Tea Leaves

by Richard Macintosh

December 1, 2003


"I am not proud in skill to guess at prophecies,
yet even I can see the evil in this thing.
From divination what good ever has come to men?
Art, and multiplication of words
drifting through tangled evil bring
terror to them that hear."

—Aeschylus, Oresteia (1)

But what of those who do not hear?

And what of those who see when others have deaf eyes?

What of those who see murder, while others glory in the killing?

The collision of thoughts has become more abrasive as the apologists for empire seek out those who disagree -- little heat-seeking missiles, mindless, yet deadly, looking for targets. It is a time of great danger for the thoughtful. Paradoxically, it is a great time of danger for the thoughtless, too, but they don't seem to know it.

Read the tea leaves!

Seek the answers in the questions asked. Read the words that tell intentions without intending to do so. Strange, isn't it? Strange how those asking are often telling more about themselves than those they seek to expose. It is a matter of classic transference. "Shrinks" and cops look for it. You know the old saw: "It takes a thief to catch a thief."

An example was contained in a brief exchange, on November 8, 2003, between Howard Zinn and a reporter for C-Span's "BookTV." I was channel surfing and suddenly there was Zinn, listening to a question that challenged his patriotism. The newswoman asked Zinn if he had pride in America. The question was pointed; the implication being that he did not. Zinn replied that he had pride in America, but not in American foreign policy, a point well made, but one that fell on deaf ears. Zinn went on to explain the America he had pride in, but the reporter wasn't really listening to his reply. Once she had registered her accusation, posed as a question, she had no more interest in him. But what of the shock her accusation caused? What of the rules of civility? What of the protocols of discourse that formerly smoothed debate in an open forum? Are they gone? Are the Brown Shirts on the move again? Are we moving toward our own Kristalnacht?

Perhaps a short analysis by Toni Solo is apropos. Ms. Solo recalls a statement by Simone Weil: "For people in the United States the lessons of Latin America should be very clear. French philosopher Simone Weil once wrote that people in Europe were shocked by the Nazis because the Nazis applied to Europe the methods European powers practiced in their colonies. Now it's the turn of the United States. The individuals currently running the White House are steadily putting into practice at home what they [the leadership of the United States] have done for three decades while facilitating terror in Latin America." (2)

But, the lessons of Latin America aren't clear for people in the United States. These lessons aren't even on their radar. We have a President who frames things as "We good! They bad!"

Solo's indictment is frightening, isn't it? Frightening, because it is so on the mark. Doubly frightening, because like in a bad dream no one in power heeds the warning. Are those who try to raise the alarm cursed as Cassandra was? No one aboard Agamemnon's ship listened to her prophecy and no head of state listens to the prophecy of the wise, now, as their ship, Planet Earth, travels to her doom.
"Across the pale stillness
of water keel-carven, these lovely eyes of desire
drag the ship to her doom."
—Simónides of Ceos (3)
The clues to what the future holds are there to read. They are like the leaves at the bottom of a properly brewed cup of tea. (4) For the most part, people ignore them. Ignore them at their own peril, that is. As this is being written, the Patriot Act II is slowly working its way through Congress. (5) CONGRESS? The people who are supposed to be defending us and protecting our rights?

Yes. They are the ones responsible for our own version of the Nazi "Enabling Act," although they seem blind to the historical similarity. (6) One wonders if Congress is also blind to the ramifications of destroying a chain of rights that lead forward from 1215 AD and the famous document known as Magna Carta. But those who casually toss off current international law and treaties aren't going to worry about old laws, or previous agreements. (7)

Few within the power circle seem to care that there is a struggle over retaining the right of habeas corpus. Is it possible to arrest and detain an American citizen indefinitely, without charging him, or her, with a crime? Can the Federal government deny that person access to legal counsel? Is all of this possible merely on the say-so of the President, or the Attorney General? Has our legal system become a matter of ipse dixit? (8)

Yes, on all counts, at least so far.

Is the Gestapo man just around the corner? Is there a "Kridwiss Group" (9) in your neighborhood? Is "TIPS" alive and well with its labyrinth of snoops and snitches? What do you think? Or, more to the point: what are you allowed to think -- and to say? For those of you who think this analysis is a bit extreme, I have a question: Are you more careful than usual in what you say at work, or at social gatherings? I'll bet you are (so help me, Ari Fleischer).

Read the tea leaves.

Combine that with a dearth of accurate information. Reliable information is increasingly hard to come by, especially if it doesn't flatter our political elite. At point: On the day President George W. Bush made a speech to "selected" persons in London, there were large protests against his visit in and about the UK. What was on the front page of my local paper? A story about Michael Jackson, an entertainer, being accused of sexually molesting a twelve-year old boy. Where was the story about our President? On page eight. PAGE EIGHT! (10) Get it?

Read the tea leaves.

Not only are Americans being misinformed, they are purposefully being left in a state of ignorance. A political straight jacket is being prepared for them and all the while they are focused on sports, faux sports, sex scandals/crimes, or what is currently on sale at the local strip mall. General Tommy Franks, now retired, recently stated that if the US were hit with WMD, the Constitution would most likely be scrapped in favor of a military dictatorship. Was he just giving a personal opinion, or was this a trial balloon? (11) If it is the latter, Franks and his ilk will sit and watch the populace to see who noticed and how many care.

One of the many criticisms of George W. Bush is that he is poorly informed. He recently admitted that he doesn't take time to read, or watch TV news, but relies solely on his advisors for information. (Louis XVI of France comes to mind.) Such a statement would shock some, but many Americans don't care, because they are poorly informed, too. So, here we have the ship of state hurtling down the freeway with a marginally informed captain. It is truly a case of the blind leading the blind.

Read the tea leaves, if you care.

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References and Resources

1.  Aeschylus, Oresteia, "Agamemnon," voice of the chorus referencing the prophecy of Cassandra, lines 1130 - 1135. Richard Lattimore Translation, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1953, p. 70.  (back)

2.  Solo, Toni. "Plan Condor, the Sequel," Guerilla News, Oct. 30, 2003. Toni Solo is an activist based in Central America.  (back)

3.  Simónides of Ceos, ca. 556 to 468, BC. Elegy 7. Translated by Richard Lattimore, Greek Lyrics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1960, p. 56.  (back)

4.  Properly brewed tea does not have a bag in it.  (back)

5.  Lobe, Jim. "Patriot Act II Headed Our Way," Lew Rockwell.com, November 22, 2003.  (back)

6.  The Enabling Act (March 23, 1933) was rammed through the Reichstag by the Nazis following the infamous Reichstag fire (February 24, 1933). The fire was blamed on the Communists, but was actually started by the Nazis, to enflame (pun intended) the German populace. The Enabling Act granted the Gestapo extra-legal authority to ferret out "subversive elements," thus facilitating a totalitarian dictatorship. The current American "Patriot Act" and its sequel, "Patriot Act II," are close to the Enabling Act. Of course, the FBI isn't like the Gestapo. . . uh. . . Right?  (back)

7.  Bush advisor, Richard Perle, recently admitted that the US attack on Iraq was illegal under international law, but he claimed that the Bush administration did the right thing, because international law was insufficient to meet current conditions. In other words, the powerful can make up the law as they go along. See: "War critics astonished as US hawk admits invasion was illegal." Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian (UK), November 20, 2003.  (back)

8.  "Ipse dixit." Latin for "he himself said it," in other words, "it's true because I say so."  (back)

9.  Mann, Thomas. Doctor Faustus, Vintage Books, New York, 1948. Sixtus Kridwiss was a character who organized a neighborhood discussion group, which although seemingly benign, rejected the imposed democracy of the Weimar Republic and hence, justified Nazi policies by default. See pages 365-367. Such groups were rife during the early Nazi era in Germany.  (back)

10.  The Bellingham Herald, Bellingham, Wash., November 20, 2003.  (back)

11.  Ridgeway, James. "Rummy's Kids," The Village Voice, November 21, 2003.  (back)

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Richard Macintosh on Swans (with bio).

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Published December 1, 2003
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