Wednesday, March 30, 2011

His Eye Is on the Cruise Missile

Glenn Greenwald, who's been posing some good questions about Obama's Libya speech as a revelation of his (that is, Obama's) belief in American exceptionalism, linked today to a recent post by Andrew Sullivan, calling it "long and thoughtful." Well, he was half-right. It's about as thoughtful as most of Sullivan's writing, which is not very.

Sullivan is sure that the US-led attack on Libya is a good thing:
In this, especially with this Libya clusterfuck, Obama reverted to embracing the forces he was elected to resist and restrain. One appreciates the difficulty of this and the horrible moral dilemma of Benghazi; and I still hope for success - because I see no sane alternative to Obama anywhere and no one can hope that the monster Qaddafi stays in power.
"The monster Qaddafi." Well, yes, Qaddafi is a very bad man. That's been well-known for a long time, which raises the question of why the US, England, and other European countries decided to rehabilitate him. That began during the Bush administration, but did the Obama administration do anything to stop it? Before now, I mean? Nope: several people have pointed out John McCain's junket to Libya in 2009, which McCain himself has conveniently forgotten:
In August 2009 he led a delegation of senators, including fellow hawks Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, on a trip to visit the Libyan leader in Tripoli. Discussed during the visit was delivery of — get this — American military equipment to Gadhafi (a man with American blood on his hands no less).

“We discussed the possibility of moving ahead with the provision of non-lethal defense equipment to the government of Libya,” the AP quoted McCain as saying at a press conference. McCain also noted that “ties between the United States and Libya have taken a remarkable and positive turn in recent years.”

One can also ask whether firing cruise missiles into Libya is the best or only way to protect civilians. And have you heard that Secretary of State Clinton told Congress that Obama would ignore any Congressional war resolutions restraining US military action in Libya as "an unconstitutional encroachment on executive power"? Well, now you have.

But back to Sullivan and American exceptionalism. First he admits:
But, of course, that [i.e., this] land mass was available so easily because of the intended and unintended genocide of those who already lived there - which takes the edge off the divine bit, don't you think? Call me crazy (and they do) but my concept of God does not allow for God's blessing of genocide as a means for one country's hegemony over the earth.
I'm not going to call him crazy, just ignorant. The Roman Catholic Sullivan's concept of God doesn't square with Biblical conceptions, which show "God's blessing of genocide" in the conquest of the Promised Land by his Chosen People. And "that land mass" became available to the US not only through the elimination of the indigenous people, but through conquest of other countries established by rival European powers, especially Spain. Much of the southwestern US was simply taken from Mexico by war.

He goes on (and on):
This is not to say that America doesn't remain, by virtue of its astonishing Constitution, a unique sanctuary for human freedom. We are freer here in terms of speech than in most other advanced countries, cowed by p.c. laws and restrictions. We are freer here in labor and capital than most other countries. To feel pride in this is natural. It is why I love this place and yearn to be one of its citizens. And the vast wealth of an entire continent, unleashed by freedom's flourishing, gave this land of liberty real and awesome global power, which it used to vanquish the two great evils of the last century - Nazism and Communism. This is the noble legacy so many now seek to perpetuate, with good intentions and benign hearts, despite the disastrous and costly interventions of the last decade.
"The vast wealth of an entire continent" was not "unleashed by freedom's flourishing" -- as Sullivan admits, it was unleashed by stealing it from the people who lived there before. The history of American capitalism isn't pretty, and it's ill-timed of Sullivan to prattle about US "freedom in labor and capital" on the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and as anti-labor forces are rampant. Even granting that World War II was "noble", and not everyone would, it was the exception rather than the rule. Before that war, the US had a nasty record in the Western hemisphere and elsewhere. After the war, the US usually fought Communism by stomping on liberty, replacing elected governments with brutal dictatorships, which our propaganda called "the Free World." Even where the repression we supported was not quite as harsh, we demanded economic policies that took a heavy toll in human life and health.

But Sullivan has always been patriotically ill-informed, like so much of the Right, and ready to vilify anyone else who criticizes US foreign policy. He can bitch about Sarah Palin all he wants, but he helped pave the way for her, Michelle Bachmann, and other professional ignoramuses.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

His Eye Is on the Bulldog

My minister friend on Facebook is at it again:
Worship this morning was such a gift...amazing music by the choir...great hymns... Friend's college age son came and asked, on way to church, "Will this guy keep me awake?" Told her that was pressure. Meeting with a few key leaders over lunch...and then organ concert by Charles Webb tonight. I am thankful. (And Butler and Bloomington South both won big games!) God is good...and still adjusting my heart.
If Butler University and one of the local high schools won big basketball games, a person of faith can see the hand of God in it, and God is good. Not so good to the defeated opponents, of course, but they must have done something to deserve their losses. And it's all part of the plan, right?

My friend's god couldn't do anything to prevent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, China, or Japan, but that would be a lot of work. But his eye is on the Bulldog.

And, let me remind you, my friend isn't one of those Bible-thumping fundalits like Pat Robertson. He's a respectable Christian, the kind by whom I'm often exhorted to judge Christianity. I judge Christianity by other standard-bearers, like the Jesus of the gospels, but if you want me to judge the faith by people like my friend, so be it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Few Bad Apples?

From Lenin's Tomb:
Can I please make an urgent appeal on behalf of sense and dignity for people to stop repeating the idiotic journalistic cliche that a minority of 'hardliners' (or worse, 'violent extremists') spoiled things for everyone else. So much work, you hear them say, so much time spent building up a great day, and these wreckers - yes, wreckers! - have to come and ruin it. Certainly, if all that matters is having a fun day out, giving a good impression in front of the media, the police and the politicians, and 'raising awareness', then I can see the logic. But, quite apart from the fact that people don't necessarily freak out and change their perspective on public services just because a few windows have been broken and paintballs thrown, that is not all that matters. A big march like this a wonderful, confidence-giving, life-breathing event. It helps give definition to the forces, from the left and the labour movement, who are prepared to resist the austerity project. It gives those involved a sense of their potential power. And hopefully it will lead to strike action to defend jobs and services, as Mark Serwotka, Len McCluskey and Billy Hayes promised from the platform.

Yet, what is strike action but a highly orchestrated and strategically situated form of disruption? And is that not what those who occupied Fortnum & Mason's, the most pretentious shop in London with the possible exception of Harrods, and paintballed the usual UK Uncut targets, did today? Isn't the whole intention to normal commerce and governance impossible, to make life difficult until they stop their attacks on us? Surely, the only possible basis for criticising this from an anti-cuts point of view is tactical? If it harms the movement, then there's a case for having this out within the movement. If, on the other hand, it does not harm the movement, then the real wreckers are those dispensing pithy denunciations according to script. Let's also drop the idea that this was done by nutters in balaclavas and face masks. The people involved were a mixture of activists from a variety of political backgrounds, engaging in a serious form of disruptive protest. There were trade unionists outside Fortnum & Mason's cheering them on, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few inside as well. Effective protest will always depend on a minority who are willing to risk arrest, or state violence, in order to throw a spanner in the works of unjust policies. Ed Miliband, speaking today, made his usual bland plea for 'peaceful' (meaning legal, parliamentarist) protest, while also situating this movement in the history of suffragism, civil rights and anti-apartheid struggles. Such revisionism does us no favours. All of those struggles were won by people who broke the law, and who devised strategies for breaking the law.
The law is often deliberately designed to criminalize dissent, after all. As I (and others) have asked before, why doesn't State violence discredit the State in exactly the same way? Why isn't it legitimate in mainstream discourse to denounce the police for the violence of a supposedly few bad apples? (There's evidence [via] that police provocateurs are once again helping to incite violence in the rallies in England, as they have in the US and elsewhere.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road

I'm still wondering what is supposed to be "liberal," let alone "left," about NPR's news programming. When an article entitled "What the right means when it calls NPR 'liberal,'" by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, appeared at Salon.com last Friday, I hoped against hope that it would tell me something.

But of course it didn't. The piece was a shameless exercise in distraction, and blatantly dishonest in various ways.
For one, when we described the right-wing media machine as NPR’s "long-time nemesis," it was not to suggest that somehow public radio is its left-wing opposite. When it comes to covering and analyzing the news, the reverse of right isn't left; it's independent reporting that toes neither party nor ideological line. We’ve heard no NPR reporter -- not a one -- advocating on the air for more government spending (or less), for the right of abortion (or against it), for or against gay marriage, or for or against either political party, especially compared to what we hear from Fox News and talk radio on all of these issues and more.
Now, I don't listen to NPR News these days any more than I can help; their coverage in the wake of the September 11 attacks was the final straw for me. But I know from experience that what Moyers and Winship wrote here wasn't true in the past, and thanks to FAIR and other media watchers I know it isn't true now.

NPR has long been a booster of nuclear power, for example, loading its programs with advocates and claiming that "environmentalists" have come around to support it. The year 2007 "saw an accident at the largest power plant in the world—in Japan (NPR's All Things Considered, 7/19/07)—which was the subject of three additional NPR stories--yet, even in this coverage, no experts critical of nuclear power were cited." NPR also downplays "its own financial links to the industry," claiming "that the corporate "underwriting" money it receives has no bearing on its coverage--a defense that would seem to undercut the rationale for NPR's existence as a noncommercial broadcaster.)"

NPR and PBS are both very Wall-Street friendly. For example, in 2010 NPR trumpeted Goldman Sachs' doubled earnings in the first quarter, "
a bit of good news, a very large bit of good news, because four days ago the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Goldman Sachs for fraud." On PBS's Charlie Rose, Newsweek's Evan Thomas "went so far as to compare proceedings against them to 'a Stalinist show trial'".

In 2008,
While the Iraqi government continued its large-scale military assault in Basra, the NPR reporter’s voice from Iraq was unequivocal on the morning of March 27: "There is no doubt that this operation needed to happen."
But maybe Moyers and Winship don't think that endorsing military action is advocacy; or maybe they just weren't listening that day.

Bias shows itself in other ways than overt advocacy, of course. FAIR has repeatedly documented NPR's and PBS's overrepresentation of elite sources: "These sources—including government officials, professional experts and corporate representatives—accounted for 64 percent of all sources." Between FAIR's first survey in 1993 and its successor in 2004, NPR increased its number of "public" sources from 17 to 31 percent, largely of "people in the street"
whose occupations are not identified and who tend to be quoted more briefly than other sources—often in one-sentence soundbites. More than a third (37 percent) of general public sources were not even identified by name—appearing in show transcripts as “unidentified woman No. 2” and the like. General public sources accounted for 21 percent of NPR sources.

Spokespeople for public interest groups—generally articulate sources espousing a particular point of view—accounted for 7 percent of total sources, the same proportion found in 1993. Though not a large proportion of
NPR’s sources, public interest voices were still about twice as common on NPR as on commercial network news, according to a FAIR study published in 2002 (Extra!, 5–6/02) that found that such sources made up only 3 percent of voices on network news shows.
There was a mild scandal in March 2010, when an All Things Considered obituary of the historian Howard Zinn included a rant by far-right convert David Horowitz, who said, "There is absolutely nothing in Howard Zinn’s intellectual output that is worthy of any kind of respect." The inclusion of Horowitz was meant to "balance" eulogies by Noam Chomsky and Julian Bond. (One of the very few times Chomsky has ever appeared on NPR, as it happens.) When NPR did an obituary of William F. Buckley Jr., however, they felt no need for such balance: "Upon his death in February 2008, NPR aired six segments commemorating him, none of which included a less than laudatory guest." NPR ombud Alicia Shepard responded to protests by agreeing "that Horowitz’s 'harsh comments' were 'not appropriate.' But at the same time, she insisted: 'Obituaries are news stories that place a person in time and history—not tributes. For this reason, Zinn’s obituary did need to mention that he was controversial and that some historians were dismissive of his work.'" Shepard didn't address the fact that NPR felt no such need for context where controversial right-wingers are concerned.

Contrary to the right-wing canard that NPR stands for National Palestinian Radio, NPR has shown a clear bias against Palestinians, notoriously in stories where Palestinian lives don't count for as much as Israeli lives. NPR also felt the need for "balance" in a 1993 story for Fresh Air about reporter Robert I. Friedman's book on Israeli settlers. The story was completed and promoted but never aired:
Fresh Air executive producer and host Terry Gross said, "It's not that [Friedman's] political views were too extreme to air, but that he colored a couple of things in extreme ways." Gross said Fresh Air "needed a balance" to "statements like 'settling the Occupied Territories is a lunatic endeavor' and 'most settlers see Arabs as less than human.'... At some point you feel, maybe it's appropriate to call up a settler and have them express that in their own words, or have them take issue with it." But Gross noted that the settler she spoke to in a pre-interview "was very anti-Arab," adding that they didn't broadcast that interview because the settler was "out of focus."
And so on. Moyers and Winship are disingenous in claiming that "When it comes to covering and analyzing the news, the reverse of right isn't left; it's independent reporting that toes neither party nor ideological line." Independent reporting that toes neither party nor ideological line might be the reverse of biased reporting; but in any case, it's clear that NPR's reporting is highly conscious of party and ideological lines -- hence its need for bogus "balance." But even if its reporters and editors fully believe that they have no bias, party, or ideology -- and I'm sure they do -- that doesn't mean they're right. Fox News presents itself as "fair and balanced," after all, and I'm sure its staff fully believe that they are independent reporters who toe no party nor ideological line, but let the facts fall where they may.

Moyers and Winship also make things too easy for themselves by contrasting NPR with Fox News. Public broadcasting wasn't instituted to provide an alternative to Fox News, which didn't exist in those days: it was supposed to be an alternative to commercial, corporate broadcasting such as CBS, NBC and ABC. But the right also considers the big three networks to be liberal if not left-leaning media, at least for its propaganda purposes. When NPR addressed such accusations against itself in 2002, they "balanced" right-wing critics not with left-wing critics, but with "two media veterans-- former Time magazine editor and columnist Jack White and former CBS News producer and executive Ed Fouhy-- who were introduced with the observation that 'most journalists reject the idea that their reporting is biased in any direction.'" Fancy that!

"We may have been a bit fulsome in our praise" of public broadcasting, Moyers and Winship concede.
Americans need more and sustained reporting on what the journalist William Greider calls "the hard questions of governance" -- those questions of how and why some interests are allowed to dominate the government’s decision-making while others are excluded. Who gets the money and who has to pay? Who must be heard on this question and who can be safely ignored? None execute this kind of reporting better than Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on "Democracy Now," which, while carried by many public radio and television stations, is not distributed nationally by either NPR or PBS. Public media -- radio and television -- too rarely challenge the dictum: "News is what people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity."
Their praise for Democracy Now! is welcome, but it's too little too late, and again the authors retreat into platitudes.
For all that it provides -- but mainly because it is a true journalistic, rather than ideological, alternative to commercial and partisan broadcasting -- we continue to support government funding of public media until such time as a sizable trust or some other solid, independent source of funding, unfettered by political interference, can be established that will free us to tell the stories America most needs to hear. Short of that we’ll need the courage, as one of our journalistic heroes, the late George Seldes, wrote, "to tell the truth and run."
This simply begs the question whether public broadcasting does constitute a true journalistic alternative to commercial and partisan broadcasting. PBS and NPR's ideological biases, to say nothing of their dependence on corporate funding, keep them too close to "commercial and partisan broadcasting" for comfort.

I read several pages of the comments on Moyers and Winship's story, curious to see if right-wing commenters would provide some actual evidence of liberal, anti-Israel, anti-business bias on NPR's part. Nada. But again, such people consider the corporate-owned commercial media to be left-wing, which would also be refuted easily if they bothered to make a case. Moyers and Winship don't even bother to address criticism of NPR from the left, mentioning only that its "fact-driven reporting" explains why "some liberals and Democrats also become irate with NPR."

One commenter wrote, "My hardcore leftist friends deride it as 'National Pentagon Radio' because it's insufficiently Marxist." Maybe there are "hardcore leftists" out there who feel that way, but as noted above, NPR's fawning complicity with the Pentagon is a better reason for the title.

As Noam Chomsky has often said, there is a sense in which the corporate media and PBS/NPR are "liberal media": they declare their position to be as "liberal" as it's possible to be. Anything farther is leftist "extremism," which wouldn't be worth addressing even if it existed. This defines the limits of debate in American media, and the "liberal" media are complacently proud of their adversary status, their willingness to speak truth to power, without fear or favor.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Nannies Come and Go

Here There Be Spoylers -- maybe. If you're planning to see either version of the movie I discuss here, you might want to wait until you've seen it before you read this post.

I hadn't quite intended to see Im Sang-soo's 2010 remake of The Housemaid, but then the university's new cinema facility scheduled a showing. I don't get to see many Korean films on the big screen, so I try to take the chances I get. So I rode my bike through this evening's snow flurries, and sat down in the theater to find out how the remake compared to the 1960 original.

Kim Ki-Young's The Housemaid was a hit at the box-office but didn't get much critical attention at first. Not much Korean cinema did in those days. Kim Ki-Young (1922-1998) was an independent filmmaker with his own production company, who made phantasmagorical, gynophobic thrillers. So far the only other film of his I've seen is the crazy, brilliant Iodo (1977), about a mysterious island of women, but I have a few others on DVD. (Iodo can be seen online at Youtube, in sections.)

The original Housemaid is a Fatal Attraction kind of story, of a man and his innocent family ensnared by a scheming, ruthless seductress. Allegedly it was based on a scandalous news story of the period. The man is a musician who teaches music to young women factory workers. Korea in those days was urbanizing rapidly, and many country kids moved to the city in search of work and excitement. The music teacher's wife is pregnant and their trendy Western-style house is still under construction, so one of his students moves out of her factory dormitory to become their maid. Before long she and the teacher are having an affair, and when the maid becomes pregnant she decides she wants to be in first place. When that fails, she plots revenge. What makes The Housemaid so memorable is Kim's expressionistic style -- it's not at all like other Korean films of the period; it's like Hitchcock, maybe, but looser; maybe Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate with a psycho factory girl instead of brainwashed Chicom assassins. Nothing I'd heard about it prepared me for how good it was when I finally saw it. You can actually see the 1960 version online for free, so give it a whirl.

What did Im Sang-soo do with this material? He changed it almost totally. Color instead of black-and-white, of course. Instead of a petit bourgeois music teacher with a son and a daughter, we have Goh Hoon, the scion of a very wealthy family, presumably of the chaebol or huge conglomerates, with one Wednesday-Addams-style daughter. The husband (Lee Jeong-jae) must have trained as a concert pianist before he went into the family business: he's a wiz at Beethoven. Instead of a half-finished frame house, we have a mansion with a housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, I mean Mrs. Cho. Instead of a naive country girl we have the thirty-something divorcee Lee Eun-yee (Jeon Do-yeon), who's been working in a restaurant in Seoul before Mrs. Cho taps her to be nanny for little Wednesday, I mean Nami, and her soon-to-be-born twin brothers.

Im flips the seduction around. Eun-yee is required to wear a saucy little maid's uniform with a miniskirt ("Don't let them see you wearing anything else," Mrs. Cho admonishes her), and the boss starts leering at her on first sight. Before long he's slipped into her room with a bottle of wine, and the affair begins. At some point she becomes pregnant, though it's not clear at first that the baby is Goh's. (You can get pregnant from fellatio -- fact!) Goh's mother-in-law soon learns about the goings-on, and intervenes, first by knocking Eun-yee off a ladder as she's cleaning a chandelier. Mrs. Goh, hugely pregnant, rises from reading The Second Sex in bed to drag a golf club upstairs to Eun-yee's room, but can't bring herself to dash her rival's brains out -- yet. The good-hearted Eun-yee, unlike Kim's housemaid, doesn't want anything except a baby of her own; but her upper-class captors won't let her off so easily. At last she decides she wants revenge, but even then she turns it inward on herself, rather than on her tormentors. Kim's sexual and class politics have been turned inside out and on their heads. Kim reportedly told an interviewer that he aimed his version at a female audience; Im's is a boy-culture art film aimed at the film festival circuit. Each is successful on his own terms, but I prefer Kim's.

Im's version is gorgeous, and he makes it clear that the husband, Goh, is the true object of desire at the apex of the sex triangle. I was going to post these two NSFW stills of Lee Jeong-jae here, but I think I'll just link to them instead. (Notice the symbolic wine bottle -- wine carries a lot of symbolic freight in Im's Housemaid, but here it's the bottle that signifies: is that a bottle of wine in your hand, or are you happy to see me?) Lee has always been beautiful, and he's improved as an actor over the years, but it's Jeon Do-yeon's performance that carries the film. The Housemaid even complies with the Liz Warren / Alison Bechdel Rule for women characters in movies: there are more than two women, and they talk to each other about something other than men. But The Housemaid is not a feminist film, a reminder that compliance with The Rule constitutes a bare minimum, not a certification of high feminist consciousness.

Compared to Kim's original, Im's doesn't have much power. Every symbol is clearly labeled, there is a sermon or two about the ruthlessness of the super-rich, and Jeon makes her character convincing and sympathetic; but in Kim's, the symbols are bigger and richer than their obvious meanings, and the film seems about to burst out of the confines even of Korean melodrama, which is saying something given the over-the-top qualities of Korean melodrama. Im's Housemaid is an art film, which means it distrusts melodrama; Kim's Housemaid shows the possibilities of melodrama as art.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Poetry Friday (Slight Return) - No Exit

No Exit

Here at the center of the universe
there is no movement; in the higher spheres,
however, all things turn from bad to worse,
and he is impotent who interferes.

But you and I are here, perfect, in stasis:
the Unmoved Movers, the Pleroma, who've
eternities in which no moment passes.
(Asleep, you stir. Awake, I cannot move.)

I cannot make you come, I cannot make
you come to bed again with me. In pain,
stagnant with longing, I will hold daybreak
away: Verweile doch, Du bist so schön!

-- and win a victory I did not intend:
This night, too short, too long, will never end.

(1983-1984)

I still haven't found the remaining poems I meant to post, so I'm putting this one up. It's the last poem I completed. If the missing folder ever turns up, I'll post those poems, but for now ...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We've Got to Do Something, the Latest Implementation

My friend the ambivalent Obama supporter phoned me tonight, and we talked about various things. The first thing on his mind was the current war in Libya, and he wanted to know what I thought should be done there. I had to admit that I didn't have a good answer, but I was sure what shouldn't be done there, namely firing cruise missiles and aerial bombing.

After we got off the phone I found this discussion by IOZ, which was more than usually serious and thoughtful -- snark is his usual mode of choice, but every so often he does something like this.
First, what Libyans? The Libyans in the West, centered on Tripoli, who seem politically and tribally loyal to the extant regime, or the Libyans in the East, centered on Benghazi, whose own "leadership," as it has so far coalesced into something only marginally less objectionable than Qaddafi's government--indeed, has coalesced around former figures from Qaddafi's government? Even a cursory examination of the news reveals the paucity of the pro-intervention line, which would have a dictatorial government on one side and a benighted people on the other, the latter begging for our assistance. Well, no, in reality, there is an existing government on one side and a rival power on the other, and the "intervention", whatever supposed humanitarian garb it wears, is alliance with one side in a civil war. ...

And, as the playground taunt reminds us, with what army? The one "protecting" the Afghan people from the Taliban? Yes, it is true that generalized disapproval of Western power is sometimes a poor position from which to argue, but the opposite argument is more damnable still: I mean, under what specific circumstances can Western bombs bring peaceful solutions on terms acceptable to all sides? Under no circumstances. So while it may be morally correct for a hypothetical power with capacities far in excess of and motives far less questionable than those possessed by the actual West to intervene in a hypothetical conflict in which there are no dubious, hazy conditions of relative morality and relative good, in the practical, actual world, none of this obtains, and what you have, as per usual, is the US and its allies lobbing cruise missiles into a country without reason or planning; just another brutal exercise of DOING SOMETHING because the roots of our narcissism drink from a deep well of insecurity that requires we constantly blow shit up lest we admit to human limitations.
I also learned that there has been another leak of precious American secrets by a so-called "journalistic" group called the Associated Press -- in wartime yet! The anonymous culprit is a "senior U.S. defense official [who] revealed the contents of the intelligence report on condition of anonymity because it was classified secret." As Glenn Greenwald asks, "Will the guilty party be charged with a capital crime and be held in solitary confinement near a cell occupied by Bradley Manning? Only time will tell."

The Son of Man Came Not to Be Served, But to Serve

This has been bugging me for a couple of weeks now, so what the hell, I'll write the post.

My Facebook friend the minister posted this to his status:
Watched the look on host's face at the restaurant when a couple came in at closing. Waiter was gracious. A lesson in mercy to those of us who want to grump...
That got five Likes. One of his friends commented:
I love the places that let us stay for "hours," even as they're closing. They're cleaning up but keeping a respectful distance from us while we sit enjoying a good meal and good conversation. In such rare places, I always leave an especially good tip.
(Why was "hours" put in quotes?) My friend replied:
It's called hospitality...grace. Most hospitable place I ever was? A bar in Tipton, Indiana on a snowy night when a couple pastors and I went in to watch IU-Ohio State. Wow...they treated us like kings - even when we were drinking diet cokes!
I don't want to make a very big thing of this, but given some of the attitudes my friend has expressed in the past -- was he eating "the pie of sacrifice" in that restaurant, I wonder? -- I still think there's something here that's not quite right.

Looking at his first remark more closely, I see that my friend didn't specify what he saw in "the host's face when a couple came in at closing." I supposed that he was contrasting the host's expression with the waiter's gracious one, though I could be wrong. But let's suppose that the host did grimace involuntarily when the couple came in at closing time. Maybe the host had a partner or child at home who needed his presence and attention, and it bothered him to realize that he was going to be delayed even more. Maybe he was a graduate student with an overdue dissertation chapter waiting for him. Maybe he'd just been on his feet for twelve hours. Or maybe he was just a mean old grinch; if so, he mastered himself enough to seat the last-minute stragglers.

See, I work in the food / hospitality industry. Where I work, we do try to be gracious to the lateniks, who also have classes and other time pressures, but there comes a time when we must close. People who've been eating "the pie of sacrifice" all day need to go home to their families, or their studies. (This is less true of me than of most of the people I work with; but I'm not a good American, because I know Everything isn't just About Me.)

But I'm also, often, a customer. I always remember that the people who are working in the restaurants where I eat are people like me, workers like me, people who have lives outside their jobs. If I come in late, I make sure they know I know it, and I try not to abuse their professional hospitality. "Grace" goes in both directions, but you'd never know that from my friend's remarks or his friend's comment. (Big tips are the least you can do, but a Christian isn't going to tell me that money is "grace", I hope.) I'm an atheist, and "grace" in this sense is not part of my vocabulary, but the concepts involved here are human and universal.

It's not just the hospitality industry, of course. Employers have often taken the same line with employees -- in the good old days they sometimes put it in explicitly Christian terms, nowadays it's psychobabble. Slave-owners stressed the passages of the New Testament that exhorted slaves to obey their masters conscientiously, and to remain in the state in which they were called. (How convenient, and significant, that there were so many such passages in the New Testament, and none that contradicted them.) Grace is something you can expect yourself to show; you have no business demanding it of others. Then it becomes something other than grace.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just Your Average Run-of-the-Mill Satan

I meant to write tonight, but I read instead. (Mary Lasswell's third Suds book, One on the House!) But I did send this to RWA1 today (no response), and wanted to share it further. It's a flowchart of possible Republican reactions to Obama's attack on Libya. Being a party loyalist like RWA1 is hard. Traditionally Republicans oppose wars started by Democratic presidents, which seems a bit unfair since Democrats will usually support Republican wars. As Adam Clark Estes Pareene wrote,
Just a few weeks ago, prominent GOPers like John McCain and John Bolton insisted that a no-fly zone would be the best action the United States could take in the warring North African nation. When Obama committed to the no-fly zone with U.N. support, the same camp was quick to scold the President for his lack of leadership in gathering support for a no-fly zone.
It takes a very disciplined memory, in the Ingsoc sense, to cope with this kind of cognitive dissonance, and I sympathize not only with RWA1 but with other Republicans caught in the same bind. They hate Obama, but they love war, but Obama is a Democrat so they have to oppose anything he does, but they hate Qaddafy (who was rehabilitated and armed by the Bush administration), but they also fear the Muslim hordes who seek to overthrow Qaddafy and other dictators. What's a Republican to do? Wring one's hands and lament that "this is an issue without an obvious right or wrong." At least some Democrats disagree, and oppose Obama's Operation Odyssey Dawn. So do at least some of the actual Left. Even Jon Stewart of the Daily Show is cautiously critical of Obama's new war.

Alex Pareene informs us that the first Republican to declare himself a candidate for the Presidency in 2012 is a gay man. He's already been blocked from one debate by the RNC. As Pareene says, candidate Ray Barger "will hopefully continue annoying the Republican party by forcing them to demonstrate, repeatedly, their increasingly unpopular bigotry." Don't worry, though, the corporate media will keep it under wraps.

And finally, this paean to real American values from The Onion.


Patriotic Teen Fails Spanish

Monday, March 21, 2011

Don't Cry For Me Brazil

Remember that fawning press release of an AP story I linked to yesterday? Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Brazil much of the time, had this to say about Obama's visit to Brazil:
... not to get all Tom Friedman on you, but I really enjoyed the slew of taxi drivers and other assorted residents of the city complaining endlessly and bitterly about the traffic jams and closed streets for "no good reason" - and then mocking and scoffing when I told them that American news reports kept emphasizing how star-struck and giddy Brazilians are that such a great man graced their nation with a visit.

It's true that his race does inspire some segment of very poor racially minorities in that it signals to them that they can achieve without limits, but beyond that, Brazilians believe (accurately) that they are a rapidly rising power and also believe (accurately) that the U.S. is heading in the opposite direction and, if anything, they think the sense of honor should go in the other direction.

MSNNBC cartoonist Daryl Cagle passed along this cartoon by the Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff.
Cagle helpfully translates:

The caption at the top of the cartoon translates to: “Obama reaches Rio…”

Obama (dressed as a conquistador) is asking the Brazilian beach-goer, “Where is the pre-salt?” (The pre-salt layer, according to Wikipedia, is an oil-rich geological formation on the continental shelves off the coast of Africa and Brazil.)

and comments:
Greedy, oil-thirsty, domineering American presidents are an enduring, international theme. Sometimes it is good to be reminded of the one-dimensional way the world sees us.
Well, we do return the favor. And there's a reason why "greedy, oil-thirsty, domineering American presidents" are such a popular theme.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oceania Has Always Been at War with Eurasia

Another spurious coalition has attacked Libya. Justin Elliott writes at Salon:

President Obama, in what was obviously a carefully choreographed move, did not himself announce the beginning of the bombing. Indeed, when the news was announced by French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Obama was on an uncanceled trip to Brazil.

Obama's brief statement from Brasilia referred to a "broad coalition" that "brings together many of our European and Arab partners." He said he had authorized "military action in Libya in support of an international effort." Obama used the words "international" and "coalition" a total of ten times in a statement that lasted just three minutes.

The grandstanding was left to Sarkozy, who had ordered French planes to make the first flights over Libya -- before U.S. aircraft got involved. "Along with our Arab, European and North American partners, France has decided to play its part before history," he said.

But strikes by over 100 American cruise missiles quickly followed the French action, and early Sunday morning a slew of American planes -- including B2s, F-15s, F-16s, Navy EA-18G electronic warfare planes and Marine attack jets, according to the AP -- bombed Libya. It's not clear whether any Arab nations -- some of which supported the Security council resolution -- have contributed military support at this point.

A hundred cruise missiles, then bombing by aircraft, will almost certainly mean lots of civilian casualties. But it's not our fault, it's Qaddafi's. Though there are differences between this invasion and Bush's invasion of Iraq, there are also similarities, as Glenn Greenwald points out: instead of ginned-up panic about a threat to our shores,
purported humanitarian goals have taken center stage now (though humanitarian appeals -- rape rooms, mass graves, chemical attacks on his own people, and sadistic sons!! -- were also prominently featured in 2003 and in virtually every other war ever started).
But if we care so much about Libyans groaning under a merciless dictator, why don't we care about, say, Bahrainis under attack by a Saudi-UAE coalition? We don't, of course.

Linking to a debate at National Review Online between neocon Paul Wolfowitz and George Will, RWA1 commented on Facebook, "This is an issue without an obvious right and wrong. The burden of empire is becoming onerous, albeit Qaddafi is pretty flaky and unpredicrtable" [sic]. I sympathize just a bit. RWA1 certainly doesn't want to be an apologist for Qaddafy -- like me, he's old enough to remember when Qaddafy was an official enemy -- but on the other hand, Qaddafy was welcomed back to the brotherhood of nations by a Republican administration. (It's so hard sometimes to remember whether we're at war or at peace with Eastasia this week!) And though Obama so far seems to have Republican support for this attack, it's unthinkable for an old-school Republican like RWA1 to endorse a war waged by a Democratic President. (It seems unfair that this should be so, since Democrats are almost always willing to endorse wars waged by Republican Presidents. But life is unfair.)

Will still advocates a "no-fly zone" in Libya, apparently unaware that a no-fly zone is a military intervention, indeed an act of war. How it would differ from his Rand-like yammering that the US has "intervened in a tribal society in a civil war", I don't know. It's kind of fun to watch Wolfowitz trying to split hairs.
“One of the things that makes this situation so unique is the monstrous quality of the Tripoli regime, the monstrous quality of Qaddafi and his sons. I know people say, ‘What about Bahrain? What about Yemen?’ This is a totally different case, where a man is actually slaughtering his own people, has no regard for his own people, and uses mercenaries to kill them. It is a unique case and it is being watched around the Arab world.”
Libya is not at all "a totally different case" from Bahrain, for example, where the monarch is actually slaughtering his own people, has no regard for his own people, and uses Saudi and UAE mercenaries to kill them. For that matter, the US has enthusiastically trained police, military, and mercenaries to kill and torture in their own countries many times in my lifetime alone.

And I have to link to this totally deranged comment, which, from what I know of him, RWA probably agrees with. It's the kind of reality-free bluster that's much beloved of people who've never lifted a weapon in their lives, and never will, but don't mind sending others to commit the butchery in their place. For example, his closing qualification:
This also includes not supporting dictators, especially when theres' no USSR for them to go to instead anymore. If we'd have instituted this foreign policy when the Berlin Wall fell, how much better off would we be today?
The commenter's program (first principle: "We drill here, now, and everywhere so that the oil supply issue is moot") definitely includes supporting dictators, which was a major part of US policy before and after the Berlin Wall fell, partly to get access to the oil supply or to any other resources the US wanted. If we'd instituted this foreign policy in 1989, we'd be more or less where we are today. Not surprising, because what the commenter recommends is a cartoon version of what US foreign policy is.

I don't agree that there's "no obvious right or wrong" with regard to Libya. I think that the US-led and -directed attack is wrong, and will probably undermine the popular resistance in Libya. I don't think that the US (or France or England, let alone the Arab League) wants democracy in Libya, any more than it wants democracy in Egypt. We seem to have failed to block it in Egypt, for now at least, but we can still save Libya and Bahrain.

By the way, Salon also posted an appalling, sycophantic AP account of Obama's visit to Brazil. "And on Sunday, he was determined to be with his family, get among the people and feel the culture." What a man.

Please Master


Richard Seymour (aka Lenin) posted this:
As public citizens we exercise a franchise, but in the private sphere we accept bondage: the discipline of the market compels us to accept it. For most of our waking hours, we cede executive control over our bodily and mental powers to someone else – in the vain hope of one day retiring with a decent pension. Whoops, that’s gone. You’ll just have to save more. But you’ll have to borrow more, because the economy needs you to spend. And we find that in all but the most mundane matters, when it comes to the activities and processes that constitute the major part of our lives, we have no autonomy. We do not govern ourselves.

Even our free time is not really ours. Much of it is spent commuting for a start - the average person's commute is equivalent to four weeks out of a working year. Four weeks - on that tube, that bus, that motorway lane. Think about what that's costing you psychically. Much of the rest is spent recuperating, essentially recovering our ability to labour so that we can go into work and do it all again the next day. And don't forget, of course, that even your free time isn't necessarily your own, because companies now want to organise your fun. Dress-down Friday - because Friday is funday; birthday parties, and office drinks, team-building outings, sporting days. Your fun, your enjoyment, your affection, often your time - on their orders. Awkward socialisation with middle and senior managers, stressful, moronic conversations, and long-winded explanations of what goes on in different departments that you didn't ask for, and you don't need. Then there's voluntary, unpaid overtime, worth £29bn a year to the employers - that's called flexibility, and what a good sport you are for doing that.
And so on; the entire post is worth reading.

"Voluntary, unpaid overtime" used to be one of the signs of the decadence of the Soviet Union. But it was always part of capitalism. That's not really surprising, when you think about it, because "capitalism" and "socialism" are not necessarily mutually exclusive opposites. What the Soviet Union instituted under Stalin was state capitalism, driven by the same logic of industrialization as capitalism in the US, Britain, and elsewhere: concentration, centralization, hierarchy, and mastery. As Raymond Williams pointed out in a 1982 essay, "Socialism and Ecology," (reprinted in Resources of Hope [Verso, 1989], socialists proved no less susceptible than capitalists to the dream of mastering nature:
Because of course these attitudes of mastering and conquering had from beginning been associated not just with mastering the earth, or natural substances, or making water do what you wanted, but with pushing other people around, with going wherever there were things which you wanted, and subjugating and conquering. That’s where the metaphors of conquest and mastery came from. They were a classic rationale of imperialism in just that expanding phase. They were from the whole internal ethic of an expanding capitalism: to master nature, to conquer it, to shift it around to do what you want with it. Engels went along with that and then suddenly remembered where the metaphor came from and said, quite correctly: we shall never understand this if we fail to remember that we are ourselves part of nature, and that what is involved in this mastery and conquest is going to going to have its effects on us; we can’t just arrive and depart as a foreign conqueror. But then he shifted back, under the influence of this very strong nineteenth-century triumphalism about nature, and took up the metaphors again. And still today we read these triumphalist arguments about production. They are a bit less confident now, but if you read the typical case for socialism, as it became standard between the wars in the dominant tendency, it is all in terms of mastering nature, setting new human horizons, creating plenty as the answer to poverty [214].
And:
It has always been a running argument within the Labour Party, especially since 1945, whether we’re going to get equality, and what are usually referred to as ‘the things we all want’ – schools and hospitals are usually the first to be named – when we’ve got the economy right, when we’ve produced enough, enlarged the national cake and so on; or whether equality and the priority of human needs require, as their first and necessary condition, fundamental changes in our social and economic institutions and relationships. I think we now have to see that argument as settled. The usual ‘national cake’ position, the soft political option, can be seen to rest on a basic fallacy, which the United States has demonstrated to the world – and no society is ever going to be relatively richer in gross indiscriminate production than that one – that by getting to a certain level of production you solve the problems of poverty and inequality. Tell them that in the slums, the inner cities, of rich America! All socialists are then forced to recognize that we have to intervene on quite a different basis [222].
I'd add that it isn't only "all socialists" who are "forced to recognize that we have to intervene on quite a different basis." "Socialism" encompasses many different programs and understandings anyway. I'm less attached to the label (though I'll accept it happily) than to the understanding that "gross indiscriminate production" is not going to give "us" equality and "the things we all want." Inequality has increased in the US as gross indiscriminate production has increased, and as capitalism has thrown off regulation and become more and more unrestrained. I'm not calling for the abolition of industrial production, as some will surely jump to assume, but for its control by human beings. As the example of the USSR and China shows, that will be no less necessary, and no less a problem, than it is in the West.

I should add too that I personally suffer less from the invasion of privacy by my workplace than many (most?) Americans. My daily "commute" is about 5 minutes each way. We don't have Casual Day. There are occasional attempts by upper management to encroach on our lives and feelings, but they are ineffectual at the level where I work; I suspect it's different in more white-collar departments. (Notice that the guy in the treadmill above is wearing a suit, not overalls.) One reason I've stayed in my job so long is because it leaves me considerable personal freedom, and when I come home I'm able to recuperate fairly quickly and attend to things that interest me. TV and other such commercial entertainments are the equivalent of junk food for people who don't have much time after the latest lap in the rat race and must unwind as quickly and efficiently as they can. When people have more leisure time for leisure, they'll use it more variously. This is not just a personal beef of mine, but something that affects many people, including people I know, more harshly than it affects me. One of the purposes of specifically "free-market" capitalist organization is to isolate people and make sure that they watch out only for themselves.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tales of the City, Atlanta Division

I raced through Pearl Cleage's latest novel, Till You Hear From Me (One World, 2010) yesterday, without being fully conscious that I was doing so until I realized I had only about a dozen pages to go. That's normal for me with Cleage ever since I read her first novel. What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day was about a woman who returns to her Michigan hometown when, after living a fast-lane life in Atlanta for several years, she discovers she's HIV-positive. In Michigan she recovers a sense of purpose and even finds love. One of the things that stuck with me after my first reading was this list on page 158:
TEN THINGS EVERY FREE WOMAN SHOULD KNOW
1. How to grow food and flowers
2. How to prepare food nutritiously
3. Self-defense
4. Basic first aid / sex education and midwifery
5. Child care (prenatal / early childhood development)
6. Basic literacy / basic math / basic computer skills
7. Defensive driving / map reading / basic auto and home repairs
8. Household budget / money management
9. Spiritual practice
10. Physical fitness / health / hygiene
Every man, free or not, should know these things too. (I don't pretend that I do.) But I liked Cleage's attitude, so I looked for her other work. She's written and produced plays, which I haven't seen, and a powerful book of essays, Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot (Ballantine, 1994).

After Crazy and her second novel, I Wish I Had a Red Dress, Cleage set her novels in Atlanta, where she lives. In particular, she invented a neighborhood called West End, which was reclaimed from drugs, crime, and squalor under the leadership of Blue Hamilton, a man with a somewhat shady past who decided that if he couldn't fix the world he could at least fix the nearest part of it. Though West End isn't totally free of problems or conflict, it's a lovely place to visit, and Cleage's characters are a pleasure to know: intelligent, passionate, interested and involved in the arts, and politically aware and active. They are "spiritual", but it's not too intrusive. Several characters recur throughout her Atlanta novels, which is why she reminds me of Armistead Maupin's San Francisco serial. (So does her taste for melodramatic plots.)

Cleage is pretty close to an African-American Jennifer Crusie, though not a gay one; that ideal has yet to be achieved. Like Crusie's, in fact, her world is too lacking in queerfolk for me to feel entirely comfortable there. Crusie, if I recall correctly, had a gay male sidekick for one of her heroines; Cleage has had a few down-low villains, without any balancing gay men or lesbians that I can remember. This bothers me; she could, and should, do better.

Till You Hear From Me is Cleage's Obama novel. The protagonist, Ida B. Wells Durham, the daughter of an Atlanta minister who was a pillar of the Civil Rights Movement, worked in Obama's 2008 campaign. As the novel begins, soon after the election, Ida has not yet found a job in the administration because her father had denounced the new order in a widely circulated video interview.

Cleage had the Jeremiah Wright hullaballoo in mind, of course, though her own father, Albert Cleage, was an important figure of the same generation. She told an interviewer in May 2010,
I really wanted to look at the Jeremiah Wright question. I was saddened by what happened between Wright and Obama, the positions that the old-line civil rights guys had -- I call them warriors -- with Obama. Obama happened a little too fast for them. They were used to fighting. And the idea of stepping aside was inconceivable to them.
This, I think, isn't really fair to Wright. The flap over his pulpit pronouncements, if anything, showed that white America still isn't ready for the Civil Rights Movement of forty-odd years ago. But Till You Hear From Me has more going on than that, though readers of this blog won't be surprised to hear that I consider it too soft on Obama. As Cleage told the same interviewer,
It's such a dangerous, crazy job. I'm not a conventional Christian, but I'm praying for him.
 I think it's a time of big upheaval. The Bush years were so terrible, and people are nervous and scared, and it brings up all that insecurity. But I think that will fade. Health care, trying to end the wars, getting people back to work, are good things.
"Trying to end the wars" ... sigh. I hope she's learned better since then. But Till You Hear From Me has some surprises, and I'm looking forward to Pearl Cleage's next novel whenever it comes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

... And the Self-Effacing Modesty of Walt Whitman

From the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting blog, this amazing quotation from a USA Today piece on hoax artist James O'Keefe:
O'Keefe's tactics combine "the guerrilla of Borat, the gotcha of Dateline…and the gonzo approach of Hunter S. Thompson," O'Keefe said in an interview.
"I hope if I'm ever profiled by USA Today, I'll get to sing my own praises like that," FAIR writer Peter Hart concluded. Me too.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

American Blog Posts Shall Receive No Titles from Kings, Princes, or Foreign States

First, something green for St. Patrick's Day:

Swiped from my Facebook sister's photos. Not sure where she got it from. Somewhere on the Intertoobz.

Today the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to cut federal funding for NPR. RWA1 promptly linked to the bad news on Facebook, and declared:
On to the Senate. Forget Nina Totenberg; I want my Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony, Harmonia, Pipe Dreams, etc. The culture is going down the toilet fast enough as it is.
Here's a free-market solution for RWA1 and other right wingers who want the nanny state for themselves but for no one else: Pay for your Metropolitan Opera, Symphony, Harmonia, Pipe Dreams, etc. instead of demanding that the public support your Old-Europe fetishes. I've actually talked about this face-to-face with RWA1. He is aware of the contradiction, he just doesn't care: he wants to be able to tune in to the opera every Saturday afternoon, and if it's not commercially viable, then he wants the government to pay for it, free-market principles be damned. (P.S. I forgot to mention: amazingly, RWA1 has told me that donating to the local station is 'paying for it.' Not while our socialist totalitarian government is holding a knife to the throats of decent Americans to extort their tax dollars to subsidize effete elitist Old Europe culture, it isn't. A free-market solution means economic freedom means no taxpayer support.)

Notice also that last bit, that the "culture is going down the toilet fast enough as it is." This marks RWA1 out as one of the NPR elitists he professes to despise, as when he linked to this article with the comment, "untimeliness of academic snobbery torpedoes NPR below the waterline". Say what? Of course the Right has its own pseudo-intellectuals (George Will, David Brock), but what can be wrong with elitism when eighty percent of Americans believe themselves to be above average? Elitism is a populist value.

Which reminds me of this quotation from Katha Pollitt by way of Michael Berube (who's better on cultural politics than on politics politics, if you take my meaning:
The stress on high-end conservative pundits is beginning to show. These are people, after all, who belong to the Ivy-educated, latte-drinking, Tuscan-vacationing urban elite they love to ridicule and who see themselves, however deludedly, as policy intellectuals and grown-ups. They’ve written endlessly about “excellence” and “standards.” McCain’s erratic flounderings, and Palin’s patent absurdity, have driven David Brooks and George Will to write columns so anguished I’d feel sorry for them had they not made their bed by spending the past eight years rationalizing the obvious inadequacies of George W. Bush.
Berube went on to mention that pointy-headed intellectual Charles Murray had declared that "The last thing we need are more pointy-headed intellectuals running the government."

The Right is still tying itself in knots over this; it's entertaining to watch, as when RWA1 linked recently to this piece at the Daily Caller, which wouldn't be worth mentioning if not for the fact that the author's first name is "Dr." -- honestly, white people give their children such ridiculous names! how are they ever going to succeed in American society? - and this first comment on it:
America is now split close to 50/50 between the working class who generate wealth, and the parasite class who confiscate it through fees, fines, taxes, and mandatory union dues, and use it to buy political influence to maintain the status quo. A big part of this is the dependent class who are pandered to with hand outs and programs to influence their vote. Liberalism is a LIE. We are now converging on the Soviet model of government!
That leaves me almost speechless with admiration. It's a remarkable confirmation of author Dr. Blake's lament about "the widespread failure of American academia to advance civic learning." Well, of course. The last thing we need is more pointy-headed intellectuals coming out of academia! Dr. (I'm sure he won't mind my calling him by his first name, I feel that I know him so well already!) also conveniently neglects to mention the fact that Ron Schiller's slighting remarks about the Tea Party were his paraphrase of some highly placed Republicans who felt that their party was "going down the toilet", to borrow a handy phrase. That quite a few such Republicans felt that way enough not only to vote for but to publicly endorse Obama in 2008 is simple fact. Many of them clearly feel the same way now. If it's elitism, it's Republican elitism. If it represents a lack of civic learning, it's Republican lack of civic learning.

And remember, RWA1: the Soviets also had government support of the arts, and look where it got them!

I'm serious, though. NPR is already subordinate to the big corporations. Their news department is worthless. The defunding bill will probably be defeated in the Senate, but even if it isn't, I don't think NPR is worth saving.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

He's a Congenital Cheap Pig, But He's Our Congenital Cheap Pig

I have a lot of things I want to write about here, but I've been busy reading, which eats up so much time.

I'm about two-thirds of the way through James J. Lorence's The Suppression of The Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America (New Mexico, 1999). Let's see, I did a post about that movie just over two years ago. Lorence's book gives a brief account of the production of the The Salt of the Earth, giving me a greater appreciation for the way it involved local, Mexican-American miners and their families in the development of the script and in the filming. Most of the cast were nonprofessionals, and did surprisingly well.

The book goes on to tell of the organized program to block the film's production and distribution. It's chilling, and it reminded me of this post I did at the end of last year, on the misinformation of the American public. Criticizing a blogger who lamented the rise of the Internet and people's reliance on less "objective" outlets than the standard corporate media, I pointed out that Americans have always gone to alternatives:
I'm not sure where my peers and their parents went for their misinformation in the 60s, but there was the Reader's Digest, a reliable fount of right-wing propaganda with an enormous circulation, and there were plenty of right-wing radio commentators even before the Fairness Doctrine was abolished. It was as if there was a sewer in which their blatantly racist, hysterically anti-communist material marinated until it was ready to dump into receptive ears.
As I read
The Suppression of The Salt of the Earth I realized that I'd completely forgotten the American Legion and the Roman Catholic Church, two nationwide anti-Communist groups with their own, probably interlocking, propaganda networks. Those networks are the ancestors of the right-wing propaganda we see today -- often directly, since today's propaganda mills often recycle Oldies but Goodies from the Fifties. And I've been ruminating again on accusations I've seen about the supposed McCarthyism of the "left" by right-wing writers, often the very same people who are trying to rehabilitate Joe McCarthy as a martyr of the anti-Red struggle. Coming from them, shouldn't "McCarthyism" be a compliment? (When I asked RWA1, who'd been calling for an end to the use of "Nazi" and "fascist" in political discourse, if he also favored retiring "Red," "pinko," and "socialist," he mused that he didn't know, he had a weakness for those terms. Of course.)

I've also started rereading Mary Lasswell's series of novels that began with Suds in Your Eye (Houghton Mifflin, 1942). They're a guilty pleasure of mine, and it's my third turn through the books. They're about three elderly ladies in San Diego who become fast friends, bonding over beer, good cooking, and war fever, though the series continued after World War II was over. Except for predictable hostility to "Japs" in the wartime books, the books are less racist than most popular fiction of their period, though a couple of gay male interior decorators are the villains of the last book, Let's Go for Broke (1962), which is an annoyance but not enough to turn me off to Lasswell's writing -- as I said, she's a guilty pleasure, and her stories and characters charm me despite that final lapse.

I made a dash through Stephanie Budin's The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity (Cambridge, 2008), about a theme that has fascinated Bible scholars and historians of antiquity for centuries now. She's not the first to deny the historical validity of claims about priestesses of Ishtar peddling sex on behalf of the Goddess, which have often been used as distractions in the debates over homosexuality and the Bible, but she brought me up to date on the matter. More on this later, maybe.

Last week I finally read Scott G. Brown's Mark's Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith's Controversial Discovery (Wilfrid Laurer UP, 2005), and so I've been looking online for more reactions to it and to Smith, whom I've written about before. I hope to write about it at more length soon; for the moment I want to mention again how startling it is to find really overwrought homophobia among supposedly "objective" scholars, which seems to fuel their willingness to pass along utter falsehoods (such as the claim that no one but Smith ever saw the manuscript of the "Secret Gospel of Mark"). But as I say, later.

Today it was reported that Private Bradley Manning, who's been subjected to forced nudity in his cell on top of months of solitary confinement, has been allowed to
cover himself (via). President Obama, you'll recall, told the press last week that the military had assured him that everything was copacetic, but there has been increasing criticism in the media. If I were given dictatorial powers, I would condemn Obama (and Dana Milbank) to wear this outfit at all official functions for the duration of his term -- no, not really, because if I had dictatorial powers Obama would be turned over to the International Criminal Court, along with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of the torture gangsters, with no American exemptions allowed. More realistically but only slightly, if I had any Photoshop skills I'd merge images of Barry and Michelle into this photo.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Come Over and Help Us

RWA1's first response on Facebook to the disaster in Japan was to link to a post by the notorious right-wing economist Amity Shlaes, titled "Four Ways the U.S. Can Help Japan, Also Itself." "A free market look at help," RWA1 calls it. Well, no.

Her first recommendation is for the US to "stop being a prissy multilateralist" with regard to trade.
Now is the time to forget about fairness and just say, “Come on in, guys,” with or without trade concessions.
Hahahahaha. And she follows that up, two sentences later, with this knee-slapper:
If the Japanese are behind in learning the value of free trade, let them learn by watching the U.S. example.
Hahahahaha again. Shlaes is a bit vague about what her one-liners actually mean, though. She quotes a former Bush II official "and now vice chairman at Citigroup" who says "It’s time for Japan to have a free-trade agreement with the U.S. and to be in the Transpacific Partnership." I guess she wants the US (and presumably the other countries in the Transpacific Partnership) to drop its trade barriers against Japan without demanding reciprocal concessions. Nice, I guess, but she's just grinding her free-trade ax, secure in the faith that free trade is the remedy for all economic ills.

Second, she ties herself up in knots.
The second thing the U.S. can do is stop kidding everyone about infrastructure as stimulus. The natural response of the U.S. now -- the most likely expression of our good will -- is to write a multibillion-dollar foreign aid bill so Japan can rebuild its cities, secure the coastline and clean up its nuclear power mess.
So, should we or shouldn't we? I'm guessing we should:
So sure, Japan will need new infrastructure now. But that infrastructure should be recognized for what it is: brick, wire, mortar. Remember, though, that growth comes from competitiveness, not government spending
Except for government spending that builds infrastructure that is necessary for "competitiveness," a null concept. I hadn't read anything by Shlaes before, but I see already why she's so popular with the wacko right and so easy for everybody else to sneer at. I'm sure the Obama administration is taking her very seriously, given Obama's own obeisance to Free Trade.

Her other recommendations? Number three,
ease immigration rules so that more Japanese can study or work here. Japanese already have a presence in American universities. Make that presence larger. Then they will be less likely to stick to their old ways of protectionism and cronyism.
... and pick up our ways of protectionism and cronyism. Finally,
The fourth move for the U.S. would be to pass laws that strengthen our own growth. That means lowering our tax rates, including corporate taxes, so that Americans make more and buy more. This isn’t selfish. It’s actually generous, because it gives Japan a strong western ally to offset expansive China. Militarily, economically and politically, a strong U.S. ally gives Japan more leeway to set its own path.
Given the US' own ties to the Middle Kingdom, I'm not sure we constitute an offset to expansive China. And Japan has been following its own path -- that's the trouble with them -- which is why Shlaes is rubbing her hands over the prospect of a coup for Disaster Capitalism.
Here’s where that unprecedented good will, that urgent desire to help a stricken country represents opportunity. If we are ever going to widen our markets, this is the moment. The same holds for Japan. An open U.S., a flexible friend, is the kind of help Japan can use most.
You'd think that Japan had been shut off behind a bamboo curtain for the past sixty-odd years instead of being a primary US ally and trading partner in Asia. But their collaboration wasn't submissive, abject enough. Now we have our chance. The vultures are circling!

He's Not to Blame, He Was Just Giving Orders

Question of the day:
I wonder if Obama is such a mediocre president because there’s no incentive scheme?
And this added bonus from the same post:
HEY, THOSE TAX CUTS FOR MILLIONAIRES DON’T PAY FOR THEMSELVES, YOU KNOW: “A budget that sacrifices our commitment to education would be a budget that’s sacrificing our country’s future.”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Oh Well, That's All Right Then!

From Salon:

The industry -- along with President Obama -- has in recent years trumpeted the fact that nuclear power does not produce carbon emissions that cause climate change. But safety is clearly still a touchy subject for nuclear operators. ...

[Mitchell] Singer, the NEI spokesman, argued that Japan's infrastructure had actually performed well so far.

"The Japanese plants have been run very safely and reliably for a very long time. They have operated quite safely," he said, adding: "Actually, they withstood the earthquake quite well. It's the tsunami that caused the problems with the backup generators."


P.S. "The DC-based Nuclear Energy Institute represents Japanese firms -- including the company whose plants are in crisis"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I Didn't Say It, I Didn't Mean It, and Anyway It's the Truth!

I'm listening right now to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!, NPR's light-hearted quiz show about current events, and it brings home to me all over again how worthless NPR is.

There's already evidence that James O'Keefe's latest "sting" involved dishonest and distorting editing of the source material. Given his record, no one should be surprised. The depressing thing to me, despite my distaste for NPR, is how liberals keep backing down every time they get into trouble. That applies to freshly resigned CEO Vivian Schiller, to the journalistic staff at NPR who wrote a distraught Open Letter to denounce former VP for Development Ron Schiller for doing "real damage to NPR", and to Wait, Wait host Peter Sagal, who kept assuming a defensive stance on the scandal. I suppose he has no choice if he wants to keep his job, but he's also supposed to be doing comedy.

At one point, Sagal mentioned that right-wing pundit Juan Williams was fired last year during Fund Drive. Sagal treated this as self-defeating behavior, but why didn't the supposedly left-wing Politically Correct NPR base give them more money? The same goes for Ron Schiller's alleged remarks about the Republican Party and the Tea Party, which in context went like this (bold type is Weigel's):
SCHILLER: I won't break a confidence, but a person who was an ambassador -- so, a very highly placed Republican -- another person, who was one of the top donors to the Republican party, they both told me they voted for Obama, which they never believed they could ever do in their lives. That they could ever vote for a Democrat, ever. And they did, because they think the current Republican party is not really the Republican Party. It's been hijacked by this group that...

"MUSLIM": The radical, racist, Islamophobic, Tea Party people?

SCHILLER: Exactly. And not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic. Basically, they believe in white, middle America, gun-toting -- I mean, it's pretty scary. They're seriously racist, racist people.
Leave aside what others have already pointed out -- that Schiller is not a journalist; that (unlike Williams) he didn't make these remarks on the air but in a private meeting with potential donors who could be supposed not to be rabid Republicans; and that, as this fuller quotation shows, he was at least hiding behind the views of certain Republicans who don't like the turn their party has taken. (Hardly a secret, let alone scandalous, given the number of such people who endorsed Obama in 2008 for just those reasons.) Even if Schiller stated his personal views, aren't they totally in agreement with the stereotypical NPR listener's worldview? Why isn't NPR being deluged with calls from angry liberals who want Ron Schiller given a regular spot on All Things Considered?