Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blogroll amnesty & blogroll bloodbath day is here!

The B.A.D. festivities commence today, January 31 and will proceed through February 3. For my part, I would like to introduce you to six blogs in which their respective bloggers toil in relative obscurity.

Let's Be Clear

Peace Writers

The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog

The World According to a Wanderer

Stories of Peace

Kick Him, Honey

A few words about B.A.D (modified slightly from my post at this time last year):

About two years ago, the Gated Community Blogs began a delinking policy that commenced under the odious name of "Blogroll Amnesty Day." Within the space of a few days, it was plainly apparent that A-listers such as Daily Kos and Atrios/Eschaton had tossed out links not only to smaller blogs, but some widely-read blogs (skippy the bush kangaroo and My Left Wing were among those affected by the alleged "amnesty"). There are plenty of historical recollections of that dark period in blogtopia (a term coined by the aforementioned skippy). Jon Swift, for instance remarked last year:
The idea that links are the capital of the blogosphere seems so obvious that you would think an economist like Atrios of Eschaton would have realized it long ago. And as he is a progressive who has accumulated quite a bit of link wealth, you might also think he would be in favor of redistributing some of that wealth instead of just letting it trickle down. So when he announced last year that he was declaring February 3 Blogroll Amnesty Day, and other bloggers followed suit, I assumed he meant that he was opening his blogroll up to the masses. I sent him a polite email pointing out that his blog was on my blogroll and I would really appreciate it if he would add my blog to his. I never heard back from him.

When February 3 rolled around, many bloggers discovered to their horror that instead of adding new blogs to his blogroll he was throwing many off, including some bloggers who were his longtime friends. Blogroll Amnesty Day, it turned out, was a very Orwellian concept. Instead of granting amnesty to others he was granting amnesty to himself not to feel bad for hurting others feelings. Though Atrios has stubbornly refused to acknowledge that he made a mistake, some bloggers who initially joined him, backtracked. Markos of the Daily Kos instituted a second blogroll that consisted of random links from diarists. PZ Myers of Pharyngula now has real Blogroll Amnesty Days where he invites anyone who has blogrolled him to join his blogroll. And in the wake of the bloodletting quite a number of smaller blogs, like my friend skippy the bush kangaroo, changed their own blogroll policies and now link more freely to others.
To make a long story short, a bunch of blogtopia's apparent rabble took that as a challenge and reclaimed amnesty by more liberally linking to other blogs than ever before. For my part, as of mid-February 2007 I made explicit my own policy regarding blogrolling:
If you have a blog that links to me and I have not reciprocated, let me know and I'll add you to the blogroll.
This weekend seems like a good idea to reiterate that policy. If you've been linking to me, I'd like to make sure to return the favor (just don't be some uncool neo-nazi blogger or some MinuteKlan asshole, that's all I ask). Just drop me a line - either in the comments or via email, and I'll add you to the blogroll posthaste. Heck, Jon Swift has offered a useful reminder that since the A-listers enacted their purge, they've been behind the curve on some huge events and issues. Some folks like skippy were kind enough to add my humble blog to their blogrolls, for which I am grateful.

I suppose if one merely wants an echo chamber, one will do what Atrios and his ilk did. Personally, I prefer to be contrapuntal: variety is the spice of life, and hopefully my blogroll reflects that. One huge benefit for me has been practically impossible to quantify: I've managed to meet (at least within the confines of the internet) some really interesting folks whom I might have missed out on otherwise, and have learned a thing or two in the process.

Friday, January 30, 2009

And the leader in protecting children's rights is...

Cuba:
The latest development:
Cuba is the top-ranking developing country when it comes to protecting children’s rights, according to a new Child Development Index (CDI).

The index is constructed from three indicators: health (a scaled probability of death under the age of five), nutrition (the percentage of under fives who are moderately or severely underweight) and education (the percentage of primary-school aged children who are not enrolled in school).

A low score indicates low child deprivation. Cuba’s progress in recent years raised it from second place in Latin America (after Argentina) in the 1990s to first place in the period 2000-06.

While wealthy OECD countries topped the list, the US, by contrast, went backwards. It now ranks 23rd in the world on children’s rights — after Cuba, Costa Rica and Argentina.
Here in the mother land of the church of neoliberal orthodoxy, our kids continue to fall behind - and those numbers were before the current economic troubles began (those troubles themselves a consequence of adherence to St. Milton Friedman's unholy scriptures).

US campaign to boycott Israel

Via P U L S E, I got hip to The U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. I'm in favor of such boycotts for the same reasons I was in favor of boycotting South Africa's academic and cultural institutions during the Apartheid era.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Keep making some noise!

That, my friends, is as good a message as any:
All over the nation, communities are clamoring to be heard. In this worsening economic landscape, migrant communities are being terrorized by violent raids, families are destabilized, wage earners are jailed or detained, and xenophobic pundits continue to fuel a rising wave of hate crimes against Latinos. The stakes could not be any higher: Now is the time to make our voices heard, especially after being ignored for so long by those with the power to make a difference.
Check out the rest.

Obscene

The Unrepentant Marxist sez:

Available on home video on February 10th, “Obscene” helps prove a point that I have made repeatedly, namely that the old left of the 1930s was midwife to both the beat generation and the political radicalization and counter-culture of the 1960s.

Focused on the career of Barney Rosset, who founded Grove Press and published Evergreen Review, this superb documentary reveals how it was completely natural for a member of the Young Communists in 1937 to eventually end up publishing not only “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” and “Tropic of Cancer” in defiance of the Calvinist censorship laws of the 1950s, but to also print the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” in defiance of the racist attitudes that prevailed in American publishing.

Read on.

B.A.D. is almost here!

Starting Saturday, January 31 through the anniversary of the original "Blogroll Amnesty Day" of Feb. 3. See Skippy for more details.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Murder-Suicide by Capitalism

With apologies to John Ross (author of the book Murdered by Capitalism - a good read by the way):
Today:
A man who fatally shot his wife, five young children and himself Tuesday had earlier faxed a note to a TV station claiming the couple had just been fired from their hospital jobs and together planned the killings as a final escape for the whole family.
Just an odd story that doesn't tell us anything about the system he was living under? It would be, except for this:
It was the fifth mass death of a Southern California family by murder or suicide in a year.
There seems to be something in the Zeitgeist that invites murder-suicides. An acquaintance elsewhere made some attempt to understand that Zeitgeist a few years ago in The Autumnal City 14 -- Murder-Suicide:

Before I DO ask why, I want to take up a few aspects of Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. I should say at the outset that I did not follow the news story at the time: I did not think the media would say much of substance. One virtue of that is that the movie was able to take me by surprise.

Moore starts out with the atmosphere of paranoid fear that pervades Littleton Colorado. Through the metal cage of a front door he interviews a local suburbanite about his ready-to-fire gun collection. This is a treat for a big bad city-dweller like myself. Even in the ghetto nobody has front-doors like that!

He moves on to the local economy. Set on a desolate stretch of prairie, Littleton exists to build nuclear missiles, whose plain purpose is to commit mass murder, and if used would likely end human civilization and many larger lifeforms. He asks, but does not answer: What kind of people can devote their lives to this?

Plainly, these people never think about what they are doing, ever. Robots have deeper souls.

Finally he gets to the school itself. It is bizarre. All of the kids, including the killers, are inundated with material wealth. They seem hard-put to even make proper use of all their toys. But the loneliness and the aimlessness are palpable. These last are familiar to anyone who has spent time in the Midwest. But one thing I did not expect was the utter cluelessness of the adults. Worse than anything I remember. Times change.

When I was in school, bullying (when it was finally noticed) was supressed. At Columbine scapegoating and bullying among the students is encouraged and utilized by the staff as a form of child-management.

By this point, you have to know what is coming, even if you never read the news or heard about the movie.

Needless to say, I had not seen the footage of the killings themselves. That they HAD been filmed was the big surprise--but only for me. Everyone else, Moore included, was not concerned about the cameras. But for me, this was the turn--like in Dylan's song: Oh, this is the way it is SUPPOSED to happen! Everything is JUST FINE.

Before I explain, let me note that the killings certainly appeared to be traumatic. The kids were upset. Their parents were upset. Only--and this was curious--even as new "security" measures were being devised, nobody wanted to know why the murders had occurred. No matter how horrible people thought it was, everybody tacitly accepted that it had to be this way. They might add new fences or more cameras. But they would never, ever do anything that might prevent violence from happening.

Why were the cameras the turn?

Although it appears that our entire civilization (and not just the US) is either rooted in, or turning to embrace murder/suicide, there is something about the Midwest that brings it closer to the surface. The country is open in a way that might suggest freedom but equally suggests desolation and exposure. The social mood is constrained and claustrophobic in the extreme: Everyone is into everyone's business, but not in a nice way--the tone is hostile and invidious.

[snip]

The immediate effect on the subject is to induce a false personality to show to the (ever-present) camera. This is a psychological distortion, and carries a risk: Some children will not be able to separate their false personality from their real one, and in the process they will lose track of what is real and what is not. The result is a gradual depersonalization. Depending on how much stress is laid upon them, they will drift into unreality but remain functional, or they may eventually crack up. Separating personalities carries a different risk: It very much matters which personality is which, and the talent of keeping track is yet another layer. If everything goes well, by separating your personalities you can cope with the hostile environment.

[snip]

It is about time to ask: Murder/suicide is an acceptable price for WHAT? What is it buying us? And who is the "us" to whom these benefits accrue?

At this point, I have written myself into a box: I can see where this is going, but not how it gets there. The essential point is this: Our civilization has learned how to make slaves responsible for their own slavery. This was perfected toward the end of the nineteenth century. The downside is that they do tend to crack up. The upside is that it is very, very efficient.

How is it accomplished? Bait and switch, of course. We start with individualism and freedom. It sounds good to those who have been brutally subjected to another's will. That the world actually works through a network of mutual constraints and interactions may pass unnoticed. After all, the children in Littleton are actually growing up in an artificial, enclosed environment of hostile control. Suppose, at the same time, we can teach them an ideology of individualism and freedom? The switch comes when the freedom never materializes. Meanwhile the individualism means they take it on themselves.

Life does not get much more enclosed than that.

Suicide begins to seem like a choice.

From suicide to murder is very easy. But this is only half the picture. For the mania that is endemic to the bottom of our society seems to have possessed the top. Indeed, it radiates from the top. The techniques of depersonalization that are practiced on the children of Littleton were not created by sane people, and cannot be implemented by them--that is a salient feature of all these techniques. So where did they come from?

Like the writer, Gaianne, I'm not sure I have the answers, but I can at least ask some questions in the hopes that answers will one day be forthcoming. Gaianne lays out some pieces of the puzzle - some sort of hyper-individualism, an illusion of freedom, and depersonalization. I'd add a hierarchical social structure that thrives on competition, violence at all levels (from interpersonal to structural), and which instructs its residents to attach personal meaning to the attainment of ephemeral "wealth". Somehow, the way the pieces of this particular society fit together to invite a sort of narcisissm (a fancy way of saying extremely high but extremely unstable self-esteem), which itself is a marker of aggressive and violent behavior (I'd add not only at the individual interpersonal and intrapersonal levels, where most social psychologists seem to leave it, but also at the organizational and structural levels as exemplified by certain policies adopted by ruling elites). The stressors inherent in our current economic and political climate are those that would invite behaviors that would be arguably unthinkable in another context.

The kids who committed the murder-suicide in Littleton about a decade ago were written off as pathological, as have those belonging to religious cults - e.g., The People's Temple, and I'm sure the couple in the story that began this particular dispatch, but I would offer that those exemplars rather than being "bad apples" are actually merely visible symptoms of a society that lives and potentially dies by the threat of murder-suicide: US foreign policy since WWII has been predicated on the concept of murder-suicide from the "good old days" of Mutually Assured Destruction to the present "War on Terra"; economic policy is based on the exploitation and depletion of nonrenewable resources with no consideration for the future (If we can't have it now, we'll make sure that NO ONE will have it later).

Not sure what a workable solution would look like at this time - merely looking for a way to get my head around the problem.

Note: Top article was courtesy of Left I on the News.

"¡Que se vayan todos!" perhaps?

Something tells me that won't quite be the phrase uttered by Icelanders in the upcoming parliamentary election, but it's looking more and more like a safe bet that the Nordic island nation's citizens will be making some changes, and in the process sweeping the vaunted neoliberal "Washington Consensus" into the dustbin of history. Here's some analysis by Manuel Alvarez-Rivera (h/t Another Green World):

Just two years after holding a parliamentary election, voters in Iceland are likely to return to the polls next May 9 for an early general election. Normally, the poll would not need to be held until 2011, but these are anything but normal times in the Nordic island nation, whose economy has been devastated by the ongoing global financial crisis.

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day

It's a fitting enough date as it marks the anniversary of the liberation of those imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau. You can read about it here. H/t RickB of Ten Percent.

Don't forget:

skippy sez:
get ready, blogonauts! this upcoming weekend we will be celebrating the second anniversary of blogroll amnesty & blogroll bloodbath anniversary remembrance day!
In keeping with the spirit, I'll be participating - and yes, there are blogs with smaller readerships than this one as hard as it is imagine. As usual, I'm more than pleased to reciprocate if your blog already links to Notes From Underground. If I have somehow not done so, just give me a shout and I'll add ya! Of course, every day is "remembrance day" here. There are so many great voices out there richly deserving to be heard. Also, and it bears repeating, the overlords of blogtopia (be they the big box blogs or the individuals who fancy themselves as the great movers and shakers) are over-rated, and it's actually possible to go weeks or even months without bothering to read them and actually live well-informed, satisfying, and satisfactory lives.

Maybe it'll stick?

I'll believe it when I see it - Carl Rove subpoenaed by Conyers. Here's the USA Today bit:

Democrat John Conyers of Michigan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, today subpoenaed former White House aide Karl Rove to testify a week from today before the committee.

It's the second time Conyers has tried to get Rove to appear in connection with what he calls the politicization of the Justice Department during the Bush administration, including the firing of U.S. attorneys and the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman.

Conyers said in a press release that while the Bush administration said Rove had immunity, President Obama disagreed with that claim. “Change has come to Washington, and I hope Karl Rove is ready for it. After two years of stonewalling, it’s time for him to talk,” Conyers said.

It's unclear if Rove will be compelled to appear next week. Eric Holder, Obama's choice for attorney general, has not yet been confirmed. And Obama has said he wants to look forward, not backward.

February 2 is the big day. We'll see if Rove is a no-show yet again, and if so, whether there are any consequences. I try not to get my hopes up.

Green Left Advance in Iceland

Via Tim at Green Left Infoasis, a post at Another Green World discusses a bit the prospects of the Left-Green Movement in Iceland's next round of elections in May:
Anti-NATO, anti-war, ecosocialist Iceland, will if successful provide a beacon of hope for the rest of us in Europe. Can the process spread from Iceland to Ireland, England and Wales and Scotland? We shall see, the Icelandic Left Green Movement are going to be under heavy political pressure internationally, the normal US response to dissidents who reject the America dream is invasion, economic blockade and propaganda offensive.

Will Obama talk to the Greens or seek to wipe them out? Any how, the Left Greens will need international solidarity.

Great to unify the left and greens into one movement, which at the last election gained 15% and 9 MPs and looks to do better in May.

Some tasty ecosocialist Green Left Movement policies here:

The cornerstones of it´s policy are the following:

1.Conservation of the environment
All natural resources shall be public property and utilized without reducing them and in a careful manner. So-called green economics must be used to estimate the value of untouched nature and green taxes shall be applied to encourage protection of the environment. From our point of view, it is of great importance that Icelanders can produce all the energy they need in the future. We reject further building of power plants for the use of polluting large scale industry and demand conservation of the highland. We emphasize powerful, international co-operation and conventions concerning environmental matters.

2.Equality and social justice
All individuals shall have equal rights and no discrimination can be tolerated. We demand full equality concerning education, all social service, public information and freedom of speech. It is the duty of the Icelandic state to guarantee the welfare of every citizen, especially the elderly and the disabled.

The Left-Green Movement supports the strengthening of the rural areas of Iceland by means of good social service, education, prosperous culture and various economy. Privatization in public areas is of great danger in these matters, since it usually leads to a more expensive service in rural areas.

It is a project of high priority to guarantee that wages paid for 40 hours' work a week will be sufficient for a normal cost of living.

3. Fair and prosperous economy
The Left-Green Movement is willing to strengthen the position of wage earners to influence the development of our society. The party is willing to support the development of Icelandic economy to a state of more diversity and encourage the use of environment-friendly technology. It is necessary to prevent monopoly and centralization of capital, enable the conventional industries of Iceland to develop themselves and make use of Iceland's special status to create jobs of all kinds for all the inhabitants.

4.Independent foreign policy
The Left-Green Movement fights for an independent, Icelandic foreign policy that maintains the sovereignty of Iceland and supports all means of establishing global peace. The party opposes participation in military organizations such as NATO and WEU. It also rejects participation in the European Union and emphasizes simple, bilateral treaties concerning trade and co-operation.
If I had to hazard a guess, the Obama regime would probably be rather icy (no pun intended) toward an Icelandic government that didn't fit in with the usual neoliberal scheme of things. Expect propaganda and psy-ops measures to undermine such a government, covert efforts to overthrow or discredit that government's leaders, and so on. The good news, to the extent that there ever is good news, is that such efforts can be successfully resisted as evidenced by the experience of Cuba and Venezuela. In any case, I wish the Left-Green Movement luck over the next few months. In election years prior to the economic meltdown in Iceland, the LGM had shown an increase in its share of votes and a corresponding increase in its representation in Iceland's parliament. This could be the breakthrough year for them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Yes, Virginia, Israel is using white phosphorus

And of all places a report actually aired on CNN. Fancy that.



We've discussed the consequences of using white phosphorus in populated areas before - after all that was an incendiary used notoriously by the US military in its effort to enforce its occupation of Iraq. h/t P U L S E.

Also, by way of P U L S E, here's a video collage of the last several weeks of the Israeli attack on Gaza:



Postscript: There have been other breaches of the "reality obstruction field" as John Caruso aptly notes in recent weeks, including the 60 Minutes segment that he discusses. I myself had to pinch myself to make sure that I wasn't dreaming, and that a US network "news" program had actually permitted a relatively clear understanding of the situation in Palestine. Of course there was the usual portrayal of Tzipi Livni (who's currently politicking - probably unsuccessfully - to become Israel's next PM) as a reasonable moderate who wants to end the settlements that have systematically encroached on what remains of Palestinian land; we know what becomes of such empty words. That quibble aside, the segment actually resembled news.

RIP: Juan Rafael Santos

You might know him as the cat who ran the blog, The Fourth World. Although updated very infrequently, whatever palabras made their way there were golden. News of Juan's January 22 passing appeared on his blog this past Saturday. His last contribution was posted three days prior to his death - an interview entitled, Obama, King and Kennedy: Empire and the “End” of Racism. Juan had a keen awareness of the structural violence endemic to American hegemony, empire, or whatever you want to call it. His voice will be missed, but thankfully his words live on and can enlighten for years to come.

As expected

The economic meltdown in Iceland has led to the fracturing of the coalition government and the resignation of the entire cabinet. As mentioned previously, the Green-Left Movement may benefit from the recent turmoil.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Constitution for Bolivia!

Good news! Although I'm sure the right-wing in Bolivia and the corporate media in the US and UK will no doubt figure out a way to spin it as a "loss" for Morales, it's good to see a democratic process actually work. In the aftermath of last September 11, it's especially gratifying.

In other words, back to Clintonism

A capsule summary of Obama's torture policy by Michael J. Smith of Stop Me Before I Vote Again:

1) The CIA, once it has stood in the corner for a few months, can still hope that better days will come again, and the fun with the funnels and the electrical wires can recommence. Meanwhile, there's always that Georgetown brothel -- you know the one I mean.

2) Rendition will continue. But in a nice way.

3) The military are blameless paragons -- the people who gave us Abu Ghraib are going to restore our good global rep, so wantonly sacrificed by the CIA.

In other words, don't get to excited. We're merely going back to the 1990s and the Clinton era. Our current regime isn't against what Bush II did in principle, mere opposed to the degree to which that regime expanded on the Clinton regime's policy. But hey, while you're being whisked away to Egypt for "interrogation" the Obama crowd will make sure that the soothing sounds of Kenny G lull you.

Is Post-Peak Oil Chaos Inevitable?

Jason Bradford says, "not so fast." That's not to say that there's no risk that some of the social disruption we'll probably experience will turn violent, but that the gloom and doom prophesies are overblown. As pessimistic as I can seem, I actually consider myself quite optimistic that we can readjust our expectations and ways of life more in keeping with the limits imposed by our natural resources. I think some of the dreams I've had in recent years (one of which I shared here a while back) are manifestations of that optimism. One risk factor for violence that Bradford discusses is well worth repeating:
Most riots, in fact, start with police violence. Police conduct is key, even when people in the street start the violence. SWAT teams can do a lot of damage; they generally exacerbate violence when lots of people are involved. In Seattle, for example, the WTO protests only became “riots” when out-of-town, SWAT trained police crossed their own line in the sand and started lobbing tear gas in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Young people enjoying life in that area's outdoor cafes, who had had no part in the protests, rose from their seats and started pelting the police with rocks and their own tear gas canisters. In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the hysterical news reports to the contrary, violence was almost wholly the work of white vigilantes inspired by those same reports to “defend” their communities against supposed looters.
Keep the police on a short leash, in other words, if you want to avoid escalating nonviolent protests into actual riots. Same goes for vigilante groups. That might be easier said than done in our current paranoid "war on terra" political climate, but it's advice well taken. There will be plenty to worry about in the coming decades - humanity devolving into some sort of dog-eat-dog hell on earth scenario on a mass scale is probably not one of those worries.