Reeling from one blunder to the next, the New York Times plummeted to new depths on July 25, combining a serious falsehood with possible misrepresentation of authorship.
On the op page for 7/25 appeared a column, datelined Havana, under the name Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, identified as Secretary General of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, and titled “A Prisoner Becomes A Warden”. The column narrated how its author had been with Castro in the original attack on the Moncada in 1953, had been imprisoned by Batista along with Castro and other comrades, had eventually turned against Castro. The thrust of the column was to compare the relatively decent prison and trial conditions (and eventual amnesty) enjoyed by Castro and the others in l953, with the grim sufferings and stinted rights of political prisoners in Cuba today.
Towards the end of the piece came the following sentence: “(Although there is no doubt in my mind that my younger brother, Sebastián, died in prison in 1997 because of deliberate lack of medical attention.)”
In fact Sebastian Arcos died in Miami of cancer, a couple of years after he was released from prison for humanitarian
reasons. But surely, you ask, Gustavo Arcos would remember where his brother died.
Gustavo is a brave and admirable person, but he is also very old and frail. The odds that he wrote that op-ed are slim indeed. For one thing, he doesn’t speak English.
On the topic of the mess at the NYT, our old friend (and CounterPuncher), former Times-man John L. Hess had this to say on WBAI on July 15: “Bill Keller wrote not long ago that he was amazed to find himself a hawk. That’s the mark of a true Times man. He may waver around, but he comes out Right in the end. The staff clapped hands yesterday when he was named executive editor. They were all sore at Howell Raines for saying he’d been chosen as editor to shake them out of their sleepy ways. It’s no doubt true that his drive to make a splash encouraged some reporters to go hog wild. Yesterday the Times ran half a page of corrections to a single article and it was the third such public disgrace in a few weeks.
“But there are several reasons to doubt that Keller is the man to cure that. For one thing, he was the editor in charge when the Times ran waged a campaign accusing Wen Ho Lee of selling atomic secrets to China. For another, neither Bill Keller nor Howell Raines nor their boss Arthur Sulzberger has uttered one peep about the serial lying of Judith Miller. For two years, she’s been faking evidence about weapons of mass destruction. Alex Cockburn has a devastating wrap-up in the print edition of CounterPunch of Miller quotes that helped drag us into war with Iraq. When the Times does a skin-back of that campaign I’ll believe it has truly reformed.”
Bye, Bye Uday and Qusay: Why the news is Bad For Bush and Blair
Short of good news ever since the end of the formal war, Bush and Blair are naturally exultant that Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay, have been satisfactorily incinerated in Mosul, presumably victims of someone eager to collar the $30 million reward for turning them in.
But though Saddam’s sons deserve everything they got, and more, the news of their demise should not be cause for great rejoicing in the White House and 10 Downing Street. In the event that Saddam soon follows his sons into the Great Hereafter, that would not, in anything other than the short term, be great news for Bush and Blair either.
For obvious reasons, Bush and his entourage have been eager to identify Saddam, Uday and Qusay as the instigators of the attacks on the US and UK occupying forces, with attendant steady, demoralizing trickle of casualties.
To suggest otherwise would be to concede that there might be long-term, organized opposition to the Allied occupation which has less to do with Saddam Hussein and his clan, and more with nationalist, or Islamic/nationalist opposition to the invaders.
The fact that Uday and Qusay were holed up in the house of a relative scarcely suggests that they had elaborate flight plans, replete with secret command bunkers, prepared in advance of the US/UK invasion. It looks as though, like many others suddenly on the run, the only plan they could come up with was an desperate rap on the door of a family friend.
With his epic record of blunders and miscalculations we’re probably safe in assuming Saddam wasn’t much better prepared. All those elaborate scenarios about ratlines to Russia or even nearby Syria were so much hooey. So in the end the huge reward for Saddam will weigh heavier than loyalty or fear and he’ll end up dead too.
With Uday and Qusay finished off, Bush may enjoy a short-term uptick on the polls. Maybe the attacks on US and UK troops will slow, but they certainly won’t stop and in the medium term they’ll probably increase.
Remember, many Iraqis saw the only virtue of the invasion as the end of a hated regime. If Saddam gets nailed too, that fear will finally dissipate and then more Iraqis will focus on the business of driving the Americans and the British out of their country. More US and British troops will get killed, but the rationale that this is the last ditch resistance of the cornered Saddam clan will have disappeared.
It’s a cynical proposition, but Bush and Blair will be much better off if Saddam is not run to earth, at least until some advanced point in next year’s presidential campaign season.
Even the killing of Uday and Qusay won’t help much in the steady erosion in both Bush and Blair’s popularity, because of the reasons for their slump. They stitched together a handsome patchwork of lies about Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction and that patchwork has fallen apart. No amount of grandstanding by Blair in Congress about the absolutions of history alters that.
Take the current uproar in the UK about the suicide of Dr David Kelly, the biowar expert charged by Blair and his minions with leaking disobliging information to the BBC. The plan of Blair’s spin team in 10 Downing Street, headed by Alastair Campbell, has been to create a diversion, to occlude the obvious: that Blair and his cohort obviously mangled the truth about Saddam’s WMDs.
This is the reason for all the howling from Number 10 about the BBC’s charges, based on interviews with Kelly by three separate BBC reporters, that Blair’s people “sexed up” (words never used by the BBC)the original report on WMDs prepared by Britain’s intelligence services.
But the record is clear enough. First, Britain’s intelligence services rushed from one preposterous piece of inflation to the next, accepted crude forgeries, plagiarized a student’s essay off the internet, and so forth. Kelly himself was an assiduous threat inflator till near the end, and maybe guilt over his own role, contributed to his very strange decision to kill himself. (Or maybe the security services were threatening him with some damaging personal revelation unless he denounced the BBC for misrepresenting his remarks to their reporters.)
Then Blair and his team took these threat inflations and inflated them even further. Whether it was some intelligence officer in MI6 or one of Blair’s flacks who came up with the notorious 45-minute launch time for one of Saddam’s bioweapons is a legitimate but not very important question. They were all in the business of exaggeration, as was UNSCOM, which has thus far escaped well-deserved rebuke. The same is true this side of the Atlantic. The press has finally caught up with the matter and won’t let it drop. Neither will the Democrats.
It will take a lot more than the killing of Uday or Qusay to turn this tide.
Kroeber and the California Indians
Driving up highway 101 from Eureka to Crescent City, just south of Orick I kept an eye out for a scenic rest area which, according to a memoir by his wife, Theodora, had once been the site of a cabin owned by Alfred Kroeber.
It’s through Kroeber that the Yurok made their way in the world of learning, their lives distilled into a monograph and footnote. In 1900, Kroeber, the father of academic anthropology in California, began a series of encounters with the Yurok that lasted many years. Many of these Q & A sessions were at this cabin formerly located in the scenic rest area where I was now peering under the hood of my wagon, trying to figure out why my brakes had stopped working.
Here, at the place known as Sigornoy, Kroeber would interrogate Indians, chiefly Robert Spott, a Yurok theocrat. Their conversations eventually had academic consequence in such works as Yurok Narratives and figured in Kroeber’s dispassionate reflections on the supposed ‘character’ of the Yurok, scattered through various works. The Yurok were, he wrote on one occasion, an ‘inwardly fearful peoplethe men often seemed to me withdrawn.’ Kroeber mused that ‘for some reason, the culture had simply gone hypochondriac.’
Kroeber never got around to mentioning that between 1848, the start of the gold rush, and 1910, the Yurok population in the region was reduced from about two and a half thousand individuals to about 610. Disease, starvation and murder had wiped out about 75 per cent of the group. It is as though an anthropologist studying the inward fears of Polish Jews never mentioned Auschwitz.
In his Handbook of the Indians of California, published by the bureau of American Ethnology in 1925, Kroeber wrote that ‘there is one Indian in California today for every eight that lived in the same area before the white man came.’ Then he mused that ‘the causes of this decline of nearly 90%are obscure.’
Kroeber, eager to identify American anthropology in terms of ‘millennial sweeps and grand contours’, had little patience with that shorter chronological span encompassing the extermination of most of the California tribal groups he was presuming to study. As he put it, ‘the billions of woes and gratifications of peaceful citizens or bloody deaths’ were of no concern. He visited the desperate native Americans of California , writing these tranquil ethnologies, sometimes, after only a couple weeks with the group, all but ignoring the end of history elapsing before his eyes.
This posture bothered some of Kroeber’s professional associates. The linguist Edward Sapir wrote him in 1938, ‘You find anchorage–as most people do, for that matter–in an imaginative sundered system of cultural and social values in the face of which the individual has almost to apologize for presuming to exist at all. It seems to me that if people were less amenable to cultural and social mythology, we’d have less Hitlerism in the world.’
In the back of my station wagon I had the special 1989 California issue of The American Indian Quarterly, in which Thomas Buckley discussed Kroeber’s attitude to the Yurok and his relationship with the Yurok aristocrat, Spott. Buckley described how Kroeber was once asked why he hadn’t paid any attention to recent Yurok history and acculturation. Kroeber answered that he ‘couldn’t stand all the tears’ that these topics elicited from his Yurok informants.
Not that Kroeber was indifferent to pain. He’d been through a fairly harrowing time in the century’s second decade, suffering from Meniere’s disease and psychic ailments, undergoing some lengthy sessions with a Freudian psychoanalyst. He also corresponded with Freud himself. Kroeber’s remark about the tears reminding me of a sudden outburst from Freud once, to one of his intimates, about the filthy and despicable lives of people who ended up on his couch in Bergasse 19.
There may be a secret text here. A fellow who had it from a Yurok once told me Kroeber was a closet gay and Spott was his lover. Freud fortified Kroeber’s addiction to the sweeping cultural judgement. ‘Among other things’, Kroeber wrote in his big work Anthropology, ‘Freud set orderly, economical, and tenacious; or, in its less pleasant aspects, pedantically precise, conscientious, and persistent; miserly; and obstinate to vindictivenessNow, just as the anal-type description fits certain individuals quite strikingly, it seems to agree pretty well with the average or modal personality produced under certain cultures. This holds for instance for the Yurok of native California and their cotribes of the same culture. It holds also for certain Melanesians On the contrary, within Oceania, Polynesians, Indonesians, and Australians are wholly unanal in character, the Australians in fact standing at a sort of opposite pole of living happily in disorder, in freedom from possessions, and in fluctuations of the moment. And the Siamese are certainly oral if the type has any validity at all.’
Kroeber was basing his perceptions of the Siamese on the work of Ruth Benedict, who had never been to Siam but was keen on majestic generalizations about native traits, having begun her career by contrasting two American Indian cultures, that of the Plains bison hunters and that of the Southwestern Zuni and other Pueblo farmers, as being respectively Dionysiac and ‘Apollinian’ (to use Kroeber’s spelling). During the second World War, the US government commissioned Benedict to write a study of Siam and she responded speedily enough, stating in her book that much in Siamese politics and society could be explained by early child nurture, during which period infants were permitted to manipulate their genitals freely.
Spott was once reproached by his nephew for spending so much time with Kroeber, whose work didn’t do the Yurok much good. ‘Ah, Harry,’ Spott answered, ‘white men hurt so much. We have to help him.’
The Indian had a surer grip on the ethno-cultural problems.
General Hitchens Visits The Front
From the New York Post
July 24, 2003 — For Christopher Hitchens, the dramatic deaths of Saddam Hussein’s evil spawn will always be the one that got away. The Vanity Fair reporter was in Mosul, Iraq, being shown around by the 101st Airborne the day before the crack American unit cornered Qusay and Uday Hussein and killed them in a six-hour firefight. “I flew back to Washington, D.C., on Monday night,” he tells PAGE SIX. “I had just gotten in and was making some phone calls, when my friend said, ‘Turn on the TV.’ ” Hitchens wasn’t surprised by the lethal efficiency of the U.S. Army, and praised its military intelligence. “They were rolling up these networks. They were getting more tips than they knew what to do with,” he said. “They were very, very confident.”
Hitchens said media coverage, which focuses on U.S. casualties and the complaints of soldiers who want to go home, left him unprepared for the reality in Iraq. “Morale is very high” among both troops and Iraqi citizens. “People waving American flags at the troops in the street: you can’t fake that.”
It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Hitchens to inquire where the Iraqis got those flags.
ALEXANDER COCKBURN is the coeditor of The Politics of Anti-Semitism.