Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Breaking News...

wow! Now, let's all sing the praises of anonymous sources.

Which road was that exactly, Mr. Burns?

I was a bit perturbed at the NYT's latest act as a mouthpiece for the military this past Sunday. This piece on the dangers of the airport road seems like such a transparent piece of "damage control" on the Sgrena/Calipari shooting. The article suggests that Sgrena was traveling on the dangerous "route Irish," but it turns out, that according to the investigation as reported in the Christian Science Monitor, that Both countries agree that the Toyota Corolla carrying Ms. Sgrena, Mr. Calipari, and an Italian driver was traveling south on a road the US military calls "Route Vernon." It reached a US checkpoint stopping traffic feeding onto "Route Irish," the notoriously dangerous highway to Baghdad International Airport.
The article that I found so annoying was by John F. Burns, who commented in the book, Embedded that "For some reason or another, Mr. Bush chose to make his principal case on weapons of mass destruction, which is still an open case. This war could have been justified any time on the basis of human rights, alone." Such a liberal media, right? Burns must have gotten where he is today because he seems to know just how to spin things so that they seem so accurate, and yet...hmm, fit into the desired story.
And speaking of lickspittle newsmen, my brother, that avid newsreader, told me about a part of Galloway's delivery of the goods that I missed. On his way into the senate, he ran into Christopher Hitchens, who will be now forever known, I think, by the epithets hurled at him here: Before the hearing began, the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow even had some scorn left over to bestow generously upon the pro-war writer Christopher Hitchens. "You're a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay," Mr Galloway in formed him. "Your hands are shaking. You badly need another drink," he added later, ignoring Mr Hitchens's questions and staring intently ahead. "And you're a drink-soaked ..." Eventually Mr Hitchens gave up. "You're a real thug, aren't you?" he hissed, stalking away.
I met Hitchens once. I don't know if he was drunk yet, but he was leering at the undergrad ladies, and wore a medallion and his shirt was far too unbuttoned for my taste.
And now, a large pile of exams awaits.

Monday, May 30, 2005

NYC, Still a Police State where you can see good movies.

While looking sadly for a place to eat on Friday night,after discovering the closing of our favorite Japanese place, Mie, my brother, sister-in-law and I all came across the evidence of the encroaching police state. Police vans lined the street and a lone woman was crying in a wheedling sing-song, "don't ride your bike in the street...you'll get arrested!" to each biker who passed. There was a crowd of legal observers in green baseball hats taking notes, and a little further away, a sizable rally at St. Mark's Church. It was the end point of another NYC Critical Mass ride. I'm really pissed off that despite the fact that May is supposed to be "national bike month," something that could really use promoting in a genuine way in NYC, that the odious, corporate mayor, continues to crack down on a movement that should be seen as improving NY's quality of life. Imagine what it would be like if the city were to ban private cars!

Movie Comments:
This was a heavy movie weekend for me. On Friday night I saw the Jet Li movie, "Unleashed," which, like many of Luc Besson's creations was a bizarre mix of hokey sentimentality and extreme violence. This must be why Besson was initially heralded as the French director with a Hollywood sensibility, a man making films French in Name Only. I like the review I linked to above, which encapsulates this ethos with the statement, "Luc Besson...makes the kind of films that a 14-year-old boy might come up with if he suddenly had access to millions of dollars to bring his fever dreams to life." In this case, the fever dream is of a man (Jet Li) who is kept as a dog by a vicious gangster (Bob Hoskins). "Danny the Dog" goes out with the gangster to collect debts. He beats people to death when his collar comes off and he's ordered to "get 'em" or "kill 'em." The fight sequences, complete with audible bone-crunching, allow the audience to get the kung-fu thrill that they must have come for. The movie, however,like so many ultra-violent spectacles, gives the audience what it wants and then moralizes against it. Danny is finally liberated through music (it turns out his mother was a pianist, murdered by Hoskins) and grows as a human being in the warm embrace of Morgan Freeman and his teen-aged daughter. Given Besson's continual pairing of older men with MUCH younger women, I think the characterization of Besson's films as the products of a fourteen-year-old mind makes sense. The relationships are simplistic, idealized, and rarely sexual.
On Saturday, with friends, I saw a much more "mature" film at BAM, "Madame Brouette," a hilarious, and yet serious feminist Senegalese movie that reminded me, oddly, of some of Lizzie Borden's films of the 1970s. Moussa Sene Absa's film focuses on a woman who strives for independence from men and at the story's beginning, defies convention by taking in her friend who's fleeing from her abusive husband. Not only was the film completely entertaining, which is so rare in "issue oriented" movies, but the music was fantastic. The performers/composers were the French-Canadians,Majoly&Serge Fiori (of Canada's "Harmonium") and the griot, Mamadou Diabate who won the Berlin film festival's "silver bear."

And now, it is too sunny to sit here blogging.

Friday, May 27, 2005

(almost) Too Pretty To Blog

It's finally warm out after a rainy week. I'm cooped up inside reading electronic student final exams....so many descriptions of what James Madison was talking about in "Federalist Papers #10." It's the very hardest thing they read all semester. At times it's the most interesting.
I met a professor who argues that #10 is "fetishized" and isn't half as important as some of the others. You might think that this was a simple intellectual/academic type of argument, but this same professor savaged me last year at a meeting for being a spokesman for the hegemonic "progressive paradigm" in contemporary historiography. Hmm...now, which person was it that alerted all scholars to the importance of #10 -- it was Charles and Mary Beard, the veritable founders of the "progressive paradigm" in historical scholarship. Who else likes to write about Fed #10? why Howard Zinn - at whose popular "People's History of the United States" many wizened conservative academics scoff. And what is my students' reaction upon reading Fed #10 (when they get it?) -- total shock: the Founding Fathers were trying to deter democracy. A ha.
On a similar, anitquated note, I've been reading Edmund Burke lately and found, in my searches through contemporary scholarship on him, that hs is still beloved by many. When one reads his long disquisition on the importance of state religion as a foundation for all societies, it is clear how much the neo-cons are old paleo-cons.
And now....for sunshine.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Bad News Hits Home

My bro sent me this sad link to this story of a Durham cross-burning from the Daily Kos diaries.

Contrasting Headlines on Koran story; A good news source for the Balkans

Headline contrast:
The New York Times says, "Documents Say Detainees Cited Abuse of Koran by Guards." Let's note that the documents in question are FBI documents. Isn't it interesting that the word FBI doesn't appear in the story until you get to the second sentence. Then, the Times makes sure to say that the accusations are "unsubstantiated statements made by prisoners during the interrogation."
Fox's headline is "Govt: Still No Credible Koran-Flush Claims"
They say: Asked why he felt certain that this detainee did not affirm his allegation out of fear of retaliation, Di Rita said, "It's a judgment call, and I trust the judgment of the commanders more than I trust the judgment of Al Qaeda."....Di Rita also said that the terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay had been trained to make such false claims — adding that there are guard log entries of numerous incidents in which detainees themselves have abused the Koran or made allegations of abuse in order to get other detainees agitated. Aren't you glad that Fox is giving idiot right-wingers something to spout?
In direct contrast to what Fox and Di Rita say, what we know from a recent release of several detainees identified as innocent of terrorist charges, is that they were warned NOT to talk about the abuses they suffered.

Another story story based on the same report by Pentagon PR flak, Di Rita, suggests that he actually blames the abuse allegations on inadvertant actions by guards. However, let's not blame Fox's reporters for this one, since the DoD's own version of the story is both constantly changing and also just not true.
To me the issue here is that DiRita's description of detainees "trained to lie" and willfully desecrating the Koran is part of the general pro-torture rhetorical strategy of referring to the people in Guantanamo as "terrorists" and "jihadists." Fox and Rumsfeld agree on the basic notion that anyone in prison, simply by virtue of being there, must be guilty. I went to the "newshounds" website and found this transcript of a Bill O'Reilly interview with law professor, Rosa Brooks. At the end of the of the transcript, there's a copy of the DoD memo that Brooks keeps mentioning. If you want a tidy location for a bunch of memos and whitehouse doublespeak, go findlaw, here.
Meanwhile, in Baku.....
If that doesn't aggravate you, check this out. There's a new pipeline project going straight from Baku (in Azerbaijan) bypassing Russia, and bringing oil into the mediterranean markets. According to Bush, this deal "advances the cause of freedom" while cozying up to such charmers as Ilham Aliyev. Who is Aliyev? He's the son of the previous Azerbaijani president, Heydar Aliyev, who is not a democrat by any stretch of the definition of that word, but rather a relic of the Stalinist world. By the way, you can find a great "behind-the-scenes" account of Bush's visit to Georgia by Paul Rimple on the same website: www.diacritica.com/sobaka

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Amnesty International; Student Evaluations and reflections

Just an hour ago, Amnesty International issued its annual report on international human rights violations, which this year highlights the US's use of torture, calling Guantanamo Bay "the gulag of our time." I'm also glad to see AI's intro to the report the statement that "The “war on terror” appeared more effective in eroding international human rights principles than in countering international “terrorism.”
In personal news...it's that time of year for Student Evaluations.
Yesterday, after a student I used to have mentioned a site to me called "ratemyprofessor.com" I did a little reading. I did indeed have a few ratings there, basically two per year that I'd been at that school, and as expected, they reflected the views of students who had strong reactions to me. One said I was a "wonderful woman." Another one said I was "downright rude" despite being so young. I'm not so sure what this means, but it may be my intolerance of the standard level of student rudeness and disrespect that I encounter, which I find somewhat maddening. I'm hoping that my patience for certain types of student shennanigans has increased, so that I am less likely to display so openly how irritated I am by the things that some students do. Overall, my sense of the totality of the evals was that they would be a fairly good guide for the discerning reader - if a student was interested in a professor who did not "spoon feed" as one student eval put it, my course was for them. If they were looking for an easy "A" they should go elsewhere.
I looked up some of my friends (one of whom is quite famous) and saw such contemptuous things "he is SO boring, but SO easy." Of another, one student wrote that he is "a narcissistic personality" and of another: "he has anger management problems." It was very clear that on this website that being "easy" or easy to get an A from was the principle qualification for getting a lot of "smiey faces" and a positive rating; another important characteristic was being "nice" - which of course is a good thing. The students might, in a employer to servant relation, look upon these teachers with complete contempt, but yet give them positive ratings for delivering the goods (an easy A) despite being boring/stupid, etc. All of it is enough to make me somewhat sympathetic to the views expressed in this article on student evaluations which discusses them as part of a generally corporate university model that turns students into consumers and teachers into service providers.
My question is, in regard to all of this, does being a likeable teacher make you a good teacher? I'm sure that there's a balance...but I will share this: I always get very high marks from faculty observers, and some of my higher-rated colleagues are very excited by some of the "results" I get from my students in terms of writing and articulation of ideas. When I presented my stuff for them at our local "teaching and learning center" they actually didn't believe that I was showing them work that students had really done. I want to believe that I can bring students to this level, because it is more interesting FOR ME when my students really shine. I will nonetheless have to work on making the process of getting there less odious for other students. One person said I barely taught, but simply "made them read" - which reflects an expectation of a more traditional "banking model" of education.
Oddly, I think that the student evals on the website can tell you much more about both the students and the professors than the ones that we use regularly at my nameless school because they provide space for students to comment, AND because they highlight the qualities that are most important to students (apparently): "ease" and "clarity." My general feeling about these evaluations is that they are useful, but that they should not be taken with as much seriousness as they are in the tenure and promotion process - unless they provide space for commentary, which can at least indicate information to administrators, chairs, etc. as much about the student as they do about the person being evaluated. Student evaluations are much less important in research institutions than they are in more teaching oriented colleges, and in some research institutions, being a popular teacher is still seen as a sign of being not a very good scholar. While I have often balked at this and seen it as typical elitism, I can also understand why it is so, especially if you yourself do not teach in a research institution. I think that any serious researcher and dedicated teacher will agree that there is a serious gear shift involved between doing research and teaching. It is an unusual scholar who has the capacity to be extremely rigorous and demanding of himself/herself and speak within a community whose standards for performance continually go up, while at the same time continually relaxing expectations of undergraduates, taking things apart and making them simpler and simpler to understand. The lower the level of student preparation, the harder it is to do this job well. One also begins to feel a responsibility to do some serious compensatory work. As every study that has ever been done has shown, those teaching introductory courses at lower levels get consistently lower evaluations than those teaching advanced courses.
I know that my own evaluations were consistently higher when I taught in four-year colleges. I imagine that some of this reflects my own frustrated ambition.... I also think that the more experienced a teacher is the easier it is to shift gears between the two parts of academic life. My recollection as a graduate student was that junior faculty were both extremely challenging and interesting AND often seemingly arbitrary and unreasonably demanding in their expectations. Given the fact that people in grad school are trained for the intellectual olympics and basically not prepared at all for anything less than teaching at institutions similar to the ones that they attended, it may take a long time for them to adjust their expectations. To add to this, the people who got the very highest ratings at my school - whose students said they made the subject interesting and fun - were those who had been trained within that system, had PhDs from within that system, and/or whose primary goal it had always been to be there. The people from outside institutions seem to have a harder time adjusting their expectations, not only for their students, but probably their expectations of what their careers were to be.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Open Thread: Anxiety Index

Please post the most anxiety-provoking news item that you came across today. I'll pitch in with this one. Genetically modified corn mutates rats. AIEEE!! How many of you really believe that we haven't already all been exposed to this creation by monsanto in some corn-syruped concoction?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Google News Tricks

If you haven't already: try this neat trick. Go to "Google news" and read the headlines for the U.S., then shift the country in the box to "UK" or "Canada." Notice the difference? All the English language papers seem to have the American deal between Republicans and Dems. over the filibuster as the number one story, but the second story in the US is about Bush and Karzai signing a "Strategic partnership." For India, Britain, Italy and Canada the big international story is the string of deadly car-bomb attacks in Iraq, which killed 49 Iraqis yesterday.
Juan Cole, as always on top of the events, notes that among these was the death of the newly appointed anti-insurgency director in Iraq:

AFP says, "Major General Wael Rubaye, the new commander of a special operations room recently set up by the ministry for national security to coordinate the fight against insurgents, and his driver were shot dead by insurgents in the capital early Monday, the cabinet office said in a statement." When your coordinator of the fight against insurgents is shot just after he is appointed, you can conclude two things. 1) You have been heavily infiltrated. 2) Your security is not good.

(How does Google decide which stories to place first? According to Google New's FAQ:
Google News has no human editors selecting stories or deciding which ones deserve top placement. Our headlines are selected by computer algorithms, based on factors including how often and on what sites a story appears online. This is very much in the tradition of Google web search, which relies heavily on the collective judgment of online publishers to determine which sites offer the most valuable and relevant information. Similarly, Google News relies on the editorial judgment of online news organizations to determine which stories are most deserving of inclusion and prominence on the Google News home page.
Other items:
This morning on the DailyKos, there's more stuff about British memos.
I also saw some disturbing news about Venezuela a couple of days ago. There's an interesting story about Fox from the "Newshounds," whose slogan is "we watch Fox so you don't have to." The story, which describes outright lying, distortion, etc. is a window into Fox's journalistic "methodology."
Speaking of wing-nuts, I just found a story on "GOPUSA" (that's right, the people who brought you Jeff Gannon) referring to the Republican compromisers as a bunch of "Republicans in Name Only."
Yesterday, I received a tattered mailing from my alma mater and discovered that my old pal, Dave Noon, has what he refers to as a "surprisingly successful blog": "Axis of Evel Knievel."

Finally, in my late as usual relationship to big stories...I've been reading William Shawcross's "Sideshow" which has long been on my list of books to read. When I went looking for some updates about the author I discovered that he's become a major apologist for imperial power. It's too bad, because he's quite a good writer.

Academic Freedom

One anonymous commenter alerted me to the important event of David Graeber's firing at Yale. The interview I'm linking to is over a week old - I'm not that good at keeping up with Counterpunch. However, it's very important to go there, read the article and sign the petition supporting Graeber, an anarchist anthropology prof. who's just been fired at Yale - probably because of his involvement with GESO, DAN and other groups unbeloved by the tenured fac. at Yale.
He says: If you'd asked me six months ago, I would have probably said "academics can be activists as long as they do nothing to challenge the structure of the university," or anyone's power within it. If you want to make an issue of labor conditions in Soweto, great, you're a wonderful humanitarian; if you want to make an issue of labor conditions for the janitors who clean your office, that's an entirely different story. But I think you're right, something's changing. I mean, I'm sure it's not like there's someone giving orders from above or anything, but there's a climate suddenly where people feel they can get away with this sort of thing, and the Ward Churchill and Massad cases obviously must have something to do with that. I've been hearing a lot of stories, in recent weeks, about radical teachers suddenly being let go for no apparent reason. They don't even have to dig up something offensive you're supposed to have said any more - at least, in my case no one is even suggesting I did or said anything outrageous, in which case, at least there'd be something to argue about.
I haven't seen that much hoopla about this case because Graeber doesn't have tenure. (I can't wait to read the interviewer, Joshua Frank's new book, Left Out: How Liberals Helped Re-elect George Bush.) If you want to see who's behind the wicked war on leftie profs, go look at the "students for academic freedom" website. I won't link here. It's easy enough to find - David Horowitz and assorted toadies and cronies. One of the most odious pieces there is a typically politically naive piece by that intellectual poseur Stanley Fish. rggh.

After the rain, the garden is looking lush. Posted by Hello

I finally found lantana for the planter. Posted by Hello

I put more plants in, and plants already there are growing with all this rain. Posted by Hello

Cosmos sprouts growing Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Lots about Saakashvili and Bush, Finkelstein's new book Hooray!

I was shocked when I began reading the latest FAIR action alert that came in my mailbox because it referred to an "inaccurate Newsweek report." As I read down the page, I realized that FAIR was cleverly pointing out the inaccurate Newsweek reporting done on the eve of US bombardment of Iraq.
I was surprised to read the NYT report that George Bush had been greeted "rapturously" by a crowd of 100,000+ in Tbilsi. What I know about Georgia and its major problems with energy all come from a movie called Power Trip that I saw a year ago, but it seems to me that the public there wouldn't be (or shouldn't be) wildly supportive of an apostle of privatization such as our prez, the Oiligarch, Shrub. According to AP report from almost a year ago, "Russia has strategic interests in Georgia, including two Soviet holdover military bases, one of them in Adzharia. The United States also sees Georgia as strategically important because of its location and role as host of a pipeline that is to bring Caspian Sea oil westward." If we start from that point of view, then this article by William Pfaff in the International Herald Tribune, which suggests that the whole event is a major provocation to Russia, makes a lot of sense.
I'm guessing that it's because the US played such a prominent rolein what's called the "revolution of roses" that took the hated and corrupt Shevardnazde out and brough the popular, American educated, NATO member-wanna-be, Saakashvili in that people in Georgia greeted the Prez. with such fervor (if indeed they did.)
Last item: I just got an announcement in my mailbox about Norman Finkelstein's new book Beyond Chutzpah. This book, which takes on Alan Dershowitz, is the product of a long controversy. I googled Dershowitz and Finkelstein and found a debate on Democracy Now Two and 1/2 years ago. Dershowitz has argued that the only people who read Finkelstein (whose parents were holocaust survivors) are "neo-nazis" and "fanatics" - in case you're inclined to be persuaded, he puts Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn into these categories.
I cannot stand Alan Dershowitz, so I look forward to this new book with glee. I saw Finkelstein present his work on what he calls the extortion racket of Holocaust reparations cases at the Socialist Scholars Conference back in 2000. He's totally brilliant, but his politics are such that he's had great difficulty in getting and keeping an academic job, from what I hear. Now it looks as if he's nailed something at DePaul, which is good.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Anxiety Index at Red Alert

I've only got a few minutes tonight before getting back to Robert Fisk's book on Lebanon. Today I was in the gym working out, listening to the very un-funny, very serious, very informative WBAI's Free Speech Radio News," which I'm happy to see has a podcast. A lot of the news was frightening; the scariest piece, to me concerned oceanic dead zones. The one that hits the Gulf of Mexico every Summer is larger than ever. Although they've been around for years, I'd never heard about them in such detail.

I think I should maintain an anxiety index. We can start it this way: Every day, whoever reads this can add a comment with the most wildly alarming news-item of the day. We can compete over the worst piece of news. On the days when the news is really bad, I will know because my only desire will be to stick my head in the sand. It's beyond red alert. The anxiety shoots right past "red" and goes right to "lights out," from "alert" to "inert." Maybe we shouldn't do it, competitive anxiety will make me more anxious. As some of you know, I get anxious enough just crossing the street.
On that note, I'm going to go to bed and read about the really bad stuff that happened twenty years ago. Since it's over, the only thing I can worry about while I'm reading is why the hell I still haven't finished the book and when I will get to the next one in the pile.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Right Wing Bloggers Jump All over Newsweek. I Retch.

I just googled "Newsweek" and "Koran" and found several websites announcing "Newsweek Lied, People Died" and referencing "Rathergate."
I don't usually blog in a state of aggravation but I am, in fact, "outraged by the outrage" that I'm seeing on the web in relation fo this issue. First off, so far as I can tell, while Newsweek's editor has apologized, there has been no retraction, and there are several different sources going back over the past year who have made this allegation abou tthe Koran flushing incident. SusanHu of Daily Kos has a good set of comments on this, and they've been linked by several, right and left. It seems to me that if the US weren't torturing people in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and if they hadn't already done some pretty shocking things related to deseccrating Islam, this story wouldn't be as believable as it is. Mark Crispin Miller's blog has a couple of excellent articles that refer to the history of these allegations.
Before writing this entry, I was reading loony right wing blogs, but I don't want the twits to get any traffic, so I'll just say this instead of linking: It's sad really. These people are so genuinely outraged by any criticism of the USA. I think the pose of indignation must be really satisfying if you are so over-identified with the American government that you are unwilling to face the truth about it. Al Franken had a great insight about the ultra-righties in Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: Those conservatives who call anyone who criticizes American policies a "traitor" love their country the way a three year old loves its Mommy or Daddy. And now the little three-year-olds are jumping up and down in the sandbox, excited to point the finger at Newsweek instead of looking at the hard facts: People around the world don't like America because America is an actively oppressive force in their lives. The only way that these folks can justify their beliefs about the righteousness of the US is to call all its critics "traitors" and "terrorists." Isn't it sad? It reminds me of how the Israelis reacted to coverage of the massacres of Sabra and Chatila.

It doesn't help that our lap-dog media is unwilling to shake these toddlers out of their illusions.
Let's just list some of the actually important crap reporting jobs that we've seen over the last year that have gotten no attention.
1.Where is the fucking outrage about the smoking-gun memo?
2. and let's recall how The NYT bolstered Bush's bogus WMD claims.
3. The media skewered Dan Rather and CBS over faked memos, but the real story should have been that Bush still never told the truth about his national guard service.
4.How about the way that the big news agencies keep reporting on Social Security as if it's in a "crisis"
5. Then there's the way they keep saying that George Bush was elected president.
6. and they also write as if Bush were actually the president, the guy in charge.
What if we go back further?
6. How about the crap coverage of Iran Contra
There are so many outright lies that get repeated, revealed and then retracted... and now this outrage over an allegation that has been public for over a year and hasn't been revealed as a lie, only a story without a clear confirmation from an official source who is connected to the institution being criticized.
The cynicism of the current administration boggles the mind. Take for instance this slice of Danner's article on the "smoking-gun memo":
an interesting observation that an unnamed "senior advisor" to President Bush made to a New York Times Magazine reporter last fall:
"The aide said that guys like me [i.e., reporters and commentators] were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"

I think the only explanation for the right-wing frenzy is that there are SO MANY lies and SO MANY inaccurate stories that praise and minimize the catastrophic errors and outright wickedness of the Bushies, that the righ-wingers are extra excited when they find even a minor inaccuracy in something critical of the administration. Even their use of "Newsweek Lied, People Died" is an (unconscious?) acknowledgement of what they already know: Bush sent people to die, and has killed at least 100,000 Iraqis and it is all based deliberate lie, a hustle.
Oy Gevult. I think I'll go mad if I think about it any more.

Military Prisons, Torture, Electronic Bird Cage Liner

One of the NYT's top-stories today concerns Newsweek's apology for printing a story (which they do not retract) about the Koran being flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay. If you're interested in reading further on the issue, Juan Cole's website has a thorough commentary about it, which includes a fascinating email from a US military man about the trashing of a Bible during his POW simulation training.

There is also a tepid piece in the Times about Priscilla Owen, sadistic screwball, who is being nominated by our Prez. for the federal bench. In case you didn't read "Bushwhacked" a while back, you can read Lou Dobose's account in Salon. Joe Conason also has a piece about Owen there, which connects her to Enron. I wondered immediately about her relationship with that Houston outfit when I noticed that the times said she had worked previously on "obscure pipeline cases."
Meanwhile, for real news, it is probably worth it to actually go to the newstand and buy a copy of the New York Review of Books this week, as it will print the entire 2002 memo which offers what Tom Engelhardt calls "irrefutable proof" of the phoniness of the war. I'm sure that such a widely circulated and popular magazine's publication of this vitally important memo will turn the tide of public opinion against the war

And as we all wait for that moment, I'm reaching my one-hour blogging limit. My only comment on all this is to be found in Get Your War On.

Friday, May 13, 2005

anti-stadium media blitz and Demonstration -- Tomorrow

Everywhere I went today I was reminded of the stadium swindle. I was in line at the bank and saw an anti-stadium ad on NY1. I was on my way to the train in Park Slope and saw a billboard over the entrance way. The sources of the Ads is a group called the New York Association for Better Choices. This may all be a prelude to the demonstration against the stadium that is planned for tomorrow. You can read more about the demo here. (NYABC doesn't seem to keep their website up to date). Here's the info:
Rally Against the Stadium!
Saturday, May 14
2:00 PM
McCaffrey Park
43rd St. just east of 9th Ave.
RAIN OR SHINE--shelter will be provided in case of inclement weather.

Global Animal News

I was just going through my links this morning and found this interesting piece of news from Capitalist Contradictions, which announced that the CAFTA agreement paves the way for exporting my stepfather's favorite part of the turkey.
This little food export story, symptomatic of the weird life created by the ease and speed of global trade relates to what I had planned to write about already. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine told me that this species of turtle sold in Chinatown was an invasive one that had already destroyed turtle biodiversity in NY's Central Park. The green turtles you see in those plastic boxes this summer are American, called "red eared sliders," according to this article in the NY Press. Here's an article that describes the 18 different turtle species in NY and what you can do to help protect them. Note the presence of the "red-eared slider, non-native" on the list.
So, I spent the better part of the morning reading about invasive species and the threat to biodiversity. It's one more thing to worry about. As I'm writing this, Howard Zinn is speaking on the radio about the ideology of "Manifest Destiny," the story of another "invasive species," the United States of America. OK, it's a strained segue, but US imperialism still sucks.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

In Case you Were Wondering...

Bring your antihistamines with you today if you're in NYC There's a pollen attack in progress.

More News from Iraq

Seymour Hersh was great on Democracy Now today. His comment on why it's wrong to call the opposition to the US in Iraq an "insurgency" is the best I've yet seen. He says, "I'm wacko on this word “insurgency.” Just so you know, an “insurgency” means, suggests you’ve won the war and there are people who disagree. They’re rebels or they're insurgents, as I said. No. We're still fighting the war we started, folks.
He says some brilliant and frightening things here. The pace of the discussion, if you read the transcript,is dizzying: this idea of the US's appropriation of the Mukhabbarat, the Salvadorization of Iraq, Hersh's assessment of the mindsets of the President and his cronies.
There is also an intriguing story about conflict within the military-industrial complex over the division of the spoils of this war. It's interesting to see the one place where the Bush admin. wants more corporate accountability to the public sector, to government, even. Well, we all knew there were limits to the "starve the beast" ideology.
The beast is starving in NYC, as you can see from this sad article on the desperate attempts to do something about the dramatically different schools that NYers attend.
Finally, PPRM alerted me to this new article by Matt Taibbi that suggests an alternate investment plan to replace the $600 million stadium subsidy deal. Why doesn't NY just BUY the NY knicks?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I went out and squinted at the places where I'd put seeds, and while they could be weeds, I'm happy because I think I have the tiniest beginnings of cosmos and hollyhocks. We'll have to wait to and see about the morning glories and the Texas bluebonnets.

The cosmos are germinating Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Neumann vs. Klein, Corporate Give Away News

Just finishing up two solid days of complete busy-ness. I'm amazed at the amount of time one must spend in meetings in today's academia. It's a relief to finally make it into a classroom, and it's beyond relief when it's time to hit the library.
There is a grim article about the impact that the end of import quotas will have on smaller producing countries such as Cambodia. As those economies go heading toward the toilet so that we Americans can wear cheap clothes made in China and India, there's more corporate give-away news. And there's some more. And then there's more examples of privileges for the privileged.
Interestingly, provocatively, and indeed, sadly, Counterpunch's Michael Neumann has written a strident critique of Naomi Klein's most recent article in In These Times.
The critique reminds me of debates at the Left Forum a few weeks ago, when some argued for supporting parts of the Iraqi resistance while others said, "no to do that is to be imperialistic. you just need to support the resistance." I can see the justice of both positions, but the accusation by those who say "support the resistance - without making distinctions" that those who want to make distinctions about which members of the resistance to support are just being imperialist, arrogant, ugly Americans, I find both intellectually problematic and strategically not realistic. The "support the resistance w/out qualification" crowd seems to me to make a strawman of the other side.
To begin, Neumann makes some claims that suggest to me that he is living in somewhat rarified company. Of Klein's argument that the left needs to expose the lack of democracy of the US occupation, he says, "Everyone but some few Americans know this, and those few Americans are either too steeped in their prejudices to be moved, or don't really give a damn whether the US is out to make Iraq into a democracy." This doesn't fit with the people I've met who are attached to an idea of America as "good" and American intervention as a force for "good." To expose the truth behind the occupation is one of the most vital tasks of organizing a movement. I don't find it helpful to simply dismiss these people as impossible to move.
Neumann dismisses the possibility of making choices among forces opposed to the occupation and makes an analogy to WWII, arguing, "you couldn't say you wouldn't support Stalin if you opposed Hitler." This is true generally, particularly when involved in military action. I even used the Spanish Civil War analogy when I was talking to Anthony Arnove after the Left Forum debate, that it would make sense to argue that people didn't say "we can't support Republican Spain because there are Stalinists in it."
However, that doesn't imply the reverse, that we can't criticize the Stalinists because we are supporting the resistance. It can be argued, a la Fernando Claudin, that Stalinism crushed a revolutionary movement. It would certainly have helped the anti-Stalinist Left in Europe, if there had been a powerful anti-Stalinist left in the US.
When you look at the day to day actions that make up resistance and warfare (as Klein did while in Iraq as a journalist) it seems reasonable to expect that you might gain a more complicated set of attitudes about the resistance. It might even strike you, if you were on the ground, that the victory of one side might be particularly terrible. I'm struck by this in reading Robert Fisk's accounts of Lebanon. Is it wrong, if you are looking ahead to a potentially very drawn out occupation to learn something more about the resistance, and is it wrong to make choices (to an extent) about what kinds of resistance you can personally be in solidarity with? ISO people after all, are very critical of The Philippines Communist Party, although that party is repressed by, and acting in resistance to, a very repressive government that is allied with Bush's imperialist "war on terror."
What is it exactly that Neumann and others believe Klein is advocating? Perhaps i am being naive, but would the American left's support for Iraqi trade unionists, for example, as opposed to the American left's supporting the Islamic Fundamentalists who are currently assassinating trade unionists, really be an example of arrogance?
So, I'm frustrated with Neumann. I agree wholeheartedly with his point that you actually don't need to know the reasons for the war in order to oppose it effectively. He's right: people on the left do spend way too much time refining analyses as if knowledge will in fact set us free. When I was a grad student, it used to drive me crazy when people said that what we needed was a better theory.
On the other hand, I have great respect for Naomi Klein, and it bugs me to read something that's so personally critical of her, to the extent that he refers to her position as barely different from Bush's. This is a polarizing overstatement of a difference, don't you think, particularly among people who endorse "out now" as a position.
Along the same lines, I think Neumann is dangerously wrong when it comes to a winning strategy for the movement. He dismisses the US troops as potential allies, and eschews organizing to bring more people into the movement. Ultimately, he calls for strong, militant, clear action by people already opposed to the war. This may produce militant demonstrations -- but there is little evidence that a nasty (as opposed to a big) demonstration will actually succeed in ending a war, or that such demonstrations have ever succeeded in ending a war.
In Vietnam, and probably in Iraq, the single biggest factor in pushing the war to the end was not the degree of militancy of the civilian resistance in the United States, or even the fact that some in the antiwar movement supported the NLF, but rather, the growth of GI resistance. If you want to encourage and support GI resistance, as part of a support for the US working class, any support for the Iraqi resistance needs to be argued in such a way as to not be completely alienating. While it might feel satisfying to rant in the manner of Neumann, I have found that this type of argument - because of its tone if nothing else - tends to be what turns people away from the left and leftists. Is it overstated, needless, posturing? What do you think?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Corporate Give-Away News

Did you see the story in the Times this morning about how the government is going to let pharmaceutical companies dodge their taxes? This is all part of the "job creation act." ha.
Meanwhile, people on medicare are now going to have to decide whether they want medicine or food.
And what is the impact? Frank Rich has a column in today's paper that breaks it down. The impact is nothing.
Last night I saw a play that highlighted the way our culture likes to focus on the sideshow rather than the urgent realities facing us, The Children's Crusader. The play had some surprisingly funny parts, including a scene in which Florence Kelley, the play's hero, stood on soap-boxes talking about sweatshops and child labor, while carnival barkers and crowds talked about Stanford White, Harry Houdini, and other major pop culture spectaculars of the era. At the end of the scene, one of the crowd members finally listened to Kelley's speech, and one had hope. However, at the end of the speech, she got Kelley's attention and said, "Excuse me Miss, Don't you understand? we don't care."
I could go on with more corporate give-away news, but times's a wastin, so I will merely recommend a visit to the Multinational Monitor.

So Many Interruptions

Over the last two days, I started writing an entry at least four times, only to be interrupted by an important phone call, a doorbell, the sudden presence of another human being, or worse: by the recognition that pressing work had to be finished.
But now, in the delightful peace of 1 am, I can compose some thoughts, or at least gather some links for you all.
The most momentous, and quite ominous piece of information I saw today concerned the return to Lebanon of General Michel Aoun.
I have been slowly reading Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation in fits and starts over the lst year; his assessment of Aoun is pretty devastating. Something that will, I imagine, be downplayed by the US media, is that while Aoun (who got his military training in the US) was leading what he called a "war of liberation" against Syria, he was armed by Iraq, and attended a birthday party for the Baath party where he happily cut the cake. It was because of this alliance, says Fisk, that the US supported Syria when it originally went after Aoun's government in 1990. However, now that the Syrians are again defined as a threat, Aoun's return is being described in pro-US govt. media as a sign of the growing democratic spirit in Lebanon. I won't link to Fox's coverage, but as you can imagine, it is the worst. We will have to see what Aoun's position will be vis-a-vis the US.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Many are growing, but I'm still waiting and hoping for the shoots to emerge from the ground.  Posted by Hello

This is a wild looking plant Posted by Hello

The azaela is blooming! Posted by Hello

Codepink's Flash Video of Iraq 2005

I got this slideshow in my morning email. It's really heartbreaking.
The choice of Johnn Cash singing "Hurt" (a nine-inch nails cover) raised some old questions for me. Hurt is a song about personal pain and self-hatred, with the chorus, "you could have it all/my empire of dirt/I will let you down/I will make you hurt." I wondered, could this be a metaphor for the U.S's activities in other countries, that while promising freedom, we are delivering simply hurt, an empire of dirt, and that in the process of bringing these poison gifts, we are also "hurting ourselves" with dishonor, needless deaths, the end of the empire, etc. That's the sort of sledge-hammer to the head way to read the juxtaposition of the song, with Cheney and Bush being the unwitting deliverers of evil.
On the other hand, one could also read this somewhat more sympathetically, that the same kinds of emotional pain or downright mental illness also lead to the terrible actions that people commit around the world in the name of democracy, etc.
I have a pretty much equal personal investment in the legacies of Marx and Freud, a contradictory fact that is probably pretty common among the well-schooled of today. It seems to me that the necessities created by our "mode of production" are the ultimate motivator of most world events and personal ones as well, regardless of what individuals may want and believe. At the same time, I can see in my own life that the quest for unncessary objects, while on the one hand driven by external forces, advertizing, etc. and generally supportive of capitalism, is also related to personal, psychological needs related to emotional deprivation. Since the production of these needs and the expression of them is conditioned by capitalist conditions that create the particular family structures and atomized lifestyles that we all currently live, I guess there is no major contradiction between this type of "last instance" materialism and the belief that day to day, behind most greedy feelings and behavior, it's probably fairly easy to locate a primitive quest for love and acceptance that has been misdirected.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Kent State and Haymarket

Today is the anniversary of two major events...
The first is 25th anniversary of the the murders of four students at Kent State.
The above link announces a news-flash that a group of trash-talking right wing, Nazi agitators (their words) Quinn and Rose will be broadcasting live from Kent today, calling the murdered anti-war students "communists." If you see that website I just linked to, you might decide the "nazi" label is not a libel.
The other major anniversary of the day is the 119th anniversary of the bomb throwing from the crowd at the corner of Randolph and Desplaines in Chicago, beginning what is known as the "Haymarket Tragedy." Although the bomb-thrower was never discovered, the Chicago police used the incident as an excuse to round up all the labor leaders in the city, destroy their presses, and ultimately, arrest eight, and execute four of the city's radicals: George Engel, August Spies, Albert Parsons, and Adolph Fischer. Louis Lingg, the most charismatic and dashing of the group, committed suicide on the night before the executions.
Some of you may not know this, but that May 4th rally near Haymarket Square was a protest against the police shooting, the day before, of several strikers outside the McCormick Reaper works.
The contemporary labor movement has yet to revive that spirit of '86. Instead, the few big merged unions that are left are engaged in a bureaucratic tangle. The Haymarket Tragedy was one of several pitfalls for the democratic and multi-racial Knights of Labor that led to the ascendancy of "Business Unionism" in the U.S. 119 years later, we are still feeling the effects.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Sickness, Construction, News

Today I'm blogging in a really foggy and clogged state. Yesterday I woke up with a sore throat that became so severe by late afternoon that it hurt to talk. Today, I woke up feverish, barely able to comprehend the difference between the news on Morning Sedition and the advertizing for random gewgaws and vacuum cleaners. I'm supposed to do about a million things today and then go out to dinner; how frustrating. The idea of being on the train is odious. (That link, by the way, contains some well-written subway stories.) The idea of zipping around a classroom, hankie in hand, nose-reddened, makes me feel just a bit overwhelmed. Because of my idea that I just can't let the students down, I once did a final exam review despite being really ill, probably about as ill as I am now, only also hoarse. One of my students passed me a lozenge. Today as there is nothing important like an exam-review on the schedule.
Unfortunately, being at home is occasionally weird and uncomfortable right now. My apartment has been under construction for about three weeks, and one of the guys doing the work is having arguments with someone I imagine is an ex-wife or girlfriend in the bathroom. He is telling this person that what he/she should ask is, "why are you looking at my daughter naked?...Why are you molesting my children?" in dark and somber tones. I am inclined not to believe his accusations because of other, even more bizarre phone conversations I've overheard...full of obscenity. I'm glad there are more level-headed people overseeing the work, which is mostly going on outside.

Juan Cole linked to this disturbing article from the Times of India.which calls Iraq the "new Afghanistan." Given today's news about Lynndie England, I was happy to find someone doing this work at Rummy's Diaries, to which I was directed by Rahul Mahajan's entry on empire notes.
We have one more test of the level of democracy coming up, with the Supreme Court's decision to hear the appeal of the Bush administration over the federal government's denial of funds to universities that protest homophobia in the military by refusing access to military recruiters.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Presidential Sex Lives, Absolute Privacy and Li Shaohong

My ever-reliable penpal has sent a link in answer to a recent question about the president's sex life.
My brother made another presidential mention that shocked me, that George Bush had said that he did not think that atheists were citizens or patriots. As Madeline Murray O'Hare explains in the previous link, Bush said this at a press conference back in 1987, and revised his position at his most recent press conference, claiming: "The great thing about America, David, is that you should be allowed to worship any way you want, and if you choose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship...That's the wonderful thing about our country, and that's the way it should be." I guess I'm glad that Bush's handlers have informed him of this aspect of American law, but I do wish I could call him a "flip-flopper." When I was looking for the quote I read a different old press conference transcript, and was once again shocked at the prez's inability to take responsibility for anything bad.
Last Tribeca Film Fest. comments:
This weekend saw two final films: a collection of "Animation by the Hubleys." (You can watch some clips on that link). These were really wonderful - Began with three by John Hubley with Dizzy Gillespie, including "The Hole." Emily's films were also great, especially "The Pigeon Inside," I thought.
The audience questions were somewhat hilarious. One person said, "Wow, these should be widely distributed and shown to children." Emily Hubley was cracking up and was a little snotty, but she did say, yes, they have been widely distributed and they have been shown to children. After all, Faith and John Hubley's films have won academy awards. They also did animation for the "Electric Company" and "Sesame Street." Perhaps she was offended that everyone did not know the history of her famous family. I had read the program, so I knew about the Oscars, the fame, etc. the fact that John Hubley created "Mr. Magoo," but otherwise: Who knew? Maybe we should have all seen that documentary about them as preparation. Another hilarious question came from a self-described art college student who wanted to know if the Hubleys (whose work started in the 1950s) used "macromedia flash." Again, amused, Emily said, no, although that is something that other people use. The student asked a follow up, quite genuinely puzzled, "how do you do it then?" The entire audience was stifling guffaws. What kind of art school could this person be going to that he wasn't taught anything about how cartoons have been made since the very origins of film? It's sad, isn't it?
I gained a new appreciation for Yo La Tengo, who I have often found pleasant, but a little bit derivative of Sonic Youth. (They'll be playing at Lincoln Center on May 18th, by the way, accompanying the films of Jean Painleve.)
The final film of the weekend was the winner of the narrative film competition, "Stolen Life," about a woman who leaves college for a man who makes his living by impregnating women and then selling their babies. As you can imagine, it was tragic. It was not particularly lurid, and the way the film depicted the life of the primary character explained why she would be so naive. She makes a great comment upon her decision to stay with her boyfriend after encountering him with another one of his women. After he gives her a wild story explaining how he came to be with this woman, she said something like, "I saw the facts, but my mind washed them away." This kind of knowing and not-knowing, or dismissing of what one knows, is something with which I'm quite familiar. It was interesting to see someone comment on it in a movie. You can read an interview with the director, Li Shahong. The film was banned in China. My guests and I wondered why, but we were unable to get an answer from anyone. The book on which the movie is based, Absolute Privacy by journalist An Dun, was a best-seller in China in 1998, but it has not been translated into English. I wonder if this film gets major distribution in the U.S. whether it will be. The book is based on a set of interviews with people in contemporary Beijing and is mostly the stories of love-affairs and prostitution. It apparently was not banned, but the movie was. Anyone know anymore about this?