Saturday, December 17, 2005

Futility in Iraq, Internet Predators, Cuddly Muslims: The Weekend Review is Up

Why Business Loves Internet Predators

The disingeuousness of business magazines glitters in a Business Week cover story on the booming world of teen and college age internet networking. (“The MySpace Generation: They live online. They buy online. They play online. Their power is growing,” by Jessi Hempel, Business Week, December 12, 2005.) The article adds a little sidebar at the end about internet predators, the sexual kind, who use teen sites as scoping grounds, and what to do to keep safe from them. But the article celebrates the far more obvious predators: the advertisers and marketers who prey on millions of children, manipulating the sites and “embedding” themselves to outrageous degrees so that—in Business Week’s own giddy words—“the advertising can be so subtle that kids don’t distinguish it from content. ‘It’s what our users want,’” the magazine quotes one of its implants as saying. Really? Where’s the evidence that kids want deceptively stealthy advertising that preys on their $175 billion market? ($200 billion for college students, according to Alloy Media Marketing.) Where’s the evidence that kids want Procter & Gamble inventing characters and giving them their own profiles on so the company can talk up its latest body spray to tweeners (the 8-to-12 demographic age group)? And whether kids want it or not, where’s the ethic of letting giant marketing machines steamroll all overt kids, unsupervised, unregulated, unbound? Coke pays one Web site “less than $70,000 a year” for its products to be plastered all over the place, and the site’s administrator is all happy about how “They let us do our thing. They don’t censor what we do,” as if Coke would give a crap about content as long as it had a fresh cheap way to market? Censorship is a problem, according to the report: “Last year, for example, Buzz-Oven was nearly thrown off track when a band called Flickerstick wanted to post a song called Teenage Dope Fiend on the network. Holt told Buzzers: ‘Well, you can’t use that song. I’d be encouraging teenagers to try drugs.’ They saw his point, and several Buzzers persuaded the band to offer up a different song. But such potential conflicts are one way, Holt concedes, that Buzz-Oven’s corporate sponsorships could come to a halt.”

Barely in passing, the article mentions that epidemic of stupor reducing the nation’s teens to electronically addled zombies: “Fifteen- to eighteen-year-olds average nearly 6 1/2 hours a day watching TV, playing video games, and surfing the Net, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey. A quarter of that time, they're multitasking. The biggest increase: computer use for activities such as social networking, which has soared nearly threefold since 2000, to 1 hour and 22 minutes a day on average.” No mention of the social or psychological effects this may have on kids, no sidebar about how to mitigate what essentially has turned into a national addiction. Business before health. So the magazine focuses on companies’ tactics and strategies: Rupert Murdoch, the Predator in Chief, shelling out $580 million in July to buy MySpace’s parent company, Disney setting up blogs on for one of its movie’s main characters, to talk up the movie and generate buzz, Target creating similarly hybrid “characters” to sell its products, and on it goes. Where are the Dateline NBC reports on that sort of predators, who cast and mold young people’s buying habits for a lifetime? Among the nation’s 24 million teens, 87 percent use the internet, 65 percent instant-message, almost half go online every day, and most of those end up in worlds like (no need to hyperlink the obsessively hyperlinked) where they “need a friend to nurse you through a breakup, a mentor to tutor you on your calculus homework [you’ve got to be kidding us], an address for the party everyone is going to.”

And we wonder why we’re rearing a generation of programmed idiots who compulsively buy what they’re told and consume the syrupy bromides of a Coke as automatically as they would the canned goods of GOP ideologies. That’s America’s synergy. That’s what’s the matter with Kansas.

Britain's Secret Prisons

Secret imprisonment in a posh German spa, Gestapo interrogation techniques (thumb screws, shin screws), starvation: It was all part of Britain's way of doing occupation in post-Nazi Germany, the Guardian reports today: "All of these men had been held at Bad Nenndorf, a small, once-elegant spa resort near Hanover. Here, an organisation called the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre (CSDIC) ran a secret prison following the British occupation of north-west Germany in 1945. CSDIC, a division of the War Office, operated interrogation centres around the world, including one known as the London Cage, located in one of London's most exclusive neighbourhoods. Official documents discovered last month at the National Archives at Kew, south-west London, show that the London Cage was a secret torture centre where German prisoners who had been concealed from the Red Cross were beaten, deprived of sleep, and threatened with execution or with unnecessary surgery."

Is that where the United States learned its first rendition tactics?

Friday, December 16, 2005

All Bach All the Time

It's on. They're on: The two greatest Bach festivals ever. Moments ago BBC Radio 3 kicked off what it calls “the longest-ever single program on BBC Radio 3,” 214 hours of uninterrupted Bach from now until December 26. It's all available, free, by clicking on to BBC3's web site. (The Christmas Oratorio is on right now). There's never been a better way to celebrate Christmas. Who cares about Christ being out of Christmas as long as Bach is in it?

BBC's festival isn't exactly a new idea. WKCR, Columbia University's radio stations, has been doing it since the 1980s, and will be doing it again this year, beginning December 22 at 9:30 a.m., ending January 1 at 2 a.m. Play your ears right and you'll get Bach for the next two weeks, non-stop. WKCR is also available through the web, although KCR's festival last year was marred by a pledge drive. It made listening unbearable.

Get going to BBC3 and rediscover why even the creationists have it wrong: The world began when Bach was born, in 1685.

Reprieve for Orhan Pamuk?

The great Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk was due to go on trial today for insulting Turkish identity. Pamuk had the gracelessness to say, in a newspaper interview in reactionary Switzerland, that Turkey bore some responsibility for the genocide of Armenians early in the last genocidal century, as well as utter responsibility for an ongoing war of attrition against Turkey’s Kurds. The remarks were not appreciated in Free and Democratic Turkey, where outspoken journalists have Lebanese life spans and veil-wearing Muslims are the scourge of Officially Secular Turkey. The offense could have earned Pamuk three years in Turkey’s jails, known the world over, of course, as models of coddling and humane treatment. This morning a judge found a technical way out for Pamuk, at least until February 7. The judge decided that the trial couldn’t go ahead until the ministry of justice signed off. Must be one of those obscure regulations invoked at the urging and convenience of a government finding the pie on its face a bit less sugary than anticipated. “The irony of it all,” Radio Netherlands tells us, “is that the Turkish government may now be able to escape being put in the dock itself through the intervention of its own minister of justice - a move that would be totally at odds with the democratic spirit and rules within the European Union.” Let’s not forget that Turkey is dying to be part of the EU. The move is beginning to look more lateral than a step up: Just last month the EU’s highest court ruled in favor of Turkey’s and France’s idiotic ban on Muslim head scarves in public institutions. Snow's plot beckons all over again.

Patriot Act Hacks

From today's Daytona Beach News-Journal: "The most compelling argument in favor of renewing the USA Patriot Act is that no terrorist attacks have taken place in the United States since 2001, when it was passed. Patriot Act advocates make an automatic connection between the two. The connection makes as much sense as attributing President Bush's re-election to the fact that the Red Sox won the World Series six days earlier. The facts just don't support the connection. What facts exist argue against it." Read the full editorial...

Catch and Release

CNN Reports: "Iraqi security forces caught the most wanted man in the country last year, but released him because they didn't know who he was, the Iraqi deputy minister of interior said Thursday. Hussain Kamal confirmed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- the al Qaeda in Iraq leader who has a $25 million bounty on his head -- was in custody at some point last year, but he wouldn't provide further details."

Next up: Disney Bans Osama from Orlando Parks for Using Expired Pass Twice.

Bill of Rights Day, cont'd.

Speaking of which:

"Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials. In 2002, President Bush toured the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md., with Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was then the agency's director and is now a full general and the principal deputy director of national intelligence.[...]"

Next up from the Bush Administration: East Germany Nostalgia Day.

Vegas Mythologies

Among the less tortuous pages of The Standard last week was this little sift of reminiscence—“Staying in Las Vegas,” which the stingy Standard doesn’t make fully available to Web readers who don’t contribute to the cause—by Allison Hayward, a Washington D.C. lawyer who writes The Skeptic’s Eye. (An aside: the Eye is a conservative blog that should make us skeptical of its quality given its blogroll inclusion of a few names from the more brown-shirted end of the spectrum. But Hayward redeems herself, despite using sentences like “it was not always thus,” by naming her children Anomie and Ennui: A humorous conservative is always more fun than an overly earnest liberal, and one of the big problems of Icarus-on-Crack-era America is that there are a hell of a lot more funny conservatives out there than their liberal counterparts, Al and Arianna notwithstanding. The conservatives are losing their edge, but still. Liberals aren’t exactly stepping in to fill the void, which is leaving us with a dour, sour America none of us would be too eager to kiss and make out with.) “Staying in Vegas,” Hayward’s piece, would have found itself perfectly at home if the WPA Guide to Nevada was planning a new edition, but it reads like sepia-colored prose in the pages of a magazine so enthralled by its newfound humorlessness (see previous parenthesis). Hayward even flirts with equal-minded dullness even as she writes about a town that defies those possibilities. She tells us that an aunt and a grandfather “were instrumental in the successful effort to legalize gambling” in 1931, that the first Freemont Street neon sign went up in 1945, that she was born in 1963, and that her late father served as the region’s Water Disttrict’s counsel “during the negotiation of the Southern Nevada Water Project in the 1960s,” which explains her blind spot for Vegas’s impending water crunch: It’s an article of faith among Las Vegans, as it is among their slightly more waterlogged Floridians, that water scarcity will never be an excuse for crimping development. So far, it hasn’t. But this is the land of happy deficits (until the bill hits). Hayward desn’t see it coming, because of reasoning like this: “[D]espite popular views to the contrary, Las Vegas is not the poster city for sprawl—it is more densely developed than Portland, Oregon, a town embraced by the smart growth set. And it is getting denser.” Well, yes. But that doesn’t mean that one of the fastest growing cities in the country can’t be both dense and a poster city for sprawl: Vegas’ urban-area traffic zone now by far exceeds Portland’s (which includes Vancouver), even though Portland-Vancouver is growing fast, too.  A few paragraphs later Hayward doesn’t seem to recognize that sprawl is also a matter of landscape and architectural aesthetics. No one would begrudge I.M. Pei for building structure after structure even in the Nevadan desert; he’s one  architect whose work can compete with nature’s. But when “designers aren’t more conscious of their surroundings,” as Hayward notes, and an architect she interviews tells us that “All of the suburban development, all of the new condos, all of the strip malls are copies of buildings originally designed for other locales, [leaving] little if anything that reflects the natural environment of the Mojave Desert,” there’s at least a little room left for sprawl-induced despair over the course the city has taken. Another misconception, deliciously put though it is: “One sign that Vegas will continue as the place to let your inner skank run free is the enormous investment at present in condominium towers—marketed as second homes for people who want to golf all day and play all night.” Hayward must not have had a look at every other state’s condo market in the last three years, or noticed the bubbly real estate market. She does recognize the supreme irony of Vegas, which she calls a “secret”: “that a den of libertine iniquity only works when subject to massive regulation,” that “Multinational corporate owners, with shareholders and regulatory overseers, have replaced the Last Vegas of Midwestern organized crime syndicates,” and that “gambling is a very seductive way to concentrate wealth.” Vegas, in other words, is the Republican town par excellence, profiting from government’s tax-funded and subsidized ways and means to doubly profit at people’s expense.

Bill of Rights Day

On December 15, 1941, eight days after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, FDR signed a bill declaring December 15 Bill of Rights Day: It was on December 15, 1791, that Virginia ratified the first ten amendments to the Constitution that became our Bill of Rights. FDR wanted the day to celebrate America's freedoms no matter who was attacking, no matter how threateningly or, at the time, successfully. No need to aid the enemy by constricting freedoms at the very time when freedoms should be celebrated and strengthened most: in times of trials. How do we celebrate freedom four years after the 9/11 attacks? This week the House got us half-way into indefinitely renewing and soldering the USA Patriot Act into the nation's increasingly Prussian-sounding code books. The difference cringes with irony. So does this: for the last few years President Bush has been declaring this week Human Rights Week. As the rest of the world would say, with justified glumness: No comment.

Iraq, Ourselves

From Today's Daytona Beach News-Journal:

Every week as I prepare to write this piece I tell myself: Not Iraq , not this time. Almost every week something makes it impossible to stay away, to get away. Iraq is 6,800 miles from our shores in geography only. What happens there in any given week has more bearing on what we’re becoming here than anything happening between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. And what we’re becoming is a fraud of our former selves. The lust and gluttony for power, the greed for cheap and easy profit from Iraq’s ruins, the wrath of our terrified military, of our mercenary “private security” goons: All of it combines into a three-ring circus of violence with the Tigris for a River Styx and the Potomac for a Rubicon. Read the full column...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Germaine Greer on Australian racism

From today's Guardian:

"The "can-Australia-really-be-racist?" approach of the British media to reportage of the battle of Cronulla is gratuitous and silly. Australia is as racist as Britain, no more, no less. Australian racism derives from the same bottomless source as British racism - from universal ignorance and working-class frustration, reinforced by an unshakeable conviction of British superiority over all other nations on earth, especially the swarthy ones. If Australia had been colonised by any other nation but the British, it would be less racist. As it is, it is dying hard."

The rest is worth the read, if you're curious about the "race" riots' identity crisis.

Lolita at 50

It would be a shame to let the year lapse without one more festive mention, here as anywhere, of the greatest novel in English (in American, we should say) in the last fifty years. Vladimir Nabokov dared literature to best Lolita when it was published in September 1955, in Paris (because not one of the five major American publishers Nabokov sent Lo to would have her, or it). Nothing has come close. Not in the United States, anyway. So why Lolita, why a great book, given its vile subject, its pitiful and vile Humbert Humbert, its indefensibly seductive plot? Why not call it, like one critic did in the pages of England’s Sunday Express in 1955, “the filthiest book I have ever read”? Read the full answer...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Identity Crisis in Australian Riots

They’re beating up on the Lebanese in Australia, they’re blowing them up in Beirut, they’re mocking them in Syria (the Syrian “parliament” had the good heart to “condemn” the latest Syrian-sponsored assassinations in Lebanon), and my middle-school daughter is working on a brief English work sheet about the Lebanese cedar tree, felled, filleted and forgotten two thousand years ago. Not a good day to be Lebanese, ex- or otherwise. (That homework is more murderous than it sounds: its skimpiness shows with what verve our schools are ensuring that our children grow up to be critical illiterates. And they have the gall to call it “Language Arts”!)

Speaking of language arts: John Howard, the Australian prime minister, the thinking man’s George Bush (brains in the service of hubris) decided yesterday that a bunch of Australian thugs singling out, hunting down and beating up on Lebanese-Australians had nothing to do with racism and only to do with a “law and order context.” He’s shocked, shocked to learn that his country’s image is taking a beating in the world’s opinion forums, or that people are beginning to think of that fatal shore as a rather bigoted corner of Oceania. But bigotry is government policy. Remember Australia’s $20 million contract with the tiny island of Nauru and the little concentration camps set up there, for Australia’s sake, to take care of aliens Australia wasn’t quite ready to let tread on her own soil? We should perhaps not be too hard on this land of convicts, of “thieves, whores, highwaymen, and others who had stopped being passive victims of enclosure and unemployment [in Britain] and become the entrepreneurs of their own fortune,” as the Lebanese-Australian writer David Malouf put it in his essay on Robert Hughes’ great book on Australia’s first two hundred years. It’s a past made for nurturing chips on many a shoulder. We should perhaps be even less critical of Australians and more critical of their inspiration. They’ve taken to America so obsessively of late that in policies both foreign and domestic they’re becoming right-wing America’s twin-apparent. Australia’s slavish devotion to the Iraqi debacle is second to none (Britain has more soldiers there, but not more enthusiasm for being there). Australia’s admiration for the USA Patriot Act was such that it couldn’t help outdo it. And Australia’s love of zero-tolerance policing began as the afterburn of a love affair with the American equivalent, criminologists’ warnings notwithstanding. Off to the races then with this outbreak of anti-Arabism: The thugs go after Lebanese cab drivers, the police go after everybody, John Howard thinks it’s just another episode of “Law & Order,” over and done with in sixty minutes, end of story. “Under the laws,” the Sydney Morning Herald reports, police will be able to lock down parts of Sydney and search and confiscate vehicles — measures aimed at ending night-time ‘smash-and-bash’ raids by carloads of young Middle Eastern men.” Funny how the thuggery’s authorship has so quickly, in the Herald’s as in most Australians’ eyes, become exclusively Arab. It’s as much prejudice as habit. Paris and London are still burning brightly in Australians’ memories, and American movies and television shows, including the White House’s daily edition of “Right Wing,” keeps an overriding flame of anti-Arab prejudice burning brightly in the world’s eyes.

Yet not so fast. The trouble with the Australian story is that it doesn’t fit any of the riot-narratives of late. Those “Arabs” their Australian compatriots are going after aren’t even prototypical “angry” Muslims half the time (I’m using the terms as your prototypical whitish newspaper editor might understand them). They’re not seething second-generation immigrants of the Parisian sort who throw stones and set cars aflame because they don’t have jobs. They’re not the Osama sympathizers whose hobbies include weekend suicide bombings. They’re barely Arabs, your Lebanese types—whether they’re immigrants in Australia, in West Africa or in Detroit and Los Angeles—having a racist strain in them that could compete with anybody’s: They’re known, many of them, to disdain being associated with Arabs the way Sunnis disdain Shiites or Kurds disdain Shiites and Sunnis or … and so on. Lebanese immigrants around the world are also not well known for graceful abilities to play well with others, so much as for their knack for imposing their will, crudely and, usually, lucratively. So the riots in Australia have something of the comical about them: racial riots hung up on identity crises. The “suspicious” fire that destroyed a church near an Islamic center is a perfect illustration. Was it set by white Australians who think the church is frequented by Lebanese Christians? Was it set by mistake because drunk Australians couldn’t make the difference between a church and an Islamic center? Was it set by Lebanese thugs who thought they were hitting “back” at the heart of Australian piety? Hen there’s the possibility that the inferno was set by God, or some lesser power—say, crisscrossed electric wires. A misunderstanding? That could well be at the root of the riots. It doesn’t make them less violent, and it won’t make them less prone to being misunderstood by the rest of the world as part of a larger narrative, even though they have no place in it. But logic doesn’t snowball as effectively as prejudice.

Mercenaries and Recruiting Videos

Just today I finally got to see the infamous trophy video showing private “security” contractors in several shooting sprees as the drive Iraq’s “Highway of Death” from the airport to Baghdad. First off, let’s dispense with the euphemisms. They’re not “security contractors,” otherwise they’d be back in Glasgow or North London or East Texas scoping scenes from a mall and telling the girlfriend all about the shoplifter they knocked about in the warehouse over pretzels and a snort of coke. People who hike it half way around the world to one of the most dangerous spots on the planet for work that pays up to $1500 a day are mercenaries. Let’s dispense, too, with the assumption that because they’re the Highway of Death, and because a car behind them is speeding up, they’re acting in self-defense by wasting it and its passengers. Even imbeciles who drive an Arab street for half an hour discover immediately that nervous speeding is Semitism’s most pronounced strand of DNA. These mercenaries never give the speeders a chance to approach, to make any sort of cursory identification, even from a given distance (lone driver? Family? Other mercenaries?) before strafing. They’re out there shooting up for the hell of shooting up, knowing that nothing on earth can stop them, no one will punish them. They’re so sure of it that the barbarians posted their video on their blog.

Their company, British-based Aegis Defence Services, claims it had no knowledge of the video, and that the blog was in no way connected to the company. But the men shooting it, and shooting Iraqis, were, and may still be. Aegis is conducting an alleged “investigation.” Here’s what’s known about Aegis. The firm is led by a Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, once a commanding officer in Britain’s Scots Guard in Belfast, whose soldiers in his command murdered an unarmed teen-ager by shooting him in the back. The two soldiers were convicted and sentenced to life in prison, then granted early release. Spicer himself became a mercenary in 1995, joining a scandalous “private military” company called Sandline and doing mercenary work in Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone where, according to the Center for Public Integrity, he triggered “police and customs investigations, raids on his home and offices, arrest, incarceration and deportation.” What did the British government do? It legalized so-called “private military contractors” in 2002. The firm was awarded a $293 million contract by the U.S. government to protect American diplomats in Iraq, and this remarkable irony, quoted from Aegis’s own Web site: “In a separate contract, Aegis provides security protection to the Oil for Food corruption inquiry.” The $293 million contract was awarded over the protests of Sens. John Kerry, Teddy Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd and Charles Schumer, who wrote Donald Rumsfeld: “In light of the recent revelations of abuses of detainees in Iraq, it is important that U.S. actions, whether by military personnel or contractors, have respect for the law. It is troubling that the Government would award a contract to an individual with a history of supporting excessive use of force against a civilian population.”

The video couldn’t be a surprise. It was written (pre-fabricated, pre-shot and previewed) in Aegis’s self-aggrandizing scriptures. Of course the company doesn’t “condone” it. But the company’s modus operandi makes the video a fait accompli even before it was shot. The video isn’t an aberration so much as the fact that just one of its kind (so far) has been publicly produced. The certainty of more of its kind floating about in the underground of snuff-for-thrills world of inveterate veterans of the mercenary trades is mathematical. What’s only slightly less certain is the sort of uses these videos are put to, though the uncertainty is barely so, because civility still requires a touch of the benefit of the doubt. But given Aegis’s scabrous profile and the more scabrous past of its mercenary-in-chief, this sort of videos are just as likely to be part of its recruiting drives as al-Qaida’s videos of beheadings and suicide bombings are part of its drives.

Astounding as it may be, this particular video has its defenders. Then again let’s not forget that the cops clobbering Rodney King to his drunken pulp had their defenders too. Some of them are probably mercenaries in Iraq, on Aegis’s payroll, as we speak.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Monday Morning Bloggerback: From Richard Pryor to Iowa Midgets (A Review of the Week's Best Blog Posts)

The Orabs. Voted the stupidest team name in Iowa. They are named for their school colors which are orange and black. But what do you expect from a town whose city motto is "A Really Nice Place"?
—from Carolyn’s Rumors of Glory, a sixth-grade teacher’s blog in Iowa.

[The more illustrated and complete review is available at the Notebooks’ home site here]

For all the self-styled humorists and elegists of American culture out there, it’s not so  simple to find good original blogging about the great and inexcusably dead Richard Pryor. Maybe it’s because blogging still gives the appearance of being overwhelmingly and unfortunately a white fixation, like hiking and voting Republican (which is what makes a site like NEGROPhile so easy to love). Maybe it’s because whites who remember Richard Pryor never seem to be able to see past his white powders and the self-immolation of his pre-historic days. Maybe it’s because whites prove Pryor right every day. In to the rescue comes Will, who wears his blogging on his sleeve and does it well enough for a Pryor obit: This from In My Write Mind:

It wasn’t easy being him. Most times it wasn’t even fun. But to borrow from an old Salt N Pepa album title, it was definitely very necessary. And after so many years of simultaneously entertaining and battling demons, of taking falls while standing up, of crossing over but never selling out, breaking ground while paving the way — after all of that and more — on Saturday, Richard Pryor finally succumbed to it all. Today, after too many words to count, too many verbs to describe his life, he completed his life sentence. One that was compound, to say the least. […] Richard Pryor, out of Peoria, Illinois, and out of an era where simply being black was politically incorrect, constantly reinvented himself, constantly drew attention to what he said and did. He constantly convicted himself through his actions. Whether it was making fun of himself, black people or America in general, his brilliance was in the storytelling. In the telling of his story. And what a story it was. Read the rest at In My Write Mind…

Since we don’t exactly subscribe to Spike Lee’s conviction that Norman Jewison couldn’t have directed “Malcolm X,” we found novelist and screenwriter Roger Simon’s personal take equally worthy. (Simon brought us “Bustin’ Loose” in 1981 and, more recently, “Scenes from a Mall”):

Some time in 1979, shortly after I had done The Big Fix for Universal, the studio called to ask if I would like to write a movie for Richard Pryor. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Pryor was at the top of his game then, acknowledged by many to be possibly the greatest standup comic of all time. […] When I actually started to work with Richard, I would drive afternoons out to that Northridge place - a sprawling Spanish estate with its own boxing ring and Shetland pony that wandered wild around the grounds - where I would be greeted by his housekeeper. "Would you like some quiche?" she would say, ushering me into the kitchen. "Mr. Pryor's asleep." It didn't take me long to figure out that was a euphemism for "wired to the ceiling" on coke. After a while, sometimes hours, I would be ushered up to his office and we would talk about the script. […] After a few weeks of these meetings, Richard, perhaps because I wasn't judgmental, began to trust me. Despite intermittent bravura, part of him was embarrassed by his drug habits, by the daily visits of his dealer, known as "The Rev," in a brand new Rolls I assumed had essentially been paid for by Pryor. In actuality, Richard was one of the sweetest people I have ever met, always empathic and extremely generous. I once sat in his office as he gave hundreds of thousands to a hospital in South Central Los Angeles on the strength of a phone call, as long as they promised not to mention his name.  Read the full post at roger l. simon…

We try to stay away from the megabloggers: they’re linked, overlinked, sausage-linked and tetra-linked enough that they don’t need more attention from our weekly readership of six and a half. But  p.m. carpenter, an almost-megablogger, addressed the Democrats’ inability to present an alternative to “the swelling catastrophe that George W. Bush has dropped on the Middle East” (and virtually every other drop zone in every time zone). Instead of developing fresh, compelling ideas, Democrats lap up to strategists:

But what do honest Dems hear from the “strategists”? More spineless advice grounded in political cleverness, which advice got Congressional Democrats in trouble to begin with, and which advice is now sure to backfire again.What Democratic strategists seem incapable of appreciating is that the American public is weary of slick, political cleverness. It’s had five torturous years of it, and it’s brought us to the brink of ruin. Voters are desperately seeking honest alternatives. It’s the job of the alternative party to proffer those alternatives. And advocating the other party’s dishonest party line out of clever political safety is as gutless and counterproductive as what marginalized the Democratic Party in the first place. Read the full post at p.m. carpenter…

The Bush-Pentagon vast disinformation campaign in Iraq is finally generating the reaction it ought to have generated back when, in the earliest days of the war, the Pentagon was spilling Jessica Lynch-like lies as liberally as it was spilling other people’s blood. No one should be surprised about the vast right-wing confabulations that take their source in the White House’s messianic conviction that its splendid little junta, rather than Christ, should represent the Middle East’s second coming. But the sense of outrage is limited. It doesn’t extend to the vast disinformation campaign going on in the United States. And it does nothing to discourage still-more dangerous fantasies on the part of the administration’s foot soldiers. The Discerning Texan, for instance, thinks more censorship and more “information management” is the salvation. This is what we’ve come to:

[…] we have mismanaged the information aspect of this war. One need only look back to FDR's management of World War II to note glaring differences. In today's "PC" society, politicians -- even those whose hearts are in the right place like the President's -- waste our money and endanger our national security by applying political correctness to airport security, CIA-induced leaks to the media endangering our National Security, and otherwise looking the other way as millions of illegals pour across our borders. But by far the most overlooked aspect of this war has been the fact that many times in American history, the Executive branch has in times of war legitimately censored what could and could not be reported by our news media, or censured those in Congress who were seen as aiding and abetting our enemies by fanning the flames of controversy that greatly endangers our war effort and puts the lives of America's finest (and the rest of us too) in greater peril. Read the full post at The Discerning Texan…

Don’t despair. From the ironclad and ironically titled Ten Downing Street Blog, we have “The Iron Fist of Jesus, a long post on the other disinformation campaign going on in the United States, the pretenders to the Holy Trinity’s throne (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld); note the nifty twist on Islamo-fascism and the clever Steinbeck refernce:

God Bless America? Surely You Jest. […]As the US government continues to rape the Middle East, Christo-Fascists slap "God Bless America" bumper stickers on their gas-guzzling SUV's actually believing that the Father, the Son, and/or the Holy Spirit would bless a nation governed by murderers, thieves and thugs.Yes, I can visualize a Christian God sitting on his throne in the kingdom of heaven gazing down upon humankind. As he surveys humanity, he "wisely and judiciously" decides to answer Jane Morgan's prayer for a 2005 Hummer to replace her two year old Navigator. After all, he can't have Jane driving a "jalopy" to worship him on Sundays, now can he? Spying eight year old Mahmoud, a Palestinian in Gaza, God decides to let him die of malnutrition because he is not a Christian, and in fact is an "evil" Muslim who could become "terrorist" someday. Jerry Falwell, who does not appear to be struggling with malnutrition, would be most pleased with his Maker. Not the Jesus I "Knew" When I was Younger. Read the full, and very long, and occasionally jalopenia-powdered, post at Ten Downing Street…

One type of religious infamy deserves another. We discovered this curiously interesting blog from the heart of Teheran. It dubs itself “Teheran’s morning newspaper, published online,” and may not be a blog at all. The piece is about Mohammed Khatami, Iran’s ex-president and one of those rarest of combinations: an intellectual cleric with a philosophical bend. In 2001, and in answer to Samuel Huntington’s mongering in favor of a “clash of civilizations,” Khatami proposed that the United Nations declare 2001 the Year of Dialogue of Civilizations. The UN took him up on it, but 2001 became, ironically, the Year of 9/11, shunting aside any hope of dialogue as the Clashers and the Bashers won it big over the dialoguers. Khatami is still at it though, pressing for more dialogue as the UN heads toward a conference on the subject in 2006. An excerpt from the post, which is written without a hint of pro-Iranian Mullahism:  “”

While Khatami’s idea was heralded across the board and in all circles, it never succeeded in preventing the intense clash of ideas inside Iran itself. With his departure earlier this year and the coming to power of a hardline president in Iran, Iranian society polarized again and deeply. Khatami and his idea, like those of other artists such as Iranian filmmakers whose works received scanty attention in Iran, became headlines internationally, winning support from many intellectual, academic, cultural and even political circles. It was a catchy idea, especially coming from a country that had been viewed differently. It is ironic and distressing that while Khatami continues to call for a dialogue among civilizations and leaders, his successor in Iran just recently called for the elimination of Israel, a comment that was immediately and strongly condemned by the international community, while also perhaps revealing Iran’s veiled intentions in its pursuit of nuclear energy. Read the full post…

In our blogging travels abroad, encounters with the almost remarkable are always the welcoming, greenhouse-gasless  fuel that keeps us going. Chippla Vandu doesn’t say where he’s from; his profile describes his location as “the world,” though his posts on Chippa’s Weblog are Nigeria-focused enough, and unobsessed enough with things American, to give us a sense of his whereabouts. His recent post on tribalism may be entitled “Primitive Nigerian Politics,” but just as human beings’ DNA is 98 percent similar to that of chimps and 60 percent similar to that of fruit flies, Nigerian politics seem 98 percent similar to politics in America. Chippla refers to Nigeria’s North and South. Substitute the alleged division between America’s Red and Blue states, and you’ll get a sense of what we mean:

Territorial human behavior is deeply rooted in culture and history. Nationalism or regionalism helps in reinforcing it. For instance in present day Nigeria where no true form of national identity exists, people turn to 'their roots' to find solace and some form of comforting identity. Depending on how far one chooses to trace his/her roots, regionalism could be reflected in one's village, one's ethnic group or one's state (province). One of the greatest fallacies that modern Nigerian society has been forced to believe in is that the country is 'strongly' divided along an established fault line – a North and a South. This fallacy may have been easier to promulgate given that the Heaven-made Rivers Niger and Benue actually split the country into a conspicuous North and South. But the man-made definitions of North and South differ from those created by the rivers. Read the rest…

But even those who don’t want to focus on America can’t help it. We noticed another post of Chippla’s, one entitled “Do You Hate America?” An excerpt:

What is it you hate about America? Her behemoth industries and the way they dominate the world of global capitalism? Her cultural exports which are gradually becoming a part of your everyday life and those of your kids– movies, music, food, clothes? Her arrogant neo-con politicians who feel the rest of the world really doesn't matter? Her dumb citizens who know next to nothing about the rest of the world? Her greedy preachers who amass a fortune while telling others about the coming of the kingdom of God? Her ruling political class which talks about human rights yet treats non-American citizens caught in a War on Terror as subhumans? Her ultra-rich, movie stars and sport stars that you would want to just get away from but who keep popping up each time you put on the television set? Her industrial lobby which seems so bent on increasing its profit base that it distorts reality and shamefully ignores the menace of global climate change? Read the rest, and keep an eye on the comments that follow his post…

That completes the week’s bath in the Serious and the Damning, leaving us free to indulge in the most pleasant discovery of the last seven days: Rumors of Glory, where “the difficult and delightful subtleties of life” come to life in the words of a sixth-grade teacher (Carolyn by name), “an extreme thinker and feeler with an eye for the ironic.” In “Pride of the Dutchmen and Other Names to Ponder,” she takes on those mascots and nicknames that invariably attach to every team in America, usually without purpose, offense or originality, but occasionally with a subtle dose of all three and more. Rumors of Glory runs down a few:

The Shadle Park Highlanders. My high school played them when I was a kid. It's an okay name for a team, but their band marched in kilts. I have heard that real men don't wear underwear under their kilts, but I never had occasion to blunder into one of their locker rooms so I can't substantiate it.
The Midgets: Way to give your kids a complex from the get-go. I can't remember what town the Midgets represent. Maybe they have all grown up in the shadows of the Dutchmen, then I'd understand. And again, I have never even been near one of their locker rooms (and I way learned my lesson with that whole Dutch-boy incident), so I cannot comment on what the term midget might suggest.
The Golden Gophers. I mean no disrespect to the University of Minnesota. But I don't think it really strikes fear into the hearts of the opponents when they are facing off with-- I gotta say it-- rodents. And herbivores, to boot. But I suppose it's better to be an herbivore team than named for a plant.
The Vandals. I grew up near the University of Idaho, but I could never figure out why their mascot, the vandal, looked like a Viking. When I was in college (in MN) I had a question on a European history test: What marauding tribe's name is now synonymous with wanton destruction? Suddenly it all came together for me: the Vandals were a tribe like the Vikings-- that would be why the mascot guy looked like he did. I was the only one in the class to get the question right. The full post is a must-laugh…

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Torture, Bubbles & Willie Nelson: The Weekend Review

We read them so you don’t have to: The latest edition of the Weekend Review, posted at The Notebooks’ main site, includes critical reviews of the following articles and essays:

  • “Young Osama: How he learned radicalism, and may have seen America,” by Steve Coll, The New Yorker, December 12, 2005.

  • “The Strange Case of Chaplain Yee,” by Joseph Lelyveld, New York Review of Books, December 15, 2005.

  • “The Truth About Torture,” by Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard, December 5, 2005.

  • “The Man Who Sold the War: Meet John Rendon, Bush’s general in the propaganda war,” by James Bamford, Rolling Stone, December 1, 2005.

  • “The End of News?” and “The Press: The Enemy Within,” by Michael Massing,  in the Dec. 1 and Dec. 15 issues of the New York Review of Books.

  • “The Amazing Bubble-Man: Alan Greenspan’s Inflated Legacy,” by Peter Hartcher. The American Interest, Winter 2005.

  • “The Protestant Deformation,” by James Kurth; The American Interest, Winter 2005.

  • “Willie Nelson,” an interview by Evan Smith, Texas Monthly, December 2005.

  • “Desiring by Myself,” by Adam Phillips, Raritan, Summer 2005.