An abuse of power?

He's still getting people worked up

He's still getting people worked up

Andreas Willi, professor of Greek at Oxford, takes issue with a letter addressed to the US president that has lately been gathering signatures from American classical scholars.  Willi’s article can be seen in pdf form here.


On 18 May 2009, 200 Classical scholars from around the world sent an open letter to the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. This unusual action, and the contents of the letter, raise issues which may not have been considered by all those who have endorsed it, but which deserve consideration. In order to put the discussion that follows into context, it may be useful first to quote the body of the letter itself. [[1]]


Dear President Obama,

We, the undersigned scholars of Graeco-Roman antiquity, respectfully request that you intervene to clean up some of the historical debris left in southeast Europe by the previous U.S. administration.


Wounded Knee, nanotech, Serbian broadcasting, and the car industry

The headquarters of Radio Television Serbia after the 23 April 1999 bombing

The headquarters of Radio Television Serbia after the 23 April 1999 bombing

Go away for a month, and things pile up.  Time to get back at it.  Here are “Periodicals Notes” on three recent issues of Counterpunch

16-30 April: Tiphaine Dickson reports on the case of Dragoljub Milanovic, the only person ever to have been tried and punished for NATO’s 23 April 1999 bombing of Radio Television Serbia (RTS), an attack on an undefended target that killed 16 civilians and served no military purpose other than to disrupt broadcasting between the hours of 2 and 5 AM that morning.  The attack followed an ultimatum NATO issued to the Serbs that the station would be considered a legitimate target unless they consented to broadcast six hours a day of NATO-approved western programs, an ultimatum NATO dropped when the Serbs accepted it.  Mr Milanovic has been in prison for seven years because of his role in this wanton act of murder.  What was that role?  He was one of NATO’s intended victims.  The director of RTS, Mr Milanovic was at his desk in the building less than an hour before the bombing.  Dickson details a story of the dizzyingly absurd injustices that Mr Milanovic has suffered, illustrating the workings of the West’s anti-Serb policies of the last couple of decades. 

In the same issue, former US Senator James Abourezk (Democrat of South Dakota) gives a synopsis of the relations between the Minneconjou tribe of the Sioux nation and the US government before, during, and after the 1890 massacre of Minneconjou people at Wounded Knee in South Dakota.  This is to serve as an introduction to Senator Abourezk’s recollections in the next issue of the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by militant American Indian Movement (AIM) activists.  

1-15 May: Senator Abourezk tells the story of his trip to Wounded Knee in 1973, when he and George McGovern (his senior colleague in the US Senate from South Dakota) tried to mediate between AIM and the federal agents surrounding them.  The senators left thinking that they had negotiated a peaceful resolution to the standoff, only to find that the Nixon administration had blocked the deal.  Senator Abourezk suspects that the president wanted to keep the crisis going in order to stoke anti-Native feeling among whites.  

In the same issue, Steven Higgs looks at nanotechnology.  After listing such applications as self-cleaning eyeglasses (very attractive to me!), he quotes experts who are concerned that carbon nanotubes strongly resemble the microstructure of asbestos and that exposure to them may pose some of the same risks as does exposure to asbestos.  Other nanotechnologies also seem to represent considerable dangers; for example, the minute portions of silver used in high-end washing machines can enter living cells and may alter DNA there, threatening cancer.  Higgs notes that after years of federal inaction, the Obama administration has issued notice that it may begin a review of regulations in this area.   

16-30 May: Eamonn Fingleton points out that all the explanations for the decline of the US auto industry favored by corporate media are bogus.  For example, one often reads that the Big Three fail to produce any models with the steering wheel on the right, and that this explains why the Japanese won’t buy American cars.  In fact, Fingleton reports, Detroit makes dozens of models with the steering wheel on the right, and has done so for years.  We also hear that closing a country to imports will doom its manufacturers to eventual irrelevance in the global contest for shares of the export market.  Yet the Japanese and Korean car markets have been the most tightly closed in the world for decades, as Japanese and Korean car makers have gone from strength to strength and now dominate the US market. 

In the same issue, Bill Hatch reports on Michelle Obama’s visit to the University of California’s new campus at Merced.  Hatch quotes Mrs O’s criticism of the University of Chicago’s development of the Hyde Park neighborhood as abuffer between itself and the South Side of Chicago, then points out that UC-Merced is trying to do exactly the same thing.  Hatch tells how UC-Merced was built during the California real estate bubble, and how the construction of the university and the bubble worked together to shatter the working class town that had existed there.  In Hatch’s telling, Merced sounds like a ghost town in the making.

This June’s Issues of The Nation

It’s been a few months since any “Periodicals Notes” have gone up here about The Nation.  In part that’s because it’s so topical that there aren’t many articles in each issue that I think I’ll want to have notes about, in part because I’ve been busy and have been slacking on “Periodicals Notes” generally, and in part because it comes out every week, so that as soon as I’m done reading one issue another shows up.  Anyway, here are a few notes about recent issues.

2 June- A lot of presidential campaign coverage, an essay about Nick Cave’s career and his latest album, and a review of a book about the game Second Life.

9 June- The Spring books issue.  Michael Massing voices reservations about Samantha Power’s biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello, concluding that the books shortcomings might be due to the difficulty Power faces in transitioning from “an independent critic working outside the system to being a high-profile figure operating within it.”  Massing never sees fit to mention that Power was a propagandist for “humanitarian intervention” long before she joined the Obama campaign.  This omission especially compromises Massing’s ability to analyze Power’s treatment of the Balkan wars of the 90’s.  For example, “Power’s chapter on Vieira de Mello’s time in Bosnia (which is based on her own eyewitness research) is devastating, and after reading it I fully expected her to draw the obvious conclusion- that his vaunted pragmatism too often degenerated into simple amorality.  But this she refuses to do.”  Because, Massing suggests, Power’s feelings just won’t let her stop “clinging to her image of him as an exemplar of democracy and multilateralism.”  Consider Power’s role in the mid-90’s as a cheerleader for the war party, and a far less innocent explanation for her resistance to fact and her rosy account of Vieira de Mello’s antics begins to emerge.  The West’s anti-Serb policy in those years was “simple amorality” from the beginning- there was no lofty height of idealism from which it could have degenerated.  

16 June- HBO’s John Adams miniseries was based on David McCullough’s biography of Adams, a book which The Nation gave to Daniel Lazare to slam for its whitewashing of Adams’ genuinely catastrophic presidency.  Unfortunately, Lazare didn’t get to review the TV show.  They gave that job to Nicholas Guyatt, who takes a much more sedate appriach.  Fatema Ahmed reviews two reissued novels by 30’s literary cult figure Patrick Hamilton, whose work leads her to say that “Neglected writers are often overestimated in rediscovery.”  Movie reviewer Stuart Klawans pans some summer blockbusters, then praises Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin’s Auf der anderen Seite (called here The Edge of Heaven) for its anarchic moments and Canadian Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg because it “refutes the conventional wisdom that other people’s dreams are always boring.”

23 June- Reviewing Jacob Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, Bruce Schulman and Julian Zelizer’s Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970’s, and a reissue of Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, Corey Robin writes “Conservatives have asked us not to obey them but to feel sorry for them- or to obey them because we feel sorry for them.”  Barry Schwabsky reviews the touring exhibition “Jess: To and From the Printed Page,” arguing that the exhibition’s insistent historicism goes too far and obscures the whimsy that gives that collagist his real worth. 

30 June- “A Special Issue: The New Inequality.”  The highlight is “Ending Plutocracy: A 12-Step Program,” by Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati.  The 12 steps are written as a tribute to Alcoholics Anonymous-style programs and a suggestion that the USA is not only saddled with plutocracy, but addicted to it.  About 20 policy prescriptions appear under these 12 steps.  Most of those policies have been proposed in Congress in the last few years, and the rest have been proposed in state legislatures.  It’s rather an upbeat article, suggesting that something can be done about our #1 problem and that there are at least a few people in positions of power who would like to do it.