Friday, December 24, 2004

Decline of Creativity

A good friend commented to me today:

"It's beginning to dawn on me that the problem with most TV may not be want of talent; it may be that the talent is not what is wanted."

Writers that flourished on certain shows under the creative leadership of talented producers often languish in other shows when managed by network suits, who for all their business sense display an appalling lack of creativity. Thanks to its obsolete business model - selling advertising based on viewer estimates compiled by a vastly outdated system - network TV is going the opposite of the Web: trying to be all things to all people. The result is predictably bland, formulaic and focus-grouped to death.

I won't even go into how so-called "reality" shows dealt an additional blow to scripted television, both good and bad; that sort of base voyerism is barely short of the Roman circenses. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say the only reason we haven't seen actual gladiator games yet is that animal "rights" groups would protest the cruelty of feeding lions with idiots.

Books aren't much better. Most popular fiction is painfully formulaic. Science fiction and especially fantasy are even worse. Though I've seen plenty of gems, often their authors fall prey to assembly-line writing and start churning out neverending series that falter midway through. Even my favorite recent subgenre, alternate history, often suffers from second-order counterfactuals (i.e. despite a major fork in the road, events unfold just as they have in our timeline, only the actors are different. Please!).

I've thought J.K. Rowling a breath of fresh air (though I've dismissed the Pottermania for a couple of years, till I finally got persuaded to read the books; I finished the four then available in a week!), but The Order of the Phoenix filled me with dread that she, too, has succumbed to success-induced cluelessness.

Maybe this is all just a reflection of the cultural decline of the West; perhaps it is time for a last-ditch effort to preserve civilization? Appreciating creativity and shunning mediocrity would certainly be a good start.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

It Has Happened Here

As predicted, the U.S. Congress approved the "intelligence reform" bill in whose innards was hidden a provision mandating a de facto national ID card.

Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), a defender of liberty if there ever was one, tried to caution his colleagues:
“Those who believe a police state can’t happen here are poor students of history. Every government, democratic or not, is capable of tyranny. We must understand this if we hope to remain a free people.”
Obviously, they did not listen.

Back in the thirties, Sinclair Lewis wrote a cautionary tale of fascism conquering America, titled It Can't Happen Here. He envisioned a genuine demagogue rising up from the heartland to win the Democratic nomination and plunge the country into a totalitarian nightmare.

He could not have known that FDR, always the White Hat in alternative 1930s histories, would go on to create what amounted to the American variety of fascism, and bequeath to the country a legacy of growing and ever-more-powerful government (see here).

So in a way, "it" has happened here, long before Bush the Lesser or the PATRIOT Act.


I won't make any apologies for the uneven frequency of posts here. Creative thought is a process that doesn't conform to schedules; I post whenever I have something I want to share, and when I have the time and inclination to put it in words.

Sometimes, however, there are technical reasons, and those I feel deserve an explanation, expecially when expected.

So, updates may be really scarce in the next couple of weeks, as I'll be traveling over the Christmas holidays, and may not have reliable 'net access.

The earliest I can promise new entries here is the second week of January, 2005.

So, Merry Christmas, happy New Year, and keep freedom alive...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Death Tolls, Part 4

It was only a matter of time before the findings of Dr. Ewa Tabeau and Jacub Bijak, demographers tasked with establishing a death toll in Bosnia for the ICTY, would become public once the Norwegian media broke the year-long silence and mentioned the existence of their work.

News of this report exploded the commonly accepted, but mythical, notion that 250,000 "Bosnians" died in the 1992-95 fighting, although that figure - along with 200,000 - is still used in many wire reports. In the past couple of weeks, the assertion has morphed somewhat into a claim that 200,000 have died in all the Balkans wars of the 1990s, but even that is still an unsupported claim.

The premier Serbian newsweekly, NIN, has a story this week on the Tabeau-Bijak report, based on information provided by Dr. Tabeau herself. (Even though I occasionally write for NIN, I had absolutely nothing to do with this article - though I wish I had). The article mentions the specific numbers, the methodology used by the demographers, and some of the other claims presented so far. If I have time in the next couple of days, I''ll try and translate it and post it here.

Something that NIN notes at the end, however, stuck with me. They say that most researchers, including dr. Tabeau, feel the need to preface their findings with a statement that they "do not wish to minimize the suffering of the victims." But how can establishing real numbers and debunking false atrocity stories in any way change the suffering of individuals who've experienced the real thing? It can't. What it can do is demolish the collective image of suffering, created and cultivated for political purposes.

The death toll of 250,000 "Bosnians" was invented as a propaganda tool in the first place, a number to appeal to Western public opinion so it would clamor for a military intervention in Bosnia (which was a policy of the Izetbegovic junta). Claims of "aggression" and "genocide" served the same purpose. Propagandists who cooked up these numbers and allegations never really cared for the actual victims; quite the contrary, lies have exploited their suffering, victimizing them all over again.

The best service to the victims of war would be to stop lying, both to them and about them. Matter of fact, let's tear up the entire tapestry of deception that has covered the real Bosnian War - brutal and painful enough without the lies - and has made peace and coexistence there impossible. What Tabeau and Bijak found is not the end of the quest for truth in Bosnia. It is just the beginning.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Madness of Power

Vox Day says:
“I am not a libertarian because I am optimistic about human behavior, I am a libertarian because I am extremely pessimistic about it. I've seen far too many people go mad with tiny and insignificant bits of power over others to believe that anyone should be trusted with great amounts of it.”
Don't believe him? Watch The Return of the King, or better yet, read The Lord of the Rings yourself. If that doesn't demonstrate beyond any doubt that a desire for power drives everyone to evil, nothing Vox or any other libertarian (myself included) can say will probably register.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Legion of Merit Citation

"General Dragoljub Mihajlovic distinguished himself in an outstanding manner as Commander-in-Chief of the Yugoslavian Armed Forces and later as Minister Of War by organising and leading important resistance forces against the enemy which occupied Yugoslavia from December 1941 to December 1944. Through the undaunted efforts of his troops, many United States airmen were rescued and returned safely to friendly control. General Mihajlovic and his forces, although lacking adequate supplies, and fighting under extreme hardships, contributed materially to the Allied cause and were materially instrumental in obtaining a final Allied Victory."

- Legion of Merit award citation given by Harry S. Truman, President
The White House, March 29, 1948

(found at Balkans Repository Project)

Reuters and Hacker Wars

I sometimes wonder who generates Reuters' news stories, editors or zealous local cadres?

A story datelined Zagreb, December 13, talks about how Serbian hackers defaced a page of Croat ski champ Janica Kostelic, citing Croatian news portal (the same, incidentally, that's being sued for posting a homemade porn video of pop-singer Severina). But Reuters doesn't mention at all that this attack followed a Croatian hacker attack on a website of a Serbian TV network (see cached page here). According to the good Reuters-folk in Zagreb, Croatia, this was a completely unprovoked act of net-aggression...

Not that one hacker attack is justified by another, but knowing about the Croat hack does offer a tidbit of what is called "context," which some people apparently won't let get in the way of a good libel. And libel it is, surely - for Reuters mentions that among the "offensive" images on the Kostelic site was Draza Mihailovic, leader of Serbian royalists in WW2, which the agency labels a "fascist leader," whose chetniks fought "against anti-fascists."

Regardless of what Mihailovic and his troops may or may not have done, the allegation above is manifestly untrue. The chetniks started out as a resistance to German occupation, but eventually decided that the Communist partisans (which fought against the Nazis, but also to establish a Communist society) were a greater danger. The brutal Partisan-Chetnik war took place against a backdrop of Nazi occupation.
It's very much debatable how much either group contributed to the eventual withdrawal of Axis forces from the Balkans; after all, there were more important places for Nazis to be from 1944 onwards (when that retreat started), such as Normandy and the Russian front...

Since the Communists emerged victorious from that civil war (Mihailovic was captured and shot in 1946), it is only natural that they wrote the history of WW2, and presented their royalist arch-enemies in the blackest terms imaginable. Mihailovic's forces were certainly no saints, but they did save several hundred U.S. aviators shot down by Germans over Serbia, even as U.S. and British planes savagely bombed Serb civilians in Belgrade. For this, President Truman (an ardent anti-Communist) decorated Mihailovic with a Legion of Merit.

Last month, Serbian basketball player Milan Gurovic was denied entry into Croatia because he had Mihailovic's portrait tattooed on his arm. Serbian authorities did not elevate this to a diplomatic incident, but it caused widespread acrimony in Serbia: how dare Croatians - who were actually allied with Hitler in WW2 - call Mihailovic a "fascist"?

As you can see, there is a big backstory to the hacking incident, one which Reuters didn't see fit to mention. And so the Serbo-Croat hacker wars became Serb hacker aggression.

Kind of makes one wonder about Reuters' reports during the actual Balkans wars of the 1990s. Or at least it should.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Death Tolls, Part 3

When I posted the translation of the Norwegian article, about the ICTY researchers' report on death tolls in the Bosnian War, I was certainly hoping it would get noticed. Sure enough, it was. Although the legacy media, those fabricators and guardians of Official Truth, haven't deigned to actually mention this blog by name, or the actual numbers (which I credited fully to the Norwegian report), it seems there's already been an effort to discredit the information.

A Reuters report on Friday, posted here, quotes at length one Mirsad Tokaca, a "leading war crimes researcher" who is compiling a list of victims using a grant from the Norwegian government. If you look at the Norwegian article, you'll see that it, too, mentions Tokaca and his effort; only there, Tokaca is claiming he'll easily show at least 150,000 deaths in just two more months, even though it took him almost a year to work up to 80,000. (So, it takes 10 months to assemble 80,000 records, but only two to nearly double that? That's some sweeet efficiency at the margin!)

At one point the Reuters reporter, one Nedim Dervisbegovic, launches his attack:
Asked about reports circulating on Serbian weblogs that his figures disproved the accepted fact that Muslims were by far the main victims, he said he was unaware of such a story but could deny it completely.

First of all, this isn't a "Serbian weblog." It's a libertarian weblog, run by an ethnic Serb. Indeed, my ethnic identity isn't on display anywhere on the blog; one would have to read my column to figure it out. So either Reuters people did the research, or they assumed this is a "Serbian weblog" simply because it dared question the dogma of Muslim victimhood. But either way, it's an ad hominem - because all I did was quote a Norwegian report about the two researchers working for the Hague Inquisition of all things.
But there's more:
About 70 percent of victims were Muslims, Tokaca said, rebutting internet rumours that his Investigation and Documentation Centre would show the toll was about the same on all three sides.

I haven't made any such claim, nor am I familiar with anyone who has. As a matter of fact, I've specifically quoted the figures presented in the Norwegian report, noting that the their apparent breakdown that corresponds to population share indicates a civil war:
"The researchers estimate the number of killed civilian Muslims and Croats to be around 38,000, while the number of killed civilian Serbs was about 16,700. Among military personnel, the researchers think close to 28,000 people were killed in the government army, mostly Bosnian Muslims. On the Serb side, 14,000 soldiers were killed, while a bit over 6,000 Bosnian Croat soldiers lost their lives because of actions of war."

The combined Muslim-Croat death toll here is 69.5%. This is hardly 70% of Muslims alone!
Additionally, as I've noted in a follow-up comment to the original post, any consideration of the the combined Muslim/Croat total must take into account that some of the victims come from the fierce Muslim-Croat and Muslim-Muslim fighting.

Let's look at the military totals now, because the numbers have been broken down by ethnicity (although again, there's no accounting for the extent of the Muslim-Croat and Muslim-Muslim fighting): Serb deaths are 16,000, which is 32% of the total (50,000). Croats fare somewhat better: 12%, at 6000. Which leaves the Muslims, at 28,000, at 56% of military casualties. So even if Tokaca added Muslims and Croats together, he'd only get a 68% total - and given that a portion thereof is mutually inflicted, it's hardly proper methodology.

There is one more consideration, which I've used to argue this was not a war of "aggression and genocide," as Muslims claim, but a civil war. The civilian deaths are roughly proportional to 1991 census figures, where Muslims were 44% of Bosnia's population, Croats 17%, and Serbs about 34%. Military deaths are obviouly a bit lopsided at the detriment of Muslims, but there are two things to consider: Izetbegovic's forces fought Serbs, Croats and other Muslims; and the quality of their military was generally poorer, due to a patronage system that rewarded loyalty to Izetbegovic over military skill.

To recap, then: I have claimed nothing that is not readily obvious from the Norwegian article; Tokaca's claims are not supported by those numbers, and he did not release his own; and Reuters, whether institutionally or on the intiative of its local reporter, misinterpreted the claims made here on account of the author's ethnicity - or worse yet, assumed the author's ethnicity based on the argument he was making.

Of course, there is another possibility: that there is a Serbian blogger out there who did make the claims Reuters and Tokaca are seeking to deny, and their denials have nothing to do with Gray Falcon. But that doesn't change the falsehood of their arguments one bit.

DeTocqueville and freedom of speech

On today, Ryan McMaken quotes de Tocqueville:
In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them. Not that he is in danger of an auto-da-fé, but he is exposed to continued obloquy and persecution. His political career is closed forever, since he has offended the only authority that is able to open it. Every sort of compensation, even that of celebrity, is refused to him. Before making public his opinions he thought he had sympathizers; now it seems to him that he has none any more since he has revealed himself to everyone; then those who blame him criticize loudly and those who think as he does keep quiet and move away without courage. He yields at length, overcome by the daily effort which he has to make, and subsides into silence, as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.

Well, not quite there yet myself - I did set up this blog, after all - but I have a pretty good ide what he's talking about...

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Not-so-sophisticated Lies

I don't suppose it's a very radical statement to say that the Empire is based in equal measure on force and lies. But what I think we're seeing now is that the force is so overwhelming, the challenges so few, that the lies don't have to be very sophisticated any more. Any sort of whopper - like the "Iraqi WMDs" - will do.

In an email from an acquaintance today, I happened upon this:

"Either the secret services [of the West] have become extremely incompetent, or - having convinced themselves that most of the world is breath-takingly naive - they've resorted to cheap circus tricks, such as the Yuschenko poisoning story, that are simply an insult to logic!"

When I first came to the States, almost 9 years ago, and saw some TV commercials, I understood why the Western propaganda has, on the whole, been more subtle, insidious and effective than Soviet, or Communist in general. The Reds could be pretty persuasive while fighting to get into power; there was a clear incentive for that. But once in power, and for a while, they had no reason to play nice. Most of their agitprop became rather crude and sloppy. That's how so many people knew they were being lied to. But - and here's the key point - they couldn't do much about it as long as the lies were backed by government force. Anyone who dissented would be crushed, sending a message to others that made up in fear what it lacked in elegance.

But American propaganda developed right alongside a commercial advertising industry, one that's operated for decades in a environment of brutal competition for consumers' business. I suspect American advertisers have done some of the most sophisticated research into human psychology in order to develop the most effective marketing techniques.

So why is Imperial propaganda so crude, so ham-fisted and offensively stupid? My theory is, for the same reason the Reds started slacking off once in charge. The Empire is now so powerful that almost no one dares resist it. There is no need for sophistication, when power alone can do the trick - or so the folks running the Empire seem to believe. They've put out some real whoppers out there, fully expecting the world to believe them. And a lot of folks do, really, perhaps unaware that lies of that caliber are even possible, or that their rulers would dare.

Some of the lies used to sell the intervention in Bosnia were extremely sophisticated: "death camps" and "rape camps," claims of "genocide," etc. By the time of the Kosovo intervention, mere four years later, the Empire's best was a rather sloppy "massacre" in Racak. And last year, we got perhaps the most brazen, dumbest lie yet, the "Iraqi WMDs."

In so many books and films both, any sort of nefarious conspiracy is ruined by the act of revealing the truth to "the People" (the near-godlike concept in the pseudoreligion known as Democracy, afflicting much of humanity right now). Life is no movie, though. So many lies - both Racak and the WMDs, for instance - have been exposed and debunked, yet they are widely believed still! "The People" either cannot grasp that their leaders are capable of lying to them, or simply don't care.

I'll let you figure out which is scarier.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

What Tadic Really Said

Western media were quick to trumpet that during his state visit to Sarajevo, Serbian president Boris Tadic "apologized" to "Bosnians" for crimes Serbians committed during the 1992-95 war. Left unsaid - but assumed, as per years of propaganda - was that this "proved" Serbia's involvement in the war and the systematic nature of the alleged atrocities.

Here's the problem: Tadic actually said no such thing.

And here's another: even so, the assumption remained.

According to Beta, a Serbian news agency with Western funding (i.e. definitely mainstream), he apologized to all those "who were victims of crimes perpetrated by ethnic Serbs," but also said he expected apologies from all who perpetrated crimes against Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks [sic].

"The Serbian nation as a whole did not commit crimes. Individuals did. So it is impossible to accuse an entire nation. We all owe each other an apology," Tadic told the press. (Serbian original here)

According to Beta, he also said that there were atrocities on all sides in the region, and that he expected others to apologize for their crimes committed against Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks [sic], and that there should be no exceptions where crimes are concerned.

"The history of atrocities in this region is long. The International Court [sic] in The Hague isn't the only institution that has to foster reconciliation," said Tadic, and pointed out that politicians now have the responsibility to build a future in which the following generations would cooperate and foster peace and reconciliation.

While what Tadic says sounds entirely rational, politically it is the very definition of stupidity. First of all, he is not a head of state (yet), so he has no standing to visit Bosnia as one. Second, he has no standing to make an apology of any sort; he doesn't represent even the people of Serbia (unless one counts 27% of the entire electorate as unanimous endorsement), let alone the Serbs of Bosnia.

The Bosnian Muslims ("Bosniaks" mentioned above) blame Serbia for "aggression" against Bosnia; U.S. efforts to sideline the Bosnian Serb leadership and impose Serbian president Milosevic (yes, that Milosevic) as their chief negotiator at the Dayton talks were meant to provide substance for this claim. After all, if Milosevic had nothing to do with the Bosnian Serbs, as he claimed, how could he negotiate a peace deal on their behalf? The logic is obvious.

Now Tadic walks headlong into the same trap: by issuing an apology on behalf of all Serbs - i.e. both Bosnian Serbs and Serbia - he implicitly agrees Serbia was somehow complicit in the atrocities. Leaving aside the issue of whether this is actually true (I argue that it isn't, but that's another topic entirely), this is most definitely not how politics, or diplomacy, is done.

This man is either hopelessly naive, or really, really stupid. Or both.

Your Papers, Please

A source on Capitol Hill tells me that the U.S. Congress is about to pass a bill that would introduce a national ID card. Despite the reasoned arguments and pleas for sanity, Americans will soon hear the well-known totalitarian phrase, "Your papers, please," whenever accosted by an armed employee of the United State (the last "s" having been superficial since 1865). In fact, as the Nine Nazgul see it, they already have to.

Well, if this is how the Empire defines "freedom" at home, I really shouldn't be surprised at what it's doing in the Balkans, or the Middle East - or anywhere else, for that matter.

Monday, December 06, 2004

The Problem is Policy

Whether I agree with him or not (which is rarely, but it does happen), I've always considered Charley Reese wise. Here's his take on the Ukraine situation, short, sweet and to the point:
A second flaw in American imperialistic foreign policy is that we are, frankly, incompetent. Our government has designated as "pro-Western" some of the worst human beings ever to walk on this Earth. We have installed far more dictators than we have democrats, and every time the blowback has cost us. [...] Surely most Americans realize that the unusual amount of hostility toward us is not because the rest of the world consists of New England liberals. Even the Pentagon has finally come up with a study that says exactly what I, the rest of the world and even al-Qaida have been saying: The world hates our foreign policy, not us, and not because we are free or rich but because we are arrogantly attempting to dominate the world.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Enough with "fascism," already

Today on, Paul Gottfried offers a helpful clarification on why it is wrong to use the term "fascist" for neocons, pointing out that this particular definition fits only a specific movement in a specific time context.

Current political labels are either completely meaningless, or woefully obsolete. Being "left" or "right" doesn't mean much any more, if it ever did mean anything but a dim memory of seating arrangements in the French Etates-General.

I would normally have no problem with using the term "neoconservative" (or better yet, "neocon") - which despite the whining is actually embraced by movement luminaries such as Irving Kristol - except that it creates confusion. The neocons aren't really "conservative," but rather seek to destroy old values so they can impose new, "better" ones.

The best description I've seen so far is Claes G. Ryn's term "neo-Jacobins." But it's still a reference to something from a past context.

Either way, "fascists" just doesn't work.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

More about Bosnia deaths

In light of news that the Bosnia death toll has been fixed at much less than the oft-repeated 250,000, Stella Jatras e-mailed me a reminder that she had questioned the Official Truth back in 1996. Her article makes sense, unlike the Official Truth, but that's just the point: when it came to Bosnia, all logic flew out of the window, and reports carried only the vilest propaganda, the more outrageous the better.

I'm willing to bet money the "legacy media" (thanks to Vox Day for the phrase) continues to report the wrong, inflated, propaganda figure of 250,000 or more. Lying is a habit, and old habits die hard...

The Myth of 250,000 Muslim Deaths Continues by Stella L. Jatras, 9/23/96
The myth of 250,000 Muslim deaths in Bosnia continues. Unfortunately, the pundits obviously have not taken the time to do some simple arithmetic.
In January of 1993, UPI claimed 17,000 deaths on all sides in Bosnia. Also in January of 1993, Haris Siladjzic, Prime Minister of the Bosnian Islamic government claimed 18,000 Muslim deaths. On June 15th 1993, at the Human Rights convention in Vienna, Mr. Siladjzic claimed 200,000 Muslim deaths, an increase of 182,000 in five months! And this figure as accepted by the journalistic community without question. In the more than three years since then, the figure has increased to 250,000. If the figure 18,000 was correct in January 1993, then five months later the 200,000 figure would represent 180,000 additional Muslims killed or 36,000 per month or 1,200 victims per day.
Haris Siladjzic also said on CNN that when Tuzla was shelled, the 71 victims represented the single largest killing of Muslims in one day in the entire war. Therefore, if we take 42 months or 1,260 days of war and used the Tuzla figure of 71 as the maximum deaths per day, we come up with a total of 89,460.
George Kenney, a former State Department officer well versed in events in Bosnia, puts the casualty figure between 20,000 to 60,000 and David Binder, a highly respected foreign correspondent with 30 years of experience in the Balkans claimed in a recent World Affairs council speech in Orange County, California, that the combined totals of all humanitarian organizations can’t even come up with 70,000 victims. As an example, where are the lists of names of the 7,000 Srebrenica victims as claimed by the Bosnian government?
The extent to which many journalists are willing to accept one-sided propaganda in order to vilify the Serbs in this civil war is appalling. The numbers just don’t add up. This distortion of reality should raise questions in the minds of any ethnical journalist; instead, it is indicative of the media’s yellow journalism throughout this conflict.