Saturday, May 3, 2008

The more things change...

Something that jumped out at me while I was reading Murdered By Capitalism by John Ross (p. 146):
The next afternoon, at a federal building protest ... we raised a home-made National Liberation Front flag on the esplanade pole. Although the banner only flew for about 20 seconds before GSA guards ripped it to the ground ... the stunt embarrassed liberal Dems like Willie Brown and John Burton who the CP-USA had hoodwinked into addressing the rally.

The incipient conflict at the Federal Building was a seed of later splits in the anti-war movement between those who championed Third World revolution and those who only wanted to bring the boys back home.
It seems a truism any more to say that the split Ross described from 1965 is canyon-wide by this point, as we've witnessed the on-going conflicts between those who contend to be anti-war now joining forces behind Obama and/or Clinton on the one side (based on a belief that the Iraq war was "bungled" or just a "bad idea" and should focus our attention on "humanitarian" interventions in Darfur, etc., and that in any event, the USA is somehow an exceptionally blessed giant with wonderful intentions), and the rest of us who wish to go beyond merely "bringing the boys back home" from Iraq and who question the whole global hegemony thing in the first place. Some of the latter may be voting for various alternative party or indie candidates; others of us may be boycotting the whole sorry charade. Here you're more likely to find the cats who groove on the Bolivarian movement that has swept South America in recent years, the Zapatistas' Other Campaign that is making its mark not only in Chiapas but across the globe, various anti-globalism and anti-neoliberalism movements, and so on. American Exceptionalism doesn't cut it for us, whatever other differences we may have. Equally certain is that those who are bound and determined to bring us back into the fold in time for November to support whichever "lesser evil" the Dems have anointed are not on the same side as us - their protestations to the contrary be damned.

Friday, May 2, 2008

If you're going to read stuff online

Check out William Blum's latest newsletter, published, appropriately enough, on May Day.

Tariq Ali revisits 1968.

John Ross hears some bad jazz in New Orleans and sings the NAFTA blues.

Sami al-Haj was finally sprung from the Guantánamo gulag. I've shared with y'all his story before.

Remember that carne asada is not a crime, no matter what a bunch of corrupt city council members in Los Angeles may wish us to believe.

In the mood for something scholarly? Available readily online is Derek Hook's article, Frantz Fanon, Steve Biko, 'psychopolitics', and critical psychology.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Signs of the times

Picture found at AfterDowningStreet. Also, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union made good on its promise to shut down West Coast ports on May Day to protest the Iraq War. Good on them!

Harbingers

For your consideration:

The Peak Oil Crisis: The Half-Life For Air Travel

Airline's bankruptcy strands U.S. troops in Middle East

Just call it a friendly reminder, with a little help from Dmitry Orlov:
There are some things that I would like the government to take care of in preparation for collapse. I am particularly concerned about all the radioactive and toxic installations, stockpiles, and dumps. Future generations are unlikely to able to control them, especially if global warming puts them underwater. There is enough of this muck sitting around to kill off most of us. I am also worried about soldiers getting stranded overseas – abandoning one's soldiers is among the most shameful things a country can do. Overseas military bases should be dismantled, and the troops repatriated. I'd like to see the huge prison population whittled away in a controlled manner, ahead of time, instead of in a chaotic general amnesty. Lastly, I think that this farce with debts that will never be repaid, has gone on long enough. Wiping the slate clean will give society time to readjust. So, you see, I am not asking for any miracles. Although, if any of these things do get done, I would consider it a miracle.
My emphasis added.

Who knew?

No more oil transactions in US dollars for Iran. It's all Euros and Yen now. Once the US dollar is no longer the reserve currency, some serious hell could break loose. Wonder why the anti-Iran propaganda has been ramped up lately, and there's been a military build-up in the Persian Gulf region (leaving some to ponder the parallels between 2008 and 1939)?

Lest we forget

Five years ago today:Mission accomplished:

A friendly reminder

Today's May Day.

If you're curious about the origins of May Day, read here. It may well be the most ancient religious festival worldwide - primarily a homage to fertility goddesses as well as the renewal of life that we see in the spring time.

In more modern times, May Day is significant as the original labor day, and is tied with the struggle by organized labor movements to get the 8-hour work day that many of us take for granted recognized.

I've been reading John Ross' book Murdered By Capitalism, in which the author discusses the labor movement in US history, I was reminded that by the middle of the 20th century May 1 was officially designated "Law Day" making us unique in that we're supposed to celebrate those who smashed organized efforts to improve labor conditions. That's not even getting into the Crawford Caligula's designation of May 1 as "Loyalty Day" (let's celebrate the displacement of workers around the globe thanks to US-hatched 'free trade' policies).

This is a day usually marked by organized protests. If there's something in your area, check it out. If not, surely there is something you can do to educate those around you.

Also should mention that today marks the second anniversary of the blog The Unapologetic Mexican. Keep on doing your thang, Nezua.

Castor dicitur a castrando

A recent post at Stop Me Before I Vote Again that hits the nail on the head:

Jeremiah Wright is Obama's real daddy -- a guy who perhaps filled in for the AWOL Kenyan, and gave Obama much of what is real, and appealing, and thoughtful, and humane about him. Because he has, or had, all these qualities.

I'm not quite cynical enough to think it was mere opportunism that got Barack's butt in Wright's pew for all those years. I think he got something in that pew that nourished him and helped make him the rather impressive human being he became.

Until the hunters wanted his balls -- and he bit them off.

RIP Albert Hofmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered the hallucinogenic drug LSD, has died aged 102, the organization that republished his book on the mind-altering substance said.

Hofmann, who advocated the medicinal properties of the drug he termed his "problem child", died from a heart attack at his home in Basel, Switzerland on Tuesday, the California-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) said on its website.

Born January 11, 1906, Hofmann discovered LSD -- lysergic acid diethylamide, which later became the favored drug of the 1960s counter-culture -- when a tiny quantity leaked on to his hand during a laboratory experiment in 1943.

He noted a "remarkable restlessness, combined with slight dizziness" that made him stop his work.

"At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxication-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination," Hofmann said of the experience.

"In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight too unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors," Hofmann wrote in his book "LSD -- My Problem Child."

"After some two hours this condition faded away."

"BAD TRIP"

A few days later Hofmann intentionally took a dose of LSD and experienced the world's first "bad trip" -- slang for when the user suffers a disturbed reaction.

"On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms. Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror," he said.

Once home, the LSD continued to warp Hofmann's mind: "My surroundings had now transformed themselves in more terrifying ways," he wrote.

"A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind, and soul. I jumped up and screamed, trying to free myself from him, but then sank down again and lay helpless on the sofa. The substance, with which I had wanted to experiment, had vanquished me."

Former Harvard lecturer Timothy Leary popularized LSD with his "turn on, tune in, drop out" advice in the 1960s, but Hofmann believed the substance was hijacked and abused by the hippy movement and maintained he produced it as a medicine.

Hofmann believed it could still serve a valid purpose in medicine, as it did for Aldous Huxley, author of "Brave New World" who used the drug to ease his final suffering.

Hofmann -- who believed LSD was useful in analysis of how the mind works, hoping it could be used to recognize and treat illnesses like schizophrenia -- defended his "wonder drug" for decades after it was banned in the 1960s.

MAPS President Rick Doblin said he had spoken to Hofmann on the phone recently "and he was happy and fulfilled. He'd seen the renewal of LSD psychotherapy research with his own eyes."

nerdified link

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A few refreshing voices on the continuing Jeremiah Wright controversy

In the wake of the news that Obama did the unsurprisingly cowardly deed that was required of him if he were to be accepted as a "serious" and "responsible" candidate for Emperor (i.e., turn his back on his mentor now that the heat is on), there are a few essays around blogtopia that hit it right.

Arthur Silber - Messiahs Just Aren't What The Used To Be:
Wright has said nothing new. He's repeated what he said many times before. The only difference is that Obama's campaign is flailing. The heat got to be too much. So now Obama finally understands what Wright thinks, and he denounces it. This means one of two things: Obama is one of the stupidest people in America (and that would be an achievement of some note), or he is a liar of the first order. It's probably a combination of both, with a huge dose of pathetically desperate and obvious strategizing thrown in.

It should be emphasized that, on the points of greatest significance, what Wright has said and continues to say is true. More than that, it is critically important.

[snip]

Of course, no one who buys into the mythology of American exceptionalism will consider the possibility that critical parts of what Wright thinks are true. As I wrote in "Obama's Whitewash":
Obama speaks of "views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike." This is a lie: Wright's views express the truth of our history, and of our present. No, it is not all of the truth, but it is an absolutely essential and major part of the truth. It is the part of the truth that our fictionalized, mythologized history denies, the truth that many Americans will not permit themselves to understand or acknowledge. You are profoundly wrong if the truth "offends" you. If you remain determined to cling to the lies that sustain you, you may certainly make that choice. But that does not make it right, or true.

Obama speaks of "a profoundly distorted view of this country -- a view that sees white racism as endemic..." But white racism has been endemic to America's history, and its effects are still painfully visible in most aspects of American life today. Indeed, a good portion of Obama's speech itself details the effects of that "endemic" white racism. Wright does not "elevate what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America" -- he demands acknowledgment of the part of our history drowned by the propaganda that inundates us every day. For those who remain wedded to the mythologized America, such acknowledgment cannot be tolerated. Truth must be destroyed.

Obama states: "I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy." What Obama has "condemned, in unequivocal terms" is the truth -- the truth that is forbidden by the fictions that feed the myth of American exceptionalism. Obama has fully embraced the lies at the heart of mythologized America -- an embrace that is underscored by his inclusion of this phrase: "a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam." In this manner, Obama confirms that he will continue our policy of global interventionism including our endless interventions in the Middle East, which have been unceasing ever since World War I. Obama embraces all the lies that support that policy, and he will challenge none of them. (See "Songs of Death" for many more details concerning Obama's embrace of this murderous policy.)

Almost every politician lies, and most politicians lie repeatedly. Yet in one sense, Obama's speech is exceptional, rare and unique -- but not for any of the reasons offered by Obama's uncritical, mindless adulators. It is exceptional for this reason: it is rare that a candidate will announce in such stark, comprehensive terms that he will lie about every fact of moment, about every aspect of our history that affects the crises of today and that has led to them, about everything that might challenge the mythological view of America. But that is what Obama achieved with this speech. It may be a remarkable achievement -- a remarkable and detestable one, and one that promises endless destruction in the future, both here and abroad.
Most people completely failed to grasp the breadth of Obama's commitment to America's mythologized history in his "nuanced," "historical" speech on race, or his unbreached determination to lie about anything and everything. They were -- and are -- incapable of understanding this issue for the simple reason that they, too, embrace this mythology. If they are deprived of their belief in America's, and their own, claim to being "unique" and "special" in all of history, they will die psychologically. Our mythologized history has become a crucial part of their own identities. Obama's condemnation of Wright today amounts to an emphatic postscript to his earlier speech: "I meant it. I will lie to you about anything you want. I will lie about everything."
There's much more, of course. Ignore at your own risk.

Check out too Chris Floyd's essay A Condemned Man: Bashing Wright, Banishing Truth, in which he takes Obama to task
But this is indeed a curious and telling episode. If one actually takes the trouble to read Wright's remarks before the Press Club -- which almost no journalist in America did, although they are easily available at the Washington Post's web site -- it is difficult to see what in God's name all the brouhaha is about. Even Wright's most "controversial" remarks -- about AIDS, Louis Farrakhan and, in Obama's words, "equating America's wartime efforts with terrorism" -- are couched in plausible contexts, and are actually more nuanced than the, well, caricature of them that Obama condemned. Most ludicrous of all were Obama's hysterics about the "divisiveness" of Wright's remarks, when the theme of racial and cultural and religious reconciliation was sounded over and over throughout the appearance.

At any rate, let's do something really radical here. Let's actually see what Wright actually said. The quotes below are from the WP transcript. Now, I realize that reading a transcript is different from watching a "spectacle," as Obama put it, on the Tee-Vee. And from the furrowed-brow remarks of concerned libprogbloggers, I understand that Wright was downright uppity in his demeanor, which might upset the "Gate 14" crowd out there, and we sure wouldn't want to do that. But still, there are scattered pockets out there where words still mean something, so let us consult the text. Here's Wright on the "black church":
The prophetic tradition of the black church has its roots in Isaiah, the 61st chapter, where God says the prophet is to preach the gospel to the poor and to set at liberty those who are held captive. Liberating the captives also liberates who are holding them captive. It frees the captives and it frees the captors. It frees the oppressed and it frees the oppressors....what you see is God's desire for a radical change in a social order that has gone sour.

God's desire is for positive, meaningful and permanent change. God does not want one people seeing themselves as superior to other people. God does not want the powerless masses, the poor, the widows, the marginalized, and those underserved by the powerful few to stay locked into sick systems which treat some in the society as being more equal than others in that same society.

God's desire is for positive change, transformation, real change, not cosmetic change, transformation, radical change or a change that makes a permanent difference, transformation. God's desire is for transformation, changed lives, changed minds, changed laws, changed social orders, and changed hearts in a changed world.
Well, perhaps Obama is correct, after all. This is pretty divisive stuff. It divides the miniscule sliver of rapacious elites (and their sycophants) from the vast majority of the American population. Obviously, when Obama says he is trying "to bridge the gap between different kinds of people," he wants to reconcile "the poor, the widows, the marginalized" with "the powerful few." The former should learn to love the latter -- and for God's sake not seek to change any social orders or sick systems. No, that kind of talk is indeed "appalling." As Obama says: "It is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take this country." Good to know, Barack. Thanks for clearing that up for us.
Sara Robinson also offers up some useful context in Jeremiah Wright: What (Else) Is Going On
There's another part to this backstory as well. It has to do with the media's dominant narratives about religion in general over the past three decades.

Ever since Reagan came to power, media stories having to do with religion have almost always reflected a basic duality. On one hand, you had urban secularists (including the media people themselves) who had no connection at all to religion, which they regarded as backward and the sign of an inferior mind -- a contempt that was reflected in their generally incomplete and inaccurate coverage of the subject.

On the other hand, you had far-right preachers with loud voices and red faces hollering ignorant and irrational rants about gays, feminists, and liberals. To the secularists, these preachers' histrionics came to represent the evils of all religion; and furthermore, they verified every bias they had against every form of religion. And the hostility was returned in full: to these preachers and their followers, the condescending media coverage nourished their already overfed inferiority and persecution complexes, driving them further and further out of the mainstream.

This polarization was a boon to the conservative movement, because it's exactly the kind of us-versus-them story that conservatism feeds on. It was a key split that created the space to define the preposterously unreal stereotypes of the coastal latte liberal versus the "real American" -- the heartland values voter. And it made those two positions the only acceptable ones in the political or religious dialogue. It forced people to take sides in a war that nobody but the right wing even wanted to fight.

And in drawing that false and forced line, it also rendered vast stretches of America's religious, cultural, and political landscape absolutely invisible. The vast majority of Americans -- educated and moderate believers of many faiths whose understanding of God informs their passionate belief in justice, compassion, equality, and democracy -- got cut out of the conversation entirely, because they lived in a far more nuanced place that didn't look like either side. You never saw their intelligent, well-modulated religious leaders on TV talk shows; you never read interviews with their thinkers and writers in the paper. There was simply no place for them in that artificial narrative -- and since they didn't fit, the vast majority of America's religious people simply ceased to exist as a public or political entity at all.

The conservative ascendancy depended on keeping these people completely cut out of the conversation; and the media, driven by their own biases, dutifully cooperated for years in accomplishing that goal. Without the balance these other voices could offer, the religious right was free to define "religion" (including civil religion) on their own terms, and claim full control of the country's discourse. The first thing they did, of course, was declare all the moderate and liberal people of faith to be apostates, which only silenced them further. They've been out there, quietly fuming and frustrated, ever since.

But Jeremiah Wright appears to be turning his current notoriety into a bully pulpit from which, at long last, that forced silence might finally be broken. Listening to his interview with Bill Moyers last Friday, I felt like I was hearing something strong and intelligent and real and wise -- the kind of nuanced spiritual voice most of us have never heard on TV in our lifetimes (though the fortunate among us have always heard them in our churches). It was the voice of that suppressed and silent majority, the people of faith whose concerns and insights have been so thoroughly stifled that they've been utterly absent from the discourse for three long decades. Wright gave us a sharp reminder of what liberal Christian voices can sound like at their best. I hope he also whetted an appetite for out-of-the-box moral thinking that will allow us to hear more -- not just from Christians, but from many traditions. The broader the perspectives and the more corners we hear from, the better our responses to the current challenges will be.

Always helps to know some of the context. The Robinson essay hits on one of the reasons why I turned away from Christianity for a number of years: the dominant narrative in the US is that of Christianity (especially Protestant Christianity) as a narrow nationalistic ideology in which anyone not fitting into the accepted mold is condemned to eternal damnation. At one point in the mid-to-late 1980s, an old anarchist friend succeeded in planting a few seeds to suggest that liberation theologies existed and that one could be a radical card-carrying lefty with one's faith intact; and the woman I would one day marry took care of the rest such that by the turn of the new century I had found a way to return to my faith. Some readers have noted that I do identify myself as a Christian (albeit of a very unorthodox nature), although it is highly unlikely that one will see writings on theological matters here at any point in the foreseeable future. My main reason in even mentioning it at all is simply to provide readers with some context as to why I've continued to offer up favorable reactions to Rev. Wright, and to why the more of his words I read and hear the more I dig on what he's about. There is little doubt that I do not agree with him on every point (no doubt Silber and Floyd do a better job in voicing what would be my points of departure than I could, and will leave it up to y'all to read them). On the fundamentals, though, Wright seems spot on - in particular to the extent to which he lives up to the Jesus that I find inspiring (that is as the challenger to empire and its enablers). We'll leave it at that for now.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Empire



The caption reads as follows:
Just when you thought America couldn't get any weirder, a French filmmaker comes along to share his vision of warped excess and empire.
Edouard Salier manages to capture just how insidious US imperialism is (at least to most of those residing here).

Mad props to Madman in the Marketplace.

Rev. Wright is Making the Rounds

Check the complete footage of Rev. Wright's recent appearances before the NAACP and the National Press Club (h/t Left I). While you're at it, check some useful commentary over at Planet Grenada (here and here), and over at The Unapologetic Mexican (who admires Wright's fuego as much as I do).

For those interested in the Dem partisan "what will the neighbors think" approach, here are a couple exemplars. Guess what - no matter how much y'all want to sweep this all under the rug, it's not going down like that. You've been getting away with it for far too long.

Two peas in a pod

Looks like the UK, just like the US, favors extraordinary renditions.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday evening hardcore



Music by Death Valley Meth Lab. H/t After Downing Street.

Nearly three decades on, hardcore may not exactly be all that novel, but it never really fades away either.

Let's jazz up this Sunday morning

Sonny Rollins (sax), Don Cherry (trumpet), Billy Higgins (drums), and Henry Grimes (bass):


Saw this over at Kai's blog a while back and was meaning to share it over here. Rollins has been a giant in the jazz world for several decades. Cherry and Higgins worked together (Higgins a bit more intermittently) in Ornette Coleman's classic 1950s & early 1960s recordings and gigs. Henry Grimes was a regular sideman on a number of free jazz recordings during the mid 1960s, and is still very much alive and kicking, recently reviving his music career after a nearly four decade hiatus.

Hope y'all dig this little slice of jazz heaven.

Torture in the news

There have been a number of crucial articles regarding the Guantánamo Bay gulag over the last couple weeks. I've been meaning to say something a bit more substantive, as I've devoted a lot of blog space both here and at my old blog (The Left End of the Dial) to the topic of torture. I'm sure I will again shortly, but for now a quick roundup will have to suffice.

US Drugging Guantánamo Bay Prisoners:

Involuntary drugging of US detainees, a crisis for the health professions


The Return of MKULTRA? Evidence Mounts that Drugs Were Used on CIA “Ghost Detainees” During Coercive Interrogations

Isolation:

Detainees’ Mental Health Is Latest Legal Battle (h/t Stephen Soldz)

The Perps:

Top Bush aides pushed for Guantánamo torture

Stress, hooding, noise, nudity, dogs

Torture victim's records lost at Guantánamo, admits camp general


Letters Give C.I.A. Tactics a Legal Rationale

As a postscript to the preceding

Make sure if you've been reading through the transcript of the Bill Moyers interview with Rev. Jeremiah Wright that you also take the time to watch the interview as well (both Part 1 and Part 2), as it'll capture the nuances that simply wouldn't jump out at you otherwise.