Henry Louis Gates’ Contempt Of Cop

At last night’s nationally televised press conference, a reporter, Lynn Sweet, asked President Obama a question about the July 16 arrest of famed Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. Obama gave a perfectly reasonable answer, at first a little humorous as to what would have happened to him in a similar circumstance, and then indicating that the Cambridge Massachusetts police department "acted stupidly", followed by a serious discussion of the lingering problems in the US of oppressive profiling and treatment by police of Blacks and Hispanics.

Obama’s response, predictably, set the chattering press all a twitter and a tweeting. This brief interlude at the very end of the press conference didn’t get as much afterglow coverage as the healthcare issues that were the reason for the press conference in the first place, but it sure seemed like it came close on cable channels such as CNN and MSNBC.

First off, let me say I agree with Josh Marshall:

But let’s be honest: this is all about a black guy getting on the side of another black guy who got crosswise with the cops. Why would he touch such a powder keg? Like it’s going to ignite at least one more battle in the late lamented Culture War.

That really is it, isn’t it? What set the twits a twittering was the first black President had the audacity to stand up for another black man and call the overzealous and oppressive police response in the case stupid. Well, the police response was stupid.

That said, before I go further, I would like to point out one thing. Barack Obama may have shown himself to be a truth teller and friend to Henry Gates last night, but he may have done Gates a disservice in one regard. The famed "Blue Line" of police in situations like this is a strong factor far greater than most people realize, and Obama’s comment will surely stiffen the police line in Gates’ case. It was a line already forming:

The union representing the police sergeant who arrested a prominent black Harvard professor last week at his home in Cambridge, Mass., said it was standing behind the officer. The union, the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, said in a statement that Sergeant James Crowley was a “highly respected veteran supervisor” who had its “full and unqualified support.” “His actions at the scene of this matter were consistent with his training, with the informed policies and practices of the Read more

Why GM Matters: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon

[As I indicated yesterday in the post "Why American Industry (And Its Future) Matters", we have the privilege of having author William J. Holstein today at Emptywheel and Firedoglake. Mr. Holstein has a long and rich history as a journalist and author. Most importantly for today, he has plunged into the history and ethos of General Motors and produced an incredible work detailing just how critical General Motors, the American auto industry, and American industry itself is to the United States economy and way of life.

As Michael Fitzgerald observed at bnet.com, "Holstein is using GM as a symbol for whether it makes sense for the U.S. to bother with manufacturing. That might sound odd for a country that for now probably remains the world’s largest manufacturing economy. But Holstein argues that our political and financial leaders don’t get manufacturing, and don’t think it’s important. This is the crux of the Main Street vs. Wall Street debate, and it is shaping up as the core fight of economic policy over the next few years: do we get a justifiable return if we invest in making things, or should we focus on information-driven innovation?"

I think that is right. Since we cannot layout the entire book in the intro here, Bill and I decided to focus on the emerging technology, and specifically battery/electric technology, and the new product lines, that GM is producing. With that said, what follows are prepared remarks in that regard by Bill Holstein. Take a look, and then join us in discussion. I am looking forward to the best and brightest that inhabit our little corner of the world participating in and driving this. Oh, and visit Bill anytime at his blog WilliamJHolstein.com Also, I heartily recommend purchasing his book, it is a fascinating look into a critical issue of our time, not to mention a great read. – bmaz]

*****
By: William J. Holstein:

It’s time to cut through all the nonsense about General Motors “not making cars that Amrericans want to buy.” The truth is that GM has seized design and performance leadership over its longtime nemesis, Toyota. Toyota’s cars these days resemble appliances, i.e. refrigerators on wheels. They don’t break, but they hardly inspire.

In terms of their physical appearance, GM vehicles have real attitude. The new CTS has a very bold and aggressive front end that designer John Manoogian came up with at the last moment. He and his team decided to take the V-shape that used to stop at the bumpers and let it plunge below the bumpers toward the ground. They also inserted grilles on the right front panels merely for decorative purposes. That nearly drove the engineers crazy because of the challenge of stamping a piece of sheet metal with an odd hole in the middle of it. But they did it. At first, the competition could not believe that GM had figured out how to achieve that.

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T. Boone or not T. Boone

h/t www.thewindturbines.com/

h/t www.thewindturbines.com/

We have had quite the go lately here at the FDL Borg Hive over the automaker bailout and, more specifically, the most pressing of which is GM. For the moment though, I want to touch on a corollary to the future of the American auto industry, and that is the transition to clean and green that needs to occur for long term sustainability of Deetroit wheels.

If we could flip the switch on a perpetual motion device, heck even the Chevy Volt, tomorrow, that would be wonderful. But we cannot. The path back to health and profit prosperity for American auto will be a process that takes time, and it is going to take intermediate steps while the new technology comes on line, gets refined and evolves into maturity.

The guy, for better or worse, that has been out front making noise about the transition from oil to clean and green is none other than the infamous, and legendary, Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens. Transition is the key word regarding the Pickens Plan as it relates to our topic de jour, automobiles. Because the Volt is not scheduled for release until 2010, and even assuming GM and its Volt makes it that far (which is no given), it will take a while for plug in technology to become deeply rooted. And, of course, a massive shift all at once to electric autos would crash our strapped and deteriorating power grid.

Pickens’ main point on internal combustion transition is that natural gas should be a, it not the, transition fuel for cars, and, more significantly, fleet vehicles.

Pickens’ Plan proposes that the natural gas that is currently used to fuel power plants could be used instead as a fuel for thousands of vehicles. Ken Medlock says that the US will continue to use natural gas for electric power generation. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, making it an increasingly popular fuel for power plants. Gas plants also produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

The technology needed for Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles such as City buses, fork lifts and passenger cars with CNG drivetrains is available now. Honda sells the Civic GX, with a 170-mile range. In addition, it is possible to convert vehicles to run on CNG in addition to leaving the conventional fuel injection intact, allowing the driver to switch back and forth at will. Kits are available for the do-it-yourselfer. Read more

Allen's Mob and Their Caca

By now, you’ve no doubt read about or seen the video of George Allen drudging up the racism his mother taught him to insult an Indian-American student trailing his campaign for the Webb campaign. Allen is now on his second or third excuse right now, trying to claim he was talking caca all the time.

Allen’s a racist, and we need to use Allen’s antics to make that clear to people.

But I’d like to suggest you go back and watch the video and listen to the crowd. The clip starts with Allen talking about "positive and constructive ideas," how it’s important "that we motivate people for something." He then turns to Sidarth and launches his attack. At first, just one person–it sounds like a woman with a deep voice–cackles at Allen’s attack. As Allen continues, one person–perhaps the cackling woman–starts clapping, egging him on. One woman, and then several people, start yelling and hooting. By the time Allen suggests Webb has never been to this part of the state, many people are hooting. Allen, now playing off the energy of the crowd, looks away from Sidarth with an open mouthed laugh. Allen makes a crack that Webb is with a bunch of Hollywood types, and one man laughs loudly, Ha Haaa.

And then Allen brings them all into the joke. "Welcome. Let’s give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

And to that, it sounds like, everyone claps.

The Shrillification of the Moderates

I’m fascinated by the outpouring of moderates’ conversion narratives, from balanced and temperate to, um, shrill. JMM started it:

As Americans I think we need to grapple with what’s happened.  And it goes beyond President Bush.  He did after all win reelection.He marginally expanded his congressional majorities. In the rough andtumble of the political moment, the fight needs to be taken to thepresident and his party. But we also need a more probing considerationof the forces that have made all this possible.

In any case, this is all a way of saying that in this all-or-nothingcrisis the country has been passing through, I think it’s made sense toline up with those who say, No. I guess I’m one of those partisanizedmoderates Kevin Drum has spoken of (not sure that’s precisely thephrase he used.) That leads to a certain loss of nuance sometimes incommentary and a loss in the variegation of our politics generally. Asa writer, often it’s less satisfying.

But I cannot see looking back on all this, the threat the country is under, and saying, I stood aloof. 

How to Lose

About one thing the squalling Neocon Democrats are consistent. They claim that their positions–centrism and hawkishness–are the winning positions. But they ignore that in both recent elections and recent wars, those "winning" policies brought Democrats and the US only failure.

Which is about all you need to know about Marty Peretz’ latest straw man op-ed, beyond the fact that is filled with nasty name-calling. Here is Peretz’ little bit of wisdom:

Buthe does have one issue, and it is Iraq. He grasps little of thecomplexities of his issue, but then this, too, is true of the genus ofthe peace candidate. Peace candidates know only one thing, and that iswhy people vote for them.

[snip]

NowMr. Lamont’s views are also not camouflaged. They are justsimpleminded. Here, for instance, is his take on what should be doneabout Iran’s nuclear-weapons venture: "We should work diplomaticallyand aggressively to give them reasons why they don’t need to build abomb, to give them incentives. We have to engage in very aggressivediplomacy. I’d like to bring in allies when we can. I’d like to usecarrots as well as sticks to see if we can change the nature of thedebate." Oh, I see. He thinks the problem is that they do notunderstand, and so we should explain things to them, and then they willdo the right thing. It is a fortunate world that Mr. Lamont lives in,but it is not the real one. Anyway, this sort of plying is preciselywhat has been going on for years, and to no good effect. Mr. Lamontcontinues that "Lieberman is the one who keeps talking about keepingthe military option on the table." And what is so plainly wrong withthat? Would Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be more agreeable if he thought that wehad disposed of the military option in favor of more country clubbehavior?

Let’s see. I’m sure Peretz would consider me a "peace" Democrat, even though I’m against stupid wars rather than all wars. But here’s what this "simple-minded" peace Democrat who "grasps little of the complexities" of the issues in the Middle East knew, before the war in Iraq.

The Count of Monte Cristo, Napoleon, and V for Vendetta

I’m not a movie person. I used to be, when I lived in San Francisco and going to movies offered delightful experiences ranging from the mini-mall of the Kabuki Theater to the cozy popcorn of the Red Vic. Here in Michigan, though, the experience is not so magical. Nevertheless, because I once hung out with folks hipper than I am, I have a remarkable habit of going to the opening weekend showings of the Wachowski Brother films, including V for Vendetta.

I can’t vouch for V for Vendetta’s interpretation of the Alan Moore graphic novel (and I’m frankly glad that my graphic novelist friend probably won’t read this post). But I can vouch for V for Vendetta’s interpretation of Count of Monte Cristo. Whether intentionally or not, the movie succeeds in doing something the original serialized novel did (and few appropriations since have done well)–use a pop culture medium to meditate on the most just relationship between the state and individual. In this post, I’ll explain some of the political background of the Count of Monte Cristo as a way to explain how clever V for Vendetta’s appropriation of the Monte Cristo tale is. I’ve given a spoiler alert below, so if you want to read the bit on Monte Cristo, you’ll know where you need to stop before you get to the V for Vendetta stuff.

Napoleon as a Background to Monte Cristo

Most people don’t realize this about Count of Monte Cristo. But it was a remarkably politically charged book. Consider, first of all, the premise. Edmond Dantes is imprisoned, and through that process of imprisonment, becomes superhuman, the cipher that is the Count of Monte Cristo. But the reason for Dantes’ imprisonment–in a book appearing during the troubled period leading up to 1848 and soon thereafter Louis-Napoleon’s Second Empire–is an association with Napoleon. That is, a perceived connection with Napoleon Bonaparte set off a process that produced a figure every bit as superhuman as Bonaparte himself, one who managed to deliver justice in the corrupt world of July Monarchy Paris.

And that was not a mistake. The Count of Monte Cristo was first published from 1844 to 1845 in the era’s equivalent of the Wall Street Journal–the banker’s paper, the paper most supportive of France’s Orleans government. Not long before the serialization of Monte Cristo, the newspaper published another serial novel, The Mysteries of Paris, that featured another such superhuman character and also drawing an explicit connection to Bonaparte. The novels were two of the most popular and best-compensated books of the pre-1848 period. Remarkably, both used this organ of the governing party to present a challenge to it.

But it was not just this newspaper; every major paper in Paris serialized some kind of Napoleon narrative in their feuilleton section: the memoirs of one of Napoleon’s relatives, the retelling of one incident from his life. Even minor, individual feuilleton essays used Napoleon’s name as a means to talk about desirable characteristics. My favorite is a feuilleton reporting the results of the weekly horse race at Bois de Boulogne; the feuilleton used the description of one horse to hail the qualities of Napoleon, leaving ambiguous, of course, whether it referred to the horse named Napoleon or the man of the same name. The invocation of Napoleon was almost omnipresent in the feuilleton sections where Monte Cristo first appeared. It was as if, today, every TV channel featured series about JFK at the same time, implying a Kennedy was the only solution to our woes.

The omnipresence of Napoleon did not happen by accident. The censorship laws of the day (enforced by Janet Jackson’s boob-type fines) forbade any mention of the word Bourbon or Republic, as well as any explicit criticism of the king or a member of his government. If you wanted to complain, the legally available way to do so was to invoke Napoleon.

What many of these narratives effectively explored was the means by which a superhuman Napoleonic character could bring justice to an increasingly industrialized bourgeois society. In the earlier serial novel, Mysteries of Paris, the Napoleonic main character Rodolphe was basically a pop socialist, coaching the poor to visualize their dreams, then delivering those dreams. Perhaps not incidentally, Louis-Napoleon had recently published a socialist tract, every bit as dreamy as Rodolphe’s promises. Alexandre Dumas went one step further, actually visiting Louis-Napoleon in jail (he had been jailed after a coup attempt) just before Dumas began writing Monte Cristo. And while Monte Cristo was not quite as popular, in its day, as Mysteries of Paris, the Napoleon figure depicted in it more closely resembles the benevolent dictator Louis-Napoleon would claim to be.

There’s a reason why these novels used Napoleonic figures, beyond the censorsip laws. The French were seeking a way to merge the individual created by the Rights of Man with the unity of Louis XIV, whose famous statement “L’Etat, C’est moi” effectively claimed the state and the sovereign to be one. The reign of Louis Phillipe, who legally ruled under the novel formulation “King of the French,” just wasn’t delivering (though the failure had as much to do with his embrace of bourgeois capitalism as it did with any legal basis for his power). Napoleon Bonaparte–at once a leader who embodied the nation as had Louis XIV, and the consummate individual who succeeded through merit–offered a way to achieve both unified nation and individual. The novelistic Napoleonic reincarnations were effectively meditations on how to accomplish that formula again.

V for Vendetta, the Individual, the State

That’s the aspect of the Count of Monte Cristo that V for Vendetta has managed to recreate so well. The fascist nation depicted in the movie thrives on dehumanization. V is at once the product of that dehumanization and the refutation of it. He is not only stronger than the state, he cherishes all the trappings of individuality with his taste in music, movies, art. And because of these characteristics (and because he exposes the lies of power, something else that Monte Cristo did), V succeeds in having the entire nation identify with him.

The revelation of identity is central to the Count of Monte Cristo. Indeed, it is the way he metes out judgment. He has to do no more than reveal his identity to his three enemies to defeat them utterly, as he does here with Comte de Morcerf, the man who stole his fiancee, when he begs Monte Cristo to reveal his true identity:

‘I admit that I am known to you, but I do not know you, you adventurer, smothered in gold and precious stones! In Paris you call yourself the Count of Monte Cristo. In Italy, Sinbad the Sailor. In Malta–who knows what? I have forgotten. What I ask from you is your real name. I want to know your true name, in the midst of these hundred false names, so that I can say it on the field of combat as I plunge my sword in your heart.’

[snip]

‘Fernand!’ Monte Cristo cried. ‘Of my hundred names, I shall need to tell you only one to strike you down. But you can already guess that name, can’t you? Or, rather, you can recall it. For in spite of all my woes, in spite of all my tortures, I can now show you a face rejuvenated by the joy of revenge, a face that you must have seen often in your dreams since your marriage … your marriage to my fiancee, Mercedes!’

The general, his head thrown back, his hands held out, his eyes staring, watched this dreadful spectacle in silence. Then, reaching out for the wall and leaning on it, he slid slowly along it to the door, out of which he retreated backwards, giving this one, single, lugubrious, lamentable, heart-rending cry: ‘Edmond Dantes!’

Realizing Monte-Cristo’s identity–realizing that this super-human man worthy of respect is the same ordinary man that he cheated many years earlier–is enough to make Morcerf kill himself.

[spoiler alert]

There is this aspect of identity in V’s revenge. He always makes sure his victims recognize him (though he remains nameless) before he kills them, so their last moments are the horror of realizing the creation of their own crimes has been their undoing.

But there’s another aspect of identity, “showing a face,” as Monte Cristo says, that V for Vendetta displaces. For V’s mask sets a narrative expectation in the same way a gun does; we expect a gun shown early in a movie to be shot before that movie ends, we expect a mask to be raised and the face underneath revealed. Yet V for Vendetta frustrates this expectation. Several times, the movie presents us with a moment that, traditionally, would be the unmasking. Yet even when Evey asks V to remove his mask, he refuses to do so. V never does it, he never reveals his face.

Instead, the average people do. The average people, cast to look like you and I–or like you and I would look if we were Brits. Old people, girls in coke-bottle glasses, people who are not Hollywood beauty. The narrative expectation that V will find justice at the moment of his unmasking is resolved only when the crowd of nameless average people raise their mask and reveal themselves in all their individuality.

V for Vendetta offers neither a novel alternative to fascism nor a really well developed one, philosophically or politically. It is no more than a promise that individuals, acting in solidarity, can replace the oppressive state.

But it appropriates and overturns the tradition of the Count of Monte Cristo in a remarkable way. It removes the central Napoleon figure, making his identity secondary to the delivery of justice. It takes a narrative that has been used to lobby for the return of a dictator and flips that into an embrace of the common man.

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