April 5, 2003

The substitution of the term "incursion" for "invasion" has a controversial history, one that goes generally forgotten or ignored by most present-day users. In what became known as the Incursion Address, Richard Nixon infamously announced, "This is not an invasion of Cambodia." That's his story, and he instructed his staff to stick with it. Four days later, students at Kent State, protesting the "incursion" labelled their own actions an incursion, and four of them were shot by National Guard troops.

Since that time, the term has been most commonly applied--as a strident voice points out, and as any NY Times reader or NPR listener can note--to Israeli actions in Lebanon and, more recently, the Occupied Territories. Hmm. Seems like pretty heavy baggage to lug into Baghdad with you.

If you've mastered the not-so-subtle nuances of "liberation vs. overthrow," take a look at "incursion vs. invasion." In a revealing but thoroughly unscientific snapshot of Google News (results 1-10, sorted by relevance), "incursion Baghdad" returns 9 US media sources and 1 UK paper quoting the Centcom spokesman. "Invasion Baghdad," on the other hand, brings up 8 foreign news sources (including Reuters UK) and two US stories: one quotes an American human shield, and one from the Times titled, "Food, Too, Can Be a Weapon of the War in Iraq".

Update: Check out Geoffrey Nunberg's article on "war-speak" in Sunday's NYT and Andy Bowers' pre-emptive war glossary on Slate.

One of the most vividly written reports from anywhere in the war, John F. Burns' account of daily Baghdad life in the NYTimes:

On the same street where the driver was pulled over this morning, a man who owns a boutique selling expensive perfumes to the Iraqi elite ó a man dependent on the custom of people grown rich and powerful under the nearly 24-year-old rule of Mr. Hussein, and thus a man whose fortunes could be about to tank ó was busy washing his open-top Japanese jeep, with red flashes on the side to mark him as a man with zip. Car washed, he took the hose to the plants flanking his boutique's doorway.

The Peace Pledge Union Project has a good overview of Norway's highly successful use of nonviolent tactics to resist and stymie the Nazi occupation. Resistance began almost immediately after the occupation; actions were rapidly disseminated via 300+ underground newspaper/chain letters ("type 20 copies and give them to people you know") and through professional associations, unions, and social clubs.

When Germany tried to usurp these institutions, they'd dissolve via mass resignations (and the occasional accidental archive fire), only to reconstitute as an underground network. "A British military historian, interviewing German generals after the war, was told that they'd found nonviolent resistance much harder to deal with than armed and violent opposition."

Historians have worked hard to discover and record in great detail the military facts of war. The hidden history of civilian lives in wartime needs the same scrupulous telling. Damage done by and to civilians caught up in war's horrors is a warning to their leaders against embarking on war at all. The positive actions of civilians who choose to act nonviolently in the face of war's violence are a model for what might well be the only way to abolish war once and for all.
Reading I'm reminded of: Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India, by Ashutosh Varshney. "Strong associational forms of civic engagement, such as integrated business organizations, trade unions, political parties, and professional associations, are able to control outbreaks of ethnic violence, Varshney shows. Vigorous and communally integrated associational life can serve as an agent of peace by restraining those, including powerful politicians, who would polarize Hindus and Muslims along communal lines." [A New Scientist interview with Varshney.]

For the second month in a row, Artforum is looking back at the 80's. Douglas Crimp talks with surviving members of Gran Fury, the art collective which grew out of ACTUP and the early days of the AIDS crisis. Other participants included: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Todd Haynes, and Tim Rollins. [update: these guys were in Group Material, a different collective. My bad. Thanks, Andrea.]

Gran Fury members at the 1990 Venice Bienale,
Gran Fury with The Pope and The Penis at the 1990 Venice Bienale, L to R: John Lindell, Donald Moffett, Mark Simpson, Marlene McCarty, and Loring McAlpin.

Some relevant excerpts:

Tom Kalin: We went from being wheat-pasting hooligans to suddenly having real resources and opportunities and a platform from which to speak. This brought about a crisis of conscience in discussing how to articulate the group because the stakes had been raised...

Loring McAlpin: We also had a long discussion about whether we should be in the Venice Biennale at all. We had wanted to hang banners in the street, remember? And they said, 'No, you can't do that.' And there was a moment when we wondered whether it was enough for us to just be inside an art institution, but we decided it was a public enough venue to merit doing it...

Marlene McCarty: I want to go to bat for Venice. We cannot forget how much press came out of that piece, which was far more public than a billboard would have been. That work got AIDS on the cover of Express.

Robert Vazquez: But we're being disingenuous when we say that we planned to send a huge photograph of an erection to Venice, intended as a provocation to the Pope, and worried that no one would notice. We knew very well what we were doing...

Donald Moffett: What I hear now is a rhetorical neglect coming out of the White House that is very similar to where we were fifteen years ago...

That legacy (the Gran Fury Collection at the NY Public Library) is an educational resource for another generation. After all, we didn't come out of nowhere. We dragged the history of this kind of art into the '80s and the early '90s. And it will be reinvented again..

April 2, 2003

Who else is embedded? Pentagon Public Affairs handlers. "Indeed, one of the CPIC's most vital roles is to discourage "rogue" journalists from venturing into dangerous areas by providing the information they might otherwise attempt to get on their own." (in PR Week)

"Eleana Benadorís Agency Keeps the Right-Wing Lecture Economy Going", in today's NY Observer (picture with artfully draped scarf included).

[From the older, wiser The Morning News]

April 2, 2003

Once in a while, I'm standing here, doing something. And I think, "What in the world am I doing here?" It's a big surprise.
-- A Confession (May 16, 2001, interview with the New York Times), from Hart Seely's piece on Slate, "The Poetry of D.H. Rumsfeld,"
... Let me have no friends or companions But a wine-flask and a book, That I may avoid all association With the deceitful denizens of the world. If I lift my skirt above the dust of the world I shall tower above all in total independence, Like a lofty cypress...
-- excerpted from The Ghazals of Hafiz, works of the great 14th century Persian poet, translated by A.J Alston.

In Washington Monthly, Joshua Micah Marshall (his stellar weblog: Talking Points Memo) has a sobering look at the neocon view of Baghdad-as-beta for "rolling the table," i.e., regime changing the entire Middle East. Slate's Kaus realizes that this explains Rumsfeld's hubris and micromanaging (cf. Sy Hersh) a small military footprint--so Baghdad's fall puts Teheran, Damascus, and Riyadh (!?!) on notice.

One conclusion of Marshall's article: this neocon war strategy is self-fulfilling prophecy; the more they pursue it, the more "painfully necessary" constant war becomes. "The White House really has in mind an enterprise of a scale, cost, and scope that would be almost impossible to sell to the American public. The White House knows that. So it hasn't even tried. Instead, it's focused on getting us into Iraq with the hope of setting off a sequence of events that will draw us inexorably towards the agenda they have in mind."

Which puts me in a coining mood (Hey, why should Jarvis have all the fun?). The war to begin all wars.

Jeff "Buzz" Jarvis suggests I give to the (eventually) liberated Salam Pax, who he notes is "the true Baghdad Blogger."

I like it.

To make it happen, I'll link up with an NGO and petition the ITU liaison at the UN's Interim Iraqi Administration Authority and... oh, what the hell, just get me Richard Perle on the horn.

March 30, 2003

When Bush's Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, blamed Canada for not supporting the Administration's war policy, it set of waves of self-criticism and anguish across the whole country (granted, they probably do that a lot up there...). Aaron has a day-by-day, um, breakdown of the whole crisis on 601am.

In today's Halifax Herald, the Nova Scotian writer Silver Donald Cameron sets the record straight. After turning the Administration's French taunts of "Remember WWI? WWII?" back on the US--which entered the wars three and two years after Canada--Cameron adds "Remember September 11th," that day when Canada took 40,000 stranded US airline passengers into their homes on a moment's notice. [via IP]

March 30, 2003

Gary Wills' NY Times Magazine article, "With God on His Side," a long look at presidents' pressing God into the service of politics. Keywords: "Missed you at bible study," (an unsubtle slam in the Bush White House) and "muscular Christianity."

Wills closes with an excerpt of Mark Twain's "War Prayer," written to protest the US invasion of the Philippines.

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Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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