Sunday, April 29, 2007


Glass Houses & 'Comfort Women'

Thanks to an anonymous commenter to my "Apologies & Global Dimming" post for the tip on the April 2007 AP report: "Documents: U.S. troops used 'comfort women' after WWII."

Right: U.S. sailors gather in front of a Yasu-ura House "comfort station" in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, in this undated image released by the Yokosuka City Council.

See also: Opposing Prostitution As a Form of Male Violence: the Swedish Model

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Saturday, April 28, 2007


Apologies & Global Dimming

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Washington last week. A focus of many of the news stories has been on the (in)sufficency of his country's apologies "for Japan's wartime exploitation of foreign women as military prostitutes." The US House of Representatives is working on a "resolution to demand another formal apology from Japan to the so-called comfort women."

The Chinese and Koreans have every right to pursue this matter but American politicians ought to shut their mouths until the US apologizes for using the nuclear weapons that killed 155,000 to 214,000 people, mostly Japanese civilians, in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As Admiral William D. Leahy said:
It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.
And where is the US apology for the prostitution that is to this day endemic at many overseas US military bases, including Okinawa, Japan? To learn more about the impact of such prostitution in the Philippines, see "Campaign Against The Return Of Military Prostitution."

While we're on the subject of apologies, it turns out that the droughts that triggered, but did not cause, the famines in sub-Saharan with their millions of victims in the 1970s and 80s may have been caused by the pollution of industrialized nations, mostly in Europe and North America. According to the PBS documentary film, Dimming the Sun (watch trailer here), the pollution probably resulted in a cooling effect that caused the African monsoon rains to fail.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007


American Fascists, The Silent Scream, & Bernard Nathanson

I finished reading Chris Hedges' American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America a couple of weeks ago (read an earlier Hedges essay by the same title here). It's a quick and interesting read but Hedges mainly fails to adequately address possible remedies to the social ills that promote religious fundamentalisms. His invocation of Karl Popper's warning against too much tolerance, i.e. Hedges' advocacy of more intolerance by the state for 'bad' people with 'bad' ideas—in this case Christian dominionists—is truly frightening. As Bryan Magee, who wrote Karl Popper and was a long time friend of the philosopher, noted: " 'The totalitarian liberal' was one of [Popper's] nicknames at the London School of Economics, and it was a perceptive one" (Confessions of a Philosopher, p. 183).

You don't secure freedom by restricting it. You have to give people a real stake in freedom, so that it is something they understand, value, and will struggle to keep. To do that you have to actually trust people with freedom. People are turning to fundamentalisms in America, in part, because in so many ways what passes for freedom in this country is a sham that has failed to deliver a fulfilling life. In the end, consumerism can never satisfy human needs for connection, value, and meaning. The increasing economic marginality of many Americans only hastens the spiritual crisis.

Hedges book tackles an important subject although his book can't really hold a candle to Sara Diamond's four books and fifteen years of research on the same subject matter. Then again, she hasn't written anything on the subject for nine years and doesn't bring the Christian perspective of Hedges. Richard A. Horsley while not delving much into the nuts and bolts of the Christian Right has continued to publish and has a more progressive and thoroughgoing political analysis than Hedges. I recommend his Religion and Empire: People, Power, and the Life of the Spirit as a short, inexpensive, and fascinating intro to his work.

In any event, what prompted me to start this post was Hedges' mention of the anti-abortion propaganda film, The Silent Scream. I decided to watch it for the first time. The film consists of a multimedia presentation by Bernard N. Nathanson, MD in which he narrates an ultrasound video of the abortion of a 12-week-old fetus and later shows graphic photos of the dismembered parts of aborted fetuses. Although I agree with Planned Parenthood's critique, The Facts Speak Louder, I think their title is dubious. The graphic images in the film may not speak more truthfully but they arguably speak louder and I can now understand why the film has been such a boon for anti-abortion activists.

With his two conversions, Nathanson is an interesting figure in his own right. His first conversion was from an abortion practitioner who had "presided over 75,000 abortions" and a founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League to high-profile anti-abortion activist. His second conversion—abandoning Judaism and converting to Roman Catholicism—happened in 1996 with the guidance of John McCloskey, an Opus Dei priest, and is, apparently, related to his conversion on abortion. Here's an excerpt from "Bernard Nathanson's Conversion" by Julia Duin:
There may be a deeper reason to Nathanson's disenchantment, [Orthodox rabbi, David Lapin] guesses, which has to do with the high level of Jews involved in the abortion business. Nathanson has written of the high percentage of Jewish abortionists. The new national leader of Planned Parenthood, who comes on board in June, is Gloria Feldt, a Jew.

"I believe that Bernard Nathanson's conversion to Catholicism is spurred not by theological deficiencies in a Judaism I don't believe he knew but by a deep compelling desire to distance himself from a faith whose secular wing has embraced abortion with a fervor," Lapin says.

"And there's no question about it. Boston Herald columnist Don Feder points out nearly half of the religious organizations endorsing abortion are Jewish in spite of Jews being 2.3 percent of the U.S. population, not 50 percent. The Jewish community is disproportionately represented in the pro-abortion movement. This taking up the cudgels for abortion is not by any means an expression of Judaism. It is a rejection of God and a rejection of the religious core of Judaism, and in those terms I understand why Bernard Nathanson had to seek another faith."
Lapin's opinion that pro-abortion activity is "a rejection of God and a rejection of the religious core of Judaism" finds some, albeit limited, support in the work of rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg. Until his death last year, Waldenberg was a leading Orthodox authority on Halacha, i.e. Jewish religious law, and he specialized in medical questions. He was a judge on the Israeli government sponsored High Rabbinical Court and rabbi of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Jewish Medical Law (Jerusalem: Gefen, 1980) is a condensed version of his 21-volume Tzitz Eliezer; it was edited by Avraham Steinberg, M.D. and personally approved by Waldenberg.

In Part IV, Chapter 2 of Jewish Medical Law we find that abortion is permissible—provided, it is carried out within the first three months—when the pregnancy is life-threatening or just detrimental to the health of the Jewish mother, or if the Jewish mother is still nursing another child. Certain eugenic abortions, however, are permitted for Jewish women "up to the seventh month of pregnancy." The only permissible reason for a "gentile woman" to have an abortion is if "there is a life-threatening danger to the mother." In all instances, the "consent of the husband" should be "procure[d]" and a "Jewish physician is preferable to a gentile physician." Mordechai Halperin, M.D., of the above-mentioned Shaare Zedek Medical Center, suggests that the penalty, under Noahide law, for gentiles who perform abortions is death.

See also
: Gems from "Jewish Medical Law"

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Friday, April 20, 2007


Cho not McVeigh

Some pundits are drawing spurious links between Cho Seung-Hui and Timothy McVeigh. I'm not referring to those contrasting the response to McVeigh with ethnic/'racial' guilt-by-association targeted at East Asians because Cho was Korean. I mean the idiots who casually lump McVeigh and Cho together into some blanket category of mass murderers, as if they were driven by similar psychodynamics. True, McVeigh was a mass murderer but his motivations, like those of the 9/11 perpetrators, were overtly political. Americans seem to like to pigeonhole 'terrorists'/mass killers in the "crazy bin" or its ideological equivalent so that they don't have to actually grapple with understanding the ideas behind the deeds. Thus, the 9/11 perps just "hate our freedoms" and McVeigh was "little more than a misguided coward."

These may be comforting platitudes but they don't advance our ability to understand or prevent similar acts of violence in the future. Conspicuously absent in many of the recent discussions about McVeigh and/or yesterday's 12th anniversary of the Murrah building bombing in Oklahoma City is any mention of the 14th anniversary (on the same day) of the murder of 79 people at Waco by federal agents or the deadly shooting in Ruby Ridge in 1992, again by federal agents. As McVeigh made clear in his biography, American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, these two incidents and his war-time service in Iraq figured prominently in his motivations.

Of course, a similar struggle is underway over Cho, with some folks wanting to decontextualize Cho's actions from the life experiences that led to them. These are, by and large, the same folks who fight against anti-bullying and hate crimes laws. This is not to offer a blanket endorsement of hate crimes laws--I'm with the American Friends Service Committee and many civil libertarians on that question--but the mentality of many opponents of anti-bullying and hate crimes laws is often to deny any larger social context or, perhaps, blame the perpetrators' families and, sometimes, even the victims, esp. in the case of LGBT youth. Sure, the fact that Cho was bullied doesn't excuse the murders he committed but it helps explain them.

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Self -Appointed Word Cops

I don't mind being told or reminded that a particular word or phrase may be insensitive or oppressive but people who make such assertions ought to at least know what they're talking about. One is reminded of the case of ignorance run rampant in 1999 in Washington DC over the use of the word "niggardly." Recently, someone I know asserted that the word "gyp"--as in to cheat--is racist and that "rag"--as in to tease or berate--is sexist.

Now, it is commonly believed that gyp is a slur derived from the misnomer Gypsy--a reference to the Romani people--but, according to the six reference works I consulted during a recent visit to the local library, this is entirely speculative and there is no etymological evidence to sustain it. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes the following usage from 1819: "My bed-maker, whom we call a gyp, from a Greek word signifying a vulture, runs away with everything he can lay his hands on." The Greek word for vulture is, in fact, γύπας--transliterated as gy'pas--and gyps is the name of a genus of vultures (by contrast, the Greek word for Gypsy is τσιγγάνος, transliterated as tsigga'nos). Other possible etymological sources and corresponding historical usages are given in the reference works but none are derived from Gypsy.

There is even less evidence that the verb "rag" is sexist, although the usage is of uncertain origin, the reference works don't even speculate upon a misogynistic etymology. Presumably, the word cop thinks "ragging" is akin to "on the rag," which I would agree is probably misogynist though I haven't checked the etymology (and don't have any plans to--it's not a phrase I would ever use). The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology suggests a relationship between rag in the sense of "annoy, tease, torment" with the Scottish word ballarag.

So, all you word cops out there, before you police someone else's language please make sure there is a good reason for you to open your mouth.

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Monday, April 16, 2007


Virginia Tech, 9/11, & Future: Tense

A few days ago, I finished reading Future: Tense (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2004) by Gwynne Dyer. When I learned of the shootings at Virginia Tech I was reminded of the following passage I had transcribed last weekend:
Terrorism ... is relatively speaking a very small threat. Even the biggest one-day terrorist atrocity ever committed, the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, is an event whose huge impact is entirely due to the careful choice of high-visibility targets and reflexive, relentless media promotion of the event. The lives of the other three thousand Americans who dies violently that same month in gun-related murders, suicides, and accidents were just as valuable, and they would have been relatively cheap to save compared to the immense cost of the "war on terror." But gun deaths happen singly or in small groups, generally out of camera-shot, and as a routine monthly tragedy they are not newsworthy--so nobody called for a "war on guns" in September 2001. This is not to devalue the tragedy of the Twin Towers, but it is to say that the "terrorist threat" is not the major threat of our times. (pp. 56-57; all emphasis in original)
Two people were shot dead near the Virginia Tech campus last August. Before yesterday, how many people had heard about that?

Dyer is almost always interesting to read and I recommend his book and documentary film, War. Future: Tense is probably best known for the phrase that opens the book: "The United States needs to lose the war in Iraq as soon as possible. Even more urgently, the whole world needs the United States to lose the war in Iraq." (p. 9)

In Future: Tense, Dyer unfortunately shies away from pointing out the central role of Israel in the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq. This is despite the fact that Dyer titles one of the book's six chapters, "The Neo-Conservative Project." Zionism is a fundamental tenet of neoconservatism and, as Adbusters once observed, the Neocons are disproportionately Jewish Zionists.

Dyer has a PhD in Middle Eastern History but he shows remarkable gaps in his knowledge when it comes to the history of Israel. For example he claims, "... Americans had very little to do with the creation of Israel" (p. 58). In fact, as Prime Minister David Lloyd George said, Jewish support for the British and for American entry into World War I was part of the quid pro quo for the Balfour Declaration; the US government deliberately suppressed the 1919 King-Crane Commission report, which was highly unfavorable to the Zionist cause; the US government supported or turned a blind eye to the major flow of people--including US Army Colonel Mickey Marcus--and equipment from the US to Zionist paramilitary organizations in Palestine that killed both British and Palestinian people; contrary to the advice of the State and Defense departments, the Truman administration strong-armed other countries to support the adoption of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 partitioning Palestine with the Jewish minority (~33% of the population) controlling 56% of the territory; and, the US was the first country to diplomatically recognize Israel.

I could probably go on but by now you either get the point or you likely never will. Anyway, I think Dyer goes a bit awry on some of his discussion of religion in the book but I can't recall quite why I thought that. Since I hadn't planned on writing any kind of review I didn't take notes and the book has been returned to the library. So, it goes.

My final concern is Dyer's enchantment (although that is probably a bit unfair) with the UN and the post-WWII system of international law. I see its main--perhaps, only--value as being found in its potential for exposing the rogue nature of the United States but even that is of questionable value.

See also:

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First National Copwatch Conference

First National Copwatch Conference
July 13-15 2007
Berkeley, California
(will be up and running soon)

Berkeley Copwatch is working with other groups and individuals to host the first ever National Copwatch Conference dedicated to empowering groups and individuals to be more effective in their efforts to hold police accountable. There will be workshops that focus on sharing practical skills as well as opportunities to discuss theory and strategies for building a broader movement.

Our intent is to strengthen the national network of Copwatches, not create a national or centralized organization. Our greatest strengths are in our local and direct approaches to this many-faceted problem. We want to figure out how to share our experiences, build relationships, and act in support and solidarity with each other.

We invite your group to attend the conference. We also want to include your input in the planning.

The conference will consist of:
Copwatch Shifts
Movie Night

Deadline: April 26th
To help make the Conference more valuable for you, please go to the link below and fill out the survey.

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New Documentary--Portrait of a Great Taboo: the Power of the Israel Lobby in the United States

A Dutch television news program broadcast this month a new documentary, Portrait of a Great Taboo: the Power of the Israel Lobby in the United States (see video below). No need to worry if you don't understand Dutch because all of the interviews are conducted in English. Featured in the documentary are interviews with, among others, John Mearsheimer, Richard Perle, Tony Judt, John Hagee, and former US Representative Earl Hilliard. Some of the most interesting footage is of retired US Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson. Wilkerson was Colin Powell's chief of staff when Powell made the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq to the United Nations on February 5, 2003. Wilkerson was heavily involved in that presentation, of which he later said, "My participation in that presentation at the UN constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council." Thanks to A. for the tip.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007


The Great Robot Race

Last night, I watched The Great Robot Race, a NOVA documentary about the DARPA "Grand Challenge." The challenge was to build a robot vehicle that could independently traverse a rugged +130-mile course in the Mojave Desert. The prize was $2 million for the design team of the fastest vehicle to finish. As it turns out, the contest becomes an accidental metaphor for the role of the US in the global community.

Spoiler warning: Ending details follow.

You can watch entire documentary online here.

In 2004, the first year of the contest, no vehicle made it more than 7 miles before being disabled. But the vehicle that got the furthest was "Sandstorm," a 1986 Humvee, (pictured on the DVD cover, above right) fielded by the Red Team of Carnegie-Mellon University.

In 2005, the Red Team returns with Sandstorm and a 1999 Hummer H1 dubbed "H1ghlander." The Red Team is led by Dr. William "Red" Whittaker, a macho ex-Marine. At one point in the film, Red gruffly tells his troops, "You are either thoroughly rested, 200 percent effectiveness, or you got some work to do." The team's main sponsor is Caterpillar (or CaterKiller as it's known in the Palestinian solidarity movement). The Red Team is, by far, the largest with more than a hundred members and a budget in the millions of dollars. The beefy vehicles are loaded with beefed up hardware, including custom-built roof-mounted, gimballed lasers.

Because it finishes first in the timed obstacle course qualification runs, H1ghlander is given the "pole position"--first place in the staggered race start. Behind H1ghlander is a blue Volkswagen Touareg named "Stanley." It is the entry of a new team from Stanford University and led by Dr. Sebastian Thrun, a soft-spoken and decidedly less-than-macho German native. The Stanford team's color is blue and the stock Touareg comes from Volkswagen with minimal modification--shift, brake, and steering actuators. In contrast with the Red Team, the Stanford team's approach is software-intensive and using mostly off-the-shelf hardware.

By now, you've probably guessed which team wins. Stanley beats H1ghlander by 21 minutes and a telling moment in the film is watching the handful of blue-shirted Stanley team members cheer as, 102 miles into the race, Stanley overtakes H1ghlander with the multitudes of the red-shirted Red Team silently and dejectedly looking on.

I'll close with the post-race remarks of Thrun and Whittaker:
SEBASTIAN THRUN: It was just amazing to see this community of people. That community succeeded today. Behind me, there are three robots that made it all the way through the desert, and all three of them did the unthinkable. It's such a fantastic success for this community, I think we all win.

RED WHITTAKER: The engine punked on us. The only thing that was short was not having a top-end speed on the gas pedal. Except for that, we're in like a charm. [Actually, the fancy gimballed laser on H1ghlander also "punks" on them well before the end of the race--VFPDissident]
You can watch the entire documentary online here.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007


My name is Baghdad, Je m'appelle Bagdad

A dear Iraqi friend sent me the link to a powerful and moving video of "Je m'appelle Bagdad" (My name is Baghdad) by Tina Arena. Arena is an Australian singer of Italian origin singing in French about Iraq. Eaters of "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" will probably want to (but shouldn't) skip this one.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007


Darfur Diversion by Bendib

Click here to go to Khalil Bendib's (the artist) web site.

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