Letters to the Editor

(January 31, 2005)


John Steppling's Review of Swans' January 17 Edition

To the Editor:
"..real theme of the novel [Naked Lunch] is desecration of the human image by the control addicts who are putting out the...addicting virus."
—William Burroughs, in a 1957 letter to Alan Ginsberg
I have to start with a follow-up note on the Petras/Chomsky, et al. letter to Hugo Chávez (see last week's review and the editor's blips. We now learn Colombia in fact kidnapped Granda (of FARC), and not Venezuela. I await an apology from the two professors... (Actually, I wrote Noam Chomsky who, not surprisingly, finds nothing to apologize for...so you decide -- go read the letter, and remember the kidnapping is now confirmed as being carried out by Colombian paramilitaries). The very trustworthy Bill Blum wrote me (after I asked him about his name appearing on this letter) and said he'd never signed it. I await more clarification...

OK, on to Joe Davison's very fine piece. Davison points to the OBVIOUS -- the hypocrisy of the tsunami relief efforts. I say obvious because any sentient being with an intelligence level that allows him or her to tie their shoes should recognize the crass, craven, vulgar pretense of this spectacle --- afforded courtesy of the mainstream media (and Condi Rice, ever so sensitively, called the disaster a "a wonderful opportunity" to demonstrate US generosity). Shots of the two doltish English princes boxing relief supplies (guess Harry left his Afrika Corp. costume and Nazi armband behind) is bad enough, but when one really sits back and starts the numbers game (which Davison does quite well and clearly) then one begins to experience that awful sickening feeling one often gets when contemplating the magnitude of the crimes of Empire. The tsunami is not free from the history of colonialism as well, let's not forget. The destruction of traditional learning and community (we all now have read of the Andeman islanders who fled to safety because they saw the wildlife behaving strangely) and the contempt rich countries have shown for the Third World -- the ravages of external debt and destruction of infrastructure -- all contributed to conditions intensifying this natural disaster. Here, from the Editorial Board of the WSWS:
In the countries affected by the tsunami, only a narrow social stratum -- those assisting in the exploitation of the local populations by the major transnational corporations -- has benefited from the increase in foreign investment. As far as the majority is concerned, the various economic restructuring, privatisation and structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and IMF on behalf of global capital have only led to a deterioration in living standards.

Economic exploitation goes hand in hand with political repression. Throughout Asia, the national bourgeoisie has only been able to sustain these relations and maintain itself in power through military dictatorships or by dividing the populations through communalism and civil war.
Yet, if one starts to count up the dead in just Iraq (never mind Africa, the Balkans, Central America, etc.) one sees death in the millions, not thousands...direct and decidedly unnatural. Davison calls for resistance, and I agree. From US domestic occupation to the naked war crimes of Iraq -- one must support all who resist empire.

Bring it on...Bush's attempt at macho bravado (safe from shrapnel and DU) is the title of Gerard Donnelly Smith's piece this issue. Again, the tsunami disaster is touched upon, this time in the context of a Christian aid organization who wanted to adopt Muslim orphans and then, presumably, raise them to attend Bob Jones U, or at least Vanderbilt. Yes, it's an uglier and uglier America. I can't recall ever hearing such open expressions of racism and bigotry (and not just from the Don Imus crowd). Not ever. Smith doesn't really have an overall point -- but that's okay, these times tend to give one a feeling of vertigo, and keeping track of the crimes and lies is often all that can be expected. It's a solid piece, and an effecting one.

Charles Marowitz has a fascinating look at Vaclav Havel. Marowitz, an international director of no mean repute, here gives a lucid and personal take on the former Czech leader. It reminds me, I have to say, of Poland's Adam Michnik, the former Solidarity leader...now morphed into a neoliberal pro war elitist. Well, was he really ever any different? The Gdansk shipyards story is complex -- and my wife would do more justice to it than I can, but the obvious answer is no, he was always what we see now. The new "free" Poland already appears a bit tarnished and threadbare as prices rise and wages decline and unemployment increases. Walesa is laughed at here in Poland...a dim rabid reactionary Catholic...and Michnik is only admired by those who think making millions establishes virtue -- the rest see him as just another corrupt crony of the government. The rewritten history of the fall of communism has become pretty laughable, and the reductive portraits of folks like Havel and Walesa are part of it. My wife often reminds me to remember the lessons of the French Revolution in such discussions, and to do that one must make a class analysis. One class uses the other. In Poland today one finds an emerging and very small class of elite entrepreneurs who are riding the neo-liberal wave of globalization. They already own (along with foreign corporations) most of Poland, and want more. Unemployment is closing in on 30% (and in parts of what is now Slovakia, it's around 60%). In Poland the rural farmers are living in dire poverty, and cities like Czestohowa (a religious pilgrimage site, which provides, once a year, the only real income) the factories are abandoned and one can see former technicians and laborers rummaging in dumpsters to find food -- ah, the effects of "freedom"... As Malcolm X said, yeah, we're free now, free to starve! Havel, Michnik, Konard, have all aged poorly -- and the real lessons of the dysfunctionality of the hyper-industrialized communist state are obscured and often forgotten. Solidarity was always a pro-capitalist movement, an obvious reaction to a dying Communist state, and supported on many levels by the West. One sees now in Ukraine a version of this rewriting of history happening in real time. A doctor I know here in Krakow, an old man now but still practicing, wearily told me recently how he misses the old days. He said he never thought he would say that, but now he sees so much suffering among the poor, among those with no money to buy health services, that he thinks something really essential has been lost. He fears an ever less compassionate world. A young woman I know blathered on to me the other day about how Capitalism is simply better for people than Communism was. Of course this young woman is from a reasonably privileged background. For her, my comments about unemployment seemed only to cause her irritation. She is becoming very American in that respect; if it's not happening to me it doesn't matter, and if the poor can't find food, they must be stupid. She doesn't have to take a job at Géant or Carrefour as a check out girl -- making (in US money) around $1.20 an hour. Not to mention that you have to "train" for a month, during which time you make ZERO salary. Yeah, things are certainly better! However, back to Havel and Marowitz... I fear I take a far dimmer view of the Czech writer than does Mr. Marowitz. That said, it's a good snapshot of the undeniable paradoxes of this writer/politician. Let me add, finally, that I suspect Marowtiz well over-values the influence of Havel on a new generation of writers. In fact, one of the things that I find most depressing about central Europe these days is the absence of writers and artists altogether. In Poland the problem was that for so long the direction of artistic output was targeted at the "state," at the censorship and denial of outside influences. Today one sees little original questioning among artists, and mostly a strong tendency for commercial success coupled with a defensive Nationalism. Perhaps when unemployment hits 50% the young artists will find a topic that energizes them. Or, perhaps we will actually have young artists.

Milo Clark reviews a book by Don Lee that addresses and describes the various layers of racism one finds in almost all societies. The need for scapegoats is a fascinating topic (René Girard is required reading on this topic) and as I mentioned above, I can't recall ever hearing such naked racist rhetoric as I do today. It's good to have this unexpected perspective on the subject.

Finally, Gilles's blips. I think it's good to see torture brought up again, in such a clear light and in such detail. With Al Gonzales replacing crazy John Ashcroft, we have a much scarier scenario for the next four years in terms of police powers and the further erosion (or actually, hemorrhaging) of due process (which was helped along by Clinton, let's not forget). Gilles mentions the FOX News pundits -- insane people like Charles Krauthammer, and I could add to this list of torture defenders the ever weird Alan Dershowitz, and I find myself in a kind of vertigo. I mean, we have reached a place where torture is being defended. DEFENDED! The total propaganda of fear has reached almost maximum effectiveness. FEAR -- which means fear of those damn towel-headed heathen doon coons -- falafel eating killers who want to steal your children (no, wait, it's the Christians who want to steal children...sorry, forget I said that) and murder innocents. The FACT that it's the US forces that are doing the most killing, escapes all these people. Krauthammer is deranged...a clearly mentally ill man who should be in a padded cell and heavily tranquilized....but others are accepting these draconian policies, too...and it's all about ARABS. If white folk were being tortured (remember when captured US soldiers were on Iraqi TV? The Geneva conventions weren't so quaint then, were they?) the outcry would be colossal. A white man in a hood or on a leash...er....tether, might not be so trivial. When an American is having his throat cut by men with Kafiyyehs, then it's outrage time...but if a white man or woman is letting a dog snarl at a naked Arab, snapping at his exposed genitals, then, well, it's just "blowing off steam." No, this is about racism. Pure and simple, racism at its most grotesque. And then this:
IN ADDITION, Mr. Kristof celebrates the "freedom that we enjoy" (in comparison to China's ruthless dictatorship and autocratic Cuba), but he forgets to mention that the U.S. has the largest documented prison population in the world, according to the International Center for Prison Studies (King's College, London, UK). With 5% of the world's population, we account for 25% of its prison population. Perhaps, someone could direct Nicholas Kristof (or his assistant) to "America #1 -- Score Card 2004" so that they may further deepen their knowledge of actualities...
Yeah, Kristof, I mean how does this guy keep his job? Somebody help me with this. Kristof, who advocates use of DDT to "help" those tsunami victims, and who thinks we have to "stay the course" in Iraq -- never mind the course means more and more death, is increasingly clueless. Kristof is the poster boy for the power-book elite liberal class, and one wishes he would just disappear. I saw a follow-up column this week about the prostitute whose "freedom" he purchased last year. I mean, really, REALLY.

Ok, back to that letter...

Speaking of autocrats, which is how The New York Times likes to describe Hugo Chávez...lets look at what Cuba has done to help Venezuela......sent thousands of doctors to that developing country. Could or would the USA do that? I ask you. Chávez is helping the poor, helping people who have never NEVER been helped before. Folks like Petras and Chomsky might want to remember that. The tenured left, as Gilles wonderfully puts it, is becoming a bit like how Arundhati Roy describes NGOs, a kind of token opposition -- keeping the lid on things. See, we have freedom of speech; we are helping defend human rights and helping with relief efforts. It's not perfect, but gee, it's a start. Journalists from The Nation make sound bite appearances on FOX News...why? Are they paid? I am guessing they are. I remember Marcuse refusing to appear on NBC's Meet the Press because he said he would be co-opted no matter what he said. Are you listing Ms. Vanden Heuvel?

And in spite of the fact Frank Rich once gave me a really bad review, I agree he has been terrific of late. His column on media servitude was wonderful. Good work from ol' Frank!

I also heard where NPR called Bush's speech "magisterial." Imagine that...very reasoned of them I guess.

And Vice President Dick Cheney was interviewed by Don Imus -- now, let's remember Imus is the guy who recently (and in the past) expressed quite openly racist views about Arabs and Muslims (http://www.muslimnews.co.uk/news/news.php?article=8439). Still, no problem for Cheney -- nothing inappropriate in appearing on his show. Cheney did confess one mistake he made about Iraq....those darn Iraqis have been much slower than he expected in rebuilding their country. Yeah, it's the Iraqis fault. I'm sure Imus sat there nodding in agreement.

Alright, well, still too warm here, although we did have one night of snow. Boris got a hair cut -- and looks very police dog-like, suddenly...sort of an East German Stasi recruit style.

The Prague-ization of Krakow continues though, and the new stones in the town square are machine cut, and look a bit like Disneyland -- part of the "former Soviet-land" theme park attraction the city is becoming. Prague is now impossibly expensive, full of brothels and crappy T-shirt stands, and the average Czech never goes near the city center......hmm, what does Havel think of it, I wonder?

John Steppling
Krakow, Poland - January 24, 2005
[ed. Steppling is a LA playwright (Rockefeller fellow, NEA recipient, and PEN-West winner) and screenwriter (most recent was Animal Factory directed by Steve Buscemi). He is currently living in Poland where he teaches at the National Film School in Lodz. You can find more about his writing on his personal Swans' cove.]


Swans' Killers, oh my, oh my... Are they Iraqi birds?
To the Editor:

The Bush administration, with the help of an idiot Congressman in Maryland who needed the hunting vote to stay in office, signed a Bill hidden within the Appropriations Bill, that removes all protection on 113 species, including some swans, herons, robins, cardinals, storks, flamingos, etc.

It is already in the federal register and will be codified after a phony "call to public comment" period ending February 2. The last such "Call" on behalf of the swans was given six days for reply and received 3,500 don't kill votes and 30 kill votes. The man in charge, Throckmorton, said "we don't have to listen to the mob." That's me and I am assuming, you.

The VERY INTERESTING thing is that this story has not appeared anywhere, despite news releases being sent out and many, many e-mails and phone calls. Why do you think that is?

Keep up the good work.

Kathryn Burton
Old Lyme, Connecticut, USA - January 25, 2005


A Long Freudian Sig for a Short, Minimalist Message: John Steppling's America Has Left The Building...
To the Editor:

Nice to notice mention of Handke in the Phil Rockstroh & John Steppling chat

Michael Roloff
Visiting Scholar, German
U. of Washington
Member Seattle Pschoanalytic Institute
Seattle, Washington, USA - January 17, 2005


Yet another minimalist: Instructive Quotations
To the Editor:

That dossier on Israel is superb! Nice work.


Ken Freeland
Houston, Texas, USA - January 17, 2005


A message from Hateland in reference to Gerard Donnelly Smith's The Insurgent Word: Bring It On?
To the Editor:

Good job publishing our message that God hates fags. You should also publish the other Web pages we host, including www.godhatesamerica.com, www.godhatessweden.com, and the related Web page www.hatemongers.com. Don't be hiding all this good information. Your column would have been a lot better with more stuff from these Web pages and less stuff from your uninformed and unenlightened mind.

One more tip from your friendly neighborhood Tachmonites: You spell God with a capital G. Don't be such an irreverent boob. No one is impressed. Not even you.



Margie Phelps
Topeka, Kansas, USA - January 17, 2005

Gerard Donnelly responds (Jan. 31, 2005):

Thanks for your unimpressive rant. No I don't spell god with a capital anything, since it can be spelled either with a "G" or not, depending upon your perspective. Would a god-fearing Christian spell gods, meaning pagan gods, with a capital "G?" I think not since the capitalizations means reverence and belief by those using the big g.

Thanks for the attack suggesting I am unenlightened and uniformed, such ad hominem -- attacking the person rather than the messages, certainly supports your position that I am a boob. Last time I looked, I had not been transformed as was Philip Roth in his hilarious novel THE BREAST.

Lastly, why would my pointing out the idiotic message from the Christian wrong make me a boob? The message of the essay: those folks are idiots. Or did you miss the point?


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Published January 31, 2005
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