by Gilles d'Aymery
"What a fine comedy this world would be if one did not play a part in it!"
—Diderot, Letters to Sophie Volland
(Swans - January 30, 2006) WELCOME TO THE SUPREME COURT, Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. Err, at this time of writing you might not be confirmed, as of yet; but I know you will in short order. I feel sorry for the farcical spectacle the Democrats offered to the country. It was not enough that Senator Kennedy made a fool out of himself during the Judiciary Committee hearings, these morons voted against your confirmation on the floor of the Senate in unison, with the remarkable exception of Senator Byrd (and a couple of unknowns). To add insult to injury, John Kerry is attempting to mount a filibuster (with the help of -- who else -- Kennedy). I mean, are they stupid or what? They have yet to learn that one does not fight a war that cannot be won (except if your name is King George and the war is in Iraq). They also have yet to learn that you too have a long institutional memory and will remember their votes in the years ahead.
The country, being wholly conservative, deserves you. I do hope that you will help overturn Roe v. Wade, though, since 80 percent of American counties already have no access to safe abortion procedures, I think you are too smart to walk down that trail. Too bad 'cause it possibly would awaken the populace -- especially the nice-ass white middle-class women in the burbs. Giving the president(s) more power should be most welcomed by the American people. After all, we want a strong executive to defend us in these times of unraveling terrorism. We are as afraid as you are that our way of life might be compromised (and we know it's not negotiable). I also hope that you will agree with me that tiny dissenting groups within our borders, and beyond, even in heaven, should not be allowed to disrupt the tranquility of our great nation. Please support giving more power to Mr. Bush and his successors to snitch on all of us. Who knows, one of these days, dissidents could become synonymous with terrorists through an Executive Order or an Act of Congress. Better yet, we should be instructed to bcc all our e-mails to the DHS!
ADVICE TO JOHN KERRY: Instead of spending time at the World Economic Forum in Davos with the Rich and Famous, or pompously attempting to organize a filibuster destined to fail, or penpushing your savorless enchilada on Daily Kos, you could have traveled to Caracas, Venezuela, and joined over 100,000 activists at the sixth World Social Forum. There, you'd learn that Another World is Possible. Then you could go to Bamako, Mali, and later Karachi, Pakistan, to further learn about themes such as "Power, politics and the fight for social emancipation" (practical resistance against domination and political violence), "Imperial strategies and peoples' resistance" (imperialist military expansion, terrorism, free trade), "Resources and rights for life: alternatives to the predatory model of civilization" (you know, the fight against the privatization of natural resources, global warming, desertification and for the right to health for all -- not just the happy few like you), "Diversity, identities and worldviews in motion," "Work, exploitation and reproduction of life" (precariousness of employment, inequality, poverty), and "Communication, culture and education: alternative and democratizing dynamics" (right to communication, social appropriation of technology, and artistic versus hegemonic production). Man, you could even take a Marxism 101 course! (Source: "The Great Debate in a Land of Change," Humberto Márquez, IPS NEWS, January 17, 2005.) However, since the WSF has not made the MSM (well, Gore's speech did not either, as Deck Deckert reports), I doubt John Kerry is aware it has just taken place. Kerry: "WSF, what's that? You mean, the WEF, I suppose. I was there of course, in the company of Bill Clinton who talked eloquently about Global Warming. That's why we need to stay in Iraq, all the while changing the course there...." See what I mean? This guy is colorless, odorless, and savorless.
ADVICE TO THE DEMS: Instead of being sore losers why don't you start winning elections? And if you can't, ask George Soros and co. to buy Diebold. If you can't win them, steal 'em! Won't make a dime of a difference, anyway. This country is beyond repairs, and even if it could be repaired, the Dems cannot distinguish a screwdriver from a set of pliers or a hammer.
A FRIEND WRITES: "Gilles, in light of your review of Michael Neumann's latest book, The Case Against Israel, I am at a loss as to what you would do to advance the case of a two-state solution to this tragic conflict. Furthermore, since Neumann considers Israel illegitimate, shouldn't you tell Swans readers your opinion on Israel's right to exist, at the very least to avoid the potential charge that you are an anti-Semite? Finally, with Hamas winning the Palestinian elections, don't you think that Israel's existence is at risk?"
FIRST, I apparently did a poor job with my book review and, undoubtedly, my friend has not purchased/read Professor Neumann's book. (It's not too late, mind you; the book is available right now.) Nowhere does Michael Neumann claim that Israel is an illegitimate state. He asserts that the creation of the state was illegitimate, not its current existence. The illegitimacy of a state's creation does not imply or infer the illegitimacy of the state's reality/existence (e.g., Australia, Canada, the USA, New Zealand). Neumann is quite specific on this point. Please read his book -- and my review again.
SECOND, ISRAEL'S RIGHT TO EXIST: I'm a tiny fish in a big pond, constantly avoiding biting alluring baits thrown at us repetitively in order to get a trophy to hang on the porch. Suffice it to say: Israel exists. It's not a matter of right or wrong. Israel exists, period. Who am I to decide whether France or the USA, or any of some 190 countries around the world, including Israel, have the "right" to exist? They exist. Now, would I prefer that no state existed in this tiny world of ours? You bet! I am an internationalist. But in the absence of a different world, and in the actualities of the one we inherited, I take states for granted. I simply wish Israelis would get to the recognition that Palestinians have as much "right" to have a state as they do; and I further posit that they, the Palestinians, have as much right to that real estate as the Israelis. So, divide the darn thing. Get Israel back to the Green Line; let the Palestinians have their little El-Dorado...and, as I would argue, work for the abolition of borders and nationalities (won't happen in my lifetime but global warming will re-shuffle the deck of cards, in due process). How hard is it to fathom that one can be both pro Israelis and pro Palestinians? And how hard is it to recognize that the Palestinians have been short-changed for a long time?
CAN'T SAY MUCH ABOUT HAMAS and the results of the Palestinian elections except that once again (cf. Iraq) the US fundies are in good company. US policies in the Middle East have often targeted Arab (or Persian) nationalism and secularism and used Islamists to destabilize and defeat socialist regimes. Fundies work hand in hand with fundies, religious differences notwithstanding. Appearing on Democracy Now! on January 26, investigative reporter Richard Dreyfuss talked about the history of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and fundamentalist Islam, and how the U.S., Great Britain, and Israel -- yes, Israel! -- have supported these movements over the years. The transcript of the conversation is worth reading. Fatah was unable to negotiate Palestinian sovereignty over the Occupied Territories. The West wanted elections -- I'm convinced, knowing full well the outcome. Hamas is certainly not a force that can endanger Israel's existence. The question now is whether Israel and the West will accept to work with Hamas (I doubt it), not the other way around.
PARENTHESIS: Thinking about fair and democratic elections in the Middle East -- next Syria -- has it not dawned upon people that the U.S. is actually promoting Islamism? Just a question... (end parenthesis)
NOW, I'LL gladly acknowledge that the call for a Palestine from the Jordan River to the sea (aka the destruction of Israel) in Hamas's charter does not lead to dispassionate debate. Nor are the calls for the expulsion of all Palestinians from the Occupied Territories that are regularly heard in some extreme quarters of Israeli society... But, as emotional and self-serving as these declarations may be, they are irrelevant issues. Israel's existence as a state is quite safe. It's the Palestinian right to sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza that keeps being threatened and their geographical future atrophied day in and day out.
WHAT TO DO? I don't really know. And, to be blunt, who cares about what I think should be done? It's like the world, the Israelis and Palestinians included, are awaiting the good words of this Martian... Anyway, we've tried the feel-good, emotional ways forever (myself included: I spent time there to develop a European-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in East Jerusalem). In every instance, Israel has smelled the roses and the Palestinians have been relegated to the rotten dumps. Some suggest wide international sanctions (a strategy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) to force Israel to end the occupation and withdraw to the pre-1967 borders with slight adjustments, but I don't think it's politically realistic. Moreover, I've always opposed economic sanctions because they are counterproductive and only hurt the population of the targeted country without affecting policy changes (e.g., Iraq, North Korea). Of course, on the so-called Left, one rejects sanctions on countries that oppose "imperialism," but one welcomes sanctions on so-called "imperialists" (as though Israelis were bent on controlling the world... Ah, yes, those darn Jews...)
THERE IS, HOWEVER, a growing divestment movement -- see palestinesolidaritymovement.org -- that is more measured and focuses on companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. The fifth annual divestment conference will take place on February 17-19, 2006 at Georgetown University in Washington DC. This pragmatic approach, independent from national governments, relies on activists at colleges, universities, churches, etc. Money talks. Hit the wallet and it will add yet one more pressure on the Israeli government to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. Importantly, keep raising your voice in favor of Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza, the withdrawal of the Israelis -- settlers included -- to pre-1967 Israel, and a fair disposition of the Palestinian Right to Return by offering financial compensation for the land and properties from which they were dispossessed. Finally, lowering the decibels of the rhetoric would also help, but I suppose this is too much to ask.
PERHAPS this is wishful thinking, but there appears to be a growing realization in Israel (and in the world) that the Occupied Territories cannot be annexed without losing the Jewish character of the state and that the Palestinian population cannot be forcefully expelled from these territories. So, what's next?
OKAY, SINCE I'M GOING TO GET BLASTED once again, here's the time for some humor:
THE MEANING OF BEING BRITISH: According to a chap in Switzerland writing to a British daily newspaper, "Being British is about driving in a German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, then travelling home, grabbing an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab on the way, to sit on Swedish furniture and watch American shows on a Japanese TV. And the most British thing of all? Suspicion of anything foreign." (From a Joe Middleton e-mail to this Martian.)
PRESCIENCE -- HAPPY TO REPORT that for once, one of our most egregious Swans Infamous Predictions has been realized. The prediction: "Michael Jackson's face will melt in the scorching sun of Bahrain, and he will be forced to don a burka and carry out his life as an undercover woman." On January 25, the San Francisco Chronicle published a picture of Michael Jackson in a burka. Comments the Chronicle: "Bahrain scratcher: Why did Michael Jackson go shopping at a mall in Manama, Bahrain, dressed as a conservative Arab woman? Only the King of Pop knows for sure. If it was to avoid publicity, it didn't work."
JOURNALISTIC SCOOP (intercepted through our own eavesdropping): William Blum has agreed to share half of the royalties he's going to earn on the meteoric sale of his book Rogue State with Osama Bin Laden, the "evil one." Osama, in his latest MTV promo, mentioned the title of the book, and, boom, Blum shot up to No. 35 on Amazon.com, just behind Harry Potter and ahead of Strunk & White (another ignoramus ideolized by the dying editing species). See Michael Scherer's piece on Salon.com (January 21, 2006) for further details. Let me call upon Osama's generosity (could the NSA pass on my message? Thanks): Swans Commentary opposes the Iraq war; wants the U.S. troopers and other highly-paid vagabonds to go home; favors a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories (okay, sorry, we are also pro Israel -- nobody's perfect), is a part of the obscure Left that is nonexistent in the USA; works real hard to have both Republicans and Democrats thrown out of office (don't fuss about our stand -- we are completely ignored...which is better than being dead); and wishes you well in your latest cave as you compete with Oprah. Please, O S A M A, mention Swans in your next pitch to the world -- and, if you can, point to our donation page (believe me, I need all the help I can get). FYI, the US military and George Soros, another friend of yours, are unwilling to support us. Thus you should, god willing.
POOR ALEXIS: Not only Mr. Bush is thinking, upon leaving office, about the creation of some -- no doubt faith-based -- think tank based on a Tocqueville model where people can talk about what Tocqueville saw in America, but the most overrated French pseudo-intellectual, Bernard-Henri Lévy, has traveled around America in the footsteps of Tocqueville and related his pompous and tedious generalizations in a new book, American Vertigo. Here we are, early in the twentieth century: An American conservative, born-again president and a French faux culture prophet, both wanting to emulate Alexis de Tocqueville... Next the two lads will sit around the coffee table, with Laura and Arielle, for a little chat on Franco-American post-universalism -- till death do us part!
JAIL TIME: Say you are a US soldier who happens to snatch an Iraqi man in a sleeping bag head first; then proceed to use electrical wire to truss the bag as you would do with a pork roast before cooking it; and, argh -- can you believe it? -- the guy dies out of asphyxiation, and you get tried for the unpleasant endeavor. Say, in other circumstances, that you are a religious anti-war protester; go to a military recruiting station in your town; enter its vestibule, spread your own blood from a tiny jar on its walls; then kneel down and start praying for the end of war...and get arrested for illegally trespassing and destroying government property. What kind of sentences do you get, assuming you live in the USA? Well, if you are a killer in the first place, you get 60 days in house arrest -- remember, you killed in the name of freedom and democracy and on order from your superiors. On the other hand, if you are idealistic enough to spread a few ounces of your own blood on pristine military walls and cardboard effigies of pretty blond bimbo fighters, you get between four and eight months in real jail time. Way to go, America!
WAR IS GOOD FOR BUSINESS: Halliburton's 2005 profits were the best in its 86-year history: $2.4 billion. Stock price has doubled in the past year to $75.15. Last week, its subsidiary, KBR, was awarded a contract for up to $385 million from the Department of Homeland Security to build temporary detention and processing facilities in the U.S. in the event of an "emergency influx of immigrants" into the U.S. Perhaps we need to prepare for a flood of refugees breaking through the borders to seek our democratic way of life... Chevron, meantime, boasted the highest profits in its 126 years of existence, thanks, no doubt, to the spread of democracy in the Middle East.
LOVING STATS: According to tolerance.org, every day at least eight blacks, three whites, three gays, three Jews and one Latino become hate crime victims.
DIABETES: According to the New York Times one in twelve people in the Big Apple is afflicted with diabetes -- that's about 800,000 New Yorkers -- due in large part to their diet and lack of exercise. Fast food anyone? What about a large Coke and Whopper for lunch and a microwaved ready-made pizza for dinner? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incidence of diabetes among US adults jumped 41% between 1997 and 2003 (see defeatdiabetes.org). In 2005, according to the CDC, 20.8 million people, or 7.0% of the US population, had diabetes (see cdc.org). Worth repeating here, U.S. healthcare spending per capita is by far the highest in the rich world but its quality stands at the bottom of all industrialized countries. As Nicholas von Hoffman says in pure Kurt Vonnegut style, "we have become a nation of pâté de foie gras geese, held by our throats, stuffed to the bursting and unable to do anything but flap an occasional wing."
BOONVILLE NEWS: The idiot at the Anderson Valley Advertiser, our local weekly rag, has been working hard to keep the paper afloat for about 18 months now. The latest "enhancement" he's come up with is to reduce the number of pages from 12 to 8. Says he, "postage rates are going up. Contributor fees hit us heavily each month. Printing costs ominously are threatening to rise. . . . . I'm running out of gas. . . . and none of the staff receives any pay." The paper sells for $1 a copy. One dollar! What do you get for a buck these days? A cup of coffee at the local dive, at most. Instead of whining back and forth, the AVA publisher should simply charge more -- $1.50 a week, for cheesecake -- lower the contributor fees by one-half, and slightly raise the advertising rate (locals want the paper to survive).
A reader to the AVA writes: "Please, do whatever is required to restore Bruce Anderson to the AVA, including selling the newspaper back to him. The paper and its readers suffer without his voice."
I disagree. Don't sell the paper back to Bruce. GIVE it back to him, real fast. If not, in another 18 months, the paper will fall into the hands of moneyed right-wingers like Robin Arkley, the Rupert Murdoch of Northern California (he's the son of a timber baron), or some "rich people/Valley encroachers/exploiters." Come on, let's save the AVA! Can David Severn, in spite of his deafness, hear me and the hundreds of supporters who have been trying to send him a life buoy to keep the paper afloat? Poor Severn said whiningly that before taking over the AVA he "had a life, a full life..." Perhaps should he consider getting back to it...
WE'VE BEEN BRIBED: We spent last weekend in Kenwood with Lea Bergen and Michael Yonchenko. Being Mac people, they decided on their own volition that we should experiment with a non M$-Windows platform. Sure thing, I said, whether I end up enriching Bill Gates or Steve Jobs makes no difference to me. Money is short, however, if you see what I mean... "No problem," Michael said, "here is a 2004 iMac G4. Take it. Play with it" I hooked the beast to our mini network and, within seconds, the beast found the old M$ NT 4.0 network server. Darn, those cunning Macs can be so invasive. Reminds me that last year, about this time, I gave a P-III machine to the kids of a family down the road, and two weeks ago I gave another unused machine to Speedy H. for his kids. What goes around comes around, I suppose. But imagine, me moving to the Mac! (Would be useful if I could port Homesite -- the software I use to format the HTML for Swans to the Mac...but that's another story.)
Otherwise, lots of rain...and house leaks. Hard to keep one's sense of perspective and humor in those circumstances.
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.