Sunday Reading, sans rhyme, sans reason

by zunguzungu

Via Prison Photography, Daniel Heyman’s paintings Portraits of Iraqis are remarkable:

I am an artist who by a stroke of good fortune met a brave American lawyer who represents several hundred Iraqi detainees in the US federal courts. The cases are complicated and I’m not a lawyer. But I’ve learned this much: the Iraqis I interviewed, released by the American military after many months or years of detention, were never formally accused of a crime, brought to a trial or given legal representation. When they left Abu Ghraib, many were given a $20 bill and dropped off in the middle of the night in a random Baghdad neighborhood —this was called “the happy bus.” One told me, “I had a beard. They said they were after men with beards who looked like Bin Laden.”

This morning in the Washington Post, a breakdown of “Why Obama hasn’t fulfilled his promise to close [Guantanamo Bay]”

The one theme that repeatedly emerged in interviews was a belief that the White House never pressed hard enough on what was supposed to be a signature goal. Although the closure of Guantanamo Bay was announced in an executive order, which Obama signed on Jan. 22, 2009, the fanfare never translated into the kind of political push necessary to sustain the policy.

“Vulnerable senators weren’t going out on a limb and risk being Willie Hortonized on Gitmo when the White House, with the most to lose, wasn’t even twisting arms,” said a senior Democratic aide whose boss was one of 50 Democrats to vote in 2009 against funding to close Guantanamo. “They weren’t breathing down our necks pushing the vote or demanding unified action.”

Lorrie Moor, on the memoir:

It is hard not to be impressed with Fran Lebowitz’s comedically acerbic dismissal of memoirs: when asked in the Martin Scorsese documentary Public Speaking whether she would ever pen one, she quickly replied that if your life were all that interesting, someone else would write a book about it.

Despite having some sympathy with this idea, or with caustic wit, or with avoiding writing, one can nonetheless assume that there are good reasons to embark on a memoir: the world and the self collide in a particular way that only you, or mostly you, can narrate; you would like a preemptive grab at controlling the discourse. For instance: Are you Winston Churchill? Are you Nixon in China? Are you Pat Nixon in China? Did you compose Nixon in China? (Its composer, John Adams, has in fact written an engaging memoir.) Are you connected to a fascinating and underexplored chapter in history in any manner whatever? Are you a professional storyteller with a beautiful prose style and some autobiography begging for reportage? Are you a trenchant thinker with incisive analytical powers? Do you have a social cause you would like to advocate strenuously? And if none of the above, are you Brigitte Bardot?

The most creative thing about the Atlas Shrugged movie is the way critics are working to find new ways to pan it. Richard Brody and Gin and Tacos, for example.

On Koch Industries and corporate politicking:

On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them on whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

Legal experts interviewed for this story called the blatant corporate politicking highly unusual, although no longer skirting the edge of legality, thanks to last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which granted free speech rights to corporations.

“Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for,” explains Paul M. Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette University. But according to Secunda, who recently wrote in The Yale Law Journal Online about the effects ofCitizens United on political coercion in the workplace, the decision knocked down those regulations. “Now, companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”

The Kochs were major supporters of the Citizens United case; they were also chief sponsors of the Tea Party and major backers of the anti-“Obamacare” campaign. Through their network of libertarian think tanks and policy institutes, they have been major drivers of unionbusting campaigns in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.

Glenn Greenwald on Obama’s obscene declaration that Bradley Manning is guilty:

The impropriety of Obama’s public pre-trial declaration of Manning’s guilt (“He broke the law”) is both gross and manifest…as a self-proclaimed Constitutional Law professor, he ought to have an instinctive aversion when speaking as a public official to assuming someone’s guilt who has been convicted of nothing. It’s little wonder that he’s so comfortable with Manning’s punitive detention since he already perceives Manning as a convicted criminal. “Sentence first – verdict afterward,” said the Red Queen to Alice in Wonderland.

But even more fascinating is Obama’s invocation of America’s status as a “nation of laws” to justify why Manning must be punished. That would be a very moving homage to the sanctity of the rule of law — if not for the fact that the person invoking it is the same one who has repeatedly engaged in the most extraordinary efforts to shield Bush officials from judicial scrutiny, investigation, and prosecution of every kind for theirwar crimes and surveillance felonies. Indeed, the Orwellian platitude used by Obama to justify that immunity — Look Forward, Not Backward– is one of the greatest expressions of presidential lawlessness since Richard Nixon told David Frost that “it’s not illegal if the President does it.”

But it’s long been clear that this is Obama’s understanding of “a nation of laws”: the most powerful political and financial elites who commit the most egregious crimes are to be shielded from the consequences of their lawbreaking — see his vote in favor of retroactive telecom immunity, his protection of Bush war criminals, and the way in which Wall Street executives were permitted to plunder with impunity — while the most powerless figures (such as a 23-year-old Army Private and a slew of other low-level whistleblowers) who expose the corruption and criminality of those elites are to be mercilessly punished. And, of course, our nation’s lowest persona non grata group — accused Muslim Terrorists — are simply to be encaged for life without any charges. Merciless, due-process-free punishment is for the powerless; full-scale immunity is for the powerful. “Nation of laws” indeed.

On the military’s Human Terrain System, Hugh Gusterson:

What happens when the U.S. military decides that an academic discipline’s professional ethics code is a nuisance? That is the situation in which anthropology now finds itself…In 2007 the U.S. Army unveiled its Human Terrain System project–a program to embed civilian anthropologists in military teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they would, like the avatars in James Cameron’s current Hollywood blockbuster, engage the “natives” on the military’s behalf…the U.S. military has offered eye-popping pay. A student from my academic program, who graduated with a masters degree, was offered almost $300,000 a year to sign up. (For comparison, salaries for beginning assistant professors with PhDs are often less than $60,000.)

Anthropologists condemn the Human Terrain project because it’s widely perceived as violating our ethics code in three regards. The first concern is that it contravenes what we might think of as the prime directive of anthropological ethics, an analogue to medicine’s Hippocratic Oath, stipulating that anthropologists shouldn’t do harm to those people and communities they study. Asking an anthropologist to gather intelligence that may lead to someone’s death or imprisonment, even if it’s supposedly to save the lives of others, is like asking an army doctor to kill a wounded insurgent, a therapist to turn over an addicted client to the police, or a priest to violate the sanctity of the confessional. Just as doctors are supposed to care for the wounded without asking which side they’re on, so too, anthropologists have a professional obligation toward those they study.

The anthropologists’ second concern, grounded in the Nuremberg Code’s insistence that all research be based upon free and informed consent, is that when Iraqis and Afghans are asked by men with guns if they would like to chat with an anthropologist, they’re not really free to say no. The third concern is that anthropologists have an obligation not to do research that might endanger other anthropologists. Many anthropologists are concerned that if their discipline becomes perceived as the human relations branch of military occupation, the lives of genuinely civilian anthropologists working as academics or for development projects elsewhere in the Middle East will be endangered.

And, for more on HTS.

also poached this from Subashini

Via Subashini, from curate, a set of nicely collated quotes:

The gay rights movement has … adopted largely an identity politics; we were born this way, we can’t help it, and we should have civil rights just like anyone else. But the born-lesbian/lesbian-as-identity politics of the gay movements erases precisely what is most radically political about being a lesbian: that we are women resisting heterosexist patriarchy and valuing women as human beings—and that other women can choose to do this too.

—Jennie Ruby, “Is the Lesbian Future Feminist?” off our backs: a women’s news journal, Vol. 26, October 1, 1996

I am told that in order for me to fight for queer rights that I should tell people that my sexuality is biologically determined, that I was “born this way.” I can’t. That is like saying that I was born with an unwanted affliction and assumes that it is necessary and even desirable to become heterosexual. Sexuality is not an innate orientation as most would believe, but rather a preference that in some way biology mayplay a role in defining.

—Daryl Vocat, 2000

Homosexuality was invented by a straight world dealing with its own bisexuality. But finding this difficult, and preferring not to admit it, it invented a pariah state, a leper colony for the incorrigible whose very existence, when tolerated openly, was admonition to all. We queers keep everyone straight as whores keep matrons virtuous.

—Kate Millett, Flying, part 1, 1974

Nancy Baym rethinks the music industry and little white earbuds on how everything popular is wrong (making it in electronic music now).

The Arab Writers Union top 105 novels of the 20th century. Get to it.

Millicent continues to rock the 17th century.

The only thing more awesome than a pig is a grizzly bear with swords for teeth driving a dump truck.

10 conversations I’m sick of having with white people.”

An interview with the great South African writer Peter Abrahams, now living in Jamaica in his 90’s. I’m struck by how Jamaican he sounds, which is not surprising since he moved there in 1956. Piece of Peter Abrahams trivia: he once shared a flat in London with Paul Robeson and Jomo Kenyatta.

Jeff Jarvis, on writing a just-in-case obituary for Charles and Di at their wedding.

Chris Blattman, on getting outplayed by his research subjects. If they read his blog, he’s really screwed.

A nice 20 minute “Breakdown” with Mike Konczal and Chris Hayes on the question “Are Financial Institutions Holding Our Economy Hostage?”

In a 47 minute lecture at the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, George Bisharat argues

“that Israel is deliberately trying to rewrite international law through violence. Israeli military lawyers were well aware of the limits of international humanitarian law (IHL; the branch of public international law that governs the behavior of parties at war) and consciously counseled military commanders to violate those limits, in the hope that these violations would be accepted by the international community as legal innovations. Arguably, this turns IHL – the purpose of which is to limit suffering even during war – on its head, allowing law to extend the scope of violence to previously protected areas and persons.

(Rohit offered this Derrida piece “Force of Law” as companion to Bisharat’s lecture. Also, Rohit has a book out on Global Culture, Media, and Identity. “Woot!” as they say.)

The Ticklish describes how France robs Africa through the “colonial pact.”

Ludic Despair fucking hates Game of Fucking Thrones, though in some ways I find this addendum to his screedy (and well worth reading) post even more interesting:

My apologies to any “Thronies” (Throners?  Thronsters?) who may have stumbled upon this non-review and been offended by its blanket dismissal of all things “fantasy.”  This blog serves the interests of 200 or so readers who are in most cases extremely bitter wits who lovingly hate or at least find themselves ironically superior to pretty much everything–except, of course, those rare moments of popular culture pointing to an impending apocalypse that will one day, God willing, wash the streets clean and usher in a new age of unparalleled freedom and decadence.  On occasion, however, material from this blog breaks past this circle of misanthropes to “infect” a larger public who, unaccustomed to the “tone” of the proceedings, makes the mistake of taking things too seriously.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy these occasional outbreaks of “negative attention,” inasmuch as they confirm my contention that many of us will defend a corporate entertainment franchise with more passion than our nation, family, or professed religion; however, please know that the above “review” is written to emulate the voice of a supercilious crank who has no patience for whatever it is YOU might like, regardless of whatever that might be.

Please let me be clear:  I loathe fantasy, and really am grateful that HBO is giving me a break after a fairly strong run over the past few months. However, anytime a “critic” aligns himself with “intelligent people of superior taste,” the rest of the piece should probably be read as willfully performative.

But be honest, fantasizers, there has to be at least one form of pop culture out there that you dismiss out-of-hand and feel no real need to better “understand:”  NASCAR racing…Hoarding documentaries…Rob Schneider movies… Search your heart–no one is innocent!

By the way, while you’re reading about/watching the Syrian government gunning down protesters, don’t forget that the president’s wife is really glamorous! Thanks for that, Vogue.

TimeOut London’s 50 greatest Westerns. I’ve only seen 15 of them, dammit.

Demo, Demo, Democracy. J-dv tweeted this link, and my mind still can’t grasp it.

Robin Yassin-Kassab on Libya:

There was no other option for the Libyans than to accept the intervention. They can’t be blamed for planning poorly – they had no opportunity to plan because they lived under a dictatorship crueller and far more total than Mubarak’s in Egypt. And they didn’t expect the revolution. Inspired by the rebellious neighbours, a few protested the arrest of a lawyer. The protests spread so rapidly because of Qaddafi’s ultra-violent response. The people revolted en masse because they were being attacked. The revolution was popular and spontaneous. It was not, as Qaddafi-supporters assert, an armed insurrection. In Benghazi and elsewhere civilians swarmed military bases, took on snipers with their bare chests, overcame bullets by absorbing them. One man filled his car with petrol and drove into a gun emplacement. The next morning they found themselves, unexpectedly, free. Until Qaddafi’s forces recovered.

Too many outsiders speak from a position of zero responsibility. They won’t be pinned down to answer the obvious question: what should have been done? If Qaddafi had got into Benghazi and done what the Syrian regime did in Hama in 1982, or what the Iraqi regime did to the Iraqi south in 1991, wouldn’t we now be condemning Western inaction?

Even if it’s the least worst option, foreign intervention remains problematic. As military stalemate sets in the danger of mission creep escalates, even to troops on the ground (which I would oppose). But Libya is not Iraq. The left fears it might be because the left has an oil obsession – but the 2003 Iraq invasion was more about the Israel lobby than Big Oil. Post-war, countries which didn’t take part in the invasion are winning more contracts than countries that did. In any case, Qaddafi did great business with the West, doing oil deals, buying weapons, as well as torturing rendered suspects on America’s behalf. I would expect any future Libyan government to also do business, and with the Arabs, China and India too, I hope in a much more accountable manner.

Libya isn’t Afghanistan either. Politically and financially, America has just lost two wars, and knows it. America would lose in Libya too if it tried to occupy the country or intervene directly in post-Qaddafi politics.

What Gaddafi is doing to Misurata (from this NYT slideshow):

Also, Paul Woodward on Libya.