Armand Hammer

October 13, 2007

I spent my last two teenage years at the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West, or the UWC for short. This school is one of about a dozen spread across the continents that collect young people from around the world to live, study, and serve the community together. In the American version, my alma mater, there are 200 students from approximately 75 countries all tucked onto a beautiful campus in northeastern New Mexico. In the old days when I went there, the founding gift from our namesake, the complicated capitalist Armand Hammer, loomed large over us. Nowadays, there has been much funding from other sources, and the Armand Hammer name has been sidelined to a large extent in favor of the generic moniker UWC-USA.

At the time of my admission to this school, there was murmuring among my relatives that Armand Hammer was a communist, and that I, by association, would become a communist if I went to this school. While I certainly graduated from the place a lot redder than when I entered, Armand Hammer’s association with the Bolsheviks had nothing to do with this. As far as I can tell, Hammer never let a friendship with a communist get in the way of his immense commitment to capital.

By way of Tinman, I recently came across the following Soviet poster:

Armand Hammer poster

I knew Hammer sold pencils to the Soviets, though I did not realize how worthy of propaganda this was. Hammer apparently had fewer scruples about doing business with the Russians than did his less market-driven peers back in the United States; in fact, I think he was roundly criticized for collusion. It has always interested me how our severe American brand of patriotism so often trumps capitalism in this strange country. The mythology, of course, is that all those soldiers fought and died for our freedom to sell pencils to whomever we damn well please, and myths are always more compelling than the facts. Of course, we have never been free “to sell anything to anyone at anytime,” but that doesn’t matter because we believe that we can. I guess I should be grateful for the little things: at least we’re not as capitalist as we profess. At least an idea can get in the way of the capitalist economy, even if it is a jingoistic and oftentimes racist idea. Maybe this means there’s room for a better, truer idea to get in the way of capitalism as well. (I will never be a good Marxist because I have always thought that so-called epiphenomena–like ideas and religion–are on at least an equal footing with the sorry old means-of-production.)

In any case, it makes me feel gleeful to think that pencils sold to Soviets subsidized my formation as a young man. Comrade Hammer, I salute you!


In vain

August 22, 2007

I heard a story on NPR this morning about the ongoing VFW convention.  A reporter asked some of the participants what they thought of the various presidential hopefuls that have spoken to the gathered veterans.  A vet from the Iraq War said that she agreed with the candidates who wanted the U.S. to remain engaged in Iraq until “victory” because–as she put it–otherwise all the fighting and dying they have already done “will have been in vain.”

Of course, I’ve heard this line of reasoning before, but it never struck me like it did this morning.  Not only will it have been in vain, it already is.  All the fighting and dying has been in vain.  I found myself talking to the vet through the radio.  Yes, what you did was useless.  You were grossly manipulated by liars.  Our culture of patriotism misled you into this vain and disastrous affair.   Worse than “in vain,” you have most likely made things much, much worse than they possibly would have been without our military’s presence in Iraq.

God is Red

August 7, 2007

I rented Disney’s Peter Pan for my two children to watch. I chose it because it has pirates, who are high on Tom’s list of the absolute very best things. Like most of these old Disney movies, I’d seen Peter Pan, but not for many, many years. And, like others we’ve recently viewed, it is plagued with racist segments. This time it was the Indians. Do you remember the song “Why Is the Redman Red?” Well, it’s because years ago, an Indian princess kissed him, he blushed, and now he’s permanently red.

This time, the theatrics bothered me as I watched my two children, who are both at least partially Maya, soak up the white cartoon children dancing around among Indians made to look primitive, sexualized, and clownish.

I don’t know how my children see things, though. If you watch the video of the song, you’ll see that the big chief is the main narrator of the song’s tale. At about 00:45 in the video, he stands up and crosses his arms over his chest and does a little jig. Tom watched this and said to me, “Look Dad, it’s Jesus.” I said, “What?” He said, “It’s Jesus.”

It is very doubtful that Tom was making some theological point, but we do all see ourselves in Christ. That is the nature of the Messiah: salvific of all despite the man Jesus’ specific ethnicity, gender, etc.

Of course, God is red. That is why the redman is red.


August 3, 2007

Click comic to see larger image.

It turns out that Wal-Mart pays teenagers $0/hr. to “volunteer” in their stores in Mexico. (Read full story here.)

Gosh, I wonder why there are so many people emigrating from Mexico to the U.S.

The long-term solution to our immigration has been and continues to be international economic reform, creation of real jobs in developing countries, and the end of so-called “free trade” zones, which facilitate the expansion of exploitative supergiants like Wal-Mart.

World Wonders

July 12, 2007

I’m sure you’ve heard that there is a new complement of world wonders.  The  new Seven Wonders of the World are:

  1. the Great Wall of China;
  2. the pyramids of Chichen Itza;
  3. Petra;
  4. the Taj Mahal;
  5. Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio;
  6. the Colosseum; and
  7. Machu Picchu.

These new wonders were chosen by a global internet-based vote.  People from around the world could vote for wonders near and far–this is why a relatively new statue of Jesus Christ stands among relatively ancient architectural wonders.  Jesus can obviously win an election, as long as he doesn’t speak or move.

The only remaining wonder of the old Seven Wonders are the pyramids at Giza.  The Egyptian minister in charge of antiquities, Zahi “Sour Grapes” Hawass, said that the new competition had no value, and then he said this:


What’s shocking about this statement is not its content–it is undoubtedly true–but rather that Mr. Hawass said it with no irony.  He means it, he supports it, he revels in the patrician comfort of these words.

Of course, this means that history is not actually a faithful record of the past (as the foolish masses assume).  Instead it is the carefully scripted and coercive “memory” of the powerful.

What better metaphor for this than the pyramids themselves, like fascist monuments rising from the desert.

For shame…

June 25, 2007

The very first “Sheep Days” post touched on the topic of torture sponsored by the U.S. government. Unfortunately, this topic continues to plague us.

A new twist has come up in the way U.S. armed forces and CIA operatives are torturing our fellow human beings: it has been revealed that they have been using trained and licensed psychologists to help them increase the pressure on their victims.

Mark Benjamin, a reporter for, details the collusion between these psychologists and the torturers:

After the Sept. 11 attacks, [the CIA and the U.S. military] turned to a small cadre of psychologists linked to the military’s secretive Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program to “reverse-engineer” techniques originally designed to train U.S. soldiers to resist torture if captured, by exposing them to brutal treatment. The military’s use of SERE training for interrogations in the war on terror was revealed in detail in a recently declassified report.

Two psychologists in question, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, apparently specialize in the infliction of psychological stress. The reporter continues,

Isolation in cramped cells is also a key tenet of SERE training, according to soldiers who have completed the training and described it in detail to Salon. The effects of isolation are a specialty of Jessen’s, who taught a class on “coping with isolation in a hostage environment” at a Maui seminar in late 2003, according to a Washington Times article published then. (Defense Department documents from the late 1990s describe Jessen as the “lead psychologist” for the SERE program.) Mitchell also spoke at that conference, according to the article. It described both men as “contracted to Uncle Sam to fight terrorism.”

Mitchell’s name surfaced again many months later. His role in interrogations was referenced briefly in a July 2005 New Yorker article by Jane Mayer, which focused largely on the military’s use of SERE-based tactics at Guantánamo. The article described Mitchell’s participation in a CIA interrogation of a high-value prisoner in March 2002 at an undisclosed location elsewhere — presumably a secret CIA prison known as a “black site” — where Mitchell urged harsh techniques that would break down the prisoner’s psychological defenses, creating a feeling of “helplessness.” But the article did not confirm Mitchell was a CIA employee, and it explored no further the connection between Mitchell’s background with SERE and interrogations being conducted by the CIA.

This reminded me of another collusion between professional scholars and government travesties. During the Vietnam War, our government called on anthropologists to help them make peace (do battle) more effectively in a scheme called “Project Camelot.” One of the United States’s best anthropologists, Marshall Sahlins, condemned this cooperative project as early as 1965 when he addressed the American Anthropological Association. Sahlins declared that the project was,

an example of the corrosion of integrity that must accompany an enlistment of scholars in a gendarmerie relation to the Thrid World. Subversion of mutual trust between field-worker and informant is the predictable next step. The relativism we hold necessary to ethnography can be replaced by cynicism, and the quest for objective knowledge of other peoples replaced by a probe for their political weaknesses.

This is exactly what these shameful psychologists are doing–they are betraying their profession’s high purpose to heal, to comfort, and to hold confessions in confidence. They are preying on weakened men and women supposedly to help win a war. The pastor in me cannot help but point out that this commitment to victory no matter what the method or cost is surely not an American value, much less a Christian one.

I also await the day that the CIA or the Pentagon arrives in my Religious Studies department looking for sick and little men and women who are willing to betray our field’s sensitivity to the religious mores of others so that the torturers can know even better how to flush a Qur’an down the commode.

(Image is “Shame” by Ori Kleiner, 2004)