Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Kill the Indian, save the man?"

Not exactly - Location of Mass Graves Revealed:
At a public ceremony and press conference held today outside the colonial "Indian Affairs" building in downtown Vancouver, the Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared (FRD) released a list of twenty eight mass graves across Canada holding the remains of untold numbers of aboriginal children who died in Indian Residential Schools.

The list was distributed today to the world media and to United Nations agencies, as the first act of the newly-formed International Human Rights Tribunal into Genocide in Canada (IHRTGC), a non-governmental body established by indigenous elders.

In a statement read by FRD spokesperson Eagle Strong Voice, it was declared that the IHRTGC would commence its investigations on April 15, 2008, the fourth Annual Aboriginal Holocaust Memorial Day. This inquiry will involve international human rights observers from Guatemala and Cyprus, and will convene aboriginal courts of justice where those persons and institutions responsible for the death and suffering of residential school children will be tried and sentenced.
Read the rest. Ward Churchill's book Kill the Indian, Save the Man, would be well-worth seeking out as a beginning primer on the toll exacted on those coerced into attending Indian residential schools in the US and Canada during the 19th and 20th centuries. Malnutrition, disease, and suicide were epidemic in those institutions - the latter caused by the former and of course the social death experienced by the kids.

Also, might be worth looking into Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.

h/t to Arcturus, for the book and the link to the article.

Reasonably sensible

IOZ sez:
Being an anti-imperialist in America is like being a Zionist in the Third Reich. I am a fringe radical. If you agree with even a tenth of what you read on this site, you too are a fringe radical. Your beliefs and opinions are not reflective of those of your countrymen. The question, "How do we stop being imperialists?" bears as much practical import as, "How do we live without breathing?" We don't. The United States of America is an empire. Maybe you think it's on the downhill slide? I certainly hope so. But it is what it is, nevertheless. The notions that within the body of empire lurks the heart of an egalitarian, constitutional republic, or a libertarian minarchy, or a parliamentary social democracy are the purest forms of political self-flattery.
I'd probably rework that first sentence just slightly: "being an anti-imperialist in America is like being anti-Nazi in the Third Reich." Other than that, IOZ is right on the money! Even the most progressive among the blogging intelligentsia cannot imagine a world in which the US relinquishes its hegemony. They might hope for more indirect forms of organizational and structural violence inflicted upon the rest of the planet than what the US is currently inflicting, but the organizational and structural violence itself is never questioned (or apparently even perceived as such). Hence, those residing in the global south might, under progressive utopia, experience continued heavy doses of neoliberal "shock therapy" and fewer invasions and bombing raids - but the threat of the latter is never far behind (remember the glory days of Clintonism?). Maybe a Clinton II or Obama presidency will insist on smiley faces painted on the cluster bombs before they are dropped on civilians under the aegis of "humanitarian interventionism."

Reform as it's traditionally conceptualized seems a bit of a nonstarter, to the extent that the system has metastasized to the extent that it has. I'm not exactly a reformist then. I'm not that big of a fan of the apparent choice made by most in my position: that of heckler or maybe social deviance for the sake of deviance. Both reek of impotence, and that's something that we can ill afford right now. I keep searching, then, for alternatives; for something to build in the ruins of a decaying empire. I'm not sure I've got the answers, but at least have a few questions, and a few ideas of what not to do. It's a start.

A tale of two stories

Looks like the folks at Motor Trend are just shivering with anticipation over the recent oil field discovery off the coast of Brazil. Heck, Arthur St. Antoine uses the occasion to tout a theory that oil is produced by tectonic forces, and that there is still a whole bunch of the stuff yet to be discovered and extracted. Before we get too excited, Credit Suisse suggests that the original report of a 33 billion barrel oil field was grossly exaggerated, and that the field likely contains a more underwhelming 600 million barrels. For those fantasizing about an endless future of happy motoring, don't go out and buy that new Hummer just yet.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Look in the fucking mirror, Caligula

President Bush: “In a world where some invoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that God is love. And embracing this love is the surest way to save men from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism. In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred.”
Via Ten Percent.

Confucius sez, "One picture is worth ten thousand words."

The image caption goes a little something like this:
Mohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Wounded Palestinians lay near the car of Fadel Shana, a cameraman for Reuters who died in a missile attack on Wednesday in Gaza.

At least 18 Palestinians, many of them civilians including children, and three Israeli soldiers were reported killed in heavy fighting.

Found over at Stop Me Before I Vote Again. The sad truth of the matter, as that blog's author duly notes, is that wounded kid is one thing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama agree on: Palestinians are nothing more than moving targets.


Here's just one reason why I love the social sciences:

Nicholas Birch: 4/17/08

As a child, Klaus Schmidt used to grub around in caves in his native Germany in the hope of finding prehistoric paintings. Thirty years later, representing the German Archaeological Institute, he found something infinitely more important -- a temple complex almost twice as old as anything comparable on the planet.

"This place is a supernova", says Schmidt, standing under a lone tree on a windswept hilltop 35 miles north of Turkey's border with Syria. "Within a minute of first seeing it I knew I had two choices: go away and tell nobody, or spend the rest of my life working here."

Behind him are the first folds of the Anatolian plateau. Ahead, the Mesopotamian plain, like a dust-colored sea, stretches south hundreds of miles to Baghdad and beyond. The stone circles of Gobekli Tepe are just in front, hidden under the brow of the hill.

Compared to Stonehenge, Britain's most famous prehistoric site, they are humble affairs. None of the circles excavated (four out of an estimated 20) are more than 30 meters across. What makes the discovery remarkable are the carvings of boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions, and their age. Dated at around 9,500 BC, these stones are 5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia, and 7,000 years older than Stonehenge.

Never mind circular patterns or the stone-etchings, the people who erected this site did not even have pottery or cultivate wheat. They lived in villages. But they were hunters, not farmers.

"Everybody used to think only complex, hierarchical civilizations could build such monumental sites, and that they only came about with the invention of agriculture", says Ian Hodder, a Stanford University Professor of Anthropology, who, since 1993, has directed digs at Catalhoyuk, Turkey's most famous Neolithic site. "Gobekli changes everything. It's elaborate, it's complex and it is pre-agricultural. That fact alone makes the site one of the most important archaeological finds in a very long time."


"I think here we are face to face with the earliest representation of gods", says Schmidt, patting one of the biggest stones. "They have no eyes, no mouths, no faces. But they have arms and they have hands. They are makers."

"In my opinion, the people who carved them were asking themselves the biggest questions of all," Schmidt continued. "What is this universe? Why are we here?"

With no evidence of houses or graves near the stones, Schmidt believes the hill top was a site of pilgrimage for communities within a radius of roughly a hundred miles. He notes how the tallest stones all face southeast, as if scanning plains that are scattered with archeological sites in many ways no less remarkable than Gobekli Tepe.

Last year, for instance, French archaeologists working at Djade al-Mughara in northern Syria uncovered the oldest mural ever found. "Two square meters of geometric shapes, in red, black and white - a bit like a Paul Klee painting," explains Eric Coqueugniot, the University of Lyon archaeologist who is leading the excavation.

Coqueugniot describes Schmidt's hypothesis that Gobekli Tepe was meeting point for feasts, rituals and sharing ideas as "tempting," given the site's spectacular position. But he emphasizes that surveys of the region are still in their infancy. "Tomorrow, somebody might find somewhere even more dramatic."

Director of a dig at Korpiktepe, on the Tigris River about 120 miles east of Urfa, Vecihi Ozkaya doubts the thousands of stone pots he has found since 2001 in hundreds of 11,500 year-old graves quite qualify as that. But his excitement fills his austere office at Dicle University in Diyarbakir. "Look at this", he says, pointing at a photo of an exquisitely carved sculpture showing an animal, half-human, half-lion. "It's a sphinx, thousands of years before Egypt. Southeastern Turkey, northern Syria - this region saw the wedding night of our civilization."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


The US embassy is likely to create even greater Iraqi resentment toward the US occupation.

While Americans will be living in posh quarters, the citizens of Baghdad are forced to survive with just 5.6 hours of electricity a day. Baghdad was also recently rated the world's worst city in which to live.
nerdified link

Okay, in what known universe is

wrestling an alligator and putting it in your car while committing a burglary a "good idea"?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Your tax dollars at work

US Gave Polygamists No-Bid Defense Contracts:

By now you've heard about the 416 children, many young girls who it is alleged were abused by their far older "spiritual husbands", who have been removed by the State from the Texas compound of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

What you may not have heard about is that the US government gave a company owned by FLDS honchos a nearly $1 million loan from the federal government and $1.2 million in military contracts - despite a 2005 lawsuit alleging that cult members worked for the company on cult orders for little or no pay.

Check out the rest.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

This year's airport experience

I noticed Jim Kunstler's most recent post at The Daily Grunt chronicles his problems with flight delays (The airlines are dying):
It was not a good week to be at the mercy of America's floundering air travel program. The price of aviation fuel is killing them. They can't fire any more employees or shed anymore pension obligations. There is no elasticity left in the system. Coming back from Denver yesterday, the chaos at the concourse gates was impressive. Nobody knew when or if a given flight would board, and they certainly didn't post any realistic information on the high-def screens at every gate. When asked for updates, the harried gate agents could offer none. So much for computer wizardry. It is interesting to see how passively the public accepts this. For now, they slump like war refugees in the blow-molded plastic seats, numb with fatigue, anxiety, and disappointment. But I wonder if there will be riots in the concourses sometime later this year.
I don't think my experience was quite as bleak as his, but there was at least a parallel. Both ways, I faced flight delays, although those delays were due to weather - not surprising as early spring tends to produce quite a variety of severe weather possibilities. What I did notice was that it was damn difficult to get a straight answer as to when my flights would board, and that those lovely high-def screens continued to post the wrong information or sometimes contradictory information (depending on whether you were looking at a screen in a lobby or at your gate). My own recent trip, for example, was notable in that the screen at my gate persisted in informing us that our flight was "on time" even as I boarded that flight 50 minutes after it was supposed to arrive. The ability for the airlines to communicate with its passengers was indeed underwhelming.

Cultural Spillover Effects: Torture in American Civilian Life

As I'm reading through the news, a story of a company using waterboarding as a "team-building" exercise jumped out at me:
No one really disputes that Chad Hudgens was waterboarded outside a Provo office park last May 29, right before lunch, by his boss.

There is also general agreement that Hudgens volunteered for the "team-building exercise," that he lay on his back with his head downhill, and that co-workers knelt on either side of him, pinning the young sales rep down while their supervisor poured water from a gallon jug over his nose and mouth.

And it's widely acknowledged that the supervisor, Joshua Christopherson, then told the assembled sales team, whose numbers had been lagging: "You saw how hard Chad fought for air right there. I want you to go back inside and fight that hard to make sales."


Indeed, Hudgens's lawsuit, filed Jan. 17 in Provo, suggests the testosterone-poisoned setting of the David Mamet play "Glengarry Glen Ross." Hudgens alleged that if the 10-person sales team went a day without a sale, members had to work the next day standing up; Christopherson took away their chairs. The team leader also threatened to draw a mustache in permanent marker on the face of sales people for "negativity," Hudgens said. Christopherson kept on his desk a piece of wood, "the 2-by-4 of motivation," he said.

Brunt and Ellis dispute all this. "When you meet Josh," Brunt said, "he's a nice, sensitive guy."

Hudgens agreed that Christopherson was "an upbeat guy; everybody there likes him." But he added: "It is a big pressure cooker in there, I'll tell you." He said low performers were threatened with "the Cure Team" -- two weeks to improve or you're fired.

Late last May, the all-male sales team was having "a rough week." Christopherson called the men into the break room and announced, "We're going to do an exercise." He asked for a volunteer.

Hudgens raised his hand.

"Keep in mind," he said, "the last time we did a team-building exercise outside, we did an egg toss."

Prosper maintains that Christopherson explained what would happen next, and Hudgens knew what he was in for, even handing his cellphone and keys to co-workers before lying down. Hudgens insists he had no clue.

"So they held me down," Hudgens said, "and the next thing I know, Josh has a gallon jug of water and he's pouring it on my face. I can't scream because the water's going down my throat.

"And halfway through he stopped for a second. I tried to mumble the words, 'Stop, knock it off.' I tried to get that out and he continued to pour."

"I'm not getting any air," Hudgens said. "Toward the end, I'm starting to black out. I'm getting very dizzy, light-headed. The sensation that's going through my head is, 'I'm going to drown.' "

That is the oft-described whole point of waterboarding, though Hudgens said he was not then familiar with the word. He said that what he told a friend in the human relations office two hours later, after "coughing, choking, mucus" was: "My team just tried to kill me."

Only later, after describing the experience to a former employer, was he told: "You've just been waterboarded." "I said, 'What's waterboarding?' And the only difference was, instead of lying on a board, I was lying on a grassy hill."


Interestingly, Hudgens's Salt Lake City attorney differs on that. "I'm not an absolutist on that," Sean Egan said. But "to take these kinds of techniques and apply them to anything but a national security environment is entirely inappropriate."

And the plaintiff?

"I don't know if the government should do it or not," Hudgens said. "But I can tell you firsthand, because it happened to me, it definitely works.

"They didn't tell me it was going to happen, but if they did, holy cow, I would've told them whatever they wanted me to tell them."
The success of Hudgens' suit hinges upon whether or not he and his attorney can prove that his employer intended to harm him. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but what was definitely intended was some form of coercion - not only of the plaintiff but his entire work unit - which is the point of torture in military and paramilitary settings. Christopherson, the torturer in this case, is described as a "nice guy", which would describe the bulk of the torturers you would find (just read about Milgram's obedience research or Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment, in-depth research on real-life torturers done by Mika Haritos-Fatouros, or the case study of Eichmann by Hannah Arendt).

What's interesting to note is that as the stories of human rights violations have become merely part of the background noise of our lives, there's been something of a spill-over effect in our everyday lives. About the time that the Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantánamo Bay abuses were beginning, torture was increasingly portrayed and glorified in the mass media, based on the falacious "ticking time bomb" scenario. Tasers are used routinely as a means of coercing intoxicated and mentally ill individuals in much the same way that electric shock has been used to coerce torture victims in military prisons. I'm not the least bit surprised to see stories such as the above - dismayed perhaps, but not surprised. When discussing torture and genocide a couple years ago, I mentioned distal causes of torture, which we can think of as the "background noise" that exists in our society that makes us more prone to accept and engage in the odious practice. In a way, our mass media has normalized torture practices, discounted the role of policy (those grunts caught doing torture end up being "bad apples"), and played up the myth of American Exceptionalism. Under such circumstances, it was only a matter of time before a supervisor in a sales office concocted "waterboarding" as a team-building exercise.