Saturday, February 16, 2008

I'll take hope where I can find it

Found via Marisacat:

[M]y guide was Peter Kovacs, the managing editor of The Times-Picayune, the newspaper that won a Pulitzer for its coverage of Katrina. He’s been through this area so many times. He knows the empty lots and the missing people who have been forced to resettle elsewhere around the country. He’s not upbeat about the Lower Ninth Ward ever being what it was. What a sad story.

In the course of the tour, we came upon Charmyne Fluker. She was visiting there with her elderly mother who had lived in a home in the neighborhood for years – only to see it wiped away by the storm. They were forced to move to North Carolina. This was the first time her mother had come back to see the devastation and to understand why there was no real opportunity of actually coming home. Charmyne told me her mom had to see the area with her own eyes in order to reach finality.

There is so much that needs to be done.

What is encouraging, Kovacs told me, is that about a million people from all over the country have come to New Orleans since Katrina to volunteer some of their time to help rebuild. Some spend a day; others weeks
Although the corporate media will be mostly content to ignore the on-going ethnic cleansing in NOLA post-Katrina, there are a good number of folks who will continue to spread the word the old-fashioned way: word of mouth after direct observation.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Homeland Insecurity commissions a corporation to develop yet another device for torturing civilians:
One company has received an $800,000 contract from the Department of Homeland Security to develop a new "non-lethal" method of human incapacitation for use by law enforcement.
By 2010, Intelligent Optical Systems hopes to be selling a sort of high-powered flashlight, the "LED Incapacitator," which would act by not only effectively blinding its target, but overloading his or her brain, with rapidly flashing lights at varying colors and frequencies. In addition to disorientation, headache and nausea are also likely.
Just as the Taser is a torture device, so too is this so-called "LED Incapacitator." If one looks at the research used to refine many of our government's current torture methods, it becomes readily apparent that one means to break down a human being is via sensory overstimulation - in other words, overloading the person's brain. I'll also note that just as the Taser has proven far from non-lethal, the soon-to-be-developed device will likely too do permanent damage (something tells me that potential permanent eye damage will be one of many potential side effects).

Who will likely be subjected to this latest torture weapon? The propagandists will try to sell the public on its "usefulness" against "terrorists." In reality, as with the Taser, it'll be aimed at nonviolent protesters, the mentally ill (either real or perceived), those who are simply deemed inconvenient by the ruling elites. In other words, potentially any one of us could be a target simply for not conforming. Once again, it comes down to "obey or die."

Let's just say that I am treating any government propaganda surrounding this "incapacitator" with a great degree of well-deserved skepticism.

George Romero Kicks It Old School

I don't get to movies much any more, but every once in a while I take note of something new that might be worth checking out. In this case it's Diary of the Dead, which is the latest in Romero's series of movies stretching back to Night of the Living Dead. In a recent column, Romero has this to say:
That’s what we need more of these days, Opinions. Convictions. A little independent thinking.

It’s a frightening world we’re living in – in movie theaters and out – and I wanted “Diary” to echo some of that fear. We’re all getting the flesh chewed off our bones, one way or the other.
It's also pretty clear that Romero's not too thrilled with the state of film making these days - in particular the torture for torture's sake that seems to be all the rage these days. Regrettably, that's not only the state of the horror film genre, but American society more generally. Yeah, we've got plenty of real-life zombies out there. Some occupy the White House and Congress, or run World Bank and the IMF. Some anchor "news" programs. Many others who are more obscuroid are hypnotized by the spectacle of flag-waving, reality shows, NASCAR, and the trappings of a consumer culture that has taken a life of its own. The way to fight those particular zombies is to use the very tools Romero mentions: opinions, conviction, independent thinking. We're a culture that largely lacks those qualities these days.

The real terrorists still operate at Ground Zero

While many Americans may be busy celebrating the anniversary of Britney Spears shaving her head, or preoccupying themselves with Roger Clemens', uh, testimony at a Congressional hearing, Moody's has been making a move of its own:
On January 10 Moody's, in concert with the other main bond rating firm, Standard and Poor's, gave the United States its top AAA credit rating. The terrorist blackmail threat came in the form of a demand by Moody's that the U.S. government "reform" Social Security and Medicare: "In the very long term, the rating could come under pressure if reform of Medicare and Social Security is not carried out as these two programs are the largest threats to the long-term financial health of the United States and to the government's Aaa rating."

Steven Hess, Moody's top analyst for the US economy spelled it out even more explicitly to the London Financial Times: "If no policy changes are made, in 10 years from now we would have to look very seriously at whether the US is still a triple-A credit. The US rating is the anchor of the world's financial system. If you have a downgrade, you have a problem."

US interrogators torture men in secret prisons seeking to catch those members of Al Quaeda still at large, starting with Osama bin Laden and Aiman al-Zwahiri. Yet here's Moody's man calmly threatening to destroy the US government's credit ranking unless it follows his agenda, and he strolls around Lower Manhattan unmolested, even if his threats could add up to the financial equvalent of a thermonuclear device planted under the Statue of Liberty.

Moody's runs a protection game. It issue credit ratings, (in 2007 no less than 39 percent of the global credit rating market by revenue, according to Bloomberg) based on public data and private information made available by those clients that have "voluntarily" retained their services. The price of not volunteering can be high. As vividly described by Alec Klein in his excellent 2004 series in the Washington Post on the credit-rating giants, the giant German insurance corporation Hannover declined repeated Moody's offers to rate its credit, at a time when the latter was trying to extend its reach in the European Community. Moody's promptly issued an unsolicited and adverse rating, then--just like a small time mobster after hurling a brick through the window of a liquor store--went back to Hannover and reissued its invitation to offer protection-by-rating. Hannover's top man said he wouldn't surrender to blackmail and so between 2001 and 2003 Moody's steadily reduced Hannover rating all the way down to Junk. This cost Hannover a great deal of money in paying the higher risk premiums on money it borrowed.
Yup...the real terrorists aren't hiding in mountains somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but rather occupy the office buildings that define the Manhattan skyline. You want to really stop the terrorists? Here's an idea: stop giving the ultra-rich tax breaks, and ditch these idiotic attempts to colonize Iraq (hell, let's go further and get rid of the rest of the trappings of empire in the process, such as the 700 plus military bases that are scattered all across the globe). Voila! Those pesky deficits would go away pretty quickly. A lot of lives would be spared in the process.

Shorter Gordon Brown

"Greed is good" sounds better coming from me than from Michael Douglas.

h/t A Tiny Revolution

Friday, February 15, 2008

Five years ago today

Arguably the largest protests in global history occurred - a chorus of humanity saying in no uncertain terms "no way" to a US led war against the Iraqis. At that point, there was still hope that the Iraq War was not a done deal, and that reasonable people would intervene to stop it. Although I am not sure I'm as hopeful as the Stop the War Coalition is regarding potentially preventing the next war, those of us who were either out in the streets, or writing (via editorials, blogs, message boards, Usenet newsgroups, etc.), or both demonstrated that the myth of public apathy was just that - a myth.

If you've been following this blog over the last few months - or even the last few years for that matter - you've gathered that I believe that preventing the next war(s) will be an uphill battle. The flipside to the hopeful message of public interest and outrage over the atrocities and potential atrocities committed in the name of the "War on Terra" is that our ruling elites who initiate these wars simply do not give a goddamn what we think. I still think it's important to act as vigorously as possible as citizens, as humans when it comes to adding our voices and bodies to the cause of war resistance - less because I actually think that the ruling class might find some semblance of a moral compass, but simply because a critical mass of determined humans could at least remind these elites that their grip on power is much more tenuous than they would like us to believe.

Picture above (as well as the link to the Stop the War Coalition's 5th anniversary statement) found via Lenin's Tomb.

If true, good riddance

Word on the street is that the aptly misnamed "Protect America Act" will be swept into the dustbin of history:

Let's review what happened, shall we?

This is victory, folks. Perhaps, after the Protect America Act expires, legislators will realize their world does not end without the protection of this "crucial" law. Perhaps they'll realize the people really don't want to give amnesty to telecom companies that spied on them. Perhaps they'll realize the expanded powers given to Bush by the Protect America Act don't actually prevent terrorist attacks, and that Bush is full of shit when he says we face terrorism that would "pale by comparison" to 9/11 if we don't pass this god awful bill.

I seriously doubt Pelosi has any backbone whatsoever. Had it not been for a critical mass of public outrage, she would have collapsed like a house of cards yet again. I'm not yet convinced that she won't be "persuaded" to reconsider. Maybe having a challenger in a primary election (as well as Cindy Sheehan) has had an influence. Hard to say.

As it is, I'll merely reiterate that when someone starts telling me that I "need" their "protection", whether it's from the White House, a so-called "security" company, or the local gang leader, I figure that I'm about to be swindled, and that accepting their "protection" will end up being more of a hassle than it's worth.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

We Do What We're Told

milgram's 37

we do what we're told
we do what we're told
we do what we're told
told to do

we do what we're told
we do what we're told
we do what we're told
told to do

one doubt
one voice
one war
one truth
one dream
Lyric from Peter Gabriel's classic album, So. Each line leads to a different link intended to give you just a piece of The Situation as it stands now. How did we get to this point? In a large-scale analog to the original Milgram obedience experiments, it happened too slowly, too gradually for most to recognize. Some protested, but too weakly - continuing to increase the shock level even while very aware that the man in the next room may very well be dead or dying.

Allow me first to apologize for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine- the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration, thereby those important events of the past usually associated with someone's death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, a celebration of a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat. There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.

Shorter Col. Larry James

As a psychologist, I prevent Gitmo prisoners from being killed or hurt by not knowing what in the hell is going on.
Via Dr. Trudy Bond's The Elephant at Gitmo, which reproduces two quotations that show Col. James contradicting himself. First:
"This is my second tour at Gitmo, Cuba. I was also the first psychologist at Abu Ghraib. I'm going to repeat what I said earlier. If we remove psychologists from these facilities, people are going to die. If we remove psychologists from these facilities, people are going to get hurt."
Next:
"I learned a long, long time ago, if I'm going to be successful in the intel community, I'm meticulously -- in a very, very dedicated way -- going to stay in my lane," ... So if I don't have a specific need to know about something, I don't want to know about it. I don't ask about it."
What I really wonder is how to best parse yet another quote from the Gospel according to da Colonel:
"Having custody and control over an individual is an awesome responsibility."
Now, he could be saying that such a situation is a tremendous responsibility. However, I get the impression that whet he really means is, "Dude, this custody and control over an individual is like, totally awesome. It totally rocks!"

Nah...on second thought, this clown reminds me of Sergeant Schultz:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Here's one for the anthropology buffs

Check it out:

Monterrey (Mexico): The Mexican anthropologists have discovered remains of a 3,000-year-old human body, some 100 km south of the US border, Spain's EFE news agency reported Sunday.

Experts said the discovery was extraordinary, since in that period bodies were generally cremated in the region. The arms, apparently of a woman, were found crossed over her chest and legs folded.

Around 98 percent of the skeletons have been retrieved, anthropologist Araceli Rivera Estrada of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), told the agency.

"We found no offering in the grave, so we believe the body was buried in a modest ceremony," Estrada said.

The burial could throw light on when the first human settlements in the region were founded.

So far, there were only evidences of nomadic tribes who passed through the area some 7,500 to 8,000 years ago.
h/t to Manny!

Well, surprise, surprise, surprise

The US Senate just gave the White House even more spying powers. Maybe this would be a good time to point out Arthur Silber's latest essay once more.

Among the sites targeted for the "Great Wall" of China America

University of Texas-Brownsville and Texas Southernmost College. Your tax dollars at work, as it were.

Step away from the computer, and grab the nearest book...

I'll wait.

Back so soon? Good. Now let me tell you what's up.

I almost never do these meme things, but every now and again one comes around that is pretty cool, and figure "ah, what the hell." This one comes from Robert Silvey of Scholars and Rogues who was kind enough to tag me. The rules are very straightforward and go as follows:
  1. Grab the nearest book (that is at least 123 pages long).
  2. Open to p. 123.
  3. Go down to the 5th sentence.
  4. Type in the following 3 sentences.
  5. Tag five people.
Here's what I came up with:

The following three sentences comes from halfway down page 123 of Orlando Patterson's Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (from Chapter 4: Enslavement of "Free" Persons):
Among pagan states with advanced slave sectors Ashanti and Oyo were the two that relied most heavily on tribute. Where did the tributory slaves come from? Often they were persons who were already slaves in the tribute-paying state.
Now, who are my victims now that I am on a quest to tag five people? Glad you asked.

Let's try Larry over at Lotus - Surviving a Dark Time; Manny of Man Eegee; NLinStPaul of Smartypants; XicanoPwr of ¡Para Justicia y Libertad! (just payback for the time you tagged me, bro!); and last, but certainly not least,

Monday, February 11, 2008

Things to read

Torture Amnesia - Shame on America, which provides a useful capsule history of US torture since the mid 20th century. It's very nicely done.

h/t Valtin.

In that particular essay, there's a reference to an article by Douglas Valentine appearing in Counterpunch a few years back, ABCs of American Interrogation Methods: The Phoenix Program Revisited. I'm pretty sure someone who used to visit this blog a bit more regularly, Arcturus, made reference to Valentine's article at some point in the distant past; it's worth a gentle reminder that the article exists and deserves to be read.

On what I would consider a related note, check out Arthur Silber's latest essay, "Partnership for Protection" -- and for the Destruction of Liberty and, Possibly, of You. In discussing an entity called InfraGard, Silber summarizes over a century's worth of construction of our current national "security" state in which the lines between public sector and private for-profit business have not only been blurred, but practically erased. Readers familiar with Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine will not be the least bit surprised with what Silber lays out. Those who haven't should, as far as I'm concerned, not only procure a copy of Klein's book but also check out Silber's archives at his blog, Once Upon a Time..., posthaste. The means by which corporatist states impose their regimes, which - let's face it - only benefit the political elites and their corporate cronies, are quite repressive once the rest of the population gets fed up. Martial law, which is what InfraGard is priming its corporate members to accept as a given, typically ends up meaning torture, "disappearing" of dissidents (both real and imagined), mercenaries aiming their firearms at any of us who don't happen to be part of the corporate A list, and so on.

Amnesia is not a condition which we can afford at this juncture. What you don't know can and will hurt you.

Phil Zimbardo on 'The Lucifer Effect'

The video appears to be part of a lecture series at the Google headquarters, and offers a capsule summary of Zimbardo's research (e.g., the Stanford Prison Experiment) and the application of his findings to not only understanding the factors behind real life atrocities but to also to the understanding of the factors behind real life heroism.

I figure since I mention Zimbardo's work from time to time, it would be worthwhile to drop this video of him speaking for himself:



Hopefully you'll find it thought-provoking. Zimbardo's work (as well as that of Milgram) provided much of the instigation for me to pursue my current life's work.

Note that the video runs about an hour and 17 minutes, so depending on your own situation you might wish to bookmark the video and watch what you can as time permits. For me, that meant waiting until the kiddos were asleep and the various other extraneous noises were at a minimum.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Always nice to see Herbie Hancock perform

As much as I find the Grammy awards to be a tedious waste of time in which pointless awards are given to disposable pop hacks, I'll acknowledge that very occasionally one gets to see and hear performances that truly have some lasting value. Herbie Hancock performing Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is one of those occasions. Given Hancock's Gershwin's World recording from a decade ago, it seemed an obvious enough choice. The performance was tight, and Herbie was his usual virtuoso self. The tune was, in a word, sultry. Gershwin's a composer I need to explore more than I have, and tonight was a reminder to do so. His work is more along the lines of the stuff my parents would have dug (and still do), along with other piano virtuosos such as ragtime composer Scott Joplin.

Granted, my first exposure to Herbie Hancock would have been during the era when Rockit was his hit single from the classic album Future Shock. Some of his electronic work is well-worth seeking out: Sextant, from the early 1970s, foretells the ambient scene of the 1990s (as well as his own Future 2 Future album of a few years ago), Head Hunters, Mr. Hands, and Dis is Da Drum. Of course it's hard to go wrong with any of his acoustic recordings on the Blue Note label, or the piano solo and duo albums recorded toward the end of the 1970s. Then of course there was that intriguing album that Hancock recorded in collaboration with kora player Foday Musa Suso in the mid-1980s, Village Life. That recording had a gentle spirit to it and a sound transcending continents, time, and traditions. Stay away from those disco albums (why he recorded any of those is beyond me), and you'll do fine. Hopefully he has a number of good years left in him, and hopefully someone will have the good sense to keep that beautiful music alive and in the public ear for a long time to come.

Ticking Time Bomb Scenarios

Fascinating article:

Here’s another thought-experiment: Attorney General Mukasey admits that he personally would consider waterboarding torture, but can’t say whether waterboarding is legally torture because if the bad guys know it’s illegal then their awful plots are safe from being revealed by waterboarding. Therefore, the only way to make sure terrorists think they will be waterboarded is to keep secret whether it’s legal or illegal.

Presumably the AG knows whether waterboarding is legally torture or not; we also understand that the success of his mission (indeed, his very job) depends on not telling the truth. We decide the best way to find out if torture is legal is to waterboard him.

And so, wet and sputtering, (remember, it’s only a thought-experiment) he finally says “Yes it’s legal” or “No, it’s not legal.”

Now what? We still have to decide whether he told the truth. If he says it’s legal do we know that it is, or only that he said that to stop the torture? If he says it’s illegal - same business. Better waterboard him again … and again … until we get the answer we want? or until he drowns?

In fiction and fantasy, what the victim says under torture is a ‘truth’ that justifies the rest of the story. In the real world, real outcomes suggest that what people say under torture is almost never the truth.

While we're at it, here's a compare and contrast from the same article of the three remaining Prez front-runners:

McCain: “Should [an interrogator use torture] and thereby save an American city or prevent another 9/11, authorities and the public would surely take this into account when judging his actions and recognize the extremely dire situation he confronted.”

Hillary Clinton: “Those are very rare, but if they occur, there has to be some lawful authority for pursuing it ….[If] we have sufficient basis to believe that there is something imminent, yeah, but then we’ve got to have a check and balance on that.”

Obama :”The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security …torture is not a part of the answer - it is a fundamental part of the problem …. Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence … When I am president America will …[stand] up to these deplorable tactics. When I am president we won’t work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution, we will be straight with the American people and true to our values.”

Now if Obama would actually live up to those words once in office remains to be seen. He seems to be talking the talk with regard to prohibiting torture, which certainly distinguishes him from Clinton II (the sequel) and McCain.

Chicken Hawks & Chicken Doves

There sure seems to be a whole lot of poultry in Congress.

Bonus chicken hawk edition: see who McCain's neocon friends are - the same ones that gave us the War on Terra.

When I read the news I sometimes mistake it for a KFC ad.