Saturday, March 15, 2008


The March 19 Iraq War Blogswarm is just a few days away. It's never too late to join, regardless of party affiliation, ideology, or baseball team preference. If you're against the war and were planning on commemorating the fifth anniversary in some way - here's a chance to get some more exposure for your ideas. I've got something in the works - and will probably point to a few items of interest from the paleocons and libertarians who appear regularly at such haunts as

Mitch McConnell Luvs Newspeak

Catnip managed to find this especially inane quote by Mitch McConnell:
"the purpose of war is peace."
We'll call it a case of life imitating art.

The equation is really quite simple

Pot + Kettle = Black:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States, at loggerheads with Tehran over its nuclear program and Iraq, cast doubt on the fairness of Iran's parliamentary elections Friday and said any outcome of the poll would be "cooked."

"In essence the results are cooked. They are cooked in the sense that the Iranian people were not able to vote for a full range of people," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack of the poll.

Iranians voted Friday in an election likely to keep parliament in the control of conservatives after unelected state bodies barred many reformist foes of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from the race.

"They are given the choice of choosing between one supporter of the regime or another supporter of the regime. They were not given the opportunity ... to vote for somebody who might have had different ideas," McCormack told reporters of the poll.
One could easily say quite similar things about US elections. Voters in the US also are barred from voting "for a full range of people" who "might have different ideas" - albeit a bit more subtly. A party and its candidates might not be outright banned, but - let's face it - unless a candidate is running as a Democrat or a Republican that candidate will be at an insurmountable disadvantage when it comes to campaign financing and media exposure. Those rare individuals who do manage to vocalize something different from the status quo within either the Dems or GOP usually find that their careers in Congress are short. There are always those primary challenges bankrolled by the usual corporate suspects to either silence or outright eliminate the likes of Cynthia McKinney or Dennis Kucinich. What we get left with is the same old crap election after election. I can empathize with any Iranian voter who feels a bit frustrated by his or her system - we're dealing with a similar problem here.

Something that can be described in two words:

Food Fight!

Noam Chomsky sez

Just pick your topic. It's a good exercise to try. This simple principle, "we own the world," is sufficient to explain a lot of the discussion about foreign affairs.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pass the popcorn

Two articles that have the wingnut segment of blogtopia going ballistic:

Why I Don't Support the Troops by Kenneth Thiesen and Obama's Pastor: God Damn America, US to Blame for 9/11. Neither seems all that controversial to me, but then again I'm not a true believer in the faith of American Exceptionalism. For the true believers, Thiesen and Wright are saying the equivalent of "Santa Claus ain't real" - and they aren't liking it one bit.

You gotta wonder...

A woman was locked for four days in a tiny holding cell in a northern Arkansas courthouse, forgotten by the authorities and left without food or water, the local Sheriff’s Department said Tuesday.

The woman, Adriana Torres-Flores, 38, a longtime illegal immigrant from Mexico, slept on the floor with only a shoe for a pillow, and with nothing to drink except her own urine, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. There was no bathroom in the cell.
This statement just jumps right out:
“It was just a horrible mistake,” Mr. Cantrell said.
I'd say that goes way beyond "just" a horrible mistake.


IOZ does have a way of cutting to the chase.

Maybe the blogosphere could use a bit of this:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

War is a racket

"All the money you make will never buy back your soul."

Torture Nation Follow-Up

Back in late November, I shared with you a video of the man in Utah who had been zapped with a Taser for protesting (rather calmly, I might add) a traffic citation.

Word on the street is that he was just awarded a $40,000 settlement, including attorney's fees. The basics:
About two months went by after Jared Massey was tasered by a highway cop in Utah before he turned to YouTube.


Like other YouTube tasings, waves of outrage over excessive force followed — fire the cop, ban Tasers — and the police started an investigation a week and a half later. But the initial results were discouraging for the critics: The cop was cleared of wrongdoing; Mr. Massey paid the speeding ticket that he protested before being shocked twice.

But a civil suit filed after has resulted in a settlement that will more than cover the ticket, and Mr. Massey’s lawyer suggested it covered everything else as well. ‘’They made what we consider to be a very fair offer of a significant amount of money,'’ Bob Sykes told The Associated Press.

To be exact: he was awarded $40,000, including attorney’s fees.

The deal was announced a week after a Utah prosecutor ruled the Mr. Massey did not commit any crimes in the traffic stop, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. His civil case focused on the fact proven in the video — that the officer did not seek to arrest him before drawing and firing the Taser.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pass the popcorn

Geraldine Ferraro then and now. Old habits die hard.

Here's a blast from the past

No Motion by Dif Juz. That tune made it on 4AD's Lonely is an Eyesore sampler circa 1987. Those cats didn't get quite the recognition of some of their label mates, but they arguably capture the essence of what would later be dubbed the "4AD sound." Oh, and if you're ever in a mood for precursors to the postrock bands that emerged in the 1990s, you would just love Extractions. Brings back memories.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Monday Night Dog Blogging

Top image is of Henry, who's been a part of the family for nearly seven years. Bottom image is of Sara, who is the newest canine addition to the family (since around December).

The new slavery: prison labor

Arcturus recently dusted off his blog, and among other things has pointed to an informative article on the state of the prison-industrial complex. With approximately 1 in 100 Americans now behind bars, it's worth familiarizing ourselves with the human exploitation, mistreatment, and corruption inherent in that particular system. The list of corporations that have capitalized on this captive pool of labor is quite the rogue's gallery - and for those contracting primarily or exclusively with privately-run prisons (one of our few growth industries in the US, it seems), they're paying pennies on the dollar.

The scariest monsters

are often those of our own creation. Speaking of which, Jonathan Schwarz sez:

In any case, the older I get, the less I blame people like Clinton for lying. Politicians will always lie as much as their society allows. The problem here isn't Clinton, but the layers of America underneath her. In particular I blame the upper middle professional class from whose loins I sprang. Their entire societal power derives from them—ie, doctors, scientists, managers—purportedly caring about reality. But it turns out they don't, as long as they themselves don't suffer.

Take it away, monster of our creation:

In 1998, Saddam Hussein pressured the United Nations to lift the sanctions by threatening to stop all cooperation with the inspectors...When Saddam blocked the inspection process, the inspectors left. As a result, President Clinton, with the British and others, ordered an intensive four-day air assault, Operation Desert Fox, on known and suspected weapons of mass destruction sites and other military targets...

[Some] argue that we should work through the United Nations and should only resort to force if and when the United Nations Security Council approves it...But there are problems with this approach as well. The United Nations is an organization that is still growing and maturing. It often lacks the cohesion to enforce its own mandates. And when Security Council members use the veto, on occasion, for reasons of narrow-minded interests, it cannot act. In Kosovo, the Russians did not approve NATO military action because of political, ethnic, and religious ties to the Serbs. The United States therefore could not obtain a Security Council resolution in favor of the action necessary to stop the dislocation and ethnic cleansing of more than a million Kosovar Albanians. However, most of the world was with us because there was a genuine emergency with thousands dead and a million driven from their homes. As soon as the American-led conflict was over, Russia joined the peacekeeping effort that is still underway.

Or to put it yet another way: why do you support?

Need I say more

File under "culture of corruption".

Winning the hearts and minds - Watch more free videos

Soldiers in Iraq throw puppy over a cliff. This is one of the videos that YouTube doesn't want you to see.

What Congress Could Do About the Bush Veto (But Won't)

A view about what Congress can do in the face of the president's veto was expressed by the CCR'S Ratner. He told IPS that Congress "does not need a veto-proof two-thirds majority to cut funds off from any U.S. agency, e.g., the CIA that engages in practices not authorized by the Army Field Manual. It simply does not need to fund torture – 51 votes are enough to end funding in the Senate or a similar bare majority in the House."

"The charade of a Democratic Congress blaming Bush alone for the torture program is just that – a charade," he added.

Nerdified link.

Interesting factoid

Two of the ten worst countries for women are recipients of "liberation" by the US as part of its "war on terra": Afghanistan and Iraq. I remember in those heady early days of the "war on terra" how Afghanistan women would see their lives improve dramatically - instead, their lot in life seems strikingly like it was back during the Taliban. As for Iraq: well, literacy rates for women have plummeted and of course a large proportion of those who have been internally displaced are women.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hollywood, the Ticking Time Bomb, and the Banality of Torture

Graphic via the Human Rights First Primetime Torture project. Scott Horton has a worthwhile essay on the topic: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the (Ticking) Time Bomb. One thing the graphic makes clear is that the use of torture on prime time television as a plot device or perhaps as part of the scenery has served to make torture banal - it is now just more background noise as we go about our everyday routines.

Horton of course spends some time on the problem inherent in the ticking time bomb scenario that is central to such TV series as 24 - it's so unrealistic that it doesn't even serve as a useful fiction (save as the sort of abstraction that allows legal scholars and political philosophers - think folks like Alan Dershowitz - to spend whole careers engaged in mental masturbation). It also goes without saying that torture does not provide accurate information, as a general rule, although of course in the make-believe worlds created on the Hollywood studio lots that particular reality tends to never even occur to the script writers.

From Banality of Evil Revisited: The Normalization of the "War on Terror":
The concept of "banality of evil" of course comes from Hannah Arendt's writings - originally appearing in her classic work, Eichmann in Jerusalem. Bethania Assy notes in an essay on Arendt's term "banality of evil" that the key appears to be a lack of thinking, a noticeable shallowness - not just at an individual level but at a societal level. The sorts of evils that we can attribute to the Nazi Holocaust, to the bombings and sanctions against Iraq, the torture and extraordinary renditions, etc. are ones in which are treated with a sort of shallowness. They are normal, merely part of the background. One doesn't think much about them, but rather just accepts them and moves on to the next reality TV show.
Not only has torture become normalized, but the likability of its fictional perpetrators on prime time television has made it seem noble. With very few exceptions, the torturers on prime time shows such as 24 are attractive individuals to whom their primary audience can relate, with the victims portrayed in manners that dehumanize them. Not only are these fictional torturers ones to be admired, but also to be imitated; and if you spend just a bit of time over at the Human Rights First website that I linked to initially, one will find that just as with any other form of media violence, fictitious torture events are stored in memory and - to the extent that they are rehearsed - strengthened to the extent that some of these viewers go on to become real-life torturers in their own right.

So, we're bombarded by scenes of torture committed by likable characters based on an extremely unlikely premise in a manner that appears realistic and reinforcing. On the other hand, the counterpoint - torture as an evil and ineffective practice - gets almost no air time. When I ask myself why more folks haven't spoken out against torture and demand that those responsible in our government for green-lighting the abhorrent practice, and done so in an organized manner, all I have to do is realize just how banal torture has become. Hell, by the time the Abu Ghraib pictures first began surfacing in 2004, Hollywood had already had a good couple years of time in which to normalize it. Those of us struggling for the human rights of those victimized by torture have our work cut out for us in the present cultural Zeitgeist.

The word of the day

William Safire sez:

Some locutions begin as bland bureaucratic euphemisms to conceal great crimes. As their meanings become clear, these collocations gain an aura of horror. In the past century, final solution and ethnic cleansing were phrases that sent a chill through our lexicon. In this young century, the word in the news — though not yet in most dictionaries — that causes much wincing during debate is the verbal noun waterboarding.

If the word torture, rooted in the Latin for “twist,” means anything (and it means “the deliberate infliction of excruciating physical or mental pain to punish or coerce”), then waterboarding is a means of torture. The predecessor terms for its various forms are water torture, water cure and water treatment.


Why did boarding take over from cure, treatment and torture? Darius Rejali, the author of the recent book “Torture and Democracy” and a professor at Reed College, has an answer: “There is a special vocabulary for torture. When people use tortures that are old, they rename them and alter them a wee bit. They invent slightly new words to mask the similarities. This creates an inside club, especially important in work where secrecy matters. Waterboarding is clearly a jailhouse joke. It refers to surfboarding” — a word found as early as 1929 — “they are attaching somebody to a board and helping them surf. Torturers create names that are funny to them.”
The image is from the same Safire column. Safire's concise definition of torture is certainly as good as any - someone wanting anything more detailed might use the UN General Assembly's definition:
"any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
In the case of waterboarding, the name might be relatively new, but its practice has a lengthy history. One thing that Safire does provide is yet another example of how an evil practice such as torture can be made to seem more palatable - by trivializing it through euphemisms and inside jokes.

One can hope that at least a few Americans read Safire's column, and in doing so face an important truth about US treatment of its military prisoners - namely that no matter how torture is dressed up, it is still a fundamentally evil practice.