Monday, January 12, 2009

Threads in the News

Lately the weight of news reports has felt very heavy. The news of Israel's war on Gaza City especially so. I don't have any special insight on the matter, but feel a need to say that the news is very heavy.

It felt very good to darn gloves, a pair of long underwear, patch a pair of trousers, and sew on a few buttons. Very simple things really and have nothing much to do with the news of trouble all around. It's an imperfect world and of course human relations are very much more complicated than a pair of gloves or piece of clothing. Yet there are threads which connect us. Every metaphors fails in some way or another, still I wonder: Are there ways to darn the holes in the fabric of humanity?

I still read the local paper every day and most days watch PBS Newshour as I prepare supper. The American press covers Israel/Palestine conflicts in a certain well-worn "fair and balanced" way. Western journalists have not been allowed to report from Gaza.

But like many Americans I get the news online too. One big difference is how part of the experience of news online involves the commentary by readers of the posts. Sometimes it seems it's the commentary is the most disconcerting. What the Internet commentary allows is a less polite version of the poles the press attempts to straddle between and that just seems an untenable position for news reporting.

Sunday night on the NBC Nightly News there was a report of reports of injuries to civilians in Gaza caused by white phosphorus artillery shells fired by Israel. I was surprised by the report because it seemed very much "off script" for American news outlet's reportage about the conflict. I have searched MSNBC and don't see any mention of the reporting there. However The LA Times did report the story today. And MSNBC does provide links to "More views on the crisis." From there there's a link to a story about it at Aljazeera. Online the use of white phosphorus munitions have been discussed for days. Such that Wired published a piece on January 6 laying out the case against illegal use of the weapons. Today's UK Times story helpfully identifies the weapons used as American made by looking up the serial number on shell visible in a photograph they published last week.

Sam Bahour published a piece at TPMCafe, No Other Option?!. SholomA is a frequent commenter in threads there. His arguments and especially his way of argument often raises the hair on my back. At least he uses a name contrary to the multitude of comments on threads elsewhere--no anonymous comments at TPM--which parrot a certain style of pro-Israel talking points. It seems after a while surfing through comments an "ignore" filter gets established as umbrage gets rather tiresome. Still, SholomA got through my filter with this comment:
BTW, this is happening today and somehow nobody watches "at the appalling death and destruction" in Congo.
"This" in SholomA's comment refers to rape as a tactic in war. I'm not sure what part of his comment got through, but I think it was the "nobody watches" part. When it comes to the Democratic Republic of Congo--Congo-Brazzaville is a separate country--the lack of memory as well as so little attention is haunting.

I do follow news, but there are so many gaps in my knowledge about conflicts in Africa that I won't even pretend I understand what's going on. Over Christmas there were reports of massacres in northern DRC by the Lord's Resistance Army. The reports about the LRA involvement sent me searching for various sources. I do frequently read Uganda's Daily Monitor online for example. Over the fall I'd been following the troubles in the Kivus region of the DRC. And as peripheral background know that 2009 will be a pivotal year for The Sudan. It's difficult to form a regional perspective about the conflicts, but the steady focus on conflicts as discrete happenings looses all context.

There's a really good blog called Wronging Rights. The blog recently celebrated their first anniversary. I missed at least half of the year's posts, and for most of the time reading it felt put off by the tone. In something of a breakthrough for my humor-challenged self, this past week I laughed out loud over the title of a post: Congo About to Get Much Needed Shiny New Rebel Group?.

Amanda Taub and Kate Cronin-Furman don't produce satire a la The Onion. They report insightfully about most serious matters. But they know that laughter can provide a space for new perspectives. Having laughed, I now find it astounding that I've read posts at Wronging Rights while being too rigid to let their brilliant posts really work on me. Part of the explanation must be how much afraid I am of letting rage grow in me. I know that rage blinds me easily. Finally I get how they use humor in their writing to allow us to admit our rage, but in such a way that it doesn't over take us.

Early New Year's morning 22 year-old Oscar Grant was shot dead by a BART police officer. On January 7th there were public protests in Oakland. Susan Mernit is a technology blogger and Oakland resident. And I started looking into the story after reading her posts. Watching one of the videos at YouTube--you'll be asked to confirm your birth date--was very unsettling. Of course it was unsettling because I'm squeamish about watching violence. But most of all the video challenged my view of the reporting of the incident. Somehow the police commentary that witnesses will see events differently--surely a truism--becomes more like: "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

An awful lot of the content of reporting draws the conclusion that the truth of what happened will never be known. I don't know what to make of that. Opinions tested in a wide variety of situations can become well-grounded. In a one way media model, like newspapers and television news, there's a certain confidence in the journalists themselves having tested various opinions. There are problems with this approach, what first comes to mind is a hardening of opinion towards one pole of opinion or another. Blog posts with reader commentary would seem a helpful antidote for jaded opinion making, but I see little evidence that people who leave comments are swayed by other comments much.

Perhaps we imagine a world as perfect as a brand new pair of gloves: a brand new world. Alas we live in this old and imperfect world. We speak of the fabric of humanity because the histories of people are interwoven. How then to repair where holes in the fabric have been worn and where sections of the fabric are torn apart?

I suspect there are lessons in darning to be applied. Darning consists of very simple stitches; it's not at all hard to do. It simply requires a bit of patience and a willingness to do a repetitive task for a little while until the hole is filled. Darning is not simply stitching parts together. A hole in a sock mended that way will produce an ungainly lump. To fit right the hole must be filled with woven thread. Even a tear to be mended isn't sound when the ends of the fabric are joined. If the stitching is strong, tears on either side of the repair are likely. So it's good practice to use a patch behind the tear when mending, or to extend the stitches into the fabric well beyond the tear to create a matrix. We can make the threadbare serviceable.

Making serviceable is a worthwhile objective to take from darning. Late last year Robert Patterson hosted The Boyd Conference on Prince Edward Island. John Boyd was a Colonel in the United States Air Force and an important military strategist who died in 1997. He is well known for his concept of OODA Loop which stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. An important aspect of this construct is that it is a loop, that is, actions feedback to the observation position in the loop. In darning the object is to cover the hole by connecting the edges of the hole with new yarn, a sort of feedback loop. I may be stretching this fabric metaphor too far, nonetheless Patterson's reporting about the Boyd Conference provides insight into ways we can begin to repair the fabric of our human interactions.

Pankaj Mishra wrote in an essay recently in The Guardian concerning the Middle East crisis wrote:
Why should we listen to fiction writers on complex geopolitical conflicts? Certainly, the previous century furnishes plenty of cautionary tales about imaginative writers - GB Shaw, Ezra Pound - making foolish political choices. Upholding toxic ideologies while remaining mostly study-bound, they invite the derision George Orwell once directed at WH Auden's poem "Spain 1937". Commenting on the phrase "necessary murder", Orwell wrote that "Auden's brand of amoralism is only possible if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled."
The sort of commentary I've been reading online often does suffer from amoralism that Auden derides.

Pankaj Mishra's essay is worth reading in its entirety. He compares the Israeli author David Grossman and Indian author Arundhati Roy; how both "choose not to be somewhere else when triggers are being cocked and pulled." I believe that people everywhere can be instruments of peace. But the work of mending is a practical endeavor that requires people who will place themselves in between the tear or the hole in the fabric.

Via Amitava Kumar read an op-ed by Mukul Kesavan in India's The Telegraph In Violent Slow Motion: As an awful sort of nationalism, Zionism is not unique. If there are some rents in the fabric of humanity we're in no position to place ourselves in the middle of, there still is much we can learn from these conflicts and attempts at repair. Kesavan draws parallels from the Israel/Palestine conflict and conflicts between Hindu nationalists and Indian Muslims.

Mattias Haqberg interviews Mike Davis in Eurozine, The new ecology of war. Davis brings home the fact that the great hole in the fabric seen in Gaza today is not unique. Davis observes:
"If Southern California has any significance to the development of the world's cities, it is as model for life in the protected enclaves."
Those gated communities around the world, highlight the gaping disconnection of most urban dwellers to the global economy. David points out the great danger: "Global epidemics and global terrorism are two problems that principally emanated from the slums."

The news is dreadful, but attempting to repair the fragile fabric of humanity's interwoven existence seems the dignified response.

1 comment:

The 27th Comrade said...

Nice post.

I think struggle is a healthy signal in creation, and one that won't stop (and doesn't have to stop, unless the causes thereof also stop).
What is sad in this equation is that the methods of struggle changed.

One day, it will be a hydrogen bomb, not a big bullet. All over the world, not just in the Middle East or Eastern DRC.