Monday, February 27, 2006

The Maine, Tonkin, 9-11

Remember the Maine! Yes, the Maine was an American ship burned in Havana harbor, which was the pretext for attacking Spain to get Cuba and the Phillipines from them -- and to eject them from the American "sphere of influence" in the western hemisphere. So we burned our own ship and blamed them for it so we'd have an excuse to attack them.

Remember the Gulf of Tonkin! This was the incident in which the North Vietnamese supposedly fired upon an American ship off the coast. Thus attacked, Americans felt justified and morally obligated to "defend themselves" against such "unprovoked aggression." It is now clear to even mainstream historians that this incident never actually occured and was wholly fabricated by the American administration as a pretext for attacking North Vietnam.

Nothing changed on 9-11. It's the same old story of audacious lies being used to justify nefarious deeds. If you dare to doubt the comforting bullshit, check out this film:

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Farcist Conspiracy

Think back to the last so-called presidential "election." Remember how the federal government kept issuing Terror Alerts? Remember how plans were discovered showing that the evil A-rabs were going to attack New Jersey, fer crying out loud? Take a guess how many times a Terror Alert has been issued since GWB "won" that "election." Go on, take a shot in the dark.

Did you say, "none?" Zilch? Zero? Not a one?

They don't even pretend to give a damn what the public thinks any more -- mainly because the public doesn't show any signs of thinking at all. We've gone beyond farce now; we're well into farcism.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Blood money flowing freely

Courtesy of the New York Times, here are six top defense contractors and the percentages by which their profits have increased since 2004: Boeing (37.4 percent), Lockheed Martin (44.2 percent), General Dynamics (19.1 percent), Northrop Grumman (29.2 percent), Raytheon (108.9 percent) and Halliburton (292.9 percent). Keep in mind, that's just the "clean" money that's been declared as income. Billions more are unaccounted for. Billions.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dead -- Really Dead Flowers

Why write a review when I can quote one that says it all so much better?

"The entire film was a lazy, smirky reprise, an exercise in inertia intended to demonstrate that a master of deadpan such as director Jim Jarmusch could draw even less than the usual bare minimum out of Bill Murray, who seemed to be walk without using his legs, talk without using his lips, and sit like a receptacle that had been emptied an hour earlier."

That's from James Wolcott's blog ( The only exception I'd take to that would be to note that Jarmusch's first two films (Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law) were great largely due to his exceptional use of silence and emptiness. The problem is that deadpan is the only pan he's got. One more exception: the music of Mulatu Astatke, featured in the film, is great.


The other day my friend Stan looked up from his tea and said these words to me: "Oh, did I tell you about my psychic prostate surgery?" No bells rang, so I said, "No, tell me about it." He then launched into a story about being in Brazil with a Chilean TV crew along for his interview of a psychic surgeon, etc., etc. Great story, as are most of his. It wasn't until a few hours later that I realized just how bizarre it is that I have a close friend who comes out with lines like that one -- and that it takes me hours to be appropriately amazed.

Department of Deer, Lightning and Peanuts

In celebration of my one and only birthday (this year, at any rate), I'd like to offer this fact as my gift to anyone who happens to wander by:

Even including the 9/11 casualties, the number of Americans killed by international terrorists since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting them) is about the same as that killed by lightning - or by accident-causing deer, or by severe allergic reactions to peanuts.

In almost all years, the total number of people worldwide who die at the hands of international terrorists is not much more than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The X word

What is it about American culture that makes us blind to our own ridiculousness? How is it possible that the congressman who proposed renaming "French fries" "freedom fries" didn't turn red as a beet and shoot himself in his big, empty head? How is it possible that people manage to take themselves seriously while getting all worked up over Janet Jackson's tit, gay cartoon characters, and brain-dead Floridians while simultaneously ignoring American torture, bombing of innocents and the continued transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest? Where's the outrage? Where's the shame? Where's the common fucking sense?

Which brings me to another example of this bizarre deflection of consciousness. American culture has accepted the very strange use of "the N word" or "the F word" instead of saying "nigger" and "fuck" -- as if we were speaking in the presence of 3 year-olds. Now, you might say these words are offensive and I'd respond with a diatribe about how absurd it is to be offended by words, which are nothing but symbolic representations of something supposedly meaningful. Being offended by words is as absurd as being offended by cartoons -- attention towel heads! In any case, whether or not the words are offensive is not the point. The point is that WE ALL KNOW THAT THE F WORD IS "FUCK" AND THE N WORD IS "NIGGER!" So precisely how are we evading the offense here? Whether we call it "bullshit" or "BS" it still stinks.

As Shakespeare put it, "An R-word by any name would smell as sweet."

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Can It Happen Here? Has It?

Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel 'It Can't Happen Here' envisioned an America in thrall to a homespun facist dictator. Newly reissued, it's as unsettling a read as ever.

Picture this: A folksy, self-consciously plainspoken Southern politician rises to power during a period of profound unrest in America.

The nation is facing one of the half-dozen or so of its worst existential crises to date, and the people, once sunny, confident, and striving, are now scared, angry, and disillusioned.

This politician, a ''Professional Common Man,'' executes his rise by relentlessly attacking the liberal media, fancy-talking intellectuals, shiftless progressives, pinkos, promiscuity, and welfare hangers-on.

All the while clamoring for a return to traditional values, to love of country, to the pie-scented days of old when things made sense and Americans were indisputably American.

He speaks almost entirely in ''noble but slippery abstractions''-Liberty, Freedom, Equality-and people love him, even if they can't fully articulate why without resorting to abstractions themselves.

Through a combination of factors-his easy bearing chief among them (along with massive cash donations from Big Business; disorganization in the liberal opposition; a stuffy, aloof opponent; and support from religious fanatics who feel they've been unfairly marginalized)-he wins the presidential election.

Once in, he appoints his friends and political advisers to high-level positions, stocks the Supreme Court with ''surprisingly unknown lawyers who called [him] by his first name,'' declaws Congress, allows Big Business to dictate policy, consolidates the media, and fills newspapers with ''syndicated gossip from Hollywood.''

Carping newspapermen worry that America is moving backward to a time when anti-German politicians renamed sauerkraut ''Liberty Cabbage'' and ''hick legislators...set up shop as scientific experts and made the world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution,'' but newspaper readers, wary of excessive negativity, pay no mind.

Given the nature of ''powerful and secret enemies'' of America-who are ''planning their last charge'' to take away our freedom-an indefinite state of crisis is declared, and that freedom is stowed away for safekeeping. When the threat passes, we can have it back, but in the meantime, citizens are asked to ''bear with'' the president.

Sure, some say these methods are extreme, but the plain folks are tired of wishy-washy leaders, and feel the president's decisiveness is its own excuse. Besides, as one man says, a fascist dictatorship ''couldn't happen here in America...we're a country of freemen!''


While more paranoid readers might be tempted to draw parallels between this scenario and sundry predicaments we may or may not be in right now, the story line is actually that of Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel ''It Can't Happen Here,'' a hastily written cautionary note about America's potential descent into fascism, recently reissued by New American Library in a handsome trade edition with a blood-spattered cover design.

The book, though regarded as a departure for Lewis, bears all the trappings of the writer in his prime. Lewis made his name, and his fortune, writing scathing indictments of an America enamored of materialism and mediocrity in the prosperous '20s; he won America's first Nobel Prize for Literature for it.

From ''Main Street'' to ''Babbitt,'' ''Arrowsmith'' to ''Elmer Gantry,'' there was no instance of egregious Rotarianism or middle-class hypocrisy he wouldn't gleefully assail.

Lewis was so successful in these forays that the eponymous protagonist of ''Babbitt,'' whom Lewis held up as the embodiment of all that was wrong with middle-class America in the '20s, saw his name transformed into a widely used pejorative.

At its center, ''It Can't Happen Here'' is no different from these prior efforts. It's just carried out on a bigger, more hyperbolic scale: Lewis takes that Babbitt mentality-the entrenched incuriosity, the smug certitude, the conformity, the complacency-and combines it with the growing desperation of the times to envision an end of America as we know it.

It's an unsettling read, especially in a day and age where wags and politicos on both sides compulsively accuse one another of plotting to destroy America. Other such books, most recently Philip Roth's ''The Plot Against America,'' ask whether a fascist dictatorship can happen here.

But whereas Roth manipulates history in order to show what could have happened, imagining an America so blinded by celebrity adulation that it elects an isolationist, anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh president, Lewis suggests that it already has happened, in little pockets all over America: in bridge club meetings, Rotary luncheons. No invading army will be needed to turn America fascist.

Instead, the catalyst will come from within, and when it does it will speak colloquial American, and it will come waving the Stars and Stripes.

FROM 1935 TO 2005

However broad its themes, ''It Can't Happen Here'' echoes its time, sometimes literally. The Depression was dragging on, the New Deal was on the rocks, FDR was vulnerable, and the GOP had foundered.

People were desperate for strong leadership, and as a result there was a real threat coming from numerous quasi-populist movements led by fire-breathing demagogues promising deliverance.

Among these groups was the Share Our Wealth movement, spearheaded by Senator Huey Long, a former Louisiana governor best known as the inspiration for Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren's ''All the King's Men.''

Long sought to radically redistribute the nation's wealth and impose an income gap, which, while socialist on its face, was more a cynical ploy for votes than a fast-held ideology.

Equally prominent was sulfurous radio personality Father Charles Coughlin's Union of Social Justice, a nativist movement that proposed abolishing the Federal Reserve to reverse the Depression.

Both groups were as corrupt as they were illogical, and FDR feared they would combine, unseat him, and replace American democracy with a strain of Hitlerism suited to America's unique temperament.

Driven by his support of Roosevelt and informed by the insights of his second wife, Dorothy Thompson, a pioneering journalist who more than anyone helped bring home the full horrors of Hitler's rise, Lewis cranked out the book in two months in 1935, in the hope that it would help avert what he felt was a looming catastrophe.

In order to do so effectively, though, he would have to mine the collective prejudices and disenchantments inherent in the American character.

Enter Berzelius ''Buzz'' Windrip, Lewis's tyrant. He's a regular guy, personable, plainspoken, ''with something of the earthy American sense of humor of a Mark Twain...a Will Rogers.'' Guided by his secretary Lee Sarason, he cozies up to the electorate by stoking their disdain for fancy ideas and encouraging them to follow their hearts, not their minds.

Windrip's economic policies are disastrous, his figures often incorrect, and his platform seems to change depending on who he's talking to, but none of that matters as long as he keeps expressing himself decisively.

''I want to stand up on my hind legs,'' he writes in ''Zero Hour,'' his widely read pre-campaign book, ''and not just admit but frankly holler right out that...we've got to change our system a lot, maybe even change the whole Constitution (but change it legally, not by violence)....

''The Executive has got to have a freer hand and be able to move quick in an emergency, and not be tied down by dumb shyster lawyer congressmen taking months to shoot off their mouths in debates.''

When Windrip is elected, all hell breaks loose. Dissent is crushed, the Bill of Rights is gutted, war is declared (on Mexico), and labor camps are established to help shore up Windrip's vaunted ''New Freedom,'' which is more like a freedom from freedom.

All that's really left of the old America are the flags and patriotic ditties, which for many is more than enough. But to Lewis it's not entirely the fault of those who will gladly abide America's principles being gutted.

The blame also falls on the ''it can't happen here'' crowd, those yet to realize that being American doesn't change your human nature; whatever it is that attracts people to tyranny is in Americans like it's in anyone else.

When Lewis embarked on ''It Can't Happen Here,'' his wife wondered if a dictatorship could happen in this country, whether complacent Babbitt, as she put it, could be taught to march ''quickly enough.''

It was a question that Lewis had already answered. There's a scene in ''Babbitt'' where the title character blows up at his wife and admits for the first time in years that he's not as thrilled with his lot as he lets on.

His wife soothes him and sends him off to bed, where, ''For many minutes, for many hours, for a bleak eternity, he lay awake, shivering, reduced to primitive terror, comprehending that he had won freedom, and wondering what he could do with anything so unknown and so embarrassing as freedom.''

In other words, the marching is just pageantry. Windrip's most formidable task, convincing Americans to renounce bedrock democratic principles, was already accomplished well before he took power. It was just waiting for its moment.

Joe Keohane @ Boston Globe

Monday, February 06, 2006

Steelers and Star Wars

Go Steelers!

In other news... I saw that a subsidary of Halliburton has been awarded a $387 million contract to build "detention centers" to be used in case of an "immigration emergency." Is it just me, or does that sound mighty suspicious? An immigration emergency, eh? Is someone expecting martial law anytime soon?

You might call me paranoid, conspiratorial, whatever. But here's how I see it: the available sources of news are all biased in one way or another. This is not to say that Fox is as reliable as the BBC, but it's not hard to find distorting bias in any news outlet in their choice of what to report, the tone of their reporting and so on. So the only way to think clearly about these matters is to approach current events like a scientist. Disregard the interpretation and just look at the bare bones to try to discern structure. Who benefits? Where's the money go? Does the cover story make logical sense?

Take the Star Wars Missile Defense Shield, for example. Since the Reagan days, this has been one of the most expensive, if not THE most expensive item in the defense budget. Many billions of dollars have gone into this program, and the flow of funding did not slow a bit when the only potential enemy against whom such a shield would be useful (USSR) ceased to exist. Run it down:
- They still, after a couple of decades and many billions of dollars, haven't managed to shoot down a single missile.
- Even if they could, the potential attacker could overpower the system with a few missiles armed with multiple warheads that separate and re-enter the atmosphere independently -- or by launching dozens of missiles simultaneously.
- Any state that shot missiles at the USA would not be doing it anonymously (pretty simple matter to know where it came from), thus being assured of massive retaliation.

So, it's incredibly expensive, doesn't work and would be utterly useless even if it did work. Anyone smell bullshit around here?

Here's my hypothesis. There's no shield. This program is a cover story to hide the development and implementation of a space-based surveillence/attack system. The satellite system ostensibly placed to detect hostile missile launches is really there to provide highly detailed, real-time monitoring of the entire planet. The attack satellites, armed with nuclear-powered lasers (already tested and in place) are not for shooting down missiles (hence the lack of concern over the repeatedly unsuccessful tests) -- they're for vaporizing "enemies of the state" down below. The whole deal is just a step up from the satellite/drone system now being used all over the world (I've noted attacks in Afganistan and Yemen). Once they have this system in place, they'll be able to attack any spot on earth instantaneously from a computer console in a bunker hidden under a Wal-Mart in Baton-Rouge.

So far, so scary. But here's where it gets really revolutionary. Once the powers that be have this system in place, they don't need armies anymore. If they can have a few hundred true-believers ready to push the right buttons at the right time, that's pretty much all they need. No need for troops to do all that dirty work, so no need for a public willing to go along with the agenda. No worries about morale or rebellion. It's the logical next step in the concentration of power. A step that, once taken, will bring an already reeling world just that much closer to the drain we've been circling.

But hey, Go Steelers!