Archive for August 2009

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: THE AFGHANISTAN ELECTION NEWS REPRESENTS NO NEWS AT ALL

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

Nearly half the votes are counted?

We get almost no reports on the actual turnout of voters, nor do we get much information on what seems to have been very corrupt election management.

I suspect the U.S. is working hard to control the information that tells the real election story.

Fifty percent of, say, a ten-percent turnout, plus heavy corruption, makes an utterly meaningless election.

Afghanistan after more than seven years of occupation and force-fed institutions is no more democratic than Cuba.

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JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: HOW NOT TO WRITE A BOOK REVIEW: LAURA PENNY’S INTELLECTUALLY IMPOVERISHED REVIEW OF CHRIS HEDGES’ EMPIRE OF ILLUSION

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A BOOK REVIEW BY LAURA PENNY IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

What an intellectually impoverished effort Laura Penny serves up here.

I’ve not read Chris Hedges’ book yet, but I have heard him interviewed at length.

He is a thoughtful, intelligent, and educated person with something to say. Ms. Penny’s few, carefully selected quotes do not represent the sense of what Hedges has to say at all.

Like all writers on political and international affairs, he sometimes over-speaks himself, but that does not subtract from the freshness of his voice and the acuity of his intellect.

Sorry, Ms. Penny, but our mainline press almost never deals with the issues over which Hedges is concerned. It does offer large servings of stuff like your tired, mannered, “I’ve seen it all” vacuous comment.

Let’s first take Ms. Penny on her own ground, literacy, sadly a word our public education establishment has rendered close to meaningless.

“This claim is a fairly good litmus test….”

God, why didn’t Ms. Penny toss in “level playing field” or “peace process’ while she was at it? This misuse of the nasty, over-used “litmus test” is a perfect example of the decline of literacy over which Ms. Penny claims to be concerned: “test” is all that is required for such a statement.

“I don’t recommend taking it to the beach, lest you pull a Virginia Woolf and seek refuge in the cleansing waters.”

Good God what an awkward remark, and Ms. Penny’s prose is an awkward combination of a pop cliché expression – “pull a [something]” – and a classical, almost-obsolete word – “lest” – a combination which comes off as just silly.

But it isn’t just public-school teacher literacy from which Ms. Penny suffers.

“Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of those future-drunk techies who thinks the Internet solves everything and that blogs can replace book learnin’ or the old journalism that many sites currently cannibalize. Those techies are just as fervent as Hedges, the optimistic Pollyannas to his outraged Cassandra.”

What an irrelevant comment to insert in a book review on this topic. It’s as though Ms. Penny felt like spouting this notion, and took this opportunity to toss it into the review.

And, please note, the return of clichés – Pollyannas and Casandra – to Ms. Penny’s writing. I might point out the clichés again include the pop and the classical – perhaps indicating Ms. Penny notion of breadth of learning?

But it gets worse, I’m afraid.

“The filthy heart of the beast is the military-industrial complex. Hedges contends that “war is the most dangerous drug of all,” and the United States is well and truly cracked out.”

What an absolutely trivial and pretentious way for Ms. Penny to write about one of the world’s great problems. Ms. Penny offers the tone of a person mainly educated by advertising and marketing and “communications,” the last being Sarah Palin’s major in her six-year, five-college B.A. odyssey. I’d almost bet Ms. Penny sounds like a Valley girl in her accent. What a shabby approach to a deadly serious subject, militarism.

“Most profs are good little careerist lickspittles, or poorly paid part-timers who cannot afford to rabble rouse.”

What a shabby generalization, again having nothing to do with the book’s ideas, and please note the genuine tone of contempt for part-time professors. Why? Ms. Penny is unwittingly revealing her own sad, narrow perspective: a lucky second-rate academic with a university sinecure.

God, we have few enough genuine critics in our society, and few enough of them worth hearing out. Chris Hedges is one of these few.

The truth is that Laura Penny is simply not up to the book she tries to review, and tries covering the fact with a bizarre tone that is both world-weary and flip.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: MORE ANTI-MUSLIM PREJUDICE – NOT TO BE TAKEN TOO SERIOUSLY COMING AS IT DOES FROM CHEESY POTBOILER NOVELIST SEBASTIAN FAULKS

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY SEBASTIAN FAULKS IN THE TELEGRAPH

I really cannot understand the kind of behavior Sebastian Faulks has displayed outside of his suffering from serious anti-Muslim prejudice.

Why pick the religious literature of one faith to attack?

Remember what Mark Twain said of the Bible? That it was full of blood and gore and upwards of a thousand lies?

Of course, it is hard to take Mr Faulks too seriously in any case.

He is a writer of novels packed with clichés, sentimentality, cheap cinema-derived scenes, and inconsistencies, but they do appeal to the mob.

And so does his brand of prejudice.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: THERE IS NO SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP, BUT THAT’S LIKE TELLING A CHILD THERE’S NO FATHER CHRISTMAS

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY IRWIN STELZER IN THE TELEGRAPH

The Special Relationship?

Oh, I believe Irwin Stelzer means by that expression the arrangement whereby Britain waits around to serve as a convenient tool to be picked up or tossed away as need arises.

Britain made it possible for the U.S. to call its international-law breaking murderous effort in Iraq a “coalition” effort.

There is no Special Relationship, but it is hard to communicate that to writers like this, too blind to see.

It’s like telling a child there is no Father Christmas.

Blair joined in America’s war crimes and demeaned his office in a hundred ways with dishonesty for the sake of the “Special Relationship.”

What did Britain get for its disgraceful efforts? Nothing.

It was treated as a mouse squeaking near Uncle Sam’s boot. None of Britain’s views were even considered on any international issue.

Of course, Blair personally got plenty in return for his dirty work.

He’s a wealthy man today with many ill-gotten sinecures from American or American-controlled foundations.

Perhaps Mr Stelzer is hoping to enjoy a bit of the same one day?

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: AFGHANISTAN’S PROSPECTS – SURELY AN OXYMORON EXPRESSION

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY CLIVE CROOK IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES

“Afghanistan” and the word “prospects” in the same sentence are pretty much an oxymoron.

This is one of the poorest regions on earth, a vast sprawl of deserts and mountains with few valuable resources.

The U.S. always had the option of dropping dollar bills rather than bombs, but that’s just not the American way.

Afghanistan will have “prospects” after decades of economic growth and not before, if that ever comes to pass.

The U.S. went there to kill (something it did plenty of), not to help anyone, but the world’s press picked up on all the propaganda and seems to pretend it means something.

The culture and backward ways of the people are the natural adaptations of countless centuries and are, in that sense, normal.

What the U.S. is trying to impose is definitely abnormal, not fitting the land and its people at its stage of their development.

Of course, the stupidity of making the Taleban a bitter enemy was foolish.

No Taleban ever attacked the U.S., a point so easily glided over by the press in the last eight years.

Yes, they housed bin Laden (a Saudi) for a time, but then so did the U.S. for a time.

They offered, eight years ago, to comply with extradition if offered some evidence for the accused, the completely normal behavior of any government, but the U.S. rejected the request and proceeded to attack, as useless and mindless an act of destruction as Israel’s assault on the giant refugee camp called Gaza.

To this day, by the way, we have never been given a single piece of evidence that bin Laden himself was responsible for anything. I’m not claiming his innocence, just pointing out how irrational and lawless all this has been.

General McChrystal is a nasty killer, of the type that carried out that shameful Operation Phoenix in Vietnam, a man absolutely without a larger view. What else would he do but ask for more troops?

Well, there’s light at the end of the tunnel apparently.

Wait, now, I believe I heard that somewhere else. Was it Vietnam?

Good luck, Obama, you are now being squeezed on all sides by the Military-Industrial Complex.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: HOW FAR TO GO IN PROSECUTING THE CIA OVER YEARS OF TORTURE?

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

Far.

My God, it is only sixty-odd years ago that we declared absolutely that following orders is not an excuse when the orders violated basic laws and rights.

The entire Bush/Cheney era is black hole of abuse of authority, murder, and torture.

No one who made these things happen should feel free. We read of Hitler’s willing helpers, did we not?

There are always excuses for abuse and abusive orders. The CIA is not unique in that. In the mind of every tyrant – from Stalin to Pinochet – there were strong and fearful reasons for their acts.

The only way we can be protected from such people is to hold them accountable in each and every instance that we get the opportunity to do so, which itself is rare enough. So few abusers ever are held accountable in the world at large that it makes almost every ethical and moral lesson we learned as children a pleasant fantasy: the evil do prosper, and bad men regularly step over the bodies of good men.

How easy it is – Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld showed the entire world – to take hold of a society of laws and defined rights and complex international obligations and just ignore them all, paying only lip service while carrying on in the darkness in contempt of every principle of decency.

Many observers in the world, including myself, actually believe the United States has tipped over an edge or threshold into a new equilibrium and cannot reclaim any prestige and honor it had.

The promise of that charming, intelligent man, Obama, already is badly faded. The vast forces around him cannot be easily be changed and, perhaps, cannot be changed at all. This is a test of that reality.

Democratic societies are not exempt from the terrible abuse of democratic values: it is a silly myth to believe so.

The U.S. with high-sounding words on paper went a couple of centuries with human bondage and vast abuse. The Confederacy was a democracy for those with the franchise. South Africa under apartheid remained a democratic state for those with franchise. France, inflicting its horrors in Algeria, was a democratic state. I could go on: there is a long list.

Dedication to human rights and democratic values requires America to root out the people who made these ugly acts possible and punish them.

Otherwise, I genuinely believe American democracy is on the wane and the country well on its way to being Eisenhower’s Military-Industrial Complex, ruling a vast empire with abuse and state terror from an elite establishment of military and intelligence and the driving fists of industry.

Power is power, no matter how granted. And Lord Acton’s dictum remains one of the most accurate observations of human society ever uttered.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: THE SO-CALLED SUPER-NOTE ONE-HUNDRED DOLLAR COUNTERFEITS AND THE IDEA NORTH KOREA IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEM

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE INDEPENDENT
The story of North Korea’s producing the so-called super-notes, one-hundred dollar notes of near perfect quality, is an old one, but it is not necessarily true, as the author of this piece assumes.There is another story that says it is the CIA manufacturing these super-notes.

Such an intelligence operation would serve two ends.

One, it is a new source of untraceable funds for the CIA. We know that in the past the CIA has used drugs and armaments as ways to obtain off-the-record funds.

Two, the notes, combined with the story this author repeats, provide one more excuse to beat-up on North Korea.

Just ask yourself whether it is likely that North Korea has the immensely complex technology for producing notes of this quality.

Then ask yourself whether this is the way the United States would behave if indeed it knew North Korea was the source of the bills.