Tuesday, December 27, 2005
It's no accident that it is the rightwing bloggers and pundits who have been avid about defending the use of torture against suspected terrorists. Nor is it an accident that many of them pooh-poohed Abu Ghraib, sluffing it off as no more harmless than fraternity hazing. But what their decapitation odes reveal is that what they'd really like to do is permit torture closer to home. Domesticate it. Trivialize it. Completely destigmatize it as a tool of the state.
I don't worry about this being actually implemented, though I worry fractionally more every day. I'm interested in it more as a pathological rash afflicting the more rabid warbloggers. It's a sign of impotence, this lurid fury of theirs. It bugs the hell out of them that those of us who opposed the war have turned out to be right. It thwarts the hell out of them that Ward Churchill still has tenure, that they couldn't convict Sami Al-Arian down in Florida, and that their latest purple-finger festival fizzled out so soon. If postwar Iraq swirls down the drain, they'll be looking for someone to blame, and since they never blame themselves for anything (a bedrock neoconservative trait), they leaves nobody here but us chickens. I dread to think of the imaginary punishments they'll devise for us appeasers, turncoats, and traitors; I'm sure they'll be quite vivid. (Link)
The coming of age for a new media
On new year's eve 2004, software engineer and blogger Bala Pitchandi was sitting at his computer in his New Jersey apartment. Around him, a party was going on. He got up briefly to toast in the new year, then sat down to continue his work. He wasn't under the thumb of a scroogelike employer, but volunteering his time for a blog that turned into a global phenomenon.
When the Indian Ocean tsunami hit on December 26 2004 the mainstream media was largely caught on the hop. It was Christmas, when many newsrooms were staffed with skeleton teams, and few western media outlets had foreign correspondents already in position to report on the disaster.
As the scale of the disaster began to dawn on Mumbai-based blogger Peter Griffin, and he shuttled between the television in the living room and the computer on his desk seeking out information, he realised that although he couldn't go in person and help there was one thing he could do from home: set up a blog. (More)
Hubris: The Fall of Empires
The tragic irony of the 21st century is that just as faith in technology collapsed on the world's stock markets in 2000, it came to power in the White House and Pentagon. For the Project for a New American Century's ambition of "full-spectrum dominance" - in which its country could "fight and win multiple, simultaneous major-theatre wars" - was a monster borne up by the high tide of techno euphoria of the 1990s.The tragic irony of the 21st century is that just as faith in technology collapsed on the world's stock markets in 2000, it came to power in the White House and Pentagon. For the Project for a New American Century's ambition of "full-spectrum dominance" - in which its country could "fight and win multiple, simultaneous major-theatre wars" - was a monster borne up by the high tide of techno euphoria of the 1990s.
Ex-hippies talked of a wired age of Aquarius. The fall of the Berlin wall and the rise of the internet, we were told, had ushered in Adam Smith's dream of overflowing abundance, expanding liberty and perpetual peace. Fukuyama speculated that history was over, leaving us just to hoard and spend. Technology meant a new paradigm of constant growth without inflation or recession.
But darker dreams surfaced in America's military universities. The theorists of the "revolution in military affairs" predicted that technology would lead to easy and perpetual US dominance of the world. Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters advised on "future warfare" at the Army War College - prophesying in 1997 a coming "age of constant conflict". Thomas Barnett at the Naval War College assisted Vice-Admiral Cebrowski in developing "network-centric warfare". General John Jumper of the air force predicted a planet easily mastered from air and space. American forces would win everywhere because they enjoyed what was unashamedly called the "God's-eye" view of satellites and GPS: the "global information grid". This hegemony would be welcomed as the cutting edge of human progress. Or at worst, the military geeks candidly explained, US power would simply terrify others into submitting to the stars and stripes.
Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance - a key strategic document published in 1996 - aimed to understand how to destroy the "will to resist before, during and after battle". For Harlan Ullman of the National Defence University, its main author, the perfect example was the atom bomb at Hiroshima. But with or without such a weapon, one could create an illusion of unending strength and ruthlessness. Or one could deprive an enemy of the ability to communicate, observe and interact - a macro version of the sensory deprivation used on individuals - so as to create a "feeling of impotence". And one must always inflict brutal reprisals against those who resist. An alternative was the "decay and default" model, whereby a nation's will to resist collapsed through the "imposition of social breakdown".
All of this came to be applied in Iraq in 2003, and not merely in the March bombardment called "shock and awe". It has been usual to explain the chaos and looting in Baghdad, the destruction of infrastructure, ministries, museums and the national library and archives, as caused by a failure of Rumsfeld's planning. But the evidence is this was at least in part a mask for the destruction of the collective memory and modern state of a key Arab nation, and the manufacture of disorder to create a hunger for the occupier's supervision. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported in May 2003, US troops broke the locks of museums, ministries and universities and told looters: "Go in Ali Baba, it's all yours!"
For the American imperial strategists invested deeply in the belief that through spreading terror they could take power. Neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and the recently indicted Lewis "Scooter" Libby, learned from Leo Strauss that a strong and wise minority of humans had to rule over the weak majority through deception and fear, rather than persuasion or compromise. They read Le Bon and Freud on the relationship of crowds to authority. But most of all they loved Hobbes's Leviathan. While Hobbes saw authority as free men's chosen solution to the imperfections of anarchy, his 21st century heirs seek to create the fear that led to submission. And technology would make it possible and beautiful.
On the logo of the Pentagon's Information Awareness Office, the motto is Scientia est potentia - knowledge is power . The IAO promised "total information awareness", an all-seeing eye spilling out a death-ray gaze over Eurasia. Congressional pressure led the IAO to close, but technospeak, half-digested political theory and megalomania still riddle US thinking. Barnett, in The Pentagon's New Map and Blueprint for Action, calls for a "systems administrator" force to be dispatched with the military, to "process" conquered countries. The G8 and a few others are the "Kantian core", writes Barnett, warming over the former Blair adviser Robert Cooper's poisonous guff from 2002; their job is to export their economy and politics by force to the unlucky "Hobbesian gap". Imperialism is imagined as an industrial technique to remake societies and cultures, with technology giving sanction to those who intervene.
The Afghanistan war of 2001 taught the wrong lessons. The US assumed this was the model of how a small, special forces-dominated campaign, using local proxies and calling in gunships or airstrikes, would sweep away opposition. But all Afghanistan showed was how an outside power could intervene in a finely balanced civil war. The one-eyed Mullah Omar's great escape on his motorbike was a warning that the God's-eye view can miss the human detail.
The problem for the US today is that Leviathan has shot his wad. Iraq revealed the hubris of the imperial geostrategy. One small nation can tie down a superpower. Air and space supremacy do not give command on the ground. People can't be terrorised into identification with America. The US has proved able to destroy massively - but not create, or even control. Afghanistan and Iraq lie in ruins, yet the occupiers cower behind concrete mountains.
The spin machine is on full tilt to represent Iraq as a success. Peters, in New Glory: Expanding America's Supremacy, asserts: "Our country is a force for good without precedent"; and Barnett, in Blueprint, says: "The US military is a force for global good that ... has no equal." Both offer ambitious plans for how the US is going to remake the third world in its image. There is a violent hysteria to the boasts. The narcissism of a decade earlier has given way to an extrovert rage at those who have resisted America's will since 2001. Both urge utter ruthlessness in crushing resistance. In November 2004, Peters told Fox News that in Falluja "the best outcome, frankly, is if they're all killed".
But he directs his real fury at France and Germany: "A haggard Circe, Europe dulled our senses and fooled us into believing in her attractions. But the dugs are dry in Germany and France. They deluded us into prolonging the affair long after our attentions should have turned to ... India, South Africa, Brazil."
While a good Kleinian therapist may be able to help Peters work through his weaning trauma, only America can cure its post 9/11 mixture of paranoia and megalomania. But Britain - and other allied states - can help. The US needs to discover, like a child that does not know its limits, that there is a world outside its body and desires, beyond even the reach of its toys, that suffers too.(Link)
Th Road from Nazareth to Bethlehem today
The road from Nazareth to Bethlehem begins by dropping down from a ridge south of Galilee into the Jezreel Valley, looking out across Jordan and Samaria. It is a 90-mile route defined by the journey of Mary and Joseph 2,000 years ago, although Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are unhelpful about the exact route, and the Bible does not mention the traditional nativity scene donkey. Any direct route that foot passengers would have taken in the era of Caesar Augustus, retraced today, inevitably draws you into the tangled skein of modern Middle East politics, through Israel and the occupied West Bank, past Hamas strongholds and extremist Jewish settlements lying Islamic cheek by Zionist jowl. But first you slam into a checkpoint. The first, that is, of 15 Israeli military roadblocks and mobile checkpoints that now control passage along the roads south from Nazareth,
The War on Christmas
Edit: Here is a link to the book the "War on Christmas" is trying to sell. Scroll down for the reviews (Link).
And here is the link to a story about the man who wrote the book exposing this dastardly plot (Link).
In Catalonia, as in most of Spain, the traditional Christmas decoration is a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to American Nativity scenes that encompasses the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The Catalans have added an extra character that is not found in the manger scenes of any other culture. In addition to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, Catalans have the character known as the Caganer. This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene, where he is not easily noticed. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, for "caganer" translates from Catalan to English as "defecator", and that is exactly what this little statue is doing - defecating.
The reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:
The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. Thus, he is considered a symbol of prosperity and luck for the coming year.
Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
The exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 18th century. Originally, the Caganer was portrayed as an eastern peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina - a red stocking hat with a black band.
The Catalans have modified this tradition somewhat since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, you can easily find other characters assuming the caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, and other famous people past and present, including Pope John Paul II, Salvador DalÃƒ, prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Princess Letizia and even Osama bin Laden.
The practice is tolerated by the local Catholic church. Caganers are easiest to find before Christmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which has tables and tables of caganers. Caganers have even been featured in art exhibits. (Link)
Prisons skew the vote
A startling analysis by Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative found seven upstate New York Senate districts meeting the population requirements only because inmates were included in the count. The Republican Party in New York relies on its large upstate delegation for its majority in the State Senate - and for its political power statewide. New York is not alone. The Prison Policy Initiative's researchers found 21 counties nationally where at least 21 percent of so-called residents lived behind bars.
By counting these nonvoting inmates as residents, the prison counties offend the principle of one person one vote, while siphoning off political power from the home districts to which the inmates will return as soon as they are released. Since inmates are jobless, their presence also allows prison districts to lower their per capita incomes, unfairly increasing their share of federal funds earmarked for the poor. Congress, which has just caught on to this, recently gave the Census Bureau 90 days to file a report on the feasibility of counting inmates at their homes of record rather than in prison. At the same time, a committee overseen by the National Academy of Sciences has been studying the residency issue and is expected to make its final report this spring. But why does the bureau need another study to decide whether it wants to uphold the one-person-one-vote principle? The bureau should get to work immediately on procedures that would allow it to count inmates where they actually live - and get those procedures locked in place by the 2010 census. (Link)