- Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
In Defense of Free Thought
By Robert Scheer, AlterNet
Posted on February 24, 2006
I think as I please
And this gives me pleasure.
My conscience decrees,
This right I must treasure.
My thoughts will not cater
To duke or dictator,
No man can deny
- Die gedanken sind frei.
(Sixteenth-century German peasant song revived as a protest anthem
against the Nazi regime)
The news on Monday that an Austrian court has sentenced crackpot
British historian David Irving to three years' imprisonment for
having denied the Holocaust seventeen years ago should have alarmed
free speech advocates -- particularly at a time when Muslim
fundamentalists are being lectured as to the freedom of expression
that should be afforded cartoonists. In the event, however, a lack
of noticeable outcry has exposed a longstanding double standard in
the West about who is entitled to free speech and why.
To be sure, Nazi propaganda is an extremely sensitive issue in
Hitler's birth country, which for the most part endorsed the
madman's vision of the Third Reich. But the repression of the free
marketplace of ideas is an endorsement of tyranny rather than its
repudiation. And it is not just Austria, and Germany itself, that
have banned the views of Holocaust deniers: Eight other European
states have joined in. Muslim fundamentalists outraged by the
cartoons that have appeared widely in the European media thus have
the right to question the conflicting standards of what is
considered worthy of censorship.
The muted response of the Western media to the Irving decision is
difficult to fathom. Not much has been reported on this case and
what has appeared often assumes that this severe limit to free
speech is obviously justified. For example, a BBC report over the
weekend concluded with this ominous paragraph: "In a letter to the
BBC from his prison cell, Mr. Irving said some of his views on the
gas chambers had changed -- but he also expressed opinions which
would be challenged by mainstream historians."
Since when has it been accepted as a crime to challenge mainstream
historians, even when, as in this case, the challenge is without
foundation? Should a deeply wrongheaded view, even one motivated by
vile malice as Irving's critics claim motivates him, lead to
incarceration? The case made for criminalizing speech in the West is
usually based on the concept that it is not OK to yell fire in a
crowded theater -- or incite violence. The argument for jailing
Irving is that denying the Holocaust is equivalent to stoking the
fires of anti-Semitic violence. "Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism
dressed up as intellectual debate. It should be regarded as such and
treated as such," stated the head of the UK's Holocaust Educational
Trust, by way of defending the Austrian verdict.
But by that standard, the artists who drew the cartoons depicting
Muhammad should also be arrested, as well as their editors and
publishers. Critics of the Danish newspaper that commissioned the
Muhammad cartoons claim that its editorial slant is anti-Muslim and
that they were attempting a deliberate provocation. So should the
paper's editors be prosecuted? After all, people have died
protesting these inflammatory comics. Will Austria and the other
nations that ban anti-Semitic books now ban expressions judged by
Muslims to be unacceptably hostile to their religion? Unfortunately,
they may do just that out of political opportunism, given the
rioting and trade boycotts that followed the publication of those
cartoons. But they would once again be wrong.
Speech that is not felt by some powerful group to be loathsome is
hardly in need of protection. The value of an absolutist opposition
to the censorship of speech, as enshrined in the US Constitution's
First Amendment, is that it holds out the prospect that the right to
speak will be honored even when the content of those utterances is
not. What is disturbing in both the Irving and Muhammad cartoon
situations is the stuttering hesitancy of many who claim to be
committed to free speech to speak out in opposition to those -- be
they Muslim clerics or Austrian judges -- who seek to limit the free
expression of individuals expressing views they detest.
In both instances, the world has been presented with a teaching
moment, in which the argument for free thought -- that die gedanken
sind frei ("thoughts are free") that the Nazis and every other
absolutist dictatorship have excelled in crushing -- was not
advanced by those who know better. As a result, a world sorely in
need of a crash course in the efficacy of free debate received
nothing of the sort. Instead, the lesson has been that the
suppression of ideas is valid, as long as the suppressors are
convinced that they are in the right.
Robert Scheer is the co-author of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us
About Iraq. See more of Robert Scheer at TruthDig.com
February 21, 2006
CSA: The Confederate States of America
A mockumentary depicting an alternate history in which the South won
the Civil War shows a world that looks disturbingly like our own
CSA: The Confederate States of America
Featuring Larry Peterson, Evamarii Johnson and Rupert Pate
Narrated by Charles Frank
Written and directed by Kevin Willmott
Opened Feb. 15 in New York; opens Feb. 24 in selected cities
By William Shunn
The year is 2004. A controversial documentary produced by the
British Broadcasting Service is airing on network television,
completely uncut, for the first time on these shores. The
documentary recounts the rise of the Confederate States of America
as viewed from the outside, stripped of domestic whitewash.
The story is familiar to any American schoolchild. In 1862, with the
War of Northern Aggression in full swing, Confederate President
Jefferson Davis dispatches his secretary of state, Judah P.
Benjamin, across the Atlantic to plead with England and France for
military support. By casting the war as an issue of freedom and
states' rights rather than one of slavery, Benjamin manages to sway
public opinion in Europe. With British and French troops on their
flanks, Gen. Robert E. Lee wins a decisive victory at Gettysburg in
July of 1863 and turns the tide of the war.
CSA is a painful reminder that, for all our progress, racism is
still very much with us, and quite often invisible to those not
targeted by it.
The Confederate Army eventually seizes Washington, D.C., and Ulysses
S. Grant's surrender to Lee ends the war. Assisted by Harriet
Tubman, Abraham Lincoln flees the capital in blackface but is soon
captured. "Dishonest Abe" is found guilty of war crimes and
sentenced to death, but President Davis wisely commutes the
sentence, fearing Northern rebellion if Lincoln is executed. Lincoln
lives out his long life in Canadian exile, mostly forgotten.
Davis moves to unite and consolidate the new nation by levying a
burdensome income tax on Northerners, one that can be waived by the
simple purchase of a black slave. And since nothing unites a country
like war, the Confederate States soon tests its mettle against Spain
in the Caribbean, then marches south to fulfill its Manifest Destiny
with the conquest and enslavement of Mexico and Central and South
In the 20th century, Canada, haven for runaway slaves, emerges as
America's great enemy, while African dictators happily collaborate
in the subjugation and sale of their own people. Terrorists from the
John Brown Underground stage devastating raids south across
the "Cotton Curtain," a 3,000-mile-long wall along the 49th
parallel, leading to racial violence that only unites the whites of
But as the C.S. enters a new millennium, schoolchildren can rest
easy knowing that their country still stands, in the words of the
Pledge of Allegiance, for the values of "liberty and justice for all
It looks realbut thankfully it's not
As a mockumentary, CSA: The Confederate States of America is an
astonishing film to look at. By combining real historical
photographs and movie footage with carefully produced fakes,
director Kevin Willmott creates a sense of verisimilitude that is
chilling and hard to shake. Viewers are shown paintings of Grant
surrendering to Lee, photographs of Frederick Douglass addressing
the Canadian Parliament and, in the movie's best sequence, scratchy
film of an elderly Abraham Lincoln's final press interview in 1905.
Lincoln's apology for using slavery as a pretext for his attempt to
save the Union is haunting, as is his closing declaration, "I am a
Negro now." Scenes from movies of the '40s and '50s, exposing the
social foibles of the C.S., play more broadly but still have a look
appropriate to the period.
Viewed as a work of alternate history, C.S.A. is fascinating and
absorbing, if a little less successful. The Confederate subjugation
of the North is more than plausible, as is the conquest of South
America, based as it is on the real-life plans of some Confederate
leaders. Its history of the 20th century is interesting as well,
with most of the world's civil-rights innovations, not to mention
the development of rock 'n' roll, taking place in Canada. As
divergent as the timeline becomes, though, it seems unlikely that
this world's 1960 would find John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon
locked in battle for the presidency, even with the amusing conceit
that Nixon is the Democrat and Kennedy the Republican. (The
Republicans are Lincoln's party, after all.)
But the primary function of CSA is not as science fiction per se,
but as social satire. By those lights, it's frightening to consider
how much the world of the movie resembles our real world, with its
Watts riots, its unwinnable wars and its empty sanctimony.
Perhaps the most pointed element of the movie is its use of fake
television commercials between segments of the documentary. The
viewer is presented with advertisements for such products as Gold
Dust Twins Cleaning Powder, Sambo Axle Grease and Darkie Toothpaste,
all featuring offensive and discomfiting portrayals of black
Americans. These commercials play so far over the top that they
almost break the tone of the movie, until a coda reminds us that
these were all actual 20th-century products and that Aunt Jemima and
Uncle Ben are still with us.
CSA is a painful reminder that, for all our progress, racism is
still very much with us, and quite often invisible to those not
targeted by it. If the movie has a flaw, it may be that the
situation is already so outrageous that it's difficult to lampoon
CSA is billed as a comedy, but laughs at the screening I attended
were few and far between. It's not that it wasn't funny, but the
audience seemed too uncomfortable to really let loose. Bill
Feb. 25, 2006
Sex Pistols spit on Hall of Fame honor
By Chris Morris
The Sex Pistols have opted out on appearing at their induction into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The groundbreaking English punk rock group officially declined the
honor -- to be handed out March 13 at a dinner and performance at
the Waldorf Astoria in New York -- in a crudely scrawled,
mispunctuated handwritten message posted on the band's Web site
"Next to the SEX PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a
piss stain," the statement read. "Your museum. Urine in wine. Were
(sic) not coming. Were (sic) not your monkey and so what?"
The statement slammed Hall of Fame voters as "music industry
people," and excoriated the high price of attending the exclusive
event -- $25,000 for a table, "or $15,000 to squeak up in the
It concluded, "Your (sic) not paying attention. Outside the shit-
stem is a real SEX PISTOL."
Other 2006 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame include
Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis, Lynyrd Skynyrd and industry
executives Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss.
Susan Evans, executive director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Foundation, said of the band's announcement, "They're being the
outrageous punksters that they are, and that's rock 'n' roll."
The complete statement is posted at www.thefilthandthefury.co.uk
Psycho Path Voted Wackiest Street Name
Fri Feb 24, 2006
Farfrompoopen Road, the only road to Constipation Ridge, lost to
Divorce Court and Psycho Path, which placed No. 1 in an online poll
of the nation's wildest, weirdest and wackiest street names.
Mitsubishi Motors sponsored the poll on the Web site
http://www.TheCarConnection.com and more than 2,500 voters cast
their ballots during a week of voting that ended this month. Winners
were announced Friday.
"Our readers really stepped up with some insane street names," said
Web site publisher Paul Eisenstein. "Our panel had a difficult time
narrowing several hundred down to the 10 our readers voted on.
"But we learned a lot about the byways of this country, not to
mention the collective sense of humor of city planners everywhere."
In first place was Psycho Path in Traverse City, Mich., followed by
Heather Highlands, Pa.'s, Divorce Court in second and Tennessee's
Farfrompoopen Road in third. Eisenstein said all the roads were
verified, although some are private and hard to find.
The complete top 10 list included:
10. Tater Peeler Road in Lebanon, Texas
9. The intersection of Count and Basie in Richmond, Va.
8. Shades of Death Road in Warren County, N.J.
7. Unexpected Road in Buena, N.J.
6. Bucket of Blood Street in Holbrook, Ariz.
5. The intersection of Clinton and Fidelity in Houston
4. The intersection of Lonesome and Hardup in Albany, Ga.
3. Farfrompoopen Road in Tennessee (the only road up to Constipation
2. Divorce Court in Heather Highlands, Pa.
1. Psycho Path in Traverse City, Mich.
Tribute To Don Knotts (Barney Fife)
Robert Paul Reyes
February 27, 2006
A few of us are destined for greatness, with her sultry voice,
platinum blond hair and curvaceous body, Marilyn Monroe was born to
be a movie star.
The rest of us eventually give up our dreams of fame and fortune,
and settle in to our lives of quiet desperation.
With his receding hairline, awkward gait, razor-thin frame, concave
chest, skull head, protruding Adam's apple, bug-like eyes, fish-
lips, nervous demeanor and non existent chin, the prospects for show
business success for Don Knotts were not very good.
But Don Knotts made lemonade out of a lemon, he took his physical
imperfections and created the hapless but loveable Barney Fife.
As the bumbling deputy sheriff, Barney Fife, he rarely captured the
bad guys, but he captured our hearts with his endearing performance.
Don Knotts also garnered five Emmys for his bumbling portrayal of
Barney Fife and immortality as a TV icon -- a legacy that survives
the 81-year-old thespian's death of pulmonary and respiratory
Don Knotts even managed to achieve middling success as a movie star.
In the 1960's he starred in "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken," "The
Incredible Mr. Limpet," "The Reluctant Astronaut" and "The Shakiest
Gun in the West".
Don Knotts shared his comedic gift with a new generation in the
early 1980's on the hit sitcom "Three's Company", playing landlord
and self-styled swinger Ralph Furley.
When the world gets to be too much for me, Mayberry's fishing hole
and Barney's nervous antics are waiting for me, to give me a
temporary respite from the madness of everyday life.
Most of us have more in common with Don Knotts than we do with Brad
Pitt. Don Knotts success gives us the hope that perhaps we can
accomplish a few good things before we give up the ghost.
Diana Death Investigation Confirms Evidence Of Cover-up
There can be no other conclusion than murder
Paul Joseph Watson/Prison Planet.com
February 27 2006
The investigation into the death of Princess Diana, led by former
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens, continues to confirm
previously known facts and unearth new evidence proving that the
August 31st 1997 crash was no accident.
As previously exhaustively documented by this website, the evidence
pointing to murder is conclusive.
From the mid 1990's, Diana released a series of audio, videotapes
and letters voicing her fears that she would be killed in a car
crash made to look like an accident. In one letter, Diana
stated, "My husband is planning `an accident' in my car, brake
failure and serious head injury in order to make the path clear for
Charles to marry".
A brief summary of the known evidence is as follows.
- The Pont de L'Alma tunnel was crawling with secret service
personnel from French and British intelligence. The driver of the
Mercedes, Henri Paul is now confirmed as having worked for the
French secret service.
- The unscheduled journey through the symbolic Pont de L'Alma tunnel
(an ancient Pagan sacrificial site) took Diana and her boyfriend
Dodi Al Fayed AWAY FROM their intended destination, Dodi's flat.
- Just before the car entered the tunnel every police radio in Paris
mysteriously died, preventing a quick response which could have
saved Diana's life.
- Just before the car entered the tunnel every security camera in
the tunnel mysteriously died, preventing us from ever seeing footage
of what caused the crash.
- Eyewitnesses reported snipers and gunfire within the tunnel.
- The crime scene was completely cleaned within hours of the crash,
a policy totally anathema to standard preservation of any crime
- Diana was still alive after the crash. Unexplained delays in
getting her to the hospital, caused by the slow speed of the
ambulance and the fact that it passed several nearer hospitals
before reaching its destination, ensured Diana was dead upon
arrival. A faster response could have saved her life.
- The Mercedes used to transport Dodi and Diana from the Ritz was
mysteriously swapped for a car that had been stolen only weeks
- The foremost reason put forward to explain the 'accident' - that
driver Henri Paul was dangerously drunk, has been thoroughly
debunked by the camera footage of his behavior before the crash and
the fact that the tests on Paul's blood were either faked or swapped
with the blood of another dead man. Paul's liver showed no sign of
alcohol abuse and his close friends and family said he rarely drank
- Multiple eyewitnesses reported a mysterious flash of light
immediately before the crash. Many insist that this was a laser
directed at the driver to cause temporary blindness leading to the
- The initial French investigation into the crash went to every
length to ignore key evidence, intimidate eyewitnesses into silence
and outright fabricate evidence.
It is important to stress that a detailed compendium of the evidence
pointing to murder would fill a book on its own.
Diana was killed because she was pregnant with Dodi's child and the
British Royal Family didn't want an Arab in their sacred bloodline.
Diana was also becoming politically involved in the Middle East and
the elite saw her as a loose cannon that could rally popular support
around anything. Diana herself remarked to reporters that there
would be 'a big surprise' from her a few days before her death.
New Orleans Marks Post-Katrina Mardi Gras
By MARY FOSTER, Associated Press Writer
Some may question the appropriateness of having a raucous party in a
city still devastated and in mourning six months after Hurricane
Katrina. But for Monk Boudreaux and Pete Fountain, tradition is
thicker than flood water.
Fountain, 75, is the celebrated New Orleans jazz clarinetist who on
Tuesday morning was to lead his Half Fast Marching Club through the
streets of New Orleans for the 46th time.
"There was no question about doing it," Fountain said. "We had a
meeting and everybody wanted to march."
Boudreaux, 64, is part of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition that
historians say dates back more than a century: Dressed in
elaborately feathered and beaded costumes, he and other black New
Orleanians parade, dance and sing through their neighborhoods.
"This is more than tossing beads and having a party. This is
something that runs deep inside us," said Boudreaux, the Big Chief
of the Golden Eagles tribe. "It's in our blood."
The Half Fast marchers and Mardi Gras Indian processions are two
small parts of the city's annual Mardi Gras bash that climaxes on
Fat Tuesday with family-friendly parades uptown and raucous
misbehavior in the French Quarter.
The pre-Lenten tradition, ingrained in city culture, is also a major
tourist event that locals are hoping will help renew an economy that
came to a halt after the storm and has been struggling back to life.
Restaurants reported brisk business, but there are fewer
restaurants: 506 of the pre-Katrina number of 1,882 restaurants were
operating, according to the New Orleans Restaurant Association.
Hotel rooms were filled, but again, there are fewer about 15,000
instead of the usual 25,000 according to the Greater New Orleans
Hotel & Lodging Association. And some of those are filled with
construction workers and evacuees.
"Right now, you can walk right down the middle of Bourbon Street.
Before, it was so crowded, it was almost an adventure trying to get
across," said Scott Escarra, the manager of Cafe Du Monde.
Although the number of celebrants was smaller than in past years,
many local residents appeared to be joining out-of-towners in the
French Quarter, said Mark Wilson, president of the French Quarter
"There a lot of locals who have come out to support it. This year,
I've seen families. In talking to some our members, the art
galleries and some of those folks are doing pretty well," Wilson
After a rainy Saturday forced postponement of some parades, fair
weather brought signs of economic success on Sunday and Monday, but
on a smaller scale.
Monday's events included the arrival at the Mississippi River front
of Rex, King of Carnival, followed by fireworks that capped a day of
riverside concerts; and the annual Orpheus parade, a spectacle of
fiber-optic lit floats led by native son Harry Connick Jr. and
featuring actors Steven Seagal and Josh Hartnett as this year's
To some of Katrina's hardest-hit victims, the party seems in poor
taste. From Houston, refugee Samuel Spears said footage from his
hometown of bead-tossing and carousing tourists just made him more
"With them putting on Mardi Gras, without still having not addressed
the basic human needs in this city, why that's just a slap in the
face," said Spears. "I can't go home, but they can have a parade?
Wet and unusually cold weather in Galveston, Texas, which
traditionally holds one of the biggest celebrations outside New
Orleans, kept crowds smaller than expected, and many refugees were
not interested in attending another city's Mardi Gras.
"It's kind of hard to go somewhere else after experiencing Mardi
Gras in New Orleans, the greatest free show in the world," said
Frank Livaudais, a native of New Orleans who sold his house after
Katrina and moved to suburban Houston.
In Jackson, Miss., a Mardi Gras event at Hal & Mal's Restaurant will
feature a casket on which evacuees can write down their fears and
painful memories of the Aug. 29 hurricane and "symbolically bury the
"Burying Katrina is the theme, getting some closure, just putting it
to rest for a minute," said Michael Stanton, who is helping organize
the event through Lutheran Episcopal Services. "It'll be a semblance
of home, but it's not going to be New Orleans by any stretch of the
Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber in Houston and Holbrook Mohr
in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.