Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Apocalypse Cometh

The NYT has reported that Bush will propose Wolfowitz as the New World Bank President.

What was the number of the beast, again?

Our Orwellian Universe

Today NYT editorial, "Counterfeit News," points back to a disturbing article from a few days ago: "Under Bush, a New Age of Pre-packaged News." The article documents the extent to which the White House and over 20 federal agencies spent millions of dollars to produced "video news releases" which are clearly intended to appear as authentic news reports. (This is on top of the White House's employment of paid pundits to author columns in favor of their policies, or planting reporters in the White House press room to toss softball questions to W.) These visual propoganda leaflets were regularly picked up by local news stations and broadcast "as is," without any qualifiers or provisos. The article is really a must read.

The editorial rightly distributes blame here: certainly these federal agencies are at fault, but the Times says blame equally lies on the shoulders of those news outlets which employed the videos. We should also qualify this carefully by noting that the same practice was used under the Clinton administration, though it has been expanded under Bush.

The temptation of these moralistic criticisms, however, is to imagine that apart from these artifacts of federal propoganda, we are the gifted recipients of "real" news. In a culture where the major networks and news outlets are controlled by massive market interests, let's not kid ourselves. This came home to me during our sojourn in Cambridge: for those who restrict themselves to mainstream American news sources--and I'm not talking about FOX, but ABC, NBC, even the NYT--the foreign media can constitute nothing short of a revelation. These latest revelations only confirm David Domke's analysis of the press's complicity with the White House's "political fundamentalism."

Launch: Welcome to 1984

I have been contemplating launching a blog of this sort for a while. A piece in the New York Times finally convinced me to follow through (see next post). Unlike my other blog, which has basically become something between an annotated bibliography and a collection of book reviews, I hope this blog will offer my off-the-cuff thoughts relating to contemporary politics, foreign policy, culture--and the Church's relation to all of this.

The title, "Fors Clavigera," comes from one of my heroes, John Ruskin, who published a series of monthly letters under this title from 1870-1878, and then more randomly from 1880-1884. The letters, as the subtitle indicated, were addressed "to the workmen and labourers of Great Britain." Their polemic contained, in occasional form, the core of Ruskin's social vision for community founded on participation rather than competition--part of what was more broadly described as "Christian socialism." Ruskin was driven to this work, from his more theoretical labors at Oxford, out of a sense that he couldn't live with himself if he didn't do something. Indeed, as his editor puts it, Fors Clavigera was the payment of a ransom: an effort to secure some peace for his conscience amidst all the "material distress" he saw in the culture surrounding him.

It is the occasional, from-the-hip nature of Ruskin's Fors that seems especially fitting for a blog; indeed, we might suggest that Ruskin's monthly letters constituted a proto-blog. Rather than seeking to write a "system," as he put it, he chose the title Fors "to indicate the desultory and accidental character of the work." It was a space in which he could discuss "any matter which chanced to interest him."

This humble little Fors is undertaken in the spirit of Ruskin, who was--for the sake of conscience--driven to articulate a critique of the social dysfunction that surrounded him which, of course, can take many forms. Today, at this moment, I can't help having a deep sense that we are surrounded by the fascism of various empires: political, ecclesiastical, consumer, and media.