Thursday, December 27, 2007

Three things I like Thursday

My jaw has been hurting lately, bringing the first stanza of this poem to mind:

But now that I am used to pain,
Its knuckles in my mouth the same
Today as yesterday, the cause
As clear-obscure as who's to blame,

A fascination with the flaws
Sets in - the plundered heart, the pause
Between those earnest, oversold
Liberties that took like laws.

What should have been I never told,
Afraid of outbursts, you withhold.
Why are desires something to share?
I'm shivering though it isn't cold.

Beneath your window, I stand and stare.
The planets turn. The trees are bare.
I'll toss a pebble at the pane,
But softly, knowing you are not there.
- J.D. McClatchy, Pibroch

I also really like this song and the stories on this website.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Part 1

Spoiler alert: If you are still waiting to see 1962's Manchurian Candidate, this might not be the post for you.

I'm about 1/4th of the way through Naomi Klein's new book "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" (thanks, Lauren, for the xmas gift!). Klein explores the links between disasters (whether state-created or natural) that befall a country and the privitization of public institution (twin shocks, to borrow her language). In the first chapter, Klein describes how the CIA came to use Ewan Cameron's psychological research in the 1950s. She writes of a meeting between different intelligent agencies and academic in 1951.

Klein writes,
"The subject of the meeting was growing concern in the Western intelligence community that the Communists has somehow discovered how to 'brainwash' prisoners of war. The evidence was the fact that American GIs taken captive in Korea were going before cameras, seemingly willingly, and denouncing capitalism and imperialism. According to the declassified minutes from the Ritz meeting, those in attendance...were convinced that Western powers urgently needed to discover how the Communists were extracting these remarkable confessions. With that in mind, the first step was to conduct 'a clinical study of actual cases' to see how brainwashing might work. The stated goal of this research was not for Western powers to start using mind control on prisoners, it was to prepare Western soldiers for whatever coercive techniques they might encounter if they were taken hostage."

Last night, I finished watching the original Manchurian Candidate, made in 1962. It's central plot point rests on the fear that Klein describes in the above passage, that the Communists were capable of brainwashing prisoners of war, and then takes it a step further. In the movie the captured platoon doesn't go on television and denounce Western imperialism, but rather, a member of the platoon (Laurence Harvey playing Raymond Shaw) is a sleeper agent, activated as an assassin each time someone suggests to him that he play some solitaire and he sees a queen of diamond.

There are few clues in the movie about how this is accomplished, the main one being that they were brainwashed at a fictional place called the Pavlovian Institute, which suggests that the creators of Manchurian Candidate envisioned brainwashing as being related to behaviorist techniques. Behaviorism involves offering reinforcement to reward or punish specific behavior. As Klein describes the research of Cameron (in 1957 the CIA gave him his first grant), his goal was not to erase specific behaviors, but rather to erase the person entirely and begin again with a blank slate. To achieve this goal, he used new inventions to give extremely intense shock therapy sessions, sensory deprivation, and extended sleep. Cameron was conducting this research on his patients, who were left much much worse off after being in his care.

Klein is very clear in pointing out that the experiments Cameron engaged in with CIA funding "are consistently described as 'mind control' and 'brainwashing.' The word 'torture' is almost never used."

This semantics game is meant to remind the reader of today, our own on-going semantics game with "enemy combatant" and "enhanced interrogation techniques" and the discussion that seems to have centered itself around the practice of waterboarding. The Manchurian Candidate represents the (not outdated) idea that torture/brainwashing might be used to make a person an effective tool for the interrogators. In the Manchurian Candidate, they created an assassin, today, it's claimed we are trying to create "sources of information." Klein's narrative and Cameron's research state, however, that we are not trying to create a tool, but rather obliterate a person. Rather than the person, it is his/her absolute obliteration that is the tool, the weapon, and the objective is terror.

For more information from a unique perspective about waterboarding please check out this post.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I think I may have to divorce the internet. I'm not sure what that's going to mean for my blog though. I'd like to keep writing here and reading other blogs, but I have to say, everyday I encounter things that really upset me on the internet. And I don't mean upset me in the sense that there are tons of depressing news items out there that convey information about an increasingly stressful and depressing world. I mean upset me like, I cannot believe you, my beloved blog, would say such a thing! (Which maybe just means I'm overly sensitive.)

I wanted to leave a comment about this at Jezebel today (I need to stop reading Jezebel if only because I think I've written three out of the last four posts about stuff I've encountered there), but I can't because I have this new policy that it's stupid to leave comments that criticize people for offending your personal sensibilities. It's like coming into someone's house and saying you don't like the wallpaper.

But you know me, silence isn't an option either.

Anyway, long preamble for this: Today Jezebel is following up on the news coverage that has recently gone on about facebook groups dedicated to women posting pictures of themselves drunk. A lot of blogs have written about this and mentioned how it's just a bunch of pearl clutching about how THOSE GIRLS SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES, sometimes wrapped in the extremely thin (see-through) gauze of concern about binge drinking. Jezebel has written about this website in the past and invited readers to send in pics of drunk guys from facebook. It posted some of those today.

About two years ago, a friend of mine from high school got really drunk at a party. At some point in the night, his friends discovered him lying down outside at the foot of some stairs. Thinking he was passed out, they brought him inside and put him on the floor to sleep it off. Reportedly, his friends heard him snoring during the night. He had hit his head falling down and sometime during the night, he died.

That's why this picture really upset me.

I know that over at Jezebel their intention is to point out to the media that gee, it's not just girls who are getting drunk, taking pictures of themselves, and putting it up on the internet. And yeah, ok, it is kind of hilarious to have a friend smear whipped cream all over their faces while their passed out drunk and your tickling them with a feather (or whatever. I'm not that fond of writing "balls" on people's heads; it's played out).

Funny pictures on the internet (and those HOLY SHIT OUR DAUGHTERS GONE WILD new stories) aside, it's just hard for me to look at these pictures and not think, "But what if he really is dead?"

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Not just a few bad apples

Warning: This post is potentially triggering as it deals with rape.

Via Jezebel: Yesterday ABC posted a news story about a woman named Jamie Leigh Jones. While she was in Iraq working for either Halliburton or its then-subsidiary KBR (the new story isn't clear) Jones alleges was gang-raped by her coworkers. She is suing Halliburton and in her lawsuit she alleges that after being given medical treatment by army doctors who performed a rape kit, she was held under guard in a Halliburton storage container with a bed in it and told that if she left she would lose her job both in Iraq and back in the United States. The rape kit, which contained evidence that she had been both vaginally and anally raped, has disappeared.

After reading about this case, I remembered reading about women who, while serving in the army in Iraq, have been raped or sexually harassed. A quick google search lead me to, a site that publicizes the story of two women on its home page, Suzanne Swift and LaVena Johnson. The LaVena Johnson story has its own website here. I urge you to read the stories of both women. In particular check out this link from What can I do if I'm being sexually mistreated in the military?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Do what I say, not what I do

If you listened to the Bryant Park Project on NPR yesterday (or looked at any major news source I suspect) then you've probably heard about the U.S. intelligence report that concluded that Iran stopped pursuing creating nuclear weapons in 2003. This morning, however, the BPP (and the NY Times) delivered the (rather predictable) news that Bush says that his tough policy towards Iran is justified because Iran has pursued nuclear weapons in the past and will do so in the future if the chance arises.

I don't know if the new U.S. intelligence report is correct. I don't know if Iran intends to get nukes in the future (although, honestly, I suspect that they might). What I do know is that Bush scolding Iran for attempting to create nuclear weapons is the U.S. talking out of both sides of his/her mouth.

November's issue of Scientific American poses the question "Do We Need New Nukes?" as the cover story. In the article, the author, David Biello, explores the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Defense's (DOD) proposal to replace "the W76, which makes up a third of the available warheads" (and according to Biello we have "a stockpile of roughly 10,000 nuclear weapons"). Apparently, W76s have a 30 year life span which is about to expire. The bulk of the article is about explaining and critiquing point by point, DOE and the DOD's argument both for the particular design they'd like to use to replace the W76s (a design filed under the moniker the Reliable Replacement Warhead [RRW]) and for the replacement project in general.

Near the end of the article Biello discusses what I think is the main argument against replacing these outdated warheads. Biello quotes Sidney Drell from the Standford Linear Accelerator Center as saying
If the United States, the strongest nation in the world, concludes that it cannot protect its vital interests without relying on new nuclear weapons for new military missions, it would be a clear signal to other nations that nuclear weapons are valuable, if not necessary, for their security purposes, too.

Or in other words the United States could restart (continue?) the nuclear arms race by pursuing the RRW program.

I'm with Henry Kissinger on this one, who, along with George Shultz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn have issued a statement saying, "We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal."

We are sending mixed messages to Iran. While we are demanding (through Condoleezza Rice in the above linked NY Times article) that “Iran...stop enrichment and reprocessing activities," we are simultaneously sending them the message (through actions such as proposing the RRW program) that maintaining a fully function nuclear warhead supply should be the top priority of world powers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


This week over at Jezebel Dodai wrote a post about Nigella Lawson, author of "How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking." She a celebrity chef in Britain and apparently people have been saying that she's getting fat. Lawson takes her critics to task, saying that it's gotten to the point where beauty is almost entirely equated with thinness.

Also on the topic of the media's love affair with calling people fat, Zuzu at Feministe writes about Jennifer Love Hewitt's recent response to people saying she has a fat butt. Hewitt writes that she's not concerned for herself, but rather all the women out there who are struggling with body issues.

I was really interested to see the number of comments over at Jezebel that basically said, "but she's not fat!" re: Lawson. Hewitt's post contains this as well. She says "size two is not fat." Both the comments at Jezebel and this comment from Hewitt point out a legitimate problem in our society. Women in general, but celebrity women in particular, are held up to ridiculous and unrealistic standards.

On the other hand, I think these comments conceal something that further adds to our collective psychosis over body image. Here's what I want to ask: What if Lawson and Hewitt were fat?

It's important that we point out that calling either Lawson or Hewitt fat is ridiculous. But it may be more important to for us to say that being fat does not make someone ugly, lazy, or valueless.

Hewitt is right, this fat-policing of celebrities stuff isn't really about communicating directly with the celebrities. What it's really about is making it damn clear to everyone what are acceptable body types and what are not.

Our ideals for our celebrities are like a cracked mirror that tells us all about our own insecurities and desires. The mirror tells us that we cannot let ourselves get old without intervention (but that if we have plastic surgery, it's taboo to go out until it's fully healed), it tells us that cellulite "ruins" our legs, it tells us to be hairless, white, and sexually available, but not slutty.

It's not enough for us to protest, "but I don't have those flaws" when we fail to live up to the image. That doesn't break the mirror; it just passes it on to someone else.

PS: I really liked Lawson's late husband's book.