Sunday, November 08, 2009
Notice of Peter Webster's Passing
Friday, October 09, 2009
Peace Prize? Yeah.
The Ol' "Socialized Medicine" Whine, again
Anyhow, some person responded to my ediorial with one of his own. Death panels, bankrupting the economy, goverment coming between patients and doctors...and, of course, the phrase "socialized medicine" waved around like a bloody battle flag. So, obviously, we're dealing with a belief system—like the Intelligent Design Cadres, or the birthers or the militia freaks.
Then I stopped writing this to watch a video of some congressperson from Texas (yeah, no need to say it) gabbling on about putting condoms on wild horses. He was the same one sitting at Obama's address on health care with a sign saying "What bill?" on his lap. Jesus.
Years back, commentators talked about how the hard core christian nuts were determined to take over the Republican Party. They did. We're living with (and in spite of) the results.
Monday, October 05, 2009
After I took the mouse apart I blew compressed air
Now, if we could just take some people's heads apart and blow compressed air through the workings, maybe they'd work fine. I guess our system is a run-away train like in the movies, heading for a high trestle that's on fire, been washed away, collapsed, mined with high explosives, etc., etc.. The track, by the way, is in either a narrow deep cut or a long tunnel, so we can't jump off.
The air is bad, good water is getting scarce, and the fish are dying. Here's a very sad story from Alaska, the really last frontier:
The New York Times
October 3, 2009
Scarcity of King Salmon Hurt Alaskan Fishermen
By STEFAN MILKOWSKI
MARSHALL, Alaska — Just a few years ago, king salmon played an outsize role in villages along the Yukon River. Fishing provided meaningful income, fed families throughout the year, and kept alive long-held traditions of Yup’ik Eskimos and Athabascan Indians.
But this year, a total ban on commercial fishing for king salmon on the river in Alaska has strained poor communities and stripped the prized Yukon fish off menus in the lower 48 states. Unprecedented restrictions on subsistence fishing have left freezers and smokehouses half-full and hastened a shift away from a tradition of spending summers at fish camps along the river.
“This year, fishing is not really worth it,” said Aloysius Coffee, a commercial fisherman in Marshall who used to support his family and pay for new boats and snow machines with fishing income.
At a kitchen table cluttered with cigarettes and store-bought food, Mr. Coffee said he fished for the less valuable chum salmon this summer but spent all his earnings on permits and gasoline. “You got to sit there and count your checkbook, how much you’re going to spend each day,” he said.
The cause of the weak runs, which began several years ago, remains unclear. But managers of the small king salmon fishery suspect changes in ocean conditions are mostly to blame, and they warn that it may be years before the salmon return to the Yukon River in large numbers.
Salmon are among the most determined of nature’s creatures. Born in fresh water, the fish spend much of their lives in the ocean before fighting their way upriver to spawn and die in the streams of their birth.
While most salmon populations in the lower 48 states have been in trouble for decades, thanks to dam-building and other habitat disruptions, populations in Alaska have generally remained healthy. The state supplies about 40 percent of the world’s wild salmon, and the Marine Stewardship Council has certified Alaska’s salmon fisheries as sustainable. (In the global market, sales of farmed salmon surpassed those of wild salmon in the late 1990s.)
For decades, runs of king, or chinook, salmon — the largest and most valuable of Alaska’s five salmon species — were generally strong and dependable on the Yukon River. But the run crashed in the late 1990s, and the annual migrations upriver have varied widely since then. “You can’t depend on it any more,” said Steve Hayes, who manages the fishery for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Officials with that department and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, which jointly manage the fishery, say variations in ocean conditions related to climate change or natural cycles are probably the main cause of the weak salmon runs. Certain runs of chinook salmon in California and Oregon have been weak as well in recent years, with ocean conditions also suspected.
In Alaska, fishermen also blame the Bering Sea pollock fishing fleet, which scoops up tens of thousands of king salmon each year as accidental by-catch. The first hard cap on salmon by-catch is supposed to take effect in 2011, but the cap is not tough enough to satisfy Yukon River fishermen.
The Yukon River fishery accounts for a small fraction of the state’s commercial salmon harvest. But the fish themselves are considered among the best in the world, prized for the extraordinary amount of fat they put on before migrating from the Bering Sea to spawning grounds in Alaska and Canada, a voyage of 2,000 miles in some cases.
Most commercial fishing is done on the Yukon River delta, where mountains disappear and the river branches into fingers on its way to the sea. Eskimos fish with aluminum skiffs and nets from villages inaccessible by road. Beaches serve as depots and gathering places.
Kwik’Pak Fisheries, in Emmonak, population 794, is one of the few industrial facilities in the region. Forklifts cross muddy streets separating storage buildings, processing facilities and a bunkhouse for employees from surrounding villages.
For decades, almost all commercially caught king salmon were sold to buyers in Japan. But in 2004, Kwik’Pak began marketing the fish domestically, and for a few years fish-lovers in the lower 48 could find Yukon River kings at upscale restaurants and stores.
This year, Kwik’Pak sent just six king salmon to a single buyer in Seattle, and only a trickle of other kings made it to market. Most of those fish were caught incidentally during an opening for fall chum salmon.
Kwik’Pak is promoting chum salmon, also known as keta, and experimenting with an oily whitefish called cisco. But harvests of those fish are limited, and the price paid to fishermen is much less than for kings.
The company, which was formed in 2002 in part to develop local economies, now runs a store selling fishing supplies and hauls gravel in trucks that once carried fish. This summer, employees spent their time repainting the Catholic church.
“We’re a one-resource economy down here,” said Jack Schultheis, the company’s general manager. “We don’t have the oil fields or timber or anything else to work on. This is all we’ve got.”
In the 1980s and early 1990s, commercial fishermen on the lower river made an average of $8,000 to $12,000 in gross earnings, sometimes more. Since 2000, that number has been closer to $4,000, and this year, it dropped to just over $2,000.
“You gotta try to find some other work,” said Paul Andrews, a commercial fisherman in Emmonak. “It’s really, really hard out here.”
Like many on the Yukon delta, Mr. Andrews relies on income from fishing to sustain a subsistence lifestyle that also includes hunting for moose, seals and migratory birds.
Arthur Heckman, who manages a small store in the village of Pilot Station, says more and more people are asking him for credit. “Some days I have people call me up and say, ‘I just want a box of crackers,’ or ‘I just want to buy some Pampers,’ ” he said.
The cost of living in remote villages along the river is high, and many residents rely on a mix of part-time work and government aid. Most also rely on fish.
Nets stretch from riverbanks, and fish wheels — large rotating traps built on driftwood rafts — turn in the current near eddies. Simple smokehouses rise from every village beach and fish camp.
King salmon, which can weigh 30 pounds or more, are cut into long strips and dried for weeks over smoking alder or poplar. The candylike strips are ubiquitous here, served always with a sturdy cracker called Pilot Bread. Salmon are also canned, frozen and salted.
This year, fishery managers for the first time closed all subsistence fishing on the first pulse of king salmon and cut fishing times in half on later pulses, leaving many residents with just two 18-hour periods a week to fish.
Zeta Cleaver, one of the only people fishing in the middle-river village of Ruby in late July, said people called her from as far away as Anchorage wanting to buy fish. She used to catch more than a dozen king salmon a day and fill her smokehouse with fish for her children and grandchildren, she said. This year she got only a few kings.
Until recently, many residents gathered with family to fish from remote camps along the river, a holdover from a migratory lifestyle that included summer camps for fishing and winter camps for hunting and trapping.
This year, restrictions on fishing, combined with the high cost of gas and continuing societal shifts, kept many camps empty. A reporter’s 900-mile canoe trip down the Yukon and Tanana Rivers showed countless camps shuttered or abandoned. Multifamily camps that once rivaled nearby villages in population seemed more like quiet retreats from them.
High prices for heating fuel and limited fishing income left many lower-river residents in dire straits last winter and prompted shipments of food and other aid. With this year threatening to be even worse, Alaska’s governor, Sean Parnell, in August sought federal disaster relief for Yukon River residents. The request is still pending.
In Marshall, people are bracing for a long winter. Heating oil costs more than $7 a gallon here, and a can of condensed milk sells for nearly $4. Villagers are going moose-hunting in groups to save on the cost of gasoline.
“The whole community is kind of hurting,” said Mike Peters, a fisherman and heavy equipment operator. “People really depended on the fish, and it’s not there.”
Friday, October 02, 2009
Sioux Screwed Again
EAGLE BUTTE, South Dakota — Carol Moran spent all she could spare on new school clothes for her 15-year-old daughter. Then she found out a new dress code had been imposed at the junior high school that serves the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
Moran, who walks with a cane and survives on welfare in one of most impoverished regions in the U.S., said buying a whole new set of clothes is out of the question. Her daughter, Kyann, already has been sent home twice for violating the dress code since school started two weeks ago.
"It was just like a slap in the face," Moran said.
Unexpected school expenses can stress any parent. But for many with students in the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte School District, finding gas money or a ride to an affordable store can prove all but impossible, much less paying for the clothes if they get there.
The Cheyenne River Sioux reservation covers Dewey and Ziebach counties, which encompass 4,265 square miles. About 8,000 residents live among the rolling, grass-covered prairie of north central South Dakota.
More than half of Ziebach County and 38% of Dewey County lived in poverty in 2005, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The nearest discount store is about 90 miles away in the state capital of Pierre.
Moran and other parents have joined the tribe in a federal lawsuit seeking to block the school district from enforcing the dress code, which requires students to wear black, white or tan shirts, pants, skirts or shorts. Administrators say it is intended to avoid gang violence. An Aberdeen judge has said he might hold an initial hearing this week.
The school is run by a public board organized under state laws and one organized under the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education. The lawsuit argues the dress code violates federal regulations requiring such schools consult with tribes and parents of American Indian children in developing programs and policies.
Tom Van Norman, the tribe's attorney, said the dress code is not only a hardship for struggling parents but also an impediment to educating the children who are taken out of class and sent home or placed in a time-out room.
The dress code was publicized in the local weekly newspaper earlier in the summer, but many parents did not learn of it until receiving a packet of information about eight days before school started, Van Norman said. Classes started Aug. 27 and the tribe sued Sept. 1.
Two top school administrators declined to comment on the lawsuit or the dress code. But one of them, Bureau of Indian Education Supervisor Nadine Eastman, explained the dress code in a letter published Aug. 6 in the local newspaper, the West River Eagle.
"The purpose of the Uniform Dress Code is primarily to alleviate much of the gang-related violence in the school," Eastman wrote. "Many of our Junior High students wear gang-affiliated colors to school daily. Secondarily, we hope that an increase in safety will increase our academics for all students."
The dress code applies only to kindergarten, 7th and 8th grades this year, but officials intend to add a grade a year until it covers K-8, Eastman wrote. The junior high has about 150 students, with about 30 in kindergarten. Total school enrollment is about 800.
Winona Charger, whose grandson Justin Little Star has been suspended for violating the dress code, said she has seen little evidence of a gang problem. She said the schools should spend more time and money improving academic achievement.
The school district has repeatedly failed to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law, according to yearly report cards issued by the state Education Department.
"They're not teaching our kids. They're worried about what they're wearing to school. That's what makes me angry," Charger said.
Kim Low Dog said her twin daughters also have run afoul of the junior high's dress code because they wore blue jeans and different colored tops with designs. When she went to the school recently, she found one daughter and other dress-code violators had been taken out of classrooms and put in a separate room.
"She has a right to an education," Low Dog said. "She hadn't committed a crime or anything like that."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Olympics? Olympia? Olympic Boulevard...
A lot of people are very upset that Rio snared the Olympics, shutting out Chicago. Considering the way America's been behaving in the world (a dry drunk, you could say), I think we fucking deserved it. Actions cause reactions. Blowback.
Guess America ain't the Big Boss it used to be.
Obama, Jefferson, Hemings, racism, the usual...
Sally Hemings seems, for what little we know of her, pretty normal, too. She made the best of a very bad situation for herself and her children. No blame.
Blame for the system, though. Lots of it there. And blame for people accepting it. And blame for those who now apologize for the barbarism of slavery and unequal power relationships. Either one, and both.
What struck me after reading the book was the casualness people had about owning slaves as light-skinned as they themselves. Sally Hemings and several of her children later were considered "white," even in the South. Obviously the system went beyond skin color. It boiled down to being able to see people as possessions. That, as the saying goes, is cold. It's a mark against Jefferson's character.
That owners slept with slave women was a given. It was rather common, as far as we know. But it wasn't talked about. Because it was so common? I don't think so: I think it was because Africans had been so philosophically trashed and white people so philosophically elevated, that it was a sign of some sort of depravity—like drinking too much. Maybe due to Original Sin. But, it just was. What was utterly not acceptable was the idea that white women might sleep with black men. There is some sort of bizarre insecurity involved in this, of course. Black men were portrayed as animals, jungle creatures, easily overcome with lust and lustful enough to utterly ravish white women. White women, of course, were such weak and flawed creatures that they might...gasp...like it. Black men were lynched by the thousands, over the years, because of these twisted psychological beliefs and fears. That's really what the KKK was all about, and what so much of the South is still obsessed with today. And a lot of the rest of the country, too.
That, I have a hunch, is part of the rage and fear and shit-slinging at Obama is all about. I mean there's clearly a lot of outrage that a black man could become president, the ultimate high-status Alpha gig in America. But he's half-white. And the reason he's half-white is his mother, who we know was white, chose to marry a black man. Chose! What kind of a woman was she? We know she was a good mother, bright, all that, a good woman. But because of the almost indigenous racism in this country, a woman who marries a black man can't be good. There's got to be something wrong with her. And if there's something wrong with her, well, then, there's got to be something wrong with her child...and so it goes. The racists would be pissed if Obama's father was white and his mother black, but I bet they wouldn't be quite so pissed. Obama's heritage is a slap in the face to the racists...
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Arundhati Roy: a conscience
What Have We Done to Democracy? Of Nearsighted Progress, Feral Howls, Consensus, Chaos and a New Cold War in Kashmir
Sunday 27 September 2009
"What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit?"
Tom Englehardt: Introduction: Arundhati Roy, Is Democracy Melting?
So you, as a citizen, want to run for a seat in the House of Representatives? Well, you may be too late. Back in 1990, according to OpenSecrets.org, a website of the Center for Responsive Politics, the average cost of a winning campaign for the House was $407,556. Pocket change for your average citizen. But that was so twentieth century. The average cost for winning a House seat in 2008: almost $1.4 million. Keep in mind, as well, that most of those House seats don't change hands, because in the American democratic system of the twenty-first century, incumbents basically don't lose, they retire or die.
In 2008, 403 incumbents ran for seats in the House and 380 of them won. Just to run a losing race last year would have cost you, on average, $492,928, almost $100,000 more than it cost to win in 1990. As for becoming a Senator? Not in your wildest dreams, unless you have some really good pals in pharmaceuticals and health care ($236,022,031 in lobbying paid out in 2008), insurance ($153,694,224), or oil and gas ($131,978,521). A winning senatorial seat came in at a nifty $8,531,267 and a losing seat at $4,130,078 in 2008. In other words, you don't have a hope in hell of being a loser in the American Congressional system, and what does that make you?
Of course, if you're a young, red-blooded American, you may have set your sights a little higher. So you want to be president? In that case, just to be safe for 2012, you probably should consider raising somewhere in the range of one billion dollars. After all, the 2008 campaign cost Barack Obama's team approximately $730 million and the price of a place at the table just keeps going up. Of course, it helps to know the right people. Last year, the total lobbying bill, including money that went out for electoral campaigns and for lobbying Congress and federal agencies, came to $3.3 billion and almost 9 months into 2009, another $1.63 billion has already gone out without an election in sight.
Let's face it. At the national level, this is what American democracy comes down to today, and this is what George W. Bush & Co. were so infernally proud to export by force of arms to Afghanistan and Iraq. This is why we need to think about the questions that Arundhati Roy -- to my mind, a heroic figure in a rather unheroic age -- raises about democracy globally in an essay adapted from the introduction to her latest book. That book, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, has just been published (with one essay included that originally appeared at TomDispatch). Let's face it, she's just one of those authors -- I count Eduardo Galeano as another -- who must be read. Need I say more? Tom
What Have We Done to Democracy?
Of Nearsighted Progress, Feral Howls, Consensus, Chaos, and a New Cold War in Kashmir
By Arundhati Roy
While we're still arguing about whether there's life after death, can we add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort of life will it be? By "democracy" I don't mean democracy as an ideal or an aspiration. I mean the working model: Western liberal democracy, and its variants, such as they are.
So, is there life after democracy?
Attempts to answer this question often turn into a comparison of different systems of governance, and end with a somewhat prickly, combative defense of democracy. It's flawed, we say. It isn't perfect, but it's better than everything else that's on offer. Inevitably, someone in the room will say: "Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia... is that what you would prefer?"
Whether democracy should be the utopia that all "developing" societies aspire to is a separate question altogether. (I think it should. The early, idealistic phase can be quite heady.) The question about life after democracy is addressed to those of us who already live in democracies, or in countries that pretend to be democracies. It isn't meant to suggest that we lapse into older, discredited models of totalitarian or authoritarian governance. It's meant to suggest that the system of representative democracy -- too much representation, too little democracy -- needs some structural adjustment.
The question here, really, is what have we done to democracy? What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasized into something dangerous? What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit?
Is it possible to reverse this process? Can something that has mutated go back to being what it used to be? What we need today, for the sake of the survival of this planet, is long-term vision. Can governments whose very survival depends on immediate, extractive, short-term gain provide this? Could it be that democracy, the sacred answer to our short-term hopes and prayers, the protector of our individual freedoms and nurturer of our avaricious dreams, will turn out to be the endgame for the human race? Could it be that democracy is such a hit with modern humans precisely because it mirrors our greatest folly -- our nearsightedness?
Our inability to live entirely in the present (like most animals do), combined with our inability to see very far into the future, makes us strange in-between creatures, neither beast nor prophet. Our amazing intelligence seems to have outstripped our instinct for survival. We plunder the earth hoping that accumulating material surplus will make up for the profound, unfathomable thing that we have lost. It would be conceit to pretend I have the answers to any of these questions. But it does look as if the beacon could be failing and democracy can perhaps no longer be relied upon to deliver the justice and stability we once dreamed it would.
A Clerk of Resistance
As a writer, a fiction writer, I have often wondered whether the attempt to always be precise, to try and get it all factually right somehow reduces the epic scale of what is really going on. Does it eventually mask a larger truth? I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering prosaic, factual precision when maybe what we need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry.
Something about the cunning, Brahmanical, intricate, bureaucratic, file-bound, "apply-through-proper-channels" nature of governance and subjugation in India seems to have made a clerk out of me. My only excuse is to say that it takes odd tools to uncover the maze of subterfuge and hypocrisy that cloaks the callousness and the cold, calculated violence of the world's favorite new superpower. Repression "through proper channels" sometimes engenders resistance "through proper channels." As resistance goes this isn't enough, I know. But for now, it's all I have. Perhaps someday it will become the underpinning for poetry and for the feral howl.
Today, words like "progress" and "development" have become interchangeable with economic "reforms," "deregulation," and "privatization." Freedom has come to mean choice. It has less to do with the human spirit than with different brands of deodorant. Market no longer means a place where you buy provisions. The "market" is a de-territorialized space where faceless corporations do business, including buying and selling "futures." Justice has come to mean human rights (and of those, as they say, "a few will do").
This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the tsars of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being "anti-progress," "anti-development," "anti-reform," and of course "anti-national" -- negativists of the worst sort.
Talk about saving a river or protecting a forest and they say, "Don't you believe in progress?" To people whose land is being submerged by dam reservoirs, and whose homes are being bulldozed, they say, "Do you have an alternative development model?" To those who believe that a government is duty bound to provide people with basic education, health care, and social security, they say, "You're against the market." And who except a cretin could be against markets?
To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when Free Speech has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing.
Two decades of "Progress" in India has created a vast middle class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with it -- and a much, much vaster, desperate underclass. Tens of millions of people have been dispossessed and displaced from their land by floods, droughts, and desertification caused by indiscriminate environmental engineering and massive infrastructural projects, dams, mines, and Special Economic Zones. All developed in the name of the poor, but really meant to service the rising demands of the new aristocracy.
The hoary institutions of Indian democracy -- the judiciary, the police, the "free" press, and, of course, elections -- far from working as a system of checks and balances, quite often do the opposite. They provide each other cover to promote the larger interests of Union and Progress. In the process, they generate such confusion, such a cacophony, that voices raised in warning just become part of the noise. And that only helps to enhance the image of the tolerant, lumbering, colorful, somewhat chaotic democracy. The chaos is real. But so is the consensus.
A New Cold War in Kashmir
Speaking of consensus, there's the small and ever-present matter of Kashmir. When it comes to Kashmir the consensus in India is hard core. It cuts across every section of the establishment -- including the media, the bureaucracy, the intelligentsia, and even Bollywood.
The war in the Kashmir valley is almost 20 years old now, and has claimed about 70,000 lives. Tens of thousands have been tortured, several thousand have "disappeared," women have been raped, tens of thousands widowed. Half a million Indian troops patrol the Kashmir valley, making it the most militarized zone in the world. (The United States had about 165,000 active-duty troops in Iraq at the height of its occupation.) The Indian Army now claims that it has, for the most part, crushed militancy in Kashmir. Perhaps that's true. But does military domination mean victory?
How does a government that claims to be a democracy justify a military occupation? By holding regular elections, of course. Elections in Kashmir have had a long and fascinating past. The blatantly rigged state election of 1987 was the immediate provocation for the armed uprising that began in 1990. Since then elections have become a finely honed instrument of the military occupation, a sinister playground for India's deep state. Intelligence agencies have created political parties and decoy politicians, they have constructed and destroyed political careers at will. It is they more than anyone else who decide what the outcome of each election will be. After every election, the Indian establishment declares that India has won a popular mandate from the people of Kashmir.
In the summer of 2008, a dispute over land being allotted to the Amarnath Shrine Board coalesced into a massive, nonviolent uprising. Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people defied soldiers and policemen -- who fired straight into the crowds, killing scores of people -- and thronged the streets. From early morning to late in the night, the city reverberated to chants of "Azadi! Azadi!" (Freedom! Freedom!). Fruit sellers weighed fruit chanting "Azadi! Azadi!" Shopkeepers, doctors, houseboat owners, guides, weavers, carpet sellers -- everybody was out with placards, everybody shouted "Azadi! Azadi!" The protests went on for several days.
The protests were massive. They were democratic, and they were nonviolent. For the first time in decades fissures appeared in mainstream public opinion in India. The Indian state panicked. Unsure of how to deal with this mass civil disobedience, it ordered a crackdown. It enforced the harshest curfew in recent memory with shoot-on-sight orders. In effect, for days on end, it virtually caged millions of people. The major pro-freedom leaders were placed under house arrest, several others were jailed. House-to-house searches culminated in the arrests of hundreds of people.
Once the rebellion was brought under control, the government did something extraordinary -- it announced elections in the state. Pro-independence leaders called for a boycott. They were rearrested. Almost everybody believed the elections would become a huge embarrassment for the Indian government. The security establishment was convulsed with paranoia. Its elaborate network of spies, renegades, and embedded journalists began to buzz with renewed energy. No chances were taken. (Even I, who had nothing to do with any of what was going on, was put under house arrest in Srinagar for two days.)
Calling for elections was a huge risk. But the gamble paid off. People turned out to vote in droves. It was the biggest voter turnout since the armed struggle began. It helped that the polls were scheduled so that the first districts to vote were the most militarized districts even within the Kashmir valley.
None of India's analysts, journalists, and psephologists cared to ask why people who had only weeks ago risked everything, including bullets and shoot-on-sight orders, should have suddenly changed their minds. None of the high-profile scholars of the great festival of democracy -- who practically live in TV studios when there are elections in mainland India, picking apart every forecast and exit poll and every minor percentile swing in the vote count -- talked about what elections mean in the presence of such a massive, year-round troop deployment (an armed soldier for every 20 civilians).
No one speculated about the mystery of hundreds of unknown candidates who materialized out of nowhere to represent political parties that had no previous presence in the Kashmir valley. Where had they come from? Who was financing them? No one was curious. No one spoke about the curfew, the mass arrests, the lockdown of constituencies that were going to the polls.
Not many talked about the fact that campaigning politicians went out of their way to de-link Azadi and the Kashmir dispute from elections, which they insisted were only about municipal issues -- roads, water, electricity. No one talked about why people who have lived under a military occupation for decades -- where soldiers could barge into homes and whisk away people at any time of the day or night -- might need someone to listen to them, to take up their cases, to represent them.
The minute elections were over, the establishment and the mainstream press declared victory (for India) once again. The most worrying fallout was that in Kashmir, people began to parrot their colonizers' view of themselves as a somewhat pathetic people who deserved what they got. "Never trust a Kashmiri," several Kashmiris said to me. "We're fickle and unreliable." Psychological warfare, technically known as psy-ops, has been an instrument of official policy in Kashmir. Its depredations over decades -- its attempt to destroy people's self-esteem -- are arguably the worst aspect of the occupation. It's enough to make you wonder whether there is any connection at all between elections and democracy.
The trouble is that Kashmir sits on the fault lines of a region that is awash in weapons and sliding into chaos. The Kashmiri freedom struggle, with its crystal clear sentiment but fuzzy outlines, is caught in the vortex of several dangerous and conflicting ideologies -- Indian nationalism (corporate as well as "Hindu," shading into imperialism), Pakistani nationalism (breaking down under the burden of its own contradictions), U.S. imperialism (made impatient by a tanking economy), and a resurgent medieval-Islamist Taliban (fast gaining legitimacy, despite its insane brutality, because it is seen to be resisting an occupation). Each of these ideologies is capable of a ruthlessness that can range from genocide to nuclear war. Add Chinese imperial ambitions, an aggressive, reincarnated Russia, and the huge reserves of natural gas in the Caspian region and persistent whispers about natural gas, oil, and uranium reserves in Kashmir and Ladakh, and you have the recipe for a new Cold War (which, like the last one, is cold for some and hot for others).
In the midst of all this, Kashmir is set to become the conduit through which the mayhem unfolding in Afghanistan and Pakistan spills into India, where it will find purchase in the anger of the young among India's 150 million Muslims who have been brutalized, humiliated, and marginalized. Notice has been given by the series of terrorist strikes that culminated in the Mumbai attacks of 2008.
There is no doubt that the Kashmir dispute ranks right up there, along with Palestine, as one of the oldest, most intractable disputes in the world. That does not mean that it cannot be resolved. Only that the solution will not be completely to the satisfaction of any one party, one country, or one ideology. Negotiators will have to be prepared to deviate from the "party line."
Of course, we haven't yet reached the stage where the government of India is even prepared to admit that there's a problem, let alone negotiate a solution. Right now it has no reason to. Internationally, its stocks are soaring. And while its neighbors deal with bloodshed, civil war, concentration camps, refugees, and army mutinies, India has just concluded a beautiful election. However, "demon-crazy" can't fool all the people all the time. India's temporary, shotgun solutions to the unrest in Kashmir (pardon the pun), have magnified the problem and driven it deep into a place where it is poisoning the aquifers.
Is Democracy Melting?
Perhaps the story of the Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world, is the most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times. Thousands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been deployed there, enduring chill winds and temperatures that dip to minus 40 degrees Celsius. Of the hundreds who have died there, many have died just from the elements.
The glacier has become a garbage dump now, littered with the detritus of war -- thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents, and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate. The garbage remains intact, perfectly preserved at those icy temperatures, a pristine monument to human folly.
While the Indian and Pakistani governments spend billions of dollars on weapons and the logistics of high-altitude warfare, the battlefield has begun to melt. Right now, it has shrunk to about half its size. The melting has less to do with the military standoff than with people far away, on the other side of the world, living the good life. They're good people who believe in peace, free speech, and in human rights. They live in thriving democracies whose governments sit on the U.N. Security Council and whose economies depend heavily on the export of war and the sale of weapons to countries like India and Pakistan. (And Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, the Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan… it's a long list.)
The glacial melt will cause severe floods on the subcontinent, and eventually severe drought that will affect the lives of millions of people. That will give us even more reasons to fight. We'll need more weapons. Who knows? That sort of consumer confidence may be just what the world needs to get over the current recession. Then everyone in the thriving democracies will have an even better life -- and the glaciers will melt even faster.
Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong, India. She studied architecture in New Delhi, where she now lives. She has worked as a film designer and screenplay writer in India. Roy is the author of the novel The God of Small Things, for which she received the 1997 Booker Prize. Her new book, just published by Haymarket Books, is Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. This post is adapted from the introduction to that book.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
American Myth of the Frontier Sells Huge Gas Hog Rigs
Hummer Owners Claim Moral High Ground To Excuse Overconsumption, Study Finds
ScienceDaily (Sep. 25, 2009) — Hummer drivers believe they are defending America's frontier lifestyle against anti-American critics, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Authors Marius K. Luedicke (University of Innsbruck, Austria), Craig J. Thompson (University of Wisconsin–Madison), and Markus Giesler (York University, Toronto) researched attitudes toward owning and driving Hummers, which have become symbols to many of American greed and wastefulness.
The researchers first investigated anti-consumption sentiments expressed by people who oppose chains like Starbucks and believe they are making a moral choice by shunning consumerism. To these critics, Hummers represent the ills of contemporary society. As one extreme example, on a website, people have posted thousands of photographs of middle fingers directed at Hummer vehicles.
They investigated various Internet expressions of anti-Hummer sentiment, but they were equally interested in the ways Hummer owners framed themselves as "moral protagonists" in the ongoing debate over consumer values. They conducted in-depth interviews with twenty U.S.-born and raised Hummer owners and found among these consumers an equally strong current of moralism.
"As we studied American Hummer owners and their ideological beliefs, we found that they consider Hummer driving a highly moral consumption choice," write the authors. "For Hummer owners it is possible to claim the moral high ground."
The authors explain that Hummer owners employ the ideology of American foundational myths, such as the "rugged individual," and the "boundless frontier" to construct themselves as moral protagonists. They often believe they represent a bastion again anti-American discourses evoked by their critics.
"Our analysis of the underlying American identity discourses revealed that being under siege by (moral) critics is an historically established feature of being an American," write the authors. "The moralistic critique of their consumption choices readily inspired Hummer owners to adopt the role of the moral protagonist who defends American national ideals."
- Marius K. Luedicke, Craig J. Thompson, and Markus Giesler. Consumer Identity Work as Moral Protagonism: How Myth and Ideology Animate a Brand- Mediated Moral Conflict. Journal of Consumer Research, April 2010 (published online September 18, 2009)
New Math? Old realities.
That means about one soldier for every 750 Afghanis.
At the peak of our intervention in Viet Nam, we had about 500,000 troops there. And the population was, in 1965, say, about 38 million people. Hmm. We couldn't win in Viet Nam with about the same ratio of soldiers per civilians. It's interesting to note that the French General LeClerc, who had commanded the French army of occupation said it would take 500,000 troops to hold the country—"and then it couldn't be done," he's supposed to have said. He was right. Too bad he isn't around to give a commentary on our current mess in Afghanistan. Hey, but we're America! We can do anything because God is on our side! Right? Right? Huh, right, huh? Huh...?
Friday, September 25, 2009
Old-fart Freaks, Slackers, Deadheads and Dreadheads
We had a good time. The stage was in the cafe's parking lot and several hundred people were there. There were old fart freaks, slackers, a few dazed looking overdressed couples, dreadheads and deadheads, a few older activists I know from around town, kids, dogs—you know, all out for an early, warm, evening of Dead-ish rock. There was a lot of beer being drunk, but also a lot of soda pop and bottled water. Several times I got whiffs of patchouli oil and once or twice even a lyrical scent of weed. Some people danced, but other than some young boys, they were all female. The men hung, mostly.
The music was, well, good. Dead-ish without being copy-cat. Our friend did some old Jerry Garcia licks and took most of the vocals. His guitar playing didn't have the drug-addled noodling Garcia would get into, but it was inventive and pretty melodic. The rhythm guitarist sang more like Bob Hunter and that was OK, too. What the hell: it was free, it was fun, it was a Thursday night in the fall, and that was enough!
Naomi Klein, Michael Moore: what else is there to say? (well, I'll come up with something...)
"Capitalism: A Love Story" is Moore's latest movie. As you probably have heard. He's on a good big promo tour and I hope the movie gets a big audience. He's been interviewed by Leno, he's been on "The View." The more people who realize that 1% of our population has 95% of our wealth, the better. We need to spread that wealth around; until we do, we really have an oligarchy rather than a democracy. Or a republic. We're not much better than one of those old not-quite legendary "banana republics," only with a very smooth p.r. machine filtering out awareness of the excesses. Moore keeps sliding around the p.r. machine. Way to go.
Naomi Klein is a smart and well-informed interviewer. That puts her several levels above the fluff-folks on TV.
Naomi Klein Interviews Michael Moore on the Perils of Capitalism
By Naomi Klein, The Nation