Friday, May 26, 2006

Marines' Haditha Massacre: The Few, The Proud, The Murderers

Of course the first line of defense, for those craven enough to defend atrocities just because Americans commit them, is to say that Iraqis do worse. And in fact the U.S. military, after lying about the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha last year, then lying about the number of Iraqis killed, then covering up the massacre until a Time magazine article made it impossible to keep lying, attempted that very line of defense: As Time reported in March, “Lieut. Colonel Michelle Martin-Hing, spokeswoman for the Multi-National Force-Iraq, told Time the involvement of [military investigators] does not mean that a crime occurred. And she says the fault for the civilian deaths lies squarely with the insurgents, who ‘placed noncombatants in the line of fire as the Marines responded to defend themselves.’” All lies, of course. There were no insurgents hiding among civilians. There was no crossfire. The Marines weren’t defending themselves. They were out on a rampage, murdering at point-blank leisure, logding bullets in the heads of women and children, My Lai-style.

There is one buried quarter truth in Michelle Martin’s official story (odd, how her name rhymes with the name of that most craven of right-wing bloggers, to whom apologizing for brutality, as long as it’s camouflaged in stars and stripes, is a back-seat shtick), though it doesn’t justify what happened in Haditha: When you train men not only to kill but to become sub-human drones who dehumanize their enemy in turn, and when you place them in situations where they want to see nothing but sub-human creatures, you can’t expect them not to act the part they’ve been trained to act.

I keep remembering that Bob Herbert column in the Times last May, relating the story of Aidan Delgado, a U.S. soldier who served in Iraq: “He wasn’t happy when, even before his unit left the states,” Herbert wrote, “a top officer made wisecracks about the soldiers heading off to Iraq to kill some ragheads and burn some turbans. ‘He laughed,’ Mr. Delgado said, ‘and everybody in the unit laughed with him.’ The officer's comment was a harbinger of the gratuitous violence that, according to Mr. Delgado, is routinely inflicted by American soldiers on ordinary Iraqis. He said: ‘Guys in my unit, particularly the younger guys, would drive by in their Humvee and shatter bottles over the heads of Iraqi civilians passing by. They'd keep a bunch of empty Coke bottles in the Humvee to break over people’s heads.’ He said he had confronted guys who were his friends about this practice. ‘I said to them: ‘What the hell are you doing? Like, what does this accomplish?’ And they responded just completely openly. They said: ‘Look, I hate being in Iraq. I hate being stuck here. And I hate being surrounded by hajis.’’ ‘Haji’ is the troops’ term of choice for an Iraqi. It’s used the way ‘gook’ or ‘Charlie’ was used in Vietnam. Mr. Delgado said he had witnessed incidents in which an Army sergeant lashed a group of children with a steel Humvee antenna, and a Marine corporal planted a vicious kick in the chest of a kid about 6 years old. There were many occasions, he said, when soldiers or marines would yell and curse and point their guns at Iraqis who had done nothing wrong.” (The full column is available here.) The banality of evil doesn’t have to rise to the level of genocide to find its stage. To the contrary. Evil at its most routine is localized affair, the more debased for being either completely out of sight and accountability, or for being tacitly, happily condoned by its executioner’s posse. The Haditha massacre stands out only because in its case someone was there to report it. But who doubts that these atrocities aren’t routine, or that a soldier’s swift kick in the chest of a six year old boy is any less of an atrocity, considering what that soldier would do to an adult if can be such a brute toward children? Read the rest...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Stairway to Masking: When Satan Was a Vinyl Groove

Rick deYampert/Candide's Notebooks

My hands trembled as I put my copy of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album on my turntable.

The time was 1982, and a Christian minister had brought his traveling road show to the University of Alabama campus to preach that the mighty Zep, and dozens of other rock bands, had seeded their recordings with “backwards masked” paeans to Satan. I had not attended the preacher’s fire ’n’ brimstone seminar, but I had read an account in the school newspaper, and backwards devil rock had even made The CBS Evening News recently.

Eagle-ear Christians also were able to discern Beelzebub doing a sonic moonwalk through albums by the Eagles, ELO and even Cheap Trick, the Cars and Styx (OK, so the latter is a river through Hades). Then, that sunny day in 1982, I had screwed up the courage to investigate this diabolic matter myself.

Oh, my fingers were not shaking from fear I might unleash demons. Rather, I was frightened I might royally mess up my turntable by spinning it backwards with my index finger. And I feared the reverse path of the needle might chew the ... er, hell out of my vinyl record. Replacing an album on a college student’s budget was a grisly proposition indeed. Read the rest...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bug Out! Bush and Blair Quit Iraq

Why is the American press ignoring the story of the day? Bush and Blair surrender: Iraq pull-out to begin in as little as two weeks. Here's how the British, Australian and Arab press see it:

Bush and Blair to bail from Iraq much sooner /UK Guardian
US-British Iraq pull-out to begin in two weeks /UK Times
Iraq’s prime minister says Iraqi troops in charge by December /The Australian
Iraqi forces to take charge in months /al-Jazeera and Beirut Daily Star
Which is the real Iraq? /UK Independent

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times leads with a laughable story about Iraqi leaders who "vow to fight rampant corruption," the New York Times, in full business-porn mode, leads with a story about the New York Stock Exchange's European tourism on one side of the page and an utterly conventional tabloid dish about Bill and Hillary Clinton on the other. The Times does its daily Iraq geuflexion, but in the form of a soft-scorn story about charities. And the Washington Post, that broadsheet two or three millimeters to the left of the Washington Times? The day is given over to narcissism. Something about that identity theft involving millions of veterans. (The Washington Moony Times, incidentally, is still frothing over its usual xenophobias.) And as usual in the provincial dailies that pretend to give us serious journalism, like the Dallas Morning news, the top story, on the web anyway, is all sports. Nice to see our national press on top of the news and ahead of the times--to borrow the New York Post's old slogan from the early 1980s. Today's front pages aren't any better than the old tabloid. Just less honest.

Mother Tonguers: English is Not the National Language

Thirty years ago Quebec banned all languages but French on commercial signs, including “welcome” and “Merry Christmas.” It required French to be the working language of any business with 50 employees or more, which drove 130 corporations out of the province in a few years. It established a language police and gave it power to levy stiff fines and seize lawbreaking evidence. As The New York Times reported in 1984, that would eventually entail “the taping over the English word ‘street’ on signs; the seizure of 10,000 ‘Dunkin’ Donuts’ bags in 1977, and the prosecution of an English hospital last year for not providing a patient the opportunity ‘to die in French.’” The only thing dying a French death, as a result, is French Canadian — a language so stunted that hearing it is like listening to Beethoven set to Muzak. France’s French is molding the same way if that country’s language tyrants continue to imprison Voltaire’s tongue in the same hushed pantheon where they keep his bones.

How lucky we are in comparison. One of the greatest pleasures of living in the English-speaking world is the language itself. It is the richest in the world, the most imitated, the most borrowed, the most sought after. In China and Japan alone, more people are learning English at any given time than there are people in North America. Among the major languages English is also by far the most accepting of foreign words. “No other language has so many words all saying the same thing,” Bill Bryson notes in “The Mother Tongue,” his wonderful history of the language. Read the rest of the column...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Marginalia: Paul O'Neill, John Stuart Mill, Torture

In 2002, Bush fired Treasury Secretay Paul O'Neill when O'Neill wouldn't lead the next conga line for the 2003 round of tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. (O'Neill also left, according to Ron Suskind's book, because Bush is an incurious imbecile who confuses bullying with leadership, but that's another story). O'Neill believes in tax cuts' power to propel the economy up to a point. Dividends and capital gains are beyond that point, since cutting taxes on those registers not even a marginal effect on re-investment and ends up benefiting the rich overwhelmingly. Warren Buffett illustrated the point nicely in his "Dividend Voodoo" piece back in 2003. Treasury Secretary John Snow must've finally got (or gotten, if you're reading this in Texas) his pink slip, because he's breaking out in hives of honesty: "Asked by Knight Ridder if the tax reductions paid for themselves, Snow acknowledged that they don't. He also acknowledged that economic growth and stock market gains were strong in the late 1990s, when the capital-gains tax stood at 20 percent and dividend income was taxed at rates as high as 38.6 percent. Bush and Congress cut both to 15 percent in 2003; the legislation that the president signed Wednesday extended that rate through 2010." More marginal notes...