The Triumph of Spectacle

Chris Hedges on GritTV: How did such a sizeable portion of modern society develop into a post-literate, fantasy-fueled, perma-reality show?  Noted reporter Chris Hedges speaks to the wonderful Laura Flanders about his new book: The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

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Resigning from Cohen and Amnesty

Activists leafletting a Leonard Cohen concert in Liverpool
Activists leafletting a Leonard Cohen concert in Liverpool

Renowned Irish composer and novelist Raymond Deane on the reasons why he has chosen to resign from Amnesty International. We encourage readers to follow Deane’s example.

When I first – and belatedly – began fretting about human rights and political injustice in the wake of the 1990-91 Gulf War, I joined Amnesty International and started writing letters and cards to political prisoners and to a variety of Embassies.

Although I was subsequently drawn deeply into activism of a more explicitly political nature – particularly on the Israel/Palestine issue – I retained my Amnesty membership out of residual respect for the organisation, but also because I wished to be in a position to say “as an Amnesty member myself, I completely disagree with the organisation’s stance on…” (fill in the dots as appropriate).

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This is, more or less, a selection from posts I made during the Gaza massacre.

palestine051809According to the dictionary, obscenity is what is offensive or repulsive to the senses, or indecent in behaviour, expression or appearance.

From Palestine come pictures on the internet, and on al-Jazeera – burning half bodies, a head and torso screaming, corpses spilt in a marketplace like unruly apples, all the tens and hundreds of infants and children turned to outraged dust. A little more out of focus, but concrete, there is the obscenity of starved refugees and cratered farmland, of shriek-soaked hospital walls and babies born at checkpoints. Still further behind these instances, these symptoms, looms the brute and perpetual obscenity of the ancient Canaanite-Arab Palestinian people having been driven from their land into camps and walled ghettoes, where they have been repeatedly massacred. All of this is offensive, repulsive and indecent. The Western media, not wishing to offend our senses, keeps the obscenity quiet. Better put, they cloak the obscenity with the greater obscenity of untruth, of dreaming a pleasant version while people bleed and die.

This should concern everybody, and first of all writers and readers. For the prime obscenity for us here, away from the immediate death and panic, is the language we use to hide the reality of what’s happening. We use magical terms. This is how it goes:

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A Decisive Turning Point?

The Guardian reports on British campaigning in Afghanistan, specifically an “operation” which “took nearly 3,000 British troops, many engaged in gun battles, to capture an area the size of the Isle of Wight.” I do wonder what meaning the verb ‘capture’ has here.

The article relays stories told by “British officials” and a couple of named officers, stirring stories which involve “a risky air attack” and a “Taliban drugs bazaar.” Twenty two British soldiers have been killed in Helmand province this month alone, so I expect our officials are thinking very hard indeed about the stories they tell. The recent adventure is called ‘Operation Panther’s Claw’, and is hoped to be “a decisive turning point in the eight-year conflict.”

We shall see. In the meantime, what seems a potentially decisive sign is the language and direction of this Taliban ‘code of conduct’. It demonstrates not only a higher stage of organisation than at any time since the movement’s 2001 defeat, but also a leap forward in ethics and political understanding.

On suicide bombing, the code says

(These) attacks should only be used on high and important targets. A brave son of Islam should not be used for lower and useless targets. The utmost effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties.

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The People are in the Streets Demanding Liberty

Toncontin airport. (Photo by Neil Brandvold)
Toncontin airport. (Photo by Neil Brandvold)

By Neil Brandvold, who was at Toncontin airport in Tegucigalpa awaiting the arrival of President Zelaya’s plane when the Honduran military opened fire on the crowd.

The democratically elected president of Honduras, Mel Zelaya, is currently making plans for a second attempt to enter Honduras since he was ousted in a military coup just under a month ago. Earlier this week, Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias proposed a plan to return Zelaya to the presidency.  Zelaya agreed to all conditions outlined in the proposal, including establishing a power-sharing government and holding presidential elections on Oct. 28, a month earlier than scheduled. The proposal was immediately rejected by the junta.

Zelaya has arrived at a Nicaraguan town on the border of Honduras with plans to enter the country by land, stating: “I have requested my wife and family accompany me, and have made the military responsible for any damage. I am going unarmed and peacefully so that Honduras can return to peace and tranquility.”  It is a risky move for the president and his supporters, especially considering his first attempt to re-enter the country on July 5th was blocked by the junta.  On that day, the military open fired on a gathering of upwards of 100,000 peaceful demonstrators at the Toncontin airport in Tegucigalpa and subsequently blocked the runway preventing the plane from landing.

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A Flavour to the Ghetto

Alice Walker in Gaza with Palestinian member of parliament and mother of five, Huda Naim.

Writer Alice Walker was part of the Code Pink delegation to Gaza shortly after the December/ January massacre. She responded to her experience, and connected it to the civil rights struggle in America, in an essay on her blog called “Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters ‘the horror’ in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel.”

Rolling into Gaza I had a feeling of homecoming. There is a flavor to the ghetto. To the Bantustan. To the “rez.” To the “colored section.” In some ways it is surprisingly comforting. Because consciousness is comforting. Everyone you see has an awareness of struggle, of resistance, just as you do. The man driving the donkey cart. The woman selling vegetables. The young person arranging rugs on the sidewalk or flowers in a vase. When I lived in segregated Eatonton, Georgia I used to breathe normally only in my own neighborhood, only in the black section of town. Everywhere else was too dangerous. A friend was beaten and thrown in prison for helping a white girl, in broad daylight, fix her bicycle chain.

But even this sliver of a neighborhood, so rightly named the Gaza Strip, was not safe. It had been bombed for 22 days. I thought of how, in the US perhaps the first use of aerial attacks on US soil, prior to 9/11, was the bombing and shooting from biplanes during the destruction by white mobs of the black neighborhoods in Tulsa, Olklahoma in 1921. The black people who created these neighborhoods were considered, by white racists, too prosperous and therefore “uppity.” Everything they created was destroyed. This was followed by the charge already rampant in white American culture, that black people never tried to “better” themselves.

You can read Walker’s whole piece at Electronic Intifada which first published it.

All roads lead to Palfest

An edited version of this article was published in The National.

Palestine 045We entered Palestine from Jordan, across the Allenby Bridge and over the trickle which is what’s left of the diverted, overused, and drought-struck river. The Dead Sea glittered in the hollow to our left. Jericho, the world’s oldest city, shimmered through heat haze to our right. The site where Jesus was baptised was a stone’s throw away. Palestine is most definitely part of bilad ash-Sham, in the same cultural zone as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, but it is also most definitely like nowhere else on the planet. Suddenly the superlatives were coming thick and fast.

Palestine feels as large as a continent – but one that’s been crushed and folded to fit into the narrow strip of fertile land between the river and the sea. The Jordan Valley depression is the lowest point on earth, part of the Rift Valley which stretches from east Africa, and it’s as hot as the Gulf. But only a few miles up from the yellowed, cratered desert into the green hills before Jerusalem, and the weather is very different. As we left our performance in Ramallah a couple of nights later, gusts of fog blew in on an icy wind. If a Palestinian in the West Bank manages to find an unoccupied hilltop – which isn’t at all easy – he can look all the way to the forbidden Mediterranean, and perhaps he’ll pick out the fields of his ancestral village.

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The Violence of Illusion

Amartya Sen on Identity and Violence. In his otherwise thought provoking lecture, Sen appears to assume that identities are only determined, discovered or assumed. He overlooks the fact that sometimes they are imposed. He also appears to overlook the relations of power which accentuate identity, or for that matter the functional, defensive necessity of identity as a means of resisting domination. (thanks Eric)

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is widely recognized for his ability to join economics and philosophy, reflected in his work through ethics and a sense of common humanity. In this Hitchcock Lecture from UC Berkeley he explores the violence of illusion.

PULSE Announcement


radio_microphonePULSE is maintaining a different posting schedule in the coming months. While for the past seven months we have been daily posting both original material from our contributing editors as well as aggregating press picks, our focus for the remainder of the year, before we make a decision about migrating to a self-hosted CMS site, will be on original material and less frequent commentary, perhaps on a weekly basis.

As we have found — with many of our valued contributors completing books and doctoral theses — a website that maintains a regular daily posting schedule like this requires time and resources. While it costs little to run the platform itself, it does take time away from employment which sustains us. If you like what you see and might suggest funding options to be able to provide a more full-time service, we’d be interested in hearing from you.

Thanks for supporting PULSE, and we look forward to bringing you more great reading.

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