Friday, January 30, 2015

I've figured out the Charlie Hebdo killings

Broadly speaking, I've figured out a theory that explains the Charlie Hebdo killings. Obviously, it doesn't involve the specter of murdering Muslims haunting Europe, so bandied in the popular media.

The ancient Romans had a method of inquiry for dealing with events of this nature in which the actors were known, but the motives and implications murky. They asked: Qui bono? (who benefits?)

Set aside whether the artists and writers of Charlie Hebdo magazine had exceeded the bounds of good taste and were providing a safe haven for Islamophobia to white, formerly Christian Europeans who styled themselves too intellectual to be merely prole racists. (They were, but that's not important.)

Set aside whether the killers, for their part, were the most ordinary of youthful, largely jobless non-white, non-Christian (and non-former-Christian) immigrants in Europe, full of rage toward a social environment in which their ethnicity and religion is largely despised and disparaged as a matter of routine. (They were, but set it aside.)

Who benefits from stirring up Islamophobia and sending cadres of police stormtroopers all over Europe hunting Arabs who are allegedly extremist?

I've figured it out: people who possess and sell oil.

Think about it. The price of oil has been falling. In some parts of the United States (unfortunately, not where I live) people can buy a gallon of gas for less than $2.00, a price not seen in years!

For North Africa and the Middle East, however, this is an unmitigated disaster. Similarly, oil stocks have been plunging and petroleum extraction companies have begun laying people off.

Who need a war to stir up insecurity in oil supplies and jack up the price again?

Saudi Arabia, ISIS (which now controls oil wells and refineries), Iraq and Iran, but also Exxon, Shell, Chevron and all the biggest environmental pollution makers.

These are not exactly nice people. Ask the birds of the Gulf of Mexico or ask the subjects of the Saud royal family. These are people who connived and plotted to bring about the permanent instability and ebullience of the Middle East, in the service of oil production.

These are people who overthrew neutralist Iranian Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh in 1953 and gave the world decades of Shah rule under the savage SAVAK secret police ... until youthful Muslim mobs in the 1970s asserted popular sentiment and put in the Ayatollah and the Muslim constitution.

These oil-profit-driven conspirators are also the same people who have given weapons equal to those used to protect the president of the United States (remember AWACS?) to an absolute hereditary monarchy, that of the Sauds, which forbids the practice of other faiths.

We shall never know exactly who wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein and invade Iraq. But we have the body counts: hundreds of thousand of Iraqi dead and the 5,000 or so Americans.

Is it inconceivable that the Mafia-like combination of commercial interests and hegemonic families of the Middle East and West conspired to arrange that someone pick some disgruntled, Arab ghetto youths in France, put weapons in their hands and direct their rage against "innocent" satirists?

This, I contend, is what happened.

Some people stand to benefit from killings, persecution, more or less contained but permanent regional wars that make the supply of the world's largest reserves of oil unstable. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, the "Arab Spring" and the decimation of the leadership of Al Qaeda were bringing to a close the so-called "war" against "terrorism."

Even the price of oil was dropping to levels seen when prosperity was shared somewhat more equitably. Peace was budding.

Can't have that, can we? Next to oil, war is one of the most profitable businesses.

All the rest, the noise on TV, radio and the newspapers, is merely a smokescreen meant to distract the populace, us, back into fearful social compliance. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Back to the retrofuture

The word "retrofuture" perfectly captures one's thinking about a number of "new" things after one has been around the historical block a few times. It was brought to my attention by Argentine graphic artist Germán Ponce, who was captivated by a "new" design of a Renault that stylizes one from the 1960s.

Of course, retrofuture involves, first, a sense of déjà vu.

Take, for example, the Cloud, that wired or wireless repository of data and, increasingly, programs in a location far, far away. The tendency toward subscription software and data in the Cloud coupled with the electronic tablet reminds me of nothing so much as the mainframe and the dumb terminal.

Is it good? Is it bad? Retrofuture involves some ill foreboding.

Who can deny that Libertarian Rand Paul, with his proclaimed love of the business owner's freedom to choose who will be served, wants to take us back to 1963 and the "white" and "colored" lunch facilities? Or that the Bush family wants to take us back to the political economy of 1915 ... or 1815?

Yet the retrofuture is not all evil.

Think of the commodious, quiet, nonpolluting streetcar of yesteryear. When they first electrified the streetcars, which originally were pulled by horses, the vehicles were said to travel at 15 km/h, a speed that is said to have prompted my horse-and-buggy era maternal grandmother to have exclaimed, "They'll kill themselves!"

The street car was killed in many countries by a greedy combination of auto and petroleum industries and plutocratic demagogues of the 1930s, 40s and 50s (see "General Motors streetcar conspiracy").

Now it's coming back in many U.S. cities. The streetcar will save the Earth!

Germán is a youngish man who is fond of now "classic" designs of my boyhood and adolescence in the 1950s and 60s. I assume, perhaps wrongly, that he does not realize quite how much of everything new is actually is something I have seen before. I say so with a bit of envy and that curmudgeonly sentiment that "youth is wasted on the young."

But some of it was wonderful and some of the wonders are coming back. So I join my artistic friend in celebrating the retrofuture, a place in which some good ideas from the past come back and the bad ones are again rejected.

Thank you, my friend, for an eminently useful word.

Friday, January 09, 2015

France doth protest too much about Charlie Hebdo

How dare I say "I am NOT Charlie Hebdo"!* How dare I think the World Trade Center twin towers were ugly (I did and I do) and the bond traders within were somewhat less than saints and heroes!

It turns out that the much vaunted freedom of speech does not extend to the contrarian who says "wait an effing minute, here" when everybody suddenly chants the same chant -- while the war profiteers rub their hands with glee.

In emails with a French friend across the Atlantic, who amuses me with her Gaullocentric opinions, I am hitting the bedrock of self-contradiction in the values of the Eurocentric West, which includes the United States and territories south and north.

Our supposedly open and free Western values prevent us from acknowledging that the point of view and values of Jihadists, as distasteful as they may be to us, are equal to ours.

The Jihadists feel about Western power pretty much the way Catholic medieval Europeans felt about the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Their societies, let's remember, function largely as traditional societies functioned in Europe 1,000 years ago.

They are not democracies and proud of that. All authority is theocratic and absolute. Women are subject to men. People get limbs (and sexual organs) cut off for transgressions, or to comply with law.

That's not my cup of tea, either, dear Western reader. But it's theirs and they have -- by our Western "enlightened" values -- a right to it.

Let's step back from our cultural biases for a moment.

When we Westerners go and try to "modernize" them with "human rights," we think we are being enlightened and helping them. Thus the huge Western mistake of demonizing the Taliban and anathemizing the burka.

When the citizens of countries that are predominantly Muslim look at our Western behavior, they reasonably think we are imposing our values. They think we are introducing heresies and wrongdoing. They are deeply offended by what they perceive as the blasphemy of humanism and the immorality of naked hedonism.

And this says nothing of the way Western governments have set up and supported all sorts of monarchs, sultans and dictators -- none of them stellar advocates of human rights other than their own -- so long as they would sell us oil at a price we like.

So it is all fine and dandy to act outraged at their violent behavior in Paris, but it is only one more way we in the West ignore their cultural values and treat them as inferior savages in need of our superior ideas.

Who says democratic humanist secularism is better than theocratic Islamism? Didn't "civilized" Europe annihilate about 300 million people between 1914 and 1945? How dare we, Western Eurocentrics, proclaim that we have the superior values?

What gives us the gall to assert that all the brown and dark people, if they won't worship the Christianity we have never exemplified, should at least worship the human rights we don't respect?

This why I am NOT Charlie Hebdo. This is also why, the French and all their sudden "I am Charlie Hebdo" sympathizers, in the Shakespearean paraphrase, do protest too much.

* I apologize to readers who could not comment on my last post. For a variety of artistic and technical reasons, I wanted to change my post's headline and the headline-related link, ending up deleting and replacing the post. No Jihadists (or Western intelligence agencies) were hurt in the writing of this blog.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

I am NOT Charlie Hebdo

I said it on 9/11 and I'll say it now. It's easy to label someone else "terrorist" and be done with it, but what we should really be doing is trying to figure out what it is about the established order that propels some people to killing satirists.

I'm not saying I approve of the killings at all. But clearly, there is something afoot driving some people to clearly criminal and extreme behavior.

Maybe they have a grudge against the Eurocentric capitalist West? Is such a grudge justified, even if the murders are not? What can we, civilized and peace-loving citizens of the world do to heal the wounds that are causing such acts of desperation?

Because clearly, unless this was the work of provocateurs working for Western intelligence agencies, the murder of writers and artists at a satirical French magazine was a cry of despair. It's not a sane act, it does not gain anyone any profit (unless it is provocateurs trying to drum up more war).

Why did the murders occur? Why the Boston bombing? Why 9/11? Why the bombings in Madrid and London? There are people who obviously have despaired of having their grievances aired fairly and listened to with seriousness of purpose.
What are these grievances? How can we reach out to people who might become like these murderers and bombers and prevent the next loss of life?