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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 29 December 2003

Topic: Iraq

If George Orwell argued that "The whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish day-dream" then are George Bush and the rest of us childish for being so pleased with the idea that really bad people should be executed, and proud of our record of doing so as often as possible? Could Orwell be wrong?

This is worth a read.

George Packer. The New Yorker, Issue of 2004-01-05, Posted 2003-12-29

Packer opens with this:
"Revenge Is Sour" is the title that George Orwell gave to a short essay on war-crimes trials, written just after the Second World War. "The whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish day-dream," he argued. "Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also." He cited the story of an old woman reported to have fired five shots into the body of Benito Mussolini, one for each of her dead sons. "I wonder how much satisfaction she got out of those five shots, which, doubtless, she had dreamed years earlier of firing," Orwell wrote. "The condition of her being able to get near enough to Mussolini to shoot at him was that he should be a corpse."

If revenge is psychologically impossible, justice is politically necessary - not the fantasy of righting monumental wrongs but the reality of holding wrongdoers to account. The twentieth century came and went without justice. None of the century's great totalitarians ever had to sit at a defense table, confer with lawyers, rise with the court when the judge entered the room. Mussolini was lynched; Hitler committed suicide; Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot died in old age. Two international tribunals are currently grinding away at more recent crimes; but the Hutu propagandists convicted of genocide in Rwanda last month were barely known outside that country, and Slobodan Milosevic was a second-tier dictator. The trial of Saddam Hussein will be the first of a world-class mass murderer. The number of potential counts against Saddam exceeds half a million. Behind the Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni Arab Iraqis who were his principal victims stand Iranians and Kuwaitis with war-crimes charges of their own. Saddam imposed his name, his face, and his will on Iraqi history to a degree that makes lesser cults of personality seem like ordinary narcissism. The symbolic importance of his trial is exactly proportionate to his vast power.
You can imagine how the rest of it runs.
Ann Clwyd, Tony Blair's special representative to Iraq, proclaimed, using American jargon, that Saddam's capture would bring "some kind of closure" to Iraqis. This thinking recalls the Bush Administration's original idea of a simple war of liberation, and shows as little grasp of the reality of Iraqis' lives. The insurgency against American and coalition forces gives no sign of relenting. Its inspirational leader has been ignobly caught, but guerrilla wars are seldom centrally controlled, the foreign occupiers remain in Iraq as targets, and the prospect of a more representative government is as threatening as ever to the privileged status of the country's Sunni Arabs. Nothing has been closed.
Bringing closure - I never knew what then meant, or more precisely, how it was supposed to work. A bad guy kills my family, then the state kills him, and I feel all better. I don't get it. My family is not coming back. It allows me to stop obsessing about revenge so I can go back to work and be normal? Maybe that's it.

Anyway, there is a long discussion here of what kind of trial Saddam Hussein might have and all the implications of what might be said. A good analysis of what can be done with Hussein.

But Packer ends with this:
... at least a trial will bring Iraqis face to face with what was done to them and what they became. In this sense, Saddam's capture represents the opposite of "closure." "I hate this man to the core of my bones," an Iraqi engineer told a Times reporter after watching footage of the King of the Arabs submitting to a mouth inspection like a vagrant at a mobile health clinic. "And yet, I can't tell you why, I feel sorry for him, to be so humiliated. It is as if he and Iraq have become the same thing." Separating Iraq from Saddam will be far harder than toppling a statue or capturing a fugitive. One way to begin is by resisting the illusion that killing Saddam will cleanse the legacy of Baathist rule, which, after all, was launched with televised trials and public hangings.
What? We try the guy, we execute him, and everyone feels lots better. Done. Achieving closure is a false concept?

I think it is. But the arrayed forces of American psychobabble are formidable.

Posted by Alan at 18:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 29 December 2003 18:40 PST home

Topic: The Culture

On Bullies: Some Things People Are Saying

First of all I came across this "letter to the editor" in Slate that was pretty good - and the whole thing is much longer.
Subject: "Aggressive Use of Force Against -- What?"
From: BeverlyMann
Date: Sun Dec 28 1642h

... Bush is concertedly provoking hatred of America and sympathy and support for al Qaeda, because there appears to be a close correlation between his aggressive and abrasive persona toward the rest of the world and his political popularity among white American men.

Or, more to the point, there appears to be a close correlation between Bush's aggressive and abrasive persona toward the rest of the world and his political popularity among white American men who themselves are not in the military or national guard and who don't have a child or other close relative who is.
Curious. An "aggressive and abrasive persona" is a desirable asset in the political world. Howard Dean should then do well.

Ah, but we are told "anger" will not win elections. That's what Dean's opponents are saying. One thinks of an angry man running for president in 1948 - "Give 'em Hell, Harry." That would be Truman. His "angry" persona led to Dewey trouncing him so badly, didn't it? Not exactly.

But that was a long time ago. Things must be different now.

Then I came across this:

Sam Smith, The Progressive Review, Monday, December 29, 2003

Here Smith, provides a long preamble regarding how "the Republican right has engaged in a politics of cultural bullying that is the direct descendent of the southern segregationists. It is based on anathematizing a minority in order to solidify its own political base around false assumptions of purity and superiority..." - and so on. Then he gets to an interesting place.

Smith asks us to imagine, for example, a Democratic candidate who is asked in a debate, "What do you think about gay marriages" and replies with this:
"I'm a heterosexual and I'm married so I don't think about it much at all. What does bother me is when one group in this country tries to foist their personal values on another, and even tries to enforce it with a constitutional amendment. That's about as un-American as you can get. If you don't like gay marriages, then don't become a gay and don't get married.

"I'm not asking you to approve of gay marriages anymore than I would ask you to believe in the Virgin birth or the apocalypse. But what if someone told you that it should be illegal to practice rites presaging the second coming of Christ? Should we have a constitutional amendment to ban that, too?

"What I am asking you to do is to be good, decent and fair-minded Americans and practice the sort of reciprocal liberty in which citizens say to each other, I will respect your liberty because I expect you to respect mine. We do not have to agree, we do not have to approve of each other, we do not even have to like either other, but we do have to share this land and our community fairly. That is what being an American is about.

"In my campaign I am trying to gain support of as wide a cross-section of America as I can. To do this, I may sometimes compromise, I sometimes equivocate, but I will not - as conservative politicians so often do - expel, isolate, and eliminate constituencies simply because they do not look or think like me. I will not sneakily encourage others to hate and bully. To do so is to take us back to shameful times, such as to that time less than 40 years ago when you could be arrested and jailed for being married to the wrong person - not then because of the person's sex but because of their skin color.

"As a public official I will not debate the issue of gay marriage because it is not the business of public officials. It is the business of religions and of the individuals involved. If the state can write a church's rules on marriage, it can determine how holy communion is performed and how its bishops are selected. But it can't do that because the constitution says it can't.

"We live in a society in which, over the past few decades, the division over another cultural issue - abortion - has been the subject of a bitter, costly and ultimately pointless debate with few minds changed along the way. What if we had understood at the start that our proper goal was not to force everyone to agree with us, but to make sure that each side could practice its beliefs without interference by the other. That would have been the truly American solution to the problem."

"Being American means living in close proximity with people whose values, intrinsic nature or behavior may not just be different, but which you may not like at all. Does that mean we just sit on our front porches and glare at our neighbors? Or worse? It doesn't have to be that way.

"It is not a conservative or liberal matter and it is not an issue of morality; it is an issue of whether we will treat other Americans with fairness and respect or as playground bullies and cultural tyrants."
This hypothetical candidate would be crucified for saying such things. But it sure is a cool speculation.

And one more thing that will never happen.

Posted by Alan at 18:07 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 29 December 2003 18:52 PST home

Topic: The Culture

One more round on the Tolkien stuff...

See this:
The Racist Tapestry of Lord of the Rings !
Lloyd Hart, indy-media (Paris) ? D?culottez vos phrases pour ?tre ? la hauteur des sans-culottes (1968) ? Monday, December 29, 2003

It goes like this:
I don't imagine that it was the intention of the director or the producers of the Lord of the Rings films to paint a racist stereotypical tapestry over what could be described as a basic set of principles of humanity's behavior in the natural environment and with each other. However, the fact is that the only people of skin color in the entire three part series of films are all associated with the Dark Lord Sauron, the destruction of the earth and all of its occupants. Not to mention the elephant riding mercenaries that resemble the cultures of the Arab world as well as Africa, Persia and East Asia and the fact that the Monarch of the land of Rohan, King Th?oden a white guy yelled out "You great warriors of the West" in the final part of his speech to rouse the troops into battle in the third film.

In these times when a homicidal maniac from Texas (the Texas capital punishment policy under Bush) has stolen the American throne and called for a "crusade" against the "evil doers" in nations that white people have been invading, terrorizing, raping and pillaging in for 5000 years with zero provocation, I think we could manage some cultural sensitivity in our popular culture which one must acknowledge has a powerful propaganda affect on the general population that participates in it.

... It is important to understand that young people are impressionable and influenced by the symbols foisted on them by the popular culture. It would not have been that difficult to make a contemporary version of the Lord of the Rings that included the heroic symbols of people of skin color. I think J.R.R. Tolkien wouldn't have minded including people of skin color as heros in these films if he were alive today. Especially after witnessing the rise of the civil rights movements in both the U.S. and the U.K.. I'm so glad that the Dwarfs, Elves and Hobits finally got their due but unfortunately this was washed away by the lack of heroic images of people of skin color. After watching the Lord of the Rings films I thank the universe and Mother Earth for the Rap/hip-hop culture and the counterbalancing influence the Rap/hip-hop culture has on the youth here in America and around the world.
Yeah, yeah. Heard it before.

Glenn Reynolds over at InstaPundit has this to say:
Some racist twit in Paris thinks that the Uruk-hai in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings look like American Indians.

As someone of Native American descent, I'm deeply offended. So is reader David Emigh, who writes: "As a Cherokee brought up in New Mexico I can think of NO Amerind that looks like the Uruk-hai."

All my relatives are tusk-free! A guy who sees a resemblance to American Indians in the Uruk-hai is like a guy who sees a resemblance to black people in chimpanzees.
Okay then.

Recommendation? Don't read either of these links.

Posted by Alan at 12:54 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Culture

New on the Satire Sites: Items You May Have Missed

You will find this at The Enduring Vision - Dear Iraqis: We Are Killing Saddam No Matter What You Say - by "Frank Patriot" of course.

Let me tell you something, Iraq: did you help catch Saddam? Nope. Did you sit around like super pussies while he kicked the shit out of you? Yup. Did we sit around like super pussies after he attacked our country on SEPTEMBER 11TH 2001 A DAY THAT WILL LIVE IN EVEN MORE INFAMY THAN PEARL HARBOR GOD BLESS OUR FUCKING FREEDOM with the help of Osama bin Laden and Howard Dean? By the power of the bald eagle, no. We took action. We saw the weapons of mass destruction, and we went over there and made Saddam Hussein quickly hide them very well so that we couldn't find them or even evidence that they once existed. But most importantly, we took down Saddam. And now you want to have the right to his trial just because he was the ruler of your country and killed a few of your people here and there? I think I speak for everyone when I say, "What in the name of Uncle Sam are you thinking?"

You see, Iraq, this is our Christmas gift. I know you might not know what Christmas is since you read the Korah or whatever the hell book it is that's un-American and not the Bible, but I'll explain it to you: Christmas is a holy American holiday honoring the time that Jesus Christ, the founder of America and ruler of everything, rose up from his grave to kill people who killed him, using a pointy tree to do it -- which is where we get our Christmas trees -- and having his clothes turned red from the flying droplets of blood, causing some people to say, "Hey, Jesus looks like he's wearing a suit, we could call him Santa Claus because he delivers presents every year!" In Iraq, you don't have any of that. All you have is Happy Sand Day, and Happy Anti-American Day.

... So, America, I've just outlined nicely for Iraq why they don't get a say in what happens to old Saddam. I know, I know -- I should've just told them to shut the hell up, and that they're lucky I'm not President, because I would've bombed each and every one of them, because they are animals who live in the sand. But hey, it's Christmas. Everyone deserves a break, even the Iraqis.
You get the idea.

At the same publication you will find Terror Alert Level Raised To "Vote Republican" of course.
Americans should do their part in preventing terror and any thoughts not happening to be conservative, Ridge advised.

"Any activities you view as suspicious -- whether it be activities that are possibly terroristic, or liberal talk by your neighbours -- should be reported immediately," Ridge said.

When asked if perhaps this wasn't a bit similar to the "Red Scare" of the 1950's, in which frenzied anti-communist feelings resulted in Americans all over the country on watch for any "communist" activities, Ridge rolled his eyes.

"Uh, yes," he said. "That's the point. Duh."
This one is quite long.

And over at The Eschalot (their subheading Eschalot (EH'-shuh-lot') : A mild form of the onion. We mock the news, so you don't have to!) you will find this: U.S. Blames Canada For Mad Cow, August Blackout, Civil War - which is amusing, and ends thusly:
"This isn't just going to go away," said White House Spokesman Scott McClellan, "The President has said that he wants these matters fully investigated. Any country that interferes with our sovereignty, our electrical grid, and our food supply will not be looked upon favorably."

"I thought 'Canadian Bacon' was just another bad American movie," said the Canadian Foreign Secretary, "I didn't realize it was meant to be prophetic."
I caught a bit of that movie, Canadian Bacon, on television yesterday. It is amusing. One of our regular readers, Martin, just saw it and loved it. It's a classic - written by Michael Moore of course.

Michael Moore - you remember his acceptance speech when he won the Oscar for best documentary, Bowling for Columbine, and how he ripped into Bush. You might know his film Roger and Me about the automobile industry and its impact on the people of Flint, Michigan, and on us all. And you might have come across his book Stupid White Men - selling well these days.

Canadian Bacon (1995) is explained here in Brian D. Johnson's review in Macleans - a Canadian Magazine. The film just gets better as the years pass.

Funny stuff.

Posted by Alan at 09:25 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Economy

Year End Notes: Public Relations Items of 2003

Many things notable items each year find their way into the news media, as we look back in these last days. In the automotive section of The New York Times one will find this: From the Recycling Bin - news releases that "seemed to deserve a moment of glory."
HOW'S IT AGING? "The American Dairy Association unveiled the first ever to-scale car made entirely out of cheese at Richmond International Raceway. The 'World's Cheesiest Car,' an authentic replica of Terry Labonte's No. 5 Chevrolet, was carved from 3,500 pounds of yellow cheddar."

POLITICAL SPIN Clever Covers Inc. announced a line of Presidential Wheel Covers featuring the likeness of President Bush. The Florida company also "counts former President Bill Clinton and actor Burt Reynolds among its many fans," according to its Web site,

A NEW WAY TO IRRITATE THAT GUN-TOTING YAHOO BEHIND YOU "There are approximately eight million vehicles on the road equipped with trailer hitches Now a new product called the PowerTale is able to turn those hitch receivers into attractive, interesting lighted message displays."
There are more.

And they say those of us who live in Los Angeles are weird.

Posted by Alan at 08:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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