Archive for April 6th, 2010
This Glenn Greenwald piece about the helicopter attack in Iraq contains something that always sort of drives me insane about Americans and our concept of ourselves in the world:
The WikiLeaks video is not an indictment of the individual soldiers involved—at least not primarily. Of course those who aren’t accustomed to such sentiments are shocked by the callous and sadistic satisfaction those soldiers seem to take in slaughtering those whom they perceive as The Enemy (even when unarmed and crawling on the ground with mortal wounds), but this is what they’re taught and trained and told to do. If you take even well-intentioned, young soldiers and stick them in the middle of a dangerous war zone for years and train them to think and act this way, this will inevitably be the result. The video is an indictment of the U.S. government and the war policies it pursues.
All of this is usually kept from us. Unlike those in the Muslim world, who are shown these realities quite frequently by their free press, we don’t usually see what is done by us. We stay blissfully insulated from it, so that in those rare instances when we’re graphically exposed to it, we can tell ourselves that it’s all very unusual and rare. That’s how we collectively dismissed the Abu Ghraib photos, and it’s why the Obama administration took such extraordinary steps to suppress all the rest of the torture photos: because further disclosure would have revealed that behavior to be standard and common, not at all unusual or extraordinary.
We’re like the little kid playing hide and seek who stands behind a thin tree and thinks that just because he can’t see us because the tree is blocking his vision, we can’t see him. Remember when the wingnuts were going after Michael Isikoff for an off-hand remark about the desecration of a Koran at Gitmo- because as we know, everyone in the Middle East gets all their information from Newsweek- otherwise they would NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS hear about it! Or the lunatic attacks on Scott Beauchamp, because if the New Republic hadn’t published it, no one in the middle east would ever think that American troops would run over a dog!
They don’t learn about this stuff because of the American press. They learn about it because an American helicopter just lit up their next door neighbor and his girls with a 30mm chain gun because he stopped to pick up a bleeding photographer and help him. They learn it because it was their son or their nephew who was whisked away to Abu Ghraib and sexually humiliated and threatened by dogs.
It’s crazy, really, how myopic we are. But I guess it is easier than facing the truth. What’s on tv tonight, btw?
The subhead of Jennifer Senior’s article in New York:
When did the Senate become such a lonely, cynical place?
The article begins:
When Barack Obama made his final push for a health-care bill last month, he successfully appealed to the better angels of those who serve in the House. But one peek in the Senate across the way, and it was clear the hell-raisers were still putting up a valiant fight. Within 24 hours of the House vote, John McCain told an Arizona radio affiliate that people should expect no cooperation with Democrats for the rest of the year: “They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.” Two days after that, Republicans were shutting down committee hearings, and as soon as they got the fixed health-care bill from the House—which Democrats hoped to pass in pristine form, since that would send it straight to the president’s desk—they tacked on 41 juicy amendments, most of them imaginatively conceived to humiliate the Democrats (like Tom Coburn’s now-famous proposal to deny sex offenders federally funded Viagra).
I visited the Senate on the last day it was considering those 41 amendments. The nearly daylong marathon, unofficially known as Vote-o-Rama, had taken its toll: There were bags under the men’s eyes and the women’s faces weren’t quite the perfect frescoes of makeup they usually are. The senators had been there until 2:45 the night before, and here they all were again, at 9:45. “It’s very partisan, and it’s not fun, and it’s not productive,” conceded Jon Kyl, the minority whip, as he raced to a meeting.
So why bother, if it’s infuriating even to you?
“You hope for a better day,” he said, and hurried on.
For all the fine effort that Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put into passing health-care reform, its success was really a fluke as far as the Senate is concerned. The measure squeaked through on the basis of an exception (a fleeting Democratic supermajority) and a technicality (reconciliation requires only 50 votes). Before that, the Senate of the 111th Congress had been an awesomely inefficient body, threatening the most filibusters and reauthorizing appallingly few bills; almost every Democrat had a story about legislation held hostage. This October, when Jeanne Shaheen, the newly elected senator from New Hampshire, attempted to pass a measure extending unemployment benefits, it spent a month in limbo (holds, objections, etc.) before the Senate passed it by a vote of 98-0, suggesting lawmakers spent a full month dickering over a measure that pretty much everyone agreed to from the start. “The extent to which the Senate rules keep things from happening has been a little surprising,” Shaheen told me when I asked her about it. “That, and the partisanship.”
And this gridlocked mode is just where the Senate found itself when …
2,700 Calls In Three Days
That’s what swamped the sex abuse hotline just set up in Germany for victims of priest-rape. Of course, we cannot know how many are genuine. But this is telling:
A team of psychologists and other experts have spoken with 394 people so far, ranging from several minutes up to an hour, Trier Diocese spokesman Stephan Kronenburg said. "Most callers reported cases of sexual abuse," he told The Associated Press.
And the Vatican blames gays and pro-choicers:
"The pope defends life and the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, in a world in which powerful lobbies would like to impose a completely different" agenda, Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, head of the disciplinary commission for Holy See officials, was quoted as saying.
Unbelievable. And yet so not unbelievable.
Late last month, the Department of Justice filed a brief in federal court in California defending the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military. One of the most controversial aspects of the DOJ’s brief was that it contained quotes supporting the ban from ret. Gen. Colin Powell — but it didn’t note that Powell has since disowned those statements and called for a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. A couple of examples of the language in the brief:
– General Colin Powell similarly testified that, “[t]o win wars, we create cohesive teams of warriors who will bond so tightly that they are prepared to go into battle and give their lives if necessary for the accomplishment of the mission and for the cohesion of the group and for their individual buddies.”
– General Powell testified that homosexual conduct in units “involves matters of privacy and human sexuality that, … if allowed to exist openly in the military, would affect the cohesion and well-being of the force.”
But in February, of course, Powell said that, “In the almost 17 years since the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed.”
In today’s White House press briefing, The Advocate’s Washington correspondent Kerry Eleveld asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the DOJ’s brief. Instead of backing it, Gibbs said that he found it “odd” that officials included Powell’s old remarks, adding that President Obama would probably agree with his assessment:
ELEVELD: Is the President at all concerned that DOJ is a little insular or tone deaf on issues that are sort of politically sticky, especially those of interest to the LGBT community?
GIBBS: I will say this, obviously the President has enunciated his support for ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” rolling back — made a commitment to roll back DOMA in the campaign. Obviously, the Justice Department has — is charged with upholding the law as it exists, not as the President would like to see it. We have obviously taken steps on the front of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and I think we’ve made a genuine amount of progress. I will say, was it odd that they included previous statements from General Colin Powell on a belief set that he no longer had? I don’t think the President would disagree with that.
Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin and Senior Fellow Nathaniel Frank also recently gave depositions in this case, Log Cabin v. United States, and are now claiming that the DOJ misrepresented their arguments about “whether privacy concerns for service members constituted a rational basis for the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993.”
Source: Wikileaks.org , March 26, 2010
In February, the Dutch government effectively collapsed over a dispute about whether the Netherlands should continue to keep its 2,000 troops posted in Afghanistan. Dutch leaders had promised the country’s voters they would bring most of their troops home this year, but American officials — concerned that if the Dutch left it would encourage other countries to pull out as well — pressed the Dutch government to leave its troops in Afghanistan on a scaled-back basis. The entire Dutch Labor party resigned over the dispute.
The CIA memo notes how this governmental collapse reflects the fragility of European support for the mission. It says that as long as people are apathetic and don’t see the war as a pressing issue, it is easier for governments to send more troops.
The memo warns, though, that a "bloody summer in Afghanistan" could create a public backlash in Europe and elsewhere, increasing opposition for the war.
The memo suggests tailoring PR messages for each country to forestall such a backlash. For the French, it suggests using messages that "tap into [the French’s] acute concern for civilians and refugees" by creating the perception that the French mission helps Afghan civilians. For Germany, the memo suggests messages that "illustrate how defeat in Afghanistan could heighten Germany’s exposure to terrorism, opium and refugees."
BRUCE CLARK, who writes about religion for The Economist, has a lifelong interest in the social, political and spiritual history of Greece, the eastern Christian world and the Mediterranean. He has written two books: “An Empire’s New Clothes”, which is a personal view of post-Soviet Russia; and “Twice A Stranger”, a study of the compulsory exchange of religious minorities between Turkey and Greece in 1923. Commended in both countries, it combines diplomatic history with a look at the human consequences for the Muslim and Christian families that were affected.
What was the last book you read that shed new light on the subject of Jesus?
I have just gobbled up a new book by Philip Jenkins called “The Jesus Wars”, which explains the political and theological battles that were swirling around the Church at the time of the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451. That was the moment when, after a long debate about the status of Christ, he was declared to be “truly man and truly God”. As Mr Jenkins points out, the questions posed at that council are still being asked today, albeit in diametrically opposed terms. Devout people in late antiquity hesitated to call Christ anything but divine; the modern world has difficulty calling Jesus anything more than a remarkable human. Mr Jenkins manages to explain very clearly why people in the early Christian era were so passionately concerned with issues of high theology.
Is there a particular account in the Gospels that you revisit more than the others?
Ever since I lived and worked in Greece, I have been stirred by the first of the 12 New Testament readings, which the Greek church prescribes for Holy Thursday (the day preceding Good Friday). This opening reading consists of nearly five full chapters of the Gospel According to St John, interweaving human details of the final days in the life of Jesus with statements that are mystical and enigmatic. It begins with the arresting line that follows the narrative of the Last Supper and the departure of Judas into the night. “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” At the very moment when things seem darkest, we are told that divine glory is blazing forth. This sets the stage for a narrative in which images of abasement and humiliation alternate with the language of victory and fulfillment. Among the most resonant words, for me, is the declaration “It is accomplished”—in Greek, the single word tetelestai. This is Christ’s final utterance, after receiving a mocking offer of a sponge soaked in vinegar. I am told that there are echoes here of the declaration (“job done”), which the high priest of the Jerusalem Temple would have made after carrying out the sacrifices and cleansing rites of the day of atonement.
Which book about the origins of Christianity would you recommend to somebody new to the subject?
There are two ways to discuss the birth of a religion. One is to describe the process in purely theological terms, as a kind of cosmic event which marks the unfolding of a divine purpose. The other is to speak in a more matter-of-fact way about the cultural and political context in which a new faith, and a new religious community, came into existence. This context is reconstructed using all the tools of archaeology, linguistics and textual analysis. One of the problems in modern discussions of religious history is that people who use the first sort of language are very suspicious of the second kind; the reverse is also true.
But there are people who manage to weave their way between the two levels of discourse with no loss of integrity. One such person is Margaret Barker, a Hebrew scholar (and Methodist preacher). Ms Barker has drawn on the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and many other sources, to reconstruct the Jewish antecedents of Christian belief and ritual. The most basic of her dozen books is simply called “Temple Theology”. In this and other works, she argues that conventional wisdom has underestimated the continuity between Christianity and the religion of ancient Israel, especially in the form practised in Solomon’s Temple before its destruction in 586 BCE.
What is the next book on your reading list? …
Via Brad DeLong, a quotation from The Theodore Roosevelt Centennial CD-ROM:
Too much cannot be said against the men of wealth who sacrifice everything to getting wealth. There is not in the world a more ignoble character than the mere money-getting American, insensible to every duty, regardless of every principle, bent only on amassing a fortune, and putting his fortune only to the basest uses —whether these uses be to speculate in stocks and wreck railroads himself, or to allow his son to lead a life of foolish and expensive idleness and gross debauchery, or to purchase some scoundrel of high social position, foreign or native, for his daughter. Such a man is only the more dangerous if he occasionally does some deed like founding a college or endowing a church, which makes those good people who are also foolish forget his real iniquity. These men are equally careless of the working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil. There are not very many of them, but there is a very great number of men who approach more or less closely to the type, and, just in so far as they do so approach, they are curses to the country. (Forum, February 1895.) Mem.Ed. XV, 10; Nat. Ed. XIII, 9.