Thursday, June 25, 2015

How is it possible…

that the promising The Divide was cancelled, while the atrocious Murder in the First was renewed? Murder in the First is so very bad – the writing, the characters, the storylines,…did I mention the writing? I’m actually offended by this show. It’s not that the stories are lazy or mediocre, but that they’re actively, aggressively awful. I truly hate it.

On the other hand, Lifetime’s UnREAL is a summer surprise. Not that Devious Maids isn’t entertaining, but this is in another league.

Quote of the day

“Reverend Pinckney, as a colleague in ministry, was not just opposed to the flag, he was opposed to the denial of Medicaid expansion, where now the majority of the state is opposing Medicaid expansion where six out of 10 black people live. He was opposed to voter suppression, voter ID in South Carolina. He was opposed to those who have celebrated the ending of the Voting Rights Act, or the gutting of Section 4, which means South Carolina is no longer a preclearance state, and the very district that he served in is vulnerable right now. He was opposed to the lack of funding for public education. He wanted to see living wages raised.

So I would say to my colleagues, let’s take down the flag—to the governor—but also, let’s put together an omnibus bill in the name of the nine martyrs. And all of the things Reverend Pinckney was standing for, if we say we love him and his colleagues, let’s put all of those things in a one big omnibus bill and pass that and bring it to the funeral on Friday or Saturday, saying we will expand Medicaid to help not only black people, but poor white Southerners in South Carolina, because it’s not just the flag. Lee Atwater talked about the Southern strategy, where policy was used as a way to divide us. And if we want harmony, we have to talk about racism, not just in terms of symbol, but in the substance of policies. The flag went up to fight policies. If we’re going to bring it down, we’re also going to have to change policies, and particularly policies that create disparate impact on black, brown and poor white people.

…This flag is vulgar. And it took 52 years, after ’62, to get it down. It was raised because of policy. In civil rights, when Shwerner, Chaney and—excuse me, when the girls were burned up and blown up in the Birmingham [church], and President Kennedy was killed, we got the Civil Rights Act, an omnibus bill to deal with civil rights. When Jimmie Lee Jackson and others were killed in Bloody Sunday, we got the Voting Rights Act—Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. When Dr. King was killed, we got the Fair Housing Act, that made it so you could sue people if they didn't allow you in their community. To suggest that nine lives and taking a symbol down is sufficient to honor nine deaths, nine—nine, nine deaths—is to diminish those lives.

What I’m saying to our brothers and sisters, brothers who are on the phone this morning, is look at what Reverend Pinckney stood for and those members at Emanuel fought for. They fought for more gun control. They fought for Medicaid expansion. They fought for public education. They fought to raise the living wage to—the minimum wage to a living wage. By the way, you deny Medicaid expansion, people die. People die. You deny living wages and create poverty and resegregate the public, people die. That’s been proven in a study by the Columbia University. And so, what I’m suggesting, Amy, is we ought to look at all of these issues. We ought to—and we can’t say the flag is just a start and this honors them. It does not fully honor these deaths.

And if we’re going to start and then wait and then politicize and be political—Lee Atwater said, in an infamous radio interview, he said that we stopped talking about race in a very open way, using the N-word, and we started talking about policies like tax cuts, states’ rights, forced busing. He said they sound benign, but they actually have a negative impact on the lives of African Americans, and they promote this idea that Southern whites—the problem of Southern whites is rooted in the advances of black people. That’s what this young man was, in essence, saying. He was, in essence, saying, you know, somebody’s taking over his country.

And so, I’m calling on persons, Democrats and Republicans—we’re calling the NAACP—if you really want to honor the death, these vicious deaths, then, like we’ve had to do with other deaths in this country, let’s have some substantive policy change. Why not name the Voting Rights Restoration Act, since the Supreme Court has gutted it and we haven’t fixed that in two years, why not name it the Emanuel Nine Voting Rights Act Restoration? And why not every Republican and Democrat come out and say, “We are for fixing the Voting Rights Act, because without preclearance, the very seat that Reverend Pinckney held is in jeopardy”?

Those are the kinds of substantive conversations we need to have. And gun control ought to be among those, as well. And we can do this in an omnibus way. We don’t have to wait another year or two years. We just have to have the moral courage to do it, and we have to follow what the Constitution of South Carolina already says. It’s already in the South Carolina Constitution that we should be concerned about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and doing what is best for all of the people.
- William J. Barber II, on Democracy Now!:

Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley - watch free online beginning on Sunday

This Sunday will be the sixth anniversary of the Honduran coup. The makers of Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley will be screening the film online for free for two weeks beginning on that day.

Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley | OFFICIAL TRAILER from Makila, Coop on Vimeo.

(As the resistance continues, Miguel Facussé, shown in the trailer, is gone:
In Honduras, Miguel Facussé, dubbed “the palm plantation owner of death,” and one of Honduras’ wealthiest and most powerful figures, has died at the age of 90. Facussé and private security guards with his company, Dinant, were accused of taking part in violent land grabs and dozens of murders of campesino land activists in Honduras’ Aguán Valley as he sought to expand his palm oil fortune. Diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks showed the United States knew of Facussé’s role in cocaine trafficking but continued funding Honduras’ military and police, who reportedly worked closely with Facussé’s guards. Facussé backed the 2009 coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya…)
[via David Swanson, “Resistance in Honduras is Alive and Jumping”]

Quote of the day

“I expose misogyny in my part of the world to connect the feminist struggle in the Middle East and North Africa to the global one. Misogyny has not been completely wiped out anywhere. Rather, it resides on a spectrum, and our best hope for eradicating it globally is for each of us to expose and to fight against local versions of it, in the understanding that by doing so we advance the global struggle.”
- Mona Eltahawy, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution* (2015)

* WARNING: A drinking game involving Rangita de Silva de Alwis’ use of the words “powerful” and “powerfully” in that interview could pose serious health risks.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Quote of the day

“As neoliberalism submits all spheres of life to economization, the effect is not simply to narrow the functions of state and citizen or to enlarge the sphere of economically defined freedom at the expense of common investment in public life and public goods. Rather, it is to attenuate radically the exercise of freedom in the social and political spheres. This is the central paradox, perhaps even the central ruse, of neoliberal governance: the neoliberal revolution takes place in the name of freedom – free markets, free countries, free men – but tears up freedom’s grounding in sovereignty for states and subjects alike.”
- Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (2015), p. 108

An illustration – the “liberation” of Iraq by the invading and occupying force, as described by Mark Neocleous in Critique of Security (pp. 146-147):
These [corporate-friendly and corrupt] practices are clearly due to the need to get the Iraqi people ready for a new life organised by and for capital, an Iraq which, in Rumsfeld’s words, ‘provides opportunities for its people through a market economy’, following the policy developed by the US Agency for International Development under advice from BearingPoint (formerly KPMG), in their report ‘Stimulating Economic Recovery, Reform and Sustained Growth in Iraq’ (February 2003) specifying a liberalisation of the Iraqi economy. …But this liberalisation of Iraq was to be conducted under a decidedly dictatorial political order. So from May 2003, when Iraq was declared open for business, to June 2004, when the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was dissolved, the new authoritarian liberalism saw the introduction of 100 Orders fundamentally altering Iraqi law in order to implement a capitalist economic model. After first firing more than half a million employees of the 190 state-owned companies (Orders 1 and 2) and passing an Executive Order granting non-Iraqi companies (that is, American companies) immunity from prosecution for any acts undertaken in relation to oil exploration, production or sale, a raft of other Orders was set in place including a trade-liberalisation policy removing all protective barriers (Order 12), a flat-tax policy (Order 37), the opening of the Iraqi banking sector to foreign ownership (Order 4), the rewriting of the patent, trademark and copyright laws to ensure access to foreign producers (Orders 80, 81 and 83) and, most importantly, the selling off of all of Iraq’s state-owned enterprises (Order 39). The only laws left intact were the previous regime’s limitations on labour rights and trade union membership. All these Orders were then upheld with the passage of the constitution in October 2005, Article 25 of which requires that the State guarantee the reform of the Iraqi economy according to ‘modern economic principles’ and ensures the ‘development of the private sector’. A commitment to capitalism is now a constitutional requirement.
Sweet freedom.

The Saudi Cables and the TPP Healthcare Annex

Two new troves of documents published by Wikileaks: the Saudi Cables, of which a portion were released yesterday (evidently the most damning are to appear any moment now...), and the TPP Healthcare Annex (to the “transparency” chapter), which was released last week.

The Saudi Cables:
Today, Friday 19th June at 1pm GMT, WikiLeaks began publishing The Saudi Cables: more than half a million cables and other documents from the Saudi Foreign Ministry that contain secret communications from various Saudi Embassies around the world. The publication includes “Top Secret” reports from other Saudi State institutions, including the Ministry of Interior and the Kingdom’s General Intelligence Services. The massive cache of data also contains a large number of email communications between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and foreign entities. The Saudi Cables are being published in tranches of tens of thousands of documents at a time over the coming weeks. Today WikiLeaks is releasing around 70,000 documents from the trove as the first tranche.

The Saudi Cables provide key insights into the Kingdom’s operations and how it has managed its alliances and consolidated its position as a regional Middle East superpower, including through bribing and co-opting key individuals and institutions. The cables also illustrate the highly centralised bureaucratic structure of the Kingdom, where even the most minute issues are addressed by the most senior officials.

As’ad AbuKhalil has a post today about the Saudi regime’s comical – well, they would be comical were the regime not in the habit of imprisoning, torturing, and beheading noncompliant “citizens” – warnings:
This is hilarious. The Saudi foreign ministry issued this directive to its citizens: It reads: ‘Dear Aware Citizen: Avoid entering any site for the purpose of obtaining leaked documents or information that may be untrue, for harming the security of the homeland’. Kid you not. The second one reads: ‘Dear Aware Citizen: Don’t publish any documents that may be untrue which could aid the enemies of the homeland in attaining their goals’. Kid you not.
The TPP Healthcare Annex:
Today, Wednesday 10 June 2015, WikiLeaks publishes the Healthcare Annex to the secret draft “Transparency” Chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), along with each country's negotiating position. The Healthcare Annex seeks to regulate state schemes for medicines and medical devices. It forces healthcare authorities to give big pharmaceutical companies more information about national decisions on public access to medicine, and grants corporations greater powers to challenge decisions they perceive as harmful to their interests.

Expert policy analysis, published by WikiLeaks today, shows that the Annex appears to be designed to cripple New Zealand's strong public healthcare programme and to inhibit the adoption of similar programmes in developing countries. The Annex will also tie the hands of the US Congress in its ability to pursue reforms of the Medicare programme.

The draft is restricted from release for four years after the passage of the TPP into law.

Few people, even within the negotiating countries' governments, have access to the full text of the draft agreement and the public, who it will affect most, have none at all. Hundreds of large corporations, however, have been given access to portions of the text, generating a powerful lobby to effect changes on behalf of these groups.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Quote of the day

“My opinion is that it's a medieval sentence. It's a medieval method that does not have its place in a society that allows a free media and allows people to express their point of view.”
- Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, reiterating her view of the punishment of blogger Raif Badawi by the Saudi government

(Get spinning, Qorvis!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Historical quote of the day

“You’re going to be puking up everything in your guts, you shitty intellectual.”
- policeman’s comment to Benaissa Souami, 27-year-old Algerian political science student, prior to his torture in Paris by the DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire), led by Roger Wybot, in 1958; from his testimony reported in Gangrene, compiled by Béchir Boumaaza, published in 1959 by Éditions de Minuit and immediately seized by the French government, which also destroyed the printing plates

Quote of the day

“What’s clear is that Isis and its monstrosities won’t be defeated by the same powers that brought it to Iraq and Syria in the first place, or whose open and covert war-making has fostered it in the years since. Endless western military interventions in the Middle East have brought only destruction and division. It’s the people of the region who can cure this disease – not those who incubated the virus.”
- Seumas Milne

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Indecent: my position on (the response to) Charlie Hebdo

“Tignous and his from now on inseparable comrades. Journalists, cartoonists, economist, psychoanalyst, proofreader, guards—they were the sentinels, the watchmen, the lookouts even, who kept watch over democracy to make sure it didn’t fall asleep. Constantly, relentlessly denouncing intolerance, discrimination, simplification. Uncompromising. Armed only with their intelligence, with their sharp eyes, with this art of making it possible to see. Armed with only their pencils. Inseparable. United in irreverence, in a gentle cruelty. They brought about the awakening of three generations. The awakening of the consciences of three generations. They taught us, sometimes without our knowing it, about the virtues of freedom of thought and speech. They nurtured our capacity for indignation. And they led us sometimes into the dizzy pleasure of forbidden laughter.

…And at the end of these horrible crimes, we can see that something was in the process of going lax in us. And this alarm reminds of our ambitions—which have been too long silent, too easily abandoned—for social justice, equality, education, and attention to others. We must find again that humanity and that uncompromising outlook that characterized Tignous.”
I’ve been asked to clarify my argument with regard to Charlie Hebdo and the various claims that have been made about the magazine since many of its staff were murdered by an Islamist death squad in January. I have never claimed, as this comment insinuates, that my views about various individual cartoons, whatever they may be, are the only decent ones. My argument all along has concerned the ethics of learning and speaking about the magazine.

See, for example,

“A bad epistemic approach is anti-humanist, unwise, and unkind”

“Guest post: The problem with ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’”

What I’ve consistently found indecent is the approach so many have taken, one in which they were immediately prepared to believe the worst claims about Charlie Hebdo and to coldly repeat them. One in which people who knew nothing or virtually nothing (or less than nothing, having seen altered images and read false reports) about the publication set themselves up as implacable judges. One in which upon learning that the claims of intentional racism were false, people immediately shifted to accusations of negligent, callous, or irresponsible racism, propped up by clichés about intent not being magic, punching down, and splash damage.

I expected better. I expected that people would show a modicum of intellectual humility and responsibility, especially when they began to see indications that their early suspicions didn’t hold up on further inspection. First, because our community is supposed to be about humility, questioning, curiosity, evidence, and care in our claims-making. Second, because having been murdered the people they were discussing were no longer here to defend themselves. Third, because tossing out irresponsible claims about the willful or negligent racism of people who were just massacred for drawing cartoons and whose families and colleagues are grieving is disrespectful and cruel - not to mention hypocritical - and so the only decent way to proceed is to take great care in our public statements so as not to perpetuate falsehoods. (I think this is what we’d want for ourselves in similar circumstances.) Fourth, because isolating the victims and targets of Islamist hit men on the basis of an ignorantly-applied purity test endangers us all.

Certainly, the fact that Charlie Hebdo is and is well known in France to be a leftwing, anti-racist publication whose primary target is the racist, xenophobic Right, was information easily available to anyone who cared to look, and is relevant not only to understanding their intent but to understanding the likely reception of the images in context. If nothing else, I would have expected that fact to give people pause before they continued to comment on the subject. No one was being compelled to declare themselves Charlie. It makes sense for people who don’t feel they have enough information to step back before taking a position. But in that case the decent approach is to remain silent while you seek out more information, including the statements of the survivors and of the victims before their deaths, and listen to those who perhaps know more. It’s also to conscientiously retract previous public statements or insinuations that have turned out to be unsupported.

At the time the people of Charlie Hebdo were being isolated on the Left on the basis of some image-mined cartoons of which the self-appointed critics had little understanding, their funerals were ongoing. The person rendering the moving tribute at the funeral of Tignous quoted at the top of this post was Christiane Taubira, the French Justice Minister who now seems to be known on the English-speaking internet as “the black woman they drew as a monkey.”

I think we can all agree that her understanding of the image, its intent, context, and effects is probably greater than ours. But many of Charlie’s critics were either ignorant of or unconcerned with her views. Those who thought the publication of the images of Mohammed was racist or purely provocative in intent or consequence didn’t care to hear from those of us who knew better. Those who had claimed the magazine targeted Muslims weren’t generally provoked to correct themselves when this appeared. In fact, in general the self-appointed prosecutors went silent – not, as I’d hoped, in order to learn more so as to correct misconceptions, but evidently more for a lack of continuing interest.

Then came the controversy surrounding the PEN award. Shortly before the awards gala, several writers who were members of PEN wrote an open letter explaining their objection to the magazine’s receiving the award and announcing their intent to boycott the awards gala. They had clearly done little research since January to determine whether or not their beliefs about CH were correct. They refused to support their claims or to engage with those pointing out their ignorance. They evidently weren’t interested in the strong words of Dominique Sopo, head of the French anti-racist organization SOS Racisme, who attempted to set the record straight:

We’ve reached an incredibly high level of stupidity and intellectual dishonesty.

This must stop. Charlie Hebdo is the greatest antiracist weekly magazine in this country. Every week in Charlie Hebdo, every week, half [of the magazine’s articles] is against racism, against antisemitism, against hatred towards Muslims… I mean, [some people didn’t like a caricature and said “Well, okay but…”] There is no “but”. Charlie Hebdo fought against all kinds of racisms. Cabu drew cartoons for us, he even made a book for us. Charb drew cartoons for us, they [the cartoonists] gave us drawings on a regular basis, every time we asked; we used those drawings as we wished. Wolinski did the same. [Take a look at the past and ask] every antiracist organisation, they’ll tell you [that] they [Charlie Hebdo] really were antiracist and obviously everyone knows it. And so, people who argue that “Ah, Charlie Hebdo, so full of hate…” Did you know that Charlie Hebdo petitioned to ask for Claude Guéant [then minister of the Interior] to resign right after his anti-Muslim words? For an islamophobic weekly magazine, honestly, that’s quite unusual. So actually, this must stop, okay? And these people who try to make you believe that Charlie Hebdo was a racist magazine, honestly, this is scandalous, they insult the memories and the fights of the ones we lost, most of whom we knew on a personal level, needless to say, and you have to stop insulting the living and the dead. Because when you insult, and when you spread an ideology full of hate, when you lash out at journalists like a pack, this is what happens. So this must stop, everyone is called to its personal responsibility.
The morning of the awards gala in New York there was a panel discussion on “Charlie Hebdo and Challenges to Free Expression.” I went, reported back, and posted the video of the event.* I was hoping that at least one or two of the more than 200 writers who had sanctimoniously denounced the magazine would accept the invitation to come and discuss the matter with Charlie Hebdo’s editor and film critic. But none did. Not a single one. I don’t think anything could have been a bigger insult to the dead and to the survivors at CH than this refusal even to talk with them. That was indecent.

They went ahead with the boycott. Dominique Sopo was among the speakers at the presentation of the award:
I think that for us tonight, in honoring Charlie Hebdo, we honor the magazine, we honor the talent and the courage of the people who work for it, and above all we honor their antiracist commitment which has been consistent throughout their existence. Charlie Hebdo in France is something that has stood for the antiracist voice in many kinds of combat, whether it be combat due to religious dogma, a rising up against anti-Semitism, against violence, against Jews, against the Roma people, against Arabs. Charlie Hebdo is always in the forefront of all of these battles. I speak both on behalf of my own organization, SOS Racisme, but also for all of the other organizations—we know this.
Fortunately, Biard and Thoret, accepting the award, received a standing ovation. And then, from the boycotters, silence. There was a bit of self-righteous muttering about how the protest had been necessary, but now it was over and can’t we all just move on? I was thrilled last week to see that one of those who’d signed the letter, Jennifer Cody Epstein, asked for her name to be removed, apologizing and acknowledging that she had failed to adequately inform herself before taking a public position. This was admirable, but so far she’s the only one. That’s indecent.

There are new books by Caroline Fourest, Charb (posthumously), and Luz. I’ve yet to read these last two, although I’ve read excerpts from Charb’s, but I have read Fourest’s, which was published earlier this week. It gives a good deal of background which would be useful to those trying to sort out their understanding of Charlie Hebdo. But again, I haven’t seen people who were so keen to interrogate CH going out of their way to engage with them.

And guess what? Both Fourest and Charb, as well as others I agree with in general, say several things with which I disagree. There are probably also many individual CH cartoons I’d find cringeworthy or offensive or “problematic” (not the ones I’ve seen shared around, but surely some). And I’ve never seen any representative of CH dismiss that reaction or treat it as invalid. In fact, even in the face of the most vicious attacks and unfair criticisms, they’ve been entirely decent.

As I said at the beginning of this post, my concern here isn’t about any specific content. My idea of what’s decent, as I’ve said all along, doesn’t necessarily concern any particular opinion, but the way in which opinions are reached, expressed, and revised. I think it’s decent, when people have just been massacred, to avoid rushing to judgment about them. To appreciate the limits of our knowledge, recognizing when we might not have the requisite information or skills to form a proper opinion. To hold off on making public suggestions about their motives, actions, or impact until we’ve learned more. To treat the question holistically instead of plucking a handful of superficially questionable images out of context. To approach the matter, not with a prosecutorial zeal, but with a high level of care that we not erroneously smear people (we could still in the end conclude that they’re intentional or negligent racists, but this is different from beginning with this presumption and then expecting to have to be convinced out of it).

To correct previous statements if they prove to have been exaggerated or mistaken, and to correct other people when they make those errors. To apologize if we’ve said something ignorant and potentially damaging. To seek out more information, especially from the people about whom we’re forming our views, and to take that information fully into account. To appreciate that our intentions are (ha – not magic!) irrelevant, no matter how good or well-meaning, if their application is based on misinformation and stubborn ignorance. To recognize that it doesn’t show a weaker commitment to social justice or give comfort to racists to admit that our initial judgments were mistaken in any particular instance.

To proceed otherwise is, yes, offensive and indecent.

* Incidentally, Voltaire’s play Fanaticism was mentioned there. I’ve now read it and have been writing about it: part 1, part 2.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Quote of the day

“It is wrong to ask Greece to commit itself to an old programme that has demonstrably failed, been rejected by Greek voters, and which large numbers of economists (including ourselves) believe was misguided from the start.”
- “In the final hour, a plea for economic sanity and humanity,” an open letter from Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty, and other economists calling for the EU to work with Syriza on anti-austerity reforms

True Finn, False Finn

Charlie Hebdo takes on the Finns Party.

(I wonder how long until the image is cropped out of context and claimed as further evidence of CH’s racism and xenophobia…)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Quote of the day

“If realized in Honduras, charter cities will be founded on mass land theft, violation of human rights, and repression and criminalization of popular movements fighting to defend their communities.”
- Heather Gies

The Honduras Solidarity Network, Food First, and other US organizations and activists in solidarity with the people of Honduras will be protesting the neoliberal event “FREE TO CHOOSE CITIES: New Opportunities for Enterprise & Governance in Honduras and Beyond” in San Francisco tomorrow (Monday, June 8, 2015).

The organizers of the charter cities event are familiar names from the US and Latin American rightwing network. Kind of an inauspicious moment for such a meeting. The Honduran “president” has decided to send a representative rather than appear in person.

You can read the interesting analysis of OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña, the federation of Honduran indigenous peoples’ organizations) in Spanish here.
...Ciertamente en Honduras se vive un caos inducido, que ha colocado a la democracia al borde del abismo. Recientemente la Organización Mundial de la Salud señaló un promedio de 102 asesinatos por cada cien mil habitantes, cifra que lo califica como el mas violento del planeta. La impunidad alcanza al 95% de los homicidios, y el debacle causado por el saqueo de instituciones estatales ha destruido el sistema de salud nacional.

No obstante la solución que pretende un grupúsculo de políticos y empresarios de rematar zonas del país al capital extranjero, donde se les permitirá una tabula rasa jurídica, es un simple negocio de la elite de poder, que dará lugar a islas de afluencia circundadas por un mar de pobreza y violencia. El fracaso de Honduras esta relacionado directamente con la condición de piratas de aquellos que han ejercido el poder y se han asociado con el narcotráfico en las ultimas décadas, permitiendo el colapso del sistema jurídico y la putrefacción de las fuerzas de seguridad.

Mientras en San Francisco se planifican las nuevas formas de gobernanza para Honduras, en la isla de Zacate Grande, golfo de Fonseca, se ha declarado un toque de queda; casualmente en un paraje vecino a donde pretenden los libertarios colocar en un inicio sus plataformas flotantes....

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Quote of the day

“A ceux qui n’aiment pas les blasphèmes, redisons que personne ne les oblige à les aimer. Ni à acheter Charlie Hebdo, ni à dessiner Mahomet, ni à aller voir des expositions ou des pièces de theater moquant Jésus. Mais qu’ils n’interdisent pas aux autres de penser librement et rejoignent clairement le camp de la liberté de conscience.

Qu’ils passent du « oui mais » au « mais oui ».

Que chacun en soit bien conscient. Le « oui mais » conduit à une société où le sacré redevient tabou, où les croyants sont privilégiés par rapport aux non-croyants, où les religions majoritaires passent avant les religions minoritaires, où l’intimidation et la violence ont gagné.

Le « mais oui » dessine un monde où l’on continue à se parler malgré nos disputes, où les croyants et les non-croyants sont à égalité, où toutes les religions s’expriment sans privilèges, où l’on peut rire de ce qui nous fait peur et donc tenir tête, ensemble, aux plus violents.

Il n’existe pas d’autre choix. Ce sera le courage ou la lâcheté. Ceux qui pense que la lâcheté permet d’éviter la guerre se trompent. La guerre a déjà commencé. Seul le courage peut ramener la paix.”
- Caroline Fourest, Eloge du blasphème: essai

North Carolina legislators committed to ending freedom and democracy in their state

It seems like every day comes news from the North Carolina legislature, none of it good.

They’ve overridden the governor’s veto of a sweeping ag-gag bill:
Despite opposition from a wide range of groups, including AARP, veterans, journalists, and animal welfare advocates, North Carolina lawmakers have overriden the governor’s veto of their ag-gag bill.

The bill, which becomes law one week after the veto override, lets businesses sue employees who expose what happens on the job, even if it what they are exposing is illegal.
(More at Salon.)

They’ve passed a law mandating a 72-hour waiting period before an abortion.

They seem poised to override the governor’s veto of a bill allowing public officials to refuse to marry people if they have religious objections to the marriage:

All while the state pushes ahead with their voter suppression law.

Scott Walker and Ted Cruz are at the state Republican convention this weekend in Raleigh to cheer them on.

Quote of the day

“No somos 5

No somos 100

Prensa Vendida

Cuéntanos bien!”
(It rhymes in Spanish. :))

Surprisingly, there’s an AP story about the march, and this from AFP:

Friday, June 5, 2015

Quote of the day

“Why? So that in the future, Bangladesh will be a place where she and others can condemn Islam and any other ideology they don’t like in its/their entirety…without fear of being murdered for it.”
- commenter “eric” on “An Appalling Reaction to Taslima’s Escape from Threats”

Quote of the day

“Just how heinous should Honduras have to be before the U.S. stops supporting it?”
- Dana Frank

(I’m sure she knows this is rhetorical.)

Voltaire’s Fanaticism, part 2: Fanaticism, or Bush the President

At the end of my previous post, I summarized Voltaire’s entry for “Fanaticism” in his Philosophical Dictionary:
In sum, then, rather than attributing it to any particular religion, Voltaire saw fanaticism as a global scourge with devastating consequences. He tried to find the psychological and social conditions in which fanaticism and fanatical movements took root and spread. He viewed fanaticism as a sort of contagious illness, progressive and almost always incurable – once “the human mind has…quitted the luminous track pointed out by nature,” it was nearly impossible to return to it. He sought to capture the dual nature of the leaders of fanatical movements, both self-serving manipulators and themselves suffering from the same sickness. Finally, he considered possible checks to the growth of fanaticism, arguing that neither law nor religion were effective and placing his hopes in a reason grounded in nature, the tranquil “spirit of philosophy,” while acknowledging that even this didn’t always protect us.
This is the context and spirit in which the play Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet, should be read and understood. It’s essential that we keep readily in mind that Voltaire worked to comprehend and present fanaticism as a generic psychological and social phenomenon, as a universal danger rather than a characteristic tendency of any particular religion or culture.

To read the play in the belief that it applies specifically or exclusively to Muslims is contrary to Voltaire’s clear intent (as described in my previous post), and smacks of intellectual dishonesty and bad faith. True, a reader could always think “I know how Voltaire saw it, but I believe some sorts of people – like Muslims – are especially susceptible to fanaticism and that I myself or my culture have largely advanced beyond that danger.” But such a belief is plainly unsustainable in the face of the historical and sociological evidence. Furthermore, clinging to it despite all indications to the contrary tends toward precisely the sort of fanatical bigotry Voltaire warned against, as when he offered as an example of Christian fanaticism a certain “Biscayan bishop” who “even accused” the lord of a parish in his diocese “of having said, in the way of pleasantry, that there were good people in Morocco as well as in Biscay, and that an honest inhabitant of Morocco might absolutely not be a mortal enemy of the Supreme Being, who is the father of all mankind.”

Even more important is that reading the play as describing a specific religion or culture serves to block virtually any insights we might otherwise gain from it about ourselves, our societies (including historical and contemporary Muslim societies), and the sources and appeal of fanaticism in the past and present. Which is why, while I highly recommend reading both the play and the dictionary entry, I don’t think the play should be performed as it’s written, at least outside of predominantly Muslim contexts. Updating the work so that it can be set in the modern era would be complicated, but this would undoubtedly be the best way to draw out its insights.

While Voltaire included in the category of fanatics many Crusaders, Inquisitors, and Conquistadors, he lived only at the very birth of modern political movements. He certainly recognized the overlap between fanatical religious and political movements, but his frame of reference was primarily religious. The modern gods of History, Race, State, Civilization, and so on were still being crafted. But a critical and educational production of his work now would take this political landscape into account. Not Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet, but Fanaticism, or Lenin the Bolshevik; Fanaticism, or Hitler the Racist; Fanaticism, or North the Cold Warrior; Fanaticism, or Pinochet the Dictator; Fanaticism, or Pol Pot the Revolutionary; Fanaticism, or Putin the Strongman; Fanaticism, or Franco the Caudillo; Fanaticism, or Friedman the Neoliberal;...

As several of these examples make clear, even today no sharp line can be drawn between “religious” and “political” movements or fanaticisms. And I don’t mean by offering these suggestions to imply that a contemporary religious movement – maybe especially an Islamist movement - wouldn’t make a valid subject for an updated version of the play. But, again, if the point is to lead people to think about fanaticism and its persistent sources and dangers, that choice of subject would likely be intellectually counterproductive in addition to fomenting bigotry.

Voltaire didn’t have much choice when it came to the subject of his play about religious-political fanaticism. If the play was going to be performed, it had to situate fanaticism in another culture, preferably one to which the more fanatical of his own society were hostile. While the more enlightened in the audience would likely recognize the broader target, this inevitably carried the risk of leaving his society’s fanaticisms unquestioned by those most caught up in them (though the danger was cleverly addressed and minimized by the anonymous dictionary entry).

Today we have much more choice, the consequences for Muslims of using the play’s original subject and setting are more serious, and the need to expose the fanaticisms of our own culture is more pressing than ever. When a person whose views many (for some reason) take seriously can write something as ill-informed and idiotic as
It is time for us to admit that not all cultures are at the same stage of moral development. This is a radically impolitic thing to say, of course, but it seems as objectively true as saying that not all societies have equal material resources. We might even conceive of our moral differences in just these terms: not all societies have the same degree of moral wealth…. To say of another culture that it lags a hundred and fifty years behind our own in social development is a terrible criticism indeed, given how far we’ve come in that time. Now imagine the benighted Americans of 1863 coming to possess chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. This is more or less the situation we confront in much of the developing world.
and claim the US is a “well-intentioned giant,” we should all recognize of the urgent necessity of shining a light on our own society’s murderous fanaticisms. Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet understood generically and applied to movements within our culture can enlighten; Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet seen through the lens of prejudice, arrogance, and, well, fanaticism can only do harm. It’s time for Fanaticism, or Bush the President.


The percentage of individual atheist blogs at Patheos written by women, by my rough count.*

Just an observation.

* There are 37 total, of which two are the work of “various contributors.” Of the remaining 35, it appears that 29 are written by men and six by women.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Historical quotes of the day

“It’s a Washington…where decades of trade deals like NAFTA and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none of our environment or our workers who’ve seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear, workers whose right to organize and unionize has been under assault for the last eight years.

You know, in the years after her husband signed NAFTA, Senator Clinton would go around talking about how great it was and how many benefits it would bring. Now that she’s running for President, she says we need a time-out on trade. No one knows when this time-out will end. Maybe after the election…. ”
– Obama on the campaign trail speaking in Janesville, Wisconsin, February 2008 [Source]*
“[Obama advisor Austan Goolsbee] was frank in saying that the primary campaign has been necessarily domestically focused, particularly in the Midwest, and that much of the rhetoric that may be perceived to be protectionist is more reflective of political maneuvering than policy.

…Noting anxiety among many US domestic audiences about the US economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. …[H]e cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.”
– Joseph De Mora, Canadian political and economic affairs consular officer, “REPORT ON US ELECTIONS – CHCGO MEETING WITH OBAMA ADVISOR AUSTAN GOOLSBEE” [Source]
“I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada to try to amend NAFTA because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now. And it should reflect the basic principle that our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it should also be good for Main Street.”
“We should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced.”
- Obama on his supposed plan as president to prioritize renegotiating NAFTA [Source] [Source]
“At a time when the economy has been shrinking drastically and trade has been shrinking around the world...we probably want to make the economy more stabilized in the coming months before we have a long discussion around further trade negotiations.”
- Obama explaining to reporters why he won’t be moving to renegotiate NAFTA, August, 2009 [Source]
“[M]ake no mistake, this administration is committed to pursuing expanded trade and new trade agreements. It is absolutely essential to our economic future.”
- “REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON FINANCIAL RESCUE AND REFORM,” Obama speaking to representatives of the “financial industry,” Federal Hall, New York City, September 14, 2009 [Source]

Obama’s learned an important lesson: dispensing with even the pretense of democracy and cutting the public out of the process – except as passive recipients of placating paternalism – is much more efficient.

* (Some of these remarks are discussed in Jamie Peck, Constructions of Neoliberal Reason (2010). The first quotation is presented in historical context in a recent post by John Nichols at The Nation - “Why So Many Democrats Rejected Obama’s Lobbying on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal.”)

The Kochs’ Libre Initiative

Not to be confused with the Honduran LIBRE Party
The LIBRE Initiative is the Latino outreach program of the Koch brothers’ political network. With millions of dollars from the Kochs and their allies since its founding in 2011, LIBRE has established a presence in 10 states and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on deceptive political ads. Its ultimate goal, shared with the broader network of Koch organizations, is to build political power by electing anti-government conservatives to office at all levels. LIBRE’s job is to help right-wingers into office by a) convincing more Latinos to support anti-government candidates, and/or b) discouraging other Latinos from bothering to vote by running attack ads on progressive candidates.

LIBRE is also part of another right-wing tactic – convincing religious voters that opposition to progressive taxes, unions, and government regulation are actually biblical positions….
Like a Latino partner to the State Policy Network and ALEC, and a node in the Latin American rightwing network.


Hondurans protest on Twitter, and spread word of tomorrow’s demonstration:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Quote of the day

[I know this is a second one: I haven’t posted in a few days and have a bit of a backlog.]
“The more fundamental question is what it means for society, for politics or for personal life stories, to operate according to certain forms of psychological and neurological explanation. A troubling possibility is that it is precisely the behaviourist and medical view of the mind – as some sort of internal bodily organ or instrument which suffers silently – that locks us into the forms of passivity associated with depression and anxiety in the first place.

The question of how we explain and respond to human unhappiness is ultimately an ethical and political one, of where we choose to focus our critique and, to be blunt about it, where we intend to level the blame.

Treating the mind (or brain) as some form of decontextualized, independent entity that breaks down of its own accord, requiring monitoring and fixing by experts, is a symptom of the very culture that produces a great deal of unhappiness today. Disempowerment is an integral part of how depression, stress, and anxiety arise. And despite the best efforts of positive psychologists, disempowerment occurs as an effect of social, political and economic institutions and strategies, not of neural or behavioral errors.”
- Will Davies, The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being (2015)

(I was expecting something different from this book, and was, in general, pleasantly surprised. I do have some problems with some of Davies’ arguments, particularly as they’re distorted by speciesism. He notes, for example, that Jeremy Bentham, with his emphasis on pleasure and suffering, found sympathies with other animals – who also experience pleasure and suffering – and included them within the sphere of ethics, which Davies seems to regard as (vaguely) positive. But then he goes on to assume that an ethics and public policy that encompasses both humans and other animals necessarily has to be based on a simplified and attenuated vision of humans. Psychological traditions that reduce human experience and needs to pleasure seeking and pain avoidance, to simple calculations of utility, to a one-dimensional material idea of “happiness” are guilty, he argues, of treating humans like animals; a valid psychology would appreciate what’s distinctively human about us – in other words, how we differ fundamentally from all other animal species, including the white rats, dogs, and monkeys on whom psychologists in these traditions have so often experimented.

But this argument has it backwards. Rightly rejecting a ridiculously attenuated view of human psychological experience, it leaves unquestioned a ridiculously attenuated view of the psychological experience of other animal species. A valid psychological-ethical-political approach, in fact, would remain inclusive of other animals. Rather than understanding humans in terms of a degraded view of other animals as mere responders to stimuli, though, it would understand that other animals have emotions, desires, needs, social relationships, and so on. This isn’t a radical view: it was recognized by Darwin and has been extensively documented over the past decades. There’s simply no way human psychology and politics can be approached validly without appreciating it.)

(I’m also at a loss as to why he would ignore virtually the entire tradition of political-humanist-liberation psychology – Fromm, Horney, Fanon, Martin-Baró,…)

Quote of the day

“As a writer whose work is largely predicated on diligent and careful research, I am reluctant to admit that in this case, I didn’t do enough of it before sending my name out into the Cloud. Unfortunately, though, that is the conclusion to which I’ve been forced to come, and I thought it best to acknowledge it publically and head-on rather than disingenuously pretending otherwise.”
- Jennifer Cody Epstein, removing her name from the PEN petition

Well done. May there be more to come.

I read Epstein’s letter at Ophelia’s blog moments after beginning Caroline Fourest’s new book on blasphemy (released today!). The beginning is about her experience of going to the Charlie Hebdo office in the immediate wake of the attack and learning of her murdered colleagues, and then finding hope in the solidarity of so many in France and elsewhere in the days that followed. Reading that section reignited my anger toward the PEN protesters, but Epstein’s letter has been a salve.