Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Salmagundi of Torture, Bad Prose, Suppressed Documents, and Public Psychoanalysis

In lieu of writing a few thousand heartfelt words on "How Tony Kornheiser's Lame, Interminable Shtick Epitomizes Everything That's Wrong with the Washington Post," the Slangwhanger-in-Chief would like to direct your attention to several variously useful, insightful, and witty pieces from the newspaper.

That newspaper would not be the Post, which is marginally useful (in a sausage-grinder's- special kind of way,) rarely insightful, and never, ever by any chance witty. Not even in "Style" or the sports pages. Wouldn't know what wit was, really. Can't seem to squeeze it in amongst all the breathless self-seriousness, laborious irony, and shameless sarcasm. No, the newspaper commended to you in this case would be the Guardian, a British institution for which, alas, there is no exact US parallel.

Item one comes from the Guardian's Backbencher column today, a weekly report on Parliament (not to be confused with the Parliamentary Sketch, nor with Prime Minister's Questions, nor yet with Yesterday in the House of Commons. In an institutional, dot-all-the-i's-and-cross-all-the-t's-of-legislation kind of way, they take its doings rather more seriously in the press over there than we take Congress over here.)

BAWL AND CHAINS -- The Backbencher is pleased to pass on an important message from the American forces in Cuba. "Media stories about the detention facility [at Gitmo] and the men held here routinely are accompanied by photographs or video footage shot at Camp X-Ray, a temporary facility hastily erected to deal with enemy combatants captured in the first days of operations in Afghanistan," complained a press release yesterday. "Images of orange-suited detainees blindfolded and handcuffed and kneeling in a line inside a chain-link enclosure have become iconic. The problem is that Camp X-Ray closed in early 2002 and hasn't been used since. Since then, detainees have been housed in more modern, comfortable facilities, and improvements continue." As the accompanying pictures show, nowadays detainees who are deemed to have cooperated with the government wear white suits and can walk around inside a chain-linked enclosure most of the time. When you're being detained without charge and without prospect of a civil trial, these things matter, and the Backbencher hopes the UN -- which was grouching today about Washington's refusal to let its human rights experts talk to the inmates -- gets the message.

Item two is, well, not so serious. Or is equally serious, but in a non-political, non-human-rights way. Although many think it ought to be a human right to be able to read sensual prose that is not embarrasingly, um, well, wankeresque. "Stiff Competition for 'Bad Sex' Award" was the Guardian Book Section's rampant headline yesterday. Sample statement: "...organizers call it Britain's 'most dreaded literary prize...'" And here are the rigid, turgid prose passages themselves. Among those in the rutting, er, running for the prominent, pointed award: John Updike, Marlon Brando (and a co-author), Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paul Theroux... In an uncharacteristically un-British omission that almost constitutes a tacit betrayal of essential Anglo-Saxon cultural values and which will disappoint pert blogista Wonkette no end, there are no butt-fucking descriptions whatsoever. Meantime, the Ol' Perfesser reminds one of a timeless example of the true, the blushful Hippocrene of genuinely erotic prose:

"But what were [the Indians] like to be with?"

"It's hard to say,"Nick Adams said. Could you say she did first what no one has ever done better and mention plump brown legs, flat belly, hard little breasts, well holding arms, quick searching tongue, the flat eyes, the good taste of mouth, then uncomfortably, tightly, sweetly, moistly, lovely, tightly, achingly, fully, finally, unendingly, never-endingly, never-to-endingly, suddenly ended, the great bird flown like an owl in the twilight...

- - E. Hemingway, "Fathers and Sons" in Snows of Kilimanjaro (1936)


Item three continues the saga of the attempted suppression of the minutes of the meeting in which Prime Minister Blair talked President Bush out of Bush's plan, desire, or intention to bomb the neutral-country facilities of Arab TV news network Al Jazeera. This is from Christopher Reed at CounterPunch:
The case has even turned some of the war's proponents into doubters. Witness the pre-court performance of Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, known in the satirical magazine Private Eye as Boris the Menace, a voluble Conservative Member of Parliament, editor of the right-wing Spectator magazine. Johnson, who supported the Iraq invasion, is so incensed about the now enforced secrecy on the Al Jazeera memo that he [...] airs the lamentations he and his fellows feel so keenly these days. "I would love to think," he writes, "that Dubya was just having one of his little frat-house wisecracks, when he talked of destroying the satellite TV station. Maybe he was only horsing around. Maybe it was a flippant one-liner, of the kind that he delivers before making one of his dramatic exits into the broom-closet. Perhaps it was a kind of Henry II moment: you know, who will rid me of this turbulent TV station? Maybe he had a burst of spacy Reagan-esque surrealism, like the time the old boy forgot that the mikes were switched on, and startled a [radio audience] with the announcement that he was going to start bombing Russia in five minutes." Boris asks: "Who knows? But if his remarks were just an innocent piece of cretinism, then why in the name of holy thunder has the British state decreed that anyone printing those remarks will be sent to prison? If there is an ounce of truth in the notion that George Bush seriously proposed the destruction of Al Jazeera, and was only dissuaded by the prime minister, then we need to know, and we need to know urgently."
As a follow-on to item three, last week the Slangwhanger-in-Chief was shocked, shocked and amazed, that Washington Post Media columnist Howard ("Still Shills") Kurtz could be all "I'm sorry, but it just doesn't add up," over a case where the Brits have invoked their Official Secrets Act to suppress a memo. The Brits might be a few teacups short of a party when it comes to official paranoia, but they don't usually go so far as to suppress non-existent memos. (The bending of the reality-field that it takes to disappear the already invisible is real expensive, and the Brits are notoriously parsimonious about that kind of spending.) Kurtz's unwillingness to believe the absurd, childish, self-destructive, nationally-dangerous depths to which our crippled-adolescent Commander-in-Chief habitually, continually, irrepressibly and automatically descends shows a touching faith in officialdom that would be embarrassing to a real reporter. Not that ol' Howie would understand that...
Finally, item four takes us mercifully away from the Post and back to the Guardian, where they actually have a weekly column entitled "Ideas." What a radical notion! It's an interview with Jacqueline Rose, whose book, The Question of Zion, uses the tools of psychoanalysis to try to understand the activities of modern Israel. In the interview she notes that
Psychoanalysis says if you have a rigid symptom the symptom will end up being too psychically or economically expensive, as it were, and will cease to be viable. In my book on Zionism one of the things that really made me very happy to discover, like a coral at the bottom of a pool, was this extraordinary tradition of dissent inside Israel.

Of course, the biggest disservice to Israel that the United States has recently perpetrated has been the war in Iraq, which has recruited more anti-Semitic suicide bombers than the intifada itself. As my Texican Media Cousin observes,
It has seemed to me for years that a) one of the root causes of violence in the Middle East is how Israel treats Palestinians and how the U.S. supports that treatment, and b) you can't criticize or even question Israel without leagues of partisans jumping up and hollering about anti-Semitism. Indeed they have so appropriated the word Semite that they don't want the Arabs to be regarded as Semitic, though racially they are all related. Nothing was more emblematic of this hollering than their reaction to Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of Christ. As the title suggests, the story was about the the late J. Christ, but so many people so stridently complained that it 'might' cause an anti-Semitic reaction that it was laughable. Everything has to be about them? It's refreshing to see a Jewish author like Jacqueline Rose take an even-handed approach. One of our Jewish friends is a successful photographer. Her family came from Russia, and she produced a book about Russian Jews emigrating to Israel. She was astonished to find out how badly they were treated in Israel, how much like third-class citizens, and again, there was no legal recourse and no questioning allowed. Kind of like how the Bushies want things to be here!

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