Wednesday, February 13, 2008

View From The Treetops (13 Feb '08)

He Sank Beneath Your Wisdom Like a Stone




Argument/discussion between atheists and religionists is a tedious exercise in futility and one that I normally try to avoid.
The two parties find themselves comparing apples and oranges, the atheist argues from a fixed point of what is known and the religionist from a point of faith.
The atheist point of what is known is a bleak view for the faithful used to suffering in the hope of eternal reward.
The point of faith will drive an atheist insane with frustration, since his view is that we bear unnecessary suffering in the name of faith.
As a teenager I was burdened with religious guilt in the guise of my troubled mother whose disapproval of my musical taste led me to believe that I would be damned if I continued to listen to Kate Bush.
It seemed to me that if god did not wish us to experience the sublime pleasure of musical experience the he was indeed an awful god.
The two most difficult things I have done are: giving up religion and giving up smoking – smoking proved to be by far the more difficult.
Anyway, I don’t feel the need to convert anyone to my way of thinking; if people find comfort in religion then I am happy for them to do so. By the same token I do expect the same in return – you cannot put the religious argument before an existential atheist
and expect to be heard – it is an argument that has been thoroughly worked through and resolved – in fact the argument is the very definition of atheism.
A common misconception is that the god vs no god argument equates with the god vs science argument. In fact, science is closer to religion than it is to atheism.
Science seeks to discover the ultimate answer to how the universe came about, in other words to prove/disprove the existence of god. Atheism knows there is no god.
Science is therefore less likely to prove the atheist line than it is to prove the existence of god.
Another point that is perhaps counter-intuitive is that atheism is inherently optimistic, needing to believe in the positive aspects of human nature in order to ensure the evolutionary survival of the species; religion on the other hand actively promotes (and encourages) the destruction of the world in order to prove the scriptural point.
This final point is a bitter one in the eyes of the atheist – it appears that the Judeo/Islamo/Christian (monotheist) ethos is quite happy to prove its doctrine to the point of mutual destruction – a fact evident in the current round of inter-denominational global stupidity.
Let's face it - winning the arguement by destroying everything is just cutting your nose off to spite your face.


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How The Spooks Took Over The News




In his controversial new book, Nick Davies argues that shadowy intelligence agencies are pumping out black propaganda to manipulate public opinion – and that the media simply swallow it wholesale

On the morning of 9 February 2004, The New York Times carried an exclusive and alarming story. The paper's Baghdad correspondent, Dexter Filkins, reported that US officials had obtained a 17-page letter, believed to have been written by the notorious terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi to the "inner circle" of al-Qa'ida's leadership, urging them to accept that the best way to beat US forces in Iraq was effectively to start a civil war.
The letter argued that al-Qa'ida, which is a Sunni network, should attack the Shia population of Iraq: "It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis."
Later that day, at a regular US press briefing in Baghdad, US General Mark Kimmitt dealt with a string of questions about The New York Times report: "We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously... It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society." The story went on to news agency wires and, within 24 hours, it was running around the world.
There is very good reason to believe that that letter was a fake – and a significant one because there is equally good reason to believe that it was one product among many from a new machinery of propaganda which has been created by the United States and its allies since the terrorist attacks of September 2001.
For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.
The sheer ease with which this machinery has been able to do its work reflects a creeping structural weakness which now afflicts the production of our news. I've spent the last two years researching a book about falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media.
The "Zarqawi letter" which made it on to the front page of The New York Times in February 2004 was one of a sequence of highly suspect documents which were said to have been written either by or to Zarqawi and which were fed into news media.
This material is being generated, in part, by intelligence agencies who continue to work without effective oversight; and also by a new and essentially benign structure of "strategic communications" which was originally designed by doves in the Pentagon and Nato who wanted to use subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism but whose efforts are poorly regulated and badly supervised with the result that some of its practitioners are breaking loose and engaging in the black arts of propaganda.



Like the new propaganda machine as a whole, the Zarqawi story was born in the high tension after the attacks of September 2001. At that time, he was a painful thorn in the side of the Jordanian authorities, an Islamist radical who was determined to overthrow the royal family. But he was nothing to do with al-Q'aida. Indeed, he had specifically rejected attempts by Bin Laden to recruit him, because he was not interested in targeting the West.
Nevertheless, when US intelligence battered on the doors of allied governments in search of information about al-Q'aida, the Jordanian authorities – anxious to please the Americans and perhaps keen to make life more difficult for their native enemy – threw up his name along with other suspects. Soon he started to show up as a minor figure in US news stories – stories which were factually weak, often contradictory and already using the Jordanians as a tool of political convenience.
Then, on 7 October 2002, for the first time, somebody referred to him on the record. In a nationally televised speech in Cincinnati, President George Bush spoke of "high-level contacts" between al-Q'aida and Iraq and said: "Some al-Q'aida leaders who fled Afghanistan, went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Q'aida leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks."
This coincided with a crucial vote in Congress in which the president was seeking authority to use military force against Iraq. Bush never named the man he was referring to but, as the Los Angeles Times among many others soon reported: "In a speech [on] Monday, Bush referred to a senior member of al-Q'aida who received medical treatment in Iraq. US officials said yesterday that was Abu al Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian, who lost a leg during the US war in Afghanistan."
Even now, Zarqawi was a footnote, not a headline, but the flow of stories about him finally broke through and flooded the global media on 5 February 2003, when the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, addressed the UN Security Council, arguing that Iraq must be invaded: first, to stop its development of weapons of mass destruction; and second, to break its ties with al-Q'aida.
Powell claimed that "Iraq today harbours a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al Zarqawi"; that Zarqawi's base in Iraq was a camp for "poison and explosive training"; that he was "an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Q'aida lieutenants"; that he "fought in the Afghan war more than a decade ago"; that "Zarqawi and his network have plotted terrorist actions against countries, including France, Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia".
Courtesy of post-war Senate intelligence inquiries; evidence disclosed in several European trials; and the courageous work of a handful of journalists who broke away from the pack, we now know that every single one of those statements was entirely false. But that didn't matter: it was a big story. News organisations sucked it in and regurgitated it for their trusting consumers.
So, who exactly is producing fiction for the media? Who wrote the Zarqawi letters? Who created the fantasy story about Osama bin Laden using a network of subterranean bases in Afghanistan, complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems? Who fed the media with tales of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationery cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine? Who came up with the idea that Iranian ayatollahs have been encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine?
Some of this comes from freelance political agitators. It was an Iranian opposition group, for example, which was behind the story that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. And notoriously it was Iraqi exiles who supplied the global media with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.
But clearly a great deal of this carries the fingerprints of officialdom. The Pentagon has now designated "information operations" as its fifth "core competency" alongside land, sea, air and special forces. Since October 2006, every brigade, division and corps in the US military has had its own "psyop" element producing output for local media. This military activity is linked to the State Department's campaign of "public diplomacy" which includes funding radio stations and news websites. In Britain, the Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defence works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defence Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.
In the case of British intelligence, you can see this combination of reckless propaganda and failure of oversight at work in the case of Operation Mass Appeal. This was exposed by the former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter, who describes in his book, Iraq Confidential, how, in London in June 1998, he was introduced to two "black propaganda specialists" from MI6 who wanted him to give them material which they could spread through "editors and writers who work with us from time to time".



In interviews for Flat Earth News, Ritter described how, between December 1997 and June 1998, he had three meetings with MI6 officers who wanted him to give them raw intelligence reports on Iraqi arms procurement. The significance of these reports was that they were all unconfirmed and so none was being used in assessing Iraqi activity. Yet MI6 was happy to use them to plant stories in the media. Beyond that, there is worrying evidence that, when Lord Butler asked MI6 about this during his inquiry into intelligence around the invasion of Iraq, MI6 lied to him.
Ultimately, the US has run into trouble with its propaganda in Iraq, particularly with its use of the Zarqawi story. In May 2006, when yet another of his alleged letters was handed out to reporters in the Combined Press Information Centre in Baghdad, finally it was widely regarded as suspect and ignored by just about every single media outlet.
Arguably, even worse than this loss of credibility, according to British defence sources, the US campaign on Zarqawi eventually succeeded in creating its own reality. By elevating him from his position as one fighter among a mass of conflicting groups, the US campaign to "villainise Zarqawi" glamorised him with its enemy audience, making it easier for him to raise funds, to attract "unsponsored" foreign fighters, to make alliances with Sunni Iraqis and to score huge impact with his own media manoeuvres. Finally, in December 2004, Osama bin Laden gave in to this constructed reality, buried his differences with the Jordanian and declared him the leader of al-Q'aida's resistance to the American occupation.

Story from The Independent Monday 11 February 2008


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La Lucha Continua: A Review of Fidel Castro: My Life

February 10, 2008 By Ron Jacobs
Ron Jacobs's ZSpace Page



Fidel Castro is one of the great men of the past fifty years. Even his bitterest enemies acknowledge this by their continuing attempts to destroy the man and the revolution he is identified with. In 2003, journalist Ignacio Ramirez, editor of Le monde diplomatique, began a series of lengthy conversations with Fidel that were recently published in English. This collection of interviews taking place over two years, titled Fidel Castro: My Life, is a history and autobiography of a man who is not only a revolutionary, but the leader of a country that has maintained its national integrity and independence in the face of one of history's longest economic blockades and has stared down the biggest empire in the history of humankind while doing so.

My Life is not necessarily a balanced account of Fidel or the Cuban revolution, but then again it is an autobiography. That means the subject is telling his version of events. At the same time it is not an egocentric adventure in braggadocio. The picture that comes across in these (almost) 700 pages of interviews is of a man who strives to maintain his humility, refuses to take credit for events and programs that he rightly credits to the Cuban people and their government, and still retains a sense of humor about his history and his legacy. This isn't to say there are not flashes of arrogance or elements of egoism, yet the picture that emerges is of a man quite aware of the potential for someone of his stature to allow human frailties such as these to overcome his better self. Indeed, the struggle against those frailties appears on these pages, too.

Despite the neverending attempts by the Cubans that left Cuba after the victory of the Revolution in 1959 and their co-conspirators in the US government to destroy both Fidel and the government he is identified with, Fidel exudes optimism. His answers to Ramirez's questions refer constantly to the power of the Cuban people, their general belief in the principles of the revolution, their educational system, their culture and their fortitude in what they call the Battle of Ideas. Where many northern progressives see nothing but despair and hopelessness, Fidel sees cause for hope in the struggle against capitalist globalization. His intimate involvement in the Cuban struggle for independence and socialism since the early 1950s has provided him with a comprehension of history that very few other humans have—especially those still involved in the struggle for social and economic justice. This understanding and experience alone makes the lessons and thoughts in this book worthwhile.

Ramirez asks Fidel tough questions regarding Cuba's treatment of some of its dissidents and its use of the death penalty. Fidel answers these questions in a direct manner that explains Havana's reasoning for its actions. He discusses the role the CIA and the right-wing Miami Cubans play in financing and organizing many of the so-called dissidents and he discusses mistakes the Cuban government has made in its attempts to respond to the legitimate criticisms of these people and other Cubans that disagree with various policies of their government. At the same time, he stands steadfast in his support for the revolution and against those who would destroy what the revolution has accomplished. He decries Washington's meddling in Cuba's economy and politics and sets the record straight regarding various accusations made by Washington regarding Cuba's intentions and agreements with other nations.

Some of the most historically interesting sections of the book include his reminiscences of Che and the early days of the revolution. His account of the failed attempt on the Moncado barracks in 1953 and the time the rebels spent in the Sierra Maestro after Fidel's release from prison in 1956 are revealing in that they show how a revolutionary must learn from their mistakes. This segment is, among other things, an intelligent multilayered defense of the Cuban revolution and Fidel's commitment to that revolution. Details of episodes in Cuban and Latin American history are provided that are important not only for their source and the new facts they involve, but also because of Fidel's way of placing them in a historical context many readers may not have known or considered. His recollections of various world leaders he has locked horns with or met and worked with are objective and respectful. His commentary on the current situation of the world reveals a man whose mind is sharp and whose thinking is framed by an understanding of economics and history and is driven by a desire for economic and social justice.

Fidel exhibits a sense of history rarely found among US political leaders. Even on those rare occasions that a mainstream political figure appears in the United States that does know their history, it is usually a history without graciousness and with plenty of imperial arrogance. Fidel's understanding, on the other hand, is both gracious and intellectually thorough. It is not the historical understanding of a culture that has traded in any sense of history for the bluster of the bomb and the dollar, but the understanding of a culture that knows that history is more than destruction and conquest.

People on the left should read this book. Even if they (rightly or wrongly) disagree with Fidel, they will find his ideas and belief in humanity inspiring. People in the middle of the political spectrum should read it too. They will walk away with a new understanding of the Cuban revolution and, more importantly, a different way of perceiving their world. People on the right should also read it. They will walk away with a new respect for a man and country that is their most stalwart foe.

From Znet



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Neil Young ~ Don't Let It Bring You Down

1 comment:

gregra&gar said...

Leonard's line leads into the least emotional, most coherent examination of religion vs atheism I have seen from either side. Many good points.

Without religion atheists would just be realists or naturalists who find no need to tell a creation story while observing universal glory.

With no formal religious training in my youth it took many years for me to learn that the doctrine of faith has so saturated my culture completely that I found myself just as much a hope fiend as the holy rollers. I think I have kicked it now, but I still smoke 'dem funny cigarettes.

I'm glad you see the similarity between religion and science in their purpose of supplying answers to be taken on faith in authority. Life is a journey into the unknown, projecting religious or scientific certainty into the path is like losing your car in Las Vegas and working off the rest behind the bar.

Your finest point, and the point of my blogging at all sometimes is the relative optimism of faith in the evolution of human nature with its access to the store of genetic memory when compared to the cadre of fearful faithful out to remake the world in their image to feel safe in it.

Media manipulation is only possible or necessary in a culture built on faith in authority.

Thanks again, Pisces.