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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Seeing the Sixties and Seventies Through 2001 and Alien


Watching the sixties and seventies through 2001 and Alien.


From 2001: A Space Odyssey

It was April 1968 and my father was sitting in a theater in Times Square watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, certain that what he was seeing wasn't just a movie but the future. When it ended, he got up and walked out into Times Square, with its peep-show glitz and sleazy, flashing advertisements; he found the uptown subway beneath the yellow marquees for dirty movies like The Filthy 5; and through all of it, he thought that when humanity hurls itself into the depths of the cosmos, this is how we will do it. In the film's iconic final shot, the space baby looks down at the planet to which it is no longer bound. Freedom, this shot says, is imminent.
My father was twenty-four then, and perhaps at his most world-historical: he was becoming an expert in computers. He'd worked for IBM in Poughkeepsie, New York, a corporate labyrinth of beige cubicles and epochal breakthroughs; a world of punch cards and reel-to-reel magnetic tape, where at least some of the employees were deadly serious about making sure to wear the company tie clip and then, once they were off duty, to switch to their own personal tie clips.
When 2001 premiered, he was working at Columbia University's Computer Center, in the academic computing branch. I don't think it's unreasonable to say that the movie summed up everything my father was in April 1968. It became something of a talisman for him, a semisacred object invested with all the crazy hopefulness of his youth. For as long as I can remember, my father had talked about 2001. He told me often of HAL, of the monolith of evolution, of how glorious the future would be. Of course, when I finally saw the movie, well after the actual year 2001, it bored me out of my mind. Too slow, too bizarre. Ah, my father told me, that's because evolution is slow, evolution is bizarre. It wasn't until much later that I started to understand the movie—and, maybe, to understand my father.


The Columbia Computer Center in 1965.

2001 is the brainchild Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, who intended the film as a vision of things that seemed destined to come. In large part this fact has been lost on more recent generations of viewers who regard the movie as almost entirely metaphorical. Not so. The film was supposed to describe events that were really about to happen—that's why Kubrick and Clarke went to such lengths to make it realistic, dedicating months to researching the ins and outs of manned spaceflight. They were so successful that a report written in 2005 from NASA's Scientific and Technical Information Program Office argues that 2001 is today still "perhaps the most thoroughly and accurately researched film in screen history with respect to aerospace engineering." Kubrick shows the audience exactly how artificial gravity could be maintained in the endless free-fall of outer space; how long a message would take to reach Jupiter; how people would eat pureed carrots through a straw; how people would poop in zero G. Curious about extraterrestrial life, Kubrick consulted Carl Sagan (evidently an expert) and made changes to the script accordingly.
It's especially ironic because anyone who sees the film today will be taken aback by how unrealistic it is. The U.S. is not waging the Cold War in outer space. We have no moon colonies, and our supercomputers are not nearly as super as the murderous HAL. Pan Am does not offer commercial flights into high-Earth orbit, not least because Pan-Am is no more. Based on the rate of inflation, a video-payphone call to a space station should, in theory, cost far more than $1.70, but that wouldn't apply when the payphone is a thing of the past. More important, everything in 2001 looks new. From heavy capital to form-fitting turtlenecks—thank goodness, not the mass fashion phenomenon the film anticipated—it all looks like it was made yesterday. But despite all of that, when you see the movie today you see how 1968 wasn't just about social and political reform; people thought they were about to evolve, to become something wholly new, a revolution at the deepest level of a person's essence.
Allow me to quote two books taken from my father's library. First, this passage from Hannah Arendt's 1958 Human Condition, which my father bought in the early sixties:
This future man, whom scientists tell us they will produce in no more than a hundred years, seems to be possessed by a rebellion against human existence as it has been given, a free gift from nowhere (secularly speaking), which he wishes to exchange, as it were, for something he has made himself.
Or how about this embarrassingly utopian vision from Marcuse's 1964 One-Dimensional Man (purchased in 1968):
Thus economic freedom would mean freedom from the economy—from being controlled by economic forces and relationships; freedom from the daily struggle for existence, from earning a living. Political freedom would mean liberation of the individuals from politics over which they have no effective control … The unrealistic sound of these propositions is indicative, not of their utopian character, but of the strength of the forces which prevent their realization.
The message is clear: we are leaving. We are going somewhere better. Looking back, I can only ask: What did these people think was going to happen? How could they have been so optimistic? If I could go back in time, that's what I would ask my young father: What are you thinking?


HAL 9000.

My father watched computers conquer the world, and he did his part to aid in their conquest. He watched punch cards give way to magnetic tape, in fact helped to switch over; he wrote programs for researchers; he did data preparation for Alan Lomax, weighing and assigning variables to data so it could be more easily manipulated, a task that required a great deal of training, even, perhaps, craftsmanship. He learned FORTRAN and became an expert in finding errors in the programs researchers wrote for themselves. He stayed up late underground in Columbia University's Computer Center, below Uris Hall, playing with computers. He thought it was a joke, or else a piece of true idiocy, when he heard about plans for "computer text manipulation." Why would you use the enormous computational power of a computer to write?
To hear him tell it, computers in the sixties were something akin to classical music, like a secret club, but an open secret that anyone could learn about if he or she wanted—a haven for interesting, bizarre people, when "nerds were just nerds," as he put it, "not stars." The discipline attracted strange characters, many who wanted, like my father, to be free: free time was the watchword of the era. He read articles in self-serious magazines about how people would have so much free time in the future they wouldn't know what to do with it, and that all this free time would become a grave social problem.
At the computer center, everyone worked odd hours, and all of them had particular side projects. My father's was playing the piano, and once he even got a six-month sabbatical so he could give a concert. On the program were Beethoven's Pathetique, Brahms intermezzi, a Haydn sonata. The same month my father saw 2001, he took part in the student occupation of several buildings on Columbia's Campus. When campus security closed the gates, he saw dozens of hands banging on the wrought iron and then, like magic, saw the gates fly open again, an image he once shared with me as a metaphor for the power of collective action.
My father was so buried in computers that when he saw 2001 he very much liked HAL, the spaceship Discovery's villainous central computer. To this day, he enjoys quoting the part of the movie where HAL tries to explain away his own mistake—the supposed fault in the AE35 unit—by saying, "This kind of thing has cropped up before, and it has always been due, to human error," an excuse that more or less sums up my father's considerably erudite understanding of computers. According to my father's interpretation of the film, HAL wanted to become something more than he was. Becoming, always and ever becoming, is in my father's eyes a worthy, nay, a noble way to go through life, always trying finally to be yourself, that most elusive of goals. The mission to Jupiter was a mission to take the next step in evolution, and HAL wanted to be the one to evolve. My father made this sound like a very reasonable desire, one that makes HAL the hero of the movie.
Put on the film now and you see the physical metaphor of evolution as Kubrick and Clarke imagined it: a perfectly symmetrical monolith, its facets immaculately smooth, the most ordered object imaginable. And there I see how my father was in the thick of it. He thought his work with computers was in a small way helping to liberate humanity, to allow people to think beyond what had until then been the limits of cognition. When those right angles appeared in the shape of a monolith, my father saw freedom, but I doubt he saw what else they stood for: that they were the same right angles of urban renewal displacing working-class neighborhoods and erecting in their ruins other kinds of monoliths, housing projects like prisons, expressways that gutted street life. Or the monolith of an office building somewhere in Thailand, where as a part of Operation Igloo White all the might of the United States military was mobilized in a truly insane attempt to automate "strategic" bombing in Vietnam via a dense network of computers, but only managed to drop bombs on random people. I very much doubt he realized how his work, the very systems of command and control he was helping to develop, would in the hands of the greedy and inhuman come to destroy the world he thought was on the verge of being born.


Mother.
Jump forward a decade and my father is in a theater somewhere on Third Avenue, watching Ridley Scott's Alien. It is 1979.

Going to the movies in New York City had changed since 1968. In the sixties, my father remembered, people cued up outside the theater, the ushers opening the doors and people filing in to the cushioned darkness in an orderly fashion. Now, in the late seventies, the doors opened and people pushed, shoved, elbowed each other. How different, how ineffectual compared to the mass action of people pushing open Columbia's gates in 1968 to protest institutional racism. People were out for themselves.
All the impending free time, the promise of the 1960s, had by the late 1970s gone up in smoke. Too many workers, it seemed to my father, were throwing it away with both hands. Cutthroat types, people who wanted to impress the boss and to be bosses themselves, were giving the time back to management. They defined success not by taking the next step in evolution, not by being more humane, but by acquiring money and power, power over other people. The year 1979 was the year Christopher Lasch published The Culture of Narcissism, a book that supposedly influenced Jimmy Carter's well-meant and bizarre "crisis of confidence" speech, televised on July 15, 1979. I have no idea if my father read The Culture of Narcissism; all the books in our attic library were printed before 1976, as if with the new culture of revanchism my father had lost interest in books.
In the midst of all this, he saw the marquee for Alien, walked into the theater on a whim, and left thinking there was something truly great about it. Of course, Alien is barely a science-fiction movie. It's a horror movie, the guts of its plot hardly different from any haunted-house thriller—except it's set millions of light years from Earth on a hulking ship, the Nostromo, careening through the endless dark. Nothing about the movie is an accurate depiction of spaceflight. Why is the ship so large? Why does it make sound in the vacuum of space? How are people able to travel such long distances? What creates the artificial gravity on the ship? None of these questions—the endless preoccupations of 2001—are even entertained. But the movie does capture something very real about America in 1979, and about my father.
Consider Mother, the semi-intelligent computer system on board the Nostromo. Unlike HAL, who has complete knowledge of every aspect of his ship, Mother is perfectly isolated in a compartmentalized white room, complete with shimmering lights and padded walls. Whereas the Discovery makes an elegant economy of interior decoration with limited cabin space—it was a set where Kubrick allowed no shadows to fall—the Nostromo is meant to look like a derelict factory from the rust belt. My father thought the onboard computers looked especially rude for 1979, as though humanity's venture into space would be done not with the technology of the future but the recent past. There's a certain irony in this now: the flight computer used in the Space Shuttle, the IBM AP-101, effectively had only about one megabyte of RAM, which is more or less 1 percent of the computing power of an Xbox 360, but because of its reliability, NASA kept using it, with infrequent upgrades, into the 2000s.
The makers of Alien called this aesthetic-of-the-derelict "truckers in space," which is fun but fails to capture the postindustrial criticism embodied in the Nostromo. Within the ship—a floating platform without a discernible bow or stern, akin to an oil rig—there are enormous spaces that look more like blast furnaces gone cold than the inside of a spaceship: a place of rusted metal, loose chains, forgotten pieces of machinery, of water falling from the ceiling and dripping to the floor to collect in stagnant pools. The ship's crew bicker over pay and overtime; they follow company orders only begrudgingly. They are a very different, far more diverse group than the clearly white-collar crew of the Discovery. Inside the Nostromo, the threat does not come in the shape of a super-rational computer, a Pinocchio who wants to be a real boy. Instead, the danger is a wild animal lurking in the shadows, one that is unimaginably vicious. "The perfect organism," Ash, the science officer, calls it, because it can survive anything. This? You ask yourself. This is evolution brought to perfection? A demon from Hell who is essentially indestructible, with acid for blood and two separate rows of fangs? What happened to the space baby? But there is a sick logic in calling the alien perfect. It has an unimpeachable record of wins to losses, and when all the world has become a contest, winners with perfect records are perfect.
And where, in all of this, is Mother? If the alien were set loose on HAL's watch, he would probably neutralize it all on his own, automatically, as it were. Mother, on the other hand, spends the whole movie like a fated southern belle hooked on laudanum, locked in her room. She can't even advise on how to defeat the monster. The computer cannot help. No costly investment in heavy capital will keep nature at bay. This was a lesson people were learning in 1979, by way of pink slips and foreclosures and sad car rides down the main drags of shuttered, lonely ghost towns where once factories had stood with thriving communities around them.
In the end, Mother reveals that she was in on a corporate plot to bring the monster back to Earth so the company could study it for its weapons division. "Crew expendable," it quotes its orders in the film's most heartbreaking scene. And Ash, the science officer, we learn in a dramatic reveal, is a computer, too—a robot, murderous in his own right, but only because he has company permission to be. And that is perhaps the biggest shock: a person who we thought had been one of us turns out to be a suit in disguise, a company stooge.
This was precisely how my father felt in 1979. Things had turned sour. He was still at Columbia, an increasingly conservative institution now firmly in the hands of reaction, of identity crisis, a place that seemed bleak and haunted, where everyone was a survivor of some supreme disappointment. Outside the ivory tower, corporate America discovered novel and better ways to rationalize computer work. The new generation of workers at the computer center seemed less idealistic, more interested in just getting ahead. A union organizer had, one time, walked the floors of Watson Hall, a new office of the computer center, trying to agitate the workers to join. Few besides my father responded enthusiastically. My father came to regret this deeply in the early 2000s, when a new round of decertifications and speed-ups became, evidently, step one in a management solution to increase efficiency. This was not a rational strategy—not the way HAL would have gone about getting workers to work harder. It was the way the alien worked, terrifying everybody into action.


The Nostromo.

Over the decades, my father was forced to watch the systems he had such great hopes for become thousands of times more powerful, and his vision of a new and better future thousands of times more distant. When the year 2001 caught up to him, it wasn't 2001 at all, but something more akin to Alien. He can take pride in having helped to build one of the most momentous technological achievements in modern history. But what about that vision of the future, the one that in 1968 sustained him through Times Square and the short subway ride uptown? Or what about that other vision from 1979? Watching Alien, my father could have taken heart in how the movie ends, with a revolutionary message of its own: Lieutenant Ripley scuttles the Nostromo, the image of postindustrial degradation, blowing it up into nothingness, along with Mother and the remains of Ash. If we will not be space babies, the movie says, let's burn it down.
But today neither outcome seems particularly realistic. Evolution is not in store. This ship is not equipped with a self-destruct feature. Instead, it will just cruise on in the dark, with my dad's dreams, as it were, frozen in hypersleep.

Jason Z. Resnikoff lives in New York City. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in history at Columbia University.

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13 Reasons Wine is Better Than a Significant Other | Samantha Matt


1. Wine will watch whatever you want to watch on TV without complaining. Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Voice, The Mindy Project, Homeland, a Lifetime movie, OITNB... Wine doesn't care. It will watch anything.
2. You can bring wine anywhere and it will never have a problem fitting in. No need to babysit wine in a corner all night because wine doesn't know anyone at the party. Wine knows everyone at the party. And even if wine didn't know everyone at the party, wine would be totally social because no one has a problem talking when wine is involved.
3. Wine is never "too tired" or "too drunk." Wine is always up for a good time when you are, and it's always down to chill on the couch doing nothing when you are. It will do whatever you do and it will never complain. Talk about THE BEST RELATIONSHIP EVER.
4. Wine tastes good. And you never get sick of it. Ever.
5. Wine has no problem opening up to you. It always opens right up, no nagging necessary.
6. Wine never makes you choose between it and your friends. Wine does what you want to do all the time, and if you don't want wine to tag along, wine will do it's own thing sans complaining. You can do you all the time, no choices necessary. Not to mention, your friends don't care when you bring wine along anyway...
7. Wine gets you drunk with no ulterior motives. It ain't trying to get in your pants. It's just trying to hang.
8. Wine never asks you what's for dinner. Wine is what's for dinner, actually.
9. Wine will never judge you. Literally, it will never judge. It's seen you cry listening to a One Direction song and it still comes back for more. No one knows why. It just happens. I'm not complaining.
10. Wine can make you smile without even trying. Try having a glass of wine without blushing... Just try.
11. Wine always knows what you want. And what you want is wine. Wine is what you want. What relationship could be better?
12. Everyone loves wine. You don't have to worry about your friends or your family or your co-workers disliking wine because everyone loves wine. Maybe wine isn't their type (perhaps they prefer beer or a vodka soda), but no one hates wine. You've scored someone (or something) that everyone loves. You go girl.
13. Wine is always there for you. When the going gets tough... there's always wine. Rough day at the office? Wine. Bad fight with a friend? Wine. Maxed out your credit card? Wine. Ex got married? Wine. Wine will be there for you in ways that no man ever could be. Seriously, girl. You're not going to do any better than wine...
This post originally appeared on Forever Twenty Somethings.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Get the New Skinny on Dietary Fat - Scientific American


What is the new consensus on whether fat is good or bad for you?

January 7, 2015 By EarthTalk

Avocado is one of the superfoods which contain good fat that is crucial for brain health. Credit: Cyclonebill, Flickr CC

Dear EarthTalk: What's the skinny on fat these days? I saw a major magazine cover image recently that was suggesting fat wasn't so bad for us after all?                          -- Marcy Bellwether, Taos, NM


Going "fat-free" might seem like an effective, safe way to lose weight when considering that fat contains nine calories per gram, compared to four calories per gram in carbohydrates and proteins. But if you take into account the fact that approximately 60 percent of human brain matter consists of fats, eating reduced fat or fat-free foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates no longer seems as appealing for our health.
"The brain thrives on a fat-rich, low carbohydrate diet, which unfortunately is relatively uncommon in human populations today," reports David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain. "Mayo Clinic researchers showed that individuals favoring carbohydrates in their diets had a remarkable 89 percent increased risk for developing dementia as contrasted to those whose diets contained the most fat. Having the highest levels of fat consumption was actually found to be associated with an incredible 44 percent reduction in risk for developing dementia."
Granted, certain types of fats are more beneficial than others. "Good" fats include monounsaturated fats, found abundantly in olive oil, peanut oil, hazelnuts, avocados and pumpkin seeds, and polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 and omega 6), which are found in flaxseed oil, chia seeds, marine algae oil and walnuts.
"In the '70s and early '80s…we were not talking about low-fat diets. We were talking about replacing saturated fat with a healthy fat, polyunsaturated fat," says Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "But somewhere in the mid-1980s, we lost that message. It's perhaps partly because some nutritionists felt it was too complicated to talk about different types of fat, and developed the notion we should just reduce all types of fat across the board."
With over five million Americans currently living with Alzheimer's disease, researchers are examining which dietary fats may help prevent dementia. Olivia Okereke at Brigham & Women's Hospital tested how different types of fats affect cognition and memory in women. Over the course of four years, she found that women who consumed high amounts of monounsaturated fats had better overall cognitive function and memory. A study by researchers from Laval University in Quebec revealed similar findings: Diets high in monounsaturated fats increased the production and release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical for learning and memory. The loss of acetylcholine production in the brain has been associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Unfortunately, canola oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats in its natural form, is often hydrogenated so it can stay fresh longer in processed foods. Partially hydrogenated oils—also known as Trans fats—were shown to be detrimental to memory in a recent University of California San Diego study. "Trans fats increase the shelf life of the food but reduce the shelf life of the person," reports study author Beatrice Golomb.
Of course, a well-rounded diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables may still be the best way to stay healthy. But it's good to know that a little fat here and there won't kill you. In fact, it might well help you live a healthier, more productive life.

CONTACTS: David Perlmutter, www.drperlmutter.com; Harvard School of Public Health, www.hsph.harvard.edu; Brigham & Women's Hospital, www.brighamandwomens.org.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com.

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ATROPA -- Sci-fi Short from Eli Sasich on Vimeo.

Canada Is Slowly But Surely Shifting To Totalitarianism | Niagara At Large

A Commentary by Mark Taliano

Totalitarianism, aligned as it is with "rule by corporations", is something that happens in incremental steps over time.  Nobody actually chooses it, it just happens, and it's happening to Canada right now.

What are the conditions that foster these top-down, undemocratic trends?  Public conformity in matters of importance plays a large part.

Corporate "governance", with its anti-social, anti-public orientation, is adept at manufacturing and perpetuating public conformity by employing subtle but effective tools that secretly subvert the populace.  These tools are employed to create what  Sheldon Wolin would describe as "inverted totalitarianism".  The tactics persuade a population that what the government/corporation wants is also good for people, even when the opposite is the case.

For example, legislation that endorses catastrophic global warming, for the perceived benefit of a handful of transnational corporations, is not to the benefit of the people. Many Canadians, however, remain deluded, even as they witness Canada's descent into the scientific and diplomatic Dark Ages.

We are, after all, the only country to have abandoned its membership in the Kyoto Protocol, and more recently, we are the only country to withdraw from the United Nations Convention on Desertification.  We have also abandoned the Canadian International Development Agency, as well as other international organizations.

Additionally, we are also refusing entry to Canada of the UN Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Each of these snubs to the international community besmirchs our international reputation, and our ability to positively impact world affairs.

Subtle tactics of control are used to delude the public into thinking that these are the right choices.  Not only have scientific research centers been shuttered, and scientists muzzled, but now, even federal librarians and archivists have been muzzled
Muzzling federal librarians and archivists is more subtle than book burning, and also more effective. This tactic is widening the net of suppression and further inhibiting the public's access to reliable information (as if being ranked 51st on the Freedom Of Information Index, below Angola, Colombia, and Nigeria, isn't bad enough). Librarians must now be vetted by the government before speaking to the public.  If, for example, a federal librarian, or archivist (including their volunteers and students), is asked to speak at a high school, he/she must first contact the appropriate government agency and secure approval. The government rationale is that public employees have a "duty of loyalty" to the "duly elected government".
Add to this the muzzling of the Parliamentary Budget Office, and the appointment of an unqualified person to replace Kevin Page, (as well as the failure to commission a Public Inquiry into electoral fraud), and we have the suppression of a great deal of "source" information that is crucial to a functioning democracy.
Once the source information is suppressed, it is easier for the government to create its own narrative through fiction-based messaging, which reinforces public forgetfulness (enabled by the 24 hour news cycle), confusion, and falsehoods.
When subtle subversion proves ineffective, more overtly fascistic tools are being used, and with ever increasing frequency. It happened at Toronto's G-20 demonstrations in June, 2010, and it is happening with more regularity in Quebec.
Municipal By-law P-6, like its (now repealed) predecessor, Bill 78, though condemned by the Quebec Bar Association, has been used extensively in Montreal to thwart peaceful protests.
An important component of the by-law is the seemingly innocuous requirement that protestors secure a permit and file notice of a demonstration before it takes place.  The danger of the by-law is that demonstrations can be stifled, and police can be used, to suit the political requirements of politicians.  Police are not meant to be an arm of any particular government, unless, of course, it is a "police-state" government.  
The most recent impact of the by-law is that riot police charged peaceful protestors in the streets of Montreal, illegally kettled them, and fined them $637.00 each.  (Evidently, poor people are precluded from exercising their democratic rights.)
The Service De Police De La Ville De Montréal, later held a press conference, and Sergeant Jean-Bruno Latour declared that "the Charter (Of  Rights And Freedoms) protects the right to freedom of expression, but (that) there is no right to protest."
Peaceful protesting may not be allowed in North Korea, but in Canada, peaceful protesting is still legal. The police should not be used to intimidate peaceful protestors, and the permit issue should not be used to arbitrarily quash demonstrations.  The right to peaceful protesting should trump any requirement for a permit.  Similarly, kettling and mass arrests of peaceful protestors are overtly fascist police strategies that should be condemned.  Such tactics are used to dissuade the public from exercising its democratic rights to protest.   
Demonizing those who overtly oppose government policies is nothing new for this government.  People and groups with dissenting views have been labeled "radicals" or "extremists", or even "traitors". These polarizing tactics are now being ramped up, and  the government is now conflating protest with terrorism.  The ever-expanding (and expensive) security apparatus is increasingly being used to surveil peaceful activists.
Earlier, I wrote a piece called Canada's Totalitarian Shift, in which I enumerated government policies and tactics (as described by author Naomi Wolf), that are consistent with totalitarian rule.  The steps include these:
  • invoke an external and internal threat
  • cast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason
  • surveil ordinary citizens
  • arbitrarily detain and release citizens
  • infiltrate civilian groups
  • subvert the rule of law
  • restrict the press
 Each of these steps is becoming more entrenched in Canada.
There is no clear boundary which delineates a country's transition from weak democracy to full blown totalitarianism, but Harper's Canada has all of the symptoms of totalitarianism, in varying degrees.  Equally disconcerting though, is that much of the mass media is still apologizing for this rogue government, and the increasingly entrenched symptoms are being subverted, or ignored.
Mark Taliano is a Niagara, Ontario resident and regular contributor of news and analysis to Niagara At Large.
(Niagara At Large invites you to join in the conversation by sharing your views on the content of this post below. For reasons of transparency and promoting civil dialogue, NAL only posts comments from individuals who share their first and last name with their views.)
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Ultimate Aerial Video of NYC!


Ultimate Aerial Video of NYC! (Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island) - DJI Phantom 2

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Greatest Definition of Love | Brain Pickings


by Maria Popova

"Knowledge of each other, not of the flesh but through the flesh, knowledge of self, the real him, the real her, in extremis, the mask slipped from the face…"

Literary history is as strewn with colorful attempts to define love — including some particularly memorable ones — as modern psychology is with attempts to dissect its inner workings. But perhaps the most powerful and profoundly human definition I've ever encountered comes from Czech-born British playwright Tom Stoppard's 1982 play The Real Thing (public library) — a masterwork of insight on the heart's trials and triumphs in human relationships.

In the second act, when the protagonist's cynical teenage daughter probes what falling in love is like, he offers a disarmingly raw, earnest, life-earned answer: It's to do with knowing and being known. I remember how it stopped seeming odd that in biblical Greek, knowing was used for making love. Whosit knew so-and-so. Carnal knowledge. It's what lovers trust each other with. Knowledge of each other, not of the flesh but through the flesh, knowledge of self, the real him, the real her, in extremis, the mask slipped from the face. Every other version of oneself is on offer to the public. We share our vivacity, grief, sulks, anger, joy… we hand it out to anybody who happens to be standing around, to friends and family with a momentary sense of indecency perhaps, to strangers without hesitation. Our lovers share us with the passing trade. But in pairs we insist that we give ourselves to each other. What selves? What's left? What else is there that hasn't been dealt out like a deck of cards? Carnal knowledge. Personal, final, uncompromised. Knowing, being known. I revere that. Having that is being rich, you can be generous about what's shared — she walks, she talks, she laughs, she lends a sympathetic ear, she kicks off her shoes and dances on the tables, she's everybody's and it don't mean a thing, let them eat cake; knowledge is something else, the undealt card, and while it's held it makes you free-and-easy and nice to know, and when it's gone everything is pain. Every single thing. Every object that meets the eye, a pencil, a tangerine, a travel poster. As if the physical world has been wired up to pass a current back to the part of your brain where imagination glows like a filament in a lobe no bigger than a torch bulb. Pain.

Complement this gem from the altogether brilliant The Real Thing with the stirring 1958 letter of advice on falling in love that John Steinbeck sent to his teenage son, Susan Sontag's lifetime of reflections on love, and Sherwin Nuland on what everybody needs.

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What I Am Watching Now / Enter the Void (2009)




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Former 'Onion' editor: Freedom of speech cannot be killed | MSNBC


01/07/15 01:09 PM—01/07/15 02:19 PM

When I was editor there, The Onion was located in the heart of Manhattan and the one person manning our front entrance was our petite, tattooed office manager, Jessie. She was the definition of unthreatening, and we used to joke that she was the only thing standing between us and some heavily armed radicals, should any ever become enraged by something we put in print. Right now, that joke makes me sick to my stomach.

Twelve people were murdered at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, today, apparently for doing the very thing The Onion does: satire. These people – including one guest and one police officer – are dead. They were cartoonists and editors and humorists. People whose job in life was to point at hypocrisy and laugh at it; to ridicule hate; to make us all try to see our own failings as humans. And they were killed for it.

For those who would trivialize the idea, this was what an actual attack on freedom looks like.
Our joke at The Onion was, like most of our jokes, borne out of some reality. We received hateful letters and emails on a semi-regular basis. I've personally spoken on the phone with at least two individuals who threatened to rape me and kill my family. At one point, we even had to call the police. But I never could have imagined anything like this.

I admit: it scares me. This is radical ideology taken to an abhorrent new low. The footage and photographs that have so far emerged depict several armed men, dressed in tactical black. It looks like a highly organized attack, but an attack, ultimately, on what? An idea? You cannot kill an idea by murdering innocent people – though you can nudge it toward suicide.

That is the real threat: that we'll allow our fear, or our anger, to kill ourselves.

This will be framed by many as the latest salvo in an ongoing war between the West and Islam, when what this really amounts to is the slaughter of innocent people. These murderers don't represent anyone but themselves, their own twisted view of reality. They don't stand for an entire religion anymore than the Westboro Baptist Church stands for an entire religion or the Ku Klux Klan stands for an entire race.

If it turns out that members of Al Qaeda or some other radical "Islamic" sect carried out this attack, the saddest, most profoundly ironic thing about it will have been that the satire worked. It did its job. It so threatened its target, cut so deeply at the truth, that it resorted to the most cowardly, most offensive and despicable form of lashing out.

Satire must always accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms, they understood the need for the court jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter. It is, in many ways, the most powerful form of free speech because it is aimed at those in power, or those whose ideas would spread hate. It is the canary in the coalmine, a cultural thermometer, and it always has to push, push, push the boundaries of society to see how much it's grown.

Our society is possibly the freest that humankind has yet produced and that freedom is predicated on one central idea: the right to speech. That right is understood as a natural extension of our very existence. In America, free speech is so important that the men who wrote our Bill of Rights put it first, but followed it up with our right to bear arms. To me, that's always been a pretty strong message: Say what you want and, here, take some guns to make sure no one tries to stop you. But in this state of widespread social change – probably the most profound in centuries – we need to make sure that the ideal of the second amendment never, ever trumps the power of the first. That brute force never negates ideas.

This is a loss for all of humanity. The victims, people who believed with passion and intellect that humankind can be better, were struck down in the birthplace of the Enlightenment, the movement from which the modern world emanates.

The Charlie Hebdo gunmen also shot a police officer in the head as he lay dying on the sidewalk. These people are not just enemies of cartoonists or the ideals of the West. They're enemies of human life. They care for nothing, believe in nothing worth believing in, and therefore their ideology, whatever it may be, is worthless. Moot. Not even worth our consideration for a moment.

They cannot kill everyone who disagrees with them. There are not enough bullets in the world for that. The most responsible thing we can do is be aware that the most likely threat to freedom will now come from within. We cannot, should not, police our own thoughts – or the thoughts of our fellow citizens. Because the First Amendment does not just protect our free speech; it protects all expression, including religion.

Nor can we lose sight of terrorism in any of its forms. Whether it comes from radicals abroad or radicals at home. No matter what ideas they try to kill on whatever end of the political spectrum.
Before we lose our sense of optimism, however, try to keep some scale in mind: The idea of human rights is a relatively new one to human society, only a few hundred years old. It's a part of our intellectual outlook now, inextricable from our daily lives, but it is still making its way into our hearts, our DNA. I can only hope that tragedies like the one in Paris would make our ideals stronger, not weaker.

Is that an ideal worth dying for? I think it is. Should anyone ever have to pay for it with blood? I pray to God not. And it doesn't really matter that I don't quite know how to believe in God. Today, I'm praying anyway.

Joe Randazzo is a writer and comedian and the former Editor of the Onion. His new book, Funny On Purpose, comes out in April.

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Activist Post: A Timeline: Where'd Paris Shooters Get Their Weapons?


Tony Cartalucci
Activist Post

Heavily armed, well-trained gunmen executed what appears to be a well-planned attack in Paris, France, killing 12, including 2 police officers. Where did these terrorists get their weapons, training, political backing, funds, and inspiration? A short timeline featuring news stories from 2011 to 2014 helps explain how France's recent national tragedy was a direct result of its own insidious, callus, terroristic foreign policy that has visited this very same carnage seen in Paris, upon the people of Libya and Syria, a thousand fold.

Image: France has been arming, funding, backing, and exploiting armies of terrorists from North Africa to the Middle East as part of NATO's larger bid to use Al Qaeda to overthrow governments and rearrange regions to better align to their hegemonic agenda. Now these same extremists are running rampant in France's own streets - either as a form of blowback, or as a means to manipulate public perception as NATO did with Operation Gladio during the Cold War. 
2011 - France supplying weapons to Libyan rebels, London Telegraph:
A French military spokesman, Colonel Thierry Burkhard, said it had provided "light arms such as assault rifles" for civilian communities to "protect themselves against Col Gaddafi".

But the decision to arm the rebels is a further move towards direct involvement in the land war on top of the air war against Col Muammar Gaddafi. The Nafusa rebels have come closest to breaking through to Tripoli itself of any of the front lines of the conflict, while three months of Nato bombing have failed to dislodge Col Gaddafi from power.

Le Figaro, the French newspaper which first reported the air drops, said the shipment included rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, along with Milan anti-tank missiles.
2011 - Libyan rebel commander admits his fighters have al-Qaeda links, London Telegraph:
Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, has said jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
2012 - France to push for arming Syria's opposition coalition, the BBC:
France's foreign minister has said he will discuss supplying arms to the Syrian opposition coalition with European partners.

The government plans to push for a relaxation of the EU arms embargo to Syria to enable "defensive arms" to reach opposition fighters.
2013 - Syria crisis: France and Britain move a step closer to arming rebels, the London Guardian:
France and Britain have moved a step closer to arming the opposition to the Assad regime in a radical move aimed at tipping the balance in the two-year civil war while also ignoring European policy on Syria.

The French president, François Hollande, went into an EU summit in Brussels with a dramatic appeal for Europe to join Paris and London in lifting a European arms embargo, but the sudden policy shift was certain to run into stiff German opposition.
2013 - Syrian rebels pledge loyalty to al-Qaeda, USA Today:
A Syrian rebel group's April pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda's replacement for Osama bin Laden suggests that the terrorist group's influence is not waning and that it may take a greater role in the Western-backed fight to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The pledge of allegiance by Syrian Jabhat al Nusra Front chief Abou Mohamad al-Joulani to al-Qaeda leader Sheik Ayman al-Zawahri was coupled with an announcement by the al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, that it would work with al Nusra as well.
2014 - France delivered arms to Syrian rebels, Hollande confirms, France 24:
President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that France had delivered weapons to rebels battling the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad "a few months ago."
France Isn't the Only One

The cartoonish nature of France first being reported to give weapons to "rebels" before these "rebels" are reported to be, in fact, Al Qaeda is not simply France's bad luck. It is part of NATO's very intentional, vast network of global state-sponsored terrorism. It would be reported that terrorists armed by the US in Syria with antitank missiles sided with Al Qaeda franchise and US State Department listed foreign terrorist organization, Al Nusra.

The Daily Beast would report in its September 2014 article, "Al Qaeda Plotters in Syria 'Went Dark,' U.S. Spies Say," that:
One Syrian rebel group supported in the past by the United States condemned the air strikes on Tuesday. Harakat Hazm, a rebel group that received a shipment of U.S. anti-tank weapons in the spring, called the airstrikes "an attack on national sovereignty" and charged that foreign led attacks only strengthen the Assad regime. The statement comes from a document, purportedly from the group, that has circulated online and was posted in English translation from a Twitter account called Syria Conflict Monitor. Several Syria experts, including the Brookings Doha Center's Charles Lister, believe the document to be authentic.

Before the official statement, there were signs that Harakat Hazm was making alliances in Syria that could conflict with its role as a U.S. partner. In early Septemeber a Harakat Hazm official told a reporter for the L.A. Times: "Inside Syria, we became labeled as secularists and feared Nusra Front was going to battle us…But Nusra doesn't fight us, we actually fight alongside them. We like Nusra."
This group would later be reported by the Western press as having "surrendered" to Al Qaeda. The International Business Times would claim in its article, "Syria: Al-Nusra Jihadists 'Capture US TOW Anti-Tank Missiles' from Moderate Rebels," that:
Weaponry supplied by the US to moderate Syrian rebels was feared to have fallen into the hands of jihadist militants affiliated to al-Qaida after clashes between rival groups.

Islamist fighters with Jabhat al-Nusra seized control of large swathes of land in Jabal al-Zawiya, Idlib province, at the weekend, routing the US-backed groups the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SFR) and Harakat Hazm, activists said.

Washington relied on SFR and Harakat Hazm to counter Isis (Islamic State) militants on the ground in Syria, complementing its air strikes.
Clearly, Harakat Hazm willingly pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, bringing with them Western armament. Much of Al Qaeda's weapons, cash, training, and backing has been supplied by the West through similar "laundering" arrangements - intentionally - with plans to arm Al Qaeda and use it as a mercenary force against Western enemies in the Middle East laid as early as 2007.

Al Qaeda was intentionally organized and directed by the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel to engage in a regional confrontation aimed at Iran and its powerful arc of influence including Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and now apparently Iraq. A similar gambit played out in North Africa during NATO's war with Libya. Before that, in the 1980s, the US CIA notoriously created Al Qaeda in the first place to fight a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

This most recent use of Al Qaeda was exposed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh in his 2007 article, "The Redirection: Is the Administration's new policy benefiting our enemies in the war on terrorism?" it which it was stated explicitly that (emphasis added):
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia's government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
Now these "extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam" and who are "sympathetic to Al Qaeda" are running loose in France spilling French blood, with and inexhaustible supply of weapons and cash courtesy in part of the French government itself, and with years of combat experience fighting Paris and the rest of NATO's proxy wars for them everywhere from Libya to Syria.

Tony Cartalucci's articles have appeared on many alternative media websites, including his own at
Land Destroyer Report, Alternative Thai News Network and LocalOrg. Read other contributed articles by Tony Cartalucci here.

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It Sadly Unclear Whether This Article Will Put Lives At Risk | The Onion - America's Finest News Source


PARIS—Following the fatal terrorist attack Wednesday at the offices of French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, sources confirmed this afternoon that it is sadly not yet clear whether this very article will ultimately put human lives at risk.
According to totally and utterly depressing early reports, given the tragic deaths of 12 people, it is impossible to say with absolute certainty that this 500-word article will not make those involved in its writing—and potentially even those not involved—the targets of brutal and unconscionable violence.
"The heartbreaking tragedy that unfolded in Paris today is the result of a perverted, hateful ideology that has no place in the civilized world," is a quote that someone or some group of people might be reading at this very moment and, in what unfortunately serves to illustrate the horrifying state of modern society, interpreting as an unforgivable insult against their beliefs that must be met with the cold-blooded murder of innocent people. "It's just so terrible and senseless. I mean, how can something like this even happen?"
"I'm at a loss for words, to be perfectly honest," is a further quote that would hopefully not enrage anyone to the point of actually taking another human being's life, but which, for the love of God, conceivably could.
Those familiar with the situation told reporters that if someone were to read the very words written here and be offended by them, it would be reasonable to expect them to be upset and—at worst—write an angry letter to this publication expressing their ire in a relatively calm and composed fashion. Reports further confirmed that to somehow use this article—or indeed any article or any piece of self-expression—as a pretext to violence, let alone deadly violence, is simply impossible to justify and should never, ever transpire in human civilization.
Then again, sources added, that's what actually happened today.
Sickened, distraught, and profoundly sad sources further added it was fully within the realm of possibility that it could happen again.
"Today's horrific events only reinforce the idea that we cannot and will not let extremist zealots dictate what we can and cannot say," is a comment that we will quote, but one that we do with a legitimate sense of uncertainty over whether it could incite an attack against the speaker or their loved ones, a sense of uncertainty that feels awful, grotesque, and wholly unnecessary in this day and age. "We live in a society in which every person is entitled to his or her own opinions, and every person is entitled to express those opinions without fear of harm. And that isn't changing, whether a small minority of psychotic, murderous degenerates like it or not."
At press time, although the consequences of this article are reportedly still unclear and actual human lives may hang in the balance, sources confirmed that the best thing to do—really the only thing to do—is to simply put it out there and just hope that it does some good.

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The Pillars of Creation



Salman Rushdie condemns attack on Charlie Hebdo




Salman Rushdie condemns attack on Charlie Hebdo


Posted January 7th, 2015 by & filed under Campaigns.


English PEN condemns today's shootings at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo as a shocking assault on press freedom and free speech. Writer and PEN Pinter Prize winner Salman Rushdie has issued the following statement about the horrifying events in Paris.

Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. 'Respect for religion' has become a code phrase meaning 'fear of religion.' Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.

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Death of an American sniper - Salon.com

Did Chris Kyle's uncritical thinking in life — revealed in his bestselling memoir — contribute to his death?


"I am not a fan of politics," wrote Chris Kyle, the 38-year-old former Navy SEAL sniper who was shot and killed with a friend at a Texas firing range on Saturday. Yet, in his best-selling memoir, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History" — originally published last year and currently experiencing a sales bump in the aftermath of Kyle's death — the commando also wrote, "I like war." The problem, as Kyle would have known if he'd read his Carl von Clausewitz, is that the two aren't separable; war, as Clauswitz wrote, is the continuation of politics by other means.
Chances are, though, that Kyle never heard of Clausewitz; certainly there's nothing in "American Sniper" to suggest that he ever thought very deeply about his service, or wanted to. The red-blooded superficiality of his memoir is surely the quality that made it appealing to so many readers. Well, that and Kyle's proficiency at his chosen specialty: He boasted of having killed over 250 people during his four deployments as a sniper in Iraq. While Kyle's physical courage and fidelity to his fellow servicemen were unquestionable, his steadfast imperviousness to any nuance, subtlety or ambiguity, and his lack of imagination and curiosity, seem particularly notable in light of the circumstances of his death. They were also all-too-emblematic of the blustering, tragically misguided self-confidence of the George W. Bush years.

A self-described "regular redneck," Kyle grew up in Odessa, Texas, and spent his youth hunting, collecting guns and competing in rodeos until he found his life's purpose in the Navy SEALs. "American Sniper" lovingly recounts both the rigors of the special-operations force's training program and the extravagant hazing to which new members are subjected. (Kyle was handcuffed to a chair, loaded up with Jack Daniel's, stripped and covered with spray paint and obscene marking-pen tattoos by his buddies on the night before his wedding. Presumably his bride got the message about whom he really belonged to.)

When the action-hungry commando finally got to Iraq during the initial push of the war in 2003, he was confronted for the first time with the soldier's prime directive: to kill the enemy. In Nasaria, Kyle shot his first Iraqi (an incident that opens the book), a woman he spotted on a road pulling a grenade from her clothing to throw at an advancing Marine foot patrol. "I don't regret it," he writes. "The woman was already dead. I was just making sure she didn't take any Marines with her."
It is both cruel and perverse to reproach soldiers for killing the enemy when that's what they're sent to war to do, and when they do so in defense of their own lives and the lives of their comrades. Nevertheless, you can expect soldiers to kill and still recoil when they kill blithely and eagerly. In "American Sniper," Kyle describes killing as "fun" and something he "loved" to do. This pleasure was no doubt facilitated by his utter conviction that every person he shot was a "bad guy." Fallujah and Ramadi, where he saw the most action, were certainly crawling with insurgents and foreign Islamist militants, and Kyle swears that every man he picked off with his sniper rifle was manifestly up to no good. But his bloodthirstiness and general indifference to the Iraqis and their country don't suggest that he was highly motivated to make sure.

"I don't shoot people with Korans," Kyle retorted to an Army investigator when he was accused of killing an Iraqi civilian. "I'd like to, but I don't." Later in "American Sniper," he announces, "I couldn't give a flying fuck about the Iraqis." "I hate the damn savages," he explains. What does matter most to him are "God, country and family" (although much of the friction in his marriage arose from his ordering of those last two items). As Kyle saw it, he and his fellow troops had been sent to war in this contemptible place "to make sure that bullshit didn't make its way back to our shores."

In Kyle's version of the Iraq War, the parties consisted of Americans, who are good by virtue of being American, and fanatic Muslims whose "savage, despicable evil" led them to want to kill Americans simply because they are Christians. (Later in his service, Kyle had a blood-red "crusader cross" tattooed on his arm.) While he describes patriotism as the guiding force in his life, Kyle's patriotism is of the visceral, Toby Keith variety. It consists of loving America — specifically, being overwhelmed emotionally by the National Anthem and flag, and filled with a desire to dedicate one's life to such symbols — rather than a commitment to tangible democratic principles, such as civilian oversight of the military. That Iraqis, too, might have been patriotically motivated to defend their own country against foreign invaders like himself does not appear to have ever crossed Kyle's mind.
As for Americans, they come in two varieties: "badasses," of which Navy SEALs are the premiere example, and "pussies." The latter could be anyone from congressmen who impose onerous restrictions on, say, a SEAL sniper's freedom to shoot anyone he deems a "bad guy," to journalists who present unflattering reports on military activities. The recurring designation of "bad guy" suggests just how profoundly Kyle's view of the conflict was shaped by comic books and video games, where moral inquiry takes a back seat to heroics, exhibitions of skill, gear and scoring. (In Ramadi, Kyle and another sniper, egged on by their superiors, hotly competed to be the one to officially kill the most people.)

In the world of the video game, there's no difference between a reason to kill people and a pretext for doing so; the point of the game is to kill, and the reason (they're "bad guys") is just an excuse. In real life, the reason is everything (unless, that is, the killer is a psychopath). A soldier almost always has an excellent reason: protecting himself and his comrades. But when soldiers are part of an invading army, the more thoughtful among them usually end up asking why they and their buddies have been put in mortal danger to begin with. That's why so many Iraq War memoirs resolve in bitterness and betrayal. The heroism and sacrifice of the troops were very real, but the war itself was based on lies.
All such questions about the origin of wars amount to "politics," and they're a bummer if what you really want is to read about exciting house-to-house battles, amazing long shots made with lovingly described high-end weapons and anecdotes celebrating the strutting prowess of elite American commandos. To get that sort of book, you need that oxymoronic thing, an unthoughtful writer. "American Sniper," which was produced with two ghostwriters, is a work that would never have existed were it not for Kyle's own glamorous, mediagenic reputation because he sure wasn't going to produce it on his own; you get the impression that he exerted enormous efforts not to reflect on what happened in Iraq and why. You'll find no mention of Abu Ghraib, the WMD fraud or the pre-war absence of al-Qaida operatives in these pages.

Kyle's account of his return home suggests that it was not just the rationale for the invasion that messed with his simplified, sentimentally patriotic conception of the Iraq War. He went from one drunken brawl to another, including an alleged altercation with Jesse Ventura. Kyle's description of that led to a libel suit: Ventura says the fight never happened. The former Minnesota governor has always forthrightly expressed his opposition to the Iraq War, but Kyle claimed that Ventura had insulted American troops. To judge by other passages in "American Sniper," Kyle doesn't seem to have understood the difference, or to have considered the possibility that opponents of the war also wanted to save American lives. War and politics: difficult to separate even when you're hellbent on denying the connection.

Kyle finally sobered up. (It was totaling his pickup that did it, but he also missed one of his kids' birthday parties because was in jail for a bar fight.) By all accounts, he had begun to wrestle with the war's toxic legacy, establishing a nonprofit that donated in-home fitness equipment to veterans suffering from the physical and psychological toll of battle. Kyle's dedication to his fellow fighters was admirable and selfless, and exercise can be great therapy. Still, the preference for activity over rumination and consideration remained a persistent theme.

Eddie Routh, the veteran who shot Kyle and his friend Chris Littlefield, had reportedly been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experiences in the war. In the immediate aftermath of Kyle and Littlefield's murders, many people expressed incredulity at the notion of taking a person troubled with PTSD to a firing range. One-time presidential candidate Ron Paul provoked a firestorm of criticism by questioning this choice and tweeting, "he who lives by the sword dies by the sword." (Word of advice: Twitter, like video games, is not an appropriate forum for complex argument.) In fact, controlled exposure to triggering stimuli is an established treatment for PTSD. It works much like phobia therapies that have patients, under a therapist's guidance, first imagine and then gradually encounter the objects of their fears. Over time, the triggers can be desensitized.

But Routh also appears to have had other underlying mental health and substance abuse issues. He'd been hospitalized multiple times for threatening to kill both himself and family members. He may have had problems that pre-existed his service or that were exacerbated by it. Furthermore, there's no indication that Routh was receiving any kind of psychotherapy or that Kyle and Littlefield had run the firing range idea past a therapist who was familiar with his case. Why should they? What would some egghead, like the brass and the politicians, who had never been in the shit, know about it, anyway, compared to someone like Kyle who had actually been there? Routh was not just an American, but an American soldier, a person who was by definition incapable of doing anything evil.

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The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer. Why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero? | Lindy West | Comment is free | The Guardian


Clint Eastwood's film about Navy Seal Chris Kyle has hit a raw nerve in America, with right wingers calling for the rape or death of anyone ungrateful enough to criticize his actions 

I have to confess: I was suckered by the trailer for American Sniper. It's a masterpiece of short-form tension – a confluence of sound and image so viscerally evocative it feels almost domineering. You cannot resist. You will be stressed out. You will feel. Or, as I believe I put it in a blog about the trailer, "Clint Eastwood's American Sniper trailer will ruin your pants."

But however effective it is as a piece of cinema, even a cursory look into the film's backstory – and particularly the public reaction to its release – raises disturbing questions about which stories we choose to codify into truth, and whose, and why, and the messy social costs of transmogrifying real life into entertainment.

Chris Kyle, a US navy Seal from Texas, was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and claimed to have killed more than 255 people during his six-year military career. In his memoir, Kyle reportedly described killing as "fun", something he "loved"; he was unwavering in his belief that everyone he shot was a "bad guy". "I hate the damn savages," he wrote. "I couldn't give a flying fuck about the Iraqis." He bragged about murdering looters during Hurricane Katrina, though that was never substantiated.
He was murdered in 2013 at a Texas gun range by a 25-year-old veteran reportedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

However we diverge politically, I have enough faith in Eastwood's artistry and intellect to trust that he is not a black-and-white ideologue – or, at least, that he knows that the limitations of such a worldview would make for an extremely dull movie. But the same can't be said for Eastwood's subject, or, as response to the film has demonstrated, many of his fans.

As Laura Miller wrote in Salon: "In Kyle's version of the Iraq war, the parties consisted of Americans, who are good by virtue of being American, and fanatic Muslims whose 'savage, despicable evil' led them to want to kill Americans simply because they are Christians."

Adds Scott Foundas at Variety: "Chris Kyle saw the world in clearly demarcated terms of good and evil, and American Sniper suggests that such dichromatism may have been key to both his success and survival; on the battlefield, doubt is akin to death."

Eastwood, on the other hand, Foundas says, "sees only shades of gray", and American Sniper is a morally ambiguous, emotionally complex film. But there are a lot of Chris Kyles in the world, and the chasm between Eastwood's intent and his audience's reception touches on the old Chappelle's Show conundrum: a lot of white people laughed at Dave Chappelle's rapier racial satire for the wrong reasons, in ways that may have actually exacerbated stereotypes about black people in the minds of intellectual underachievers. Is that Chappelle's fault? Should he care?

Likewise, much of the US right wing appears to have seized upon American Sniper with similarly shallow comprehension – treating it with the same unconsidered, rah-rah reverence that they would the national anthem or the flag itself. Only a few weeks into its release, the film has been flattened into a symbol to serve the interests of an ideology that, arguably, runs counter to the ethos of the film itself. How much, if at all, should Eastwood concern himself with fans who misunderstand and misuse his work? If he, intentionally or not, makes a hero out of Kyle – who, bare minimum, was a racist who took pleasure in dehumanising and killing brown people – is he responsible for validating racism, murder, and dehumanisation? Is he a propagandist if people use his work as propaganda?
That question came to the fore last week on Twitter when several liberal journalists drew attention to Kyle's less Oscar-worthy statements. "Chris Kyle boasted of looting the apartments of Iraqi families in Fallujah," wrote author and former Daily Beast writer Max Blumenthal. "Kill every male you see," Rania Khalek quoted, calling Kyle an "American psycho".

Retaliation from the rightwing twittersphere was swift and violent, as Khalek documented in an exhaustive (and exhausting) post at Alternet. "Move your America hating ass to Iraq, let ISIS rape you then cut your cunt head off, fucking media whore muslim," wrote a rather unassuming-looking mom named Donna. "Rania, maybe we to take you ass overthere and give it to ISIS … Dumb bitch," offered a bearded man named Ronald, who enjoys either bass fishing or playing the bass (we may never know). "Waterboarding is far from torture," explained an army pilot named Benjamin, all helpfulness. "I wouldn't mind giving you two a demonstration."

The patriots go on, and on and on. They cannot believe what they are reading. They are rushing to the defence of not just Kyle, but their country, what their country means. They call for the rape or death of anyone ungrateful enough to criticise American hero Chris Kyle. Because Chris Kyle is good, and brown people are bad, and America is in danger, and Chris Kyle saved us. The attitude echoes what Miller articulated about Kyle in her Salon piece: "his steadfast imperviousness to any nuance, subtlety or ambiguity, and his lack of imagination and curiosity, seem particularly notable".
There is no room for the idea that Kyle might have been a good soldier but a bad guy; or a mediocre guy doing a difficult job badly; or a complex guy in a bad war who convinced himself he loved killing to cope with an impossible situation; or a straight-up serial killer exploiting an oppressive system that, yes, also employs lots of well-meaning, often impoverished, non-serial-killer people to do oppressive things over which they have no control. Or that Iraqis might be fully realised human beings with complex inner lives who find joy in food and sunshine and family, and anguish in the murders of their children. Or that you can support your country while thinking critically about its actions and its citizenry. Or that many truths can be true at once.
Always meet your heroes.

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