Monday, December 29, 2008

R.I.P.: Harold Pinter (1930-2008)

While enjoying a quiet and pleasant Christmas Day with my family, I happened to turn on the radio and heard of the passing of the English playwright, screenwriter, poet and actor Harold Pinter. The cancer that he had fought and fought for several years had managed to ultimately claim victory over him.

I first encountered Pinter's work as a theater student. One of my acting classes divided the semester between acting Shakespeare and acting Pinter. Those two English playwrights were worlds apart in every conceivable way but one: Each used a unique language to express himself. Shakespeare toyed with words and invented new ones, while Pinter explored the absence of language adequate enough to express the kind of menace and foreboding his characters often felt encroaching upon them. Each in his way invented a particular theatrical language that held a mirror up to the nature of the age in which he lived, so much so that the term "Pinteresque" has become as commonplace as "Shakespearean" in the literature of dramatic criticism today.

Pinter's drama is not everyone's cup of tea, but I've always been intrigued by what the hell is going on with the characters he has put on stage. In Pinter's plays, it is not immediately clear what had just happened before the stage lights came up, and what those people will do or what will happen to them after the stage lights dim is usually an even greater mystery. Pinter sought to turn every convention of the commercial theater on its head. For many, that is incredibly frustrating. But for those who question and seek the truth about the conventions of the time in which they live--this time, the 20th/early 21st century, an age of increasing tyranny, war and brutality--they recognize the frustration of not ever quite knowing the truth of Pinter's characters as their own frustration over not ever quite knowing the truth of what ultimately drives the many varieties of barbarism, both the subtle and the not so subtle, that appear to be increasingly asserting themselves in modern life.

Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. His videotaped lecture that was shown to the Swedish Academy for the occasion was blisteringly critical of the U.S. government's militaristic, aggressive foreign policy, particularly its invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq. Coming from a playwright whose theatrical style is decidedly opaque, the speech is memorable for its bluntness. Pinter minced no words in declaring that A is A.

He was perhaps a little too naive and starry-eyed in his wistful remembrances of Nicaragua's Sandinista regime, and a little too concerned with "sovereign states" for my taste, my own overriding concern being the sovereignty of individual human beings rather than that of those superficially legalized criminal gangs called "states." Pinter, an ardent state-socialist, appeared to believe that any rights individuals possess are invested in them only as "citizens" by the states that claim the right to initiate force and coercion against them because they happened to have been born in a certain geographical area, a blind spot that, once removed, could have perhaps enlightened Pinter to a great degree. But everything in his denunciations of the U.S. government's morally abominable behavior was true, including his criticism of its support for the Sandinistas' equally brutal adversaries, the "Contras":


The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case "innocent people" were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'...

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US...

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading--as a last resort--all other justifications having failed to justify themselves--as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought...

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, 'I'm Explaining a Few Things':

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.

Treacherous
generals:
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!

Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda's poem I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity--the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons--is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force--yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection--unless you lie--in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called 'Death'.

Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?

Who was the dead body?

Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?

Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?

Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?

Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror--for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us--the dignity of man.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Randomly Associational Interwebbery

I haven't had time lately to do much blogging, what with holiday-related activities and various projects taking up the bulk of my time these days. I do hope, however, to post a little more regularly in the very near future.

In the meantime, here's what's caught my eye of late while sporadically cruising the highways and byways of the Internets:

Left-libertarian blogger (and sole Postmodern Tribune commenter) Mike Gogulski has announced his renunciation of his U.S. citizenship. Gogulski, who currently resides in Slovakia, seems well aware of all the potential costs associated with his secession, but has apparently decided he's willing to accept those costs in exchange for the opportunity to stick a great big middle finger in the faces of what he accurately calls "the most dangerous gang of criminals in the world, the United States government," a government that is "exceptionally evil."

Bush has ordered the latest big government/big business bailout scheme, this time for car manufacturers, with the Feds retaining the prerogative of holding stock in those companies, just as they had done with large commercial banks earlier this year. No surprise there. Fascism has a way of washing over a country once it bursts through the dams, and the dams in this country burst years ago.

Meanwhile, Justin Raimondo says that the Imperial Bubble has burst, even if the Imperial Classes are in severe denial about it. Reality, however, will soon kick them right square in their derrières.

RadGeek reminded everyone that December 17th was the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, the Sex Workers Outreach Project's annual commemorative vigil on behalf of sex workers who have been murdered or assaulted.
[V]iolence against women practiced in the name of enforcing patriarchal sex-class and misogynistic hatred for overtly sexual women — is wrong, absolutely wrong, and it has to stop. Immediately, completely, and forever.
Amen.

Speaking of violence against women, Lew Rockwell recently passed along this infuriating story of how a 12-year-old girl was assaulted by local protection monopoly goons in Galveston, Texas as the girl stepped outside her home one evening to flip a tripped breaker switch back on. Galveston's finest claim that they thought the girl was a prostitute. The young lady was beaten "about the face and throat".

Rockwell also conveyed on his blog what has to be the creepiest economic news of the year: M0 money supply has increased as much in the last 90 days as it has in the previous 83 years. Ye gods. We'll know soon enough what it's like to live in Zimbabwe.

Briggs Armstrong at Mises.org tells of how a due diligence firm formed in the marketplace to assess the reliability of hedge funds discovered various red flags relating to Bernard Madoff's fund, and even uncovered a letter written to the SEC as long ago as 2005 that asserted Madoff's fund was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme. And yet the SEC did not act at that time to investigate the allegations and protect the victims of Madoff's fraud, while the due diligence firm alerted its clients to avoid Madoff's scheme. No doubt the significance of those facts will fly right over the heads of most statists.

And over at the Center for a Stateless Society, Kevin Carson takes Naomi Klein to task for her ongoing statist-left conflation of state-privileged corporatist capitalism with the unknown ideal of free markets. This continues to be particularly grating for those pro-free market left-libertarians who have said they agree that what Klein calls "disaster capitalism" is widely destructive, even if her analysis of its causes is, as Carson points out, theoretically incoherent.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

All the Pots Coming Out of the Woodwork to Call the Kettle Black

Look, I'm certainly no fan of Rod Blagojevich, the self-styled "governor" of the "state" of Illinois, where I currently reside, but all this media hype essentially defining him as the lowest form of scumbaggery in American politics is more than I can take, particularly when it's being dished out by the very same corporate-state media shills who helped lie this country into a totally unnecessary, destructive, wasteful and pointless war.

And to those idiotic commentators mindlessly flapping their jaws about the Chicago political "machine" with all sorts of dark and sinister overtones, as though it's the most hideous form of evil on the planet, let me say this: Yes, Chicago politics is rife with corruption and jobbery (euphemistically referred to as "patronage" by our local rulers), but at least we Chicagoans have absolutely no illusions about it. When someone gets a city contract to tear up and then repave a street because their cousin's brother-in-law's uncle made a hefty campaign contribution to a big shot alderman (as a member of the local city council is called), we all know what the score is. I'm not personally a big fan of that system, but I can at least appreciate everyone's honesty about it around here.

Most of you hypocritcal turds in the corporate mass media, however, can barely bring yourselves to point out the fucking obvious when a former executive of Goldman Sachs is dishing out massive piles of loot--plundered from the hapless working taxpayer--to his former Wall Street colleagues in the name of "rescuing the economy." Instead, you all nod your friggin' heads and regurgitate the official Washington line like it was handed down to you from Moses atop the mountain. At least Blagojevich or Daley or the Chicago city council have no power to manufacture money out of virtually thin air--or drop bombs and fire missiles on innocent foreigners--unlike the Washington global consensus, on whose collective ass you all have your lips permanently locked.

Seriously, it's just about enough to make me wander off the reservation altogether.

It's not as though Blagojevich, Obama, Jesse Jackson, Jr., or anyone else implicated in this circus is worth defending. They're all politicians and therefore cut from the same cloth that adorns all parasites. It's this goddam pretension that positively drives me batshit insane, this pretension that government bureaucrats don't sell the monopoly privileges they hold in their hands to the highest bidder all the fucking time. It's what they do. It is their standard modus operandi, if you will. It's how government typically operates, intrinsic to the very nature of that institution as an artificially legalized monopoly of force and coercion over the population of a given territory. What the fuck else would you expect from such a monstrosity? And even if you're just too dimwitted to recognize the nature of government for what it is, since when has American government ever been so innocent and pure?

Are you all really that friggin' naive??? Or are you all just that mindlessly disingenuous???

The smart money says you're just doing what you're paid to do by your masters: Distract, distract, distract...

"[I]t is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Everybody Loves Barack, or, I Love the Smell of Change in a Winter Evening: Chapter 2

Mmmm...the sweet, fragrant aroma of change:
As Barack Obama's opus, Team of Rivals, continues its rolling debut, the early reviews are in and the "critics" are full of praise for the cast:

"[T]he new administration is off to a good start."
-- Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.

"[S]uperb ... the best of the Washington insiders ... this will be a valedictocracy -- rule by those who graduate first in their high school classes."
-- David Brooks, conservative New York Times columnist

"[V]irtually perfect ... "
-- Senator Joe Lieberman, former Democrat and John McCain's top surrogate in the 2008 campaign.

"[R]eassuring."
-- Karl Rove, "Bush's brain."

"I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain ... this all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators, and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign ... [Hillary] Clinton and [James] Steinberg at State should be powerful voices for 'neo-liberalism' which is not so different in many respects from 'neo-conservativism.'"
-- Max Boot, neoconservative activist, former McCain staffer.

"I see them as being sort of center-right of the Democratic party."
-- James Baker, former Secretary of State and the man who led the theft of the 2000 election.

"[S]urprising continuity on foreign policy between President Bush's second term and the incoming administration ... certainly nothing that represents a drastic change in how Washington does business. The expectation is that Obama is set to continue the course set by Bush ... "
-- Michael Goldfarb of the neoconservative Weekly Standard.

"I certainly applaud many of the appointments ... "
-- Senator John McCain

Barack Obama is a hit, say America's leading neoconliberal militarists!

Monday, December 1, 2008

I Love the Smell of Change in a Winter Evening...

The Great Change continues:

Barack Obama will announce his national security team today to approval from the military establishment and Republicans, distant cries of dissent from liberals and head-scratching from others.

The President-elect is expected to confirm the nomination of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, ask Robert Gates to remain at the Pentagon, and make General Jim Jones his National Security Adviser.

All three are heavyweight figures with whom Mr Obama has policy disagreements of varying intensity, and these choices are intended to emphasise his policy of reaching out to former rivals and opponents...

Yesterday Republicans were showering praise on these selections. Senator Lindsey Graham said that Mr Gates, President Bush’s Defence Secretary, had “led us through difficult times in Iraq” and that Mrs Clinton had a “little harder line” than Mr Obama on foreign policy.

Mmmmm...Smell that change, people! Don't it smell oh-so-good? Mmm-hmmmmm...