March 27, 2007

Tech Blogger Kathy Sierra Menaced by Hate Speech, Death and Rape Threats

Creating Passionate Users' Kathy Sierra canceled her keynote speech at ETech in San Diego [possibly triggering, possibly NSFW], because she was intimidated by a series of sexually loaded threats of murder and rape, both in the comments of her own blog and in two group blogs, and Bob's Yer Uncle, run by a group of tech and marketing bloggers. Neither site is now available; Bob's Yer Uncle has been yanked for violating WordPress's terms of service.

Sierra reproduced examples both of graphic attacks on her and written attacks on other women in her field, all laden with vivid imagery of violence against and contempt for women.

This is what the Tech Boys Club looks like [possibly triggering, possiby NSFW].

(via Lindsay Beyerstein)

Posted by abostick at 10:59 AM | Comments (1)

March 25, 2007

Is Cruelty the Tragic Flaw of George W. Bush?

At the Huffington Post, Paul Slansky uses the unfolding and unraveling of the US Attorney purge scandal to illuminate what he sees as the essential characteristic of the Bush administration that both defines it and contains the seeds of its undoing — if you will, Bush's tragic flaw: Cruelty.

Gonzales and Co. could have just said, "We're firing these people because we can," and that would have been that. ...

But NOOOOOOO! These spiteful sadists, who so revel in causing pain that they can't let a single opportunity pass untaken, had to impugn the fitness of the fired, thus forcing them to defend themselves by attacking their attackers and elevating their dismissals to, as George H.W. Bush was fond of putting it, a media "feeding frenzy." ...

In 1967, the Yale Daily News exposed the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity's penchant for branding pledges with red hot wire hangers. The New York Times picked up the story, which featured a former president of the frat, one George W. Bush, dismissing the resulting "insignificant" wound as "only a cigarette burn" that leaves "no scarring mark, physically or mentally." So, Bush's first quote in the national press was a defense of torture.

What's obvious to all but the willfully blind is that Bush truly enjoys hurting people. His every action is designed to inflict pain, from that loathsome habit of giving people nicknames — hey, media suck-ups, it's not cute, it's contemptuous, a bully-boy saying, "I think so little of you that I'm not gonna call you by your name, I'm gonna call you what I want to call you" — to the cavalier decimation of a nation. Bush's utter heartlessness is breathtaking, though no more so than the mainstream media's craven refusal to even acknowledge it, let alone to truly do its job and relentlessly point out every instance of his wanton malice.

It is not accurate to describe cruelty as George Bush's tragic flaw. The classical conception of tragedy is that of a great person brought down by the imperfection of their character. Because George Bush is so thoroughly and unredeemedly mediocre and inadequate, he cannot be a tragic figure: he lacks even the slightest shred of the greatness needed for the role.

(via Avedon Carol)

Posted by abostick at 11:51 AM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2007

SFGate's 'Bad Reporter' Misuses Torture Image

I had a visceral reaction to Don Asmussen's "Bad Reporter" political webcomic on SFGate this morning.

Spinning off from the the 1984 Apple/Obama ad mashup that's getting attention on YouTube, Asmussen invents a parody mashup of a Purina Dog Chow ad for his first panel. His second panel, representing the author of the mashup, is grotesque and fat-phobic, but doesn't actually push my buttons.

I found the third panel, however, deeply disturbing, angering, painful. It depicts a news story illustrated with one of the Abu Ghurayb photographs, the one where Lynndie England is holding the leash of a prone prisoner. The face of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is photoshopped over England's, and that of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the prisoner's. The caption reads "Harry Reid questioning Alberto Gonzales." (Warning disturbing imagery below the fold)

I'm finding it hard to articulate my anger and disgust at this image. It reminded me of the Joe-Lieberman-in-blackface picture on The Huffington Post and of the picture of Jessica Valenti in a burkha on Pandagon. The commonality I see is that the artist takes an emotionally charged symbol of oppression and suffering of some sort of Other and uses that charge to make a small joke hotter, because a joke that is hotter often seems funnier.

Brownfemipower said it better than I could, about Jessica Valenti in a burkha:

Because it *is* pretty funny isn’t it? The comparing of an asshole to the Taliban. But in Pandagon’s rush to make a cheap joke at the expense of women of color (because good lord, the *real* problem with anti-sex feminists is that they want to turn white women into the OTHER), Pandagon forgot something small but very important: they are feminists from and blogging within a colonizing nation. A colonizing nation that is in the process of bombing the holy hell out of the very women that they find so easy to make fun of.

Yes, we can say, this picture of Reid with Gonzales on a leash is funny, seeing the torturer tortured. But in SFGate's rush to make a cheap joke at the expense of the victims of Bush's war, SFGate forgot something important: they are journalists from and reporting within a colonizing nation that is in the process of bombing the holy hell out of, and continuing to torture and abuse, the war victims that they find so easy to make fun of.

That picture mocks and trivializes the suffering that took place at Abu Ghurayb. It reduces it to the level of the fraternity hazing hijinks to which Rush Limbaugh compared the Abu Ghurayb atrocities.

Shame on SFGate. Shame on Don Asmussen.

Posted by abostick at 02:24 PM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2005

Notes Toward an Essay on Torture: Double Signal

Here is some evidence in support of my belief that, in our society, the messages we receive that tell us torture is wrong carry with them a secondary, hidden message conveying approval of or desire to torture. In the jargon of process-oriented psychology, this is known as a "double signal."

On Make Them Accountable, David Podvin has posted an article, "Savagery" [link NSFW], that is a, well, savage denunciation of the Bush administration and its apologists over the torture issue. At the head of the article is a JPEG image, a drawing showing three nude hooded men standing on buckets, with electrodes attached to hands and feet. In the foreground a uniformed man is shouting and brandishing a stick with prongs or electrodes. In the middle ground, a woman in uniform (who seems to be a grotesque caricature of Lynndie England) holds the gathered wires from the electrodes in her hands. In the background, a uniformed man wearing dark glasses is guiding a handcuffed, blindfolded woman into the room. The torture victims standing on the buckets are facing the viewer. All three are well-muscled, and the genitals of two of the three are in full view. The only color in the otherwise black-and-white drawing is the red-white-and-blue American flag shoulder patch on the soldier in the foreground.

The drawing has none of the sad, sordid, passive misery we see in so many of the actual torture photos from Abu Ghurayb. Instead, it is active and dynamic. The shouting soldier in the foreground is ready to strike. The muscular torsos of his victims are erect and poised. The drawing looks pornographic, like an idealized, eroticized substitute for the real thing. The drawing style in fact resembles that of Tom of Finland [NSFW].

Podvin dehumanizes his foes, describing Ann Coulter as "eighty pounds of toxic sewage wrapped in six feet of reptile skin," and uses rhetoric of civil war (Republicans are "Confederates ... striving to make Andersonville a global phenomenon"). What would David Neiwert make of him, I wonder?

Here we have a diatribe against torture that is couched in violent, dehumanizing llanguage and illustrated with BDSM porn. That's a double signal, if ever I saw one.

(via The Sideshow)

Posted by abostick at 07:26 PM | Comments (2)

March 13, 2005

Notes Toward an Essay on Torture: A Culture of Abuse

Jeanne at Body and Soul warns us:

[Conservative Catholic commentator Mark] Shea is right in identifying why the avoidance of torture is a moral absolute:
But the pains and penalties of sin (by which we mean “risking the everlasting fires of Hell and eternal damnation”) aren’t the only reasons no Catholic should support the use of torture. It is also worth noting that right here in this world, a culture’s adoption of torture – even the “non-lethal” variety, and even in times of emergency – is a formula for social catastrophe.

For it – like legal abortion – is a slippery slope leading to, among other things, the creation of a special class of people who truly enjoy this sort of work and are good at it. Reward such work and create a special department in the government for it, and people like that tend to find ways to continue plying their special skills, even when they’re no longer wanted by the state that once supported them. Just ask the victims of the quasi-mafia, quasi-KGB operatives who are doing very well in the post-Soviet era of gangsterism in Russia.

A culture of abuse doesn't stay in the box.

In fact, I'd take that argument much farther. The problem isn't just that certain people, already prone to that sin, will be given license to practice it and won't know when to stop. Evil isn't something that exists over there in the other guy, but not in me. Whatever penchant for cruelty exists in each of us will come to the surface. And at some point you end up with a country in which people can look at pictures of abuse, read about men beaten while hanging from the ceiling, or children raped and set upon by guard dogs, and move on, perhaps even find some sick enjoyment in the spirit of vengeance. They won't react to the evil done by their leaders. They won't care. Or worse, they will approve.

Maybe we're already there, in which case this is less a matter of politics than of saving souls. I can't think of any effective political response to this situation. There's no way to "frame" abuse so that people who don't care will care. The only way to talk about it is – with or without religious language – as the most important moral issue we face.

The culture of abuse has already existed in the USA for quite some time. The torture at Bagram, Guatanamo, and Abu Ghurayb did not emerge out of nothingness prompted only by the rage of 9/11. It was already there: in the institutional memories of the CIA and the US armed forces; and in the whole of American culture. Some of us kept others of us as slaves, knowing the lash and the brand. Later, some of us used mob violence and murder as a tool for social control. Many of us were beaten (or worse) by our parents as children, and some of us have in turn done the same to our own children.

The problem of abuse may or may not be "the most important moral issue we face," but we face it (or turn our faces away from it) every day, at home, in our city streets, in public places, at our jobs, in the books we read, on the video programs we watch. Jeanne is correct that the evil is in all of us, in herself and myself as well as Lynndie England and Charles Graner, and in Alberto Gonzalez and John Yoo; and in you.

The torturer is in me. He cannot be expunged – trying to do so will only drive him deeper into the shadows. The moral, emotional, psychological task facing me (and Jeanne, and England, Graner, Gonzalez, Yoo, and you) is to bring him out of the shadow and into the light. Only when we acknowledge the torturer can we stop the torture.

Posted by abostick at 08:37 PM | Comments (3)

March 12, 2005

Notes Toward an Essay on Torture: The Mother Lode

A commenter to a post last month on TalkLeft points us to the Winter 2005 issue of the New England Journal of Public Policy, where we can find the article "Cruel Science: CIA Torture & U.S. Foreign Policy" by Alfred W. McCoy. The 54-page article can be found as a .PDF on the journal's Web site.

Some people, in expressing their outrage about the Abu Ghurayb photographs, have insisted that "Americans don't torture." McCoy reminds us that this has not been true, not since the end of the Second World War.

McCoy's paper both provides exhaustive detail about interrogations at Abu Ghurayb and the unfolding of the scandal and places the scandal in the context of the CIA's half-century record of researching and implementing interrogation methods and teaching these methods to intelligence and police agencies of US partners and allies. I'm relieved to find all this information pulled together in one place: that's a big chunk of research I don't have to try do do myself.

Posted by abostick at 10:15 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2005

Notes Toward an Essay on Torture: My Starting Point

The proximate cause of my desire to write about Americans and torture was this passage from a post on Hullabaloo that Patrick Nielsen Hayden quoted approvingly last January:

Every person alive in America today grew up with the belief that torture is wrong. Popular culture, religion, folklore and every other form of cultural instruction for decades in this country has taught that it is wrong, from sermons and lectures to films about slavery to photographs of Auschwitz to crime shows about serial killers. It is embedded in our consciousness. We teach our children that it is wrong to torture animals and other kids. We don't say that there are exceptions for when the animals or kids are really, really bad. We have laws on the books that outright outlaw it. The words "cruel and unusual" are written into our constitution.

Digby, in expressing his genuine and legitimate anger, is only telling half the story. The words "cruel and unusual" were written into the Constitution by James Madison, who owned a plantation that ran on slave labor. Madison may or may not have whipped his slaves with his own hand, but without a doubt he employed overseers who did.

Yes, Americans are taught that torture is wrong. And we are also taught that it is right. The belief that torture is wrong may be embedded in our consciousness; but the belief in the efficacy and rightness of torture is embedded in our unconsciousness. Those sermons, lectures, films, photographs, and TV crime shows depict the horrors of torture in loving detail. We are told over and over again not only that torture is bad, but that this detail of torture is bad, and so is this one, and this one. At once, while society teaches us that torture is bad, it teaches us how to torture.

Posted by abostick at 01:45 PM | Comments (2)

March 08, 2005

Notes Toward an Essay on Torture: Frat-House Frolics

Remember when Rush Limbaugh made excuses for the Abu Ghurayb photographs by comparing them to fraternity hazings?

Last Thursday, police in Chico, California, arrested five members of the Chi Tau fraternity at the California State University campus in that town for the death of Matthew Carrington a candidate for membership in the fraternity. The description of the circumstances of Carrington's death seems eerily reminiscent of the reports coming out of Guatanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Liberal bloggers and pundits ripped Limbaugh several new ones for his dismissal of the Abu Ghurayb atrocity as a frat-house prank. Dismissing Abu Ghurayb is the act of a moral cripple. Yet the people whose reaction to the horrors perpetrated by their government is a shocked, outraged "How can they do this – Americans don't torture!" would do well to open their eyes to quite how beastly ordinary Americans can be.

For the wrong reasons, Rush Limbaugh was right. There is a link between the insane cruelties perpetrated by Americans against military detainees and the insane cruelties perpetrated on Frat Row – and the insane cruelties perpetrated behind the closed doors of suburban homes.

Posted by abostick at 09:42 AM | Comments (0)

January 14, 2005

I *Really* Didn't Want to Learn That

Kevin Drum points out that Andrew Sullivan's blog "has become a must read for anyone who cares about the torture scandal."

I'm currently letting a half-outlined essay on Americans and torture bubble and stew on my mind's back burner. (Its perhaps too-cute working title is "The Shadow of the Torturer" because its thesis is that there is a torturer in America's collective Shadow, in the Jungian sense of the word.) I'm very interested in any new carrots and potatoes to throw into the pot. So I checked Sullivan's blog, and goddammit, Kevin is right. I'm going to go back there regularly and keep reading it. Crap.

Sullivan also has a crackerjack essay in the New York Times Book Review which is as good a summary as I've seen of the story so far.

Posted by abostick at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2004

Support Victims of Torture on June 26

June 26 is United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

On the occasion of June 26, 2003, the White House issued a statement by George Bush denouncing torturne:

Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130 other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit. Beating, burning, rape, and electric shock are some of the grisly tools such regimes use to terrorize their own citizens. These despicable crimes cannot be tolerated by a world committed to justice. ...

The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example. I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment. I call on all nations to speak out against torture in all its forms and to make ending torture an essential part of their diplomacy. [emphasis added]

That's one powerful example Bush set at Abu Ghurayb.

The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims has some strong words to say about this example.

Posted by abostick at 10:33 AM | Comments (1)

Recent Entries
Tech Blogger Kathy Sierra Menaced by Hate Speech, Death and Rape Threats
Is Cruelty the Tragic Flaw of George W. Bush?
SFGate's 'Bad Reporter' Misuses Torture Image
Notes Toward an Essay on Torture: Double Signal
Notes Toward an Essay on Torture: A Culture of Abuse
Notes Toward an Essay on Torture: The Mother Lode
Notes Toward an Essay on Torture: My Starting Point
Notes Toward an Essay on Torture: Frat-House Frolics
I *Really* Didn't Want to Learn That
Support Victims of Torture on June 26
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