Monday, December 28, 2009

And still he plays golf







For the second weekend in a row, James Cameron's Avatar was the number one film at the box office. Bob Strauss (San Jose Mercury News) reports it took an estimated $75 million in ticket sales (North America) over the weekend and BBC notes it's total box office take (in North America only) so far is $212 million "and could be on its way to grossing more than $1 b[illion] (625.6 million pounds) worldwide." Cameron's last film was Titanic which grossed more than $1.8 billion at the box office. I know James and he more than deserves a plug but we open with that because it is Iraq related. David Price is with Network of Concerned Anthropologists. Last week, he observed:

Fans of Avatar are understandably being moved by the story's romantic anthropological message favoring the rights of people to not have their culture weaponized against them by would be foreign conquerors, occupiers and betrayers. It is worth noting some of the obvious the parallels between these elements in this virtual film world, and those found in our world of real bullets and anthropologists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since 2007, the occupying U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan have deployed Human Terrain Teams (HTT), complete with HTT "social scientists" using anthropological-ish methods and theories to ease the conquest and occupation of these lands. HTT has no avatared-humans; just supposed "social scientists" who embed with battalions working to reduce friction so that the military can get on with its mission without interference from local populations. For most anthropologists these HTT programs are an outrageous abuse of anthropology, and earlier this month a lengthy report by a commission of the American Anthropological Association (of which I was a member and report co-author) concluded that the Human Terrain program crossed all sorts of ethical, political and methodological lines, finding that:
"when ethnographic investigation is determined by military missions, not subject to external review, where data collection occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment -- all characteristic factors of the HTT concept and its application -- it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology." The American Anthropological Association's executive board found Human Terrain to be a "mistaken form of anthropology". But even with these harsh findings, the Obama administration's call for increased counterinsurgency will increase demands for such non-anthropological uses of ethnography for pacification.

Dropping back to the December 3rd snapshot:

The American Anthropological Association's annual meeting started yesterday in Philadelphia and continues through Sunday. Today the association's Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities issued their [PDF format] "Final Report on The Army's Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program." The 74-page report is a blow to War Criminals and their cheerleaders who have long thought that the social science could be abused or that the social sciences were pseudo sciences.

Only a small number of outlets have covered the AAA's findings. First up were Patricia Cohen (New York Times), Dan Vergano (USA Today), Yudhijit Bhattacharjee (Science Magazine) and Steve Kolowich (Inside HigherEd). Another wave followed which included Tom A. Peter (Christian Science Monitor) reporting, "Today the program enjoys a core of supporters, but it's done little to address the concerns of anthropologists and, now, rising military complaints that the program has slowed the growth of the military's ability to train culturally sensitive warriors." Christopher Shay (Time magazine) added:

Two years ago, the AAA condemned the HTS program, but this month's 72-page report goes into much greater detail about the potential for the military to misuse information that social scientists gather; some anthropologists involved in the report say it's already happening. David Price, a professor of anthropology at St. Martins University in Washington and one of the co-authors of the AAA report, says the army appears to be using the anthropological information to better target the enemy, which, if true, would be a gross violation of the anthropological code. One Human Terrain anthropologist told the Dallas Morning News that she wasn't worried if the information she provided was used to kill or capture an insurgent. "The reality is there are people out there who are looking for bad guys to kill," she said. "I'd rather they did not operate in a vacuum." Price and other critics see this as proof that the anthropologists don't have full control over the information they gather and that commanders can use it to kill. "The real fault with Human Terrain is that it doesn't even try to protect the people being studied," says Price. "I don't think it's accidental that [the Pentagon] didn't come up with ethical guidelines."

Back to Price:

Anthropologically informed counterinsurgency efforts like the Human Terrain program are fundamentally flawed for several reasons. One measure of the extent that these programs come to understand and empathize with the culture and motivations of the people they study might be the occurrence of militarized ethnographers "going native" in ways parallel to the plot of Avatar. If Human Terrain Teams employed anthropologists who came to live with and freely interact with and empathize with occupied populations, I suppose you would eventually find some rogue anthropologists standing up to their masters in the field. But so far mostly what we find with the Human Terrain "social scientists" is a revolving cadre of well paid misfits with marginal training in the social sciences who do not understand or reject normative anthropological notions of research ethics, who rotate out and come home with misgivings about the program and what they accomplished.

Now you might think National Public Radio, so fond of being seeing erudite (they wish), would be all over the study from a leading organization of social scientists. You would be wrong. It's not that counter-insurgency isn't discussed NPR, it is, it's just that they only do so to promote it. (Ava and I wrote about that earlier this month.) Similarly, the foundation grant heavy (bloated?) Democracy Now! has never taken on counter-insurgency. It's refused to do so. We've been covering it repeatedly in this community while Goody's been all over psychologists and blah blah. But never alarmed by this. You need to grasp that.

There's a lot of money being made in and off counter-insurgency. And there are a lot of people who will not speak the truth. You need to grasp that it's a bastardization of a science and you need to grasp that when such a thing happens, when science is used to attack a native people and a society is silent, you have the next Nazi Germany. That's not hyperbole. This has been going on throughout the decade and who will call it out. Tom Hayden will do so as an aside approximately every 15 months or so. That's still more than any of his peers. Davy D of KPFA can't cover it because his hero Samantha Power is a counter-insurgency pusher. She blurbed the manual with praise. And what you're seeing is a left incapable of standing up to the war pushers, a left incapable of calling out the disgusting Sarah Sewall -- who may very well be the modern day Josef Mengele -- and a foundation backed attack on native people. You've got the idiot Thomas E. Ricks -- an expert on nothing -- who can't stop going ga-ga over counter-insurgency (make he's sure he's called out the War Crimes trials, in fact make sure he's tried). So much so that 'reporter' Thomas E. Ricks attacks the Vice President of the United States today. Dumb ass Thomas E. Ricks wants to take on Joe Biden and wants to start false rumors (no, Joe Biden has not fallen asleep in meetings -- Thomas E. Ricks is LYING) because Joe Biden won't sign on 100% to Tommy Ricks' beloved war crimes.

These aren't just 'fact-finding' missions (for the military), these are experiments carried out in the field. And these expermients can result in death. No social scientist should be in bed with the military. Anyone who thinks otherwise is completely stupid (Thomas E. Ricks) or completely unethical (Monty McFate). And we started covering it, honestly, because I know the liar Monty McFate and she was shooting off her mouth (with lies as always) to the idiot George Packer (who never learned to fact check). That's why it landed on our radar December 20, 2006. We have now been covering it for over three years. And where's our 'brave' 'independent' media?

Two years ago, David Price was part of a panel (with pro-counter-insurgency advocates Monty McFate, Col John Agoglia and Lt. Col. Edward Villacres -- a three-to-one imbalance) on The Diane Rehm Show (see the October 11, 2007 snapshot for a transcript of some of the exchanges). Search in vain for serious explorations of this issue. Now everyone can bore you to death demonizing Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann -- and no one's ever supposed to notice that the same sexism Barack unleashed among 'progressives' in 2008 continues to run wild and trample on equality -- but you can't deal with the things that really matter. If it were you or your child being 'studied' by the occupiers so that they could enslave you, it damn well would matter to you. But it happens 'over there' and as long as 'over there' doesn't show up on your TV screens, it appears everyone's not wanting to rock the boat or risk offending Harvard or, yes, the "the Kennedy School of Government". And while America's salivates over another round of "Bash the Bitch" (it's amazing how often that game is played), don't for one damn minute think anyone's being informed.

Amy Goodman won't call it out, she's too wrapped up in War Hawk Sammy Power. Remember? Remember her interview with Sammy? Best if you caught it on WBAI because WBAI was in fundraising mode and there was Amy raving over her while trying to get people to call in and 'support independent media.' Amy was raving that Samantha Power "'might be the next Secretary of State" and, growing more excited in her pitch, qualifiers fell away and you were left thinking not only would Power be Secretary of State, if Barack won the general election, but Samantha Power was right up there with Mother Teresa, maybe even ahead of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, to hear Amy rave on air. You can't take those moments back and those moments -- and Goodman's silence on counter-insurgency -- are very telling.

This refusal to question the counter-insurgency movement is a undemocratic refusal and it's completely against the norms of an open society. But that's what's taking place in the United State right now. Few will question it. Few will even bother to report on it. The findings of the American Anthropological Association are perfectly in keeping with the tenets of social science. There's nothing controversial about the study the organization issued. There's something very controversial about the group-think that refuses to question counter-insurgency. And when you grasp that Amy Goodman couldn't stop caterwauling about "we never see where the bombs drop" and yet refuses to devote even one damn segment in all these years to counter-insurgency, you realize how pathetic she and 'independent' media are. Now, in fairness, she will talk counter-insurgency . . . in past decades. But as she herself whined, if we can't talk about the war before it starts or while it's going on, when can we talk about it? After it's over!!!!! When it's too late!!! Amy Goodman needs her words tossed back in her face.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
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"And the war drags on . . ."
"Reflecting on 2009 (Beth)"
"And the killing continues"
"Veterans kept waiting all these months later"

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