March 31, 2008

There's Something about Basra

The firefight in Basra, which thankfully seems to be over, has the US in a state of confusion. For once, the government and the mainstream US media are providing conflicting narratives about how and why this episode in Basra occurred. Even the outcome is disputed with some sources including the administration claiming that the operation indicates progress for the central government in Iraq while other saying that this a clear victory for the Sadrists or even Iran.

I've been especially curious to note that US sources have begun to abandon the practice of using Sunni-Shia sectarian tension as a causative factor. A whole new narrative or series of competing narratives will soon be emerging.

A narrative is a story line told to puts events in context. For example, a suicide bombing does not occur in a vacuum. If the military or a news organization simply reported a suicide bombing in Baghdad today without providing context, that would do little more than confuse Americans since they are almost completely ignorant of the region and it's history. They wouldn't know their Basra from their Samarra if their lives depended on it (in fact, a lot of lives end up depending on it). So, it becomes incumbent on the sources of information to explain how that hypothetical suicide bomber is either a brainwashed foreign fighter trying to destroy freedom or an extremist Sunni expressing an ages old tribal grudge or whatever. A lot of opinion can go into the construction of a narrative.

The narratives of the Iraq War have, up until now, been relatively consistent across US sources even as they've been consistently changing over time. There have been what I would call phase shifts in coverage as the US military, the US government and the US media all move from one narrative to another. This behavior becomes quite clear when one takes the time to looking back over the history of Iraq coverage.

Remember when the insurgency was originally described as being comprised of ex-members of Saddam's Ba'ath party, so called dead enders? That was in the beginning of the war. Back then the idea of a Ba'ath party insurgency was appealing to the Bush administration because it implied certain things that the administration naively believed to be true (with the press following closely behind). There were voices in the US media and elsewhere that disagreed with this narrative but for the most part it dominated the war coverage in those days. According to this view, the insurgency was the tail end of the initial invasion and destined to deteriorate over time. The correct course of action to end an insurgency of this type would be to root out the holdouts of the Ba'ath party with continued military actions and to dissolve any remnants of the old power structure such as the Iraqi army and civil service. These actions turned out to be big mistakes.

This story of the Ba'ath insurgency was pushed aside fairly quickly since the insurgency grew over time even as more and more former Ba'ath party members were killed and captured. We entered phase two as a new narrative emerged. This time the insurgency was comprised mainly of foreign fighters and Al Qaida. For many years, the insurgency was framed as a conflict between US forces and terrorists from Muslim countries around Iraq. Iraqis did not really factor in anywhere except as innocent bystanders who needed the protection of the US military. This concept dovetailed very well with the desire to see the war in Iraq as a front in the war on terrorism.

From there, we move on to phase three as the narrative turned into one of a "Sunni Insurgency" (the name Fallujah ring a bell?) and then at phase four we end up with the current concept of a Sunni-Shia civil war. Now, in the wake of the latest outbreak of intra-Shia violence, this narrative will most likely be abandoned.

While it's my view that this progression in narrative is more a function of the way that the violence in Iraq is described, others have seen it as fundamental to the situation itself. This attitude has a long history that should be recognized by the mere mention of the mysterious and inscrutable East (or in this case Middle East). Along these lines, US citizens should be familiar with the idea of an "ever-mutating Iraq insurgency."

I, myself, am curious to see where the US discussion of Iraq goes from here. The press doesn't seem to be as willing to take cues from the administration anymore. We may begin to see multiple voices with multiple narratives in the mainstream.

I want to wrap up this post by saying that even though I disagree with the American narratives of the Iraq War thus far I do recognize a kernel of truth in them. The issues with former Ba'ath party members, Al-Qaida, and the Sunni-Shia unrest are all real phenomena. They were not invented by the administration or the media. The problem that I have with these narratives is that they minimize the presence of US troops as a factor in the violence and they marginalize the opinions that have been expressed by the Iraqis themselves. That will have to be the subject of a later post.

March 27, 2008

Easter Greetings

Happy celebration of the resurrection of Christ everyone!

No bunnies or women were harmed in the creation of this gif.

Tax Season

I thought up this poster while working on my taxes this year. I dedicate it to all those out there who simultaneously hate taxes and love defense spending.

March 26, 2008

Chocolate Reign

As a follow up to earlier posts about race in America (a definite possible trend lately), let me introduce you to a man that I think has this racial thing in a headlock:


Yes, youtube's favorite son is more than just a pretty face with a sweet baritone voice. He's been hitting social issues on the interview circuit with the surgical precision of a robot trained by a kung fu master.

Exhibit A - an interview for HHNLive. It's filled with choice quotes.

Seriously, is race something you choose? The whole point is that I don't choose it. It is somebody else's shortcut to my soul.

I guess I just respect any musician who puts themselves out there.

But you can't blame this prejudice on everyday people. Because the fantasy that all young black males must be hypermasculine, whereas young white males can be wholesome boy-band members, is promoted by business interests that need categories in which people will be predictable consumers. People are sick of these categories.

Exhibit B - an interview for Zonday takes the high road.

What Ralph Ellison was saying, echoing other black intellectuals like Zora Neal Hurston and his mentor, Richard Wright, was, “No, no, it’s not that simple. Hollywood is really the shadow, and society is the act.” It’s a fallacy that if there’s a stereotype in Hollywood, the people will go, “Gosh, that really does reflect what black people are like.” How can that stereotype be effective unless people are actually watching that, consuming that, in a life situation where they are not encountering other black people to begin with?

Exhibit C - Chocolate Cherry Rain. In this song, Tay Zonday performs a triple axle in a hall of mirrors. He rewrites his original hit "Chocolate Rain" into a completely different song about the original song. Dude is Brilliant.

March 21, 2008

DMX is Rubbish

So, I just finished reading an interview between XXL Magazine and DMX. I have my own opinion, but would like to hear someone else's thoughts first. Here you go:

Are you following the presidential race?
Not at all.
You’re not? You know there’s a Black guy running, Barack Obama and then there’s Hillary Clinton.
His name is Barack?!
Barack Obama, yeah.
What the fuck is a Barack?! Barack Obama. Where he from, Africa?
Yeah, his dad is from Kenya.
Barack Obama?
What the fuck?! That ain’t no fuckin’ name, yo. That ain’t that nigga’s name. You can’t be serious. Barack Obama. Get the fuck outta here.
You’re telling me you haven’t heard about him before.
I ain’t really paying much attention.
I mean, it’s pretty big if a Black…
Wow, Barack! The nigga’s name is Barack. Barack? Nigga named Barack Obama. What the fuck, man?! Is he serious? That ain’t his fuckin’ name. Ima tell this nigga when I see him, “Stop that bullshit. Stop that bullshit” [laughs] “That ain’t your fuckin’ name.” Your momma ain’t name you no damn Barack.
So you’re not following the race. You can’t vote right?
Is that why you’re not following it?
No, because it’s just—it doesn’t matter. They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. It doesn’t really make a difference. These are the last years [ what in god's name is he talking about]
But it would be pretty big if we had a first Black president. That would be huge.I mean, I guess….
What, they gon’ give a dog a bone? There you go. Ooh, we have a Black president now. They should’ve done that shit a long time ago, we wouldn’t be in the fuckin’ position we in now. With world war coming up right now. They done fucked this shit up then give it to the Black people, “Here you take it. Take my mess.” Right, exactly.It’s all a fuckin’ setup. It’s all a setup. All fuckin’ bullshit. All bullshit. I don’t give a fuck about none of that.
We could have a female president also, Hillary Clinton.
I mean, either way it doesn’t matter. I don’t care. No one person is directly affected by which president, you know, so what does it matter.
Yeah, but the country is.
I guess. The president is a puppet anyway. The president don’t make no damn decisions.
The president…they don’t have that much authority basically?
Nah, never.
But Bush pretty much…
You think Bush is making fuckin’ decisions?
He did, yeah, he fucked up the country.
He act like he making decisions. He could barely speak! He could barely fuckin’ speak!Can’t be serious. He ain’t making no damn decisions.
Well Barack has a good chance of winning so that might be something.
Good for him, good for him.

March 20, 2008

Multiple Choice

Question: When Senator John McCain says, "No nation in the world can be attacked incessantly and have it's population killed and intimidated without responding", what is he referring to?

a) the once popular desire to view the Iraq war as a response to 9/11
b) the way in which high profile rapes and murders committed by US service personnel against local citizens in Okinawa have resulted in decades of intense protest against US military bases there
c) the right of Israel to respond to Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza which have resulted in an Israeli civilian's death this year
d) the right of Hamas to respond to Israeli military strikes against Gaza which have killed dozens of civilians this year
e) the intractable nature of the Iraqi insurgency
f) the history of colonialism (Chinese, French, Japanese and Americans) and resistance movements in Vietnam
g) all of the above
e) only the instances in which the United States and Allies are attacked (everyone else can go screw)

You can find the answer here.


Self Referential Hatred

Now that Obama made discussing race in America the new black (or the new half black maybe?), I thought it would be a good time to dig up an old Daily show clip.

Yes, the shoe's on the other foot now that racists are being oppressed and the freedom to limit the freedoms of others is not being adequately protected. Unfortunately, the argument is only a mild exaggeration of ones I hear every day.

Mos Eisley Spaceport

So, my LLM program has kept me so busy I haven't been able to post very often (not that I was posting before the program). But, I wanted to share my recent visit to Marrkech. This city was absolutely wild. My girlfriend and I actually stayed inside the old city walls, and travelled the endless Souks full of hidden treasure (or junk).

As a review for others, I thought Marrakech was a cross between Mos Eisley Spaceport and Alladin. I even saw one of those little Jawa guys - ie the little guys that shout ou-tini after they capture r2d2. Figured my Bro would get a kick out of the Star Wars comparison. Left - Jawa, Right and below are like the overhead of Mos Eisley.

March 16, 2008

Iraq War 5th Anniversary

To commemorate the up coming 5th anniversary of the Iraq war, I'm posting a video from one of the most cogent Iraqi speakers that I've come across, Raed Jaffar. Raed is probably most famous for an incident in which JFK airport security forced him to remove a shirt with Arabic writing on it before boarding an airplane. The shirt ironically read "We will not be silenced" in Arabic and English.

If you're a US citizen, you owe it to yourself to listen to what at least one Iraqi has to say about the war. The video's 50 minutes long but it's well worth it.

I would also like to draw people's attention to the Winter Soldier event held by Iraq Veterans Against the War. It just wrapped up today and features the testimony of veterans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are voices that are rarely heard in the mainstream media. Everyone owes it to themselves to hear at least one of these soldiers talk about their experiences.

Logan Laituri
Jon Turner
Jason Lemieux

Also, most cities will have a protest or demonstration of some kind on Thursday, the 20th. If you want to make your opinion known and join with a lot of other people who feel the same way, it should be easy to find when and where a local demonstration will be.

The Real News has the best coverage of Winter Soldier that I can find.

March 14, 2008

Military Intelligence Quote of the Day

I really didn't want to approach the topic from a partisan angle except to the extent that the administration [which was republican] fostered an environment where politics is what drives intelligence rather than intelligence driving policy so people [in the intelligence community] of all political persuasions from left to right recognized that and understood it...We would hear all the time, "this is not in line with administration projections." Well, we're supposed to be creating administration projections with our analysis. We'd hear, "that's too pessimistic."
- A.J Rossmiller (Former DIA intelligence officer)

These quotes are from an interview by Glen Greenwald concerning Rossmiller's book: "Still Broken: A Recruit's Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon." This is a guy who spend a couple years in Washington and a couple years in Iraq collecting and analyzing military intelligence. The main point of the book is summarized by Rossmiller in this quote from the interview:

"The problems that led to the Iraq weapon's of mass destruction debacle not only aren't improved or fixed but are in fact becoming institutionalized."

Music Industry Quote of the Day

There's nothing wrong with music. You understand, that it's not a tough time for music. I got tired of guys who were making a ton of money and had offices the size of my entire apartment telling me that it's a really tough time for music. If you go out in whatever city you're in tonight, and you tell [all the] kids lined up at the club to see their favorite band that this is a really tough time for music, they'll look at you like you're mental. You know, there's nothing wrong with music. The only thing that wrong in the music business is that basically the consumers and the fans caught on to the fact that they've kind of been getting a weird deal at $20 per CD for 3 good songs and some fillers.

-Dan Kennedy on Fresh Air 3/13/08

March 6, 2008

Library Misread

I was perusing in the library the other day, when I saw a book that stopped me in my tracks.
"White Terrorism"

That title alone set off a chain reaction in my mind. The subject of white terrorism undermines the popular associations between race and terror (the popular belief that terrorists are brown people and brown people are terrorist). An understanding of the IRA in Ireland, the Red Brigade in Germany and Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber in the United States should help create a more general and accurate picture of the roots of terrorism.

So, I checked out the book and started reading. After getting to the section on religious terrorism in the Middle East, I realized that my initial assessment was incorrect. Turns out, the correct title is simply "Terrorism" and the author is Jonathan R. White. My problem was that I read the spine of the book as "White Terrorism: an introduction" but should be read as "White - Terrorism: an introduction."

Jackie Chan v. Bruce Lee

In case you were wondering, Bruce Lee did kick the shit out of Jackie Chan...


March 4, 2008

Spanish League Jazz

Once again, time to revisit the beautiful game. Today, I want to show a clip of highlights from a recent match up between two top notch teams in the Spanish League.

Athletico Madrid 4-Barcelona 2 (01-03-08)

Two things about this clip moved me to write this post. The first thing that you're sure to notice is the music of St. Germain. I found the combination of football and jazz to be shockingly natural. I consider both endeavors to be forms of art with a great deal of room for freedom of expression. Football and jazz also share a tension between individual expression and group cohesion. It makes me wonder if the success of Brazilian jazz and Brazilian football are related?

The second reason for sharing this clip is Ronaldinho's goal at 1:33 (play starts at 1:21). I don't think that I can convey just how difficult it is to do what he does here to someone who's never tried it before. The timing required to make contact with a ball that's speeding along perpendicularly to the direction of a strike is impressive but then to connect with a bicycle kick while being manned and hit the low corner of the goal... Yowsa. He makes it look easy.

Actually, that first shot (at 0:22) by Zambrotta looks deceptively ordinary as well. The combination of power, angle and accuracy that he gets on that is far from ordinary or accidental. If you watch the slow motion replay, you can see exactly how straight and low to ground the ball flies with almost no spin. Like a knuckle ball in baseball, a ball moving without spin can shimmy in the air and is difficult to track.

March 3, 2008

Good Cop Bad Cop Once Removed

Two of my favorite comics of the last 10 years are both police procedurals set in a super hero world:

Powers by Bendis and Oeming and
Top Ten (and spin-off Smax) by Moore, Ha, and Cannon.

I just recently notice a major parallel between the two. Take a look at two sets of detective partners.

Deena Pilgrim and Christian Walker from Powers

Robyn Slinger and Jeff Smax of Top Ten and Smax

S may be the only person that finds this interesting.