Thursday, July 31, 2014

In the Midst of This Blood Summer

It would appear that Pierre Omidyar has decided to pull the plug on his Grand Plan to Transform the Media at First Look and content himself with a blog or two that "experiment" with various means and methods of... what... exactly?

That's still something of a mystery, but the Grand Plan appears to be dead.

Some time back, Pierre put up a blog post that you wouldn't have known about unless you're following his twits or those of some of his stable of writers closely. I think I noticed it in passing through the comments on some post at The Intercept. It got little or no notice outside the world of the First Look at any rate, but it is an interesting walk back from all the promises announced and tub-thumped for so very long by the First Lookers and Interceptors -- without any discernible results for month after month, except one: the huge stable of writers Pierre had assembled essentially stopped writing once they signed with Pierre. Even the ever prolix and prolific Greenwald's output diminished to practically nothing for weeks at a time.

Reducing or eliminating output by formerly busy and sometimes power-questioning writers appeared to be the main purpose of First Look, as many observers pointed out, sometimes unkindly. Jeremy Scahill essentially disappeared; Matt Taibbi likewise. Oh they did their rounds for their book/movie tours, but that had nothing whatever to do with First Look or anything else that Pierre was involved in (so far as we know. He had his had in many ventures.) Laura Poitras has never contributed to The Intercept, nor has Liliana Segura. Marcy Wheeler bailed out months ago after contributing one piece. There were occasional pieces of generally "old news" by Ryan Gallagher and Ryan Devereaux, sometimes co-bylined by Greenwald, but likely not co-written by him. There were a few articles by Murtaza Hussain. But apart from that, practically nothing, month after month.

The lack of production and the frequency of excuses was striking, especially given all the other news startups going balls to the wall at around the same time, with special mention of Quartz, Vox, and Vice, but they are far from the only ones. They and many other online news sites have been running circles around Pierre's First Look (that was getting nowhere, with its one "magazine" that so rarely published and seemed quite flaccid when it did.) There was and is simply no comparison between First Look's practically absent content and the daily sometimes extraordinary content of a dozen or more online news ventures that were actually cranking out... erm... news.

So. John Cook appeared to order everyone to sit down and shut up and wait for however long it would take to get the operation up and running; it wasn't ready yet, and all the nay-sayers were poopy-pants. Greenwald would post when and if he wanted, and everyone else would be on hiatus until the site was "ready." So just shut up. Then he disappeared again, they said "on vacation". Who knew? Who cared?

First Look was looking more and more like the Last Look Back as news was being broken all over the media long before anything would appear in the one faltering "magazine" that was essentially a group blog on a broken WordPress platform, a group blog that hardly ever published or updated.

First Look and The Intercept were a joke.

Pierre had to intervene because this month-after-month of nothing made him look ridiculous for devoting $50 million or $250 million to... nothing. Wags made mock, to say the least.

Pierre's primary claim is that the enterprise is still very much a "startup." Which means, essentially, that it doesn't actually exist as a going concern, and it may never.

It is a still experimental experiment that may never go anywhere at all (startups are like that you know) and it is no longer positioned to be this "transformative" media thing-a-ma-bob that it was promoted as, but just what it will be, nobody knows. There will be Greenwald's blog and the now re-conceived Taibbi Thing (to debut sometime, one day... maybe) and that's about it.

Pierre will continue to support something similar to an investigative journalism enterprise, by funding things like travel and accommodations and legal fees and whatnot, but what comes of it, if anything, may be published elsewhere in already extant outlets rather than at anything new and transformative that Pierre has created out of the air.

In other words, First Look, as it was conceived is dead.

It ain't gonna be that.

And it may never be anything.

Got that?


There's a message here somewhere...

In the meantime, Telesur English is up and running. Those devilish Chavistas. Check it out. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Israel Rampages in Gaza Again

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

This happened was during today's "4 hour humanitarian cease fire." According to witnesses and reports from the scene, shortly after 12:00n local time, as residents (survivors?) of Gaza were attempting to get necessary supplies at a market section adjoining the Shujayea neighborhood, several mortar or tank shells landed among the shoppers, killing between 17 and 20 (a figure likely to increase significantly) and wounding hundreds. 

This is what Israel does: it declares a "cease fire" then waits for people to gather in response, then the IDF kills them. It kills them in hospitals. It kills them in refugee centers and schools. Wherever Gazans are gathered in large numbers for protection or under the banner of a "ceasefire," Israel aims its missiles and shells and kills them by the score, wounding many more. 

It is apparently an identity thing to the Israelis. 

Lull and lure the Arabs into believing their safety is assured. Then kill them.

This is how the UNRWA Representative in Gaza Christopher Gunness responded to the latest school shelling in which dozens were killed -- as they slept -- and hundreds were wounded:

The UNWRA statement is unusually blunt and harsh.

Statement by UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl

Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced. 
We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts. It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries   including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site.  These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.  
The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times,  to ensure its protection; the last being at  ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling. 
I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces. 
This is the sixth time that one of our schools has been struck. Our staff, the very people leading the humanitarian response are being killed.  Our shelters are overflowing. Tens of thousands may soon be stranded in the streets of Gaza, without food, water and shelter if attacks on these areas continue. 
We have moved beyond the realm of humanitarian action alone. We are in the realm of accountability. I call on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing carnage.

As many have pointed out during this latest round of Israeli rampaging in Gaza, Israelis are losing their humanity. 

Indeed. But there are so many places where just that loss of humanity has become routinized. This Blood Summer still is only half over, too.

The Dharma, "The Dharma Bums," Prefiguring the Rucksack Revolution, and How We Got Here -- Or Something

This is the one I recall reading c. 1962 or 63; the cover illustration and blurb are simply silly

Jack Kerouac wrote "The Dharma Bums" in 1957 and published it in 1958 after the wild success of his first second published novel, "On the Road," which became a defining work of the Beat Generation. Most of the incidents described in "The Dharma Bums" apparently take place in California in 1955 and '56 with excursions to the South and Southwest and finally to the Northwest Desolation Wilderness where the novel's ending is set.

The key characters are novelized versions of Jack Kerouac himself (as Ray Smith) and Gary Snyder (as Japhy Ryder.) Ray is in his thirties, getting close to middle age, while Japhy is still in his mid twenties, or at least, those were the ages of Kerouac and Snyder during the period of the novel.

Japhy's on the Dharma Path and he lives in a shack out behind a big house on a hill while he goes to classes at UC Berkeley, drinks tea, meditates, contemplates Nature, expostulates and has wild parties and orgies and stuff.

Ray's on a Dharma Path as well, but in the telling of the tale, he's just a bum who drinks and writes and meditates and travels around with his rucksack meeting people, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas all, along the way.

Japhy has a purpose and will wind up going to Japan on a fellowship to study under Zen Mountains and Masters and become one himself. Ray just is. And you sort of know that like Kerouac, he will eventually drink himself to death just as the Rucksack Revolution that Japhy predicts and prefigures is about to climax and thence to peter out.

We know, because we've lived, what happens to these people.

Gary Snyder is now an old man, but he's still going strong they say, living a not-so-primitive life, surrounded by acolytes and devotees, probably none of whom remember him from back when, but that hardly matters as his diamond life has been one of constant becoming. There may or may not be a handful who have stayed with him since those Dharma Bum days, but most I would venture have long since, like Jack Kerouac, died off. Snyder is an honored elder in other words; the others are mostly long gone.

I read "The Dharma Bums" when I was maybe 14, I don't know exactly. It was a period during which I devoured everything I could get my hands on of Kerouac's work, and it continued pretty much consistently until I was 18 or so, when my attentions were focused elsewhere. I think I read "The Dharma Bums" first, then "On the Road," then "Desolation Angels" but the sequence could have been different as my memory has faded over the years and I can't even be sure that I'm remembering events and not imagining them. So much of my life has been an adventure, you might say, and I haven't kept good records.

When I was 14, of course, I could not and did not understand a lot of the references to Buddhism in "The Dharma Bums," and in re-reading it recently, I find some references are still a bit obscure, though most are easily digested now. I didn't really understand the point of the novel either. A travelogue, yes, but obviously something more as well, but I had no idea what. In re-reading it, of course, it is much clearer, and the point -- such as it is -- is obvious. It was probably not meant for a 14 year old to understand in any case.

The writing is as strikingly visual now as it was when I was merely a lad, and re-reading it is a powerful reminder of how penetrating those visuals were and are; the descriptions of place are so strong and I have been to so many of those very places or places like them or near them, that I feel I'm living the novel as I'm reading it. I recall some passages in re-reading that had a powerful present impact when I first read them, but much more often, it's simply words and phrases that pop out at me, not whole passages, and they trigger memories or just their presence within. Clearly, although I didn't understand much of the book, I internalized many of its elements.

That may well have happened to many others who read it around the same time and later, they would read the book and internalize its elements without necessarily understanding them or needing to. The book is a travelogue of sorts (as was, of course, "On the Road") but it's also a meditation on the meaning and discovery of existence and its illusory nature. The Dharma Path is the Buddha Path, and the wanderers in "The Dharma Bums" see themselves as Zen Lunatics sent out to bring joy and find enlightenment and to discover the illusion of their own existence and that of every other.

It's all an illusion, you see?

Practically everybody Ray-Jack encounters on his adventures as a Dharma Bum is a Buddha-Bodhisattva, which is something you discover when you're on that path, but it is a path not many are on at any given time, and while Ray-Jack discovers he can't fall off a mountain, he does fall off the path (it seems to me) more often than he realizes. That's part of the journey. If you're going to be a Zen Lunatic, you cannot always be what you think you are, nor can you always stick to the path you think you're on. As a Zen Lunatic, you are bound to diversions. Many and frequent. And so it is for Ray-Jack and for Japhy-Gary (who is at one point, just one time, called "Gary" in the novel).

Ray-Jack Writing-sleeping, posed for the photographer no doubt.
When you become famous, as Ray-Jack became famous shortly after finishing "The Dharma Bums", you have to pose for pictures like this. It's part of the job of a famous writer.

Gary Snyder having tea in his Dharma Shack, c. 1955?
Whether the picture of Japhy-Gary is posed for a famous-writer photographer, I can't be sure. It's posed, yes, but it has the feeling of a snapshot rather than a professional production, and that's probably intentional, no matter who took the picture or why. I wouldn't be surprised if it was in LIFE magazine, just because and for no other reason at all. Gary Snyder may have been only 25 or so, but he was already a Buddhist Master or near-master. At least in the context of the USofA where Buddhism was still exotic and Anglos practicing Zen were practically unknown -- which Kerouac in his silliness and word-crafting might have written "unkoan" if only because he liked the sound of it and to drive his editors nuts.

They had editors then. I'm trying to imagine how his editor approached something like "On the Road." I can't quite grasp and the story -- which I'm sure has been told somewhere -- probably isn't all that interesting. You do what you do. But I've seen a posed picture of Kerouac transferring the text of "The Dharma Bums" from scroll to typed pages in standard format. In other words, he didn't just turn in a scroll of teletype paper to Viking or whoever his publisher was; he sat down and typed the whole thing all over again on pages of 8 1/2 x 11 typing paper like any other author and turned in the manuscript for publication just like anybody else looking to be published at the time. It's interesting to me, that part of the process, because the vision I've had is not that. It's a vision of Kerouac defiantly submitting his scroll(s) for publication and daring anybody to do anything about it.

The standard form manuscript of "The Dharma Bums" has been sent around to various literary events and memorials and museums and such, and I think I posted an image of the first page of it previously. The scroll has disappeared. It was sold, apparently, at auction and the buyer was "undisclosed." Wherever it is, and whoever has it, may it be enjoyed.

Jack Kerouac's notebook wherein he declares "The Dharma Bums" complete (clickage will embiggen)

Kerouac says he wrote and finished "The Dharma Bums" in 12 days; it reads very much like that's the case, and I'd say -- but for a purposeful delay to finish reading it -- it took me just about as long to read the novel this time. I have no idea how long it took me to read it when I was a kid, and I suspect, because many parts of it didn't ring a bell this time around and seemed to be all new to me, that I skipped through it back then. That could be my failing memory, too. But I suspect I didn't read it closely in any case, and even this time around, in re-paging through it for this essay and other things, there are whole passages I know I read that I don't remember.

I did delay reading the last two chapters this time around. Purposefully. I knew the story had to end but I didn't want it to end, and so I slowed then stopped reading it. Set the book aside and tried to take in the bloody horrors going on in so many places this horrible summer. The contrast between the vision, Kerouac's vision, I was reading and the reality outside it could not have been stronger. I have some idea what was going on in the country and the world in 1955 and 56 when the novel is set, and neither the world nor the nation were at peace.

Yet somebody on a Dharma path at that time would not have been numbed by the abundance of bloodshed along the way, at least I don't think so. There would have been terrible things, yes (Emmett Till, anyone?) and Kerouac himself mentions passing by Alamogordo and having a vision relating to the Bomb:
From that desert in Arizona he roared on up to New Mexico, took the cut through Las Cruces up to Alamogordo where the atom bomb was first blasted and where I had a strange vision as we drove along seeing in the clouds above the Alamogordo mountains the words as if imprinted in the sky: "This Is the Impossibility of the Existence of Anything" (which was a strange place for that strange true vision) and then he batted on through the beau­tiful Atascadero Indian country in the uphills of New Mexico beautiful green valleys and pines and New England-like roll­ing meadows and then down to Oklahoma (at outside Bowie Arizona we'd had a short nap at dawn, he in the truck, me in my bag in the cold red clay with just stars blazing silence overhead and a distant coyote)...
Breathtaking.  Of course, I quibble. "Atascadero" is a place in California. A well-known place at that. Atascadero is not the name of the Indians who live in the beautiful uphills of New Mexico; he must have been thinking of "Mescalero" -- but does it matter? Even more interesting, this was pre-Interstate Highway, and so I'm wondering the route his truckdriver benefactor Bodhisattva took him through New Mexico on his way to North Carolina because it seems he bypassed Albuquerque. Which was certainly possible to do...

He saw the words as if imprinted on the sky: This Is the Impossibility of the Existence of Anything as he passed near the site of the Trinity blast, which he declared a "strange vision" yet it's perfectly apropos it seems to me.

As I've reported, I've been to Trinity Site itself a couple of times, last April most recently, and I was nearly struck dumb by the stunning display in the skies that day, the clouds dancing and the slashes of virga in many places and the wind blasts, the shafts of sunlight on the sere ground, the subtle illuminations on the mountains. I'd never seen anything like it, I imagined anything like it. The visual image was even more intense than a painting, than a movie, than any description I could try to give. And I was in the midst of it, in the midst of a crowd, and I wondered if any of them could see what I was seeing, and if they could, whether it had the same impact or any impact for that matter.

The blast site itself is on a kind of upslope ledge against and below the mountains, and from this ledge there is the possibility of a sweeping view into the Jornado de los Muertos, the plain below where many are said to have died due to the lack of water for people and animals passing through. There is the possibility of a view because sometimes there will be too much dust or cloud or other stuff in the air to see much of anything below except maybe the mountains in the distance. So you might go out there and feel enclosed rather than exposed to something grander.

But in April, the view was grand. And yes, I digress, but so what?

Desolation Peak Lookout, Mt. Hozomeen in the background. Photograph by: Basil Tsimoyianis; Creative Commons license
This is where Kerouac spent his summer of 1956 after Gary Snyder sailed for Japan. Ray-Jack made it to the top of A Mountain, barely, and he stayed there for his allotted time and then he made his way back down the mountain.

I delayed finishing "The Dharma Bums" because I knew it was coming to an end and I didn't want it to end. It had been an extraordinary journey to that point, and I had a heart-wrenching notion of how it might conclude though I knew -- because Kerouac had already told us -- that Ray-Jack would leave the mountain lookout on Desolation Peak and go back into "the world." That's what a Dharma Bum does, even after being on the mountaintop for 60 days or however long he was there.  

He goes back into the world.

The last few chapters of "The Dharma Bums" are pure poetry, practically decorative yet highly evocative, and as is the case with everything else in the book, exceedingly visual. You are there. I was there. To wit:

(The initial passage of Chapter 34)
August finally came in with a blast that shook my house and augured little augusticity. I made raspberry Jello the color of rubies in the setting sun. Mad raging sunsets poured in seafoams of cloud through unimaginable crags, with every rose tint of hope beyond, I felt just like it, brilliant and bleak beyond words. Everywhere awful ice fields and snow straws; one blade of grass jiggling in the winds of infinity, anchored to a rock. To the east, it was gray; to the north, aw­ful; to the west, raging mad, hard iron fools wrestling in the groomian gloom; to the south, my father's mist. Jack Moun­tain, his thousand-foot rock hat overlooked a hundred football fields of snow. Cinnamon Creek was an eyrie of Scottish fog. Shull lost itself in the Golden Horn of Bleak. My oil lamp burned in infinity. "Poor gentle flesh," I realized, "there is no answer." I didn't know anything any more, I didn't care, and it didn't matter, and suddenly I felt really free. Then would come really freezing mornings, cracking fire, I'd chop wood with my hat on (earmuff cap), and would feel lazy and won­derful indoors, fogged in by icy clouds. Rain, thunder in the mountains, but in front of the stove I read my Western magazines. Everywhere snowy air and woodsmoke. Finally the snow came, in a whirling shroud from Hozomeen by Canada, it came surling my way sending radiant white heralds through which I saw the angel of light peep, and the wind rose, dark low clouds rushed up as out of a forge, Canada was a sea of meaningless mist; it came in a general fanning attack adver­tised by the sing in my stovepipe; it rammed it, to absorb my old blue sky view which had been all thoughtful clouds of gold; far, the rum dum dum of Canadian thunder; and to the south another vaster darker storm closing in like a pincer; but Hozomeen mountain stood there returning the attack with a surl of silence. And nothing could induce the gay golden horizons far northeast where there was no storm, to change places with Desolation. Suddenly a green and rose rainbow shafted right down into Starvation Ridge not three hundred yards away from my door, like a bolt, like a pillar: it came among steaming clouds and orange sun turmoiling.
What is a rainbow, Lord?
A hoop
For the lowly.
Is it any wonder I didn't want it to end?

But it had to, for "The Dharma Bums" is only a novel, no? It had to come to an end, and it the end, though I shed a tear or two, the ending seemed perfect:
"Japhy," I said out loud, "I don't know when we'll meet again or what'll happen in the future, but Desolation, Desolation, I owe so much to Desolation, thank you forever for guiding me to the place where I learned all. Now comes the sadness of com­ing back to cities and I've grown two months older and there's all that humanity of bars and burlesque shows and gritty love, all upsidedown in the void God bless them, but Japhy you and me forever we know, O ever youthful, O ever weeping." Down on the lake rosy reflections of celestial vapor appeared, and I said "God, I love you" and looked up to the sky and really meant it. "I have fallen in love with you, God. Take care of us all, one way or the other."

To the children and the innocent it's all the same.
And in keeping with Japhy's habit of always getting down on one knee and delivering a little prayer to the camp we left, to the one in the Sierra, and the others in Marin, and the little prayer of gratitude he had delivered to Sean's shack the day he sailed away, as I was hiking down the mountain with my pack I turned and knelt on the trail and said "Thank you, shack."
Yah. How many times have I... ?
Then I added "Blah," with a little grin, because I knew that shack and that mountain would understand what that meant, and turned and went on down the trail back to this world.
The Rucksack Revolution was yet to come. "The Dharma Bums" is a pre-figuring journey through time and space and spirit that blazed the path, though many at the time -- like me -- had no idea it would be so. It was a novel, a Beat novel, like jazz and dancing down a mountain, not meant to do anything at all, just to be.

And so it was.

Kerouac said "The Dharma Bums" was better than "On the Road"
 SUNDAY, DEC 8, 1957 -- Quiet Sunday, my work done -- I think DHARMA BUMS is not as dramatic as On the Road but it's a better book (more important) -- technically almost just as good in any case -- If Viking doesn't want to publish it, they'll be mistaken & sorry later on --
Wrote Dharma Bums from Nov. 26 to Dec. 7 -- 12 days 
THE DHARMA BUMS, for me, is better than ON THE ROAD.... in the end... because what Neal was, a mad holy hepcat, wasn't as great as what the dharma bums were, religious heroes of America, preaching kindness and mindfulness (that's what Neal could have been)-- oh well, it probably stinks--------------

"The Dharma Bums" is so pure and clear by comparison to either "On the Road" or "Desolation Angels." And yet... there is a sadness to it. That's part of the Dharma too.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

You Can't Fall Off A Mountain

Matterhorn Peak, CA

Now when I went around that ledge that had scared me it was just fun and a lark, I just skipped and jumped and danced along and I had really learned that you can’t fall off a mountain. Whether you can fall off a mountain or not I don’t know, but I had learned that you can’t. 'The Dharma Bums' -- Jack Kerouac

The South Bedroom and the Jesus Room

South Bedroom Alight
Unless we have overnight guests and need a place to put them, we keep the South Bedroom and the Jesus Room shut during the wintertime to save on heating costs and don't open them up unless we need to in the summer time to help keep the rest of the house cool.

Our house is not all that large, but it is large for an adobe pioneer house. It's been added on to at various times by various owners, so it kind of rambles about, with wings and spare rooms and whatnot, and it's not very well insulated among other things, like the finish polished pine floor is also the subfloor in some rooms so sometimes when the wind blows in the winter, the cold air seeps up from below.... There is no central heating or air conditioning, only a large free-standing gas heater in the living room that puts out abundant heat but it's kind of iffy getting said heat well distributed to distant rooms. In fact, we use electric heaters in those distant rooms to supplement the main heater when the temperature falls. There are some portable air conditioners, and we run the one in our bedroom through most of the summer to keep things in there nice and cool for sleepy-time.

The South Bedroom has become another library room; there are books and bookcases in every room in the house except the bathroom, where there are stacks of magazines instead. We picked up two new bookcases at Claudio's in town -- his brother builds them out of scrap lumber and they're very rustic and southwestern and nice -- and we thought that would be enough for the books we planned to put in there, but of course they filled up right away and we had to get another one. A skinny one this time because we were running out of room to put more bookcases. Most of our "good" books are in the South Bedroom, that is the ones that have some special meaning or financial value, the many signed copies, the still nice old ones, and some are kept in a glass fronted bookcase that dates from the 19teens or sometime like that that we brought with us from California. One of those Craftsman pieces that are practically worshiped by subcultures of house restorers. We sometimes stack bookcases on top of one another, so they reach toward the ceiling and we should probably have a ladder handy to get to the books at the very top. Practically every flat surface except the bed has stacks of books as well... We'll need to find some place for another bookcase some day.

Jesus Room Shrine Corner
The Jesus Room also has books: your missals and prayerbooks and catechisms and whatnot but also some cook-books and how-to books and so on, simply because we didn't have room for them in the kitchen and other places.

The Jesus Room also has lots of paintings and religious statues and icons and so forth. Many of the paintings are paint-by-number items that I picked up at thrift stores, and some of them are quite nice examples of the genre. The Gethsemane picture above the shrine is paint-by-number, for example (if that weren't obvious). Other paintings are what you might call "motel-commercial." They're actual paintings and they're technically very well done, but their subject matter is so generic, whether landscapes or marinas or city skylines, that they seem to be cranked out rather than thought through. They were probably originally bought for motel rooms or offices or set up on easels on tourist byways.

There is a stunning photograph, too, of what I think is a Mormon Temple in Hawaii or maybe it's Mesa, Arizona -- very dramatically lit with pinks and golds and a sunset sky -- I just like it, and so it hangs in the corner away from the corner shrine with all the other Jesus (and Mary and St. Francis) stuff. Wouldn't want to cross contaminate... There's a small carving of St. Francis in the shrine that keeps falling down, and I sometimes take that as a "sign," though I'm pretty sure it happens because one of the feral cats that sometimes gets in the house goes exploring the way they do. Cats love to explore. The shrine is like a cave for them. The items on the semi-altar below the shrine also get knocked about from time to time. That's why I think it must be the cats.

There's a pressed tin Our Lady of Lourdes that all the silver has worn off of so you don't really know right off what it is, and then it hits you and it's pretty cool because it is very three-dimensional and serene; There's a huge gold-framed print of The Last Supper that must have come from a church hall somewhere, but I don't know where. Of course there's a photo-print of Our Lady of Guadalupe from her shrine in Mexico. That's her hiding above St. Anthony peeking out behind the door to the shrine in the photo.

Yes, of course, most of the iconography is Catholic, though there are a few overtly Protestant or Mormon or Orthodox items as well. I suppose some of the crosses could be considered "non-denominational" -- though whether they are or not depends on one's point of view. My favorite is the miniature replica of the San Damiano Cross, the one that allegedly spoke to St. Francis in the ruined chapel of San Damiano in Umbria below Assisi, the one that told him "Francis, go, rebuild my house..."

There are "oriental" paintings --*ha ha*-- of the Paint-by-Number kind but nothing, really that be-speaks the Buddhist light behind a lot of this stuff. Except for St. Francis. Who I think must have been a veritable "Dharma Bum." And thus was himself a Buddha.

Nevertheless, we keep the Jesus Room and the South Bedroom shut during the winter and don't open them unless we need to in summer so as to save on heating and cooling costs.

Must be our practical natures.

I'm kind of ticked though because I wanted to go to the Spanish Market at the Santa Fe Plaza today, but I'm too lame and can't really get around for long enough or well enough to make it enjoyable; that and the heat of course. We're having quite a heatwave, the last couple of days in the mid-upper 90s (which is high for here) and it's uncomfortable to be outside, especially if there's little or no shade. It would have been a chance to get together with Nicolas Otero, a remarkably serene santero whose works are beautiful and spiritual and who illustrated several of Rudolpho Anaya's recent children's books -- "How Hollyhocks Came to New Mexico" and such. But not this time. Not today.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

We Want the Killing to Stop

It seems like such a simple thing, doesn't it? Stop the killing. Cease fire. Put down your weapons. Take up the cause of... true righteousness.

The killings in Albuquerque -- the recent bludgeoning deaths of two homeless men and the even more recent execution of a fleeing suspect -- have garnered attention in part for their sheer mindlessness and cruelty, especially in the case of the homeless men, but as we learn more about the execution, it becomes clear, there's something deeply foul in the minds of those who set out to assert power over the common herd.

They kill because they want to, first of all; and they kill because they think they're supposed to: the correct path in their minds is Death to the Other. "The Other" being literally anyone in the way of... (their) power.

The three boys who have confessed to killing the two homeless men (both Navajo-Diné) in Albuquerque probably thought they were doing nothing wrong -- if they thought about what they were doing at all. I think we'll find out as the story unfolds that at least two of the boys, and maybe all three, are part Indian themselves, so it cannot be considered a racially motivated crime the way some people are already trying to make it out to be. No, the men they killed were not so much of a different race as they were just different enough to be... threatening. They were homeless, and thus a few rungs farther down the social ladder. They were apparently drunks. But harmless drunks. Their very harmlessness was part of their vulnerability and part of the threat they posed to someone -- in this case, three adolescent boys -- looking to assert their own power. The homeless men hurt no one, they wished ill on no one, and that was part of their weakness and their vulnerability and their threat. The boys who killed them probably saw weakness and vulnerability in the Other as a threat to their own status, one it's possible they only managed to secure -- in their own minds -- through violence and cruelty toward The Other.

And where might they get the idea that violence and cruelty toward the weak, the poor, the homeless, the drunk or the addicted was a way or the way to secure their own status or well-being?

It's not as if they haven't had examples. In Albuquerque, for example, a homeless mentally ill man was summarily executed on a hillside, infamously video-recorded by the killers themselves, then hailed by the police chief as a "justified" shooting-murder-execution. Dozens of individuals have been killed by Albuquerque police in the last few years, but that homicide rate is easily bested by the homicides among the people of Albuquerque with no police involvement. The killing goes on with seeming abandon, and when we try like anything to curb some of it -- that part of it generated by the police, for example -- we're liable to see some horrible murder spree take place that the police took no part in. Except... as examples.

Examples of how to properly treat the mentally ill, the homeless, the drunk, the addicts, and the down and outs among us. If you don't kill them outright, then beat them bloody and drive them away or haul them off somewhere and dump them. If you can, you kill them. Why not? They're just useless space takers anyway.

If this is how the police treat them, under the color of authority, and with the full confidence in all the legal protection the city can provide, then why shouldn't a few teen-age boys who see what's going on do likewise? Why shouldn't they?

We want the killing to stop, but why should it stop when The Powers That Be engage in the very same kind of violence they claim they want to thwart? What is this nonsense? If they are the examples to follow, in some ways it's a wonder there isn't much more violence and cruelty and mayhem than there is.

Those who have the power have for long wielded it irresponsibly and then blame the victims of their irresponsibility for the outcomes.

It's sad and sickening.

We see the same methodology and mindset in almost all the conflicts which seem to be engulfing the world this summer. Irresponsible power-madness, continual victim-blaming, and  endless bloodshed. The destruction of Gaza merely one of numerous similar endeavors by powers and would-be powers who think they're doing what's necessary and what they are supposed to do to assert their status.

We want the killing to stop, and that means we want those who wield power in our world to do so responsibly, and this they refuse to do.

Refuse. Outright. They insist that what they do is right and proper, but anyone who emulates them (without "authorization") gets whacked; anyone who defends themselves against the irresponsibility of their rulers gets whacked; anyone who speaks out against the madness is tracked, and if it looks like they might turn into a threat to power, they are whacked.

We want the killing to stop, and we take what actions we can to monkeywrench the killing machine, but every step forward is countered by what seem like many steps back. When someone like David Correia takes to defending police brutality -- because no gun was unholstered and used -- then we have to wonder, is this the world we envision for the future: as much brutality from the police as they can get away with, so long as no one is shot? Absurd.

No, those who wield power must be brought to consciousness of their responsibility. They've lost any sense of it.

Those who wield power set the example for the rest of society, and when that example is filled with violence, bloodshed, and cruelty, is it any wonder there are so many emulations among those who take their cues from the powerful?

This is a simple -- and too simplistic -- understanding of human nature, but until those in power learn to act with dignity and with justice, as opposed to violence and vengeance, the killing won't stop, it will simply get worse. It's a descent into madness.

We want the killing to stop, but we want more than merely that.

We want to live with dignity and justice, community and peace.

It's not too much to ask and expect.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Passage

Namaste ~ Graphic In Hindi

This passage just whapped me up side the head (From "The Dharma Bums" by Jack Kerouac, 1958):

[Japhy and Ray are up in the mountains above Bridgeport, CA, on a hiking adventure, about to make camp for the night. Ray says:
  ...I have a prayer. Did you know the prayer I use?
I sit down and say, and I run all my friends and relatives and enemies one by one in this, without entertaining any angers or gratitudes or anything, and I say, like, "Japhy Ryder, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha," and then I run on and say, "David O. Selznick, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha," though I don't use names like David O. Selznick, just people I know, because when I say the words "equally a coming Buddha" I want to be thinking of their eyes, like you take Morley, his blue eyes behind those glasses, when you think "equally a coming Buddha," you think of those eyes and you really do suddenly see the true secret serenity and the truth of his coming Buddhahood. Then you think of your enemy's eyes.
 Anybody can do it.

Name. Name any name, make up a name, name a group, name your enemies, one by one and in batches, and think and say: ")Name(, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha" and think of those eyes and suddenly see the true secret serenity and the truth of their coming Buddhahood.


"The Dharma Bums"

Clickage will make the image big enough to read the dialog. It's funny.

As something of an antidote to this Blood Summer, I ordered a couple of books from afar (no, I don't use Amazon, these were ordered from Abe Books): "The Dharma Bums" and "On the Road -- the Original Scroll" both by Jack Kerouac -- and they came yesterday. There was a yellow card in my post office box with a whole series of hand-written numbers scratched off, and at the bottom was my box number with a (2) beside it. That's how they let you know you've got to go to the counter and pick something up. They don't actually tell you that, they just leave the yellow card in the post office box, and one day when I was laid up Ms Ché checked the mail in the box and found one of those yellow cards and she didn't know what it was. She thought it was maybe a mistake so she left it there and it stayed there for days. She was expecting a package though, and she said to me that it hadn't come, and she wondered what happened. I said that when there is a package, they'll leave a yellow card sometimes and you have to go to the counter to pick up whatever it is.

"Oh. There was a yellow card in the box the other day. I didn't know what it was, so I left it there. I thought it was a sorting thing or they made a mistake or something."

No, that's how you find out there's a package. So when she went to the post office that day, the card was still there and she took it to the counter, and sure enough, there was her package, waiting.

Yesterday there was a yellow card in the post office box and I took it to the counter and the woman at the counter said, "Good morning, Mister Ché. I see you have a package." and she took the yellow card from me, "No, I see you have two packages! I will be right back." And she disappeared around the corner to where the packages that have arrived are kept. Sure enough, within a few seconds she returned with two bubble packs, looking about book size, and placed them on the counter. "Here they are, Mister Ché. Will there be anything else?" I told her that no, I was fine, and then I dropped a few of the other mail pieces that had been in the box, "except I'm dropping everything this morning." She laughed. "Would you like some stamps?" "No, thank you. I'm fine." As I picked up the things that had fallen on the floor and scooped up the bubble packs from the counter, she said, "Well you have a very nice day, then, and we'll see you next time."

There are times when I've had my differences with the Post Office, like just a few days before, but this was not one of them, and I wished her well. I think her name is Lorene, but I get her confused with Mary who is also quite friendly and well-wishing and they don't wear name tags so I'm not sure which is which. I wished her well as well and went on my way.

When I got home I opened the bubble bags and there were the books, new Penguin editions, large format paperbacks, really quite nice, and they made me smile and then I laughed out loud when I read the cartoons on the end flaps of "The Dharma Bums." I will attempt to scan and add them to this post in due time.

"The Dharma Bums." It was, as far as I can recall, the first Kerouac book I read, but it may have been the second, after "On the Road." One loses track. It was a long time ago. At least 50 years ago. I opened the book yesterday and skipped over the scholarly introductions (imagine "scholarly introductions" to a Jack Kerouac novel fifty years ago!) and went right to the meat and was transported in a sense back to that time fifty or more years ago when I first read it.

And I've been more or less devouring it ever since -- well, except for this break to write something about it. It's an odd sensation because I read the book all those years ago and it made quite an impression on me, but I didn't actually carry it around with me and use it as a kind of talisman or bible or anything, I just read it and said, "Whoa," or maybe "Wow." As I'm reading it now, the words and images and sometimes whole passages are firing off in my memories, "Oh yes, I've been here before..." oh yes. Absolutely. But here's the thing, what Kerouac is writing about, the places at least, are places I have been, or near where I have been, like Berkeley and Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, and climbing in the Sierras and San Francisco and so forth, and North Beach and all of that, I've been there, spent lots of time there, traveling up and down the state of California and eventually traveling into Oregon and Washington, and up into the mountains and getting drunk on cheap wine in San Francisco with friends and talking all about everything far into the night with friends I thought were smarter than me and certainly much more fashionable, some of whom even became famous.

I didn't know anything about Buddhism when I first read "The Dharma Bums," so many of the references and even the title went right over my head, or maybe they entered somehow and germinated there eventually, because as I read it now, I know what most of the Buddhist terms refer to like "Bodhisattva" and so forth, and the various things you do when you're a "Zen Lunatic" and what not. It's all very familiar to me now but I can't imagine I knew anything about it when I was 14 or whatever when I first read the book, so I've been trying to figure out how I might have imagined what all this foreign gobbledegook meant at the time, and I can't do it. It couldn't have meant anything, and yet it must have, because now it all seems just right.

Practically everything seems just right now.

It's surprising and a little bit scary.

I realize I'm writing somewhat in the style of Jack Kerouac right now. It's because his influence is very strong on me and it's a style I've always liked. It's a style that always seemed very real and honest to me, far more so than the styles of so many tamer novelists who make their livings churning out the same thing over and over again that never actually says anything. Kerouac is saying something different and whipping you about this way and that and making you look at things you may never have seen before -- or like me, you may have been seeing or doing them all your life but never actually paid attention. As I re-read "The Dharma Bums" I wonder if he actually had more of an influence on my life than I could even imagine.

No, I say to myself, just because I have been to some of these places, done some of these things, known some of these people -- well, people like them or people who actually knew the people he's writing about  -- it doesn't mean very much in the vaster scheme of things. Everybody could say the same thing, couldn't they? They did and they knew many of the same things some novelist or other did and knew as well, didn't they? We're all related in some way like that, aren't we?

I don't know.

I don't know. And so I'll read some more and see how much more I remember. It was fifty years ago or more after all, and who can remember everything?

One thing I keep thinking about which may not mean anything at all is that Kerouac wrote "the Dharma Bums" in the mid or late 1950s and I read it in the early 1960s and I felt it was very contemporary, that it wasn't about a previous time at all. And I feel the same way about it now, it's not about a previous time or an earlier, safer and saner and more innocent era, it's about right now, today. These things and these people are going on right now, today, in some of the same places, in contrast to the chaos and the bloodfest our rulers are delighting in. Of course it was different then, but it wasn't. Not really.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Another APD Killing

Moments ago. Little news. Suspect dead. ATF and APD attempt to serve a warrant on a fugitive -- they say. Two shots fired.

It has been just about three weeks since the last shooting death of a suspect. Right on schedule...

Ah yes, "pulled a gun from his waistband" excuse. It's used frequently: the man was a suspect, sometimes even a fugitive, and "he reached into his waistband" they said to pull out a gun. He needed killing. And so it would be. Pop-pop. Dead. Besides, he had a long criminal record and was wanted for something, in this case: parole violation.  Strangely, inexplicably, in this case, ATF was trying to serve a warrant.

Wouldn't be surprised if the "weapon" in his "waistband" was a cell-phone, but maybe they'll find something scary like a cap gun or even a BB gun. That, as we know, is a sure death sentence. Or maybe there was no "gun" at all, the cops just thought there was one.

So sick of this shit.


Gaza (Death From Above) Live

The sounds of drones and explosions are constant though you may not see anything but flares in the night sky...

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

The Blood Summer Strikes Again

I've been trying to digest the story I first heard yesterday or perhaps the day before about two homeless men bludgeoned to death in Albuquerque while they slept. Three teens, the youngest 15, have confessed to the crime and seem to be boasting that they have committed altogether fifty or more other attacks on the homeless in the last few months. Fifty or more.

Caveat: I don't know any more about this incident and the series of incidents that it seems to be part of than what has been in the news, and I've been shocked and appalled at what I've seen and heard, I really haven't wanted to follow it in any detail, so I suspect that a good deal of what I write about it here will be very incomplete and/or erroneous.

Fifty attacks in the last few months. Yes, there has been some mention made from time to time that this or that homeless wanderer has been attacked while he (generally it's a he) sleeps somewhere on the streets or in a vacant lot or wherever he can find a moment's rest, a little shelter. There have been stories of men or women run over by drivers seemingly looking for homeless wanderers to brutalize and kill. There have been stories or bludgeonings and frantic escapes. There have been so many stories of pain and misery and bloodshed.

Victims rarely report the crimes, they rarely go to the police, they're terrified of the police. They are terrified not solely because of the executions of the homeless which the police commit with impunity but because the police treat any homeless wanderer with routine contempt and violence; they are no protectors of the vulnerable. That's for Father Rusty at the St. Martin's homeless shelter. He'll get right on it.

The men who were killed over the weekend were called "Cowboy" and "Yazzie" according to reports, and they were from the Gallup area. Navajo. Not unusual for Indians to travel around, to live off the land, to get drunk and get by as best they can. Their friend, called "Skeets", was beaten up but survived and escaped and described the killers to police. Within a day, the boys, Alex Rios, 18, Nathaniel Carillo, 16 and Gilbert Tafoya, 15, were rounded up. Police say they confessed and provided extensive details of their other attacks on the homeless in Albuquerque the past few months.

Almost as if they were boasting.

They were doing their part, no? To clean up the riff-raff, the vermin, the losers lower than them.

Doing their part.

The police want others who might have been victims of these boys to come forward and make reports, but the victims live in fear, fear of the police certainly, but also of a system that has no regard for them, no place for them, wherein they have no home and no voice. They will not go to the police willingly. So the police are doing what they call "outreach," by sending plainclothes detectives among the homeless -- "our homeless" they're being called by suddenly compassionate news outlets -- to conduct surreptitious surveillance and interviews, to try to further develop cases against these boys. It's not, in other words, on behalf of the homeless, it is on behalf of the system, and on behalf of the police themselves.

The authorities will get to the bottom of this!

Well, no. No they won't.

The system the authorities serve has no use for drunken Indians (for God's sake!) out of Gallup who somehow made their way to Albuquerque and died there with their skulls crushed by rogue youths out for a lark. Too bad, so sad. They are simply surplus, disposable -- and anybody would understand they were going to die anyway. There was no way the system was going to salvage them, so maybe it's better for them and for everyone that... they're gone now, to their reward in Heaven or wherever... human waste disposal took care of it.

Too bad for those three boys who will now have to live with the consequences of what they did for the rest of their lives -- or at least until they are 21, when they might, under other circumstances, be released from juvenile detention. In fact, we're told, they will be tried as adults and face adult consequences for murder most foul, and that might be some consolation, but for the fact that there are no doubt others who think like they do, and when the spirit moves them (what kind of dark spirits are afoot), they will go on their own killing sprees, disposal efforts, removals of the unwanted...

I can't say what motivated these boys to do what they say they did, but I do know that they, like all of us, are immersed in a culture of impunity, a culture in which crimes of this sort are committed by authority with complete impunity (as with, for example, the cases of James Boyd and Mary Hawkes in Albuquerque, and how many tens or hundreds or thousands of others all over the country?) Abuse and killing of the homeless by authority is hardly considered worth the time to discuss these days -- except as a caution to others not to get out of line, or it could happen to you. Yes, you.

The situation in Albuquerque has been highlighted since the execution of James Boyd in March, and the situation in Albuquerque is definitely bad, awful, appalling and all the other terms used to describe police misconduct in this country, but in actuality, the problem is nationwide and getting worse.

Police misconduct, murder, abuse and impunity has reached epidemic proportions, at least if you follow the news. There are stories at least every week of some horror committed under color of authority including numerous questionable killings. There are entire YouTube channels devoted to documenting police misconduct, and (primarily libertarian) think tanks have devoted whole sections of their operations to studies and reports of police misconduct. It's a cottage industry in the land of the free and home of the brave.

Statistics show somewhat less certainty that things are getting worse, but statistics can be manipulated to show pretty much anything. Statistics appear to show that overall murder rates have plummeted to nearly an all-time low, which may be part of why so many murders now seem to gain so much attention, whether committed under color of authority or just because. They are actually so rare, at least according to statistics, that murders almost command attention by their very rarity. Seems counter intuitive, but there you are.

Police killings and abuse may or may not be on the rise. It is hard to say because data is scattered. There is no comprehensive statistical data. From what is available, it appears that police killings of suspects and bystanders run about 500 a year, year in and year out, practically without change. But that figure may be low. Reports of abuse run into the thousands, tens of thousands, but it's hard to say whether it's worse over time. Those with some memory of the past will often say that things were once far worse than they are now...

Yet we are conditioned to believe that the situation we face today is the worst it has ever been... It's always bad and getting worse, unless we fight.

Nevertheless, murders like those committed over the weekend in Albuquerque tear at the conscience and the heart. It's not a matter of "why" -- it's a matter of such horrors happening at all, and it's a matter of the overall sense of powerlessness in the face of such monstrousness.

This is what millions of Americans feel, but also what millions, perhaps billions, of people around the world feel in the face of the mounting cruelty of the world as it is and is becoming, and the blank-faced disinterest of those in power to do anything about it.

Powerlessness that's being countered to an extent, even on the mean streets of Albuquerque, by notions of common interest, mutual aid, concern. No only are the police doing "Outreach to Our Homeless," so are the many, many, many agencies and offices set up to help.

Even the frequently absent mayor of Albuquerque says "we must do more."

Well. Good.

Yes, do more. But understand, when authority is allowed to behave with impunity toward those who... don't fit, let's say, whatever standards of behavior or appearance that are required at any given moment, is it any wonder boys like those who confessed to the murders of these homeless men do what they do?

The problem starts at the top, not the bottom. Change the culture at the top, and what happens below changes too.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Playing Rough in the Abattoirs

The summer slaughter season seems to be just revving up if the news out of the various global abattoirs is any indication. Yesterday's slaughter and destruction in Gaza seems merely a warmup for what is to come in that corner of creation, and the saber rattling over the Malaysian plane crash in Ukraine is looking more and more like the prelude to a military attack on Russia. Even a light tap could have immense repercussions.

Is this 2014 or 1914?

Has no one learned anything?

Or is this merely the playing out of the "Creative Destruction" and "Chaos for Change" theory so beloved of post modern economics and the rump nations states that exist to serve financial and economic elites?

Those who love to blame the victims for their dire situation and fate are having a field day.

For the record, Chris Floyd has been writing up a storm on these topics over at his place. Check it out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer of Our Discontent

What a blood-soaked summer we're in, and it's not even half over. The slaughters throughout the Middle East crescent go on and on, more and more mountains of bodies piling up, or like that poor man I read about in Gaza, collecting the parts of his exploded child in a plastic shopping bag. I gagged and then I cried. What is the matter with people that allows and requires this to go on?

The Malaysian plane shot down in Ukraine is only a handful of dead compared what I'm hearing are thousands already killed in the conflict, many tens of thousands forced to flee, villages and parts of whole cities left in ruins.

And the bloodletting goes on and on and on while our leaders celebrate it, yes they do, each and every one, gleeful at the spilling of more and ever more blood. It is a passion among them, this thirst for blood.

Victim blaming continues without let up.

The victims are always to blame, the rebels are always to blame, the dead are to blame.

It's insane. And it is becoming more and more universal.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Ayman Mohyeldin Thing at NBC

I was quite struck by Ayman Mohyeldin's reporting from Gaza for Al Jazzera during the horrid Cast Lead operation by Israel against Gaza; he was intrepid, obviously trying to true and accurate reporting, and he was clearly affected by the carnage he witnessed and the lies of the Israelis about it. All of this made for compelling news.

Later, he was assigned to the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo, and he appeared to be one of the only reporters on the scene who actually knew what was going on, who the major players were, and who could conduct his investigations in native Arabic and thus get closer to the truth than most other reporters. Richard Engel also speaks Arabic and has been widely respected for his reporting on events in the Middle East, but Ayman was able to get even closer to the principals and the action.

Ayman was on Democracy Now! in 2010 and gave a fairly comprehensive account of his background.

When Ayman joined NBC News, apparently at a huge increase in salary, his reports were somewhat less intense and frequent, but they were sometimes more informative and often quite personal, making the people he featured into real and very human, mostly victims, of the carnage unleashed upon them.

The other day, he was a witness to the slaughter of four children on a Gaza beach and the wounding of several more in front of his hotel. He helped to rescue and treat the survivors. He reported quite passionately what he saw and did during the incident, and his reports were widely considered outstanding first-hand accounts of a terrible tragedy.

Strangely, though, his reports were not featured on NBC Nightly News, in fact, there was not mention of him. Richard Engel, reporting from Tel Aviv was made the lead reporter on the story, a story which was covered extensively on the program, and during which Engel appeared to report accurately and pulled no punches, using footage shot by Ayman's team.

It was just that Ayman himself was missing from the story and the reporting. It seemed odd to say the least.

The next day, Glenn Greenwald reported that Ayman had been abruptly "pulled from Gaza" by an NBC executive and was not being permitted to report on the story any more. The story of the 4 children killed on the beach in Gaza was modified to include Israeli defenses of it, and eventually the story was all but scrubbed, or at least was no longer featured on news cycles.

Down the Memory Hole?

Or something even more sinister? Observers noted that as the story of the children killed on the beach faded, more and more Israel-centric stories appeared, often with no recognition of a Palestinian point of view, and featuring intense denunciations of Palestinians/Hamas to the exclusion of any reporting on the miseries and death the Palestinians -- especially in Gaza --  are enduring as a result of Israeli operations and bombardments. As the death toll rises, the victims more and more are being dehumanized and blamed.

As a rule, Engel has not engaged in that kind of reporting, and to the extent I know anything about it, Ayman never did.

Many are questioning Ayman's removal from Gaza reporting for NBC, but if I recall correctly, he was also expelled by the Israelis from Gaza during the Cast Lead operation and had to report from the border fence rather than from inside Gaza. Engel is widely respected in the field, so he's not the worst replacement for Ayman under the circumstances. The issue is that Ayman was replaced at all without explanation or reason given. He was just gone suddenly, completely and inexplicably.

Of course Greenwald is speculating on motives the way he does, but NBC is keeping mum, and apparently Mohyeldin has been successfully gagged.

Americans have fewer and fewer reliable sources of news from areas of conflict, and while he was reporting from Gaza, Ayman Mohyeldin was one of the few whose reports could be considered both informative and accurate. While I wouldn't consider Richard Engel to be a complete propagandist and tool, he does have a very different approach, one that is based in a certain viewpoint about the United States and its role in the Middle Eastern conflicts (not necessarily a positive one, but one that starts from the American viewpoint) and so his focus tends to be less involved with the realities of Palestinian life under siege and attack -- which was a specialty of Mohyeldin's -- and more how it all looks from an American perspective.

Some of Ayman's reports before he was pulled:

He also Tweeted extensively about the events he witnessed and provided numerous images on his Instagram account.

By now, we all know that commercial as well as much alternative news is very tightly controlled in the West and the United States in particular in order to promote a particular version of events; we could go into extraordinary detail about how our "news" is often intended not so much to inform as it is to shape opinion and promote propaganda, to set narratives, and to extend the power of elites. 

Ayman was not immune from the pressures to conform to those interests, but his reporting was a distinct contrast to those who saw their role as one to support rather than challenge or provide other insights than the dominant narrative (which we have notices is nearly universal throughout the media).

Ayman Mohyeldin's reporting was actually a small portion of a whole, and his removal doesn't affect that whole to any great extent. What it does is narrow the narrative NBC has been marketing. That's a business decision that will mean that the public which relies on NBC News will have less information by which to understand events in the Middle East, and the less information they have, the more closely the public opinion can be manipulated.

The more we see this happening, the fewer alternative points of view we have to consider. 

None of this is new, but to see it again, so starkly, is more than a little disturbing.

I'm sure we will see more examples as time goes by and the grip of the oligarchs tightens. 

UPDATE: According to word out of NBC, breathlessly announced and spread via internet outlets, Mohyeldin will be returning to Gaza this weekend. NBC's announcement is terse and uninformative, the way they tend to be, but Mohyeldin twitted thus:


There is a good deal of high stepping blogger triumphalism at the moment, but exactly what happened is still as murky and mysterious as ever, and we will likely never know the full story.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

False Flag Over Ukraine?

I dunno.

A Malaysian Airlines plane with 298 passengers and crew was shot down over the rebel areas of Ukraine this morning. No one took immediate responsibility, but Twitter and Facebook accounts attributed to "Strelkov" -- said to be the military commander of the Donbass rebels -- announced a shootdown shortly after the Malaysian plane was lost.

There is some question of whether these posts were made by Strelkov, as they were deleted shortly afterwards.

As we've known for some time, it is more than possible to manipulate social media accounts for the propaganda and social engineering purposes.

We'll know soon enough how this horrible, indeed inexcusable, incident is used beyond its propaganda value. Is this a false flag to ensure NATO enters the conflict directly? Is it further provocation of the Russian Bear?

Was it a tragic accident? Intentional? Stupid?

We'll see. I doubt it will end well.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Renewing the Anti-War Coalition?

Could be.

Given the ridiculous disparities in casualties in the current round of bloodletting in Israel-Palestine, the ludicrous propaganda from the hasbaraniks, the truly vile and disgusting support of the Gazan slaughter by nearly every western power, and the grotesque arc of suffering and bloodletting throughout the Middle East these days, it's as close as it's been in more than a decade for the many domestic and global anti-war outfits to coalesce once again and say "No more" to war.

Our governments have long behaved as if the People and the public interest don't matter. They certainly seem to get a thrill at governing contrary to the public interest and will, quite openly and actively supporting the interests and will of an oligarchy that simply cares nothing for anything that is not immediately profitable to their bottom lines. The multitudinous wars and police actions they engage in to force neo-liberal policies on resistant local populations, whether in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, Africa or southeastern Europe, merely serve to reinforce the notion that "there is no alternative," and all must fall into the orbit and follow the directives of the international bankers and financiers and the governments they sponsor -- or else. Misery, death and destruction are guaranteed.

Can a revival of the anti-war coalition of the past reverse this trend?

Not immediately, no. But if people see their common interest is to be found in thwarting the warring mentality of their Betters, refusing to go along with it, countering it with peace, dignity, justice and community, we can see a time in the not too distant future (probably after my lifetime, though) when war will once more be seen as the abomination it is.

I've noticed that in Albuquerque, the A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition is far and away the most active and reliable community group organizing against police abuse. A.N.S.W.E.R. was also the in the lead of the anti-Iraq War protests more than a decade ago, and at the time, no one really knew who they were. Many people still have no idea. It didn't matter at the time, because they were organized and they were the energy behind protest marches that involved hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people domestically, millions overseas. Those protests did not stop the Iraq War of course.

What may have had a more profound effect was the simple shaming action taken by Cindy Sheehan and others on the roadside near the entrance to the Bush's Crawford ranch (known as the "Pig Farm.") Though Cindy has since been denounced and dismissed as a Communist and a crank -- oh my! -- her efforts brought enormous shame to the Bush - Cheney regime, and it has had a cumulative effect over time.

By combining the efforts of a highly organized outfit like A.N.S.W.E.R. with the individual shaming efforts of those who have suffered irreparable loss, it's conceivable that a new global Anti-War Coalition can be generated.

Bloodshed and destruction seem boundless at the moment. It's past time to reverse the trend.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Victim Blaming as Art Form, Sport

In the latest round of slaughter and murder in the Middle East -- now stretching in a big arc from the Gaza Strip in the south to the streets of Damascus in the north to the besieged cities of Iraq in the east -- the active participants love to blame the victims of the slaughter for their own demise.

The victims, for the most part, are only trying to stay out of the way of the drones and bombs and missiles and bullets, but unfortunately in the modern practice of "warfighting" there's no place to go. Every place in the "battle space" is a potential or actual target and there are no shelters for the victims.

Blaming them for their demise doesn't even work as a rationalization. It's simply a formula.

The Israelis, of course, have perfected the formula.

Here is an example of nearly perfect hasbara:


It's simple. Just stop attacking Israel with rockets and missiles, aimed arbitrarily (but hopefully with the intent of hitting civilians, preferably children), give up the objective of destroying Israel, and concede that Israel has a right to exist, and all this can be resolved.
Hamas uses civilian sites to launch it's deadly cargo. When Israel notifies civilians their buildings may be attacked, Hamas insists the residents remain and be martyred. Is no one bothered by Hamas' willingness to sacrifice its own people to further its reprehensible policy of annihilation, or are all of you indignant (to put it mildly) critics really in favor of denying Israel's right to exist as a sovereign country.
And don't get into the "Jewish" state nonsense. Name me one Arab country which isn't de facto, if not de jure, a Moslem theocracy. Also, you might ask why the considerable Christian Palestinian population has practically disappeared from the West bank and Gaza.
They didn't leave voluntarily. It's my understanding many of them went to Israel, where they joined a very large Moslem minority, few if any of whom are leaving Israel for the outside Arab world.
No other country would tolerate this kind of aggression from a neighbor without retaliation.
To my knowledge there were no Jewish populations in Europe attacking the Nazis with hand guns, no less rockets, nor did any Jews declare the intent to destroy any European entity.
The Jews of Europe posed no threat to any state or other political, or societal entity.
Comparing the Holocaust to the present situation in the middle east is nothing more than a subterfuge for anti-semitism. Expecting the Jews to behave differently than any other similarly situated country in a world where outright slaughters are going on (for example Syria and Iraq) with far less justification and a lot less regard for human life says it all.
As far as Israel's so called control of Gaza, again why should Israel concede its sovereignty to a terrorist organization dedicated to its destruction. Israel doesn't occupy Gaza. This latest round started with rocket and missile attacks from guess what - Gaza. The chances are just as good that if Israel withdrew totally from the West Bank and those Palestinians were granted statehood without a comprehensive peace agreement, Israel would be subject to attack not only from the north and south but also the east. There is nowhere in Israel that is out of range of ordinance Hamas now possesses (and is eagerly using). So from a purely defensive perspective, Israel has no choice but to react.
If Hamas gave a damn for its own people, it would cease its aggression, concentrate on improving the standard of living of its people by negotiating in good faith with both Israel and Egypt. Remember Gaza has a border with Egypt, but for some reason all the vitriol is aim,ed at Israel. Wonder why.
The reason Israel imposes embargoes on Gaza is to prevent even worse incursions over it's borders.
The author apparently ran out of time to finish the thought. But it would be a surprise to few if this hasbara was followed by a revisionist history of the region, going back at least to 1948, if not to 1948 BCE.

The formula mixes fact and fiction with repetition and victim blaming, always with the intention to leave Israel and Israelis utterly blameless, heroic and justified. All the responsibility for the deplorable state of conflict is on the shoulders of Hamas and the Palestinians. The people of Gaza deserve what they get -- because they are who they are and they do what they do.

Thence comes the dehumanizing of the foe. They are animals, savage, barbaric, subhuman, inhuman, vermin. Oh, it never fails. Just as in times past the excuse for killing the women and children of the savage foe has been that "nits breed lice." Ergo, kill them all. God will know His own.

Thus even babes in arms are held responsible for the horrors unleashed against them in classic victim-blaming fashion.

The Israelis are behaving barbarically towards their captive Gazan foe, on the theory that "nits breed lice" and killing a sufficiency of the Gazan women and children -- a sufficiency that varies arbitrarily -- will teach the Garzan warriors a lesson: to yield and surrender is their only option, and even then, it will not be enough to end the slaughter, for they and they alone are responsible for the slaughter, and as they hold human life to be of no particular value -- as opposed to the high value that those who kill them hold it -- they will pay forever with their own lives and those of the people they purport to love.

I've  remarked on the tendency of elites and those in power to cast responsibility downwards. According to their own lights, the elites and the oligarchy they serve are not responsible for anything bad that happens. Only the lower orders have responsibility for such evil. They and their various "Hitlers" -- whether in the West Bank and Gaza or lurking under the beds of the high and mighty -- are the responsible parties; the elites and oligarchs who stand with one another to denounce them never are.

Victim blaming is a constant, an art form and a sport.