Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Check this out.

Over on Salon.Com, they have an exclusive article by Karen Kwiatkowsky, a retired Pentagon official who worked with the Near East South Asia devision and shows us an insider's look at what's really going on with the Office of Special Plans.

Here's a good example of some of the juicy bits she's got in the article:

"War is generally crafted and pursued for political reasons, but the reasons given to the Congress and to the American people for this one were inaccurate and so misleading as to be false. Moreover, they were false by design. Certainly, the neoconservatives never bothered to sell the rest of the country on the real reasons for occupation of Iraq -- more bases from which to flex U.S. muscle with Syria and Iran, and better positioning for the inevitable fall of the regional ruling sheikdoms. Maintaining OPEC on a dollar track and not a euro and fulfilling a half-baked imperial vision also played a role. These more accurate reasons for invading and occupying could have been argued on their merits -- an angry and aggressive U.S. population might indeed have supported the war and occupation for those reasons. But Americans didn't get the chance for an honest debate.

President Bush has now appointed a commission to look at American intelligence capabilities and will report after the election. It will "examine intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and related 21st century threats ... [and] compare what the Iraq Survey Group learns with the information we had prior..." The commission, aside from being modeled on failed rubber stamp commissions of the past and consisting entirely of those selected by the executive branch, specifically excludes an examination of the role of the Office of Special Plans and other executive advisory bodies. If the president or vice president were seriously interested in "getting the truth," they might consider asking for evidence on how intelligence was politicized, misused and manipulated, and whether information from the intelligence community was distorted in order to sway Congress and public opinion in a narrowly conceived neoconservative push for war. Bush says he wants the truth, but it is clear he is no more interested in it today than he was two years ago."

-- Go read it, it's full of juicy tidbits. I'll be honest, it doesn't tell you anything you didn't probably already suspect, but it is a named source, on the record, explaining their first-hand experience with forging and politicizing evidence prior to the war in Iraq. The article is long, well-linked and certanly well researched.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Rest In Peace, Spalding

So by now you probably all know that Spalding Gray was confirmed dead yesterday.

I don't really have much to add to the piece in The New York Times today, which I feel strikes a pretty good balance between explaining the story of his disappearance two months ago and of his life's work.

I remember being a kid and seeing "The Paper", directed by Lawrence Kasdan and a movie theater in New York. I think to this day I'm the only person I know who likes it, but anyway, I remember the scene (my favorite scene) where Gray, playing a snooty editor, tries to tell off Michael Keaton, only to get some red-faced invective spewed back at him.

That's my first memory of Spalding Gray, and I thought he was hilarious. Since then, I've tried to watch as much of his stuff as possible. It's sad to think that this is the end of his strange and singular talent, and even weirder to consider that a man who's real art was the ability to recreate himself on stage night after night would destroy himself on a cold winter evening on the Staten Island Ferry.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Doug Haines and the Democrat's gay problem

Many of you probably don't know who Doug Haines is. He's a Democrat, running for a seat in Georgia, who is advertising on progressive blogs like Atrios to try to raise money. I had a look-see around his site and here we find this graf in the fairness and equality portion:

"He was endorsed by Georgia Stonewall Democrats. Haines’ work in the Georgia Senate won him the approval of the Stonewall Democrats. He opposes policies that encroach on the privacy of people’s homes and their relationships."

I think it's safe to say that this section is, well, a little closeted. No words signifying gay issues are here. Instead we get references to Stonewall Democrats (is that like San Francisco Democrats?), privacy and people's relationships. This kind of double speak lets Dems know he's a friend of gays, but lets him off the hook from explaining just how he feels about the government role in regulating the institution of marriage, job discrimination against the GLBT community, or any other of a host of issues important to people fighting for gay rights. All we can glean from privacy of people's relationships is that he's against sodomy laws, which have already been struck down in the US Supreme Court. Not exactly a daring position.

The easy counter argument: what the hell did you expect, Isaac, from a Georgia Democrat? Shouldn't you be gracious and understand that he has to speak in code if he's ever going to get elected? Let's get him elected, take back Congress and change the laws, who cares about the rhetoric?

In the short term, these are all good points. And if I was only concerned with electing Democrats in '04, or, indeed, Doug Haines chances of being elected, I'd probably conced the point. But there's a long-term argument that's important, and that is that rhetoric matters. Rhetoric shapes how we view these issues culturally which clearly shapes how we decide these issues legally.

We will never be able to destigmatize queer sexuality if people in positions of privledge don't show leadership on the issue. Why can't the Democrats take some more of that backbone the Dean campaign supposedly lent them and find some way of engaging the electorate on this issue? Politicians pander, of course they do, but we could try collectively trying to lead.

(there's also a side issue of what exactly Doug Haines actually believes-- maybe he's not a big champion of gay rights, but likes the endorsement and likes what'll get him. I have no idea. There's no way to tell from the website and if I'm a Georgia voter I doubt I'm going through the Georgia Senate's minutes to find out what he thinks.)

O Safire! O Humanity!

Didn’t post over the weekend, but I thought I’d write now to address my favorite blowhard, William Safire. His latest opinion piece in the New York Times is on the future of the National Endowment of the Arts. O, perfect juxtapositions of art and politics!

Safire’s piece is arguing in favor of the increase in NEA funding and the start of the “American Masters” series. I have no argument against the American Masters idea (touring performance and arts shows showcasing the best of mainstream American art to communities and especially children all over the country) I think it’s great, although I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the work that came out of it was kind of boring.

What I do have problems with is Safire’s attempt to totally misrepresent the history of the NEA. Safire writes: “We happily hidebound conservatives resist direct funding for the arts on the principle that control of the money ultimately means control of the artist. The U.S. has a better approach: our tax policy encourages diverse private support, by individuals and foundations, of music, theater, dance and the visual arts.” This is a total misrepresentation of the Conservative stance on this issue. The Republican party didn’t go after the NEA 4 because they were worried about censorship, they went after the NEA 4 as an exercise in censorship. Conservatives weren’t worried about government control of the arts, they were worried about government funding of “indecent” art. The tax code is a wonderful thing, but let’s not rewrite the history of the early 90’s and the homophobia and election-engineered panic designed to take out a program that costs the American tax payer $0.64 a year.

Even if he did believe that, he’s wrong, and the controversy over the NEA 4 proves it. If government funding for the arts meant government control of the arts, the NEA 4 never would’ve happened, because they wouldn’t have wanted to offend their patrons. State sponsored art is as old as art itself. The Greeks used state money to promote the arts. That didn’t stop Aristophanes from devoting several plays to ridiculing the government of Athens in the worst invective possible. The only way government funding for the arts controls the arts is when the money stops and the arts go into recession, like we have today.

And as for the tax policy nonsense, private companies cut funding to the arts when the government does. Private funding for the arts exploded during the peak of the NEA, and it has been slowly decreasing ever since. Private funding is not enough. The arts are starving in America. The next generation of American artists has to compete for grants with older, established companies because there is no longer enough money for the more established companies to survive. What this means is that John Jaspers, a promising and innovative choreographer with enough work under his belt that we should be funding him, has to compete with Trisha Brown, the goddess of postmodern choreography, because the TBDC is having just as much trouble staying afloat.

But to Safire, that’s okay. His favorite artists is one who can’t make a living from his art. He writes of the chairman of the NEA: “The chairman, Dana Gioia (JOY-uh), is a major American poet and educator. Like the poets Wallace Stevens (insurance), James Dickey (advertising) and even T. S. Eliot (banking), Gioia made a living in business, as a marketing V.P. at General Foods. He brought both talents — artistic creativity and distribution savvy — to the task of expanding audiences through education and thereby making arts more self-supporting.” I agree that arts education is part of the future of the arts, but the arts will never, ever, be self-supporting. They just won’t. It has never happened in history and it can’t happen now. You can’t be self-sufficient and make a living at the arts, and making a living at the arts is at least part of what we should be supporting. Safire clearly, but surreptitiously, disagrees: he thinks that art should be what you do in your free time. A hobby and, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get recognized like Eliot.

He never stops to think what Stevens and Eliot could’ve accomplished if they were full time writers. The explosion in creativity if artists could make a living doing art is something Safire never really wants to look at.

A couple of grafs later, we get this little gem: “Remember the hoo-ha a while back about the funding of edgy art, offensive to some taxpayers, by the National Endowment for the Arts? That controversy is over. The N.E.A. has raised a banner of education and accessibility to which liberal and conservative can repair.” That "controversy" didn't arise in a vacuum. Conservatives stripped the Endowment of its mandate by forbidding it from funding individual artists, stopped it from funding art that anyone anywhere might consider “offensive” and then gut its funding. All of this over how the Endowment, which relies on three rather arduous tiers of peer review to make its decisions based wholly on artistic merit, chose to spend approximately 1% of its under $150 mil. Budget.

Now we see the result of it: the only way the NEA can get any money is to propose programs that promote instead of challenge the way we see ourselves. But these plays (O’Neill, Williams etc.) would’ve been anathema to Safire if he was writing op-ed pieces back when they were written. Williams, for example, wrote about class, sexuality, spousal abuse, alcoholism and all sorts of other shibboleths that American society wanted to ignore.

What Safire likes about these plays is that he thinks they reinforce conservative values. They are “Spare; daring; profoundly plain-spoken. We are getting far enough away from this to see how much it shapes our revolutionary character and affects our self-image today.”. If we translated these values to government we have: "small government (spare); interventionist (daring); blissfully arrogant (profoundly plain-spoken)" and have the conservative credo. Safire only supports art that he can meld to support his own image of what America should be. (This is leaving alone, for now, the fact that Safire apparently hasn't read a good book since Hemmingway, seen a good dance performance since Martha Graham, or been to the theater since Eugene O'Neill)

Like I said, I support the NEA's "American Masters" program. More money for the arts, and we have a great legacy that school children should be exposed to. As a final thought, here's another way of supporting the arts that I think even Conservatives could get behind: Ticket price subsidies. This is how the Greeks subsidized their arts, and it's one of the ways the government spends its money in Denmark. Support the arts by allowing the citizens to see theater, museum shows, concerts etc. and then having the government pay a large part of the tab through a voucher system. This way, the American People could decide what art to support and the government could get a little further away from the censorship business. It’s not the only thing the government should be doing to support the arts, but it would be a more democratic and more Conservative way of doing it. Of course, then conservatives would have to admit that free choice doesn’t really have anything to do with this. They don’t want Americans seeing Angels in America, they want them going to the orchestra like good citizens, and if they can’t control that, they don’t want any part of it. Who knew they were such Platonists?