Saturday, November 11, 2006

Memorial for Malachi Ritscher this Sunday

For any of my readers - either regulars or passers-by - who live in the Chicago Metro area:

Yesterday the office of the Cook County medical examiner confirmed that it was indeed Malachi Ritscher who committed suicide last Friday. He was 52.

This Sunday, November 12, Elastic will host a memorial for Ritscher from 5 to 8 PM. Saxophonist Dave Rempis, who is co-organizing the event, writes: "Malachi left many people behind who will greatly miss him, his sense of humor, his fierce individualism, and his selfless efforts in documenting the music for so many years. He was truly a unique and passionate person, who followed his beliefs unflinchingly up until the end. If you have anything that you'd like to bring (photos, etc.) that has some relevance to Malachi, please do. We'd like to display some of these items for everyone to share in. And please pass this information on to others who knew Malachi. There are many out there who will greatly miss his presence."

Last night I played some music from Ken Vandermark that Malachi had recorded as my radio show's memorial. RIP.

Junior Caligula sez:

"Years from now, when America looks out on a democratic Middle East growing in freedom and prosperity, Americans will speak of the battles like Fallujah with the same awe and reverence that we now give to Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima."

- George Bush, speaking at the dedication of the National Museum of the Marine Corps
Nerdified link. To take a line from the great character Jules Winnfield: "Well, allow me to retort." Americans will likely speaking of Fallujah as their Guernica. Just to give you a flavor for how Guernica went down, here's an excerpt from an oral history of the Spanish Civil War that I posted almost two years ago:
What follows is a passage from Ronald Fraser's excellent oral history of the Spanish Civil War, Blood of Spain: The Experience of Civil War 1936-1939, published in 1979 and released in paperback by Penguin Books. The account of the bombing of Guernica, which became a symbol of fascist terror, appears on pages 398-401:
Amatxu, the church bells are ringing,” Ignacia OZAMIZ’s three-year-old son kept saying as, from the early morning, the bells tolled out warnings of enemy planes in the vicinity. The front was barely 20 km to the east at Marquina as the crow flies. Four months pregnant, she had put her child – the youngest of four – to bed after lunch when her husband, a local blacksmith, sent her a message to go down to the shelter. People had seen a big plane – the abuelo – over the mountains.

Until the past week, she thought, with the exception of food shortages and the dead being brought from the front for burial, the war had hardly affected Guernica. Six months before, José Antonio Aguirre, newly elected head of Euzkadi’s autonomous government, had knelt under its famous oak tree, where in the past Spanish monarchs or their representatives had sworn to respect the Basque fueros (
note: fueros are the rights of self-government in Basque country and Navarro). Guernica, a town of 6,000 inhabitants lying between the hills 30 km to the east of Bilbao, was a symbol of liberty and tradition to the Basques. In a few hours it became the universal symbol of fascist terror.

Monday, 26 April was market day. The livestock market had been suspended for the duration of the war, but the ordinary market, Ignacia OZAMIZ recalled, continued as usual. Father Dionisio AJANGUIZ was on his way to his home town from his parish of Aulestia, halfway to Marquina, to spend the afternoon chatting and playing cards with fellow priests. One of them, whose mother that very morning had offered them a glass of cognac each not to go to Guernica, was accompanying them. They had drunk the cognac and set out. He had taken no heed even of his own brother’s admonitions; Father José AXUNGUIZ had been warning his parishioners at Marquina not to continue the traditional practice of going to Guernica on market day.

It was the outing for the youth; buses brought people from as far away as Lequeito on the coast. The people lacked war training. I blame the Basque authorities. They shouldn’t have allowed the practice to continue and were responsible for a great number of deaths. Those of us who lived virtually on the front, as in Marquina, had learnt the importance of building good shelters. But in Guernica they hadn’t taken adequate precautions; the shelters were rudimentary. I kept telling my mother: “Build a good one.” “Poor child, poor child,” was all she could say…

As Father Dionisio AJANGUIZ walked into Guernica, a solitary Heinkel III flew over and dropped half a dozen bombs. “It was the people’s salvation; they ran from their houses to the shelters.” He was still half a kilometer from the centre when he saw nine planes appear, flying low, from the direction of the sea. He threw himself on the ground as the first bombs fell.

Hearing the explosions, Ignacia OZAMIZ, who had taken her husband’s advice and gone to the shelter next to her house, thought the end had come. So did others.

“Ignacia, where have we come to die?” the church organist from my home village said. “Here ,” I replied. The shelter was packed: 150 people at least between neighbors and people who had come for the market. The bombs had crashed on the near-by hospital, killing twenty-five children and two nuns. Debris fell on the shelter, and we thought it had been hit. It was little more than a roof of sandbags, narrow and short, in the patio next to our house. Soon it was filled with smoke and dust. “Amatxu, take me out,” my son cried in Basque. “I can’t breathe…”

Her eldest daughter, Manolita AGUIRRE, had gone with girlfriends to the plain that began at the edge of the town. There had been no school that day. As they were playing, they saw the planes coming. Workers shouted at them to get into the shelter close by the small-arms factory. As they ran in they heard the tat-tat-tat of the fighters’ machine guns. An old man pulled out a religious medallion and gave it to her to kiss. “Pray, child, pray, the planes are bombing us…”

The fighters dived down and machine-gunned people trying to flee across the plain. The bombers were flying so low you could see the crewmen, recalled Father Dionisio AJANGUIZ. It was a magnificent clear April evening after a showery morning…

Between the waves of bombers, the priest scrambled to look for a safer place than the road. Amidst the crash of bombs, Juana SANGRONIZ hoped she could die without seeing the cause of death. When she ran into the shelter people had shouted, “Don’t let her in.” She was a Carlist (
note: the Carlist movement was an extreme right-wing movement of the period), had been arrested with a number of others and kept in gaol for three weeks in Bilbao. She hadn’t been out of her home, not even to go to mass, since her release, unable to face the indignity of being seen under guard like the other women. But her novio had dragged her into a house near the church of Santa María where people were sheltering. She was sure she was going to die. She heard the bombs whistle, the frightening explosions. People cried that it was dangerous to keep the mouth shut.

One had to put a stick or something between one’s teeth. My novio (
note: boyfriend) tried, but I kept telling him, “Leave me in peace.” He was a strong man, but he was trembling with fear…

The house on one side of the shelter, and then Ignacia OZAMIZ’s house on the other, began to burn. The smoke poured into the shelter. Someone drove a cow in. It started to shriek.

All the smoke came in with it. We had to keep our mouths shut, we could hardly see each other, and the smell was awful, remembered her seven-year-old daughter KONI. I didn’t think of dying, I was too young perhaps. But I thought we were going to suffocate.

People started to panic, recalled Ignacia OZAMIZ. “The house is on fire, we’re going to be burnt alive,” they screamed. Gudaris (
note: Basque Nationalist Soldiers) guarding the shelter let no one leave. One man tried to force his way out with his young child. “I don’t care if they kill me, I can’t stand it here.” He was pushed back. “Keep calm,” the soldiers shouted…

The town was beginning to burn, the wooden rafters catching alight. After the high explosive bombs, successive waves of planes dropped incendiaries.

From the shelter of an iron-ore bore hole about a kilometer from the town, Father Dionisio AJANGUIZ saw the roofs catch alight. Even at that distance he found breathing difficult because of the smoke. He feared that at least half the town’s population must have been killed. “And that’s what would have happened if they had dropped the incendiaries earlier instead of towards the end”…

A pall of smoke rose into the sky. Between waves of bombers, Juan Manuel EPALZA, now serving in the war industries’ chemical section, who by chance was lunching at a factory on the outskirts of town, came out of an air raid shelter to look. Thoughts of Nero crossed his mind. The bombing was of a different intensity to any that he had suffered.

After some three hours it ended. As Ignacia OZAMIZ and her two children emerged from the shelter, she saw the town was alight. “Don’t cry,” her husband consoled her. “We’ve got our hands, we’re unharmed, alive.” But she could think only of her eldest daughter and her mother, neither of whom had been in the shelter with her. Her house in Asilo Calzado was burning from the roof. Her husband rushed in to rescue papers and money.

“Oh, if only you’d managed to save my sewing machine,” I said. He went back in. As he came down with the machine, he found the staircase alight. He threw the machine out of the window, only just managing to jump out himself. “Woman, I got your machine but it nearly cost me my life.” “Why did you go up?” “To do you a pleasure.” The machine broke in its fall on the air raid shelter we’d just left, but I picked up the head, and I’ve got it still…

As her eldest daughter, Manolita, came out of the shelter on the edge of town, where none of the industrial plants, including the small arms factory, had been hit – a wave of heat struck her face. She told a man that she had to join her parents who were in the blazing ruins she could see beyond the railway station. Together, they skirted the town along the railway track to reach the main road. A gudari carried her on his shoulders to reach her burning house, one of the first on the street into the centre.

Everywhere people were fleeing. The water main had been broken in the raid, and there was little to be done to put out the fire. Juana SANGRONIZ was led out of the blaze by her novio. Crying uncontrollably, she refused to look back at the burning town. Ignacia OZAMIZ’s husband ran to rescue his crippled mother; he arrived too late. She and three other old women had been burnt alive. Leaving their house burning, the family made their way out of the town by a path known as El Agua Corriente; the main street through the centre was impassable. As they reached the higher part, they saw the area around the oak tree had not been hit. That night, given shelter outside town at the home of the Count of Arana, one of whose sons her husband had managed earlier to get released from the gaol, she had a miscarriage. Her husband took her to a relative’s farm. She left her four children with her mother. Little did she think it would be three years before she saw them again.

As Fraser footnotes at the end of the passage, Franco's fascist regime would blame the conflagration in Guernica on the Basque militia - a claim that was debunked. The fascists, with the aid of Hitler and Musolini were behind the bombing and burning of Guernica - a fact that even the right-wing in Guernica (such as the Carlists) would acknowledge years later.

I wonder what kind of oral histories we'll get from Fallujah.

Friday, November 10, 2006

In his own words:

Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (abducted by CIA and renditioned to Egypt):

"I didn't understand anything about what was going on," Nasr wrote. "They began to punch me in the stomach and all over my body. They wrapped my entire head and face with wide tape, and cut holes over my nose and face so I could breathe."

Upon his arrival in Egypt hours later, he said, he was taken into a room by an Egyptian security official who told him that "two pashas" wanted to speak with him.

"Only one spoke, an Egyptian," he recalled. "And all he said was, 'Do you want to collaborate with us?' " Nasr said the other "pasha" appeared to be an American. His captors offered a deal: They would allow him to return to Italy if he agreed to become an informant. Nasr said he refused. As a result, he said, he was interrogated and physically abused for the next 14 months in two Cairo prisons.

Italian prosecutors charge that the CIA and the Italian military intelligence agency known as Sismi collaborated to kidnap Nasr, who was known for preaching radical sermons in Milan and railing against U.S. policies in Afghanistan and the Middle East. According to prosecutors, the abduction thwarted a separate Italian police investigation into Nasr's activities and jeopardized a surveillance operation concerning other radicals in Milan.

Court papers allege that the kidnapping was orchestrated by the CIA's station chief in Rome and involved at least two dozen CIA operatives, most of whom arrived in Italy months before to lay the groundwork. Italian judges have issued arrest warrants for the CIA officers and have pledged to try them in absentia if necessary.

[snip]

In his letter, Nasr described how his health had badly deteriorated. He had lost hearing in one ear from repeated beatings, he said, and his formerly pitch-black hair had turned all white. He said he was kept in a cell with no toilet and no lights, where "roaches and rats walked across my body."

He also gave a graphic account of Egyptian interrogation practices, including how he would be strapped to an iron rack nicknamed "the Bride" and zapped with electric stun guns.

On other occasions, he wrote, he was tied to a wet mattress on the floor. While one interrogator sat on a wooden chair perched on the prisoner's shoulders, another interrogator would flip a switch, sending jolts of electricity into the mattress coils.

Postmortem Postscript

Mickey Z offers a friendly reminder for why lefties shouldn't get too excited about the upcoming Democrat majorities in Congress:

So, the Democrats have a majority in Congress. The bad times are over. The evil ones have been vanquished. Let's go ahead and declare world peace, an end to global warming, and—while we're at it—the cancellation of The O'Reilly Factor. I mean, what could be better, right? Hmm, we could also have a Democratic president to go along with a Democratic Senate and Democratic House. Can you say Hillary Rodham Clinton, boys and girls? Imagine that: A pinko by the name of Clinton running the White House with a merry band of liberals calling all the shots in Congress. How grand it would be

Well, if you want a good idea of how things may go under the above scenario, you might want to reflect back upon the years of 1993 and 1994 because that's when President William Jefferson Clinton was enjoying the "advantage" of a Democratically-controlled Congress.

In just two years, the notorious liberal managed to abandon his pledge to consider offering asylum to Haitian refugees, renege on his promise to "take a firm stand" against the armed forces' ban on gays and lesbians, and back away from his most high-profile campaign issue: health care. He also signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), increased the Pentagon budget by another $25 billion, fired Jocelyn Elders, dumped Lani Guinier, ordered the bombing of Iraq and the Balkans, renewed the murderous sanctions on Iraq, ignored genocide in Rwanda, deported hundreds of thousands of "illegal" immigrants, and passed a crime bill that gave us more cops, more prisons, and 58 more offenses punishable by death. (All this came before the much-hyped Republican "revolution" in 1994. Can someone please explain to me why the right wing didn't like this guy?)

Oh, I remember the good old days well enough. Heck I can say proudly that I never voted for a Clinton and never will, and for damned good reason. To this day I still love to refer to the Clinton White House as the "best" Republican regime we ever had. As for why the right wing didn't like Bubba? About the best I could ever figure was that he simply didn't go far enough.

Anyhoo, by the time the much romanticized Clinton years were done, we could add what amounted to a genocidal policy toward Iraqis (which is what the economic sanctions that led to the deaths of half a million kids amounted to), a war that led to the deaths of many civilians in the Balkans, welfare "reform" that only led to additional families being consigned to desperate poverty, ad nauseum.

Yeah, it was paradise. Again, as I've said before and will say again, any left worth its salt needs to think outside of the two party system that we currently have.

RIP Malachi Ritscher

I've seen the following story circulating via blogs for the last couple days, and thought I'd pass it along:

On Saturday the Sun-Times ran a small item about a man who had set himself on fire during rush hour Friday morning near the Ohio Street exit on the Kennedy. His identity has still not been officially determined, but members of the local jazz and improvised music community say they are certain it was Malachi Ritscher, a longtime supporter of the scene. Bruno Johnson, who owns the free-jazz label Okka Disk, received a package yesterday from Ritscher that included a will, keys to his home, and instructions about what should be done with his belongings. Johnson, a former Chicagoan who now lives in Milwaukee, began making calls. Police are still awaiting the results of dental tests, but Johnson says an officer told one of Ritscher's sisters that all evidence pointed to the body being his; his car was found nearby and he hadn't shown up for work since Thursday.

Buried on Ritscher's web site Chicago Rash Audio Potential, a compendium of invaluable show postings, artwork, and photography, are a suicide note and an obituary. Both indicate that he was deeply troubled by the war in Iraq and pinpoint it as a motive for suicide (no method is specified), though there are indications that he may have had other issues as well. "He had a son, from whom he was estranged (at the son's request), and two grandchildren," reads the obit. "He had many acquaintances, but few friends; and wrote his own obituary, because no one else really knew him." Ritscher was a familiar face at antiwar protests, and he was arrested more than once for his involvement, including this time this past May. A note found at the scene of the immolation reportedly read "Thou Shalt Not Kill."

Although Ritscher, who was in his early 50s, had played music off and on over the years, he was best known for his devotion to documenting other people's shows. Several nights a week for at least the last decade he could be found at places like the Empty Bottle, the Velvet Lounge, and the Hungry Brain; by his own count he recorded more than 2,000 concerts. Over the years he invested more money in equipment and as his skills improved, many of his recordings went to be used on commerical releases--by Paul Rutherford, Gold Sparkle Band, Isotope 217, Irene Schweizer, and Ken Vandermark among others. Ritscher was fiercely modest about these pursuits--I once tried to do a piece on him for the Reader but he declined, saying he didn’t want publicity.

I thought I'd also reproduce his explanation at his website for what is undoubtedly an extreme action in full, as I think he explains himself quite aptly:

My actions should be self-explanatory, and since in our self-obsessed culture words seldom match the deed, writing a mission statement would seem questionable. So judge me by my actions. Maybe some will be scared enough to wake from their walking dream state - am I therefore a martyr or terrorist? I would prefer to be thought of as a 'spiritual warrior'. Our so-called leaders are the real terrorists in the world today, responsible for more deaths than Osama bin Laden.

I have had a wonderful life, both full and full of wonder. I have experienced love and the joy and heartache of raising a child. I have jumped out of an airplane, and escaped a burning building. I have spent the night in jail, and dropped acid during the sixties. I have been privileged to have met many supremely talented musicians and writers, most of whom were extremely generous and gracious. Even during the hard times, I felt charmed. Even the difficult lessons have been like blessed gifts. When I hear about our young men and women who are sent off to war in the name of God and Country, and who give up their lives for no rational cause at all, my heart is crushed. What has happened to my country? we have become worse than the imagined enemy - killing civilians and calling it 'collateral damage', torturing and trampling human rights inside and outside our own borders, violating our own Constitution whenever it seems convenient, lying and stealing right and left, more concerned with sports on television and ring-tones on cell-phones than the future of the world.... half the population is taking medication because they cannot face the daily stress of living in the richest nation in the world.

I too love God and Country, and feel called upon to serve. I can only hope my sacrifice is worth more than those brave lives thrown away when we attacked an Arab nation under the deception of 'Weapons of Mass Destruction'. Our interference completely destroyed that country, and destabilized the entire region. Everyone who pays taxes has blood on their hands.

I have had one previous opportunity to serve my country in a meaningful way - at 8:05 one morning in 2002 I passed Donald Rumsfeld on Delaware Avenue and I was acutely aware that slashing his throat would spare the lives of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people. I had a knife clenched in my hand, and there were no bodyguards visible; to my deep shame I hesitated, and the moment was past.

The violent turmoil initiated by the United States military invasion of Iraq will beget future centuries of slaughter, if the human race lasts that long. First we spit on the United Nations, then we expect them to clean up our mess. Our elected representatives are supposed to find diplomatic and benevolent solutions to these situations. Anyone can lash out and retaliate, that is not leadership or vision. Where is the wisdom and honor of the people we delegate our trust to?

To the rest of the world we are cowards - demanding Iraq to disarm, and after they comply, we attack with remote-control high-tech video-game weapons. And then lie about our reasons for invading. We the people bear complete responsibility for all that will follow, and it won't be pretty.

It is strange that most if not all of this destruction is instigated by people who claim to believe in God, or Allah. Many sane people turn away from religion, faced with the insanity of the 'true believers'. There is a lot of confusion: many people think that God is like Santa Claus, rewarding good little girls with presents and punishing bad little boys with lumps of coal; actually God functions more like the Easter Bunny, hiding surprises in plain sight. God does not choose the Lottery numbers, God does not make the weather, God does not endorse military actions by the self-righteous, God does not sit on a cloud listening to your prayers for prosperity. God does not smite anybody. If God watches the sparrow fall, you notice that it continues to drop, even to its death. Face the truth folks, God doesn't care, that's not what God is or does. If the human race drives itself to extinction, God will be there for another couple million years, 'watching' as a new species rises and falls to replace us. It is time to let go of primitive and magical beliefs, and enter the age of personal responsibility. Not telling others what is right for them, but making our own choices, and accepting consequences.

"Who would Jesus bomb?" This question is primarily addressing a Christian audience, but the same issues face the Muslims and the Jews: God's message is tolerance and love, not self-righteousness and hatred. Please consider "Thou shalt not kill" and "As ye sow, so shall ye reap". Not a lot of ambiguity there.

What is God? God is the force of life - the spark of creation. We each carry it within us, we share it with each other. Whether we are conscious of the life-force is a choice we make, every minute of every day. If you choose to ignore it, nothing will happen - you are just 'less conscious'. Maybe you are less happy (maybe not). Maybe you grow able to tap into the universal force, and increase the creativity in the universe. Love is anti-entropy. Please notice that 'conscious' and 'conscience' are related concepts.

Why God - what is the value? Whether committee consensus of a benevolent power that works through humans, or giant fungus under Oregon, the value of opening up to the concept of God is in coming to the realization that we are not alone, establishing a connection to the universe, the experience of finding completion. As individuals we may exist alone, but we are all alone together as a people. Faith is the answer to fear. Fear opposes love. To manipulate through fear is a betrayal of trust.

What does God want? No big mystery - simply that we try to help each other. We decide to make God-like decisions, rescuing falling sparrows, or putting the poor things out of their misery. Tolerance, giving, acceptance, forgiveness.

If this sounds a lot like pop psychology, that is my exact goal. Never underestimate the value of a pep-talk and a pat on the ass. That is basically all we give to our brave soldiers heading over to Iraq, and more than they receive when they return. I want to state these ideas in their simplest form, reducing all complexity, because each of us has to find our own answers anyway. Start from here...

I am amazed how many people think they know me, even people who I have never talked with. Many people will think that I should not be able to choose the time and manner of my own death. My position is that I only get one death, I want it to be a good one. Wouldn't it be better to stand for something or make a statement, rather than a fiery collision with some drunk driver? Are not smokers choosing death by lung cancer? Where is the dignity there? Are not the people the people who disregard the environment killing themselves and future generations? Here is the statement I want to make: if I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world. I refuse to finance the mass murder of innocent civilians, who did nothing to threaten our country. I will not participate in your charade - my conscience will not allow me to be a part of your crusade. There might be some who say "it's a coward's way out" - that opinion is so idiotic that it requires no response. From my point of view, I am opening a new door.

What is one more life thrown away in this sad and useless national tragedy? If one death can atone for anything, in any small way, to say to the world: I apologize for what we have done to you, I am ashamed for the mayhem and turmoil caused by my country. I was alive when John F. Kennedy instilled hope into a generation, and I was a sorry witness to the final crushing of hope by Dick Cheney's puppet, himself a pawn of the real rulers, the financial plunderers and looters who profit from every calamity; following the template of Reagan's idiocracy.

The upcoming elections are not a solution - our two party system is a failure of democracy. Our government has lost its way since our founders tried to build a structure which allowed people to practice their own beliefs, as far as it did not negatively affect others. In this regard, the separation of church and state needs to be reviewed. This is a large part of the way that the world has gone wrong, the endless defining and dividing of things, micro-sub-categorization, sectarianism. The direction we need is a process of unification, integrating all people into a world body, respecting each individual. Business and industry have more power than ever before, and individuals have less. Clearly, the function of government is to protect the individual, from hardship and disease, from zealots, from the exploitation, from monopoly, even from itself. Our leaders are not wise persons with integrity and vision - they are actors reading from teleprompters, whose highest goal is to stir up the mob. Our country slaughters Arabs, abandons New Orleaneans, and ignores the dieing environment. Our economy is a house of cards, as hollow and fragile as our reputation around the world. We as a nation face the abyss of our own design.

A coalition system which includes a Green Party would be an obvious better approach than our winner-take-all system. Direct electronic debate and balloting would be an improvement over our non-representative congress. Consider that the French people actually have a voice, because they are willing to riot when the government doesn't listen to them.

"Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government... " - Abraham Lincoln

With regard to those few who crossed my path carrying the extreme and unnecessary weight of animosity: they seemed by their efforts to be punishing themselves. As they acted out the misery of their lives it is now difficult to feel anything other than pity for them.

Without fear I go now to God - your future is what you will choose today.
My emphasis added. Leaving aside any discussion of his mental state for another time, I will simply note that although self-immolation is undoubtedly an extreme form of protest, it is hardly unheard of (as even a cursory study of the self-immolations committed by Buddhist Monks in the 1960s as acts of protest against the puppet regime in what was South Vietnam will bear out). My aim here is neither to glorify nor condemn Malachi's final act, but to highlight the conditions that would make one take one's life in such an extreme manner.

Let's face it, something is fundamentally wrong with the current state of affairs both within the US and in the way the US treats the rest of the planet. Malachi was keenly aware of this as indicated in his statement as well as his prior history of activism. Those who speak out against war, or who work to create a more sustainable way of life are largely marginalized. We have two political parties that have a hegemonic grip on power, and that are essentially elitist and imperialist in outlook (one just happens to be less extremely so than the other, but that's hardly impressive to those of us on the left, as well as fellow libertarian travelers). Outside of voting every couple of years, many of us are effectively disenfranchised. Instead one looks to a future of grinding poverty (or for the middle class, the enduring stress caused by mountains of debt), endless war, and economic and life patterns that simply cannot be sustained over the long haul. The easy way out is to succumb to some form of nihilism or to numb oneself with any of a number of legally sanctioned or illegal drugs. The harder way out is to actually keep facing the abyss and to keep on struggling for something better by whatever means necessary. That latter path requires one to be willing to feel a great deal of strong emotions over long periods of time - anger, shame, guilt, etc. It is indeed that latter path that Malachi appears to have followed.

I did not have the privilege of meeting the late Malachi Ritscher, but given my musical tastes I wouldn't be terribly surprised if there were very few degrees of separation between us. Indeed I suspect that at least indirectly I owe folks like Malachi a debt of gratitude for making that music known as free or avant-garde jazz more visible over the last decade and a half. The music that he so passionately recorded will easily be his lasting legacy, as should be his passion for bringing about a more peaceful world.

A quick note in the margins: anyone reading this and wondering if I'm okay, I'll simply say "not to worry". I'm only forty, have had a great life so far and plan on living for a long time. Besides the fact that my writings piss off fascists of various stripes continues to be one of numerous sources of pleasure for me. The way I see it, I've got decades of being a curmudgeonly leftist ahead of me. Bet on it.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Postmortem

The last couple weeks have been filled with deadlines, illnesses (my own and kids), and just general burnout the well for writing has been a bit dry as of late. That said, I have been following the last couple weeks of the election cycle, as well as its immediate aftermath.

It seems pretty much old news now to note that the Dems captured the House (with close to 30 seats - well over the 15 needed for a majority) and have (assuming Holy Joe Lieberman actually caucuses with them, for all that good that's usually worth) a majority in the Senate. As an independent lefty who's generally felt disillusioned with the Dems and who has absolutely no use whatsoever for the GOP, the prospect of a divided government these next two years is a good one. It's safe to say that the myths about the ballyhooed "genius" of the Rove fear and smear machine were more the stuff of folklore than reality. It is equally safe to say that the election served as a repudiation of the Iraq war debacle and the general culture of corruption that had festered on Capitol Hill & the White House these last several years. As Lenin's Tomb might put it - the GOP got the good hiding they deserved. On a more ideological level, we've now had ample experience with how the modern conservative movement "governs", and the election - in spite of the standard mass media spin - can be seen as a repudiation of that movement as well.

So, what SHOULD the Democrats do, now that they have majorities in the House and Senate? Steven D. has these suggestions that I considered part of my short list as well:

Ban Torture. No President, ever, gets to decide what conduct does and does not satisfy the terms of the Geneva Conventions. Period. End of story.

Restore the Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Constitution allows for the temporary suspension of habeas corpus only in times of invasion or insurrection. I think that gets it right, don't you? No one holding the office of the President should be entitled to eliminate that right under any other circumstances. Period. End of story.

Provide a fair trial and independent counsel to everyone "detained" by the Government, for whatever reason. We had a revolution once to ensure these rights for everyone. And to make certain no government would ever hold someone for an indefinite time without providing them a fair trial, these rights were specifically added to the Constitution by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. If the people who wrote and ratified our Constitution thought such rights were a necessary limitation on government power, it should be good enough for us today. Period. End of Story.

Stop Government Spying on Americans Without a Warrant. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution (part of the original Bill of Rights) states that:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I thinks that's pretty straightforward, don't you? You want to listen in to my telephone conversations, or raffle through my email messages, or just follow me around to see what sites on the internet I go to, get a warrant from a COURT OF LAW. And no avoiding this responsibility by hiring some private company to invade my privacy and then sell you the data they collected. Period. End of Story.

So far, so good. Those particular legislative actions would certainly fit with the general American zeitgeist of personal freedom and responsibility. Whether or not the Dems are actually willing to do so is another matter, and I for one tend to be skeptical. The Dems won this election by default. What is missing is that vision thing - the one facet of movement conservativism that one can rely on is that it is based on a vision (a return to some idealized version of the 1950s). To take a few lines from Lenin's Tomb:
Recent growth has been slower than expected. The hardest hit by the recent economic woes have been manufacturing workers: 3 million jobs have been lost in that sector since 2000. Even though the US economy is still adding jobs at the moment, it is losing manufacturing jobs at an alarming rate. Last month alone, 39,000 were lost. This is not all because of Bush, by the way: the locust years of late were prepared by the Clinton administration whose policies would perhaps have led to an earlier and harder fall more generally had it not been for Bush's military Keynesianism. Nevertheless, Bush's policies have exacerbated the crisis in manufacturing in a number of ways. State investment in military hardware boosts demand for high technology manufacturing goods, but not necessarily for mass consumer goods, which is where the fall in demand has been greatest. The radical transformation in the tax structure transferred huge amounts of funds to the rich, and the suppression of labour (such as during the New York transit strike), alongside the recession, allowed companies to keep pay raises well below the rate of inflation - thereby in fact cutting the pay rate.

[snip]

The Democrats wouldn't dream of trying to reverse any of this, although they might consider slowing up the rate of exploitation a tiny bit. It is people like Ralph Nader and the Green Party and so on who have been properly raising these issues, and it would have taken a serious and focused campaign by these groups to redirect the public discourse from piddling 'moral' controversies. Unfortunately, they don't stand much of a chance, and show no signs of even trying. There really needs to be a new radical coalition formed, based on the interests of the American working class, but specifically including attempts to embrace Arab Americans who are especially vulnerable to racist discrimination and who have experienced a massive loss of pay in recent years. It would have to be radical without being characterised by the language of schisms, including marxists but not marxist, including Greens but not Green, including unions but not an outgrowth of union bureaucracy - a broad, radical, left-wing movement representing the unrepresented working class on every front, articulating their interests on the war, Katrina, wages, employment conditions, the economy and so on.
To which I say, hear hear! To reprise something I wrote a year ago:
What to do? In Malcom's last year on this planet he offered up some simple advice that I think we can all use: be organized, and don't affiliate with either the Dems or the GOP. That's the general idea behind American Solidarity: organize physically, financially, intellectually. Many of us come from varying backgrounds and have varying pet causes, but let's face it - those of us who are living paycheck to paycheck, those of us who value liberty, who value equality, who value justice, who value privacy have a hell of a lot in common. Technological advances in the last decade or so make it easier for us to coordinate and to exchange ideas and information than ever before. It's way past time to start using those tools to our advantage. Blogs are one of our tools, playing the same role that zines played in the 1980s and pamphlets such as Paine's played during the Revolution some 230 years ago. Blogging is only part of that picture. Cernig fills in some of the details elsewhere. Clearly, unions, thinktanks, civil liberties organizations are going to be salient as well.

Being unaffiliated with the major political parties is also crucial for an American Solidarity movement. The GOP can be written off as a lost cause. The Dems, I'm also skeptical of, but will note this much: if they think we're registered as Dems, they can assume that we'll continue to accept the status quo. Malcom was onto something back in 1964 and 1965 when he advocated refusing to back any candidate until it was clear that they were willing to walk their talk. If they turn out to be kosher, then by all means support them, but only to the extent that they are representing us. If they stop representing us, we should be willing to walk away from them. If they know that their constituents mean business, they'll be more careful to represent us in whatever legislative body they hold office. There's strength in numbers, especially when those numbers are independent.

Underlying all of this is the assumption that you're registered and that you vote. If you are making less than 35k a year, and/or if you're an ethnic minority, and/or you're a relatively young voter (say 18-25 years of age) you are under-represented when it comes to actual voters come election day. You need to register (ideally independent) and you need to educate yourself on the candidates and issues, and you need to vote - and not only those major elections, but also on the local elections. The percentage of eligible voters who actually do vote is pathetic when compared to other relatively democratic industrialized nations. Understandably, a lot of that is due to the pathetic array of choices we get offered by the major parties; we as citizens too bear some responsibility with regard to voter turnout and need to take that responsibility personally. Becoming an informed voter is going to require some effort, but hardly an insurmountable effort. Newspapers across the globe are available over the internet (I'm a big fan of The Guardian and The Independent - both from the UK, but there are certainly others worth visiting). There are a number of well-informed bloggers that you should make an effort to check out on a regular basis. Keep up with the local newspapers and bloggers. If you don't have a computer at home, go to your nearest library to access these resources. If you have access to these resources, take some responsibility for educating your friends and neighbors.

Making meaningful social change happen in America will not happen overnight, and will be truly a community effort in which each of us must play an active role. In other words, it's time to stand up.
And for the time being, I'm with Justin Raimondo: it's time to put the new majority's feet to the fire.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Another musical interlude


Fits in with my throw the bums out vibe.

You know it must be election time when...

the GOP is up to its usual voter suppression tactics. Check out the video:


Tim Daly from Clarendon got a call saying that if he votes Tuesday, he will be arrested. A recording of his voicemail can be found online at: www.webbforsenate.com/media/ph one_message.wav

The transcript from his voicemail reads:

"This message is for Timothy Daly. This is the Virginia Elections Commission. We've determined you are registered in New York to vote. Therefore, you will not be allowed to cast your vote on Tuesday. If you do show up, you will be charged criminally."

Daly has been registered to vote in Virginia since 1998, and he has voted for the last several cycles with no problem. He has filed a criminal complaint with the Commonwealth's attorney in Arlington.
George "Macaca" Allen is desperate, I suppose. In any event, my suggestion wherever you may live is that if you're getting automated voicemails like the above, someone's trying to play you: go ahead and vote and go ahead and report the offending message to the appropriate authorities.

My little corner of the US is pretty uneventful this go-around. We haven't had to deal with any of that nonsense, nor have we been saddled with touch-screen voting machines as of yet.

A musical & visual interlude


Tune by Ben Harper, video by Nezua.

The lyrics:
oppression
you pray on us when we sleep
oppression
you chase after the tired the poor the weak
oppression
you know you mean only harm
oppression
you reach out with your long arm

but oppression
i won't let you near me
oppression
you shall learn to fear me

oppression
you seek population control
oppression
to divide and to conquer is your goal
oppression
i swear that hatred is your home
oppression
you just won't leave bad enough alone

but oppression
i won't let you near me
oppression
you shall learn to fear me

oppression
i don't see how you sleep
oppression
for your bleeding conscience i weep
oppression
you may have the dollar on your side
but oppression
from the gospel truth you cannot hide
and
oppression
i won't let you near me
oppression
you shall learn to fear me
oppression
i won't let you near me
oppression
you shall fear me
Consider it inspiration.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Russian and US authoritarians: not a dime's worth of difference

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian nationalists and neo-fascists rallied in Moscow and across Russia and beyond to mark National Unity Day in what they billed as a show of force by the country's rising anti-immigrant movement.

More than 1,000 people calling for restraints on immigration and special privileges for ethnic Russians converged on a square near central Moscow's Park Kultury in the face of a huge police presence.

Some activists gave Nazi-style salutes, while others waved Russian Orthodox Church symbols and icons.

"We demand to be rid of illegal immigrants. They are taking our jobs, bringing drugs and terrorism," Irina Saveleva, a parliamentary deputy from the nationalist Rodina party, told the crowd.

"It is time to rise up!" said Nikolai Kuryanovich, an ultra-nationalist deputy. "This march is a demonstration of the awakening of the national consciousness. The authorities are scared."

Meanwhile, up to 700 liberals and human rights campaigners held an alternative rally in another part of central Moscow, decrying what they described as tacit support from the authorities for ultra-nationalism.

November 4 officially celebrates the liberation of Moscow from Polish invaders in 1612 by groups of Russian volunteers who joined forces in the capital.

President Vladimir Putin laid flowers at a monument to the battle on Red Square, while Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II called on the country to show unity.

However, ultra-nationalists seized the occasion to mount protests in several major cities, including the far eastern city of Vladivostok and the country's second city, Saint Petersburg.

Nationalist groups, such as the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, appear to be successfully tapping into growing fears that native Russians are losing out, especially economically, to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who come to the country every year.

Human rights monitors and Russia's small number of liberal politicians frequently accuse the authorities of playing the race card to boost loyalty toward the government.

Activists gathered Saturday across the river from the Kremlin in what they described as an "anti-fascist" meeting meant to counter the ultra-nationalist rally.

"We have to protest this ideology of lies and hate," Svetlana Gannushkina, from the Memorial human rights organisation, told the crowd. "Fascism is founded with the tacit support of the authorities, which uses it for their own goals. The authorities don't want to take responsibility, so we will have to."
Nerdified link.

Awhile back, I reported on an outfit called Christian Exodus who announced that they intended to create an all "Christian" homeland in South Carolina.

Now it seems that the Aryan Nations, having been dislodged from their Northwest compound at Hayden Lake, are picking up on the concept themselves.

They held their most recent Congress in Laurens, South Carolina. The gathering, as you might expect, turned into a big ole Klan-meets-neo-Nazis hatefest. The liveliest speaker was a young fellow with tatooed biceps named Ryan, who was so brave he refused to give his last name. Still, he put on a good show:
"You better hope I don't come in your bedroom window," Ryan said to FBI informants he suspected were in the audience. "Warriors kill and break things. We're warriors in waiting."

Ryan, whose biceps were adorned with 8-inch Nazi "SS" tattoos, capped his speech with a dance across the stage, a la Mick Jagger, and a bellowed challenge: "You want to see blood in the streets? I do!"

According to everyone in attendance, the consensus seems to be leaning toward giving up on the five-state Northwest homeland project favored by white-supremacist leaders and shifting everything to the South:
For years, Aryan Nations aspired to have an uprising in the Northwest, and turn five states into, literally, The Aryan Nation. With the group staggering from the double whammy of litigation and factionalism, the new goal is more modest: South Carolina.

Aryan Nations' Washington leader, who gave only his first name, Paul, is 60-ish and has a British accent from 25 years in England. Paul outlined possible strategies for the group: establishing a state in Alaska ("few minorities," he said), or a wholesale "South will rise again." Both of those he discounted as impractical, although certainly worthy.

In the end, Paul observed, the best option is to "look at the secession of South Carolina. Start with this state."
[snip]

But I was especially struck by the sidebar to this article in which the author, John Suggs, contemplated the meaning of the AN gathering, and the odds of success for the South Carolina plan:
Then, while Williams cheerfully explained that blacks, Asians and Hispanics were subhuman, and that a race war was his most cherished goal, one of my voices piped up again.

"Yo, John," the voice intoned, "you realize these guys aren't too far outside the mainstream. After all, fringe extremists, our own versions of Iranian Maximum Loon Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have seized the control levers of this country."

I always listen to my voices since, like George Bush, I'm sure it's the Lord speaking directly to me. And that last epiphany made sense.

Racism doesn't exist in a vacuum, whether ranted Hitleresque from a podium or conveyed with a Dick Cheney wink. We hate others of our species because we're in competition with them for land or oil; or we need a scapegoat to blame for our own miserable existence. Often we claim the Celestial Mystery Being has commanded us to commit atrocities in his name.

We come up with fantasies of superiority, myths about the nobility of my ancestors and the degeneracy of yours. In order for me to smite you, I must believe with God-almighty fervor that you're inferior. You're a raghead, a slant, a kike, a nigger, a spic, a white devil, a fag or a bitch -- and if I torture and slaughter you, it ain't really murder. No, sir.

If a whole segment of society agrees with those racial assessments, they become part of the cultural conversation. That's why U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Uptown Klan) is a veteran at employing the "n" word, although still rather a novice at denigrating folks of South Asian ancestry.

Those sentiments ooze like fetid sewage into what should be the crystal-clean water of public policy. In America, we lived through generations of statutory enforcement of the belief that one race has the right to dominate the other. And, if you conclude such thinking is "history," you're a fool.

It's not just that a few ignorant rednecks believe, in their illiterate confusion, that they're somehow "superior." Rather, it's that we still make laws based on such assumptions. The Republican Party since 1964 has consciously made a "racism is OK" pitch to unreconstructed Southerners.

Even scarier, millions of Americans go to churches where racism is part of the catechism, whether blatantly stated or masked by theological mumbo-jumbo.
And, as he observes at the end, this hate is being fomented at the elite media level by so-called "conservatives":
The New York Times commented last month on similar national voter ID legislation: "The actual reason for this bill is the political calculus that certain kinds of people -- the poor, minorities, disabled people and the elderly -- are less likely to have valid ID."

Bushite bomb-thrower Ann Coulter arrogantly conceded the point, writing this month: "Way too many people vote. We should have fewer people voting. There ought to be a poll tax to take the literacy test before voting."

Coulter is saying ballots should be reserved for right-wing white folks. And that's almost exactly what Pastor Williams believes.
The chief means for the spread of this kind of hatred has been a national media that gives people like Coulter and her junior partner, Michelle Malkin, far more than their 15 seconds of fame. More importantly, the press allows hatemongers in the ranks of movement conservatives to peddle race-baiting and bigotry with references that only the most obtuse can miss -- as with the ugly race-baiting recently thrown Harold Ford's way.
Nerdified link.
So Connerly has become so desperate for endorsements that he's now welcoming support from the Ku Klux Klan:
Ward Connerly, the California man leading a ballot measure to end most affirmative action in Michigan, accepts Ku Klux Klan support for his position in a video clip posted this week on the Internet.

Connerly on Friday defended his remark in a statement, saying he accepts support for banning affirmative action wherever he finds it.

He said he does not support hateful activities.
His precise words, defending the Klan support:
"If the Ku Klux Klan thinks that equality is right, God bless them. Thank them for finally reaching the point where logic and reason are being applied instead of hate."
Nerdified link.
Well, he's finally hit the jackpot with his latest call for assassination [warning: links to hate site] of the "problems" in Congress and on the Supreme Court:
First, let me say that I do not envision a Second American Revolution as being some gallant fight, with tens of thousands of armed citizens facing tens of thousands of US troops on some battlefield. No. Far from it.

In watching the military campaigns of the past 25 years, I have come to admire "surgical strikes." When force is applied in a specific, limited way, the results can be magnificent. Such is my HYPOTHETICAL thinking for our present circumstance.

Suppose, HYPOTHETICALLY just for the sake of argument, that not all of the Congress and Supreme Court need to be removed. The House of Representatives consists of 435 members. The Senate consists of 100 members. But not all of them are "problems."

For the purpose of this HYPOTHETICAL discussion, let's say that only half of the US House and half of the US Senate are "problems" That's a total of 267 "problems" in Congress. Obviously, there are at least three "problems" on the Supreme Court. 267 + 3 = 270 total "problems."

Imagine if you will, teams of 5 committed citizens each, who were fed up with these "problems."

270 x 5 = 1,350 committed citizens needed to resolve these "problems."

Do you think that in America, a nation of 300,000,000 people, there are 1,350 committed citizens willing to put it all on the line to "correct" these "problems" and thus save the nation? I do.

It could be called "patriotic assassination."

It seems to me that a HYPOTHETICAL operation using teams of five men assigned to each "problem," could gather information on the assigned persons. It is easy to find out things like daily schedules, public appearances, travel routes to and from work, etc.. Once the data was collected and analyzed a time and date could be set for "solving" these "problems."
Nerdified link. All part of a tapestry from the first article (reporting on events in Russia) to the remaining articles which detail what's been going on in our own back yard. Someone else somewhere noted the absurdity of people of Slavic descent giving old Adolph props, given his views on the Slavic peoples that were put into practice during WWII. The same can be said for Ward Connerly's apparent love for the KKK, given that your average klansman would be more than happy to lynch Connerly on a moment's notice. Blind authoritarianism knows little rationality, of course, so such details tend to be overlooked in the service of "God and Fatherland".

Another theme worth repeating is the apparent tacit support of the ruling elites as the extremists do their grunt work for them. Racial hatred in this country gets plenty of play among so-called mainstream conservatives and populists - just spend some time reading or listening to the likes of Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, or Pat Buchanan who come by syndicated columns, book deals, and talk show hosting gigs with relative ease and you'll quickly know what I'm getting at.

In his own words

Dr. Shepherd Bliss on torture:
I try not to think about torture. Then I read the following: Vice-President Dick Cheney apparently defends it, a U.S. soldier who objects to interrogation techniques commits suicide, articles with titles like "Torture's Not So Bad, If It's Done for a War Worth Fighting," and Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet was recently arrested and charged with torture.

Feelings about close friends tortured over thirty years ago in Chile rush in. Unfortunately, my experiences with U.S.-supported torture have been quite direct and specific.

To most people, torture is just an idea, probably abstract and distant. Not to me. Hearing the word, I feel, rather than think. I remember a sharp pain rises in my stomach.

Cheney recently admitted on radio that the U.S. engages in water-boarding. "Cheney indicated that the Bush administration doesn't regard water-boarding as torture and allows the CIA to use it," an Oct. 26 McClatchy News Service article reports.

In water-boarding "a prisoner is secured with his feet above his head and has water poured on a cloth over his face. It has been specifically widely condemned as torture," an Oct. 28 San Francisco Chronicle article reveals. It is only one of the many techniques that the CIA apparently employs and tries to cover by the use of words such as "coercion" and "aggressive interrogating tactics."

Over thirty years ago, after being ordained a Methodist minister, I was assigned to Chile. My ministry there started well, given the hopefulness of Chileans for their popular and democratically-elected President Salvador Allende. My good American friend Frank Terrugi also came to Chile to work. I started a relationship with a young woman who was, like me, a member of a military family.

Then came Sept. 11--the date in l973 that the U.S. supported Allende's overthrow by the dictator Gen. Pinochet. Frank was tortured so badly that the coffin could not be opened at his funeral in Chicago. My girlfriend was also tortured, and survived. Their tortures stopped my life.

More than 30 years later, that torture still holds a firm grip on me. However, as with much torture, it failed. Instead of reducing my commitments to genuine liberty, freedom, and democracy, it enhanced them. Torture is immoral, cruel, ineffective and deeply damaging to whomever it touches, including associated survivors and the torturers. For example, when you join the U.S. military, you do not expect to be ordered to torture. If you follow those orders, you are forever damaged.
Torture impacts not only those who are victimized - it damages anyone associated with the victims. In Dr. Bliss' case, he's worked to take that damage and turn it into a struggle for a more humane existence for all, shining a light on those who would continue to perpetuate the immoral and failed practice of torture.

"Remember, remember, the 5th of November

The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot."

This day marks the 401st anniversary of the failed Gunpowder Plot, whose most famous of the conspirators Guy Fawkes serves as inspiration for the film (and earlier graphic novel) V for Vendetta. Great film by the way - quite a tonic for these increasingly dystopian times.

I try to celebrate this date by doing at least one subversive act on Nov. 5th (not to worry - nothing violent nor anything involving explosives).