Sunday, May 30

Observing Michael Moore

The Observer | Review | Michael and me
This more than 20,000-word article by Anthony Andrews of the Observer announces itself in this way:

"The film-maker who could help to bring down Bush has been larging it at Cannes. He has made millions asking awkward questions of corporate America. But there are a few awkward questions we'd like to ask him..."
This is an effective announcement, since it encapsulates well the article that follows, including the author's insinuations that Moore is hypocritical because he is wealthy and because he enjoyed himself at Cannes last week, as well as the (surely unintended) acknowledgment that the author could think of only awkward questions to ask Moore during his Cannes interview of the filmmaker. You might think that, with 20,000 words to spend on a figure who has attracted so much attention of late, and over such important issues, Andrews might have prepared some broad-minded inquiries to help inform himself and the public. What he asks Moore is this:

1. Do you regret your vote for Nader in 2000?
2. Why did you send your daughter to a nice school? -and-
3. Why did your friend Ben Harper [a former Flint auto-worker whom Moore helped to become a writer] say that you don't treat people well?
For a journalist who complains about the fact that he got only 15 minutes to question Moore, it seems odd that these questions were all he could think to ask, or report on, or introduce with such bravado. What more could we have expected him to reveal, had he been granted another 15 minutes? Personally, my expectations have been all but erased. Can you imagine Andrews's managing editor, dispatching him to Cannes with this remark: "Tony, make sure you find out why Moore's friend said what he did about Moore that one day. Oh, and, definitely get right on that bit about the schoolgirl -- you know, his daughter. There could be something there, perhaps a key to that Fahrenheit flick that's been makin' such noise, who knows?"

I would indeed call Andrews's questions "awkward," given the trouble he went to to ask them, report on them, and dress them up as compelling investigative reporting. The answers Moore gave, incidentally, were simple enough:

1. No.
2. Because we didn't want to send her to an unsafe one.
3. When speaking on that occasion, Ben was drunk and admitted so to me in a letter afterwards.
One shouldn't overlook the reason for which these questions were reported on by Andrews, which was to establish that Moore "only ever established a partial relation to the truth." (If you can follow that line of thinking, please tell me how you managed...)

Concerning the second question, Andrews writes:

"Of course, it's nobody's business but Moore's where he sends his child, except he makes it his business to detail the hereditary [sic] privilege of his subjects and tends to make his political arguments personal."
Is Andrews suggesting that, to avoid hypocrisy and obtain a full relation to the truth, Moore would have to ensure that his daughter obtain no privilege whatsoever from her father's flourishing? That seems like a lot to ask of him, especially since Moore has never criticized anyone simply on the basis of their inherited privilege but only as the person's political views and actions relate to their privileged background.

Aside from the fact that this article is constructed on such fluff, it does raise a few points of substance with respect to Moore's work. Andrews has the merit of actually having seen Fahrenheit 9/11 and, in fact, has nothing but praise for it, saying, for instance, that, "such is the cumulative force of the film, with its kinetic humour and insistent sentiment, that it is hard to come away from it without concluding a) that George W Bush is not fit to be president of a golf club let alone the world's most powerful nation and b) the war in Iraq was woefully misconceived."

So, to appear critical, even to the point where he seems to be emulating Moore's own investigative rigor, Andrews resorts to i) questioning the "trustworthiness" of Moore's work generally and ii) attacking Moore's character on the basis of hearsay and spiteful personal observations. The second tactic I have already spoken of. As for the first, Andrews tries to pull this off on the strength of a single example. Here's what he writes:

"[In] Bowling for Columbine the audience is led to believe that the two teenage killers at Columbine high school may have been inured to violence by the proximity of a local weapons factory. Yet it later emerged that the factory produced nothing more lethal than rockets to launch TV satellites."
This is a particularly interesting rebuttal because it speaks to the nature of Moore's films. Nonetheless, it is misleading to claim that Bowling for Columbine suggests that it is the mere proximity of the weapons factory that "inured" the students to violence. The factory had the role of a symbol of entrenched investement in military violence by the United States; this point was particularly clear when Moore discussed bombings ordered by Clinton on the day the Columbine shootings took place. Whether the factory actually produced weapons or not would matter little, as long as the children were impacted (as they certainly were) by a general culture of violence in the United States. The possibility that Moore may have been mistaken about this particular factory does nothing to diminish the force of his inquiry. There may be other suspect details and "omissions" in Moore's films, but I am not convinced that Moore's films should be considered "documentaries" and held up to the same criteria as documentaries are. Moore's investigations are much more powerful and interesting than any conventionally understood documentary.

I would agree that we cannot trust Moore's films, nor Moore, for that matter, to have a comprehensive grasp of all the facts relating to his muckraking enterprises. But that is not his role. Moore pounces on his subject matter with all his heart and raises some dust in the effort. Moore's role is to raise questions in a way that holds the public's attention and, if possible, inspires the public to action. Thus his films are "critical" films in the Marxist sense of this word. They want not only to interpret the world, but to change it.

Andrews also makes the charge that Moore's liberal nature has been compromised by his being surrounding by "paranoia." I would think that a person who has taken on such powerful targets, and who knows the viciousness of certain of his adversaries, would have reason to want personal protection.

Be that as it may, Moore's unapologetic approach to politics and art seems to inspire envy among his adversaries. The latter aspire to imitate the determined investigator in Michael Moore by attempting to turn the tables on him. What better examples of this than the resentment-brimming projects such as these?

This is a group-maintained blog dedicated to smearing Michael Moore on whatever basis possible. Falling short on argumentative skills, it makes frequent recourse to the single word "b---shit" to counter others' statements. It also slides into the French bashing trap that Moore correctly foresaw would be sprung after his film's celebration at Cannes.

This is a "film project" designed to focus on the fascinating topic (!) of Michael Moore. It is fronted by a self-glossed "passionate guy with a camera" who is bent on attacking Moore as a way of defending (a fascist and simplistic idea of) the "homeland."

What the people behind these projects forget is that what makes Moore's investigations compelling is not simply their "method," but the human significance of the issues they address; to which one should add, as well, their originality and, no less, their forceful relation to truth.

Saturday, May 29

花見 京都

Kyoto, city whose treaty on climate change stands as a
symbol of international resistance to Bush corporatism. 

Friday, May 28

賀茂川 (かもがわ) 京都

Cherry Blossom viewing, Kyoto, Japan.  

Thursday, May 27

The 2004 Freedom Roller

For today's post, I offer an Onion-style article...
Note: I cannot assure that all the links open to their original destinations.

Tuesday September 16, 9:35 AM ET

By Fanni Terrette, Press Writer

(MP) Washington, D.C. The Department of Defense has teamed up with Generic Motors to offer American drivers a new line of All-American Sports Utility Tanks (SUTs). The perfect vehicles for these times of international terrorism, the near 60-ton Sports Utility Tanks not only allow citizens a new way to exercise their second-amendment right to responsible self-defense, they are widely considered the safest passenger vehicle ever designed. Indeed, the manufacturers guarantee SUT drivers and passengers complete safety in head-on collisions of up to 30 M.P.H. SUTs have a city mileage of only 3 gallons per mile, but their relative lack of fuel efficiency is easily counterbalanced by a wide variety of comforts not typically associated with combat vehicles. The first official SUT, the Freedom Roller, is resplendent with numerous suburban comforts, including a mobile home theater that boasts satellite hook-up and multiple plasma TV screens, built-in soft-drink dispensers, an electric potato slicer and deep-fryer, and handguns ranging in size and power for each member of the family.


Although the combat capacity of the vehicles is not likely to be called upon regularly in everyday use, C. John Hedge, Secretary of the Department of Motherland Purity (news - web sites), has praised the arrival of the new civilian-friendly SUT fleet, citing the vehicles' strategic benefits:
"The financial burden of the war on terror has exceeded local budgets in most counties throughout the nation. Therefore, rather than increase the size of an already unwieldy bureaucracy, we have mobilized the private sector to give the citizens the means to exercise their anti-terrorist vigilance to the full. Together, we will hunt down and bring to justice all terrorists who dare set foot on, or drive across, the Motherland."
Secretary Hedge brought his brief press conference to a close in an uncharacteristic display of vigor by hoisting his right fist into the air and making an eloquent appeal to the families of America by declaring the Department of Motherland Purity motto: "We can be afraid, or we can be ready. Today America's families declare, 'We will not be afraid. We will be ready!' One individual, one family, one community, one motor vehicle at a time." In a separate statement released by the Department of Justice (news - web sites), the Attorney General Ashley Croft, commenting on the recent arrival of SUTs, said, "We are disrupting potential terrorist travel; and we are building our long-term counter-terrorism capacity. We are winning the war on terror, and we will not back down." As the Attorney General explained, the Department of Justice hopes to bring terrorist travel to a complete halt on the streets of America. With SUTs overwhelming local and interstate traffic, it is hoped that terrorists will be dissuaded from taking to the road and, eventually, be rooted out from every thoroughfare and preemptively blocked from every byway.


Civil libertarians have objected to the fact that the Department of Motherland Purity has intervened to require that all citizens hoping to acquire an SUT first pass a Patriot Drivers Test. This inexpensive test requires the prospective buyer to, among other things, recite by heart the capitals of the fifty U.S. States, swear disobedience to Allah, and renounce all heathen superstitions generally. Radical groups (news - web sites) have taken exception to this safe-guarding measure. In an open letter circulated widely on the Internet, Edward Tinmar, professor of English at Columbia University, has written, in an apparent allusion to recent propaganda that anachronistically imagines Jesus Christ picking and choosing among today's fleet of passenger vehicles, the following tidbit: "For the next academic cycle, I am proposing a course on the relations between one's religious convictions and one's choice of utility vehicle. The topic is increasingly relevant in today's society and a truly critical attitude vis-à-vis the corporatization of government in the United States should start here."


Elitist ruminations aside, Americans have unambiguously welcomed the arrival of SUTs to the civilian market. Indeed, the consumer confidence index has leaped in the first quarter, up from 65.1 to 78.7, and few commentators doubt the benign influence of SUTs on the index. Although this spectacular leap has no doubt been supported by a vigorous ad campaign, the first quarter economic upswing has been attributed more generally to a greater sense of security among suburbanites who now can envisage protecting their accumulated property without having to rely upon a bureaucracy-laden police force. Further adding to the buying frenzy is the benign effect of legislation that, although originally proposed for crop-dusters and grain-transporting vehicles, has been found to apply as well to all manner of full-size urban vehicles. This law assures buyers an immediate deduction of as much as $38,000 off the price of an SUT. The President has said of this incentive, "Uh... this is a plan that says that if you are willing to take risk and invest more, there's a benefit for doing so. And... uh... it'll create millions of jobs and be positive... economically." There is a hitch, however. As things currently stand, the credit applies only to vehicles weighing 60 tons or more. Owners of the Freedom Roller, which, through a freak of design, weighs only 59 1/2 tons, have therefore been encouraged to weigh their vehicles down by secondary means—stacks of tightly fastened barbells or what-have-you—in order to qualify for the tax credit.


SUTs promise more than an affordable means of modern transportation. With the type of armament that the SUT makes available to a vigilant public, city and county law enforcement officials are eagerly anticipating wide-scale public assistance in their daily crime-fighting operations. Reckless car chases, it is hoped, will soon be a thing of the past. Those fleeing from the law can now be neutralized at great distances by SUT owners who recognize the threat and act swiftly. Concerned at the possible compromise that this development may represent for some of its most popular nightly programs (such as the roundly celebrated "PIGS," which features the turbulent pursuit and humiliation of petty criminals), a spokesperson for the Foxxy Network, Mr. Thurman Reich, said that Foxxy is planning a new program that will focus entirely on SUT-assisted police operations. He has assured viewers that there will be no diminution of gratuitous bullying and fear-mongering in the new format and that the entertainment value of the program will even be heightened by increasingly explosive public confrontations. (SUT-drivers hoping to participate in these operations are asked to call the Foxxy Network toll-free at 1-666-588-2874.)

There are also arrangements underway that will allow SUT drivers to participate in such crime-busting exercises in a more organized manner. The recently formed SUT Club, Inc. has commandeered a number of its members into a veritable vigilante fleet, capable of responding to the behest of local or federal officials. This drivers club (">web site) describes itself as a not-for-profit corporation whose aims are to promote the adventurous and safe use of SUTs and to encourage its members to act as a social force for the security of the Motherland. It and similar clubs will be free to embark on deer hunting expeditions, take diversionary excursions through Yellowstone National Park, or patrol gang-infested neighborhoods and quell public expressions of political dissent. The crime-fighting benefits may even be called upon by the federal government to battle terror itself. With sufficient training, it is thought, such a club could one day confront brutal dictators suspected of potentially harboring, or conceiving of, or being able to share their conceptions of, WMD-related-program activities (and thereby spare the government from having to make academic presentations at the United Nations or appease dilly-dallying allies while threats gravely gather). With such a swiftly acting force at its command, the government could redirect its military spending to much needed nuclear and space-oriented weaponry. Till this point, however, the enormous potential of this domestic force on the international theater has been held up by considerations of personal insurance.


The most unexpected development of this cooperation between the Department of Defense and the private sector has been articulated compellingly by the Secretary of Education Carl Freeman. Freeman, whose swaggering style and unshakeable self-confidence play particularly well on Foxxy, MPNEWS, and other balanced networks, has argued that the tactics used against brutal dictatorships that torture their people can also be turned toward the failing educational system in the Motherland as a way to tilt it toward decisive improvements. Citing the Arab Development Reports, which state among other things that the Greeks have translated more works from English than have all the Arab nations combined, Freeman notes that, "those numbers are the context that produced 9-11." He then cites the well-known statistics of failing schools in America and concludes as follows: "If you don't visit a bad neighborhood in this world, it will visit you, and on 9-11, it visited us." The upshot of Freeman's argument is that failing schools can no longer be suffered by a nation perpetually at war. Spurred on by its stunningly accomplished mission in Iraq, the Pentagon has thus committed itself, under Freeman's advisement, to Operation Education Liberty. This campaign will certainly shape the business of education for years to come. Its goal is to visit every failing school, every potential harbor of intellectual darkness and terror. In this way, schools not meeting accountability outcomes will have their charters revoked by means of force. The most obvious benefit of this no-nonsense policy is that parents will no longer have to rely on time-consuming administrative and political maneuvering to see a force for change effected in their children's schools.


Indicating how such a scenario might play out, and taking full cognizance of the utility of the expanding SUT fleet, a Pentagon press release — the first of its kind to outline new education policies — states that, "when the academic condition of the school is deemed deficient, the school shall be surrounded by SUTs operated by local citizens, and the faculty and students shall be forced off school grounds and reassigned pursuant to local Board policy and procedure. Furthermore, upon destruction by fire power, the failing school shall remain under control of the Board, and no child shall be left behind in the smoldering remains." Schools lacking grant money and startup funding for No Child Left Behind have already been put on notice. Asked to comment on whether he backs this new commitment to jump-starting education through public-assisted, results-oriented enforcement, the Secretary of Defense, Ronald McDumsfeld, remarked that,
"I guess the way to respond to that is that there is no doubt but that there are gains to be hoped for. Whether it's today, tomorrow, a year from now, two years from now, or more, what we know is that this allows us ways of doing and thinking whose value as we go forward is without question. Needless to say, everyone's hopeful that the state of our schools, which tends to ebb and flow, will stay above a certain threshold and that there's -- did I say we have plans? -- no, we have no definite plans. By that I don't mean that we have no plans whatsoever. There are plans that one has and plans that one doesn't have. But there are also plans whose planning may exist but on which action has not been taken. Obviously, we have plans to do everything in the world that we can think of. But there is no doubt but that we do not have any intention at the present time, or no reason to believe, that any of the thinking that goes into these things day in and day out would have to be utilized."
The Secretary of Defense vigorously denied, however, rumors that the Pentagon was planning to use the threat of the recently developed 21,000-pound MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air-burst Bomb, popularly known as the "Mother of all bombs") to intimidate specific schools or educators into obtaining higher test scores for their students. As Secretary McDumsfeld explained, the initial idea was simply to drop one such bomb, whose plume of smoke rises 10,000 feet into the air and is visible at a distance of 40 miles, as a celebratory gesture that would inaugurate the academic year nationwide and inspire students with shock and awe at the mightiness of the nation's pre-eminent power. It is doubtless that such a spectacle would both reassure and motivate today's terror-stricken students. And this, of course, in addition to the reassurance they feel as they slip into the suburban comforts of their SUTs and roll safely from home to school, and back again, to the lulling rumble of wheel-driven tracks.

Wednesday, May 26


Demonstration in Osaka, Japan against the use of depleted
uranium by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Open-eyed Look at Fahrenheit 9/11

The New York Times > Arts > Frank Rich: Michael Moore's Candid Camera

Frank Rich has written a detailed review of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 that contrasts with many non-reviews that have been appearing in the press the last few days. (The above link may require registration, which is a simple matter; and for the time being this article also appears free-of-registration here.) There are too many non-reviews for me to provide links, but they are distinguished by two features. First, they use the word "propaganda" to describe Moore's film. Second, they show no sign that the author of the article has actually seen the film. Call me silly, but it seems to me that writing lengthy "reviews" of films that one has yet to see is the sort of thing only a writer of propaganda would willfully do. (Here is one example of such a dogmatic non-review.)

From Rich's New York Times article, I take the closing lines: "No one would ever accuse Michael Moore of having a beautiful mind. Subtleties and fine distinctions are not his thing. That matters very little, it turns out, when you have a story this ugly and this powerful to tell."

Tuesday, May 25


The Uneasy Practice of the Political Pardon

This is one of a series of occasional posts dealing with the notion of forgiveness. Its prevalence in contemporary French philosophy is what drew my attention to it.
Anyone who follow presidential politics is reminded every four years or so of the uneasy heritage of forgiveness. This happens when the president proceeds to grant "pardons" to convicts of various stripes, many of whom are powerful individuals on behalf of whom the president's pardon is beseeched by various associates and, in some cases, lawyers and prominent politicians. Extenuating circumstances, reparations, public manifestation of repentance, improved behavior: every possible excuse is assembled to persuade the one sovereign decision-maker that the normal course of criminal and punitive justice should be suspended. What invariably happens is that the presidential privilege to grant pardons which, as law, does nothing less than to disrupt law itself, brings a chorus of scorn and outrage upon the president, and not only from opposing party members. The absurdity of this situation is only heightened by its predictability.

Recall, for instance, the intense debate that erupted when it was announced that President Clinton had pardoned the so-called commodities trader Marc Rich, a man convicted for tax evasion, fraud and conspiracy, racketeering and illegally trading with Iran--a man who had for twenty years lived in Europe beyond the pale of U.S. prosecutors. Indeed, this debate lives on as part of Clinton's "legacy," as evidence by a recent Air America Radio satirical skit that grants Clinton a "profile in courage" for his having pardoned Rich.

This assault on the president's pardons is odd if one considers that, according to Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the president "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." Thus, the pardon can apply to any crime other than that for which a president would have been impeached; moreover, it insists upon no pre-conditions such as the innocence of the one accused or excusability of the offense. A sweeping power, indeed, its application is not even subjected to judicial review (which becomes another habitual point for which the president is attacked). Indeed, the president need not consult anyone in deciding which pardons to grant (although the number of pardon requests alone normally requires the president seek counsel in decision-making). In this, the president is not asked to do a judge's or jury's job better; rather, the president is given the power to interrupt all legal pursuits with respect to charges already laid or upheld in a court of law. Like forgiveness, which nonetheless remains distinct from this political power, the presidential pardon is in one sense foreign to legal or juridical sovereignty. (In another sense, it is upheld by the legal sovereignty it contravenes.) Thus, clearly, President Clinton, as others before him, only acted in accordance with the Constitution. In the last three years, there have been many executive decisions that were far from being as clearly constitutional as Clinton's pardon of Rich was, yet the issue of pardons seems like few others to unleash a wave of confused and misplaced criticism upon the president.

The arguments were long and bitter over whether Marc Rich deserved to be pardoned. The curiously elementary fact that is always lost in such debates, however, is that not only was the President acting in accordance with the Constitution but, properly speaking, no one ever deserves to be pardoned or, for that matter, forgiven. If forgiveness, or a pardon, could be earned by the excusability of the offense, then one could simply declare the charges null and void (in a situation the French call a "non-lieu"). In such cases, there was perhaps a misunderstanding, a freak act committed out-of-character, a matter of confusion or misinformation, an act now of mere historical importance, but nothing as serious as to call for a presidential pardon or, more serious still, forgiveness.

President Clinton only fueled criticism of his action by trying to defend his pardon of Marc Rich. (Clinton listed a number of distinct reasons for this one pardon.) Indeed, he seemed at a total loss to understand the notion of presidential pardon. On the day after he had granted 140 pardons, Clinton said: "The word 'pardon' is somehow almost a misnomer... You're not saying these people didn't commit the offense. You're saying they paid, they paid in full."


The point here is that the ambiguity that leads to this sort of confusion and rancor every four years on the American political stage is planted within the heritage of the language of forgiveness. In this heritage, which at the very least begins with the Hebraic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, one finds competing and contradictory demands.

On the one hand, the demand that one forgive only when the one at fault has asked for forgiveness, repented, healed, etc. The question that haunts this conditional logic is whether, in having changed in such a way, the candidate for forgiveness is entirely the same as the one who did the misdeed, and whether, therefore, the act of forgiveness is indeed necessary, and, if it is necessary, whether it even hits its mark.

The other demand is that one forgive without first setting conditions; that is, in the absence of repetance, and without assurance or even hope that the misdeed be committed again. In this sense, the presidential pardon, while it is distinct from "forgiveness," seems to descend from the unconditional logic that is part of its heritage. Not only is this second, unconditional logic, difficult to assume, since it might require me to, for instance, forgive one who I know will swiftly proceed to kill me, it is itself rendered problematic by the very assertion of power that it implies. That is, in forgiving unconditionally, I nonetheless presume a certain sovereignty over the one whom I would forgive, which is to say, I presume the power to punish, which my act of forgiving suspends. The question, then, is whether in having such a power at my disposal, I have not already compromised unconditional forgiveness with the condition of my own supremacy. In this sense, unconditional forgiveness cannot escape from being haunted by the plague of ulterior motives that are common to the first logic, not the least of which is that of satisfying my own conscience by thinking of myself as forgiving. To pardon in the presidential sense especially when the pardon is not deserved, as every president most certainly does in pardoning convicts, certainly heightens the power of the executive office, whether or not the president feels elevated by his or her actions.

It is a curious situation when a presidential power guaranteed by the Constitution is apparently understood by neither the president nor by those who regularly criticize its use. We cannot expect President Bush to have any greater command of this notion than to recognize in it an executive privilege, but it's worth interrogating, before Bush proceeds to grant pardons en masse (assuming he will), both the etymology of the word and, to a degree, the (massive) history of the corresponding notion, so as to grasp the complicated overlapping of logics within the heritage of the language of forgiveness and pardon.

I thought would get closer to doing that today. The political context-building got in the way. I will pick up the discussion in a future post by returning to my reading of Alain Gouhier's thesis concerning the origin of "pardon" in Latin and the Romance languages in particular.

Monday, May 24

Temple in Yoshino  

Sunday, May 23

Godless Forgiveness

This is one of a series of occasional posts dealing with the notion of forgiveness. Its prevalence in contemporary French philosophy is what drew my attention to it.
This is a non-religious post. I don't say that out of self-defense, nor as an implicit call for the reader's forgiveness. It's just that the topic—-forgiveness—-is not as religious as you might think. I say this not only because the word is often dropped in political discourse and flashed about for all manner of devious and hypocritical motives, but also because, in looking into the history of the word, I discovered in an out-of-print French doctoral dissertation published in 1969 that, before Christianity got its grips on it, the word was already in currency in spoken Latin and—-this is the rub—-had nothing to do with God.

Christian doctrine claims that only God can forgive profoundly, that is, absolutely; while humans, who are by nature sinful, can at best forgive each other for expedient and selfish reasons—-which is to say, they can't truly forgive one another—-and must therefore appeal to God for uncorrupt forgiveness. Uncorrupt: this doesn't mean "effective" or even perceptible but, rather, that which is in keeping with the purity of the concept. This is how Christianity explains the "for-" in forgiveness, or the "par-" in pardon, which synonymous prefixes are commonly understood as intensifying a type of giving or "don" [which means "gift," as in donation], thus making it an absolute gift, one that is all-powerful and pure, one that is given in the absence of repentance, outside any economy of exchange, and without therapeutic, self-serving, or pragmatic aims of any sort. Indeed, a gift that is given without any aim at all, or at least not any aim that one could submit to the dictates of reason, or identify in language. In the prefix of forgiveness lurks the purity and power of the Christian God. By means of this assumption, Christian doctrine is grafted onto the widely-accepted etymology of the prefix which is thereby given theological import.

As Alain Gouhier explains in his untranslated work Towards a Metaphysics of Forgiveness [Pour une métaphysique du pardon, Editions de l’Epi, Paris: 1969], the sense of "giving absolutely" that is apparent in "forgiving" predates the Christian evocation of the word. Thus, not only was a non-theological sense of forgiveness in currency before Biblical translators employed the word, but this non-theological sense already contains within it the hyperbolic or superlative sense of giving that forgiving is granted in Christianity and other Abrahamic traditions. This is easily seen in the evolution from certain Latin words that build progressively on the verb to give [dare] to the present-day French words for forgiveness: le pardon [noun] or pardonner [verb].

Gouhier's analysis suggests that perdonare emerges first in juridical, political, ecclesiastical, and in what today would be called literary language. In short, in its earliest uses, perdonare never has God as its subject. How, then, did it first emerge? Gouhier argues that the prefix "par-" of pardon is linked to donare in Medieval Latin texts only after a series of historical, etymological moments that can be retraced, beginning in Classical Latin, where "donare" and "condonare" are adjoined to the simple verb "dare," whose formula "veniam dare" already involves remission or indulgence.

According to Gouhier, donare first means according a favor: privileges, land, etc. In time, in can be used in instances where what one gives is an indulgence or remission of some sort. If, in this second sort of "favor" I give what another owes me—a debt—I give that which the other should have "given" me. I end up giving the other that which I would have in some sense taken by means of privation or punishment. The deserved punishment is given back, given over, or given up. It then follows that the absence of punishment, as a gift, will be applied to the misdeed itself or to the offender, and no longer merely to the deserved punishment. Thus, I not only give to the other an absence of punishment, I also no longer require that the other respond in any way to their misdeed, that they confess or expiate or atone for it. In this way, with the loss of a precise reference to that which is due, a limitless number of possible designations appear (with, as I've explained, Christianity siezing upon this opportunity to glorify God's forgiveness). Gouhier concludes by stating that this "explains the linguistic victory of the prefix 'per-,' an 'augmenting' or 'intensifying' prefix that means 'completely' or 'absolutely.' An infinite offense, an infinite debt, and an infinite gift [don], and, thus, forgiveness [pardon]"(34-35).

This will sound like I am closing a lecture or, worse, a sermon; but, barring another Bush bicycle accident or like misadventure, I'll next discuss the precise moment at which "le pardon" enters written language, according to Gouhier (which claim is supported by historical dictionaries).

on Mount Yoshino 

Fahrenheit 9/11 Sheds Light on Bush Inc.

The fact that Moore's film won top honors today (La palme d'or) at Cannes, where, incidentally, "the jury of nine included four Americans, while France was represented solely by actress Emmanuelle Béart," should help it to break through the corporate censorship that is now common in the United States. Not even Bush's influence on the Federal Communications Commission, most significantly in the form of his appointee, Colin Powell's pro-corporate monopoly son, chairman Michael Powell, will do him much good when, at this point, action to ban an internationally recognized film could only bring it greater attention.

Assessing the film's reception in the United States should be an excellent means of judging the quality of the press generally, and, in the weeks following its release in the States, I intend to make just such an assessment. Already, Steven Weiss has written on the corporate squabble over the release of this film in the U.S. as a case that reveals the extent to which election-year politics can seemingly weigh on the decisions of a major political donor.

Ryan Parry from the Daily Mirror lists 10 reasons why Bush would like to ban Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Judging from others' accounts of the movie, Bush may have, in fact, 100 or more reasons to want to see this film banned.

Moore was asked by someone at Cannes how he felt Bush would react to seeing the film himself, and he replied, "I hope nobody tells him I've won this award while he's eating a pretzel." (The President fainted in 2002 after choking on a pretzel while watching a football game alone.) Curiously, on the same day that Moore received his award, the president, putting his presidential duties first as he always does, was on a 17-mile bike ride during which he fell off his bike and cut his face and hands and hurt his knees. I try never to lend credence to superstitious thoughts, but I wonder if Bush fell from his bike at the very moment the award to Moore was announced...

Saturday, May 22

Bicycle Culture: Dying When Needed Most

Bikes gather in Osaka, Japan

Banished Bicycles: China's Car Culture Hits Some Potholes
This report caught my attention when it first came out and sent me into a fit of perplexity and anger for a good fortnight. Feeling quite powerless to prevent death of bicycle culture in China or elsewhere, I emerged from my fit only by selling what I believe will have been my last automobile, and most certainly my last fossil-fuel powered automobile. But this issue still nags me, since I realize that my personal resistance to "car think" is only a drop in a sea that is crying out for a sea-change.

In the report, we read that "bicycles have gone from carrying more than 70 percent of travelers in Shanghai as recently as 1990 to from 15 to 17 percent now." Can you imagine? Within the space of only 13 years, there was a drop from 70 to as little as 15 percent of bicycle traffic, while the population grew. It is almost as if a bike-specific bomb had been dropped on the city, and materials for making new bikes had run into short supply (while, curiously, materials for making cars were pulled from the four corners of the earth). What is happening in China is very troublesome. Shanghai was, broadly speaking, a perfectly functioning city in 1990. So, the shift to car traffic clearly responded less to a city's needs than to consumers' desires. Apparently, bikes are associated in the minds of Chinese today with "old China" or "rural China," much like cigarettes are arbitrarily (and idiotically) associated with "Western style," "youth" and "fashionability" throughout much of Asia thanks, in both cases, to marketing-driven, corporate distortions. This enormous drop in the number of bicycles in Shanghai, the article also says, is typical of all major Chinese cities. This means that, at a time when the remaining sources of oil in the world have begun to see their twilight on the horizon and alternative sources of power are known to be inevitable, Chinese citizens are swiftly following Americans in allowing "car think" to dominate their lives, their city planning, their laws, their economies, and, most problematically, the natural environment. On that level, the struggle against "car think" is one that would require diminishing the massive status that is accorded cars and car ownership. In light of struggles against addictive and public tobacco use, one can see just how difficult such a struggle would be; however, unlike the anti-smoking movement, the effort to undermine "car think" has a positive route to take: the valorization of bicycles. It can thus avoid antagonizing car lovers by stressing the positive alternatives of bicycle use in particular.

Incidentally, the French have a wonderful expression for what I just called "car think." Le tout voiture refers to the idea that everyday life can and should be managed in and by one's car, as well as the policies that support this presumption. The fact that there is a name for this stupidity suggests that, at least in Europe,
resistance to it has been organized. European cities have for several years held "no car" days in which citizens are encouraged to leave their cars at home, or drive only to the city outskirts, and seek alternate forms of transportation which the cities bolster for the occasion.

Car culture has long dominated the United States, where bike riders in many cities and along many roads are assumed to be participating in exceptional, risky, or deviant behavior (if you don't believe that statement and you are not a biker, take it on word from me that regular biking in many places in the United States often exposes one to all manner of jeering, taunts, and shouts from self-inflated car passengers who spontaneously look down on any pedestrian or bike peddler as being vulnerable).
Asphalt Nation, an excellent book by Jane Holtz Kay, chronicles, along with eloquent photographs, the total dominance of social life and landscape in America by automobiles. There is also a remarkable PBS report narrated by Ray Suarez that discussed how, at the end of World War II, General Motors purchased from the City of New York perfectly serviceable and well-running tram cars only to uproot them all so as to increase public dependence on private car ownership. So much for the necessity of cars in American cities. (If anyone knows how to find this documentary on this PBS-produced history of New York City, please tell me.)

Given the corporate hold on Washington, the national brain-lock in "car think" is not likely to loosen anytime soon. Despite all their likely benefits to public health and safety, policies that encourage bicycling are so far off the political radar screen that we are more likely to see astronauts riding bikes on Mars before we see bicycles in large numbers in our towns and cities. Corporate America simply has not been able to find a way to soak as much profit out of bicycle manufacturing as it has out of car manufacturing and car insurance, space travel, and war (to name the most famous areas of government knee-buckling at corporate behest).

The photograph that appears above was taken in Osaka, Japan in 2004. Japan presumably also had a thriving bicycle culture at one point, much like China, and relative to the United States, it certainly still does. I think this photograph suggests that bike culture in Japan is still holding its own. In your mind, turn each one of these bikes into a car. Imagine it is the size of an S.U.V. With that image in mind, you can see how the asphalt pictured within this photo would quickly disappear from sight under the cars' bloated presence. The cars would bulge out like a fleet of rescue vehicles parked haphazardly around a scene of distress. To be cleared from the road, they would require a parking garage, which would perhaps require a separate building, or a parking lot, which would steal room for a home or park and further congest the conditions of life for the city's inhabitants. With such thoughts in mind, think how sane is the simplicity of bikes.

Parked before an apartment building, these bikes butt into the street with confidence, covering almost half the distance of one lane. This arrangement is not uncommon in Osaka. Moreover, they are parked in defiance of "no parking" signs that sit before the apartment building (prohibiting cars AND bikes from being parked there). This reminds us of the somewhat ambiguous status of bicycles and the fact that they are given more slack in the eyes of the law. As far as I know, in the laws of most nations, they are deemed moving vehicles on par with automobiles; quite often, however, despite their legal status, they are treated with the permissiveness granted a pedestrian who crosses underneath a red light when no traffic is coming or never stops at stop signs. Few ever pay insurance on their bikes, and bikes are almost never tagged with fines to fill a city's coffers. They can be ridden on streets or sidewalks and allowed to meander among parked or idling cars as if they were evanescent, a mere fluid or vapor coursing through interstices. They can be carried in and out of buildings like sleeping children and hung from storage hooks like heavy overcoats.

Perhaps it is in the very flexibility, simplicity, and efficiency of bikes that lies their subversiveness in the eyes of corporate-driven law-makers the world over.

Friday, May 21


Footbridge from above            Dorogawa, Japan

Thursday, May 20

The Spanish Example

It is a painful thing to contemplate the ignorant, arrogant language that is often spoken by Republican members of the Congress. This was particularly true with respect to comments made by the Republican leadership in the Congress regarding the Spanish elections at the beginning of the year. The ‘with-us-or-against-us’ mentality led some to charge the Spanish (citizens or new government) with appeasing terrorists (Dennis Hastert) and permitting “the victory of the terrorists” (Tom DeLay). I recall that Presidents Carter and Clinton, and many other American political leaders after them, refused to pronounce upon elections abroad, saying that it was not their place to do so. Has this understanding of propriety disappeared from political culture in the United States for some reason? If so, why? And who asked the Republican leadership in the Congress for their opinion of Spanish voters?

The main presumption of the Republican's charges is that Zapatero was elected out of cowering thoughtlessness in the face of a single act of barbarity. As such, the charges not only insult Zapatero and his supporters, since they imply that there could be no other reason to vote for him, they also dismiss the long-held, massive resistance among Spanish voters to their nation’s participation in a war that has led to well over 10,000 civilian deaths (the comprehensive investigation into which killings was deemed by the U.S. military, in contravention to one of four Geneva Conventions, to be beneath their scope of competence or responsibility). Further, they brush aside the fact that Spanish voters felt compelled to change their government not out of cowardice but because their government had purposefully deceived them by squelching intelligence linking the bombings to Islamic militants.

The second baseless assumption animating these charges is that in destroying the criminal and enfeebled regime of Saddam Hussein, U.S.-led forces have struck a blow to "terrorism." Repeating claims that, for instance, Hussein was “sitting atop a nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons program, a ticking time bomb, a nuclear 9-11 waiting to happen” (DeLay, March 17, 2004), is a fear-mongering, deceitful tactic. At the very least, lawmakers who repeat such lies should be censored.

One could list many effective ways to fight terrorism. The speedy progress that the Spanish have made in investigating the train bombings suggests that investigative action has merit. (It's not surprising that in the American press the Spanish have not been praised for their success in this investigation, which investigation truly puts to shame all of the ridiculously violent, flashy, illegal, deceptive, counter-productive, and expensive means of "fighting terrorism" employed by the Bush administration till this point.) In any case, insulting democratic elections, scaring citizens by repeating false claims, shocking people with brute force, shredding international law, trashing basic human rights, and killing thousands of innocent people, cannot possibly rank high on the list of efficient ways of countering terrorism. And yet these are precisely the means by which our "leadership" in the Congress, Pentagon, and White House have sought to "protect" the American people.

In its condemnation of the Spanish voters, the Republican-led Congress has likely alienated yet another important ally and, in the process, insulted democracy itself. It would be foolish not to see in their fat-mouthed commentary on the Spanish voters an attempt to protect their own campaign of deception and fear-mongering from a vigilant public. It is thus time for American voters to follow the Spanish example and put their own power of democracy to work by voting for leaders who know how to fight terrorism honestly and intelligently.

Wednesday, May 19

Locale of the film Moé No Suzaku 「萌の朱雀」 

Michael Moore's Fictimentaries, pt. 2

The following is of one of a series of posts at Terrette on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.
Genre categories in film are lagging seriously behind film innovations. Michael Moore is far from being the first to meld the presumably distinct genres of documentary film and fiction (not to mention, autobiography). Agnès Varda's The Gleaners and I (2000) is another example of what could be called a "fictimentary." It begins as an investigation in art history, history, and contemporary society of a single gesture—picking something up from the ground in an effort to salvage something of unappreciated value—and expands into an exploration of the lives of underprivileged and resourceful citizens of contemporary France.
We should recognize that, according to the written accounts of Moore's latest film and in keeping with Moore's previous work, Fahrenheit 9/11 is neither a strict documentary nor an idiosyncratic fiction of pure fantasy. Before its release, we should be cautious of the two extremes of criticism that are likely to greet it (as discussed in pt. 1, below).

Yesterday, I wrote that Moore's films contain "mythologizing." By this, I mean, for example, Moore's treatment of his hometown, Flint, Michigan. Moore regularly returns to Flint in his films, but he certainly has never made a documentary of Flint. Roger and Me offers historical information and takes places largely in Flint, but the film focuses on Flint because Flint reflects the larger issue of corporate evolution in the United States generally. Flint in this movie, in particular, assumes the metonymic role of blue-collar American. This is not to say that Moore falsifies the history or experience of people living in Flint, Michigan in order to force a pre-conceived idea onto them, but only that, on the basis of certain facts of the social and economic situation of Flint, Moore draws out patterns in their experiences that exist elsewhere in America and thus resonate among viewers from all over the country.

Bowling for Columbine, for its part, is no more a documentary of violence in the United States than Hugo's novel Les Misérables is a documentary of La Commune or political strife in 1840's Paris. Bowling for Columbine does not use the topic of violence in the United States simply as a backdrop for a story of human passions, and it cites figures for gun ownership and levels of gun violence in different nations; but it offers more questions than it does answers, and the answers it does offer come not from the filmmaker himself, but from the contradictory voices of those interviewed.

What most pulls Moore's films out of the category of "documentaries" is that they appeal primarily to the human dimension of the events they narrate. There is nothing particularly "left wing" or propagandistic about exposing the human suffering caused by corporate indifference or gun violence in the United States. For the same reason, it is difficult to imagine a similarly hybrid film made from the political right. What human suffering is there to be found in, for instance, the thought that a prospective billionaire might have to pay an inheritance tax before inheriting her wealth? What human intrigue capable of moving the masses could be displayed in the story of a multinational corporation that is denied a monopoly of a given industry? Could it move audiences to witness the story of a Fortune 500 corporation that, after many years of paying no taxes, is obliged to pay some? The only way I could conceive of such a film is if it were a pure satire: but, in that case, who better to make it than Michael Moore?

Let's try to forecast the type of criticism that will come from the American political right if Moore's film is honored at Cannes and attracts real attention in the States. I would guess that not only will Moore be called unpatriotic and un-American, but that we may even hear members of Congress and radio talk-show hate mongers such as Rush Limbaugh expand their criticism of the film to include the Cannes Film Festival, Hollywood, the French, Western Europeans, the "media," and who-knows-whom-or-what-else. It may even be called "a victory for terrorism." I say this because of what I witnessed after the Spanish elections that ousted a pro-Bush government largely because that government had deceived the Spanish voters. Once the anti-war socialist party was announced the winner, a hideously anti-democratic and self-inflated discourse spewed from the Republican Congressional leadership, and this contemptuous discourse was echoed thoughtlessly throughout the editorials of the nation's major newspapers (see tomorrow's post for more on this topic).

Whether or not this hyperbolic scenario of political hate speech comes to pass, we should be cautious of those would judge Fahrenheit 9/11 on purely political grounds without respect for its being a film designed primarily to entertain the public and raise questions. As for the question of whether the film bleeds into propaganda, as some have charged (I think, unfairly) of Moore's previous work, that is one we cannot address before seeing the film.

Ryokan (country inn), Dorogawa Japan. 

Michael Moore's Fictimentaries, pt. 1

The following is one of a series of posts at Terrette on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.
As we wait in anticipation for Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 to find a distributor in the U.S., it is worth noting, before the onslaught of movie reviews have their way with it, that this film is likely to be met with the same critical incomprehension that has often greeted Moore’s previous films. This incomprehension is due, I think, to a confusion concerning the nature of the films, which are neither documentaries in any strict sense of the word nor works of pure fiction.

Critics who railed against Roger and Me because of potential, minor factual inaccuracies (such as the question of whether Roger Smith really ever dined in that restaurant where Moore had gone to look for him) or Bowling for Columbine because Moore had not consulted criminologists or sociologists, both start from the same false assumption that Moore is a documentary filmmaker. Such critics are encouraged in this both by Moore’s Bowling for Columbine having been designated a "documentary" in various awards ceremonies and by Moore's own use of the term to qualify the film. It is no wonder that Bowling for Columbine was the first "documentary" to win an Oscar, because, well, it isn't one! At the same time, while not being documentaries, Moore's films are not fictions in the sense in which, for instance, Charles Perrault's fairy tales or any classic novel or Walt Disney production are fictions. In an effort to both distill, and question, the crux of contemporary life, they dig into recent events and collect narratives surrounding shared, traumatic experiences.

In a word, Moore's films participate in elements both of documentaries (interviews, the presentation of statistics, the framing of a problem or issue) and fictions (humor, irony, mythologizing). For this reason, perhaps they would best be called "fictimentaries."

In calling them so, one should not confuse different senses of the word "fiction." Moore's films are not fictions in the way that, say, Bush campaign ads are fictions or videos the Bush administration has made to promote the new Medicare law are illegal propaganda. They are not designed to deceive. Often, those from the political Right who claim that the films are "loaded" and "propagandistic" simply dismiss out-of-hand the very obvious fact that the films are primarily a form of entertainment. Such critics are motivated to contest the political and cultural perspectives of the films and so unjustifiably treat them as if they were political treatises. Thus, they dismiss their entertainment value. Moore frequently points out (as if it were necessary) that his main goal is setting out to make a film is not to ram home a political agenda (which goal would kill the entertainment value of the project) but rather to entertain. It is Moore's particular strength that he manages to do this consistently while imbuing his films with social consciousness and humanity. The fact that Moore's films have sold well attests to the fact not only that there are a lot of left-wing people in the world but also, more importantly, that people enjoy watching the films. They appeal to the viewer as any classic work of fiction appeals to its audience: by entertaining.


To those who say of Moore's newest film, "Oh, that's just politicizing the war on terrorism," or "that's propaganda," the proper response in all likelihood will be: "Well, if you call that propaganda, what does your idea of an investigative, entertaning 'documentary' look like?" If anyone argues that the film "politicizes" something that is not already political, or that it uses "propagandistic" tactics, the film will still have to be assessed as a film. And if, as a film, it turns out to be a good show, enjoyed by many, well, that will speak volumes for the film as a film and put the narrowly political criticisms of it in their place.

To those, however, who say, "It wasn't fully documented: it didn't consult all the specialists or treat the issues exhaustively," the answer will most likely be: "So, what? It wasn't meant to." Such viewers would be better off watching documentaries that they may have the fortune to find in their local libraries.

Tuesday, May 18


A Conservative Liberal in a Time of Either / Or

The Australian: Bill Kauffman: An underdog may be the best antidote to neo-cons [May 18, 2004]
Kauffman's is the sort of article that could not be written by anyone caught up in the current climate of polarized political anxiety that reigns in the United States. On the one hand, we have the Neo-cons saying that either Americans vote George Bush into the office he currently holds, or they will lose the war on terror and forever live in a terror-ravaged world; on the other hand, the Democrats and anybody-but-Bush partisans claim that either Americans vote for Kerry and support him in everything he does and says, or they will be faced with at least four more years of unmitigated international terrorism and national fiscal and cultural turmoil at the hands of Bush, Inc. While the second of these two either/or scenarios has at least some substance to it (whereas the first should force just about any stable-minded individual to fall from their chair in a bout of incontrollable laughter), the second scenario is no more justified, in the end, and its consequences are pernicious. The scenario is not as pernicious in its consequences as would be that of Cheney and Rumsfeld and the rest of their corporate militarists running policy in the U.S. and abroad for another four years, but it is pernicious in so far as it is being used to steal from citizens the process of debate that is crucial to keeping a democracy vital (or, rather, of restoring some measure of democratic vitality to what is currently, on the whole, a culture of polarized thoughtlessness). An Either/Or climate gives a free pass to candidates and discourages political accountability.

Kerry deserves support simply on the grounds that he is running against Bush. Anyone who is not i) an irresponsible millionaire or billionaire, ii) a fossil fuel or weapons investor, or iii) a sadly duped citizen who believes that voting for Bush will serve her own interests, can easily accept that Kerry is preferable to Bush simply for not being Bush. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of citizens who support Kerry to demonstrate that they have not severed their critical capacities out of a blind anti-Bush rage and that they still keep major issues and stakes in focus. Kerry has an impressive record of voting to support progressive causes for many years. But there are several issues on which his silence, or his vocal backing of Bush, are cause for concern. For instance, his silence on the camp of international lawlessness, thuggery, and bullying known as Guantanamo is troubling, to say the least. Even Kerry's wife has clearly stated that the detainees in that camp should be classified as prisoners of war and not be given the bogus denomination of "lawless combatants" (which is just a stupid formulation for "really, really evil S.O.B. that we intend to humiliate, even in the absence of evidence"). Holding Kerry's hand to the fire on this one issue, for instance, does not mean that voters have to begin looking for a single positive thing in the horrific presidency of George Bush (a vain enterprise, if ever), nor that they have to consider withdrawing their vote for Kerry and placing it with another candidate. What it means, simply, is that they have to challenge their own candidate and show him that their votes contribute to building him a mandate that amounts to more than just, "We want you to be somebody other than George Bush."

In the either/or climate that reigns in the United States these days, it is not surprising that it apparently took an Australian to point out all the positive aspects of Ralph Nader's candidacy without blushing in shame or swearing that he (the author) is not, in fact, a clandestine Bush sympathizer. It is a sign of the times that the syndicated "liberal" radio program that debuted many weeks ago invited Nader to speak only to shout him down ruthlessly, and now refuses to speak about his platorm or activities, or even to mention his name. (And just how "liberal" is that, America?) What Kauffman pulls off in his article, in a way that Air America Radio would never tolerate, is to show how Nader takes positive aspects of both conservative and liberal perspectives and melds them into a coherent, uncompromised vision of anti-corporate, anti-corporate-war leadership.

Nader speaks in an uncomprised manner to power in a way that Kerry supporters only wish their candidate would. Kerry's not doing so, his supporters hope, is only a strategic quietness, a deliberate attempt to wait for the right moment to strike or for the point beyond which Bush's own self-damage can no longer be mended. Although these explanations beg the question of what sort of leader Kerry is, the hopes that Kerry is only holding his cards may, in fact, prove to be well-founded, and there is no sound reason for hoping against them. As Nader himself said of Kerry, he is a "work in progress" and his voting record, as well as the verbal support he has shown progressive causes, especially in the fashion of Dean and Edwards, can itself auger good things. Lip service, said Nader, is sometimes the first step to reform. Until Kerry can actually turn this corner, however, Nader will remain the best antidote to the Neo-cons and not be (as he is contemptuously referred to in most circles) a mere "spoiler." This much is certain: in order not to inherit and thus perpetuate much of the distortions to national and international law that the Neo-cons have imposed upon us in the last three years, Kerry, as president, would have to be extremely vocal and active for a long time in overturning Bush-signed legislation and Bush-supported policy.

Kerry's beating Bush will without a doubt be cause for unbridled celebration. But once the party is over (if that party ever happens), we will wake up to a day in which the legacy of Bush remains with us. Let us hope that those who are intent on voting for anybody-but-Bush help to select a candidate that has the staying power not to become Bush by inheritance. The U.S. needs a radical shift in its foreign and domestic policy, and such a radical shift cannot be obtained by anyone who refuses, for instance, to call Guantanamo a dungeon of lawlessness.

Let me cite an exchange in which Kerry is asked to speak about Guantanamo and replies in abstract and uncommitted language. It is the only known place where I have seen Kerry quoted on Guantanamo, and it comes from Kerry's own website:

Q: What is your opinion on the detentions at Guantanamo, and what would you do about the prisoners being held there if you are elected?

Kerry: I am deeply concerned that the Bush Administration has thrown basic civil liberties out the window in their efforts to make Americans feel safer, while doing little to actually make them safer. I do not trust John Ashcroft to protect our civil liberties.
(I would appreciate if anyone could locate other Kerry statements on Guantanamo that may exist.)

The point of this post is not to perpetuate the idiotic Republican-constructed myth of "Kerry, the flip-flopper," or to attack Kerry on character grounds by saying that he is too soft, not bitter or loud enough, etc. The former myth has been demolished, and while Kerry has been curiously silent on Guantanamo for all we can tell, as Diogenes has pointed out to me, he has made strong statements concerning the abuses of detained citizens at Abu Ghraib, and even has stated that responsibility for the abuse of prisoners extends to the Oval Office.

The point of this post, rather, is to suggest that it is much too early to "close ranks" against Bush if by that we mean closing our minds. To me, Guantanamo stands as the Bush administration's most egregious example of contempt for international law and its corresponding cult of executive sovereignty. It would be odd, indeed, for Kerry to step into Bush's shoes as the 'Sovereign of Guantanamo' who holds the destiny of potentially any U.S. or world citizen in his clutches, especially when John Kerry, for many, is Mr. Anbody-but-Bush.

Monday, May 17

Anti-Bush Inc. protest in Osaka 

Sunday, May 16

Rogue Report

To listen to On the Media, click on the Terrette link to it.
On the Media, which can be heard on a number of NPR stations and accessed online, is a source of commentary on events relating to world media. It has followed closely the increased concentration in fewer and fewer hands the spectrum of media in the U.S. and its increasingly pro-war, right-wing, corporate nature. It came as a real surprise to me, then, that in their report "Enemy Jazeera?," On the Media does what cable or corporate news almost always does for its U.S. consumers, namely, give only the point of view of the current U.S. administration and present it largely uncritically. In this segment, On the Media interviews the director of strategic communications at the Coalition Provisional Authority, who complains about Al-Jazeera and goes as far as to lie in his counter charges (in particular, about the U.S. use of cluster bombs). The interviewer, On the Media's Managing Editor Brooke Gladstone, fails to challenge this false claim that the U.S. did not use cluster bombs.

I wrote two separate letters in complaint and present them below. (While neither of these was mentioned in their following program, they did cite a sentence or two from a letter of a listener whose response was similar in tone.)

Before posting the letters, let me point readers interested in On the Media to this compelling, general critique of the program.

[July 6. 2004 update: this last weekend, On the Media reached new depths of corporate-minded mediocrity by bashing Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 with the help of the ideologically driven Newsweek reporter Isikoff (who repeated his false claims) and by giving a defense of the Carlyle group with the help of its recently hired damage-control PR man.]

First letter:
Hello, On the Media e-mail reader,

I love your show. I had a problem, though, with the piece on Al-Jazeera, for the following reasons:

1) It didn't allow Al-Jazeera a rebuttal to the charges made with respect to specific cases.

2) It failed to take advantage of the glaring opportunity to ask Mr. Tappan to apply his 'truth matrix' for journalism to the obviously pro-Bush and often misleading Fox News (or--in what could have been truly interesting--to apply this same test without the consent or intervention of Mr. Tappan). How many misleading statements can Fox News make before representatives of the U.S. government speak against them? And can we possibly believe that lives are not in the balance, as well, in the misrepresentation of events and ideas offered up by Fox News?

3) It failed to question the basis on which Mr. Tappan or Colin Powell feels they are suited to criticize foreign press. Would either figure be willing to respond to Qatar reviews of U.S. media? Or of the state of public airwave access in the U.S.? If not, then this refusal should be taken into consideration when we weigh the significance of their opinions about televised press abroad.

4) It left the impression that the U.S. forces have not used cluster bombs (since that is the claim Tappan falsely made). It has been widely documented, by USA Today among other mainstream media, that the U.S. Army has used outdated cluster bombs in civilian areas that have had devastating effects on civilian populations.

Keep up the good work and please apologize for, or at least offer a supplementary report to, this sub-standard piece on Al-Jazeera. If your listeners want a U.S. military view of events in Iraq, they can turn on just about any other form of corporate media. Listeners of On the Media expect more rigor and broad-mindedness.

Second letter:
Dear On the Media:

Your segment "Enemy Jazeera?" was informative in reporting on the U.S.administration's diplomatic intervention in Qatar; however, it seemed to beg a much larger issue, which can be framed as follows:

It is hypocritical for Colin Powell and others representing the Bush administration to reprimand the Qatar government for its support of the public network Al-Jazeera when, in the view of media watchdog groups and observers of many political stripes, the state of the press in the United States is lamentable (and worsening year after year, with fewer and fewer choices, and more and more corporate-driven consent). Those who have access to Al-Jazeera and other channels of news have at their disposal a much wider spectrum of appreciation of the events going on in Iraq in particular than a large majority of citizens in the U.S. This is so whether or not it is true that, as Powell, Robert Tappan, or others contend, aspects of some reports done by Al-Jazeera have been blatantly false.

To see this hypocritical protest-lodging in its proper light, one has only to recall that reports from all the major U.S. networks--in many cases, relayed unfiltered from the White House --concerning "weapons of mass destruction" and "Iraq's posing an immanent threat to the United States"are known to have been blatantly false; nonetheless, Powell has yet to lodge an official complaint about this with either the chief executive, the Congress, or the FCC.

It would have improved your segment had you so framed this issue to Mr. Tappan. Moreover, it would have been in keeping with the spirit of "On the Media" not simply to relay the administration's view of a given media outlet.

Saturday, May 15


"Withdraw!," say these swollen characters before a symbol of peace. Japanese citizens protest prime minister Koizumi's support for Bush's campaign of misguided military and political aggression in Iraq. These protesters, who belong to a group of researchers who study the effects of depleted uranium on soldiers and civilians, were vastly outnumbered by the prepossessed shoppers that passed them by. Japan has been swept away in a tide of conservatism and political cluelessness, as was amply demonstrated upon the return of Japanese hostages from Iraq in April. The former hostages were subjected to near unanimous scorn by the Japanese public and press (with the exception of the left-leaning Asahi Shinbun, whose editors wrote in their favor), and the pro-Bush, war-nostalgic government even forced them to pay monetary compensations for the "disturbances" that their capture and release had caused. It was easy to see in these petty compensation requirements warnings against other Japanese not to complicate with hair-brained humanitarian missions the Japanese government's serious-minded meddling in Iraq. One Japanese woman's complaint (that echoed actual statements from government officials) was typical: "I don't want to pay tax money for taking care of those hostages!" Of course, she had not even asked herself how much tax money is being spent on the "humanitarian" mission currently being conducted by Koizumi's soldier boys, and which mission is undoubtedly motivated by the promise of privileged access to Iraqi oil. In short, the nation has been encouraged to heap scorn on these true humanitarians while the phoney humanitarians with machine guns in their arms pass as national heroes.
To join citizens of the world in protesting this ugly situation, please read and sign, if you will, this petition addressed to Koizumi.  

Friday, May 14

Terrette's blog. Introduction.

For the next several months, this blog will be dedicated in part to getting Bush Inc. out of Washington, D.C.

Pour les mois qui viennent, ce blog-ci aura pour but, entre autres, de chasser Bush Inc. de Washington, D.C.