Friday, March 30, 2007

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Variation on a theme

This is a variation of something I've tried to highlight before:
The main thing, though, is to stop being constructive. Don't waste a moment thinking about what “policies” might be better than the ones we have. The fact is that the institutions we have absolutely guarantee insane policies, and unless the balance of power between the elites and the rest of us is changed, then those institutions will continue to manufacture insanity day in and day out.

And there is, needless to say, no institutional way to change the balance of power. The institutions exist to maintain the balance of power – or, more accurately, to tip the balance of power ever more toward the elites. Changing the balance of power requires interfering with the institutions, and impairing or impeding their operation.

In short: stop traffic.
Of course that's just the punchline. Check out the rest while you're at it. Certainly we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that if we elect one party or the other to office that suddenly everything will be peachy keen. It's safe to say that it hasn't worked out that way in my lifetime, nor do I foresee that happening any time too soon. There might be some superficial differences between Democrats and Republicans on some issues, but that's just the window dressing. As long as even the self-styled progressives are committed to the same imperialist agenda (as another blogger has noticed) as their more right-wing counterparts, we will continue to see a state of perpetual war and the continued justification for the 700 or so military bases around the world in the name of "national defense." We will also continue to see an escalation of the government's war against its own citizens in the form of draconian drug laws, PATRIOT Act-style legislation, "free trade" policies that impoverish an increasing number of Americans, and yes the condemnation of vast parcels of farm and ranch lands (along with the towns that exist in the vicinity) in order to build gargantuan military facilities. To expect any sort of substantial change in practice to correspond to a change in the fortunes of the two official political parties is folly.

The sane thing to do when faced with an insane system is to screw with it. That may well be the one tangible bit of power we ordinary folks possess given that the current political game is so badly rigged to the elites' advantage. Stop traffic. Wean yourself away from the prevailing consumer culture. Don't do anything that contributes to strengthening the system as it currently exists. Obviously I am not advocating giving up the fight for the causes one holds dear. I have no intention of doing so myself or to stop writing as time permits. I guess what it comes down to is taking a different perspective in light of the realities of our current situation, and to find a healthy detachment from the American political scene. That reality necessitates a certain amount of jadedness along the lines of Arthur Silber and Billmon's now defunct Whiskey Bar.

File under "Support the Troops"

Can't say that this is really much of a surprise:

News that Channel 4 is to broadcast a controversial film called Mark of Cain, written by Tony Marchant, about British soldiers torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners in Basra in 2003, comes hard on the heels of a controversial book by the American sociologist Bob Lilly at long last finding a British publisher - Palgrave Macmillan.

Lilly's book, Taken by Force, was first published in France in 2003, and then in Italy in 2004, but initially failed to find either an American or British publisher. As one American publisher explained to Lilly, professor of sociology at Northern Kentucky University - "I wouldn't touch that book with a 10-foot long pole", given that the subject matter was concerned with the estimated 14,000 rapes committed by American soldiers in England, France and Germany between 1942 and 1945.

In short, at a time when "French fries" and "French toast" were being renamed "Freedom fries" and "Freedom toast" because, unlike us, the French refused to join the Bush administration's war in Iraq, the American public did not want to be told that their fathers, uncles and brothers who had fought in the second world war - that "Band of Brothers" as the historian Stephen Ambrose christened them, and whose status as the "greatest generation" had been cemented by Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan - had, in fact, been involved in some of the worst crimes on mainland Europe, including black-market trading, armed robbery, looting, rape and murder.

Indeed, secret wartime files that were made public in this country only in April 2006 disclosed that GIs committed 26 murders, 31 manslaughters, 22 attempted murders and more than 400 sexual offences, including 126 rapes in England, during 1942-45.

Far from being the "greatest generation", Lilly exposes the ugly underbelly of the US army's behaviour in Europe, and it is that ugly underbelly that links his historical account of the murders and rapes committed by American soldiers between 1942-1945 with Merchant's film.

For the simple reality of both Marchant's film and Lilly's book is this: that young men - soldiers - who are given power over others, and have a structure surrounding them that closes ranks at the first sign of criticism, a structure which is, in turn, enclosed within a popular and political culture where members of the public want to invest in their father's or their brother's or their husband's decision to become a soldier and go to war with nobility and sacrifice are, in fact, the preconditions for abuse, torture and totalitarianism. As such, it is the duty of film-makers and historians and sociologists to expose that abuse - no matter how "noble" the individual soldier's sacrifice might seem.

The article goes on to note that Bob Lilly got a bit of the Ward Churchill treatment once word of his book made its way back to the US. I highlighted a few passages that I thought were particularly salient, given the propaganda that seems to surround "The Good War" as some like to refer to WWII as well as the current social climate that is fostering contemporary military (& mercenary) abuses and strengthening an already awakening undercurrent of totalitarianism in the US.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Blogtopia can be a freaky place: A slight return

Looks like blogger Kathy Sierra isn't the only beset by death threats. The Eegeehood's own liberal catnip has had her own brush with a death threat. Looks like the situation is being handled and hopefully the perp will get caught. As I mentioned yesterday, the anonymity that the internet provides can invite behaviors that likely would not otherwise occur in other social encounters.

Disagreements are one thing. They come with the territory with blogging. Trash talk happens too, like it or not. There are lines however that should not be crossed, and one way to avoid crossing those lines is to remind ourselves that behind the clever screen name is a living breathing human being.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blogtopia can be a freaky place

And yes, Skippy, I know you coined "blogtopia." We don't forget that at Notes From Underground. But before I go off on a tangent, let's get to the topic at hand: the freakiness that periodically makes its way to the wonderful world of blogging. This crossed my radar by chance tonight:
For those who think they’ve got blog “wars” to be all dramatic about, check this out. That’s what happens when people are encouraged to be anti-feminist and who don’t care when their so-called “friends” demonize people who have disagreements with them to the point where they are to be “shunned” and compared with torturers and mass murderers. Just look at the e-mails mcat got yesterday.
Every single one of you reading this - and I know you are, obviously (MB and others) - had better start thinking twice about your hateful hyperbole because that’s the kind of incident you’re contributing to. Let that be a wake up call.
If you click on the link from that comment, you'll find a lengthy post by a female blogger has been on the receiving end of some seriously deranged threats of physical harm (think along the lines of sadistic sexual torture and death) in the form of comments at her blog and over at some other blogs. It's disturbing to say the least.

These sorts of incidents are not unique to blogging. On the various bbs on the internet and on usenet newsgroups similar things have happened. One can note a number of factors involved. A couple were already mentioned by catnip in the above quotation:

  1. The influence of devaluation and dehumanization in inducing acts of verbal aggression. There is a ton of research in social psychology showing that the process of devaluation fosters future acts of aggressive behavior against the victims. Once someone has been labeled as a "troll," "bitch," "asshole" or whatever, that person becomes fair game for abuse in the eyes of other members of a group.
  2. Previous acts of aggression tend to lead to a a maintenance or an escalation of aggression over time. This especially happens when those involved invoke a tit-for-tat strategy or a strategy of outdoing the previous act of aggression. Flamewars can go on for what seems like forever as a result - sometimes across numerous blogs and eventually involving parties who had no part in the original source of the conflict.
Both of these factors are exacerbated by an important feature of everyday interpersonal communication that is missing in internet communication: namely a face-to-face interaction. One consequence of the lack of face-to-face interaction is that we tend to lose a lot of nonverbal cues that would clue us in on to what others are communicating, leading to misunderstandings that would otherwise not happen (emoticons don't really remedy that situation very well, from my own observations).

What happens then is that there is a form of deindividuation that occurs - both in terms of a sense of anonymity provided by the internet experience (one cannot be seen, and one might use a screen name that differs from their given name) and the loss of the ability for self-reflection that occurs especially when caught up in the heat of the moment amidst a crowd of fellow flame-throwers.

Folks end up doing things that they would likely never think of doing to someone in person. That's one damned good reason to consider very carefully what one is saying, and to remember that there is another living breathing human being reading what is being directed at them.

DC needs a new motto

I guess its extreme image makeover time at the Belly of the Beast. The suggestions are generally amusing. If I had a couple suggestions they'd look something like this:

DC: Death Cult

DC: Deadly Capitalism

I'm not exactly much for PR, as you might guess. From some comments, a few DC slogans I like:

Geneva Conventions? We don’t need no stinkin Geneva Conventions.


War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength

Washington D.C.: Bill of Rights Free Zone
You get the idea. The whole concern over a new city motto seems peculiar at a time when the US government is waging wars of aggression, torturing people, raiding the piggy bank, and turning the nation into a police state. Nah - we wouldn't want folks thinking about any of that, now would we.