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SUNNY WEATHER will continue today with slightly cooler temperatures. A cold front this evening will bring broken clouds along the North Coast along with some possible drizzle. Cooler weather will persist this weekend with light rain expected Monday. (NWS)
WALTER (WALT) NOAH, 1932-2022
Walter Noah (Walt), 90, passed away on July 26th. He was predeceased by his son, Steve Noah and daughter Susan Mindus. He is survived by his wife of 32 years, Kathleen Neuwald, his daughters Lizette Hurst and Diane Cox, stepdaughter Colleen Kroll and numerous grandchildren and great- grandchildren. He is also survived by his lifelong best friend (85 years!) Charles Christian.
Walt was born in Missouri and moved with his family to Arcata, CA when he was 18. He and his dad worked in sawmills and a plywood mill. Walt attended Humboldt State University (while working full-time) and received B.A. and M.A. degrees as well as a teaching credential. He taught 16 years at Arcata High School (English, History, and Social Studies). He worked as Director of Special Education for the Humboldt County Office and the Mendocino County Office.
He enjoyed writing about his family stories/history, spending time with family, and a steady stream of labrador retrievers. Per his request, no services were held.
Condolences may be sent to 31430 Sherwood Rd., Fort Bragg, CA 95437.
GIANT FRANKSTON ESTATE SALE: Friday 11/25 Saturday 11/26 10 - 3. No earlybirds. Many free items! Tools, dressers, bookcases, kitchenware and so much more. Also, a 1997 Saturn $1000 or best offer. Everything priced to go: 41201 Airport Rd, Little River.
FORT BRAGG FOOTBALL: Congratulations to Senior Chance Tager for being our representative on the All North Central League I Football Team as voted on by the coaches, it is quite an honor. Congratulations also are in order for Senior Kevyn Castaneda made the Honorable Mention squad. Thank you both for your play, you made the team, school and the entire community proud.
D. BRILEY WRITES: Horrible kids sports fans are nothing new, although I bet they have gotten worse. We experienced it over 6 years ago watching grandkids sports. One SoCo town was just amazingly incomprehensible how they treated our coach and players and parents/grandparents. Even when they came to a tournament in Fort Bragg. Just unbelievable. Saw it in other cities as well. It scars the kids. But they kept going and played their best despite. Our coach too, was amazing, and thankfully still coaches today. He holds the parents of his players to a high standard for the benefit of their children. Most comply. Wish more would be respectful and think beyond their own selfish hearts.
FORT BRAGG CRISIS VAN (Care Response Unit)
Over the last month, the Care Response Unit (CRU) has been providing services to new neighbors! CRU has worked closely to conduct interviews with individuals and families who have moved out of transitional housing and into permanent homes. Some of them have been displaced for over ten years! Thanks to a generous donation from Mendocino Coast Healthcare Foundation, CRU was able to partner with Mayor Norvell, the Fort Bragg Police Department, Public Works, Redwood Coast Community Services (RCS), Hospitality Center, Danco and Redwood Waste Solutions (C&S) to provide new mattresses, bed frames, mattress protectors, comforter sets and even new dining tables! We were able to provide ease within their moving process for 5 family units and 14 single family homes during this holiday season. Happy holidays everyone!
(Fort Bragg Police)
LAWSON’S ILLEGAL STUFF
On November 15th, 2022 at about 4:33pm, Willits Police Officers stopped a vehicle in the Safeway parking lot for expired registration, and additional equipment violations. The driver was identified as Steven Lawson (from Ukiah), who admitted he did not have a license.
While one Officer conducted a check on Lawson, the other officer observed Lawson manipulating a baggy with a white crystalline substance on his lap. Lawson was detained, and a search of his person revealed a live flare gun round in his pocket. A flare gun, the same caliber as the ammunition found in his pocket, was found underneath Lawson’s seat. The flare gun is considered a firearm. Lawson is a felon and is prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition.
The methamphetamine was later weighed and determined to be 22 grams.
Lawson was later transported and booked into county jail for Possession of a Controlled Substance – Methamphetamine. Felon in Possession of a Firearm, Possession of a Controlled Substance While Armed, and Felon in Possession of Ammunition.
(Willits Police Presser)
THE WAY TO GO
I heard Bill McKibben, a longtime climate activist and founder of 350.org and the Third Act, express cautious optimism that we may be turning a corner in the battle against climate change. This from a man who has warned us for years of the dangers we are facing. One reason for his upbeat message — the soaring popularity of rooftop solar and improved battery technology.
As he put it, “People love their solar.”
People might love their solar, but the California Public Utility Commission is about to throw rooftop solar off the cliff. Its proposal coming to a vote Dec. 15 would slash the value of solar energy 75% overnight while boosting utility profits at the expense of the public. Solar would become 50% more expensive starting next year.
The idea is to free up more money for everyday families to purchase rooftop solar. Huh? Raising the cost by 50% is making solar more affordable? That’s what the commission claims. Does anyone believe it?
McKibben is right. Rooftop solar and batteries are the way to go. The CPUC’s proposal makes no sense. Please let Gov. Gavin Newsom know that we must make rooftop solar and batteries more available for all Californians. Our future depends on it.
MONUMENTS AND MEMORIALS: POTTER VALLEY NATIVE STRIVES TO BRING NEW LIFE TO CEMETERY
by Carole Brodsky
For Tracy Mahaffey, stone carver, her first look at the Potter Valley cemetery evoked the same feelings of bucolic peace felt by most everyone who visits.
“It is the epitome of ‘Rest in Peace,’ with the mountains, the vineyards and the country roads. It’s an absolute visual treasure,” she notes.
MaHaffey came to Potter Valley to oversee the completion of her commission: a first-of-its-kind memorial made for the Simpson family.
“My dad Lee died in March of 2020,” notes Bob Simpson. “Because of Covid, we didn’t have a funeral service. We didn’t even have a monument for him.” For Simpson, a Potter Valley native who is passionate about preserving his family history and passing the legacy forward to future generations, creating a suitable monument that was a complete and unique expression of his departed loved ones became a 31-month journey.
“Tracy asked me a lot of questions about the monument. I told her there was going to be a lot of us out there – like 11 or 12. We ended up taking up the old slab and had a concrete artisan who perfectly matched the concrete with the Westerly granite Tracy used for the monument elements,” says Simpson. His interest in reviving the use of zinc resulted in the casting of zinc plaques that MaHaffey placed onto the granite monument stones.
“Once Tracy described zinc, I wondered why anyone would use anything else. I didn’t want to worry that you could come back here 150 years from now and not be able to read our names. If your final resting place is in a cemetery, isn’t it important to use materials that would last a long time?” asks Simpson.
Because the process of casting zinc memorials has not been completed in over 100 years, Simpson hired a videographer who filmed MaHaffey’s work from start to finish.
“We have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I want them to know who their family was – who started all of this. By putting this project in a video, I hope someone will serve as the trustee to track the family members – to always make sure they understand where this started. I’m a firm believer that our histories tell us a lot. When I’m here in the cemetery, I feel like I’m reading history.”
MaHaffey and Simpson worked closely to design something that truly memorialized his father, Lee.
Lee Simpson chose to eschew the military academy to begin his career as a lumberman. He went on to become Vice President of Operations of the Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, and even returned following retirement to become interim CEO. Trees and lumber were his stock-in-trade, but people and family were the place Lee derived his love and strength. Simpson realized that trees would have to be part of the family monument.
“Trees are mentioned in the Bible second only to humans,” notes Simpson. “Ponderosa pines were the largest type of trees felled in Potter Valley. Ponderosas don’t sprout, which also sparked a Biblical commonality for me – the idea that the tree may die off, but the sprouts that come from that tree – that’s where our three sons and eight grandchildren and great-grandchildren came from. I had to be true to my dad.”
With that theme in mind, MaHaffey designed the two Westerly granite monuments that grace the family plot. She studied the bark of the Ponderosa pine and carved it into the first monument, including the growth rings on the top of the sawn “tree,” and carved woodpecker holes on the “bark.” Tracy carved the Ponderosa wood grain pattern into the second monument, which resembles a large, sawn block of wood. On the tree are the cast zinc plaques which memorialize each family member. Even the cable that rings the plot is cable used in the timber industry.
“A Noble Man” is inscribed on Lee Simpson’s zinc plaque. “The Bible describes a noble man as someone who takes care of the poor, smiles and makes them feel good about themselves. Dad was one of those guys,” says Simpson.
The granite benches were placed on the plot so people may sit and reflect. “I’ve lost my brothers. My dad. My sister-in-law. My grandparents. I want to come out and talk to them.”
MaHaffey, who has walked in far more cemeteries than most, couldn’t help but notice that the cemetery is in a state of slow decay. “To see redwood markers over 100 years old, and seeing stones in demise is disheartening. But to be honest, it is something that is happening all over the country.”
“What we have in Rhode Island is grave sites that are 350 years old. And we also have many family plots on farms. The town right next to me has 120 small 2-to 5-stone cemeteries. Wherever you’re driving, you’re passing by cemeteries.”
“In my business, ‘How long does this stone last?’ doesn’t get asked much. I don’t think people think very long-term. We don’t have a historical culture. In Europe and in Central America, families regularly visit and tend their graves. We’re a more transient culture and don’t put a lot of attention to where our family lay. I never grew up visiting cemeteries. But now, my mother visits my father’s grave quite regularly. There is solace to be found in cemeteries. Doing this work, I’ve listened to and seen so much – so many different ways we memorialize. It’s an honor to be such a witness,” MaHaffey explains.
For Simpson, his next challenge is how to revive a “dying” cemetery.
“We have wooden memorial monuments, and we don’t know who’s buried there,” says Simpson. “Sometimes I wonder if anyone has gone to Eversole’s to see if there’s a way to identify them. I see stones leaning over, unreadable or defaced, and I know a third of the people buried here. I’m guessing 40 percent of the people represented in this cemetery have no local relatives. Bert Bowen is here, but his wife isn’t. Today is the first time in 25 years that I’ve seen any flowers on his headstone. Ernie Wipf and my brother were born on the same day in the same hospital room. I called Ernie recently and suggested he might want to look at his plot. The Eddie family’s stone is leaning. If they had to replace it, it would probably cost $10,000,” Simpson notes.
MaHaffey notes that modern cemeteries have lost much of their picturesque attraction for visitors.
“Victorian cemeteries were meant as gardens – a way to go out to a country setting and have a picnic. They were meant for the living. When you look at cemeteries that only allow certain sized granite monuments so the John Deere mower can fit between them, that’s not a setting for a place to sit and have sandwiches,” MaHaffey explains, The Potter Valley Cemetery certainly has all the charm and mystique of any Victorian cemetery.
Many people are not aware that county cemetery districts are responsible for raising funds for their upkeep, above and beyond an annual allocation to each district by the County of Mendocino.
“How is the county determining how much money the cemetery gets? By the tax base,” says Simpson. “When the Potter Valley Sawmill shut down in 1988, there went the tax base. Black market cannabis didn’t contribute any tax dollars. So our cemetery district receives $12,000 from the county. Boonville gets $50,000. Why not look at the number of memorial stones, not the taxes? It would realistically take millions of dollars to get this cemetery fully back to speed. The county should not allocate money to cemetery districts based on the tax generated in that area. It should be allocated by the district’s need.”
Simpson has great compassion for the Potter Valley Cemetery District Board. “I feel for them because people join boards with the goal of accomplishing something, but in this case, they just don’t have the funds. If I were on the board, I’d feel like I was treading water. We need to bring attention to this and other cemeteries in need. If the only source of money is fundraisers and the county, you’d have to have monthly fundraisers. It took thousands to remove one tree. We have Mac and Kate Magruder, Karen Riordan, the Elmer Family, Howard Dashiell and not too many others involved. If you have a 170-year-old house, you need a lot more than $12,000 a year to maintain it.”
MaHaffey notes that many cemeteries back East create a variety of projects to help keep them operational, safe and welcoming.
“Like your local thespians, we do things like lantern tours – witnessed character representations focusing on the historical side, talking about the residents, and then they appear and tell the stories. Community members are invited to help out, raking, picking up downed branches and trimming the low-hanging ones. The Boy Scouts and the FFA are very supportive helping to clear out bushes or trees that are overgrown. But I can’t say we’re light years ahead in terms of funding,” she explains.
Because of the beautiful oak trees that live in the cemetery, many headstones are cattywampus. “There are ways to dig under them, jack them up, pour concrete and prop them back up,” says Simpson. “We need to empower people by educating them to make their own repairs,” he notes.
MaHaffey notes there are nonprofit groups dedicated to teaching communities to maintain their cemeteries. “There are preservation and conservation workshops. It’s fairly easy to upright the slates, and there are people who can teach the community how to gently restore lettering on headstones, things like that.” Simpson intends to contact these nonprofits and see if there is a possible matchup for the cemetery.
“Our earliest headstone is dated 1850. This cemetery and our annual parade could be an anchor for visitors and a source of pride for our valley. We have a beautiful Memorial Day Service every year. The day before, let’s get the whole community out here, cleaning up everything, making it beautiful. There are not enough board members to make this kind of thing happen, short of getting our community more involved,” says Simpson.
In the meantime, Simpson is purchasing a case of a product designed to clean up monuments encased with vegetative growth. “There’s a whole industry here that could be created. There’s probably five years of work at this cemetery alone. My whole objective is to support our cemetery board members. We want all the county cemeteries to be clean, with legible, straight headstones.”
Cemetery culture is changing, and MaHaffey notes those changes are being reflected at national cemetery conferences.
“There are people who want to be wrapped in linen and put in a wicker basket. Green burials are on the rise. At the conferences, people are asking, ‘now what are we going to do?’ Not everyone can or will spend many thousands of dollars on a full burial. There are environmental, emotional and financial reasons that are driving changes in the industry.”
“Maybe it’s time for us to stop and pay attention to these cemeteries again. They are little ecosystems. There are so many interesting reasons to bring people into cemeteries. How do we showcase and celebrate the heritage and culture dotting the ground that we now live upon, with an open mind and respect for other cultures? That’s the open question,” MaHaffey concludes.
“I don’t have answers, but they have to start with funding and a vision. If the vision is to make this cemetery a Potter Valley focal point, a place that everyone is proud of, we have to get people involved. I am committed to get other people involved and work with this board,” says Simpson.
The end of Simpson’s story begins again with his father’s long-awaited family memorial service, which was scheduled for Nov. 19. As Simpson looks at his stunning monument to his father, a Red Shafted Flicker jumps near the family plot.
“Maybe we’re going to have to mount a little woodpecker somewhere,” he smiles.
(Ukiah Daily Journal)
THE ADVENTURES OF OAKY JOE
You can kill a deer with your knee. But it will mess up your knee.
The setup: I'm on my motorcycle leaving Ettawa Springs in Lake County headed up to Lake Pillsbury. As I left the property I saw a fawn running wide open down the hill straight towards me like a heat seeking missile. As soon as I realized we were going to crash I leaned the bike hard into the little deer and held on. The deer hit my left knee so hard it crushed the gas tank on my KLR all the way into the frame. The back wheel on my motorcycle clipped off one of its back legs. It was still alive so I went back to Ettawa and borrowed a pistol from my neighbor. But when I got back to the crash site the little stinker was gone!
(A letter from someone who wants to remain anonymous, who farms, writes well and actually tried this)
I had this idea that I could rope a deer, put it in a stall, feed it up on corn for a couple of weeks, then kill it and eat it. The first step in this adventure was getting a deer. I figured that, since they congregate at my cattle feeder and do not seem to have much fear of me when we are there (a bold one will sometimes come right up and sniff at the bags of feed while I am in the back of the truck not 4 feet away), it should not be difficult to rope one, get up to it and toss a bag over its head (to calm it down) then hog tie it and transport it home.
I filled the cattle feeder then hid down at the end with my rope. The cattle, having seen the roping thing before, stayed well back. They were not having any of it. After about 20 minutes, my deer showed up-- 3 of them. I picked out a likely looking one, stepped out from the end of the feeder, and threw my rope. The deer just stood there and stared at me. I wrapped the rope around my waist and twisted the end so I would have a good hold.
The deer still just stood and stared at me, but you could tell it was mildly concerned about the whole rope situation. I took a step towards it, it took a step away. I put a little tension on the rope, and then received an education. The first thing that I learned is that, while a deer may just stand there looking at you funny while you rope it, they are spurred to action when you start pulling on that rope.
That deer EXPLODED. The second thing I learned is that pound for pound, a deer is a LOT stronger than a cow or a colt. A cow or a colt in that weight range I could fight down with a rope and with some dignity. A deer-- no Chance. That thing ran and bucked and twisted and pulled. There was no controlling it and certainly no getting close to it. As it jerked me off my feet and started dragging me across the ground, it occurred to me that having a deer on a rope was not nearly as good an idea as I had originally imagined. The only upside is that they do not have as much stamina as many other animals.
A brief 10 minutes later, it was tired and not nearly as quick to jerk me off my feet and drag me when I managed to get up. It took me a few minutes to realize this, since I was mostly blinded by the blood flowing out of the big gash in my head. At that point, I had lost my taste for corn-fed venison. I just wanted to get that devil creature off the end of that rope.
I figured if I just let it go with the rope hanging around its neck, it would likely die slow and painfully somewhere. At the time, there was no love at all between me and that deer. At that moment, I hated the thing, and I would venture a guess that the feeling was mutual. Despite the gash in my head and the several large knots where I had cleverly arrested the deer's momentum by bracing my head against various large rocks as it dragged me across the ground, I could still think clearly enough to recognize that there was a small chance that I shared some tiny amount of responsibility for the situation we were in. I didn't want the deer to have to suffer a slow death, so I managed to get it lined back up in between my truck and the feeder - a little trap I had set before hand...kind of like a squeeze chute. I got it to back in there and I started moving up so I could get my rope back.
Did you know that deer bite? They do! I never in a million years would have thought that a deer would bite somebody, so I was very surprised when ..... I reached up there to grab that rope and the deer grabbed hold of my wrist. Now, when a deer bites you, it is not like being bit by a horse where they just bite you and slide off to then let go. A deer bites you and shakes its head--almost like a big dog. They bite HARD and it hurts.
The proper thing to do when a deer bites you is probably to freeze and draw back slowly. I tried screaming and shaking instead. My method was ineffective.
It seems like the deer was biting and shaking for several minutes, but it was likely only several seconds. I, being smarter than a deer (though you may be questioning that claim by now), tricked it. While I kept it busy tearing the tendons out of my right arm, I reached up with my left hand and pulled that rope loose.
That was when I got my final lesson in deer behavior for the day.
Deer will strike at you with their front feet. They rear right up on their back feet and strike right about head and shoulder level, and their hooves are surprisingly sharp... I learned a long time ago that, when an animal -like a horse --strikes at you with their hooves and you can't get away easily, the best thing to do is try to make a loud noise and make an aggressive move towards the animal. This will usually cause them to back down a bit so you can escape.
This was not a horse. This was a deer, so obviously, such trickery would not work. In the course of a millisecond, I devised a different strategy. I screamed like a woman and tried to turn and run. The reason I had always been told NOT to try to turn and run from a horse that paws at you is that there is a good chance that it will hit you in the back of the head. Deer may not be so different from horses after all, besides being twice as strong and 3 times as evil, because the second I turned to run, it hit me right in the back of the head and knocked me down.
Now, when a deer paws at you and knocks you down, it does not immediately leave. I suspect it does not recognize that the danger has passed. What they do instead is paw your back and jump up and down on you while you are laying there crying like a little girl and covering your head.
I finally managed to crawl under the truck and the deer went away. So now I know why when people go deer hunting they bring a rifle with a scope......to sort of even the odds!!
All these events are true so help me God...
An Educated Farmer
CATCH OF THE DAY, Thursday, November 24, 2022
JULIAN AGUSTIN, Covelo. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
MIGUEL CHAVEZ, San Jose/Laytonville. DUI.
MIHAI COSMA, Willits. Failure to appear.
MELANIE FREEMAN, Covelo. Burglary.
PATRICK HILBUN, Fort Bragg. DUI.
JODI HODGES, Ukiah. Paraphernalia, probation revocation.
MICHAEL HUTCHISON, Willits. Tear gas, probation revocation.
ROBERT JAMES JR., Ukiah. DUI-alcohol&drugs, controlled substance, no license, proceedings.
JAKE LEWIS-KODY, Ukiah. Disobeying court order, failure to appear.
RAMON MACIEL, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol. (Frequent flyer.)
SAMANTHA MENDEZ, Ukiah. Disobeying court order, false ID, failure to appear, probation revocation.
FRANKLIN PATTY, Ukiah. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, county parole violation.
KIERON ROBERTS, Ukiah. DUI.
KYLE STEWART, Citrus Heights/Ukiah. Failure to appear.
JORGE TAFOYA, Ukiah. Burglary, vandalism.
PG&E TREE WORK (Coast Chat Line)
Alan Haack: From Wisconsin and Minnesota to Vermont and Maine, most of the public utilities have been successfully undergrounding electrical lines while removing lines on poles for many years. There, it's for snow, here, it's for fire. PG&E has very high rates and is one of the most expensive utilities in the US. It has been hiding immense profits for all the years the others have spent money undergrounding their lines. Now, it's up to PG&E to do right and catch up. They've got plenty of money to do that without raising rates, all the money they've banked when they haven't done the undergrounding everyone else has.
Marco McClean: “The estimated cost for constructing underground transmission lines ranges from 4 to 14 times more expensive than overhead lines of the same voltage and same distance. A typical new 69 kV overhead single-circuit transmission line costs approximately $285,000 per mile as opposed to $1.5 million per mile for a new 69 kV underground line (without the terminals). A new 138 kV overhead line costs approximately $390,000 per mile as opposed to $2 million per mile for underground (without the terminals).”... psc.wi.gov/Documents/Brochures/Under%20Ground%20Transmission.pdf
STOP TAKING BILLIONAIRES AT THEIR WORD
Why do we keep believing things that are too good to be true?
by Rebecca Jennings
In 1984 — the book, not the year — the means by which the evil totalitarian regime “Big Brother” retains its power is through something called “doublethink.” It’s the practice of holding contradictory beliefs in tandem: “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” “ignorance is strength,” “2 + 2 = 5,” to use the book’s examples. It worked because when our minds — our sense of logic, our morality — become compromised, they’re easier to control.
Considering the events of the last several months, you could also interpret doublethink to mean things like “the metaverse is the future,” “people will pay millions of dollars for shitty art,” or “this crypto billionaire definitely has my best interests in mind.” It’s a trite reference, but it’s sort of the only one that makes sense. Somehow, somewhere along the way, the American public was duped into believing that these things could be true despite being, well, not.
On November 11, the 30-year-old CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, resigned after his firm filed for bankruptcy. Prior to its implosion, Bankman-Fried (colloquially referred to as SBF) was regarded as a boy genius in the crypto world, not only because of his billionaire status but because he was widely considered to be “one of the good ones,” someone who advocated for more government regulation of crypto and was a leader in the effective altruism space. Effective altruism (EA) is part philosophical movement, part subculture, but in general aims to create evidence-backed means of doing the most good for the most people. (Disclosure: This August, Bankman-Fried’s philanthropic family foundation, Building a Stronger Future, awarded Vox’s Future Perfect a grant for a 2023 reporting project. That project is now on pause.)
Instead, Bankman-Fried did the opposite: He tanked the savings of more than a million people and may have committed fraud. In a conversation with Vox’s Kelsey Piper, he essentially admitted that the do-gooder persona was all an act (“fuck regulators,” he wrote, and said that he “had to be” good at talking about ethics because of “this dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shibboleths and so everyone likes us”).
In terms of corporate wrongdoing, the SBF disaster is arguably on par with Enron and Bernie Madoff. Here was a dude who marketed himself as a benevolent billionaire and convinced others to invest their money with him simply because he was worth $26 billion (at his peak). He partnered with celebrities like Tom Brady and Larry David to make crypto — a wildly risky investment that rests on shaky technology — seem like the only way forward. Both Brady and David, among several other famous people, are now being accused in a class-action suit of defrauding investors amid FTX’s collapse.
But there have been other examples of technological doublethink in recent history. Over the past year, Mark Zuckerberg has campaigned so hard for the mainstreaming of the “metaverse” that he changed the name of one of the world’s most powerful companies to reflect his ambitions. His metaverse, though, called Horizon, would end up looking like a less-fun version of The Sims, a game that came out in the year 2000 (but even Sims had legs). The strategy has not, as of publication time, paid off. The company lost $800 billion.
What’s ironic, though, is that anyone with eyeballs and a brain could have simply told Zuckerberg that Horizon is terrible. Not only is it ugly and functionally useless, it’s also expensive (VR headsets cost hundreds of dollars at minimum). People did, to be sure, tell him that — since its rollout, the platform has been widely mocked in the media and online — it’s just that Zuckerberg hasn’t listened.
There’s this thing in tech where entrepreneurs tell themselves that their job is to innovate. They are the builders, they say, charting the way forward for the next generation of rubes who will follow them, years late, into the future. But often what they are doing is following wherever the money is, wherever the godlike venture capitalists decide to turn on the spigot. They believe they can predict what’s coming simply because “that’s where the money is” and end up surprised when the money ends up in something totally pointless.
The most convincing argument I ever heard about Web3 is that “Well, that’s what all the smart people are working on.” Back in February, I attended a meetup for crypto-curious women at an expensive, trendy hotel bar where everyone was very cool and nice. The part that stuck out to me the most was when the organizer said into the mic, “Whether we like it or not, it’s happening.” The pitch was that because all of these finance bros were getting rich on crypto and NFTs, then maybe we could catch up to them.
What wasn’t said, but what I heard, and what I’ve always heard when someone explains Web3 to me, was: “Yeah, we know this all seems fucking stupid. We know that most NFT art sucks and the idea of anyone paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for it doesn’t make even a little bit of sense. We know that this whole system is basically a pyramid scheme and that it’s bad for the environment and that no one has ever really come up with a good use case for it. But that’s where the money is.”
I don’t think anybody that invested in crypto is an idiot; in fact, I believed the opposite. After attending the meetup I was convinced that enough people would buy into this kind of marketing out of fear and FOMO that in a few months’ time I’d be paying for my coffee in Ethereum. Sure, I couldn’t really understand what was so useful about crypto or DAOs or whatever, but these women seemed smart and normal and people were making a lot of money.
The problem is that engineering is pretty bad at teaching the fact that marketing doesn’t just mean TV commercials and pretty packages. NFTs weren’t marketed based on how cool they looked (which was: not at all). They were marketed by rich dudes, or supposedly rich dudes, who positioned themselves as the only ones who were smart enough to know where the world was going. “You think this is just a jpeg?” they seemed to ask. “Enjoy being poor.”
But any woman with a Facebook account could have informed them that this is precisely the strategy used by multi-level marketing companies shilling protein shakes and leggings. Every get-rich-quick scheme is an exercise in doublethink: “It might not make sense in any logical way you’re used to, but look at my new car! You could have one too!”
Did anyone really think that a billionaire could be benevolent? Did anyone think Horizon was the future? Did people think Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover was going to proceed in any normal way? Probably. We lie to ourselves all the time. In a world in which liberal arts colleges and humanitarian studies are increasingly demonized as “wokeism factories,” it’s the technologists who are made to seem like the rational ones. Those who criticize them end up seeming naive, or ignorant, or afraid of progress, so much so that sometimes, we end up believing it ourselves instead of believing our own eyes.
(First published in The Goods newsletter. (vox.com))
AP EDITOR SAID SHE “CAN’T IMAGINE” A US INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL BEING WRONG
by Caitlin Johnstone
The Associated Press journalist who reported a US intelligence official’s false claim that Russia had launched missiles at Poland last week has been fired.
As we discussed previously, AP’s anonymously sourced report which said “A senior U.S. intelligence official says Russian missiles crossed into NATO member Poland, killing two people” went viral because of the massive implications of direct hot warfare erupting between Russia and the NATO alliance. AP subsequently retracted its story as the mainstream political/media class came to accept that it was in fact a Ukrainian missile that had struck Poland.
AP’s firing of reporter James LaPorta looks at this time to be the end point of any accountability for the circulation of this extremely dangerous falsehood. AP spokesperson Lauren Easton says no disciplinary action will be taken against the editors who waved the bogus story through, and to this day the public has been kept in the dark about the identity of the US official who fed such extremely egregious misinformation/disinformation to the public through the mainstream press.
It is utterly inexcusable for AP to continue to protect the anonymity of a government official who fed them such a profoundly significant falsehood. This didn’t just affect AP staff, it affected the whole world; we deserve to know what happened and who was responsible, and AP has no business obstructing that knowledge from us.
LaPorta’s firing looks like this is yet another instance where the least powerful person involved in a debacle is being made to take the fall for it. A powerful intelligence official will suffer no consequences for feeding false information to the press — thereby ensuring that it will happen again — and no disciplinary action will be taken against LaPorta’s superiors, despite the absolute buffoonery that subsequent reporting has revealed on their part.
In an article titled “Associated Press reporter fired over erroneous story on Russian attack,” The Washington Post reports the following:
Internal AP communications viewed by The Post show some confusion and misunderstanding during the preparations of the erroneous report.
LaPorta shared the U.S. official’s tip in an electronic message around 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. An editor immediately asked if AP should issue an alert on his tip, “or would we need confirmation from another source and/or Poland?”
After further discussion, a second editor said she “would vote” for publishing an alert, adding, “I can’t imagine a U.S. intelligence official would be wrong on this.”
“I can’t imagine a US intelligence official would be wrong on this.”
Can you imagine not being able to imagine a US intelligence official being wrong? This would be an unacceptable position for any educated adult to hold, much less a journalist, still less an editor, and still less an editor of one of the most influential news agencies on earth.
These are the people who publish the news reports we read to find out what’s happening in the world. This is the baby-brained level of thinking these people are serving the public interest with.
Antiwar commentator Daniel Larison writes the following of the AP editor’s shocking quote:
Skepticism about official claims should always be the watchword for journalists and analysts. These are claims that need more scrutiny than usual rather than less. If you can’t imagine that an intelligence official could get something important wrong, whether by accident or on purpose, you are taking far too many things for granted that need to be questioned and checked out first.
Intelligence officials of many governments feed information to journalists and have done so practically ever since there was a popular press to feed information to, and that information certainly should not be trusted just because an official source hands it over. It is also always possible for intelligence officials to just get things wrong, whether it is because they are relying on faulty information or because they were too hasty in reaching conclusions about what they think they know.
Whether the AP’s source was feeding them a line or was simply mistaken, a claim as provocative and serious as this one should have been checked out much more thoroughly before it got anywhere near publication. The AP report in this case seems to have been a combination of a story that was “too good to check” and a culture of deference to official sources in which the editors didn’t feel compelled to make the effort to check.
Indeed, the only reason the press receive such explicit protections in the US Constitution is because they are supposed to hold the powerful to account. If the editors of a wildly influential news agency will just unquestioningly parrot whatever they are fed by government officials while simultaneously protecting those officials with anonymity, they are not holding the powerful to account, and are in fact not meaningfully different from state propagandists.
They are state propagandists. Which is probably why they are sipping lattes in the AP newsroom while Julian Assange languishes in prison.
As Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic observed, this is far from the first time AP has given the cover of anonymity to US government officials circulating bogus claims of potentially dangerous consequence, like the time it reported an official’s evidence-free assertion which later proved false that Iran had carried out an attack on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, or the time it let another one anonymously claim that “Iran may try to take advantage of America’s troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
So to recap —
- Powerful government official who fed AP a false story: Zero accountability
- AP editor who asked if a report should immediately be published upon receipt of the story: Zero accountability
- Second AP editor who says she can’t imagine a U.S. intelligence official would be wrong: Zero accountability
- Journalist who wrote the story: Singular accountability
In a sane society, power and responsibility would go hand in hand. A disaster would be blamed on the most powerful people involved in its occurrence. In our society it’s generally the exact opposite, with the rank-and-file taking all of the responsibility and none of the power.
Our rulers lie to us, propagandize us, endanger us, impoverish us, destroy journalism, start wars, kill our biosphere and make our world dark and confusing, and they suffer no consequences for it. We cannot allow them to continue holding all of the power and none of the responsibility. This is backwards and must end.
UKRAINE, THURSDAY, 24 NOVEMBER
Iranian advisers killed aiding Russians in Crimea, says Kyiv
Top security official says Tehran military personnel in occupied areas will be ‘targeted’
by Julian Borger (in Kyiv)
Ukraine’s top security official has confirmed that Iranian military advisers have been killed in Crimea, and warned that any other Iranians on occupied Ukrainian territory in support of Moscow’s invasion would also be targeted.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, said Iranians were present in Crimea to help Russia pilot the Shahed-136 armed drones supplied by the Tehran government, but did not say how many Ukraine had killed.
Reports in the Israeli press in October said that 10 were killed because of Ukrainian military strikes in occupied Crimea. Danilov made it clear that any further Iranian military presence would be targeted.
“You shouldn’t be where you shouldn’t be,” Danilov said, in an interview in Kyiv. “They were on our territory. We didn’t invite them here, and if they collaborate with terrorists and participate in the destruction of our nation we must kill them.”
Wave after wave of Russian air attacks, including drone and missile strikes, have since October targeted Ukraine’s civilian energy infrastructure, plunging it into blackouts as the winter cold has begun to fall across the country. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told a meeting UN security council late on Wednesday that the attacks “an obvious crime against humanity” and said Kyiv would put forward a resolution condemning “any forms of energy terror”.
The Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Thursday sought to blame Ukraine, saying it could “end all possible suffering of the civilian population” if it met “the demands of the Russian side”.
After initially denying the presence of Iranian drones in Ukraine, the Tehran government has claimed that it had supplied a “small number” of the unmanned aircraft to Russia months before Vladimir Putin launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine in February. It denies sending Iranian trainers to help Russians fly the drones from occupied territory.
Kyiv has expressed scepticism about Iran’s version of events, and experts from both countries have met at Tehran’s request to discuss evidence collected by Ukraine.
“The Iranians keep insisting that they are not suppliers of weapons to the Russian Federation but we need confirmation. Do we have this confirmation as of today? No we don’t.” Danilov said. “We understand these things don’t fly without [people] learning how to operate them, and the Russians don’t have the brains to figure it out themselves … In the modern world you can’t hide anything. It is just a matter of time when it will be made public.”
He said it was unclear whether Iran had also delivered ballistic missiles to Russia.
“We are trying to answer this question and we’ll do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen,” Danilov said. “But if it does happen, it will tell us two things. First, that Russia has no capability of manufacturing their own missiles, at least in the numbers that would allow it to continue a large-scale war. Second, if a country that has been under sanctions since 1979 has a capability of producing such weapons, what kind of sanctions are we talking about? So it raises a big question about enforcement.”
The papers on the conference table in Danilov’s office were covered up with blank pages for security reasons, and sitting among them was a chess set with just a single black pawn advanced. Asked about it, Danilov said it was a metaphor for a world in which the old rules no longer applied.
“It shows that everybody is now starting with black,” he said. “Or what is black could also be white, or perhaps grey.”
Ukraine’s relations with Israel are an example of a grey area. There is a long list of Israeli military equipment the Kyiv government would like to acquire, but Israel has sought to avoid Moscow’s retribution and tried to portray itself as neutral.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s political comeback in elections this month complicates the picture further as he has a warm relationship with Vladimir Putin, but Iran’s involvement on Russia’s side will also affect Israel’s calculations.
“The stand of Israel towards this war is well known and understandable,” Danilov said. “Once again, I would point out that in the modern world you cannot hide anything, support or the absence of support. Are you pro-democratic or pro-authoritarian? What side are you on?”
Danilov was speaking after the liberation of Kherson city by Ukrainian armed forces, and rumours of raids across the Dnipro River to the southern part of Kherson region leading to Crimea. He was cagey about the state of the southern front, but pointed to previously reported operations behind Russian lines.
“Our armed forces are wherever they are required. We proved that more than once with our actions – when something has blown up in the occupied territories, or something went bang, when things break down, bridges fall, airfields burn and much else besides.”
He shrugged off suggestions that the pace of the Ukrainian counter-offensive might be slowed down by the winter weather, or the physical barrier of the Dnipro, or nervousness among western allies that the potential loss of Crimea would drive Putin to desperate, catastrophic, measures.
“We must defend our country and free it from terrorists at any time of year. The season doesn’t matter,” Danilov said, adding that the Dnipro was “just one more obstacle we will overcome”, and that “with the modern equipment and modern weapons, it’s just a task to be carried out”.
He added: “Until our entire territory is free our army cannot stop, and that includes Crimea and the other territories.”
STAUGHTON LYND, 1929-2022
by Forrest Hylton
Along with Roslyn and Howard Zinn, and Carol and Noam Chomsky, Alice and Staughton Lynd belonged to a generation of radical married couples in the United States who took controversial, unpopular public stands – on Civil Rights at home, on Vietnam and subsequent wars abroad – regardless of the consequences, and held fast to lifelong commitments. Staughton died last week, at the age of 92, survived by Alice and their three children.
‘I lost my opportunity to make a living as a teacher when I tried to go all-out to stop the Vietnam War,’ Staughton said in 2009:
I took account of all the rules and requirements. I went to Hanoi during Christmas vacation, and practically overturned the world Communist bureaucracy to be back in the States in time for my first scheduled class in the new year. It didn’t make any difference. The president of Yale said I had ‘given aid and comfort to the enemy’, a phrase from the law of treason.
The trip to Vietnam, with Tom Hayden and Herbert Aptheker, made Staughton a household name but ended his academic career.
The son of the sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd, Staughton went to Harvard as an undergraduate, but quit (temporarily) after reading Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution. He went back and graduated though. In 1951 he married Alice Niles and for a while they lived on a commune in Georgia. Back in new York City, Staughton worked as an organiser at the University Settlement House in New York: ‘One day in the subway, it came to me that I did not want to chaperone teenage dances for the indefinite future.’ He got funding through the GI Bill to write an MA thesis at Columbia on land tenure and class struggle in the Hudson Valley during the revolutionary period.
It was published in 1962, by which time he was teaching at Spelman College in Atlanta. Howard Zinn was one of two adult advisers to the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee, and he recruited Staughton to run the Freedom School programme for the SNCC in 1964. Staughton called the Freedom Summer his ‘most important political experience’. He was with Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic Convention in 1964.
Zinn was dismissed from Spelman in 1963 and Staughton left the following year to go to Yale. After Yale sacked and blacklisted him, the Lynds moved to Chicago where he had landed five tenure-track teaching jobs but had them all rescinded. He worked instead as a community organiser for Saul Alinsky.
The Radical Historians’ Caucus tried to get Staughton elected president of the American Historical Association in 1969, to get it to go on record against the war. Eugene Genovese helped foil the plan, and went on to rule the radical historical roost. Lynd outlasted him, though, founding Historians against the War within the AHA (I joined the former but not the latter) to oppose the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Staughton wrote for Liberation, Studies on the Left, Dissent, Socialist Revolution, Science and Society and Radical America, and he and Alice edited a book of primary sources, Nonviolence in America,in 1966. The following year he published Class Conflict, Slavery and the US Constitution, with a preface by E.P. Thompson, and in 1968, Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism, a pioneering social history of ideas. In 1971, he wrote The Resistance, with Michael Ferber, about organising opposition to the draft, and edited Personal Histories of the Early CIO. He coined the phrase ‘guerrilla history’ to describe a new way of relating to working-class people as subjects of history not of their own making, and as historians in potentia. It was a long way from narrow empiricism or consensus history, which Lynd and Zinn had helped to explode. In 1973, he wrote a book with Gar Alperovitz on strategies for socialist revolution in the US.
‘Later,’ in the words of the historian Jeffrey Gould, ‘he placed his intellect, courage and creativity at the service of the labour movement in ways I only wish more of us could emulate.’ Staughton followed Alice into law, taking a JD from the University of Chicago in 1976, and they put down roots in Niles, Ohio, near Youngstown, where they fought for steel mills owned and run by unions and communities, instead of plant shutdowns and capital flight. Staughton wrote about it in The Fight against Shutdowns (1982). Labour Law for the Rank and Filer was published in 1978; Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organisers, edited by Alice and Staughton, appeared in 1981.
It is difficult to think of anyone other than Zinn whose scholarship was as fully integrated into his activism. In Accompanying: Pathways to Social Change (2012), Staughton uses a term borrowed from Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador to lay out the ways middle-class intellectuals can engage with struggles from below to democratise society.
When I met the Lynds, 25 years ago, Staughton had recently published three books: an edited volume of oral history of the forgotten working-class radicalism before the New Deal and the formation of the CIO; Living Inside Our Hope: Confessions of a Steadfast Radical, which offered a message to my generation; and Lucasville, about the uprising in the eponymous prison in Ohio on Easter Sunday in 1993. Zinn called it ‘one of the most powerful indictments of our “justice system” I have ever read ... The detailed transcripts (yes, oral history!) give great power to the whole story.’
Staughton and Alice were stalwart abolitionists, long before the stance was popular, and well before I met them they had corresponded and visited with prisoners. Staughton said he learned more in one prison than he had in twenty steel mills. Solidarity was not an abstraction: as Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labour Movement from Below (1991) makes clear, it was a self-critical, concrete practice, anchored in specific places, institutions, and social customs and norms. The Lynds provided something like a compass, with a clear north, in a time of ideological confusion and demoralisation on the left.
In October 1997, Marcus Rediker drove a small group of graduate students – including me, the historian Gabriele Gottlieb and the actor Cornell Womack – from Pittsburgh to Youngstown for a day-long Saturday meeting. Peter Linebaugh had come in the night before from Toledo, and slept in the Lynds’ basement. The meeting had been called by the Workers’ Solidarity Club, designed to combine forces against the death penalty in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
I felt I had joined an antinomian family in which radical ideas were alive and kicking. It wasn’t subcultural, either. I can’t remember what I insisted on discussing with Staughton during a break in the meeting – it’s unlikely to have advanced our common aims, that’s for sure – but he was tolerant, and listened carefully, and responded kindly, encouragingly, with very few words.
After I began to write about Bolivia, where I lived from 2003 to 2005, researching the Federal War of 1899, Staughton and I corresponded briefly via email. Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History – a book of interviews published in 2008, the year he underwent triple bypass surgery – and ‘Toward Another World’, his 2009 Fernand Braudel Center Distinguished Lecture, reflect the evolution of his thought in relation to Indigenous movements for self-government in Latin America. In 2009, both of his history books from the late 1960s were reissued by Cambridge, which he ‘had always considered the historians’ Holy Grail’. The long overdue recognition within the historians’ guild – a ball Marcus Rediker had got rolling – unleashed ‘an overwhelming rush of emotion’. In 2011, Staughton co-authored an essay published in the William and Mary Quarterly – for the first time since the 1960s.
‘Everything we know about learning instructs that people learn by experience’: Staughton came back to this point repeatedly in talks and interviews, even as he continued to read widely and write prolifically in his eighties. He was generous, and his students are legion.
One way into his work might be the pamphlet Staughton and Alice wrote on Quaker Liberation Theology in 2015. Or From Here to There: The Staughton Lynd Reader (2010); or The Essential Staughton Lynd (2013); or The World Is My Country, a collection of speeches and writings against the Vietnam War that will be out in 2023. Or Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks (2011). Or on a picket line in support of Starbucks, Amazon and other workers fighting to form unions.
(London Review of Books)
The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.
— Ernest Hemingway
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
In 1944 Germany – one of my mom’s neighbors was killed by a burglar with an axe. He was a homeowner trying to defend his meager food stash and got hacked up trying to protect a big sack of potatoes. We were reminded of this story sometimes if we complained about supper not being what we wanted. She’d go:
“You don’t know how good you have it! Why, when I was a teenager all we had to eat was yadaydadaydayada…”
Ok mom, whatever you say…
WHY GERMAN STATE RACISM IS NOW DIRECTED AT THE PALESTINIANS
The Holocaust serves, paradoxically, as an alibi for Europeans to assume they are morally superior to others, as Caryl Churchill's cancelled arts prize shows
by Jonathan Cook
There are troubling insights to be gained into modern European racism from the German arts community’s decision to revoke a lifetime achievement award to the respected British playwright Caryl Churchill over her trenchant support for the Palestinians.
On 31 October, Churchill was stripped of the European Drama Prize she had been given in April in recognition of her life’s work. The decision was backed by Petra Olschowski, the arts minister of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, who said: “We as a country take a clear and non-negotiable stance against any form of antisemitism. This is all the more reason why a prize funded by the state cannot be awarded under the given circumstances.”
The jury – comprising eminent figures in German cultural life – said they had had their attention drawn, since making the award, to two problems. First, Churchill had backed BDS, a Palestinian grassroots movement calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions directly involved in Israel’s decades-long oppression of the Palestinians.
Back in 2019, an overwhelming majority of the German parliament designated support for BDS as “antisemitic”.
And second, the panel had been reminded of a short play called Seven Jewish Children, written 13 years ago in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s savage and extended bombardment of Gaza’s besieged Palestinian population in the winter of 2008-09. In a statement, the German jury said the play could “be regarded as being antisemitic”.
In Churchill’s now largely forgotten play, Jewish parents articulate their trauma generation by generation.
Palestinians are not present. They are shadows. They are the referred pain of a wound from Europe. Instead, the play contextualises the suffering in Gaza through a series of monologues as each generation of Jewish parents struggles to decide what they should tell their children and what realities they should hide – be it about the horrors of Europe, the crimes involved in the creation of Israel, or the bombardment of Gaza.
The play hints at uncomfortable truths: that the oppressed can turn into oppressor; that traumas do not necessarily heal or enlighten; and that their effects can be complex and paradoxical.
Friends to tormentors
One conclusion to draw from the revocation of Churchill’s award – the latest episode in Europe’s endless “antisemitism rows” – is that German elites, who control the public discourse, have signally failed to internalise the Holocaust’s key lesson.
It is a universal one: that we should never tolerate the demonisation of oppressed and marginalised groups, or those who stand in solidarity with them, especially when the state itself or its representatives are behind such demonisation. That way lies pogroms and gas chambers.
How has support for the Palestinian cause of BDS – for boycotts of those directly involved in Israel’s decades-long oppression and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians – come to be reinterpreted as racism against Jews?
This, of course, is not a uniquely German failing. Most western states – including the US, France and Britain – have willingly conflated criticism of Israel over its oppression of Palestinians with antisemitism, and sought to silence or criminalise calls to punish Israel through boycotts.
But this failure ought to be all the more surprising given the enormous efforts Germany has expended over many decades in Holocaust education, supposedly to eradicate the susceptibility of Germans to state-sponsored racism. How have they switched – so easily, it seems – from one kind of state-sanctioned racism, antisemitism, to another kind, anti-Palestinian racism?
But even more paradoxically, Germany has smeared not just Palestinians and their supporters through its crackdown on BDS, but Jews too. It treats them all as inherently responsible for the actions of Israel, a state that no more represents all Jews than Saudi Arabia represents all Muslims.
Germany’s ostentatious philo-semitism – expressed in its reflexive support for Israel – is simply antisemitism-in-waiting. If Jews are viewed as intrinsically tied to Israel’s actions, then their fate depends on how Israel is viewed at any particular moment. Should western elites support Israel, as they do now, then Jews are safe. Should western elites turn against Israel, then Jews are not safe.
Crucially, what Caryl Churchill and the vast majority of Palestinians and their supporters are highlighting is that Israel and “the Jews” are not the same. Criticism of Israel is not criticism of Jews. And those who claim it is are playing with fire. They are providing the conditions for those they now regard as friends to later become their tormentors.
‘Reeks of fascism’
So how has Germany reached the point where it can cancel an award to a renowned playwright – and smear her as antisemitic – because she supports the right of Palestinians to freedom and dignity and because she wishes to speak out against their silencing in Europe? How has Germany so casually, so unthinkingly, become racist towards Palestinians and their supporters, and once again to Jews?
As Mike Leigh, a famous British film director who is Jewish, has observed in Churchill’s defence, the decision to revoke the prize “reeks of the very fascism it affects to oppose”. There is a wider context to Germany’s repurposing of its racism.
The same elites who were attracted to a worldview that blamed the Jews, and others, for the subversion of a supposed “Aryan civilisation” are now attracted to a worldview that blames Muslims – including Palestinians (not all of whom are Muslim, it is too often forgotten) – for the subversion of European civilisation.
This monochrome worldview is appealing because it sweeps aside complexity and offers simple solutions that turn the world upside down and place the oppressor, western elites, on the side of Good and those they oppress on the side of Evil. Back in the 1930s and 1940s those solutions propelled Germany towards the horrors of the death camps.
The same racism that fuelled the Holocaust does not, of course, have to lead precisely to another industrial-scale genocide. That supreme crime has nephews and nieces, some of whom ostensibly look less ugly than their older relative. It can lead to exclusion, demonisation and McCarthyism, all of which serve as a prelude to worse crimes.
In our supposedly more enlightened age, the same Manichean impulse divides the world into camps of good and evil. Into “white” European natives versus Muslim and Arab invaders. Into moderates versus extremists. And somehow, conflated with these other categories, it pits supporters of Israel against “antisemites”.
To the dark side
This is no accident. Israel has helped to cultivate this divide, while its supporters have richly exploited it. Israel has provided the cover story for western elites to engineer a supposedly civilisational confrontation between West and East, between the Judaeo-Christian world and the Muslim world, between humanism and barbarism, between good and evil.
This morality tale, paradoxically with the Holocaust serving as its prequel, has been written to reassure western publics of their leaders’ benevolence. It suggests that through its repentance, Germany – the epicentre of the genocide of the Jews – cleansed itself and the rest of Europe of its sins.
Perversely, the industrialised crime of the Holocaust serves as the alibi for an enlightened Europe. The barometer of German and European atonement and redemption is their reflexive support for Israel. To back Israel uncritically is supposedly proof that today’s Europe is morally superior to a global south in which many condemn Israel.
Through Israel’s creation, according to this morality tale, Europe did not perpetuate its racism – by relocating its victims to another region and turning them into the tormentors of the native population. No, Europe turned over a new leaf. It made amends. Its better nature triumphed.
To bolster this improbable story, to breathe life into it, a yardstick of difference was needed. Just as “the Jews” once served that purpose by contrasting a pure Aryan race from a supposedly degenerate Jewish one, now the Muslim world is presented as the antithesis of an advanced white European civilisation.
And anyone who sides with those oppressed by Israel – and by a colonial West that inserted a self-declared Jewish state into the Middle East by destroying the Palestinians’ homeland – must be cast out, as Churchill has been by Germany. Such people are no longer part of an enlightened Europe. They have gone over to the dark side. They are traitors, they are antisemites.
This story, absurd as it sounds, carries great weight outside Germany too. One need only remember that a very short time ago a British political leader, Jeremy Corbyn, came within sight of power before he was crushed by the same antisemitism smears faced by Churchill.
But there is a notable difference.
In the case of Churchill, it has been harder to contain the backlash – at least outside Germany. Prominent artists, including Jewish actors, directors and writers, have rushed to her defence.
Perhaps more surprising still, so have liberal media outlets in Britain, such as the Guardian, which, according to research, was as deeply invested as the rest of the establishment media in undermining Corbyn and the anti-racist, anti-imperialist left he briefly led.
Take, for example, this comment from Dominic Cooke, an associate director at the National Theatre, defending Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children, which he directed at the Royal Court.
He is quoted sympathetically by the Guardian: “The confected outrage about Caryl’s play was designed to divert attention away from this fact [the large Palestinian death toll caused by Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in 2009] and scare possible critics of it into silence.”
He is right. But the “confected outrage” directed at Churchill is exactly the same confected outrage that was directed at Corbyn – a confected outrage designed in Corbyn’s case both to divert attention from the former Labour leader’s anti-imperial opposition to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and to scare leftwing critics of Israel into silence.
In Labour’s case, simply noting that the outrage had been “confected” – or weaponised – was sufficient grounds to suspend or expel party members for antisemitism. In fact, it was precisely Corbyn’s comment about the problem of antisemitism being “dramatically overstated” for political reasons that ultimately served as the pretext to oust him from the Labour parliamentary party.
Timid cultural world
There are reasons why prominent artists and establishment media outlets such as the Guardian are coming to the defence of Churchill in a way, and using a forthrightness, they avoided with Corbyn.
In a very real sense, the fight to stand up for Palestinians culturally and artistically is now largely a lost cause. Who can imagine Seven Jewish Children being produced in the West End now, as it was 13 years ago? Or Peter Kosminsky, another Jewish signatory of the letter defending Churchill, being allowed to make The Promise, as he was 11 years ago by Channel 4, a drama series that revealed the full panorama of violence associated with Israel’s creation and its occupation?
Our cultural world is once again far more timid, more intimidated, in exploring and representing the realities of Palestinian suffering, paradoxically even as those realities are better understood than ever before because of social media.
The other reason Churchill is receiving the kind of support denied to Corbyn is that the cancellation of her award is really a skirmish on the margins of the fight to give voice to Palestinian oppression – the reason the Guardian can afford to indulge it. Defending a respected, elderly playwright from the accusation of antisemitism for a play that was quickly erased from memory incurs no real cost.
Far more was at stake in the battle to defend Corbyn. He had the potential power – had he become prime minister – to make real amends for European colonialism, to really atone, by denying British support and arms for Israel to perpetuate that colonialism in the Middle East and continue its oppression of the Palestinians.
More likely, however, had Corbyn been able to form a government, and been in a position to challenge Europe’s collusion in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, he would have faced even more savage resistance than he endured as Labour leader – and not just from the British establishment but from a wider western one.
That would have risked exposing as a myth the morality tale Europeans have been encouraged to tell about themselves. It would have risked highlighting the absurdity of the Holocaust alibi for European moral superiority.
Caryl Churchill has been stripped of her award because state-sponsored racism still lies at the heart of the European project. Europe’s racism was never cleansed. The seeds of fascism did not go away. They simply need a new time and purpose to flourish once more.