on pardoning american heroes

This Op-Ed in the LA Times got me thinking a lot about something. I encourage you to read that first before reading on.

I think the author there covers the main reasons. Chief among them: Edward Snowden is a heterosexual man.

I fully support what both Snowden and Manning did, so it’s not really an issue of one being better than the other or more worthy of praise or pardon. I think they both should be pardoned. They both need to be pardoned.

The fact that Chelsea Manning is a transgender woman is definitely at the heart of this. While she was locked away for a few years pre-trial (something that is literally unconstitutional), the government worked very hard to smear her. They described her as having serious mental disorders.

As it turns out, her mental disorder can best be described as being transgender.

This matters a great deal for a few reasons.

First, the government outed her as transgender.

Second, they used this as a framework to explain that her motives were petty defiance stemming from her mental instability.

Third, and perhaps worst of all, this became the public narrative surrounding Chelsea Manning.

Fourth, Chelsea was not allowed to speak on any of this. She was often held in solitary confinement (torture) or was denied access to journalists.

She had to watch from prison (where she was being held without charge for well over the allotted 120 days, which is unconstitutional) as pundits picked apart her life. From her sexuality to her alleged motives.

It was, for these reasons, that she faced the trial as Bradley Manning. She and her lawyers decided they did not want the government to use her gender identity against her.

The fact that it’s even possible to smear someone based on their gender is astounding. The public’s discomfort with transgenders is well known. We’ve seen actual laws come into place regarding where they are allowed to use the public restroom.

So maybe it isn’t surprising that the US government used this as a tactic to attack her character. Maybe it’s unsurprising that it worked. But that doesn’t make it any less disgusting.

But let’s talk about the mechanics of a Hollywood biopic. Because, really, that’s what’s shining a light on Edward Snowden at the moment. But even before that, there was the documentary CitizenFour, which is an amazing film that I highly recommend.

Why was Chelsea Manning treated differently?

There are a few obvious reasons. For one thing, she made no grand escape. Chelsea Manning leaked information to Wikileaks, who then worked with several news organizations to release the information. It should be noted that Manning first reached out to news organizations. She wanted to disclose the information right to journalists.

She was ignored.

So she went to Wikileaks.

This isn’t exactly riveting screentime. Sure, they could make it that way, but Manning didn’t hack through government databases. She took readily available information and secretly sent it to Wikileaks, who then, in conjunction with places like the New York Times, released it to the public.

Once she was imprisoned, Chelsea Manning faced extensive cruel and unusual punishment for years before her trial. That’s not even an exaggeration.

Solitary confinement for months at a time. Sometimes she was stripped naked and left naked in her cell.

Human Rights organizations, world leaders, activists, and academics have written letters, pleaded, and demanded that she receive better treatment, but this was largely ignored.

Compare that to Snowden’s story.

Snowden learned an important lesson from previous US whistleblowers. From Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, he learned that he couldn’t just go to his superiors to let them know that what the NSA was doing was unconstitutional and illegal. From Chelsea Manning he learned that he had to be out of reach before he disclosed the information or he would sit in prison for years. Potentially the rest of his life.

So he made his escape.

I haven’t seen the film yet, but I understand it has the feel of a spy thriller. And it kind of sounds that way!

Maverick government employee steals secrets, escapes abroad, then releases secrets to journalists, and finally puts his own name on those documents, in order to take control of the narrative before the US government could smear him, the way it smeared Manning.

I think it’s true that we wouldn’t have Snowden without Manning. That Manning’s actions seem daring and thrilling makes it all the more appealing to a mass audience. Add to that a love interest, in Snowden’s long time girlfriend, and the fact that Snowden has had the freedom to speak extensively about what he did, why he did it, how he did it, and has been able to be a regular commentator about privacy, national security, and human rights for years since his disclosure.

To put it simply, Snowden became a household name. Even people who don’t follow politics are aware of him. Some think he’s a traitor while others a hero, and still others are wholly indifferent to him as a person. But there was a built in audience for him. An audience that he is allowed to cultivate by virtue of not being in prison.

Add to that the documentary, which is thrilling and amazing and informative, and you have an easy road to make him a movie with a certain level of mass appeal, or at least mass interest.

But when I say Chelsea Manning, most people need to wikipedia her name to even know who I’m talking about. Even people who have followed Snowden’s disclosures may be unaware of who Chelsea Manning is and what she did.

Being imprisoned took the narrative out of her hands and into the hands of her captors. More than that, the collaboration of the pundit class with our military’s agenda makes this kind of story easy to ignore and hide from the general public.

So Chelsea Manning was ignored and continues to largely be ignored.

How do you film the last six years of her life?

One prison cell after another. Solitary confinement. Her trial, which was a military tribunal so no reporters were allowed to even take notes, seriously hampering any kind of transparency. In fact, many have described it as a kangaroo court. To many, including Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, it appeared that Assange was being tried in absentia along with Manning.

Without evidence–or rather, refusing to allow evidence to the contrary–they described Manning’s disclosures as aiding the enemy and seriously endangering the lives of US soldiers and intelligence officers.

None of which was proved because none of that was true. In fact, just the opposite. She made it safer for everyone by exposing US war crimes.

After her trial, she came out as transgender, was imprisoned in an all male prison. She had to petition and fight to receive gender transition medication, which they outright refused at first. For the last three years, Manning has been refused to be moved to a female prison. Refused to grow her hair out. Refused, at times, access to her medication and to be able to undergo gender affirming surgery. This led to her attempting to commit suicide, which she’s facing even more charges for.

This isn’t exactly a sexy narrative to play out on screens across america. A nation still actively at war in the Middle East. Now in even more countries than when Manning disclosed our war crimes. A public that believes we should continue these wars. A government that plans on expanding them still further.

To me, these are the reasons there has been no huge movement to grant Chelsea Manning a pardon.

  1. She’s a transgender female.
  2. Lack of visibility
  3. Her disclosures are even more damning to the US

My hope is that Snowden receives his pardon. But my greatest hope would be that Chelsea Manning also receives a pardon. Her plight is far greater than Snowden’s and she faces far more barriers to freedom.

If President Obama pardoned both, it would do a lot to lessen the great damage he has done to freedom of the press.

Sign the petition to free Edward Snowden.

Sign the petition to free Chelsea Manning.

a response to the responsibility of everything

My good friend Phil Jourdan wrote a very thought provoking post on his blog about responsibility, blame, and maybe morality, depending on how you look at it.

You should read that before reading this because I’m just going to talk about it with the assumption you’ve read it.

His post is excellent and the points he makes are stellar, though my view on this is probably unsurprising for regular  readers (ha!) of this blog. I find myself often discussing our collective responsibility for the horrors of the world, but I’ll come back to that later.

 

A choice quote from Phil’s post:

There is also no more opportunity for you to delight in condemning other people. There is no more “us versus them” and the pernicious, sadistic, narcissistic delight that comes from elevating one group of people above another, appearing to be good because other people are bad, feeling helpless because most things are not your responsibility but someone else’s — the government’s problem, the terrorist’s, the people of the pasts’s. There is no more pretending to be rational while your enemies are irrational. There is no more being liberal while your enemies are illiberal. There is no more being more mature than somebody else. There is no more public recognition of your greatness, kindness or intelligence. There is no more being noticed weeping when an important human rights leader dies. There are no more important human rights leaders, because everyone is responsible for everything. Now what?

This is what I want to talk about first.

While Phil is making an excellent point and there may be a lot of people who read it (I hope there are), but this brings us into the problem that he’s also discussing in the paragraph above. For everyone who reads it and nods their head, agrees with the thesis and the arguments, there will be very few, I imagine, that will meaningfully change the way they inhabit or observe or interact with the world and people around them. That’s not a slight on Phil’s writing, mind, but just something a bit deeper and maybe more unpleasant about humans and the way social media has defined the way we frame the world and ourselves within that frame.

I’ll unpack this a bit.

We live in a strange time on social media. Clicks are all that count for companies, which is why clickbait is even a word that makes sense to as many people as it does. One of the indirect and troubling aspects of clickbait’s ubiquity is that it’s somehow made its way down into normal human behavior online. We share links and information in the search for reshares and likes (or favorites on twitter or reblogs on tumblr and other blog sites). Not everyone, sure, but for a lot of people, the search for likes is a real thing. And social media becomes about the likes, about the clicks, about the recognition.

This is probably more widespread than people admit. I know people who share articles they don’t read. Who share things they did read without critically thinking about what the article or essay or meme is really saying about topic A or B or X or what the implications are for groups F or L or Z.

It’s not a problem of comprehension that we have when we read the news (or even just share the link without having read the article), but an issue with meaning. We’re inundated with so much stuff and it all means…something…This is where the narcissism that Phil mentions comes into play. The meaning we’re looking for–especially on social media, but also off it–is a meaning of self. What I mean by that is that we want others to perceive us in a specific way or as a specific type of person (I use type there very purposefully, since we are currently obsessed with being a type of some kind–one of the most popular websites seems particularly devoted to allowing people to define the type of person they are). We want to be perceived as thoughtful, political, kind, inquisitive, adventurous, anti-establishment, apolitical, punk, goth, fun, pick your own descriptor and fill in the blank. Social media was designed to bring us together (if you buy into the story told) but what it’s really done is allowed us to cultivate how we want people to perceive us. We turn ourselves into a brand, into a type, and those are actually more important than the connections that the platform was designed to enhance. We fit ourselves into a type or create our own type and bring others of that type to us, which may lead to genuine connection, but it may just as easily lead us into a recursive feedback loop or insular bubble of information and influence, wherein we believe we’re part of a larger conversation about the world, when, in reality, we’re stuck in a very small subset of a small subset of the world that’s uniformly ignored by anyone outside of that subset.

What this really means is that even sharing Phil’s excellent post becomes a tool for us to shape meaning about ourselves as perceived by other civilised people rather than a roadmap for us to find meaning in the wild (offline).

Our online behavior has, for many people, become about creating personal meaning. Or, to say that another way, it’s about creating meaning for ourselves about ourselves. This meaning is buttressed by the reactions (likes/favorites/reshares) we receive from our circle of online friends (which may be very different from who your friends are offline).

And that’s fine. That’s human! Or at least what human has come to mean. But, throughout the history of our species, we’ve always sought approval from others. Society and civilisation is more or less built around people trying to be perceived or approved or judged by others. Because, like it or not, we are who people observing us say we are. Our identities are determined by other people, no matter how we may wish the opposite.

That’s not a bad thing! And it’s okay to do things because you want others to approve or recognise what you’ve done!

The problem with social media is that this meaning and this approval and this identification can come through to you without you meaningfully changing your behavior or even doing anything beyond sharing a link that you may or may not have even bothered to read. And we get that same meaningful feedback and reaction from other people, which reinforces this kind of shallow behavior. I actually don’t mean shallow in a derogatory way. I just mean that it’s a behavior without depth. It’s on the surface and the meaning it creates is a personal one, which is, to a degree, selfish.

But this is all a bit abstract.

Let’s talk about the other aspect of Phil’s post.

Responsibility and blame.

Because I’m less of the philosopher than Phil, I’m going to get more concrete.

Like I said, if you come here often (no one does, so don’t feel bad), you’ve probably read how I feel about responsibility and blame several times, since it seems to be the topic I keep coming back to in this time of fingerpointing and blamegaming.

But let’s talk about Charlie Hebdo and Donald Trump. Two things people would probably not often put together. But if you read Charlie Hebdo’s most recent editorial, you’ll find that it falls pretty well in line with Donald Trump’s stance on Islam.

Of course, there’s no single link I can forward you to about Trump’s specific stance because he’s not that kind of person or politician. Not the kind who says, in a clear way, what he means about anything. But I shouldn’t have to point you in a direction. If you’re reading this you’re probably someone who follows the news, even if not closely.

So we have Charlie Hebdo, lauded and awarded for its bravery, writing and publishing this piece about how all Muslims are to blame.

Isn’t it odd how easily this could fit into a GOP debate? How Fox News could spend weeks patting themselves on the back, because even this alleged left wing provocateur has come to the same conclusion as they did about Islam, but it took the left wingers an extra decade and a half to realise what they’ve known since 9/11/2001!

And we love to blame the idiots who created Donald Trump.

But the truth is that we all created this. We all allowed Donald Trump to thrive and grow and become the political juggernaut that he’s become (a note on that link–certain points it makes are…tenuous, but I don’t think it should be ignored either).

What we learn from Charlie Hebdo (and Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and any Western news organisation) is that hating Muslims is not a fringe political stance. It’s not even just a mainstream topic to be argued about. It is an acceptable belief. You’re not only allowed to privately think that the only good Muslim is a dead one, you’re implicitly encouraged to think that. Depending on which major news organisation you watch/read, you’re either encouraged to think that but keep it to yourself, or encouraged to say it loud and proud and maybe carry guns to a mosque and just stand outside to let them know they’re not only unwelcome but that you’re willing and capable to harm them.

I even recently wrote about how the Good Liberal is just as likely to tacitly approve of imperial war crimes, tempered by a reluctant shrug.

So while it’s easy and comforting to blame someone else for what’s wrong with the world, it’s not a meaningful way to deal with the world that we’ve inherited and helped create.

Because We are all Charlie. Not just the Charlie Hebdo we approved of for standing up for their (imperialistic and racist) beliefs, but also for the Charlie Hebdo who says things like uninhibited Islamism, and argues that all Muslims, from the baker to the women who choose to express their religion via clothing to the child of Muslims, are to blame for every crime of every Muslim around the world.

You, me, everyone we know, and everyone we don’t know created this world and we are all responsible for it.

And while sharing information is great, it really is bereft of meaning if that sharing doesn’t go hand in hand with actual change. Information is dangerous to power and giving people more information can actually spark real change. We’re seeing it right now with the Panama Papers (since posting this, the Prime Minister of Iceland has resigned), we saw it with Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing, and we watched the Arab Spring, which many contribute to Wikileaks’ release of the US Diplomatic Cables.

So by all means, share content and information! It can really change the world!

But only if sharing is the first step. It’s fine to share for the recognition or the selfish reasons listed above, as long as that behavior transitions offline.

Sure, we can’t all go out and protest, and you don’t have to. You can donate to causes and artists you believe in, or just be a positive person to those around you, those you interact with on a day to day basis.

And I think that’s the larger discussion that Phil’s pointing to.

We are all the blame.

What are you going to do now?

How are you going to make things better?

How are you going to address the wrongs, the inequalities, and so on?

 

 

twilight of the wolves and beyond

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As you can see, I have Twilight of the Wolves in my hand.

You can pre-order it here.

You can enter a Goodreads giveaway here.

Doing marketing is rough and I don’t really know how to go about it, but I sent about 50 emails yesterday trying to get review copies in front of people who can review it, including literary magazines in the indie lit scene, as well as genre magazines beyond. But let’s talk about the films I’ve been watching, yeah? We’ll see if I remember all of them because it’s been a while since I put them down on here.

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s newest and it’s decent. I dig it and enjoyed it and all that, but it’s all so white upper class narcissism. And it got me thinking about Woody Allen in general. His films are very insular, in a sense. He writes about wealthy pretentious, neurotics, narcissistic people who struggle with sex and drugs and alcohol. Woody Allen’s found his audience, but it’s not most people. It’s critics and the Academy, who are mostly neurotic upper class white dudes. That being said, I’ll probably always like Woody Allen films. I guess I’m part of his target audience as well.

The Crow is a film I hadn’t seen in probably a decade, but it’s surprisingly awesome. I really enjoyed it. It’s pretty dark and insane and campy, but I liked it a great deal. It appealed to my dark, insane, and campy side, I suppose.

Hellboy–watched this but was too distracted and confused to really understand what was happening. It has Ron Perleman and a fishman, though, so there’s that. I might watch the second one.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is hilarious. I don’t know what else I need to say about this, but it’s just seriously awesome. I don’t know how I hadn’t seen it, but I’m glad I did, finally.

Cosmopolis is not as good or interesting as it thinks it is. David Cronenberg’s great and I think whathisname does a pretty good job here, but I just didn’t really get anything out of the film. I think it’s just something to do with how focused the world and media’s become on the super wealthy white people. What could be less interesting than that?

My Left Foot is stupendous. Absolutely amazing. Daniel Day-Lewis doing what he does, which is being sort of an impossibly amazing actor.

Pieta is Kim Ki Duk’s newest film, but it’s in the vein of his stranger films, which I tend to dislike. His films are sublime when he does them right, but his films are horrifying and awkward when he does them differently. So, while this is a solid film in his oeuvre, it’s nowhere near as good as, say, 3-Iron, which is his masterpiece, I’m convinced.

The History of Future Folk is a very cool and interesting comedy about alien folk musicians. It’s awesome.

I probably watched another film or two but I don’t remember.

Oh, in much more important news, Edward Snowden was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Pretty huge news that excites me greatly. I didn’t watch the State of the Union last night because there’s only so much nonsense I can take from these jingoistic madmen.

internet rage machine

There’s a great deal of things going on right now that induce rage. Or should. NSA spying without consequence, the two year civil war in Syria, the blossoming civil war in Egypt, the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning, the essential imprisonment of Julian Assange who’s being denied entry to Ecuador, the country he has legal  political asylum in by England due to american pressure, and then there’s the abuses against Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and his partner, and so many other things.

But where does the internet rage blow up against? Celebrities.

I believe there’s actually a somewhat logical, or at least understandable, reason behind all this. Most people are terrified of making waves or saying controversial things. Along with that, most people are tremendously uninformed or misinformed. Then there are those who just think it’s not their place to state opinions because they don’t believe they know enough about the situations. This is all very reasonable and pretty typical, and while we can discuss why they should know more, that’s not really an argument worth having, because it does nothing but spread rage.

So Syria: people are finally talking about Syria now that our Nobel Peace Prize winning president is planning on bombing them. Okay, so, despite having no popular support, he also has no international support, and will likely blow past the UN the way George Bush did. But let’s get to the root of this. What does bombing a nation solve? Will this end Assad’s regime? Maybe, but at what cost? If we’re set to oust Assad, then who are we standing behind? The rebels. And who are the rebels? Well, that’s a pretty wide and varied mix of people, but the students who were a part of the initial protests and so on are likely no longer there, due to dying or fleeing. What you have is a very splintered coalition of organisations who are not friends or even friendly with one another, but who have a common enemy. Many of these people are the very same Islamic extremists we’re fighting our alleged War on Terror against. They’ve committed various war crimes and atrocities against the pro-Assad faction, which is the majority of the Syrian fighters. So when we get Assad out of there, what do we expect to happen?

Now, I’m not trying to defend Assad. That would be a nonsensical thing to do. But this is a true civil war. There is a pretty substantial faction of Syrians who stand alongside him. It’s not a war of Assad against the people. It’s a war where the people are fighting various groups of other people, none of whom agree on a direction for the country beyond the Death and ouster of Assad. And Assad has no moral ground to stand on in this war either. Though the rebels have committed crimes against humanity, so have the pro-Assad army.

But we need to ask ourselves, Why are we going there? Or, to put it better, since we’ve been aiding the rebels for some time: Why are we finally declaring outright war?

There’s a reason why all sides of the tragedy going on in Egypt blame the US for what has happened to their country and what is happening to their country. They see us as the enemy. We fight on both sides, handing guns and money to whichever side will renew unrest and distress. We supported the coup. And while it was a popularly backed coup, it was a coup nonetheless, which means, according to our constitution, we should have immediately stopped sending aid to Egypt. But, alas, this is the world we live in, and the country I live in.

The entire middle east, barring Israel, views the US as the most dangerous and threatening enemy to their existence and stability. There are very good reasons for this that go far beyond and deeper than simple propaganda. We put in dictators and then take them out, we fund terrorists sects, commit terrorists strikes against civilians, barrage them with drones and bombs and dirty weapons. We are the greatest terrorist organisation to maybe ever exist and we’re destroying an entire region of the world, keeping them in a constant state of unrest or despotism. Look at where Gaddafi and Saddam and bin Laden came from and you’ll find an easy and bold line to US foreign policy.

Our interest in the middle east is in keeping it unstable and firmly under our control, whether that be by proxy through a despot we install, or through a sort of military demolition team, like we used in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will use in Syria and Iran, possibly Egypt.

We are not their friends, and it’s not because the Arab world wants to destroy us. It’s because we’re trying to destroy them, and we’re doing a pretty good job. Have been for almost a hundred years.

What a better distraction to the government abuses than another war? And what a better way to legitimise these abuses of power. Barack Obama’s already codified crimes against humanity, so why not codify and legalise government spying? It’s all in the name of our safety! Though this has been proven remarkably false by Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Chelsea Manning, very few americans seem willing to stand behind them or even defend them in polite company.

We wrap the noose around their necks when we remain silent. And if we remain silent as we march into Syria and destroy and already ruined nation, it will be our hands bloodied by this ongoing genocide against the Arab world.

Enter Miley Cyrus.

I don’t feel a need or reason to defend her or her actions, but I find the level of vitriol levelled at her the height of absurdity. The only thing I will say is that if you think Miley Cyrus decides what she does in her career, you’re probably deluding yourself just so you can continue to rage.

But I find this level of anger at a popstar pretty curious. And I think it has to do with all this collected anger we have, as a nation. We have nowhere we know how to direct it, without ostracising friends, family, coworkers. We’re afraid of seeming radical or controversial. What if the company you work for looks at your facebook/twitter account and sees that you think Israel’s military occupation of Palestine is even remotely negative? They may even gasp in alarm! It could be you let go in downsizing next month!

But maybe that’s unfair to paint people that way. No, it is. I apologise for that. I don’t think you’re all so petty and unthinking. But I do think that this collected anger is much easier to direct at a target that everyone agrees upon. Most people don’t pay attention to international news, let alone national news, so we don’t know whose side we should be on. What should we do about Syria or Egypt? What should we do about the international illegal spying network we and other countries have? What should we do about whistleblowers or the drone war? What should we do about national debt and joblessness? What should we do about the global and national economy?

These are tough questions, and while I have answers for all of them, I understand that I stand in a very small group of very radical thinkers. I don’t expect even 30% of people to agree with the details I lay forth for these kind of issues, and so I don’t blame anyone for truly just not knowing what to do.

This is normal when powers far superior to you are gambling with dice you don’t understand.

And I think it’s all this rage that we don’t know how to direct. We see an easy target: former Disney teen idol making a fool of herself on stage.

Boom. Lock on and destroy. Level all that rage and hatred at the dummy on stage. Make her regret becoming famous. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s how fun and satisfying it is to destroy the gods we create.