Thursday, September 29, 2005

JG Ballard on "A History of Violence"

/ movies / reviews /
A JG Ballard review of David Croneberg's upcoming film A History of Violence" (trailer), hardly could escape mention in this blog. I can't wait... Excerpt:

...Existence, in Cronenberg's eyes, is the ultimate pathological state. He sees us as fragile creatures with only a sketchy idea of who we are, nervous of testing our physical and mental limits. The characters in Cronenberg's films behave as if they are inhabiting their minds and bodies for the first time at the moment we observe them, fumbling with the controls like drivers in a strange vehicle. Will it rise vertically into the air, invert itself, or suddenly self-destruct?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Apocalypse There. Matt Taibbi from the disaster zone

/ disaster / witness /
Matt Taibbi left for New Orleans on September 3d, along with a movie star and a historian. He describes his journey into the sunken city. His story is probably one of the best told and to-the-point accounts of the destruction of New Orleans. For anyone even remotely familiar with New Orleans his descriptions are like something out of a JG Ballard post-disaster, metaphorically existential, narrative - only written by a post-punk Hunter S. Thompson who doesn't do the existential part except by accident.

This, probably will become (or if it doesn't it should) one of the defining, standard descriptions - indeed testimonis of the New Orleans disaster in the future. It is both eloquent (since Taibbi is one of the few journalists I know of that is actually a great writer) and substantial in what it doesn't omit.

[non-random excerpt]:

...Not far from his church we come upon a house full of elderly people who are sitting out on their porch. Their house is in only about three feet of water, but no police or Guardsmen have come by to talk to them yet. Upon seeing Willie, Warren Champ and Jeannette Carter ask what the latest news is.

"Well, these reporters are here to see what y'all think about the storm," he says.

"You tell us, preacher," says Jeannette. "You're always reading the Bible and whatnot, doing all that reading."

"Well, you know this is all about bankruptcy," he says. "That levee? They letting it fail."

"Why would they do that?" Jeannette asks.

"All those years when they were stealing . . . all those failed schools, all those debts on the city rolls . . . it's all going to be washed away now. They're getting a clean slate, a brand-new slate."

Willie goes on to explain that most of these neighborhoods are going to be condemned, and that people will be asked to sell their properties: "They're getting all of y'all out of state, sending you to different parts of the country. And they're hoping you don't hold on to what you've got. They're hoping you take the money and move. And then they'll bring in the developers, and they'll make new neighborhoods, with a new tax base."

I am about to interrupt here, but white guilt slaps a hand over my mouth. What am I going to say -- that white people aren't dastardly enough to blow a levee on purpose? This is the wrong audience for that joke. As for the rest of it, it rings unpleasantly true. Deep in my white heart I can appreciate the brutal logic of shipping 300,000 blacks out of town and hoping they stay away at a barbecue somewhere while you auction off their houses. I am definitely not going to argue with that part of it.

"But what is your advice for poor black people?" asks Carter.

"Hold on to your properties," he says. "Don't let them take what you've got. And you can listen to me. I'm not in it for the money. I'm in it for the blessings of God."...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Galloway's Reply to Greg Palast

/ pissing / contest / champion /
Remember Greg Palast's uncalled for attack on Gorgeous George I mentioned a few days ago? Well, George Galloway responds - and whoever told Palast that he could beat Galloway in a round of invective tossing, has been proven decisevely wrong. Palast shot himself on the foot here and Galloway seems to be making signs he will sue...
You know, I wish people would repeatedly make unfounded slanderous allegations, easily disproved in a court of law, against me too. That way I would never have to work again. Lucky bastard...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Hugo my man, you're gonna get yourself killed

/ market / values /
In a step that is bound to multiply calls for Chavez' assasination among the wacky right in the US:

>"...the Venezuelan leader said his country will soon start to ship heating oil and diesel fuel at below market prices to poor communities and schools in the United States. 'We will begin with a pilot project in Chicago on Oct. 14, in a Mexican-American community,' said Chavez, who was in town for the United Nations sessions. 'We will then expand the program to New York and Boston in November.'...
...Chavez said he can afford to sharply reduce Citgo's prices [citgo is owned by the government of Venezuela] by "cutting out the middle man." His plan is to set aside 10% of the 800,000 barrels of oil produced by the Citgo refineries and ship that oil directly to schools, religious organizations and nonprofits in poor communities for distribution. The same approach, he said, has worked in the Caribbean, where Venezuela is already sharply subsidizing oil deliveries to more than a dozen nations..."

Interestingly for a president of an oil producing country Chavez also warned that:

"Americans must reorder their style of life" because "this planet cannot sustain" our "irrational" consumption, especially when it comes to oil.

An obvious point certainly but rather impressive coming from Chavez, since Venezuelan GDP would certainly benefit from "irrational consumption".

Friday, September 16, 2005

R.I.P. Joseph Rotblat

/ science / conscientious /
Belatadely, yet important: Joseph Rotblat, a Polish nuclear physicist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, died at the age of 96 on September 2.

Rotblat was the last surviving signatory of the Pugwash, Russell-Einstein Manifesto issued in 1955.

Rotblat was involved in the Manhattan Project but walked out on moral principle, when he realised that Germany wouldn't be aquiring a nuclear bomb:

"I realised that my fear about the Germans making the bomb was ungrounded, because I could see the enormous effort which was required by the American(s), with all their resources practically intact, intact by the war - everything that you wanted was put into the effort. Even so, I could see that it's still far away, and that by that time the war in Europe was showing that Hitler is going to be defeated, and I could see that probably the bomb won't be ready; even that Hitler wouldn't have it in any case. Therefore I could see this from the beginning, that my being there, in the light of the reason why I came to work on it, was not really justified. But nevertheless, I could not be sure that the Germans would not find a shortcut maybe and they could still make the bomb. Therefore I kept on working together with the other people, although I was very unhappy about having to work on it. But as soon as I learned, towards the end of 1944, that the Germans have abandoned the project, in fact a long time before, I decided that my presence there was no longer justified, and I resigned and I went back to England..."

A moral giant who is now honoured universaly.

... Which wasn't always the case.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Palast and Galloway

/ questions / answered /

Greg Palast is a great journalist. Let me say this up front. He is a great journalist however, who can now be counted among the media lynch-mob determined to discredit George Galloway at all costs, even going so far as to repeat corruption allegations that have been put rather conclusively to rest. This in advance of the Galloway-Hitchens debate, which, I hear didn't go that well for the eloquent, if rather confused lately, trotskyite turned neo-con...

Palast makes sure to remind everyone of the outrageous comments Galloway made in 1994 - without of course mentioning that he was one of the few British politicians that actually protested against Saddam's regime when it was committing its worst atrocities:

" It was the left, my friend Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway in particular, who attacked Saddam Hussein on the floor of the House of Commons for gassing the Kurds when he was still regarded (by both the then Tory government and the Labour front bench) as an ally of the west. The left has been speaking out about Saddam Hussein and his atrocities long before those now baying for war with Iraq."

The comments Palast refers to were uttered when Galloway met Saddam in 1994, they were indefensible, and Galloway doesn't try to defend them. As his lawyer has said:

"The first time [Galloway met Saddam] was in 1994 when, as he himself freely admits, he put his foot in his mouth by making some remarks which were open to interpretation - and needless to say were interpreted - as some kind of fawning praise for Saddam Hussein's personal courage and strength.

"It wasn't what he meant to say, it was not in his mind to say, because he had no respect or admiration for Saddam Hussein whatsoever."

this is silly but even sillier is Palast's taking Galloway to task for not challenging Saddam there and then on the murder of a journalist and the mass murder of Kurds and Shi'ites

"...did you forget the name of the reporter that Saddam executed? And how is it that you found the courage to challenge a bunch of US Senators but became such a pussy cat when confronted with a man whose killing spree easily exceeds theirs?..."

... well, had Galloway done as Palast suggests, he would be the first and only case of a mediator that challenged and attacked the party he has come over to mediate with. Doesn't work that way does it? Also worth mentioning is that at that particular meeting, unlike the Senate hearing, Galloway was not accused of any wrongdoing, thus he has nothing to respond to.

Palast goes on and digs up two charges of corruption: the first one was dismissed by the British Charity Commission:

The MP George Galloway has been cleared by the Charity Commission of doing anything wrong in running the Mariam Appeal, which he set up to pay for the treatment of an Iraqi girl suffering from leukaemia.

Yet Palast insists:

And why did you tell the US Senate the British Charity Commission "recovered all money in and all money out ... they found no impropriety"? I have read their findings. In fact, the Commission excoriated you for failing to record where your million came from and where it went. And they recovered none of it.

But after the senate hearing the BCC added that:

While we were able to review income and expenditure from the bank statements of the Appeal, which we had to obtain using our legal powers direct from banks, we were not able to verify all aspects of expenditure because of the lack of proper documentation. However, we found no evidence that the funds of the Appeal were misapplied (other than the payment of some unauthorised benefits to trustees which were made in good faith).

So. No evidence that the funds were misapplied. Can Palast not know this? Also, having read myself the findings mentioned I am at a loss to understand how they could be in good faith used to support the allegations of impropriety.

Then there's the issue of the connection with Fawaz Zureikat about which Palast writes:
"the source of nearly half a million dollars of that money, Honorable Sir, came from a trader in the corrupt Oil-for-Food program. The payment was equal to the profits earned by this oil trader who was blessed with discount oil from Saddam. Is that correct?"

Is it? Well if the Oil-for-food program was such an indirect moneymaker for Galloway why did he spend a good part of the 90s denouncing it? As he stated in his Senate hearing, which bears repeating I believe:

...I opposed the Oil-for-Food program with all my heart. Not for the reasons that you are troubled by, but because it was a program which saw the death—I'm talking about the death now; I'm talking about a mass grave—of a million people, most of them children, in Iraq. The Oil-for-Food program gave 30 cents per day per Iraqi for the period of the Oil-for-Food program—30 cents for all food, all medicine, all clothes, all schools, all hospitals, all public services. I believe that the United Nations had no right to starve Iraq's people because it had fallen out with Iraq's dictator.

David Bonior, your former colleague, Senator, whom I admired very much--a former chief whip here on the Hill--described the sanctions policy as "infanticide masquerading as politics." Senator Coleman thinks that's funny, but I think it's the most profound description of that era that I have ever read--infanticide masquerading as politics.

So I opposed this program with all my heart. Not because Saddam was getting kickbacks from it--and I don't know when it's alleged these kickbacks started. Not because some individuals were getting rich doing business with Iraq under it. But because it was a murderous policy of killing huge numbers of Iraqis. That's what troubles me. That's what troubles me.

Now, if you're asking me, "Is Mr. Zureikat in some difficulty?" --like all the other companies that it would appear paid kickbacks to the Iraqi regime--no doubt he is. Although it would appear he's quite small beer compared to the American companies that were involved in the same thing.

It would appear however that Mr. Zureikat is in not that much difficulty after all.

Now these allegations Palast makes, have been repeated ad nauseam. Palast gives the impression that these are some sort of "dirty secret" and that Galloway is avoiding them. This is a comical allegation in light of the fact that Galloway has been, examined, interviewed, questioned on these issues repeatedly (see for example this BBC interview) and treated like a pariah by tBritishish media despite winning libel cases against their slanders. This is a person against which a conspiracy (there's no other way to describe it) of forged documents was directed - a fact that should, I would have expected, be the cause of some skepticism regarding any sort of further corruption allegations.

Now, I do have my reservations regarding Gorgeous George. I feel that the company he kept in the Middle Eastacquaintancesces and friends" such as Tariq Aziz and Assad is unacceptable. The cause of ending the suffering caused by the sanctions is not sufficieexplanationion. He is consistently showboating. His professed religiosity, I find annoying. His grasp of the Middle East is frequently manichean. Yet for all of that he is supremely useful, in a way that no other current political figure on the British left is, because he is the only one with enough guts and wit, not only to denounce the neocolonialism and neoliberalism of the Blairites, but to try to do something about it. That he is the target of so much venom, slander and innuendo from Tory and New Labour outlets, shows that he is perceived as some kind of threat to the British establishment. That, at this point, is exculpation enough for me.

Yet there's an even more objectionable part to Palast's rant. He states that:

"But it is not good enough for the Left to oppose Mr. Bush's re-colonization of Iraq. We needed to have actively supported Iraqis fighting to remove their Mesopotamian Stalin. And now, we'd better come up with something a little less nutty than a recent suggestion by one otherwise thoughtful writer that we, "unconditionally support the insurgency" of berserker killers and fundamentalist madmen. If that's the Left's program for Iraq, count me out."

Well, first of all, Galloway stands out in having being, as mentioned, one of the few active British politicians to oppose Saddam's regime exactly when it was committing its worst atrocities. Secondly, either you accept that a citizen of a country invaded has a right (and a duty) to oppose his country's occupation by any means he considers appropriate, or you don't. You don't get to choose between "nice" insurgents and "bad" insurgents as far as the legitimization of their struggle is concerned. A large part of the Iraqi resistance is ideologically unappealing. Anti-colonial struggles seldom conform to soidealizedsed Hollywood version of enlightened insurgency. A part of it is downright criminal and should be dealt with accordingly by the Iraqis themselves. Thirdly, to imply as Palast does directly, that the resistance is nothing but (or consists mainly of) "berserker killers and fundamentalist madmen", is ridiculous. Plain and simple.
This is a scandalously misinforming bit of propaganda that Palast is propagating and its especially harmful coming from him.

I'm at a loss to explain why Palast (whose integrity I have no reason to question) is joining in the developing (yet spectacularunsuccessfulful so far) attempt to have GG scargilled. I am quite willing to hear what he has to say as soon as he brings something new and truly revealing on the table. I really do hope that Galloway accepts Palast's "request to answer questions", despite the invective, so that the reasons for Palast's tirade might become a bit more obvious.

Update 19/09: Oh dear, Palast persists... Read Lenin's response.

Power to the people?

/ systems / imaginary / democracy /
"Sixty-five percent of citizens across the world do not think their country is governed by the will of the people, a poll commissioned by the BBC suggests.

The Gallup International Voice of the People 2005 poll questioned more than 50,000 people in 68 states for the BBC World Service survey about power.

Only in Scandinavia and South Africa do the majority believe that they are ruled according to their wishes.

But 47% thought elections in their countries were free and fair."

A brief recap of the survey.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Malcom X vs. Condi Rice

/ discussions / race /
The exile compiles a list of quotes, that provide an illuminating interpretation of some of the things Condi Rice has said, regarding the New Orleans disaster and the Bush administration. Malcolm X, I'm sure, would approve of this juxtaposition of perspectives...

Friday, September 9, 2005

Pornographic breakthrough: "Political erotics"

/ criticism / political / russian /
In what is probably the first porno film to threaten international bilateral relations,
...a Russian producer unveiled plans for a 26-minute erotic movie called "Yulia" whose two main characters are based on the 44-year-old [Ukranian prime-minister] Tymoshenko and 37-year-old [Georgian president] Saakashvili". Plans for the flick "sparked indignation from the Ukrainian side.
'This situation... goes beyond the limits of decency,' [deputy chief of the Ukrainian presidential secretariat] Lubkivsky fumed. 'We hope that official Moscow is not behind the project.'

While that is unlikely, even by CIS/Putin standards, yet interestingly the film credits include "...Valov, a prominent Russian pop music producer, who authored the script with Aleksei Mitrofanov, a Russian nationalist politician from the far right-wing Liberal Democratic Party" [talk about too much spare time on one's hands...!]. Valov insists though that he's "not pursuing any political objectives with the production of this film" and it's "just business", for him. No such claim was made by Mitrofanov, who has a broader artistic-political vision, as well as great cinematographic aspirations:

...He told the media that the Yulia film will take foreign relations to new heights —- literally and figuratively. “Political erotics are a new genre that I have discovered,” he said. “The film is about politics. It makes a political statement, they don’t just [have sex].”

“Is the film The Interpreter propaganda or big cinema?” Mitrofanov said. “Is the film JFK propaganda or big cinema? Why is it that in America these films are considered big cinema but films like this in Russia are considered propaganda? This is big cinema and I am a great master.”

Ominously Valov announced that "if the film was successful he was considering a whole series of erotic films featuring political figures".

The possibilities are chilling.

See also: Alexei Pankin, on a more sombre note regarding the activities of the LDPR and Russian journalism.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Hell no! we aint allright

/ enemies / public /
Chuck D: telling it like it is since 1987.

... New Orleans in the morning, afternoon, and night
Hell NO, we Aint Allright

I see here we be the new faces of refugees
who aint even overseas but here on our knees
forget the plasma TV-aint no electricity
new worlds upside down-and out of order
shelter? food? wsssup, wheres the water?
no answers from disaster them masses hurtin
so who the fk we call?--Halliburton?
son of a bush, how you gonna trust that cat?
to fix sht
when help is stuck in Iraq?
makin war plans takin more stands
in Afganistan
2000 soldiers dyin in the sand
but thats over there, right?
now what's over here
is a noise so loud
that some cant hear
but on TV i can see
bunches of people
lookin just like me.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Fidel Castro, Katrina and the logic of inaction

/ devastation /
Fidel Castro, writes about the assistance offered to the victims of Katrina by the Cuban government
...The main reason for our being here is to make the truth known and reiterate our willingness to cooperate. We are not here to criticize, that's not our intention. We were not mentioned in that long list and we were perhaps the first to offer aid; if you have a look at the time when the instructions were given and the message was passed, I think it's fair to say we were quick to make our offer, which was concrete: doctors to work in the affected areas, precisely what they need now in many places.

Our position cannot be perceived as resentment or even complaint. As the deputy chief of the US Interests Section, Mr. Lee was told we were not after any kind of publicity. Perhaps their interpretation was that we wanted no publicity whatsoever. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding; I'm not saying Cuba's name was intentionally omitted. Even if it had been omitted intentionally, it's not something that worries us, we've never done anything for recognition or to be thanked, that's the way we've acted not once, but many, many times...

There is something else here worth mentioning regarding Cuba: although vastly poorer than the US, the Cubans were very effective in evacuating over a million people twice in a row last year as hurricane Charley and then Ivan struck the island. This demostrates, convincingly I think, that avoiding the kind of death toll and devastation witnessed in New Orleans, doesn't cost too much - it isn't about just money and investment (although that should have helped a lot). In fact, organization and preparedness seems to be paramount, something obviously missing as far as Katrina was concerned, despite clear warnings that a disaster was extremely likely. Also, and crucially, it requires giving a damn about the poorest and weakest members of society, an attitude painfully lacking as evidenced by the reaction and events as they unfolded in the Big Easy.

Mike Davis (of City of Quartz fame), just last year was describing the evacuation of New Orleans in preparation for a possible strike by hurricane Ivan:

The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond's version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less -- mainly Black -- were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.

New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city's poorest or most infirm residents. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, New Orleans' daily, the Times-Picayune, ran an alarming story about the "large group...mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods" who wanted to evacuate but couldn't.

Only at the last moment, with winds churning Lake Pontchartrain, did Mayor Ray Nagin reluctantly open the Louisiana Superdome and a few schools to desperate residents. He was reportedly worried that lower-class refugees might damage or graffiti the Superdome.

So obvioulsy this lack of response was not unprecedented.

Further proof that evacuating the large number of the city's poor was never part of any plan or preparation at any level was provided by an article in the July 24th edition of the Times Picayune, on hurricane preparations in New Orleans (as related by PJnet):

City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans' poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own.

In scripted appearances being recorded now, officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas drive home the word that the city does not have the resources to move out of harm's way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation.

In the video, made by the anti-poverty agency Total Community Action, they urge those people to make arrangements now by finding their own ways to leave the city in the event of an evacuation.

"You're responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you," Wilkins said in an interview. "If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you. But we don't have the transportation."

Also as reported in the Mercury News [free reg. required], related, possibly life-saving funding was cut:

...Last year, FEMA spent $250,000 to conduct an eight-day hurricane drill for a mock killer storm hitting New Orleans. Some 250 emergency officials attended. Many of the scenarios now playing out, including a helicopter evacuation of the Superdome, were discussed in that drill for a fictional storm named Pam.

This year, the group was to design a plan to fix such unresolved problems as evacuating sick and injured people from the Superdome and housing tens of thousands of stranded citizens.

Funding for that planning was cut, said Tolbert, the former FEMA disaster response director.

"A lot of good was done, but it just wasn't finished," said Tolbert, who was the disaster chief for the state of North Carolina. "I don't know if it would have saved more lives. It would have made the response faster. You might say it would have saved lives."...

Thus I think we can safely say that the poor of New Orleans (a great, charming and interesting city of great poverty and crime, which I had the good fortune to visit repeatedly) and their safety in the event of a known and expected catastrophe, was very low in the priorities of government at all levels. It truly boggles the mind that a country with the resources and the wealth of the USA, could not - would not - evacuate a city's population and make reasonable preparations and provisions in three days time. Mike Albert over at Znet touches on the ideological nature of the catastrophe. He raises the obvious questions:

...Why not issue an order to bus companies to curtail transport elsewhere in the south and send all those busses, and certainly not too few, to New Orleans and the Mississippi coast to extract those who wished to leave.

Why not send in food, water, medicine, and yes, perhaps even drugs to appease desperate habits, to be distributed from sites all over the afflicted area, as well as dispersed to those who couldn't gain access to distribution points.

Why not issue an order to the military at bases across the south to send in troops to provide relief, including rescuing people, taking people out, distributing needed supplies, and, as a sidebar, helping keep order...

...Why not issue an order to hotels to open their doors in surrounding areas free from the floods and power outages. The busses then wouldn't have to drive people hundreds or even thousands of miles. There would be no need to put people in vast stadiums with no privacy, amenities, or security, producing still more suffering. The hotels would be easy destinations to deliver food, medicine, and other necessities like clothing, diapers, soap, and radios to, the last ...

Which he then proceeds to answer:

...The answer gaining credence by the hour is that the suffering people were, and are, black and poor. That is overwhelmingly true and intensely relevant, particularly to the instant news coverage, to the shoot to kill rhetoric, to the belief that politicos could ride out being callous, and to the endless indignities imposed at the gathering places where acres of hungry, disheveled blacks are harassed by surrounding police forces - not to mention to the prior history of New Orleans. But however central racism has been, it is not the whole story.

The additional factor making things much worse than nature imposed, I think, is that government intervention on behalf of humanity violates the logic and philosophy of business as usual...

Indeed. This catastrophe has shown, above all, the other side, the dark side of unbridled, "turbo" capitalism and the ideoleptic fixation on a social model that assigns worth to humans analogous to their purchasing power. The logic of this dictates the priority of property over life. As Albert notes, and I conclude:

...Accept business as usual as priority one and all that's left is different brands of callousness. And then Bush's media spinners have to sell Bush's callousness. So like rabid sociopaths they try what often works, being tough - "shoot the looters to kill" they bluster. Shoot people who are taking food and water and sharing it with those too old or too young to loot for themselves. Shoot the sick seeking medicine to survive. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Don't distribute what's needed, heaven forbid. Defend empty stores. Defend empty hotels. Who cares about the living, after all, a lot of them will soon be dead and the rest silent.