Rice or the Media: Whom do I condemn?

And I swear I’m not trying to pick on Newsweek.com, but it was there that I first saw an article on Condoleezza Rice’s new book. I was laughing from the first sentence:

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that U.S.-led interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia were not about spreading democracy, but about addressing regional security issues.

Her recent public statements both are and are not part of a book tour: it’s likely many would say the tour is to promote her ideas, and the book is part of that effort, though I think that demeans the reasoning and efforts of others who write books, artificially ennobling Rice’s efforts to communicate her ideas and sell books at the same time while implicitly assigning a crass commercialism to others who write books and then accept lectures to speak about the same themes contained within the books. In any case, however, it’s undeniable that the public statements are part of an effort that is equally well reflected by the publication of her book, Democracy: The Long Road to Freedom.*1
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This is What Fascist Policing Looks Like: No Gay Men Abused In Chechnya

If you aren’t familiar with the systematic abuse of gay men by the government of Chechnya, you probably don’t live in Chechnya (or any other republic of Russia for that matter). The issue has been getting considerable coverage for years now. The situation has been sufficiently highlighted for sufficiently long that people in Russia are daring to protest Putin for his lack of intervention in the neighboring country. Putin, it should be noted, did not respond well to the criticism.

But what’s particularly frightening is not yet another example of Putin’s dictatorial opposition to any form of criticism or dissent. What’s particularly frightening is the statement that Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov gave to Interfax through a spokesperson:

“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” he told Interfax news agency.

“If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”

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What a Witch Hunt Looks Like

We were talking about witch hunts in the comments to my recent post on lynching and the use of the language of lynching. I said that it’s important that witch hunts threaten more than one’s reputation and that witch hunters use evidence or tests that are not logically connected to the supposed conclusion of witchcraft (among other criteria). To illustrate what we’re actually talking about, I thought we should not stay abstract about witch hunts any more than we were abstract about lynching: and if you haven’t read that post, it’s not abstract at all. That post cannot be more disturbing because of All The Racism, and this one is potentially less disturbing only because of the lack of pictures.

That said, in a world that includes witch hunting, it is important to discuss it honestly, to understand what a witch hunt actually does, what witch hunters actually do. It is every bit as important to understand witch hunting as it is to understand lynching. So, if you’re ready, I give you two short illustrations of witch hunting from the perspective of a victim and from the perspective of a perpetrator.

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Why Lynch Mob is Overused … and Underused

Content note for All The Racism, including graphic photos; witch hunt links contain All The Sexism.

A while back I wrote on Pharyngula about losing my patience with the phrase “witch hunt”. Witch hunts were real things, actively targeting real people for death. They weren’t “partisan”. They didn’t seek actual lawbreakers out in both Massachusetts and the Carolinas, but more aggressively sought out Republican lawbreakers in Massachusetts and more aggressively sought out Democratic lawbreakers in South Carolina. They didn’t take actual evidence and hype it more than it deserved: actual evidence did not exist. What was used as evidence came solely from the prosecutorial imagination.

Worse, witch hunts still take place today, and Christian denominations still encourage them.*1 While I don’t know of any recent witch hunts in the US or Canada, I’m more than happy to condemn this trivializing use of “witch hunt”.

All of which to say that I have been even more offended for even longer at hearing the misuse of “lynch,” “lynching” and “lynch mob”.

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Is it okay to wax nostalgic for Marie Antoinette?

While a number have agued that Marie Antoinette has been unfairly maligned, it’s my rather historically-uneducated opinion that any damaging stories likely misrepresent her more in degree than in kind. After all, historical facts include her incredible luxuries and the wealth that she lavished on the gardens and palace of Versailles – wealth that had to come from somewhere – and not only Antoinette’s public campaigns for food-charity (before, after, and during les Guerres des Farines) and opposition to the new economic ideology described at the time as “laissez faire, laissez passer” and remembered today as “laissez faire economics”.

The previously dominant economic ideology of France was one that demanded royal regulation of and intervention in the markets for necessities, in particular those for flour and for finished breads. Les Gendarmes (“Les gens d’armes” or “men at arms”) of the day carried the name contemporary French police forces still use, but they were more properly understood as a civil service with broad responsibilities including, but not limited to, keeping the peace. The security of French persons was understood, quite obviously, to be as threatened by hunger as much or more than it was threatened by violence, and les gendarmes, acting on behalf of the king, had for centuries acted to make sure food was shared during famine and to prevent price gouging.

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