July 30, 2009
Martin Feldstein's Long History Of Hackery
That's lots of fun, but not enough people appreciate what an astoundingly hacktastic hack Feldstein has always been. In fact, he's the reason I finally understood that places like Harvard have literally no allegiance to telling the truth. (This might seem obvious to people who aren't cosseted upper middle-class nimrods, but it was a shock to me.) Here's the story:
Back in the late nineties, Dean Baker was writing to other economists, trying to get them to understand an incredibly simple point: given then-high asset prices, there was no plausible way the U.S. economy could produce both (1) the slow economic growth projected by the Social Security administration, and (2) the historic average of 7% returns on stocks. So it made no sense at all to deal with the (imaginary) Social Security crisis by letting people invest in stocks. You can find the whole story here.
Feldstein responded with a letter sneering at Baker's incredible stupidity:
As a matter of basic economics, this is simply wrong...
I think it would be good if you stopped confusing the discussion with your simple mistake.
At this point, Feldstein could have done two things:
1. Acknowledge Baker was correct to raise an extremely important issue that involved trillions of dollars, and make a good faith effort to discover the truth.
2. Ignore this issue and Dean Baker because he wasn't going to get the answer he wanted.
Martin Feldstein, former Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, once-leading candidate to replace Alan Greenspan at the Fed, and fancy professor of economics at a university whose motto is Veritas ("Truth"), decided to go with #2.
Again, I know non-morons wouldn't find this shocking. But frankly, I used to be pretty stupid.
P.S. Don't forget that Martin Feldstein is a longtime member of the AIG Board of Directors, and that Harvard University is one of the most left-wing institutions on the face of the earth.
Beer Time at the White House
By: Bernard Chazelle
Get that beer keg ready, Mr President. The guests are coming in large numbers.
Boston police officer Justin Barrett, 36, a two-year veteran assigned to District B-3, earned his invitation to the White House the hard way. He sent an e-mail to the Boston Globe and friends:
"If I were the officer he (Professor Gates) verbally assaulted like a banana eating jungle monkey I would have sprayed him in the face with OC (pepper spray)."
I love the smell of the post-racial society in the morning.
— Bernard Chazelle
July 29, 2009
The Non-Event Of The Century
By: John Caruso
I don't want to risk having my citizenship rescinded if I fail to offer a half-assed commentary on the single most important news story of this century, and possibly all of human history: the misdemeanor arrest of Henry Louis Gates. So here, in convenient bullet point form, are some thoughts which hopefully don't just rehash ten thousand other half-assed comments you've already suffered through:
- I'd say this is the most substantive and meaningful story to entirely dominate the U.S. news cycle since the Summer of the Shark.
- And coincidentally, it has just about as much to do with racial profiling.
- Rarely have I seen such a textbook case of projection. In Gates' own words: "So I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said ‘Officer, can I help you?’ And he said, ‘Would you step outside onto the porch.’ And the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, ‘No, I will not.’ ... Now it’s clear that he had a narrative in his head: A black man was inside someone’s house, probably a white person’s house, and this black man had broken and entered, and this black man was me."
- I thought we'd never see someone as afflicted with delusions of grandeur or addicted to self-promotion as Donato Dalrymple—but after hearing Gates' immediate plan to make a documentary about this harrowing ordeal, or his later suggestion that his epic hissy fit "could and should be a profound teaching moment in the history of race relations in America" (move on over, Rosa Parks!), I've realized just what a failure of imagination that was.
- There's nothing quite like watching white liberals use any opportunity to hurl accusations of racism, with escalating fervor, to the point where even a slight deviation from doctrine can earn someone a denunciation (though I'm sure you could have seen the same kind of thing at Party meetings in East Germany). It's difficult not to think they protest just a tad too much.
- Until now, I never realized so many people in this society had
such powerful ESP—you know, the kind that allows them to make
unequivocal assertions about the innermost thoughts and intentions of
people they've read about via second- and third hand accounts in sketchy news
stories. It's a little scary to discover we're surrounded by psychics.
- Perhaps the funniest part of all of this (and not for lack of competition): the notion that the description "two black males", applied to two black males, is prima facie evidence of racism.
- Ironically, Gates has probably done more to damage the cause of those who work to document and raise awareness of the very real and very serious problem of racial profiling than anyone I can think of.
- And finally: from now on, I'll take Henry Gates' attributions of racism every bit as seriously as I do Abe Foxman's attributions of anti-Semitism.
I only hope that in a few months we can all get over this and get back to talking about something more important, like Michael Jackson.
— John Caruso
[ NOTE: I'm resposting this here since I think it's worthwhile to have a different take on this issue on ATR, but comments are closed here since there's already been extensive discussion on my site. If you're interested, you can read or add to the comments there. ]
"Es Ist Vollbracht," with Marian Anderson
By: Bernard Chazelle
I realize people come here for a steady diet of serious humor and corrupt politics, not for technical dissections of Baroque music. Here's the deal. You don't have to read the words but you must listen to the music. If humanity has a future worth living, I am certain the art I showcase in these music posts will play a decisive role.
Now, what's with "Es ist vollbracht"? If you're one of those HIP (historically informed performance) Baroque snobs, this recording will positively suck: wrong language; wrong instruments; wrong continuo; wrong EQ, wrong everything.
I love it!
Yes, HIP is usually better; yes, the music sounds more like the soundtrack for a Carl Dreyer movie than a Bach Passion, but 3 comments: first, the RCA orchestra and its conductor, Robert Shaw, are nothing less than professional; second, Bach's music is uniquely "plastic" and will sound great even if you play it with pots and pans; third, Marian Anderson's voice is stunning! Sopranos tend to steal the show, but contraltos are in some ways more interesting, for the same reason the cello is a more "human" instrument than the violin.
Marian Anderson could do it all: she could sing anything, from spirituals to classical, with absolute perfection. From her microtonal nuances you get confirmation, if there were any need for it, that to grow up singing gospel music in a black Baptist church gives you better vocal training than going to Julliard.
Of course, now that we've entered the post-racial era, and no black person would ever be arrested in their Cambridge home for breathing while black, it's easy to forget that life was not always a picnic for people with the wrong skin pigmentation. Marian Anderson's life was a mix of highs and lows. Toscanini called hers "a voice you hear once in a hundred years." Sibelius composed for her. She sang for the king of England, FDR, Eisenhower, and JFK. Yet it would take 20 years after she'd performed with all the major European opera houses to get an invitation to sing at the Met. When the DAR refused her permission to sing in Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt belatedly, but to her credit, resigned from that racist organization.
"Es ist vollbracht" is the spiritual high point of Bach's St John Passion. "All is fulfilled," Ms Anderson assures us at (1:04). These were Jesus's last words on the cross. The King James bible writes "It is finished" instead, but neither Luther's "Es ist vollbracht" nor the English version does justice to the original Greek, tetelestai, which conveys the notion of a deal closed. If you lived in 1st century Anatolia (today's Turkey), where John's gospel was written, and you called the plumber to fix your toilet, after you gave him the check, he'd write on the invoice (or more likely just tell you), "Tetelestai," meaning "Paid in Full." So it's Jesus's way of saying, "Paid in Full," ie, I've done my part. Why it matters for you to know that is that the Allegro at (4:43) makes no sense if you don't get the theological meaning of "Es ist vollbracht." With death comes victory. The Allegro's words say, "Judea's hero ends his victorious fight," which, if you ask me, would make a fine Palestinian anthem.
The ending is unusually operatic. At (5:25), the music abruptly segues back to the beginning, except that instead of singing the cello's melody one fourth higher, as she did earlier, Anderson reprises it at the same pitch. The aria signs off in what has to be a first (and last) for Bach: the voice calls the end! Eerie. This is probably the most original aria Bach ever composed.
I've said before that Bach's music is striking by its utter lack of attitude. What's attitude? The famous G-G-G-Eb opening of Beethoven's 5th. That, my friends, is Attitude with a capital A! But there's not the slightest hint of an ego in Bach's passions. How the greatest art on earth is also the most humble has always perplexed me. Bach's music is not the least bit hormonal: it's music for the very young and the very... (what's the word?) mature. I'd always speculated that Bach composed his best music for children. Until I found out that, indeed, he composed his best music for children.
Now I'll make a few technical comments below the vid for the elite members of the ATR Frequent Flyer Program.
The opening features one of those classical, gorgeous modulations that, with rare exceptions, rock musicians have never bothered to learn. The cello (OK, it should be a viola da gamba but never mind) opens with a mournful descending line starting at F#. The tune is in Bm. It moves to the V7 (F#7) at (0:09) and then back to Bm at (0:18). Now comes the exciting part. Bach wants to move the tonal center to Em. That's the 4th, so a rock musician would just go there. But that's crappy musicianship. Bach knew a gazillion cadences and, in particular, the second most important one, V7-i, which is how you move tonally to Em. (This not arbitrary: there are deep physical laws to explain why that's the right thing to do.) So Bach moves from Bm to B major (because B is the V of Em). It's a minor-to-major modulation. That's done in country music all the time: just move that minor third up half a step and bingo.
No offense to Garth Brooks, but Bach is not one to just slide his minor 3rd up to modulate to major. First he hints at the major sound at (0:21) in an incredibly subtle way. While the cello plays F# (with your aural memory still tuned to Bm), the accompaniment (it's supposed to be an organ but apparently RCA couldn't afford the real thing) throws in the major third D#. Check it out. It all happens at (0:21). Pay close attention. You blink, you miss it! Now Bach needs to reinforce that cadence by adding the 7th (the A). He does that by going V-iv-V7-i. Here are the details. What he needs is an A (the 7th of B). Well, the next note of the melody happens to be A (0:22), so he could play the 2-note pattern D#-A and be done. That would be harmonically correct. But that's not what he does. He plays E-A instead (0:23) What's going on??? The thing is, Bach is not ready to suggest B7 just yet, which is why he takes a pass on that D#. Instead, he inverts the I-V of Am. Only dyads are played, not full chords, which adds to the ambiguity of the thing. He gets his B7 at (0:25) and then his Em at (0:26). What Bach is doing is taking us through the extended cadence of iv-V7-i, ie Am-B7-Em. Why did he do that?
Because of timing. He really had no choice. Check the rhythm. The piece is in 4/4 (4 quarter-notes per measure) and that Em has to fall at the beginning of the 3rd bar, so we need that extra cadence. Speaking of rhythm (always very important with Bach), the melody should be thought of a sequence of 16th notes (16 per measure) -- yes, these are very long measures. But Bach pairs up the 16ths to de-symmetrize them. Instead of going (1/16, 1/16) he goes (3/32, 1/32), ie, he uses a dotted 16th followed by a 32nd. That's how he gets that pattern of long-short, long-short, long-short.
Anderson's entry steals the cello's opening line, F# E D C# D B B A#, but she takes it one fourth higher, ie, B A G F# G E D. Then the cello reprises its own line in a call-and-response manner. This is like weaving a Persian rug: Anderson's last note is D, while the cello's response starts with F#, ie, the cello takes the voice's baton by completing the Bm arpeggio (D and F# are respectively the 3rd and 5th of the chord of Bm). We don't get these patterns by accident. You really have to know what you're doing, so all these notes fall on your lap at the right time. The cello then continues playing over the voice.
That giant down-interval at (2:06-2:08) just kills me. Marian Anderson drops from B to C# (almost a whole octave). It's the sound of a mother reassuring her child. (That's how I hear it anyway.) If humility had a musical entry in the dictionary this would be it. It's truly an amazing phrase. It does not get resolved until (2:16) with the D chord, which is the relative major of Bm. (The scale has 2 sharps: F and C, but in Bm Bach uses the harmonic minor scale, which adds the A#).
Now, if you wondered what a "modern" HIP interpretation was like, this is as good as it gets (well, minus the mediocre recording quality). As a bonus you also get to crack juvenile jokes if you're that age, and if you're not, relish the opportunity to hear the truly astonishing voice of Andreas Scholl, the world's greatest countertenor.
I am confident that Bach would have been impressed by both Ms Anderson and Mr Scholl.
— Bernard Chazelle
July 28, 2009
That G-Damned Marxist John Adams
Frank's argument boils down to the old Marxist doctrine of false consciousness, which says that to disagree with the left about the nature of political and economic self-interest is a form of brainwashing...
I don't know much about this, because I plan to lead a long, happy life without ever reading anything by either Karl Marx or Jonah Goldberg. However, it does make me laugh how many ideas now derided as "Marxist" were stated plainly by various American founding fathers. Regarding what Thomas Frank was writing about, John Adams said it first back in 1776:
Such is the frailty of the human heart that very few men who have no property have any judgment of their own. They talk and vote as they are directed by some man of property who has attached their minds to his interest.
Adams claimed this in order to argue that men without property shouldn't be allowed to vote. But before you get too mad at the Dead White Guy, he follows that up with this:
[P]ower always follows property. This I believe to be as infallible a maxim in politics, as that action and reaction are equal is in mechanics. Nay, I believe we may advance one step farther, and affirm that the balance of power in a society accompanies the balance of property in land. The only possible way, then, of preserving the balance of power on the side of equal liberty and public virtue is to make the acquisition of land easy to every member of society; to make a division of the land into small quantities, so that the multitude may be possessed of landed estates. If the multitude is possessed of the balance of real estate, the multitude will have the balance of power, and in that case the multitude will take care of the liberty, virtue, and interest of the multitude in all acts of government.
It's easy to imagine that today Adams would extend this to mean property of all kinds, not just land. Thank god no one in America reads books, or things might really get out of control.
July 27, 2009
The National Humanities Medal For Not Asking Too Many Questions
John Lewis Gaddis is one of the fanciest history professors at Stutts University. During the Bush administration he visited the White House several times to discuss foreign policy with the president. In 2005 he also received the National Humanities Medal.
Now, here's the funny part: in July, 2005 he gave a speech at Middlebury College in which he described how he'd been to the White House in July, 2004 and then again in January, 2005:
I did indeed meet with Condi and the NSC staff in mid-July for a lively discussion...There followed a twenty minute conversation with Bush...
I did, on January 10th, attend a meeting at the White House at which several journalists and academics were invited to discuss the course of our Middle Eastern policies over the next four years...
And somewhere along the line Gaddis had picked up a theory—that Saddam Hussein himself had believed Iraq had WMD:
[N]o weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. But every intelligence agency in the world also believed that they were there, and it may be that Saddam Hussein believed that also. That they weren’t, was universally unexpected.
But apparently these discussions with Condi weren't as lively as Professor Gaddis had thought. Because according to Charles Duelfer, head of the CIA's WMD investigation, Condi had asked him about this specific question long before, on April 1, 2004. And Duelfer told her there was nothing to it:
On Thursday, April 1, 2004, I met with Condoleezza Rice at 1500...
Rice brought the conversation back to the prospects of finding WMD: "I understand one suggestion is that perhaps Saddam did not know what his scientists were doing. For example, the nuclear scientists were promoting projects as being related to WMD because they could attract funding. Did you see evidence of this?"...
I said I did not think so.
But of course the kind of misinformation that Gaddis picked up is to be expected in a government like this, which suffered from:
(1) an almost exclusive reliance upon a single decision-maker, his perceptions and objectives; (2) fear and intimidation; (3) little dissent from the "leader's" views; (4) compartmented expertise with little or no cross-fertilization; (5) the passing of misinformation through the chain of command...
This method of management makes interpreting their descriptions of the inner workings of Regime figures very difficult. They often did not know the truth. Hence, when they would describe something that is wrong, it is difficult or impossible to know if they are purposely dissembling.
Time for Another Beer with Obama
By: Bernard Chazelle
The White House needs a beer keg. President Obama will soon be getting drunk again, this time with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Why?
Federal immigration squads with shotguns and automatic weapons forcing their way into citizens’ homes without warrants or lawful consent, shoving open doors and climbing through windows in predawn darkness, pulling innocent people from their beds, holding groggy occupants at gunpoint, taking people away without explanation — after invading the wrong house.
Agents routinely entered private homes without warrants or informed consent: in 86 percent of the Long Island cases studied and 24 percent of those in New Jersey. In two-thirds of arrest reports studied, no explanation for the initial arrest was given.
Too bad, but at least they got their targets, right?
Three days of raids in Nassau County, for example, netted only 6 of 96 targets.
But now the horror!
ICE agents, they said, were flagrantly undisciplined, to the point of mistakenly drawing weapons on county police officers.
Now that's an outrageous lack of discipline! In the democratic police state, cops must learn to draw their weapons only on unarmed private citizens.
— Bernard Chazelle
July 26, 2009
America The Confused
In explaining why it was OK to sock a new 5.4% tax on the highest earners in this country — to pay for health care reform — President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said this:
“The president believes that the richest 1% of this country has had a pretty good run of it for many, many, many years.”
Ah. So that’s it. The old “You’ve had it good enough for long enough” policy. That’s why a family earning a million dollars a year should now cough up $54,000 of that — in addition to all the other taxes it pays...
It is not that the rich should not pay fair taxes. They should.
But to justify a grossly overweighted tax by saying “You people have had it good long enough” is to engage in the worst and most destructive form of politics: class warfare.
Ow, my head.
Someone making $1,000,000 per year wouldn't pay $54,000 more in taxes under this bill. They'd pay $9,000.
That's because the 5.4% surcharge would only apply to someone's income over $1,000,000. Your tax bill wouldn't suddenly go up by $54,000 if one year you made $1,000,000 instead of $999,999.
Here's how the proposed surcharge would actually work. There would be:
• an additional 1% tax on income between $350,000 and $500,000. Thus, if someone makes $500,000 per year, they would pay an extra 1% of $150,000, or $1,500.
• an additional 1.5% tax on income between $500,000 and $1,000,000. Thus, if someone makes $1,000,000 per year, they would pay an extra 1.5% of $500,000, or $7,500.
That's $9,000 more in taxes ($1,500 + $7,500), or 0.9%.
(Now, it is true that someone making $10 million per year would pay an additional $495,000. That would consist of the extra $9,000 on the first million plus 5.4% ($486,000) on the next $9 million.)
THE BEST PART: The best part is, Mitch Albom has a degree from the Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism plus an MBA from Columbia's Graduate School of Business.
It took me five minutes to find the actual bill (pdf) online, and figure out he was off by a factor of six.
There really is no field but right-wing punditry where you can make these kind of catastrophic errors and keep your job. You can't graduate from Columbia Medical School and become a surgeon if you believe human beings have six spleens, and you can't stay an anesthesiologist if you give someone six times too much Sevoflurane. But as long as your horrifying incompetence serves a right-wing agenda, there will always be a cozy home for you in journalism.
July 25, 2009
Fighting Or Flighting
Once I was walking home at six a.m. up Eighth Avenue near Times Square in Manhattan. I was already irritable: I'd just been on a bad date, I'd gotten barely any sleep, I was hung over yet still slightly drunk, and it was one of those steamy New York August mornings when the entire city smells like garbage.
For reasons too complex to go into, my face was also entirely covered in green makeup. And as I walked past a group of guys sitting in a doorway, one of them shouted "Hey, Greenie!" and threw a grape which hit me in the back of the head.
I felt this was the last straw. I turned around and advanced toward the grape-thrower. At that moment every cell in my body was screaming at me to get into a giant, green-faced sidewalk brawl with him.
Then the grape-thrower made a gesture that may be familiar to you if you're a man who's recently lived in cities: he put his hand inside his jacket as though he had a gun there.
I stopped, then turned around and walked away. This took every ounce of power the tiny rational section of my brain possessed. And in fact, thinking about it now years later I can still feel my physical reaction, and my furious right-wing cells criticize me all over again for running away. I believe some of them may even now be plotting a coup.
I bring this up because all confrontations between men are much more fraught than is usually acknowledged. Moreover, the build-up of frustration is cumulative inside men. So I'd be sort of surprised if it turns out Henry Louis Gates didn't do a lot of yelling at the Cambridge policeman. I might have, and I haven't had to, you know, worry about four hundred years of history.
July 24, 2009
By: Bernard Chazelle
For those of you who wondered what I meant by a "democratic police state," here's a quiz. When a cop behaves like a racist, power-mad pig, arresting a harmless, innocent citizen in his home, what's the president of the United States supposed to do?
(1) Order a full investigation and remind cops all across the land than the license to carry a gun comes with the obligation to show respect to others, not behave like a prickly two-bit tyrant.
Or (2) Call the cop at home to make sure his feelings were not hurt and invite him to the White House for a beer.
If you answered (2), Congratulations, you've mastered the definition of a democratic police state. (No, I am not even making that stuff up.)
Why didn't Professor Gates keep his cool? Not sure. Let's ask the man who gave birth to the cool. In the words of Leonard Feather,
After escorting a young white girl out of the club to a taxi [outside Birdland in NYC] he was standing on the sidewalk when a patrolman came by and asked him to move on. When Miles said, "I'm not going nowhere -- I'm just getting a breath of fresh air," the patrolman threatened to arrest him. Miles said, "Go ahead, lock me up." When the patrolman seized his arm, a scuffle ensued during which a painclothes cop passing by began hitting Miles with a blackjack. With blood dripping all over his clothes, he was taken to the police station where, with his distraught wife, Frances, at his side he was booked on charges of disorderly conduct and assault. At a hospital, 10 stitches were taken in his scalp.
Feather doesn't tell us if President Eisenhower had the cops over for a beer.
OK, What about the music? "Kind of Blue" is the most extraordinary jam session ever, featuring a dream team of jazz musicians (Miles, Evans, Coltrane, Adderley, Cobb, Chambers). It's one of the most influential albums in jazz. It broke from bebop in a big way by going modal. But that's not why I can listen to it a million times without ever getting tired. The reason for that is the dream team. All the modality does is give them space to breathe and explore melodic ideas that are ruled out in chord-heavy bebop (unless you're Bird and you can play a full-fledged melody in two-and-a-half seconds).
"So What" is harmonically straightforward: you go Dorian for the first 16 bars, then move up half a step for 8 bars and then back to the original key for the last 8. Sounds so simple. Until, of course, it's your turn to solo right after Coltrane. Good luck! It's often said that jazz introduced modes to modern music. Nothing could be further from the truth. Satie, Debussy, Ravel and all those guys used modes heavily a good 50 years before Miles, using far more complex arrangements. But who cares? This video alone gives you a good sense of why jazz is the music of the 20th century par excellence.
What's Dorian? The technical definition is simple but unhelpful. I'll give it to you first and then tell you why modal is cool. "So What" is in D Dorian. That means that it uses the scale of C. Western modes were codified in the Renaissance. They were given Greek names, like Ionian, Dorian, etc, because that's how you made things sound cool back then. The chord of Dm uses only notes from the key of C, so if you keep hitting the white keys on your piano while someone plays a chord of Dm, it'll sound nice, like... Eleanor Rigby. (The Beatles sometimes used modes.)
Which leads me to my main point. Eleanor Rigby, Scarborough Fair, So What, and all these Dorian tunes share a certain "mood." You don't have to know anything about music to feel that. And to understand where that mood comes from, just to say that it's C over Dm is daft. No one "thinks" like that. OK, maybe I should say, I don't think like that. Say you're jamming over "Black Magic Woman" in Dm. The melody itself will tell you to hit that flat 7th (the C). You'll do it because it's in the tune but also because it's a minor blues and any self-respecting blues will hit the b7.
So now, all is smooth and there you are, noodling around in Dm, hitting that b7 as often as you can, trying to out-Santana Dr Carlos. And then a stroke of genius!!! What if you start from that b7 (ie, C) and go down one half-step. Those semitones are quite catchy. This will create a mysterious chromatic descent, that will soon make your audience swoon and beg for mercy. Having thus found your stairway to heaven, you'll keep on fiddling with these 3 notes D,C,B, soon adding E and F, and bingo you'll have discovered the Dorian sound even before you had a chance to order your copy of "Modes for Dummies." (You'll also be fired from the band because Black Magic Woman is in Aeolian, not Dorian, but that's a small price to pay for creativity.)
— Bernard Chazelle
"All Governments Lie," So Support Robert Parry
Robert Parry's Consortium News is holding a fundraiser. I just sent them some money, and I strongly encourage you to do the same. You can donate by credit card, by paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by check to Consortium for Independent Journalism, 2200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 102-231, Arlington VA 22201.
There simply is no other journalist in the U.S. like Robert Parry. For instance, did you know Alvin A. Snyder, director of the U.S. Information Agency's television and film division in the early eighties, wrote a book in 1995 called Warriors of Disinformation? And that in the book he takes you in detail through exactly how the Reagan administration lied at the UN Security Council in 1983 about the Soviet shootdown of KAL-007? And that this former government official then straightforwardly explained that "all governments lie"?
I had no idea at all. And to date, no one else anywhere has noticed it except for Parry. And not only did Parry notice it, he remembered it and brought it up again immediately after Colin Powell's presentation to the UN (where I missed it for a second time).
Here's some of Alvin Snyder wrote:
By my calculations, the National Security Agency, with the apparent approval of the State Department and White House, had deleted at least five critical minutes of conversation between the Russian fighter pilots and their ground controllers from the tape that we presented as evidence in the UN Security Council...We had been duped...Former U.S. officials involved in the cover-up, who insist on anonymity, confirm that monitoring data was withheld from our UN tape...
The moral of the story is that all governments, including our own, lie when it suits their purposes. The key is to lie first...The story of KE-007 will be remembered pretty much the way we told it in 1983, not the way it really happened.
BONUS!: Here's what Reagan said immediately after the massacre;
...the world notes the stark contrast that exists between Soviet words and deeds...What could be said about Soviet credibility when they so flagrantly lie about such a heinous act? What can be the scope of legitimate and mutual discourse with a state whose values permit such atrocities? And what are we to make of a regime which establishes one set of standards for itself and another for the rest of humankind?
We've joined in the call for an urgent United Nations Security Council meeting today. The brutality of this act should not be compounded through silence or the cynical distortion of the evidence now at hand.
In conclusion: give Robert Parry money.
July 23, 2009
By: Bernard Chazelle
Commenter SunMesa made an interesting parallel between the completeness of ethical codes and Goedel. Roughly, what Goedel showed is that if you give yourself a finite (or finitely generated) system of axioms and inference rules so as to be able to prove things in arithmetic (like, "every even number >2 is a sum of 2 primes") , then one of two things must happen: either your system is inconsistent (ie, you can prove that something is both true and false) or there are true statements (in first order logic, ie, of the kind you're familiar with) that cannot be proven. Goedel then proved a second theorem; essentially if your system can prove its own consistency then it is inconsistent.
As math goes, proving Goedel's theorems is not hard. But, like quantum mechanics, to figure out, at a philosophical level, what it's all about is tricky. In fact the debate is still raging. That's perfectly fine. What I am very skeptical about is any attempt to use "Goedel" outside mathematics. I've read statements to the effect that sociology cannot be proven to be consistent. That's utter, embarrassing nonsense. The Incompleteness Theorems concern only formal systems and are meaningless in any other context.
That said, I believe in the power of analogy, which is why the commenter's point is well worth thinking about. Goedel's result is an exotic byproduct of self-reference, which is among the most important concepts from the last 100 years. Magritte used it in his paintings. The Abbott and Costello skit, "Who's on First?" is entirely premised on that. If Goedel inspires people to think creatively, all the better. For non-scientists I highly recommend the book by Hofstadter ("Goedel, Escher, Bach"). Unfortunately, when it comes to Goedel, there's a tendency in the humanities to view the mention of a famous math guy with an umlaut in his name as a mark of authority. This tendency does not have the ATR seal of approval.
Speaking of which, Jon's blog posts have proven to be not only truthful, but morally beneficial to the world. As a reward, the Goddess of Blogging, who is the niece of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, has granted Jon eternal life on earth. All he has to do now is continue writing truthful posts, for eternity, and thus shower the universe with infinite moral good.
Any blog post consists of a finite number of characters, so Jon has been effectively granted the awesome power to write every conceivable truthful post. Your favorite truth may take a while to show up at ATR but, patience, patience, Jon will produce it one day!
What Goedel proved is that, sadly (get the kleenex ready), Jon must be evil or only partially good. Well, Goedel never said that. I did. The person who came closest to that statement was Alan Turing, who said to the head of Bell Labs: "You can be smart or infallible, but you cannot be both -- and in your case you cannot be either." The first part of the quip was a correct consequence of his seminal work on computing; the second part only expressed his abject disdain for AT&T management.
Consider this blog post:
Jon will never write this post.
If one day Jon writes the post above, then he will be writing something false, since writing the post will contradict its meaning. Needless to say, this will cause enormous harm all around the world: it will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Jon is evil. On the other hand, if Jon never writes that post, then the very fact of never writing it will make its meaning come true. So there you'll have a truthful post that Jon will never write. This will deprive everyone of much moral good. How can Jon do that to us? He was granted all of eternity and he missed a simple truth which is only 6 words long!!!!! He may be a good guy, but come on, that's one nasty oversight. I'd call his goodness partial, and that's because I am a nice guy. So I've proven that an eternal Jon cannot be perfectly good.
Now let's move over to the world of similes. What I did earlier was sketch a hand-waving explanation of something rigorously correct, ie, Goedel's first Incompleteness Thm. Now I will use the language of "this is like." My meta-ethical principle about torture is to decree that there is no ethical code for TBS. Here is the analogy. I, as co-blogger, will post:
Jon will never write this post.
I will instruct Jon never to write this post. In this way, the post will now be truthful, since (1) I wrote the post, not Jon, and (2) Jon never did and never will write a post with these words. On the other hand, that important truth has now been posted and no one is being denied the enormous moral good that comes with that.
Problem fixed? Well, not quite. By absolving Jon, I've put myself in trouble. I'll leave this as a homework assignment. If some kind soul comes to bail me out then that person himself will be in trouble. What you're doing is building higher and higher levels of rescuing operations. This goes to infinity. Philosophers have long been intrigued by this idea. Some have even said this is what defines consciousness. To which I say, Whenever you hear, "this defines consciousness," check your wallet.
In matters of self-reference, Goedel is cool. But Tony Blair is even cooler. The guy actually said: "I don't make predictions. Never have. Never will." Blissfully unaware of it. Which proves that, after all, maybe Goedel's swirls of infinitude prove not what it is to be conscious but what it is to be nonconscious.
One final point. Some, like Penrose, have argued that maybe a computer (or logic) cannot be sure that Jon will not write something so stupid as the post above, but surely we, humans, obviously know he won't. Therefore, the human mind is superior to a computer. I believe the conclusion but not the proof. Why? I'll simply ask Penrose. And exactly how do you know that Jon will not write this post? Penrose will say, Oh Bernard, come on, you know that Jon is not human. He's an automaton programmed to apply the rules of Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory augmented with the Axiom of Choice (ZFC). Well, Penrose, don't insult my intelligence! Of course I KNEW THAT! But so what? " Well, Bernard, obviously that system cannot produce falsehoods therefore Jon will not write the post." Hmm... so you're saying that "obviously" ZFC is consistent.... Obviously... obviously.... obviously.... obviously... "Why do you keep saying "obviously"? Because I heard that if you keep saying long enough that something nonobvious is obvious then it eventually becomes obvious.
— Bernard Chazelle
July 22, 2009
The Moral Case Against Torture
By: Bernard Chazelle
No other moral issue matches torture in the shoddy thinking it elicits. A recent piece on a prominent libertarian blog made the case against torture. If you read it quickly, you might have found it quite persuasive. But if you unpacked the arguments carefully, you would actually discover the essay was arguing in favor of torture. I don't doubt the sincerity of the writer for a minute. This is a widespread phenomenon. Nowhere in the blogosphere have I seen the case against torture argued even semi-cogently. Usually the arguments are incoherent, irrelevant, or even contradictory. If you're lucky.
That's strange. As philosophy goes, torture is hardly a "difficult" problem. But it's so emotional it's treated as something trivial, when it's not. So, well-meaning people end up saying things like "Torture does not work," unaware that such a line argues in favor of torture, not against it. Wittgenstein was on to something when he wrote, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." To be against torture without offering any explanation is perfectly fine. I don't think philosophy is required. But, if you feel the need to explain why torture is wrong, if you feel the urge to put on your philosopher's hat, then please think things through. As I write in this new essay,
Is it a coincidence that torture has remained so popular in this country amidst such an impoverished public discourse?
Tragically, CounterPunch removed the footnotes... You'll find them here waiting for you.
— Bernard Chazelle
AMERICA NEEDS MORE HISTORY LIKE THIS
Since this is the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, I thought I’d share this historically rich experience. A good friend of mine from 6th grade through early college was the son of a union president. The union had a training center down in Maryland, which included some posh vacation facilities for the leadership (or misleadership, as they’d say in Workers Vanguard). My friend, his family, and several others of us all watched the TV coverage together in one of the posh outposts.
Among the guests was Bayard Rustin. (The union leadership gets points for not subscribing to the homophobic exclusion that Rustin suffered—though they were united in their anti-Communism.) When Armstrong uttered his banal aphorism upon landing, there was much disappointment all around. Rustin offered a constructive alternative: "He should have just farted."
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing Joseph Pujol on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" — President John F. Kennedy
July 21, 2009
Under The Guise Of This New Administration
By: John Caruso
The Center for Constitutional Rights would like you to write to the Senate (which in practice means filling out a few fields and clicking "send my message"). And really, isn't it the least you can do for them after all they've done for you?
The U.S. Senate is in the process of debating the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2010. The NDAA currently includes a provision that bans the use of private military contractors from conducting interrogations of detainees. Also, an amendment to the bill could require the video recording of all interrogations. The White House is opposed to the provision that bans the use of private contractors from conducting interrogations and is also opposed to any amendment requiring video recording. There is a possibility that these elements could be stripped from the bill.
Also, while the elements pertaining to interrogations are positive developments, the NDAA could undermine our efforts to end the use of military commissions. CCR has long maintained that the use of military commissions is absolutely unacceptable in a democracy. The NDAA currently includes provisions that would change the laws regarding the use of military commissions, changes that the Obama administration appears to welcome, stating the changes will "make the commissions an effective and fair system of justice." Congress should not refine a broken and unjust system – they should repeal the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
Regarding the Obama administration's opposition to any amendment requiring video recording of interrogations, here was their reaction back in March to the CIA's destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes:
MR. GIBBS: Obviously -- obviously this is a -- the development is not good; it's sad. And I think the leadership in Mr. Panetta and certainly under the guise of this new administration, we want to give the people that work in the CIA the tools they need to keep us safe, but do so in a way that also protects our values.
In light of the administration's current position, Gibbs apparently meant it was sad that the CIA made the mistake of recording interrogations in the past, and Obama wants to correct that error and protect America's actual values from being captured on any further politically-inconvenient recordings. I do at least appreciate the refreshing candor of the phrase "under the guise of this new administration," though.
— John Caruso
Life in the Democratic Police State
By: Bernard Chazelle
What do you call "Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr trying to open the front door of his house with the help of his friendly cab driver"? Answer:
"two black males breaking into a home near Harvard University."
That's, anyway, how the caller to the police station put it. A cop was dispatched promptly.
Gates gave the officer his driver's license and Harvard identification, but became upset when the officer continued to question him.
So upset in fact that
[t]he sergeant said he was forced to step out of the home because of Gates' uncomfortably loud yelling.
Gates asked the police officer for his badge number and name several times but received no response. The sergeant told Gates that they could discuss the matter further outside, to which Gates allegedly replied,
"ya, I'll speak with your mama outside."
Police reinforcement arrived (presumably the anti-"uncomfortably loud yelling" unit) and Gates was arrested for
"exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior" in his home.
Not that one should, but forget the racial angle for a minute. So you're minding your own business at home, not bothering anyone. A cop comes and interrogates you. You forget to genuflect. Pronto, you're in jail!
Don't misconstrue my target here. It's neither the caller nor the cop. It's the people who accept that living in a police state is a small price to pay for our security. It's the people for whom authority is something not to challenge, but to defer to. I see that among my own undergrads. And it's gotten worse over the years. It's the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics in reverse: slouching toward tyranny.
— Bernard Chazelle
July 20, 2009
After Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon forty years ago today, the moments at which Michael Collins was on the moon's other side were by far the furthest away any person in history had ever been from all other human beings.
The moon's diameter is 2159 miles, and the command module orbited about 60 miles above the surface. So Collins was approximately 2200 miles from Armstrong and Aldrin, or roughly the distance from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles.
(I once investigated this for an article I never wrote.)
Operation Elect Sarah
My sources in the Obama administration tell me their secret plan to get Sarah Palin elected in 2012 has three key elements. So far, each is going well:
1. Fail to pass meaningful healthcare reform.
2. Fail to pass a second stimulus bill and thus doom the economy.
3. Collect giant wads of campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs.
Keep your fingers crossed!
There's Good News And There's Bad News
The good news is, we now have the tools and ability to turn America into a genuine, vibrant democracy.
The bad news is, this will require that at least a few of us learn how the Federal Reserve works.
The price may simply be too high.
July 19, 2009
You Call That a Democracy?
By: Bernard Chazelle
Shortly before receiving the Medal of Freedom from the great George W. Bush, the equally great Paul Johnson averred, "France is not a democracy." Man, did he nail that one or what! You be the judge.
The 366 employees at the newly bankrupt auto parts company, New Fabris, in the lovely French town of Chatellerault, were mad as hell and they were not going to take it anymore. They were demanding compensation worth $42,000 per worker from the car giants Renault and PSA-Peugeot, which provided 90% of Fabris' business. If no agreement was found by July 31, 2009, the workers would take over the company and... blow it up!
"The gas bottles are in the factory. Everything has been planned for it to blow up," unless there is an accord by July 31, Guy Eyermann, CGT union official and secretary of the company works council, told AFP.
"We are not going to let PSA and Renault wait until August or September to recover the spare parts and machines still in the factory," he warned.
"If we get nothing, they get nothing at all."
Yesterday, the 366 workers got all the money they wanted and the conflict was declared over.
Before the democracy theorists among you lecture the rest of us that it's Just Not The Way A Democracy Ought To Operate, let me help you make your case by mentioning 3 other examples (among many) of what happens when French workers get laid off without proper compensation:
April 2009: Continental tire factory in Oise: Government office taken over and ransacked. Result: workers get a doubling of their layoff package.
March 2008: Bolt manufacturer Lenoir et Mernier in Ardennes: Headquarters and a quarter of all the factories burned to the ground. Result: Administrative trial forces the government to indemnify the workers.
November 2001: Moulinex factory in Basse-Normandie: Factory burned down and government official kidnapped. Result: Substantial increase in layoff package.
No one was hurt in any of these incidents. The cops never got involved. The maximum sentence given to the workers was 6 months probation.
This brings us to our next topic: Why would none of this happen in the US? Are Americans so different?
Bullshit. The US labor movement has a long, proud history of courageous struggle.
The reason is that we live in a democratic police state. If you burn down a factory, you get at least 10 years in prison; if you're black you get shot. (The Camden-28 faced 40 years of real prison time for much lesser offenses.) With cops, judges, and laws like these, no wonder all the anger gets channeled into nice little emails to Nancy Pelosi's /dev/null.
How quaint, Mr Johnson!
— Bernard Chazelle
July 18, 2009
From Cog To Human Being
By: John Caruso
Amy Goodman interviews Wendell Potter, a former head of corporate communications for CIGNA who finally listened to his conscience, left behind the blood money, and started talking about the evil he was doing as a shill for the health care denial industry. Definitely worth reading (or viewing; the video is at the link).
What's most interesting is that Potter was the point man for CIGNA during various high-profile denials over the past few years, like the case of Nataline Sarkisyan, a 17-year-old who died because CIGNA refused to give her a liver transplant. Potter talks about what it was like helping cover for CIGNA as it killed this poor girl:
AMY GOODMAN: And how were you feeling at the time?
WENDELL POTTER: Oh, just devastated. I have a daughter myself. And I—even though I was having to represent the company, and again was being as truthful as I could, I all the time was just thinking about the family and the grief that they were going through and the way their—you know, they were briefly optimistic that the decision to cover the procedure might save her life, and then so quickly for that hope to be dashed was just devastating for them, I know, and it was just crushing for me and a lot of people that I worked with at CIGNA, too. I want to make sure that that’s understood, that it, you know—I was so disappointed, and I was hopeful, too, that this might be something that actually would save her life. It was just a dreadful, dreadful experience for everyone concerned; there were no winners in that at all.
(Potter's wrong there, of course. There was one winner: CIGNA, which saved itself the cost of giving the girl a healthy liver. And when CIGNA finally did relent, too late to save Nataline's life, they were careful to explain that they were just "mak[ing] an exception in this rare and unusual case" and that the procedure was "outside the scope of the plan's coverage"—to avoid setting a precedent for the next dying teenager.)
What's worth taking away from this is how Potter spent this time devastated and thinking constantly about the grief and pain the family was suffering (and I don't doubt his sincerity in this at all)—and yet he dutifully did his dirty work throughout, presenting official excuses for CIGNA's lucrative refusal to provide life-saving care. And "a lot of people" at CIGNA felt the same way he did, and yet also acted exactly as he did.
This is why it's a mistake to focus exclusively (or even primarily) on individuals when examining the evil done by institutions. It's a guarantee that there was another person filling Potter's chair before it had even gotten cold—someone who likely has either a daughter or a conscience or both, but who nonetheless is just as willing as Potter was to explain to the world why CIGNA has to let more people die (explanations which oddly never seem to contain the word "profits"). As I've written before, the real problem is a system that puts people in the position where their own economic interests lie at odds with the most basic forms of empathy and common decency.
In any case, congratulations to Potter on finally finding his humanity, and trying to make amends for the sins of his former life.
— John Caruso
July 16, 2009
Is Terrorism Worse Than Collateral Damage?
By: Bernard Chazelle
We all know the difference between terrorism and collateral damage: here a bomb exploding in a crowded cafe; there a car blowing up with in it a bad guy and his young daughter. Both are bad, but is one morally worse than the other? In my neverending quest to make ATR the world's most boring blog, I will tackle this pressing issue right this minute and wrestle it to the ground.
Those who think terrorism is worse usually argue that killing the innocent is its very goal, whereas collateral-damage killing is just the unfortunate side-effect of a morally worthy action. But if philosophy has ever taught us anything, it is to watch out for bad-faith arguments. The danger here is that we are the ones inflicting most of the collateral damage these days, so might there not be a built-in bias in this conclusion meant to make us look good? In other words, is it self-serving to draw a categorical difference between terrorism and collateral damage since it can only benefit our side? Our intuition may see a moral firewall between the two. But is our intuition correct?
To answer this question, I wrote a little parable that tries (imperfectly) to strip the issue of its familiar moral background and, hence, of self-interest. My purpose here is not to define terrorism. I happen to believe that many US actions in Iraq (eg, Shock-and-Awe) fall squarely under the rubric of terrorism. But this is not the debate I wish to have in this post. And so I will let the other side (say, Fox News) define terrorism as they wish. In other words, I will make my task as difficult as possible by using the archetypical example of terrorism, ie, the bomb in the cafe. I will then show why the distinction with collateral damage is subtle and less intuitive than one might think.
Poison was dropped into the water supply and thousands of people became ill, some of them seriously. What to do? There is no antidote. Or maybe there is. That would be a mysterious vial sitting on Bob's desk in room B of the town's only hospital. Bob is a chemist who works for the company that dropped the poison. For reasons soon to be clarified, Bob has barricaded himself in room B while resisting all pleas to release the antidote. Room B is adjacent to room A via a locked door whose only key Bob keeps in his pocket. Room B has only one door and no windows. Room A has two doors: one to room B, which only Bob can open, and another to the outside. Bob's baby daughter Alice is sleeping in room A. Sadly, she suffers from a horrible ailment and to open the door to the outside even for a fraction of a second would release into the room an allergen that would kill her within a few seconds. Unless, that is, she is administered the vial on Bob's desk. This is not a cure. It's simply a way to keep Alice alive in case she inhales the allergen.
You must help your town. Here are two scenarios:
You have a gun: You walk into room A, shoot open the locked door to room B, and get the vial from Bob's desk. Meanwhile, Alice dies from the allergen. You walk away with the vial.
You don't have a gun: You barge into room A and wait. Upon hearing that an intruder got into Alice's room, an alarmed Bob unlocks the door to room A with the vial. As you expected, that takes too long and Alice dies before Bob can try to help her. You grab the vial from his hands and you leave.
Alice dies in both cases. It is assumed that you know everything about Alice's condition, the presence of the vial, the time needed to open the lock, etc. Your only uncertainty concerns the efficacy of the antidote. Before I go on, what's your intuition telling you? Which is morally worse, the armed operation or the unarmed one?
The two scenarios have much in common. In both cases, the only serious wrong is the death of Alice. In both cases, her death is necessary, ie, there is no other way to get the vial without causing her to die. In both cases, the death is premeditated, hence, by US law, murder and not manslaughter. In both cases, killing is not the goal (getting the vial is) but only a means to an end. Is there a difference? Yes. But it is subtle. When you have a gun, killing is necessary but not causal; in other words, the death of Alice is not the cause, partly or wholly, of the door's opening. It is only a necessary side-effect of its cause. (Note the absence of contingency.) In the unarmed case, the killing itself triggers the opening of the door and your access to the vial; therefore it is a full-fledged link in the causal chain of events that leads to your objective (saving your town).
Quite clearly, the armed operation is a case of collateral damage (you kill an innocent person in the course of achieving your aims: the death is predicted and inevitable) while the unarmed scenario is classical terrorism (you kill an innocent person to trigger a response that allows you to achieve your aims: the death is predicted and inevitable. You may assume it is not desired but only tolerated.)
Besides self-interest, there are two common reasons we tend to view terrorism more harshly, both of them erroneous. The first one is to think that collateral damage is a contingent event, ie, it does not need to happen. All of history proves this to be empirically false. The second error is to view terrorist killing as an end in itself. That again is historically false: when the political motivation of terrorists disappears, so does terrorism.
What do I think? I believe that terrorism is morally worse than collateral damage because of its unique alignment of causality and intentionality. However, the distinction is a philosophical subtlety. It is morally razor-thin. Kantian ethics would not recognize it. Neither would consequentialism (America's dominant moral doctrine). In secular philosophy, one could draw a distinction within the context of what's called "virtue ethics" but name anyone bloviating about terrorism who does that. Perhaps a theological argument could be made. But, by and large, I believe, the distinction is mostly a matter of bad faith. As is most of public discourse on foreign policy.
— Bernard Chazelle
July 15, 2009
A ferocious dispute between the CIA and congressional Democrats centers on an ultrasecret effort launched by agency officials after 9/11 to draw up plans to hunt down and kill terrorists using commando teams similar to those deployed by Israel after the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre, according to a former senior U.S. official.
Look, there's no place for namby-pamby "morality" in these situations. You do what works. And we know the Israeli policy worked, since Palestinians were so cowed by the assassinations in the seventies that Israel has never experienced any conflict with them since.
The real disappointment is these policies appear not to have been carried out. If they had, U.S. citizens could have enjoyed exactly the same daily sense of peace and security that Israelis have since 1972.
July 14, 2009
Thank God Our Bluggers Are Completely Different From Saddam Hussein
Back in 2007 I had a long and tedious exchange with Clinton administration apparatchik Michael Cohen. Among other things, he wondered why on earth Saddam Hussein prevented UNSCOM from inspecting Iraqi presidential palaces for a period of time. Here's what I said:
...two seconds after the UN resolutions on WMD were passed in 1991, the George H.W. Bush administration said it wanted to see Saddam overthrown whether Iraq disarmed or not. The Clinton administration repeatedly said it wanted Saddam overthrown. In 1998 Congress passed a law saying the policy of the US regarding Iraq was regime change. If Iran declared its policy toward the US was regime change, would Cohen find it absurd if the U.S. Secret Service sometimes blocked Iranian spies from wandering around the White House?
Here's what Saddam Hussein said in his FBI interrogation:
(Joke based on the hundreds of previous posts like this.)
Ho-Hum, Another U.S. Lie Crumbles To Dust
As you may remember, there turned out to be no evidence in Iraqi intelligence files about the supposed 1993 plot to kill George H.W. Bush:
Pentagon researchers found no documents that referred to a plan to kill Bush. The absence was conspicuous because researchers, aware of its potential significance, were looking for such evidence. "It was surprising," said one source familiar with the preparation of the report (who under Pentagon ground rules was not permitted to speak on the record). Given how much the Iraqis did document, "you would have thought there would have been some veiled reference to something about [the plot]."
Now we see that in the FBI's summary of its interrogation of Saddam, even the U.S. government itself refers to the assassination attempt as "alleged." You'll also notice Saddam didn't break down and confess:
You might think this would cause the DC establishment to consider whether everything they know is wrong. But you'd be wrong about that.
P.S. No one anywhere online has mentioned this aspect of the Saddam interrogation files.
July 13, 2009
David Swanson: "I've Seen 1,200 Torture Photos"
This moment, in which the Attorney General of the United States claims to be considering the possibility of allowing our laws against torture to be enforced seems a good one in which to reveal that I have seen over 1,200 torture photos and a dozen videos that are in the possession of the United States military. These are photographs depicting torture, the victims of torture, and other inhuman and degrading treatment. Several videos show a prisoner intentionally slamming his head face-first very hard into a metal door. Guards filmed this from several angles rather than stopping it.
The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) of Australia revealed several of these photographs, video of the head slamming, and video of prisoners forced to masturbate, as part of a news report broadcast in 2006. But the full collection has not been made available to the public or to a special prosecutor, although it was shown to members of Congress in 2004. When these photos are eventually made public, I encourage you to take a good look at them. After you get over feeling ill, it might be appropriate to consider Congress' past 5 years of inaction. You'll be able to feel sick all over again.
July 12, 2009
This is a column by Chris Hedges called "The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free":
The public is bombarded with carefully crafted images meant to confuse propaganda with ideology and knowledge with how we feel. Human rights and labor groups, investigative journalists, consumer watchdog organizations and advocacy agencies have, in the face of this manipulation, inundated the public sphere with reports and facts. But facts alone, Ewen says, make little difference. And as we search for alternative ways to communicate in a time of crisis we must also communicate in new forms...this style, one that turns the abstraction of fact into a human flesh and one that is not afraid of emotion and passion, which will permit us to counter the force of corporate propaganda...
We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty that have been blunted by the parameters of traditional journalism. The lines between artists, social activists and journalists have to be erased.
Speaking of which, here are two excellent pieces by the American News Project about the Fed's astonishing actions during the current meltdown. ANP does great work, and I commend them for taking on this subject—especially since it's covered nowhere else, including on progressive blurms.
Nevertheless, they're suffering from exactly the problem Hedges describes. To start with, what is the Fed? How does it work? Perhaps 900 people total in the U.S. could tell you. So for everyone else it's automatically like gossip about strangers—i.e., extremely boring.
And beyond that, they haven't yet let go of standard TV video style. Why can't ANP be funny? Why can't they write songs about the Fed featuring a zither and theremin? Why can't they set an effigy of Ben Bernanke on fire because they're personally angry about the Fed spending $1.3 trillion and then telling America: So you'd like to know what we bought? Well, fuck you!
Until they manage to do this, they won't be able to communicate with anyone normal.
July 11, 2009
More Cell Phone Pictures Of Food
After posting a low-quality picture of little tomatoes, I thought I should follow up with even lower-quality pictures of other food.
Here's some barely-discernible aloe vera, de-skinned with the translucent insides in a bowl:
Now here's just the insides and the bowl:
I wonder if there's anyone else who's had experience with eating aloe vera. I hope it's good for you, because it has the consistency of a bag of chilled mucus.
Not pictured: a quart of watermelon sorbet made from blending one giant watermelon with a cup of raisins and the juice from one lemon, then frozen.
July 09, 2009
Another Triumph For American Journalism
Back in March Phillip Swagel, who'd been Assistant Treasury Secretary under Hank Paulson, wrote a long article about the TARP bailout called "The Financial Crisis: An Inside View" (pdf).
Would you think it would be news if Swagel had stated that Paulson, Bernanke and Bush's attempts to foment panic to pass the bailout have "surely" contributed to the current recession? Because he did:
There were many factors at work to dampen consumer and business spending, including the weak and deteriorating job market and huge wealth losses in both housing and equity markets. And yet, the way in which the TARP was proposed and eventually enacted surely must have contributed to the lockup in spending. Having long known that Treasury could not obtain the authorities to act until the Secretary and Chairman could honestly state that the (economic and financial) world seemed to be ending, they went up and said just that, first in a private meeting with Congressional leaders and then several days later in testifying to the Congress on September 23 and 24. Americans might not have understood the precise channels by which credit markets would affect the real economy, but they finally realized that it was happening—and whether or not they agreed with the proposed response of buying assets with the TARP, they could plainly see that the U.S. political system appeared insufficient to the task of a considered response to the crisis. Surely these circumstances contributed to the economic downturn—though the extent is something that will be studied in the future.
Of course, this was obvious at the time. Back on September 26th, I (among many, many others) asked:
How have things turned out before when the President, Treasury Secretary, Federal Reserve Chairman, and a leading presidential contender all scream in public constantly about how we're on the verge of a giant financial meltdown? Really well, right?
In any case, there are no references to Swagel's statement anywhere online except in the original document.
Likewise, Swagel suggests the mid-September financial situation might have been dealt with without an immediate appropriations bill by Congress:
A counterfactual to consider is that the Treasury and Fed could have acted incrementally, with backstops and a flood of liquidity focused on money markets and commercial paper—but not the TARP.
That too has been mentioned nowhere online.
I Also Have A Dream
This is from Bob Harris's first book, published in 1999, called Steal This Book and Get Life Without Parole:
One time in Pasadena I sat next to George Will at a TV critics' convention dinner. While waiting for the salad to arrive, George dove into a discussion of Ebonics by reciting a bit of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in a parody Ebonics accent.
If anyone has tape of this, I am prepared to offer you a great deal of money for a copy. I don't even need to buy the rights to show it in public—it would be worth it just for my own private viewing experience.
These orange cherry tomatoes, bought at a little stand at the side of the road and still warm from sitting in the sun, have ruined me for all other tomatoes. In fact, they may have ruined me for all other experiences of any kind.
July 08, 2009
Classic Interviews: "What's With the Burqa?" - Part II
By: Bernard Chazelle
I am back with myself to resume this fascinating interview of me.
You said the burqa was repugnant but France should relax. Isn't that a contradiction?
The burqa is so absurd in a French context it's evolutionarily doomed. It can't last. When freedom is accessible, you access it. Unlike in Afghanistan, where women have no option, burqa-clad women in France will constantly be reminded of the huge sacrifices they are making. That's unsustainable. Simple laws of anthropology tell you the burqa will be gone within a generation. Unless there is a law banning it, of course. Then it might take 2 generations. Right now, it's a fad that betrays a deeper social ill that needs to be diagnosed and addressed. The burqa is the symptom of a disease. Fight the disease, not the symptom.
You said the burqa is not Muslim, but only Muslims wear it, so aren't you, whether you like it or not, dissing the Muslims?
I am. But Westerners shouldn't be too smug. They have their own "burqas." The miniskirt, for example, is called by some a sign of female liberation. But is it really? A woman with a miniskirt cannot, for a second, forget what she is wearing (in every move she makes). What's liberating about that? Bourdieu compared it to the "soutane," the clerical cassock designed to remind the priest constantly of his "calling." Westerners are awfully good at patting themselves on the back: everything they invent is empowering and liberating. A closer look shows a different picture. We have our own mini "burqas" everywhere. Young girls growing up in our culture, in particular, suffer tremendous pressure (much more than boys), much of it commercially driven, to conform to canonical standards. And if you deviate epsilon from the norm then you're made to feel like dirt. The magazine Seventeen is every bit as much an agent of "freedom" as the burqa.
You seem to agree with American liberals that no law should ban the burqa. But many of them go further than you and insist that, as multiculturalists, it's not up to them to pick and choose which cultural norms to like or dislike.
Oh, really? I went to Yale only 8 years after the first women were admitted to the college. I don't recall feminists arguing that Yale's 300-year old white protestant tradition of male exclusivity deserved respect as a cultural norm. What I heard was "To hell with that cultural norm." And to the argument that Yale's policy was hurtful to women outside Yale, I'll say that wearing the burqa is hurtful to all women, since it demonstrates the hypothesis that women are publicly dispensable. So let's decrypt this. Elite "multiculturalists" are awfully good at respecting cultural norms that negatively affect the unwashed masses. But when it affects their own power, hear them scream bloody murder. They'll say "Who am I to tell them that the burqa is a bad tradition?" But then who are you to tell Yale to go co-ed? If you're going to do one, then do both. To me, allowing poor women in the ghetto to acquire a measure of agency and mastery (both of them denied by the burqa) is every bit as worthy a goal as allowing Hillary to run for president. I believe in both. But when I hear a "multiculturalist" argument why we shouldn't worry about the burqa, then I suspect that class self-interest is at work, and I am rarely disappointed.
This is from someone named Jill on a blog called "Feministe." About the burqa, she writes:
Empowering women doesn’t come from limiting what women can and cannot wear in public. It comes in part from giving women — all women — wide access to the public sphere.
But to deny women access to the public sphere is the very purpose of the burqa. So, Jill is really saying:
Empowering women doesn’t come from denying them the possibility of being denied wide access to the public sphere. It comes in part from giving women — all women — wide access to the public sphere.
See if you can make any sense of that statement. What I see is class interest disguised as cosmopolitan humanism.
You mentioned something philosophically unique about the burqa. What's that?
The burqa is fascinating because in some weird way it confers upon the woman who wears it an unfair advantage. Let's start at the beginning. In the public sphere, your freedom is constrained only by your obligation not to impinge on the freedom of others. Actually there's more to it. There's the requirement of fair exchange. I should pay for what I buy. I should say hello back if you say hello to me. It's not just politeness. Not replying is itself a reply, like a silent "get lost." In fact the word hello is not traded for semantics ('hello' means nothing); It's the tone that's being traded, for it alone conveys the meaning sought, ie, all is well or something's wrong, etc. That plus the facial expressions, which say even more than the tone and certainly the word. Perhaps you know the anthropology of hand shaking? You extend your hand to show you are not carrying a weapon. So if I extend, say, my foot back, and not my hand, I am cheating you in that transaction. Like in a game of poker. Social life is full of the expectation of such "fair" normative exchanges. All these meaningless hellos translate signs into value. Fairness, and even symmetry, are essential because only reciprocity gives meaning to these signs. Unlike say, orders. If I shout to you "get lost," I don't want to hear back from you. But when I smile, I want a smile back. Symmetry is a requirement.
The burqa violates all that. Good-bye fairness and symmetry. It's like cheating at poker. The woman now holds an unfair advantage. She can see me, so she can tell if I am happy, sad, tired, etc. But I have no idea about her emotions. Her visible invisibility breaks the "rules of the road." A philosopher might say: But what if she covered her eyes to be blind? Then, indeed, symmetry would be restored and that would be ok. She'd be merely eccentric, and one should claim for anyone the right to be eccentric. But the burqa goes beyond eccentricity. It breaks a fundamental equilibrium of the public sphere. And, crucially, its only possible resolution is to erase the woman altogether. She no longer exists. Some people have compared the burqa-clad women to partygoers wearing masks. That's a faulty analogy because there everyone wears a mask: the invisibility is mutual. It's the one-way invisibility that makes the burqa special.
This philosophical point is just that: philosophical. It has no bearing on the politics of the issue. But it forces us to reexamine our assumptions about social life. The burqa-clad woman, in essence, privatizes the common space. We all do that to some extent. Sometimes I walk around town in my own little bubble, paying no attention to my surroundings. But I don't hide myself. Suppose all women hid themselves. Then men would not only dominate social life but they would define the very meaning of that concept. Women, as social beings in the public space, would disappear. To privatize public space and deny the expectation of fair exchange comes at a high price. It is a serious affront on human dignity and, simply, unacceptable. But, patience, the burqa will go away on its own. No need to panic.
Thanks, that's a wrap.
— Bernard Chazelle
July 07, 2009
Classic Interviews: "What's With the Burqa?" - Part I
By: Bernard Chazelle
President Sarkozy said he didn't "welcome the burqa" in France. A congressional committee is investigating the matter. It wouldn't be the first time such a bill is proposed and fails. I interviewed myself about this pressing issue. Here's a rough transcript.
Is Sarkozy playing politics?
The socialists came to power in France by "creating" the extreme right. Kaiser Sarkoko's electoral success is premised on co-opting the nativists. France has serious issues to deal with: the growing trend of a few thousand burqa fashionistas is not one of them.
Do you favor a law banning the burqa?
No. If it could be proven that wearing the burqa was always coerced, then a ban would be mandatory. But that's plainly not the case.
Are you against a ban because it's a religious symbol?
It's not a religious symbol. The hijab is religious. The burqa is not. It predates Islam. Not that it matters to me. I don't grant religion any special protection. I oppose a ban because the attack on freedom would overwhelm any potential (dubious) benefits. Simply put, it's none of the government's business to tell people what (not) to wear.
Sorry to digress, but does that mean you oppose the 2004 French law against "conspicuous religious symbols" in public schools?
No. It's a silly law. But it's basically fine. It's a completely different issue though. The problem with the hijab is entirely a religious one. The notion of keeping religion out of public schools might seem a bizarre abstract French fixation, but I could go on and on about its benefits (hint: France assimilated more immigrants than any country in Europe, it emancipated the Jews way before anyone else, etc; yes it's all got to do with the anti-religious stand of French public schools).
So you're saying the burqa is bad for women?
Yes. Many things are bad for women: spousal abuse; sexual violence; job discrimination; Seventeen; Maureen Dowd; etc. The burqa is bad for women and for society. Bad for women because it condemns them to a life at the bottom of the social ladder, with no voice and no power. Women are erased from the public sphere. They are socially negated. It's bad for society because it teaches children that it's normatively fine for women to be invisible and voiceless, with nothing remotely equivalent for men.
So you keep it legal but you call it repugnant?
Precisely. Like prostitution: it should be legal but discouraged. Same with pot and cigarettes: Legalize them but advise people to stay away from them. Also, note that I call it repugnant in France because I am French. As such, I am entitled to a certain vision of France. But I am not entitled to a certain vision of Afghanistan, so I have no right to barge into that country and lecture the natives about the errors of their ways.
Some say women should be free to do whatever they want. Do you agree?
Yes, I do. Women should be free to become poets, doctors, or presidents. They should be free to give sex for money or jump off high cliffs, too. They should be free to wear the burqa. My point is that granting freedom does not mean granting approval. Not to mention that the case for freedom can be dodgy. Many Iraqi female refugees in Lebanon have "freely chosen" to become prostitutes. But it takes a Cato Institute intern to call that freedom. This callous and callow fixation on negative freedoms in America is also a liberal disease we can talk about later if you want. It is well known that if you keep telling certain groups they're inferior they might end up "freely" believing it. Polls have shown that many women in Saudi Arabia, for example, "freely" believe they're genetically unfit to drive a car. So even if they were free to drive, many of them (not all of course) would "freely" choose not to drive. What kind of freedom is that?
Michelle Goldberg says that most burqa-clad women do not feel oppressed. Could well be. So what? The oppressed learn to adjust to their oppression just to survive. It's amazing and sad to hear a young woman make that argument. Throughout history, most women denied an education and forced to devote their lives to the service of others didn't call themselves oppressed. Does that mean they were not and all was well. No. The burqa keeps the woman inferior. It defines her entirely (the irony) as a sexual object. But we can talk about the freedom not to be free later, if you want. All I am saying is: I don't deny your freedom to imprison yourself. But I disapprove of it.
But by telling burqa-clad women they're not welcome, aren't you victimizing them twice?
Of course, they are welcome. Burqa-clad women deserve respect and compassion. Many of them are simply rebelling against an oppressive environment and the burqa is a fashion statement. Think of hip hop artists wearing baggy jeans (which were originally prison garb). One must tread with care and help women find better ways of rebelling. In France the way to do it is to take to the streets, kidnap CEOs, destroy GM crops, call for general strikes, and generally scare the living daylights out of the government. That's how you do it. You don't wear burqas and hide in silence. The burqa-clad woman has no public voice. The truth is, the elites would love it if all the underclass could be wearing burqas and be voiceless. The burqa is the wet dream of the powerful.
Are these women oppressed by their families?
Who is not? There is a big French v/ Anglo-American divide here it is important to understand. For the French left, historically, the two most oppressive institutions have been the church and the family. Only later in the 19th century, the corporation was added to that evil group. Note who's not on the list. Yes, the state. The French turn to the state to save them from church/family/corporation. The French revolution was the victory of the state over the church and the family (the nobility incarnating the last 2). In the US, the ordering is exactly reversed: the state is the enemy, but church/family/corporations are your friend. The French don't grasp that concept. You can't understand what's going about the hijab and the burqa in France if you don't get that. The hijab battle is to keep "church" out of the state; the burqa snafu is to keep the "oppressive family" out of public life. Andre Gide's famous cri du coeur "Familles, je vous hais" ("families, I hate you") is probably incomprehensible to Americans. But the notion of the nuclear family as a totalitarian unit resonates deeply in France. True or not, behind every burqa lies a tyrannical parent. That's how it's perceived anyway.
Does the sexism bother you?
You mean the standard argument that the burqa is there to protect women from predatory men? Have you noticed this miraculous coincidence that in all these ancient cultures the guys never have any constraints imposed on them whatsoever. It's always the women who are anointed with the sacred task of upholding the cultural norms of purity. Lucky them! Women are always the holy guardians of purity. The "sexual protection" argument in favor of the burqa prompted this outburst from a woman on French TV: "If men cannot contain their sexual urges, they should not ask women to cover up: they should cut off their balls!" Past the initial squirm, I'm with the angry lady.
On this poetic note, perhaps we should stop. In our next segment, I'll ask you why you think the burqa is much ado about nothing, why the problem will go away on its own and everyone should take a deep breath, why American multiculturalism is the last refuge of the privileged class, and why the burqa raises a very very very [inaudible] fascinating philosophical question.
— Bernard Chazelle
July 05, 2009
"A Plan to End the Wars" by David Swanson
There are a million and one things that people can do to try to end the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and to prevent new ones in Iran and elsewhere, as well as to close U.S. military bases in dozens of other nations around the world. Certain people are skilled at or interested in particular approaches, and nobody should be discouraged from contributing to the effort in their preferred ways. Far too often proposals to work for peace are needlessly framed as attacks on all strategies except one. But where new energy can be created or existing resources redirected, it is important that they go where most likely to succeed.
In my analysis, we should be focusing on three things, which for purposes of brevity and alliteration I will call: Communications, Congress, and Counter recruitment / resistance. Communications encompasses all public discussion of the wars and impacts all other approaches, including targets I consider far less likely to be influenced by us than Congress, such as the president, generals, the heads of weapons companies, the heads of media companies, the people of Afghanistan, your racist neighbor, etc. If our communications strategy can change the behavior of any of these targets, terrific! We should be prepared to take advantage of such opportunities should they arise. But the first place we are likely to be able to leverage successful communications will be the House of Representatives. Counter-recruitment / resistance is another area that overlaps with communications but involves much else as well, and it is a strategy that we continue to underestimate.
Tell The Crappy Media To Stop Ignoring Single-Payer
Who would have guessed the corporate media would completely ignore the simplest solution to the health-care crisis? Just because it would massively reduce the profits of big corporations?
Yet shockingly enough, that's just what's been happening. Help Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting to tell them to stop:
Michael Palin On Laughing At The People In Charge
This is Michael Palin talking on the commentary track of Life of Brian. He's describing the scene at the end when the huge crowd of people ends up laughing at Pontius Pilate:
PALIN: This was an interesting scene because I had this whole big crowd out there. I tell you it's very very strange to be up there. You feel superior to everybody, literally because you're up above them, but also because you're surrounded by the army, you've got the best costume, you've got the lead role. And once people start laughing, you do get—it is a brilliant form of subversion. And it's something I think modern revolutionaries should remember. If you can make fun of somebody, it's often very much better and far more effective than shooting them or making a martyr of them. And that's what works so well here. And it was really very very unsettling to play Pilate to this lot, and find them in end literally rolling over, in huge numbers of people just jeering at you. There's nothing more guaranteed to put you back in your place. And there's nothing you can do against it, really. I suppose you can kill people for laughing, but...
July 04, 2009
"The Other Side" and Rockin' Franken
By: Bernard Chazelle
Aerosmith's "The Other Side" is an all-time great rock tune. It's got the 3 essential nutrients of rock: between 3 and 5 chords; a hard-driving rhythm; and the energy of a freight train. As the great rock critic Rabbi Hillel said, the rest is commentary.
If Steven Tyler tries so hard to look like Mick Jagger (of course, not as hard as the US senator from Minnesota), it's because he knows that the Rolling Stones are the greatest American rock band that never was.
— Bernard Chazelle
July 02, 2009
Saddam And Goldman Sachs: Who Is The Student, And Who Is The Master?
When Matt Taibbi was writing a recent article about Goldman Sachs over the past seventy years, he asked them some basic factual questions. Here's how they responded:
Your questions are couched in such a way that presupposes the conclusions and suggests the people you spoke with have an agenda or do not fully understand the issues.
In 2004, the FBI made Saddam Hussein watch a documentary about the brutal repression of the post-Gulf War Iraqi rebellion against him. Then they asked him some basic factual questions about it. Here's how he responded: (pdfs)
Hussein opined that a documentary such as this...is not a neutral film produced by neutral individuals...
Hussein said it was "beneath him" to comment about this documentary. Hussein characterized the film as not being objective and that it was made as further justification for "what was being done against Iraq"...
Hussein stated that an accused individual should be able to defend himself...He affirmed that he would not comment on such propaganda films.
The funniest part is, you could legitimately argue that Goldman Sachs has killed more people than Saddam.
July 01, 2009
Madoff, the Convenient Villain
By: Bernard Chazelle
The scam artist formerly known as Bernie Madoff, who now goes by the name of "Hitler-to-the-Googleth-Power," got an earful yesterday:
"A low life";
"I only hope that he lives long enough that his jail cell becomes his coffin."
"Do the right thing: Jump!"
Geez, you'd think they were talking about Dick Cheney or someone with the blood of thousands of children on their hands.
Judge Chin sentenced the 71-year old man to 150 years in jail. That means he'll be free in the year 2159, at which point the descendents of his victims will be legally allowed to piss on his grave until (I quote) "Jupiter and Saturn collide in a giant ball of fire." I don't mean to belittle the hurt of the small investors who've been ruined by our new Hitler. Many did not deserve that.
But then many did. Many of them knew it was a pyramid scheme but trusted Madoff to protect them by finding another bunch of suckers to tile the ground floor of the pyramid (the only place where you get hurt). But, honestly, Judge Chin, how can a man who ruined John Malkovitch be really bad?
Don't get me wrong: I am not asking my old pal Pope Benedict to expedite Madoff's elevation to sainthood. (If the world needs a new Saint Bernard, I am here to serve.) But Wall Street is full of villains who've caused worse harm than Madoff. Some of them even work for our beloved president. So where did Madoff go wrong? Simple. He forgot to bribe Schumer to change the laws and make whatever the hell it is that he was doing legal. Bob Rubin and Larry Summers understand that well. That's why the media calls them "geniuses" and Madoff "Hitler to the Googleth Power."
Also, dunno about you, but I don't much like the idea of an old man dying in a prison cell.
— Bernard Chazelle
Get This Man A Column In The Washington Post
Richard Cohen on going to high school with Bernie Madoff:
Others in my class did not say goodbye to Bernie until it was too late. Through Ruth, they invested with him -- modest amounts, a share of profits from a humble summer resort, the savings of a schoolteacher...
Now their money, their life's savings, is all gone. Oddly enough, they are still better off than some of Bernie's richest investors. My friend Ted has his New York City teacher's pension, while the very rich, who put all their retirement funds with Bernie, have been utterly wiped out. I feel sorry for them. I identify with them. They were not, as is sometimes written, greedy. The stock market was a mystery. It seemed to defy logic. They let Bernie deal with it. I would have done the same.
It's crucial that Washington Post columnists be credulous idiots who know that understanding financial basics is beyond their mental capability, and hence they should trust whoever has lots of money. Thank god Katherine Graham found someone who fits the profile so perfectly. Otherwise readers of the Post might learn something about how the world works, and that must be prevented at all costs.
Previously in Richard Cohen's flickering consciousness:
You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know -- never mind want to know -- how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later -- or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator.