I was watching the most amazing documentary last night on the Lindbergh kidnapping trial in the 1930s...now that truly was the "trial of the century". I did not know, for example, that the newspaper publisher William Hearst hired the defense attorney and kept him supplied with girls and booze (who died three years later of syphillis), and Hearst also hired the infamous "Sob Sisters" to wring choice emotional outbursts from the defendant's wife, Anna Hauptmann. All this after a picture of the Lindbergh baby, two months dead and decomposed in the woods, made the cover of the New York Mirror. The huge crowds of onlookers dwarfed the OJ Simpson trial, and of all the famous writers hired to cover the Lindbergh trial (Damon Runyon, Walter Winchell, Adela Rogers St. John), the only one who left in disgust, decrying the "vultures", was Edna Ferber, who later went on to write Giant.
In honor of this mess, I've changed my signature file at the bottom once again, to include a quote by Lindbergh, uttered as he boarded the ship out of the US after the trial, hounded out of the country by reporters. PS Yeah, the Miss Alabama quote was real.
If you have a broadband or 56k modem+, check out this cartoon. There are lots of other funny animations by Mark Fiore at this site as well.
I am rather amazed to discover that a Red Car has been running in Los Angeles since July, and I knew nothing about it. That's pretty bad advertising for the City, eh? For those who don't know what I'm talking about, Los Angeles used to have the best interurban streetcar in the world (the Pacific Electric Red Cars) which extended from the San Fernando Valley to Newport Beach. Anyway, seems they dug up part of the old streetcar tracks along the San Pedro waterfront and put in a four-station line, from the Cabrillo Museum up to the Catalina Terminal. This is great news! We have our train to Pasadena now, and the Red Cars are back! Check it out:
It has also been brought to my attention (thanks, Geri) that there are plans to rebuild the old Angeleno Heights Red Car from Downtown up to Echo Park. If you live in this area it might behoove you to donate to this grand Quixotic scheme:
Good news; it's also time for the Class of 2006 Beloit College "Mindset List". For those who don't know what I'm talking about, this is that yearly list given to professors at Beloit explaining how life has been different for their students, who were born in 1984. This list is often passed around in e-mail to depress people over 30. The highlights for this year:
3. South Africa's official policy of apartheid has not existed during their lifetime.
11. Barbie has always had a job.
24. Nicolas Cage, Daryll Hannah, Eddie Murphy, and John Malkovich made their first major film impressions the year they were born.
and of course (sorry, Geri)
32. Vanessa Williams and Madonna are aging singers.
The whole list (and past lists) can be found here:
Just to prove I can find the cloud within any silver lining, what's the dark side to this new Eighties revival? Could it have anything to do with Ronald Reagan, that great (and more subtle) emperor who gave the Great Satan victory over the Evil Empire?
I've been thinking about those days a lot, maybe even with nostalgia, when I read things like this:
GOP Bill Would Add Anti-Terror Powers
By Dan Eggen
The Washington Post
But some things go back to the good ol' days, before the Civil War, when our ancestors were still duking it out.
MANIFEST DESTINY WARMED UP?
AUGUST 14TH 2003
America, it is said, is the world's latest imperial power. Don't believe it
I mean, we're just no good with actually occupying a country...marketing is much more the American way, and we should be proud. Why give 'em guns when you've got Coca-Cola?
Unprepared for Peace in Iraq
By Robert C. Byrd
The Washington Post
But many people think, win or lose, we're stuck. That's good: Americans also like to work under a deadline:
A Price Too High
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
And ridicule the fools who get us into these messes, though too often after the fact:
A Savage Lie
By John Cory
t r u t h o u t Perspective
The Air Is Thick With Lies
But the new citizens of the "American Empire" get their freedom, right? Freedom before the law...oops.
In a Climate of Anarchy, Assault Psychosis Overtakes Baghdad
By Rémy Ourdan
We've even (thanks, Mark) got our first conspiracy theory! Yess!
- Was a horrifying new secret weapon unleashed upon the civilian population in Baghdad? Former war-zone medic, current independent film-maker Patrick Dillon seems to think so.
The real truth is always worse than speculation:
Counting the Bodies
by James Ridgeway
Village Voice Mondo Washington
And that applies to our fellow citizens as well. By no means is this Vietnam...it's more like the Third World War that General Patton and General MacArthur wanted to start right after World War II. "Toe to toe with the Russkies." The damage is the same, and we're not hearing the full story:
Number of Wounded in Action on Rise
By Vernon Loeb
But anyway, we've got bigger things to worry about, right, like who's going to run our state? Well, Tom McClintock ain't no George Bush...he's a sharp, college-debating school Republican, not a Yale party boy. And Arnie? Well, don't we all love Arnie? But I'm not ready to declare war on Oregon just yet...
For those inquiring minds who want to know, the full text of the quite silly interview Arnie and some other bodybuilders gave to Oui:
Schwarzenegger Gave Racy Interview in '77
By Rene Sanchez
But that's the least of his faults. Arnie's a mystery man:
Conan the Deceiver
By Paul Krugman
New York Times
And he's more connected than he gives himself credit for:
Ahnuld, Ken Lay, George Bush, Dick Cheney and Gray Davis
By Jason Leopold
His friends in Washington would like nothing better than to see California shut up for three years. Like how some people are watching the Fed let the energy companies screw us (and this article is coming from New York, another place the Fed have no sympathy for):
Another Friday Outrage
By Paul Krugman
New York Times Opinion
Let me bury this suddenly angry screed with a thick, dull historical denouement. All our trouble in the Middle East became serious 50 years ago, when we toppled the only democratic government in the region (other than Iraq, natch), Iran, for nationalizing their oil. The Mexicans did this around the same time and escaped (relatively) unscathed.
50 years later, Iranians remember US-UK coup
By Dan De Luce Special to The Christian Science Monitor
And their independence now, as odious as it is within the country, makes Iran a model for their neighbors. Forget oppression, as long as you keep the US out, eh? Is this the foreign policy that George Bush is inspiring?
WHY NUCLEAR WEAPONS MAY BE IN IRAN'S NATIONAL INTERESTS
A EurasiaNet Partner Post from PINR
Finally, an article by someone who's influenced many of our lives, and still for the better:
Lessons in how to lie about Iraq
The problem is not propaganda but the relentless control of the kind of things we think about
Saturday August 16 2003
When I first visited Russia, in 1986, I made friends with a musician whose father had been Brezhnev's personal doctor. One day we were talking about life during 'the period of stagnation' - the Brezhnev era. 'It must have been strange being so completely immersed in propaganda,' I said.
'Ah, but there is the difference. We knew it was propaganda,' replied Sacha.
That is the difference. Russian propaganda was so obvious that most Russians were able to ignore it. They took it for granted that the government operated in its own interests and any message coming from it was probably slanted - and they discounted it.
In the West the calculated manipulation of public opinion to serve political and ideological interests is much more covert and therefore much more effective. Its greatest triumph is that we generally don't notice it - or laugh at the notion it even exists. We watch the democratic process taking place - heated debates in which we feel we could have a voice - and think that, because we have 'free' media, it would be hard for the Government to get away with anything very devious without someone calling them on it.
It takes something as dramatic as the invasion of Iraq to make us look a bit more closely and ask: 'How did we get here?' How exactly did it come about that, in a world of Aids, global warming, 30-plus active wars, several famines, cloning, genetic engineering, and two billion people in poverty, practically the only thing we all talked about for a year was Iraq and Saddam Hussein? Was it really that big a problem? Or were we somehow manipulated into believing the Iraq issue was important and had to be fixed right now - even though a few months before few had mentioned it, and nothing had changed in the interim.
In the wake of the events of 11 September 2001, it now seems clear that the shock of the attacks was exploited in America. According to Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber in their new book Weapons of Mass Deception , it was used to engineer a state of emergency that would justify an invasion of Iraq. Rampton and Stauber expose how news was fabricated and made to seem real. But they also demonstrate how a coalition of the willing - far-Right officials, neo-con think-tanks, insanely pugilistic media commentators and of course well-paid PR companies - worked together to pull off a sensational piece of intellectual dishonesty. Theirs is a study of modern propaganda.
What occurs to me in reading their book is that the new American approach to social control is so much more sophisticated and pervasive that it really deserves a new name. It isn't just propaganda any more, it's 'prop-agenda '. It's not so much the control of what we think, but the control of what we think about. When our governments want to sell us a course of action, they do it by making sure it's the only thing on the agenda, the only thing everyone's talking about. And they pre-load the ensuing discussion with highly selected images, devious and prejudicial language, dubious linkages, weak or false 'intelligence' and selected 'leaks'. (What else can the spat between the BBC and Alastair Campbell be but a prime example of this?)
With the ground thus prepared, governments are happy if you then 'use the democratic process' to agree or disagree - for, after all, their intention is to mobilise enough headlines and conversation to make the whole thing seem real and urgent. The more emotional the debate, the better. Emotion creates reality, reality demands action.
An example of this process is one highlighted by Rampton and Stauber which, more than any other, consolidated public and congressional approval for the 1991 Gulf war. We recall the horrifying stories, incessantly repeated, of babies in Kuwaiti hospitals ripped out of their incubators and left to die while the Iraqis shipped the incubators back to Baghdad - 312 babies, we were told.
The story was brought to public attention by Nayirah, a 15-year-old 'nurse' who, it turned out later, was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and a member of the Kuwaiti royal family. Nayirah had been tutored and rehearsed by the Hill & Knowlton PR agency (which in turn received $14 million from the American government for their work in promoting the war). Her story was entirely discredited within weeks but by then its purpose had been served: it had created an outraged and emotional mindset within America which overwhelmed rational discussion.
As we are seeing now, the most recent Gulf war entailed many similar deceits: false linkages made between Saddam, al-Qaeda and 9/11, stories of ready-to-launch weapons that didn't exist, of nuclear programmes never embarked upon. As Rampton and Stauber show, many of these allegations were discredited as they were being made, not least by this newspaper, but nevertheless were retold.
Throughout all this, the hired-gun PR companies were busy, preconditioning the emotional landscape. Their marketing talents were particularly useful in the large-scale manipulation of language that the campaign entailed. The Bushites realised, as all ideologues do, that words create realities, and that the right words can over whelm any chance of balanced discussion. Guided by the overtly imperial vision of the Project for a New American Century (whose members now form the core of the American administration), the PR companies helped finesse the language to create an atmosphere of simmering panic where American imperialism would come to seem not only acceptable but right, obvious, inevitable and even somehow kind.
Aside from the incessant 'weapons of mass destruction', there were 'regime change' (military invasion), 'pre-emptive defence' (attacking a country that is not attacking you), 'critical regions' (countries we want to control), the 'axis of evil' (countries we want to attack), 'shock and awe' (massive obliteration) and 'the war on terror' (a hold-all excuse for projecting American military force anywhere).
Meanwhile, US federal employees and military personnel were told to refer to the invasion as 'a war of liberation' and to the Iraqi paramilitaries as 'death squads', while the reliably sycophantic American TV networks spoke of 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' - just as the Pentagon asked them to - thus consolidating the supposition that Iraqi freedom was the point of the war. Anybody questioning the invasion was 'soft on terror' (liberal) or, in the case of the UN, 'in danger of losing its relevance'.
When I was young, an eccentric uncle decided to teach me how to lie. Not, he explained, because he wanted me to lie, but because he thought I should know how it's done so I would recognise when I was being lied to. I hope writers such as Rampton and Stauber and others may have the same effect and help to emasculate the culture of spin and dissembling that is overtaking our political establishments.
Brian Eno 2003
A longer version of this article will appear in the new literary magazine, Zembla.
Vive le Screed!
08 September 2003