06.28.17

Reviewed: American Anarchist & Control Room

Posted in Crazy Weapons, Culture of Lickspittle at 3:26 pm by George Smith

Control Room, now streaming on Hulu, takes viewers back to 2004 and the rise of al Jazeera as the Arab world’s first top rank Western-style news organization covering Iraqi Freedom. Relevant 13 years later, the original is from 2004 because Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and a couple other American toady nations have demanded Qatar suppress the news channel. In Control Room, it’s Central Command in Doha, the President and the US military against it for having the temerity to transmit both sides of the conflict, not just a sanitized US-approved version.

Control Room climaxes with a news event that has passed into obscure history: the US military’s attack on al Jazeera’s Baghdad operation as the city was being occupied, the result of which killed one of the agencies camera men. Two other journalists were also killed when the US military struck a Reuters/international news facility separately.

It’s menacing footage. Al Jazeera’s control room witnessing from afar as a US A-10 begins a missile attack run.

The bombing closed al Jazeera’s office in Baghdad and effectively ends the documentary. Al Jazeera is a small tv station arrayed against the most powerful military on the planet and it made that military angry. Message sent.

The reporters from al Jazeera are pros. They do their job, cynically noting behind the scenes the mishandling of the war as the US attempts to shape coverage. There is video American POWs (protested by the US military). But it was OK to show Iraqi POWs and dead men. There is more of American and British troops kicking down the doors of residences while Iraqis cower inside. Compared to today, when the latest news is a puff piece on America’s Otto Skorzenys and their commando operations are said to confer considerable advantages to the US side, al Jazeera was just doing its job.

Are there wars? Yes, certainly. Does the big American press cover them anymore? Not really. It takes too much effort to fight the war machine and the domestic audience doesn’t care.

At one point, one of al Jazeera’s editorial decision makers, a man who chain smokes like the character Nathan Thurm in old Saturday Night Live sketches, cynically notes that the pulling down of the statue of Saddam Hussein is (obviously to an Arab audience) an engineered stunt with an American-tanked in crowd of young men. Where are the women and neighbors another producer drily notes.

“David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, said in a statement that the demand ‘represents a serious threat to media freedom if states, under the pretext of a diplomatic crisis, take measures to force the dismantling of Al Jazeera,’ reads a news short today. At al Jazeera.

Paradoxically, David Kaye began his career at the US State Department.

Other affairs that have now faded into a distant fog: the folly of the production of a deck of playing cards with the faces of wanted Hussein regime leaders. (There are none made available to the press.) The Jessica Lynch rescue that wasn’t. (“Her Iraqi guards had long fled, she was being well cared for – and doctors had already tried to free her.” — the Guardian). A military spokesman’s absurd insistence that as Baghdad was being looted and the US military stood by that Iraqis should rise themselves and protect stuff. And, at the end, Mission Accomplished.

By the end of Control Room, remember this was in 2004, there is the dawning recognition that we’d triggered an epic human catastrophe still to unfold.


A poignant documentary of William Powell, the author of The Anarchist Cookbook, is currently streaming on Netflix. American Anarchist traces Powell’s life in simple interview from the age of 19, when angered by the Vietnam War he set about to write it, to a long segment in which he expresses “remorse” over the bloody path of mayhem, plots and murder to which its pages may have contributed.

Anyone who has become familiar with American far-right anarchist listerature is also aware that Powell’s cookbook is the volume with the biggest footprint — 2 million copies sold world wide; uncountable copies now distributed by the web.

Indeed, The Anarchist Cookbook has had many offspring, some of which like the Mujahideen’s Poisons Handbook (contructed from the American volume, The Poisoner’s Handbook) have been dealt with quite closely on this blog.

And as everyone who walked the territory of the web in the mid-Nineties, the electronic versions were everywhere, to such an extent that they became things investigators looked for when prosecuting domestic as well as international cases of terrorism and murder.

What will stun the viewer is that Powell was largely unaware of it all. He took up a career in teaching in the far reaches of the world and with his wife, leading training couses on how to teach and reach children who aren’t motivated by traditional pedagogy. In so doing he spent much time in Africa, noting at one point that his family didn’t even have a television and so news from America was virtually non-existent.

This does not deter the interviewer who doggedy walks Powell through the laundry list of very bad people who were fond to be in possession of his book. As the documentary proceeds its clear that the black history of it in bombings and shootings have weighed heavily upon him and his wife.

In 2000 Powell disowned the book on Amazon. Thirteen years later, for the Guardian, he asked that those publishing it cease doing so. Did he, however, do enough? I think so but the answer is left to every viewer.

In the mid-Eighties Powell could not possibly have known what would happen with The Anarchist Cookbook. He believed it be a poorly written fad book on bomb-making, violence and sabotage that was fading in popularity. Powell, along with everyone else, didn’t see what cyberspace and the nascent web would do for the book: Make it easily available to everyone, not just to visitors of odd bookshops, survivalists and gun show anti-government fanatics. Digital existence bundled the book into its growing family of recipes-for-death literature and made the whole mix easily searchable on the web.

For example, one of its lesser offspring mentioned above, the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, no longer in the dark but mainstream (virtually), for everyone, like it or not.

The majority of Powell’s life was spent in loving education of the world’s impoverished, very very far from the path taken by The Anarchist Cookbook in America. And American Anarchist leaves no room for doubt that this vocation was very dear to his heart.

As a good man and sadly, The Anarchist Cookbook trailed Powell into death, of which the world did not become aware until movie reviewers saw it as a note at the end of America’s Anarchist in March of this year, that its subject had died a short time after the interviews took place.


1. From the New York Times:

The book, a precursor to more recent publications like “The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook” and “Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla,” was at times angry, but it also came with cautionary notes (“This book is not for children or morons”)…

2. The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook — here, here and here.

06.20.17

Thomas Frank’s look at the UK

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 12:12 pm by George Smith

Author Thomas Frank, primarily noted for Listen, Liberal, a book on the failures of the Democratic Party, the abandonment of its base, which turned the tome into a bestseller on the back of the Trump election, was tasked by the Guardian to tour England prior to the May snap election that handed a radical setback to the Tories and vaulted Jeremy Corbyn to the center stage of Brit politics.

It’s a long piece as Frank travels through places you don’t hear of — Wakefield, Barnsley, Grimsby, Scunthorpe — trying to get his arms around the entirety of the political wind in Britain, particularly from the point of view those who voted to leave the EU in the abandoned and deteriorated towns, the old places of rusted mills and abandoned mining, of de-industrialized England.

Frank discovered similarities with trends in the US but very stark differences. The British mainstream is much more comfortable with socialism. People know that it was the decisions of government and those in power who are responsible for their ills. In fact, they know deliberate steps were taken to destroy workers.

For example:

The ending of a way of life here was not the doing of the godlike forces of capital, but instead the deliberate result of a government campaign to destroy the power of workers – of ordinary people – and to put the country on a track that was more in keeping with the free-market ideology.

The viewpoint I just described is one you don’t often hear in the US these days. We think it is ancient and obsolete, and besides, very few American liberals sympathise with the coal mining industry. But there is also something refreshing and healthy and even populist about this perspective, emphasising as it does the obvious role of political struggle and human agency in economic developments – that it’s not just an invisible hand making all the decisions for us. This is an understanding that has proven increasingly difficult for Americans to grasp as the years have gone by. Maybe we all need to spend a few evenings at the Red Shed.

The British are also aghast at stories which are commomplace here:

hen I try to put my finger on exactly what separates Britain and America, a story I heard in a pub outside Sheffield keeps coming back to me. A man was telling me of how he had gone on vacation to Florida, and at one point stopped to refuel his car in a rural area. As he was standing there, an old man rode up to the gas station on a bicycle and started rummaging through a trash can. The Englishman asked him why he was doing this, and was astonished to learn the man was digging for empty cans in order to support his family.

The story is unremarkable in its immediate details. People rummaging through trash for discarded cans is something that every American has seen many times. What is startling is that here’s a guy in Yorkshire, a place we Americans pity for its state of perma-decline, relating this story to me in tones of incomprehension and even horror. He simply couldn’t believe it. Left unasked was the obvious question: what kind of civilisation allows such a fate to befall its citizens? The answer, of course, is a society where social solidarity has almost completely evaporated.

It’s a remarkable read.