'One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star'- Nietzsche
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Monthly Archives: August 2014

‘Looking for the cause of this historical lightning crack in the ceiling of sanity is difficult’

Just recently the New York Review of Books newsletter arrived at my Inbox, and in it is a blog piece called “Portable Hell,” by my favorite poet, Charles Simic, who writes about the effects of our infernal current events and sums up my outlook succinctly with, “The world is going to hell in a hurry. At my age, I ought to be used to it, but I’m not.”

Because no matter whether you were raised reading the People’s History of the world or the Conqueror’s, the distilled point of their synthesis drips bleak, bleak, bleak like the slow water torture of historical consciousness applied ever-so-subtly to human memory.

But the subject at hand is dystopia.  To dystope or not to dystope. To diss hope or not to diss hope. I ought to be used to it.

When I was in my late teens, ever hung over from the frightful social turmoils of the late ’60s and early ’70s, like many young geeklings I escaped into literature, hoping to read my way out of impending disaster. I started out by reading the usual suspects — Steinbeck, Hemingway, Roth and Flannery O’Connor — but they quickly reminded me of the colossal wreck of Pax Americana, and deepened my worries about the human condition. So I moved on to other lits — European poetry and novels, biographies of composers, scientific works, art and astrology, before finally tripping over C.S. Lewis (Out of the Silent Planet) and discovering with great astonishment the worlds of endless possibilities that speculative and science fiction posed.

I read a lot of sci-fi; I liked imagining how new technologies and humanity could evolve together; or I simply mooned over the far future of our species, as you do with, say, Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men.  But most of all I was attracted to dystopic fiction from the start, maybe because the world seemed like such a disaster, while at the same time I was young and needed to understand what had gone wrong and envision how it could be fixed. And for whatever reason, the dystopia that captured my imagination then, and remains a favourite to this day, was George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides.

I’m not sure what attracted me specifically to that book, although I suspect it was the title, which reminded me of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and, in fact, both titles are derived from the same line in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.”

Over the years this line from the Bible has affected me more than any other, as it so straightforwardly implies that humans are not the be-all, end-all of Creation, and that Being goes on without us. Considering the source, this deeply resonating chord struck me as subversive, and I’m sure influenced my later decision to major in philosophy at university.

Strictly speaking, Earth Abides is not simply dystopic but, more, post-apocalyptic. Often dystopias present systems turned into nightmares but still functioning on some level. But with post-apocalyptic lit, all systems are down, and even the assumptions left over in the heads of survivors are smoky rhetorical question marks. Human certainty ceases, although the sun continues to rise and set regardless.

I also tinkered with dystopic fictional ideas, too. I’m sure, in my mind, that I was one of the first to invent a machine that allowed a psychiatrist to enter, like a knight, a patient’s dreams and literally battle the patient’s fears; or allow an agent to enter a sleeping person’s mind and seed designs and motives that would influence their waking behavior.

But that machine is now real; and the film Inception stole my dreams and erased any desire to sue them for copyright molestations. I was sure that I was the first to see domed cities in space comprised of solar paneling, providing endless energy to mad hippies cultivating massive jungles of seriously potent mayjay, which sounds good, until the ventilation system breaks down, and recycled smoke kicks in, and mates start looking like good little munchies to each other, and all that’s left when the smoke finally clears is happy leafery, rather greener now for all the extra human fertilizer plumping up their cell walls.

Yes, invariably, I’d discover that one of the hundreds of sci-fi writers out there had, in one of the dozens of books each had written, already covered the idea and there wasn’t much point in continuing to develop it. (Although I’m reasonably certain that no one else has thought of those spliff trees and cannabis clouds yet.)

Lots of people were reading and writing sci-fi and dystopias from the moment the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, through to the moment of Star Wars in 1984 (natch), when US President Ronald Reagan forgot to turn his mike off after a speech and drolly uttered, “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” (My, how times have changed.)

Remarks made so much more comical by the fact that the world was gripped then by the absolute terror of an impending nuclear war, as evidenced by the US broadcast of the nuclear war film The Day After just 6 months prior and BBC’s Threads, perhaps the darkest film on the subject ever made, about to be broadcast in Britain.

But that’s the thing about these dystopias: At some point, perhaps when Reagan gaffed, people seemed to realize that a world that could spend billions of dollars on a Star Wars system was explicitly preparing for a nuclear exchange of fire, and that whatever didactic power dystopias might have had –admonishing, pleading, painting the world black as visceral symbolism – they’d lost whatever momentum they might have had in preventing the world from going mad.

Like the more recent happy tittering of the White House press corps after Barack Obama made a joke about killing with his favorite weapon of war, the remote-controlled drone, there was no shock and horror, no jaws dropped to the plush-carpeted floor, instead the amused ears lifted champagne glasses and saluted His Majesty’s murderous mirth.

The fact of the matter is we live in world that is substantially over-populated, with longer life expectancies (even in the Third World), requiring ever more resources, leading to ever more drilling, mining and consumption, which results in ever more toxic pollution, and has led humans to the very edge of cataclysmic climate change, bringing with it melting polar ice caps, tsunamis, earthquakes, monster storms, and the catastrophic decline of the bee populations, rain forests and coral reefs.

 Instead of reading dystopias now, there are ample samples of our living nightmare — described in the pages of such contemporary sober and rational non-fiction works as The World Without UsThe Sixth Extinction, and the resurgence of Rachel Carson’s prophetic classic, Silent Spring.

Looking for the cause of this historical lightning crack in the ceiling of sanity is difficult, not least of all because we are still in the moment, “the wheel’s still in spin,” as the Dylan lyric goes. But the crack is there.  Another book I’ve come across lately is one by two psychiatrist brothers, Daniel and Jason Freeman, titled Paranoia: The 21st Century Fear, which argues that paranoia is widespread now, affecting as many as a quarter of the population, and “the days when paranoia could be written off as a meaningless sign of insanity are long gone … because paranoia is centre stage in our culture and in our individual lives.” Big Brother is, by definition, out to get us.

The ruminating philosopher in me is tempted to locate the decisive crack of lightning and peal of madhouse thunder at that historical point when the western world’s evolution from tenets of the Enlightenment led to structuralism and a sense of scientific certainty and its attendant idealism for human futures — only to be jig-sawed and relativized by the powerful deconstructive tools of post-modernist thinking.

In science, Thomas Kuhn argued that the truths of scientific outcomes were partially related to the working paradigm of the day; what you observed was changed by the observation itself.  The value of the Canon and of Grand Narratives in literature was a value controlled by an academic elite with their own vested interests and agendas to protect. The great motifs of the First World’s enlightened political philosophy — liberty, democracy, equal opportunity, assorted bills of rights — were largely fantasies of assumed power, which, when examined more closely, dissolved from a peaceable kingdom into a frame filled with raw jungle hungers.

This is not a knock on post-modernism, which has made so much social and aesthetic progress possible in the last half-century, but it does point to a naive set of assumptions that neglected to account for the sure surfeit of sociopaths who lay in wait for soft, succulent humanists everywhere. No, post-mod’s promised landscapes of freedom, its liberating relativism that says there are no grand narratives, no essential humanity really, no transcendent function toward which we must strive into the future as One People, is also the same liberating process unleashed for warriors with their ‘humanitarian’ interventions with cluster bombs, for politicians to shed what little shame and fear they had about their lies, for Wall Street brokers to party hearty in the snorkle trough.

You can see this wild maelstrom quietly at work in Thomas Keenan’s Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy.  In this relatively short book, the long-time technologist Keenan doesn’t so much argue as demonstrate how we have practically reached the point of the so-called Singularity, that evolutionary stage at which machines and humans begin to merge, synthesize, if you will, with the ramifications impossible to predict.

In one area of human activity after another, with example after example, Keenan lays out a future that is now, even if it will be too late to avoid its consequences once we come to full consciousness of this new paradigm shift. As President Obama might have said, with a smile, were he a technologist: We are the dystopia we’ve been waiting for.

Keenan especially focuses on the role of the US Defense Department’s research and development arm, DARPA, and their seemingly unlimited budget to bring into the world all manner of deviant technologies, from halitosis and gay bombs, tractor beams and invisibility blankets, eugenics, and an assorted sordid toolkit of subterfuge, always with a Caligula-esque mirth for the destruction to be wrought.  

In one section he calls Robot Creep, Keenan demonstrates DARPA’s key role in future robotics, which DARPA plans not for the betterment of civilization but as proxy battlefield soldiers who can endure more than humans and don’t break down as much.  Keenan describes how the military sees the use of autonomous robots: “We might even get to the stage anticipated by science fiction writers where countries in conflict simply duke it out in cyberspace to see who would win, based on mathematical models, and then the proper number of citizens on each side are executed in the settling up. It would be an efficient if chilling way to handle disputes with our neighbours.”

Again, it should be worrisome that the first thought out of the box is how these things can be used to kill more efficiently, but, again, that is the naivety of a humanist on display.

However, it doesn’t end there. Keenan goes on to describe future bordellos filled with picture-perfect robo-prozzies with the clear advantage of being indefatigable (and more cost effective).

In a chilling empowerment of kids with magnifying glasses out looking for creatures to fry, Keenan describes new kits that have come to market that allow kids to hack the nervous system of insects with their smartphones. Maybe it won’t seem so unnatural to them when the technique eventually transfers over to hacking ‘terrorists,’ the definition a moveable feast of lingo. (I vote: people who insincerely employ the word ‘empathy’ too much. They must learn to suffer with quiet desperation like the rest of us.). 

Most people probably know by now that the planet’s honeybee colonies are collapsing, an event with profound consequences not only for humans but other life forms on the planet as well, and although no one has been able to absolutely pin the blame on GMO giant Monsanto, they are certainly implicated. 

But never fear, say techno-cats, no problem, because robo-bees are on the way and they will take over for their live falling comrades.  For a price, of course. And lots of contractors want mileage included, so we may need to hire some lay-about bees to keep the costs down.

We are, indeed, the dystopia we’ve been waiting for.  So, why write dystopias when we live in one?

Well, actually, that’s easy. Let’s start with myself, because like the passenger on a decompressing plane going down, who needs to take care of himself first in the emergency, if he wants to save others, I sometimes have buoyant, upbeat thoughts, and when I think them they are beautiful as picture cards from Paradise or like those deep space views of the Christmas tree ornament cosmos.  (Blow it up and see!) They make me want to live some more.

Second, my family, who take me out of myself, not only with their own needs and requirements, but with their genuine smiles and the connective tissues of their love that bind our ultimately separate destinies.

Third, it’s still green out there, life still surges in its lyrical impetuosity through the countless roots and veins and branchings of Being, Earth abides, and the sun also rises.

Fourth, we are one benign global catastrophe away from a possible reprieve, a solar flare, say, that wipes out world electricity and gets us off the internet arses altogether, and knocks down the surveillance state in one fell swoop. Forcing us to gather again in human commons and listen to each other face-to-face, and negotiate as sisters and brothers in need of wisdom.  It’s called hope, and it’s the only real Utopia we’ve ever had or will ever need.

Indeed, I have enough hope to close by saying I am right now working on a dystopic novel that has the one saving grace of assuming that we will get past our current troubles.  I’m just anticipating the next disastrous confrontation. That, too, is a product of hope.

Richard Nixon’s legacy is more alive and well than it should be

Though Henry Kissinger has put his knee pads back in the prayer closet, Alexander Haig has gone back to being “in charge” of pushing up his daisies, my friend Dave has finally put away his National Lampoon Missing White House Tapes album (Lemmings was better), and old Daniel Ellsberg has put down his party kazoo and gone back to supporting the plight of embattled New York Times journalist James Risen full time, the 40th anniversary celebration of President Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon’s jowly resignation from office on August 8, 1974, has ended all too abruptly for my taste.

So, forgive me if I linger just a little longer over President Paranoid’s demise, and briefly consider what happened in the bracketed historical period After Dick, and discuss where we are today, politically speaking. 

Even though America commenced to embrace the healing process necessary to restore confidence in the integrity of the world’s premiere Democratic Republican system just as soon as Nixon boarded that helicopter holding up his Double Vs, it didn’t start out well, for sure, what with new president Gerald Ford’s first order of business being the pardon of the eminently and imminently impeachable president for war criminality abroad and blatant treason at home.

Though the laundry cleansing had actually begun with the Congressional passage of the War Powers Act in 1973, significant reform didn’t seem fully on its way until Frank Church’s Senate hearings of 1975/76 resulted in intensive scrutiny of the extensive “dirty tricks” played by the CIA, NSA and FBI in implementing executive office criminality and in pursuing their own extra-constitutional agendas over a long period of time. The very fearful excesses they engage in now were activities they were engaged in back then as well.

On a 1975 Meet the Press segment, Church cited the breathtaking technological capabilities that US intelligence agencies possessed – even then – and warned that, such were their capabilities, that there would be “nowhere to hide” should those agencies turn their powers on Americans.  He added, “If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back…all agencies that possess this technology [must] operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss…from which there is no return.”

The hearings resulted in the creation of the FISA court in 1978. But neither the War Powers Act nor FISA could hold back the siren call of unbridled power.

In his 1983 Atlantic piece, “The Pardon,” investigative journalist Seymour Hersh recounts the general buzz of potential tyranny in the air around the White House in Nixon’s closing days: “The notion that Nixon could at any time resort to extraordinary steps to preserve his presidency was far more widespread in the government than the public perceived in the early days of Watergate or perceives today.”

Hersh implies that the instigating force of such a potential military coup had come from Nixon’s chief of staff, General Alexander Haig, who had at one point, in the closing days, suggested the possibility of bringing in the 82nd Airborne to surround the White House, ostensibly to protect a worried Nixon.

Hersh recounts a variety of disturbing encounters.  In an interview with an unnamed member of the Joint Chiefs, the four-star general told Hersh that in December 1973, when Nixon could see the writing on the wall, “He kept on referring to the fact that he may be the last hope, the eastern elite was out to get him. He kept saying, ‘This is our last and best hope. The last chance to resist the fascists [of the left].’ His words brought me straight up out of my chair. I felt the President, without the words having been said, was trying to sound us out to see if we would support him in some extra-constitutional action. He was trying to find out whether in a crunch there was support to keep him in power.”

Nixon’s secretary of defense, James Schlesinger, was so shaken by the possibility of a coup by the unstable president, writes Hersh, that he called meetings with high-ranking Pentagon personnel to secure assurances from them that no extra-constitutional support would be forthcoming should the Commander-in-Chief go that way.

But brutal military coups are hard to pull off and maintain in a nation prepared to fight back against tyranny.  But there’s more than one way to skin a catfish, as Mark Twain never said, and the most effective way to achieve the same goal softly would be by getting the People to voluntarily coup themselves.

Beginning in 2000, let’s just say, an unusual array of indisputable facts came together to give the neo-cons just what they dreamed about in their PNAC manifesto, Rebuilding America’s Defenses, which is actually an offensive policy of global interventionism. This American Enterprise think tank report came out two months before Bush stole the 2000 presidential election, and the manifesto’s wistful sigh – such dreams won’t soon come true “absent a new Pearl harbor” — were magically answered a year later, when repeated warnings of an impending attack were ignored in the White House, which, at least indirectly, led to the events of 9 Eleven.

By September 12, 2001, America (and her terrified allies) were ready to respond to any order the burning Bush barked. And the president said to the world, effectively, “You’re either fer us or agin us, and we’re comin ta git all the baddies, however long that takes, which will be forever, because ‘baddies’ will mean whatever we say it means on any given day forever.” And Dick “Dark Shadows” Cheney took off his gloves. And Karl Rove said, “We’re an Empire now.” 

And then came the PATRIOT Act, essentially the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act on steroids, with the Bill of Rights thrown out. No more War Powers worries.  No more FISA inconveniences. Out the window probable cause. Here comes police state secrecy, illegal willy-nilly wars in foreign lands, comprehensive eavesdropping without accountability or just cause, torture, murder, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Robert Bales, Raymond Davies, black sites, journalists shot or jailed, drone strikes on Americans and helpless children, and the prosecution of anyone who leaks truths. Fergusons will become more frequent. Welcome to the New American Century.

Most Americans, even Republicans, were glad to see the Bush era go, and gladly signed on to first African-American President Barack Obama’s message of hope and change, and repeated his mantra, “Yes, we can.” But as all but the wilfully blind see now, Obama is just one more tyrannical liar, but one who blatantly takes executive office excesses far beyond anything Bush would have dared to try.

Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report has accurately described him as “the more effective evil,” because Obama has taught the Left to accept the real politik of the killing fields of power and urged Democrats to join hands with right-wing ideologues and sing Kumbaya from the twisted recesses of Dante’s Inferno. 

Easily the single greatest sign of the executive power’s over-reach is the ease with which the Justice Department signed into effect Obama’s justification for killing an American citizen abroad without due process.

In the aptly titled, “7 Pages That Gave President Obama Cover to Kill Americans,” Conor Friedersdorf of Atlantic Monthly shows how the memo weakens the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, and he writes, “As that length suggests, the memo, which could have resulted in a human’s death at any moment, was woefully incomplete as a legal analysis.” It is not merely ironical that the weak memo served the machinations of a Harvard-schooled constitutional scholar, it’s terrifying in its implications.

And if the Morbidly Obese Lady isn’t singing it’s only because her high blood pressure pills have knocked her out on the sofa.

There’s more than one way to skin a catfish. 

Technocreep-175x250

 
Imagine: You leave your house for work and the light sensor over your door records the time and snaps a picture. You hop into your car and before it will start a quick substance-abuse check is performed as you hold the steering wheel. Once you’re allowed to drive, your car’s “black box” records your speed and braking habits, and sends a graph to police analysts and your insurance company. Your car and Android pass on your GPS coordinates to some unknown Authority and to Google, who turns around and sells the information to target marketers. At a traffic light your licence plate is recorded, along with a thermal image showing how many passengers are in the car. In addition, an unseen drone overhead zooms in your face and reads its mood and ‘tone’ and matches it up against that day’s ‘known threat types’ in a disposition matrix. Still sitting at the light, you look left to see a teen in the next car wearing Google Glasses and recording your face; indeed, a few moments later, Instagram notifies you that your expression has been entered in a daily polling contest and already has 5 up-thumbs. Your car radio senses your rising anxiety and begins playing some easy listening tunes to calm you. Dread of work begins to envelop you—having to face the eye scanner to enter the building and the finger-print scanner to log on to your PC, and where you’ll be careful of how you answer emails, extra conscious of how you speak on phones, afraid to use the coffee machine, because it counts your cups and sends stats off to a work productivity study with unknown ramifications. And the coworker in the cubicle opposite you keeps flashing you a proud new prosthetic vagina that was extruded from a 3D printer at home. You decide to call in a sickie and turn the car around. Sensors and alarms go off. Your car questions your move. An app pops up on your Android and scans your features. You make it home, the light sensor recording your return, alone. You go into the kitchen and the fridge immediately calls out that ‘milk is low’ and your open laptop has a pop-up list of items needing replenishing that your fridge has passed on. You piss and the toilet tells you how many blue flushes are left. You take to bed and curl up in the foetal position, your blanket warming to an ‘optimal soothe’. Your bedroom lights read your distress and come on and a floating voice asks you over and over if you are okay, while simultaneously passing the moments on to your insurer, which immediately alerts a counsellor, whose voice in the room now says you need to spend more and sends you a scrip for Valium and a set of discount coupons that you hear arrive in your Inbox with a mystical ding
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reagan-star-wars

‘Looking for the cause of this historical lightning crack in the ceiling of sanity is difficult’

Just recently the New York Review of Books newsletter arrived at my Inbox, and in it is a blog piece called “Portable Hell,” by my favorite poet, Charles Simic, who writes about the effects of our infernal current events and sums up my outlook succinctly with, “The world is going to hell in a hurry. At my age, I ought to be used to it, but I’m not.”
Because no matter whether you were raised reading the People’s History of the world or the Conqueror’s, the distilled point of their synthesis drips bleak, bleak, bleak like the slow water torture of historical consciousness applied ever-so-subtly to human memory.
But the subject at hand is dystopia.  To dystope or not to dystope. To diss hope or not to diss hope. I ought to be used to it.
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 news-east-berlin

‘If you have been paying attention, you may have noticed that newspapers are closing down everywhere’

While print journalism will never entirely disappear, it’s clear beyond any doubt that how news is created, managed and delivered has been altered permanently by the dominant presence of the Internet in our lives. In keeping with the relentless electronic pulsing of data bits, news comes and goes faster, is briefer, and is often less considered before it gets published.
Often it seems to be a pace driven not so much by competition as by the physical mandate of the electricity that makes up the body of the message. A long time ago now, Marshall McLuhan uttered the then-cryptic remark, “the medium is the message,” and in our hurtling electronic age we sometimes seem like the apes in Stanley Kubrick’s signature film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, touching the mysterious, paradigm-shifting monolith for the first time.
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Lots of people when they think of journalism have in mind the mum-and-pop variety —  car crashes and the latest gossip, local politics, sports, all the little details about “the time the doorknob broke,” to trot out an old Bob Dylan lyric. A step up from this layer of short and punchy news bits is that more ‘literate’ class of journalism traditionally associated with the New York Times and Washington Post, the so-called newspapers of record, which publish only the most polished, scrupulous pieces by the most ethical journalists. Or so the story goes.

But there is a third layer, the most important one, compared to which all other reportage is mere puff piecework, and this reified sphere is known as investigative journalism, often occupied by paunchy supermen and lithe linguists, such as Benjamin Franklin, H. L. Mencken, Martha Gellhorn, Jack Anderson, George Washington Williams, Seymour Hersh, Woodward and Bernstein, Hunter S. Thompson (if you quick-toke a doobie, this example will seem more obvious), Mike Tabibi, and even Ernest Hemingway – the list is long and legendary. What sets their work apart is its adversarial engagement, the refusal to take things at face value or as laid out by the spokespeople for the rich and powerful, the relentless willingness to dig deeper and deeper until the truth is exposed.

Such investigative journalists are the vanguard of the so-called Fourth Estate, bearing the formidable task of watchdogging the other three estates – the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative – to ensure that they remain ‘checks and balances’ to each other in their assigned constitutional tasks of maintaining the Democratic Republic’s integrity and vibrancy.  While such journalists are often associated with a ‘paper of record’, their work is so crucial that sometimes some separation even from their publisher is necessary, since publications are owned, and owners have political agendas, and those agendas may conflict with the findings of deep journalism.  Recall, for instance, the New York Time’s decision to hold back, on the brink of the November 2004 presidential election, an explosive investigatory report on the Bush administration’s use of the NSA for warrantless domestic wiretapping (shocking revelations that beat Snowden’s by years) – a delay with serious repercussions for the Times’ reputation.

Prior to Glenn Greenwald’s in-depth journalistic interpretation and analysis of Edward Snowden’s raw NSA revelations last year, undoubtedly the most significant investigative journalism in US history came with the publication and analysis of the Pentagon Papers, released to the press by ex-Rand analyst Daniel Ellsberg back in 1971. Of the three branches of government, the Executive is the one that requires the most watchdogging because it is the branch wherein a single individual – the president – has a disproportionate and unilateral power at his disposal, compared to the Judiciary and Legislative, where decisions must come as the result of conference and consensus.  The president can potentially become another form of king, if not checked.  What the Pentagon Papers uncovered was the history of America’s secret presidential war-mongering in Viet Nam, beginning with the Eisenhower administration down through Nixon’s utterly corrupt regime – a history of unilateral and illegal foreign policy decision-making that by-passed Congress and the people they represent.

This is not merely academic or specious. It seems that very few people recall now that when the chips were down for Nixon, he was actively considering a military coup to stay in office. As legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in a long-form piece for the Atlantic in 1983,

The notion that Nixon could at any time resort to extraordinary steps to preserve his presidency was far more widespread in the government than the public perceived in the early days of Watergate or perceives today.

Nixon’s Kool-Aid drinking (and secret bombing) buddy, Henry Kissinger, had once said that “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” which would suggest that in the end the jowly president was akin to Onan the Barbarian.

This is the kind of outcome that makes the ill-defined, open-ended “War on Terror” so dangerous to global democracy and liberty, especially as its execution is melded to the most comprehensive and intrusive state surveillance apparatus the world has ever seen – an eavesdropping system designed to not only ostensibly catch ‘terrorists’ before they act, but to treat all citizens everywhere as potential suspects, but especially policy dissenters and journalists who might look into the hidden agenda and expose Administrative (which is to say, Executive office) lies and corruption, with their clear and present danger to the Bill of Rights and the Rule of Law.  In this respect, many people regard the Obama administration as a far greater threat to constitutional stability than Nixon ever got to be.  Indeed, there are some who would argue that we currently live under a military coup, given that even our privacy has been militarized (and/or corporatized).

Consequently, it is no small deal that the Obama administration is trying to force James Risen, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist for the New York Times, to divulge his sourcefor the revelation that the CIA attempted to sabotage an Iranian nuclear facility by planting false blueprints through a double agent, which is an act of war and a crime.  But Risen and his source have been under surveillance for a considerable period of time, and, given the comprehensive nature of the national surveillance dragnet, they almost certainly already know who Risen’s source is and could proceed with prosecuting him without the reporter’s testimony. But Risen has a family, and together they have a life, and Obama is hope a-dopin’ that Risen will cave in under the weight of what he’ll lose and will acknowledge who his source was. And so he waits, now that the Supreme Court has refused to hear his case, to see whether Obama’s Justice Department will have him jailed for contempt or, perhaps worse, fine him into penury.

That’s why Daniel Ellsberg has come out in defense of Risen. As was the case when he released the Pentagon Papers, this is yet another attempt to codify Executive secrecy in defiance of the Constitution.  As Ellsberg told the ACLU,

“The pursuit of Risen is a warning to potential sources that journalists cannot promise them confidentiality for disclosing Executive Branch criminality, recklessness, deception, unconstitutional policies or lying us into war. Without protecting confidentiality, investigative journalism required for accountability and democracy will wither and disappear.”

But Eric Holden, whose Justice Department would oversee Risen’s imprisonment on contempt charges has told confidantes that no reporter would be jailed “as long as he was attorney general,” which sounds almost heartening until you remember back to how many people resigned or were fired during Nixon’s long demise.

However, even if the Obama administration lets Risen off the hook, the message has already gotten out to potential leakers and whistleblowers that this president will destroy anyone who reveals the lies and strategies of the Executive and his MIC handlers. As New York Times investigative reporter Scott Shane – the journalist whose piece on illegal NSA wiretapping was pulled before the November 2004 election – told the Committee to Protect Journalists:

“I think we have a real problem. Most people are deterred by those leaks prosecutions. They’re scared to death. There’s a gray zone between classified and unclassified information, and most sources were in that gray zone. Sources are now afraid to enter that gray zone. It’s having a deterrent effect. If we consider aggressive press coverage of government activities being at the core of American democracy, this tips the balance heavily in favor of the government.”

So, again, it would be optimum for Risen to crack and sing; that would have a quick, decisive and probably irreversible chill on future investigative journalism, but the Obama administration, or the next one (these precedents get passed on) can still get the effect they require by scaring the bejeezuz out of leakers. Not only must the Obama administration be stopped, but there needs to be some Bastille-storming, followed by the roll of fat political heads down the red carpet, in order for this systematic en-Gaza-ment of the world to be reversed.

And there may be nations out there, maybe even ‘friendly’ ones, rubbing their collective hands in either schadenfreude or in their own Machiavellian anticipation of purges to come.  As goes American democracy, so goes the world – call it American Inclusionism.  Certainly Europeans are not immune.  The Czech Republic, to take a free-thinking European example, while enjoying a high rating for freedom of the press from Reporters Without Borders (currently ranked 13, just ahead of Germany), was also regarded according to a Gallup poll as having one of the most corrupt governments (94% of Czech respondents regarded their government as corrupt, second in the world behind only Tanzania).  Such corruption is all that’s required to turn-key a free press into one that is critically constrained.  And as the Gallup poll suggests, there’s plenty of corruption to go around: eventually capitalism doth make cowards of us all, it seems.

No doubt the so-called War on Terror will one day end.  All wars end eventually; even wars conducted against an abstract noun. In this case you might have more luck guessing than normal. Look for a cease-and-desist just as soon as Syria and Iran are seized, their gas and oil accounted for; Afghanistan has been made safe for the TAPpipeline, which energy execs hope will run through Iran to the Persian –er, Arabian –Gulf; the Russians and Chinese have been neo-liberated, with Putin piked, Snowden rendered, the Great Wall: keychains; and two secretly negotiated sovereignty-crushing treaties – the TTPT and the Trans-Atlantic trade deal – are installed, along with the dissolution of net neutrality. Then, suddenly, the Apollonian sun will rise and shine once more, the doves will chirp like vultures of leathery love, and Walmarts will hold a 3-day only sale of Google Glasses (don’t be seen without them).

There will always be nuts-and-bolts journalism about the time the doorknob broke.  It’s safe; no power is threatened.  Obama will be free to tell his updated jokes about drone strikes to the White House press corps, perhaps adding colourful descriptions of cluster munitions ballet, and they will laugh, as they always do, champagne in hand, all excited for a future as crazy as they all are.

Lots of people when they think of journalism have in mind the mum-and-pop variety —  car crashes and the latest gossip, local politics, sports, all the little details about “the time the doorknob broke,” to trot out an old Bob Dylan lyric. A step up from this layer of short and punchy news bits is that more ‘literate’ class of journalism traditionally associated with the New York Times and Washington Post, the so-called newspapers of record, which publish only the most polished, scrupulous pieces by the most ethical journalists. Or so the story goes.
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Imagine: You leave your house for work and the light sensor over your door records the time and snaps a picture. You hop into your car and before it will start a quick substance-abuse check is performed as you hold the steering wheel. Once you’re allowed to drive, your car’s “black box” records your speed and braking habits, and sends a graph to police analysts and your insurance company. Your car and Android pass on your GPS coordinates to some unknown Authority and to Google, who turns around and sells the information to target marketers. At a traffic light your licence plate is recorded, along with a thermal image showing how many passengers are in the car. In addition, an unseen drone overhead zooms in your face and reads its mood and ‘tone’ and matches it up against that day’s ‘known threat types’ in a disposition matrix. Still sitting at the light, you look left to see a teen in the next car wearing Google Glasses and recording your face; indeed, a few moments later, Instagram notifies you that your expression has been entered in a daily polling contest and already has 5 up-thumbs. Your car radio senses your rising anxiety and begins playing some easy listening tunes to calm you. Dread of work begins to envelop you—having to face the eye scanner to enter the building and the finger-print scanner to log on to your PC, and where you’ll be careful of how you answer emails, extra conscious of how you speak on phones, afraid to use the coffee machine, because it counts your cups and sends stats off to a work productivity study with unknown ramifications. And the coworker in the cubicle opposite you keeps flashing you a proud new prosthetic vagina that was extruded from a 3D printer at home. You decide to call in a sickie and turn the car around. Sensors and alarms go off. Your car questions your move. An app pops up on your Android and scans your features. You make it home, the light sensor recording your return, alone. You go into the kitchen and the fridge immediately calls out that ‘milk is low’ and your open laptop has a pop-up list of items needing replenishing that your fridge has passed on. You piss and the toilet tells you how many blue flushes are left. You take to bed and curl up in the foetal position, your blanket warming to an ‘optimal soothe’. Your bedroom lights read your distress and come on and a floating voice asks you over and over if you are okay, while simultaneously passing the moments on to your insurer, which immediately alerts a counsellor, whose voice in the room now says you need to spend more and sends you a scrip for Valium and a set of discount coupons that you hear arrive in your Inbox with a mystical ding

Once upon a time this vision qualified as dystopic and its message cautionary. But as Thomas P. Keenan makes clear in Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy, we have entered a new Kuhnian paradigm that doesn’t necessarily include a future for the human species—at least as we know it. As Keenan puts it, the digitalization of humanity is now as unstoppable as climate change. Its impact can be reduced with certain uncomfortable adjustments, but the lag in any collective action will make it utterly reactionary and useless.

Keenan lays out the evidence calmly, methodically and without polemics: he lets the evidence speak for itself. This is not to say the book is devoid of humour—far from it! But his wit, like his politics, takes a back seat to the civil and civic-minded purpose of his endeavor. In 15 separate but related areas of human activity, Keenan provides examples of the way technology is bleeding over into the very essence of human life. He makes a convincing case that humans’ capitulation to the Machine has been, like the switch of data transmission from analog to digital, welcome, blind and unstoppable. And we have been hurtling along ever faster since.

Thomas Keenan is himself a lifelong technologist, with roots in the birth of modern computing in the 1950s, so his understanding of the current landscape carries the weight of developmental insights. He expresses his thesis more as a set of observations than as a theoretical proposition. He begins by stating his purpose:

So much is happening that is out of our view and beyond our control. Like a network of mushroom spores sending out subterranean tendrils to silently exchange genetic material, our technological systems are increasingly passing information back and forth without bothering to tell us.

Far from warning the reader about the imminent doom, a la Orson Welles’ infamous Martian Invasion radio broadcast, Keenan assumes an intelligent readership and presents his case in a provocative but personal manner. “This book,” he writes, “is about the unseen ways in which technology is already changing our lives.”

Then we come to technology and what is ‘creepy’ about it. The term ‘creepy’ is popularly associated with dark sexual auras that play on one’s fears, but Keenan has a more nuanced take, likening it to what Freud describes as “The “Uncanny.” In his essay by the same name, Freud describes “a quality of feeling” and “that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar,” a world of ‘doubles’ shadows and the occult, or what Julia Kristeva calls the magical realm of the ‘semiotic’ that precedes object-relations and the ‘symbolic’; the realm of the infantile. The ‘creepy’ seems to activate the ‘uncanny’ presence of that archaic realm of doubles, of objects brought to life by the mechanisms of desire.

Thomas P. Keenan

Thomas P. Keenan

What follows in Keenan’s book is a grand parade of creepiness: Intelligence Creep, in which ‘the line between machine and human thinking is blurring’ and we are confronted with the unsettling experience of an object exhibiting realistic human behaviour; Camera Creep—whether thermal imaging that can ‘see’ through buildings and surveillance systems to thwart terrorism is being co-opted by commercial interests; Image Creep, whereby ‘your face is becoming a key that unlocks a vast amount of personal information about you’; Sensor Creep, with its Internet of Things that conspire to anticipate (your) needs and desires; Tracking Creep, with its ubiquitous RFID chips and real time bidding by corporates for ‘access to your eyeballs’; Sensation Creep, with its Pavlovian popcorn piped in to make you desire; Bio Creep, with its DNA profiling and databasing; Body Creep, with its fingerprint scanners and promise of coming-soon ‘software-based humans’; Time Creep, such as the time-lining of one’s everyday existence so that every moment is accounted for; Government Creep, not only with mass surveillance but with the manipulation of collected data for political purposes; Deception Creep, wherein language is drained of meaning and ‘you never really know who or what to believe anymore’; Physible Creep, as with 3D printers which imply that ‘now, within reason, anything can be anything else; Child Creep, where overexposure to the Internet is destroying the privacy of childhood; Pet Creep, where cosmetic testicles help repair the damage done a pet’s spayed ego; and, Robot Creep, whether allowing kids to hack the nervous systems of ants or robotic sex workers replacing human prostitutes.

What is most cause for concern in the area of Intelligence Creep, where quantum and neural network technologies abound, is that despite still requiring human sequential input the “apparent paradox is that many computer programs have already surpassed the comprehension of any one human mind.” It should be clear that such paradoxes represent a real danger, once you get past the euphoria of Geek bliss and narcissism. For such programs are capable of locking us out of key systems we put them in charge of overseeing.

With Image Creep it is as if the predatory male gaze, which has offended and objectified people for millennia, has suddenly run amok—as if, in Freudian terms, the ego had been universally subsumed by the super-ego, leaving no middle ground between the id’s chaos and the super-ego’s authority. It begins with Google Glass, says Keenan, with everyone recording everyone else and all of it stored, tracked and analyzed by forces inimical to freedom and privacy. So advanced is facial recognition software that, when combined with a technology like Google Glass, one can expect “that you will soon be able to point smartphones at someone and learn quite a bit about them in real time.” This likelihood has already spawned a counter-industry in ‘facial weaponization’. One company, Realtime Glamofage, “helps people create masks with weirdly-morphed versions of their actual face, hoping to bedevil the recognition software.” Do we want to live in a world where every day is Halloween and our identities are the treat to be fought over by corporate predators hungry for a taste of your face?

Perhaps the most disturbing Creeps, however, are in Keenan’s Bio and Body categories, where final physical and psychical barriers are breached, and the synthesis of operator stimulant on operant flesh is most fully realized. The celebratory hoo-ha that resulted from the astonishing work of the Genome Project, with its definitive and triumphant production of DNA sequencing knowledge, is also the stuff of totalitarian wet dreams, a yearning eugenicist’s Siegfried moment. This DNA capture begins at birth in a hospital, when samples of blood are drawn from the newborn, put on filter paper and stored. Keenan puts it in all its inglorious perspective: “In fact, newborn screening may actually be the Holy Grail that many governments have been lusting for – a national database of all its citizens.” The NSA revelations of Edward Snowden may be the proverbial tip of a melting iceberg.

Another study under way by technologists delves into the nature of human memories and how they can be manipulated by external stimuli. Keenan cites Steve Ramirez, a researcher from the RIKEN-MIT Centre for Neural Circuit Genetics, who says, “Our data demonstrate that it is possible to generate an internally represented and behaviourally expressed fear memory via artificial means.” That is, it’s possible to make a sensible, rational person suddenly terrified of the Bogey Man. The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is actively working on truly invasive “narrative network” technologies that can essentially hijack a brain, the way remote assistance controllers can now take over the functions of a pre-wired automobile, planting false memories and performing other tricks of the mind.

In perhaps the single most warped example of coming creepiness, Keenan cites contemporary French philosopher Rebecca Roche, who sees a time when, say, a prisoner’s mind can be uploaded to a computer and their mental cycle manipulated. By such means, she notes with only a touch of French jocularity, one could take the mind of a killer sentenced to 1,000 years and provide the equivalent experience of imprisonment in something like eight hours. As Roche puts it, “the eight-and-a-half hour 1,000-year sentence could be followed by a few hours (or, from the point of view of the criminal, several hundred years) of treatment and rehabilitation.” Keenan adds, rather less dryly, “So that vicious serial killer or hardened terrorist could be home in time for supper.” And he doesn’t say it, but presumably a way will be found to reconstitute the victim’s body, their memories downloaded from the cloud.

This, of course, leads to other philosophical considerations. If such memory manipulation, along with the synthetic reconstitution of the body (or a trade-in for a better model), is probable in the middle future, then it raises questions of immortality, and a kind of time travel. But if time travel happens in the future, wouldn’t it already be happening now, our descendants revisiting old stomping grounds, and, if so, what then constitutes the real?

Given the enormous stakes of all this technocreeping, one might expect considerable popular resistance to the current war on privacy. For, whatever else it may be, the War on Terror, with its unleashed global surveillance apparatus, most certainly is, in effect, a war on subjectivity and the private, whereby the government watches all and feeds their corporate sponsors, who turn around and manipulate the desires of the universal gaze. “Aside from the occasional blinking light,” Keenan says of the surveillance apparatus, “they tell us nothing. We tell them everything.” And yet, aside from the usual roundup of leftwing complainers, there seems to be a resounding celebration of the Internet of Things, with its ubiquitous sensors and data recordings, designed to tell us what we need; we don’t seem to mind apps that allow a nosy neighbour to point an iPhone at someone’s home and see what the occupants are doing; most will blithely accept being sprayed with GPS nano chips the way they now shrug at being sprayed with insecticide by flight attendants as they enter highly-restrictive countries, such as Australia. A lot of the acceptance has to do with how the invasiveness is packaged, of course. As Keenan points out, a sensor that casually allows you to monitor your neighbor “would have been greeted much differently if they had called it the ‘Anne Frank Finder.’” Perhaps, but then again, this is the age of irony.

Keenan, a deeply experienced technologist who has worked for both government and private interests, reckons that the deterioration of resistance to digitalization and the consequent dehumanization of personhood, which is summed up in the actions of the computer conquistadors, have been steady and irresistible since the 1950s. Keenan is not the only observer of this trend, of course. French sociologist and theologian Jacques Ellul’s seminal work, The Technological Society(1954), described how the tools and techniques of technology have gone from being an important means to an end (i.e., the betterment of the human condition through the gradual development of civilization) to becoming an end in themselves, and in the process the dialectical activity which has defined humanity and given it breadth and reason has been subsumed into technological activity, from which there is no escape. The system is the solution, Marshall McLuhan once said (a meme Bell Telephone was quick to co-opt and use in its ads of the mid-70s), and the system no longer requires politics, or the staggering inefficiencies of democratic choice.

Perhaps the weakest part of Keenan’s Technocreep comes when he sets up some cursory counterarguments to his thesis. He ventriloquises the optimist dummy who notes only, in so many words, ‘but technology will save and enhance humanity—by curing cancer, replacing body parts, lengthening our lives, keeping us safe and entertained!’ Perhaps Keenan felt that any reader who had gone through his book and reached this late stage of his study and still maintained a blind optimism was probably too delusional to worry with further reasoning. Likewise, he poses the commonly heard pop tart’s lisp, ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.’ And rather than get into a debate about tossing the Bill of Rights, with its guarantees of privacy, to the wind, he merely reminds his lispeners that today’s model citizens could easily be tomorrow’s national security threats.

Keenan closes his book by offering up a chapter meant to lift the spirits, presumably, with a series of steps that techno-citizens can take to reduce their vulnerability to the System: various ways to ward off trackers, digital predators, government snoops, neighbourly eavesdropping, and the whole carnivalesque rompin’ stompin’ of the machine matrix of processed desire. Some of his advice includes living your digital life in a sandbox, using encryption to store data and communicate, and living with multiple identities. But such precautions, such necessary fortressing and deceiving, serve to accentuate the notion that real war is not on terror, but on what ‘terrifies’ the System: the unpredictable spanner-in-the-works known as individuality. Keenan’s remedies hardly inspire confidence. After all, these solutions suggest a fait accompli whereby democracy is finished and future survival depends on how one adjusts to the Machine’s requirements. Perhaps it is as philosopher Donald Verene posits in his essay, “Technological Desire,” (Verene, 1984):

Things in history, like human lives themselves, come to ends. The question is not the reform of technological society; it is the question whether human meaning is possible in its world… The technological society reduces the human spirit to desire, just as an individual life can be reduced to one of its dimensions.

Though one might be inclined to draw a similar conclusion after reading Keenan’s work, the book is clearly written with activists in mind. Indeed, it concludes with an exhaustive reference section that allows the reader to re-trace the author’s steps and access primary materials to study. In that sense, at least, it ends on an upbeat note.

I have sometimes wondered how some Johnny Journo, transported back into biblical times, might have reported on, say, the Massacre of the Innocents, or one of the many other atrocities which spice up the prolific stir-fried testaments to depravity that was the human condition prior to the arrival of the Enlightenment and the saving grace of Reason. Of course, most biblical historians now suggest that many of these kinds of atrocities were apocryphal or metaphorical, and somehow designed to push a meme or conceit about ancient justice. It probably never happened, scholars say; they weren’t those kinds of people.

And then you flash way forward to the 20th century, way past the Enlightenment and all its lessons and admonishments, and read that, according to a Cornell University study, some 231 million people were “killed or allowed to die by human decision”[1] in the century. And that such a new testament to the dark side of the old human condition seemingly reached its abysmal bottom with Stalin’s purges (estimated to have led to 20-60 million deaths)  and the Holocaust, which resulted in the genocidal extermination of some 6 million Jews. Summing up this moral cataclysm, Robert Jackson, U.S. chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials opened with,

“The crimes which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that a civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.”

The obvious lesson that comes out of this is that we must guard against wilful ignorance, that we must educate ourselves and be active citizens, and avoid becoming Good Germans or Good Sheeple who look the other way as the banality of evil deeds have their corrosive way with our moral consciences. Never again should one people be allowed to obliterate another with impunity – because, implied Jackson, civilisation will just crack up if we let this shit go.

Thus, when we pull Johnny Journo back through the time tunnel, back into the now, him dragging back tales of fanatical religious zealotry leading to horrific unilateral interpretations of justice, we needn’t insist that he look upon the current doings in the middle east “objectively.”  After all, even ideally, only four of the five Ws of basic journalism – Who, What, When and Where – can be addressed objectively, and usually in a lede of some 25 words or so. The fifth W – Why? – has frequently proven to be a devil’s detail work of word-framing. The best the beat journalist can ever do is present a sense of balance to the reader. There are at least two sides to every story.

But the reporting that takes place under normal conditions is significantly different than the reporting that takes place in the face of atrocities. The blown up or dismembered limbs and body parts of women, children and non-combatants require not so much dispassionate observance, if such were possible in the instance, but documenting and keen witnessing, the sounding of the alarm that, as prosecutor Jackson suggested at Nuremberg, civilisation is under threat.

We all know an atrocity when we see one, even if our collective responses to them have been dimmed by years of exposure to the conscience-defiling phantasmagoria of cinematic excess, bodies blown apart, specially effected and disintegrated in more imaginative ways than creation can keep up.  And then uploaded to YouTube. Vile snuffs, rapes, beheadings gone gleefully, secret-sinfully viral. We live in a world of textual irony shotgun-married to visceral imagery, of endless subtle smirks delivered in the serial gyrations of market-driven, in-your-face twerks. But long after the sarcastic are exiled to Sardonia, where each man wanders Lear-like, an island entirely unto himself, cast away by the inevitable irrelevance that time brings to all the things that occupy space for the length of a human memory.

But how do we report on such atrocities?  If we could send Johnny Journo back to the Auschwitz-Birkhenau on the day of its liberation, to report on the stenches and smoke, the trenches and piled-up drained-to-the-bone bodies, the barbed wire and abattoir-like facilities, would we expect objectivity and balanced reporting from Johnny in that situation? Could we reasonably demand that he detach his subjectivity from the naked horror before him, interview first a zombie-like survivor, followed by asking a captured prison guard, “Jeez, Sergeant Schultz, just what were you guys thinking?” And, of course, no matter how moving what Johnny wrote was, it could not compete with the beckoning, come-and-see moving images of that bulldozer pushing those emaciated bodies into a mass grave, bodies so denuded of humanity that you could not even tell that this batch was once the string section of the Warsaw symphony. The image of these piled up bodies have become a searing universal symbol of barbarity, but also a trademark of the Jewish diaspora, an image always accompanied by the righteous slogan: Never Again. And if the 20th century could have minted a coin to bequeath to the 21st it might have had a depiction of the Golden Rule on one side and the bulldozer pushing bodies on the other.

While Gutenberg may have revolutionised the technology of language, bringing it from the chattering teeth and tongue palate of the oral tradition to the moveable type and ink plate of the press, one could argue that it was the evolution of the camera obscura, from its still box of shadow-lit light to today’s restless high def digital pixilations, that has made us understand our collective reality a different way. Nevertheless, in the continuing battle ‘for hearts and minds’ that is the coliseum of the politicians and Google ad-sensors, even the most graphic and disturbing images require the contextualization of reportage.

When it comes to the atrocities of war, which include the “human decisions” that lead to unnecessary deaths (the so-called collateral incidentals), the best example of the melding of context and image into one package of psychological influence is the reportage of the My Lai massacre by young investigative journo Seymour Hersh back in 1969. I was just a teenager back then, and, like most people, did not actually read the Hersh pieces, but had his findings summarised by a newsreader while an iconic still image of naked terrified children running down a dirt road lined with bodies machine-gunned by US military forces screamed out from the TV set: atrocity.  Even as a youngster, the report was deeply disturbing, the way it would be if you were suddenly informed that your favourite uncle had just been arrested for chopping up his entire family.

The response went deeper amongst the policy-makers, academics and student activists who had actually read Hersh’s St. Louis Dispatch account of Lt. Calley and the events leading up to the March 1968 massacre.  And while Hersh’s reportage did not by itself effect immediate changes or prevent further American atrocities (the Nixon-Kissinger secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos were still yet to come), it certainly stirred up and catalysed the anti-war movement, which eventually led to bad plumbing and Nixon being shit out of office in shame in 1973.

But the American military learned from the journalistic coverage of the Viet Nam war, the so-called ‘first TV war’, and adjusted, and have controlled, as best they can, the imagery and contextualization of all the many big and small conflicts and engagements they have been involved with since. And after the three towers came down in Manhattan in near-freefall speed on September 11, the War on Terror has been prosecuted with a virtual gag order on the MSM.  The invasion of Afghanistan; the blatant, criminal lies that led to Iraq’s evisceration; the regional chaos created in Libya, Syria and Yemen, with plans still progressing for taking out Iran; the crisis fomented in the Ukraine seemingly to pay back Putin for his interference with Obama’s careful planning to explode Syria on the pre-text of chemical weaponry; the Asian pivot that is already an undeclared war on China – all of this gets short shrift by the MSM, while American Exceptionalism is ballooned in a con-flatulence of false patriotism and criminal neo-liberal predation, a gifted whoopy cushion to a world and civilisation all too happy to have a sideline seat to the carnivalesque festivities.

Indeed, under the cover of fighting a War on Terror, America has taken the lead in doing its best to eliminate all efforts to reveal the many atrocities it has committed in the last decade.  When Private Bradley Manning went public, through Wikileaks, with the secret cables, but especially with the release of the video depicting an Apache gunship atrocity in Iraq, in which children and a Reuters reporter were murdered, he had to be crushed (along with Julian Assange). When Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye demonstrated with his reporting that US forces were responsible for a cruise missile attack that horribly wiped out 14 women (5 of them pregnant) and 21 children with a cluster bomb, Obama personally arranged for his imprisonment.  When Anwar al-Awlaki ’s family went before the Justice Department and begged them to bring their son to justice through long-established rules of law, they droned to death the American citizen son anyway, and, for good measure, droned to death Awlaki’s son, who’d been accused of nothing, a few weeks later, thus setting a precedent for assassinating citizens  per order of the Executive alone.  And more recently the military-backed government of Egypt has sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to prison for their reporting, a decision that drew puffy ire from US secretary of state John Kerry (though no ultimatums), puffs of smoke that mean little given the American role in installing Egypt’s latest repressive regime.

Indeed, times have never been so precarious for investigative reporters or adversarial journalists.  Not if the stats are any indication.  According to Reporters Without Borders, 40 journalists have been killed while reporting so far this year.  Another 179 have been imprisoned.  Almost all of them have come in  regions where atrocities are taking place – not just in the middle east, but also in Brazil, Ukraine, and many other places. And where reporters are not being killed outright, in many places, including such bulwarks of democratic liberalism as Australia, are passing new laws designed to suppress dissent and revelation.

So that when we come to how Johnny Journo should cover the atrocities resulting from the recent Gaza invasion by IDF forces, we may need to update our expectations to reflect the reality of what civilisation is up against.  If the US, with its pushy Pax Americana, were still pushing its Cold War memes about the importance of installing the institutions of democracy worldwide, including most notably an adversarial journalism that challenged from within regimes the US was disenchanted with, then it would be almost unthinkable that Israel could have gotten away without anything so much as an official rebuke after shooting up the offices of al Jazeera in Gaza and blowing up two al Aksa TV reporters in Gaza recently, who, as “propagandists,” Israel simply regarded as enemy combatants. The American Exceptionalism that once at least pretended to lead the way for moral good, most certainly now leads the way for the atrocious and reprehensible. Everywhere thugs are taking note.

We all know what atrocities look like, and what the world has seen taking place in Gaza over the last few weeks is atrocity, war crimes by any measure. Hundreds of already barely surviving women, children and other civilians were murdered willy nilly by drone missiles and the bombs of supersonic jets supplied by US taxpayers.  The US Senate weighed in on who they support in the one-sided slaughter  by voting 100-0 in support of Israel’s over-the-top response.  The Western mass media has been once again meek and compliant, just as they were back in 2008/9 when the previous set of Israeli atrocities on this scale took place.  While there has certainly been popular outrage expressed over the latest merciless barbarity, the MSM has mostly gone along with the same old Israeli shtick of ‘provocation will be met with annihilating force’. Oh well, Atlas shrugged.

But this time the cynicism and suppression of dissent has taken on new dimensions.  While Overland literary journal online published without incident “Watching the bombs,” a narrative which described how Israel residents of the hilltop enclave of Sderot set up chairs and munched down snacks as they watched their military rip the bejeezuz out of their occupied territorians, a narrative accompanied by a provocative image depicting a theatre crowd wearing 3D glasses, hysteria knew no bounds just a couple of days ago when a Sydney Morning Herald column on the Gaza mayhem by Mike Carlton was accompanied by a cartoon depicting the scene of carnage with an image of an old man with a long nose, wearing a skullcap and sitting in a seat adorned with the Star of David.  While one could certainly understand how the use of religious symbolism could be construed as somewhat insensitive, the fact of the matter is that the inspiration for the cartoon was a photograph of Israelis on the Sderot hillside overlooking the bombing fun, some wearing skullcaps and flaunting the Israeli flag. Anti-Semitism, screamed the Israeli lobby, and forced the newspaper to apologia and retract the cartoon. The response from the Australian government was telling.  Senator George Brandis, coincidentally overseeing legislation that will considerably clamp down on whistle-blowing journalism, said of the cartoon that it’s “the kind we haven’t seen since Germany in the 1930s”. And just like that, the scathing, revelatory column on Israel’s atrocities in Gaza, which could have been just as easily penned by the enlightened Jewish Robert Manne, as the gentile Carlton, was buried beneath the controversy over the cartoon.

And this, too, is American-inspired.  Indeed, not long ago, when Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart expressed, for the first time, sympathy for Gaza residents undergoing the bombardment, he was lambasted by rabid defenders of Israeli policy.  But it’s not just comedians who are subject to scurrilous attacks after daring to criticise Israeli hubris and war criminality, Jimmy Carter, who some would argue was the last actual Democratic president, Clinton and Obama being stooges for the neo-liberals, found himself attacked by his interviewer when he told it like it was about the roadblock to peace in Palestine which has been deliberately constructed by radical Zionist expansionists with a view to eventually evicting or destroying every last tenant’s hold on the land, a kind of terror nullius . As investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill noted in a recent Huffington Post live interview, “”Israeli propagandists are largely given carte blanche to say what they want on American television with very little push-back.”

One might get the impression that Israel citizens are as united behind their government’s actions as the US Senate has proven to be, but that would be wrong. There have been multiple demonstrations within Israel of people fed up with the war in general and with the occupation in particular. There is vigorous debate within the media and plenty of outrage voiced for the atrocities that have taken place. But these views and this debate are largely suppressed by, one imagines, the manipulation of search engine and ranking algorithms.

Whether adversarial and investigative journalism can even survive 2014, given the enormous pressure it is under from the US government, is anyone’s guess. Consider that New York Timesinvestigative journalist James Risen who may go to jail for contempt rather than reveal the identity of a whistleblower who provided Risen with classified information about a CIA plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. Formerly prominent whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers back in 1971, which initiated Nixon’s long, drawn-out demise, said recently,

“The pursuit of Risen is a warning to potential sources that journalists cannot promise them confidentiality for disclosing Executive Branch criminality, recklessness, deception, unconstitutional policies or lying us into war. Without protecting confidentiality, investigative journalism required for accountability and democracy will wither and disappear.”

And that would be the final atrocity for Democracy, with no one left to witness the bulldozing of our emaciated truths about unbridled power into a shallow grave.

[1] Milton Leitenberg, “Deaths in Wars and Conflicts in the 20th Century,” Cornell University Peace Studies Program, Occasional Paper #29, 3rd Ed., August 2003.

I have sometimes wondered how some Johnny Journo, transported back into biblical times, might have reported on, say, the Massacre of the Innocents, or one of the many other atrocities which spice up the prolific stir-fried testaments to depravity that was the human condition prior to the arrival of the Enlightenment and the saving grace of Reason. Of course, most biblical historians now suggest that many of these kinds of atrocities were apocryphal or metaphorical, and somehow designed to push a meme or conceit about ancient justice. It probably never happened, scholars say; they weren’t those kinds of people.
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