Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, The Archipelago of Arrogance

April 15, 2008

Rebecca Solnit arrived at Tomdispatch in May 2003 in a moment of relative silence with a piece entitled “Acts of Hope, Challenging Empire on a World Stage.” (It later morphed into the book Hope in the Dark, which certainly changed the way I look at the world.) The invasion of Iraq was already two months old. The vast, worldwide demonstrations by tens of millions of sane and sensible people who could see clearly enough that a disaster was on its way — and who have never, on any “anniversary” of that disaster, gotten the slightest mainstream credit for having been right — had already ended in despair.

It was then that Solnit spoke up, reminding those of us ready to listen that “activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark” — and that history “is like weather, not like checkers. A game of checkers ends. The weather never does.” It was, she wrote, too soon to tote up the “score” or declare matters over on the invasion of Iraq or much else. In fact, it’s always too soon, since you can never really know what effect your actions have had — or where, or on whom. Which was, and still is, the reason for none of us to pack our bags and go home, for none of us to fall silent. Historically speaking, this is a lesson that’s been harder yet for a woman to take into her bones. Silencings of all sorts have long been at the heart of what it’s meant to be a woman. Today, Solnit turns, in her own irrepressible way, to that kind of silencing — in her life and on this planet. Tom

Men Explain Things to Me

Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way
By Rebecca Solnit

I still don’t know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at forty-ish, passed as the occasion’s young ladies. The house was great — if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets — a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave, when our host said, “No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you.” He was an imposing man who’d made a lot of money.

He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, “So? I hear you’ve written a couple of books.”

I replied, “Several, actually.”

He said, in the way you encourage your friend’s seven-year-old to describe flute practice, “And what are they about?”

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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Tomgram: Oops, Our Bad

April 15, 2008

[Note to Tomdispatch Readers: Last week, I thanked those of you who responded to an appeal to round up new subscribers to sign up for Tomdispatch emails notifying them whenever I post at the site. That thank-you resulted in another little flood of subscriptions. I’m truly appreciative. Even if this note results in a third small inundation, I know when enough is enough. I swear I’ll restrain myself from thanking you yet again, lest this come to seem a modest subscription scam.

By the way, although today’s piece stands on its own, it might also be read as part 2 of “Blowing Them Away Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry, Globalization Bush-style,” which I posted in mid-March. Tom]

Catch 2,200

9 Propositions on the U.S. Air War for Terror


By Tom Engelhardt

Let’s start with a few simple propositions.

First, the farther away you are from the ground, the clearer things are likely to look, the more god-like you are likely to feel, the less human those you attack are likely to be to you. How much more so, of course, if you, the “pilot,” are actually sitting at a consol at an air base near Las Vegas, identifying a “suspect” thousands of miles away via video monitor, “following” that suspect into a house, and then letting loose a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone cruising somewhere over Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, or the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Second, however “precise” your weaponry, however “surgical” your strike, however impressive the grainy snuff-film images you can put on television, war from the air is, and will remain, a most imprecise and destructive form of battle.

Third, in human terms, distance does not enhance accuracy. The farther away you are from a target, the more likely it is that you will have to guess who or what it is, based on spotty, difficult to interpret or bad information, not to speak of outright misinformation; whatever the theoretical accuracy of your weaponry, you are far more likely to miscalculate, make mistakes, mistarget, or target the misbegotten from the air.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Patrick Cockburn, Petraeus’s Ghost

April 15, 2008

Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who emerged triumphant from an Iraqi government assault on his Mahdi Army militia in Basra (and Baghdad) has called for a “million-strong” march in Baghdad tomorrow to mark the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The demonstration just happens to fall on one of the days that General David Petraeus is to report to Congress on post-surge “progress” in Iraq. This is unlikely to be pure happenstance. Despite being regularly labeled “hot-headed,” a “firebrand,” and the like in the American press, Sadr, as Patrick Cockburn shows in his new book Muqtada, is a canny, cautious, strategically savvy political leader. In fact, he has turned out to play the life-and-death game of Iraqi politics better than any of the teams of American and Iraqi officials sent up against him, inc! luding most recently Gen. Petraeus, American Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

As you watch Petraeus and Crocker go through their paces today and tomorrow, don’t imagine them alone at that table in front of a Senate committee. There’s a ghostly figure beside them, that “hot-headed” “radical cleric,” who has made a mockery of their plans for a pacified Iraq. For those of us who don’t know enough about that shadowy figure, Patrick Cockburn is, at this second, riding to the rescue. When it comes to timing, you couldn’t ask for better. His book on Sadr, Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq is being published this very day as the cleric fights for news space with the general. As with so much else in these last years in Iraq, Cockburn was taking Sadr’s true measure while others, including actual hot-headed figures like that Bush administration viceroy in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, continued to look elsewhere or radically underestimate hi! m.

Seymour Hersh has called Cockburn, who writes for the British paper, The Independent, “quite simply, the best Western journalist at work in Iraq today.” It’s hard to disagree with that. In a war of reportorial embedment, he’s been a unilateral, an almost recklessly, daringly free agent. He’s had some good company over the years: Robert Fisk in looted Baghdad amid the ashes of the royal archives of Iraq in April 20003 (“…and the Americans did nothing…”); Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post wandering the backstreets of Baghdad in somewhat better days; freelancer Nir Rosen in Fallujah in 2004; the British Guardian’s correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad with the Sunni resistance and recently in  embattled Baghdad; various correspondents for Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy), including Leila Feidel, and a host of barely credited or uncredited Iraqi reporters working for Western outfits (whose normal journalists can hardly circulate in Iraq). But Cockburn, who never seems to stop circulating, is still sui generis.

The following piece on Muqtada al-Sadr is the final chapter of Cockburn’s new book and appears at Tomdispatch.com thanks to his publisher, Scribner, and his fine editor Colin Robinson. It’s the perfect antidote to Petraeus’s assessment of the Iraqi situation. Too bad our senators won’t hear Muqtada al-Sadr’s version of the same. Cockburn’s book, by the way, is eye-opening. Tom

Riding the Tiger

Muqtada al-Sadr and the American Dilemma in Iraq

By Patrick Cockburn

Muqtada al-Sadr is the most important and surprising figure to emerge in Iraq since the U.S. invasion. He is the Messianic leader of the religious and political movement of the impoverished Shia underclass whose lives were ruined by a quarter of a century of war, repression, and sanctions.

From the moment he unexpectedly appeared in the dying days of Saddam Hussein’s regime, U.S. emissaries and Iraqi politicians underestimated him. So far from being the “firebrand cleric” as the Western media often described him, he often proved astute and cautious in leading his followers.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Bonnie Briggs remembers Toronto’s homeless

April 15, 2008

I met Bonnie Briggs briefly last summer at the Gladstone Hotel in Parkdale, Toronto, where we both attended an Ontario NDP event. Thus, it was especially gratifying to read that Bonnie was named ‘Local Hero’ in last Saturday’s Toronto Star.  Kudos to Bonnie!  She definitely deserves this recognition:

Apr 12, 2008 04:30 AM
Nancy J. White
Living Reporter

Who: Bonnie Briggs, 54.

What: The Homeless Memorial, a plaque and a website with the names of the more than 500 street people who have died in this city since 1985. A service is held at the memorial every month.

When: Briggs is a social activist who became involved with housing matters in 1987. She started working on The Homeless Memorial in 1996.

Where: Toronto’s mean streets. The plaque is at The Church of the Holy Trinity, 10 Trinity Square, by the Eaton Centre.

[…]

Read the rest of: She ensures the homeless are remembered.