Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2012: The Beginning Is Near

Happy New Year to all the readers of The Cahokian!

2011 had its ups and downs for sure, but for me it will be the year when the possibilities of the future suddenly realigned. For a long time I felt like that long-haired crazyman wearing a "The End Is Near" sandwich-board; I am happy to report that I have traded in my nay-saying, doom-saying ways for a sense of optimism, despite the challenges ahead. As #OWs people say now, "The Beginning Is Near."

For sure there's a rocky path ahead. Among other things there's an election full of crazy and or dangerous people on the way, and my own thinking doesn't have me promising a vote to anybody right about now. I'm remembering the signs I've seen round-about OWS saying "If elections could change anything they'd be illegal." There's sabre-rattling all over the place, crazy weather to be avoided, and the endless struggle to make ends meet. But I'm also remembering how surprising things seem to just happen. Did you notice how the powers that be absolutely FREAKED OUT this year at a few thousand demonstrators talking class warfare? May we live in interesting times, indeed. The last thing anybody should be doing right now is saying that radical change is impossible. It's incumbent on us to make sure the changes are good ones.

Peace, love, happiness, abundance, good health, joy, laughter. I wish these things for me, and for you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ron Paul Is A F*cking Nutbag... Who Cares If He Claims to Oppose War

I've seen some great things attributed to the Ron Paul campaign. That sign with the reversed "LOVE" in "REVOLUTION" called out? Genius. The notion that the U.S. should not be marching around the world dictating policy? Laudable. A desire to bring troops home from Afghanistan and stop sending a fortune to Israel? I'm down with that. But you know what? It doesn't fucking matter one bit.

Because Ron Paul is a right-wing, anti-gay, anti-choice, racist, conspiracy theorist NUTBAG. This is plain to see. Obvious from hearing thirty seconds of the man speak. Clear as day from the actual historical record revealed in a simple google search.

And yet there are legions of Ron Paul supporters twisting themselves into pretzel shapes trying to excuse his disturbing history of pandering to the far-right fringe. There are armies of pseudo-intellectual morons trying to make sense of his calamitous economic ideas. And there are unfortunate crowds of young white people trying to focus on his anti-war appeal while pulling the blinders closer to avoid seeing how close this man stands to those other folks on the Republican stage like anti-gay scum Rick Santorum, deranged fantasist Michele Bachmann who actually runs a business that tortures gay people, racist narcissist Newt Gingrich, and tool of big business Mitt Romney.

I could post facts about how Ron Paul has denounced Civil Rights laws. I could link to stories about how his Iowa chief of staff is a veteran of anti-gay hate groups. I could bring up his ties to the John Birch society. I could repeat what his former staffers say about his unwillingness to use a gay man's bathroom. I could link to stories that challenge the distance Paul claims he has put between him and the scandalously racist newsletters of two decades ago. I'm not going to do any of that. These stories are not hard to find. If you are not busy pretending not to see these things you will find them in ten seconds on the internet.

The Mitt Romney machine has been very very busy demolishing each of his Republican competitors one by one, and they are surely a force behind the sudden media scrutiny of Dr. Paul. But I think given Ron Paul's ground operation he could still do quite well in the upcoming Republican Iowa caucuses. In truth I don't really care who the Republicans go with...they're all horror shows beyond the pale. But I have acquaintances (who should know better) who are actually suckered in by the bizarro-world Ron Paul delusion. I find it sad that people outside the rarified club of bigotry and hateful ignorance that is the Republican party should find themselves strolling down such a doomed path of bad thinking. Actually it doesn't make me sad; it makes me furious.

Libertarianism is a cult-like ideology that elevates selfishness into an economic and political theory. Key to Libertarianism is its omission of a class analysis (the same class analysis rudimentary to the nascent concept of the 99% expressed by the #OWS movement). And there's a good reason for that: because Libertarianism isn't egalitarianism, it's rich-ism. It's about a system where the rich and wealthy are unfettered in their exploitation of the rest of us. With impunity. It's worth repeating: If you want to visit a Libertarian paradise, visit Somalia. I am not exaggerating.

There are Libertarians and Ron Paul supporters running around in OWS, for sure. But take a deeper look. They do not actually want the same things the rest of us want. What the Libertarians are doing is filling an ideological vacuum: given the history of Democratic Party betrayals (hello, Mr. Obama) and the failure of the Marxist left to (yet) emerge from its historically discrediting Cold-War defeat, Libertarians are talking systemic changes and ideological solutions, even if the substance of what they're talking is absolute nonsense.

The 2012 election is still eleven months away. A lot will happen in that time. If I've learned anything from the last year it is that voting for President once every four years is a sad substitute for actual democracy. I think the optimism that so many felt with Obama's rise, and the subsequent reaction to the failure of that rise to actually bear the sweet fruit that many of us hoped for is one of the factors that has contributed to the Occupy Wall Street awakening. The challenge of the next period is to sustain the momentum of last year, to make an alternative to the electoral trap feasible, to show what real direct democracy is. We can aim higher than choosing the best of the worst to predictably disappoint us.

Adolph Hitler was a vegetarian who loved puppies. If you're looking in a library for books about Hitler, I'll make an educated guess that "pet care" and "cookbooks" are probably the wrong places to look. When the books are written about Ron Paul, I'm certainly not saying they will be on the shelves next to books about Hitler, but they sure won't be on filed under "anti-war" either.

If Ron Paul sometimes sounds like a fucking right-wing nutbag... it's because he is one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Even The Longest Night Gives Birth to Dawn

I took this photo a month ago, when there were still some leaves on the trees. That's the full moon above and a streetlight below, and it's right on my street. The leaves are all gone now, though it's a very un-Winter-Solstice temperature of 61 degrees outside; it's almost muggy out.

I don't see a moon outside my window in the night that has fallen today. The longest night of the year has begun, after the shortest day. I woke up in darkness and arrived home in the same inky blackness. It's no accident that so many religions have significant holidays round about now as the natural world works its predictable though still miraculous magic. Somehow even though it's about to get cold and snowy here in the northern hemisphere, climate change allowing, nature holds out an olive branch: this signal that all is not lost. The days are gonna get longer, the light is gonna come back.

It's been an interesting year. Things have happened that I didn't think could happen anymore. Even as my middle-aged joints ache and complain, my heart and mind are lightened with the promise of good news. Oh not the good news of herald angels and flaring stars and possible prophets, but the signs of awakening slumberers, the possibility that the coming Spring will bring more than just flowers and new leaves.

25 years ago in the depths of the Reaganite midnight I laid down my spears and arrows, and quenched my torch. I kindled different fires for a while, gathering embers. I walked some different paths, and visited some different worlds. I have no regrets for the years I spent doing what needed to be done. That different time that is a half of my life is as much me as what came before and what comes now, after. Older and wiser turns out to be more than just a cliché.

Tonight it's going to take a moment longer. But dawn is going to break. In glorious sun or overcast with clouds, no matter. The world turns. Stretch your arms. Take a step. Arise.

is going to be a good day. Walk with me: let's share it together.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Jong-Il and the U.S.: Of Tyrants Great & Small

As the whole world knows now, the "Dear Leader" of the self-proclaimed Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-Il, died this weekend.

By all accounts Kim, the son of North Korea's first leader Kim Il Sung and the father of the supposed next leader, was a dictator who didn't stint on his own luxury while his country suffered the effects of international isolation — much of it self-inflicted — in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. Starvation, malnutrition, poverty, and technologically backward conditions are said to be the rule in the northern half of the Korean peninsula.

With his chubby, gnomish build and his poofy bouffant hairdo, Kim was easily caricatured; the personality cult built on his father that was grafted onto his own relatively gloryless history seemed to outsiders as particularly bizarre and forced. The rule of Kim's Workers Party is by most reports brutal and harsh; while Kim's taste in fine liquors seems corrupt and despotic. Defended politically by a homegrown nationalist ideology with only tenuous links to the Marxist-Leninist ideology that spawned it, the DPRK is big on mass spectacle, dramatic gesture, preposterous claim, and closely guarded secrecy. Once a technological overachiever, North Korea fell behind the South in most areas excluding perhaps weapons technology: under Kim Jong-Il the DPRK seems to have developed working nuclear weapons.

I don't expect history to be particularly kind to Kim Jong-Il. But that said, I'm finding much about the blogosphere's celebration of his passing to be a self-righteous frenzy of pro-imperialist propaganda.

Even satirical website Gawker called out the internet commentariat for its widespread promotion of the song "I'm so Ronery" from the animated film "World Police: Team America" that features a puppetized Kim Jong-il character: "Twitter Relates to Death of Kim Jong-il By Endlessly Referring to Stupid Racist Song."

Amidst all the encomia for a new era in Korea and for freedom for the people of the DPRK, one must ask the question, who exactly will be bringing that freedom to the north?

Because here are truths that should not be overlooked: for the past sixty years North Korea has been parked between the three most powerful military nations in the world. The American military fully occupies South Korea with massive military might including nuclear weapons aimed right at the people of the DPRK. Goaded on by the US the South Korean military has a long history of provocation against the North.

On the radio this morning I heard a government official of the DPRK, distraught over Kim's death, defending his country against its international ill repute. One of the things he said was that the U.S. that threatens his country is one of the worst human rights violators in the world. It came across as a laugh-line, a punchline to show how removed from reality the North Koreans are. But put yourself in their shoes. There is plenty of evidence that the scale of American tyranny dwarfs anything that the DPRK is capable of, especially when you consider how the U.S. treats the world around it as its exclusive reserve.

During the American war on Korea, two million Koreans were killed; including hundreds and hundreds of thousands of civilians. While history doesn't point to any clean hands in that conflict, the U.S. is absolutely guilty of thousands of war crimes against innocent civilians, and the South Korean dictatorship propped up by the U.S. for years after the war ran death squads against suspected Communists in the south.

Consider the wave of repression in this country against #OWS encampments. Students and workers beaten and gassed with chemical weapons? That wasn't in Pyongyang.

Consider this angry OpEd piece in the New York Times this weekend, by a law-abiding, gainfully-employed young African-American man named Nicholas Peart who has been repeatedly stopped, harassed, frisked, and thrown to the ground by the NY city police as part of the "stop and frisk" campaign that sees all young black men as potential criminals: "It feels like an important thing to be part of a community of hundreds of thousands of people who are wrongfully stopped on their way to work, school, church or shopping, and are patted down or worse by the police though they carry no weapon; and searched for no reason other than the color of their skin..."

Consider this fact also reported in the New York Times: "The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners....The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College London. China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison.... "Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror," James Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. "Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons." Prison sentences here have become "vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared..."

The U.S. has overthrown or helped overthrow the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya in the past decade. It attacks people with utter impunity in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. It supplies weapons to repressive governments around the world: weapons that are actually used, as in Egypt and Palestine. If you were in the DPRK wouldn't you feel threatened?

The U.S. has a habit of portraying the rulers of countries it doesn't like "madmen," or "insane." This as half of our own country prepares to rally around someone like Newt Gingrich? It's easy to call attention to Kim Jong-il's eccentricities. But isn't that just awfully convenient? The U.S. learned long ago that if you dehumanize your enemies you can eliminate them as carelessly as they do with stray kittens at the Humane Society.

The DPRK is a one-party state. Do you feel that our acclaimed two-party state, our supposed democracy, actually represents you? I sure don't.

Life is probably much easier in the United States than in the DPRK. The fact that this is the richest country in the world, courtesy of the exploitation of the world's resources, kind of helps make that so. It's true I can write this blog here while I couldn't in Pyongyang: But we'll see how seriously the government starts applying before the NDAA makes that no longer true. The NDAA is certainly full of repressive laws that Kim Jong-Il would love. Not sure what that makes Barack Obama...are you?

Anyway my point is not to glorify North Korea, nor to lionize the late Kim Jong-Il. He's certainly not my dear leader.

But it's not that simple. Don't believe the hype. The so-called "Free World" is about as accurately named as the "People's Democratic Republic" of Korea. This isn't the occasion for gloating. We in the U.S. have serious work to do before we can be calling the kettles of the world black.

Our enemy is here at home, first.

Image shows a sheet of stamps from the DPRK, 2011, showing achievements of Kim Jong-Il.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

December 17 2010: The Man Who Changed the World

What a year. Twelve months ago today, a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest his treatment by Tunisian cops. Tunisia was run by the corrupt and repressive regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Severely burned, Bouazizi died after several weeks in a coma in the hospital.

His actions set off a wave of protest in Tunisia that eventually brought down the Tunisian government, the first success of the so-called Arab spring. Ben Ali was kicked out of Tunisia. A wave of protest soon swept the entire world, opening the lid off repressive regimes and confronting the illusions of so-called Western regimes alike.

While it's too early to report the last year as an unqualified success, exactly, the world looks quite different than it did before Bouazizi's selfless and heroic act of martyrdom and resistance. Dictatorships are gone, and to be sure some have been replaced with the potential seeds of new ones, and some protests have faced the brute force of suppression.

But suddenly there is possibility like never before. Even here in the United States people out in the street are awakening to the possibility of direct democracy through direct action: by awakening to the gulf between the 99% and the 1%; by actually engaging in the class war that has up until now only been waged against us; by organizing ourselves in the Occupy Together/#Occupy Wall Street movement, now the future looks different than it did before.

Mohammed Bouazizi gave his life, but he planted a seed. It's now our responsibility, as people together, to nourish that seed and help it blossom.

(Illustration of Muhammad Bouazizi from Brazilian politican cartoonist Carlos Latuff via What If I Get Free?)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Look Who's About to Trash the Bill of RIghts (Hint: Not a Republican)

I have major bones to pick with the New York Times, often. But in a series of blogposts today editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal nails the deadly danger behind the National Defense Authorization Act, passing in stealth under cover of more visible bills on the economy:

"For a while, the administration encouraged people to think that President Obama would take a stand against the unnecessary and very dangerous provisions that Congress jammed into the annual National Defense Authorization Act. He threatened to veto the whole bill in order to block new rules that would mandate the military custody of most terrorist suspects, and officially sanction their indefinite detention, without due process. Yesterday, the president backed down, completely."'The Sound of One President Caving'

"The first [issue] is whether certain provisions in the law give the president and the Pentagon the power to detain American citizens in a military facility, possibly for life, without a trial. Lawyers I talked to today said that the bill is pure mush in a lot of areas, including this one. The bill does not require military custody for American citizens suspected of membership with Al Qaeda or an allied group, as it more or less does for foreigners. (Note, by the way, that this is all about suspicion, not proof.) But neither does it prohibit military trial or detention of American citizens. It’s stunning that the president is willing to sign a bill that might effectively turn the right of habeas corpus into a mere privilege — even for citizens."'More Rubble from the Military Detention Cave-in'

When this bill is signed into law, if you don't like this blogpost, all you have to do is accuse me of being an ally of Al-Qaeda and I can be locked away, forever, with no right to defend myself or even ask why. I disappear, legally, and utterly without recourse. If you doubt whether Mr. Obama's government would do such a thing, I think you're quite possibly being very naive. Do remember the late American citizens Mr. Al-Awlaki and son. But even if you think Obama wouldn't do such a thing, what about President Gingrich? President Bachmann? President Romney?

It's been nice knowing you all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crunching the Numbers...of Perverts

Every day I look at the stats that Skynet aka Google Blogger provides me with about my blogs. This is an interesting exercise. The first thing you learn doing this is that most people on the internet are looking to get their rocks off. Internet viewers are sex-obsessed perverts. A creepy number of my 114,000+ pageviews are people with one of their hands nowhere near the computer keyboard.

Sometime back I wrote what I thought was an interesting feminist analysis of fashion fascism as observed in Atlantic City, exploring a common thread between the enforced hypersexuality of the Jersey shore look and the repressive Burqa garment. This post consistently scores high on my most popular posts. Finally I noticed another statistic that showed why: one day the high scoring search keywords included "Atlantic City prostitutes." Thus, my legion of thoughtful feminist readers turned out to be a bunch of horny lonely men trapped at conventions and casinos looking for a little paid entertainment. Oh well.

I wrote an article about the outrageously racist teabagger candidate for New York governor, a fan of bestiality emails, with the intentionally ironic and eye-catching title "I would rather have sex with a horse than vote for Carl Paladino." Always a popular post on my stats: Yes it turns out that a whole LOT of people are hoping I posted pictures of horse sex. Sorry to disappoint. Now get out of that stable and leave the livestock alone. That's abuse, folks.

Some stats are indeed encouraging. Readers like pictures of OWS protests. Pieces I wrote that got picked up elsewhere remain popular reads: being a gay leftist and the piece I wrote on the video game Homeland both got some circulation. My music obituaries are popular.

I haven't entirely figured out why my post about the Oscars which used a picture of Oscar the Grouch snatched from Google has made it so high up in Google search results. A lot of people worldwide are looking for a picture of that grouchy puppet in a garbage can. Day after day for months this image was the top search result and top viewed post here on The Cahokian. I found this a little discouraging actually, cause this post says almost nothing.

But now here's something truly fascinating. For the past two weeks Oscar is no longer the most popular post or search: He has been supplanted by my post about Newt Gingrich and his serial adultery, "Newt Gingrich Will Always Love America. Unless it Gets Cancer," replete with an early photo of him with his first wife and former high-school teacher Jackie Battley Gingrich. It turns out America is fascinated by Newt. Does this mean America will vote for Newt? Are they laughing with him or at him? That is the eternal question. But on a blog where posts about Michele Bachmann's mental illness or the possibility that Mitt Romney participates in Mormon Human Sacrifice have not made a statistical dent, I find it really interesting that Newt is more popular than muppets, prostitutes, or sex with large farm animals.

Speaking of eternal questions: laugh or cry?

Monday, December 12, 2011

I See Dead People

Dead Metal Toy Sudanese Mahdists from John Jenkins Co.

When I was growing up in Chicago in the mid-1960s my best friend was named Nancy Lee. I don't remember what her father actually did for a living, but I knew he dreamed of returning to his native Kentucky and settling into an academic career and writing about his life's fascination, the American Civil War; which at some point he actually did, ending my friendship with little Nancy Lee. Anyway in Nancy Lee's basement her father Jim had a huge collection of plastic civil war toy soldiers. They were made in pale blue and pale gray colors, thus despite the similarity of uniform and pose casting no doubt about which side they were meant to represent. He had everything spread out on a jumble of tables. There were plastic Southern mansions and plastic trees and plastic bridges and tiny cannons scattered about the clashing plastic armies. It was quite the scene, and I was quite jealous, never being invited to play with what seemed irrationally to my mind an adult man's toy. Nancy Lee, being very young and a girl to boot, was not allowed to do more than look at this awesome display. Her older brother was initiated into the mysteries of these toys, but he was much older than Nancy Lee or I, so I was never invited to watch her father at play either: I don't know if he rearranged the lines of battle by whim of mood, whether he made whooshing, booming, spitting sounds as he moved the figures about, or whether he was aiming merely for the perfect just-so arrangement of some historic moment in time.

Did I mention I was jealous? I developed quite a fascination of my own with little toy historical figures, some of which I have written about here before. In the end I eventually boxed up my own collection of little toy soldiers, giving most of them away. As I entered adulthood I occasionally and wistfully bought myself a little model soldier, evoking some childhood romance with history and adventure and lost innocence no doubt, but I never seriously contemplated becoming one of that rare and undoubtedly dying breed of gentlemen hobbyists, the adult toy soldier collector.

Metal Toy Dead Zulus from Conte Collectibles.

Which is not to say that I am not still fascinated by the idea of toy soldiers: capturing and miniaturizing historical violence without worry over the lives of real men, without the stain of blood or the curse of collateral damage. Over the years with the onset of the internet I was happy to discover that I could pursue that fascination voyeuristically, nostalgically (and economically) by window-shopping hobbyist websites; which I have done now for years.

Although I have not met such a person in my adulthood, there are apparently lots of people, presumably men, who do still engage in this time-honored hobby. Fueled in part by cheap manufacturing in China, toy soldiers aimed at adults seem to be quite a stable niche market. And unlike my youth when toy soldiers were mostly devoted to Cowboys and Indians, Civil War soldiers like my friend Nancy Lee's father had, knights in shining armor, and WWII GIs, today's toy soldiers seem to have reached all level of exotic historical subjects covering thousands of years of human history.

Plastic Toy Dead Sioux from Toy Soldiers of San Diego.

But I have noticed a trend, something that really creeps me out: toy dead people. Your plastic cowboys and plastic Custer and metal Redcoats can now be matched up with dead and dying little toy Indians in a variety of agonizing poses. Your tiny British imperialist highlanders defending your model of South Africa's Rorke's Drift can now be surrounded by "clumps" (not exaggerating, see above) and "piles" of toy dead Zulus. And your Four-Feathers-style British heroes heading off to rescue a tin version of General Charles "Chinese" Gordon in the Sudan can now avenge themselves against crumpling, dying black African Mahdist tribesmen. While as near as I can tell there is the occasional toy white corpse to be had, the overwhelming number of these toy dead people are black and brown. Indeed you can get dying toy white people being scalped by fiendish looking toy Indians, so you will need those piles of dead Indians for your act of proper revenge.

Metal Toy Dead Woodland Indians from Sierra Toy Soldier Co.

Sure, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men and all that. Gore is a stable part of fantasy: violent movies, violent video games, plastic guns, murder mystery novels. Why shouldn't toys based in the actual violence of history add a little realism? As far as I can tell it's not like these items are aimed at children, as if in today's world one could keep images of violence from kids anyway. I played with these things and I'm a pacifist. But I remain unsettled.

Why in this virtual body count is black and brown "life" so cheap? I suppose it could be argued that an abstract hobby is coming to terms with the real, genocidal costs of the history being reenacted in miniature. For sure to reflect anything like real history you'd need to match up your pile of tin cowboys and redcoats with a mountain of dead tin Indians. But it feels so.... disrespectful.

I mean, can you imagine the outrage at little toy concentration camps with little toy skeletal Jews and miniature gas chambers? "Oh here's my little dead Great Grandmother Esther...look at the fine detail! Doesn't she look real? And see the tiny armband with its precious little star?" It's bad enough that there are indeed little tin Nazis: there is a questionable leap of taste if I've ever seen one. But isn't it damning that there aren't model "clumps" of Holocaust victims to match the molded puddle of imaginary exterminated Africans?

I'm not seeing that same nostalgia here that used to conjure up excitement in what remains of my little boy heart and imagination. It's impossible given the tenor of the times to not wonder if the nostalgia being conjured up by these "toys" isn't nostalgia for a time when white people were happily conquering the world in the name of manifest destiny, Britannia ruling the waves, and that historical favorite of white people, the noble pursuit of civilizing the "savages."

I can't look at these miniatures as toys anymore. I see dead people. Maybe time to put away childish things, eh?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

An Invitation to Ethnic Cleansing

“Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places.” — Republican presidential candidate, serial adulterer and alleged intellectual Newt Gingrich in an interview with The Jewish Channel.

I wish I could say I was shocked by Gingrich's comments, which have received pretty wide coverage. But I've had many many arguments over the years with supporters of Israel who have said pretty much the same thing. Forget any logical response to this outrage, like does he therefore suggest Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Jordan are equally undeserving of statehood since they share a similar historical pedigree as Palestine? Nevermind his glossing over of the fact that whatever he chooses to call them the indigenous inhabitants of the land occupied by Israeli military force are currently violently besieged, suppressed, and deprived of their civil and human rights. Nevermind that not so long ago people of his political ilk were blaming the Jews for the evils of the world not fantasizing about the money they could earn by pantomiming prostration before the agenda of a foreign country's entirely questionable political policy.

What game are these politicians playing? Even George W. Bush, for crissake, paid lip-service to the idea that Palestinians deserved recognition of their personhood. The Republican presidential lineup have every last one of them (except far-right nutjob libertarian Ron Paul) been stumbling over each other to be the greatest supporter of Israeli Apartheid of all the rest. It's hard not to see it as a certain extension of the Republicans' formerly blatant anti-Semitism, this cartoonish courtship of a small country and a small American demographic which they imagine to require such outrageous genuflection. It's made even more odd by the fact that notwithstanding a little bit of rhetoric here or there, the Obama administration has proved itself a loyal lapdog of the rightwing Netanyahu government.

"And they had a chance to go many places." Absolutely chilling. Imagine for a moment he's talking about the Jews of prewar Europe, or the Tutsi of Rwanda. Newt Gingrich is an amoral sociopathic monster.

If you have a strong stomach here's a little reality check. Mustafa Tamimi was 28 years old; he attended a nonviolent protest in the occupied West Bank, protesting land seizures by so-called settlers. He was shot point blank in the face with a (US-made?) tear gas cannister. This is video of the aftermath of that shooting. Mondoweiss recounts, "The impact blew off half of Tamimi's face, and when his friends and family cried out in horror, Israeli soldiers laughed and said, "So?".

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Musical Interlude: Smile of the Beyond

Something like three years ago I waxed rapturously about my favorite "fusion" album of all time, "Apocalypse" by the second incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra of John McLaughlin. When I stumbled across this video and considered posting it here I realized I had said just about all I had to say about that album back then, but I still love this music. This oddly distorted video is from a mid-1970s live performance at Montreux: it's better than the video or sound quality of a number of other youtube versions, and a bit different than the album cut. But it's cool to see the musicians play, and you get to see spacey Gayle Moran actually sing what is, I guess, an actual fusion ballad: at least it starts out that way. The lyric is vintage early 1970s Sri Chinmoy devotee melding of sacred and profane. Sort of a codependent religious hymn, near as I can tell. God, like all lovers, is difficult sometimes.

Fusion didn't age well. This song displays something of the emotional range of fusion, and the tension between controlled virtuosity and ecstatic chaos that marked the best of the music in its early days. Uncontrolled cock-stroking keyboard and guitar wankery eventually took over leaving the sound sterile and uninteresting, at least to me. By the 1980s, fascination with digital technological effects choked the life out of it. Here the mix of funk and art seems alive and promising.

As a bonus here's the album version below, for contrast, which is heavier on the string orchestra at the beginning. I do recommend the whole album.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Gay Rights ARE Human Rights.... But They're Also NOT a Weapon for Imperialism

President Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a speech today at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, at an event marking the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was the immediate and carefully orchestrated followup to an announcement today by the President himself that the United States would use diplomacy (and foreign aid and the threatened restriction thereof) to promote rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people worldwide. In many ways it is a fairly remarkable speech: "Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct, but in fact they are one and the same.” It's worth the thirty-minute listen. (Text link here and here).

It's hard to imagine such words being uttered from the podium on a world stage just a few years ago, and it's certainly impossible to imagine such a speech coming from a potential Republican administration in Washington. Indeed Republican presidential candidates like Rick Perry immediately went into a fury, attacking the Obama administration for "promoting the homosexual lifestyle."

While there is something to admire in Mrs. Clinton's measured, almost pedagogical delivery of the reasoned and undeniable message that gay people are entitled to the same human rights and dignity as all people, I am left unsettled by this speech, or perhaps, by what is left unsaid. Of this speech a friend of mine left this note on Facebook: "Re Obama/Clinton LGBT foreign aid restrictions. What if a country has some gay rights but denies some residents fair trails, equal education and basic citizenship and employs racial supremacy, imposes one religious paradigm and runs illegal and immoral wars? Oh wait, that's us."

And further, I'm reminded of nothing so much as President Jimmy Carter's vintage late-1970s "human rights" foreign policy campaign, which used professed defense of human rights as a cover for restoring an aggressive and even militarily interventionist foreign policy in the aftermath of defeat in the war against Vietnam. The clarion call of "human rights" was used to ratchet up support for whatever the government wanted to do internationally from a population still reeling from war fatigue. Which is of course the same place the American population is today after a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. For all Carter's professed commitment to human rights at the time, under his presidency the U.S. failed to renounce the white racist Apartheid regime in South Africa, and continued to play cold-war games in Africa and elsewhere, sacrificing those same human rights on the altar of fighting communism and the Soviet Union.

Because of course there is plenty more of that same hypocrisy floating around. If the Obama administration is claiming a campaign for human rights and dignity, this apparently does not include the rights of Palestinians watching their land and homes being stolen daily, regardless of their sexual or gender identity. It does not include the rights of Arab spring protesters in countries like Bahrain and Yemen where the local repressive government and the the U.S. government are deeply engaged in washing each other's backs. It does not include the human rights of people across the Middle East and Central Asia to be safe from invisible but deadly predator drone attacks and alleged "collateral damage." And it does not include the human rights of the thousands of peaceful Occupy movement protesters who have been violently assaulted in coordinated nationwide paramilitary attacks.

And as a gay person I resent being used as an instrument of renewed American imperialism. Having robbed and exploited them for years, the nations of the "West" owe the poorer nations of the world plenty of restitution by way of foreign aid. But linking this aid to a segment of the population already viewed with suspicion by some segments of society seems shortsighted and dangerous: While I'm certainly angry at the treatment of queer or gay people by many repressive foreign governments, I'm not at all convinced that making gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people into pawns of neocolonialism is doing them any kind of favor. I'm reminded of nothing so much as the Israeli policy of pinkwashing: where gay people have been recruited to whitewash Israeli's apartheid policies against the Palestinians by way of promoting relatively social liberal domestic policies. In the end pinkwashing doesn't help anybody but the repressive Israeli government: it certainly doesn't help Arab gay people in Gaza or the occupied West Bank.

Mrs. Clinton, it should be remembered, supported George Bush's brutal and unprovoked attack on Iraq; and both she and President Obama have sacrificed what most people presume is their actual support of marriage equality for American lesbians and gays in favor of the political/electoral gain of saying they remain opposed to it. History shows us that the morals of these politicians come and go with the weather. Which means of course this speech is in part meant to shore up domestic electoral support from a gay community that has been fairly quick to criticize the President.

It's a hard truth but one can't view this speech without contextualizing it. I wish this was about somebody just standing up in front of the world and saying gay people should have human rights. You can't see it in this clip, but right behind Hillary Clinton is the blood-drenched arsenal of the American war machine, a two hundred year record of violent aggression against the peoples of the world, a world economic system that sucks the world dry of resources for the benefit of American business, and the mailed fist of retaliation.

Gay people in the United States have our improved if mixed bag of legal rights because we came to consciousness and fought for those rights, and there's plenty of work still to be done. We won over the people we needed to win over, and defeated those we needed to defeat. For all those queer people who live in countries where harsh laws and cultural practices remain the norm, while we can extend a helping hand as brothers and sisters, we can't fix the problems for them. That has to be the patient and brave achievement of people in those countries themselves.

Dear American government: my hard-won rights are not a weapon for you to use.

(Thanks to JMG for finding the link to the speech.)

Monday, December 05, 2011

Keep Occupying!

The #OWS movement is off the front page headlines...for the moment. The Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City and those across the country have been mostly trashed and uprooted by a coordinated national campaign of violent repression...for the moment. But this is not over. And I'm not just saying that.

The movement is alive, and deepening all the time. There has been a sea change in political consciousness, and that continues filtering out across the roots and branches of society. As The Occupied Wall Street Journal says, "The Beginning Is Near." Protests and direct actions continue in NYC and nationally, building support for the notion of direct democracy. The words "Power to the People" have returned to life.

The movement of consciousness springing to life is not just the same old, same old. It's not just the shop-worn cliches and trite stereotypes and stale abstract ideas: it's the drive for human collective liberation returned to life, tidily encapsulated in the simple notion of the 99%.

One of the blogs I read is The Wild Hunt, a blog about the Neo-Pagan community that helps me to stay in touch with some of the ideas that have informed my own journey. Consider the editorial just published by its mainstay Jason Pitzl-Waters, "Occupying Everything" that concludes: "There have been those who’ve spent a lot of time pointing out that the Occupy movement has feet of clay, or has lost the moral high ground due to one incident or another, but I think such arguments miss the point. This isn’t about the good behavior of every Occupier, its about what needs to happen now. We need a shift in our priorities, we need the dramatic excesses of our current capitalistic system to be reigned in, and we need justice. I think modern Pagans have much to offer the Occupy movement, and that this movement has much to teach us in return. We are, after all, part of the 99% too. I know that there will be Pagans who disagree, who’ve written off the Occupy movement in one fashion or another, but I can no longer sit on the sidelines and pretend to have no opinion. For me, the Occupy movement is the movement I was waiting for during the anti-globalization protests of the 1990s, a true continuation of the work sparked by social justice pioneers like Dorothy Day, Gandhi, King, and Jane Addams. Now is the time for Pagans of a like mind to envision what our social justice looks like, to craft a theological and historical framework for a future where we have a voice, because that future is happening now. I guess what I’m saying is that we need to Occupy Paganism, and in turn, Occupy everything."

Pitzl-Waters understands, in a profoundly spiritual way, how the Occupy movement has resonated across society with a call for a world in which together we take back what is ours and then collectively share out of love, mutual respect, and responsibility.

I was at a meeting of Occupy Sunset Park, the organization that has sprung to life in my own Brooklyn neighborhood. A fellow emerging activist was saying how she felt the movement was reclaiming the notion of what is public, where parks and institutions are places that welcome and serve the communities in which they are located rather than act as fenced-off monuments to somebody's money.

I attended a terrific forum by the group Kasama which counts among its adherents one of the members of the Occupied Wall Street Journal editorial collective. Kasama is a profoundly radical communist organization but one that has approached the Occupy movement with creativity and respect. While I'm not sure they would use the word, I think they understand what a spiritual revolution OWS is engendering in peoples' consciousness. One Kasama leader described exactly how I feel: that for decades those of us who early in life awakened to consciousness as people yearning for social justice and human liberation — as revolutionaries — felt defeated; that the best we could hope for were lesser evils and retreating into living politically moral but isolated lives. And how the Occupy movement has changed everything, giving us back the hope and energy of what is possible.

We've experienced devastating one-sided class warfare for decades now, and finally the battle has been joined. People are opening their eyes and seeing. It's different now, from here on out.

For sure this has been recognized by the other side. The 1% understands what a threat looks like. The violent repression, the media manipulation, the attempts to subvert the movement, these have shocked people into paying attention to what's happening. But don't be fooled by the lack of headlines now. As the movement roots down into communities like mine we know there are plenty of obstacles in our path. But we also know what we can do, together.

#Occupy together; Spring is coming! Power to the people!

Photographs by me from the #OWS rally in New York City's Foley Square a couple days after the Zuccotti Park eviction

Friday, December 02, 2011

"Shut Up, You Don't Get A Lawyer"

"To those American citizens thinking about helping al-Qaida, please know what will come your way: death, detention, prosecution. If you are thinking about plotting with the enemy inside our country to do the rest of us harm, please understand what is coming your way: the full force of the law. The law I am talking about is the law of armed conflict. You subject yourself to being held as an enemy of the people of the United States, interrogated about what you know and why you did what you did or planned to do, and you subject yourself to imprisonment and death. The reason you subject yourself to that regime is because your decision to turn on the rest of us and help a group of people who would destroy our way of life is not something we idly accept. It is not a common, everyday crime. It is a decision by you to commit an act of aggression against the rest of us....It is not unfair to make an American citizen account for the fact that they decided to help al-Qaida to kill us all and hold them as long as it takes to find intelligence about what may be coming next. And when they say 'I want my lawyer,' you tell them 'Shut up. You don't get a lawyer....You are an enemy combatant, and we are going to talk to you about why you joined al-Qaida.'"
— Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on the floor of Congress, Wed. Nov. 30

"If we can't hold an American citizen who has chosen to be a member of al-Qaida and has participated in a belligerent act against our country to ask them what other attacks they are planning and whom they are working with, how are we going to get information to make sure that--God forbid--we can prevent another 9/11 on our soil, because that is why they want to come to the United States of America. Also, how do we deal with this issue of homegrown radicals?"
— Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte in the same debate

The occasion was a debate over whether to resolve ambiguous language resulting from the heinous post-9/11 emergency laws like the Patriot Act that suggests American citizens or people inside the United States might be subject to the same extra-legal military repression now allowed by these new laws. These new laws mean that thousands of people are held in secret and no-so-secret jails outside the United States indefinitely awaiting "miltary justice," whatever that is. The Republicans want these laws to apply to American citizens as well; some Democrats are mounting not an opposition to these repressive laws but only to the notion that they should apply to U.S. citizens. According to the NY Times, the vote after this horrifying discussion was inconclusive, and the legal ambiguity stays for now, perhaps subject to future high-court resolution.

But ponder what this means. For all these politicians' talk about people choosing to join Al Qaeda and thus declaring war against the U.S. and therefore being considered combatants awaiting the end of a conflict, what they are now making perfectly clear is that they want the right to accuse anyone they want of high crimes — including American citizens — and not have to prove a thing. That means if Lindsey Graham says you or I is a terrorist, we go to jail. For as long as he wants. And you and I do not have a single solitary right to protest or defend ourselves. No evidence necessary. No right of appeal. No nothing. No rights at all. And these Senators are literally and clearly advocating that.

There is a name for the kind of society that acts like that. This is not about preventing another 911, this is about repression and stifling political dissent. A friend of mine on Facebook posted a song about the Mothers of the "Disappeared" in Argentina's dirty war of right-wing repression and asks, now, of the U.S.: "How long until our friends and neighbors begin disappearing? Will anyone write a song for their mothers?" That is what the Lindsey Grahams and Kelly Ayottes of the U.S. government are asking for: the right to disappear anyone who disagrees with them.

You owe it to yourself to hear Senator Graham say "Shut Up You Don't Get a Lawyer" in his own shrill, venomous voice. You can here a snippet of his time on the Senate floor in this report at NPR's Morning Edition. Click here.