Archive | July, 2012

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

31 Jul

Responding to my post about the De Maistre Drones, Larry Houghteling, a reader, directs me to this poem of A. E. Housman. Seems appropriate for our “all-volunteer army.”

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,

The hour when earth’s foundations fled,

Followed their mercenary calling,

And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;

They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;

What God abandoned, these defended,

And saved the sum of things for pay.

Águas de Março

30 Jul

It’s not March, but it is raining a whole helluva lot, so…

 

And since I’m in the mood…

 

For a lovely little post about this last video, check this out from the wonderful Scott Saul.

The Drone: Joseph de Maistre’s Executioner

30 Jul

The  drone (h/t Liliana Segura):

From his computer console here in the Syracuse suburbs, Col. D. Scott Brenton remotely flies a Reaper drone that beams back hundreds of hours of live video of insurgents, his intended targets, going about their daily lives 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan. Sometimes he and his team watch the same family compound for weeks.

“I see mothers with children, I see fathers with children, I see fathers with mothers, I see kids playing soccer,” Colonel Brenton said.

When the call comes for him to fire a missile and kill a militant — and only, Colonel Brenton said, when the women and children are not around — the hair on the back of his neck stands up, just as it did when he used to line up targets in his F-16 fighter jet.

Afterward, just like the old days, he compartmentalizes. “I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy,” he said. “I have a duty, and I execute the duty.”

Drones are not only revolutionizing American warfare but are also changing in profound ways the lives of the people who fly them.

Colonel Brenton acknowledges the peculiar new disconnect of fighting a telewar with a joystick and a throttle from his padded seat in American suburbia.

When he was deployed in Iraq, “you land and there’s no more weapons on your F-16, people have an idea of what you were just involved with.” Now he steps out of a dark room of video screens, his adrenaline still surging after squeezing the trigger, and commutes home past fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to help with homework…

 The Executioner:

Who is then this inexplicable being who has preferred to all the pleasant, lucrative, honest, and even honorable jobs that present themselves in hundreds to human power and dexterity that of torturing and putting to death his fellow creatures? Are this head and this heart made like ours? Do they not hold something peculiar and foreign to our nature? For my own part, I do not doubt this. He is made like us externally; he is born like us but he is an extraordinary being, and for him to exist in the human family a particular decree, a FIAT of the creative power is necessary. He is a species to himself. Look at the place he holds in public opinion and see if you can understand how he can ignore or affront this opinion! Scarcely have the authorities fixed his dwelling-place, scarcely has he taken possession of it, than the other houses seem to shrink back until they no longer overlook his. In the midst of this solitude and this kind of vacuum that forms around him, he lives alone with his woman and his offspring who make the human voice known to him, for without them he would know only groans. A dismal signal is given; a minor judicial official comes to his house to warn him that he is needed; he leaves; he arrives at some public place packed with a dense and throbbing crowd. A poisoner, a parricide, or a blasphemer is thrown to him; he seizes him, he stretches him on the ground, he ties him to a horizontal cross, he raises it up: then a dreadful silence falls, and nothing can be heard except the crack of bones breaking under the crossbar and the howls of the victim. He unfastens him; he carries him to a wheel: the shattered limbs interweave with the spokes; the head falls; the hair stands on end, and the mouth, open like a furnace, gives out spasmodically only a few blood-spattered words calling for death to come. He is finished: his heart flutters, but it is with joy; he congratulates himself, he says sincerely, No one can break men on the wheel better than I. He steps down; he stretches out his blood-stained hand, and justice throws into it from a distance a few pieces of gold which he carries through a double row of men drawing back with horror. He sits down to a meal and eats; then to bed, where he sleeps. And next day, on waking, he thinks of anything other than what he did the day before. Is this a man? Yes: God receives him in his temples and permits him to pray. He is not a criminal, yet it is impossible to say, for example, that he is virtuous, that he is an honest man, that he is estimable, and so on. No moral praise can be appropriate for him, since this assumes relationships with men, and he has none.

And yet all grandeur, all power, all subordination rests on the executioner: he is the horror and the bond of human association. Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world, and at that very moment order gives way to chaos, thrones topple, and society disappears.

Lunch Break Utopia (Cont.)

27 Jul

Continuing with my series on the ever-disappearing lunch break, we get this (h/t Derek Attig)

Want to take off for lunch but the boss won’t let you? Then buy this inflatable Lunch Decoy from Applebee’s.

That’s the premise behind the latest marketing campaign from the fast casual dining chain. But the product is no joke — it’s a real product actually on sale on Amazon. There are six such decoys to choose from, including The Cubicle Queen and The Go-Getter.

Soon, all we’ll be left with is this:

A Caribbean-born Gay Jew Leading the US Confederacy?

26 Jul

Now that’s what I call a reactionary mind!

Daniel Brook, a former student of mine and a wonderful journalist, has the story on Judah Benjamin, the “Confederate Kissinger” and the South’s “evil genius.”

Liberalism Agonistes

24 Jul

After a couple of Twitter skirmishes tonight about Alexander Cockburn and his apologetics for the Soviet Union—though see this reconsideration from Cockburn (I’m told there are others in The Golden Age is Within Us; since we’re moving, my copy is now boxed up somewhere in Brooklyn, so I can’t check it out)—I come back to my age-old conundrum about the American liberal.

Why is he or she willing to make his or her peace with the American state—despite all its crimes (crimes acknowledged by liberals!)—yet never willing to make his or her peace with critics like Cockburn, whose only “crime,” if you can call it that, was to apologize for the Soviet Union long past its sell by date? Why so much room at the inn for Truman, JFK, or LBJ—all men with real blood on their hands—while people like Cockburn and Chomsky are denied entry?

I realize this is one of those questions that cuts to the bone of 20th (and apparently 21st!) century politics, and obviously I’m not a completely disinterested party. But I do come to it out of a genuine curiosity—and confusion.

I asked a version of it at the height of the Iraq War.  It got published in The Nation in 2005, but I actually first posed on the eve of the war in a draft of an article that never got published.

Why did certain liberals who opposed the war in Iraq refuse to march against it? The reason they gave was that left-wing groups like ANSWER, which helped organize the antiwar rallies, failed to denounce Saddam’s regime. Yet many of those who could not abide an alliance with ANSWER endorsed the war in Afghanistan–even though it was waged by a government that recently invaded three Caribbean countries, funded dirty wars in Latin America and backed the government of Guatemala, the only regime in the Western Hemisphere condemned by a UN-sponsored truth commission for committing acts of genocide. Politics, of course, often entails an unhappy choice of associations. But if the deeds of the US government need not stop liberals from supporting the war in Afghanistan, why should the words–words, mind you, not deeds–of leftists deprive the antiwar movement of these very same liberals’ support?

I’ve never gotten an answer.

Update (July 24, 10:30 am)

Eric Rauchway has a thoughtful response to this post.  I don’t think he quite gets my point—perhaps because I wasn’t as clear as I could have been—but I’m going to chew on what he says.

More on Alexander Cockburn

23 Jul

I wrote a longer piece on Alexander Cockburn for Al Jazeera.

Here are some other reminiscences, remembrances, and reflections:

One of the most thoughtful and comprehensive assessments from Kathy Geier, who also includes some great links.

Dennis Perrin on, among other things, Cockburn’s darker side.

I linked to this in my earlier piece, but here again is Jeffrey St. Clair, Cockburn’s comrade and writing partner.

More on Hitchens versus Cockburn from Jeff Sparrow.

An interesting appreciation from National Review‘s John Fund, who had once been Cockburn’s editor at the Wall Street Journal.

And another appreciation from the right: libertarian Jesse Walker.

Some tweets from his niece actress Olivia Wilde: “He taught me how to make coffee in a jar, how to listen to LPs, how to ride a horse through a river, and how to drive a classic with love.”

And the New York Times, the Village Voice, the Nation, the Anderson Valley Advertiser, and the Los Angeles Times, quoting Marc Cooper: “He forfeited becoming a very influential writer in favor of becoming a mud-throwing polemicist.” Cooper means that as a criticism, but Cockburn would have worn it as a badge of honor.

The last word goes to Cockburn himself: a compilation by Jack Shafer of some of his best writings and an interview he gave to Doug Henwood last year.

Update (10:45 am)

Oops! I forgot to include this one from Louis Proyect.

Update (4 pm)

A late arrival by James Wolcott.  By far the best.  So worth the wait. Makes me embarrassed that I tried at all. Here’s a selection:

Alex might have been tagged with the label of “radical chic” were it not for the fact that he truly was radical, it wasn’t a passing phase or trend surfing or a temporary swelling of liberal heart; he was the son of the great Claud Cockburn (whom he would celebrate on the 100th anniversary of his birth as “the greatest radical journalist of his age”), he was and remained a contributor to New Left Review, he had an executioner’s gleam in his eye when he went after a conservative foe or a former comrade turned defector, something one didn’t quite picture in the caring eyes of Lenny Bernstein.

Even when he was at his most high-visibly productive, there were those who complained that he devoted and dispersed too much of his energies into deadline journalism and public addressing, riding the whirligig instead of delivering a “real book,” a stand-alone achievement that would have join the company of the best of C. Wright Mills or Saul Alinsky. It was a nagging shadow that would dog journalists and critics as different as Dwight Macdonald, Manny Farber, Pauline Kael, Seymour Krim, William F. Buckley Jr., and Ellen Willis–where’s the Major Tome, buddy? Since I’m a fan of collections and anthologies, believe that the best writing often shines in shards and galloping stretches, I never find myself lobbying for a writer I enjoy reading regularly to hole up in Heidegger’s hut for four or five years to bring forth a mountain. You want a tombstone masterpiece so much, go write your own, we’ll keep the landing-strip lights on for your victorious return.

Update (8 pm)

These two appreciations—from James Fallows and Michael Tomasky, liberals of the sort that Cockburn loved to flail—are worth a read.

And the Nation does a roundup, including two lovely reminiscences at the top from Cockburn’s niece Laura Flanders and the economist Robert Pollin, who says:

Alex also became good friends with our two daughters, Emma and Hannah, when they were about 9 and 6 years old. Emma once had a school assignment to write an essay on the person she most admired in the world. Without asking or telling anyone beforehand, she wrote it about Alex. After I had sent the essay to Alex, he told Emma how honored he felt. He said that nobody had ever captured him so well in words. I think he really meant it.

The true measure as to how much Alex respected my daughters occurred after he had written something very nasty in one of his columns about, of all things, Sesame Street. I told Alex that he had written many great columns about, say, Reaganomics or U.S. imperialism and Nicaragua, but that he had totally missed the boat on Sesame Street, which my kids, along with zillions of others, loved. After Alex heard confirmation on this directly from Emma, he published a lengthy retraction and apology. Since Alex died on Friday, I have seen many descriptions of him as a fierce and relentless critic who would never, ever back down. But my family and I knew otherwise.

Update (10:30 pm)

Two more before bedtime: one from Doug Henwood (including a Skype interview with Cockburn), and one from James Ridgeway, who was Cockburn’s writing partner in the 1970s at the Village Voice.

Update (midnight)

Still awake, and stumbled across this one from Jack Shafer.  It includes this brilliant excerpt from Cockburn on how to write an earthquake story:

Quick comparisons with other earthquakes. Secondly, where is it? Usually in “remote Eastern Turkey” or in the “arid center of Iran.” But with luck it will have occurred in marginally more accessible Latin or Central America. Good chance for post facto description. Most of the buildings destroyed; others leaning at crazy angles. Constant flood of refugees. People clawing at rubble. Survivors crawling, blinking into the light of day. Preliminary tremors, then “for six seconds the earth shook.” Make sure to get picture of one building standing (usually a church in Roman Catholic countries or a mosque in Muslim ones.) Get interviews from American survivors. Animadvert on general danger of earthquakes, particularly in San Francisco area. Most important of all: get casualty figures and escalate them each day. Remind people that 200,000 people died in the Lisbon earthquake.

And also ends on this perfect note:

He routinely sided with the powerless, sometimes even when they were wrong, and sometimes, I suspect, precisely because they were wrong. That was Cockburn’s kind of fight.

And that really is all.  For now.

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