Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Iraqi TV

the last few days i have gotten lucky with Iraqi TV. i have gotten programs on the Euphrates Channel that are not theologians in black robes and turbans. the glimpses i catch of Iraq through this channel show a society in turbulent, often fearful and anguished, transition.

there was a brief commercial advertising iran as an investment destination. there were no words or text, only pictures of famous landmarks, until the end; even then it was only the english phrase "Iran -- Land of Investment Opportunities."

first i saw part of a discussion-format show on the economy. the topic was, who is benefiting from Iraq's economic development? i could understand very little semantically, except that they made frequent reference to Japan after WW2, and they used the (to us) Leftist phrase "political economy." i suspect this usage is a reflection of Iraq's quasi-socialist heritage, common in many countries throughout the world. Iraq does have leftist parties, but i don't think they have their own TV channel. the discussants made frequent reference to foreign interests. recalling Naomi Klein's excellent book "The Shock Doctrine," and her point that countries "shocked" into accepting neoliberal economic policies, such as Iraq: often these countries upon emerging from their shocked state end up soundly rejecting the experimental economic surgery that was foisted on them (Bolivia a good example). i hope that what i was seeing -- discussion of economic policies -- is part of a similar waking up and reaction against imperialist "free market" domination.

i learned how to say "planned economy": iqtisadiyah markaziyah.

the studio decor, i have noticed on the few Iraqi talk shows i have seen, tends to bright, abstract patterns that can be a little jarring and bare. behind the host, several bars of primary colors rose above his head, part of the big background design featuring a graph. it is as if the new media has not had time to grow accustomed to its own existence, like a room smelling of new paint -- an awkward newness evident aesthetically in sterile, brightly colored studio design.

one of the two guests was an old man whose speaking voice was so unique and charming i found myself smiling and leaning forward, wishing i could understand what he was saying, rather than sitting woodenly, dutifully as i often do. his voice rose and fell dramatically, from crescendo to whisper, and it was thin and old like a grandfather's. he was delightful, gesturing and painting vivid pictures and scenarios, his face full of expression. the other two younger men often laughed. i saw a rich culture of intellectual pursuit and story telling in this old man, even through the horrific modern history of the country.

after this show there were two commercials that looked like public service announcements. one showed a man in farmer's attire, walking across a tilled field, reaching into his apron for handfuls of seeds to scatter. but his hands bring out not seeds but bullets, tumbling into the dirt. the next commercial shows a young boy and his father walking past a market. we see the merry bustle and chatter of people buying and selling, a fair-like atmosphere. the boy points at a man with a gun standing in an alley. "is that a police man?" he asks, and the father answers negatively as the man turns and slips away. i could not read the written message fast enough to get it.

these two announcements were visually and emotionally haunting.

then there was a ten minute performance of a song. it was most unusual to me. a youngish man sang, with a sheet of paper in front of him with the lyrics. his voice was piercing but resonant, and the music slow and stately. it seemed he was standing in a mosque, and his style reminded me of Quranic recitation contests in Indonesia -- but there was no use of words like "Allah" or "Muhammad" or "Ali." but it could be that the words used metaphors for religious concepts or figures. the only line i really understood was "I am a flower" (zahra), which also could be "I am bright." the solemn, measured singing was beautiful but haunting. every so often the camera showed a circle of young men swaying and clapping in unison, or clapping one hand across their chests. this action reminded me of things i have seen in news images of shiite pilgrimages, the blow to the chest a miniature act of flagellation, recalling Ali's tragic death.

following this song there was a static screen with a young boy's picture and a written message, read out by a voice. age: 13. residence: . . .there was a date, May 9, 2009, and a phone number. this plain message was utterly heartbreaking: an appeal for information about a boy who had been taken.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney: you hold half the blame for this boy's disappearance. your eagerly sought war turned iraq into a cauldron of anguish and death; the cauldron still bubbles. and you liberals who enabled their fantasies are also culpable. the pork-barrel king, sen. byrd, had guts when you did not by standing up to them.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

malls are now. . .

"lifestyle centers." oh, the beauty of corporate euphemisms! the joy of finding a "lifestyle" in a store! maybe we can even find "community" and "love" in these sterile, rule-bound spaces? no. "lifestyle" is where the money is at.

citbank is lobbying. . . ME

after getting billions in taxpayer bailout money, citigroup is lobbying me, a borrower, to petition the government to protect its racket!! are they out of their minds? i have neither sympathy nor love for these thugs. note how "choice" is always the word used in fake-grassroots opposition to state initiatives to help ordinary people. the point in state initiatives is precisely to give us a choice! without state help, its a choice between pain and suffering, citigroup or bank of america, 24 and 24.5 percent interest rates. in short: without the state, there is no real choice at all. we, consumers and citizens, are the prey.

Petition for Choice and Competition in Federal Student Loans
The President's FY 2010 Budget proposal would eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program, effective July 1, 2010. At that time all new federal student and parent loans would be made by the Federal Direct Loan Program. Approximately 4,400 schools would have to switch programs. We invite financial aid professionals, parents, students, student loan professionals and concerned citizens to sign the following petition:

We, the undersigned, respectfully urge the Congress to preserve choice and competition in the federal student loan program. Competition between lenders that make federally guaranteed loans and competition between the two major federal student loan programs have led to significant and continuous improvements in service levels and quality and borrower benefits that reduce loan costs for students and parents.

Therefore, we urge Congress not to accept the Administration's Budget proposal to eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program and to work on a bipartisan basis to preserve a stronger private sector-based federal student loan program that

Provides student and parent borrowers a meaningful choice of lenders,
Offers postsecondary institutions a meaningful choice of student loan delivery and servicing
Offers borrowers and postsecondary institutions the wide array of delinquency, financial literacy and default prevention programs that promote responsible borrowing and repayment and minimize defaults.
As of today, 8712 people have signed this petition. See who else has signed.

Sign Here to Support Competition in Student Loans!

Friday, May 8, 2009

The NYT Finally Prints "Torture"

from the Atlantic's blog --

Here we have it in broad daylight: the New York Times' cowardice in the face of its own government. In an obit today, the editors manage to use the word "torture". It's in an obit. The obit runs:

Col. Harold E. Fischer Jr., an American fighter pilot who was routinely tortured in a Chinese prison during and after the Korean War, becoming — along with three other American airmen held at the same prison — a symbol and victim of cold war tension, died in Las Vegas on April 30. He was 83 and lived in Las Vegas. The cause was complications of back surgery, his son Kurt said.

From April 1953 through May 1955, Colonel Fischer — then an Air Force captain — was held at a prison outside Mukden, Manchuria. For most of that time, he was kept in a dark, damp cell with no bed and no opening except a slot in the door through which a bowl of food could be pushed. Much of the time he was handcuffed. Hour after hour, a high-frequency whistle pierced the air.

After a short mock trial in Beijing on May 24, 1955, Captain Fischer and the other pilots — Lt. Col. Edwin L. Heller, First Lt. Lyle W. Cameron and First Lt. Roland W. Parks — were found guilty of violating Chinese territory by flying across the border while on missions over North Korea. Under duress, Captain Fischer had falsely confessed to participating in germ warfare.

You will notice how the NYT defines torture when it comes to foreign governments - isolation, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation. Much milder than anything the US did to one of its own citizens, Jose Padilla. But the parallel is almost perfect: these are, after all, the exact Chinese Communist techniques that were reverse engineered from the SERE program. So you have a perfect demonstration of the NYT's double-standard. If Chinese do it to Americans, it's torture; if Americans do it to an American, it's "harsh interrogation." Does Jill Abramson really expect us to take this lying down?

You will also notice the quality of the intelligence procured through methods milder than the Bush administration's:

“He wanted me to admit that I had been ordered to cross the Manchurian border,” Captain Fischer told Life magazine. “I was grilled day and night, over and over, week in and week out, and in the end, to get Chong and his gang off my back, I confessed to both charges. The charges, of course, were ridiculous. I never participated in germ warfare and neither did anyone else. I was never ordered to cross the Yalu. We had strict Air Force orders not to cross the border.”

“I will regret what I did in that cell the rest of my life,” the captain continued. “But let me say this: it was not really me — not Harold E. Fischer Jr. — who signed that paper. It was a mentality reduced to putty.”

Dick Cheney believes that a "mentality reduced to putty" is the best source of reliable intelligence; that methods designed to give you false confessions should be the basis for national security assessments.

The NYT's incoherence and double standards, equally, are self-evident. But I would like to know if Bill Keller will remove the t-word from this obit and replace it with "harsh interrogations" as he does when referring to the US government's use of identical techniques. If not, why not? Remember: these people won't even use the word torture to describe a technique displayed in the Cambodian museum of torture to commemmorate the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge - as long as Americans do the torturing.

I mean: the NYT isn't just a vehicle for US propaganda, is it? It's a newspaper, right? It has standards that it maintains across its copy. Right?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

wondrous language

i learned a new word while watching jordanian tv this evening: "bawasir," meaning "hemorrhoid." it comes from the root "basara," meaning, "to scowl or frown."

it makes a certain intuitive sense, doesn't it?

johann hari on factory farms

Until yesterday, we could only speculate about the origins of the current H1N1 virus killing human beings – but now we know more. The Centre for Computational Biology at Columbia University has studied the virus and now believes that it is not a new emergence of a triple human-swine-bird flu virus. It is a slight variant on a virus we have seen before. We can see its family tree – and its daddy was a virus that evolved in the artificial breeding ground of a vast factory farm in North Carolina.

Did this strain evolve, too, in the same circumstances? Already, the evidence is suggestive, although far from conclusive. We know that the city where this swine flu first emerged – Perote, Mexico – contains a massive industrial pig farm, and houses 950,000 pigs. Dr Silbergeld adds: "Factory farms are not biosecure at all. People are going in and out all the time. If you stand a few miles down-wind from a factory farm, you can pick up the pathogens easily. And manure from these farms isn't always disposed of."

It's no coincidence that we have seen a sudden surge of new viruses in the past decade at precisely the moment when factory farming has intensified so dramatically. For example, between 1994 and 2001, the number of American pigs that live and die in vast industrial farms in the US spiked from 10 per cent to 72 per cent. Swine flu had been stable since 1918 – and then suddenly, in this period, went super-charged.

How much harm will we do to ourselves in the name of cheap meat? We know that bird flu developed in the world's vast poultry farms. And we know that pumping animal feed full of antibiotics in factory farms has given us a new strain of MRSA. It's a simple, horrible process. The only way to keep animals alive in such conditions is to pump their feed full of antibiotics. But this has triggered an arms race with bacteria, which start evolving to beat the antibiotics – and emerge as in the end as pumped-up, super-charged bacteria invulnerable to our medical weapons. This system gave birth to a new kind of MRSA that now makes up 20 per cent of all human infections with the virus. Sir Liam Donaldson, the British government's Chief Medical Officer, warns: "Every inappropriate use in animals or agriculture [of antibiotics] is potentially a death warrant for a future patient."

Of course, agribusinesses is desperate to deny all this is happening: their bottom line depends on keeping this model on its shaky trotters. But once you factor in the cost of all these diseases and pandemics, cheap meat suddenly looks like an illusion.

We always knew that factory farms were a scar on humanity's conscience – but now we fear they are a scar on our health. If we carry on like this, bird flu and swine flu will be just the beginning of a century of viral outbreaks. As we witness a global pandemic washing across the world, we need to shut down these virus factories – before they shut down even more human lives.