The Nation, 17 September 2012

The current issue of The Nation carries a piece in which JoAnn Wypijewski remarks on the low probability that the rape charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be investigated in a proper fashion.  Ms Wypijewski points out that Mr Assange’s status as an enemy of the US national security state renders any criminal action taken against him suspect:

This is not about the particulars of oppression; it is about the political context of law, the limits of liberal expectations and the monstrosity of the state.

Liberals have no trouble generally acknowledging that in those [early twentieth century] rape cases against black men, the reasoned application of law was impossible. It was impossible because justice was impossible, foreclosed not by the vagaries of this white jury or that bit of evidence but by the totalizing immorality of white supremacy that placed the Black Man in a separate category of human being, without common rights and expectations. A lawyer might take a case if it hadn’t been settled by the mob, but the warped conscience of white America could do nothing but warp the law and make of its rituals a sham. The Scottsboro Boys might have been innocent or they might have been guilty; it didn’t matter, because either way the result would be the same.

With Assange, the political context is the totalizing immorality of the national security state on a global scale. The sex-crime allegations against Assange emerged in Sweden on August 20, 2010, approximately four and a half months after WikiLeaks blazed into the public sphere by releasing a classified video that showed a US Apache helicopter crew slaughtering more than a dozen civilians, including two journalists, in a Baghdad suburb. By that August, Pfc. Bradley Manning, the reputed source of the video and about 750,000 other leaked government documents, was being held without charge in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, subjected to what his attorney, David Coombs, describes in harrowing detail in a recent motion as “unlawful pretrial punishment.” In plain terms, Manning was tortured. He faces court-martial for aiding the enemy and has been denounced as a traitor by members of Congress.

I am not at all convinced that the charges against Mr Assange cannot be investigated and prosecuted fairly.  Ms Wypijewski acknowledges several times that the comparison with the Scottsboro Boys is inexact; in view of the level of support Mr Assange enjoys and the conditions of the criminal justice system in Sweden, it strikes me as, well, silly.  I do lament the fact that so many people seem to think that we must choose between support for Mr Assange’s anti-imperialist activities and support for the investigation of the charges that have been brought against him.  Not so very long ago, Western publics would have responded to the sequence of events Ms Wypijewski describes above with deep suspicion of the national security state, even as the case worked its way through the courts.  So, when in 2003 it was made public that Major Scott Ritter, then an outspoken critic of the invasion of Iraq, had been arrested on suspicion of soliciting sex from an underaged girl, the news proved more embarrassing to the Bush-Cheney administration than to Major Ritter himself.  Some years later, the major was proven guilty of similar charges, and sent to prison.  In the Ritter case, I see a model for a healthy public reaction to the Assange case.  By all means one should be suspicious; if the American people were still as jealous of their liberties as they were in 2003, the Obama administration would be experiencing a public relations nightmare as long as the case is pending.  But the case should nonetheless be handled in the best manner available to the criminal justice system, and if Mr Assange is guilty of the charges against him, it would be no injustice to punish him as Major Ritter has been punished.

The best manner available to the criminal justice system in this case may be far short of what we would hope, but, as Lissa Harris points out in an unforgettable piece on The Nation‘s website, that is so for virtually every rape case.  At the age of five, Ms Harris was raped on several occasions by a sadistic teenaged boy.  Apparently the facts became known to the authorities, but no charges were ever brought.  Over the years, Ms Harris has been presented with many explanations as to why they did not act.  What she considers most noteworthy is that while she knows many women and girls who have been raped, but cannot think of one whose assailant was sent to prison for the rape.  Not one.  So, while she is horrified by the prospect that the laws against rape will be rewritten by men like Congressman Todd Akin, who recently proclaimed that “legitimate rape” rarely produces pregnancy, Ms Harris admits that she cannot see how much damage men like Mr Akin can do to the criminal justice system when the system simply does not function most of the time.  She argues that ideologies thrive on both left and right that allow us to turn a blind eye to rape, to minimize rape, to accept as normal a status quo in which the rapist faces little risk of punishment and the women and girls he has attacked can expect little support and less  respect.

In the same issue, a cartoon pokes fun at novelist-cum-ideologist Ayn Rand.  Rand did make a couple of contributions that I find valuable; I’m fond of the expression “anti-concept,” a term she introduced and defined as “an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding.”  Mr Akin’s immortal phrase “legitimate rape” comes to mind under this heading; unnecessary and rationally unusable, it may well enable a person indoctrinated in one of the rape-minimizing ideologies Ms Harris calls out to replace and obliterate a realistic understanding of rape with some vague approximation that makes it impossible to imagine useful action against it.

One of the examples Rand gave of an anti-concept was the term “isolationist.”  This term, never a self-description adopted by any political movement, was used in the late 1930s and early 1940s by advocates of US intervention in the Second World War to label their opponents.  Since the interventionists eventually had their way and, by most people’s lights, it is just as well that they did, the term has continued to be useful in the decades since as a means of smearing and belittling all anti-war and anti-imperial voices, especially those that emanate from right of center.  I bring this up because the issue carries Jackson Lears’ review of Christopher McKnight Nichols’ Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age.  On its face, the term “isolationist” is absurd.  Nothing could be more isolating than a habit of bombing, invading, and occupying countries; the neighborhood bully is always the most isolated of figures.  Mr Nichols writes a history of American anti-imperialism starting with those who opposed war with Spain in 1898 and leading to those who tried to prevent the rise of a permanent war economy after the First World War.  Mr Lears focuses on the book’s depictions of William James, Randolph Bourne, and Senator William Borah.

Mansplanations

The other day, Rebecca Solnit (a.k.a. America’s National Treasure) wrote a column for TomDispatch that The Nation‘s website picked up.  The title is “Men Still Explain Things to Me.”  Ms Solnit tells a little story about a strange man who responded to some comment she’d made about photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge by chastising her for not having read a new book about Muybridge that had come out earlier that year.  It turned out that the book he had in mind was River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, by- Rebecca Solnit.   Ms Solnit’s friends repeatedly tried to tell the man that the woman he was scolding for not knowing the book was in fact its author; that didn’t slow him down a bit.  Ms Solnit gives other examples of men shutting women down by loudly and persistently “explaining” to them.  Acknowledging that not all men use this passive-aggressive technique and that those who do use it  sometimes use it against other men, Ms Solnit mentions that young women nowadays call the technique “mansplaining.”

Ms Solnit posted this piece shortly before a truly spectacular example of mansplaining burst into public view and briefly dominated the US political news cycle.  US Congressman Todd Akin, Republican of Missouri, is his party’s nominee for the US Senate from that state in this year’s election.  In response to a question from a television interviewer, Mr Akin said that he did not believe that abortion should be legal.  Asked about women who become pregnant as the result of rape, he said that he would not make an exception for them, in part because he believes that such a scenario is rare.  “The female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down,” he said, launching into an explanation of physiological processes that, according to him, prevent women who are the victims of what the congressman called “legitimate rape” from becoming pregnant.

In the aftermath of Mr Akin’s remarks, several prominent Republicans, including presidential nominee Willard “Mitt” Romney, criticized him harshly.  At this writing, it is unclear whether Mr Akin will remain a candidate.  A Google search estimates over 900,000 results for “Akin vows to stay in race”; usually candidates vow to stay in a race shortly before they announce their withdrawals.

A couple of interesting pieces have appeared in response to this matter.  On The Nation‘s website, health columnist Dana Goldstein contributes a handy guide to “How the Body Reacts to Sexual Assault” (spoiler: not by spontaneously producing contraceptives.) Ms Goldstein explains that ideas about sexual response that are not informed by biology lead many people, victims of rape among them, to draw distinctions between women who are more worthy or less worthy of support and respect after sexual assault.  These distinctions, Ms Goldstein argues, turn rape exceptions to abortion bans into a means by which other people can exercise unwanted control over a woman’s body.  As such, they reenact the original offense.

And at Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner writes a fascinating analysis of “The Theological Roots of Akin’s ‘Legitimate Rape’ Comment.”  Mr Akin is an outspoken member of the Presbyterian Church in America (or PCA,) the second-largest Presbyterian denomination in the USA.  Unlike the larger and quite liberal Presbyterian Church USA, the PCA is fiercely traditional both in its general theology and in its views of relations between the sexes.  Posner cites a series of PCA position papers on abortion which mirror Mr Akin’s remarks very closely.  They even go into detail about the unlikelihood of pregnancy resulting from rape, details unsupported by documentation.  Ms Posner links to a column by Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic; Ms Franke-Ruta describes some of the political infrastructure that has been developed to popularize the idea that rape rarely causes conception, including a group called “Physicians for Life” which seems to consist of physicians who trained and practice in some parallel universe.   A parallel universe which sends representatives to the US Congress, for some reason.

A deal with the devil

Afghan boy dancing

Citizens of the United States of America and other countries that have armies stationed in Afghanistan may wonder what sort of Afghans have made themselves allies of the forces operating in our names.   An article by Kelly Beaucar Vlahos on antiwar.com sheds a great deal of light on this question.  Vlahos quotes Patrick Cockburn’s remark that “one reason Afghan villagers prefer to deal with the Taliban rather than the government security forces is that the latter have a habit of seizing their sons at checkpoints and sodomizing them.”  There’s a great deal more to it than that, unfortunately.  On 20 April, PBS’ documentary series Frontline will be airing a report called “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan” which should bring this situation to broader notice in the States. 

The portrait Vlahos and others paint suggests that the USA and the other foreign armies are in such a weak position in Afghanistan that they could not remain there if they did not have the support of men who make a lifestyle of enslaving and raping children.  If true, that is not only a reason to call for an end to the occupation of Afghanistan, but also a reason to discard the notion of “humanitarian military intervention.”  Whatever evils we may begin a war intending to stop are likely to be dwarfed by the evils we will have to promote in order to succeed in that war.

How to remember the future

nation 26 october 2009Stuart Klawans reviews Alain Resnais’ Wild Grass, in which the 87 year old master filmmaker returns once more to his great theme of memory and desire.  Resnais excels at depicting  characters who cannot quite tell the difference between the past and the future.  In this film, two middle-aged Parisians think about flirting with each other.  Confused as to which of their feelings are hopes for the future and which are regrets for the past, they struggle to see each other as they are and their relationship as it might be.  Successful lovemaking, apparently, requires us to find a way to distinguish between the future and the past.  

Many have said that the purpose of philosophy is to teach us how to die.  This line always reminds me of what John Silber said in 1990 when he was running for governor of Massachusetts and a voter asked him what the public schools should teach children: “Teach them that they are going to die.”  Silber was not elected, needless to say.  A review essay considers the idea of philosophy as a preparation for a good death.  There are some interesting quotes and paraphrases along the way.  For example, Freud contended that such teaching is pointless, because we cannot imagine our own death.  Thinking of Resnais’ films, we might add to Freud’s argument an appendix that although it may be certain that our future will end with death, there is nothing like it in our past.  We cannot envision death, because we cannot remember it.  Nor can we accept it as long as our hopes for the future pervade our minds.  To accept death, we would have to break from both the past and the future, and feel only the present instant as real.  Elizabeth Kubler-Ross saw this, and at times preached a Buddhist-inspired doctrine urging us to emulate death in life by emptying ourselves of ego, and to see only the present, unaffected by memories or regrets, hopes or fears.  But she could not follow this through; as she neared death herself, Kubler-Ross clung to Hollywood-inspired fantasies of indefinitely long life.  Dying, like lovemaking, requires us to distinguish between the future and the past.        

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The Nation, 5 October 2009

nation 5 october 2009We take sexual violence seriously here at Los Thunderlads, and so welcome the first installment of The Nation‘s investigation of sex trafficking and of what’s being done in the name of stopping it.  The first part looks at some projects that don’t seem to be helping; the second part will look at other approaches that might represent an improvement.

At the opening of this first part, Noy Thrupkaew interviews Gary Haugen and Patrick Stayton of International Justice Mission, an evangelical Christian group that stages vigilante raids on brothels in southeast Asia; Thrupkaew then talks with other people who have tried to help the women and girls IJM has “freed,” finding that many of them wind up returning to sex work, if anything finding themselves more helpless after the raid than they had been before.  Not only did IJM dump their “rescuees” with other NGOs, simply assuming that those organizations would somehow take care of them, they made no effort to differentiate between, on the one hand, women who had chosen sex work as the least worst option available to them and, on the other, women and girls who had been forced or deceived into it.  Nor did they choose their allies intelligently; IJM’s strategy of working closely with the Cambodian police seems rather dubious when we read one Cambodian policeman’s confession of the nightly rapes he and his colleagues perpetrated against the sex workers in their district, and when we read reports that many Cambodian policemen are active in sex trafficking rings.  Thrupkaew closes this first part of the series with the voices of two other women who are on the ground in Cambodia trying to help victims of sex trafficking there:

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Shoot-‘Em-Up Video Games Aren’t Sadistic Enough to Entertain Little Boys?

skateestate.com

skateestate.com

How about Rape-the-Women games for the future psychopaths?

New Year, Old Right

The latest issues of my two standard “paleocon” reads, The American Conservative and Chronicles, include fewer really noteworthy articles than average.  The election of Mr O as president and a solidly Democratic Congress freed them to turn from the constant struggle to show how they differ from the Bush/ Cheney Right and toward standard-issue conservative territory, denouncing government spending, unconventional family structures, etc. 

The contest, 1972

The contest, 1972

In The American Conservative, Daniel McCarthy argues that George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign triggered a transformation of the Republican Party by driving Cold War liberals into its ranks.  Mary Wakefield reviews Richard Dowden’s Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, Wakefield reports that Dowden, the current director of the Royal African Society, is deeply pessimistic about western programs to aid Africa, but deeply optimistic about Africans’ ability to build a future for themselves if left alone. 

Sheldon Richman offers a succinct explanation of the Austrian school of economics’ theory of malinvestment and uses this theory to explain the current financial crisis.  David Gordon reviews a book by the most celebrated living opponent of the theory of malinvestment, Paul Krugman. 

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

Jim Pittaway,  licensed psychotherapist and friend of the late Michael Aris, applies his professional expertise and his personal animosity to Aris’ widow, Aung San Suu Kyi, to an analysis of western policy towards Burma.  The professional expertise part is quite illuminating.  Suggesting that we should view the Burmese regime’s relationship to its people as one of captor to hostage, he asks us to apply “the biggest rule of hostage crises: unless you can take him out right now, don’t threaten the perp.”  Since the 1990 election, the West’s dealings with Burma have consisted primarily of a series of idle threats, and the hostages have paid the price. 

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More from the antiwar Right

The American Conservative, 8 September 2008

Two major articles deal with the fear that haunts many of the “Old Right” contributors to this publication, the fear that America is becoming dependent on foreign powers.  An obituary for Lieutenant General William Odom discusses the testimony the general gave to the US Senate in early April, in which he pointed out that US forces in Iraq depend “on a long and slender supply line from Kuwait, which runs through territory controlled by Shi’ite forces friendly to Iran” [a quote from the obituarist, not Odom’s own words.)  American service personnel in Iraq are therefore hostages at the disposal of Iran. 

Andrew Bacevich attacks American consumerism and its economic consequences.  Our insatiable appetite for luxuries, Bacevich argues, has saddled us with debts and a dependence on imported fuels that we can manage only by maintaining a constant war footing, while our wars serve only to increase our debts and deepen our dependence.   

The American Conservative, 25 August 2008

Remember George W Bush saying that the fall of Saddam Hussein meant that the “rape rooms” in his prisons would forever close?  Abu Ghraib made a sick joke out of that boast.  Well, the return of rape rooms wasn’t the end of it.  Since the current war began in March 2003, well over 2 million Iraqis have been forced from their homes.  Most of them left empty-handed.  How have they been surviving since?  Kelley Beaucar Vlahos shows how; tens of thousands of Iraqi women and girls have been forced into prostitution.  No one in authority is even collecting statistics about these victims of daily rape, much less trying to help them.   On the contrary, when it was revealed that a major US defense contractor was shuttling women and girls between Kuwait and Baghdad to be used as sex slaves, the story went nowhere.  The matter remained so obscure that even Vlahos misreports the name of the whistleblower who revealed it.  She calls him Bruce Halley.  His name is Barry Halley. 

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The Atlantic Monthly, September 2008

This issue includes several pieces about the 2008 presidential campaign, but some interesting things as well. 

A note mentions a RAND Corporation study of piracy which reached the reassuring conclusion that, contrary to hype, terrorists and pirates are natural adversaries.  While terrorists “would presumably aim for the destruction of the maritime economy, pirates depend on it for their livelihood.” 

Guy Gugliotta recounts the increased interest in space-based weaponry in the US defense establishment since the current administration took power, then argues that nothing is to be gained and a great deal lost from the development or use of such weapons. 

Lisa Margonelli’s “Gut Reactions” explains how the biochemical reactions that take place in a termite’s stomach could provide a model for efficient biofuel production.  Along the way, she discusses the complexity of the communities of bacteria found in termites’ stomach’s and quotes the idea that “Maybe the termite is just a fancy delivery system for the creatures in the gut.”  And maybe humans are really controlled by their stomach bacteria, too…

The jewelry of Ted Muehling is the topic of a new book; Benjamin Schwarz reviews the book, taking the opportunity to write at length about how obscure the location of Muehling’s New York shop is (“tucked on a short stretch of the four-block, semi-hidden Howard Street- reportedly the last street in Manhattan to get street lights”) and how all the most sophisticated ladies in New York know and wear his work

In 1974, heiress Patty Hearst was abducted by the Symbionese Liberation Army.  During her captivity, she was beaten repeatedly, raped hundreds of times, and brainwashed into joining the SLA’s bank robberies.  Apparently something just like that happened to Caitlin Flanagan.  Well, minus the abduction, captivity, beating, rape, brainwashing, and bank robberies.  Her sister left home and became a hippie for a while back in the early 70’s, much to her mother’s dismay.  So as you can see, she knows exactly what Patty Hearst must have gone through, and is the person most qualified to write a highly judgmental essay about her in the guise of a review of a recent book about her case.  

Corby Kummer takes a cooking class on the Greek island of Kea.  His slideshow about the island and its food can be found here.

The American Conservative, 22 October 2007

The highlight of the issue is a piece by psychotherapist Jim Pittaway analyzing American nationalism in terms of the therapeutic model of “Criminal Thinking.”  Pittaway explains that “the unholy triad at the core of antisocial thinking is narcissism, impatience, and need for control.”  “The narcissistic predator carries senses of special entitlement and deep grievance.”  Because his view of himself is so exalted, he cannot recognize that his behavior has brought unjust suffering upon anyone else.  As an example of this kind of pathology, Pittaway quotes United States Senator Jon Tester.  “Refereeing a civil war in Iraq has distracted us from fighting a war in Afghanistan.”  As if our troops were just minding their own business, quietly making their way to the home of Taliban/ al Qaeda, when they took a wrong turn and wound up in the middle of this mysterious conflict in Iraq. 

In the context of a disordered nationalism, impatience and the need to control others combine to create a sense that one’s leaders are in fact omnipotent, and that if there is evil in the world it can only be because those leaders have defaulted in their duties.  “In this construct, any failure to control must necessarily be failure on the part of whoever was supposed to do the controlling; the core idea of America’s potential to control everything can never be questioned.  This logically absurd notion is an irreducible component of both the criminal personality and our New Nationalism.  So, like the habituated criminal, nationalist America does not have to accomodate society around us and instead must pursue ever more desperate measures to control things that cannot, and ought not, be controlled.”  These “ever more desperate measures” form a “kind of progression of increasingly less desirable outcomes experienced by the Criminal-Thinking offender when he tries to take control of the situation, loses it, escalates, and winds up dead or in prison for crimes he never intended to commit when he started out.  As long as he cannot self-regulate, and the criminal thinker cannot, he is doomed to play out to the end.” 

Pittaway gives two ways out of nationalistic Criminal Thinking.  As you would expect in a magazine called The American Conservative, one way out is an appeal to such American exemplars of the republican tradition as Lincoln and Jefferson, claiming that they both preached and exhibited self-restraint.  “Self-control — not controlling others — is at the heart of American patriotic tradition.”  The grimmer way out is the path Germany traveled after the Third Reich.  “When you’re living in the rubble you’ve created, narcissism is difficult to sustain.  When you have to engage in a daily struggle to survive, impatience is useless if not deadly.  When you have been defeated so thoroughly that you lack both capability and will to resist those who beat you, you don’t control anything.  By 1950, those same German people and their leadership reverted to pro-social thinking in government.” 

http://www.amconmag.com/2007/2007_10_22/article1.html

In the same issue Dave Lindorff reports on a bizarre incident that occurred this August 29, when without authorization a crew loaded a B-52 with six cruise missiles armed with live nuclear warheads and flew across the country.  Even more bizarre, six airmen connected with the incident have died in the weeks since.  Most bizarre of all, the story has barely received notice in the mainstream press. 

The cover story argues that conservatives will need to share more than hatred of Hillary Clinton if they are to win the 2008 elections.  An article about Graham Greene expresses amazement that G. W. Bush recently mentioned The Quiet American when he himself so obviously embodies the worst traits of that novel’s two protagonists.  Uri Avnery reviews Mearsheimer and Walt’s The Lobby,  Neil Clark decries the British Conservative Party’s leftward drift, and Pat Buchanan expresses nostalgia for Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy.