Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2011.04.19 — Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood Begun 2011.04.16

TR at work gave this a very strong recommendation late last year. And so I finally picked it up. It would appear that I am enjoying this a great deal. Already on page 71, and it has caught my attention.

Margaret Atwood.
Oryx and Crake.
Random House Inc.
Pages: 416 | ISBN: 9780385721677

Quick summary: as a consequence of ecological failure (mostly likely man-made) and somehow linked to science's fascination with making altered bio-life forms, the world comes to an end for man. Except for one, and some of the altered life forms. This is told with Atwood's usual excellence, and with her playing with tense in a story told in the first person present in that 'future' and 3rd person past, in the past. So far, this 'trick' or gimmick has been transparent to me, and wouldn't have though about it if I hadn't read someone's very poorly written review.

And now that I am getting well into it, I see that the quality of the criticism against it (at least in the book/writer oriented on-line writers soical network GoodReads), is of a very poor quality indeed. I'm still reserving my final opinion.

2011.04.18 — A Payback and a "Nikita" Fushigi* or two. Finished 2011.04.16

If you were ever under the notion — I was going to say delusion — that the world travels in a straight line from birth to death, here is a fushigi, a totally bizarre one. Again, it originates from
Toronto: House of Anansi Press 2008
ISBN 9780887848100

[And here are the links to the other Payback blogs:
2011.03.20; 2011.02.13; 2009.08.09; 2009.08.03.]

Oh! And before I could post this blog, I also finished Payback. And the second reading was well worthwhile, as the book has become considerably better than after the first reading. And I even like the ending better than I did after the first reading.

On 2011.04.20 Piers Morgan extended the fushigi-nature of Payback and this blog.

And then this morning, 2011.04.21, so did Atwood in Oryx and Crake, which I've recently begun reading.

A well deserved ☆☆☆☆☆ out of ☆☆☆☆☆.

Maggie Q
This fushigi is very strange because what begins in a serious philosophical book on the metaphysical meanings and nature of "payback" of debt and justice corresponds and completes in an American TV-series I watch called "Nikita", starring Maggie Q. Although, in the broader picture, maybe not so strange because Nikita's mission is to bring to an evil organization its just destruction — except that this particular episode made specific manifestation of what Atwood wrote.

So, to begin means starting with Atwood's description of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Nelson Mandala saw instituted in South Africa in a serious
Nelson Mandela
attempt to heal not only himself but a fractured society. With, it would appear from far away and with inadequate news coverage, some success. (And that capital 'L' life was able to lead me to creating a blog linking Nelson Mandela, who spent years in a prison, to an actress in a series that takes ex-cons and imprisons them for years in order to create assassins is, well, peculiar.)

Anyway, here's Atwood:
THERE ARE TWO antidotes to the endless chain reaction of revenge and
counter-revenge. One is through the courts of law, which are supposed to settle questions of the weighing and measuring and resolving of debtor/creditor issues in a fair and equitable way. Whether they always do so is of course open to a lot of questions, but in theory that is their function.

The other antidote is more radical. It is told of Nelson Mandela that, after much persecution, and when he was finally freed from the prison where he'd been put by the apartheid government in South Africa, he said to himself that he had to forgive all those who had wronged him by the time he reached the prison gates or he would never be free of them. Why? Because he'd be bound to them by the chains of vengeance. They and he would still be twin Shadow figures, joined at the hip. In other words, the antidote to revenge is not justice but forgiveness. How many times must you forgive? someone asked Jesus of Nazareth. Seventy times seven, or as many times as it takes, was the answer. So [Shakespeare's] Portia was right in principle, although she herself could not follow through [because in the end she was not able to proffer forgiveness to Shylock for his unbending desire to seek revenge against the so-called Christian trader who had unendingly harassed and humiliated him. Note: Atwood's examination of The Merchant of Venice within Payback was sharp and by itself would have made the book worth its cover price.]

Muslim religious law allows the family members of a murdered person to participate in the sentencing of the murderer: they can choose clemency if they wish, and it is recognized that this choice is a noble one, and will free them from their anger and sense of victimization. There are many other cultural examples in which a life is not taken in exchange for a life. A Native North American group presented a Proclamation of Forgiveness to the United States as recently as 20051, for instance—if they listed all the things to be forgiven I expect it was rather long—and I need hardly mention the astonishing Truth and Reconciliation process that has gone on in South Africa since the end of apartheid. You may think that all of this forgiveness stuff is watery-eyed idealism of the clap-if-you-believe-in-fairies variety, but if the forgiveness is sincerely given and sincerely received—both parts are admittedly difficult—it does appear to have a liberating effect. As we've noted, the, desire for revenge is a heavy chain, and revenge itself leads to a chain reaction. Forgiveness cuts the chain.

Now take a deep breath, close your eyes, and try the following exercise in historical revisionism. It's the eleventh of September 2001. After two planes have flown into them, the Twin Towers have collapsed in billows of smoke and fire.

Vengeful messages have been disseminated by al-Qaeda. The president of the United States goes on international television and says,
We have suffered a grievous loss — a blow has been struck at us that was motivated by a obsessive desire to harm us. We realize that this was the work of a small group of fanatics. Other nations might bomb the stuffing out of the civilian population where those fanatics are at present located, but we recognize the futility of such an action. Nor will we accuse any bystander nation of having been involved. We realize that acts of vengeance recoil upon the heads of the inventors, and we do not wish to perpetuate a chain reaction of revenge. Therefore we will forgive.
Just imagine the impact of taking such a position, not that there was a snowball's chance in Hell of this ever happening. Now imagine how much different the world would have been today if that position had in fact been taken. No ongoing Iraq war. No impasse in Afghanistan. And above all, no ballooning and ruinous and nation-weakening and out-of-control big fat American debt.

Where will it all end? you are doubtless asking yourself. That depends on what you mean by "all." As for this book, it will end with the next and last chapter, which will attempt to examine what happens when the debit and credit balances get even further out of control. This last chapter is called "Payback." I looked this word up on the Web and, in addition to several movies of that name, I found a site called ThePayback.com, which bills itself as "your home for all of your revenge needs." You can order anything over the Internet now, it seems, including "dead fish," "prank packages," and "rude lottery tickets."

But my final chapter will not be about sending a box of wilted roses to your detested ex-lover. It's more on the order of the mills of the gods, which grind very slowly, though they grind exceeding small (159-61).
And this is actually very challenging, this idea of forgiveness. And so I was thinking about this, from a personal perspective and on how it has a connection to the Dog Whisperer, who repeatedly avers that dogs are always ready to begin anew by living now and leaving the past behind, forgiving the past by being completely in the moment.

Nothing too interesting until I watched on Thursday night (2011.04.14) the latest episode [Season 1, Episode 18 - Into the Dark] of a rather corny and inconsistently written American series called 'Nikita'. I've always been a bit of a sucker for shows with the underdog fighting the good fight against all odds, and this one is doing a generally good job of it. Anyway... what made this a fushigi is that the episode ends with one of the rogue assassins (Owen), who was crazy for revenge in this episode, experiencing a change of heart, and announcing his need to forgive the evil he has done and that has been done to him. It was an amazingly tight fushigi.

1. To be a bit Chomsky, it is interesting that I do not remember the news talking about a 'Proclamation of Forgiveness to the United States' from the Native Americans. (Nor does my wife recall this, and she watches a lot of news and has a good memory.) I am curious: do you remember reading or hearing of this document?

Fushigi addenda:

Tonight I was slightly less than half listening to "Piers Morgan Tonight" while doing something else. (I'm not a fan, but am stuck with my wife turning to it.)

But this time something the second guest, Stacey Lannert, said caught my ear. Until tonight I did not know of her existence or story, which is that as a young woman she was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for having killed her father.
She has since been given clemency by the Governor in recognition of the extenuating circumstance of her shooting her father — prolonged sexual abuse since childhood — and because of her having made the best of being in prison and becoming a model citizen.

Anyway, what caught my ear was when Morgan questioned her about blaming those who hadn't believed her story before, during, and after the trial. Her response was pure fushigi: paraphrased from memory, Lannert said that if she were to continue to blame them anger and hate would ruin her life. So, once again, the 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' rears its head.

As I was writing this addendum I thought about the clip of the interview that Morgan's producers chose to web-cast. And it struck me as being a particularly American choice in that it focused on the child sexual abuse part of the story. Which is important to the story, of course. But what is far more important than that is her demonstrated power of choice after consequences: choosing to be alive and big hearted in prison, choosing to forgive those who had failed her childhood and who had failed her trial.

When I did my research, I discovered that Lannert had been a guest on Oprah. And, I here thank Oprah and her producers, for putting the real actual transcript on the web page! From that transcript, Lannert says:
"I finally have been able to fuse [my father and the abuser]. I had to in order to forgive myself for the action that I took, because there were moments that I missed my father," she says. "I had to forgive him in order to be able to forgive myself, but there's a difference between forgiving and forgetting."

Stacey says she forgave her father because she didn't want to face the alternative. "If I don't forgive him, then I'm in prison—it might not be a physical prison, but it's a psychological prison. You know, I was incarcerated and I was free in my heart. The rest was geography."
This morning, on a sleep in day, I picked up Oryx and Crake while waiting for my wife to wake. I opened it to my book marked page, and read:
Not that Snowman passes judgment. He knows how these things go, or used to go. He's a grown up now, with much worse things on his conscience. So who is he to blame them?

(He blames them.) (p.79-80)

Life is interesting.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

2011.04.09 — Payback 2nd time (cont'd) and an odd fushigi* or two

While reading Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for World Dominance I was also re-reading Margaret Atwood's fascinating little big book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.
The second read is proving invaluable because the subtlety and depth of her ideas need more than one reading to appreciate them. Besides promoting thinking, Payback would seem to also promote curious fushigis. (Click on link to see definition.)

Noam Chomsky
The first fushigi in this round of reading begins with my recent viewing of a Chomsky interview by BBC's Jeremy Paxman, Tuesday, 8 March 2011, in which Chomsky describes his concern about the presence of antinomianism in American political and economic leadership with an example of each. He doesn't use the word 'antinomianism,' but that is what he is describing.

I've transcribed the relevant bits from the interview here:

NC: ... Take a look at the new Congress, for example. Just about every new congressional representative that came in last November is a climate denier. In fact the congress has already moved to ban funding for the most mild environmental efforts, and furthermore, unfortunately many of these people are true believers. The head of one of the congressional sub-committees, new Republican, explained that global warming can't be a problem because God promised Noah that there wouldn't be another flood. Others are supported —

JP: But why do you care about stupid people?

NC: Stupid people?! These people have power. And they're carrying out actions! They're carrying out the actions which are defunding possible efforts to do something about these crimes. Furthermore they're backed by major concentrations of power. The major business lobbies for example, have announced that they're funding big propaganda campaigns to convince people that this doesn't matter. These are serious issues. Incidentally if you want to look at stupid people we find them all over the place. For example we happen to be right in the middle of a huge financial crisis. People have noticed. You can trace that back. A lot of it comes from a fanatic religious belief in what's called the efficient market hypothesis. It's pure fanaticism. Dominated the economics profession. Dominated the federal reserve. The one consequence was that when an eight trillion dollar housing bubble developed totally unrelated to any fundamentals; completely off the hundred year history of housing prices, the profession — the feds the central bank — say it wasn't necessary to pay attention because of efficient markets. Is that very different from God promised Noah?
Okay, so while this isn't quite antinomian, it has the same flavour. (And, of course, I do find it an interesting logical slip that the congressman who expressed that belief has failed to include specifically whether or not God was referring just to His own actions with regards to a cataclysmic flood, or those of men as well.)
Atwood Photo fushigi

So, here is Margaret Atwood discussing the soul being pawned in the sense that the soul, like a pawned item, is redeemable from 'original sin.' And her discussion moves to those who do not need to redeem their souls because they belong to a special cadre, the antinomians, who are neither tainted by original sin nor can create sin regardless any action or inaction they may or may not take.
The debt load of sin you've inherited from Adam — "Original Sin" as it's known — which has been added to through your own probably not very original sins — can never be repaid by you, because the sum total is too large. So unless someone steps forward on your behalf your soul will become (a) extinct or (b) a slave of the Devil in Hell, to be disposed of in some unpleasant way. Various of these ways are described by Dante, where Hell is ruled over by a really horrible version of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado,
ingeniously bent on making the punishment fit the crime. If that's too medieval for you, a shorter rendition can be had in the sermon on Hell incorporated into James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

During their lifetimes, all souls not in a state of grace or actually sold to the Devil fully and finally are believed to be in an intermediate condition; in peril, but not fully damned as yet. Christ is thought to have redeemed all souls, in theory at least, by having acted as a cosmic Sin Eater — he took everyone else's sins upon himself at the Crucifixion, where, with Geshtinanna-like selflessness, he offered himself up as the substitute human sacrifice to end all substitute human sacrifices — thereby redeeming the huge Original Sin debt. But individuals must also participate in this drama: in effect, you must redeem yourself by allowing yourself to be redeemed.

Thus all the souls of the living can be thought of as residing in a pawnshop of the soul, neither entirely slaves nor entirely free. Time is running out. Will you be redeemed before the clock strikes midnight and the Grim Reaper arrives — or, worse. Old Nick in his red suit, ready to pop you into his infernal collecting sack? Hang by your fingertips! It's never over till it's over!

This is what gives the Christian life its dramatic tension: you never know. You never know, that is, unless you're a believer in the Antinomian Heresy. If you are, you're so certain of your own salvation that even the most despicable things you do are right, because it's you doing them. Here's a summation of this position, taken from a 2005 article in the London Telegraph in which the author, Sam Leith, suggests that Tony Blair, the ex-prime minister of England, was in the grip of this heresy:
Roughly put, antinomianism — and this will have to be roughly put, since I make no claim to be a theologian — is the idea that justification by faith liberates you from the need to do good works. Righteousness overrides the law— which was, arguably, the PM's position on Iraq.

It can be seen, in some way, as the squaring of a tricky theological circle: the Calvinist idea that the Elect have been singled out for salvation as part of the divine scheme long before any of them were twinkles in the twinkles in their ancestors' eyes. If justification by faith, rather than by works, is the high road to heaven, the logical extreme of the position is that works don't matter at all.

Divine grace, over which we'have no control, brings about faith. Faith brings about salvation. Ergo, if you're not touched by grace, there's nothing much you can do about it except look forward to an immensely long retirement having your toes warmed by the devil in the pitchfork hotel.

If, on the other hand, you are one of the Elect, whoop de doo: Jesus wants you for a sunbeam and no amount of bad behaviour is going to prevent him seeing you right. This is a pretty crazy view to take, most of us would agree, and historically it has tended to be discouraged by both civic and religious authorities for rather obvious reasons. But there it is ('Blair Believes He Can Do No Wrong: Just Ask the Antinomians" Telegraph.co.uk 2 March 2008.)
Since politicians, at least in the English-speaking West, are showing an increasing tendency to drag religion into politics, it would seem fair for the electorate to be able to question them on their own theological views. "Do you believe that you personally are irrevocably saved, that any graft, fraud, lying, torturing, or other criminal activities you may engage in are fully justified because you're one of the Elect and can do no wrong, that to the pure such as yourself all things are pure, and that the vast majority of those you say you wish to represent as their political leader are vile and worthless and predestined to fry in hell, so why should you give a damn about them?" would seem to be an appropriate lead-off at question time(68-70).
And that is the first of the odd little fushigis this book has brought me while reading it and Chomsky.

The second one is similarly amusing, but perhaps a bit more so because it connects to my last blog on Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival. And what makes it additionally amusing, at least to me, is that it brings an example of the curious nature of the unconscious. I read Payback last year, and so its contents have at least passed from my consciousness and into my unconscious. So, you can take this with some salt. In my Hegemony or Survival review I wrote:

I ask myself whether or not the expanding bankruptcy of what were once viable public school systems is an accident due to incompetency and delusion, or part of the concomitantly expanding corporate and wealthy tax 'breaks' that have been successfully enriching the wealthy and, with the delusion of Wal-mart wealth, impoverishing everyone else? I am siding on the planned side, because under-funding public schools would help impoverish the poor and enrich the people who run the country by contributing to one of the biggest growth industries in the USA — the expanding prison system.
So, after writing that, without any conscious memory of having read the following, I wind up re-reading:
..."paying your debt to society" didn't often mean a fine. Instead it meant an execution or a jail term. Let's ponder this in the light of everything we've said about the debtor and the creditor as joined-at-the-hip twins balanced on the two sides of a scale, with equilibrium arriving when all debts are paid. If the person being executed or jailed is the debtor who's thought to owe something to somebody, and if that creditor is society, in what way does society benefit from the execution or the incarceration? It certainly doesn't profit financially, since it costs a bundle to put people on trial and then lock them up, or cut off their heads, or disembowel them, or burn them at the stake, or electrify them so that smoke comes out of their ears, and so forth. So there must be some other kind of payment intended.

If we were still operating on a strict Mosaic eye-for- an-eye repayment scheme, there would be some sense to the execution part—that is, if the individual being executed had murdered someone. One dead body would result in another dead body, thus balancing the scales. But doing time in jail isn't an obvious equivalent of anything—that's why the jail-time verdicts for any given crime vary so widely from era to era and from place to place — and the material benefit to society is not only zero, it's considerably less than zero, because it's not the jailed criminal who's actually paying for anything, it's the taxpayer. And the two commonly heard justifications for locking people up ~ as a deterrent to other would-be crime committers, and as a way of accomplishing the moral improvement of the locked-up person—don't appear to work out very well in money terms. Education is a better and cheaper deterrent, community service a better and cheaper moral improver.

Alas, the kind of payment actually meant by "paying for your crimes" really amounts to vengeance. So the debit side — the crime itself, and the ruination it may have caused to others — and the credit side — the self-righteous gloating, the feeling that the scum-bucket is getting a well-deserved comeuppance — can't really be translated into cash equivalents at all. Similarly, some debts can never be money debts: they're debts of honour. With these, it's felt that other forms of payment must be exacted, and these other forms most often have to do with the infliction of nasty blunt- or sharp-implement procedures on other people's bodies. "Hamlet, remember," says the ghost of Hamlet's father, but he doesn't mean that Hamlet should go to Claudius and say, "So, you murdered my dad, that'll be a thousand ducats."

Hamlet, remember me. I.v.
He means that the accounts will not be balanced until Claudius is dead, not of old age but of revenge at the hand of Hamlet (124-5 my emphasis)
So, is that a fushigi or simply an example of the unconscious expressing itself in a curious way? I think it is both because even though what I wrote in my review is a paraphrase of Atwood's comments, how does that explain the timing of my writing it within a day or so of my 'accidently' re-reading? And it is possible that many fushigis are in fact creative expressions of the unconscious, especially the collective unconscious.

And there is one more flavour to add to this strange brew.

While re-re-reading Atwood's discussion on the difference between revenge and justice while preparing this blog, the 'eye-for-eye' bit brought to my mind the episode "Bangers in the House" of David E. Kelley's
David E. Kelly
series 'Harry's Law'. In that episode the lawyer was asked to provide a balanced judgement on the behaviour of two gang members in different gangs who were antagonizing each other because of a girl. The brilliant, skilled and experienced lawyer, Harry, was unable to fulfill this function because her notion of justice was inadequate to deal with what was required to make a fair judgment. In this case fair needed to mean that both of the gang leaders, who each felt aggrieved by a member of the other gang, had to feel that balance had been restored between them. The balancing justice that was needed was quite creative, and on the surface appeared brutal.

In light of my re-reading this section of Payback this isn't a fushigi, but it sure is a curious example of how themes or ideas being explored in life oftentimes overlap in odd, or even metaphorical ways. And by the way, I am thoroughly enjoying 'Harry's Law' and would like it to make it, so please give it a try. The episodes are mostly available on line — I think.

Photo fushigi addendum. As I was cobbling this thing together, I stumbled into just one last fushigi.

Just before finishing up I decided that I wanted to patch in an image of Atwood, so I did a Google 'search and grab'. It turns out that there are a lot to choose from — 467,000 in .09 seconds, according to Google. So many choices, so little time. But I got lucky, and saw on the first page an image that looked like her talking, which fit perfectly with what I wanted to do. It is the the one you see above. However, in order to copy the image I needed to connect to its link, which turns out to be a on-line edition of a British newspaper's story about Margaret Atwood being shortlisted for Canada's national business book award for, yup, Payback. Now that is truly strange, in no small part because I had no idea that such an award existed, let alone that Atwood had been shortlisted for it or that Naomi Klein won it in 2001 for No-Logo.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

2011.04.05 — Hegemony or Survival And its Economics per Chomsky — finished

I have finished Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for World Dominance. It was fascinating, both because of the usual footnoted criticism and acuity he brings, but also because of the change in tone I 'heard' in this book from his previous writing (examples of which I've cited later).

Noam Chomsky. Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for World Dominance. New York: Metropolitan Books — Henry Holt and Company, 2003. ISBN:0805074007.

☆☆☆☆☆ out of ☆☆☆☆☆.

Begun 2010.12.05; noted 2011.03.25.

I have festooned it with stickies on sections I want to review and/or refer back to, but I have resolved to restrain myself. So, because of my interest in the economic delusion masking itself as acumen, I've decided to cite an interesting example of a high ranking American hegemon being honest about America's role in disseminating economic democracy in the world. And no, it isn't what you read in the papers.

From Chapter 9, "A Passing Nightmare?"
After discussing America's long and continued refusal to join the rest of the world in declaring space a peace only place, Chomsky adds:
The need for [America's] full-spectrum dominance [in space] will increase as a result of the "globalization of the world economy," the Space Command explains. The reason is that "globalization" is expected to bring about "a widening between 'haves' and 'have-nots.' " Like the National Intelligence Council,32 military planners recognize that the "widening economic divide" that they too anticipate, with its "deepening economic stagnation, political instability, and cultural alienation," will lead to unrest and violence among the "have-nots," much of it directed against the US. That provides a further rationale for expanding offensive military capacities into space. Monopolizing this domain of warfare, the US must be ready to control disorder by "using space systems and planning for precision strike from space [as a][sic] counter to the worldwide proliferation of WMD" by unruly elements, a likely consequence of the recommended programs, just as the "widening divide" is an anticipated consequence of the preferred form of "globalization."

The Space Command could have usefully extended its analogy to the military forces of earlier years. These have played a prominent role in technological and industrial development throughout the modern era. That includes major advances in metallurgy, electronics, machine tools, and manufacturing processes, including the American system of mass production that astounded nineteenth-century competitors and set the stage for the automotive industry and other manufacturing achievements, based on many years of investment, R&D, and experience in weapons production within US Army arsenals. There was a qualitative leap forward after World War II, this time primarily in the US, as the military provided a cover for creation of the core of the modern high-tech economy: computers and electronics generally, telecommunications and the Internet, automation, lasers, the commercial aviation industry, and much else, now extending to nanotechnology, biotechnology, neuroengineering, and other new frontiers. Economic historians have pointed out that the technical problems of naval armament a century ago were roughly comparable to manufacture of space vehicles, and the enormous impact on the civilian economy might be duplicated as well, enhanced by the space militarization projects.

One effect of incorporating national security exemptions in the mislabeled "free trade agreements" is that the leading industrial societies, primarily the US, can maintain the state sector on which the economy substantially relies to socialize cost and risk while privatizing profit.

Others understand this as well. Retreating from his earlier critical stance regarding BMD, German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder observed that Germany has a "vital economic interest" in developing missile defense technology, and must be sure it is "not excluded" from technological and scientific work in the field. Participation in BMD programs is expected to strengthen the domestic industrial base generally in Europe. Similarly, the US BMD Organization advised Japanese officials in 1995 that Theater Missile Defense is "the last military business opportunity for this century." Japan is being drawn in not only to exploit its manufacturing expertise but also to deepen the commitment of the industrial world to the militarization of space, "locking the programs in," to borrow a standard phrase of policy-makers and analysts.33

Throughout history it has been recognized that such steps are dangerous. By now the danger has reached the level of a threat to human survival. But as observed earlier, it is rational to proceed nonetheless on the assumptions of the prevailing value system, which are deeply rooted in existing institutions. The basic principle is that hegemony is more important than survival. Hardly novel, the principle has been amply illustrated in the past half-century.

For such reasons, the US has refused to join the rest of the world in reaffirming and strengthening the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 to (230-232).
I feel the need to summarize: the reason America has refused to sign a space treaty to keep weapons from space is because their economic policies in the world will, properly, continue to create increased poverty and concentrated wealth. Furthermore, that increased poverty gap will certainly encourage social stresses that will need to be managed by military action, with the best of those actions coming from space.

This blatant, but absolutely not reported or aggressively made public re-statement of the truth behind American foreign policy got me thinking about the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor within the U.S.A. itself. Is there an un-public policy statement that confirms that the steady and accelerating impoverishment of the general American population, and near eradication of the middle class, is deliberate and planned? And to that all I can say is that if that has not been planned — which is possible even though highly improbable — then the level of economic incompetence displayed by the highest levels of government and business is astounding.

I am not sure which thought I hold to be more distressing: that incompetence masking behind ideology is bankrupting the society or that societal impoverishment is planned behind a mask of economic democracy.

As an example of that thought, I ask myself whether or not the expanding bankruptcy of what were once viable public school systems is an accident due to incompetency and delusion, or part of the concomitantly expanding corporate and wealthy tax 'breaks' that have been successfully enriching the wealthy and, with the delusion of Wal-mart wealth, impoverishing everyone else? I am siding on the planned side, because under funding public schools would help impoverish the poor and enrich the people who run the country by contributing to one of the biggest growth industries in the USA — the expanding prison system.

And this is an efficient method, because not only do the corporations get reduced taxes, but they have the opportunity to receive government funding for the contracts to build and run the prisons. And expanding ignorance and bankrupting schools will also help ensure a steady clientele for those prisons. This has the hallmarks of a perfect net transfer of wealth from the poor to the wealthy, and all done in the name of keeping America safe, the very same argument that the media and politicians used to justify and fund war.

Hmmm. Is that idea that far fetched? I wonder.

Chomsky frequently cites the Trilateral Commission's publication, The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies because the authors were concerned that the democratic movements in the 60s and early 70s were impeding the proper functioning of democracy — the population was too involved in trying to manage their country, and needed to be made more passive so as to allow the real leaders get on with the business of running things. (That's my paraphrase, of course.) Here's how Chomsky paraphrased the commission's perception of democracy's crisis in Chronicles of Dissent:
The "crisis of democracy," which is not my term, happens to be the title of an important book published by the Trilateral Commission in 1975, their one major book-length publication. The Trilateral Commission was established by David Rockerfeller. It includes the more or less liberal elite elements from the three major centres of industrial capitalism, the United States, Japan, and Western Europe. Hence Trilateral Commission. This book reflects the result of an extensive study they did of the phenomenon that they referred to as the crisis of democracy. The crisis, as they outline it, has to do with the fact that during the 1960s and the early '70s substantial sectors of the population which are usually apathetic and passive became organized and began to enter the political arena and began to press for their own interests and concerns. That created a crisis because that's not the way democracy is supposed to work. The chief American contributor, Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, stated that, back in the days of Truman, before the crisis of democracy, policy could be executed simply by a handful of Wall Street lawyers and financiers. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but it expresses the conception of the Commission as to the way democracy ought to function.

That was threatened in the 1960s as minorities, youth, women, aged people, all sorts of groups began to be organized and enter into the political system. That world-wide crisis, the participants agreed, had to be overcome, and the population had to be returned to its proper state of apathy and ignorance, returned to its task. Namely, that of ratifying decisions made by elites (78-9)."
32. National Intelligence Council (NIC), Global Trends 2015 (December 2000).
33. Thomas Valesek, CDI Defence Monitor 30, no. 3 (March 2001). Mitchell, Fletcher and Forum, winter 2001.

Has Chomsky lost some of his past optimism and feeling a bit desperate?

A couple of times I thought that I detected a bitterness, and not just frustration and anger, in Hegemony. I interpret that feeling of bitterness with despair. For example:
In the worst of the two terrorist atrocities that passed through the doctrinal filters, a crippled American Jew, Leon Klinghoffer, was brutally murdered during the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship in October 1985 by a Palestinian terrorist group led by Abu Abbas. The murder "seemed to set a standard for remorselessness among terrorists," New York Times correspondent John Burns wrote. Burns described Abu Abbas as the "has-been monster" who may "finally have to face a day of reckoning with American Justice" for his role in the crime. One of the heralded achievements of the invasion of Iraq was the capture of Abu Abbas a few months later.

The Klinghoffer murder remains the most vivid and lasting symbol of the ineradicable evil of Arab terrorism and the unanswerable proof that there can be no negotiating with these vermin. The atrocity was very real, and is in no way mitigated by the terrorists' plea that the hijacking was in retaliation for the far more murderous US-backed Israeli terrorist attack on Tunis a week earlier. But the bombing of Tunis does not enter the canon of terrorism because it is subject to the wrong-agent fallacy. It remained unmentioned when Abu Abbas was captured. There would of course be no difficulty in apprehending the "monsters" Shimon Peres and George Shultz, who are far from "has beens," and bringing them to "a day of reckoning with American justice." But that is beyond unthinkable.

Also efficiently "disappeared" are recent events that bear more than a superficial similarity to the Klinghoffer murder. The reaction was silence when British reporters found "the flattened remains of a wheelchair" in the remnants of the Jenin refugee camp after Sharon's spring 2002 offensive. "It had been utterly crushed, ironed flat as if in a cartoon," they reported: "In the middle of the debris lay a broken white flag." A crippled Palestinian, Kemal Zughayer, "was shot dead as he tried to wheel himself up the road. The Israeli tanks must have driven over the body, because when [a friend] found it, one leg and both arms were missing, and the face, he said, had been ripped in two."16 If even reported in the US, this would have been dismissed as an inadvertent error in the course of justified retaliation. Kemal Zughayer does not deserve to enter the annals of terrorism along with Leon Klinghoffer. His murder was not under the command of a "monster" but a "man of peace," who enjoys a soulful relation with the "man of vision" in the White House (195-6).
The line 'soulful relation' strikes me as being just a wee bit too shrill, and a sign of despair. What do you think? These kinds of lines don't happen often, but they are here whereas at one time they were not.

16. Justin Huggler and Phil Reeves, [Once upon a time in Jenin] Independent 25 April 2002.

For additional information on the unreported American backed Israeli massacre in Jenin, see Jenin Massacre.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

2011.04.01 — No War: America's Real Business in Iraq by Naomi Klein — Finished 2011.03.27

This is an excellent little book. I enjoyed the peek behind the gloss of advertised American democracy. For me this is not particularly revelatory, as I had some awareness of the motivations and even the mechanics. However it did provide interesting details of American hegemony posturing as capitalistic democracy.

The book is comprised of four essays/articles, by four different writers for Harper's:

Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein "Baghdad Year Zero";
Bryan Mealer ""Dying for Dollars";
Susan Watkins "A Puppet for All Seasons";

Walter Laqueur "The Terrorism to Come".
No War: America's Real Business in Iraq. London, GB: Gibson Square Books Ltd., 2005. ISBN 1903933579.

I give it ☆☆☆☆ out of ☆☆☆☆☆.
Bryan Mealer
The first three articles are excellent. Laqueur's is the weakest, but still very good. I enjoyed that each writer approached the central subject from different perspectives — a ground zero search in Iraq for the 'democratic' capitalism to be booming that heard only bombs; a ground zero hard sell of Iraq in Vegas that was filled with booming hucksters selling the opportunity of exported capitalism in bright lights and desert fountains; and then some grounding of the Iraqi capitalism dream with details of the capitalistic failure of that experiment and continued delusion denying that failure.
Walter Laqueur
The final essay is a quick history and future perspective on terrorism. I found the writing in the last essay to be a bit weaker than the others, but still very good. I enjoyed Laqueur's argument about the history and future of terrorism, although I am not fully convinced by it.

So why didn't it get 5 stars from me? I would have liked to have seen a bibliography with supporting documents. And yes, I know, that would kind of contradict what this short book was doing, but when making some of the strong criticism they make in the face of the media blitzkrieg of American and UN good intentions, some supporting evidence would have been appreciated. Even a facsimile of one of the glossy brochures from the Vegas hard sell would have been interesting.

As an example of what I mean, here is a mildly provocative assertion:

On the ideological front there is little more light. Under rules endorsed by U.N. Resolution 1546, the January 2005 election allows Iraqis to choose candidates selected by the U.S. embassy for a "transitional" administration with strictly limited powers, charged with drafting a constitution for a further, equally restricted ballot by January 2006. The hand-picked, thousand-member consultative conference convened in August proved a complete fiasco, with Allawi's thugs ejecting all critics.

Internationally, the regime and its masters look forward to strengthening their position by planting the U.N. flag once again in Iraqj soil, but so far the Secretariat has not dared to return to Baghdad, with good reason. On conservative estimates, some 300,000 children under five died from disease and malnutrition under the U.N. sanctions regime of the 1990s, while the Secretariat skimmed administration fees of over $1 billion. In 1998 the U.N. contracts committee awarded the Oil for Food Programme contract for monitoring Iraqi imports (of often rotted food and diluted medicines) to Cotecna Inspection, a company that employed Kofi Annan's son Kojo as a consultant throughout the bidding process. In |une, U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, a leading member of the junta that canceled elections in Algeria in 1992 and broker of the Karzai regime in Afghanistan, rubber-stamped [Paul] Bremer's selection of members of the Governing Council for reincarnation as ministers of the Interim Government; but, duty performed, could not wait to get out. When they do return, U.N. functionaries will need a large private army of their own to protect them (77-8).
I think that this is probably correct, but the comment about the food from the U.N. being 'often rotted' and medicines 'diluted:' where is the supporting evidence? Also, where is the documented evidence about Kofi Annan's son? Or the estimate of 300,000 children who unnecessarily died in Iraq because of the economic sanctions raises the question of who did the estimate and how?
It is a significant failure of this publication to accuse the hawks of citing false facts to achieve their ends, but that means it is even more necessary to be careful to provide proper evidence when making counter arguments and/or accusations.

Before I leave, I would like to include a couple more citations, both from Klein, whose descriptions of her experiences in Iraq shortly after America's 'victory' I enjoyed thoroughly:
It was only after I had been in Baghdad for a month that I found what I was looking for. 1 had traveled to Iraq a year after the war began, at the height of what should have been a construction boom, but after weeks of searching I had not seen a single piece of heavy machinery apart from tanks and humvees. Then 1 saw it: a construction crane. It was big and yellow and impressive, and when I caught a glimpse of it around a corner in a busy shopping district 1 thought that 1 was finally about to witness some of the reconstruction I had heard so much about. But as I got closer I noticed that the crane was not actually rebuilding anything—not one of the bombed-out government buildings that still lay in rubble all over the city, nor one of the many power lines that remained in twisted heaps even as the heat of summer was starting to bear down. No, the crane was hoisting a giant billboard to the top of a three-story building. SUNBULAH:

HONEY 100% NATURAL, made in Saudi Arabia.

Seeing the sign, I couldn't help but think about something Senator John McCain had said back in October. Iraq, he said, is "a huge pot of honey that's attracting a lot of flies." The flies McCain was referring to were the Halliburtons and Bechtels, as well as the venture capitalists who flocked to Iraq in the path cleared by Bradley Fighting Vehicles and laser-guided bombs. The honey that drew them was not just no-bid contracts and Iraq's famed oil wealth but the myriad investment opportunities offered by a country that had just been cracked wide open after decades of being sealed off, first by the nationalist economic policies of Saddam Hussein, then by asphyxiating United Nations sanctions.

Looking at the honey billboard, 1 was also reminded of the most common explanation for what has gone wrong in Iraq, a complaint echoed by everyone from John Kerry to Pat Buchanan: Iraq is mired in blood and deprivation because George W. Bush didn't have "a postwar plan." The only problem with this theory is that it isn't true. The Bush Administration did have a plan for what it would do after the war; put simply, it was to lay out as much honey as possible, then sit back and wait for the flies.

The honey theory of Iraqi reconstruction stems from the most cherished belief of the war's ideological architects: that greed is good. Not good just for them and their friends but good for humanity, and certainly good for Iraqis. Greed creates profit, which creates growth, which creates )obs and products and services and everything else anyone could possibly need or want. The role of good government, then, is to create the optimal conditions for corporations to pursue their bottomless greed, so that they in turn can meet the needs of the society. The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush's Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissezfaire economics, a Utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their Quest tor profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq, would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain: assets, previously owned by the state, would have to be given up to create new opportunities for growth and investment. Jobs would have to be lost and, as foreign products flooded across the border, local businesses and family farms would, unfortunately, be unable to compete. But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.

The fact that the boom never came and Iraq continues to tremble under explosions of a very different sort should never be blamed on the absence of a plan. Rather, the blame rests with the plan itself, and the extraordinarily violent ideology upon which it is based (5-7).

I had been following the economic front of the war for almost a year before I decided to go to Iraq. I attended the "Rebuilding Iraq" trade shows, studied Bremer's tax and investment laws, met with contractors at their home offices in the United States, interviewed the government officials in Washington who are making the policies. But as I prepared to travel to Iraq in March to see this experiment in free-market utopianism up close, it was becoming increasingly clear that all was not going according to plan. Bremer had been working on the theory that if you build a corporate Utopia the corporations will come—but where were they? American multinationals were happy to accept U.S. taxpayer dollars to reconstruct the phone or electricity systems, but they weren't sinking their own money into Iraq. There was, as yet, no McDonald's or Wal-Mart in Baghdad, and even the sales of state factories, announced so confidently nine months earlier, had not materialized.

Some of the holdup had to do with the physical risks of doing business in Iraq. But there were other more significant risks as well. When Paul Bremer shredded Iraq's Baathist constitution and replaced it with what The Economist greeted approvingly as "the wish list of foreign investors," there was one small detail he failed to mention: It was all completely illegal. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) derived its legal authority from United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483, passed in May 2003, which recognized the United States and Britain as Iraq's legitimate occupiers. It was this resolution that empowered Bremer to unilaterally make laws in Iraq. But the resolution also stated that the U.S. and Britain must "comply fully with their obligations under international law including in particular the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Hague Regulations of 1907." Both conventions were born as an attempt to curtail the unfortunate historical tendency among occupying powers to rewrite the rules so that they can economically strip the nations they control. With this in mind, the conventions stipulate that an occupier must abide by a country's existing laws unless "absolutely prevented" from doing so. They also state that an occupier does not own the "public buildings, real estate, forests and agricultural assets" of the country it is occupying but is rather their "administrator" and custodian, keeping them secure until sovereignty is reestablished. This was the true threat to the Year Zero plan: since America didn't own lraq's assets, it could not legally sell them, which meant that after the occupation ended, an Iraqi government could come to power and decide that it wanted to keep the state companies in public hands, or, as is the norm in the Gulf region, to bar foreign firms from owning 100 percent of national assets. If that happened, investments made under Bremer's rules could be expropriated, leaving firms with no recourse because their investments had violated international law from the outset.

By November, trade lawyers started to advise their corporate clients not to go into Iraq just yet, it would be better to wait... (17-18).