Curtis White on Theology and Capitalism

On the flight over to Hawaii, I got stuck into some old Harper’s and came across this essay by Curtis White, “Hot Air Gods.” To simplify, he equates a fractioning of belief (into a personal, isolated thing) to the fractioning of the self within a capitalist framework (where we are all individual worker bees without community). He says it much better than me, of course, but I was struck by this para:

…We need to come to an honest acknowledgment of what capitalism is, and that has been made very clear for us in recent months by the Chinese entrepreneurs who fill our pet food, toothpaste, animal feed, and even our Viagra with toxic filler. for the entrepreneur, such filler is poison only if someone dies; otherwise it’s just a profit margin. The game is to take profit as close to the poison line as possible. When on occasion profit spills over into poison and someone dies, there is a wild wringing of hands (and , in china, death sentences), but soon back we go in search of that ideal balance between profit and death. We see very much the same principle at work in industrial agriculture. Just how much herbicide and pesticide can we put down before it starts killing something more than bugs and pigweed? Here we see the creed of “cost/benefit analysis” presided over with loving-kindness by accountants and legions of liability lawyers.

I had to type that out, because Harper’s doesn’t print online. Phew! But anyway, dig out the Dec. 2007 issue to read the thing in full.
Here’s an essay on Saving Private Ryan by White that’s worth a peruse.

Nearly right, nearly…

Here’s the opening of the New York Times editorial today:

Looking at America
Published: December 31, 2007
There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. Sunday was one of them, as we read the account in The Times of how men in some of the most trusted posts in the nation plotted to cover up the torture of prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators by destroying videotapes of their sickening behavior. It was impossible to see the founding principles of the greatest democracy in the contempt these men and their bosses showed for the Constitution, the rule of law and human decency.
It was not the first time in recent years we’ve felt this horror, this sorrowful sense of estrangement, not nearly. This sort of lawless behavior has become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001.
The country and much of the world was rightly and profoundly frightened by the single-minded hatred and ingenuity displayed by this new enemy. But there is no excuse for how President Bush and his advisers panicked — how they forgot that it is their responsibility to protect American lives and American ideals, that there really is no safety for Americans or their country when those ideals are sacrificed.

What’s wrong in that third paragraph? Bush and his junta didn’t “panic”–you don’t suddenly squat out the Patriot Act in a fight-or-flight squirly moment–and they certainly didn’t “forget” their responsibilities.
C’mon, New York Times, it was intentional the moment those corrupt bastards stole the election in 2000. Destroying our freedoms was intentional. Removing habeus corpus was intentional. Letting New Orleans drown was intentional. Bombing the country that didn’t contain the terrorists that bombed us was intentional. Underfunding deployed troops is intentional. Underfunding returned troops is intentional. Torture is intentional.
Suddenly saying Burma!…well, that’s panic.
At least the end para strives for hope:

We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably. Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see, once again, the reflection of the United States of America.

2007 – The Year in Review

My Canon camera, like most, has a “movie” setting. Half the time I use it intentionally, and half the time I flip it on by mistake. Either way, over the year I have grabbed 5 seconds here and there, sometimes longer (but not that much). The above compilation doesn’t make any narrative sense and is completely random. So enjoy!! (Warning: Includes mature language, i.e. swearing).
Bonus! 2006 Year in Review also uploaded: Part One and Part Two.
And!! I have uploaded a Flickr photoset for 2007, one photo representing each month.

Rickstones Yearbook 1986

I have scanned and uploaded to Flickr the complete Rickstones Yearbook I created in 1986 when I was a wee scruffian. Contains my attempt to be Bill Elder. From my Flickr intro:

In 1986 I was the only American student in Rickstones Secondary School in Witham, Essex, UK. And being so, I thought we ought to have a yearbook, which is a foreign concept to the Brits. So along with a friend of mine, Dave Seacombe, we petitioned in March, convinced the Headmistress, who then found a printer for us. I guess they thought, well as long as he leaves us alone…

As usual, the larger versions are the best, so be sure to click on them.

When will this fascist nightmare be over? breaks the story of the stomach-churning conditions within the CIA “Black Sites”–i.e. our totalitarian-regime-like torture sites.

The CIA held Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah in several different cells when he was incarcerated in its network of secret prisons known as “black sites.” But the small cells were all pretty similar, maybe 7 feet wide and 10 feet long. He was sometimes naked, and sometimes handcuffed for weeks at a time. In one cell his ankle was chained to a bolt in the floor. There was a small toilet. In another cell there was just a bucket. Video cameras recorded his every move. The lights always stayed on — there was no day or night. A speaker blasted him with continuous white noise, or rap music, 24 hours a day.
The guards wore black masks and black clothes. They would not utter a word as they extracted Bashmilah from his cell for interrogation — one of his few interactions with other human beings during his entire 19 months of imprisonment. Nobody told him where he was, or if he would ever be freed.
It was enough to drive anyone crazy. Bashmilah finally tried to slash his wrists with a small piece of metal, smearing the words “I am innocent” in blood on the walls of his cell. But the CIA patched him up.
So Bashmilah stopped eating. But after his weight dropped to 90 pounds, he was dragged into an interrogation room, where they rammed a tube down his nose and into his stomach. Liquid was pumped in. The CIA would not let him die.

Yes, we have a history of not doing humane things (slavery! genocide of the Native Americans! Whoops!!), and these sort of stories have been leaked before but this is, to quote from the article, “the first in-depth, first-person account of captivity inside a CIA black site.”
Read the whole thing and feel the chill. Bashmilah was never charged with anything.
Question: will a new administration put a stop to this?

Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere (1985)

If we’re gonna go out, let’s go out like this song, joyous in the face of un-knowledge and un-certainty.

There’s a city in my mind
Come along and take that ride
And it’s alright, baby it’s alright
And it’s very far away
But it’s growing day by day
And it’s alright , baby it’s alright
Would you like to come along
You can help me sing this song
And it’s alright, baby it’s alright
They can tell you what to do
But they’ll make a fool of you
And it’s alright, baby it’s alright

I think we all need that comforting feeling in that repeated last line…

Louis Menand (and myself) on Diary Keeping

A photo of Louis Menand all chillin’ out ‘n’ shit. In front of books.
I have kept a diary on and off (but pretty much on, full on) since 1985. Holy Christ! That’s pretty much all my formative years and then some. So I’m always interested to read others’ diaries, or in this case a lengthy New Yorker article by Louis Menand on diary keeping. Here’s some choice passages:

And the superego theory, of course, is the theory that diaries are really written for the eyes of others. They are exercises in self-justification. When we describe the day’s events and our management of them, we have in mind a wise and benevolent reader who will someday see that we played, on the whole, and despite the best efforts of selfish and unworthy colleagues and relations, a creditable game with the hand we were dealt. If we speak frankly about our own missteps and shortcomings, it is only to gain this reader’s trust. We write to appease the father. People abandon their diaries when they realize that the task is hopeless.

Read More

Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe

A recent BoingBoing post reminded me to check out Charlie Brooker on YouTube, although the clips it linked to were some of his less brilliant. Brooker does not just sit on a couch and insult twats on TV (as the original link showed), but his deconstruction of the way television manipulates our emotions is some of the best media studies-turned-comedy I’ve seen. The closest the U.S. has is the duo of Colbert and Stewart, but their focus is mostly on politics. (One of my students reminded me that ZeFrank does some of this too). Instead Brooker assaults the entire apparatus. For more on the series, here’s a Wikipedia thingy and the official BBC Four site. Here’s a selection of the best moments I could find on YouTube:

Brooker looks at how Reality TV is edited, and how narratives can be manipulated out of raw footage.
Here’s his overview on the dreadful Celebrity Big Brother that I had the misfortune of seeing when I was in Liverpool.
“Aspirational TV” pretty much deconstructs everything that’s wrong with not only television but capitalism in general. Brilliant!
He also takes on the X Factor, known in the US by our similarly crap version, American Idol.
Brooker doesn’t always slag things off–here he praises the series The Wire, and rightly so, because it is one of the best shows ever.

Want more? Here’s some full all four seasons plus two holiday specials!:
Charlie Brooker’s ScreenWipe Season One (March 2006):
Episode One: 1 2 3
Episode Two: 1 2 3
Episode Three: 1 2 3

Charlie Brooker’s ScreenWipe Season Two (July-Aug 2006):
Episode One: 1 2 3
Episode Two: 1 2 3
Episode Three: 1 2 3 (Severely Edited b/c of YouTube, but here’s the real deal)
Episode Four: 1 2 3
Episode Five (Screenwipe USA): 1 2 3 4 5 6

Charlie Brooker’s ScreenWipe Specials (December 2006):
Christmas 2006 1 2 3 4
2006 Year in Review 1 2 3

Charlie Brooker’s ScreenWipe Season Three (February 2007):
Episode One: 1 2 3
Episode Two: 1 2 3
Episode Three: 1 2 3
Episode Four: 1 2 3

Charlie Brooker’s ScreenWipe Season Four (September 2007):
Episode One: 1 2 3
Episode Two: 1 2 3
Episode Three:
1 2 3
Episode Four: 1 2 3
Episode Five: 1 2 3