Wednesday, June 30

How we love "propaganda"!

Since Fahrenheit 9/11 was first discussed, "propaganda" has become the darling word of our truth-seeking media mouths. Virtually everyone loves to call Moore's film "propaganda." Merely pronouncing the word seems to bring satisfaction.
Perhaps saying "propaganda" excites a sense of pride and wonderment at one's own powers of analysis. If we only say "this or that is propaganda," then we swiftly assure ourselves a position of dispassionate objectivity. Some use the word to dismiss Moore's entire film; others, simply to suggest that Moore has a "point of view." The broad spectrum of meaning implied in this practice encounters no obstacle, as no one bothers to define the word, which is carried away in the currents of a whim.

To join the "propaganda" party, I would like to say that one thing that disappointed me about Fahrenheit 9/11 is that it participates (to a degree) in what seems to me to be the biggest piece of propaganda of the day in the United States, one that is conspicuous by its at once unstated and ubiquitous nature. Specifically (unless I simply overlooked this aspect of the movie), Fahrenheit 9/11 fails to mention the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed by U.S. forces. It does suggest that children were killed, and even shows the body of one of them, but why does it not state a number? My sense is that this is because the number of Iraqis killed must, in accordance with an unquestioned assumption that is a distinguishing feature of American society, remain not only unspoken, but uncalculated. The deaths must remain essentially incalculable and out-of-bounds for civil discourse. U.S. military forces in Iraq even breached a Geneva Convention that dictates that occupying forces must tally civilian deaths because the keeping of such records was deemed "impracticable." No one seems to have noticed this. No one who appears angry about Moore's "propaganda" took the U.S. leadership to task for this breach of an international treaty.

One sequence in particular of Fahrenheit 9/11 has been repeatedly called "propaganda" for suggesting that children were killed. Moore shows children playing in the streets and follows this shot with images of government buildings in Baghdad being bombed. Right-wing commentators cry foul, saying that "Sadaam's Iraq was not all that peaceful." Moore's answer to this criticism, which is not without its justification, is that popular media have already covered Sadaam's wickedness extensively over the last four years and, with two hours at his disposal, he thought he would draw a different picture. Well, perhaps if people knew the number of Iraqis killed by U.S. cluster bombing, by the use of depleted uranium, and by all other manner of firepower the U.S. forces have used, then these self-righteous commentators would not be so quick to label this sequence "propaganda." As I see it, the sequence merely condenses a fact of the invasion that was repeated a countless number of times throughout the invasion. It is perfectly factual that lots of children played in the streets of Iraq before (and during) the U.S. invasion. It is also perfectly factual that thousands of them were cut down by U.S. firepower and are still dying and suffering horrific health problems as a consequence of the U.S. military actions in their country. So, what is the point in railing against Moore for his "propaganda" in this sequence? Many Americans (%40-%60, by recent estimates) still believe that Iraqis were directly involved in the attacks of 9/11. Can you imagine how many are still in the dark about the number of U.S.-provoked civilian deaths in Iraq and elsewhere? If this street-play-to-bombing sequence is propaganda, it is hardly as decisive as the "official" propaganda it serves to counter. The sequence of images would have been more decisive--and less vulnerable to facile charges of "propaganda," I think, if Moore had cited a figure to support it.

The 'law of silence' that reigns over all these deaths is a piece of mute propaganda that apparently not even Moore feels he can get too close to. In liberty-loving America, the vast majority of our public figures and politicians would find it impossible to invoke these deaths as an argument against U.S. military aggression. It just could not happen. And I wonder, why is this? Why do we all have to act as if the lives of civilians in other parts of the world are negligible to the point of being unspeakable and, as Rumsfeld might say, unknowable?

For anyone who might take an interest in this question, my April 11 post presents links to ongoing research into this question. In November 2003, MEDACT estimated that 20,000 to 55,000 Iraqis had been killed in the U.S. invasion.

Tuesday, June 29

Friendly farmer in Nishi-Yoshino 

Monday, June 28

White House angered by questions

Is anyone not yet convinced that President Bush is losing touch? Do you not yet sense that he is a danger not only to the world, but to civility itself? If so, I encourage you to visit, which has an excellent write-up on the Bush interview with the Irish reporter that took place a few days ago, including a video link to the complete interview and links to some sharp blogger commentary.
It turns out the White House responded angrily to being asked questions. has reported that the White House has filed a complaint with the Irish Embassy. Curiously, the questions Bush were asked were scripted; the journalist, Carole Coleman, submitted them to the White House three days in advance. Moreover, they are, I think, the sort of questions that not only the Irish people, but citizens the world over, would wish to ask the President. To measure just how out-of-touch the White House has become, consider that, in addition to lodging a formal complaint, the White House has "retaliated" by canceling a schedule interview with Laura Bush that Coleman had been given permission to conduct. (Apparently, this cancellation order fits in with the "preemptive" strategy of the Bush Administration.)

Intimidating journalists in this manner is, as I illustrated in a recent post ("Clinton's revealing interview"), something for which the Bush Administration can cite the Clinton Administration as a precedent. Bush takes the tendency to new depths of incivility, as he stubbornly pounds out abstract, delusional talking points that bear no substantive information of any kind.

Note, too, how Bush tries to muster presidential fortitude by lavishing questionable adverbs on himself. For example: "I STRONGLY argue that..." You strongly argue? Excuse me? Moreover, the forward-thrusting body movement he makes as he lets this adverbial bomb fly does little to strengthen the STRONGLY argued opinion he refers to.

Here is how I recalled the interview between Ms. Coleman and Bush (in a post written a few days ago).

An Irish reporter asked Bush if he didn't find significance in the fact that so many Irish (15,000 of whom demonstrated on his visit to Ireland) are angry about the torture scandal and about his diverting the war on terror away from Al-Qaeda to Iraq. His response, which I paraphrase here, seemed to confirm the premises of Moore's film. Bush responded by ignoring the comment about Al-Qaeda, as if the diversion of the war away from the actual terrorists responsible for 9/11 were a given and not worth discussing, speaking some platitudes about good Irish-American relations, as if the threat to such relations were not exactly the point of the interviewer's question, and putting all the blame for the torture scandal on the backs of a few soldiers, which tactic only confirms Moore's (and many others') view that the Administration doesn't give a damn about those whom it enlists to do its dirty work (and whose sacrifices it and its supporters use cynically as a shield against criticism of Bush Administration policies).

Sunday, June 27

making okonomiyaki 

Saturday, June 26

We'll move ourselves forward, thank you.

Remember how the consulting group called "Move America Forward" last week took comfort in the fact that Fahrenheit 9/11 was showing in only about 500 theaters nationwide?
Aside from the fact that the actual number is 868, this triumphant claim has been put to shame by the box office report released today that shows Fahrenheit 9/11 to be the top grossing film this weekend, the first documentary ever to reach number one. Yes, films like "White Chicks" and "Dodgeball" and "Harry Potter #14" are playing in more than three times as many theaters, but are making less money.


Film title -- no. of theaters -- weekend gross

Fahrenheit 9/11 -- 868 -- $21,800,000
Harry Potter... -- 3404 -- $11,420,000
Thus, while the bubble-gum films are spaciously received by corporate America, Americans of many stripes are flocking to Moore's latest movie and claiming it as their own.

Here in Buffalo, NY, a strange phenomenon has occurred. Since there is essentially only one theater in town showing the film (although it is playing at two theaters in driving distance), huge crowds have amassed in front of the theater, which has sold nearly 3,000 tickets (full capacity) for the third day in a row. Yesterday, I roller-bladed in a lot across from the theater and, over the course of an hour and a half, saw no slackening of the line. In fact, that line remained there all afternoon, until all the day's three thousand tickets were sold out. It cheered me just to glance over there once in a while and see so many people waiting to get in.

In the interest of balance, I asked one of the ticket takers if he had heard any negative opinions voiced about the film. He told me that the film is roundly applauded every time, but that one guy, who was walking into the only other film showing, namely Saved, said to him, about Fahrenheit 9/11, "Showing that film is treason!" On hearing this, I said to the ticket taker, but didn't that guy realize that seeing Saved is sacrilegious?

Not only film goers, but citizen activists have shown up at the theater. You can find Rock the Vote people with their music-blaring pick-up truck parked in the theater lot, passing out voter registration forms. There's a Vietnam Vet member handing out "9/11 dollar bills." And then you have representatives from and some student groups handing out bumper stickers and such. It's a wonderful atmosphere. Democracy seems to have sprung to life. And the Amherst theater has essentially become the hottest social spot in town!

If you haven't noticed already, Michael Moore has posted many accounts like this one that illustrate the incredible enthusiasm Americans are showing for this film.

Friday, June 25

River road stop-off 

First thoughts after viewing Fahrenheit 9/11

The complexity of Moore's film comes, in part, from the fact that it works on so many levels. Moore opens up his entire tool box and pulls out humor, investigative reporting, historical narrative, irony, emotional appeal, shocking realism, throbbing or seductive musical tracks, and more.
Some reviewers reject this multi-genre approach. As Jeff Simon for the Buffalo News wrote of Moore, "Tom Brokaw, he ain't." To this, I say: Thank God Moore ain't Brokaw, because the need NOT TO BE BROKAW or BROKAW-LIKE is one of the major points of the movie. (Besides, who could ever sit through two hours of BROKAW, and who would actually pay for it?) Simon also calls Moore a "slob" and a "bully." These kinds of responses express well the sort of contempt in which the stiffly conventional talking heads of corporate media hold Moore, who simply out-maneuvers them in a multitude of ways and ends up at a point far closer to the truth than they can ever hope to reach. They must despise him for revealing them in their cold, impotent light.

My overriding emotion after seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 was one of relief. Finally, I thought, someone shares the anger and disbelief that has accompanied me every day of Bush's presidency. And so, I am not simply mad, am I? Whew! I felt tremendously grateful to Moore for channeling this anger into a well-constructed document that many others can see and, yes, enjoy.

On a local note, the Amherst Theater in Buffalo, NY had a record movie turnout, with every seat (of 3,000) being sold out for the day's eight showings. The theater was packed and the audience reacted perceptively to the film's many dimensions. I cried and laughed with everyone else. And, for sure, I got angry with them, too. I doubt that this excitement can be explained only in terms of certain media-propelled controversies. People are starving for a non-corporate-media view of the events of the past three-and-a-half years.

After viewing the film, I returned home to see the pathetic figure, David Brooks, on the Jim Lehrer News Hour, trying his best to save Bush's reputation by asserting that people like Bush because they think he is more "religious" than Kerry. What is so absurd about this last-ditch attempt to preserve Bush's credibility is that it presumes that anyone can so easily measure such a thing as religiosity. Personally, I have no idea how to assess the different relations Kerry and Bush may entertain with their God, and I would never be so presumptuous as to take their public statements regarding such a relationship as proof of one thing or another. In any case, watching Brooks, and reading the vicious film review presented by Jim Simon of the Buffalo News, I felt angry to be confronted with the mediocre status-quo once again. Don't these buffoons realize what is at stake?

It would be hard to claim that this movie is pro-Democrat, or pro-Kerry. (And thus it is pointless for Nader to complain that Moore invited to the Washington, DC premiere of Fahrenheit 9/11 the Democratic political establishment to the exclusion of Nader and his progressive friends.) The Democrats in this movie are shown to be unforgivably complicit and/or spineless in the face of the corporate right's drive to steal the 2000 election and pass off a war for oil as an issue of "national security." Of the Democrats, Gore strikes the most sinister figure, as he pounds his gavel to silence the voices of African-Americans who contest in Congress their obvious disenfranchisement in the 2000 election (and Gore even mocks one of them outright). The larger reason for this film not being "Democrat" is simply that Kerry promises to pursue full-throttle the policies that were put in place to fatten the Bush family and their corporate, oil-thirsty friends. (Kerry supporters, don't give up on your candidate, but keep in mind that, if he wins, a DRASTIC SHIFT in policy would be required to prevent the Democrats from paving the way to the bank for the Bush-Carlyle types who have been riding roughshod over the reputation of the U.S. for their private gain.)

Moore's film is not just a multi-genre film. It is more than a film. It is much bigger and more important than a mere film. It's a call to action. It is a protest against the politics of greed and against the "war on terror" which is, as Moore argues, a "war on the poor" abroad and at home. If its penetrating inquiry into the Bush-Bin Laden relations is as dead-on as it seems, it should rally Americans not only to vote Bush out of office in November, but to chase him and his Administration out of Washington as soon as possible. And this, in the interest of national security and the real war on terrorism; not to mention, in the interest of democracy.

This morning, I heard a bit of an interview with Bush that was conducted in Ireland yesterday [ed. note: turns out that it was conduced in the White House just before Bush's departure for Ireland]. An Irish reporter asked Bush if he didn't find significance in the fact that so many Irish (15,000 of whom demonstrated on his visit to Ireland) are angry about the torture scandal and about his diverting the war on terror away from Al-Qaeda to Iraq. His response, which I paraphrase here, seemed to confirm the premises of Moore's film. Bush responded by ignoring the comment about Al-Qaeda, as if the diversion of the war away from the actual terrorists responsible for 9/11 were a given and not worth discussing, speaking some platitudes about good Irish-American relations, as if the threat to such relations were not exactly the point of the interviewer's question, and putting all the blame for the torture scandal on the backs of a few soldiers, which tactic only confirms Moore's (and many others') view that the Administration doesn't give a damn about those whom it enlists to do its dirty work (and whose sacrifices it and its supporters use cynically as a shield against criticism of Bush Administration policies).

Thursday, June 24

The storyteller gestures 

A fair shake to Nader

"Tell me what it's like in the toilets," is the first line we hear from Ralph Nader in a June 23 NPR audio report.
Nader is speaking to fifth graders in inner-city Chicago who, as part of a class project, had spent the year trying to improve the conditions in their own school. It is hardly the sort of line we hear spoken by the dominant-party political candidates these days. Nader offers encouragement to the students in their civic endeavors. After highlighting this civic activity, on which Nader had written a short piece in April, NPR cites a host of irrelevant questions that are typically asked of Nader such as--my favorite, a question packaged by the New York Times--"Does the fact that some call yours a 'vanity campaign' hurt your legacy?" and then samples a Nader speaking engagement in Indiana that occurred the next day. Nader here urges citizens to avoid having their vote taken for granted by not indicating that the Democrats have won it by default (even if they do intend to vote for Kerry). This, notes, Siegel, is the closest Nader has come to asking Democrats to support him but vote for Kerry if they feel it is necessary for assuring Bush's defeat.

An interview ensues with Robert Siegel in which Nader makes some typically amusingly sober and incisive comments. I copy here my favorite exchange, in which Nader makes a point that was missing from most of the debates surrounding the week of Reagan eulogies.

Robert Siegel: If you had been president the week Ronald Reagan died, would you have done some generous eulogy in the Capital Rotunda the way Bill Clinton spoke at Richard Nixon's funeral, or would you speak the way you would always speak of Ronald Reagan, as a genial person who did damage--as you see it--to most of the people of the United States?

Ralph Nader: Well, there are certain mourning ceremonies that require an equinimity, in fact, so, you don't sieze on the mourning ceremony to go after his misdeeds.

Robert Siegel: But... you're... what I'm getting at is that you're a partisan. You're one of the great partisans of American life of the late twentieth century. Is the presidency really suitable to that... to that role?

Ralph Nader: Well, I would not wallow in excessive ceremonies day after day the way presidents do. I mean, there's work to be done. I would go over to the Department of Defense and spend some time there. I would go over to the Department of the Interior, go over to the Food and Drug Administration and motivate the civil servants.
This nearly 12-minute feature on Ralph Nader suggests that NPR is far more open-minded than Air America Radio. Air America Radio touts itself as a "liberal" response to the dominant radio right but would never allow Ralph Nader to be featured in such a way, much less to answer questions. Air America Radio is less "liberal" or "progressive" than it is Democrat. It is the Democratic Party answer to right-wing shout radio, not the liberal answer.

What I say here about NPR doesn't mean that I share the right-wing view that NPR is ideologically "left-wing" or "progressive." It simply means that it has not shut its doors to political candidates and office-seeking voices as Air America Radio has. (And the same is true for the Jim Lehrer News Hour, even though its coverage of Nader's campaign is slim. Jim Lehrer allowed Nader to make his case and did not shout him down like Randi Rhodes of Air America Radio did.)

Wednesday, June 23

Todaiji Temple in Nara 

War hero by proxy

Someone is trying hard to associate George Bush with the U.S. Air Force. Perhaps it was Bush's dubious stint with the National Guard that has led to this stunt. Call it: "fighter pilot by proxy."
Over the weekend, I found myself in the Canton-Akron airport (Ohio) and, while waiting there for a brother to fly in from out of town, I was startled by the sight of an Air Force recruitment poster. I only wish I had had a camera to capture it. But let me describe it, so that you can understand my reaction. Pictured on the poster was a handsome, smiling, broad-chinned man wearing a flight jacket and holding a helmet in his hand, apparently standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier. What unsettled me was that, despite his bold, handsome features, the man was a stunning likeness of George Bush Jr. It was a muscled-up George Bush minus the characteristic smirk. A man in his fifties with slightly graying hair... not exactly the typical Air Force recruit. I asked an elderly couple standing next to me if they had noticed the likeness, and they gasped out acknowledgment. They, too, were offended by this cheap attempt to bolster the president's macho-militarism by proxy.

What does this suggest about our Air Force? And is the big-brother-like, insidious intrusion of George Bush's likeness the only card left in the conservative hand that tries to brush a portrait of Bush, the military hero and foreign policy strong man? When I see George Bush's face, am I supposed to think "tough, handsome, fighter guy"?

If anyone sees this insult to public intelligence and could manage to post a photo of it, I'd appreciate their doing so...

Tuesday, June 22

Near Todaiji Temple in Nara   

Monday, June 21

Clinton's revealing interview offers its listeners an interview with former President Bill Clinton that was held on election day, 2000 [click on the image of Clinton to hear it]. Clinton had called the Pacifica radio station without prearrangement to plug Gore for 2-3 minutes to a progressive-minded listenernship and ended up speaking for approximately 30 minutes.
Two things struck me about the interview. The first is simply that Clinton is a well-rehearsed speaker who had his hands on more facts and figures in 30 minutes than Bush has been able to muster in three-and-a-half years. Clinton defends his positions admirably (even if one finds reason to disagree with him on certain points). After years of being exposed to an incompetent, inarticulate, failed businessman running the nation's affairs, I was reminded, by this stunning contrast, of what political leadership can be.

The second thing was disturbing. Amy Goodman, the lead interviewer, asked a series of critical questions, making the most of her unscheduled access to the president. This is what anyone would expect from a journalist, I would hope. Nonetheless, a few minutes before the interview was over, Clinton lost his temper and unfairly asserted that Goodman and her co-host were asking "hostile and combative" questions:

Clinton: "You started this, and every question you've asked has been hostile and combative. So you listen to my answer, will you do that?"
Anyone who listens to this interview, I think, will conclude that none of the questions, nor the tone in which they are asked, can be described as "hostile and combative."

Things got worse. As Amy Goodman explains,

After the show, I got a call from the White House press office. A staffer let me know how furious they were at me for "breaking the ground rules for the interview."

"Ground rules?" I asked. "What ground rules? He called up to be interviewed, and I interviewed him."

"He called to discuss getting out the vote, and you strayed from the topic. You also kept him on much longer than the two to three minutes we agreed to," she huffed.

"President Clinton is the most powerful person in the world," I replied. "He can hang up when he wants to."

The Clinton administration threatened to ban me from the White House and suggested to a Newsday reporter that they might punish me for my attitude by denying me access-not that I had any to lose. White House spokesman Elliot Diringer said, "Any good reporter understands that if you violate the ground rules in an interview, that is going to be taken into account the next time you are seeking an interview."

First of all, we hadn't agreed to any ground rules. Clinton called us. Second, we wouldn't have agreed to any. The only ground rule for good reporting I know is that you don't trade your principles for access. We were treating the president not as royalty, but as a public servant accountable to the people.
What I find particularly ironic about this tactic of threatening to limit access and disparaging critical questioning is that it has become the hallmark of the Bush Administration. One of the questions Amy puts to Clinton is whether or not the two major parties are not consistently bowing to corporate demands, to the detriment of citizen voices. What Clinton says, of course, is that the differences between the parties are enormous (and he does make some convincing arguments for this). But his accusatory, dismissive, protective reaction, including that of his spokesperson who threatened to ban Goodman from access to her executive representation, reminds one of the sort of corporate door-shutting that always greeted Michael Moore in his "The Awful Truth" episodes, where he would try to confront corporate big-wigs in their offices. In short, despite Clinton's willingness to call and speak for thirty minutes, Clinton's actions said: "This is my territory. You have to play by my rules and if you don't, I'm going to have you removed."

This, to my mind, is the language of private corporations, not of government by, of, and for the people. As I said, I find this disturbing. And how about you?


Sunday, June 20

Letter to U.S. theaters

[Feel free to use this letter as a template. It is a simple matter to copy and paste the theater addresses to your Bcc: line and mass mail a single message.]
Dear theater representative,

I am aware that significant pressure is being placed on you by a Republican-aligned consulting group and its supporters not to show Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

I commend you for your showing this controversial, esteemed, and much-anticipated movie. It would be an insult to the American public to deny them the use of their own judgment in such a matter as film-going.

Thank you.

Saturday, June 19

旅館の部屋 Ryokan room

Built for contemplation 

Friday, June 18

Fahrenheit 9/11: the pre-release punch from the right

The following is one of a series of posts at Terrette on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.
"Move America Forward," a facade for the political public relations firm Russo Marsh and Rogers, which in the 2001/02 electoral cycle received $2,475,223 in payments from Republican politicians and nothing from Democrat politicans, is trying to dissaude theaters from showing Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, set to be released this Friday, June 25. In a statement from the group, we read that:

"Michael Moore has the right to free speech. He has the right to make this movie. But, you know what? We, the American people, have a right to raise our objections to his crass anti-American jihad."
The group then says that Moore's film "should be shown at the Democrat National Convention or as an Al Qaeda training video before it's shown at our local cinema."

An Al Qaeda training video? Here is a group that really takes the "with us or against us" logic to its extreme. For them, we have a simple choice: it's either praise the Bush Administration or join an Al Qaeda training camp. Between the Bush White House and a Bin Laden firing range, they see no middle ground.

Consider the simplistic passion of these people. They actually view themselves as fighting Al Qaeda by opposing the public viewing of Moore's film. Here is the page where they provide phone numbers and e-mail addresses that we are supposed to use, to harrass theaters into not showing Moore's film. (Following Charles 2, who originally drew my attention to this "Stop Michael Moore" page, I encourage everyone to contact some of these theaters to do precisely the opposite. We should praise them for not cowering to the intimidation and threats of those who fear voices of patriotic dissent.)

Bill O'Reilly, one of the most popular T.V. news personalities in America, walked out through half of the premiere of Moore's film and, later, to his radio audience, likened Moore to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels - author of the "Big Lie" theory of political communication: "Joseph Goebbels was the minister of propaganda for the Nazi regime and whose very famous quote was, 'If you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth.'"

This quote obviously fits better the Bush Administration's undying claim that there is a "relationship" or "contact" or whatever word they want to use to perpetuate the lie that Iraq was supportive of Al Qaeda, since this deceitful claim has been debunked by a number of independent investigators, including the 9/11 Commission, while every factual claim within Moore's film has been rigorously fact-checked and upheld by independent researchers. A New York Times article reports that, "[Moore] ... hired outside fact-checkers, led by a former general counsel of The New Yorker and a veteran member of that magazine's legendary fact-checking team, to vet the film."

Moreover, a writer for Fox News has praised the film, and this fact should at the very least startle the vehement pro-Bush forces who are preaching a will-to-ignorance with respect to Moore's film.

A larger question in this whole struggle over the public viewing of a documentary concerns the desire to suppress information. When will those who try to prevent others from reading books and watching movies realize that such efforts are always self-defeating, as they inevitably excite interest in the stigmatized work?

Thursday, June 17

Dorogawa, inn

school trip 

Wednesday, June 16

Beams of Hope from Spain

Have you noticed what has been happening in Spain? Have you managed to distance yourself from the ready-made corporate condemnations of the Spanish and their new government that Americans have been served up in popular U.S. media across political spectrums?
The Spanish have begun to hold public investigations in the terrorist attacks of March 11, 2004 in which 192 people died. That is only a little over three months after the occurrence of the attacks. Moreover, the investigations will not be obstructed by any of the principles involved. The investigators will be allowed to question anyone, including Jose Maria Aznar, the former prime minister. When you compare that to the delayed and spineless "commission" that has been taking place in the States after much obstruction from the Bush administration was removed, and much remained in place, you begin to measure the democracy gap that currently exists between these two countries.

The Bush Administration's "war on terror" is indissociable from its "war on progressive social gains," although it never identifies the latter by its properly descriptive name. Appearing to fight the first (which they have done so poorly) assures them the political power to fight the second. And given that they are much more effective at fighting the War on Progressive Social Gains, it seems unusual that this war has not been commonly identified as such in popular media or elsewhere.

In a U.S. political climate darkened by citizen apathy and ignorance, popular media mediocrity, corporate cronyism, contempt among leadership for public opinion and welfare, divisive and backwards-looking social conservatism, misleading and vicious campaign ads and "opposition research," repressive "security" measures, state-promoted torture, executive idolatry and exceptionalism, etc., citizens concerned about the enfeebled state of American democracy can take heart from the rays of hope that are beaming from across the Atlantic. Confronted with many of the same types of problems, the Spanish rid themselves of their Bush-loving conservative leader (Aznar) and, in a very short time, have brought about a revival of Spanish democracy. This example should serve as a source of hope for Americans who know that, in its bid for self-perpetuation, the Bush regime is stacking the cards in its own favor and making a somber situation appear hopeless.

In a special report in the June 15 edition of the Financial Times, one reads the following:

"Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, leader of the Socialist party and the new prime minister, has begun to reverse many policies pursued during Mr Aznar's eight years in office. Spain's [pro-Bush] foreign policy has been jettisoned in favour of a rapproachement with France and Germany. Spanish troops have been pulled out of Iraq. Compulsory religious education in state schools has been scrapped. Gay marriages will be legalised."

Moreover, they have shut down the country's biggest sweetheart corporate deal, a massively expensive and environmentally irresponsible plan to divert water from the Ebro river in the north of Spain to the south.

The Zapatero cabinet is not peopled with former oil company executives and millionaires, as is the Bush administration. Half of its 16 members are women, and these women have made significant contributions already. Zapatero's administration lacks the contempt for government that is everywhere on display in the Bush administration. Its members understand that government's primary role is to serve the interests of the people.

Another relevant example: Zapatero's government is working to revamp RTVE (Radio y Television Espanola), the public broadcaster which had become a megaphone for official propaganda. (Just as, in the U.S., many "public" broadcasters have, wittingly or not, become cheeleaders for the corporate war-makers who now lead us.) The corruption had gotten so out-of-hand at RTVE that, in one case, the broadcaster was fined by the Spanish supreme court and forced to give an apology to trade unions whose cause it had deliberately misrepresented. In the States, where the public is told by the administration and its attack dogs that the truth-seeking patriot Michael Moore is an enemy to the state, we are very far from any such government-led attempt to reestablish the public mandate of public broadcasting and promote journalistic integrity. Nonetheless, just as in their effective investigation into the Al-Qaeda train bombings and in their decision to move troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, the Spanish are showing us Americans what it means to be a vibrant democracy unshackled by corporate greed. In this way, they are beaming a hopeful light which promises that, soon, such changes may occur in the United States, too.

Tuesday, June 15

a garden shower 

Monday, June 14

Before the flight

This blogger will be returning to the States soon. A Canadian friend said:

"Ah, you are soon to enter your beloved homeland, filled with guns and scary extremist politicians."
Indeed, and it's no joke. There are plenty of extremist and uninformed citizens to support those politicians, too. And some of them are my siblings (may Bush bless them). I am just glad I wasn't in the U.S. during the week-long Reagan beatification. You know the facts: the eventual poster boy for labor busting cheated his way into office by selling weapons illegally to Iran for the promise that American hostages would not be released before a hostage-crisis-provoked defeat of Carter so that he, Reagan, could use the weapons money to fight an illegal, covert war against leftist rebels in Central America, where hundreds of thousands of civilians were to die at the hands of the thugs he trained and supported. He spent 3 trillion dollars on weapons and eased the swift descent of 11 million Americans into poverty. And this character is supposed to be a national hero? Yikes!

After flourishing for a good week in the shadows of Reagan's corpse, Bush will have to confront some ugly news from the living: 26 former diplomats and top government officials getting set to condemn his pernicious administration of U.S. foreign policy, and Colin Powell calling a recently released annual State Department report asserting a decline in terrorism last year "a very big mistake" and "very embarrassing." It's been a long time since the brain-freeze of 9/11 swept over the nation, and Americans are wising up to Bush Inc.'s crooked ways.

As for my having to pass through customs, my anti-Bush blogging could be cause for concern, but at present I'm only worried about my guitar getting damaged. Still, who knows what John Ashcroft may have up his sleeve for me? I'd better make sure I know the Pledge of Allegiance by heart and perhaps the names of all the state capitals. Does anyone know the capital of Maine? I always forget that one...

It's supposed to be sunny here at my departure, so I'm hoping my window-seat immobility pays off with clear glimpses of the stunning archipelago.

Sunday, June 13

Standing in the sky 

Friday, June 11

A Thing Threatened

In the U.S. House of Representatives, 95% of the seats are deemed by the two dominant parties to be "non-competitive." The House is essentially a one-party extension of government, and only 5% of its represented citizens merit real attention from the legislators. In short, 19 out of 20 voters are presented with no choice.

At the state level, 40% of state legislators will have NO opponent, and many others will have merely nominal opponents.

These are some of the facts that support Ralph Nader's oft-misunderstood claim [keyword "Nader" for video] that, in many ways, the two dominant parties are converging into one (which is not a merely topical charge based on recent policy statements or personalities but, rather, on access in the U.S. to elective choices and government influence).

Given this situation (not to mention all the election debacles and the wretched state of popular U.S. press, which, at best, has to apologize for having supplied a megaphone to the administration's propaganda over the months leading up to the undeclared, illegal war in Iraq), I am always stunned to hear Powell or others like him giving "lessons in democracy" to Qatar, Iran, or whatever other nations they feel it is their place to criticize. There are significant differences in the "state of democracy" in these countries, but democracy is hardly a thing assured in the United States. A more accurate assessment, which is only bolstered by the monarchical-like machinations and executive exceptionalism of George Bush Jr., is that it is a thing seriously threatened. (For a recent example of such machinations, see Charles 2's June 9 post, "extraconstitutional excrement.")

Thursday, June 10

Noh mask, or, the face of the blog troll 

Wednesday, June 9

The Cold War Carries On

With the passing of Ronald Reagan, we are likely going to hear the oft-repeated boast that this president was responsible for "victory" in the Cold War. This simplistic assertion bothers me not only because it is absurd to imagine Reagan as being individually responsible for such an overdetermined event as the collapse of the Soviet Union, but because it is vastly naive to imagine that the Cold War has simply ended and that nothing of it remains. The fact is, all the structures that were built to fight this undeclared war are still in place and have only grown stronger since George Bush Jr. was appointed president by the Supreme Court. Terror(ism) has been conveniently fitted with the former footwear of the faded communist foe. Wars are waged without official declaration (as they have been since 1941, the last time war was declared by the U.S.), and forces acting outside the constraints of the U.S. Constitution subvert national and international laws to overturn governments, fabricate national security threats, assassinate democratically-elected political leaders, cynically co-opt the language of democracy and freedom, bend toward self-serving ends mythologies of American cultural and political history, and satisfy wherever possible the sundry interests of a corporate-complicit secret government.
Much more can be said on these issues; but for today, I note that a June 4th post from Faramin drew my attention to a remarkable short documentary narrated by Bill Moyers during Bush's Sr.'s tour in office. This documentary on the origins and powers of the National Security State in the U.S. and its "secret government" is remarkably prescient with particular respect to today's events in corporate America, Iraq, Chile, and Cuba.

Tuesday, June 8

Dorogawa, face

A face like me

Monday, June 7

Whence 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.
For today's post, I return to the origin of the loaded, politico-religious notion of forgiveness. As I explained in a previous post, in the related (though distinct) "pardon," which has a particularly political accent in English that is missing in other languages, the notion paradoxically is inscribed in law and at the same time serves as an exception to law. This paradox haunts contemporary American politics, which regularly erupt in discord whenever the president, whose power to grant pardons is effectively both lawless and legal, is attacked for exercising the power in accordance with the Constitution.

Not only does discord erupt over the application of the power, but also over its consequences, which today remain enveloped in legal obscurity. In October 2003, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case on a presidential pardon granted to William A. Borders, a lawyer pardoned for bribery whose disbarment in 1983 had nonetheless remained in effect. On the basis not only of a rigorous notion of the pardon (insofar as its heritage coincides with that of forgiveness), but of a Supreme Court ruling in 1866--a clear precedent--that reinstated a pardoned Confederate official to the Supreme Court bar by arguing that a pardon "blots out of existence the guilt, so that in the eye of the law the offender is as innocent as if he had never committed the offense," Borders, who was represented by Kenneth Starr and Charles Ogletree Jr., would presumably have been reinstated. However, the chief disciplinary official for the D.C. bar, Joyce E. Peters, urged the Court not to consider the case on grounds of William Border's "character;" and, with that, the Court voted 4-3 to refuse to hear the case. The curious implication of this decision is that a presidential pardon, though nearly unlimited in its scope of application (which covers offenses against the United States that are not impeachable), can be blocked up with respect to disabilities with the mere evocation of "character" (as if "character" applied to only a few select types of misdeeds), and disabilities therefore can remain attached to the pardoned figure, as if he or she had never, in fact, been pardoned. [This story was reported on by Linda Greenhouse of the NY Times on October 21, 2003.]

This is the obscure context of forgiveness in which I propose to look at the origin of the notion. I discussed in a previous post the thesis that the notion has a non-religious, non-theological origin, and today I will consider Alain Gouhier's etymological investigation of forgiveness or, in the author's French, le pardon.

The story begins with Aesop. But before Aesop can be discussed, one must note a "problem" relating to the arrival of "pardon" on the scene (in Latin: perdonare). In the first and second century, "perdonare" was absent in Biblical and patristic Latin (which is to say, in all extent documents from that time), whereas it is found in the very first written documents in Romance languages. Gouhier hypothesizes credibly that "perdonare" existed in spoken Latin, from which the Romance language derived, while being refused by the early Christian theologians.

The Latin translation of a line in a fable by Aesop concerning a lion and a shepherd had always been rendered by "incolumitate donare." But a new translation by Romulus, made around the year 400, replaces donare with perdonare: "incolumitate perdonatur." The tacking-on of the prefix will later know a brilliant career in Christian dogma as the privileged lever of power exercised by God in for-giving (par-donner) humanity, where humanity is deemed powerless to forgive itself. Here is the fable, in modern English:

The Lion And The Shepherd

A LION, roaming through a forest, trod upon a thorn. Soon afterward he came up to a Shepherd and fawned upon him, wagging his tail as if to say, "I am a suppliant, and seek your aid." The Shepherd boldly examined the beast, discovered the thorn, and placing his paw upon his lap, pulled it out; thus relieved of his pain, the Lion returned into the forest. Some time after, the Shepherd, being imprisoned on a false accusation, was condemned "to be cast to the Lions" as the punishment for his imputed crime. But when the Lion was released from his cage, he recognized the Shepherd as the man who healed him, and instead of attacking him, approached and placed his foot upon his lap. The King, as soon as he heard the tale, ordered the Lion to be set free again in the forest, and the Shepherd to be pardoned and restored to his friends.
Although the pardon received was in a sense earned by the presumed good deeds of the shepherd and thus warranted by mitigating circumstances relating to the condemned man's "character," a Latin translation of this fable opens the door to the long career of Christian dogma that recognizes the absolute giving of forgiveness as a divine power alone. The shift in this translation allows for nothing less than the swallowing up of Greek thought by the Christian Godhead. It has been argued by scholars of Ancient Greece, including Danièle Aubriot and Jacqueline de Romilly, that the Greeks lacked a notion of limitless, unconditional forgiveness of the sort found conceptualized in Christianity and other Abrahamic religions (alongside conditional logics which also are found in these religious traditions). The Greek word suggnômé, which has no cognate in modern languages, would best be rendered by "intellection." It implies not the forgiving of a misdeed that is known to have been willed intentionally by the accused, but the eventual comprehension of a fault to which ignorance alone had given rise. In short, the Greeks did not have a conception of "radical, willed evil." This assertion can be substantiated by reference to Socrates, for whom evil was always the consequence of mere ignorance.

Sunday, June 6

Ryokan entrance, Dorogawa Onsen

Saturday, June 5

Fahrenheit 451

While awaiting the release of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 in the U.S., I decided to watch François Truffaut's English-language Fahrenheit 451, which appeared in 1966. As you know, 451 is the degree at which paper burns and, in Moore's figurative extension, 9/11 is the "temperature at which freedom burns." I won't develop a review of Truffaut's film here but wish to suggest a few things about it, obliquely.

The biggest contrast it marks with Michael Moore's latest work is that it is largely suggestive, elusive, and untimely. Apparently, Truffaut's film received a tepid reception. It has been suggested, however, that the film has gained in power over the years as people have learned not to confound it with the sci-fi films that were produced in abundance during the same period. The real achievement of the film, I think, is that it withholds certain sci-fi aspects of Bradbury's narrative so as to produce a passionate championing not only of books, but of human language and of the human impulse to remember. It made me think in particular about the precious but vulnerable medium of online communication, and of how the conventionally understood contrast between "books" and "computers" is not so radical. For one, so much of the language we use in speaking of computers, such as "page" and "bookmark" and "notepad," etc., comes straight from the world of books. But the inheritance is more than linguistic. The very shape of our computer screens retains the memory of rectangular paper. And one could develop this inheritance at great length (which is something Jacques Derrida does in Papier Machine, Galilée, 2001).

Anyone who liked Truffaut's Jules et Jim should know that Oskar Werner, who played Jules, here plays the lead role of Montag, the fireman whose job it is to burn books, in what is a similarly quirky and sensitive performance. And if you can rent the DVD, know that it includes an excellent short documentary about the making of the film.

Friday, June 4

吉野山の橋 Nishi-yoshino bridge

On Mount Yoshino 

Thursday, June 3

Freedom Roller Specifications

Follow-up to article announcing arrival of the 2004 Freedom Roller to the U.S. fleet.
Charles 2, of The Fulcrum, who has just posted a stunning photograph of rainbows, and Andante of Collective Sigh, inquired about the specifications of the Freedom Roller (see May 28th post). After researching the matter, I have determined that the standard specifications for this new, multi-faceted, family-friendly Sports Utility Tank are as follows:
Weight 59 1/2 tons

Length 32' 2"

Width 13' 6"

Height 12' 6"

Forward speed 30 mph

Engine 750 hp Continental AVDS-1790 V-12 Diesel

Mileage 3 gallons per mile (city)

Main gun 105 mm / 51cal M68 rifled gun, 63 rounds

Passenger machine gun M 240 - 7.62 mm, 6,000 rounds

Driver machine gun M 85 - .50 cal anti-aircraft gun, 900 rounds
Anyone interested in upgrading from an S.U.V. or Hummer to a Freedom Roller or like S.U.T. who would like to add additional amenities to their new vehicle, such as flamethrowers or cannons, should contact the Pentagon or, failing which, George Bush's re-election team.

Wednesday, June 2


On a stroll through Nara, Japan, this deer. 
Qu'est-ce que ce petit appareil que tu manipules?
Espèce d'étranger ridicule! Sans doute tu n'as rien à bouffer.