Saturday, October 30, 2010

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others

Well, I got beat to the punch, it seems. At CBS News website, there is a piece on the comparisons between the Pentagon Papers and Wikileaks. There are two articles in The Washington Post. All three are in agreement on several points, the main one being the biggest difference between these two publicizing of previously classified documents is different in content. The Pentagon Papers were actually a thorough historical overview of the involvement of the US in Vietnam from the end of the Second World War until 1967; the documents released on Wikileaks are field reports, classified for the usual reasons (needing to be verified or clarified), that at best give the public a view of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq that is different. It provides little more than detail, and certainly not the kind of major revelation provided by the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

This central difference is summed up by David Martin of CBS News:
The Pentagon Papers revealed that much of what the public had been told about the war in Vietnam was flat wrong and in many cases deliberately so.

The Pentagon Papers took the blinders off.
This central reality was highlighted by Hannah Arendt in her essay, "Lying In Politics".
There always comes the point beyond which lying becomes counterproductive. This point is reached when the audience to which the lies are addressed is forced to disregard altogether the distinguishing line between truth and falsehood in order to be able to survive. Truth or falsehood - it does not matter which any more, if your life depend on your acting as though you trusted; truth that can be relied on disappears entirely from public life, and with it the chief stabilizing factor in the ever-changing affairs of men.
When "the blinders" were removed, what had been known as "the credibility gap" suddenly became a radical break in the most basic part of the social contract - the government no longer had the public's trust that even its most mundane statements could or even should be believed. We are reaping today, in the Tea Partiers, the Birthers, even nominally Establishment conservative commentators like Jonah Goldberg with his Liberal Fascism nonsense, what was sown so long ago by those Arendt calls, after Neil Sheehan, "problem solvers". David Halberstam referred to them, with irony so thick you needed a jackhammer to cut through it, "the best and the brightest". Again, quoting Arendt:
The basic integrity of those who wrote the report is beyond doubt; they could indeed be trusted by Secretary McNamara to produce an "encyclopedic and objective" report and "to let the chips fall where they may."

But these moral qualities, which deserve admiration, clearly did not prevent them from participating for many years in the fame of deceptions and falsehood. Confident 'of place, of education and accomplishment," they lied perhaps out of a mistaken patriotism. But the point is that they lied not so much for their country - certainly not for their country's survival, which was never at stake - as for its "image." In spite of their undoubted intelligence . . . they also believed that politics is but a variety of public relations, and they were taken in by all the bizarre psychological premises underlying that belief.
The period from the summer of 2002 was unprecedented in many ways. Even as the Bush Administration made a massive sales pitch for military action against Iraq, each piece was examined thoroughly at some point by members of the press, even as others certainly served as a conduit for the official position; one need only consider Judith Miller's now infamous series on Iraq's weapons program, based solely on the testimony of a wholly unreliable source as an example of an important journalist failing to ask some fundamental questions regarding the veracity of a story presented to her.

While there were no doubt many who opposed the drive to war in Iraq for any number of reasons, there is little doubt that the constant undermining of each official justification made the presentation of the Administration's case that much more difficult. The insistence by members of the Bush Administration that their case was solid, their facts verified and beyond doubt or question, even in the face of revelations to the contrary, was quite simply breath-taking. Whatever else one can say, the public was, or at the very least should have been, aware the Bush Administration was lying through its teeth concerning the alleged threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Unlike the Kennedy and Johnson Administration, there were just not enough people intelligent enough to think of really good lies that could escape notice.

Finally, a note on the Supreme Court case. The Justices who dissented in the Pentagon Papers case each contended that a main reason for their dissent rested with what they felt was the undue haste with which the case was brought before it. Chief Justice Berger, not without reason, insisted that it was simply impossible for all the parties involved - the attorney for all sides, the various federal judges as well as the members of the Supreme Court - to read and understand the documents in question given the expeditious nature with which the case traveled through the system.

Specifically Justice Harry Blackmun noted that there was the possibility of "grave harm" coming from the publication of the documents. Sad to say, Blackmun was correct in this, although incorrect as to where that harm would fall. Publishing the Pentagon Papers did not harm the way the US conducts wars, gathers or analyzes intelligence data, or immediately endanger the lives of US service personnel. Rather, the harm, as Hannah Arendt noted quite clearly, was to the very fabric of the social contract. Unlike the Wikileak documents, which reveal little more than details concerning the conduct of troops in the field, the Pentagon Papers were honest enough in their duplicity to strip away the last shreds of trust between the public and the government.


In my recent series of posts on the whole Wikileaks mess, several people have brought up the issue of the Pentagon Papers. In order to make sure that the historical analogy is apt, I am currently reading the Supreme Court decision regarding the Pentagon Papers, have some of the actual documents in a separate tab, have my copy of Hannah Arendt's "Lying In Politics" around here somewhere, and am listening to Dave Brubeck live at Carnegie Hall, recorded in 1963. I plan, or hope anyway, to do this reading and produce something of interest to someone (perhaps even me!) at some point, but for now, I thought quoting from Justice Black's written decision in the case is important. I do not think the publication of the Wikileaks documents is or was or should be illegal. Whether or not the person or persons responsible for giving those documents to Wikileaks committed a crime is up to a court martial before a jury of peers. My argument is quite different. I do not think the public has gained any clarity or insight in to the events of the Iraq War and occupation through the publication of these classified documents. Rather, by creating the illusion of knowledge and understanding in the absence of any real ability to understand the whole context of the various circumstances in question (not the least of which may be, which documents were not released that may have painted a completely different picture of the events in question?), they may make fools of many who rush to judgment on incomplete, even erroneous data.

Having said that, I quote now from the late Justice Hugo Black, writing in New York Times v US (.pdf):
The Bill of Rights changed the original constitution into a new chrater under which no branch could abridge the people's freedoms of press, speech, religion, and assembly. Yet the Solicitor General argues and some members of the Court appear to agree that the general powers of the Government adopted in the original constitution should be interpreted to limit or restrict the specific and emphatic guarantees of the Bill of Rights adopted later. I can imagine no greater perversion of history. Madison and the other framers of the First Amendment, able men that they were, wrote in language they earnestly believed could never be misunderstood "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom . . . of the press." Both the history and the language of the First Amendment support the view that the press must be left free to publish news whatever the source, without censorship, injunctions, or prior restraints.


[T]he government argues in its brief that in spite of the First Amendment, "[t]he authority of the Executive Department to protect the nation against publication of information whose disclosure would endanger the national security stems from two interrelated sources: the constitutional power of the President over the conduct of foreign affairs, and his authority as Commander-in-Chief."

. . . To find that the President has "inherent power" to halt the publication of news by resort to the courts would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government hopes to make "secure".
If you notice, the reasoning Black pretty much calls BS, as presented by the Solicitor General, is also the reasoning John Yoo, as chief of the office of legal counsel in the Bush White House, offered as granting to President Bush (or any President, really) to act pretty much any way he or she wanted. Black called it out as nonsense in 1971, and I see no reason why it shouldn't be considered nonsense still.

In any event, I stand with Hugo Black here. Would that we had Supreme Court Justices like that now . . .

Restoring Sanity

I will admit that I find the whole Rally To Restore Sanity amusing, but not much else. Hosting a very large group of people on the Mall in Washington to tell them and all the rest of us to calm down is funny, really. That liberal groups are seizing this moment is so sad. They should be in on the joke, rather than seeing it as an opportunity.

Sanity has rarely been a hallmark of American politics. Since the election of 1796, and particularly 1800, attacking one's political opponents as not just empty of ideas and plans, but actively engaged in undermining the United States has been part and parcel of our politics. It has been a conceit for some time that there was a time when political discourse hewed some fanciful line known as "civility". Nonsense. Those who decry the nastiness of so much of what happens in political discussions on the internet, talk radio, and increasingly cable news seem to be unaware this is as American as baseball, jazz, and cherry pie, and violence.

I have no interest in insisting that our discourse follow some set of rules it has never followed. I have no interest, furthermore, in attempting to reason with those who, on an hourly basis, attack the President and his party as a threat to the very fabric of our social and political stability. It would be nice if all sides acknowledged that, at heart, we all are seeking the best interest of all of us. The problem is, this isn't true. Even this fanciful notion is belied by the rhetoric and actions of political actors.

So, as with most big DC rallies, I am going to ignore it. They rarely do more than grab a headline or two anyway. That there are liberal groups out there who believe for one moment that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are going to do anything meaningful beyond laughing at all those earnest young faces on the Mall are only fooling themselves.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Greenwald Is Wrong II - The Military

The most galling aspect of the on-going contretemps over the Wikileaks document dump is revealed, clearly enough, in a tweet from Glenn Greenwald during his exchange with Michael Cohen the other day. Cohen had pointed out, as have many others including yours truly, that making these documents public had the potential to put the lives of Americans and their allies, including Iraqi allies, in danger. Greenwald retorted that potential danger is apparently outweighed by the reality of tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths.

This isn't moral calculus. It's grandstanding. It's disgusting.

In his several posts on the Wikileaks documents and subsequent New York Times pieces on them, as well as John Burns' profile of Julian Assange, there is not a single word to the effect that the release of nearly 400,000 classified documents is not only a crime, but a serious potential hazard for US troops still in harms way. More eager to point out the alleged complicity of the Times in covering up alleged war crimes, Greenwald insists that the documents reveal actual crimes, including by the United States Military as part of official policy, rather than consider the situation as a bit more complex than that. Standing as judge and jury over the actions of US military personnel, he insists that it was official policy for the American military to act in concert with the Iraqi military in interrogation procedures that certainly sound like torture. As an attorney (not a journalist), I find it surprising that Greenwald hasn't asked that most basic question of all - was US policy in this regard dictated by legal restrictions (i.e., did the US military have to turn over any prisoners requested by the Iraqi military, regardless of US knowledge, or even assumption, that they would subject to treatment up to and including torture) that limited the actions military personnel could take?

The overall effect of the way this entire sorry episode has started to play out does not do our service personnel any good. Whether one opposes the war or supports it, there are still 50,000 service personnel in that country, engaged either in training or direct participation with Iraq armed forces against various insurgent groups. Just publishing the information in those classified documents makes an already difficult situation that much more difficult. The American military is not a creator of policy, but an instrument. Its actions are dictated and limited by the rules and laws and regulations set down by the civilian commanders in the Pentagon. Whether it is a limitation on the number of forces deployed to a potential or actual combat zone, or the various minutiae of Administrative functions as an occupying force, they are creatures of bureaucratic decision-making, most often done at far remove from actual conditions and contexts. Whether or not the US Military is complicit in any criminal activity is entirely dependent upon the legal circumstances involved. Declaring it is systematic US policy, including military policy, for US service personnel to participate in war crimes without regard to any actual examination of many surrounding factors is not simply simple-minded; it ignores that most basic legal assumption - innocence until guilt is proved. Greenwald states categorically that such is, in fact, the case.

By doing so, he makes US military targets of even more rage. Now, the occupiers are not just occupiers, but criminally liable occupiers, complicit in the torture and murder of Iraqi citizens. Iraqi civilian and military personnel cooperating with the Americans are now revealed as complicit in these same crimes. Greenwald makes these blanket statements of guilt without even considering the possibility that so doing will make an already inflamed situation far worse. He makes these statements without regard to extant questions regarding context. He declares as guilty, without even an investigation, not just those civilians who set the policies the military has to follow, but the military personnel who carried out these policies, as required by law.

With this blanket condemnation, absent any evidence whatsoever but a bunch of papers read outside any legal or other context, Greenwald goes on to dismiss the potential hazard this blatant disregard for the law - these papers were classified for more reasons than just hiding potential embarrassment - by insisting that the deaths of Iraqis in the initial invasion and subsequent occupation far outweigh the potential hazards to American military personnel still on the ground.

It is one thing to oppose the war. It is one thing to be clear that American military personnel are guilty of various crimes, including those most public at Abu Ghraib and the Haditha murders. It is quite another to claim, absent a serious investigation (let alone a full accounting of the documentation at hand) that the Wikileaks documents clearly indicate systematic criminal activity on the part of the military as a matter of policy. This blanket claim is not just injudicious based on the paltry evidence at hand. Rooted in a moral stance that seems to hold the lives of American military personnel of less value than others, it also makes clear that these men and women, doing an almost impossible task on a shoestring budget and hamstrung by the labyrinthine politics of American-Iraqi relations, are collectively guilty of horrible crimes.

We all make fun of Tom Clancy for pretending to an understanding of all sorts of issues he most definitely does not possess. Yet when a principled critic takes it upon himself to pronounce judgment upon all sorts of actions without any familiarity with the legal and administrative context in which these actions have taken place, he is considered a brave hero.

Except by me.

Greenwald Is Wrong I - The Press 9UPDATE FOR CORRECTION)

Untangling the complex of anger and frustration I feel over the recent contretemps between Glenn Greenwald, John Burns, Julian Assange, and Wikileaks has been fiendishly difficult. In order to bring clarity, I think I need to separate it all out in to several posts. Of course, my stated glee at two gentlemen of relative prominence, both with enormous egos and neither willing to grant even a modicum of good will and honesty to the actions and intentions of the other included my general disgust at the all-too-familiar Greenwaldian pose of principled critic of all things political, journalistic, and whatnot. That Greenwald's usual schtick as media critic seems to include his own infallible sense of what journalism is, or perhaps "should be" would be better, even as he has neither the experience nor training in the field is par for the course. Being critical of factual errors in the press is one thing; being critical of ideological bias, or granting to particular subjects and persons a certain deference - these should be considered fodder for careful consideration in context. Greenwald, however, seems always to insist the pattern of deference and support for Establishment plans and policies, up to and including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a prima facie case in no need of further elaboration. His attitude disgusts me precisely because it is based on that most absurd assumption one can imagine - that he actually knows what he is talking about.

Part of my anger over this episode is rooted in Greenwald's insistence that Burns' piece on Assange is rooted in the journalist's basic approval of and on-going published support for the attack and occupation of Iraq. He even calls the Iraq conflict "Burns' War". In an attempt to point out either intellectual dishonesty, hypocrisy, or some combination of both, Greenwald writes of a profile of recently disgraced Gen. Stanley McChrystal that Burns wrote it either standing and saluting a life-size portrait of the general, or kneeling before it.* Yet, in the back and forth on Twitter between Greenwald and Michael Cohen, Cohen makes the obvious point that this is not a case proved either in the record of Burns' reporting, and certainly not in the piece on Assange. Indeed, Cohen makes the point that Greenwald imputes to Burns, on no evidence whatsoever, a whole series of motives, including psychological ones. Greenwald ends the exchange by insisting that he has done no such thing - how he can write that I have no idea - and ends the exchange.

Here's the thing. There were a whole series of journalistic failures in both the run-up to the war and during the conflict and occupation. Whether it was the simple failure to ask important questions, to demand evidence for a whole series of claims by Bush Administration officials, or the use of questionable sources for a slew of stories that lay before the American people all sorts of evidence that, it turns out, was bogus from start to finish, there is enough responsibility upon the press, and we await some sort of accounting for these failures.

For all the failings the press corps demonstrated, it was also the press that managed to lay before the American people the varieties of untruths in the Bush Administration's case for the war. It started back in the summer of 2002. At the time, we were deep in the midst of the fallout from the Enron bankruptcy, and its implications on the possibility that a major corporation enjoyed a certain amount of protection, or thought it did at any rate, from the Bush Administration even as it seemed to revel in kleptocracy and fraud on a massive scale. I shall never forget listening to The Diane Rehm Show's weekly news roundup in mid-summer 2002, and hearing a reporter asked why, all of a sudden, the Administration was talking about the serious potential threat Iraq. One of the reporters said, "Well, we aren't talking about Enron anymore." At that moment I knew the entire thing was bullshit. Pure, unadulterated crap.

In February, 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations Security Council to lay out the Bush Administration's case for military action against Iraq, listing the various ways it was in violation of a series of Security Council Resolutions. The general reaction was positive, with some commentators (I honestly don't consider Chris Matthews of MSNBC a journalist) positively gleeful. Yet, even before the invasion began, every single claim made by Powell in that long speech was exposed, by the same press corps ridiculed by Glenn Greenwald as in hock to the Bush Administration, as a lie. Indeed, the sorriest bit - Powell's insistence the night before the presentation that the entire thing be re-written because, looking through the pages presented to him from officials from the CIA, he tossed it across the room and pronounced it "fucking bullshit" - came out within a matter of days.

Similarly, the public was already aware the claims concerning an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium yellow cake were, quite simply, made up because the press was on to the possibility that an analyst at the CIA had her cover blown by someone yet unknown in the Bush Administration. Both Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice had claimed Iraq had purchased aluminum tubing to be used in the processing of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium; they continued to make that claim even as the press was reporting it was, quite simply, wrong.

In other words, while the press is responsible for certain derelictions of duty during the run-up to the war, during the actual combat and then the occupation, to state simply that this was a congenital defect that ran through the entire journalistic profession in all their written and viewed reports is false. Greenwald's contempt for journalism as a profession, based upon his view of reporters for major print and broadcast outlets as unduly obsequious and subservient to official sources; as not reporting serious problems with the Administration's case for war; as being completely and wholly in hock to the Bush Administration and its desire for war - the whole thing is, simply put, wrong.

Even a story as difficult to tease out and report as the way Dick Cheney set up a clearing house for intelligence, most of which was quite raw and also quite wrong (this was the source for the whole "Iraqi intelligence met with Al Qaeda in Prague so they're gonna kill us all!" business) was made public in exquisite detail before the outbreak of the war. The implications of this particular story alone were pretty staggering; the cumulative effect of press reports on the various lies of the Bush Administration made opposing the war not only easy, but gave war opponents plenty of fodder.

It is one thing to assert rather boldly that particular members of the press corps missed opportunities for clarity in the run up to the war. It is another, however, to hold those instances as indicative of systemic failure.

UPDATE FOR CORRECTION: In my original post, I placed the outing of Valerie Plame by Scooter Libby to Robert Novak as occurring before the invasion. It happened in July, 2003. I have removed that and note the correction here for the record. Oopsie.

*This last is particularly nasty because Greenwald takes offense when others notice that he is gay. Apparently making not-so-veiled references to the sexual habits of others is fine for him because he is both gay and a principled critic of the Universe. It is barred from others because he is gay and a principled critic of others.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stanley Hauerwas On American Religion

I want to like Stanley Hauerwas. Really. Except that just when he gets going on something, he says something, or goes off on a particular tangent and I think, "Aww, man, why'd you go and say that?"

Except this piece from the Guardian is an instance where Hauerwas actually gets it right. Particularly on the whole issue of Barack Obama needing to leave a church that had the audacity - the audacity! - to proclaim that God's judgment may just fall upon our nation for its collective sins.

I especially love the whole "fated for 'freedom'" paradox he raises. It's like a nice little kick in the nuts to people who unthinkingly parrot nonsense. Of course, Hauerwas has spent much of his life kicking complacent people in the nuts, at least verbally.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nature, Supernatural - A Boring Explanation Of Why I Don't Like These Words

I don't like to use the word "truth" because it is far too freighted with complex baggage to clarify, within the medium of a blog post, how I am using it. There are substitute words that are far more clear, so why not use them?

On the use of "nature", "natural", and "supernatural", I have different reasons for not using these terms.

Far too often they are tossed about with the general assumption that both the writer and readers will understand what is meant by them. For the most part, though, these words really mean whatever we want them to mean, and I, for one, find myself wondering what they do mean.

Do we, in general, know the referent for the word "nature"? Is it trees, grass, birdies in the trees and rainbows in the sky? Is it "nature red in tooth and claw"? Is is the phenomenal world unfolding under the auspices of the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology? This last one leaves me even more frustrated because I find myself wondering, if this is the case, what happens when, next month, we discover that all we thought we knew about these "laws" was, for all intents and purposes, wrong? That is the way science works, after all.

Since I have no idea what the referent for "nature" is, I find the word "supernatural" even more confusing. Because, for something to be "supernatural", we first have to be clear about what is "natural". Right? Yet, we aren't.

This has something to do with discussions I have found concerning such things as "miracles" (again, one of those words I find troubling). It also revolves around the matter of who, or what, God is or might be. The general assertion that, at least in western Christianity, God is conceived as a "supernatural being", is, given even a moment's thought, nonsensical. Even the claim from some Christians that this is so is just incoherent. If it is possible to have an experience to which we attach the term "God", individually or collectively, then how can this be "supernatural", that is, outside any "natural" frame of reference or possible experience? Of course, then we have the fallback use of "miracle", which only pushes the initial question back a step.

A fallback defense I have come across recently, particularly in reference to the word "miracle", is that we use this word "for lack of a better term". In other words, something happens and rather than investigate what it is or might mean, we simply cry out, "It's a miracle!", which, without any understanding, says absolutely nothing at all except we are too lazy to actually reflect on events that we insist have an impact on our lives.

Let us take a random example from the Bible as a "fer-instance". The following argument isn't original with me; I think I'm lifting it from N. T. Wright: Jesus heals a blind man. At the time, such afflictions were considered divine retribution. Jesus, on the other hand, not only heals the guy, he posits that the blindness was a pretext for Jesus to display the power he has from God. By giving the guy his sight, not only is Jesus displaying power, by any reasonable interpretation then current, he is not so much intervening in the natural order in some way that defies description ("A miracle!") as he is restoring the natural order as defined first and foremost by God. Understood in this way, our current uses of "nature", "natural", and "supernatural" become nonsensical, rooted in a vision of their referents as something, ultimately, mundane and, with the prefix "super-", its opposite.

Rather than get in to arguments over definitions, I just find it far easier to not use certain words. Others find them useful, and that's OK. I do not, though.

Karl Rove Holds Republican Voters In Contempt

I find it more than amusing that we are barraged with claims that liberals are elitists who hate real Americans. There is enough evidence, time and time again, proving the exact opposite, which only shows, I think, that far too many conservatives have a very real stake in feeling victimized by anyone who disagrees with them.

NPR's Peter Overby and Andrea Seabrook did a story this morning on the way "independent, non-partisan advocacy groups", emerging in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, are, in mundane fact if not legal fact, front groups for the Republican Party. One of the most interesting tidbits to emerge from the story, however, comes near the end of the report.
B. Wayne Hughes made a fortune in the self-storage business. He sits on the board of the American Action Network. The way the group is organized, it's unclear how much he's given to it. But he recently gave $1.5 million to American Crossroads, just as the ad campaigns were ramping up.

That group says on its website: "We believe that a new direction for America starts with you — not with clever political ads, consultants and slick fundraising pitches."
Such blatant dishonesty is a thing of beauty.

Slap Fight! (UPDATE)

It's getting ugly out there. This is one of those moments when it is possible to sit back and either enjoy the show, or be disgusted by it. Glenn Greenwald's usual pose of the affronted moral crusader, attacked by an Establishment bent on the suppression of dissent is tiresome; John Burns equally silly pose as the hurt and pitiful simple reporter is laughable. That there continues to be some kind of surprise - "People on the internet are mean!" - over the kinds of things said about others makes me want to laugh.

I have to agree with Matt Yglesias (linked above), at least on this last matter:
I think this shows less about American discourse on these wars than it does about how isolated from criticism writers at prestigious journalistic outlets have traditionally been. I don’t think American discourse about parking regulation or the definition of insider trading or the wisdom of consumption vs income taxes has become particularly embittered in recent years. Nevertheless, some of the responses I get over email and in comments to my posts on those subjects gets extremely vituperative.

A lot of people just like to be vituperative on the Internet. What’s more, for any given stance you can take on a political issue there’s always going to be someone who disagrees with you.
This episode should otherwise pass without notice, except for a couple things. First, these two towering egos - Greenwald and Burns - have now replaced the real issue at hand, the person of Julian Assange and Wikileaks and their document dump, with themselves. Yet another shiny object put in the path of coherent understanding.

I have to admit that I erred the other day when I stated there was a "PR campaign" against Julian Assange. Burns' piece is actually rather fair, in the sense that he notes Assange's drive and intelligence, but also notes that he is hardly sinless. Compared to Nixon's Plumbers breaking in to Ellsberg's psychiatrist office to steal information to use against him, I just don't see this as being in the same league. Furthermore, Greenwald's assertion that he "did not" call Burns a "sociopath" is actually made incoherent in his attempted response (from linked AP report above; if they sue me, send me cash):
I didn't actually call Burns that. What I wrote was that, in light of what these documents reveal, "even" a borderline-sociopath would be awash with guilt over having supported this war and would be eager to distract attention away from that -- by belittling the importance of the documents and focusing instead on the messenger: Julian Assange. In other words, there's only one category of people who would not feel such guilt -- an absolute sociopath -- and I was generously assuming that Burns was not in that category, which is why I would expect (and hope) that he is driven by guilt over the war he supported. That's the most generous explanation I can think of for why -- in the face of these startling, historic revelations -- his journalistic choice was to pass on personality chatter about Assange
I actually attempted symbolic logic to parse this, and still came up empty. Then I tried substituting "wife beater" for sociopath, and came to the conclusion that Greenwald did not, in fact assert that Burns was a sociopath. He only asserted that there is enough circumstantial evidence for someone who might think that to rest easy with that thought. Weird stuff for a lawyer, to say the least.

Second, there is a real issue here, underneath the name-calling and robe-rending by both these ridiculous men. I discovered this real issue in the sidebar at Greenwald's Salon page that displays his Twitter activity. In an exchange with Michael Cohen (going under the Twitter nom speechboy71) we read the following from Greenwald:
"I find JAs failure to redact names deplorable": do you find the huge #s of civilian deaths we recklessly caused as deplorable?
The reality is, yes, the United States killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, and indirectly is responsible for tens of thousands more. For that reason, releasing raw intelligence data to the public, data that has the potential for putting the lives of American service personnel and their allies in Iraq at real risk is OK. That seems to be Greenwald's argument here.

This is ridiculous, even offensive. This is not an intellectual game; this isn't some exercise in moral purity. This is real life, all too real, where people's lives hinge on information that, out of multiple necessities, needs to be kept under wraps. I refuse to impugn the motives of Glenn Greenwald here, as he does with his critics time and time again. All the same, the net result of the argument he is making here is simple: Because the invasion and poorly-managed military occupation of Iraq was (not just politically but morally) wrong, any information that details how wrong is justified, even if that information has the potential of putting the lives of American service personnel at risk.

You know, I and other war opponents have spent the better part of seven years making the argument that our opposition to the war on political grounds is not opposition to the troops. Supporting actions that present a very real threat to the lives of our troops, however, seems like the kind of insouciance we can ill-afford.

UPDATE: I started following both Greenwald and Michael Cohen on Twitter so I could watch their little back and forth in real time. In the midst of a back and forth, Greenwald makes a move so marvelously subtle, I almost missed it. In the process, he manages to hoist the "poor pitiful me" card. First, Cohen's Tweet:
@ggreenwald I see little diff btw what you are doing to Burns and what you claim Burns is doing to Assange
Now, Greenwald's response:
@speechboy71 If you see no diff. between what I did & Burns did, then you should be criticizing him too - but you're not - makes no sense
Thing a beauty, huh? You notice that? Greenwald changes what Cohen said, every so slightly, to make it appear that Cohen is being a hypocrite. Yet, that is not what Cohen said. Cohen does not agree with Greenwald's assertions in re Burns' reporting on Julian Assange (a personality-driven character assassination), but sees, quite clearly, that is exactly what Greenwald is doing to Burns (I especially love the tweet where Cohen points out Greenwald's claim that Burns is acting out of guilt; based on . . . what, exactly?). Just by that subtle change, Greenwald turns Cohen's charge of hypocrisy against Greenwald right around on Cohen, and manages to portray himself the victim.

For what it's worth, Cohen catches it in real time and responds.
@ggreenwald I see no diff btw what u criticize Burns for doing and what u are doing to him

@ggreenwald you attack Burns for assigning motive to Assange. You're doing the same thing to him!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When I Paint My Masterpiece: Amiri Baraka On Art And Revolution

I consider myself a fan of Amiri Baraka. I was both surprised and pleased that he actually entered the fray of partisan politics by supporting the candidacy of Barack Obama. I also figured he would be, as we all were, disappointed and disillusioned by an actual Obama Administration.

He has a piece in First Things that deals with this disappointment. My problem with what Baraka has to say, however, is the way, in the end, he marginalizes real social and political action even as he names the Opposition.
here’s no more resonant example of tragic contradiction throughout our history than the perversion of the 14th amendment. Passed after the overthrow of Chattel Slavery it was intended to give Equal Protection under the law to every person in the U.S. But, according to some observers (see Thom Hartman’s book, Unequal Protection, The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights), a clerk of the court – a former railroad president – changed the language of the actual decision to address a matter not originally at issue. The upshot was equal protection for corporations which the legal ruling endowed artificially with personhood.

The irony was that a law intended to protect the rights of ex-slaves, particularly in the south, was twisted to protect corporations who were now said to possess the same rights. Though of course a corporation is not human any more than a corpse is alive. Even if it’s an entity with the power of, say, General Motors, whose gross income is larger than the entire GNP of Afro America. (At 700 billion a year, Afro America ranks 16th in the world. General Motors is 15th.)

It’s not cynicism to say than that in exchange for Emancipation from the private owner, black and white workers could now be wage slaves to the corporate entity, now protected as a fake human being, just like Frankenstein or the Golem.

This is another aspect of what Obama’s presidency should teach us, the corporate domination of the U.S. and the corporate domination of the world. What is called Globalization. The international domination of the world by imperialism. If we followed the struggle to pass the very modest healthcare bill against the power and strength of the corporations and their ubiquitous lobbyists.
This is pretty standard fare, really.

Baraka makes a move toward more peripheral issues.
If we try to understand that the U.S is, itself, in essence a Corporate Dictatorship, then it will be easier to understand why the arts, even education, for the people, is undervalued. As the man said, the “unpredictability” of the arts, artists etc. means that art may say something the corporations oppose or detest.

Suppose we are burdened, we extreme cases, by Keats and DuBois, believing their charge that the only directives the artist must follow are Truth and Beauty? Then woe is us, since in a world where corporate control drenches everything in lies (whether lipstick or liquor) and demands ugliness, or at least shallowness, as beauty-proof accessories to keep many of us from knowing truth. Then where does that leave us?

There is a censorship based on the rule of corporations and their monopoly capitalist ideology. But that doesn’t mean only the excision of words or images in certain paintings (as Rockefeller once did when he spotted Lenin in one of Diego Rivera’s murals which he’d commissioned). Corporate control means that certain areas of human experience, of human thought cannot even be expressed. And if by some great effort, those thoughts get out, corporate influence will render them (according to other soi disant artists) inartful or otherwise inappropriate.

Beyond censorship, the other tragic dimension of corporate control is that it trivializes for the sake of commerce all thought that’s not ruled out of bounds. A world that once spoke of art adhering to the will of the prophets has been bent and mutated by those with an addiction to maximum profits.
First of all, artists have almost always been prostitutes. The great Renaissance painters were whores for the Medici. Mozart served the Emperor. The myth of the starving artist - personified by drunken Van Gogh dying in penury only to have his work become, posthumously, a valuable commodity - is an exception that proves the rule. The Romantic vision of artists as servants of Truth seems noble, but is belied by much of the history of art. Most served filthy lucre via whoever was willing to pay the bills.

That Baraka would bemoan the elimination of public subsidy of the arts seems odd. If, indeed, we have lived for a century and quarter in a Corpocracy, the funds supplied to the arts have always come with the proviso that the product serve the paymaster. As usual. Baraka avoids this particular trap by declaring most of the art so produced as incredibly ugly, worthless from an aesthetic point of view. Without offering any examples, he makes the claim that the commodification of the arts, hand in hand with public funding, debases the arts.

Serving higher masters, artists must be the vanguard of the revolution, it seems.

While this Romantic notion exists at the heart of so much discussion of the arts, it is fanciful. Poets, painters, musicians can certainly serve the end of social justice. All the same, they are no less servants of greater paymasters then than they are under capitalism. The final point - creating national and international means for pursuing social change - really has very little to do with Art, and rather than the last item on the agenda, should always be the first. This reversal ends up rendering impotent any pursuit of real justice; if the first concern is beauty in service of truth, the hungry and oppressed remain so.

Fun With Blogger Widgets

I have discovered, in some updates to Blogger, there is a "stats" button on the dashboard. It tracks traffic, including who is clicking over and reading, where they are from (Russia? Really?), and what posts generate the most traffic.

I was surprised to learn that this is the single most-read post I have ever done. I think it's this album cover.
Which means, of course, that many of my readers are pervs.

I know, for example, that Marshall Art, and others using his site, continue to click over here. They lurk, but don't comment.

This is a new little thing, and one thing I have noticed is posting links at Facebook and Twitter really does help boost traffic. So, as annoying as it is for most of the folks on my Friends list and who follow me, I'm gonna keep doing it.

So, be warned. I know who you are!

A Nation Of Experts

I've never been a joiner. In college, I stayed away from fraternities; not even interested. As I've gotten older, I have refused to join even those organizations that, generally and broadly speaking, have platforms and programs with which I agree. The ACLU? Nope. NAACP? Sent them some money, but . . . no. Amnesty International? I mean, come on, right? No.

The only organization with which I associate myself is the United Methodist Church. Even there, it gets troubling because there are many things about the denomination I do not like.

Hopping on the internet, I discovered, four years ago, a burgeoning network of progressive Christianity. At first I affiliated myself with it. Now . . . no. For one thing, it is far too closely associated with Jim Wallis, who isn't really all that progressive, and whose main goal is to keep his name and face before the public.

I was happy enough to associate myself with the progressive political movement, insofar as it represented disparate interests united around one goal - ending the Republican majority in Congress and getting some solid legislation passed. I have had to put up with the anti-Christian sentiment among many progressives, much of which is as brainless as some Christian fundamentalism. The price you pay.

Over the past year or so, however, I have felt it necessary to distance myself even from the broader progressive movement. For one thing, there is a general sense among many further to the left of the political spectrum, that Barack Obama is not only a weak President. They are falling in to the same ideological nonsense one heard in 1999 and 2000. It is summed up best by the claims that there are no differences between the Obama Presidency and what we might have expected from a President McCain. Just as they were wrong when they said there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush, they are wrong on this score, too.

With the document dump from Wikileaks still out there; with all sides making all sorts of claims, it is difficult to whisper through all the shouting that this entire episode is filled with pitfalls. The right, for example, has managed to take a Wired magazine article based on some of the Wikileaks documents and made it say the exact opposite of what the article - and the documents themselves - say. On the left, we have stuff like this.
When a tyrannical government cannot argue with the information posted which in this case is actual US and Pakistan Military documents, they attack the messenger.

Wikileaks has already saved numerous American and NATO soldiers lives in exposing that US Military commanders did not tell the helicopter pilots and flight crews that the Pakistani ISI had acquired heat seeking shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles and gave those to the Taliban fighters. NOW thanks to Wikileaks US and NATO pilots are staying alive by changing their flight paths and carrying defense tools to offset that previously unspoken threat.

Wikileaks has already brought closure on NATO soldiers familys in Canada who were lied to about how their son's were killed in action. They were as the documents revealed killed by their own men!

As long as vital need to know information is not being shared to the US and NATO troops as well as the world at large, there is a prevailing need for a Wikileaks to post the truth, to reveal what is actually going on and saving many lives as they do.

While the US Military propaganda machine might act like they are laughing about not telling the US and NATO helicopter pilots and their flight crews that the Taliban had recently acquired heat seeking shoulder fired missiles, the multiple DEAD pilots, flight crews and dozens of passengers were not among those laughing.

Wikileaks exposed that utterly corrupt lapse of judgement by the US Military and SAVED PILOTS LIVES.
This is just part of the comment. Needless to say, there is no justification for any of the claims made here. Beginning by describing the United States as possessing a "tyrannical government" - even as he posts quite freely on the internet, without interference, without fear of a knock on the door in the middle of the night or his family never discovering what has happened to him - is not a way to endear oneself to folks who might think that, while bad, ours is hardly a tyrannical government.

Yet, having access to all these documents makes everyone sudden experts. Whether it's journalists at the big papers and news magazines, or bloggers of this or that political persuasion, or commenters at Media Matters for America, we find ourselves in the midst of folks who think, "This isn't so bad, right?"

Except, it really is. I'm no fan of the war. I'm no fan of the overuse of the classification system. There is plenty of evidence the military has lied to folks, not just in Iraq but in pretty much every war we've been in, about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of various individuals. The matter of Pat Tillman isn't unique by any means; it just shone a spotlight on the simple reality that battles are messy things, bullets fly any which way, and sometimes Americans die at the hands of other Americans. It is difficult to understand. The military does no one any favors by lying about it, but it is, to say the least, embarrassing. It seems to render a battlefield death less meaningful if it is the result of friendly fire. At least, if killed by the official enemy, the death may have furthered some purpose; dying at the hands of one's comrades strips it of even this onion-skin-thin sheen of dignity.

This is just a sample, I am sure, of all sorts of nonsense from the fringes of the left, a direct result of people with neither the training nor the knowledge nor the simple wisdom to ask fundamental questions concerning the Wikileaks cache excited over the prospect of reading secret documents.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Special Message For Some Friends

To whom it may concern:

"Reverence for inconspicuousness"

What does it tell us about the state of theology today that the most moving reflections upon the death of Jesus I have read in a very long time were written over 40 years ago by a Marxist?
[T]he advice to give Caesar that which is Caesar's (Mark 12, 17) does not teach getting along with the world, as Paul does later, but disdaining the world: soon there will be nothing any more that is Caesar's. The pound that is to gain by usury is exclusively goodness, the inner treasure. The way to raise it is the imitation of a love that made a man cease to want anything for himself, that made him ready to lay down his life for his brethren. The Eros of Antiquity was love of beauty and splendor; Christian love embraces instead not only the lost and oppressed, but especially the inconspicuous. The motion of ancient love is reversed, and this alone does make partiality to the poor an end in itself, now - the end that follows their election, from the sojourn among the little people. Jesus himself is present among the helpless, as an element of their low estate. He stands in obscurity, not in spelndor: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, he have done it unto me" (Matth. 25, 40).

Christian love contains this inclination to inconscpicuousness in the world, to the encounter with it and to the effect of the encounter; it contains the pathos and the mystery of little things. Hence the importance of the child in the manger, together with the meanness of all circumstances in the cramped, out-of-the-way stable. The surprise finding of the Saviour in a helpless child became an enduring part of Christian love, most assuredly in its Franciscan form; it regards the helpless as important and the outcasts in the world as called. It always has the adoration of the child in mind, and the search for the chief stone of the corner which the builders had thrown away. Reverence for inconspicuousness is the final key the this reversal of the motion of love, and to its hearkening, gripping, waiting for a turnabout at the asides, the silences, the anti-greatness of the world. . . .

Jesus is the sign that contradicts . . . power, and the world contradicted that sign with the gallows; the cross is the world's reply to Christian love, to the love of the last that shall be first, of the outcast in which the true light gathers, of the joy which in Chesterton's acid phrase was the great publicity of a few heathens and became, or will become, the little secret of all Christians.

Ernst Bloch, Man On His Own, pp.185-187
Beyond "Amen", I'm not sure what else to say.

Choosing Laws To Obey

I am going to start with some confession. Good for the soul and all that. I have broken the law. I'll start small. Speed limit signs are suggestions more than real legal statements. After all, getting to work on time, even a tad early, is far more important than obeying laws that no one bothers with anyway, am I right?

I have smoked marijuana. Quite a few times. Hardly earth-shattering, I know. I also used hashish once - exciting, in a hallucinatory, what-the-hell's-happening-to-me kind of way. Cocaine. I came of age in the 1980's, so come on.

I haven't committed any serious crimes. I've not stolen, raped, murdered. Because of the presence of blue laws in most jurisdictions, I am guilty of misdemeanors in New York, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Virginia. I'll leave it at that, thank you very much.

I drank alcoholic beverages before I was of legal age (a reality made more complicated by the fact that the State of New York changed its drinking age without grandfathering folks in; it was nineteen until the year I was nineteen when they raised it to 21; I could legally drink for 53 weeks, then it was a no-no for 51). I have, on a couple occasions, got behind the wheel worse for the ravages of booze, perhaps illegal acts I am least proud of, and with the most potential for really bad results.

Here's the thing. We're a nation of law breakers. For most of us, there are laws we acknowledge, mostly, by nodding in their direction as we pass them by. Usually this kind of law breaking is harmless, or only marginally or potentially harmful. Other times, though, it becomes a bit more tricky to justify what we are doing. Yet, justify it we do, because we human beings are excellent at arguing for our own righteousness, for the expedience of illegality as a passing contingency in the face of some other good.

The Civil Rights movement had the Constitution on its side, but it also thought it perfectly acceptable to break the law to pursue the "higher goal" of full social and political integration for African-Americans. While it is true they were left with few options, and it is more than arguable that this is the exception that proves the counter-point I am trying to make here, the basic Robin Hood approach of making heroes out of law-breakers, and justifying our lawlessness in the pursuit of some higher goal or principle or even "higher law" was set firmly in the minds of the nation.

Whether it was young kids burning their draft cards, themselves, or running to Canada to avoid military service in Vietnam; environmentalists who chain themselves to trees or (worse) spike them to prevent logging; the Reagan White House setting up an entire network to undermine legal limits on support for Nicaraguan rebels (in which we heard Fawn Hall, appearing before the special committee because she took classified documents from the White House in her underpants, say that she felt she was obeying "higher law"); or the Bush White House hiring suck-ass lawyers willing to tell them they could do pretty much anything they wanted; all of this comes down to one thing - breaking the law can always be made expedient for one reason or another.

Over the weekend, the website Wikileaks dumped on the public almost half a million documents on the American involvement in Iraq, from the years 2003-2009. These documents were and are classified. They were obtained by Wikileaks illegally. One enlisted man is under arrest, presumably for being a funnel. More arrests are likely. As Glenn Greenwald notes, not only are there several legal investigations under way, there is a concerted PR campaign against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Quite apart from this tawdry bit of farce, however, the reality is that Greenwald supports law breaking like this.
Predictably, just as happened with Ellsberg, there is now a major, coordinated effort underway to smear WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, and to malign his mental health -- all as a means of distracting attention away from these highly disturbing revelations and to impede the ability of WikiLeaks to further expose government secrets and wrongdoing with its leaks. (italics added)
See, part of the problem here is we have run in to that stupid, fake moral quandary - is it sometimes necessary to break one law or even a whole bunch of laws to further some higher moral purpose? Ever since the Jesuits figured that the ends justify the means, the answer to this has always been the same. Sure. Why not? Never mind that a member of the US military violated sworn oaths to get these documents to Wikileaks. Never mind that these documents are pretty raw data, and the news organizations that obtained them really aren't capable of doing the heavy lifting to sort through them. Never mind that even a humble, low-traffic blogger such as yours truly saw fit to link to news articles drawn from this information, summarily declaring members of the US military and its civilian overseers were war criminals.

I recently had the privilege of seeing this whole thing from a different perspective. I was challenged by it. I ran a little thought-experiment. Would I, as an individual, take the offer of, say, $10 million, even if I knew (a) the money had been obtained illegally; and (b) no penalties would accrue to me for its use? I can honestly say the answer to that question is "No", for the expedient reason that I don't care all that much about money.

Yet, I and the rest of the world seem perfectly content to use ill-gotten gains in the form of illegally-obtained information to make judgments on all sorts of actions, even though we really aren't that much more informed than we were before. We've been shown snapshots, really, out of context or even focus, and persuaded that the questions we have about them aren't as important as the photos themselves. Except, of course, it is our duty to ask these kinds of questions.

I am not going to take down the two posts I have done so far on the Times articles. I am going to leave them up as an object lesson for myself. I am as capable as anyone else of justifying breaking laws, and am quite happy to reap the benefits of others' law-breaking, as long as I convince myself I have benefited from it. Thing is, I haven't really. I don't really "know" more than I did before. I don't even understand the events in question more clearly. Rather, I have participated in a world-wide conspiracy to undermine the laws of the US military out of the self-righteous pose of being against the war in Iraq. I am, really, no better than Fawn Hall, her old-school granny-panties filled with papers stamped "TOP SECRET". I laughed at her back in 1987. I deserve to be laughed at now, for my own short-sightedness and inflated sense of myself.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Shiny! (UPDATE)

Charles Murray has written an op-ed in today's Washington Post that is yet another of those, "Liberals think they're so smart but that just means they're unAmerican," pieces of crap that appear, like clockwork, since Joe McCarthy called Dean Acheson names.

I used to get upset over stuff like this. I mean, deeply, awfully upset. Now, I see it for what it is. It's a distraction. Even commenting on this or that part of it lends it more credibility than it deserves. It is a way for the right to distract folks from the fact that our economy is in the toilet right now, and Republicans, poised to gain serious ground in a couple weeks, have no real plan to change that fundamental reality.

They have plans. Sure they do. If you listen close enough, some have let slip what will happen if they take over even one House of Congress. It will be the Clinton era all over again. Investigate. Demand documents. Sling charges in the press without foundation or evidence. Keep the Obama Administration off balance as the Republicans even try to bring up the "I" word. Again.

All this other stuff? Phony elites who eat arugula and don't watch NASCAR? It's a way, yet again, to stoke fear. It really isn't worth getting all upset over.

Consider the sources. Charles Murray. The Washington Post op-ed page. Really, that's all that needs to be said. The specifics of the article may have changed, but the central point is the same as it ever was: Here's something shiny to distract people from their real problems. Here are the ones who are the source of our misery. They aren't in touch with real Americans. They practice pilates, but don't know who Jimmie Johnson is. They went to Ivy League schools and intermarry, instead of going to community college and staying in small town (read "real") America.

It's crap, from beginning to end. It was when Dean Acheson was derided as a communist dupe by Joe McCarthy because Acheson - a refined, educated Canadian national - held McCarthy in contempt. It was BS when Adlai Stevenson was called an egghead. It matters no more now than it did when anti-war protesters during the Vietnam era were called elitists out of touch with the "silent majority" of Americans by the Nixon Administration.

What really counts is this - the country is in a fix and we need to all pull together, stop whining and bitching and moaning and cowering and actually do stuff to make it better. It's easier, I guess, to get mad at some guy who went to a better school and has never read a Left Behind book (and, oh, good Lord why did Murray have to bring up that sequence of sado-masochistic misanthropy?) than, you know, to actually do stuff to make all our lives better.

UPDATE: Via The New Inquiry comes news of the magazine n+1's latest issue. It concerns the sociology of the hipster. Suffice it to say I agree with the contribution from NI's editor.
The problem with hipsters seems to me the way in which they reduce the particularity of anything you might be curious about or invested in into the same dreary common denominator of how “cool” it is perceived to be. Everything becomes just another signifier of personal identity. Thus hipsterism forces on us a sense of the burden of identity, of constantly having to curate it if only to avoid seeming like a hipster.
Hipsters are those folks who pronounce that Dutch impressionist's name "Van Goch" with that fricative at the end, rather than "Van Go". Hipsters are those who prefer 1940's noir, explaining in fine detail the nuances of various films, to pretty much anything. Hipster women drink their vodka straight. Hipster men know which year produced the best wines in the best vineyards. Hipsters vacation in Tuscany.

They are, in other words, that same elite that Charles Murray whines about. They are an "Other" against whom we can define what is "real" or "true" about our own social identity.

Again, while fascinating in a theoretical way, it concerns that which isn't really all that important at the moment. Hipsters certainly pretend to an insouciance toward politics and economics; the view of them as "above it all" is part both of their appeal and the anger directed at those so labeled. Since no one, really, is above it all, it is an entirely fictional construct.

Which doesn't mean there isn't much goodness to read within the pages of n+1.

Freedom From Fear

In church this morning, Cal Culpepper delivered the message on Numbers. Specifically, the passages concerning God telling Moses to send spies to Canaan. The spies return, reporting that, yes, the land does indeed flow with milk and honey. At the same time, it's filled with people who are far stronger, even physically larger (we have the nephilim raising their odd heads in this passage). So, despite the promise part of Promised Land, ten of the twelve insist it would be far better not to enter.

Cal's message was chock full of Christiany goodness. I would like to lift up just part of what he said, because it resonates with something that has been on my mind a whole lot lately.

Why are we, as a people, so filled with fear? We are afraid of Mexicans. We are afraid of Muslims. We are afraid of Republicans and Democrats. We are afraid of Socialists and Nazis. This fear resonates through our popular culture, reflected in the plethora of horror films - Paranormal Activity, A Haunting in Connecticut, and The Reaping are just a sampling - play upon our fears of the unknown, giving a supernatural face and shape to our general sense of unease about others. Oddly enough, there has been a whole spate of films involving possession that, like The Exorcist, seem to posit Satan as extremely interested in possessing the bodies of prepubescent girls. I mused on Facebook that it might be far better to picture Satan possessing, say, the Prime Minister of Great Britain or the CEO of Raytheon, rather than some kid who still has trouble balancing on a pair of roller skates.

Now, bear with me a moment. I have come to enjoy the TV series Supernatural, dealing specifically with a whole underground culture of "hunters" after ghosts, monsters, vampires, witches - all the critters that make us quiver in our boots. The characters, Sam and Dean Winchester, drive around the back roads of America in a black 1967 Chevrolet muscle car, listening to 70's and 80's hard rock, outlaws who serve a higher law (one of the many US myths about ourselves, that living outside the law is usually done for the greater good).

One of the things I found fascinating from the very beginning was the way Sam and Dean faced these various spooks. They did it without any fear whatsoever. Perhaps because they weren't unknown to them; perhaps because they had been trained to act rather than react, who knows. In any event, they faced these creatures - up to and including demons and angels - without fear, sometimes even with contempt (angels don't come off looking so well; in fact, they are quite often referred to as "dicks").

I guess I always thought that was how we were supposed to live our lives as Christians. Unafraid. If God is for us who can be against us, right? Yet, far too many Christians are really quite cowardly. Gays are going to destroy our country, then wreak havoc on the earth. God is actually being kept out of American classrooms. God! Did you know that we could do that?

Whether it is in our churches or the larger society, we are a people who are inundated with one simple, clear message - be afraid. Be afraid of weapons of mass destruction. Be afraid that the person next to you on the subway/bus/train/airplane may be a terrorist. Be afraid that, with organized Christian sectarian prayer out of our schools, the next stop is underage orgies.

We have become a church and a nation of chicken-hearted, lilly-livered cowards. Seriously. We should be ashamed of how cowardly we are. Yet this fear is spread, and our cowardice encouraged, by all sorts of folks who gain power over us in the midst of our fear. Rather than stand up and refuse to listen, it seems we are about to accept that we must turn for security to those who have targets for our fear.

We are, sad to say, a bunch of sorry-ass, whiny little babies. The monsters under our bed aren't real. The boogey-man is a fiction. The stranger on the train is in a hurry to get to her doctor's appointment. Born and raised in Hawaii, our President is as American as apple pie. We shouldn't even fear fear; rather, we should be enraged that our fears are encouraged and exploited for personal gain by those who have no real intention of protecting us.


I should have known the story would not end well when I read the company name - Custer Battles.

The second day of New York Times analysis of the Wikileaks document dump includes a look at the use of "security contractors", a marvelous euphemism for mercenaries.
Contractors were necessary at the start of the Iraq war because there simply were not enough soldiers to do the job. In 2004, their presence became the symbol for Iraq’s descent into chaos, when four contractors were killed in Falluja, their bodies left mangled and charred.

Even now — with many contractors discredited for unjustified shootings and a lack of accountability amply described in the documents — the military cannot do without them. There are more contractors over all than actual members of the military serving in the worsening war in Afghanistan.

The archive, which describes many episodes never made public in such detail, shows the multitude of shortcomings with this new system: how a failure to coordinate among contractors, coalition forces and Iraqi troops, as well as a failure to enforce rules of engagement that bind the military, endangered civilians as well as the contractors themselves. The military was often outright hostile to contractors, for being amateurish, overpaid and, often, trigger-happy.
In 2003, then Secretary of Defense said, "You go to war with the military you have, not the military you want," a marvelous jab at the uniformed services that made quick work of the Iraqi military. Except it seems, with the revelations from these documents, that the United States most decidedly did not go to war with the military it had. It supplemented it with "security services" - with, as the article notes, little oversight and no accountability.

I remember reading that private security firms had been hired to guard the new US embassy in Baghdad, and wondered why. From time immemorial that was the job of the Marine Corps. Apparently, having mercenaries protect US officials was necessary because the Marines were needed in the field. Or some such justification. I, for one, would not want my life and health to rest in the hands of someone who was not answerable to the chain of command and UCMJ (not that either seemed to work well at many points in the Iraqi War/Occupation).

This is yet another sign that we are crashing and burning as a nation. The Bush Administration wanted this war, they made their case to the American people, but they did not - ever - demand any sacrifices from us for it. No war time economic measures. No draft. Nothing. They figured they could outsource combat. Since that worked out so well for so many other declining world powers in history - Rome, Britain during the American War of Independence - I can understand why they decided this was the way to go.

There are really no words for the anger and sadness I feel over this.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More