a place we could probably set up a base camp for our work. The church had been converted into a fire station by the state, so we continued down the road and met a farmer who was willing to work with us and let us use his land.

Soon after meeting the farmer, we were approached by officers with the Dickinson County Sheriff's Department. After a brief exchange, the officers left, and we were told to report to the Kiowa County Emergency Response Command Post to receive official permission to set up our base of operations. We were notified that if we did not do so, we would risk having our operation ceased by the state.

Two of our delegation went to the Command Post, while the other three of us went to the County Courthouse to pick up some water and provisions being offered by the Red Cross. While we were picking up water and food, I was approached by an Olathe Police Officer named Ty Moeder who knew my face and identity. I was ordered to take my hands out of my pockets and follow the officer to a side street "to avoid making a scene".

I and the other people with me followed the officer, and were repeatedly ordered to keep our hands out of our pockets, where they could be seen by the officer. Soon more officers approached, as well as at least one member of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and some people from FEMA. Surrounded by agents of the state, we were ordered to produce our identification.

When I asked the police why we were being detained, Officer Moeder responded "We need to check to see if you are affiliated with the anarchists." At this moment, our remaining two comrades approached to see what was happening. They were detained as well, and made to produce their identification.

Officer Moeder asked how we had gotten in to the city. "We drove in," someone replied.

"They weren't supposed to let you in at the road block," responded Moeder, seemingly frustrated and perplexed by that answer.

"They even gave us a day pass to drive in and out," we shot back.

A waiting game ensued for the next several minutes, with more officers approaching, now numbering almost fifteen. A Lawrence police officer approached, and was ordered to take photos of the car we had driven that was parked down the street. Officer McNemee from the Lawrence Police Department took extensive photos of the car, even of the inside contents of the vehicle.

Officer Moeder ordered me to step away from the rest of the relief workers and speak with him. "You're being ordered to leave and not return. This is not negotiable, not appealable. You can't change it. If you return you'll be arrested on site. And believe me, you don't want to push that right now. This system is pretty messed up, and you wouldn't be issued bail. You'd disappear in the system."

I asked repeatedly what we had done and why we were being ordered to leave the city. "You're part of a dangerous anarchist group that will only drain our security resources," he responded. "We've been monitoring your website and e-mails, we know what kind of agenda you have." "So this is about our political beliefs?" I asked.

"No," he responded. "This is about you being federal security threats. Kansas Mutual Aid is not welcome in this city, end of story. I know you are going through legitimate means to work in the city, and you're story seems picture perfect, but we know who you are, and you're not allowed here."

We were ordered back into our car and escorted out of the city by several police vehicles with their lights flashing, and left just outside the city.

We returned to Lawrence just moments ago, unhindered in our resolve to provide support to the people in the disaster area. We will continue to work in whatever capacity we can in the areas around the city that we may still be allowed into, and provide support to those entering the city.

The area is a police state, to be certain. Police and Law Enforcement from across Kansas and the country are making the rules about everything. Relief workers were banned from Greensburg today because of their political beliefs and work against oppression and tyrannical state control.

A longer, more in depth update with an announcement for future action will come soon. Please spread this story far and wide.

In love and solidarity,
Dave Strano, on behalf of KMA

Kudos Utah Jazz

Kudos...from the Greek κύδος kydos (literally "that which is heard of") means fame and renown resulting from an act or achievement. Kudos to the Utah Jazz for making the Western Conference NBA Finals after two years of not even making the playoffs.



So I've been a hardcore Utah Jazz fan for twenty years now. In 1987-88, Utah took the then-dynastic Lakers to seven games in the Western Conference semifinal, and I was hooked. I'd been a fairweather fan before then, despite growing up in Salt Lake. I was an undergrad, and my roommates (and debate teammates) Jimmy, Tom, Tony, Howard and I, along with our constant stream of guests, sat and watched every game, transfixed at the transformation of this hitherto underachieving team.

From that time on, I have lived the agony and the ectasy; mostly, as you've already guessed I will say, the agony. It's the soft bigotry of high expectations; it's the serendipity and instability of what success really means. After watching them win most, but not all, then really, really most, but not all, I have concluded that true satisfaction in being the fan of a good (but not the best) team lies in watching them play. John Stockton faking left then going in for a layup, time after time. Jeff Hornacek goofily tossing up another three. Mark Eaton, like a mobile crane, mechanically rebounding, pivoting, and passing. And Karl Malone. Greatest. Power. Forward. Ever.

When Malone left for the Lakers, my wife (also a Utahn, also a fanatical Jazz fan) fell into the "screw him, he betrayed us" camp, while I fell into the "yeah, it's kind of selfish of him, but I can understand that he wants a ring" camp. These were really the only possible camps among Jazz fans. Neither of us were particularly upset about the trouncing the Lakers' took from Detroit that year in the NBA finals.

Nor was I, at least, particularly sad for Utah. Time to rebuild, and the miracle is not only that they have done it so quickly, but that they have made things better than they were. Granted, without the pressure created by the aging (albeit still brilliant and dominant) Stockton-Malone duo in the old Jazz's later years, the players naturally will be more free and energetic. But they have lifted the yoke of old Jazzdom while simultaneously hanging on to the Jazz philosophy of basic playmaking, selflessness and hard work. A couple of things about this philosophy: First, it seems to be primarily Jerry Sloan's philosophy, but he took some of it from Frank Layden, and obviously it's endorsed, if not shaped, by much maligned owner Larry Miller. It's really in the players, and Sloan, though. And second, and related to this, it's a real philosophy, not just a few catch-words. They really are selfless. This time around even moreso. There are leaders on the team but not "stars," and particularly not "star personalities. They run the same plays over and over again and mix it up just enough to make the defense more predictable than the offense. And their own defense is stifling, rough, intimidating, and energetic (Andre Kirelenko is an incredible, prolific shot-blocker, for example). They are the "new and improved" Jazz, and their numbers, if they stay this way, will rapidly be on par with their predecessors. Deron Williams is a John Stockton who can dunk; Carlos Boozer a young Malone who already possesses the outside shot it took Malone years to develop. I could go on. If they play well in this round, I probably will. But even if they lose now, my gosh--the conference finals. Most of the time, the old Jazz couldn't get there even when they were outplaying 99% of their opponents.

One more thing: Although I still hear announcers, from time to time, marginalize the Jazz, it's nowhere near as bad as they would even during the height of the Stockton-Malone years. There are still haters. Militant Jazz-haters are like those irritating militant atheists who raise the nonexistence of God whenever they meet someone new. But the tide of opinion is turning, another reason why losing the stars of the past also means emerging into a low-pressure, high-praise open field. The era of the superstar is over (Kobe, Yao, McGrady, Iverson, Shaq, and more, didn't even make it past the first round of the playoffs). Utah's defeat of Houston even disproves the "two stars theory."

Of the new Jazz, one columnist writes
...to posit the Jazz as some makeshift foil, Aryan-centric, basic and defensive-minded. The Jazz possess style as well, though of a subtler form. Whereas the Warriors emit warmth and color, the Jazz players convey a chilly nihilism -- an indifferent isolation in which one draws the conclusion: I have no one else to live for except me.

I would simply amend this to read "We have no one else to live for except us," because the new Utah team reminds me of nothing if not a family that everyone resents but respects, and who fight for one another even if they don't always know why. It's a communal nihilism.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What's their GOProblem?


A friend commented that the GOP debates are weak and weird, with only libertarian Ron Paul calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq. How, he asks, can they expect to win?


Is it possible that there is actually a coherent argument in the back rooms of the GOP for staying the proverbial course? In 2004, all rational public argument had long concluded against the war. But there was a lot of room for the GOP to gather the nonrational, faith-based ground, due to the large sections of the GOP base that believe in armageddon anyway, believe God annoints presidents, hate the brown religious enemy, are genuinely afraid of terrorism, etc. Combine that with some questionable voting irregularities and it was more than enough then. Do you think there's a school of thought that says it would be just enough now? What does Richard John Neuhouse say now? What about the dominionists and the rapture-believers or whatever they're called?

Remember, also...these people are handled very well...on both sides of the two-in-one party. The GOP handlers want their guys to keep repeating simple, sweeping, enthymematic platitudes. I'm reminded of a line from Xtal, a great band that's no longer around: "The overfed apes cavorting on the big stage spewing sanctimonious lines about good and evil. Then they make a big mess and gallop off into the sunset while middle management hands out the brooms and mops."

Despite the cynicism of the above, I really believe that a lot of people are smarter, not dumber, than these handlers, and those apes tend to underestimate us insects. But these are confusing times, and I think there's a good chance that some factions of the GOP want to keep going, (like the Utah Jazz with the pick and roll, except that the pick and roll is cool) the same old strategy, because it's worked thus far. Jack up the terror and talk about values. Ain't saying it will work, but it may well come closer than we think.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Revisiting Definitions of War and Insurgency: To Those Who Can’t Afford to Define Themselves

As I write this, the U.S. military is in its fifth day of hearings concerning the Haditha Massacre. Several marines are charged with “unpremeditated murder” of civilians there. The courtroom squabbles concern who in the chain of command was responsible for reporting the allegations of murder, as well as whether soldiers can be charged with killing civilians in combat at all. The larger issues, of course, concern the punishment of the marines who (it is clear by now) slaughtered 24 Iraqis and tried to cover it up. It is that dynamic between the Iraqis, the U.S. marines who killed them, and the U.S. government who get to punish the killers, that has again sparked me thinking about the power to define legitimate and illegitimate enemies as well as fair and unfair violence. It's really a question of who gets to define identities. From Falluja to Haditha to the communities in America giving up their families for a war we did not choose, identity is sold to the highest bidder.

Since 2003, I have wrestled with myself and others over the issue of who enjoys “ownership” of the street struggles in Iraq. My position has always been that neither U.S. and coalition forces, nor “insurgents” or “terrorists,” ever received the opportunity to define themselves and define each other through the establishment of communicative understanding. They lost this ability by virtue of their material servitude to others—to the American and global ruling class that sanctioned this war, to practitioners of backward ideological wars from both the East and West, to a power structure that considers the life of workers (in or out of uniform) expendable. Since the initial invasion and occupation, through periodic revelations of particularly brutal behavior by various factions there (including “ours”), I have posited an admittedly unreasonable, utopian counterfactual: A world where the effort to discern the understanding and perspectives of those affected by a decision (eg, invading a country to remove a dictator) precedes the decision itself, and a world where the powerful would have to justify, really justify, their decisions to the powerless.

The late Robert Anton Wilson wrote “the power to define is the power to destroy” into his play Wilhelm Reich in Hell[1]—and I’ve spotted the occasional use of that phrase, without attribution to Wilson, throughout the blogosphere…including, ironically, on both a Canadian First Nations site and a “Vanguard” White Power site. Wilson writes the phrase coming from Dr. Reich himself, meaning that this discursive power is tied to a network of material and psychic power, in the pursuit of manufacturing more power, in the form of authority, predictability, and the deployment of “primal might” in the form of face-to-face killing.

To some degree, the management of that primal might, the ability to keep it from getting “out of control” and crossing unacceptable lines, is the razors’ edge of managing an occupation. The recent Mental Health Advisory Team report that created a ripple of concern for a few days a couple of weeks ago, confirms the suspicion that we are dealing with extremely an extremely raw human condition.
The study exposes the deteriorating behavioral health status of US troops—including depression, anxiety, alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), marital problems and suicide. These mental health and personal problems are shown to directly influence the attitudes US soldiers hold toward the Iraqi population—resulting in increasing levels of terror and brutality meted out to civilians.
Asked whether “all non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect,” less than half of soldiers agreed. Close to a third of all soldiers reported they had insulted or cursed at non-combatants in their presence. Twelve percent of marines and 9 percent of army soldiers said they had unnecessarily damaged or destroyed Iraqi property; 7 percent of marines and 9 percent of soldiers said they had physically hit or kicked civilians.[2]
Although the United States may be failing strategically in Iraq,(there are not enough coalition soldiers, nor would it be possible to send enough, to gain a strategic advantage), U.S. forces are holding their own tactically, insofar as face-to-face violence is a tactic, where the primacy of the enemy-other eludes definition. The indefinite nature of the occupation further exacerbates this looseness of identity. “We at home,” (the artificial "affected public"[3]), who know nothing about Iraq or Iraqis, know more about the ideologically-assigned identities of Iraqis than those of us who are there.

The moral superiority we draw from lawful punishment of our own soldiers for their brutalities serves to further strengthen our claim to superior brutality. Demarcations of violence exist, which intersect with the rhetorical demarcations of law (itself backed up with the promise of still more violence). We create a spectacle that would have been the envy of all the Caesars: A few of our soldiers slaughter civilians, which is wickedly, impressively brutal, but our legal apparatus is more impressively brutal still, and even has the power to kill our own slaughterers—an act we’re willing to commit in the name of a higher justice than violence, even as we are the masters of violence. Life becomes doubly expendable: those who are initially slaughtered get to have their deaths justified on multiple grounds: It was war, and look, we found out who did it and we’ll punish them; those who did the slaughtering can be trotted out, imprisoned, even executed, to provide closure to the moral questions posed by these relatively un-nuanced displays of violence.

One of the legal-rhetorical demarcations that intersect with the real levels of violence in Iraq is “the power to define.” It’s a question of words, but it has real consequences in the effort to manage perceptions of brutality. In 2004 Paul Craig Roberts wrote that

the US has largely destroyed Fallujah, once a city of 300,000. Hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians have been killed by the indiscriminate use of high explosives. To cover up the extensive civilian deaths, US authorities count all Iraqi dead as insurgents, delivering a high body count as claim of success for a bloody-minded operation.[4]
Now, think for a moment about the demarcations that erase each and every one of the noncombatants killed indiscriminately in the battles of Fallujah. The ethical differences (that is, the way we negotiate the meaning of each other, the treatment we stand to receive from each other, the struggle for identity in each others’ eyes) between those unfortunate civilians in Fallujah and those in Haditha is virtually nonexistent. Once we cross the line and decide that innocent, non-involved living beings are expendable in the service of geostrategic objectives, then all that’s left are legal demarcations, the occasional sacrifice of a few particularly brutal sacrificers, and inevitable cover-ups in a never-ending information management war that follows the real war around like Mother Courage.[5]

Of course, if U.S. forces leave Iraq, atrocities against innocents will continue. There may be other reasons for the U.S. and coalition forces to leave, but the overall level of brutality will remain constant, because the “causes” of that brutality are not found in the national identity of the perpetrators. Instead, brutality is the inevitable outcome of a system that entitles the commission of certain acceptable violence against certain acceptable others—all of those, and all of us, who lack the agency to define our status and identity.

The cry of the dispossessed, whatever their relative level of disposession, in contemporary society is a whispered: We can't afford to be. And yes, the low-level brutalizers now sitting in an air-conditioned American military court are crying it too.



[1] Robert Anton Wilson, Wilhelm Reich in Hell, see http://www.wilhelmreichinhell.com/.
[2] Kate Randall, “Pentagon survey exposes deep demoralization of US occupation troops,” http://www.wsws.org/articles/2007/may2007/pent-m09.shtml.
[3] See Dana Cloud, “Therapy, Silence, and War: Consolation and the End of Deliberation in the 'Affected' Public,” Poroi Online, http://inpress.lib.uiowa.edu/poroi/papers/cloud030816.html.
[4] Paul Craig Roberts, “There is no one left to stop them,” Counterpunch 19 November 2004, http://www.counterpunch.com/roberts11192004.html.
[5] Bertold Brecht, Mother Courage and Her Children, see http://prp.contentdirections.com/mr/cupress.jsp/doi=10.2277/0521597749.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

the haters among us

Anyone who might ever be tempted to minimize the extent and severity of racism in contemporary America should feel free to answer me the following:



Why has Barack Obama's candidacy spurred so many racist emails, many with threats of physical violence, murder, etc., that servers and news networks are disabling reader and viewer comments about Obama?


Why have there been so many death threats that Obama uniquely merits Secret Service protection?


Why does Rush Limbaugh keep his job after saying things about Obama on par with the worst Imus said about anyone?


I won't vote for Obama, since I don't vote for Democrats or Republicans...and yeah, I try not to "overdetermine" "identity politics" and all that jazz, but I have seen enough garbage on message boards and in political chat rooms, enough openly racist shit about any and every political subject, that I am long past the illusion that there aren't, in our midst, straight-up white supremacist nazis. Potential stormtroopers (along with a whole lot of people willing to look the other way) for use by demagogues as politics in America continues to run its course. And not just a few of them. People who hate other races, plain and simple, and lots of 'em. He is in danger. What should we do about that?


(Sheez, I have a hard enough time figuring out why anyone from Wyoming, one of the northernmost states, would have a confederate flag on their truck...)


It's not enough just to say "well, I'm not a racist," anymore than, upon seeing a person getting assaulted next to you on the street, it would be enough to say "well, I'm not assaulting anybody."



What is to be done about those among us who tactictly or actively encourage, justify, excuse or execute violence against racial minorities? What are you personally going to do? What would you suggest others do?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Exclusive: Joe Carver's Mea Culpa

This is for the sake of posterity. Everyone needs to know that on April 19, 2007, Joe Carver, that musical snob and marginal excuse for a friend (I keeeeed!), admitted he had been wrong about the Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way, and I was right. Right, right, right. Nya nya nya nya boo boo!

carrolltondebate [11:39 A.M.]: a belated mea culpa
carrolltondebate [11:39 A.M.]: that Dixie chicks record was awesome
carrolltondebate [11:39 A.M.]: you could not have been more correct

Tragedy, Responsibility, Hypocrisy

The tragic shootings at Virginia Tech have inspired posturing all over the physical and electronic marketplace of ideas. Gary Lavergne, director of admissions research at the University of Texas at Austin and author of A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders, wrote a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which he makes a provocative, sentimentally appealing, but ultimately problematic declaration about Cho Seung-hui:
In 'Sniper in the Tower' I concluded...that "[Whitman's] actions speak for themselves"....Charles Whitman was a murderer; he killed innocent people. We should not forget that. In Virginia we appear to have a Whitman-like character. It is vitally important for all to remember that there is only one person responsible for what happened in Blacksburg, and that is the man who pulled the trigger....Before we identify and learn the lessons of Blacksburg, we must begin with the obvious: More than four dozen innocent people were gunned down by a murderer who is completely responsible for what happened. No one died for lack of text messages or an alarm system. They died of gunshot wounds. While we painfully learn our lessons, we must not treat each other as if we are responsible for the deaths that occurred. We must come together and be respectful and kind. This is not a time for us to torture ourselves or to seek comfort by finding someone to blame. Maybe as a result of the tragedy we will figure out how to more effectively use e-mail and text messages as emergency tools for warning large populations. We may come up with a plan that successfully clears a large area, with a population density of a midsize city, in less than two hours. Maybe universities will find a way to install surveillance cameras and convince students and faculty members that they are being monitored for their own safety and not for gathering domestic intelligence. All of those steps might be helpful in avoiding and reducing the carnage of any future incidents. But as long as we value living in a free society, we will be vulnerable to those who do harm -- because they want to and know how to do it.

While there is a certain emotional appeal to the idea that we should isolate the blame, and not "blame each other" (not the same, he ignores, as identifying institutional faults that exacerbated the tragedy), his argument simply isn't true. There is not, there is never, only "one person responsible." There may be one person responsible if we file down and systemically demarcate and limit the meaning of responsibility, but such a finding only occurs after we do the philosophical work (consciously or unconsciously) to so limit. The problem is not merely that more systemic and "radical" interpretations of responsibility exist (although I find those explanations much more compelling than a lot of other people do because they help me understand and forgive individual transgressions). The problem is also that even within the very same code-system of bourgeois legalism and individualism this author assumes, we routinely make judgments opposed to the "one person responsible" thesis. We do so every time the state brings charges against a tavern for a drunk driving death, charges against a doctor or hospital for misdiagnosing a patient who then goes on to kill others, charges against a Nazi hate group for a series of racist murders committed by someone who read the group's literature. We routinely hold that there are several, often complex, varying levels and degrees of responsibility. And that's a good thing. This author has no moral or legal basis to declare the shooter to be the ONLY one responsible for what happened. And for him to go further and declare that it is "vitally important" for us to remember this...well, that seems to betray an agenda that makes his argument fair game.

Meanwhile, President Bush did his presidential duty and spoke at the memorial service for those killed at Virginia Tech. Best summary of the implications of that visit comes from David Walsh's article yesterday:
As governor of Texas, Bush presided over the executions of 152 human beings; as president, he has the blood of thousands of Americans, tens of thousands of Afghans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis on his hands. His administration has made unrelenting violence the foundation of its global policies, justifying assassination, secret imprisonment and torture. Speaking of the Blacksburg killings, Bush commented: “Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they’re gone—and they leave behind grieving families, and grieving classmates, and a grieving nation.” If he and his cronies were not entirely immune to the consequences of their own policies, it might strike them that they could be speaking about the masses of the dead in Iraq, who have also done “nothing to deserve their fate.” The president, in his perfunctory remarks, appeared anxious, above all, to put the events behind him. Bush’s comment that “It’s impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering” comes as no surprise. He recognizes instinctively, or his speechwriters do, that considering the “violence and suffering” in a serious manner would raise troubling questions, and even more troubling answers.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Anthem For Doomed Youth (1917)

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of their guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid fire
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

(Poem written by Wilfred Owen, 1917)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

more on why the left must reject oppressive religious movements

No, not religion in general.

The recent news that anti-globalization movements have directly reached out to, and worked with various Islamic groups, including sexist, homophobic, and anti-democratic groups, should disturb us deeply.

There are plenty of progressive, democratic religious groups, including Islamic groups, to work with. They may not attract attention because they don't kill babies or assassinate people with whom they disagree, but they're there, and they're far better candidates for progressive causes.

Last year, Fred Halliday put it very well:

...while it is true that Islamism in its diverse political and violent guises is indeed opposed to the US, to remain there omits a deeper, crucial point: that, long before the Muslim Brotherhood, the jihadis and other Islamic militants were attacking "imperialism", they were attacking and killing the left - and acting across Asia and Africa as the accomplices of the west. [...] The reactionary (the word is used advisedly) nature of much of their programme on women, free speech, the rights of gays and other minorities is evident.There is also a mindset of anti-Jewish prejudice that is riven with racism and religious obscurantism. Only a few in the west noted what many in the Islamic world will have at once understood, that one of the most destructive missiles fired by Hizbollah into Israel bore the name "Khaibar" - not a benign reference to the pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the name of a victorious battle fought against the Jews by the Prophet Mohammad in the 7th century. Here it is worth recalling the saying of the German socialist leader Bebel, that anti-semitism is "the socialism of fools". How many on the left are tolerant if not actively complicit in this foolery today is a painful question to ask.

(More about the status of women in conservative Islam here...straight from the proverbial horse's mouth, in a clumsy attempt to disco around the issue...)

I think it's time to start a drive to get a broad coalition of progressives, socialists, and left democrats to publicly denounce, and renounce affiliation with, all religious extremism, and all religious movements that advocate the persecution of (or any degree of violence against) labor movements, religious minorities or members of other religions, sexual minorities, women, etc. This is not about being unduly "purist" or fragmentory. This is about foolishly --fatally foolishly-- assuming that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Halliday concludes that the left
does not need slogans to understand that the Islamist programme, ideology and record are diametrically opposed to the left – that is, the left that has existed on the principles founded on and descended from classical socialism, the Enlightenment, the values of the revolutions of 1798 and 1848, and generations of experience. The modern embodiments of this left have no need of the “false consciousness” that drives so many so-called leftists into the arms of jihadis.

Maryland Passes Living Wage Law

Yay! This is from James Parks at the AFL-CIO Weblog on April 9:
Maryland today became the first state to require contractors to pay workers a living wage, the fruit of a months-long coalition campaign that included union members, religious leaders and civil rights advocates. On its last day in session, the Maryland Senate voted, 31-16, to approve the measure, which was passed by the state House last week. Gov. Martin O'Malley(D), who campaigned for the legislation, has promised to sign the bill.
The new law will require service contractors doing business with the state to pay employees $11.30 an hour in urban areas and $8.50 an hour in rural areas. The state's minimum wage is $6.15 an hour.
The final vote is another step toward lifting thousands of Maryland workers out of poverty, says Fred Mason, president of the Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Happy Easter?

Yesterday's AP article on Easter throughout the Islamic world was somewhat enlightening. Publicly celebrating Easter is extremely illegal in Saudi Arabia. In this context, the strict interpretation of Wahhabi Islam is not only ridiculous but also fundamentally backward and cruel. Incidentally, it should not be ignored that Saudi Arabia is the one Islamic nation that the U.S. ruling class is most likely to ass-kiss on any given day. That Easter is openly celebrated in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, and even Iraq, is evidence that not all interpretations of Islam are as intolerant as Wahhabi Islam is.

In case the hinted argument isn't getting through, gentle reader, I'll be more blunt: Religious pluralism is more progressive, more advanced, more morally and politically defensible, than the lack of religious pluralism. Progressives should not feel the need to defend repressive versions of Islam any more than they would feel the need to defend repressive versions of Christianity, Judaism, or (if a repressive version of it existed) Zoroastrianism. We need not take sides in the pointless and destructive battles between reactionary right wingers of the Christian and Islamic variety.

And if you get a chance, read Mansoor Hekmat's "Rise and Fall of Political Islam."

Saturday, April 07, 2007

University Politics

I teach at a university, but I've never been comfortable in academia. It pays the bills and I enjoy the teaching part of it. I don't feel at all politically compatable with "colleagues" even when I find them nice people personally, and, yes, even when they call themselves liberals, leftists, or radicals. And situations like the one I am about to describe remind me why I feel this way, but also why I feel like I need to stay around...

Harvard Law School's "gadfly" (and recently converted torture advocate) Alan M. Dershowitz has made it his personal cause to convince DePaul Law School to deny tenure to Norman G. Finkelstein. In addition to writing a book taking Dershowitz and others to task for exploiting the Holocaust, Finkelstein also accuses Dershowitz of plagiarism, saying some of the things Dershowitz wrote in his 2003 book The Case for Israel were not quite original.

How does a professor at one university communicate his desire that a professor at another university shouldn't receive tenure? As documented by the April 5 Chronicle of Higher Education, well, ruthlessly:

Last fall, with Mr. Finkelstein up for tenure, Mr. Dershowitz sent the DePaul law school faculty and members of the political-science department what he described, in a letter dated October 3, as a "dossier of Norman Finkelstein's most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions." "I hope that this will serve as an introduction and primer to the so- called scholarship that Finkelstein will present this term as he is considered for tenure," Mr. Dershowitz wrote. Mr. Finkelstein said in an interview on Monday that Mr. Dershowitz had embarked on "this frenetic and relentless campaign to deny me tenure." "He sent to every member of the law school ... a dossier which came, I think, to about 50 pages, leveling or, I should say, recycling all of the allegations he's been putting forth for the past couple of years. And he sent a copy of that dossier to every member of my department."The packet included what Mr. Dershowitz's letter called "some of the lies I am absolutely confident that Finkelstein told" on such points as
Israeli torture and whether or not Mr. Dershowitz writes his own books. In a telephone interview on Wednesday with The Chronicle, Mr. Dershowitz confirmed
that he had sent the information to "everybody who would read it." He said he had compiled the material at the request of some two dozen DePaul students, alumni, and faculty members who were alarmed at the prospect of Mr. Finkelstein's receiving tenure.
Now a lot of people say that academic politics are "small." Small-minded, perhaps, but in some cases, hardly small in magnitude...and, to be fair, most bourgeois politics fit that description: petty in conception but not in impact. And as much as I thought Dershowitz's book on the O.J. Simpson trial, Reasonable Doubts, was enjoyable, well-argued, and enlightening, I must say I have found most of Dershowitz's attitudes and positions to be not only reactionary, but the kind of reactionary one would expect from someone of great material and institutional privilege.

But more importantly: If Dershowitz did indeed plagiarize sections of his 2003 book, there is no doubt in my mind he won't lose his job, and it's doubtful that Dershowitz's immature nastiness will ruin the academic career of Finkelstein--all of which is more than one can say about Ward Churchill, whose head will end up on a platter for alleged sins just-short-of-routinely committed by other scholars. Not only were the findings in the Churchill case dubious, but the process itself violated the very rules of procedure and due process laid out in the Colorado University rules.

(In a phenomenon that is equally demonstrative of academic politics as microcosm, Churchill's situation has been exacerbated by his own long-term tendency to threaten, verbally brutalize, and dismiss others on the left who might otherwise have come to his defense more frequently and enthusiastically.)

The Churchill case, the battle between Dershowitz and Finkelstein, and countless other academic battles demonstrate that academic politics are not merely localized and irrelevant, but alternate as either microcosms or instantiations of larger political battles. This is a lesson which (although I won't get into the details just yet) I am learning myself as I attempt to make my own little section of the Communication Studies discipline more critical and educational. People get pissed off at you, and not merely for reasons of petty academic territoriality. Ideologies and empires are at stake--and given the fact that millions of working class youth (as well as nontraditional students) go through state universities, and that the line between private school privilege and public university access is at times thinner than we might think, the stakes may be very high indeed.

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