Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Defense of Call of Duty, Modern Warfare

It's not surprising to see a Russia Today article that draws a parallel with the deadly suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport and the fictional attack on the airport in C.O.D.M.W. I'm not aware if the Russian media is as hysterical and irrational as the American media (although I doubt that it could be as bad), but if this had happened in the U.S. terror and hysteria and calls for hearings and legislation to crack down on violent video games would be deafening. I would also not be writing this, because there is absolutely no reason to try to talk sense when the soccer moms go on one of their periodic rampages of fear and loathing, such as after the recent shooting of a Congresswoman in Arizona. Americans will always wave the bloody shirt if there is any remote chance of scoring political points against their opponents.

I don't know if Russian politics are more mature because of their exposure to the truly horrifying realities of the 20th century as opposed to most American's virtual and vicarious exposure, but that's the way it seems. (I'm also surprised and impressed that the Russian authorities are compensating the victims. In the U.S., victims are useful as props in the demonization of politically unpopular third parties, then ignored along with the actual perpetrators if the victims/perps don't fit neatly into the messianic narrative.) If there is no political angle, even the worst catastrophes are taken in stride. In America, shit doesn't "just happen". Someone must be blamed, and generally not the actual perps, but those evil and irrational haters who encouraged them.

The point, if I can allow myself to get to it, is that there is no connection between the "No Russian" mission in the video game, which is the player trying to embed himself within a group of Russian Nationalists employing a "false flag" attack on civilians that will be blamed on "muslim terrorists", and the real life suicide bombing of Domodedevo. (At least, I hope not). The player is not encouraged or required to shoot any civilians and in fact is trained in an earlier mission to avoid collateral killing and friendly fire. The reason the game is so popular is that it combines extremely realistic graphics and story lines with a pretty sophisticated geopolitical outlook and surprisingly clever plotting including double agents and rogue generals. I should probably mention that it's much more than I require in a video game, as I just like to shoot and blow shit up. Also, I can barely complete it on normal difficulty, so to be honest, I suck. The take-away is, War is Hell, and no player is motivated towards actual violence or killing civilians. But don't tell the soccer moms, the fear's the only thing that makes their lives interesting.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why this Redneck will Always Honor Dr. King

Delivered 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City
"And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us."

I was 17 when he gave this speech and almost completely oblivious to the civil rights struggle. Although I had lived in the deep south when my dad was in the Army it was as remote from my suburban world as was Africa, or indeed, Washington D.C. (We used to joke in Arlington that the Potomac was the widest river in the world...) and poverty was only something my parents recalled from the thirties. I'm sure Dr. King's concern for young white suburban jerks was almost as remote, but his reaching out beyond his world caught me up and showed me for the first time the distance between what I had been taught, in school and in church, and the reality of America in the world. Vietnam chewed up a lot of my cohort and would have taken many more without Dr. King. Talk about standing athwart history and yelling "Stop!"

I am more embarrassed than ashamed of the casual racism of my youth, because I know it was out of ignorance, and I do know the difference between that and real hatred that I would come to see later. I always detested sports, but one of my first  heros was Muhammed Ali, who put into words ("I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Congs") that even I could grasp, what Dr. King was saying so eloquently that was lost my younger self. Later I would learn about Paul Robeson's lonely struggle against the hidden side of the world I took for granted, and Malcolm X speaking reality to black men, but really to all men who want to be truly free. Everyone owes thanks to the brave men and women of the Civil Rights Movement. Like it or not, fellow crackers,  Black History IS American History.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Another Fine Mess You've Gotten Us Into, Oligarchs

Got a 401-k retirement account that's making little or even negative returns, and were burned once or twice when equities crashed, say in 2001 and 2006? The good news is you can cash out without the (I believe 10%) penalty if you are at least 59 1/2 years old. The bad news is they withhold about 1/3 up front, so if you think you have $45,000, you'll end up with about $30,000. You can probably do a little better in a IRA, but you still must pay when you cash out.

Those things were a sucker trap that paid off for the banks at least three times, and more if you got back into equities after the 2000 crash, and again in the coming one. The final desert will be "cramdown" to force all or part of private pensions into govt. bonds.

Paul Craig Roberts on Counterpunch

"The fallback target will be private pensions, assuming any survive plunder by the Wall Street investment banks. Pension funds could be required to invest in Treasury debt or they could face a levy. In the Clinton administration, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Alicia Munnell proposed confiscating 15 per cent of all pension assets on the grounds that they had accumulated tax free. Certainly Washington will steal Americans’ pensions, just as Washington has stolen Americans’ civil liberties, in order to continue the empire’s wars of hegemony."

four steps to getting blood from a stone -

1. lower interest rates to zero so savings pay less than inflation, creating minor inflation, so that
2. everyone gets into equities again, then "take profits", so that
3. everyone has to keep working after retirement because their pensions are gone, and then "cramdown" remaining pensions to finance government debt until only the rich have any cash, then
4. buy up all assets for pennies on the dollar after deflationary crash.

See, you CAN cheat an honest man, but you need to have help from the government.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Wikileaks Punch and Judy Show

Julian Assange's Deal With the Devil, by Israel Shamir on Counterpunch, January 5th, 2011 is the best defense I've seen against the (really weird) charge that Wikileaks is an Israeli cutout because there has been nothing released, so far, that reflects poorly on Israel. As further evidence of this, it's reported that Netanyahu has said that "Wikileaks revelations were good for Israel".  Shamir--

"Simple-minded conspiracy junkies immediately concluded that Wikileaks is an Israeli device, or, in the words of a particularly single-minded man: a “Zionist poison”.
The truth is less fantastic, but much more depressing. The Guardian and the New York TimesLe Monde and Spiegel are quite unable to publish a story unacceptable to Israel. They may pen a moderately embarrassing piece of fluff, or a slightly critical technical analysis in order to convince discerning readers of their objectivity. They may even let an opponent air his or her views every once in a blue moon. But they could never publish a story really damaging to Israel. This is true for all mainstream media.
Furthermore, no American ambassador would ever send a cable really unacceptable to Israel – unless he intended to retire the next month. Yet even supposing this kamikaze ambassador would send the cable, the newspapers would overlook it."

It really looks like Assange can't catch a break, between the Nazis who condemn him for exposing their dirty laundry and not being loyal to a country of which he isn't even a citizen, and the global elite that consider it necessary to hide the truth from the rabble, joined in by those who would seem to be his natural allies but are convinced, for various reasons, that he can't be taken at face value. In the end, I'm glad that this mass-produced confusion of point/counterpoint may induce a political paralysis where every viewpoint is observed and the truth is revealed in a series of false moves and arguments obviously made in bad faith.

One point made by Shamir is important; that there is a deliberate attempt to make it seem as though wikileaks itself is producing these damning releases rather than simply showing the routine evil of the Empire, as if Assange was exposing, for instance, Hillary's order to get DNA and credit info on foreign diplomats, rather than reporting the exposure by Hillary's own team. 

"The second mode of attack on Wikileaks is to use it as a source of misinformation. These US State Department cables are double-edged swords. They are full of rumors, trial balloons, and hopeful thinking. Worse, the newspaper headlines often declare that Wikileaks is the source of the rumor, and leave it to the discerning reader to discover that an embassy staffer was the real source of the story. Readers often do not understand that headlines are little more than come-ons, and reflect a very loose interpretation of the article content."

Until now, I've had trouble understanding why I'm not in my usual cynical mode of understanding the WL phenomena. Shamir is used to watching the black cats fighting in the dark. You can only tell who is losing by the loudest shrieks.  I haven't heard so much as a moan from Assange while the cries of the Orcs are deafening. I don't believe it's about left or right at all, but Counterpunch might make a believer of me after all. If only Fidel and Hugo were Austrians!