Monday, July 31, 2006

Talking Down Talking Points (this post is unneccessarily long)

This is more of an observation post than a link-filled post, but I daresay this is a phenomenon so widespread and apparent it should require no specific demonstrations. I suppose I just want to bring it to light in its own right and ask a question:

It seems to me that an alltogether disproportionate amount of political and journalistic discourse recently has been plagued by an increasingly narrow lexicon. It seems that our President's folksy, straight-shooting mannerisms and reluctance to get beyond his talking points, coupled with his tendency to ostracize/imprison/explode "bad guys" has forced any discussion of politics into a contest over control of the preferenced phrases. For instance it seems that the crucial determination to be made regarding any group of people is whether or not they are "peace loving." The Iraqis have been deemed a "peace loving people," a determination which lead to its own set of consequences once it was deemed that their leader was himself not peace loving, etc. But it becomes more important now when we see how desperately both the Israelis and the Lebanese claw over one another to attempt to demonstrate to the Media syndicates how they are "peace loving" and how "peace loving" they are, each demonstrating many of the ways in which they love peace, often by means of talking about how the other guy is not peace-loving. [I'd hope at this point that the repetition of the phrase is performative, and you see how vacuous it really is].

Example number two: every and any election must be what? Free and fair, of course. Now, this seems to be somewhat easier to deal with than peace-loving, but it is similarly simplistic, and seems to have survived simply by alliteration. I think that the closest related phrases to this one are probably 'Hot and Spicy' and 'Fast and Furious.' All elections are free and fair, even the ones that aren't, because there's always someone who can deploy this phrase the quickest. Elections that we don't like can quickly become "not free and fair" (rarely 'unfree and unfair,' as vowels are a bit more effete than consonants).

Mandates are also very popular now; if 49 or so odd percent can give you a mandate, there's nary a political leader in the world who cannot or will not lay claim to this gem.

Others abound, but these are my favorites and perhaps the most repetitive. To call this sort of sloganeering empty rhetoric is indeed easy enough, but what happens when these terms become endemic, not only fixing the demeanor of any discussion, but preventing discussion from escaping into more meaningful terms? When nations and lives rest simply on whether or not the American public can be convinced that you're 'Peace loving,' is this not something of a straightjacket for meaningful political discussion? I've went on for a while, I don't know if i've curried any support or drawn any conclusions, but I'm worried by the tendency and upset that otherwise meaningful issues fall prey to this hazy ambiguity and arbitrarity

Leonard Cohen serenades Mel Gibson

Wow. Check out Leonard Cohen's fucking awesome prescience. Just imagine these lyrics sung to our favorite DUI offender:

"And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it's coming apart
Take one last look at this sacred heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows."

"Everybody Knows," I'm Your Man (1988)

A great song from a fantastic album.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Four calls for Dresden: An investigation into just war theory (Warning: very long)

Wartime does strange things to people. Thucydides was no stranger to this phenomenon, and his analysis of the Corcyrean civil war rings frighteningly true now. Thucydides, like Plato, was interested in what happens when communally held conceptions of virtues and vices break down into chaotic rhetoric and dissonance. The manner in which the meanings of words change in Thucydides' account of Corcyra mirrors Plato's account in Republic 8 of Athenian democracy, where "freedom" becomes license for outrageousness, laziness, impiety. (We can say with assurance that Thucydides' picture is much more accurate than Plato's, although the sentiment is the same.) Orwell, of course, made a living out of the idea that with enough ideological conditioning, words can mean anything, even their extreme opposites.

But what happens the second time around, when ideologues use the same tactics while at the same time using Orwell's analysis to defend themselves? Perhaps Marx was right when he criticized Hegel, that the latter should have said that all world-historical events appear twice, but "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." For salient examples of farce in action, I direct you to Subjects A, B, C, and D: Charles Krauthammer, Cal Thomas, John Podhoretz, and Christopher Hitchens. All four writers have taken up the recent debate on "proportionality in war" and turned it on its head, often with the very sort of semantic sophistry I outlined above (i.e. defending themselves by appealing to the Orwellian idea of "common sense" as opposed to "doublespeak"). Krauthammer even explicitly talks of an "Orwellian moral universe." (For another article on doublespeak, but not with the same implications that I want to tease out of the four aforementioned writers, see Victor Davis Hanson.)

Rather than formally join the argument about "proportionality" in the Lebanon-Israel conflict, a move which would probably just bog us down and obscure my greater point, I'd like to draw attention to a move which all four writers make. I'll let them speak for themselves:

Krauthammer: "Britain was never invaded by Germany in World War II. Did it respond to the Blitz and V-1 and V-2 rockets with 'proportionate' aerial bombardment of Germany? Of course not. Churchill orchestrated the greatest air campaign and land invasion in history, which flattened and utterly destroyed Germany, killing untold innocent German women and children in the process."

Thomas: "Imagine if we had been concerned about a proportional response at the beginning of World War II. Instead, America nuked Japan and firebombed Germany. We weren't after a 'sustainable cease-fire,' nor did we speak in diplomatic niceties or worry about 'civilian casualties.' Our goal was the enemy's unconditional and complete surrender. There haven't been any dictators in Germany or Japan since."

Podhoretz: "Could World War II have been won by Britain and the United States if the two countries did not have it in them to firebomb Dresden and nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Didn't the willingness of their leaders to inflict mass casualties on civilians indicate a cold-eyed singleness of purpose that helped break the will and the back of their enemies? Didn't that singleness of purpose extend down to the populations in those countries in those days, who would have and did support almost any action at any time that would lead to the deaths of Germans and Japanese?"

Hitchens: "Anything less than the apocalyptic seems inadequate. Eva Klemperer, a staunch and principled German Lutheran, told her husband that, after what she had experienced under Hitler, she could not find it in herself to truly regret the firestorm of Dresden. And what of the Slav and Balkan and Polish and Jewish slaves in Speer's underground hell holes, forced to dig out pits for the rocket-bombs that were being directed at London? Did they not cheer silently every time the very earth shook with revenge?"

Four defenses of scorched earth campaigns, three of them essentially saying the same thing. To Hitchens' credit, his argument is without a doubt the most complex and nuanced (how could it fail to be, when up against intellectual stillborns like Thomas and Podhoretz?), but he actually comes to a sneakier conclusion: rather than allow ourselves to get into situations where a Dresden is necessary, better to wage preemptive campaigns against all our enemies. Which tactic is the worse (or better)? You decide.

Now, to anyone not in a state of complete and unblinking military zeal equal to that of these commentators, the suggestion that we carry out another Dresden or another Hiroshima must be pure madness. "Never again" is not just a phrase we use to describe crimes perpetrated only by Nazis, although they will always be its main target; "never again," as it relates to the events of World War II, means that human beings will never again propel themselves into the sort of large scale destruction that inverts our moral calculus so viciously. Everyone knows it's best that the Allies won WWII; at the same time, everyone knows that Dresden and Hiroshima were atrocities, evidence of how close we had to come, asymptotically, to the Nazis in order to defeat them. We should recoil from that nearness. Almost everyone does. Not apparently, these four men, whose willingness to present the mass firebombing of civilian populations as not only justified, but necessary and desirable, reveals an element of character that defies definition. It's not merely fascist, because that word is limited to a very recent phenomenon; it's just evil. And that's just the a priori argument against it. Even the briefest glance at the empirical facts in the case of Lebanon shows us that there is not even the remotest chance that Hezbollah, given any sort of "victory" here, could duplicate what the Reich could. Summoning up "shades of Hitler," the "specter of Islamofascism," is laughable.

What, then, is the "moral compass," if you can even call it that, that is capable of calling genocide "singleness of purpose"? It is a curious version of the jus in bello, one that starts not with a conception of the rules that all parties must follow but of the parties themselves. The party that is "in the right," not with respect to the jus ad bellum or justification for war but with respect to itself, to where it stands in the spectrum of systems of thought, each more or less closer to the "truth," formulates its policy accordingly: "the rightness of our cause makes our actions righteous." One can see the transparent fallacy of this line of thinking, because no party would ever assert its "wrongness," so to speak, and so no one would ever accept any version of the rules. It is an invitation to terror and genocide. It's not surprising that this sort of thinking should dominate both sides of the fight. The one side, that is clearly the stronger, has nothing to lose, or more specifically has no real threat by which it might be checked in its assumptions of superiority (the "Might Makes Right" camp). The other side, limited in its resources but strong in willpower, has nothing to gain, or more specifically no other way to justify itself to itself than by exhibiting what little power it does possess in every haphazard and indiscriminate way possible (the "Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures" camp). Thucydides again provides a sterling example: the respective cynicism and desperation of the Athenians and the Melians in the so-called Melian Dialogue.

Krauthammer, Thomas, Podhoretz, and Hitchens fail to be true cynical Athenians, however, because they do not speak of naked power and aggression as the Athenians do. Perhaps behind closed doors they are honest with themselves, but in their commentary they hold fast to the language of justice and the truth, which the Athenians of Thucydides can only smirk at as naivete, mere rhetoric that conceals weakness. But before a popular audience it can be a powerful ideological tool. In the true rules of war, which take the form of Kantian categoricals, "good" and "evil" are determined by adherence or failure to the rules. In the minds of these men, conversely, "good" and "evil" are the premises by which we characterize ourselves, and the rules are whatever the "good" say they are. We cannot but be good, and burning to a cinder men, women, and children can only make us better.

We do not blanch at these opinions, in fact we find them part and parcel of our common currency, and there are historical reasons why. We have fought battles of "ideology" in the past, most notably with the Soviet Union. In that case there were certainly hawks who thought we should have nuked them indiscriminately, or at least destroyed Cuba in '62, but the Russians had nuclear deterrence, vast wealth, and centralized leadership. We could afford to be "civilized" and fight battles that were primarily economic in character. Since 9/11, we have been able to perpetuate the fight against those who "hate our freedom," who "want to destroy our values," who possess an "agenda of irrational hatred," but much to neoconservative delight we now have a decidedly weaker enemy, one with a thousand distinct, complex faces but an easy label: terrorism. Thus the "one percent doctrine" of regime change. The material and historical circumstances of the situation matter not at all; when we have identified an element of a state as "terrorist," it is our duty to wipe clean the slate. Negotiation is useless because our enemies have no "real" claims, only masks for their hatred. It must also be infinitely relieving to the war hawks that our enemy is now brown and of a different religion. The Russians were too unnervingly Like Us (they were godless, however--that helped). Now Cal Thomas can easily invoke the Arabs' "7th-century ways," their "miserable existence" full of "failings" and their inveterate jealousy towards Western success. He's waited a lifetime of Godly Christian righteousness and capitalist prosperity to be able to rub it in the big Other's face, and now he's getting it in spades.

That, then, is my psychologizing of the Four Proponents of Dresden. I confine it to them and other Americans like them, although there may be others in other countries. I should close by saying that it does not surprise me that they should talk this way. It comes as no shock that these people encourage the crudest, stupidest forms of foreign policy analysis, because those are the kinds most easily digested and repeated by their followers. What surprises me is that in their actions and language, in the arenas where they really count, they seem actually to believe what they tell us. To return to the example of Orwell, "genocide is resolve" has ceased to be a ruse; it is an article of faith.

"Arts and Letters Daily" Watch

For what it's worth, I direct your attention to the usually laudable, the source for so much of our intellectual conversation. Certain readers in the past have raised the question of whether the ol' AL leans conservative, or at least if its chief editor, Denis Dutton, does. (And if not conservative, then at least chauvinistically pro-Western, as its somewhat one-sided presentation of the Danish cartoon affair hinted.) A glance at Dutton's website (complete with reviews of Rorty, Baudrillard, and Adorno--not all disparaging!--among others) should show that he's anything but a party hack. However, I was disappointed this week to see this article linked to. In it, the Philadelphia Inquirer's book critic, Carlin Romano, tackles the newest offering from Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism, with nary a negative word in sight. Now, what good does it do us exactly to be presented with a completely unreflective review with the critic parroting the crudest parts of the author's argument? To whit:

"Muslim scholars, proud of Islam's cultural feats, often don't know what to say about its endemic violence and militarism."

"Islam began in banditry."

"Anyone not expert on early Islam will need a scorecard to follow the innumerable murders, impalings, decapitations and dismemberments that marked the early Islamic caliphates and Shiite/Sunni split. You think what's happening in Iraq is new?"

"Karsh's history, which takes Islam right through the Ottomans and Osama, indicates that both the White House and press ignored a crucial historical truth: Cultures rooted in violence, if not shown another way of life before being given back a right of self-determination, slip back into it."

What's especially dastardly about Karsh's argument (or Romano's presentation of it) is that it gives an ostensibly materialistic account. So you get phrases like "secular colonialist payoffs - money, booty, territory," and "a facade that concealed what was effectively a secular and increasingly absolutist rule," "one by which Arab caliphs could 'enjoy the material fruits of imperial expansion.'" Oh, so like the Roman Empire, right? Or Spain in the West Indies? Or Europeans in North America? Or the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and the Middle East? Right?? Wrong, I guess, because neither Karsh nor Romano is forthcoming in making any mention of those other examples of imperialist expansion. You would think it would be impossible to combine racism with materialism, since the two seem to be contradictory (i.e. we're going to start from material premises, not "endemic" traits), but apparently the authors want it both ways. For AL Daily's editors to link to this pseudo-article now, at a time when racist portrayals of Muslims are on the rise, is to me totally irresponsible.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Why do you hate America, fifth columnist?

So it turns out, if you scratch an Israeli conservative hardliner you American conservative hardliner! Seriously, if you just replace statements like "Much of the Israeli far Left is essentially an anti-Semitic movement that seeks Israel’s destruction and automatically endorses the enemies of Israel in all things" with the phrases "American far Left," "anti-American," and "America's destruction" you get what conservative commentators like Horowitz, Hannity, Coulter, Goldberg, and their ilk have been saying for years. Even Andrew Sullivan (perhaps more appropriately, of course Andrew Sullivan) has employed the "fifth column" rhetoric in the past.

There's a big difference, though. Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. As he writes, he is literally in danger of being hurt or even killed by a rocket. Moreover, his daily life involves a much higher chance of some sort of militant attack than we can imagine. I'm not excusing his fear-mongering, but at least there are social and psychological reasons why it is more likely for him to be employing such tactics than someone from, say, Sweden.

Or America. Of course 9/11 taught the U.S. to be on guard against another such attack, but 9/11 alone did not initiate conservative "with us or against us" logic. It's as old as McCarthyism and Vietnam protests, probably older. For many, 9/11 was simply an excuse to think up newer and better ways of accusing liberals (hell, anybody who disagreed with them) of treason. It certainly helped Republicans keep a Republican in power during "wartime."

All this makes me wary of American democracy. Israeli citizens are in far greater danger on a daily basis, yet there is a small but vocal Social Democratic peace party, and a newspaper like Haaretz prints dissenting views daily on their website. Yet in America, where citizens are genuinely divided about the use of force and cease-fire agreements in Lebanon, Republicans and Democrats are indistinguishable on the issue. The irony here is that even as Republicans become the most openly hostile towards Democrats they've ever been, there is little to suggest that a change in political leadership would pose a substantial threat to a more-or-less conservative agenda, because political debate has been shifted so far to the right as it is. Perhaps there is actually a correlation between the blending of political viewpoints and increased mudslinging, as conservatives experience an identity crisis.

Kyl, Graham, and Scalia do the dirty work, and Ponnuru provides the distraction

Just so we're all on the same page as to how disengenuous some politicians and pundits can be, check out this fascinating debate, initiated by Ramesh Ponnuru's July 25 article from National Review. Ponnuru's arguments revolve around the Detainee Treatment Act, passed in December of 2005. Carl Levin, the Democrat sponsor of the bill, reassured Senators in the weeks leading up to the vote that the DTA would most assuredly not bar the Supreme Court from hearing habeas corpus cases, specifically those like Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld. After formal debate was over on Dec. 21, but before every vote was counted, the Republican co-sponsors, Kyl and Graham, inserted into the Congressional Record a written colloquy that they attempted to pass off as live debate, saying explicitly that DTA would strip SCOTUS of jurisdiction over Hamdan. A later amicus curae brief submitted to the Supreme Court attempted to cite this as evidence that the Court had no authority concerning the case. Hamdan defense attorneys rightly argued against this bit of dissembling, although Justice Scalia, who knows no historicism, preferred to read the plain language (no matter how contrived) rather than consider the facts. In his own article, Ponnuru tries to say that Democrats had inserted their own language into the Record after debate, that the meaning of the law was therefore unclear, and that Scalia was right in wanting to side with Kyl and Graham and throw out the case.

Too bad he's wrong.

Emily Bazelon at Slate first noted Kyl and Graham's tricks back in March, then again in June when Hamdan was actually decided. Despite all this damning evidence against the good Senators, Ponnuru wrote his column (linked to above), and was swiftly denounced in turn by Bazelon again. So now not only have Kyl and Graham been caught red-handed, but Ponnuru continues to try to push their lies down our throats. And of course, he won't retract anything he's said, despite being just plain incorrect. Now, call me a conspiracy theorist, but does it not look slightly as though someone high up tapped Kyl and Graham to perform their sheisty move, counting on Scalia's interpretation to win the day and for cheerleaders like Ponnuru to make the medicine go down easy? Sorry, fellas! Maybe someday when Americans are lax enough you'll be able to torture and detain people all you want, but today there are still a few diligent journalists and jurists.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Take that, Imperialism!

Today is the 50th anniversary of Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal. No exposition for the moment, but I did want to make sure to post some of the BBC's audio coverage of the event, which is both current and archival, and all absolutely amazing. I will say that I think it is impossible to underestimate the importance of this event for 20th (and 21st) century history.

The Day Nasser Nationalized the Canal

Nasser's speech of August 56 against colonialism and outisde administration of the canal

Archival and other audio on the nationalization and the resultant war of (disgusting) retribution waged by "allied" powers against Egypt

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mad free market street cred

Who has the balls to call Milton Friedman a "left-fringe statist"? The Mises Institute, that's who!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What's in a Word? But Air?

Most bloggers for the past 11 days have been discussing why they haven't been talking about the latest Israeli bombing campaigns, and I'm not sure they're wrong to do so. I myself would like, at the moment, to avoid as much as possible arguments over the who-started-its, the "proportionality," etc. Indeed, I will try to hold my own cards as close to my chest as possible, so as to avoid these kinds of spiraling debates.

My only question is one that has been bothering me for some time. It regards the use of the term "Zionist." Usually, though not exclusively, one hears this word used rather pejoratively. When it appears in the Western media, it's usually said by a Muslim lamenting Israel, either specifically or generally. (It would be tough to cite specific examples because they appear in the newspaper daily. Ahmadinejad uses the word frequently, as does Saddam Hussein, as do everyday citizens of Muslism countries.)

The meaning of some of these usages I understand. "Zionism is racism," for example, refers to the Jewish idea that Israel-Palestine is a land for which the Jewish people have a privileged right to occupy, and that various Israeli laws and policies that discrimenate against Palestinians are accomplished through this racist "Zionist" ideology.

My own understanding of Zionism has always been something close to how Wikipedia defines it: "as a political movement and ideology that supports a homeland for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel." What has always struck me as strange, considering that this is what I understand Zionism to be, is why and how this term is still used. Given that Israel has been for nearly 60 years an existing state that serves as the homeland for many Jews, I never really understood why this term -- primarily used by Jews before the state of Israel was established in 1948--is still around today. Now that the state actually exists, in other words, why do some people use a term that mainly refers to the struggle to create the state.

My confusion can be expressed somewhat through an analogy. When I travel to Spain next year, I will not be traveling to the land of the "Reconquest" completed in 1492. Nor will I be traveling to the land of Castile and/or Aragon (the two independent states that were unified under Phillip V to essentially create modern-day Spain). Instead, I will be going to Spain, and will be speaking Castilian (the language of Castile, the conquering power). These are the cards that history has dealt me and were I to dispute them I would be saying something radical. I would be calling for the overthrow of the Spanish state.

A reasonable objection to this logic exists, of course. The Basques, the Catalonians, the Galicians, have never spoken Spanish and without seeming radical at all manage to make a persuasive case that they deserve some autonomy from Spain. Some of the more radical elements of Basque society believe that independence can be brought about only through violence. Unfortunately for them, their ends were not acheived through violence because, chiefly, they were unable to unleash enough of it to force their opponents to surrender. Now that the Basque terrorists have recognized the futility of their efforts, they have begun to enter into political dialogue with their opponents and in doing so, have to a certain extent recognized their opponents' conquest. In order to become free they must not kill their oppressor but acknowledge Spain's hegemony, and begin to negotiate. They must, in other words, be willing to compromise.

My question regarding Zionism surrounds this issue of compromise. If compromise involves at the very least recognizing the legitimacy, often hegemony, of your opponent, then what am I to take this term Zionism to mean? If you are a citizen of the Israeli state then are you not an Israeli? If you are the Israeli Prime Minister, or an IDF general, then are you not an Israeli? If these people are not Israelis but "Zionists," what exactly are they? Are they insurgents? Are they revolutionaries? Are they conquerers?

If "Zionist" is to mean any of these things then a Zionist is clearly involved in a yet unfinished project. He or she in the process of creating, the process of conquering, etc. And if they are in a continual process of state-creation rather than a finished one -- not in the sense of two-state solutions or border realignments but of "Zionist" as someone who supports Israel to exist as a Jewish state -- then they in fact are not a state but a movement that can, like any other movement, be crushed. (Just as Americans had little moral issues with eliminating the Taliban movement and "restoring" the Afghanistan state.)

Because I myself do not use the term "Zionist" I cannot know what is meant by those who say it. If the logic I have presented is false, and by "Zionist" I am to understand something entirely different, I would like nothing more than to know the real general meaning of the term.

Having spent lots of time with lots of people who support this Israeli aggression, I can speak only for their perspective. Their position (and Israel's it seems to me) would be that if you are someone who calls into question the very right for Israel to exist (ie. "Zionism" in the 1930s and 1940s sense) you are not someone who is likely willing to compromise; for when you speak of "occupation" you refer not solely to Gaza, or to the West Bank, or Lebanon, or the Golan, but to all of Israel. Those who use the term Zionist pejoratively, the logic goes, would like to see Israel go the same route as the Taliban (we will forget temporarily that the Taliban is nowhere near defeated). If Israelis are mere Zionists and the opponents of Israel are anti-Zionists, this thinking continues, Israel is not and should not be in a small adventure to retake their captured soldiers. Rather, they should be doing something drastic, disproportionate, etc. so as to defend not just their soldiers, but their existence.

Now that I have put forward my own questions, and the general position of those in favor of this Israeli aggression, I would love to hear something from another point of view. What do those who use the term pejoratively mean "Zionist?" Can someone concerned about Israel be persuaded that those who use the term and simultaneously lob and stockpile missiles, capture soldiers , etc. are interested in "two states" after all, and not the elimination of one (as in '48 and '67,).

I apolize if this post appears rambling. I have tried to ask honest questions untinged by my own allegiances, and I look forward to responses equally straight-forward.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Italian Kittens!!!!!!

The blog has been a little slow the past few days. Fortunately, I have just the thing to revitalize it!

Aaaaaaand, if you want more:

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

It's ok beacause...

...the Japanese don't have any black people, so they probably don't get that it's racist, right?


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Dispatches from the East

A friend held in common to several of us in the Huffy Crew, Emiliano, recently sent me this email--I was quite moved by his actions and the content of this letter, so I asked him if I could post it and he graciously allowed. With no further ado-
Family. Friends.

I am in the the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Loafing about Europe has come to an abrupt end. Yesterday, I participated in a nonviolent demonstration protesting the theft of Palestinian farmland by the Israeli government. While doing so, i was assaulted by members of the Israel Defense Force (more accurately termed the Israel Offensive Force or the Israel Occupation Force) as were other demonstrators present. Our intent was to place ourselves in the way of a backhoe and bulldozer uprooting trees in a Palestinain orchard in order to impede the destruction and illegal annexation of Palestinain farm land by a nearby Israeli settlement. As I placed my body beneath the arm of the backhoe, an IOF soldier struck me in the back of the neck with his assault rifle. I wobbled, was held steady by a fellow protestor, a man of gold from Puerto Rican New York, and then we were all rushed by soldiers attempting to drive us back from the area. In the push, a seething Israeli soldier strangled me, his hatred manifest in the ferocity with which he crushed my throat and ripped at my neck skin, in his bulging eyes bulging bigger and his grip getting stronger when i calmly asked him to release me. He beat me with the barrel of his assault rifle, landing forceful hits to my chest, ribs, and arms. Another soldier attempted to rip hair from my head while still others punched and kicked at me and fellow activists. As a result, I have scabs, scratches, aches, and bruises all over my neck, arms, and chest. The act of swallowing is painful. But I didn't get the worst of it.

The worst of it is being visited upon a man named Musa, a Palestinian tomato farmer who is now in Israeli jail being interrogated by the notoriously abusive Shin Bet, the Israeli CIA. Musa is in jail despite being entirely, unassailably nonviolent at the protest yesterday and the days prior. He is in jail while i and three other international activists, all of us handcuffed and then allowed to walk away, are not, because he is Palestinian. Because in Israel, Palestinians are second-class citizens subject to different laws, rights, and burdens than the Jewish residents. Their land, needed for subsistence not lawns, may be stolen and given to Jewish settlers. Their crops may be destroyed by settlers or the military with absolute impunity. Their homes may be demolished on an hours notice, usually not for anything the homeowner did but because he or she happened to be related to someone who may or may not have earned the wrath of the IOF. Palestinians are not free to move the distance many of us go to work in a day. Not without passing checkpoints which at times take hours to get through. They must carry ID cards on them at all times and are arrested and detained in perpetuity if at anytime they are without them. They may be killed without consequence, without trial, as happens weekly at times of relative calm, daily right now.

After the beatings yesterday, those of us not arrested went to the house of Musa's brother and stood on the rooftop patio. We looked over the fields where the demolition continued unabated, trees rising and falling like feather-light granules of earth sifting through the backhoe's hand. Throughout the morning an IOF jeep would drive into the village and then turn back toward the neighboring Israeli settlement from where it came, each time getting closer to the village square. Each time doing nothing but driving in and out. I interpreted the apparent purposelessness of the drive as a taunt to the Palestinians. An _expression of power over them. Whether it was or not (and let there be no doubt that, whether it was or not, the land confiscation going on in the neighboring fields most certainly was) Palestinian children soon responded accordingly with the spirit of resistance so characteristic of Palestinians even when met with a superior, oppressing force. When the jeep finally parked itself along a road on the outskirts of the village, scores of children massed and began slinging stones, a well-practiced art in these parts. They lobbed stones with both the elegance of a ballerina and the passionate intensity so often absent the aloof dance. It was an exercise in futility. Purely symbolic: the armored vehicle stood two football fields down the road and no child's stone came even remotely near the soldiers or their dent-proof vehicle. Still, soldiers thought it appropriate to fire rubber bullets and tear gas cannisters, which indeed could make it two football fields, into the mass of children rather than avert the confrontation by driving away.

As i stood, body aching, on the rooftop watching this scene, my Palestinain friend arrested and beaten, i too felt like my act of resistance of the day was futile. The trees continued to be uprooted. Nothing had changed. The awesome force posessed by the opposing side is overwhelming. It is ruthless. It is deflating. Even a very small task, like saving a plum tree, no grand feat of international political maneuvering, can not be easily accomplished.

But it can be - and in other places in this land has been - done, i was reminded that night while seated in a circle with Musa's family as they strategized ways to be more effective, to gain more support for their right to live free of occupation. Rather than become dispirited, i will try to take my cue from them. Shway Shway, they say here. Little by little. I certainly will not change the big picture here. All the internationals in Palestine together will not. But internationals are indeed a key. Especially internationals in the US, who if enough in number and determination, could possibly change the tune of the superpower that sanctions the tune of ruthlessness here. i have a number of suggestions as to what you can do and there are many many more thoughts of a less-petitioning sort i want to share prompted by the time already spent here. i will try to write regularly. in whatever i send, i hope you will challenge me if you feel so inclined. and if challenges are met i hope you will act. be well, fine people. my love to you.


for regular updates on activities i may be involved in

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Psycho Sid

This requires little explanation...I should say that Psycho Sid, in contradistinction to his mother, does like onions on his sandwiches. Posted by Picasa


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Protesting n stuff.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

dude, this guy's head would make a totally sweet bong!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

It's Chomsky vs. Foucault! In a battle to the death!

Via Lenin's Tomb, here we have Foucault and Chomsky, takin' it to the streets! (Or to the really boring-looking European symposium, as the case may be. I think the kid in the audience they show must be a distant cousin of the guy who played the "Shermanator" in the American Pie movies.) I'm guessing this is the conversation mentioned in the introduciton to the Foucault Reader by Rabinow. One is struck immediately by how pedestrian the debate is. Then, we notice how Chomsky and Foucault are simply talking past each other but saying the same thing. (Perhaps the debate got a bit more heated, but here there seems to be no essential difference.) If you watch the videos and don't want to read the summary, skip to the end of this post.

Chomsky, being the universalist linguist, says that there is a human nature (there's that term again!) that we can grasp and then use to plan a society that maximizes the potential in that nature. At present, that nature is obstructed and stunted by the repressive aspects of the current society, which serve to benefit the sources of power in said society (government, business, what have you). But Chomsky, sockin' it straight to Foucault's bald domepiece, says despite that repression, we can glimpse aspects of what a true form of justice might look like in the current system.

Foucault, ever the contrarian, says that if what we have now is justice based on class, then justice in a classless society is impossible to envision. (Which means Foucault sounds more Marxist than Chomsky, very strange.) Foucault also says that while Chomsky looks at typical forms of repression, such as the formal, "political" structures and apparatuses, we also have to look at the educational systems and psychiatric medicine. So there's the "omnipresence of power" critique. Foucault, in a case of a Frenchman bitch-slappin' a Jew like it's the Dreyfus Affair, goes on to say that we can't form a conception of what a just society might look like, all we can do is critique power in its manifest and manifold forms.

[Here's where my bit starts.] What pisses me off about this aspect of Foucault's philosophy is that he is so obsessed with sounding unique and distinct from Marxism, traditional ideological critique, etc that he fails to see how similar he is. If an individual can detect and criticize the forms of power, no matter how numerous, then he or she necessarily possesses the ability to imagine and attempt to put into practice an alternative society. It doesn't matter that power is everywhere. Once it is possible to detect it (and Foucault thinks that he certainly has, so at least one person is capable) it is possible to change it. That ability in and of itself forms the basis of Chomsky's project of building a better society. (I should add that in this way Foucault is so incredibly similar to the members of the Frankfurt School that it hurts.) In other words, NEGATIVE CRITIQUE=BASIS FOR POSITIVE VISION. To me, it's simply a psychological fact.

I suppose that Foucault would counter that one can never get rid of power, only transfer its effects from one regime of truth to another. So no society could ever be power-free. Also, he could say that there is no one source of power, that the different power structures in society (school, church, hospital, social worker, scientist) don't serve a single interest. Ergo, there's no real locus of criticism, only small, scattered, localized battles. To which it is very easy to say: if we can't get rid of power, we can at least try to quantify its effects and decide upon a societal structure that minimizes the repressive consequences of power. (We should always remember that not all power is bad.) In other words, we can try to find out how to decide which regimes of truth are better, or at least less harmful, than others. And if Foucault would not hesitate to say that post-war welfare statist Germany is better than Nazi Germany, then he is on the path to deciding just that sort of hierarchy of regimes of truth. Second, if power does not always serve the same interests, then at least try to figure out which ones it largely or more often than not serves. Again, it's a matter of quantifying the effects.

Sorry to pour forth another long post, but watching the video just triggered in me all those criticisms I have of the Foucaultian project. Also, I don't necessarily agree with either Foucault or Chomsky, but Foucault's apparent blindness to their similarities and the seemingly obvious logical inconsistencies in his position warranted my comment. Maybe Foucault was just too wired on caffeine or something else to make sense, I mean look at that jittery motherfucker. That finger tastes good! Oh, and after the show Foucault went to a Dutch bath house and had himself whipped with leather straps, while Chomsky returned to the hotel and quietly wrote his 784th article against the Vietnam War.