Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sunday Sermon

Sympathy for the Devil

For how can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit? In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.
Not long ago, I caught myself experiencing a most incredible sensation. Leafing through a book on Hitler, I was touched by some of his portraits: they reminded me of my childhood. I grew up during the war; several members of my family perished in Hitler's concentration camps; but what were their deaths compared with the memories of a lost period in my life, a period that would never return?
—Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.
—Joseph Stalin

But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.
—The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil

I confess: I think he went out like a man.
He refused the hood while his executioners concealed their faces. He betrayed no fear or resentment (at least while the cameras were on). I don’t know if this was design or merely resignation, but it serves as a brilliant final act of defiance. A more striking portrait of our failure in Iraq, and the tragic assumptions creating it, you couldn’t devise: the dictator Hussein can bare his face, but his executioners cannot.
If he could not transfer the shame that he did not (and would not know how to) possess, he could still compel fear, and it was a well grounded fear that required his hangmen to hide their identities. Now this defiant and, yes, dignified death, will help to sustain the remnants of his supporters a little while longer, as they spend themselves in bloodthirsty revenge. His evil outlives him. How many despots can claim to strike from the very grave?

I’ll further confess: I felt pity for him.
No small part of that pity is due to the fact that his death marks the terminus of yet another passage in my own too-fleeting life. In our lives. He became part of our culture, an exemplar of brutality that we made into a caricature of evil. This is my sacrilege: I will mourn the phenomenon that was Saddam in the American imagination. As accomplished as he was at despotism, he was helpless once he became a representation in the panoply of cultural archetypes. In the end he never had a chance.

But why sympathy for this monster? Sympathy for the unsympathetic can help to clarify things. The pressure to give no quarter to those identified as beyond redemption, inherently religious (if not very Christian), blinds us; this is how we allowed this war to happen. It became a widely held article of faith that “bringing Saddam to justice” was a morally unassailable act. This was the distraction, the magician’s puff of smoke.
So it helps if we can take our eyes away from it. If you put out of your mind for a moment Saddam’s visage, it becomes clear just what the Administration was up to when the were plastering it all over the news and hypocritically wailing, “he gassed his own people!”

If we can strip away the false outrage of our conniving leaders, if we can resist the pull of the mass, if we can brave the condemnation that would all but declare us complicit in mass murder, we can see things as they are, not as they are packaged and presented for consumption.
I, for one, am willing to consider that Saddam, the sociopath, may have been the best Iraq could have hoped for, for the time being. The moral thing to do regarding Saddam Hussein may have been to leave him right where he was, contained and constrained, with the clock nearing midnight. This is considered unthinkable by many out of little more than habit; unutterable by people who clamor for more chaos, more warfare, more troops fed into the grinder of Iraq. But never trust someone who advocates war on moral grounds. He is either a liar or a fool; or both.

Iraq deserved a chance at a peaceful denouement to the Saddam years. Iraq deserved its chance to develop by increments a more civilized means of governance. Saddam wasn’t going to live, or last, forever; weakened and contained he was destined to live out his life limited even in his capacity to control all of Iraq.
Of course, Vice President Cheney didn’t want to allow Iraq to determine its own fate; he didn’t have the time or patience for that. What he wanted was certainty; certainty regarding the circumstances of the lifting of sanctions and the development of Iraq’s vast oil wealth. The war was a gambit unrecognized as such, disguised as necessity and glorified as a crusade. These are the crimes we should concern ourselves with.

As Saddam and his executioners prayed together before he was taken away, two of his guards chanted the name of what is perhaps his likeliest successor: “Moktada, Moktada, Moktada.” Removing Saddam was always the easy part; treating him as an aberration was na├»ve. Now Iraq must pay for our naivete.
This is the justice the vanity and ignorance of our president, manipulated by his more cunning but barely more capable handlers, bestows upon the world. The greatest nation on earth, relegated to the role of spoiler in the dismal realm of Iraqi politics.

Justice was never ours to render; Saddam, and Iraq, committed no crimes against us. Some of these crimes were in fact abetted or willfully ignored by us, hence the truncated nature of his trial and the haste of his execution, before the defendant was given the chance to embarrass the United States. Saddam would pass out of the custody of the U.S. military just hours before he would hang, and no doubt not until every assurance had been made that there would be no delay in sending him to the gallows. This was not justice, this was an expression of power. Worse, it was an uncertain, ignoble, and unconfident expression of power.

Justice is for the aggrieved, for the people; for nations there is only the law, accomodation, or war. That’s why the triumphalism, now so pathetically muted in passive acknowledgement of its absurdity, surrounding the capture and conviction of Saddam Hussein stinks of dishonesty. Originally we, and the Iraqis, were supposed to be sated by this offering; now it takes place with the same furtive, anxious air that accompanied the transfer of sovereignty.

The inter-war years were spent distilling in the public mind the image of Saddam Hussein as our era’s Joseph Stalin. Our culture, comprised largely of television and cinema dominated by satirical irreverence, unwittingly served the wilderness-dwelling neocons’ ends by maintaining this mythology of Saddam Hussein as a singular evil. Saddam was presented not as a product of Mesopotamia’s tribal culture, but as if he had welled up out of the Iraqi desert like the bitumen that was recorded near what is now Baghdad as early as 3000 B.C. (the earliest such)—a byproduct of the true source of our interest, and as great a cause of Iraq’s woes as anything else.
We have forsaken the law to take advantage of our power, to wage war at will and to eschew any responsibility for defending our actions. Might makes right. It is a foreign policy so corrupt that it threatens to destroy us. Our incompetent leadership, by no means limited to the Administration, have taken this priceless advantage in power and turned it against us by employing it profligately. They will destroy us by it, if we allow them.

Now, with the farce of Saddam’s trial, the Bush Administration weakens, not just for us but for the world, international law and the concept of crimes against humanity.
Our neocon elders scoff at the notion of international law. It is toothless; it allows such as Saddam to endure. What is concealed in all the lofty, and not-so-lofty, rhetoric about flabby diplomacy and compromised internationalism, is the fact that their arguments amount to no more than this: international law and diplomacy are imperfect. Even as we get an abject, tragic lesson in just how much more imperfect and destructive is their new order imposed by an American colossus, they remain unrepentant, and more insistent by the day. They are impervious to reason because they have come to the conclusion that reason is a detriment. They believe in will and power creating reality; reason has nothing to do with it.

For them there is only this illusory redemptive power of might and will. We invaded a nation, eradicated its government and imprisoned its leadership; we created a rump legal system with which to try and execute its dictator for crimes we either ignored or encouraged before he became inconvenient to us.

We justify this by citing the list of Saddam’s crimes, yet we hastened his execution before the worst of these crimes can be tried in court. Even as we are drawn into the maelstrom of Arab tribal violence our own actions have precipitated, and our warmongers demand ever more severe measures be taken to subdue the nation they claim we have liberated. It is worse than a farce; it is a crime. But one must ask: what has been accomplished?
We have delivered Iraq from Saddam to Moktada, or whatever new villain or cast of villains might prevail after an extended period of chaos and bloodshed.

Neocons like to aver that the previous status quo goal of stability in the Middle East is a decadent and immoral order that we have the obligation to shatter and replace with transformative democracy. Don’t you believe it, because they certainly don’t.
At least not the first-string players, many of whom are pointing fingers at the coaches, management, the fans even, everyone but themselves, and the game's not even over yet.
The neocon agitprop bench-warmers, now gleefully exulting in the playing minutes they’re getting in our political equivalent of junk-time, don't seem to even know what game they're playing. Frightening; more frightening, to me at least, than a weak despot halfway around the world.

What they want is a new world order entirely on our terms; impossible to attain and beyond any rational justification. They continue to promote their madness because they have committed themselves to the process, and turning back now means surrender, while driving onward means that they may still manage to saddle the nation, and the world, with the fait accompli of a broadened war in the Middle East. They are forcing the issue; “immanentizing the eschaton.” They are not a “new” sort of conservative; they are not any sort of conservative. They are radicals of the worst order, provocateurs of global strife. They are of a kind with anarchists, communists, fascists--and they have gained influence within a nation of unprecedented global power.
This is what the execution of Saddam Hussein means.

If our leaders were truly outraged by Saddam’s crimes against humanity they would have confidently turned him over to an international court, not to the Shi’ite thugs so eager to take up his mantle.
Turning a murderer over to those he has sinned against may carry some justice, it may very well be deserved, but it isn't necessarily lawful. Justice is ephemeral and subjective, rendered by those with might or the moment’s advantage; the law binds and limits us all, weak and strong alike. It is an imperfect buttress against tyranny and chaos; it is also the essence of civilization. But it imposes limitations, even upon the strong. Even upon us. This is the target of our necon radicals; the reason for their unblushing embrace of war and power, and their shameful slandering of diplomacy and international law. Seeing that we are strongest they declare, for the world, the rule of the strongest. They justify it by citing our moral superiority; a moral superiority that is forfeit by the same expression of global might that they identify as its natural and proper mandate.

Note how many who justify the war because of the brutality of Hussein clamor for ever sterner measures in suppressing the insurgency. It’s not merely that they propose killing to put an end to killing; we all know that in some circumstances this can be justified, if it’s the destruction of criminal renegades waging war upon a peaceful majority, or of one hostile nation assaulting another. But if the war has taught us anything, it’s that Saddam Hussein was less an aberration than a refinement of Arabic brutality. Shortly after Ayad Allawi was selected as interim prime minister of Iraq, a story circulated about him summarily executing, by his own hand, a prisoner to establish his authority. Some applauded this, comically, gruesomely, unaware of the irony.

Saddam once held utility for us; he did so when we encouraged and assisted his brutal and mindlessly bloody assault on Iran (and this is why he wasn’t allowed to live to speak to the charges of war crimes concerning it); he did so when Donald Rumsfeld, that virtuoso of moral equivalence and obfuscation, declined to impolitely mention the gassing of the Kurds when he shook hands with Hussein in 1983.*
Our complicity vis a vis Iraqi brutality was one reason why so many leftists became neocon fellow travelers; Christopher Hitchens has made the argument that Gulf War I and the sanctions regime of the nineties caused undue harm upon the people of Iraq; subsequently they had become our wards, to be rescued from Saddam and turned over to the beneficent embrace of Hitchens' friend, Ahmad Chalabi.

But Saddam fit too well the role in which he was cast. In the end perhaps it was the moustache that did him in. It was too perfect, too Stalinesque. Had he a lesser moustache, maybe a thin, Latin-playboy thing, he wouldn’t have looked so imposing, and would have veered too much toward comic and away from sinister; had he been clean shaven, he might not have so easily been seared in the American public’s imagination.

It was his ability to capture the public’s fascination that made it so very easy for Dick Cheney and his criminal gang of fools to conflate him with jihadi terrorists in the public’s mind. These same terrorists would have liked to take him out themselves; they were kept at bay by the same brutality that Hussein used to suppress his moderates. We have done them a favor. Don’t expect them to reciprocate. Of course now this tragic, monumental blunder, making a potential terrorist haven where one had virtually no chance of arising, out of the nation with the second richest oil reserves in the world, is offered as the very reason to press on, without even the slightest acknowledgement of the irony. And I began by saying Saddam had balls!

Perhaps it marks me out as finally and utterly dissolute, but I can’t muster any sense that justice has been served by the hanging of Saddam Hussein (this is not the same as saying he didn’t deserve it; they are not the same thing). I can’t, I won’t, pretend to draw satisfaction from it. Maybe it’s my inherent racism, my lack of sophistication, my isolationism (isolationism and xenophobia of course consisting of standing against killing foreigners in our perverse times), to care far more for the fate of my country than for that of another. But I don’t think so.
Maybe I’ve grown too old to humor myself, or my fellows.

But tonight, at least once, I will raise my glass and silently toast a true hall-of-fame despot; he nearly made it all the way to 2007, after spending the last thirteen years in a state of war with the United States. No mean feat, that.

*Correction: Udolpho points out in the comments thread that the use of poison gas against the Kurds happened in 1988. Dohh! That's going to leave a mark.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Blahhg Post

In the late stages of starvation the body turns to its own muscle tissue as a source of protein, literally devouring itself in a last ditch effort at survival. The functioning of the brain becomes impaired as cellular processes fail. The subject becomes listless, apathetic, and withdrawn as he consumes himself.
The solitary man, having by chance or choice found himself removed from society, must also turn inward, as his psychological needs for love, companionship, and human contact must be sated. He too consumes himself.

Take it from me, I know. All this other stuff I talk about; well, I’m a fraud. What do I know about the affairs of the world, of human nature, of man’s relationship to society? My knowledge is all second hand, acquired by reading or worse, watching television, run through my shoddy filter of a mind, fouled by my vanity and prejudices, worthless in the end because only the lived experience achieves anything near certainty. And while my education is merely paltry, my lack of experience is a scandal. Snatch anyone out of a crowd at random, you’ll almost certainly have found someone who’s done more than me. I can’t help it. My natural state is dull torpor. Want to know about sloth? Listlessness? Apathy? These are the materiel with which I wage my campaign of inertia.

I was sullen from the moment I was forced, literally kicking and screaming, into the harsh light of day. I believe my mother once told me that I was a relatively well behaved baby. This was no pleasant disposition; I'm sure I'd already made up my mind about the futility of effort. Why waste your breath?

As long as I can remember I’ve been looking back; even as a child I remember thinking that if only I could go back to some earlier point and start again, then I’d shake this thing, this curse, this personality that I'm sure belongs to someone else, that I carry about with increasing fatigue and resentment. Sometimes when I catch sight of myself in a mirror I think I see the stranger who’s hijacked my body, there behind the eyes, faintly mocking, the bastard.

My whole life I’ve gazed longingly into the past with bitter nostalgia. But it was never so very good until it was gone, this life. That part of it spent and squandered is mourned; that which lies ahead is feared; its end is resented.
But life does grow sweeter, in spite of me. In spite of this undeserving ingrate, this incomplete creature bestowed with an awareness he misunderstands and manhandles, like an ape tearing the pages from a book. Life has never been better, truly, than now--yet still!
Mankind is glorious; man is wretched.

Don’t mistake this for modesty or low “self-esteem”, whatever the hell that means. Talk to me about self-esteem and I’ll punch you on the chin. You will likely then beat me senseless, because I can’t fight either and I’m an awful coward, but that’s beside the point.
No, quite the opposite. I think only too highly of myself. As do you. We cannot help but turn inward, even when we look at the heavens. This is the source of our dispossession.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sexual Perversity

Youth, beauty, strength: the criteria for physical love are exactly the same as those of Nazism. In short, I was in the shit.
—Michel Houellebecq, The Possibility of an Island

Sexual innocence has gone to market.
In our liberated era, sexuality is increasingly valued, and modesty increasingly devalued (once was a person was a deviant if overly sexual; now if insufficiently so).
Sexual competition is now a laissez faire system, and sexuality is a commodity in a newly deregulated market. Sexual vigor and success combine to make the universal product, inherent in all products.
Sex is the value added, to be attained by purchasing the right car, clothes, beer, etc. Sex sells the products that promise to produce more sex. Sex is the Alpha and Omega of our new consumerist order.

Despite the tendency of the sixties generation to congratulate itself (or any generation, for that matter), sexual liberation owes far more to technology than to political action. Women first had to be liberated from toil. Only then could sexual equality become an issue. Political agitation always follows opportunity, just as patriotic rhetoric follows power. Activists need their heroic mythology as surely as militarists.

It is to the modern free market, and its ruthless efficiency in wringing productivity out of labor, that women owe their newfound liberty. Material progress and the advent of free time made women's liberation possible. I'm sure I'm not the first to suggest women owe their equality to masculine technological ingenuity, but not so long ago this would have been considered the raving of a crackpot, and perhaps still is in some quarters.
(I recall an essay by legendary L.A. Times columnist Jack Anderson, years ago, where he perused newspaper advertisements from the early half of the twentieth century, expressing disdain at the prevalence of ads for various innovative, time saving products for homemakers: washing machines, sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, etc.--my how far we've come, seemed to be the gist of his import; here it was right before him, but it was too soon to recognize and acknowledge the true vanguards of women's liberation--household appliances)

Our new freedom is at once more liberal and less egalitarian, freer and more fascistic; unhindered sexual competition will make gilded age capitalism look like a support group. Sexual competition is nature's dismissive, mocking retort to humanity's endless prayers to equality and fraternity. We conquer man-made morality only to submit to nature's tyranny. The wheel of history turns: repression begets revolution begets repression.

Sexual competition now follows the amoral logic of the market, because sex is the market, always has been; we now see that all human economic activity is a complex superstructure built upon this substrate of sex. From here on the unfettered market of sex will proceed with the same inexorable and indifferent logic of any open market, to points unknown.

Unmodified sexual competition is a return to nature, transplanting the primitive world into the midst of modernity; a return which will likely disabuse us of yet another cherished myth, that of the primitive idyll. It is every man (and woman) for himself. The regulation of sexual behavior through monogamy and chastity were civilizational advances we haven't bothered to replace, but are merely leaving behind.
Sexual shame has been routed, electronic entertainment reaches ever higher degrees of technological sophistication, and the ensuing profusion of sexual imagery and titillation is already desensitizing us. Ever more stimulation is required; already we show signs of exhaustion. It may all end in a sexually spent society; ironically, sexual liberation may eventually destroy sex.

Procreation has already been cut adrift; is passion next? How will love be possible in the coming world? Will love itself become an artifact, a short lived thing in the span of history? Is it now revealed as no more than a dream? Romantic love, we hardly knew ye.

Now the very notion of a common sexual morality is illiberal. By unspoken assent it has become sufficient to ridicule one who speaks of such things as a prude; which under the new order is synonymous with enemy of freedom.
But this is all the bigotry of the present for the past, for morality as a personal matter is a modern invention. Subjective, individual morality is as meaningless as the conceit of a close personal relationship with God. It is no morality at all.

I don't know if it spells disaster; I don't pretend to know where it leads. I only know it represents something altogether new, a profound--and unprecedented--devolution of moral authority from communities and institutions to individuals, manipulated by a ubiquitous and sophisticated electronic marketplace. This we've come to accept without consideration, by default really, as the unavoidable result of a morally unassailable expansion of personal liberty (an increasing personal liberty accompanied by a decreasing political representation, as matters of war, immigration, and the terms of our governance are increasingly surrendered to corporations and political parties inured against the popular will--but that's for another time).

It does seem that something has to give, eventually. Perhaps when the professional classes and the wealthy have reached levels of illegitimacy and serial relationships previously confined to the poor. They have already acquired a taste for low culture that seems to presage a taste for low living. People are now expected to demonstrate their egalitarian piety by disdaining discernment, particularly in matters of a sexual nature. To be modest is to not be in on the joke, outdated, alien, not one of us. So, we are all vulgarians now. Or outcasts.

We have decreed the ideal of modesty nothing more than bourgeois prejudice; worse, it's a sucker's investment in the failing concern that is sexual morality, akin to putting one's money in savings while everyone else is getting rich on junk bonds. Morality, and community, always depended on the vast majority buying into it, at least in principle, but now the compact has been broken. We already have a hard time remembering its terms.

It's one more fight I haven't taken up, despite being sympathetic to defenders of tradition, who seem entirely more honest, brave even, in their willingness to stand their ground before the groundswell that lifts their opposite number. I too suffer from the cowardice of that craven sellout, the "liberal on social issues conservative", which is not a conservative at all, and a very dismal liberal at that. It is a cop-out, like calling yourself an agnostic.
I must confess, this is nothing more than a surrender to the way things are. Of the few things I'm certain, one is that sexual mores are not the means of patriarchal tyranny that some feminists would have, or mere accident, as the general apathy that is overtaking us implies. The prevalence of sexual morality in advanced societies is enough for me to prove its necessity to civilization.

Two modern historical anomalies uncomfortably exist side by side: the sexualization of children, and the idealization of childhood.
Many have pointed out that our time's extended, idealized childhood is a fairly recent invention. This too may prove short-lived. One consequence of the commodification of sexuality is that children are disabused of sexual innocence sooner and, like the rest of us, more thoroughly.
For a time we behaved as if there could be two separate societal spheres, one of adults and one of children. This was always a contrivance to get us past the transition from a communal morality to one determined by the individual and manipulated by the marketplace; now few even feel the need to offer the cliched and callous retort to those complaining about sexual content on television: just change the channel.
Now we know that children, and childhood, will not be insulated from the consequences of sexual revolution; the very notion that they should be is diminishing, surrendered to a "progress" we are incapable, and mostly unwilling, to arrest. The most profound result of sexual liberation may be the destruction of sexual innocence.

Is childhood to be surrendered to this new ideal of productivity, progress, and personal liberation? Are we now giving childhood back, not to the privations of a harder time, but to the libertine, dissolute excess of ours? Who will be left to mourn childhood when none have lived it?

An unspoken anxiety grips the populace. We are alarmed at the sight of tarted up thirteen year-olds (particularly if they are our relatives), yet we lack the will, acting alone now without the structure of community morality to support us, to offer a resistance. No one wants to be a prude; it has gone beyond a source of embarrassment to become a source of suspicion. The imputation is that one who complains about sexual morality would surrender other freedoms, or is secretly attempting to chase women out of public life, even as the debate, like that surrounding abortion, is inordinately waged by women on each side. Women remain more vested in chastity and sexual modesty than men ever will be, contrary to some feminist dogma.

Sublimation is still necessary, now more than ever, so we turn our fearful angst on the few remaining among us who are unquestionably out of bounds, the rapist and the child molester.

The New York Times reported earlier this week on a series of highly rated shows produced by Dateline NBC, filming police stings of alleged sexual predators seeking out minors online.
The stings are the creation of a website named Perverted Justice, that had been acting on its own for years before being picked up by Dateline. The sting operators pose as children in online chat rooms, waiting to be propositioned by adults.
For nearly three years, and even a couple of episodes into Dateline's involvement with them, the group did all of this without notifying the authorities (now they work in conjunction with the police). Originally they merely sought to identify online predators and then cause them as much harm as possible by publishing their names and informing on them to employers, family, friends, and neighbors.
Among the many problems inherent in this, the website had no means of confirming the identities of their targets.

A contra-site, corrupted-justice.com, was created to counter Perverted Justice, and claims among the concessions it's managed to extract (from their website):
1) We demanded that they cease performing their "busts" without the prearranged involvement of legitimate law enforcement, and;
2) We demanded that they dismantle the "Follow Up Forum" - The primary tool used by their members to harass and terrorize those who had been accused only by anonymous vigilantes and had never been dealt with by legitimate law enforcement.
The "Follow Up Forum" seems to be a large part of the appeal of the site, publishing the lurid details of online chats; previously used to destroy alleged pedophiles who stood accused of no crime, now the site limits these to persons already convicted. Among the charges leveled by Corrupted Justice are that PJ has used minors in its sting operations, that it has in the past lured predators into residential neighborhoods and to public places without notifying police (and I can't help thinking that these close calls only made more careful predators), and of course that their methods constitute entrapment.

In the past I've seen a few of the Dateline programs, and I must confess that I was nearly as appalled by the actions of Dateline as I was by the alleged child predators. I have to ask myself, am I letting my natural revulsion toward sanctimony color my judgment of a worthy and necessary mission? I think not.

What appalls me isn't the sense that the innocent are being persecuted, though I'll never feel comfortable with the curious folk at Perverted Justice or the producers of Dateline NBC running about determining who is a criminal and who isn't (one PJ participant dismisses charges of entrapment by pointing out that civilians cannot be guilty of entrapment--accurate, but hardly reassuring to know that there are situations where civilians are more empowered than police); it is more the sense that they are in fact engaged in punishment, and that their motivations, imbued with an immature zeal, lead them to extremes. Extra-legal punishment, existing outside of the law, is an erosion of the law, and the law, not the posturing antics of the self appointed, is what truly protects us.

The aggressive pursuit of sexual deviants is designed to make us feel less powerless before the gut-wrenching pace of society's progress toward an uncertain moral abyss. Family and community once protected children from these people, who have always existed; but what is different now is the independence, and sexual precociousness, of our children, and the way we live. We are understandably on edge.

In the past activists have tried to create special category crimes with diminished rights for the accused. Feminists have done this with rape, lobbying to restrict the rights of the accused and expand its definition; law and order conservatives have long expressed impatience with constitutional restraints in general. The willingness of so many to surrender so much to the "war on terror" comes to mind. We get into trouble when we refuse to live with the limitations the law places on us
Often accompanying demands that the constitution be suspended is the insistence that we are in the throes of an epidemic; sometimes, as in the case of nationwide pedophilia panic of the early nineties, outright hysteria is allowed to take hold (in no small part because so few are willing to be seen as defending heinous criminals--leaving little resistance to an already powerful, emotion driven movement) resulting in fantastical claims and the persecution of innocents. Often there is a hostility toward patriarchy, and an underlying misandry. Perveted Justice's founder, a 27 year-old man who--shockingly--lives with his mother, has this to say, "I have a low opinion of men in general. The most heinous crimes in our society are committed by males."
Always suspect those so ready to denounce their kind.

What is striking about the Perverted Justice website is its strutting, self-congratulatory nature. Enthusiastic amateurs engaged in what should be police activity should always give us pause. And to think I began here bemoaning the collapse of sexual morality.
Something else I couldn't help but notice: the vigilantes of PJ resemble the child molesters they hunt (they post photos of both). There is an awful lot of venom, braggadocio, and chest-beating going on; but above all, as always, vanity.

The same issue of the Times reported on a public shaming of Chinese prostitutes and pimps (what does a Chinese pimp look like?) that drew a significant backlash from citizens who were concerned about the abuse of state power, and its troubling reminder of the Cultural Revolution.
One land's low ebb is another's high tide.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Horrorshow: delete

Flush out your headgear, new guy. You think we waste gooks for freedom? This is a slaughter. If I'm going to get my balls blown off for a word, my word is poon-tang.
--Animal Mother, Full Metal Jacket

News from Iraq the mainstream press isn't reporting, via Dahr Jamail in Tomdispatch:

Then there are the emails I get from American soldiers or their family members. In late October, I received one from a mother whose son is a Marine stationed in Ramadi where the fighting between U.S. forces and Sunni insurgents has been fierce and ongoing these last months.

"Many, many atrocities on both sides," she writes,"because of course the town has deteriorated into nothing more than a horror flick. His emails are few because his outpost was mortared and he lost computer connection with me. He has to go to the Army side of the city and try to send email from there. I've gotten one email. The marines are not supplying the boys with working satellite phones. Instead they give those, along with money for bribes, to the Iraqis in hopes of obtaining information. So our marines sit there (only 400 patrolling half of Ramadi, a town of 400,000… talk about war crimes). This is such a nightmare. If my son survives, he'll be embittered forever...This is a portion of his angry email....I found it very disturbing....please excuse the spelling, he's in a hurry and exhausted when he writes....his point is to kill the Iraqis before they kill him. Now it's just a race for life. Insane."

Her son's email reads in part:

"I was gonna call you but the phone is broken. I hate this place more than anywhere else i've been. I guess is a compilation of all the time I've done overseas fighting. Bullshit fights, its really bringing me down. I can't wait till all this is over…I'll be the biggest anti-war person this country will have… at least against this war in Iraq....Let's go fight a different one somewhere else cause this one is lost. I swear i wish you could spend a week over here…you would know it's lost. You can't stop ‘holy warriors,' especially in their territory. Tonight we are about to go drop off generators to the enemy (Iraqi civilians) hoping they will give us info about the enemy (bullshit storys). The shit your tax dollars go to would make you puke. You really would puke. I almost do when i think about it..... thomas jefferson would have a heart attack if he saw all the shit goin on today. Oh well. I really hope it changes soon when Bush is out…but i doubt it. I thinks its all Gods plan…he runs the show no matter what. Fate and all that…its good to trust him. "…I'll keep the machine gun lubed in hopes of killin em all at the first opportunity for you. I love you ma and i know that no matter what you support me. I hope you don't find this email burdensome. Just hit delete if that's the case."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Definitions

I propose:

"Civil war" is not an accurate description of the current situation in Iraq. It is in fact a euphemism for what is happening in Iraq. A traditional civil war would be an improvement, presenting the U.S. with a more predictable environment, and organized factions with which to negotiate, or support, or oppose.
As it is we're now talking to the once dismissed leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), Abdul Aziz al-Hakeem, whose militia, the Badr Brigades, is more closely linked with Iran (having fought on its behalf in the Iran/Iraq war) than any other faction; all while insisting that Iran's meddling is destabilizing Iraq.
We are left hedging an uncertain bet (on precisely what exactly is becoming less clear all the time) on a shaky regime by dealing with, or assenting via inaction to the activities of (in the case of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army), those who are killing, kidnapping, and terrorizing each other, or the civilian population as a whole. This while the last of the neocon diehards are still pressing for war against Iran for supporting these same groups (a likely [and why wouldn't Iran want to influence the outcome?] but unproven assertion, by the way).
Just don't call it a civil war. Well, okay.

As for the issue of accuracy in reporting: "chaos", "civil collapse", "societal breakdown", or maybe "rampant warlordism", each would be more apt. Does anyone recall the terminolgy used to describe the situation in Mogadishu before our ill fated intervention in 1992? It seems Iraq is closer to that than to any sort of civil war we would recognize.

Closer to home:

"Unarmed" is a technically accurate description of a man who struck a police officer with his car before ramming an undercover police vehicle twice, all while not posessing a firearm. But the term is misleading if used outside of this context. There is a reason we have codified into law something called vehicular homicide.