Wednesday, November 23, 2011

WHO NEEDS TEAR GAS?

Nonchalantly pepper-spraying sitting students, or charging with batons swinging into non-violent crowds, or middle-of-the-night attacks with gas canisters flying in the streetlights' glare don’t seem to be increasing the popularity of protectors and servers throughout the land.

Some mayors and police chiefs, like our own in Burlington, VT, understand that they can expect to clear Occupy sites with three much more subtle, non-YouTubeable, plausibly deniable techniques, one transient, two permanent.

The first is simply to wait for winter, a time when most outdoor beasts, warm-blooded and cold-, migrate or hibernate, or somehow dig in, and abandon their normal playing fields. Landscapes of all kinds thin out naturally until the burgeoning of spring. In Vermont, that’s at least four months with very unlikely encampment. Things may be different in Florida.

But the second and third tactics are not so iffy, so geographically determined. They are easy, and cheap:

2. Provide no portapotties. This has been a longstanding tactic. Permits have long been granted for potentially large, one-day demonstrations, extra police are hired, traffic plans are made, barriers and watchtowers are imported, Free Speech Zones demarcated (!), etc. And in spite of all this planning and expense, guess what is absent?

And then consider the decision-making process of potential demonstrators with prostate problems, menstrual issues, nervous bladders, bowel disorders, of any who may not be able to hold it -- whatever "it" is -- for more than a few hours. Discourages going to the demo, doesn't it? Cuts down on the numbers. And with no propaganda, no expense. It also puts pressure on local businesses to guard their facilities, and detest the 99%. A twofer. Here, there are possible technical solutions used by pillheads and astronauts.

3. But the best, and most effective approach of all, potentially lethal to every Occupy site, and for the authorities, killing three big birds with one stone, is simply to rely on the openness, kindness, and communitarian ideologies common to the Occupiers. In Burlington, it was the suicide of a homeless man at the encampment which was the gamechanger, and brought down all the tents.

In larger cities, with far larger homeless populations, the situation is far more difficult, and is counted on as such by authorities. The homeless rightfully seek out non-judgemental soup kitchens, and communities in which they are not likely to be awakened in the middle of the night by nightsticks or racist gangs. And if they pay attention at all to the rhetoric of those around them, they know that they are not only part of the 99%, but perhaps the poster children of same. They belong there. They recognize communities that strive to make them welcome without proselytizing or judgement, that try to cross socio-economic boundaries and learn from their hard experience of life ever more common in America. The homeless wind up in Occupy sites, and they should, and they always will -- for good reason.

Not to mention that Occupy often moves into places and parks that belonged to the homeless in the first place, until they became "contested public spaces." The street people who spent their days in Burlington's City Hall Park during the hours homeless shelters are closed were quite literally overrun by the marchers that "claimed" the park. The occupation began more like the occupation of Palestine than of Burlington. But with much work, caring, and growth of tolerance, the problems were largely overcome, and the occupiers cohabited with the homeless behind our City Hall. They allowed us to occupy their space. Then came the suicide.

The fact is, and for obvious reasons, the homeless bring many problems with them that become a great burden to any intentional participatory community. There have been a lot of words about everyone being able to have their say during the remarkable people's mic, about rules being formed democratically, etc.  But the fact is that some people are just not into announcing a mic check, and laying out their ideas in short, repeatable phrases. Some people are not into obeying rules at all, whatever they are, whoever made them. Some people are habitually drunk, or drugged, and wildly disinhibited around sexual behavior.

These are the people, and this the sociology, that sophisticated police departments count on to do their work for them, invisibly creating stressors in Occupy situations, and picking up the tab for feeding, housing, and caring for the city's poorest. A threefer this time, a win-win for law 'n order: break up the encampments, save money on tear-gas and overtime, and until that is achieved, relieve the strain on food shelves and homeless shelters. There were reports of police picking up drunks in other parts of the city, and chauffering them down to Zucotti Park in the days before Kristallnacht.

The switch from blameworthy military attack to invisible counter-insurgency is a smart one for cities and towns strapped for budget. "Let the buggers eat each other up" has always been the rationale for divide and conquer. Oh, and don't give them any place to pee.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

UNWORTHY INNOCENTS

UNWORTHY INNOCENTS

I've thought from the beginning  that "1%" was an awfully generous characterization of our current economic pathology. The above graphic illustrates this well.

Given our ubiquitous 1% slogan, I'd say the unfingered 9% are getting off pretty easy, skulking innocently to the bank.

The issue is not particular folks lazing on their yachts or flying high in their corporate jets. The issue is the SYSTEM they have created, an on-going updraft for wealth and power, financial, political, military, media. It is represented not by a number -- and 1% is far too small a number -- but by a direction. And that direction leads not just toward the obvious penthouses and mansions, but to many less obvious locations. In the shadow of billionaires, are multimillionaires off the hook? Mere millionaires? Those making $440,000/year -- ten times the US median income?

It's too late to change a slogan which has become iconic. But let's at least see it as a metaphor for the actual injustices built into our system, and capitalism in general.

Marc Estrin

Sunday, October 23, 2011

MANIFEST DESTINY?

For the last several Sundays, there has been verbal violence, and today, almost physical violence between the Occupy Burlington crowd, and those in City Hall park before the OB crowd arrives.

People, some homeless, some drunk, some just hanging, are sitting at the chess tables, around the fountain, and on neighboring benches when several hundred OBers march into what has previously been their space -- as if they, the marchers, owned it. Any peace and quiet they had been having, any fellowship with others in situations similar to their own, is over, and now they are unwanted, unwanting guests at someone else's party.

Often there is obscene yelling in disagreement with what they are hearing at the people's mike. Signs are torn up. Someone twice tried to jump through a Bread & Puppet INSURRECTION banner, ripping it down.

Small skirmishes occur, with face offs and threats. Claims of "I am homeless, are you?" are met with invitations to go up and say "Mic check," and then to phrase their passionate observations in two-beat phrases. "You're free to speak, too." "Yeah? Fuck you!"

What I'm describing is an occupation different than what most of us think we're doing, an occupation more like that of Palestine than that of Wall Street. What are our assumptions about claiming the park whenever and however we will? What happens to the natives when the Occupy Burlington troops roll in? And how will this situation develop or devolve in the future, if City Hall Park becomes full-time occupied, and the homeless and other chronic park-dwellers become strangers in their own land?

I suggest we be aware of this issue.

Friday, September 23, 2011

THE MACHINE

The government murder of Troy Davis this week -- under odd evidential circumstances -- has once again thrust capital punishment up for public discussion.

As my contribution to death penalty abolition, I recently wrote The Good Doctor Guillotin, a novel about the first use of the guillotine during the French Revolution --  an occasion sufficiently removed from current politics as to allow the issues to be seen more clearly.

Tobias Schmidt was the machine's builder, a piano maker. And Charles-Henri Sanson was the executioner of Paris.

The novel itself is intricately woven, but here's a stand-alone short chapter describing the testing of the machine before use. It may provide some food for reflection:

29. The Machine

It was fourteen feet high, its beams and posts painted blood-red—a nice touch, that. It would be called “End of the Soup,” “Old Growler,” “Sky Mother,” “the Last Mouthful.” It would be called by the feminine form of someone’s name, someone who had repudiated it. As if it were his daughter. Assemblymen called it “the Timbers of Justice.”

The victim, once attached to the plank, his head in the fatal window, would become a part of it, a cog in the machine of egalitarian justice. His blood would be shed not by the unsteady hand of his fellow man but by this lifeless, insensible, infallible instrument, a doctor’s idea become oak and iron.

The materials gathered, over the course of a week Tobias Schmidt and two hired workers constructed the frame. Two four-sided posts were grooved and chiseled as guides for the falling blade. When the seventy-pound holder and fifteen-pound blade came back from the blacksmith, they were fitted loosely between the posts and the posts joined by an upper crossbar with a hole for the rope. A lower crossbar was angle-braced to its stand for stability. Rope guides were placed.

On the back side of the device, the executioner’s side, another crossbar was attached to hold the lunette—two wooden pieces, each with a half-circular hole to contain the client’s, the patient’s, the package’s neck. The diameter was that of Pelletier’s. A smaller one for women could be substituted as needed. When fitted together, the pieces formed a lovely “little moon” whose upper half could be lifted on a hinge to permit a head to enter.

That was it. Simple. A weighted blade and its frame. Though it required two strong men to carry it, it could be loaded onto a heavy cart and transported wherever it was needed, along with its separate bench, long and strong enough to hold a giant—or an ox—and fitted with thick leather straps.


Before dawn on Tuesday, April 15, 1792, a sound of clattering wheels was heard on southern streets two miles from the center of Paris. It was a four-wheeled wagon, drawn by two horses, carrying a long object covered with heavy black cloth and tightly bound with chains. Four guardsmen with bare swords on horseback rode silently in front of the wagon, and four behind. Bringing up the rear was a smaller wagon with several sheep. If going to market, they were being taken in the wrong direction. They advanced slowly, gray and black in the pale early morning.

The procession was heading for the suburb of Bicêtre, just outside the city gate, home to the great hospital for venereal disease, its hospice for the needy poor, and its maison de correction, locked wards for hardened criminals, some awaiting execution.

When seen from a distance, Louis XIII’s building looks quite imposing. Set on the brow of a hill, from afar it retained something of its former splendor and the look of a royal residence. But now, three Louises later, the palace had in fact become a hovel. Its dilapidated eaves were shameful and its walls diseased. Not a window was glazed but only fitted with crisscrossed iron bars through which, here and there, pressed the harrowed face of a patient or a prisoner.

Already waiting in a small inner courtyard were Charles-Henri Sanson, with two assistants, Tobias Schmidt, and the doctors Antoine Louis and Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the latter most reluctantly.

Early-morning eyes gawked from behind bars as the first sheep’s head was placed in the lunette, its neck the size of Pelletier’s. The upper half moon was locked in place. One of the assistants let loose the rope from its tie-off so Sanson could better observe.

Disaster: The heavy blade jerked stickily into motion, jolted downward between the grooves, and sliced into the animal without killing it. All mental ears were stopped against its terrifying cry. Sanson was dismayed. He had the blade wound back up and released again. It bit into the neck again but did not sever it. The victim howled. Once again the blade was raised and dropped, but the third stroke only caused a stream of blood to spurt from the sheep’s neck, without the head falling. Five times the blade rose and fell; five times it cut into the sheep, which cried five times for mercy. It remained standing on the platform, an appalling, terrifying sight. Sanson straddled it and hacked away with a butcher knife at what remained of its neck. Twenty pounds of lead shot were added to the blade-carrier, and three more sheep were neatly dispatched thereby. The march of science.

After nightfall Schmidt took the machine back to his workshop in the Cour du Commerce, Rue St.-André-des-Arts, just opposite the printing shop in number 8 where Marat’s paper was printed. He lined the grooves with brass for a smoother drop and bolted more weight to the blade assembly.

Two days later, on April 17, assisted by his son and his two brothers, Sanson repeated his experiments on the improved machine, this time with three human cadavers from a military morgue, three well-built men who had died in short illnesses that had not caused them to grow thin. Among the spectators were the two doctors concerned, along with Michel Cullerier, the chief surgeon of Bicêtre; Philippe Pinel, the resident alienist; several physician members of the National Assembly; and delegates from the Council of Hospitals of Paris. Strapped to the bench, the three corpses, good soldiers all, were successfully beheaded without protesting, to the applause of most of the onlookers.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I BET YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT A FOMITE IS

Heathglyph, our glyph
A fomite is a medium capable of transmitting infectious organisms from one individual to another. So, for instance, doctors are not supposed to wear ties as they lean over one patient and then another. Stethoscopes are fomites. Door handles.

It had always struck me that books were fomites, passing the germs of an author's mind to the reading community. And didn't Tolstoy say that
the activity of art is based on the capacity of people to be infected by the feelings of others"? He did.

In the last years, I'd been to several readings at which I'd thought, "Wow, that stuff is really good. It should be published." But of course it wouldn't be published. Why? Because it wasn't good in a bottom-line way. It wasn't good in an it's-by-a-well-known-writer-with-a-pushy-agent way. It wasn't good in a sexy beach-book way. It wasn't good in a "I was raped by my priest and survived cancer" way. It was simply good --terrific -- in a literary way.

After thinking enough times "that should be published," it struck me that my wife, Donna, and I should publish it. She and I had published for six years a monthly neighborhood newspaper, The Old North End RAG, and missed doing that. We had over the years been intrigued with the new print and production technologies evolving with home computers and networks, but while I was involved at the level of "Oh man, like wow!", she, the techy, was actually reading the specs and the on-line commentaries, and had a sense of how we might actually proceed. Plus a quilter's stick-to-itive-ness and commitment to detail.

Our old RAG cohort, Ron Jacobs, gave us one of his novel manuscripts to experiment with; we did the editing, design and production work on it, and uploaded it to a print-on-demand service to see what might come back. We feared the worst: some god-awful, do-it-yourself piece of crap we'd be embarrassed to have on our shelves.

But when we opened the envelope, there was -- a book, a book that looked like a real book, a beautiful book with a striking cover, one that someone might actually want to buy. We were actually shocked.

Let me explain "print-on-demand". In the old model, a publisher does a print run -- a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand books printed up -- depending on expectations and promotion budget. These books would then be stored in a warehouse, distributed to bookstores, sold to make up the money spent -- or not. The returns had to be dealt with, and were often just pulped if the book did not do as well as expected. Very expensive, and very wasteful of trees, gas, warehouse space, and therefore quite limiting as to what was published, i.e. only those books that stood a good chance of surviving the gauntlet: best-sellers, genre books of the moment. But not the kind of literary material I heard at the readings.

Print-on-demand, on the other hand, prints a book only after it is ordered and sold. No wasted trees, no warehouse rents, no truck gas. Someone orders a book, or ten, or a hundred, the file goes into the computer, and the printer prints, binds, and ships the copies. This has got to be the wave of the future on a shrinking planet, we thought.
And then there are e-books. You take a manuscript, format it correctly, upload it, and there it is, ready to be downloaded. No paper at all, everything cheap and instant.

These were the technologies with which we wanted to experiment. We thought, too, that we'd like to try another kind of "business" model, one where authors got everything and publishers just enough to survive to publish again. The old way: A paperback edition of one of my novels, for instance, sell a for $15. I get 75¢. (Bookstore pays publisher $7.50, author gets 10% of that sale.) Fomite, using volunteer labor, can give its authors 80% of net income, and take only 20% to cover costs of ISBN numbers, galleys, shipping, website rental, software, etc. If people want, they may actually make some money from their books.

It turns out we can make beautiful books and ebooks very cheaply. The problem remains: how to bring attention to them with essentially zero advertising budget. In union there is strength. A little strength. Each of Fomite's books are advertised in every other Fomite book. Every author brings his or her network to others, and can share review and reading sites. We try to keep Fomite authors in touch with one another for collective efforts, pooling resources for advertising or event participation, and utilizing each other's web skills as we enhance our own.

Donna, a quilter and photographer, is having a great time designing books and covers, and solving tech problems. She can separate Fomite work from her day job. For me, it's more difficult. My job is writing novels. And it's hard to write novels when you spend your days looking at other people's work on the screen. It's hard to say no. It's even harder to edit the work of other writers, especially good ones.

But I think we're doing a good thing, contributing to the writing community, and in some small way to the evolution of American culture. We intended to publish novels, short stories, and poetry which might not otherwise appear in the current publishing environment. Non-fiction, we thought, sells well enough without us, but I was open to something sufficiently strange, and now we've found it with a book called The Derivation of Cowboys and Indians. So I guess we now publish odd-enough non-fiction. And then we thought we'd see how graphics came out, so we are doing a volume of Bread & Puppet Kasper Komix and Tragix. That's way more than we had planned. We wanted to debut Fomite with six local authors. Now we have eighteen -- one from Bulgaria. We'll reopen for submissions at www.fomitepress.com once we catch up with ourselves.

Monday, September 5, 2011

NIEBELUNGENLIED 911

In a continuing email exchange about the future strategy of any kind of 9/11 truth movement, Charles Simpson alerts us to diverging uses of the idea of "myth" in an important on-line talk by David Ray Griffin. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXw3jJ3021o

Simpson notices that on the one hand, Griffin characterizes the official story as being intentionally raised -- by government and media -- to "mythic status", "mythic in the sense of an organizing narrative that defines collective identity, purpose and legitimacy." Such myth, both Simpson and Griffin observe, is not to be measured or refuted by empirical data, and is thus secure against any suggested investigation.

He criticizes Griffin for shifting ground from the "organizing narrative" definition of myth to a more trivial and colloquial one in which myth becomes simply "an empirically false account of events," and then proceeding in his lecture to disprove the official assertions with empirical data.

Consequently Simpson -- unlike Griffin -- concludes that the 9/11 truth movement should avoid its own version of scholasticism, "a too-narrow preoccupation with our own set of 9/11 facts", "a focus on forensic details" that "draws us in a cult-like direction away from others" -- since such details, such fact-checking, does not make sense or speak to a rhetorical/psychological public world beyond empirical analysis.

It seems to me that neither Simpson nor Griffin -- at least here -- have seized on the most important function of myth: not to hide, not to falsify, but to reveal. Any deep study of folk tales and parables show them to illuminate patterns so deeply built into experience as to be otherwise invisible.

Alberich wants to steal the gold from the bottom of the Rhine, and so do Cheney and Rubin and Obama and Geitner and Summers and...all of them, and the institutions behind them. But Wagner's Ring shows us much more than that people, politicians, and banks are greedy. In the 15-hour telling of the myth we come to perceive a web of interactions, the forswearing of love, the need to self-destruct, the relation of generations and lovers, bosses and slaves, the many questions raised by heroism... and much else. That is the difference between mere narrative and myth.

Seeing into myth involves audience awareness. Little children believe in the myth of Santa Claus, and then as bigger children, decide that the myth isn't true. But what do wiser adults make of myths, fairy- and folktales, biblical and other parables? They understand that these ancient story collections are not only not trivial, but are essential to a deeper understanding of the human and natural world. The dimensions of myth have to probed by those who understand it. That, it seems to me, is the function of the 9/11 truth movement -- not to move out beyond the "single-issue politics" of 9/11, but to responsibly explore the myth of it.

What does the 9/11 story collection, and the reactions to it, tell us about society and government, about science and Faustian striving, about individual and social psychology, about greed, love, fear, and heroism? The 9/11 mythos easily becomes a simultaneous focusing and broadening lens to see into these opacities.

But first we must understand these dimensions ourselves, master the empirical data and the rhetorical approaches, see ourselves as teachers of this story in its broadest and deepest context at levels appropriate to any given audience. Sometimes one can use empirical evidence to open well-guarded doors. Sometimes one has to start by discussing things at more personal or philosophical levels.

Right now the characters in our opera are predominantly the Alberichs of press and power, and a large population of in-the-darkness Niebelungen slaves, toiling underground and in the killing fields to fashion wealth for their dictators. By and large, Americans seem to believe much of what they're told about 9/11. Some largish percentage have been polled as not quite believing it -- but not enough to do anything other than become more cynical.

Our role is to move the Niebelungen above ground at least, cognizant of the possibilities and deeper meanings of this never-ending, no-limits story -- precisely by exploring the myth as myth, and bringing the underworlds into focus.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

THE PISS OF ALTERITY

In an eloquent response to my 9/11 essay below, Charles Simpson, a sociologist friend, seems to be arguing for an end to the 9/11 truth movement. His letter is not online, and is too long to be quoted in full.  But let me respond here by quoting a few sections which may give you as sense of his points.

Charles points to the "roadblock" that has frustrated all 9/11 truth seekers, the "room without an echo", and calls for "the next move", a "way out", engaging instead with "broader social movements", "face-to-face localism", and "alternative ways forward in the construction of meaningful lives" which will more likely resonate with American tastes, understandings of the world, and current conditions.

The irony of his call to leave 9/11 issues behind is the pessimism behind his suggestion.  Charles argues that people do not "want to go there" (9/11) because of a deep survival instinct towards optimism.  According to him, most people choose to avoid "the pitfall of despondency" that might threaten should one come to a realistic understanding of power relations in the capitalist world.

I find his hypothesis, however, too deeply pessimistic. The implication is that facts don't matter to human survival, that assembling evidence about important issues, even evidence packaged in "easy-to-digest" formats, can be a socially meaningless act, readily trumped by shoddy cultural misdirection.

I am not claiming that cultivating local gardens is unimportant, given the immanence of large-scale catastrophes. What I mean is that to give up hope for the rational component of human existence, is simply to give up hope.

Jung maintained that human consciousness was capable of four distinct functions: thinking, feeling, judgement, and intuition. To flee from such truths as 9/11 research may uncover is to give up two, if not three, of those capacities. I don't see how such emptying out can advance our capacity for survival.

The 9/11 research movement (my preferred term) wants to keep insisting -- in the face of much resistance -- that facts matter, that humans can reason on the basis of evidence, can intuit further directions for investigation, and can make judgements based on what is found. It may be pissing in the current wind, but eventually, the world must begin to smell the illuminating piss of alterity.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

9/11 TEN YEARS IN

The U.S. is now in six overt wars, droning, bombing, killing, starving people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya -- all illegal.

Obama’s justifying rhetoric turns, as did all of Bush’s, on the constantly whupped-up justification of “9/11”:

"We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of the passengers on board one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.”

And so Obama needs 10K soldiers and “contractors” to fight the “less than 100 operatives” (Gen. James L. Jones, US National Security Advisor) left in Afghanistan, and their vague sporulations blooming worldwide. 9/11. The Global War on Terror. Or Obama’s “Kinetic Overseas Contingency Operations.” Not to mention secret prisons, justified torture and expanding surveillance in "the homeland".

Aside from the absurdity of proportion, the demonstrated ineffectiveness of the approach, and the barbaric “collateral damage” -- global and domestic -- accompanying it, the entire package is based on, justified by, and pitched via a most problematic “fact” -- the "official story" of 9/11, 19 Arab hijackers with boxcutters, etc.

Absolutely every one of the major and minor elements of this tale has been shown to be inconsistent with demonstrable physical events and surrounded with impossible and suspicious behavior.

After ten years of study, thousands of serious researchers in many technical areas can confidently assert the complete falsity of the "official story", along with slightly differing alternatives, diffuse along the edges, but solidly agreeing at the core: the "official story" is completely impossible, and a new, independent, supoena-empowered investigation must be conducted to examine the contradictions, and answer the questions raised by 9/11 truth groups: Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, Medical Professionals for..., Scholars for..., Physicists for..., Intelligence Professionals for..., Firefighters for..., Pilots for..., Political Leaders for..., Lawyers for..., Religious Leaders for..., Media Professionals for....

These are not "tin hats" "conspiracy nuts", or "crackpots" as culturally labeled. Google any of their websites, and see the facts and discussions enabled by their collective expertise. Vast amounts of material has been available online since the first explorations and organizations debuted eight or nine years ago.

And yet the same, tired, much-wounded story continues to justify the exercise of our killing machines, military and financial, around the globe -- including here at home where our own population is being starved of humane goods and services.

The 9/11-justified “war on terror” (by whatever fancy name Obama chooses to call it) remains the be-all and end-all of our secure existence -- all action based on a set of demonstrable, manipulated falsities. The media has enshrined the official story; any challenge to it -- at least in this country -- is off the table of the public mind.

PROGRESS IN RESEARCH

The earliest researchers simply noted the contradictions of story and fact:

-- Plane crashes leave wreckage. The one at the Pentagon left only a few scraps -- none related to a 757.
-- The initial hole in the outer wall of the  Pentagon was not large enough to accommodate a 757; the grass leading up to the wall was unscathed; windows were unbroken, and although the official story has the wreckage "vaporizing" because of the extreme heat (including the titanium steel engines that burn the fuel), neighboring rooms contained wooden desks and paper books -- unvaporized.
-- Steel frame buildings had never before collapsed from fires burning much more fiercely and longer than those in the twin towers. The collapses were at free-fall speed, demonstrating the removal of all supporting structures.
-- Building Seven, a 47-story office block, collapsed in the late afternoon without being hit by planes or demonstrating significant fires.
-- There were no bodies and no wreckage at all found at the purported site of the "Let's roll" heroic self-sacrifice crash of the Shanksville plane.
-- Cell phone calls describing the now-mythic events on board the hijacked airliners were not possible in 2001.

Beyond these prima-facie physical contradictions, quickly and easily noticed by any open eyes were a host of behavioral oddities:

-- the apparent stand-down of the NORAD air defense system, charged with scrambling fighters and protecting US air space.
-- the scrubbing of initial reports on all TV networks concerning explosions and demolitions.
-- the odd behavior of the president and the secret service at a grade school.
-- the immediate FBI confiscation of all videotapes from cameras inside and outside the Pentagon.
-- the BBC news report -- 20 minutes before it happened -- of the collapse of Building Seven.
-- the prompt illegal removal of all evidence from the crime scenes.
-- the flight-training history of the purported hijackers.
-- the resistance of the Bush administration to an official investigation.
-- the hand-holding, secret testimony of Bush and Cheney concerning the events of the day.
-- finally, the appointment of an investigatory commission run by an administration insider who chose what evidence would be presented and what excluded from the official report.

In The New Pearl Harbor (2004), David Ray Griffin listed the contradictions, and considered the implication that our own government was complict in the events of 9/11, and not a mere victim -- either of intelligence failures or incompetence. In a nuanced discussion of complicity, Griffin distinguished eight possible levels, from simply lying about events to maximize political effects, through intentionally allowing expected attacks, to actual involvement in planning them. At the time he did not make specific accusations, or even hypothesize a "true" version of what happened. But he did challenge people to undertake unflinching investigations of all the contradictions, with clear reporting of results, and most difficult, courageous drawing of conclusions, no matter how "unthinkable" or outrageous they may appear.

Over the next seven years, research communities responded: interested individuals and the professional organizations listed above brought their expertise to the problems. Structural forces, melting points, evidence of explosives, aerodynamics, photo and video forensics, witness testimonies, and many other angles were explored in detail, and all information made public online at the various sites.

But ten years and many Bush/Obamaogenic catastrophes later, people still refuse to confront the ever more abundant evidence.

Let’s take only the single most obvious strangeness: Building Seven collapsing without planes or significant fires. Curious? But somehow not so curious as to arouse curiosity. You’d think folks might get the hint that something was up.

However, talking with many news-aware friends over the years, I’ve found that very few had even heard of Building Seven. When I mentioned it was a classical example of a controlled demolition, I would almost always get exactly the same response:

Gesture: Elbows bent, both hands up to shoulder level, palms out. Followed by
Sentence: “I’m not going there.” One woman added: “I don’t want to live in a world where such a thing is possible.”

Any further talk of details got those hands moving, flapping outward from the shoulders, go away, “I really don’t want to go there.”

All those who have put many hours into reading books and scholarly papers, exploring photos and videos -- guess what…they’re all—all— nuts, crazies, lunatic fringe not worthy of media or political discussion. Cass Sunstein, Obama's Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has written extensively about the need to "cognitively infiltrate" such truth groups, to interrupt and correct their false thinking. Even the prominent lefty analysist have refused to cover, much less feature, the results of so many person-hours of research, and all assume the official story to be true in their articles on blowback from the evils of American imperialism. They too just won't "go there."
What an enormous and pervasive need-not-to-know.

STUPIDY, FEAR AND GREED

Albert Einstein once noted that “Three great forces rule the world: stupidity, fear and greed.”  Interesting choice of qualities. Something non-intelligent certainly seems to be ruling the world. Einstein's trio may go partway toward explaining the need of not-knowing.

Stupidity? The grand narrative of American Realpolitik?  “Too complicated for me.”  When you put that sort of thing together with most people not knowing much about history, or geography, or math or science, it does add up to a semi-dysfunctional stupidity endemic in the population, annually measured and bewailed.

But as Chomsky points out, this is not native stupidity, but stupidity engineered by the system. People are plenty smart on the street, he observes, or concerning the statistics of sports. But intelligence about history or politics is not encouraged. “Best to trust the experts.” (Chomsky takes no blame for being one of the engineers of 9/11 stupidity.)

Fear. The fear factor is obvious, a major tactic of all authoritarian institutions, from elementary school to Guantanamo.  The more one knows, the more there is to be afraid of.  Like possible administration complicity in 9/11?  Best not to know.

Greed may be what drives it all.  Why is America afraid?  In large part because it has it and they want it.  Share equitably?  Forget it.  The best way to avoid guilt is not to know -- not to know other languages, international dynamics, the ecological state of affairs, who the criminals are. Not to know the misery greed creates. Our need not-to-know is urgent.

Ten years later, some people know a lot more. Most don't want to.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

ROOSTING WITH THE GODS


I'm not sure if announcing the release of one's latest novel gets this post into the "shameless commerce division", but I do think people who like my writing may be interested.

When the Gods Come Home to Roost
has just been published by Spuyten Duyvil, a wonderful small publisher that produces gorgeously made books. (They did my last one, Tsim-tsum.)

Here's the story:

When his 35-year old trophy girlfriend, Demi, dumps 65-year old George, a classicist at Berkeley, he decides to attempt to actualize some of the Greek and Roman myths he has been teaching for four decades, specifically the one in which Aphrodite transforms Phaon from an ugly old man into a beautiful youth.

He accepts the (mephistophelian) offer from a plastic surgeon in his UU congregation to turn him into a genuine 17-year old through a combination of surgery, hormonal therapy, nutritional therapy, psychotherapy and yogic practice. The rejuvenation succeeds, and for the acid test, George enrolls at The Putney School, the high school attended by Zoe, Demi’s daughter, a young woman he had raised to be the daughter he always wanted. They fall in love — as well they might, being so perfectly matched in worldview, frames of reference, and jokes.

The moral status of this relationship is challenging. George, after all, has been changed. He is really 17, not her erstwhile stepfather, but an appropriate, non-blood related, first lover. But maybe he’s not really 17. You get the issue. Lots of interesting classics and music stuff on the path. A plastic surgeon you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

Gods was born in this wise:

The first seed was planted by a Harpers magazine article quite a few years back which struck me with its beautiful and alarming illustrations. It concerned a plastic surgeon who thought that medical ethics should not exclude individual patients' desires to express themselves through bodily transformation. Faustian striving and overreach has been a continual theme in my novels, and here was a great set of possibilities for crime and punishment. I tucked it away somewhere in my subconscious.

The next poke came a few years ago, when I was reading in bed, holding up a book, and noticed the skin on my arm was wrinkled. First time I had noticed. Geez, I'm getting old.

Putting those two together a year or so later, the story emerged of a guy getting old who meets up with a plastic surgeon ethically capable of anything -- and there you have it: Faustian striving, mephistophelian manipulation, and whatever consequences might result therefrom.

The most interesting thing, as always, is that novels never work out the way you think they're going to. Plots fulfill themselves, characters enter and exit unexpectedly, and tell you what to do. I am not the only writer who has experienced this. In my case, the unexpected banana peel was the happy end. Well, maybe not entirely happy, and certainly not securely happy, but happy–ish nevertheless.

I had always been a fervent fan of Marlow's Faust, and Thomas Mann's, as opposed to Goethe's. Why the hell should Faust get off so easy? Away to hell with him. A deal's a deal. No salvation for unknown causes.

And yet, here I have my Faust (George Helmstetter was the original Dr. Faust's real name) undertaking a deal with the devil, getting his unholy goodies, and walking off with his Gretchen into the sunset. Why can't I control these things?

The other interesting switcheroo was discovering that Mephistopheles himself has quite Faustian qualities, always striving for greater agency and control, his own demon being, perhaps, the once-innocent John Stuart Mill. You just never can tell.

I do finally have to say that the last thing on earth I, Marc Estrin, would want, is to do it (or anything) all over again.

Here's the book at Amazon. If you like it (or hate it) put up an Amazon review.

Thanks,

Marc

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

UP, UP, AND AWAY...


Though two summers away, an invitation by the mayor to discuss inviting another Burlington air show, "Wings Over Vermont", has elicited some interesting letters to the Burlington Free Press, the state's largest paper.

For those outside of Vermont who may not have seen a similar event, such an air show consists of  "a blend of high-performance military jets and much more sedate civilian aircraft, such as biplanes." As the Free Press notes without comment, "The sound impact of jets, generated by the likes of the Blue Angels and other precision flying teams, probably would fill up to two hours of the five-hour program."

In practice, the show takes place down at Lake Champlain during a crowded day with a July 4th atmosphere. For those not at the event, the cross-overs and low-altitude fly-arounds of the team of "high-performance military jets" is admittedly an auditory trial. Many people leave town while others just gripe.

The virtues or sins of the show are not my subject here. Rather, what interests me is the nature of some of the commentary from the supporters of the show addressing those against.

A most common notion among them is that American freedom to publicly express opinions have been made possible by the existence of the military.

"They are the reason why we all have the freedom to meet," wrote one. And another: "Your freedoms to express freely your 'opinions' have been protected and insured by generations of men and women who proudly served in the military." (The quotations marks around "opinions" are also interesting.)

To one letter writer, the sound of the jets is "the sound of freedom," and another asserts that true patriots are "not bothered by the sounds of the people who allow them to live their dream in freedom."

It seems to me, rather, that the freedom to form and speak our opinions and to freely assemble is not a military issue, but rather a basic gift of the U.S. constitution. If the military is functioning to protect those constitutional rights, you'd never know it as they serve to support administrations in hot pursuit of those rights, dead or alive.

For all the high- and low-tech wonders of flight (it still astounds me to see a huge plane take off), there is a disturbing leitmotif of jingoist war chants among some of the comments:

"There is no better sight in the world than one of those 'fast movers' streaking into the battle delivering their payload on top of the enemy," rhapsodizes one, the enemy, of course, being anyone upon whom a payload is dropped.  "Is it noisy? You bet," writes another. "Does it burn fossil fuel? It sure as heck does. Is it patriotic? You better well believe it."

Speaking against an anti-show writer, one letter predicts that "When the bad guys from across the pond attack again, he'll be grateful for our military, but it will be too late." Concerning his probable reference, 9/11, one may note that our jets -- for reasons still unclear -- were unable to scramble that day against four errant airliners clearly bent on destruction.

(This has been a week containing a rape by a power-driven, hyper-sexual world leader, and the postponed invitation by a Savior for meeting in the skies with his elect. It is hard for me to avoid sensing a relation of themes here. But I will leave such meta-interpretations to readers so disposed.")

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these freedom-loving comments has been the depiction of those who oppose the air show: "Moonbats," they are, "whack jobs", "tree-hugging wing nuts" (these descriptors from different letters). What to do with them? "Progressives and liberals should be MADE to watch the air show. Maybe then they will pack up and leave."

And a warning: "If you don't stand behind our troops, PLEASE feel free to stand in front of them.

The vibes are chilling.

Friday, May 13, 2011

OSAMA BIN LADEN -- WHAT WOULD KANT SAY?

Now that the bipartisan jingofest around OBL’s purported killing seems to be settling down, and the kaleidoscope of changing stories seems to be solidifying into cognitively dissonant national belief, it may be time to rationally review the evidence and sequence of changes in the generally accepted narrative.

My recent little essay ("Drinking the Obamaid") was written only a day after Obama's mission accomplished announcement, before all the changes and contradictions in the official story emerged.

Many people have been following those changes -- some simply to record the "truth" developing out of the "fog of war", and some to note the suspicious nature of what looks like political manipulation.

Chief among the latter has been Steven Lendman, who has closely followed the administration's twists and turns, and analyzed the absurdity of some of its claims. Rather than repeat his cataloguing, let me just give you some links for the curious:

http://www.veteranstoday.com/2011/05/06/steve-lendman-staged-bin-laden-killing-hokum/

(Contained in this link, are links to two of his earlier assessments.)

Lendman has also noted the inconsistencies in the newly revealed tape of OBL watching himself on TV.

http://sjlendman.blogspot.com/2011_05_01_archive.html (blog for May 9)

In my earlier essay, I referred to a 2009 book by David Ray Griffin which reviewed the evidence that Osama was likely long dead. Here is a short summary of the contents of that book:

http://www.americanpendulum.com/2011/05/david-ray-griffin-on-evidence-osama-bin-laden-died-several-years-ago/

What bollixes my mind is not the flag-covered USA! USA! chanters outside the White House, or the dignified chest-thumping president within. It is the complete belief in a hard-to-believe story by the intelligent left -- who are now frothing over the ethics and legality of targeted assassination. You can practically watch the fangs grow, and the saliva drip:

http://popwatch.ew.com/2011/05/03/jon-stewart-osama-bin-laden/

We don't even know that OBL was responsible for anything on 911. At least the FBI doesn't seem to think so. After the attacks, he denied it for two weeks, and all subsequent "confession" tapes have proved to be poorly constructed fakes emerging at crucial moments in American political life. Big lies are a well-honed American tradition:
http://sjlendman.blogspot.com/2011_05_01_archive.html

(Another Lendman cataloguing: scroll to entry for May 7, a little more than halfway down.)

So what really went down on May 1st? Who knows? We have taped interviews with fifty or so neighbors that say that Osama was never living in that compound or they would have known it. We have the "family" in Pakistani military custody, and who knows what they will say? Or what the photos/videos, when and if finally released, will contain -- authentic or fabricated?

We do know that the story with all its changes smells awfully fishy, and the immediate disappearing of the body with its various rationales is fishiest of all.

We do know that as Mara Liasson announced on NPR, Obama's "Republican opponents will always have to deal with the new and enduring fact that Barack Obama is the president who got Osama bin Laden."

We do know that immediately after OBL's putative elimination, calls were going up for increased homeland security money and protection against blowback and revenge.

We do know that this event, pseudo- or not, is now being used as justification for assassination, torture and future preemptive war, and for support of the Patriot Act.

We do know that acclaim for targeted assassination has risen, and will certainly serve as a protective buffer against any possible prosecution for war crimes of the Bush or Obama administrations.

As usual, Cui Bono? is a pertinent question.

What would Kant say?

He would say "All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason."

He might say, too, "By a lie, a man annihilates his dignity as a man."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

DRINKING THE OBAMAID

With no evidence whatsoever except the changing assertions of our military spokesmen, almost the entire left, and of  course all of the mainstream media, have swallowed the story of Barak Obama finally bringing in the big fish, the symbol and cause of all our woes.

The timing is convenient at the start of a chaotic election season. The burial place is unreachable, unseeable, the body now unfindable, and we claim to have "a quick DNA [DoNotArgue] match" in hand.

I love the story put out by the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON – Knowing there would be disbelievers, the U.S. says it used convincing means to confirm Osama bin Laden's identity during and after the firefight that killed him.

In the entire article, do they ever mention what those convincing means are? No. Just that whatever they are, they are convincing. They proceed to ask three questions, "Was it really him? How do we know?" Where are the pictures?", but they don't ask them as questions to be answered by investigative reporting, but only to denigrate the "conspiracy theorists" asking such question.

Then: U.S. officials are balancing that skepticism with the sensitivities that might be inflamed by showing images they say they have of the dead al-Qaida leader and video of his burial at sea.

After showing and crowing over Saddam Hussein's hanging, we are now sensitive to sensitivities. No boasters we. Keep it low key. Any evidence would only inflame.

So far, the AP continues, the U.S. has cited evidence that satisfied the Navy SEAL force, and at least most of the world, that they had the right man in Abbottabad, Pakistan. I would think the SEALs are likely an easy audience, and I haven't seen any documentation of the "rest of the world"'s satisfaction, unless "the rest of the world" means, as it usually does, our government's fellow kleptocrats and sociopaths, a group small enough for occasional photoops all together on the same stage.

There is plenty of evidence that this new official story is peculiar: the somehow secret "luxury compound", unseen over years by our satellites, the identification of our man "by appearance", the quick, untraceable burial, the so-far lack of corroborating evidence, the changing stories -- first that we buried him at sea to respect Islamic law that corpses must be buried within 24 hours, and then when Islamic scholars disagreed, that we buried him at sea to prevent there being a shrine to which worshippers would come. The broadcast "sense of relief", mission accomplished, coupled with warnings that the threat of revenge attacks may be greater than ever...

There is also plenty of evidence that Osama has been dead for many years, too great to summarize here, but well-collected in David Ray Griffin's 2009 book, Osama bin Laden: Dead or Alive?

There is also plenty of evidence that his periodic appearances -- all of which were timed to be helpful to some president, or candidate, or poll, at some crucial moment -- are transparent fakes, the physiognomy, bling, handedness, language, being that of someone other than Osama. These fake videos are well covered in Griffin's book.

There is finally plenty of evidence that Osama bin Laden -- our Osama bin Laden -- whose brother was breakfasting in Washington on the morning of 9/11/01, and whose relatives were specially and secretly flown out of the country in spite of their being a flight ban in the days immediately following the events -- that our Osama bin Laden was not, and had never been, and is still not  connected by the FBI to 9/11/01.

Yet the AP warns us that "as with the birther conspiracy, there's going to be a set of people who are never going to be convinced." "If it suits extremist ends to spin a fantastical tale of survival or trickery to gullible ears, expect to hear it." "There are always conspiracy theories," he said. "There are individuals who believe that bin Laden wasn't involved in the 9/11 attacks."

You'd never know it, listening to, or reading the blogs of the left pundits, not to mention the right.

Friday, April 8, 2011

LIGHT UNTO THE NATIONS

What is it? It doesn't seem to be a bird. Definitely not a plane. It's...an Israeli Defense Forces flashlight. For only 72 bucks plus shipping and handling, you can own this Agronomic [sic.] Flashlight Grip (T-GRIP) Tactile Vertical Foregrip Weapon Lights Holder.

It "comes with a 1 inch flight Adaptor with special activity trigger, and also a place to store additional batteries, AND
    * Three in one: special handgrip and a flashlight mount with a built in trigger that
    * transform tactical light into a Vertical Fore grip Weapon Light
    * This unique ergonomic fore grip will fit perfectly to your hand while holding in up to 1 .
    * diameter tactical light with Tail cap switch and allow trigger activation of the light
    * Ergonomic designed grip, comfortable and natural to use “fighting stance".
    * Designed to hold any 1" diameter flashlight and allow quick and easy operation
    * Easy to fit and secured by 2 bolts
    * Fits hand guards equipped with a Weaver or Picatinny rail system
    * No gunsmithing is required
    * Molded from reinforced polymer composite
    * Super lightweight, Eliminate the need for a ymer compositer"

Now, I don't normally use my blog entries to sell Israeli military accessories, but this piece of equipment serves up much food for thought. As does the website on which you'll find it (search "flashlight""), the Israel Military Products Israeli Army Surplus Store, http://www.israelmilitary.com/default.aspx.

I advise you to explore this site, watch the short slide show on the home page, and sift through the various gifts for sale. You don't have to be Jewish. Two of my favorite items are a sweatshirt reading " America Don't Worry. Israel Is Behind You." and a hoodie, reading "UZI DOES IT". With a nice Uzi graphic.

I was brought inadvertently to this page by my novelist's wondering about the details involved in a terse dispatch this week from the Palestinian Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements:

The Israeli army and police occupation forces stormed the village of Bil’in at 1:30 am on Monday 4th April, raiding the houses of Ali Ibrahim Bornat, and Khames Abo Rahma. They searched their houses and tampered with the contents under the pretext of search for solidarity foreigners.

Bil'in is a village of 1,800 people in the central West Bank, near Ramallah. It is famous for its six-plus years of weekly, non-violent protests against the illegal (International Court of Justice) wall separating it from 60% of its farmland, and its peaceful protests have been met with increasing Israeli violence, now including live ammunition, and my favorite, Israeli trucks spraying human sewage collected from Modi'in Illit, an illegal Israeli settlement of 50,000, towering on the hill above.

Now, imagine this closely. You're asleep in your bed. It's still very dark. Into your tiny town roar not one, but two heavily armed convoys -- one from the military, one from the police. Doors, as normal, are banged on, kicked in with shouts and threats, children cry in fear. Flashlights -- likely those lovely "agronomic" ones, used in "fighting stance" -- search the rooms, peer into faces, blind the eyes.

What are they looking for? Weapons? Terrorists? No. Non-violent activists, organizers of the weekly protests, and worst of all "solidarity foreigners" -- those peaceniks from abroad who come to witness, document, take part in peaceful demonstrations against the wall or home demolitions, occasionally help with harvests.

I suppose it could be worse. Rachel Corrie experienced being on the wrong end of a Military Bulldozer, and others have been blinded, brain-damaged, and killed by "non-lethal" weapons shot directly at their heads for their non-violent protest.

Nevertheless -- harboring peace activists, are you? Take that, and that, and we're really sorry about the door and that laptop. See you soon.

"I, the LORD, have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thy hand, and will keep thee, and will make you a covenant of the people, as a light unto the nations."
(Isaiah 42:6)

There are extra batteries in the T-GRIP storage compartment.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PEA

"Keep your eye on the pea." "What pea? Where?" "The one under the shell, this shell, here. Got it?" "Yeah." "OK. Now watch carefully."

PEA OF THE MONTH:

First The Holy Trinity spoke only of imposing a no-fly zone. That -- and "all necessary measures" -- code for military action -- to protect innocent civilians against Gaddafi's forces.

It's widely understood that "a no-fly zone" is most often the first step towards broader military engagement, and adding the UN license for unlimited military escalation was crucial to getting the U.S. on board. The "all necessary measures" language also appears to be the primary reason five Security Council members abstained. For Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil, that phrase meant giving the Pentagon and NATO a blank check backed by UN legitimacy.

Some supporters of the resolution insisted on explicitly excluding a "foreign occupation force." But any U.S., British, or French troops arriving in Libya could easily be disguised as an "assistance team" or "training mission" or any diplomatic pseudonym.

After getting support from international bodies on that understanding the Trinity immediately began to wage war against Libyan military forces, and whoever was nearby, a level of direct U.S., British, French, NATO and other international military intervention which went far beyond the "no-fly zone but no foreign intervention" that the rebels wanted, escalating the militarization of the entire region and internationalizing the military battle.

In yet another breach of international law, the president announced an “Obama doctrine” – an approach to situations where US action is not imperative but desirable, in concert with the international community.

Then, to smear the blame, he shifted command of the no fly zone over to NATO --- a front for US military control -- itself commanded by US admiral James Stavridis.
The claim is that UN Resolution 1973 "allows everything except boots on the ground."

So why are twenty-two hundred Marines and sailors from Camp Lejeune preparing to deploy off the coast of Libya? And who in Libya is gathering intelligence to call in all the air strikes? Those CIA trainers on the ground probably wear boots.

And who are the rebels we are supporting at the current cost of $100 million/day? It seems that the newly denominated rebel leader, Khalifa Hifter, has spent the last 20 years living just outside Washington, ten minutes from Langley, and with no clear means of support.


http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/mar2011/pers-m28.shtml

NATO, btw, may order ground forces into Libya, Adm. James Stavridis admits. He recently told Congress that "while allied forces were not yet considering the deployment of troops on the ground in Libya, it was a possibility."

Some have termed this mission creep. To me, it seems more like mission bait and switch.

THE GREAT AMERICAN PASTIME

If one follows the money flow, the great American game is surely no longer baseball, but rather Bait 'n Switch. Americans, for all their smarts around sports, are mindless suckers for various shell and pea games, in which they are always the victims.
Some peas begin with Ps -- protect, preserve -- others don't -- terrorism,and defense, for example. Oh, here's a good one: petroleum. When a P-word is mentioned, we seem to shift instantly from cognitive to limbic thinking.

Jon Stewart, though of somewhat suspicious politics, ran a segment which hilariously captures this behavior. His P-word is "squirrel":(Begin at 4.00 minutes, and watch to the end (another 4 min) . Sorry, I don't know how to capture only the relevant part of a YouTube video):


http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-september-13-2010/islamophobiapalooza

What is one face of squirrel for us? The immediate equating of intervention with military intervention. We've got the biggest, most expensive hammer, so  why diddle around? The UN resolution calls for an immediate ceasefire, for negotiations to reduce rather than escalate the level of bloodshed, – all sidelined or ignored as soon as direct military engagement was on the table. And for us, it would have to be on the table before we'd agree to play. "All necessary measures." And now, of course, it’s too late.

BAIT 'N SWITCH

I thought you might like to see it in action. A quite cool piece of street con. Here it is in its pure form. You might want to turn the sound off to better concentrate.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgcrgdqqxXM

Slick, huh? What's at play here is pure technique, leaving out the most obvious dimension of baiting. Here it is in street context:


http://www.munidiaries.com/2010/04/23/shell-game-scam-caught-on-video/

You'll notice the strong possibility that there is more than one perp. Given the particular surroundings, the may even be more. The TOSSER challenges the PLAYER to bet, say $20 on guessing which shell the pea is under. The first to volunteer is the SCHILL -- and by God, he wins, and the TOSSER actually pays up, saying that one was too easy, and he will make the next one harder. "Harder?" an interested sucker in the audience thinks. "Maybe I should hold off to see what harder is." So he does, giving SCHILL #2 a chance to bet. And he also find the pea, and now the sucker PLAYER (who had guessed right, too), goes for it -- maybe is allowed to win one -- and the psychology cascades from there. The dream team may also include a LOOKOUT, depending on the place.

Want to see how the trick is done? I thought so:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4Wr-PPct1M

THE PRESIDENT'S VERSION

The above is not simply infotainment,  but will serve as an angle for analysis.

As the tosser does not invite people to be stung, the first thing Obama does not do is say "I am taking the country  into yet another war."  No, we are not at war. The Obama administration prefers the term "kinetic military action"" Bait 'n switch: No war? Sure, let's go. Protect the People from  a dictator's terrorism.

Our goal is not "regime change", but on the other hand, we wouldn't be unhappy to see Ghadaffi go (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

Obama: "To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and -- more profoundly -- our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

Damn. Left out the mushroom cloud. But still, "Squirrel!" enough.

This from the Great Moral Leader who every day murders civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia, and now Libya,  but who turns a blind eye when "the great democracy in the Middle East," Israel, murders ever more Palestinians and our sonsa bitches exercise population control in Algeria, Tunisia, the Emirates, and above all, Saudi Arabia.

Operation Odyssey Dawn, the current name of the game in this Culture of Deception and the Strategy of Imposture. Obama the TOSSER; NATO, and arm-twisted countries of the Security Council; The European Union, the endorsing SHILLS; the mainstream media, the LOOKOUT. What an all-star cast for a heavy-duty con game.

What would a clear eye connected to a sense of history discern?

That the deadly goal of this charade is to assert Western control over the Arab rebellion, to slow them down, channel them, coopt them, confiscating their spontaneity,  preventing these popular movements from changing the basic political realities in the middle east, and in the best case, restoring the statue quo ante.

If George W looked too scary, we'll give you the more user-friendly Obama to pursue and escalate the same goals.  If another mideastern war seems too scary, let's identify another Hitler (cf. Saddam) and begin a kinetic military action, not to replace him, of course, but to protect the innocent uprising of democracy.

Operation (sterile, precise) Odessey (heroic, adventurous, sexy) Dawn (America brings you morning around the world!).

Who wants to bet $20?

Friday, March 18, 2011

SWEEPING THE ELEPHANT UNDER THE FIERY RUG

It's hard to imagine how Japan will recover from its triple catastrophe, or what the global fallout -- radioactive, political, economic -- will be. But there is one group of people who have already recovered -- the nuclear power zealots, captained by President HopeandChange.

"This isn't Japan," they astutely observe. "We don't have tsunamis, and let's not talk about earthquakes which haven't happened yet so let's not consider them. And our nuclear plants are better designed than those dumb Russian ones, more modern, chock full of new safety devices."

Obama is still pushing nuclear energy as "clean", now with a little less emphasis on "and safe", but always asserting "clean".

The hard sell is on. Fukushima? Move on, move on, nothing to see here.

Move on? OK, then, let's move on. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

I've always felt the emphasis on accident potential should be a lower priority for anti-nuke activists. Possible accidents are far too dismissable to the optimistic American mind.

I've thought, rather, that we should emphasize the problems with normal, daily operations, with not a tsunami in sight. The fact is, Mr. President and others, nuclear energy is not clean. It is filthy. And lethal. Even without an accident.

"Nuclear energy" is not just the power plant, of whatever "safe" design. "Nuclear energy" is bigger than that. It begins with uranium mining, and ends with decommissioning -- or doesn't end at all when we look at the need to safely store high-level radioactive waste for thousands and tens of thousands of years.

Let's take in the big picture of  this energy touted as "safe".

Before we even get to the plant, there are the multiple dangers of mining and milling for workers, and for the environment, as the waste from mining operations and rainwater runoff contaminates ground and surface water with heavy metals and traces of radioactive uranium. Further uranium enrichment and fabrication of fuel rods add to the health and environmental burdens,

Then the dangerous materials have to be transported over long distances by large, protected vehicles, to fuel the individual plants. And of course the plants have to be built at great financial and environmental expense, and seated at huge water sources for cooling.

At the river or shore, heavy metals and salts build up, and the water temperature is raised as it cools the pile, threatening the local ecology and wildlife, and contaminating local land with toxic by-products, possibly forever.  This, under normal operation. Nuclear power -- clean?

Then there are the 2,000 metric tons of high level waste produced by, say, our 103 US plants.  At present, we store that waste on site, no adequate underground storage having been found. Beyond the spent fuel, there is all the equipment in the plant which gradually becomes contaminated with radiation, and is itself radioactive waste, which will need to be buried.

Let's think more carefully about what it means to successfully store and manage radioactive waste.  Some radioactive isotopes decay quickly, in a few hours. Others, like U235, strontium 90 and cesium 137 have half-lives tens of years, meaning, say, 120 years until they are essentially "harmless". Maybe.

But the half-life of plutonium (created in reactors, and the "payoff" in "breeding fuel") is 24,300 years. Whatever plutonium is created under "normal" circumstances must be kept out of the environment for half a million years. No tsunamis. No earthquakes. Just normal.

Right.

Let's not do the half-million year dance. Too silly.  Let's say only as long ago as from the birth of Jesus.

So the Romans, in a great scientific breakthrough right after the aqueducts, have discovered how to make inexhaustible energy from certain rocks in the ground. But people die when they get too close, so Roman ingenuity and lead is applied to the now-hot rocks, and they are contained.

The containment must be continuously tended to by the various barbaric tribes that follow the fall, by the churchmen of the middle ages and the warring lords of the Renaissance, by the monarchs of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the various revolutionaries of the 19th, during two world wars and several others in the twentieth century, and continue now in the current age of  vying international corporations and "terrorism".

That's only 2000 years, give or take -- one tenth the half-life of plutonium, and one 200th of the time needed for it to become "safe".

So much for clean storage under normal operating conditions.

And then there is the embarrassing subject of decommissioning.  Assuming the power companies -- or more likely the taxpayers -- can afford it (they probably can't), they will find that decommissioning a nuclear power plant doesn't just mean turning out the lights and walking away.

Reactors cannot do their thing forever. The intensity of continuous bombardment by high-energy sub-atomic particles weakens, strains, and fatigues the building materials, which must eventually give out. The radioactive walls of a decommissioned reactor must be cut up under water by remote control.  This is not cheap. Or clean. Or safe. Just "mothball" it in cement till it cools down? the concrete would be long turned to dust before the nickle-63 or carbon-14 decay to safe levels. Different isotopes require different burial strategies. Safe decommissioning methods have yet to be found.

The rug is on fire in Japan. But the ongoing all the above is has been swept under it by the "clean" nuclear crowd.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

JOB LOSS FOR EXECUTIONERS

One point of light in this ghastly week of darkness has been the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois. Perhaps it's some kind of karmic balance to the election of Rahm Emannuel as mayor. Or payback for nurturing Obama, the current Grand Poobah of Extinction.

On March 9, Rod Blagojevich's successor, Gov. Pat Quinn, signed into law an abolition bill passed by state House and Senate, and Illinois joined Vermont and fourteen other states in abrogating capital punishment as a sentence for state-committed crimes.

Disaster Humanitarianism

Some of the legislators' reasons quoted by the Death Penalty Information Service were a bit lacking in moral depth:

"We have spent over $100 million of taxpayer money defending and prosecuting death row cases. The death penalty does not make our society safer, I believe. It has been an ineffective and expensive use of our scarce resources."

“I was on both sides of this issue. But then you think of the potential cost savings of this bill, and the state needs all of the savings we can get.”

This is a bit like being against racial prejudice because black people, see, aren't actually black -- they're more brown.

But, hey, if disaster capitalism or questionable reasoning must reign, let them reign here, too, to better effect.

Caveat Humanor

But Land of Lincolners, beware -- Vermont's experience bears watching:

No one had been executed in state for 33 years, and in 1987 our state legislature, too, abolished a Vermont death penalty. But fourteen years later, this was too much for the Bush administration. His Justice Department, led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, decided to do something about Vermont's raging liberalism.

A murder committed in 2000, admitted to by a remorseful  20-year old, had been plea-bargained for life without the possibility of parole. But because the victim was abducted in Vermont and the perpetrators, drunkenly fleeing, transported the victim over the border to New York State, Ashcroft demanded that his prosecutors change their agreement and go for death for the interstate crime. And on a kind of reverse-Bastille Day, 14 July 2005, a jury of twelve Vermonters delivered Vermont's first death sentence in 50 years -- another notch in Bush/Cheney's belt. And following the sentencing, there began a push to bring capital punishment back.

Now Bush/Ashcroft have become Obama/Holder, and a similar drama is unfolding.  In a perfectly awful sex-murder of a 12-year old, with murderer, victim and crime entirely in-state, the new feds have once again moved in to claim jurisdiction, and thus demand another death penalty from death penalty-free Vermont.

What is their reasoning? That the internet was used in the developing story, and the internet is interstate, ergo it’s a federal offense, ergo, let's go for death. Obama's motivation? Who knows. But you have to be tough on crime to get elected in 2012. 

Our Public Defender is fighting such legal travesty, but the big boys have more money. Disaster humanitarianism goes only so far.

And Our Reasoning?

The internet makes all crime these days federal crimes. Questionable reasoning. The death penalty should be abolished because it saves money to do so. Questionable reasoning, though true.

Not to be simplistic, but it seems to me that capital punishment should be abolished for moral reasons, not economic or technical ones. Call it Thou Shalt not Kill. Call it Do Unto Others. Call it Two Wrongs Don't. Call it what you want, but the state of We the People is not granted the right to kill its citizens. This is not a moonbeam hippy idea. Most comparable advanced-economy states agree.

In the midst of the 2006 cry to bring the death penalty back to Vermont, I thought I'd explore the motivations behind an extreme example in our own western culture, and researched and published a novel called The Good Doctor Guillotin. I found much involved in the French Revolution still relevant to our attitudes and times.

Here is the short first chapter as a teaser. I invite you to explore this subject with me.

Epigraph

When asked in the 1960s about the historical effect of the French Revolution, Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai replied, “Too soon to tell.”

I. Prelude

FIVE PATHS

Five paths converging at a place, and that place is the scaffold. Five roads to this engorging center, and five ways of the five men upon them.

For the Pythagoreans, five was the number of man—with his five fingers, five toes, and five senses, the creature who could be placed inside a pentagram,





with its center at his groin.

While his groin may have been near the center of the scaffold on April 25, 1792, the center of attention was his neck—the neck of Nicolas Jacques Pelletier, age thirty-six, profession “brigand,” the first of many to mate with the new machine.

Five were the number of the wounds of Christ, a truth held dear by another at the scaffold, the curé Pierre-René Grenier, spiritual adviser and companion of Pelletier’s last days.

There, too, was the builder of the machine, the “painless device”—which for a while would be known as the “louison” after Antoine Louis, the doctor who had perfected its design—one Tobias Schmidt, a German piano-maker living and working in Paris.

The machine’s attendant was also there, of course: Charles-Henri Sanson, the executioner of Paris, who nine months later would strap a king onto the plank, hold his fallen head up by the hair, and show it to the crowd. Nine pregnant months into the birth of a new world, and the death of an old one.

A fifth person was there, too, completing the pentagram, its head, perhaps, but cut off from the event, mind tortured and heart afraid—Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, professor at the Faculté de Medicine, Parisian delegate to the National Assembly, a man charged with helping to write a constitution for an unimagined world.

He was secretary to that Assembly, the good Doctor Guillotin, that singular man, a respectable clinician much in demand, a man doomed by laughing fate to immortal scorn. He wanted an egalitarian justice system, a more humane method of execution. In return he was haunted by repulsion and sniggering, by dirty pointing fingers and hands going chop-chop at the neck. His name became attached to a monster daughter, fathered by his Enlightenment hope for improving the lot of humankind. And contempt has followed him to the present day. On April 25, 1792, he could not bring himself to witness the event: He turned his back to the scaffold.

In a funeral oration for Guillotin on March, 23, 1814, a Dr. Bourru remarked, “It is difficult to benefit mankind without some unpleasantness resulting for oneself.”

Alas, too true.

Five paths to that scaffold, a pentagram of powerlessness and power. For the Freemasons, of which Guillotin was one, the pentagram inscribed in the pentagon symbolized the hermetic mystery of Solomon’s Seal, the Quintessence, a fifth essence beyond fire, water, earth, and air, the burning star of the Spirit. Walking the halls of our own pentagon, we find still the same array: would-be altruists, victims dreaming of victims, builders of efficient machines, those who use them, and those who bless them.

Friday, March 4, 2011

DROWNING THE BABY, SAVING THE BATHWATER

The warships gather, as do the rationales. The table is groaning with options. A word rarely mentioned is oil.

The Wall St Journal has called for the U.S. and Europe to "help Libyans overthrow the Gadhafi regime." (Insufficiently compliant.) Obama and Hilary have expressed "outrage" in their zeal to save innocent lives.

The Senate, condemning Gadhafi's "violence against civilians" (as opposed to our own, or Israel's), with unanimous consent quickly passed a resolution which "calls on the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over the territory of Libya."

Some pols have not been as politic. Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, for instance, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee has noted that a no-fly zone could deter Kadafi from striking rebels with his chemical weapons and offers the U.S. a way "to project power without getting engaged on the ground."

I seem to remember something about a western Coalition of the Willing liberating the people of Iraq from Saddam, and the tribes of Afghanistan from warlords and  the Taliban.

In short, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and you don't need a fisherman to smell something fishy. The details are changing hour by hour; the exact storyline is hard to predict. But that the babe of freedom is life-threatened by its bath of oil, power struggles, and violence -- that we know. Some things are transparent.

The Bread & Puppet Theater has a devastating little play called "The King Story." Peter Schumann's narrator speaks as follows:

Once there was a Good King.  And the King had a Priest, and the King had a Red Man, and the King had a Blue Man and his Son, and the King had  Good People.

One day, a Great Warrior came into the King's country and offered his services to the King.  But the King refused to accept his services and he sent him away.

Then a terrible Dragon appeared in the King's country, and the People were afraid, and the King was afraid.  And he called for the Great Warrior.  But the Priest implored the King not to ask the Great Warrior for help, and the Blue Man and his Son implored the King not to ask the Great Warrior for help.
 
But the King was afraid and the People were afraid.  And the King called for the Great Warrior, and the Great Warrior fought the Dragon.  And the Great Warrior killed the Dragon.

And then the Great Warrior killed the King, and then the Great Warrior killed the Priest, and then the Great Warrior killed the Red Man, and then the Great Warrior killed the Blue Man and his Son, and then the Great Warrior killed the People.

And then the Great Warrior was alone.
   
And Death came.

And Death killed him.


"And Death killed him."  I'll tell you how. 

A smiling skull walks quietly out from behind a curtain, dressed in tux and white gloves, blowing softly on a bosun's whistle.  The Great Warrior's head is huge, metallic silver, topped with lethal spikes.  In each gigantic fist he holds an enormous sword which strikes mechanically, with deadly force. 

A smallish Death stands face to face with Immensity.

The Great Warrior raises his right sword, and brings it fiercely down.  But Death catches the sword, and slowly twists it, breaking the puppet arm. Inside, the puppeteer releases the handle, and the sword hand drops limply, flapping from its sleeve.  It is an astounding moment when the integrity of the puppet is broken.  For all the horror of the character, how pathetic to see the sword just dangle.

The same move is repeated with the left hand, and now, both swords swing helplessly from the Great Warrior's outstretched arms.  Then, in a move of high gymnastic, the puppeteer inside slowly arcs his body backward, so that the spikes of the Great Warrior's head touch the ground behind him.  He whips forward, and brings the spikes crashing down on Death. 

But his head is caught and twisted, his neck snaps, and his head dangles down, knocking against limp swords. 

Death walks around behind the Great Warrior, and pushes his carcass down to the ground, a mere blue mass now, with arms and head akimbo.  He blows his whistle softly, and walks off stage.

***************

This, Bread & Puppet's vision of Hope and Change.

Monday, February 28, 2011

SPEAKING HALF-TRUTHS TO POWER

The action

In the midst of cries for freedom in the Middle East and Africa, Ian McEwan claimed the Jerusalem Prize for Literature, in a sumptuous convention center in a city officially described as the eternal and undivided capital of Israel.

In his acceptance speech he addressed president of Israel, the minister of culture, the mayor of Jerusalem, and the "Israeli and Palestinian citizens of this beautiful city", and thanked them for honoring him with a prize which "promotes the idea of the freedom of the individual in society." He then proceeded to schmooze with the literary celebrities and political and military enforcers that gather at such events.

http://www.ianmcewan.com/

His speech was gracefully written, a short lecture on the history and purpose of the novel as an exploration of the individual, along with some ruminations concerning the political "situation", and his acceptance of the prize. Haaretz headlined the speech as courageously "slamming" Israeli policies, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/accepting-jerusalem-prize-mcewan-slams-israeli-policies-1.344695, while Britain's First Post described him as "hitting out" at Israel's "great injustice." http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/75406,people,news,ian-mcewan-hits-out-at-israels-great-injustice-

While I acknowledge McEwan's accurate listing of major Israeli crimes, and admire his courage in enumerating them to such an audience, I found the speech on the whole to be intellectually, and perhaps psychologically dishonest, calling up many frequent zionist tropes to mask and distort the reality on the ground -- and in the hearts and minds of many of his listeners.

The words

First, in spite of his claiming disinterest in "arguments of equivalence", he repeatedly denounces "both sides", as if they were equivalent players in the ongoing tragedy.

He speaks of Hamas' "nihilism", which "has embraced the suicide bomber" -- though such appalling practices began only after intolerable Israeli provocations, and lasted for only a few years. They are not a current tactic, though McEwan describes them as if they are. Meantime, the Israelis have killed more than 3,000 Palestinians, bombing them from the skies, and shooting them from guard towers -- without committing suicide.

He goes on to speak of the nihilism of "rockets fired blindly into towns". These home-made explosives, fired in the general direction of towns over the border, land mostly in empty fields without injury to person or place -- hardly equivalent to the high-tech weaponry targeted and used against the Palestinians.

He claims that Hamas has "embraced the nihilism of an extinctionist policy toward Israel" with no nod to its many-times offered long-term truce proposals, or the clear and oft-stated purposes of the Zionists to possess the land "between the river and the sea" by dispossessing its Palestinian inhabitants.

And while he fearlessly mentions Israeli killings in the occupied territories, evictions and demolitions, the "tsunami of concrete" poured in the West Bank, the "relentless purchases of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, and the right of return granted to Jews but not Arabs, I stand back from these "equivalent" listings of evil, and think they are not equivalent at all -- quantitatively or qualitatively, or with regard to their motivations. One side is the oppressor, one the oppressed. Would McEwan dispute which is which?

A second common trope for Israel apologists often surfaces in their descriptions of the Israeli project. McEwan contextualizes his evaluation in the rhetoric of the occasion:

"Everybody knows this simple fact: once you've instituted a prize for philosophers and creative writers, you have embraced freedom of thought and open discourse, and I take the continued existence of the Jerusalem Prize as a tribute to the precious tradition of a democracy of ideas in Israel."

(These words, by the way, uttered in the same week as the Knesset passed a bill which calls for heavy fines to be imposed on Israeli citizens who initiate or incite boycotts against Israeli individuals, companies, factories, and organizations.)

This is shoddy, dishonest thinking, considering the history and rhetoric of zionist thought. Even McEwan recognizes this, noting that while the Jerusalem prize "recognizes writing which promotes the idea of the freedom of the individual in society", that idea "sits so awkwardly" with the situation in Jerusalem. Part for the whole, perhaps, a writer's gambit, but it sits awkwardly in the West Bank and Gaza as well, the ganze geschichte. 

And again, a false equivalence: "A great and self-evident injustice hangs in the air, people have been and are being displaced. On the other hand, a valuable democracy is threatened by unfriendly neighbours, even to the point of extinction by a state that could soon possess a nuclear bomb."

Actual displacements and killings taking place as he speaks -- versus some theoretical threat "even to the point of extinction", by I suppose Iran. Does he know the real translation of Amadinejad's "threat"? Is he aware of any Iranian nuclear arms program? Would Iran use a nuclear weapon against Israel even if it had one?  These are all right-wing canards, embarrassing in the mouth of an informed, presumably progressive, person.

The final, show-stopping, conversation and thought-ending zionist trope in McEwan's speech is the invocation of the, THE, Holocaust, "that industrialised cruelty which will remain always the ultimate measure of human depravity, of how far we can fall." Are there not other holocausts afoot, a main one planned and executed by the people in that very room? Are the billions spent, and the technological plans made for ever greater use of joystick drone and space warfare not a competitor on the human depravity scale?

The place

Granted, the ability to speak truth to power rides on getting access to that power.  I don't know why the elite ever granted a ticket to Lewis Lapham to anything. And the politicos and their sycophant press were clearly blindsided by Stephen Colbert's still remarkable 2006 roast of George Bush at the Washington Press Club.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MoGi4AHpn0
Once bitten, twice shy: anything like that will never happen again.

And so, by being "nice" and "balanced", Ian McEwan earned himself some reluctant ears to fleetingly assault with some nasty truths. But having been awarded the prize, would he not have had those same ears -- and more -- by turning the prize down? I understand his rationalization about art promoting freedom. But contrast his route to access, voice and freedom, with that of the people in the squares of North Africa. Is there not something more genuine about these which do not end in wine and cheese?

The effect

As McEwan traced the tradition of the novel, imagine a bulldozer audibly demolishing the building next door, the cries of the inhabitants leaking through the convention center windows. Oh, but that's on the other side of town.

This great writer admits that "whatever I believed about literature, its nobility and reach, I couldn't escape the politics of my decision. Reluctantly, sadly, I must concede that this is the case." Why reluctantly, and above all, why sadly? Is not the polis of politics a collection of those individuals he writes so sensitively about? Does collecting a prize concerned with "the freedom of the individual in society" annul its social aspects?

If there were any doubt, McEwan had only to listen to Mayor Nir Barkat's speech, asserting that while Jerusalem "has conflict, big-time," he could nevertheless boast of the city's "pluralism" and "openness," and of his conviction that the "renaissance of arts" taking place in the capital is acting to "mediate tensions."

Tell it to the Palestinians.