Saturday, November 29, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
Check Frozen Scandal in the New York Review of Books (h/t Marisacat for link, image, and excerpt):
[T]he story of how this happened is long and elaborate but one thing is clear: it has not happened for lack of revelation. The Abu Ghraib scandal broke in the spring of 2004. The images of Hooded Man, Leashed Man, Man Menaced by Dog—all quickly became “iconic,” the stuff of end-of-the-year news tableaux and faded murals on the walls of minor cities in the Middle East. This first and last occasion when torture became vivid, fertile scandal—when torture emerged, thanks to the photographs, as that most valuable of products: televisual scandal—came and went in the spring and summer of 2004, leaving a harvest of rapidly aging images and leaked documents. Those documents—many hundreds of pages, which told in great and precise detail the story of how United States officials, from the President on down, came in the wake of the September 11 attacks to order Americans to torture—were quickly published by journalists and writers, myself included, who no doubt expected that the investigative committees, the televised hearings, and the prison sentences would quickly follow.
In the event, the investigations did come, a dozen or more of them, and their very proliferation was the means by which the story was converted from shocking crime into perpetual news, then minor story, and then, at last, “key issue.” But for a handful of hapless soldiers—the smallest of small fish —there were no real prosecutions, no images of high officials in handcuffs. The leakers, who had risked their careers to make the documents public, must have been profoundly disappointed. For it was they, as it happened, who had committed one of the era’s signal crimes: unguarded idealism. At Guantánamo, at the “dark sites,” at various venues around the world, known and unknown, torture continued, even as it was studied and passed by due legislative oversight into the law of the land. Only the courts seemed, intermittently, to have a different idea. And all the while the torture story was well reported, mostly in the newspapers—for after that initial rush of photographs, which quickly became cliché, there followed nothing juicy enough to raise the story to the golden level of the televisual—and it continued to be reported even as it made its way through the complicated and mysterious transformational process by which a war crime becomes a “key issue.”All the while, it must be said, the public, that repository of right, showed relatively little interest. Neither, following the lead of their constituents, did the politicians. John Kerry, running for president in the immediate wake of Abu Ghraib—and perhaps remembering his own unrecompensed temerity in calling attention, as a young returning vet, to war crimes in Vietnam—hardly mentioned it.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
It is not at all clear what happened at the first – and only – “integrated” Thanksgiving feast. Only two written accounts of the three-day event exist, and one of them, by Governor William Bradford, was written 20 years after the fact. Was Chief Massasoit invited to bring 90 Indians with him to dine with 52 colonists, most of them women and children? This seems unlikely. A good harvest had provided the settlers with plenty of food, according to their accounts, so the whites didn’t really need the Wampanoag’s offering of five deer. What we do know is that there had been lots of tension between the two groups that fall. John Two-Hawks, who runs the Native Circle web site, gives a sketch of the facts:The first "official" Thanksgiving was a celebration of a massacre:
“Thanksgiving' did not begin as a great loving relationship between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Pequot and Narragansett people. In fact, in October of 1621 when the pilgrim survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial 'Thanksgiving' meal, the Indians who were there were not even invited! There was no turkey, squash, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. A few days before this alleged feast took place, a company of 'pilgrims' led by Miles Standish actively sought the head of a local Indian chief, and an 11 foot high wall was erected around the entire Plymouth settlement for the very purpose of keeping Indians out!”It is much more likely that Chief Massasoit either crashed the party, or brought enough men to ensure that he was not kidnapped or harmed by the Pilgrims. Dr. Tingba Apidta, in his “Black Folks’ Guide to Understanding Thanksgiving,” surmises that the settlers “brandished their weaponry” early and got drunk soon thereafter. He notes that “each Pilgrim drank at least a half gallon of beer a day, which they preferred even to water. This daily inebriation led their governor, William Bradford, to comment on his people's ‘notorious sin,’ which included their ‘drunkenness and uncleanliness’ and rampant ‘sodomy.’”
Soon after the feast the brutish Miles Standish “got his bloody prize,” Dr. Apidta writes:What is certain is that the first feast was not called a “Thanksgiving” at the time; no further integrated dining occasions were scheduled; and the first, official all-Pilgrim “Thanksgiving” had to wait until 1637, when the whites of New England celebrated the massacre of the Wampanoag’s southern neighbors, the Pequots.“He went to the Indians, pretended to be a trader, then beheaded an Indian man named Wituwamat. He brought the head to Plymouth, where it was displayed on a wooden spike for many years, according to Gary B. Nash, ‘as a symbol of white power.’ Standish had the Indian man's young brother hanged from the rafters for good measure. From that time on, the whites were known to the Indians of Massachusetts by the name ‘Wotowquenange,’ which in their tongue meant cutthroats and stabbers.”
Sixteen years after the problematical Plymouth feast, the English tried mightily to erase the Pequots from the face of the Earth, and thanked God for the blessing.Hat tip to the long-gone Ductape Fatwa's blog Enemy of the State, regarding what should more properly be called a National Day of Mourning.
Having subdued, intimidated or made mercenaries of most of the tribes of Massachusetts, the English turned their growing force southward, toward the rich Connecticut valley, the Pequot’s sphere of influence. At the point where the Mystic River meets the sea, the combined force of English and allied Indians bypassed the Pequot fort to attack and set ablaze a town full of women, children and old people.
William Bradford, the former Governor of Plymouth and one of the chroniclers of the 1621 feast, was also on hand for the great massacre of 1637:
"Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire...horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy."The rest of the white folks thought so, too. “This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots," read Governor John Winthrop’s proclamation. The authentic Thanksgiving Day was born.
Most historians believe about 700 Pequots were slaughtered at Mystic. Many prisoners were executed, and surviving women and children sold into slavery in the West Indies. Pequot prisoners that escaped execution were parceled out to Indian tribes allied with the English. The Pequot were thought to have been extinguished as a people. According to IndyMedia, “The Pequot tribe numbered 8,000 when the Pilgrims arrived, but disease had brought their numbers down to 1,500 by 1637. The Pequot ‘War’ killed all but a handful of remaining members of the tribe.”
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Nor have I expected to be disappointed as January 2009 rears its ugly head. Indeed, the smoke signals on the horizon suggest that the war biz will be booming, and that the netroots can gnash its collective teeth all it wants, but there's an empire to be run and profits to be made and quite frankly, now that the election is over, the netroots is irrelevant until the next electoral cycle. Of course I've made no secret of enjoying the on-going implosion of the GOP, which increasingly appears doomed to be a regional party whose constituency consists of aging white Bible-thumpers. Good riddance. It's just that I don't trust the Dems any further than I can spit against a Chinook wind.
I've also been concerned about the state of the opposition - and by opposition I'm talking about something legitimately antiwar and ideally anticapitalist. Ron Jacobs reminds us that it has been almost a couple years since there was last a significant antiwar protest, and the consequences have been deadly:
The past two years have been a quiet time for that movement. There have been no major national demonstrations since March 15th, 2007 when 40,000 people marched on the Pentagon. Prior to that was a protest of over 150,000 in DC (with another 100,000 on the West Coast) on January 27th of that year. Both of these protests took place in the wake of the November 2006 congressional elections that saw the Democrats take over both houses of Congress in an election that was essentially a referendum against the war. It was a referendum that was to be baldly ignored by the very folks who were elected to carry it out. Instead of a withdrawal plan, we saw an escalation of the war via the "surge." This escalation brought about an increase in Iraqi and US deaths, while further dividing the country of Iraq into sectarian enclaves, displacing millions more Iraqis, and pushing the people of that country further into poverty. Now, almost two years later, there are more US troops in Iraq than there were before the 2006 elections and Washington is still trying to impose an agreement on the Green Zone government that pretends to promise a withdrawal by 2011, but in reality has more loopholes regarding that withdrawal than the current US tax laws do for the oil companies. In Afghanistan, the occupation grows more brutal daily, as US airstrikes kill and maim civilians and US Predator drones wreak their destruction and death in Afghanistan and, increasingly, in Pakistan as well.It would seem that some real opposition is long overdue. The impression I get is that aside from ANSWER, which is calling for massive demonstrations around the 6th anniversary of the current phase of the Iraq War (the war itself dates back to early 1991), supposed antiwar groups are pretty lackadaisical. Back to Jacobs:
The time for a coordinated mass national action by all elements of the US antiwar movement is this coming spring. The US military presence in Iraq will be heading into its seventh year. It doesn't matter who is in the White House when it comes to this issue. Nor does it matter if Washington and the Iraqi Green Zone government have agreed that US forces will leave by 2011. As we have seen before, agreements like the Status of Forces Agreement mean very little when they don't serve Washington's needs. It is extremely rare in US history that a president or Congress ended a hostile overseas military action without massive public pressure. Besides the fact that Iraq is considered too important to Washington's plans, there are just too many pressures from those whose income and careers depend on continuing such adventures to end these things. If and only if the antiwar movement revitalizes itself and organizes the majority of Americans that oppose the war/occupation in Iraq will it be ended.Not only that, but there needs to be an actual united leftist front. From Lenin's Tomb a couple years ago:
The same applies to the situation in Afghanistan. That mission has failed. The resistance against Washington's occupation continues to grow. More and more Afghan civilians die every week from US bombs and missiles while the Karzai government grows weaker and weaker. This government, put into place to help the US project its power into Central Asia in order to control the Caspian Sea natural gas and oil, has less internal support than the al-Maliki regime in Baghdad. It is time for the occupying forces to end their murderous support of whichever warlord is willing to take Washington's money. That nation's people will only begin to have a chance to live without war or reactionary Islamist rule after US and NATO forces begin to leave the country. Not only should the various wings of the national antiwar movement organize a single demonstration in the spring of 2009, they should include a call for an immediate US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in their demands.
There really needs to be a new radical coalition formed, based on the interests of the American working class, but specifically including attempts to embrace Arab Americans who are especially vulnerable to racist discrimination and who have experienced a massive loss of pay in recent years. It would have to be radical without being characterised by the language of schisms, including marxists but not marxist, including Greens but not Green, including unions but not an outgrowth of union bureaucracy - a broad, radical, left-wing movement representing the unrepresented working class on every front, articulating their interests on the war, Katrina, wages, employment conditions, the economy and so on.Or as I put it back in the early fall of 2005:
The question that I can never leave far behind is this: "is less bad good enough?" When lives and quality of life are at stake, the answer is no. As of late I have given the words of the late Malcom X a fresh read, and I have a couple observations. One is that in many respects, when we're talking about civil rights and human rights in America things really haven't changed much since Malcom's day. The images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina of the dire poverty that has consigned so many of our fellow Americans to a lifetime of marginal existence (what the Marxists would call the lumpenproletariat) and neglect by the very government that is supposed to serve them, will haunt me for as long as I can still draw a breath. Those images should haunt all of us. The specter of racism and classism continues to plague our political and social landscape, just as it has all of my life. The second observation: politicians from one party or another haved talked a good game when it comes to promoting progressive ideas and policies - but with few exceptions they don't walk the talk. That was a problem that Malcom confronted with the issues that were salient to him, and is a problem that we on the left continue to confront. The Dems have assumed for so long that they have the leftists, the women, the ethnic minorities in their back pockets because presumably we have "nowhere else to go." The result is, as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, a not-so-benign neglect of our issues and values from the powers that be. And as long as we keep registering Democrat and periodically show up to vote when expected, nothing changes, except maybe for the worse. We have a party where its members say the right things more often than not, but then by and large approve laws like The Patriot Act, the bankruptcy bill that will end up burying working families who've encountered exhorbitant medical expenses; they've been silent when the White House nominated an architect of the current pro-torture policy to the office of AG; when it comes to the illegal war being fought against the Iraqis, many of the Dems want to send more troops and kill off even more people; they've been largely silent on the issue of voting irregularities both in Ohio and Florida; and we know that privacy rights are also no longer sacred in Dem circles.There's more of course. Other than being much more sour on the whole electoral scene (at least with regard to national political offices), I still stand by those words. There is strength in numbers. That's no truism; it's a basic fact. Major changes, from ending wars to changing regimes, have occurred because there was a whole bunch of folks actually speaking, writing, striking, protesting, and so on - and doing so in a coordinated manner.
What to do? In Malcom's last year on this planet he offered up some simple advice that I think we can all use: be organized, and don't affiliate with either the Dems or the GOP. That's the general idea behind American Solidarity: organize physically, financially, intellectually. Many of us come from varying backgrounds and have varying pet causes, but let's face it - those of us who are living paycheck to paycheck, those of us who value liberty, who value equality, who value justice, who value privacy have a hell of a lot in common. Technological advances in the last decade or so make it easier for us to coordinate and to exchange ideas and information than ever before. It's way past time to start using those tools to our advantage. Blogs are one of our tools, playing the same role that zines played in the 1980s and pamphlets such as Paine's played during the Revolution some 230 years ago. Blogging is only part of that picture. Cernig fills in some of the details elsewhere. Clearly, unions, thinktanks, civil liberties organizations are going to be salient as well.
Food for thought.
Chavez' coalition wins 17 of 23 state governorships - see the following map (a picture is worth 10,000 words).
Chavez' coalition won overall by a landslide - 52.5% of the vote to 41% for the opposition.
Chavez' coalition actually received 1.3 million more votes than in the 2007 referendum (the one that barely failed, but which had our most rabid propagandists practically writing Chavez' obituary), whereas the opposition managed to lose 300,000 votes.
Fortunately, much of the rest of the usual US media outlets seemed to show signs of accuracy in reporting on the Venezuela electoral outcomes, according to Giordano. Call it a pleasant surprise.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
We are in garbage time. The adulatory garbage being spewed about the virtues of Barrack Obama are a toxic trick on the peoples of the earth. One glaring recent example: 100,000 marched from sea to shining sea in the U.S. last weekend (Nov. 16th) in support of same sex marriage and no one had the moxie to even mention that Barack Obama does not support same sex marriage.To which Arthur Silber replies:
False Messiahs are made to be unmasked. Anyone who aspires to be the maximum capo of the world's most homicidal on-going criminal conspiracy is just that, a criminal. Barack Obama is a war criminal-in-waiting masquerading as a peace candidate on the pretext that he will move the Yanqui troops two wars to the east to massacre civilians who did not vote for him. I am not fooled.
The scenario is being written as we read. Before he is done, Barack Obama will bomb bomb bomb Iran. Here in our Americas, he will spit in Hugo Chavez's eye and kick Evo Morales in the balls, prolong the Cuban blockade, and cuddle up to cold-blooded killers like Colombia's Uribe and Mexico's Calderon. Galeano will have many new chapters to write.
I must offer one correction to his observations: Obama is not "a war criminal-in-waiting" -- he's already a war criminal. But of course, almost no one chooses to face that fact, among many other facts that most people repeatedly blind themselves to.Our mass-media-induced trance is not good for the soul. On the other hand, if one wants something more healing, might I suggest Maleem Mahmoud Ghania's Trance of Seven Colors?
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Here's a description of Ziegler's survey:
The conservative website HowObamaGotElected.com reports that it has commissioned Zogby International to conduct a poll of 512 Barack Obama voters as part of what can best be described as a viral marketing effort to discredit the intelligence of Obama supporters.One of the cardinal rules of survey construction is that one should never ask leading questions. We'll also say that surveys should use neutral wording, and that "trick questions" are generally ill advised. There's also the question of sampling, and the extent to which it was truly representative. If Ziegler was merely interested in confirming his own presuppositions, he succeeded - but in terms of being accurate, Ziegler's methodology failed miserably. What sort of long-term effect that the incident has on Zogby's (the polling company commissioned to conduct the survey) reputation is unclear, but suffice it to say this is not one of Zogby's better moments. Credibility in the survey business - to the extent that the biz has any basis on scientific methodology - goes only so far as a pollster's accuracy, which presupposes the pollster carefully screens questions before foisting them on the public.
The website, created by former radio talk show host John Ziegler to promote a forthcoming documentary, features a YouTube clip of interviews with 12 Obama voters who "were chosen for their apparent intelligence/verbal abilities and willingness to express their opinions to a large audience". The clip portrays the Obama supporters as giving "incorrect" answers to political questions such as "which candidate said his policies would likely bankrupt the coal industry and make energy rates skyrocket". Of the 12 Obama supporters interviewed for the clip, 7 (58%) are black; nationwide, about 23% of Obama supporters were black according to the national exit poll.
In connection with the YouTube clip, Ziegler describes that he "also commissioned a Zogby telephone poll which asked the very same questions (as well as a few others) with similarly amazing results." Partial results of the survey from among 512 Obama voters are reported on the website. It is not clear if voters for non-Obama candidates were screened out by the survey, or Ziegler has chosen not to report their results.
Most of the questions on the survey take the form of a multiple choice political knowledge test, stating a "fact" to the respondent and asking them which of the four major candidates (Obama, McCain, Biden, Palin) the statement applies to. Questions include the following:
"Which of the four [candidates] said his policies would likely bankrupt the coal industry and make energy rates skyrocket?"
"Which of the four [candidates] started his political career at the home of two former members of the Weather Underground?"
"Which of the four [candidates] quit a previous campaign because of plagiarism?"
"Which of the four [candidates] won his first election by getting opponents kicked off the ballot?"
As should be obvious, the veracity of several of these claims is -- at best -- debatable, yet they are apparently represented as factual to the respondent. It is not clear whether the respondent is informed of the "correct" response after having had the question posed to him.
Not all of the items in the poll are intended to apply to Obama or Biden. Several apply to Sarah Palin, although the items about Palin, while probably unflattering ("which of the four [candidates] has a pregnant teenage daughter?") are nevertheless apparently true. The exception is a "twist" question about Palin in which the respondent is asked "which candidate said that they can see Russia from their house?". Ziegler claims in the video that none of the four answers is correct because the statement was made by Tina Fay rather than Sarah Palin. (In her interview with Charlie Gibson, Palin said that "you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska", not that she can see Russia from her house.)
To my mind, this survey meets the definition of a "push poll", which the Random House Dictionary defines as "a seemingly unbiased telephone survey that is actually conducted by supporters of a particular candidate and disseminates negative information about an opponent." That (i) several of the items on the survey contain information which, in addition to being negative, is arguably also untrue; (ii) Ziegler brags that the survey includes a trick question to which no correct answer can be provided, and that (iii) apparently only Obama voters were targeted by the survey (although this is not 100 percent clear), also inform my opinion that the survey can fairly be described as a "push poll".
In an item on his personal website dated today, 11/18, Ziegler claims that Zogby will officially release the results of the survey tomorrow. Ziegler also appeared on Fox's Hannity & Colmes news program yesterday (11/17) to promote his documentary, on which clips from the YouTube video were shown.
Why Zogby International has decided to accept this client and conduct a survey in this fashion is not clear. I would hope, however, that any and all clients that need legitimate polling work conducted would take their business elsewhere. These clients include C-SPAN and Reuters, two organizations with longstanding and well-deserved reputations for accuracy and neutrality; contact information for C-SPAN and Reuters can be found at their respective webpages.
Both Zogby and Ziegler have taken some heat for the survey (whether it really is a push poll is subject to debate, but the criticisms of poor question wording and sampling certainly do have merit). Zogby's organization has handled criticisms reasonably professionally if not always in a straight-forward manner. Ziegler for his part has responded to criticism with paranoid ranting and obscenities (Ziegler's background in talk radio may be a factor in explaining his rather abrasive style when challenged). There is no such thing as the perfect survey (or the perfect experiment, etc.), and any reported finding will be subject to questions and criticisms from reasonable skeptics. Responses to such skeptics should be kept civil - Ziegler's responses of "go fuck yourself" to at least one skeptic didn't exactly score him any points except, perhaps, with those who would be Ziegler's groupies and other like-minded individuals.
I suppose we'll just let Nate Silver have the last word for now:
The only reason that Mr. Ziegler's original survey got stupid answers from Obama's supporters is because he asked stupid questions.Indeed.
The Genius Of The CrowdCourtesy of D.R. Scott's Pulp Culture. Been a while since I read that particular poem - and yes, I've been a Bukowski fan for more years than I can remember it seems, and in fact I credit Bukowski as one of my influences - strangely enough I do still create the occasional poem from time to time.
there is enough treachery, hatred violence absurdity in the average
human being to supply any given army on any given day
and the best at murder are those who preach against it
and the best at hate are those who preach love
and the best at war finally are those who preach peace
those who preach god, need god
those who preach peace do not have peace
those who preach peace do not have love
beware the preachers
beware the knowers
beware those who are always reading books
beware those who either detest poverty
or are proud of it
beware those quick to praise
for they need praise in return
beware those who are quick to censor
they are afraid of what they do not know
beware those who seek constant crowds for
they are nothing alone
beware the average man the average woman
beware their love, their love is average
but there is genius in their hatred
there is enough genius in their hatred to kill you
to kill anybody
not wanting solitude
not understanding solitude
they will attempt to destroy anything
that differs from their own
not being able to create art
they will not understand art
they will consider their failure as creators
only as a failure of the world
not being able to love fully
they will believe your love incomplete
and then they will hate you
and their hatred will be perfect
like a shining diamond
like a knife
like a mountain
like a tiger
their finest art