Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Luc Sante in the Times
Leaving aside the question of how anyone could have perpetrated the horrors depicted in those pictures, you can't help but wonder why American soldiers would incriminate themselves by posing next to their handiwork. Americans don't seem to have a long tradition of that sort of thing. I can't offhand recall having seen comparable images from any recent wars, although before the digital era amateur photographs were harder to spread. There have been many atrocity photographs over the years, of course — the worst I've ever seen were taken in Algeria in 1961, and once when I was a child another kid found and showed off his father's cache of pictures from the Pacific Theater in World War II, which shook me so badly that I can't remember with any certainty what they depicted. I'm pretty sure, though, that they did not show anyone grinning and making self-congratulatory gestures.

The pictures from Abu Ghraib are trophy shots. The American soldiers included in them look exactly as if they were standing next to a gutted buck or a 10-foot marlin. That incongruity is not the least striking aspect of the pictures. The first shot I saw, of Specialist Charles A. Graner and Pfc. Lynndie R. England flashing thumbs up behind a pile of their naked victims, was so jarring that for a few seconds I took it for a montage. When I registered what I was seeing, I was reminded of something. There was something familiar about that jaunty insouciance, that unabashed triumph at having inflicted misery upon other humans. And then I remembered: the last time I had seen that conjunction of elements was in photographs of lynchings.
The citizenry of this country is more sophisticated and more worldly than at any time in our history. That's less true of our elite. But that worldliness has not come naturally; it's being force-fed by the expansion of markets and faces a backlash from a grouping of conservatives and some of those -mostly white- who have been left behind by the cruelties of economic 'modernization.' It's easier after all for white liberals to worry about race, gender, and sexual orientation, than it is for them to worry about class.

In light of the above it's interesting to read articles like this one also from the Times about the transformation of WLIB, until recently the station of NY Caribbean community, and now host to Air America.
"I'm very cordial with them, they're a great bunch of people," Mr. Anderson said of Air America, which is said to have more than $20 million and is now operating in 9 markets (as well as satellite radio and the Web) throughout the country and says it will be in 26 by the end of this month. "I'm a member of the A.C.L.U., so you know where my political leanings are, but I'm conflicted. It's important for Air America to confront the reactionary right, they're doing an incredible job, but it's at the expense of the Caribbean community."
Mark Riley used to host Politics Live, which was probably the best political talk show in NY. I've written about him once before. Riley was the voice of politics on LIB, and as I said last time would debate various topics with callers on the show. It was fascinating to listen, precisely because he was more to the left than a good percentage of the his community. He would defend gay rights to those who thought homosexuality was immoral, or evil, and he was respected by those he argued with because he respected them. He's now on Air America - I double checked to make sure. To do otherwise would have been stupid, but the context is gone, and with it any real sense of a politics for which I can have more than marginal respect. Air America is not designed to entertain and educate an audience, to teach sophistication, but to give the sophisticated a place to talk amongst themselves. It misses the point. And the hosts and audience are less sophisticated than they pretend.

The false populism of liberals will do nothing to counter the false populism of the right.

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