Browsing the blog archives for January, 2009.

Updates: Follow the links

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, History, Media / journalism, Politics, US Politics

Re Spain’s orphaned children of the revolution: I found the photo of the Women’s prison Les Corts in Barcelona on Flickr, but the original source must be this site: Memòria de les Corts, prisión de mujeres, a site of the Catalan government. There’s many more.

Re: the raid by armed Russian police on “Memorial”: only after writing that post did I find two openDemocracy articles about it. Russia: raid on Memorial HQ has the official statement from “Memorial” from 4 December, outlining that “the confiscated discs contain databases with biographical details of tens of thousands of victims of the Stalinist repressions [which] has taken “Memorial” 20 years to collect”. In Eleven hard disks, “Tatyana Kosinova itemises the material, which includes Memorial’s massive project for a Virtual Gulag Museum” and the whole of its electronic archive of oral history.

Re: Speech wars and past inaugural addresses: for a comparison of the words used by GWB and Obama in their speeches, check out this mysterious webpage. It lists the “words which appear in one speech, but not the other, in decreasing order of number of times mentioned”, with words of less than 4 letters and themost frequently used words excluded for clarity.

Re: reasons to hate Chris Matthews, read this hilarious account of watching Mathews present the inauguration: Chris Matthews’ Inaugural Jib-Jabbery. Money quote is right at the beginning:

Nobody in TV news stir-fries his ideas and serves them to the audience faster than MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Drawing from a larder filled with old anecdotes, unreliable metaphors, wacky intuition, and superficial observations, the always-animated Matthews steers whatever’s handy into the hot wok that is his brain. The sizzling free-associations skitter through his limbic system, leap out his mouth, and look for a resting spot in the national conversation, where they steam like fresh lava in untouchable heaps.

When I ranted about Matthews, I mentioned his mindblowingly shallow stupidity, but mostly I focused on the way he “turns with the wind with the self-evidence of someone who is so obliviously vain and unreflective, he wouldn’t even be able to recognize that he’s doing it.” But what strikes me in Shafer’s account is the man’s enduring love for authority, or maybe it’s celebrity. His knees go weak in the presence of celebrity – not the best trait in one of the country’s premier pundits.

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Gimme more of that feel-good feeling!

Funny, Politics, US Politics

Inauguration flashback. Cutenessabounds – “two pints of cuteness and a packet of cool, please”!

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(Image shared under CC license by Flickr user DianthusMoon)

(Bottom image shared under CC license by Flickr user DianthusMoon. The other ones I just poached ;) - but they link through to the sources.)

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Reenacting their parents’ revolutions as farce?

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, History, Politics
May Day march of the Greek communists (KKE and allies) in 2008. Image used under CC license by xamogelo.

May Day march of the Greek communists in 2008. (Image shared under CC license by Flickr user xamogelo.)

“You can only imagine the bitterness this must have left in families [with] Republican, anarchist or socialist traditions,” I wrapped up my previous post about the lost children of Franco’s Spain. This might be something to keep in mind when eyeing the still vibrant leftist countercultures in the Mediterranean.

In Germany and Holland, countercultural hotbeds in the eighties, even the parties furthest to the left have long embraced classic social-democratic programmes that are more redolent of Willy Brandt than Karl Liebknecht. But in Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal there are still significant constituencies waving the red or black flags of revolutionary communism or anarchism. Maybe stories like those of Spain’s lost children are part of the explanation: the political emotions go deeper, are rooted in more personal stories.

This is what an IPS report on the Greek riots last month posited. Explaining the sheer intensity of anti-police violence, Apostolis Fotiadis reported:

Many [of the young people who joined the demonstrations] were joined by their parents, who experienced military dictatorship between 1967 and 1973. “I came because I felt responsible for the stalemate we left to these children to deal with [..],” said Tania Liberopoulos, a middle-aged accountant.

The protests were fed by the political memory of a history of social and political struggle. Almost by instinctive conscience, many people in Greece distrust the state. The latent Greek dislike of the police, which erupted so volcanically, has its roots in the old dictatorship when the police functioned as the colonels’ enforcers against the citizens.

Constant misuse of the police for anti-social purposes has led to its dehumanisation; officers are met with hate and contempt, and they hate back.

I’m not sure I buy into this – or at least, I’m not sure whether it works as much of a defense.

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Spain’s orphaned children of the revolution

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, History, Politics

A heartbreaking story in The Times this month underlines the sheer, unprecedentedly ideological cruelty of the 20th century – and the lasting traumas it left behind, like so many time bombs:

Find General Francisco Franco’s stolen children of the Spanish Civil War, says court

She was 54 when she first got to know her mother, but Antonia Radas was one of the luckier ones. Taken away when her mother, Carmen, was imprisoned after the Spanish Civil War for her father’s Republican links, Mrs Radas’s adoptive parents lied to her, telling her that she had been abandoned, and changed her name to stop relatives tracing her. Mother and child were finally reunited in 1993, 18 months before Carmen died.

Now 71, Mrs Radas is among an estimated 30,000 children who were separated from their parents on the orders of General Francisco Franco. Many of them never knew who their real parents were.

Their cause was taken up by Judge Baltasar Garzón, the man who went after Pinochet and officers from the Argentinian junta:

Garzón [..] has claimed that Franco and 34 henchmen were guilty of the systematic killing or disappearance of at least 114,000 people during and after the civil war.

Among the victims were children of Republicans who were adopted by Franco sympathisers to prevent them coming under the influence of Marxism. Others, whose families fled abroad, were lured back to Spain under false pretences. “Child refugees were also kidnapped in France by the repatriation service of the regime and put in state institutions,” Judge Garzón wrote. [..]

Julián Casanova, a historian, claims that the aim was to “reCatholicise” the children of “Reds”. He said: “The Church was responsible for the theft of these children, from Red families. It wanted to purify them.”

The stories are all the more tragic because it’s too late now, for all but a few victims. The children who were robbed from (and of) their parents are in their old age. Their parents will almost certainly be dead, so there is no prospect of a cathartic reunion.

Womens prison Les Corts in Barcelona, 1952 (Image shared under CC license by Jaume dUrgell). Google Books allows for a peek in Prison of Women, by Tomasa Cuevas and Mary E. Giles, which has testimonies from this prison.

Women's prison Les Corts, Barcelona, 1952 (shared under CC license by Jaume d'Urgell). Google Books provides a peek in "Prison of Women" by Tomasa Cuevas e.a., which has testimonies from this prison.

Moreover, Garzón last November had to relinquish “what had promised to be the first criminal investigation of wrongs committed by Franco and his allies”. He was forced by state prosecutors to concede jurisdiction to regional courts, “who now have the authority to decide whether or not to take up these controversial cases”. He also had pass the responsibility “for opening 19 mass graves believed to hold the remains of hundreds of victims” to regional courts.

Xenu Ablana, 80, holds little faith in the proceedings. “The courts are still run by Francoists. These people have a lot of influence,” he said. His story is one of the heartbreaking ones:

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Washington DC, the inaugural address – ninetynine years ago

Culture, History, Politics, US culture, US Politics

The inauguration speech, to the year one century ago:

Hence it is clear to all that the domination of an ignorant, irresponsible element can be prevented by constitutional laws which shall exclude from voting both negroes and whites not having education or other qualifications thought to be necessary for a proper electorate. The danger of the control of an ignorant electorate has therefore passed. With this change, the interest which many of the Southern white citizens take in the welfare of the negroes has increased. The colored men must base their hope on the results of their own industry, self-restraint, thrift, and business success, as well as upon the aid and comfort and sympathy which they may receive from their white neighbors of the South. [..]

There is in the South a stronger feeling than ever among the intelligent well-to-do, and influential element in favor of the industrial education of the negro and the encouragement of the race to make themselves useful members of the community. The progress which the negro has made in the last fifty years, from slavery [..], is marvelous, and it furnishes every reason to hope that in the next twenty-five years a still greater improvement in his condition as a productive member of society, on the farm, and in the shop, and in other occupations may come.

This, it should be noted on behalf of William Taft, from a speech that spoke both of and for America’s blacks as no inaugural address before had done, and must to contemporary standards have pressed hard for their case.

America – as they say … you’ve come a long way, baby.

P.S. Explore past inaugural addresses with this nifty word analysis tool. “Locusts,” alas, appears only once, as in “We are stricken by no plague of locusts”.

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Inauguration cuteness

Politics, US Politics

Litbrit at Cogitamus:

I was touched and amused by the innocent excitement of Malia Obama, who repeatedly pulled out her little digital camera and snapped photos of all those famous people singing and dancing–and remembering history–just a few feet away. Um, Malia, you’re the First Firstborn, darling; those celebrities are all going to want photos of you.

President elect Obama and Malia (Image used under CC license from Dianne Collins)

President elect Obama and Malia (Image used under CC license from Dianne Collins)

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Recollections of Another Inauguration

Politics, US Politics

As we sit here on the last day of G. W. Bush’s presidency, I can’t help remembering what I thought we were getting eight years ago.  I just read this Vanity Fair article by Brian Smith describing his visits to the White House as a friend of Barbara Bush (the President’s daughter).  He describes joining the family for dinners and movies in the early days of the Bush administration.  While his story is interesting in itself, what it brought back for me was my expectations from eight years ago for our new President.  Sure, we knew “W” was not as qualified as Vice President Gore.  Heck, he didn’t even win the popular vote.  But Americans were ok with George.  He was an everyday guy despite his family’s riches and political history.  He was a devoted family man, Christian, recovered hard partier, etc and we were looking for a care-taker President.  Times were good, the economy was flying high, and unemployment was very low.  All we needed was someone to keep up the good times and honestly, we were suffering from a bit of Clinton fatigue.  Bush had a reputation, a good one, from his Texas days.  Words like bi-partisan and modest came from both sides in Texas.  He might not have been the brightest bulb in the pack, but all we wanted was the status quo… and we blew it.  You can’t have an average Joe as the President of the United States.  You can’t be ok with the status quo in an ever changing world.  So this time, we’re going the other way.  We elected the smart, accomplished guy.  The guy who thinks before he speaks, then speaks clearly and eloquently.  The guy who thinks bipartisanship means listening to the other side instead of inviting them over for a cookout.  I think we learned our lesson, but it sure was a painful experience.

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Dow 36

Economy, Funny, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

Noting that Kevin Hassett, of Dow 36000 fame, is now director of economic policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and confidently proclaiming his neo-Hooverite recipes for tackling the financial crisis, Neil Sinhababu of Donkeylicious sighs, “I guess it’s kind of like the Iraq War, where you can give really bad advice and still hold onto an awesome think tank job.”

Which leaves us, he adds, only with the power of satire. Crude satire, to fit crude stupidity. Here’s Neil’s reworking of Hassett’s now-notorious book – and here’s mine:

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David Palmer, Barack Obama

Culture, History, Media / journalism, Presidential Elections, US culture, US Politics
Dennis Haysbert as David Palmer, President

Dennis Haysbert as David Palmer, President

The New York Times has an article today called, “How The Movies Made a President,” (which includes a cool slide show). It examines various black archetypes in movies and TV and how they may have helped to prepare the ground for the ascendancy of Barack Obama. I had similar thoughts a few months ago but never got around to making a blog post out of ’em (I know, all the bloggers say that, right?). The article mentions Dennis Haysbert and the show “24” in passing — that was the starting point of my train of thought earlier.

I think the significance of that show is not only that it was popular and that the black President Palmer was a good guy, someone the audience is rooting for, but that Keifer Sutherland’s character Jack Bauer is a pretty Republican character, at core. He’s all about stoppin’ those damn terrorists by any means necessary. This wasn’t some lefty liberal show, at all.

I started thinking about this after seeing a Dennis Haysbert commercial for State Farm. He’s all calm, reassuring authority. I saw the commercial soon after some sort of political television — a debate, perhaps — and I thought at the time that it had to help Obama. There are just all sorts of resonances there. The phrases I transcribed from the commercial at the time were, “If this isn’t a recession, it sure feels like one,” (spoken wryly but seriously by Haysbert, standing in a grocery store) and then the standard State Farm tagline; “Are you in good hands?” Haysbert’s hands, the commercial clearly implies, are very good ones.

As of a year ago, Dennis Haysbert was willing to take some of the credit, too:

“As far as the public is concerned, it did open up their minds and their hearts a little bit to the notion that if the right man came along… that a black man could be president of the United States,” Haysbert, who believes that Obama is the “right man,” said in the January 21 [2008] issue of TV Guide. “People on the street would ask me to run for office… when I went to promote [24].”

[…]

“I think we both have a similar approach to who and what we believe the president is,” Haysbert said in another interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Barack doesn’t get angry. He’s pretty level. That’s how I portrayed President Palmer: as a man with control over his emotions and great intelligence.”

I don’t think anyone’s claiming that there is a direct line from one to the other; that if these black fictional representations hadn’t existed, Barack Obama wouldn’t have won, or that the fictional representations meant that any black politician could make it that far. Obama’s achievement is significant and singular. I do agree with Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, though, authors of the NYT article, that

The presidencies of James Earl Jones in “The Man,” Morgan Freeman in “Deep Impact,” Chris Rock in “Head of State” and Dennis Haysbert in “24” helped us imagine Mr. Obama’s transformative breakthrough before it occurred. In a modest way, they also hastened its arrival.

(Another thought I had while reading the NYT article — Michelle Obama is SO Clair Huxtable, isn’t she? Smart, polished, down-to-earth, nurturing, funny…. Is this not a total Clair Huxtable moment?)

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Entropa: Derailing Europe

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, Funny, Politics
Entropa, a controversial exhibition

Entropa, a controversial exhibition

Eternal Remont flagged this story a few days ago already – before it hit all the news stands. I laughed out loud but didn’t think of bringing it here until I came across more detail at openDemocracy and elsewhere. If the story missed you by so far, read the account of a credulity straining clusterfuck at the highest European levels – which manages to tie in some urgent developments in individual countries as well.

Chronicle of a wreck foretold

As of the beginning of this month, the Czech Republic took over the presidency of the European Union for the next six months.

To celebrate the occasion and underline the presidency’s commitment to art and Europe’s cultural variety, the Czech EU Presidency embraced the idea of an exhibition on the premises of the European Council, one of the EU’s three main institutions. The commission was won by David Černý, a Czech artist. In his proposal, one artist from each of the twenty-seven member states would contribute a symbolic representation of their country. In a postmodern, playful kind of way, of course. The Czechs boasted, recounts the BBC’s Mark Mardell, that the artwork would speak where words fail.

Černý may be best known for the stunt he pulled back in the heady years after the velvet revolution. He and his friends took to a Soviet tank that was still being preserved as monument to WW2 Soviet tank crews, and painted it pink. After he was promptly arrested and the tank was repainted green, 15 members of parliament took advantage of their official immunity and re-painted the tank pink again. In short, the artist had the kind of fame that would allow him to land a job like this, but might also have alerted the Czechs to what was going to happen…

Entropa: Bulgaria portrayed as a series of Turkish squat toilets

Entropa: Bulgaria portrayed as a series of squat toilets

The resulting Entropa exhibition is shaped as a giant, 256 m² (2,760 sq ft), “Airfix” sprue frame, which is affixed to the European Council seat, the Justus Lipsius Building in Brussels. Each country, adorned in various, um, colourful and controversial ways to reflect national specificities, is shaped as a snap-out plastic part inside a frame of tubes, like one of those old-fashioned modelling kits.

The Czech EU Presidency published (6MB, PDF) a suitably fancy brochure. It features an introduction by Černý:

The EU puzzle is both a metaphor and a celebration of this diversity. It comprises the building blocks of the political, economic and cultural relationships with which we ‘toy’ but which will be passed on to our children. The task of today is to create building blocks with the best possible characteristics.

The cost of the work has been variously put at €373,000 or $500,000 (EU Observer), 10 million Czech crowns or $606,000 (National Post) or 13.2 million crowns (Wikipedia). Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra spent lavish praise on the artists. “I am confident in Europe’s open mind and capacity to appreciate such a project,” he said, and, a tad defensively: “in today’s Europe there is no place for censorship”.

The EU Observer sketched the scene on the 13th:

Gaggles of EU officials, diplomats and journalists were to be found standing under the construction throughout the day trying to puzzle out where their country could be found. [..]

“We’re Ikea …of course,” said one grinning Swedish official, referring to the representation of his country as a giant flatpack [..]. “Who are you?” he asked. But his colleague was unsure. She thought she was the “one with meat on it.”

Not amused

Even before it was unveiled, the exhibition backfired, however. While some Germans expressed unease at how the pattern of highways that crisscrossed their country in the exhibit was somewhat redolent of a swastika, it was the Bulgarians in particular who were not pleased at what they saw.

“It is preposterous, a disgrace,” declared Betina Joteva, spokeswoman of the Bulgarian permanent representation to the EU. “It is a humiliation for the Bulgarian nation and an offence to our national dignity.” The government promptly demanded that the Bulgarian piece of the puzzle be removed before the official opening.

More photos and video below the fold.

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Chris Mathews, not a liberal pundit*

Media / journalism, Politics, US Politics

Apparently, Chris Matthews got all bold and went on a tear about “the empty-headed president who came into office and the neoconservative intellectuals who filled him up with all sorts of exciting nonsense that got lots of people killed in war,” as Neil Sinhababu puts it at Donkeylicious.

But does this mean that he gets it? No, it just means that he will always try to pinpoint the dominant media narrative, absorb it, and reinforce it.

Here, Neil reminds us, was Chris Matthews back on May 1, 2003, when many of us had already been out on the streets to protest the Iraq war. Let me quote you some of Matthews’ instant wisdoms:

MATTHEWS: What’s the importance of the president’s amazing display of leadership tonight? […]

MATTHEWS: What do you make of the actual visual that people will see on TV [..]? And that’s the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously. What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a supersonic plane and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin like an actual jet pilot? […]

MATTHEWS: [T]he president deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. […]

MATTHEWS: Here’s a president who’s really nonverbal. He’s like Eisenhower. He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West. I remember him standing at that fence with Colin Powell. Was [that] the best picture in the 2000 campaign? […]

MATTHEWS: Ann Coulter, you’re the first to speak tonight on the buzz. The president’s performance tonight, redolent of the best of Reagan — what do you think?

COULTER: It’s stunning. It’s amazing. I think it’s huge. I mean, he’s landing on a boat at 150 miles per hour. It’s tremendous. It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself. […]

MATTHEWS: The president there — look at this guy! We’re watching him. He looks like he flew the plane. He only flew it as a passenger, but he’s flown —

CADDELL: He looks like a fighter pilot.

MATTHEWS: He looks for real. [..] I mean, he seems like — he didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.

MATTHEWS: Look at this guy!

And in another show:

MATTHEWS: We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits [..] or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians [..]. We want a guy as president.

Liberal media, my behind. Jebus creebus, what a nightmare that was, those years. I can’t believe they lasted as long as they did, and now they’re finally, at long last, really over. But that doesn’t let Matthews off the hook.

It’s not just his mindblowingly shallow stupidity. It’s not just the tiresome celebration of his ever new macho man crushes. Chris Matthews turns with the wind with the self-evidence of someone who is so obliviously vain and unreflective, he wouldn’t even be able to recognize that he’s doing it.

Back in 2003, he engaged and enabled the silliest and most outrageous attacks on Democrats and liberals. Now he’s saying some things we might like, but he’s still the same blowhard.

Do check out Neil’s post for a couple of good points about how to interpret it all too – especially about how it’s not just Matthews, it’s about how the mainstream media, and the punditry in particular, operates.

__________

* Title improvised after seeing this guest post on Ezra Klein’s blog post. The wording is somewhat ambiguous, but it appears Dylan Matthews is calling Chris “a prominent liberal pundit”.

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Of donuts and wingnuts

Culture, Funny, Politics, US culture, US Politics

This story, surely, could. Not. Possibly. Be. True.

Krispy Kreme decided, just for Inauguration Day, to “honor [..] American’s [sic] sense of pride and freedom of choice [..], by offering a free doughnut of choice to every customer on this historic day”. Check.

Bigwig wingnut is wingnutty and takes offence. Okay … I suppose. In the nature of things.

Bigwig wingnut in question is Judie Brown, President of the American Life League, who sent out a news release headlined KRISPY KREME CELEBRATES OBAMA WITH PRO-ABORTION DOUGHNUTS.

What?

It’s for real, alas. The news release is on the ALL website, in all its incredible, batshit insane glory. Choice snippets:

The next time you stare down a conveyor belt of slow-moving, hot, sugary glazed donuts at your local Krispy Kreme you just might be supporting President-elect Barack Obama’s radical support for abortion on demand [..]

The unfortunate reality of a post Roe v. Wade America is that “choice” is synonymous with abortion access and celebration of ‘freedom of choice’ is a tacit endorsement of abortion rights on demand. [..]

A misconstrued concept of “choice” has killed over 50 million preborn children since Jan. 22, 1973. Does Krispy Kreme really want their free doughnuts to celebrate this “freedom.”” [..]

We challenge Krispy Kreme doughnuts to [..] separate themselves and their doughnuts from our great American shame.”

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