A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE…

I have a sort of a scary but true story for Halloween, a little vid and question.

Question first…

Until fairly recently the ‘trick or treat’ thing didn’t happen here in the same way. People would go door to door but you had to say a little poem or something if you wanted anything. 

However, unfortunately, due to the ever-blurring monoculture I can’t remember the form. The person whose house it was would say something when they opened the door but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. 

Anyone got any ideas?

Now the story. A different kind of scary story but scary nonetheless.

This story is about the old saying ‘a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing’.

When I was at school we were supposed to wear a uniform. As uniforms went it wasnt so bad. It was black, white and gold – the school next door had an all brown one and they used to take a fair amount of verbal abuse for it.

Anyway, I used to refuse to wear the uniform and so was always in trouble. However, because I usually did well in my classes I was never treated the way that some of the kids who were in different sorts of trouble were.

There was a long-sleeved t-shirt I used to wear quite often that was the cover of the newspaper on the day that MLK was shot.

One of the boys in this catholic school came up to me semi-outraged and said “what are you wearing that for – he is the one that invented protestants.”

That was about 17 years ago and I still don’t think I know how to respond to that!  

Now the video – which is a sketch that hints at what I asked in the question but doesn’t answer it.

SORT IT OUT

Monbiot’s latest article

The Road Well Travelled

Are we already shutting our minds to the consequences of climate change?

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 30th October 2007

A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world.

Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot. Some years before the action begins, the protagonist hears the last birds passing over, “their half-muted crankings miles above where they circled the earth as senselessly as insects trooping the rim of a bowl.”(1) McCarthy makes no claim that this is likely to occur, but merely speculates about the consequences.

Continue reading

FEMA FAKES A PRESS CONFERENCE

There is more and more of this sort of thing going on. There was a staged news briefing broadcast by Fox and others.

Here is the Democracy Now report on it. The apology FEMA gives is one of the ‘only sorry we got caught’ kind of apologies.

It is not just in the USA. The BBC has been caught doing similar things as have other people. There was also the Gannon/Guckert thing and let us not forget the staged press conference Bush had a couple of years ago.

24 HOUR JEWELLERY EXHIBITION

I was reminded of this event tonight and just wanted to write up the story.

After I finished the time in the village in Nepal where I was volunteering, myself and a couple of friends had a couple of weeks just to hang out before we went home. Some of what we would have got up to was curtailed by a general strike but as I have also written, we didn’t let it stop us too much.

Anyway, at a time when the strike wasn’t on, after a big night out me and my similarly shorthaired friend went for breakfast. It was about 10am Nepali time and here is the view from whereabouts in Kathmandu we were eating…

img_3047.jpg

We were eating breakfast and minding our own business when a guy who did not look like the average Nepali decided to come and speak to us. He had a suit and a gold chain around his wrist and was prominently displaying his mobile phone, which is a thing not a lot of people had in that country when I was there.

He invited himself over to our table and began to talk, asking us where we were from what we did etc. The question he really wanted an answer to was how soon we were going home, which happened to be very soon.

That got him interested.

He asked us if we would be interested in taking something to London for him. At this point my friend and I exchanged a glance that meant a lot. ‘No’, we were saying, ‘neither of us is that stupid… but… lets hear what his bullshit story is before we tell him to f*ck off’, much more interesting that way – and it gives you something to blog about (even if it happened years before you knew what a blog was).

He wanted us to take what he assured us was only £2000 worth of jewellery through customs undeclared for him – which he said was entirely legal. I doubt it was only £2000 worth but that is beside the point.

“What for?” I asked him.

“An exhibition.”

“A jewellery exhibition?”

“Yes.”

Hmmm. So we decided to let him talk his nonsense and after a few minutes more his prominent mobile rang. Some sort of pretend conversation began which seemed to involve him trying to find as many ways as possible to include the word ‘exhibition’ in a sentence.

He finished his pretend conversation and turned to us and said…

“That was the exhibition.”

“In London?”

“Yes.”

“Wait a minute, it is 10am here which means it is 5am in London.”

—quick as a flash—

“it is 24 hour.”

“A 24 hour jewellery exhibition?”

“Yes.”

Hmmm. I don’t know about you but I have never came across or even heard of such a thing.

After a few more random pieces of nonsense from the chap he finally popped the question and asked if we were going to do it.

“No, we are washing our hair that day.”

He wasn’t entirely amused when we laughed him out of the place.

SMACK

Britain is to remain one of the few places in Europe where parents are allowed to hit their children.

The BBC says

Laws on smacking in England and Wales were tightened in 2004 to stop parents and carers who assaulted children using “reasonable punishment” as a defence….

Under the 2004 Children’s Act, which came into force in January 2005 mild smacking is allowed but any punishment which causes visible bruising, grazes, scratches, minor swellings or cuts can result in action…

Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan said

“about 70%” of parents did not want a ban on smacking and did not want a mild smack to result in a parent being criminalised.

“I think that is the common sense position and we’ve decided to keep that, and are happy that strikes the right balance.”

Aside from the unfortunate use of the phrase “strik[ing] a balance” I wonder if anyone actually stopped to ask the children what they thought about it?

I saw this story and it just made me think about premise 4 of Derrick Jensen’s Endgame

  • Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

Regarding the above, here is what happened when a 5 year old girl hit back…

9. For having a tantrum… US cops handcuffed an unruly 5-year-old girl after she played up in class. After being placed in the back of a police car, she was released when her mother turned up and they said they wouldn’t bring charges against the child – which was very decent of them, dontcha think? 495, 29 April 2005

IT’S COMING

This is a fantastic piece from Chris Hedges. To prove the point of what he says in 5 minutes you could watch the documentary beneath it.

This documentary is about Patrick Henry College and is a must see. It is called ‘God’s Next Army’ and doesn’t begin until about 3 or 4 minutes into the video…

Eternal Fascism:
Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt
By Umberto Eco

In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

* * *

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

Traditionalism is of course much older than fascism. Not only was it typical of counterrevolutionary Catholic thought after the French revolution, but is was born in the late Hellenistic era, as a reaction to classical Greek rationalism. In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of the faiths indulgently accepted by the Roman pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages — in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little-known religions of Asia.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice;” such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a sliver of wisdom, and although they seem to say different or incompatible things, they all are nevertheless alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

If you browse in the shelves that, in American bookstores, are labeled New Age, you can find there even Saint Augustine, who, as far as I know, was not a fascist. But combining Saint Augustine and Stonehenge — that is a symptom of Ur-Fascism.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism.

Both Fascists and Nazis worshipped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon blood and earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life. The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake.

Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering’s fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play (“When I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” and “universities are nests of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.

4. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism.

In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity.

Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration.

That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country.

This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the United States, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.

When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers of Ur-Fascism must also be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.

Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such “final solutions” implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.

10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak.

Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people in the world, the members or the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler.

11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero.

In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Spanish Falangists was Viva la Muerte (“Long Live Death!”). In nonfascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.

12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.

This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons — doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say.

In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view — one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

Because of its qualitative populism, Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.

Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, as the official language of what he called Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

* * *

Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances — every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.

Umberto Eco (c) 1995

DON’T TAKE PART

[This is in conjunction with the post directly below it]

Despite protestations of liberalism from many actors Hollywood is a pretty racist, statist, status quo and sexist kind of place. You only have to look at most of the films. There has been a lot of good work done about racism and sexism in disney films and the echo chamber effect this can have through society. The excellent documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly is but one example. Below I have posted a review of a couple of documentaries that explain some of the reasons why this goes on.

But I have another question.

Should actors be asked to explain the political content of the films they appear in and whether they agree with it or is it not their concern?

Before you continue reading please watch this excellent 9 minute piece which won a sundance award about the portrayal of ‘Arabs’ in Hollywood and on TV and see what famous faces you spot…

It bothers me. Why do supposedly liberal hollywood actors who participate in anti-racist campaigns and the like still take parts in films that are blatant historical misrepresentations and very often blatant propaganda as well? If they take a great deal of the credit for a good film, why aren’t they accused as often of racism and sexism for a bad one?

A few examples at random would include Samuel L. Jackson who appeared in Do the Right Thing but also in Rules of Engagement. Tom Cruise appears in Top Gun but also in Born on the 4th of July. Robin Williams in Dead Poets and then in the frankly racist Aladdin. Not counting people like Charlton Heston there are still plenty more examples.

Even films that ‘liberals’ would tend to like can be extremely unfair. Howard Zinn pointed out that in Mississippi Burning the FBI turned out to be the solution whereas a lot of the activists that were there at the time would tell you that they were part of the problem.  I have also seen Platoon being criticised (fairly) because the essentially sympathy of the film is for the soldiers and their ordeal (which I am not saying wasn’t real) rather than their victims.

There are various possible excuses the actors could use. None of them are particularly strong…

  1. if they don’t do these parts they won’t get other parts
  2. not the actors job (‘just following orders’ – ‘being apolitical’)
  3. the money

If none of these are the real reason(s) then there are some other possibilities…

  1. they agree with the story
  2. they haven’t really undertstood the implications of the story and they think it is harmless fun
  3. they don’t care as long as they have their face in the papers/on tv/in the movies

I think a level of responsibility should be placed on the shoulders of the people who actually play the parts. Surely actors - who by definition must have a certain understanding of a story in order to do their job – must have some awareness regarding the political ramifications of the things in which they appear.

I don’t doubt that some actors do refuse certain parts because they disagree with the content but we never hear about it.

This doesn’t only apply to white or rich american actors either. I once watched Omid Djalili on the BBCs Have I Got News For You program talking about his movie career in which he has had parts like ’2nd Azerbaijani oil pipe attendant’ and various other groundbreaking ‘arab scumbag’ roles. Here is a suggestion – if you care about what is being represented more than you do about your career then don’t take the part.

Even better,  the actors who don’t take the parts should say boldly and publicly exactly what they thought was wrong about the movie.

Please check out Reel Bad Arabs at fanonite.org on a similar subject.

Oh,  and I made a new picture to go with the post which you can see below. Click here to see the others.

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‘OPERATION HOLLYWOOD’ AND ‘HOLLYWOOD AND THE PENTAGON’

[I wrote this review a while ago but it is being reposted now to be taken in relation to the next post, which is coming in an hour or two...]

If you think of propaganda Lassie is not the first thing that springs to mind. Nevertheless, over the years, Lassie and hundreds of other TV shows and movies have been made with assistance and/or script ‘advice’ from the US government.

These two documentaries chart the history of collaboration and look into some of the current projects that involve Hollywood people and the pentagon. Both documentaries follow the same basic narrative… In the late 1920’s the US War Department (they used to be so much more honest when naming things) created an office to act as a bridge between the film industry and the army. Relations were, for the most part good before and after WW2 but a spate of films critical of the Vietnam War strained the relationship. After ‘Top Gun’ relations began to improve.

Operation Hollywood was from the CBC’s passionate eye programme. It centres on the book of the same name by Dave Robb, who was an investigative reporter for a Hollywood trade paper. He began to look through some of the documents detailing the various involvements of the US government in the movie industry and was astonished by the depth of the collaboration.

He runs through a list of films. See if you can spot a pattern…

Military Assistance                               No Assistance

Top Gun                                                 Full  Metal Jacket
Patton                                                     Platoon
Pearl Harbour                                       Three Kings

It is not difficult to see. Also, as Robb points out “every film that the military assists always says that war is the answer and every film that the military assists is worse than any film that they don’t assist”.

The military has an outreach strategy – aware that directors and producers may just make movies perceived to be “anti-military” anyway (the phrase “un-marine” is mentioned in one or two of the documents quoted) the pentagon tries to get involved.

Philip Strub, a former navy colonel who is now head of the liaison office says it is a process of damage control. The pentagon offers its assistance to various projects. In this way the filmmakers get access to military hardware at discounted rates and the military can suggest alterations which may or may not be heeded.

The filmmakers sign a contract featuring these clauses….

“The production should help armed forces recruiting and retention programmes”.

“The production company agrees to consult with the DOD project office in all phases of pre-production, production and post-production that involve the military or depict the military”.

This creates an unfortunate climate

“Perhaps the worst thing about the collaboration between Hollywood and the military is not the censorship that goes into the films but the self-censorship. When you know that you are going to need the military’s assistance and you know that they are going to be looking at your script, you write it to make them happy right from the beginning.”

The officials interviewed in the documentaries (Strub is in both of them) are at pains to tell us that much of what they do is for the purposes of factual accuracy. Lt. Rushing, who is also in the documentary ‘Control Room’ and whom I think ended up working for Al-Jazeera, is featured here in an earlier job making pernickety changes to scripts such as changing “Officers mess” to ‘Officers club”.

However, they don’t seem too concerned about accuracy in other areas. The movie “Thirteen Days” (which I haven’t seen) irked the military because of its portrayal of the generals advising Kennedy at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. The military believed that the generals were being portrayed as “bellicose”. The documentary points out that you can now listen to the conversations that were had at that time and hear the generals behaving in just that manner. In the documentary Strub denies something that the US government has actually admitted.

They were also unhappy about a scene (which was removed from the script of the movie in question) in which gold is removed from the mouth of a dead Japanese soldier. The military believed this to be unfair and unrealistic even though there is real documentary footage of that thing happening.

It is not hard to understand why these collaborations are so important to the military…

To be a superpower there is a basic belief that you must glorify war in order to get the public to accept the fact that you are going to send their sons and daughters to die”.

Joe Trento – Director of public education centre.

Since 9/11 the climate has changed and the US military is much more active in its efforts to put forward its interpretation of events.

A case in point is the US TV series “Profiles from the front” which was about US soldiers in Afghanistan. This programme was presented as a documentary about the job US soldiers were doing in that country. The success of the series encouraged the military to go with the embedding strategy in Iraq. Bertram van Muster, the producer of the series was later appointed the pentagons official film maker.

Furthermore, one of the documentaries suggests that there is a “trusted list” of Hollywood people which it will come as no surprise, includes Jerry Bruckheimer.

In fact, after 9/11, at the pentagons request meetings were set up between military officials and “30 Hollywood ‘creatives’ chosen at random” who signed confidentiality agreements.

Also, since 9/11 there has been an expansion of the kinds of media being used.

The computer game “America’s Army” looks like something between a movie and a recruitment advertisement. The 50 million dollar ‘Institute for Creative Technologies’ (ICT) uses film professionals and computer experts to develop ways to train soldiers. The head of the ICT is the former head of special effects at paramount studios. The US government retains the rights to what is created at ICT but the designers may be allowed to use some of the work to sell commercially in the form of computer games.

Some of the narrative is patchy in these documentaries – there are some contentious things such as saying America entered a new era of peace after Vietnam and it was only after ‘Top Gun’ came out that America felt ready for military intervention again (Nicaragua anyone?). However, there is also some incisive narrative too such as the reason not many films are made about the first gulf war is that it is difficult to keep a sense of drama going during a display of overwhelming strength and that after this a new generation of asymmetrical warfare films began. Films imagining people exploiting the gaps in the USA’s war machine. These newer films fit neatly with the aims of the war on the abstract noun.

Both of these documentaries are worth a look but if you have to choose one then “Hollywood and the Pentagon” is probably your best bet.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE PENTAGON

OPERATION HOLLYWOOD