Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Appeals to Orwell -- Attacking the Weak, Flattering the Strong and Evaluating Every Contact on the Basis of Advancement

In "Why I Write" (1946), George Orwell put together a remarkably honest dictum on the topic of his ongoing literary activities.

Writers, after all, have plenty of motivations -- much like actors and circus clowns -- with the upshot, for many, that they want to Do Good. Somehow. And writing is the way they have found to do it.

Let's let Orwell speak for himself:

[After a lengthy and humorous description of his background and how he came to writing, he states his personal (and generalized) motivations...]

  • (i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

  • (ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

  • (iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

  • (iv) Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

  • It's hard to argue with Orwell on those four broad motivational points; every writer I've known has shared them to one degree or another, and these motivations are shared by many other professionals as well. I mention actors and circus clowns in part because of my own long association with such people through the Show Business (one of my previous careers), and by and large, they share many of the same motivations as writers and so many others who seek to have some kind of impact on people.

    Egoism is the main point. Orwell, to his everlasting credit, is fully aware of his own egoism in becoming a writer. Makes no bones about it. His insight that the mass of humanity is not particularly egocentric, selfish or self-obsessed is interesting. From the indications of his writing in this essay and other works, he came to this insight through his contacts with the lower classes of Britain, the servile masses of Burma, and his experiences in Europe between the Wars -- particularly during the Spanish Civil War. "They" -- the unselfish masses -- are not like "us:" The egoists. The self-obsessed. The Writers.

    Further to his credit, Orwell does not judge the unselfish mass of humanity to be lesser than himself and his kind. For his time and his culture, that is amazing.

    But in other works, such as "Notes on Nationalism," he proposes that the British intelligentsia -- of which he is of course a part, though he insisted on his own independence of mind -- is largely captivated with the notion that the Oppressed Peoples of the Empire and the World are actually better than their Betters who rule over them with guns, an iron rod and the lash.

    How is an Empire established and how is it maintained and ruled? There were only ever a handful of British colonial officers ruling over vast seas of Natives around the globe, and how it was done is of some interest today as American and British Ruling Class interests conspire to put Our Brown Brothers under the gun, the iron rod and the lash once again in a sort of cracked reimposition of the Empire in those areas where the Lessons of Democracy obviously didn't take.

    How could a handful of British soldiers and colonial officers have managed it?

    Given that the reimposition is being handled by relatively even fewer Americans and Britons -- leaving out the other nations' few and proud -- than the deed was first done, we may wish to reflect on how it was managed to begin with and that may differ from the way it is being done now.

    Attacks on the weak was one of the most obvious means the Empire was established and maintained. Flattery of the strong didn't hurt. And evaluating every contact in the field of interest on the basis of how it could be used to advance the aims of the Companies and the Crown was fundamental.

    We see much the same going on now in the attacks launched against the weakest states and peoples: Iraq and Afghanistan most prominently, but including Somalia and the few enclaves of the Palestinians and other Lesser Peoples of the Middle East. Probing for weaknesses in the Other is ongoing, and more and more states and peoples will be added to the list of territories to conquer as time goes by. Iran, of course, is in the gunsights as we speak, and there will be more weak and weakened states to be gathered in to the New Empire.

    Flattery of the strong was one of the keys to British success in building its Empire in the 19th Century. While weak Native states and tribes would be attacked brutally and mercilessly, strong ones would be flattered and persuaded with gifts and the preservation of status, revenues and control. By this means, loyalty was purchased or otherwise obtained. Thus, for example, India could be ruled effectively through Native agents, simply by convincing a sufficient number of Native princes to submit to the Crown and be rewarded. It worked well enough so long as the Natives did not rebel, but as is the way of these people, rebellion was commonplace, and each one became harder and harder to suppress.

    Finally, as Britain trolled the earth for new conquests, their agents evaluated every contact they made with the Natives on the basis of how those contacts could be used to advance their aims and ambitions. They became very adept at recognizing who could be used to their advantage, who could be ignored, and who would have to be taken on and defeated.

    All of these factors and more are once again in play as Anglo-American Imperial might asserts itself.

    Yet the lesson from the failures of the British Empire was never really learned either in Westminster or in DC. No, in those realms, the Empire was a success, and withdrawal from Imperial control was only made necessary by other events. For example, the two world wars.

    Just look at India today if you need an example of the success of the Empire. It is free, self-governing, democratic and an economic powerhouse. Any former colonial officer would say it is so because of the example of the British. Had India not been put under the Crown, think what a mess and what a failed state -- or states -- it would be today.

    So God Bless the Queen, and don't you forget it.

    But the Imperial Road is the wrong road according to Orwell. The road of liberation and Democratic Socialism is the right road.

    How you get from one to the other is the problem.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010

    On Appeals to Orwell -- UpSide Down, InSide Out, Round and Round

    Nineteen Eighty Four is a dystopian allegory that clearly illustrates Orwell's distaste for totalitarianism. It's a cartoon, in many ways. Thus, it is ever popular.

    It helps the continuing popularity of the work that at least some of what Orwell thought might be in store for the future of Britain in a post apocalyptic dystopian wasteland actually has come to pass, particularly the constant intrusive state apparatus to spy on the populace. While civil liberties extremists in the United States decry the intrusiveness of post 9/11 "security" measures, the United States government is a piker compared to that of Britain.

    The protagonist of Nineteen Eighty Four is Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party and a functionary in the Ministry of Truth. The Inner Party is where decisions are made -- for the Good of All, of course -- whereas, outside the party structure altogether, indeed seemingly outside the very conception of humanity itself, are the mass of Proles whose simple, stupid lives don't matter a bit and hardly enter into the consciousness of the Party membership.

    Periodic and seemingly random rocket bombs are exploded in the Prole sectors to suppress the constant Rebellion, and to thin the herd of inconsequentials.

    All is well, all is as it should be. Big Brother is watching you.

    Winston Smith takes a stroll in the Prole sector outside the Ministry of Truth and he makes discoveries. The Proles have lives, simple though they may be, and they live with emotions, with love, with rivalries, and even with laughter, all punishable offenses for Party members, Inside or Out.

    The Prole world is a world turned upside down where nothing is as it is supposed to be. And yet something much deeper than the vapid technocracy of the Party endures among the Proles, a connection with real humanity which the Party has lost.

    Outer Party members can aspire to become Inner Party members, but that is about it. Otherwise, their lives are constricted and narrowed to mere rote and repetition of nonsense and deception and chastity. For the Good of All, of course.

    Glenn has made much of his insight that the real political division in this country is not between left and right but between inside and outside. So far as I know, he hasn't really developed that idea very much, but it is a fairly common understanding in the upper reaches of the A-List Lefty Blogosphere. The adepts have figured out that the left/right political dichotomy is phony, and they want everyone to know. Of course, at the same time, the left/right dichotomy is useful. So it is maintained. But it is phony.

    Nevertheless in the insider/outsider world view, the Insiders make the decisions, the Outsiders try to penetrate the seals around the Insiders by finding out about and revealing their secrets. Exactly what this is supposed to accomplish, we never quite hear. But from appearances, the goal of tossing these grenades of "secrets revealed" from the Outside is to get inside the gate -- as Markos had it long ago -- and from Inside... do what?

    Become a Player. Become and Inner Party member and thus participate in the decision making of the Inner Party and direct the actions of those Outside.

    The act of Real Revolution is that which unmasks the Truth of the Inner Party.

    Thus, someone like Julian Assange is hailed the hero for acquiring and distributing various "secrets" of the Inner Party, and the Inner Party in turn makes Julian into a cartoon character like Emmanuel Goldstein. In other words, it is a mutually rewarding enterprise. Julian gets the attention -- and apparently money -- he craves, and the State and/or the Party gets an Enemy to hound and denounce. No real secrets are ever revealed, or at least none that would seriously damage the Party and its apparat, and yet the semblance of Revolution is maintained.

    But there is no Revolution. It's all a show.

    Why would one believe that Unmasking the Truth of the Inner Party would result in anything beyond a momentary shrug among the masses? Knowing the Secrets of the Nomenklatura is to be privy to gossip, and what's the point of that?

    Knowing the Secrets led to the impeachments of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, but did those acts result in a freer, fairer and more open government today? Hardly.

    To what object do members of the Ruling Classes ever contend among themselves? And make no mistake, Inner and Outer Party are both part of the Ruling Class. They don't struggle on the Proles' behalf.

    No, it is a struggle for Power, Influence, and Status, within the Ruling Class, on behalf of no one outside it.

    And when those outside the Ruling Class recognize the System itself is the problem, the question of who is operating the levers of Power at any given time is of marginal interest at best. If the System is the problem and the System is to endure no matter who is in charge of it -- the situation we face today quite clearly -- then the only real interest in it we might have is to ensure that the least insane operators are at the controls, if we have any choice in the matter at all.

    Orwell seemed to understand this state of affairs thoroughly.

    Change, if it is to come at all, has to come from Outside, not from one faction on the Inside contending with another.

    Monday, June 28, 2010

    Momentary Diversion -- On the "Journolist" Thing (Now With UPDATE!)

    Every few years, there's a big mea and a culpa or two on the "lefty" blogs over something that's been going on in the background -- something that many readers suspect but can never quite put their fingers on.

    It's not just "background," it's a backchannel, a semi-private message system, email list, whatever you want to call it, by which "A List" lefty bloggers stay in touch with one another, batting around potential posts, discussing among themselves what's important and what's not, whom to skewer and whom to celebrate, and so on. Admission is by invitation only, and invitation is extended with a certain amount of judicious care. Wouldn't want the riff raff to sully the air, as it were.

    "Journolist" was a backchannel that Ezra Klein came up with in 2007, in which he invited and managed to assemble a pretty good cross-section of "liberal" journalists and "new media" to chat among themselves in semi-privacy.

    Readers had no idea that this thing existed, but it started having an immediate impact on the "progressive" blogosphere -- because it was so insidery -- and Ezra was suddenly an Oracle. His name was everywhere, usually stated this way: "Ezra says..." A twenty-something snot-nosed kid out of nowhere all of a sudden has this position of complete and utter knowledge of all things, especially what's important.

    And what's not.

    Readers did wonder, and many challenged "Ezra says..." They got no satisfaction whatever from the "A List" bloggers -- who defended Ezra passionately, denied he was being treated like an Oracle, and for the most part explained nothing about what was going on in the backchannel. Finally somebody -- I don't remember who just now -- did mention that Ezra had put together "Journolist," and it was an important means for bloggers and journalists to communicate with one another out of the hustle and bustle of day to day deadlines and such.

    Though no one would admit it, that explained Ezra's sudden position within the firmament of sources and resources. Over time, it became clear that Ezra was a tool of the Powers That Be and that his primary objective was his personal advancement, which he managed quite well all in all. Salacious rumors circulated about him. Some people decided he really got where he is because he is "cute." If anyone had actually seen him and heard him speak they might think otherwise, but he does photograph well.

    And so. Ezra has pulled the plug on Journolist due to a breech in security last week that led to the firing of David Weigel by the Washington Post (Ezra's employer as well.) Apparently some of the "private" emails on the list were published by someone and scandal ensued. Exactly what it was all about, I don't know. It's of little concern to me in the vast, eternal scheme, and I am not connected with any of the backchannel lists which serve as information clearinghouses for the Big Blogs.

    But over the weekend, David Dayen posted a very strange mea and culpa at FDL mentioning his association with Journolist, and others have mentioned it, including Glenn Greenwald. Exactly what was going on and what was said and what the scandal was is never made clear. The defenses of these backchannels is always the same: it's not that important, everyone emails everyone else, it's not a conspiracy, we don't get together and collude to cover this and not cover that, there are many opinions, what's wrong with people communicating with one another, everybody does it, it's not that big a deal. Really.

    Every time, it goes the same way.

    Most of the time, readers have no idea what's being yabbered about. Not only are the meas and culpas very insidery, the denials ring hollow.

    All we really need to derive from these periodic events is that major proprietors in the alternative media do keep in relatively close touch with one another outside the view of you and me; they do sort wheat from chaff in these communications, they do discuss and from time to time set priority stories to cover, and they do -- sometimes -- get tips and "secrets" through their various backchannels which they then blog about.


    UPDATE: Andrew Breitbart announces a bounty of $100,000 to anyone who will provide him with the complete Journolist Archive. He has the intention of Destroying the Left with this acquisition.

    What fools we mortals be.

    On Appeals to Orwell -- furthermore II

    While there's a significant body of work by George Orwell to select from, two works in particular -- his short novel 1984 (published in 1949) and his long essay, "Notes on Nationalism" (published in 1945) -- have become the clearest statements of Orwell's socio-political point of view and philosophy.

    The video above is a 1954 BBC version of Nineteen Eighty Four. Its early date and thoroughly British provenance helps us to understand where Orwell was coming from with his deeply cynical dystopian vision of the future.

    Of course his vision of the future is based in part on his own experience as a propaganda worker at the BBC during World War II, a position he left -- in disgust -- in 1943 during the height of the War.

    The media was fully engaged in propaganda activities during World War II, in Britain and everywhere else. This was no mystery. Everyone knew it was the case, and most everyone agreed it was necessary for Home Front Morale.

    Those who, like Orwell, conducted propaganda activities may have had reservations about what they were doing, but most, certainly, felt it was their patriotic duty to put the best spin (a word that wasn't used then) on the events of the day -- even if that meant falsifying the information.

    Looking back on news from WWII these days, it's fairly easy to identify the propaganda elements. And yet strangely, the news -- despite the propaganda -- has a ring of truth to it that today's news often lacks. There may have been a "positive" thrust to every story of the War and the Home Front, and yet, the truth was often right there, told honestly, as well. Quite different from the constant and overt falsity of so much of today's news, particularly if it originates in the military. They simply lie today, always, even when they don't have to. During World War II, they would sometimes lie, to be sure, but most often they would more simply embellish or reach conclusions not necessarily justified by the facts, while -- surprisingly often -- providing the facts. Or, seemingly as often, they would not tell the public some particularly appalling story of some wartime event at all.

    Even that level of propaganda was too much for Orwell, in part, it seems, because it wasn't being very well done. The Ministry of Truth -- BBC -- was being run by hacks and time servers. How could one expect any originality or consistency under the circumstances?

    In Nineteen Eighty Four the Ministry of Truth is being run by timeservers and hacks who really believe themselves to be doing the equivalent of God's Work, and only Winston Smith -- for reasons he himself cannot comprehend -- disagrees.

    I could relate.

    How is it that one sees -- and knows -- what cannot be?

    Yes. Well. That is always the difficult thing, isn't it?

    Worse, what do you do about it?

    This was Orwell's problem living in the material world, and it was WinSmith's problem living in his fictional world of the Future.

    It's a world that is Britain, most assuredly, but as if it had been absorbed by a Soviet, more or less as if it were ruled by a Stalin with technology. It is not a pretty picture, but as Orwell conceives it, it's rather simple. Oceania, the encompassing hemispheric "nation" that England is now a part of is ruled by The Party, headed by Big Brother -- who may not actually exist. It doesn't matter. He is symbolically present always and watches over all. From him (and the Party) comes all that is Good, to him is given all social love and respect. Simple. Nothing like that occurs now, nor did it occur in Western society when Orwell was alive, and despite the Stalin's despotism and totalitarianism in the Soviet Union, nothing quite like this complete Leader Worship and abandonment of reality took place in the Soviet Union, either. Mindless loyalty was inculcated to be sure, but (at least from my interviews with former Soviet citizens who lived during Stalin's time), it was never completely achieved. It wasn't just a matter of dissent and disbelief, it was the nature of Russian society and the Russian people not to accept without question that which they were being told, or rather to accept it, with the understanding that it probably wasn't true. People could see with their own eyes, for example, and if they were being lied to -- as they often were -- they knew it, though they might profess the Party Line and Official Belief. As I was told by so many former Soviet citizens, "Nobody really believed the lies, and eventually nobody believed anything."

    It makes it very hard for some of these people to believe Government in this country, too. They assume they are being lied to. Very often they're right.

    The character of Emmanuel Goldstein -- the Arch Rebel of 1984, and the central figure in the universal Oceania practice of the Two Minute Hate -- is often said to be based on Leon Trotsky, and the actor playing the role in the BBC video above is doing an imitation of Trotsky in newsreels that I've seen of him before his murder in Mexico City by Stalinist agents in 1940. Indeed, Trotsky's point was that Stalin had stolen and ruined the Revolution (much as Goldstein accuses Big Brother), and it is by restoring the Revolution that peace and freedom can be achieved. The response, of course, to this heresy is the famous chants of "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength."

    It's said that in Moscow during the 1930's there were electric signs scattered around the city with the motto: "2 + 2 = 5" which made sense to Soviet citizens, though outsiders might be perplexed, and someone like Orwell might use reports of such things to come up with his notions of NewSpeak. But when you understand that the signs were exhortations to the people to complete the objectives of the Five Year Plan in four years, you can easily see where the apparent false arithmetic comes from, and suddenly it isn't NewSpeak at all and it isn't even false. At least not in that case.

    Not that there weren't plenty of examples of the twisting of language for political objectives, and not just in the Soviet Union or Mussolini's Italy or in Nazi Germany. The practice was nigh [o]unto universal.

    And given the consistency of our own Storm Troopers to lie or distort everything that happens with the full complicity of the embedded American media, it's a practice that continues unabated.

    Orwell's "IngSoc," English Socialism, was largely based on a very jaundiced view of Stalinist totalitarianism. Since English Socialism as practiced by the Labour Party (which was in power when Orwell wrote 1984) was never even remotely like Stalinist totalitarianism, and in fact no European Socialist party was even remotely like Stalinism, and Orwell himself was a strong believer in Democratic Socialism, the idea that Orwell was somehow indicating his opposition to Socialism and his fondness for rightist Libertarianism in his works is just absurd.

    He is against totalitarianism. He is for Democratic Socialism. In his own words:

    "The Spanish War and other events in 1936–37, turned the scale. Thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written directly or indirectly against totalitarianism and for Democratic Socialism as I understand it." -- from "Why I Write," 1946

    It literally cannot be said more clearly and directly than that, yet for generations now, certain right wing and libertarian "thinkers" have distorted his anti-totalitarianism into some crackpot version of right wing hooliganism.

    Greenwald is forever whining that his arguments are misconstrued and his plain statements are consistently misunderstood. And yet here's a case where a prominent 20th Century writer's plain words and concepts are still being shot down the Memory Hole -- or are being twisted and re-worked by historical revisionists, modern day MiniTrue drones and hacks -- to fit a preconception of what Orwell "meant."

    That it would be done during the McCarthy Era is one thing; that it is still being done is truly grotesque.

    On Appeals to Orwell -- furthermore

    I think it is fair to assert that George Orwell (né Eric Blair) was one of the strongest influences on English-speaking anti-Establishmentarians and contrarians in the 20th Century. His influence became even more profound after his death in 1950, growing significantly the closer we came to the iconic year of 1984, and then growing still more, it seems, the farther beyond that year global affairs continued.

    To read him now is to delve into a world view that is in many respects quaint and anachronistic, in other respects frighteningly prescient.

    Yes, the world today is the direct descendant of the world Orwell knew and wrote about so extensively between the world wars, during World War II, and for a few years in its aftermath. The physical, social, economic, psychological, artistic, technological, philosophical and political shocks and upheavals of the era seem to be neverending in retrospect. It was a world turned upside down over and over and over again, with hundreds of millions put to the screws by the various nationalist, imperialist and liberationist ideals, goals, and objectives of the ruling classes and multiple tens of millions sent to their graves by wars and suffering or to the ash pits of anonymous extermination in the various genocides of the era.

    Looking backwards, it's amazing anyone had anything but a dystopian view of the first half of the 20th Century, and more amazing still that anyone could keep their sanity through the rest of the century.

    And yet here we are. To yak about it, to yak about some of the leading lights of the times, and to consider what went wrong, what went right, and where to go from here.

    The recent G8/G20 meeting in Toronto -- for good and ill -- is an example of the direct globalist development that can trace its origins to governmental reaction to the horrors unleashed during the first half of the 20th Century by the Powers That Be (whatever and whomever they might have been) acting out of, let's say, fervor for their own nationalist interests in contrast to all other interests.

    The periodic "G" summits, and the commonalities of the ruling classes world wide that are found and developed within the context of these social and political fora, are the chief characteristic of elite rule today, in strong contrast to the way these things were not done in Orwell's time. The constancy of struggles -- the constancy of nationalist struggles between more-or-less giant polities and overweening political philosophies that characterized Orwell's time simply don't have a parallel today, in part because the global ruling elites have found far more common purpose with one another than they have found benefit in continuing ancient rivalries pitting peoples against peoples.

    I for one would like to think that Orwell's influence was at least as strong on the ruling classes as it was on the Proles who took to his works and his cynical, almost hopeless, voice so strongly, especially after World War II.

    Eric Blair was born in 1903 in British India where his father was an Imperial functionary (in the Opium Department wouldn't you know); his mother had grown up in Burma where her French father had... business... interests. Yes.

    Blair was removed from India in 1904 by his mother who returned with him to Britain while his father stayed on in Imperial service for the British Raj in India.

    (As a side note, and not to make too much of it, my father was born in the same era as Blair, into the American counterpart of Blair's "lower-upper-middle-class," and though there was no counterpart to the Imperial Service and the British Raj for most Americans to aspire or gravitate to, there were plenty of class and generational commonalities of interest and focus nevertheless.)

    Despite Blair's class and the Imperial Service of his father, the family was not wealthy enough to send him to public school or university without scholarships. Ultimately, he went to Eton, but not to university; instead, he joined the Imperial Indian Police (for service in Burma, where his grandmother still lived.) He was in Burma from 1922 to 1927, returning to England after he contracted Dengue fever. He left the Imperial Service upon his return to his home in Britain.

    To put it charitably, he was disgusted with the British Raj and the monumental levels of oppression of the Natives that was absolutely necessary to maintain the British Lords of the Empire in the style, comfort and convenience to which they were so thoroughly accustomed. He hated what he had to do as a representative of the Authority of that Empire, he hated what it did to the British people, and most of all, he hated what it did to the servile masses of Burma and the Empire in general.

    It was a disgust widely shared among the British intelligentsia which Blair/Orwell soon joined as a writer -- with a specific eye on the condition and plight of the Lower Orders, a long and storied genre of British literature.

    I've spent a little time on Orwell's background because his perspectives and insights cannot be divorced from his nationality, class and experience, and his predictions, prescriptions and conclusions grow out of what he knew. That's the fundamental truth of who he was, what he wrote about, and how he came to understand the Ways of the World the way he did.

    Specifics next time...

    Sunday, June 27, 2010

    Travel Notes

    Have arrived back in California but will be spending the rest of the evening socializing. Much to catch up on. It is... recompression time.

    Saturday, June 26, 2010

    On Appeals to Orwell

    I haven't read Animal Farm or 1984 since high school, and I first encountered George Orwell's "Notes on Nationalism" in college. It was a long time ago.

    I've only recently re-read "Notes on Nationalism" due to the embroglio over at Glenn's Place on the issue of "tribalism" -- which Glenn and others seem to believe is the same as Orwell's description of Nationalism. Which I dispute. Vigorously.

    In fact, when I was in college, "Notes on Nationalism" was a powerful document that justified in my mind -- and the minds of many of my peers -- our fierce anti-war, anti-draft, anti-military, anti-authority and anti-establishment rage. After all, we were not like those who were so succeptible to the nationalist manipulations that underpinned the rulers who made the wars that destroyed the people at home and abroad.

    Not us. We were better than that.

    And at the time, I am reminded, I was a fierce individualist as well, for a time rebelling against practically everything and everyone, occasionally making more than a spectacle of my ostensibly independent self.

    I think "notorious" is probably the correct word to describe my behavior in those days.

    "Outrageous!" according to the straights and the fuddy-duddies.

    "Provocative," I was deemed more than once.

    "Hilarious!" from time to time.

    "Get a job! Idiot!" well, there alway has to be a nay-sayer.

    But that was then. Now, things are much calmer, quieter, far more conservative -- at least in the way I live my life. I never ceased fighting the straightjacket of middle class and Middle American expectations though, and I never entirely fit in to any large institutional environment, though I've been employed by or associated with -- or fought -- many of them.

    When I read Orwell back in the day, and when I do now, I saw and see echoes of my own beliefs and perspectives. "How did he know?" Of course, he didn't. He was his own man who saw things the way he did, shared it as well as he could.

    He's called a Socialist Libertarian, and which aspect of his politics you glom on to depends on your own special needs and desires. The combination of the two, however, is dissonant.

    Socialism has taken a bad rap during the last generation, and it is widely considered the equivalent of Stalinism. On the other hand, libertarianism remains the same puerile nonsense and self-indulgence it's always been, but many, many libertarian economic and social ideals have become standard practice (while others, such as liberalized drug laws, have not.)

    But Orwell's libertarianism was not the puerile nonsense that is bruited about today. It was, simply, personal liberty from overweening state control. Not license or self-indulgence, but privacy and autonomy. In other words, freedom to withdraw from the sociopolitical systems and be left alone.

    That's quite a different thing than the common libertarian approach of constantly trying to impose one's own self-obsession on everyone else. As I have often put it, and will do so again, the Libertarian Motto is: "I demand the Liberty to impose My Authority on You."

    The freedom to withdraw and be left alone that Orwell valued is nothing like that.

    And the fact that he also admired Socialist values of common interest, purpose, and service -- just not the forced imposition of them -- is often ignored in the hagiographies of the libertarian cultists who see him as an accurate Foreshadower of the Future, and thus a Great Man. And a Libertarian.

    So what I will try to do in future posts is explore some of the aspects of Orwell that have become distorted, explore some of his Future Vision, and I'll try to explore alternatives.

    Friday, June 25, 2010

    On the Road Again

    Heading back to California either today or tomorrow. Through Arizona again, this time without reservation; of course I expect to find border guards at all the highway entrances and exits of Arizona before too long, as the frenzy there reaches a peak of secessionist fever. Once on that path, it is very hard to retreat. And Arizona seems intent to defy and ultimately to leave the Union. At some point, I'll try to write more fully on how I see these things devolving over time, but not just now.

    New Mexico, by contrast, has been almost preternaturally calm. Unfortunately, I injured myself the second day I was here, and so could not complete all the tasks I had in mind to accomplish this trip. I was moving a large branch that had fallen from a tree and as I did, the branchlet I was holding on to broke off and I hit myself in the face. Hard. The blood was abundant, the swelling and bruising was ugly, and while I more or less recovered within a day or so, my head was ringing and I have suffered from attacks of migraine and vertigo through the rest of my time here.

    So I spent a lot more time fooling around on the Interwebs than I ordinarily would on one of my excursions to New Mexico. And yesterday, that included an astonishing discussion at Glenn's Place on the issue of Tribalism -- and Glenn's consistent use of the term as a convenient and lazy slur of people he politically opposes.

    That was my approach anyway.

    I asserted that his lazy slur was ignorant and offensive, citing my own long history within a tribal context (ie: "adopted" within a Native American family which has extensive and deep-seated clan and tribal connections that I won't go into here, except to say that the clan and the tribe/nation are relatively well-known both within and without Indian Country.)

    The response was fascinating to say the least, but not altogether unexpected. Glenn uses "tribal" and "tribalism" as a slur, whereas tribal peoples in my experience celebrate and honor their tribal societies and cultures. Only someone deeply ignorant of experiential tribalism would even think of using the term as a slur, which I pointed out many times. Those who responded tended to dismiss the points I was raising, to question my motives, to attack me with ad hominem namecalling, and to defend Glenn's slurs by simply redefining his denunciations of others as "not" what they clearly were.

    I also pointed out how "tribalism" as a slur is a dogwhistle in libertarian circles by which the libertarian tribe recognizes its own and identifies recruits. I honestly expected that point to raise far more hackles than it did. Since it is a dogwhistle grounded in overt racism, I pointed that out, too. Neither point was really disputed at all.

    What was fiercely disputed was the notion that using "tribalism" as a slur was in any way inappropriate, and conversely that Glenn was actually doing that.

    And of course my notion that the issue mattered at all was disputed vigorously.

    What struck me was the utter lack of self-awareness, what I call "irony impairment," among those who were participating in the discussion. It didn't, and I'm convinced it couldn't, occur to most of them that they were actually modeling many of the behaviors and attitudes toward the issue I was trying to bring into consciousness. Most of those who responded at all didn't have anything to say about the issue; they were intent on denouncing me, just as Glenn denounces others, for simply raising the topic.

    There were exceptions to be sure, jojo_jojo being the one I felt was most insightful, though I'm not sure I agree with all the points s/he made. In fact, I'm pretty sure I don't. But the main point, as I saw it, was that we are all often unconscious of the greater context of our words and actions, and none of us necessarily think them through. Thus, someone like Glenn could unthinkingly use "tribalism" as a slur without imagining he was doing so, and I could confront him over it without necessarily recognizing that he had no such intent.

    It's the conflation of intentional and structural bias; and I was -- perhaps -- guilty, just as Glenn was -- perhaps -- guilty of conflation of "mindlessness" with "tribalism." Valuable insight. I appreciated it and appreciate it now. We are often unconscious of the waters we swim in.

    Too true.

    George Orwell was -- I thought grossly inappropriately -- cited as an authority in Glenn's defense, and it was Glenn's citation of Orwell's "Notes on Nationalism" and his extension of "nationalism" as described by Orwell to "tribalism" as conceived by Glenn in his Update III yesterday, that triggered my objection. Glenn has been doing this for years, and I stayed silent about it up till yesterday. But it is simply a gross distortion of Orwell's essay on nationalism to assert that nationalism as described by Orwell and tribalism as it exists in the world are the same thing.

    They are not. They are nearly the antitheses of one another. The overweening nationalism that Orwell describes and deplores -- after all, it was responsible for destroying his world twice in his lifetime -- simply cannot arise let alone persist in a tribalist context. The nationalism he rightly deplores is a factor of de-tribalized individualism seeking some social/cultural "meaning."

    Tribalism is the specific remedy to the nationalism Orwell deplores, but Glenn and many of his followers see them as the same thing. That, to me, is so deep in ignorance and error it almost beggars belief.

    It's clear to me that they do not understand Orwell at all. And I really wonder how that came about. It is something I intend to look into more fully when I get the time. But right now, I need to take care of packing and get ready to shut down the house.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    A Note on the Oil

    Sorry, no pictures (hard to post them while on dial-up).

    A correspondent reminds me of her flight from Houston to Tampa a couple of weeks ago. The sight below startled her. Red, orange, and brown loops, fringes, and slicks of oil were, she said, everywhere. She was shocked at the extent of the oil on the water, for there was no indication in any of the news reports she'd seen that oil covered so much of the water.

    She said when she first saw it, she wasn't sure what it was. She hadn't flown over the Gulf in many years, and her memory was that the water tended to be greenish-gray. Her view below showed water that was distinctly brown with reddish orange, bloody looking fringes. She said it extended from not far outside Houston -- maybe half an hour/forty minutes flight time -- to less than half an hour outside Tampa. Basically most of the northern part of the Gulf.

    She was heartbroken.

    Saturday, June 19, 2010

    Repurpose, Reuse, Recycle

    Basic, right?

    Repurpose, reuse, recycle is a fundamental mantra, or at least I thought it was. Now with all the accelerating horrors of overconsumption once again coming to the fore, I wonder.

    Doesn't everybody already repurpose, reuse, recycle? Doesn't everybody make things last, make do, make the best of what they've got? I guess not.

    I'm typing this on a ten year old laptop in a 110 year old house in rural New Mexico. I'm on a dial up connection. The phone/answering machine on the desk is one of the few "new" things in this house. The other phones are old. They have dials for cripes sake.

    I'm listening to a live broadcast of a folk music festival in Albuquerque on a "new" radio/CD player sitting on top of a stack of old books in this room. Other "new" things in this house include a teevee in the living room (no reception though, because we're not connected to cable or satellite, and there is no broadcast teevee in this area, so we use it to watch videotapes -- yes, we have many of them, old, old, old -- and DVDs). A new heater was installed when the house was renovated. New double pane windows were installed then, too, for energy savings. A new stove was installed in the kitchen. I bought a new microwave when we moved in. The ceiling fans were installed when the house was renovated. I bought a futon new before we brought any beds here. Apart from food and supplies and some utensils, that's about all there is in this house that is "new."

    Every other stick of furniture is old, some very old, and none of it was purchased new by us. All the rugs are old, none purchased new by us. The lawnmower is old. I did buy a new cord for it.

    We reuse or recycle all our paper/cardboard, cans, bottles, plastics. Kitchen waste is composted into the -- eventual -- garden. It's just what you do. We do what laundry we need to do by hand because we don't have laundry appliances here. Not yet. I've found old doors and other old items on the property and I've reinstalled them or reused them where I can rather than buying new, or even buying used.

    The van in the driveway is creeping up on fifteen years old, creeping up on 250,000 miles. Of course it does take some maintenance to keep it going, and it isn't the most thrifty possible vehicle I could drive, but it gets better mileage than the cash for clunkers program required for a trade in rebate.

    It just seems perfectly normal to make things last as long as possible and to buy new only what is necessary.

    Repurpose, reuse, recycle.

    But apparently Americans are still somewhat leery of such basic formulae.

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Revenge is a Bad Thing

    Funny Pictures

    I've made the point repeatedly that the Halter/Lincoln Primary Thing was all about Revenge.

    Blanche Lincoln betrayed certain interests and constituencies and in order to teach her a lesson, she was primaried by Arkansas Lt Governor with the support of a number of online "progressive" communities and a number of labor unions acting in concert against the White House and the so-called Democratic Establishment.

    Blanche's principal betrayal was to back out of support for the "public option" in the health care insurance reform. But there were many others over the years. She is, after all, a reliable tool of corporate interest on Capitol Hill, as are most of her colleagues.

    But Bill Halter, whose name will be forgotten by the end of the year, was no progressive -- as the good people of Arkansas make plain. He was slightly less overtly toolish than Blanche, something that undoubtedly would have been corrected shortly after his election to the Senate if such a thing were possible, but it wasn't.

    Neither Blanche nor Halter are likely winners in the General Election. Some reactionary Republican by the name of John Boozman is almost certain to win, no matter who the Dems put up for the seat.

    And the Dems chose Blanche.

    But the coalition of forces aligned against her got their coup because she was made to Pay the Price in the Primary, and she's Not Going To Win in the Fall. This is idiocy.

    Meanwhile, the same attitude of punishment and revenge is informing the Israeli attitude toward the Gaza. Gaza is being punished by Israel to teach its residents a lesson for electing Hamas; betrayal. The situation is far more horrible between Israel and Gaza, but the motivation is identical.

    And that's why revenge is a bad thing.

    It leads to the kind of suffering and bloodshed we see in the Middle East and we have been seeing there for decades.

    Do not practice the politics of revenge. To do so puts you on a cycle of revenge that is very hard to get off of. Just ask anyone who's been through it recently.

    How about asking the various populations of the Former Yugoslavia. Why not ask Punjabis. Ask the populations being subjected to the reimposition of Anglo-American Empire out of a thirst for revenge for things they haven't even done. Ask Native Americans about cycles of revenge. Ask the Irish.

    Revenge is a bloodthirsty goddess.

    Revenge is a bad thing.

    Tribalism is a Good Thing

    Image courtesy of First People.US They've got thousands of pictures, an abundance of information. An incredible resource. Go look!

    I'm in New Mexico. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is Indian Country. Tribal peoples, in other words. Rather adaptable and successful ones, all in all.

    Up and down the Rio Grande, there are more than a dozen active pueblos, and there are ruins of many more on the river and elsewhere throughout New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Northern Mexico. Zunis are over on the West, and, a little further west in Arizona, the Hopi -- also a pueblo people -- live surrounded by the Navajo, who are not a pueblo people. Of course the other major non-pueblo tribe in New Mexico is the Apaches.

    Human history in New Mexico goes back about as far as human history can be traced in North America, the Clovis site having some of the earliest evidence found yet. Elaborate Indian cultural centers (one hesitates to call them "cities" because that's not really what they are) have arisen and and have been abandoned over the centuries.

    Today's pueblo peoples are quite certain that they are the direct descendants of those who built the astonishing structures in Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelley and elsewhere. There is really no reason to doubt them, while there may be reason to doubt the tales the latecomer Navajo tell that they were enslaved and were forced to build the structures scattered in ruins around New Mexico. The pueblo peoples laugh. The Navajos accuse the ancestors of the pueblo peoples of cannibalism. Yes, well. That's as may be.

    The social structure of all these peoples and their ancestors is tribal, and for them it works very well. Strong kinship ties, strong rivalries, strong social bonds, weak political ones.

    In 1540, then again in 1598, and yet again in 1692, Spaniards invaded the native world of New Mexico, and with considerable violent persuasion -- the stories of which are told with a passion today as if the events occured yesterday -- they took physical control of the land, planted their own colonists, and exploited the labor (and the souls) of the Indians. The Spanish entrada and reconquista was never without resistance, most famously the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 that forced the Spanish out of New Mexico for the next 12 years, but in the bye and bye, the Indians and the Spanish came to an uneasy truce and accommodation with one another that was shattered by the American conquest of the Southwest in 1846-48. In fact, the American conquest of New Mexico was marked a singular event. The Spanish and Indians joined together to resist the imposition of American authority, a resistance that led to the death of the American governor and a number of other Anglos in Santa Fe Taos and elsewhere. American troops then laid siege to the Taos Pueblo where many of the rebels from other areas had retreated. Much of the pueblo was destroyed, and reports are that as many as 500 (but more probably 150-250) people, men, women, and children, were slaughtered by the troops as they tried to escape. Many Indians [and Beaners] were rounded up in other areas and some were summarily executed. Others were held for "trial" and hanged by the dozen in the Santa Fe Taos Plaza and elsewhere.

    Thus began the American occupation of New Mexico.

    As I say, these events are as yesterday to many of the peoples of New Mexico. One thing about a tribal society is that the past is never entirely absent from consciousness. It is living history. In some ways all the peoples of New Mexico share this tribal sense of history and the present, though in the eyes of the Indians, both the Spanish and the Anglos are highly defective in basic social concepts. It's taken the Indians hundreds of years to begin to bring the Spanish around to proper social understanding. The Anglos often appear to be hopless, though bless their hearts, some of them try to adapt.

    I'm sure my history of New Mexico is in error in many respects and is defective in other ways, but my point is simple: Tribalism and tribal peoples are alive and well in New Mexico, and the fact that they are is a benefit to everyone.

    In other words, there's nothing wrong with tribalism. In fact, it's a profoundly good thing in many respects.

    Yet there are those, especially of a Libertarian bent, who like to level the accusation of "Tribalism" on others as a means of disparaging their social/political/economic activities.

    As if somehow Tribalism is defective, unevolved, primitive, and usless in the Modern World, and the Higher Development of Libertarianism is by far superior. Darwinian Evolution and all.

    Of course anti-tribalism is flavored with racism. "Tribal" peoples of the US and the world being of the blacker and browner persuasion by and large, though often the accusation is leveled at race traitor white folks who adopt those icky primitive tribal ways, as if white folks were never and are never "tribal" themselves unless influenced by the "mud people" whose social concepts are a pollution.

    Libertarians deny it, they always do. They will change the subject and accuse their accusers. They are opportunists first and foremost. Since "Tribalism" is used as a dogwhistle by Libertarians to identify one another and express their solidarity against the tribal Mud Peoples, and to identify potential recruits to their cult.

    I simply reject notion that there is something wrong with Tribalism. There isn't. It is perfectly normal, a matter of human nature. Tribalists will survive long after the last Advanced Libertarian has breathed his last.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    On the Road Again

    I'm supposed to leave today for New Mexico. I'm dawdling. Not because I don't want to go; I very much do.

    But there is a kind of inner resistance to driving through Arizona again. It creeps me out. Arizona is in the process of secession, and it is ruled by freaks on the loose.

    360 miles through Arizona. The alternate route, through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, is 360 miles longer. Another half-day on the road at least. And I haven't driven that route for decades.

    May have to suck it up though.

    What have we come to?

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Black Ops

    Strange encounter during one of my testy exchanges with Glenn today. It had to do with WikiLeaks, a topic I wrote about on Monday.

    I had responded to muddy thinking's question about a video WikiLeaks has of a massacre in Afghanistan. I pointed out essentially that this was a video that Julian Assange claimed in April would be released "soon," but it has never been released. And I proposed a number of questions I thought journalists should ask Julian about WikiLeaks and the various materials they say they have.

    Strangely enough, Glenn responded to my post to muddy thinking, and he did so in the spirit of the testiness we had had with one another since yesterday, but with what I thought was an odd twist. Comme ça:

    Che Pasa

    [Quoting me to muddy thinking:]
    He kept claiming WikiLeaks was going to release the video of the Afghan murders "soon." They never did.

    Julian needs to be asked what's the hold up.

    [Glenn's response:]

    They haven't yet, but will - there are issues with encryption and verification that take time.

    It is interesting that so much of our propaganda media has been so eager to put out just about any story Julian wants to tell.

    What's "interesting" about it? Are you one of those people who think WikiLeaks is some sort of government-run operation - like they were eager to have that Apache attack seen by the world?

    Besides, wasn't Julian in hiding somewhere in Australia because the Pentagon and the drones were after him? His passport seized?

    His passport has been returned. And it's not Julian who claimed the Pentagon was after him - that was reported by a former NYT reporter who now writes for The Daily Beast, and it was Daniel Ellsberg who speculated that he feared for Julian's safety - but they all probably are controlled by the Pentagon, too.

    Curious to say the least.

    The slothful, dishonest way of spreading innuendo: ominously pronounce things "interesting" and "curious" without ever actually saying anything.

    Now wait, I thought. "Are you one of those people who think WikiLeaks is some sort of government-run operation...?"

    Hold on. Glenn does not read my blog posts here; so far as I can tell, he has not been here any time in the past year. And apart from some casual references, I have not mentioned WikiLeaks at Glenn's Place. He would not have seen my post on the topic yesterday.

    Nor was there anything in my questions about WikiLeaks today that indicated I wondered if it was a black op -- something I have in fact wondered since the first time they made a media splash, but I have only mentioned it here. And it's something any skeptic should wonder.

    I've never seen any evidence that it is, and I certainly have no knowledge that it is. There are just too many "curious" things going on -- from the wall to wall coverage in the propaganda media and the endless loop showing the extermination of the Iraqis in the April "Collateral Murder" tape to the increasingly ludicrous cat and mouse routine Julian revels in to the curious cases of the leaker and the hacker that turned him in. And all those hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables.

    Anyone should be skeptical of this continuing drama, but I don't know what's really going on. Nor, at the time I wrote did I have any idea that there was a whole "WikiLeaks is Black Ops" conspiracy theory subculture. I had no idea that was the case when Glenn responded the way he did.

    I didn't even look into it until after I'd let the question settle: "Are you one of those...?"

    And behold.

    Oh, there's a lot of skepticism and elaborations on theories of conspiracy about WikiLeaks out there that I had no idea existed.

    I'm just now starting to sort through it. And the first source cited is Wayne Madsen Report, a site I do not link and I do not read. I have probably only seen it a couple of times, and the only thing I can recall about it was that it seemed to be a black op itself! Hm. Spy v Spy indeed!

    So they are claiming WikiLeaks is CIA? That's rich.

    I will have to investigate further and report back. This is fascinating.


    Haven't really found much that is useful, but a good deal of speculation is out there, and it seems to center around the notion that Julian, an "ex-hacker", is using WikiLeaks as a way to, let's face it, make money. He would collect "secret" information from anonymous individuals in the field and then sell it to eagerly awaiting news organizations.

    Only they weren't so eager, apparently. So, runs the speculation, he was "flipped." Rather than make him into an Enemy of the State, the spooks turned him into a useful ally. The figure of $2 million came up in one speculative missive. Problem is, he's still trying to raise money. But that's all part of Spookery 101, so we'll let that go.

    Australia, according to one account, is full to bursting with CIA, and it is widely believed there and elsewhere that Julian -- who is WikiLeaks, there is no one else in point of fact -- is a spook.

    Manning seems to be regarded as an impressionable and not very stable young man who was befriended (on the internet?) by Julian; supposedly, there is an extensive email archive between them, but much of it has been scrubbed. Lamo, another ex hacker who turned Manning in to the FBI, is also rather unstable, was arrested for computer hacking, and according to the McClatchy report, he was flipped and is now essentialy a useful tool in Cyberwars. How he related to Julian is not entirely clear, although Lamo and Manning have an extensive online archive with one another, like Manning and Julian are said to have.

    However all of these speculative threads sort out, the theory I kind of like is that WikiLeaks is -- or was -- a "honeypot." I say "was" because there are hints out there that for all intents and purposes, with the arrest of Manning, WikiLeaks started evaporating. Thus Julian's apparent indisposition and disappearance.

    It's all speculation and yarn-spinning, though. Nothing may be as it seems, and the stories being spun are mostly almost certainly figments. There are wheels within wheels in the spook business, so I wouldn't put anything past anyone in this whole affair.

    I highly suspect that the truth, whatever it is, will never be known by the public.


    I haven't linked to any of the information I found. Just Google "WikiLeaks Black Op" and see what pops up. I'm sure there is plenty more.


    Yesterday, the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Canadian citizen Maher Arar who was seized at Kennedy airport by American authorities 2002 and rendered to Syria for interrogation under torture. He was held and tortured for a year, then was released back to Canada. Arar has been trying to gain a remedy in American court for years, but the Obama Administration following the diktat of the Bush/Cheney Regime, fought the Arar petition and were successful.

    Arar has been fully exonerated in Canada, received an apology and a substantial monetary award from the Canadian government, Syria has claimed they could find no evidence of terrorist ties, yet American authorities deny and resist any responsibility or accountability for what happened to Arar.

    By refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court has essentially institutionalized the lawlessness of the executive branch that enabled the seizure and rendition of Arar in the first place. Whatever the Government's policies on the matter of rendition, it doesn't matter, because the court refuses to intervene. "Do what thou wilt," is their motto.

    Congress could conceivably change the law, but why bother when stonewalling is so effective?

    Justice? Not in this country. Won't happen. Can't happen. And Arar is not the only victim, not by an order of magnitude.

    Contrast that with David Cameron's straightforward and abject apology to the People of Britain and Northern Ireland, and to the survivors of the victims of the Bloody Sunday Bogside Massacre by British troops in Derry on January 30, 1972.

    Yes, it's been almost 40 years since the massacre, in which 13 Catholic protestors were shot down in cold blood triggering immense passive and active resistance to British rule and a campaign of mutual bloodshed that went on for decades.

    There was an inquiry immediately after the massacre that essentially whitewashed what happened. Another inquiry was begun in 1998, with a report due in 2009, but because of elections, it was delayed until today, June 15, 2010. Promptly, as it was released, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke in the House of Commons:

    As so many have said: "I never thought I'd live to see the day."


    [Added later: Remains to be seen. The Brits are notorious for playing games with lives and emotions, especially of the Irish, but by no means exclusively so. And speaking of which, I was discussing Cameron's apology yesterday, and for the life of me, I could not help becoming verklempt over the whole thing. It was a surprising -- and completely spontaneous -- reaction to... what? Cameron's acknowledgment of British wrongdoing in Ireland? Memories of what happened so long ago? Knowledge of the suffering and bloodshed that followed on the Massacre? Or is it broader than that? As discussion continued, the pervasiveness of massacre as a means of Statecraft came into focus. The Bogside Massacre was just one small incident though it led to many others in the ongoing rounds of vengeance. Once on the cycle of revenge, it is very -- VERY -- hard to get off it. The best plan is not to start down that path. We are living in the midst of way too much of a vengeance cycle again. And ultimately, it was that realization that got to me. I kept saying I hoped that what Cameron did would become a model for so many of those intent on keeping us on this wheel of death. That's all.]

    And still my question remains for the Legalists and Formalists out there:

    Was Justice done in the case of Sir Thomas More?

    To Sit At The Big Table

    As should be clear from my commentary on the Halter/Lincoln Thing here and at Glenn's Place, I'm truly gobsmacked at the level of cynicism and the lack of ethical principles involved in Accountability Now's selection of and support of Lt Governor Bill Halter to primary Corporate-Dem Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas.

    Blanche was primaried as an act of revenge, not to replace her in the Senate with someone better, or even to replace her at all. The purpose of the primary challenge was to "punish" her for her political transgressions against... whom?

    The spin from Glenn and Jane and whatnot is that Blanche transgressed against the People of Arkansas. Perhaps so, but in a Democratic primary, the Democratic voters decide that, and they decided otherwise. But worse, the Arkansas electorate as a whole looks to have decided that they are done with Blanche in any case and they want an even worse Republican, John Boozman, to take her place in the Senate next year.

    If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign. -- Harry S Truman


    But as Glenn's statement about the campaign makes clear (Bowers makes the same points), the primary campaign against Lincoln was an act of revenge for her betrayals. As Bowers put it, "It's payback time."

    The fact that it backfired and Halter was the one defeated is completely glossed over with endless rationalizations. The Victory of Lessons Learned and all that.

    If the lesson learned is that primary challenges should be based on principle and should offer a genuine progressive challenger to the sitting conserva-Dem incumbent, all well and good. If the recruiters and supporters of primary challengers set aside their desire for revenge and concentrate on the need for genuine -- fighting -- progressives in the August Bodies of the House and Senate, even better.

    But are those lessons being learned? There's been no evidence of it. As long as revenge is the operative rationale to primary the ass of an incumbent, it's a fool's game.

    But then... maybe that's the point.

    It's occurred to me that the real goal -- at least for some of the blogospheric lights involved in primarying Blanche's ass -- was to gain a seat at the Big Table.

    To crash the gate, to be Teh Kingmakers, Playahs in the political firmament. And the way to do that in this country is...?

    If you aren't part of the Establishment to begin with and you weren't born to the purple, you have to pass an "audition" process, much like Obama had to, during which you demonstrate your ability to "manage the masses."

    Show you can make them do things they otherwise wouldn't, show you can tease substantial amounts of money out of them, show you can manipulate and direct their efforts and beliefs, etc., etc.

    Demonstrate these and other abilities convincingly and often enough, and more than likely you will be asked to sit at the Big Table, and if you do well there over a period of time, you will become a Fixture, a viable Pundit, the Go-To Guy on the Rabble, Inside the Gate, instead of Outside.

    If that's the real goal, then what Jane and Glenn and Arianna and Markos and Aravosis and some of the others are doing makes sense, even when their unprincipled and cynical political ploys don't.

    They want more than anything to sit at the Big Table and be taken seriously by People Who Matter.

    Ana Marie Cox did it. Jake Tapper went from Salon to ABC to the White House to hosting one of the Big Tables after all.

    It could be that's why so many in the blogosphere are prepared to wait, and urge their readers to wait, literally decades and longer for "progressive change" to occur, and why they almost universally applaud incrementalism and baby steps rather than sudden, sharp changes or developments, even when -- as was the case with Bush/Cheney -- sudden change was actually happening, but in the Neo-Con/Neo-Liberal direction opposite the direction "progressives" insisted was incrementally desirable.

    They're focused on what "actually matters." Which is... ?

    The Big Table.

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    On This Wikileaks Thing -- Spy vs Spy?

    This WikiLeaks Thing is turning in to quite the chase-movie, isn't it?

    It's got everything. Enigmatic Albino Anti-Hero on the lam, now in hiding somewhere in -- presumably -- Australia, his passport seized and drones thought to be seeking him out for liquidation from Above. Governments panicking, acting stupid. An odd-duck leaker cooling his heels in Kuwait awaiting military trial for something, just what isn't clear. Even odder-odd duck who turned in the odd-duck leaker to the FBI, a notorious hacker in his own right.

    It's got it all.

    Myself, I've always wondered whether WikiLeaks is a black op specifically designed to encourage traitors to the Empire to leak bits and pieces of Imperial misfeasance so as to be that much easier to track down and neutralize.

    The cloak and dagger routine engaged in by Julian Assange was the tip off. The sort of over the top drama surrounding the release in April of this year of the video of American gunners exterminating "suspected militants" (oh and some journalists, too) in Baghdad (that happened in 2007) seemed extreme and deliberately hyped up by WikiLeaks and our propaganda machine, the major mass media, over something that is really very common in the "battlespace" -- and has been since "warfighting" began over there, with numerous incidents not much different than the one WikiLeaks documented being splashed all over the YouTubes for years, most of them released by the military propaganda shop itself.

    In other words, the casual extermination of Ragheads is routine, has been since the beginning of conflict Over There and is very well known (and frequently celebrated) in the United States.

    WikiLeaks claimed to have video of a similar incident in Afghanistan that they would release "shortly." They never released it, but Julian got on the teevee constantly claiming it would be released any time now, but it never was. And furthermore, the fact that these incidents go on in Afghanistan, too, has been abundantly documented in numerous YouTube videos currently on show. Julian was not "revealing" a damn thing that wasn't already known, in other words.

    Death From Above is a constant in the ever-expanding Anglo-American Imperial Expeditions. This sort of killing goes on in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and for all we know, many other places as well, constantly. It is not a mystery.

    So the sensational "revelations" by WikiLeaks that it was going on, with the gunning down of the hapless Baghdad Ragheads endlessly looped on the teevee screens of America and the World seemed severely "off" to me.

    This is no revelation, I thought. We know this sort of thing has been going on relentlessly throughout the Anglo-American drive to re-establish Empire. There's no mystery here. This is how operations from Above are conducted. It is brutal and murderous and disgusting. So why was it being played for all it's worth this way?

    And now that details about the drama and those involved are coming -- somewhat -- to light, the failure of the smell test is very strong.

    260,000 State Department memos? All righty then. Show us.

    A major marketing campaign is under way.

    That's all I can say about it right now....

    Testimonies of Mavi Marmara Passengers

    From YouTube channel:

    Start with Jamal Elshayyal of AlJazeera, but there are many more.

    See them all:

    And visit Counterfire for news of ongoing struggles around the world.

    Don't put up with the shit that's going on.

    How the testifiers stay so calm I'll never know. And of course Washington and Tel Aviv are collaborating to "investigate" the Peace Terrorist Flotilla and justify the murder, wounding, kidnapping, brutalization, and theft from its passengers. The results of this so-called "investigation" are foregone.

    Israel is blameless, Peace Terrorists are guilty, all actions by Israel justified.

    Oh, and by the way, Israel will now let corriander and toys into the Gaza. So there is that. Have a nice day.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    Mavi Marmara Assault -- Full Video From Cultures of Resistance

    YouTube Link

    I watched this last night and found it to be a very powerful documentary in this extremely raw state. I posted some comments at Glenn's Place in response to ondelette's request for peoples' impressions of what they saw.

    This is a transcript of my two posts last night:

    Saturday, June 12, 2010 10:33 PM ET

    ondelette: On the Full video released at UN

    Been watching it off and on for a while now. In some ways so sad. I know, but I don't know, that some of the men, maybe many of them, in the video are either wounded or dead now.

    They are so hopeful, so frightened, so determined.

    There is an early sense of calm, deliberate intensity. Many conflicting emotions simultaneously.

    I paused just past the point where the Israelis are pulling alongside the Mavi Marmara. The Israelis are firing at the ship; it sounds like bullets and grenades (flash/bang?), possibly tear gas as well; they are firing constantly.

    The passengers are shouting, watching over the rail, moving fast from place to place. The Israelis keep up constant fire at the ship. Their fast boat is right up against the starboard side.

    ondelette: On the Full video released at UN (cont'd)

    Blood on the stairwell, people don't know how it got there, a passenger wounded?

    Firing. One shot. One shot. One shot. Burst of shots. One shot. Helicopter overhead, passengers warding it off with sling shots, ineffective. Shots are heard. Are they firing from the helicopter?

    Commandos fast roping down, not much sound, view is from the deck below. No sign of what's going on up there. Helicopter choppers away. Men with slingshots continue to aim at it.

    Shots heard on the upper deck, bursts of three, four. Wounded passengers carried down, and two Israeli soldiers.

    Many wounded now, some dead, shot in the head; firing continues in bursts.

    Men in the stairwell armed with sticks, the famous "iron bars," one tries to open a package of pepper spray with his knife. Unsuccessful. Waiting, waiting. Firing continues outside, now a shot, now another, now three, now four. Are they firing into the stairwell? Man goes down, but there is no effort to rescue him. Firing, firing.

    Blood. Blood on the walls, blood on the floor, blood on the wounded, blood on the dead, blood on the men trying to be medics. Chest compressions on a badly wounded man, compressions badly done. They're trying the best they can. Is he dead?

    Many wounded, some dead.

    It looks like no one is afraid anymore. Firing, firing, one shot, one shot, two shots, one shot, three shots. Firing.

    Dawn. The ship is traveling away from the dawn, moving westward, away from Gaza, west. Firing, firing. Shooting continues as alarm sounds on ship. Loudspeakers in other languages, then English. "Please go to your cabins. Go to your seats. The Israelis are using live ammunition. Please go to your seats."

    Men mill around holding sticks, "iron bars." They pray. Smoke. So many smokers. Dawn.

    Hearts are racing. What now?

    The only thing I would add at this point is that what is shown in the raw footage is how a resistance struggle actually looks from the inside as an action is taking place. Superficially, it's not very dramatic most of the time; a lot of standing and milling around, nervous waiting. Flashes of bravery. Carrying and caring for the wounded and the dead. Mostly though, it's a situation of growing tension and not knowing what will happen next, nor necessarily when your own turn will come -- for whatever Fate has in store.

    The dramatic action that you see on the teevee is the exception, not the rule.

    I was struck, too, by all the people sitting around smoking and nervously laughing toward the end of footage. That's part of the truth of these things that people almost never see. But it is very real.

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    A Chart

    Click to enlarge

    Obama's Deficit Reduction Commission (familiarly known as The Catfood Commission) is charged with coming up with ways to reduce the deficit, with "all options on the table" -- except for raising taxes on the rich of course. That is verboten.

    But in his speech in Pittsburgh the other day, Obama himself said that his administration would reduce the "discretionary budget" of the US Government by $1 trillion over the next three years. He vowed to cut everything except national security and defense spending. That's an average of $333 billion per year. Where, exactly, is it going to come from?

    The chart above is from 2006, so it doesn't reflect today's discretionary budget, but proportionally things haven't changed all that much.

    Observe: the Defense Department has far and away the lion's share of the Discretionary Budget, at $438.8 billion in 2006. All of the rest of the Discretionary Budget combined doesn't amount to the DoD's total ($401.7 billion for everything else vs $438.8 billion for the DoD.)

    So where, exactly, is His Serenity going to find $333 billion per year to cut if DoD and other National Security items remain untouched?

    What the holy hopping hell is he talking about?

    Note, the chart is from the Foundation for Global Community a fine outfit that deserves every bit of support.

    On Heroes

    Anyone who has encountered my Internet ramblings over the last decade or so knows that I am not by nature into Hero Worship. Far from it. I am by nature a Skeptic and when the Spirit moves me I am a Rebel.

    This has put me in the oddly ironic position of being seen as a Hero by others, something I find both inappropriate and grating.

    Hero-worship has always been part of the political framework in this country, starting with George Washington, Father of Our Country, etc. None of his successors has quite matched his Heroic Stature, of course, but the idea that a President should be Heroic is deeply ingrained in the American psyche.

    Obama inherited the Heroic Mantle of the Presidency when he ascended to the Throne, and as we know, his Heroic Stature has been frittering away ever since. It's bee One Damned Thing after another and all that.

    And on the Internets, there is a kind of passionate level of Hero Worship, for all kinds of people, that almost makes me ill to witness. Whether it is Obama or Sarah or Glenn or Jane or some TV character or movie star, the Internet is rife with Heroic action figures and their devotees.

    To me, Hero Worship is dangerous and foolish both for the object and for the subject.

    Skepticism is always appropriate. Not partisan devotion; skepticism.

    But that seems to be a rare characteristic among human-kind.

    And getting rarer.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    On the Deficit Hawkery Fraud

    From New Deal 2.0:

    Memo to Deficit Hawks: Let’s Get the Facts Right
    Wednesday, 06/9/2010 - 10:53 am by Henry Liu

    Think the deficit hawks have it all right about ‘entitlements’, spending cuts and the debt crisis? Think again.

    A Panic Wave of Demand for Fiscal Austerity

    The sovereign debt crisis in Greece has sparked a panic wave of radical policy demands for fiscal discipline throughout the European Union from a perverse coalition of neoliberal public finance ideologues and anti-government conservatives. Proponents of fiscal discipline argue that the EMU and its common currency, the euro, would not be sustainable without the drastic restructuring of public finance in all eurozone member states through a combination of tax increases and deficit reduction through fiscal austerity. But creditors, mostly transnational banks, will be protected from having to accept “haircuts” on their holdings of sovereign debt.


    Fiscal deficits across the eurozone are to be reduced by cutting public sector wages and social benefit and subsidy expenditures so that transnational bank creditors will be paid in full while turning a blind eye to blatant tax evasion and avoidance by the rich with non-wage income that contribute to loss of government revenue and fiscal deficits. The dysfunctional disparity of income and polarization of wealth between the wage-earning masses and the financial elite with income from profit and capital gain, are the main causes of overcapacity in the economy. In past decades, the neoliberal response to overcapacity was to shy away from the obvious solution of raising wages, turning instead to flooding the economy with huge mountains of consumer and corporate debt that eventually resulted in a tsunami of borrower defaults that turned into a global credit crisis. Yet repeating the same response to the current crisis will lead only to another global crisis down the road.

    And it goes on like this. It's worth reading the whole thing as yet another reminder, straightforwardly told, of what is really going on, all over the world, as the banksters consolidate their holdings on the backs of the poor, working, and middle classes.

    It is the very definition of "Shock Doctrine/Disaster Capitalism" and we are well into it. The question is, how can we get out of it?

    More on Blowout Tuesday

    Glenn has emerged briefly with his version of justification for putting ever so much effort into unseating Blanche Lincoln, even though she will likely lose in the fall to the Republican John Boozman.

    It doesn't make sense.

    The key paragraph in Glenn's explanation is this one:

    The point here, speaking just for myself, was not to put Bill Halter in the Senate. While I am convinced Halter would have at least been marginally better than Lincoln (he certainly couldn't have been worse), I don't know if he would have been substantially better. Nor was the point an ideological one -- the real conflict in politics is not Left v. Right or liberal v. conservative, but rather, insider v. outsider. Lincoln's sin isn't an ideological one, but the fact that she's a corporatist servant of the permanent factions that rule Washington. The purpose here was to remove Lincoln from the Senate, or, failing that, at least impose a meaningful cost on her for her past behavior. That goal was accomplished, and as a result, Democratic incumbents at least know there is a willing, formidable coalition that now exists which can and will make any primary challenge credible, expensive and potentially crippling -- even if it doesn't ultimately succeed. That makes it just a bit more difficult for Democratic incumbents to faithfully serve corporate interests at the expense of their constituents, or at least to do so with total impunity.

    Yes. Well.

    There are so many problems with this, it's hard to know where to begin.

    First of all, if the goal was not to put Bill Halter in the Senate, then the campaign on his behalf was pursued on false pretenses. People were induced to send money and work on behalf of a candidate who was apparently to be a sacrificial lamb for some other purpose. That's deeply cynical, at the least. It is shamefully unprincipled, even on a good day.

    If Halter wouldn't have been more than marginally better, if better at all, than Blanche Lincoln, why support him? More to the point, why should anybody else support him?

    If the Real Conflict is between "insider and outsider," why support a sitting office holder -- the Lt Governor of Arkansas -- an "insider" by definition, against another insider who has the support of the entire Democratic operation? What is the point of pitting one inside party operative against another when supposedly the Real Conflict is between the "insider and the outsider?" Why not find and promote an outsider?

    If Lincoln's Real Sin is not her political ideology but that she serves corporate interest, what, then is her ideology?

    If the goal was to "remove Lincoln from office," did anyone bother to look at the polls that showed her losing badly to the Republican candidate? Did it occur to anyone that the voters of Arkansas were already taking care of that little problem, and that in due time, she would lose her seat in the Senate? Did it occur to anyone that the cynical and unprincipled ploy of mounting this kind of primary challenge to her was deeply, morally wrong?

    Did it occur to anyone that a lot of people were putting their heart and soul into this campaign based on their belief that Halter was the better candidate, who reflected progressive values, and that he would better represent the people of Arkansas in the Senate? Obviously they were deceived, but who deceived them? And to what purpose?

    What is the "cost" imposed on Lincoln for her past behavior? Having to fight a primary opponent at all? Being "exposed" for the corporate whore she was already well known to be? Having to fight a primary opponent when it was already known that she was likely to lose in the fall to the Republican? Punishing her?

    What goal was accomplished? Mounting a cynical and unprincipled primary campaign to "punish" the Senator? THAT was the goal? Who knew?

    Democratic incumbents have long known their asses would be primaried when they went too far over to the Dark Side; viz: Jane Harman in California's 36th District.

    She was first primaried by Marcy Winograd in 2006, a startling development for her. She was primaried by a Los Angeles schooteacher outraged at Harman's public support for Bushevik lawlessness, and she put the Fear into Ms Harman that hasn't let up. Winograd at least was a serious primary opponent whose policy positions fit many of the ideals of someone like Glenn, and a year ago, she said she would primary Harman's ass again because Harman continued to backslide and support wars of aggression and executive lawlessness. The White House and the Democratic Party establishment went after Winograd hammer and tong, but she got a higher percentage of votes on Tuesday than she did in 2006, a very respectable 41%. Now where was Glenn on her campaign? Why didn't he support someone like her instead of an insider like Halter who he admits was at best no more than marginally better than Lincoln?

    If it really is "insider v outsider," why not support the outsider? That would be the principled thing to do.

    How are Democratic incumbents in any way dissuaded by Halter's loss to Lincoln from supporting their favorite corporate interest? How in fact did that cynical and unprincipled spectacle affect their favorite corporate interest in any way, especially when an even more corporate-beholden Republican candidate is likely to take Lincoln's Senate seat in the fall?

    Just what was accomplished here and on behalf of whom?

    About the only thing I can say in Glenn's favor here is that he isn't crowing triumphantly, beating his chest and dragging his knuckles about how brave and bold and successful Accountability Now has been in this case, and he is apparently owning up, finally, to what was really going on with this campaign.

    Unfortunately, in the process he is revealing such a level of cynicism and contempt for the process and the candidates, including the one he recruited, and such unprincipled practices in pursuit of his goals and objectives that it is very difficult to generate any regard or enthusiasm for his approach to political "change."

    Since it wouldn't have resulted in more than cosmetic "change" if it had been successful, no wonder the White House openly jeered the effort.

    What a shame and what a waste.