April 27, 2010


Certain news is not unexpected, yet it can still be of immense significance and devastating personal impact when it is reported. (Much in that story is objectionable and misleading in various degrees. At the moment, I have no absolutely no interest in analyzing the report's failings.)

To appreciate why this matters so much to me -- and, I would suggest, why more generally it should matter a great deal to you -- you can start here.

I will very likely have more to say about this at some future date. But not now.

April 25, 2010

For Cindy Sheehan

[UPDATE: Republished below is an article I wrote about Cindy Sheehan in August 2005. (As I explain, it had been offline for several years.) Very interestingly and gratifyingly to me, Chris Floyd also wrote an article about Ms. Sheehan at just about the same time. Here it is. I hope you read it.

It wasn't until a year or two after these articles were first published that Floyd and I learned of each other and began to read each other's work. As I say, it is both intriguing and deeply personally satisfying to discover that we had been plowing some of the same ground. I leave it to the reader to provide whatever saying you think appropriate concerning minds that "think alike" and so on, however you may choose to describe the minds in question.]

Every now and then, very welcome and needed encouragement enters our lives from an entirely unexpected source. That happened to me just a few hours ago: I followed a referring link in my tracking stats -- and was taken to Cindy Sheehan's site. One item there directs readers to my essay from several days ago. It also mentions an article of mine from 2007; it gives me special pleasure to see that post remembered, particularly at Sheehan's website.

It never occurred to me that Cindy Sheehan even knew of my existence. I'll let that be a lesson to me: much of the time, you never know who is reading you, just as you often never know what people your writing might reach. I'll try to remember that in the coming days. (It's not entirely clear to me from the items at Sheehan's site that Sheehan herself wrote the one that mentions my articles, but I assume Sheehan at least approves the links that appear there. For those who might be interested, and for myself as well, I've reprinted the item in question at the conclusion of this post, since it will undoubtedly be replaced by newer items very soon.)

I have deeply admired Cindy Sheehan ever since she first appeared on the national scene. She had experienced an unimaginably terrible and searing loss, yet she possessed the courage and determination to turn her personal experience into a focus for national opposition to not only the then-latest war of criminal aggression launched by the U.S. government, but to our Death State's entire program of death and destruction, both at home and abroad. Sheehan continued and even intensified her battle in the face of despicable and loathsome opposition.

My immense admiration increased still more when she continued the same fight after Obama took office. Unlike almost all of today's liberals and progressives, Sheehan has repeatedly demonstrated that her opposition is genuinely based in principle, and not merely the opportunistic "positioning" engaged in by those who seek political power for its own sake and for no other end at all. I've traced the "progress" of the liberal-progressives in "The Plea of Helplessness, the Refusal of Responsibility, and Today's Progressives." In part, I wrote:
[V]irtually everything the Democrats and progressives claimed to be their fervent concern was merely instrumental: that is, they staked out the positions they did for their perceived political advantage, and for the assistance those positions would provide in regaining and consolidating power.

In the end, that was the only goal, the only purpose toward which everything else was directed: the achievement and maintenance of power.
That Sheehan is profoundly principled, and that she continues her battle against what is an immensely evil program that produces only suffering, destruction and death, means of course that she is largely ignored by every aspect of the establishment, and by most commentators and bloggers as well. On a much more modest scale, that has been my fate, too. I was once frequently linked by the leading liberal-progressive blogs, when we shared our opposition to the loathsome Bush administration. But I began to see what actually motivated the Democrats and their voluntarily brain-dead supporters in the months leading up to the 2006 elections. Just before those elections, I published: "An Election Conceived in Nausea." My judgment of the Democrats and Democratic partisans grew steadily more negative, and the "big" links soon dried up completely. I was no longer "helpful" to their goals.

Now, the Obama administration has continued all the most detestable policies and actions of the Bush criminals that Obama and those who voted for him claimed to oppose so vehemently. In certain critical respects, Obama has expanded those policies and made them still worse, sometimes significantly so. With very rare exceptions, the damning criticisms of Bush -- all of which and more can and should be leveled at Obama, with already massive evidence -- have vanished altogether. So much for principles, integrity, dignity and the most basic sense of humanity.

Because of my deep admiration for Ms. Sheehan and the great courage she continues to demonstrate, the mention of my articles on her site carries special meaning for me. As I've occasionally mentioned, my blog archives became corrupted several years ago. The result was that most of my writing up until that time disappeared from the internet. With the help of one friend in particular (great thanks as always, J.), many of the earlier posts were able to be saved. But reposting them requires a lot of work; except for selected essays here and there, I've never taken the time to do it (assuming I even had the time, which I never have).

But the post on Ms. Sheehan's site impels me to republish an essay which hasn't been available for at least three or four years: "Of the Sacred and the Profane: Leave Cindy Sheehan Alone." It was originally published on August 10, 2005. I don't know if Ms. Sheehan saw it when it first appeared; I hope she is able to read it now.

I haven't taken the time to insert the internal links; in any case, the links to earlier articles of mine wouldn't go anywhere, until and unless those earlier articles are similarly reposted. Except for the missing links, the article appears below exactly as it first appeared, including the Update at the beginning (which I wrote in response to some reactions to the essay). I should note that some formulations in this piece are not stated nearly as forcefully or in as focused a manner as I would wish today. But my understanding of many of the issues involved was still evolving and growing, as I hope it will always continue to grow. And this earlier article is somewhat meandering, but a lot was happening during that time and a lot was on my mind. On balance, I said what I wanted to say, and I think it is as true today as it was then.

Here then is the earlier article, now dedicated, or perhaps re-dedicated, to Cindy Sheehan, with my deepest admiration and gratitude.


Of the Sacred and the Profane: Leave Cindy Sheehan Alone
August 10, 2005

[UPDATE: In reading reactions to this post, I see that some people appear to be willfully misunderstanding one of my points. When I say that Casey Sheehan died for no good reason, I most certainly do not intend to say that his life and his death had no meaning. The overall theme of my essay should make it clear that I mean precisely the opposite. His life, and his death, are of supreme importance: that was my point, and that was my reason for writing this essay.

But what I did mean was this: Casey Sheehan's death was unnecessary. The war on Iraq is not the American Revolution, or World War II. Iraq represented no serious threat to us whatsoever. As everyone who is honest now acknowledges, it was an optional war -- that is, a war we need not have fought. Therefore, everyone who has died in Iraq -- and who will die in Iraq as long as we are there -- need not have died, if their deaths, like Casey Sheehan's, are a direct result of our invasion of that country. In the sense that Casey Sheehan's death was entirely avoidable and need not have happened at all, he died for no good reason. And in that sense, I fully stand by that statement.

With regard to poetry that particularly speaks to Cindy Sheehan's situation, I should have included this justly famous and very brief poem from Rudyard Kipling. As I noted in my earlier post about World War I literature, Kipling had been the preeminent poet on behalf of the British Empire. It was the death of his only son in World War I that changed his perspective so profoundly:

Common Form

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

That is the bitter, terrible truth that Kipling came to understand at immense personal cost -- and that Cindy Sheehan lives with every day. The rest of us, most of whom do not share her pain, should never forget it.]

I haven't specifically addressed the frenzied and mounting attacks on Cindy Sheehan up to this point, primarily for one reason: those attacks are as sickening as they were predictable. Let me note at the outset that, in one very limited sense, Cindy Sheehan certainly was on notice that this would be her fate if she chose to become a visible symbol of opposition to the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq. However, this acknowledgement should not be taken to mean that any of the current attacks on her are deserved or just. They are neither. Moreover, they are deeply uncivilized -- and for the most part, not remotely decent.

I'm certain that Mrs. Sheehan was well aware of the kind of attacks that would be launched against her. She is obviously a very intelligent woman, and she has taken the measure of Bush and the most feverish of his supporters. She knows what she's up against.

Before getting to my more specific point, some general background is required. Any observant American knows that, beginning almost immediately after 9/11, any disagreement with Bush or his foreign policy -- any disagreement at all, offered on the basis of any one of numerous possible grounds, and even if supported by massive amounts of evidence -- has been characterized as treasonous. This has been an explicit and frequent part of the demonization campaign engaged in by Bush and his supporters -- and the vilification of Mrs. Sheehan is only the latest example of the kind of indecent and nauseating filth that the idolaters of American Empire are now prepared to engage in.

I traced the genesis of this vicious argument in an essay examining a remarkable piece of propaganda by the superficially "kind" and apparently non-threatening Peggy Noonan, whose prose is so sweet that you can feel your teeth rot as her sickly words ooze their way into your body. Because of this sickly sweetness, the depth and viciousness of the lie Noonan perpetrated on this occasion deserved notice.

After excerpting Noonan's column addressing the allegedly "hateful" comments offered by Howard Dean, a column in which Noonan imagined the outrage that would supposedly greet Bush if the president were to say that he viewed the Republicans as "good" and the Democrats as "evil" and that he "hated" all Democrats, I wrote:
This is truly masterful. I take my hat off to Ms. Noonan. It sounds so utterly reasonable. It sounds so judicious. It sounds so mature.

It is also a great big, enormous lie. In fact, Bush and many members of his administration -- and almost all of Bush's most ardent supporters in the media, and in an even more extreme form (if that is possible) in the blogosphere -- have been making all of these statements for the last several years. Since 9/11, such statements are the daily meal provided by the Bush administration.

It is not even the case that such statements are hidden or disguised. They are right out in the open, but Noonan relies on the unfortunate fact that most people are unable to see the truth and unwilling to name it.

Remember the basic dichotomy from which all the rest sprang, provided in a now-famous statement by our President himself in the immediate aftermath of 9/11: "You are either with us, or on the side of the terrorists." This statement is so broad and so general that it is susceptible to many different meanings and applications -- and that is precisely the point of this type of propaganda.

For almost overnight, one central meaning of Bush's statement became the following: If you disagree with the manner in which Bush chooses to fight this war -- if you question or criticize any aspect of it at all -- then you are “on the side of the terrorists." Don't take my word for it. Take the word of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft (defending the administration's actions in response to 9/11):

“To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve," Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil."

This statement was not only not disavowed by the Bush administration: it has been reinforced countless times since. We most recently saw this tactic employed full-force in the completely phony Newsweek controversy. The always-dependable Mr. Rumsfeld:

“People lost their lives. People are dead," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said. “People need to be very careful about what they say, just as they need to be careful about what they do."

Note that the post in which I quoted Rumsfeld was entitled, "Careful Now, Obedient Servants!" Remember that Rumsfeld was addressing what people regard as a "free press." And his message was unmistakable: do not report stories that we do not like, or that we in our sole judgment view as possibly damaging, for reasons we are not obliged to share with you. Report only the "news" that we want you to report. Push us too far, and you will only report "news" that we permit you to report.

In the blogosphere, these kinds of tactics have been carried to still more insidious and more threatening levels. Strong critics of Bush's "War on Terror" are not antiwar: they are "on the other side." People who use and repeat such idiotic phrases seek to avoid their clear meaning: they are accusing many of Bush's critics of treason. They ought to state it openly, so everyone knows exactly what the nature of the accusation is -- and so that we may all appreciate how broad a swath of the American public they include in such judgments.

And that is the ultimate meaning of all such statements from the administration and its rabid supporters: passionate, meaningful, serious criticism of U.S. foreign policy is treason, it undermines our "national will," it weakens us in a time of great peril, and it "give[s] ammunition to America's enemies."

So let us improve upon Noonan's fictional Bush one more time. With the above actual statements from Bush and many others in mind -- and such statements could easily be multiplied a thousandfold -- consider what the message from those who support Bush's "War on Terror" in fact has been:

"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I want to speak this evening about how I see the political landscape. Let me jump right in. The struggle between freedom and the terrorists is a struggle between good and evil -- and we are the good. I hate anyone who questions or criticizes my way of fighting this war. Let's face it, all such critics hate freedom and want to see it destroyed. Who are they, really, but people who are intent on eroding our will, destroying the United States and undermining freedom as I conceive it? They have no shame.

"But why would they? They have never been acquainted with the truth. You ever been to a peace rally? They all look the same. They all behave the same. They have a dictatorship, and suffer from zeal so extreme that they dare to question my judgment and the actions of my administration. But what would you expect when you have a far left extremist base? Our nation, and the future of freedom around the world, cannot afford more of their leadership. I call on you to help me defeat them!"

As I said, this is exactly what Bush and many of his supporters have been saying for the last several years. You see these and similar statements every day in certain parts of our "mainstream" press, and you see them constantly in certain parts of the blogosphere. Most importantly, you hear them still from Bush and other members of his administration. I will grant Bush and his supporters this much: their target is much more all-encompassing than Dean's. Dean only spoke of the Republican Party. Bush and his supporters seek to demonize anyone and everyone who dares to disagree with them at all (except, of course, on issues that are insignificant and beside the point) -- Democrats, independents, libertarians, liberals, leftists, and even other Republicans who dare to step out of line from time to time, to say nothing of large parts of the rest of the world. Compared to these tactics and these goals, Dean is an amateur.


The only reason that Bush and his supporters get away with this, and that Howard Dean and some few others do not, is that lies are now the common coin of the realm, and the truth is despised. But Noonan gives us yet another version of the Big Lie -- the lie that is so immense, that is offered up in full daylight, that no one is quite willing to believe that such blatant deception and manipulation is being committed literally under his nose.

Given all this, the worst and biggest lie told by Noonan is this one:

"If Mr. Bush ever spoke this way, most Republicans would feel embarrassment. I would be among the legions who would denounce his statement."

But he has "spoke[n] this way," Ms. Noonan, countless times, as have countless others. But you have never, ever denounced such statements, not once. You cheer them all on, over and over and over again.
In this cultural setting, it was inevitable that Cindy Sheehan would become a major target of the Bush supporters. And because her cause is gaining so much attention -- and most importantly, because it is gaining so much support from the American public -- she must be destroyed.

Obviously, the truly obscene and unforgivable aspect of the attacks on Mrs. Sheehan is the fact that her oldest son was killed in a completely unnecessary war -- a war which has now killed almost 2,000 Americans, has permanently maimed many additional thousands of Americans, and has killed and maimed deliberately uncounted tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Cindy Sheehan's son was killed in that war. Focus on that fact, and forget everything else. Mrs. Sheehan herself offered some powerful words to Bush, in which she explained to Bush exactly what "hard work" is, since his entire life reveals that he doesn't grasp the first thing about that phrase.

I have some personal knowledge about the point that follows. One of my nephews died when he was just about Casey Sheehan's age, when the cancer that had first almost taken his life when he was not even a teenager finally killed him. Many people, and many experts, have written learned treatises about the fact that perhaps the most unnatural act in the world is for a parent to bury a child. If we live long enough, all of us must finally bury our parents. Both my parents are dead, and I can tell you this: even if you are prepared for it and even if they die after long illnesses, as was true with both my mother and father, it remains a deeply traumatic experience. It takes at least a year to fully process the loss -- to integrate it fully into your being, emotionally and psychologically. And those deaths are in the natural order of things.

Think about how infinitely and how incomprehensibly worse it is for a parent to lose a child. I will tell you one further thing, based on my own experience: certainly my sister, her husband and their other son have gone on with their lives, have had many achievements and much success, and have enjoyed a great deal of happiness. Thank God for that. But their lives were forever altered, and they have never been the same. In countless ways -- which I will not recount here, since it is their private business -- they have all been changed, in ways large and small. Their lives have taken turns they would not have otherwise -- and the scars still remain, even all these years later. And some of the wounds will never heal, no matter how long they live.

Cindy Sheehan's son did not die at home, after a terrible illness which even modern medicine could not cure. Such illnesses strike all families eventually. They are indeed terrible, but they too are in the natural, inevitable order of things. Cindy Sheehan's son died in a war which even its most ardent supporters now admit was "optional." Let me translate that: Casey Sheehan died for no good reason at all. His death had nothing to do with the defense of our country, and it did not happen because Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, which it did not. In that sense, Casey Sheehan's was entirely unnatural -- and it was the direct result of the disastrous and self-destructive course chosen by our president.

Think about the limitless, unending pain that comes from knowing that your son died for no good reason at all -- that he is dead only because your president and his advisors would have their war, regardless of the facts, and that they would make other people, but never themselves or those they love so desperately, bear all its unbearable costs.

Cindy Sheehan has voluntarily placed herself directly in the center of the major political and cultural battle of our time. She knew the nature of the opposition and the attacks she would face. But that does make those attacks legitimate -- or decent.

I will not here dissect the attacks on Mrs. Sheehan, because I consider all of that beside the point. You are free to state that you disagree with Mrs. Sheehan's opposition to the war, and that you think she is completely wrong. That is indisputably your right. Because the issues are so important, I would expect no less -- and I do not think Mrs. Sheehan expected less.

But if Bush's supporters were decent at all, that is where they would stop. State your disagreement, and the reasons why her position is not yours. But beyond that: leave it alone. Leave Cindy Sheehan alone. You do not understand her grief or what it might impel her to do. God grant that you never have cause to understand it.

I leave you with a few poems, which I have set out before.

About the fact that it is always the young who die for the delusions of the old, here is Grantland Rice:

Two Sides of War (All Wars)

All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,
Who call for greater armament
And map the battle chart.

But out along the shattered field
Where golden dreams turn gray,
How very young the faces were
Where all the dead men lay.

Portly and solemn in their pride,
The elders cast their vote
For this or that, or something else,
That sounds the martial note.

But where their sightless eyes stare out
Beyond life's vanished toys,
I've noticed nearly all the dead
Were hardly more than boys.

On the same theme, here is the retelling of the Abraham story by Wilfred Owen, who was himself killed in action just one week before World War I ended:

Parable of the Old Men and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

And here is the best summation of my own attitude toward these tragedies, which we insist on reenacting through the endless reaches of time -- from Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Dirge without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, -- but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

If you disagree with Cindy Sheehan, say so -- and move on.

Some few, precious things are sacred in this world. This is one of them.


POSTSCRIPT: As explained above, here is the item that appeared on the main page of Cindy Sheehan's site:
Well kindly Preznit Change-O, whutzup? Arthur Silber is back, once again ripping asunder the veil that even professed "dissenters" still draw over the blood-soaked reality he elegantly terms the "Death State." In his 2007 essay Obey or Die, Arthur says that in the last several years, the United States has caused the deaths of a million or more innocent people. The United States has committed crimes on a scale that defy comprehension. This fact is almost never mentioned by our leading politicians and commentators. And now all our leading politicians lay the groundwork for another act of still worse, monstrous, criminal aggression - but we discuss it as if it is our "right" to wreak destruction, suffering and death, in the name of "self-defense" and "civilization." Lies, on top of criminality, on top of genocide, both accomplished and planned. Lies and destruction without end, and facts and reality are banished altogether. Please keep in mind two critical ideas that both Arthur and I have mentioned: first - always, always first - profound reverence for the sacred value of a single human life; and second, the monstrosity that the United States government is today: a government which is unquestionably a Death State in every way that matters. In numerous ways it diminishes the value of each of our lives each and every day. We can hope that we will be able to continue our discussion, provided that our Change-O Death State does not decide speech of this kind is so horrible a danger that it must be ended. Yet to be honest, I must admit how pitifully obvious it is that a person who insists on the reverence due an individual life and who profoundly abhors violence of all kinds (actual or implied) represents a mortal danger to a State which can utterly destroy his or her life at a moment's notice. And yet we talk about none of this. If you do, you're a crazy troublemaker. No one should pay attention to you, and you will be shunned.

But golly, gee: What the *bleep* do I know anyway?

April 23, 2010

Privileged Straight White Men Are the Best!

I suppose it's possible, in some utterly fantastical galaxy far, far away, that an unimaginably privileged and affluent straight white man, one celebrated and made fabulously wealthy by his culture, could be an inspiring champion of all oppressed peoples and creatures throughout the farflung universe, and a marvelous feminist as well. It's similarly possible that I'm actually Xpotwvifzgyt, from the planetoid Buirflecqtz, sent here in the person of Arthur Silber, to ready your world for the takeover that will occur on December 21, 2012. I am Xpotwvifzgyt, and that is what's going to happen. Some of your people got the date right -- we're still figuring out exactly how that happened -- but their explanation of its significance was completely nuts. Typical of you. Our farseeing leader told me I could reveal the truth to you, and you'd never believe me. Just wait, suckers. Hahahahaha!

Well, we're not in an utterly fantastical galaxy far, far away, and James Cameron is not that man. Yes, I've now seen Avatar. What a huge to-do about comparatively nothing. Qualifications: since I'm housebound, I only saw Avatar on DVD without the 3-D. Even so, some of the images are strikingly beautiful. I'm sure the 3-D effects are, like, way cool. Technology may make many wonderful things possible (it unquestionably does), but it's not automatically correlative with original, arresting artistic achievement, or even artistic interest, right? Please tell me you knew that. A bit more about technology and related matters in a moment.

So in what follows, please factor out issues relating to the full 3-D experience in a theater, as well as specifically cinematic concerns (for the most part). My focus here is on the literary content, that is, story and characters. Cameron wrote the screenplay, so it's his baby all the way.

As I watched the film, I kept thinking: "This is a cartoon, man." There's something about the movie that just makes me talk that way. Oh, yeah, it must be that scads of adults spent gajillions of dollars making a damn cartoon. I mean that in a much broader sense than the look and general "feel" of the movie -- but since I had been thinking that (a lot), it struck me as pretty damned funny when a quick internet search on some issues relating to Cameron turned up this. That's funny, dude.

Besides the Pocahontas-Avatar combo, that link mentions that people have argued (apparently, with much evidence to support the claims) that Cameron's film is a "blatant rip-off" of Firekind and Dances with Wolves. All those similarities may well be true. In fact, I assume they almost certainly are (I'm not familiar with any of the other works, although I plan to watch Dances with Wolves soon, since I'm curious now), because what struck me was how completely derivative everything to do with the literary elements of the film is.

Many artists of all kinds borrow elements from others (to say nothing of the numerous influences that writers, composers, etc. have on those who follow), and sometimes writers will even appropriate characters or story elements intentionally and obviously. Shakespeare famously stole stories from everyone. None of that is unusual, and it need not be troublesome in the least or lead to a negative judgment of the borrowing work. What matters is what the artist does with the material in the new work. Along with the elements/influences from others, we hope to find new combinations, original insights, connections that hadn't occurred to us before.

I always begin reading, listening to or viewing a new work (new to me, at least) with that hope. As I watched Avatar, that hope began to fade after the first 10 or 15 minutes. ("It's a fucking cartoon, man!") After 30 or 40 minutes, that hope had vanished altogether. ("And I've seen it before, many, many times.") At about the mid-point of the film, I took a break for a few minutes. ("It's only half over?!?!?!")

Everything in the movie concerning the story and characters is a literary trope of long duration, occurring in an endless number of works (and in an endless number of films). There's the tough-talking scientist broad, introduced crabbily demanding a cigarette, and she orders people around like a goddamned drill sergeant from hell. Oohh, we don't like her much at first. (She's tough and mean! And she smokes!) She turns out to have a heart of gold. Could have knocked me over with a feather. There's the dedicated military guy, who at first seems a bit intense, but, well, okay, he's a seriously dedicated military guy. He's got a job to do. As events unfold, it turns out he's a maniacal, sadistic killer. Never saw that one before.

Every character is a cliche, and the dialogue is, ah, forgettable. All of it gone with the wind. (Hey, good title! You can have it, Jimmy. Shucks, forget the thanks.) I kept searching for just a single genuinely original moment somewhere; finally, I gave up. (But Cameron is so clever! "Unobtainium." Shoot me now. A comic book, for not terribly bright boys.)

Many people seem to believe that Avatar is an enlightened anti-imperialist tract, subversively presented to the unsuspecting and unwashed in the form of a supercool, wildly popular mass entertainment. This is what you can expect from a relentlessly superficial culture, where words and empty symbolic gestures are granted precedence over actions and the ugly reality that lies beneath symbols designed only to prevent people from discovering the truth. The same people who herald Avatar as a stirring message of the evils of exploitation and oppression are doubtless many of those who whooped in triumph that America had finally overcome racism and elected a black president.

So I'll say it again for the blithering dolts: the only reason Barack Obama was able to run for president and win is that he ran as a white man. Not only that:
[I]t is Obama himself who has adopted the white racist framework. Yes, I repeat that: Obama has adopted the white racist framework with regard to every issue of importance.
Very interestingly, however, [Uri] Avnery neglects to mention a further critical reason for Obama's identification with "American whites," although he hints at it. That reason is one I discussed in the first part of my "Triumph" series, and it must never be forgotten. It's a simple and terrible reason: Obama wants power. This is not a secondary or related, tangential issue: we are talking about politics here, so it is the reason. He wants power. In America, if you want power, you must be white -- or you must adopt all the trappings of the white rulers. That's it, that's the whole thing. Power accrues to the white, male ruling class. Period.
Start here, and follow the numerous links if you care to. I can't go through it all again, and it wouldn't make a damned bit of difference if I did.

But those people (which is most people) who are unable or unwilling to understand that will also fail to see the significance of the actual story arc of Avatar. (Catch that? "Story arc." I am totally Hollywood, man. I do live in L.A. after all.) For I saved the major character for last: the Noble White Man. Whatever would we do without the Noble White Man? According to Cameron, all those oppressed peoples would die without the Noble White Man to save them.

Just look at the critical story elements. In his Na'vi body, the (white, straight) injured Marine falls in love with a Na'vi woman. This opens his eyes to the beauty and value of the Na'vi, and he learns to appreciate and love their world on Pandora. (Wow! Never heard this storyline before!) We learn that only five -- five! -- Na'vi men (only men, please note) had become Great Leaders, symbolized by their bonding with the Big Scary Bird in the Sky. So, of course, when the Na'vi desperately need a Great Leader to end the Time of Great Sorrow (that's what Cameron calls it; I am not making this shit up), our Noble White Man figures out how to bond with one of those Big Scary Birds. His solution is mindbendingly complex: he rides a smaller Bird in the Sky over one of the Big Scary Birds, drops onto the Big Scary Bird, and mixes their tendrils (whatever) together -- and whammo! He's the Great Leader they need to survive! See, none of the Na'vi men could have done that. (The Na'vi women aren't even eligible, so forget that.)

Wait, there's more! The Noble White Man (in his Na'vi body, natch) communes with the life spirit of Pandora and asks for help in defeating the evil imperialists. It appears this particular move didn't occur to even one of the many Na'vi men. (Women not eligible, etc.) The Na'vi woman with whom he's "mated" says the life spirit doesn't "take sides." She's wrong (what do women know? that's one of the reasons they're not eligible): the life spirit does takes sides. Lots and lots of creatures on Pandora magically appear to fight the evil imperialists, and the Na'vi triumph!

And none of it would have happened without the Noble White Man.

Makes you feel all warm and tingly to be a Noble White Man, doesn't it? I'm sure it does wonders for Cameron.

In addition to the points noted above, here are two more about the film's portrayal of women. The climactic specific battle within the long (I mean, looong) final battle sequence is between ... oh, you guessed: two white men, Evil Military Guy and Noble White Man. That's a two-fer: Na'vi and women excluded. Yes, Noble White Man is in his Na'vi body, but he's still Noble White Man, right? And the Na'vi heroine provides an assist, and she does deliver the final killing shots to Evil Military Guy -- but that fight never would have happened at all except for Noble White Man. And women are such good little helpers, aren't they?

The following is a minor point in the context of the entire film, but it's an issue that truly bothers me, in real life and in art (I use the term somewhat imprecisely). I realize that actual men in the military call each other "ladies" (to motivate the men to prove they're real men and not "ladies" at all; gotta love the subtlety of it, doncha?), and that they refer to people they despise as "bitches." So that's a "realistic" touch, but then, the movie isn't all that heavy on "realism," is it? And I found it sickening that, in the midst of the climactic final battle, one of the heroic and good women (who has to die, of course) says, as she opens fire on Evil Military Guy's aircraft, "You're not the only one with a gun, bitch." It's a very, very ugly word, and a very ugly usage. Both these usages are symptoms of our culture's deep cultural loathing of women, which I've written about at length. Ugly and very bad stuff.

Given all the writing I've done about the profound evil of U.S. foreign policy and the great evil of oppression, conquest and exploitation generally, I obviously tend to view works that offer a strong, consistent anti-imperialist message very favorably. And Avatar contains elements of such a message, but only in the most superficial sense. Embedded within the film when we delve more deeply, as I've indicated, are very significant factors that undercut that message at its foundation. In many ways, and in the most significant ways, this is an anti-imperialist film made by a certain kind of liberal: it is enormously self-congratulatory, and its creator completely fails to see how he continues the same vicious theme of the Noble White Man and his innate superiority. I've written about these issues, too: see "Liberal Race Porn."

I looked briefly to try to determine whether Cameron is an Obama supporter. I couldn't find confirmation of that point specifically, but given Cameron's other well-known views (his environmentalism, his enthusiasm for Obama with regard to specific policies), and given what's in this movie, I find it impossible to imagine that Cameron did not vote for Obama. It's entirely possible that Cameron thought that Obama was opposed to American exceptionalism and American imperialism in some manner; a great many people did, including many people who could and should have known better. I need refer you to only a few essays to show how wrong that judgment was, and that the error could have been detected well before the 2008 election: "Songs of Death," and "Obama's Whitewash." You might also want to consult "The Fatal Illusion of Opposition."

Finally, a word about technology and realism. The testimony of history establishes that, if a people or nation with more advanced technology is sufficiently murderous and determined, it will destroy another people or nation whose land or resources the more technologically advanced force covets. In that respect, the victory of the Na'vi may be a pleasant fantasy, but that's all it is: a fantasy. See the fate of the Native Americans, or the fate of the Philippines, or the fate of a number of nations the U.S. has placed in its targets (to say nothing of the numerous conquests by other countries and peoples throughout history).

Technology can be wonderful; it can also be unforgivably destructive. And advanced technological marvels may indicate certain qualities in a particular nation or people -- but technology alone tells you very little about whether a given culture is "civilized" in any genuinely meaningful sense. Similarly, it tells you very little about the quality of any particular creation, including a film.

April 22, 2010

"It's not the sex fraud. It's never the sex fraud."

Sisters and brothers, occasionally I have to laugh at the ludicrous and surreal quality of certain behavior of the ruling class during the later stages of the Death State's life cycle. That reminds me: I imagine some people might justifiably wonder, given my damning characterization and description of the Death State: what exactly can a person do to resist its lethal operations, especially since I emphatically reject violence as any kind of "solution"? I didn't state one point explicitly in the earlier essay, for I assumed it was clear: in addition to the other reasons I briefly mentioned for my rejection of violence, if you engage in violent acts, it is certain that any number of people, very likely including you, are going to end up dead. This was impliedly part of my point about the failure of violent revolutions generally: the result is a new regime that is no better or even worse than the old one -- and a hell of a lot of people have been killed in the meantime. If it's death you're seeking, I suggest in the strongest possible terms that you do so on your own and avoid involving all others. I recognize your right to inflict what you regard as sacred violence on your own person, but certainly not on anyone else. I regard even that as a futile and very sad point of view, but if that's your choice, no one should forcibly stop you.

For some background on the question, "What can you do?," I suggest reading an essay of mine which speaks directly to this issue: "The Honor of Being Human: Why Do You Support?" I especially recommend a close consideration of the Hannah Arendt excerpt I provide in the second half of that article. So one principle involved is the withdrawal of support from a damnably evil system in all the ways you can accomplish that end. Two other very significant principles are non-violence (as already mentioned) and non-cooperation. Non-cooperation is a tactic that can be immensely powerful, and one that I've found over the years is not understood or appreciated nearly as fully as it should be. Yet episodes from history when this strategy was utilized show how effective it can be.

This is all very general and leaves many unanswered questions. And how one approaches these issues and the solutions one adopts are immensely complex issues, often depending on the specific context of a given person's life. As just one example: it can be much easier for a single person to withdraw support and decline to cooperate than for a person who has chosen to care for and protect others (usually a partner and/or children). I hope to offer many further thoughts on this subject in the near future (my queue of works in progress grows hourly at this point; I can only hope to get through at least a fraction of it all). I mention this now only to indicate that I'm obviously aware of the question, and have a lot to say by way of answer.

But let's begin our return to the source of my laughter this morning. Much of the time these days -- actually, almost all the time, now that I think about it further -- laughter is a singularly odd, even repellent, reaction to the destructions of the Death State. But that judgment assumes that we make fully real to ourselves the innocent people who are ripped apart by bullets, bombs, and drones, and that we allow the reality of lives forever altered and minds largely destroyed to enter our being.

Americans are expert at making certain that none of the agony and terror the U.S government inflicts on "them" becomes real. See "Against Annihilation of the Spirit: Let Us All Become Cowards" for much more on that:
The truth today is still worse, for we have significantly regressed. Even as our governing class remains absolute in its determination to avoid the central and most fundamental lessons from Vietnam, it has remembered and applied certain lessons very well indeed. The horrors of Iraq, including the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent Iraqis, never even enter the consciousness of most Americans. The dead and horrifically injured Americans are shuffled offstage without ceremony. The great majority of Americans continue in their preferred mode of existence: intellectually ignorant and lazy, spiritually fat and self-satisfied, and completely oblivious to the unimaginable suffering their government inflicts in other parts of the world.
After I wrote that in May 2007, it became necessary to increase the "hundreds of thousands" to over a million slaughtered human beings in Iraq.

And the same pattern now repeats in connection with the horrors of Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and Somalia, and additional places around the world. Then, of course, there is always Iran, but I'll deal with that separately (and soon, I hope once again).

In my article the other day, I spoke of the first and primary issue that I consider must always guide our analysis of such matters, indeed of any matters at all: the profound reverence that we must feel for the sacred value of a single human life. To begin to explain what I mean, and to help in making real the horrors the U.S. government has so unforgivably inflicted and continues to inflict on so many entirely innocent people, I will refer you, gentle reader, to a passage I wrote almost four years ago.

This appears in "The Missing Moral Center: Murdering the Innocent":
There is one final point to be made about all this -- and that has to do with the supreme value of a single human life. In our desensitized, dehumanized age, most people have almost no appreciation for what I'm talking about, and our political establishment and media only make this grievous failing worse. Each of us is unique; not one of us can be replaced. Each of us has a family, loved ones, friends and a life that is a web of caring, interdependence, and joy. When even one of us is killed or horribly injured for no justifiable reason, the damage affects countless people in addition to the primary victim. Sometimes, the survivors are irreparably damaged as well. Even the survivors' wounds can last a lifetime.

This is of the greatest significance. There is nothing more important or meaningful in the world. No moral principle legitimizes our invasion and occupation of Iraq, just as it will not justify an attack on Iran. Therefore, when the first person was killed in Iraq as the result of our actions, the immorality was complete. The crime had been committed, and no amends could ever suffice or would even be possible. That many additional tens or hundreds of thousands of people have subsequently been killed or injured does not add to the original immorality with regard to first principles. It increases its scope, which is an additional and terrible horror -- but the principle is not altered in the smallest degree.

So think of the five-year-old Iraqi girl who is no more, or think of any one of the countless other victims of this criminal war and occupation. Think of their families and friends. Think of the lives that have been altered forever, and of the wounds that will never heal. Think about all of that.

Contemplate the devastation and the horror. Make it real to yourself. And ask yourself if forgiveness is possible.
Most Americans, and certainly the members of our ruling class, expend enormous energy in making certain that none of this becomes real. From the criminal war of naked conquest against Mexico, to the horrifying occupation of the Philippines, on into World War I (a conflict which the U.S. should never have entered if basic decency and humanity figured in our government's calculations at all, and which led to a century of devastation that continues to plague the world today in significant part because of U.S. participation), on into Vietnam, numerous other interventions after World War II, into Iraq, Afghanistan, to a global empire of bases and the continuing obsessive, deadly dream of worldwide hegemony -- none of the horrors is allowed to become real.

If you add to this, as you must, the genocide of Native Americans and the importation and incomprehensible brutalization of generations of slaves, you will see that the American exceptionalist myth necessarily depends on the systematic institutionalization of denial at its foundation. Tell the truth and focus on the incontrovertible facts, and the myth vanishes as mist in the morning. A certain Barack Obama appreciates this point very well indeed, so he lies about all of it. For a further detailed discussion of these issues, see "Obama and the Triumph of the American Myth," and in particular the second, major part of that article, "Torture and the American Project." That essay might be of special value to those who insist on believing, contrary to facts that can be understood by a child of seven or eight, that torture and brutality were invented by George W. Bush and the Republicans. As I wrote in that piece:
[S]ystematized, institutional torture is as American as sickeningly rancid, fatally poisoned apple pie. If one views the American government as a brutally dysfunctional family, then, my friend, Mom and Pop are the torturers-in-chief. (This is true in a more literal manner than most people are willing to countenance. See all of my series on "On Torture" on this question -- and the last two parts in particular, here and here. Another essay also analyzes certain of the dynamics in play: "Let the Victims Speak.")
Well. Perhaps these excerpts had some of the effect I hoped for. They've caused my own earlier amusement at one particular story to dissipate for the moment. So I'll make this the first part of a two-part article, and discuss the other issues I had planned to cover later today or tomorrow. As you may gather from the title, the general subject which began this exploration concerns matters of a different kind. My title is a reference to this earlier essay, so if you care to read that, you'll have a head start. (I confess, as I have before, that that particular article gives me more pleasure than it probably should. But it's actually ... well, not bad.)

So I'll be back soon, with a discussion involving horrors that are a bit more indirect and not quite so graphic (at least, at first glance). We don't want to stare directly into the abyss too long at one sitting ... yet I felt compelled to cover these issues first. I also felt it was a compulsion to be heeded as best I can.

April 20, 2010

An Evil Monstrosity: Thoughts on the Death State

In connection with certain minor themes in some essays I'm planning, I forced myself to listen to a few minutes of Stephanie Miller's radio show this morning. At one time, I had listened to Miller fairly regularly; I found her a welcome change, at least as compared to the proudly, bombastically ignorant conservatives who abound on Los Angeles airwaves. She was bright and quick, and occasionally actually clever. I disagreed with her on a wide range of issues, but she was still an improvement of sorts, at least on certain subjects. (Please note that I carefully couch this in comparative terms; I always viewed Miller as light years from my preferred listening in a world even slightly closer to the one I imagine. And there was one earlier example of deeply awful commentary from Miller, on the subject of the tasering of Andrew Meyer while John Kerry calmly stood by and did absolutely nothing. I discussed that at length in "Obey or Die"; Miller's observations are the fourth example of commentary that I analyze in the final section of that article.)

But until this morning, I hadn't listened to Miller since shortly after Sarah Palin was selected as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee in the 2008 election. One other aspect of Miller had been of interest to me: her perfect recitation of the major liberal-progressive talking points of any given moment. The hatred and contempt she hurled at Palin was nauseating in the extreme. This is hardly to say that I agreed with Palin in substantive terms; I did not, as I repeatedly made clear, and I would never have voted for her or McCain. (I will not vote for war criminals, which both McCain and Obama were and are, along with most other members of the national political class, nor will I vote for those who refuse to acknowledge the war crimes endlessly perpetrated by the U.S. government, but instead justify, support and further those crimes in countless ways.)

But the loathing of Palin (and similarly of Hillary Clinton, another vile politician for whom I would never consider voting) proceeded in most significant part not from their policies -- and I emphasize that their policies are more than sufficient reason to condemn both of them to the hottest regions of hell -- but from the fact that they are women. I wrote about this at length in, "Kill That Woman!" Miller's ongoing celebration of Palin-loathing coincided at every major point with the hatred which spewed from many liberal-progressive writers and bloggers. It was unforgivably contemptible and stomach-churning. I found it impossible to hear to one more word from Miller, so I hadn't listened to her for over a year and a half.

But I steeled myself this morning and, after having to do some quick searching on the internet for the L.A. station that carried her (I'd forgotten in the time that had elapsed), I tuned in to Miller's program. I lasted about ten minutes.

Miller was interviewing a Democratic Congressman, whose name I've mercifully blocked out. As is so sickeningly typical of her, Miller was dutifully parroting what is perhaps the single most common theme of the moment for all good liberals and progressives -- that is to say, for all dedicated propagandistic hacks, whose lack of consistency, principles, conscience and simple decency is close to perfect in its approach to nothingness. You should include in this category all "leading" liberal-progressive voices (Atrios, Digby and so on ad nauseam); in fact, I insist you do so. You certainly must do so if you seek to describe such writers and bloggers in minimally accurate terms.

For I learned from Miller and the despicable Congressman that the greatest threat to peace and liberty -- for U.S. citizens as well as for millions upon millions of innocent human beings around the world -- is not a government that commits an endless series of war crimes abroad as it increasingly brutalizes and oppresses its own citizens at home. Oh, my, no: the single greatest threat to peace and liberty -- a threat which is inconceivably monstrous in its scope and lethality, one which necessarily leads to destruction on an unimaginable scale -- is a comparatively inconsequential number of people who employ (allegedly) ill-advised and, much more significantly, disfavored rhetoric.

Yes, you innocent lambs, who woefully lack all understanding of the true significance of events: what is going to destroy you is some individuals who speak in ways that great thinkers like Stephanie Miller find displeasing, or, which is incomprehensibly worse, upsetting. Without the wisdom of people like Miller, we'd all be dead by the weekend at the latest.

For the benefit of Ms. Miller and those of like mind (here, I use "mind" only to designate human beings who still breathe), I repeat a few words I first wrote at the beginning of 2009, and which I reprised in an essay some months later:
For more than a hundred years, the foreign policy of the United States government has been directed to the establishment and maintenance of global dominance. To this end, violence, overthrow, conquest and murder have been utilized as required. (See "Dominion Over the World" for the sources and development of this policy [the earlier essays in that series are listed at the conclusion of that article].) More and more, oppression and brutalization have become the bywords of domestic policy as well. Today, the United States as a political entity is a corporatist-authoritarian-militarist monstrosity: its major products are suffering, torture, barbarism and death on a huge scale.
I repeat the fundamental point to make certain there is no misunderstanding as to where I stand on this question: as a political entity, the United States is an endlessly destructive monstrosity.

The overwhelming majority of people -- including, I regret to say, even many of those who are severely critical of the United States government -- fail to understand this point in anything close to the thorough and consistent manner required. This failure is the result of an earlier one: an inability to grasp fully what it means to revere the sacred value of a single human life. I have a great deal to say about these two ideas, and these related failures on the part of most people, and I shall endeavor to explore this subject in detail very soon.

I abhor violence, and I condemn it without reservation, excepting only those instances where violence is directly, demonstrably required to resist preceding acts of violence undertaken by others against oneself. My contempt for those who minimize or seek to justify the monstrousness of the U.S. government is perhaps equalled only by my contempt for those who romanticize violence in the name of "resistance." At one time (when I still followed such developments with what I now view as an unhealthy curiosity), I saw fairly regular comments on various blogs to the effect that the time had come to "rise up" against the Evil State. Invariably, those who urged this course of action offered various excuses for their own planned absence from the field of action: they were too old, too infirm, or otherwise occupied. But those who are young and strong -- and who are, such commenters insisted, genuinely moral and committed -- should and even must arm themselves to the teeth and take up the battle forthwith.

Urgings of this kind are detestable and close to unforgivable morally. First, and this for me is the critical and even determinative issue, all people, but perhaps young people most of all, are fully entitled to live their lives and seek their own happiness as best they can. It is monstrous to suggest that they have some kind of obligation to invite their own deaths in service to some cowardly armchair revolutionary's fantasy of a glorious uprising. Beyond this is the very consequential fact that, with no exception in history that I can think of, violent revolutions on any scale lead to a state of affairs which is no better and frequently worse than that which the rebels seek to replace. If you think the American Revolution is the notable exception, I urge you to reconsider the question. In your effort to do so, I suggest you read this essay, and focus in particular on the discussion of Albert Jay Nock's argument that, with the adoption of the Constitution, the revolution was concluded -- and lost. I hope to have more on this topic as well in future.

Here's a repellently ignorant and nauseating example of a progressive's dreams of holy violence. The blood-drenched, subhuman mutterings of casual monsters of this kind will be the death of many of us. Tragically, as history has proven far too many times, that observation is all too likely to be literally true.

Let's return to my characterization of the United States. In addition to my description of the U.S. as a violence-ridden monstrosity spitting death and destruction in every direction, and to make unmistakably clear to people like Miller that I should unquestionably be shipped off to the nearest reeducation camp without delay, I will tell you my new moniker for the glorious United States government: in its essence, and in all its most significant manifestations, it is nothing more or less than a Death State.

As I noted, Miller is the perfect transmitter of conventional liberal-progressive wisdom. I'm sure Miller herself is thrilled that the disgusting Bill Clinton shares her concerns. I've seen a few reactions to Clinton's New York Times op-ed, but you probably won't find a better or more comprehensive single piece about the phenomenally dishonest arguments put forth by Clinton (and many others) than an article by one of the handful of writers I most admire.

I urge you to read Jim Bovard's piece in its entirety: "A Lethal Hypocrisy." Set aside the time to read it with care, and more than once. Bovard announces part of his judgment with admirable clarity and brevity in his opening paragraph: "The article settles any doubts about whether Clinton was one of the most talented demagogues of modern times."

Here are some highlights:
Clinton declared that "we do not have the right to resort to violence — or the threat of violence — when we don’t get our way."

Unless you’re the government.

The four million Americans arrested for marijuana violations during Clinton’s reign were victims of government violence and government threats of violence. The "fact" that Clinton never inhaled did not prevent the drug war from ravaging far more lives during his time in office. The number of people arrested for drug offenses rose by 73% between 1992 and 1997. The Clinton administration bankrolled the militarization of local police, sowing the seeds for a scourge of no-knock raids at wrong addresses and a massive increase in efforts to intimidate average citizens in big cities around the country.

During Clinton’s reign, the IRS seized over 12 million bank accounts, put liens on over 9 million people’s homes and land, directly confiscated more than 100,000 people’s houses, cars, or real property, and imposed over 100 million penalties on people for allegedly not paying sufficient taxes, paying taxes late, etc. The IRS knew that millions of citizens were assessed taxes and penalties that they did not owe. A 1997 audit of the IRS's Arkansas-Oklahoma district found that a third of the property seizures carried out violated federal law or IRS regulations. Former IRS district chief David Patnoe observed in 1998: “More tax is collected by fear and intimidation than by the law.” The Clinton administration fought tooth and nail against a law Congress passed in 1998 to curtail IRS depredations against innocent Americans.

Clinton’s op-ed mentions, almost as an aside, that the Oklahoma City bombing occurred on the second anniversary of the final assault at Waco. In 1995, Clinton denounced the Branch Davidians as “murderers” for their response to the 1993 Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms attack on their home. Clinton used that label even though a Texas jury found no such guilt - and even though the BATF apparently shot first and did not have a proper warrant for its no-knock, military-style raid.

Clinton was commander-in-chief when the FBI 54-ton tanks smashed into the Davidians’ home, collapsing 25% of the ramshackle building on top of residents before a fire commenced that left 80 people dead. His administration did almost everything it could to cover up the details of federal action at Waco, spurring the widespread distrust which Clinton later denounced.
Bovard writes about Clinton and Iraq:
Clinton’s Iraq policy relied on systemic violence. The U.S. was the lead country in enforcing and perpetuating the blockade on Iraq that resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dying. U.S. planes carried out hundreds of bombing runs on Iraq, and volleys of American cruise missiles slammed [that] country during his reign.
You can read many more details about the devastating effects of Clinton's sanctions policy in some of my earlier essays. Here's an excerpt from one of them, focusing on the Obama administration's unfathomably awful Iran policy:
It is at this point that I must remind you of one issue which most people remain determined to deny, even as the world plunges into agony and death:
A sanctions regime is not an alternative to war: it is the prelude to attack or invasion. Moreover, sanctions murder a hideous number of innocent people as surely as more overt acts of war.
This is the exact pattern that unfolded with Iraq, where the Clinton administration's loathsome sanctions regime inevitably and necessarily led to the invasion in 2003. And now, possibly encouraged by this obscene Nobel Prize, the exact same pattern is likely to be repeated with Iran.
Follow the links for more, as is said.

Bovard also writes about Clinton's policy in Yugoslavia, which rested on a series of stupendous lies which most liberals and progressives will never give up, damn their souls. Here is Bovard:
Bill Clinton has often acted like his 78-day bombing assault on Serbia in 1999 was his finest hour. The State Department was referring to the Kosovo Liberation Army as a terrorist group until 1997. After Clinton decided to attack Serbia, the KLA officially became freedom fighters. The fact that both Serbs and ethnic Albanians were up to their elbows in atrocities was simply brushed aside or denied. After surviving a Senate impeachment trial, Clinton was hellbent on starring in an old-time morality play.

Clinton’s bombing campaign killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Serb civilians. From intentionally bombing a television station, Belgrade neighborhoods, power stations, bridges (regardless of the number of people on them at the time), to “accidentally” bombing a bus (killing 47 people), a passenger train, marketplaces, hospitals, apartment buildings, and the Chinese embassy, the rules of engagement for U.S. bombers guaranteed that many innocent people would be killed.

In his anniversary op-ed, Clinton declared that “without the law there is no freedom.” But the law did not stop, or even slow, Clinton from raining death on Belgrade. Clinton brazenly violated the War Powers Act, the 1973 law which required the president to get authorization from Congress for committing U.S. troops to any combat situation that lasted more than 60 days. The House of Representatives refused to endorse Clinton’s warring. But, on Serbia and many other issues, Clinton acted as if his moral mission exempted him from all restraints, legal and otherwise.
I've written a number of pieces about Clinton's monstrous Balkans policy and the lies upon which it depended. See, e.g., here, here and here.

Here's another example of monumental liberal hypocrisy on the subject of disfavored speech and the danger it allegedly represents: "Tribal Politics: Principles, Liberty and Peace Need Not Apply."

Please keep in mind the two critical ideas I mentioned: first -- always, always first -- profound reverence for the sacred value of a single human life; and second, the monstrosity that is the United States government today, a government which is unquestionably a Death State in every way that matters, and in numerous ways that diminish the value of your own life each and every day. (I've written numerous essays on that subject; as one example, try: "The Normalization of Violence, Torture and Annihilation.")

We can hope that we will be able to continue our discussion, provided the Death State does not conclude that speech of this kind is so fearsome a danger that it must be ended. Yet, when I am completely honest, I must acknowledge how painfully obvious it is that a person who insists on the reverence due an individual life and who profoundly abhors violence of all kinds (actual or implied) represents a mortal danger to a State which can utterly destroy his life -- or yours, or the lives of an untold number of innocent human beings -- at a moment's notice.

UPDATE: For some introductory thoughts about what one can do to oppose the Death State, including a pointer to a Hannah Arendt essay concerning related questions, see the latest post.

April 12, 2010

A Post I Already Regret

I know I'll be sorry that I published this. To hell with it.

I've seen quite a few recent postings on various blogs dealing with the question of whether we should support "the troops," and concerned with what sorts of judgments we should make about soldiers and lower-level members of the military (as distinguished from those who fashion policy). A little less than a year ago, I wrote about some of these questions in detail: "No, I Do Not Support 'The Troops'."

I've followed a reciprocal link policy above. None of the recent posts mentions my earlier article, so I've returned the favor. Yes, I'm bitter, petty and nasty! I'm always a bargain that way. I try to economize.

In fact, I'm actually not all that bitter or even angry any longer. Disappointed, certainly, and I definitely feel anger from time to time. But then, I consider that it's entirely possible the earlier piece was mainly shit, so people are right to have forgotten it entirely. I find that much easier to make my peace with than another possibility: it's good, but that fact makes absolutely no difference.

The article about "the troops" mentions a related still earlier piece that remains among my favorites: "Against Annihilation of the Spirit: Let Us All Become Cowards." I still think that contains some good writing, apart from the specific content (which I continue to think is both true and important).

While I'm at it, I'll mention two other articles that are special favorites of mine. They don't concern politics for the most part, although together they tell you everything that I consider most important about my perspective and what motivates all my writing. They are: "For Maria Callas, Now and Always: All Things Are Connected," and "Flecks of Light, Points of Understanding, and the Gift of Sight." The final paragraphs of the latter article explain how the broader issues I discuss connect to the narrower political issues addressed in many of my posts. Those two articles mean a great deal to me personally; they were noticed by very few people when they were first published, and that's never changed. There were three notable exceptions, including two wonderful emails I received about the "Flecks of Light" essay, and one post that I discussed in, "Cultivate Your Sense of Wonder, and Live Ecstatically."

Those readers who characterize my writing as doom-laden and despairing in terms of its deepest wellsprings and what I consider my most important "message" (a term I loathe as applied to my own work) should read that last-linked article, probably more than once. I've long planned to explain the causes of certain common kinds of distortions that occur in many people's reactions to works of art, other individuals, and events of all kinds (including political events); who knows if I'll have time to get to all that now. I'll simply say that to characterize me as a person ultimately counseling despair and pessimism -- and I've read and heard a number of people who say that reading me makes them "want to kill" themselves -- represents a gross misreading of my work. The themes discussed in the Maria Callas essay, in "Flecks of Light" and in the "Live Ecstatically" piece have stood at the heart of my writing for years now. (Here's another example, from January 2007: "Let Us All Become Artists Unto Ourselves." Please pay special attention to the brief remarks from Harold Clurman at the conclusion of that essay.) When I urge people to "Live Ecstatically" and some individuals react to my writing in general with thoughts of the attractiveness of suicide, the problem is not mine. Much more about these issues another time, if I manage to get to it.

Well. That's enough of feeling sorry for myself. I'll go back to cleaning up my shit (speaking literally now, not figuratively, for those who unfortunately follow the details of my physical deterioration), and taking some more pills to minimize the physical pain.

And I'll think further about the essays I'm planning. I can't wait to complete some more very difficult articles, so that they can be read by a few hundred people, and then completely forgotten. (For those pretentious, self-important poseurs who will accuse me of not being a "real writer" at this point -- for "real writers" write only for themselves, doncha know, because "real writers," including all famous and revered ones, never worried about money or whether their work would find an audience [that's sarcasm, for the cranially-impaired among you] -- please note that I write primarily, although certainly not solely, for myself. I discuss that issue in "Flecks of Light." If I didn't write in very significant part for myself, I would have stopped altogether three or four years ago.)

Yet at this point, I must acknowledge that I consider it extremely unlikely that this can continue much longer. I don't view that prospect with alarm or sadness now. It took me some time, but I have made my peace with that. I consider it no great loss, for anyone else or for me.

So I'll be back with some additional lousy, forgettable articles ... whenever.

(You should, of course, feel completely free to mock and deride this post, as I know some people will. Don't bother sending emails, though; as I said recently, I've stopped reading email altogether for the time being. My favorites shall always remain those that say, in one way or another: "You've been threatening to die for a couple of years now. Either do it or shut up about it, you whining, useless, self-pitying piece of crap." Oh, yes: I've received some emails that say almost exactly that -- and some that say precisely that.

How long did you think someone would be able to stand it? And you think I should keep writing despite all of that? Some of you still take my breath away, so immense is your denial and lack of empathy.

But I still might have some writing left in me, if only because I can do almost nothing else. Oh, one more thing: allowing for ten or perhaps twenty exceptions, to hell with you.)

April 07, 2010

Okay, Then

During the last few weeks, I've been struggling back after suffering several serious setbacks: some new, awful physical problems (I keep thinking the physical aspect of all this can't get any worse, and then it does), and some deeply upsetting practical problems (one of which might become very serious indeed; perhaps more about that in future if necessary, which I hope it won't be).

I just happened to see this post concerning an especially mindless, repellently ignorant comment about Obama's widely praised speech on race during the last presidential campaign. (Whenever I use that phrase -- "the last campaign" -- I usually find myself wistfully thinking: if only it had been...) Unlike Lambert, I am not at a loss for words. But I've offered those words before, so I refer you to "Obama's Whitewash."

I will immodestly state that that particular essay is an excellent and very comprehensive one. In stark and unforgiving contrast to the "fan boi" who rendered Lambert temporarily speechless, consider part of my concluding section:
Almost every politician lies, and most politicians lie repeatedly. Yet in one sense, Obama's speech is exceptional, rare and unique -- but not for any of the reasons offered by Obama's uncritical, mindless adulators. It is exceptional for this reason: it is rare that a candidate will announce in such stark, comprehensive terms that he will lie about every fact of moment, about every aspect of our history that affects the crises of today and that has led to them, about everything that might challenge the mythological view of America. But that is what Obama achieved with this speech. It may be a remarkable achievement -- a remarkable and detestable one, and one that promises endless destruction in the future, both here and abroad.

Is that what many Americans want? Tragically, the answer appears to be yes. Truth must be destroyed, no matter how many lives and how much suffering are required. Americans will accept anything else -- war, genocide, economic collapse, further terrorist attacks in the U.S. -- but the truth must be denied.
If one truly and comprehensively understood Obama's speech on race -- the unending, deadly lies on which it was based, and the terrible consequences to which those lies have led and the devastation they will continue to cause -- that speech told you everything you needed to know about Obama.

That is not hyperbole, not if you understood all of that: it told you everything. (And don't think that the vacuous effusions from the "fan boi" are at all unusual: see the comments I collected at the beginning of "Obama's Whitewash.") And what has already occurred during the Obama presidency is very far from all or the worst of the destruction that can reasonably be expected to transpire over the coming years. I also note the following: from my email and from following various writers and commenters around the web, I know that a number of people read that particular earlier essay of mine, as well as at least two others about Obama and the particular role he would serve in our politics: "Killing Truth and Hope -- The Fatal Illusion of Opposition," and "A Choice of War Criminals." (See also a more recent followup to that last article: "A Postscript: Choices Have Consequences.")

As I say, a fair number of people read those above-linked essays that predated the 2008 election (as well as many others of mine concerning Obama, only some of which are linked at the beginning of this essay from August 2008: "Silenced: Barack Obama and the End of Struggle Toward Truth and Freedom"), many of those people indicated in various ways that they agreed with my major arguments -- and they still voted for Obama. That would be disturbing enough -- and I found it extraordinarily disturbing when it occurred, as I still do (everyone should find it deeply troubling that a person would vote for a war criminal while claiming to understand that he is a war criminal -- but of course, one could only vote for a war criminal if that designation is not fully understood in a meaningful manner)-- but there is something as bad, and perhaps still worse. From most of what I've read by people who I know read those articles of mine and still voted for Obama, they have yet to understand certain of the most crucial lessons that could be gleaned from this period in our history. I know this, because I see that many of the same or related analytic errors (often coupled with a distressing ignorance about certain critical facts of American history) continue unabated. These people may think they've finally seen the truth about Obama, and to some limited extent that might even be true. But as long as the deeper analytic problems continue, most people remain vulnerable to the lies in another variation. In other words: they'll fall for the con all over again, if it presents itself in a form they're not expecting.

As you may gather from the above, I have a great deal on my mind. Even if I manage to get some writing done on a fairly regular basis for a while (here's hoping), it will take me some time to get through even a significant part of it. Some of the essays I hope to publish in the next few months will be among the most difficult I've ever written. Well, I've never been one to choose the easier path. I don't say that boastfully, merely descriptively, based on the record if you will. It's not a course I would recommend to others. And I actually don't experience it as a choice at all. I have to write what I do, for I think it's true. In certain moods, I consider that remarkably foolish of me. I read what many others write, and I often feel impelled to think: "But he must know that's not true. How could he possibly not know that?" I have to remind myself that, although I think people do know the truth in certain cases (usually because of other statements they've made and/or because of counterarguments they resolutely refuse to address or even acknowledge), the human capacity for deception, including most notably self-deception, is limitless.

But why is that so? I've addressed that question in earlier essays, but I now must return to it in more detail, with a special concern for some of the ultimate causes. And that is only one of certain crucial questions that I've concluded must be discussed further.

I've occasionally indicated particular subjects I want to write about. Except for those limited comments directly above, I'll do no more of that. I haven't yet decided where to start exactly. There are many different subjects and issues I hope to cover, and most of them are interconnected in often dauntingly complex ways. So I need to take a few more days to look over my many notes, rethink certain points, and then plunge in ... somewhere.

Back soon now. And, oh, yes: I plan to have some fun! Now, you weren't expecting that, were you? But yes, very emphatically: fun! And I hope to convey some of my sense of the joy of life (if not of my life in most of its particulars, especially now, certainly life itself, a much deeper sense of joy that becomes more meaningful to me with each day that passes), and offer an article (or several) about what love tells me ... perhaps I'll start there.

We'll see.