Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Flirting With The Abyss No More: Good Riddance & Good Night...

"Let’s be honest—this new millennium, so far it’s been a huge disappointment. It was preceded by a false alarm (the Y2K rollover), was cursed by hanging chads (the Florida recount), and has been held hostage ever since by the ministry of fear, with Americans meekly removing their shoes for the privilege of flying in airplanes charging fees for pillows and blankets. It’s been seven years since 9/11, no follow-up attack has stabbed our shores, and yet the front pages of so many papers resemble the end is near signs toted by bearded prophets that were once a staple of New Yorker cartoons. The decade has traveled from bin Laden’s cave to the Dark Knight’s Batcave in a jagged thrust of clenched force and unleashed chaos. Even an unforeseen blossom of good news, such as the declining death toll in Iraq, seems almost incidental in the log stream of general lousiness.

Journalism used to perform a higher civic function than it does today, so spanked up is it with gaffes, gotchas, spin-doctoring, celebrity pimping,crisis-mongering, minnow-brained punditry, drama criticism practiced from under the troll bridge (usually at the expense of Democrats—Al Gore’s sighings during the debate with George Bush, Hillary Clinton’s “cackle”), and instant amnesia.

To watch archive footage of TV reporters from the black-and-white era with their measured intonations and ashen visages—before everybody burst into Michael Kors orange—is to crack open the crypt on a more responsible, somber, and, yes, duller era, when journalists still conducted themselves as a priestly caste serving the needs of an informed citizenry, as opposed to catering to cud-chewing dolts. Those days are gone and there’s no point in mourning them, the Walter Lippmanns and similar wise men (and women) having proved worse than useless when the Vietnam War sawed the country into two with its lies and delusions. But the intelligent drone of old-school journalism served to extend a support bridge through national trauma, the term “anchorman” symbolic of the media’s role in securing coverage of the news with weight and authority, a fixed point in a sea of raging foam. Now it’s all raging foam, a steady, indiscriminate diet of excitation to keep us permanently on edge.

To pick up The New York Times each morning and brave the headlines—at conference on the risks to earth, few are optimistic, August 24, 2008—is to understand why generalized anxiety disorder is the world’s No. 1 psychological condition. Even more anxiety-inducing are the paper’s science pages, which make you want to roll out of bed in a fetal ball, especially the medical coverage, the happy hunting grounds for hypochondriacs, with Jane E. Brody digging up the latest rare disease about to hit it big, and bummer case studies such as that of the elderly patient with spontaneous gas gangrene left to deal with her own mortal fright: “She never made it to the operating room, and as far as I know, none of her doctors discussed her imminent death, then simply sat with her.”

I blame Bush. I blame Bush for everything and will continue to blame him (and Vice President Dick Cheney) for everything long after we’re all dead...The two terms of George W. Bush’s presidency have been not simply a psychological bringdown but a steady beatdown. The malaise that President Jimmy Carter supposedly diagnosed as our national condition in 1979—though Carter never used the actual word—is nothing compared with the slough of despond Cheney seems to have dug with his shovel jaw in service of the National Security State and to the detriment of everything else. Even as the Decider eyes the exits, his administration pulls stunts such as attempting to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act and to lift the ban on offshore drilling, as if to get in one last twist of the knife before Bush waves buh-bye as he boards the helicopter into the azure, unless it’s raining. It will be one of the un-nicer ironies of modern American history that a president who prided himself on his crispy optimism should depart office having dyed the electorate a pervasive shade of blue. Not Democratic blue (though maybe that too), but the blue of futility, frustration, and worry, as reflected in the right-track/wrong-track numbers. (In a USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted between August 21 and 23, 81 percent of those participating described themselves as “dissatisfied” with the direction in which the country was lurching. Not only is Bush the Decider—he’s also the Dissatisfier.)

“The centre cannot hold,” to quote the oft quoted line from W. B. Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” and when the center cannot hold, the chickens run around in circles. everything seemingly is spinning out of control, bemoaned the headline of a June 21 Associated Press article by Alan Fram and Eileen Putman, which proposed that the American can-do spirit was being flattened by chunks of falling sky. “Horatio Alger, twist in your grave,” Fram and Putman wrote. “The can-do, bootstrap approach embedded in the American psyche is under assault. Eroding it is a dour powerlessness that is chipping away at the country’s sturdy conviction that destiny can be commanded with sheer courage and perseverance.”

Our true grit has succumbed to dry rot and tofu. Once a virile nation capable of building the Panama Canal and landing on the moon, now look at us: pathetic.

The world’s flirting with the abyss isn’t going to produce a picnic for anybody, should such a consummation occur, but I reckon mankind is responsible for its own ruination. Al Gore tried to warn us about the polar ice caps, but the Rush Limbaughs of this world chose to maintain a carbon footprint bigger than King Kong’s. If humanity remains hell-bent on despoiling its mother planet and rendering it unlivable through our insatiable demand for more of everything (israel’s demand for water is draining the sea of galilee —Financial Times, August 23–24, 2008), bringing down the curtain on a civilization that gave us Socrates, Shakespeare, and Shakira’s vibrating hips, so be it. It’s been a good run—shame it had to end so shabbily. Maybe our Martian colony will survive. We must stay stoic in the stark face of our collective demise, even as we’re blubbering.

I find insupportable the prospect that the animal kingdom will precede us into extinction, the innocent victims of our selfish stupidity and vicious folly—an endless parade of drowning polar bears, slaughtered wolves, slain gorillas, vanishing tigers, and diminishing songbirds joining the fate of the last great auk. It is particularly unforgivable given the research showing that monkeys, for example, are capable of charity and empathy, which is more than can be said of Bill O’Reilly between feedings. We will pamper our pets, spending billions on their comfort and welfare, while witnessing a slow, irrevocable die-off of wild animals as their remaining habitat is destroyed through deforestation, poaching, global warming, and one last mad shotgun spree by Dick Cheney in deer-hunter camo before his bionic heart gives (with vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin ready to step into his boots and fell any caribou suspected of treason).

More and more, telecast news reminds me of the constant cycle of pharmaceutical ads on cable TV for prescription drugs to address bladder control, herpes outbreaks, depression, erectile dysfunction, anxiety disorder, allergies, high cholesterol, fibroneuralgia, and Alzheimer’s, planting nervous seeds in your head until you start patting yourself down for symptoms, unable to pee with the usual carefree abandon. Part of the genius of Barack Obama’s campaign logo is that it englobes the sun, blue sky, the flag, and the O of his name (a circle within a circle) into what resembles a happy pill. Pop it in your mouth and feel the radiance expand within, the windows of your mind opening onto a wonderland. Anyone can preach hope, but to pictorialize it in capsule form—that was the coup. His campaign understood what its political rivals didn’t: the antidote to bad news isn’t good news, but a good feeling that turns bad news into background noise.

Forget the 2004 election, a protracted hangover from 2000. This is the first real millennial ballot, the first real chance to put this bad dream behind us, or keep the bad dream going, under new management."

-James Wolcott,("The News Blues," Vanity Fair Magazine, 12.2008. Image: -BrokenStairway, "Enjoying Life", deviantart.com, 3. 3.07).

VIOLETPLANET SAYS: "Here's to a better future beginning in 2009... Earth. Thanks for putting up with all the abuse. Those who perpetrated these crimes await your punishment. No mercy required."

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Salesmen: Smash The Mirror & Face The Truth...

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.' -Harold Pinter (1958).

"I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavor. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realizing that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognized as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favored method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimeter and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man."

-Harold Pinter (Excerpt: Nobel Lecture, "Art, Truth and Politics," Swedish Academy, Stockholm, 12. 7. 2005. Image: -Henry Wolf, Poster for the documentary, "Salesman" directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, 1968 ).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Art Of The Highest Form: What It Is To Be Human, I Learned From A Wolf...

"The idea that when humans are at their worst they behave like wolves has been around a long time. Hobbes used the Latin tag homo homini lupus - man is a wolf to man - to illustrate his belief that unless they are restrained by government, people prey upon one another ruthlessly, while descriptions of rapacious or amoral behavior as wolfish can be found throughout literature.

The notion that evil is the expression of bestial instincts is deeply ingrained, and for the average philosopher as for the average person there is nothing more bestial than the wolf. More generally, a belief in the innate superiority of humans over other animals is part of the Western tradition. Christians tell us that only humans have souls, and though they speak in a different language secular thinkers mostly believe much the same. There are innumerable secular rationalists who, while congratulating themselves on their skepticism, never doubt that the universe is improved by the presence in it of humans like themselves.

The Philosopher and the Wolf is a powerfully subversive critique of the unexamined assumptions that shape the way most philosophers - along with most people - think about animals and themselves. When Rowlands bought a wolf cub for $500, and lived with it for eleven years, he ended up writing: 'Much of what I learned, about how to live and how to conduct myself, I learned during those eleven years. Much of what I know about life and its meaning I learned from him. What it is to be human: I learned this from a wolf.'

A part of Rowlands's life with Brenin was sheer delight: 'The wolf is art of the highest form and you cannot be in its presence without this lifting your spirits.' Beyond its beauty, though, the wolf taught the philosopher something about the meaning of happiness. Humans tend to think of their lives as progressing towards some kind of eventual fulfillment; when this is not forthcoming they seek satisfaction or distraction in anything that is new or different. This human search for happiness is 'regressive and futile', for each valuable moment slips away in the pursuit of others and they are all swallowed up by death. In contrast, living without the sense of time as a line pointing to an end-point, wolves find happiness in the repetition of fulfilling moments, each complete and self-contained. As a result, as Rowlands shows in a moving account of his last year with Brenin, they can flourish in the face of painful illness and encroaching death.

The bond that Rowlands formed with Brenin was based on the fact that the wolf had emotions in common with the philosopher, such as courage, affection and delight in play. At the same time, Rowlands seems clearly to have been drawn to the wolf because of its profound differences from humans. In evolutionary terms humans belong in the ape family, and if apes are intellectually superior to other animals it is because of their highly developed social intelligence. Some of the most valuable features of human life - science and the arts, for example - are only possible because of this intelligence. But it is also this type of intelligence that enables apes - some kinds of ape, at any rate - to engage in forms of behavior that, when more fully developed, embody types of malignancy that are pre-eminently human. As Rowlands puts it:

"When we talk about the superior intelligence of apes, we should bear in mind the terms of this comparison: apes are more intelligent than wolves because, ultimately, they are better schemers and deceivers than wolves.' The ability to scheme and deceive requires a capacity to enter the minds of others, which other animals seem not to possess in anything like the same degree. But the human capacity for empathy brings something new into the world - a kind of malice aforethought, a delight in the pain of others that aims to reduce them to the condition of powerless victims. If the philosopher loved the wolf, it was because while it could kill without emotion it lacked this distinctively human trait.
"

Among other things The Philosopher and the Wolf is a series of unsentimental reflections on human evil. Rowlands does not think of evil in simple terms, as mere Schadenfreude - it is far more complicated than that. But neither does he share the rationalist delusion that evil is a kind of error, which can be removed from human life by better knowledge and improved understanding. On the contrary, unfashionably but to my mind rightly, Rowlands accepts that evil is part of human nature, which can be moderated but never eradicated.

Mark Rowlands tells us he has long pondered the claim, often advanced as an objection to his life with Brenin, that wolves have no place in civilized society, and has finally concluded that it's true. The reason is not that Brenin was too dangerous to be allowed in civilised company. Rather, it is that 'he was nowhere near dangerous, and nowhere near unpleasant, enough. Civilization, I think, is possible only for deeply unpleasant animals.' I would put the point rather differently. Civilization is a way of coping with what that supremely great twentieth-century poet Wallace Stevens called 'the unalterable necessity of being this unalterable animal'. The dark side of the human animal is not wolf-like; it is ape-like, and at its worst peculiarly human. In other words, civilization is a defense erected by humanity not against bestiality, but against itself."

-John Gray (Excerpt: "The Nature Of The Beast," Book Review: The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness by Mark Rowlands", Literary Review, 12.2008. Image: -Gage,"The Founders Of Rome, Romulus and Remus, Nursed By The Wolf-Goddess Lupa," Picasa Web, 1.31.2008).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Muntader al-Zaider: Mightier Than The Bomb...If The Shoe Fits, Throw It...

PART I: DELUSIONAL DENIAL

KARL:
In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?

CHENEY: I don't.....On the question of so-called torture, we don't do torture. We never have. It's not something that this administration subscribes to. Again, we proceeded very cautiously. We checked. We had the Justice Department issue the requisite opinions in order to know where the bright lines were that you could not cross.

...The professionals involved in that program were very, very cautious, very careful -- wouldn't do anything without making certain it was authorized and that it was legal. And any suggestion to the contrary is just wrong. Did it produce the desired results? I think it did. And I think those who allege that we've been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don't know what they're talking about.

KARL: Did you authorize the tactics (dogs, stress positions, sleep deprivation, humiliation) that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?... And on KSM, one of those tactics, of course, widely reported was waterboarding. And that seems to be a tactic we no longer use. Even that you think was appropriate?

CHENEY: I do...

...I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.

KARL: You probably saw Karl Rove last week said that if the intelligence had been correct we probably would not have gone to war.

CHENEY: I disagree with that. I think – as I look at the intelligence with respect to Iraq, what they got wrong was that there weren't any stockpiles. What we found in the after action reports, after the intelligence report was done and then various special groups went and looked at the intelligence and what its validity was. What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stocks. - Jonathan Karl (Excerpt: Transcript: "Cheney Defends Hard Line Tactics In Exclusive Interview With ABC News, Vice President Dick Cheney Opens Up About His Hard Line Tactics," 12.16.2008).

PART II: THE TRUTH

"The U.S. should assert its military dominance over the world to shape “the international security order in line with American principles and interests,” push for “regime change” in Iraq and China, among other countries, and “fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars….While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” - (“Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” The Project for the New American Century [members include Cheney and Rumsfeld], 9.2000).

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
- Vice President Dick Cheney, ( Selling The Iraq Invasion, Speech to VFW National Convention, 8.26.2002).

RUSSERT: What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?

CHENEY: Well, I think I’ve just given it, Tim, in terms of the combination of his development and use of chemical weapons, his development of biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons.

RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?

CHENEY: I disagree, yes...

We believe [Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. - Vice President Dick Cheney (Excerpts: Selling The Invasion on "NBC's Meet the Press," 3.16.2003)

PART III: YOU CAN ALWAYS TELL A MAN BY HIS SHOES:


"Muntader al-Zaidi who remained in custody Monday, provided a rare moment of unity in a region often at odds with itself. Glee, even if thinly veiled, could be discerned in much of the reporting, especially in places where anti-American sentiment runs deepest.

In Syria, Mr. Zaidi’s picture was shown all day on state television, with Syrians calling in to share their admiration for his gesture and his bravery. In central Damascus, a huge banner hung over a street, reading, “Oh, heroic journalist, thank you so much for what you have done.”

Mr. Zaidi’s hero status continued to grow on Monday. In Damascus, a 34-year-old shop owner, who gave his name only as Muhammad, said he was on his way to celebrate the shoe-throwing incident with friends."

“This is like a holiday. This is just what we needed for revenge.”

-Timothy Williams & Abeer Mohammed (Part III, Excerpt: "In Iraqi’s Shoe-Hurling Protest, Arabs Find a Hero - It’s Not Bush," NY Times, 12.15.2008. Image: - Ivan Anic, Muntader al-Zaider - "Mightier Than The Bomb," IvansArmy.Com , 12.16.2008 ).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Donald Rumsfeld: The Executioner...With Near-Perfect Clarity...

"Clarity! I think what you'll find,
I think what you'll find is,
Whatever it is we do substantively,
There will be near-perfect clarity
As to what it is.
And it will be known,
And it will be known to the Congress,
And it will be known to you,
Probably before we decide it,
But it will be known."

-Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld (Comments at a Department of Defense Briefing, 3.28.03).

"Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry Into The Treatment Of Detainees In U.S.Custody"

Excerpts:

"(U) Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are taught to expect Americans to abuse them. They are recruited based on false propaganda that says the United States is out to destroy Islam. Treating detainees harshly only reinforces that distorted view, increases resistance to cooperation, and creates new enemies. In fact, the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States” cited “pervasive anti U.S. sentiment among most Muslims” as an underlying factor fueling the spread of the global jihadist movement. Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”

(U) The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority. This report is a product of the Committee’s inquiry into how those unfortunate results came about

A. Conclusions on GTMO’s Request for Aggressive Techniques:

Conclusion 13: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Secretary Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 approval of Mr. Haynes’s recommendation that most of the techniques contained in GTMO’s October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, water boarding in Afghanistan and Iraq.

B. Conclusions on Interrogations in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Conclusion 15: Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force (TF) interrogation policies were influenced by the Secretary of Defense’s December 2, 2002 approval of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at GTMO. SMU TF interrogation policies in Iraq included the use of aggressive interrogation techniques such as military working dogs and stress positions. SMU TF policies were a direct cause of detainee abuse and influenced interrogation policies at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.

Conclusion 19: The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely."

-Report Released by Senators. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) & John McCain (R-Ariz.) 12.12.2008. Image: Illustration - "Prison Life in America Showing the "Trapeze", Torture Of Hanging By The Thumbs". Life Magazine, 1871).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The PSY OPS Evening News With Your Host...

The U.S. general commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan has ordered a merger of the office that releases NEWS with PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS (PSY OPS) which deals with propaganda, a move that goes against the alliance's policy, three officials said. The move has worried Washington's European NATO allies -- Germany has already threatened to pull out of media operations in Afghanistan--and the officials said it could undermine the credibility of information released to the public.

Seven years into the war against the Taliban, insurgent influence is spreading closer to the capital and Afghans are becoming increasingly disenchanted at the presence of some 65,000 foreign troops and the government of President Hamid Karzai. Taliban militants, through their website, telephone text messages and frequent calls to reporters, are also gaining ground in the information war, analysts say.

U.S. General David McKiernan, the commander of 50,000 troops from more than 40 nations in NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ordered the combination of the Public Affairs Office (PAO), Information Operations and Psy Ops from December 1, said a NATO official with detailed knowledge of the move.

"This will totally undermine the credibility of the information released to the press and the public,"
said the official, who declined to be named.

ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Richard Blanchette said McKiernan had issued a staff order to implement a command restructure from December 1st which was being reviewed by NATO headquarters in Brussels, but he declined to go into details of the reorganization. "This is very much an internal matter," he said. "This is up with higher headquarters right now and we're waiting to get the basic approval. Once we have the approval we will be going into implementation."

But another ISAF official confirmed that the amalgamation of public affairs with Information Operations and Psy Ops was part of the planned command restructure. This official, who also declined to be named, said the merger had caused considerable concern at higher levels within NATO which had challenged the order by the U.S. general.

DECEPTION ACTIVITIES:

NATO policy recognizes there is an inherent clash of interests between its public affairs offices, whose job it is to issue press releases and answer media questions, and that of Information Operations and Psychological Operations. Information Operations advises on information designed to affect the will of the enemy, while Psy Ops includes so-called "black operations," or outright deception.

The new combined ISAF department will come under the command of an American one-star general reporting directly to McKiernan, an arrangement that is also against NATO policy. "While coordination is essential, the lines of authority will remain separate, the PA reporting directly to the commander. This is to maintain credibility of PA and to avoid creating a media or public perception that PA activities are coordinated by, or are directed by, Info Ops," the NATO policy document says. "Public Affairs will have no role in planning or executing Info Ops, Psy Ops, or deception activities.”

The United States has 35,000 of the 65,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, operating both under ISAF and a separate U.S.-led coalition operation, but both come under McKiernan's command. Washington is already scheduled to send another 3,000 troops to arrive in the country in January and is now considering sending 20,000 more troops in the next 12 to 18 months, further tipping the numerical balance among ISAF forces.

"What we are seeing is a gradual increase of American influence in all areas of the war. Seeking to gain total control of the information flow from the campaign is just part of that."

- Jon Hemming (“Press And Psy Ops To Merge At NATO Afghan HQ, Reuters, 11.29.2008. Image: Leonard Mccombe, TV Newscaster Walter Cronkite, Watching 3 Different News Broadcasts, Life Magazine, 1971).

Friday, December 5, 2008

On Consumerism: Trample To Death, Save Money, Live Better...

“...Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old temporary employee at the Wal-Mart store, was crushed (to death) underfoot as thousands of shoppers, chanting "push in the doors," did just that -- ripping the doors right off their hinges, these desperate-for-a-deal maniacs stampeded into the store, massacring Damour under their heavy, relentless feet, which I guess were so caught up in marching to the capitalistic tune of consumerism that they just couldn't register the life they were squeezing out of the man beneath them.

There are no reports of any shopper attempting to help Damour. On the contrary, Damour's co-workers, as well as paramedics and police officers at the scene, all tell of hostile shoppers who impeded assistance to Damour and who became angry when the announcement came over the PA that the store would be closing because of Damour's death.

Since hearing about this horrific murder I have made myself nauseous imagining Damour terrified, gasping for air, the weight of all those shoppers grinding him into the floor. But, the truth is, I have also found myself unable to stop thinking about the connections between his murder, and capitalism, and consumerism. I cannot help but think that this horde's behavior really isn't all that far off from how consumers in a capitalistic society are programmed to behave.

Think of this: if a corporation's purpose is to maximize profit, isn't a consumer's purpose to minimize price-paid? That is, in order to be the very best consumer , don't you need to seek out the lowest-priced goods? Further, capitalism teaches us to celebrate those who achieve success and material wealth, even as we acknowledge that "getting to the top" often involves scrambling up over the backs of fellow human beings. Sure, driving your heel into the flesh of a man trapped beneath you is a bit more visceral than the sort of bloodless exploitation that corporate climbers employ, but the impulse -- the drive for personal success or satisfaction; the ambition to meet one's own needs at any cost -- springs from the same notions of individualism that lay at the heart of a capitalistic system.

In the movie Dirty Pretty Things, a character, Okwe, makes a statement about the sorts of people with whom we share our world yet often do not acknowledge-he says:

"... we are the people you do not see. We are the ones who drive your cabs. We clean your hotel rooms. And suck your cocks."

I think about this whenever I think about one of this country's most enduring mythologies: the American Dream. As the story goes, everyone is born equal in America, into a country with a level playing field, where, with hard work and perseverance, anyone can achieve economic stability and financial success. Integral to the idea of this American Dream is the notion that those who do not "make it" fail because they choose to fail. This is an important part of our mythology, and it is convenient for explaining the existence of the people Okwe mentions. How do we reconcile the poverty and desperation we see all around us? Or the knowledge that we share our world with people whose lives are miserable, hopeless and grim? By believing that they are responsible for their own wretched existences. Otherwise, we have to admit that the system is flawed. And if we admit that the system is flawed, then we will have to change it. For many people, this is not only a terrifying notion, but it also seems impossible. Further tempering any impulse to demolish the capitalistic system is the fact that we are so seduced by the elusive promise of wealth and privilege that the false-hearted dogma of the American Dream is a stronger motivating force than is the reality that we see all around us.

We are complacent.
And gluttonous.
And divided.

I believe that within a capitalistic society, especially one that is teetering, seething, and grasping as desperately as ours is, this sort of brutal, every-man-for-himself mentality is likely to manifest in more and more everyday occurrences. Capitalism can behave in no other way -- it exists for only as long as there is a class of people to exploit. As Ezra, the prophet of Elle Flanders's brilliant documentary Zero Degrees of Separation, says:

"Without the cogs, there would be no machine." We are all cogs in this plutocracy we call "America." And we chew each other up to bloody bits..."

-Tani Bellestri (Excerpt: "Blood In the Machine,"CommonDreams.org, 12.5.2008. Image: Title Card, "Born To Kill,"directed by Robert Wise, 1947).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The FBI, National Geospatial-Intelligence & NORTHCOM: My Honor Is Loyalty, My Freedom Is Nihil...

The American Civil Liberties Union recently came across a revealing RNC Homeland Security Document. This official document was uncovered by the website Wikileaks, which according to its website "We help you safely get the truth out". This document outlines the planning leading up to the Republican National Convention and how security forces would be working together during the RNC. Many federal, state and local organizations were mentioned in this document, a number of which the ACLU did not know were involved.

A number of these agencies are military based, which may directly conflict with Federal law that prohibits the military from engaging in domestic intelligence gathering.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), is one of the organizations that is mentioned in the report that is particular cause for concern. NGA provides mapping tools and imagery intelligence that are obtained from the United State's military spy satellites which are controlled by the National Reconnaissance Office. In other words during the RNC, these top spying tools could have been utilized to gather intelligence on the homes of activists and media workers who were a part of the demonstrations. That information could have then been relayed to local officials.

A second agency that was involved in the planning is the Pentagon's Northern Command, NORTHCOM. Having NORTHCOM at the table, assisting in the planning is troubling because it could mean that the military was involved in the crowd control strategies and dealing with potential civil unrest. According to a report in Army Times, it said that an active military unit has been deployed by NORTHCOM in the United States. This deployment marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment within U.S. Borders.

Furthermore it appears that the FBI may have been using a station faking technology that would allow them to locate an individual through their cell phone. The ACLU is concerned with how this technology is used and if there was proper judicial oversight. In the USA Patriot ACT, this process for obtaining a track was made easier, and could allow for little to no judicial oversight. This tracking via cell phones could have been used during the RNC without the knowledge of even the phone companies.

"These behaviors are a radical departure from separation of civilian law enforcement and military authority, and could, quite possibly, represent a violation of law," said Teresa Nelson, ACLU of Minnesota. The ACLU-MN will continue to investigate and will use their findings in future lawsuits against law enforcement officials.

DOCUMENT HERE:
Special Event Planning 2008 Republican National Convention: "Homeland Security & Emergency Management"


- American Civil Liberties Union ("Revealing RNC Document Leaked", ACLU of Minnesota, 11.21.2008. Image: Nazi Waffen-SS Propaganda Poster, 1940s).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Dark Matters: Colliding & Annihilating In Space...

"Is this the dark side speaking?

A concatenation of puzzling results from an alphabet soup of satellites and experiments has led a growing number of astronomers and physicists to suspect that they are getting signals from a shadow universe of dark matter that makes up a quarter of creation but has eluded direct detection until now. Maybe...

“Nobody really knows what’s going on,” said Gordon Kane, a theorist at the University of Michigan. Physicists caution that there could still be a relatively simple astronomical explanation for the recent observations. But the nature of this dark matter is one of the burning issues of science. Identifying it would point the way to a deeper understanding of the laws of nature and the Einsteinian dream of a unified theory of physics.

The last few weeks have seen a blizzard of papers trying to explain the observations in terms of things like “minimal dark matter” or “exciting dark matter,” or “hidden valley” theory, and to suggest how to look for them in particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider, set to begin operation again outside Geneva next summer. “It could be deliriously exciting, an incredibly cool story,” said Nima Arkani-Hamed of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., who has been churning out papers with his colleagues. “Anomalies in the sky tell you what to look for in the collider.”

On Thursday, a team of astrophysicists working on one of the experiments reported in the journal Nature that a cosmic ray detector onboard a balloon flying around the South Pole had recorded an excess number of high-energy electrons and their antimatter opposites, positrons, sailing through local space. The particles, they conceded, could have been created by a previously undiscovered pulsar, the magnetized spinning remnant of a supernova explosion, blasting nearby space with electric and magnetic fields. But, they say, a better and more enticing explanation for the excess is that the particles are being spit out of the fireballs created by dark matter particles colliding and annihilating one another in space.

“We cannot disprove that the signal could come from an astrophysical object. We also cannot eliminate a dark matter annihilation explanation based upon current data,” said John P. Wefel of Louisiana State University, the leader of the team, adding, “Whichever way it goes, for us it is exciting.”

The results came on the heels of a report earlier this fall from Pamela, a satellite built by Italian, German, Russian and Swedish scientists to study cosmic rays. Pamela scientists reported in talks and a paper posted on the Internet that the satellite had recorded an excess of high-energy positrons. This, they said, “may constitute the first indirect evidence of dark matter particle annihilations,” or a nearby pulsar.

Antimatter is rare in the universe, and so looking for it is a good way of hunting for exotic phenomena like dark matter. Another indication that something funny is happening on the dark side of the universe is evident in maps of the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang. Those maps, produced most recently this year by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe satellite, show a haze of what seem to be charged particles hovering around the Milky Way galaxy, according to an analysis by Douglas Finkbeiner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Adding to the mix and mystery, the European Space Agency’s Integral satellite detected gamma rays emanating from the center of the Milky Way, suggesting the presence of positrons there, but with much lower energies than Pamela and Dr. Wefel’s experiments have seen. What all this adds up to, or indeed whether it all adds up to anything at all, depends on which observations you trust and your theoretical presumptions about particle physics and the nature of dark matter. Moreover, efforts to calculate the background level of high-energy particles in the galaxy are beset with messy uncertainties. “The dark matter signal is easy to calculate,” Dr. Kane said. “The background is much harder.”

Dark matter has teased and obsessed astronomers since the 1930s, when the Caltech astronomer Fritz Zwicky deduced that some invisible “missing mass” was required to supply the gravitational glue to hold clusters of galaxies together. The idea became respectable in the 1970s when Vera C. Rubin of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and her collaborators found from studying the motions of stars that most galaxies seemed to be surrounded by halos of dark matter.

The stakes for dark matter go beyond cosmology. The most favored candidates for its identity come from a theory called supersymmetry, which unifies three of the four known forces of nature mathematically and posits the existence of a realm of as-yet-undiscovered particles. They would be so-called wimps — weakly interacting massive particles — which feel gravity and little else, and could drift through the Earth like wind through a screen door. Such particles left over from the Big Bang could form a shadow universe clumping together into dark clouds that then attract ordinary matter.

The discovery of a supersymmetric particle would also be a boost for string theory, the controversial “theory of everything,” and would explicate the nature of a quarter of the universe. But until now, the dark matter particles have mostly eluded direct detection in the laboratory, the exception being a controversial underground experiment called Dama/Libra, for Dark Matter/Large Sodium Iodide Bulk for Rare Processes, under the Italian Alps, where scientists claimed in April to have seen a seasonal effect of a “dark matter wind” as the Earth goes around its orbit.

The sky could be a different story. Dark matter particles floating in the halos around galaxies would occasionally collide and annihilate one another in tiny fireballs of radiation and lighter particles.

Dr. Wefel and his colleagues have been chasing sparks in the sky since 2000, when they flew an instrument known as ATIC, for Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter, around Antarctica on a balloon at an altitude of 23 miles, looking for high-energy particles known as cosmic rays raining from space.

The Nature paper includes data from the first two balloon flights. It shows a bump, over theoretical calculations of cosmic ray intensities, at energies of 500 billion to 800 billion electron volts, a measure of both energy and mass in physics. One way to explain that energy bump would be by the disintegration or annihilation of a very massive dark particle. A proton by comparison is about one billion electron volts. Dr. Wefel noted, however, that according to most models, a pulsar could generate particles with even more energy, up to trillions of volts, whereas the bump in the ATIC data seems to fall off at around 800 billion electron volts. The ATIC results, he said, dovetail nicely with those from Pamela, which recorded a rising number of positrons relative to electrons, but only up to energies of about 200 billion electron volts.

Reached in China, where he was attending a workshop, Neal Weiner of New York University, who is working with Dr. Arkani-Hamed on dark matter models, said he was plotting ATIC data gleaned from the Web and Pamela data on the same graph to see how they fit, which was apparently very well. But Piergiorgio Picozza, a professor at the University of Rome and the Pamela spokesman, said in an e-mail message that it was too soon to say the experiments agreed. That will depend on more data now being analyzed to learn whether Pamela continues to see more positrons as the energy rises.

Moreover, as Dr. Kane pointed out, Pamela carries a magnet that allows it to distinguish electrons from positrons — being oppositely charged, they bend in opposite directions going through the magnetic field. But the ATIC instrument did not include a magnet and so cannot be sure that it was seeing any positrons at all: no antimatter, no exotic dark matter, at least at those high energies. But if he is right, Dr. Wefel said that the ATIC data favored something even more exotic than supersymmetry, namely a particle that is lost in the fifth dimension. String theory predicts that there are at least six dimensions beyond our simple grasp, wrapped up so tightly we cannot see them or park in them. A particle in one of these dimensions would not appear to us directly. You could think of it as a hamster running around on a wheel in its cage. We cannot see the hamster or the cage, but we can sort of feel the impact of the hamster running; according to Einsteinian relativity, its momentum in the extra dimension would register as mass in our own space-time. Such particles are called Kaluza-Klein particles, after Theodor Kaluza and Oscar Klein, theorists who suggested such an extra-dimensional framework in the 1920s to unify Einstein’s general theory of relativity and electromagnetism.

Dr. Wefel’s particle would have a mass of around 620 billion electron volts. “That’s the one that seems to fit the best,” he said in an interview. The emergence of a sharp edge in the data, he said, “would be a smoking gun” for such a strange particle. But Dr. Arkani-Hamed said that Kaluza-Klein particles would not annihilate one another at a fast enough rate to explain the strength of the ATIC signal, nor other anomalies like the microwave haze. He and his colleagues, including Dr. Weiner, Dr. Finkbeiner and Tracy Slatyer, also of Harvard, drawing on work by Matthew Strassler of Rutgers, have tried to connect all the dots with a new brand of dark matter, in which there are not only dark particles but also a “dark force” between them.

That theory was called “a delightful castle in the sky” by Dr. Kane, who said he was glad it kept Dr. Arkani-Hamed and his colleagues busy and diverted them from competing with him. Dr. Kane and his colleagues favor a 200 billion-electron-volt supersymmetric particle known as a wino as the dark matter culprit, in which case the Pamela bump would not extend to higher energies. Dr. Wefel said he had not kept up with all the theorizing. “I’m just waiting for one of these modelers to say here is the data, here is the model,” he said. “Fit it out. I’m not sure I’ve seen it yet.” Dr. Picozza said that it was the job of theorists to come up with models and that they were proliferating. “At the end of the story only one will be accepted from the scientific community, but now it is too early."

Sorting all this out will take time, but not forever. “With so many experiments, we will soon know so much more about all of this,” Dr. Weiner said. “In a year or two, we’ll either not be talking about this idea at all, or it will be all we’re talking about.”

- Dennis Overbye (A Whisper, Perhaps, From the Universe’s Dark Side, NY Times, 11.25.08. Image: -Loomis Dean, "Shadows Of The Junior Astronomy Club Peering Through A Telescope, Greeley,CO, Life Magazine, 1955 ).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

On November 22nd 1963: The Excessive & Unwarranted Concealment Of Pertinent Facts...

"We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. There is little value in ensuring the survival of our nation, if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger, that an announced need for increased security, will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment..."

"We are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence, on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversions instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day. It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military diplomatic intelligence economic scientific and political operations. Its preparations are concealed, not published. It mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed..."

"I not only could not stifle controversy among your readers--I welcome it. This Administration intends to be candid about its errors; for as a wise man once said: "An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it."

-President John F. Kennedy( Excerpt: "The President and the Press:" Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City, 4.27.1961. Image: -Stan Way, "New Yorker's Expression of Shock At News of John F. Kennedy's Assassination in Dallas, Texas," New York City, Life Magazine, 11.22.1963).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Metamorphosis: Scandal, Ignorance & A Bottomless Pit of Self-Justification...

"Scandal is our growth industry. Revelation of wrongdoing leads not to definitive investigation, punishment, and expiation but to more scandal. Permanent scandal. Frozen scandal. The weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. The torture of detainees who remain forever detained. The firing of prosecutors which is forever investigated. These and other frozen scandals metastasize, ramify, self-replicate, clogging the cable news shows and the blogosphere and the bookstores. The titillating story that never ends, the pundit gabfest that never ceases, the gift that never stops giving: what is indestructible, irresolvable, unexpiatable is too valuable not to be made into a source of profit.

Scandal, unpurged and unresolved, transcends political reality to become commercial fact.

We remember, many of us, a different time. However cynically we look to our political past, it is there that we find our political Eden: Vietnam and its domestic denouement, Watergate—the climax of a different time of scandal that ended a war and brought down a president. In retrospect those events unfold with the clear logic of utopian dream.

1. Revelation: intrepid journalists exposing the gaudy, interlocking crimes of the Nixon administration.

2. Investigation: not just by the press—for that was but precursor, the necessary condition—but by Congress and the courts. Investigation, that is, by the polity, working through its institutions to construct a story of grim truth that citizens can in common accept.

3. Expiation: the handing down of sentences, the politicians in shackles led off to jail, the orgy of public repentance. The exorcism of shame, the purging of the political system, and the return to a state, however imperfect, of societal grace.

It is a myth, of course, but a lovely one. It relies on images of power, the press, and the people that fit our collective longing—for justice, for heroism, and for ultimate goodness residing in a people who, once alerted to wrongdoing, insist on its rectification. The obstacle to this natural self-cleansing of our political life can only be the people's ignorance. For if they know, and the corruption and scandals persist—well, how can the people be good? No, what must be missing then—so the myth implies—is clarity, revelation. What is missing is the gatekeepers of our ignorance whose duty it is to draw the curtain back from scandal and show the people everything, thereby starting the polity on the road to inexorable justice.

Information is all. Information, together with the people's natural sense of the good and the right, leads to expiation and society's inevitable cleansing.

Scandals, the more complicated and richer the plotlines the better, have above all to endure. Scandals provide the fodder for on-air confrontation, the verbal slash and parry—which is what television, a terrible medium for conveying information of any complexity, does best, and does most cheaply. Scandals provide subplots and minor characters and spin-offs. They offer, to the post-Watergate, high-profile, well-coiffed, colleague-of-the-powerful journalist hero of today—could anything be further from the deeply irreverent working stiff cracking wise in Howard Hawks's "His Girl Friday" - the true venue for the highest practice of his art, the television studio.

That art relies on, or anyway thrives on, scandal. Scandal denotes success. Scandal shows he is doing his job. Scandal means pay dirt. And scandal represents that media-age dream, the perpetual story. Scandal can be rehashed, debated, photographed, from initial leak, to perp walk, to hearing, to trial, to appeal.

Scandal offers an endless stream of what the business is after all supposed to be about: news. As in: what is new.

Scandal brings the heart-pumping, breath-gulping surge of stop-the-presses excitement, letting us know that into our fallen world the Gods of Great Events have finally come down from on high to intervene. Scandal represents movement, the audible cracking of the ice. And yet it is all an illusion, for beneath the rapidly moving train of gaudily hyped "breaking news," beneath all the grave and breathless stand-ups before the inevitable pillars of public buildings, beneath the swirling, gyrating phantasmagoria of scandal lies a kind of dystopian stasis.

Everything changes and nothing does.

It is not information, it is politics. If we have learned anything this past decade it is that "the people," that vaunted repository of public good—"the people always find out"—the people are willing and able to live with quite a lot. They read, watch television, grunt a pox on all their houses, and turn back to their dinners. Thanks to the efficiency of our age of scandal we now know as never before what the public is willing to live with. "Now you have shown independence, commendable independence," Barack Obama said to John McCain in the third debate, "on some key issues—torture, for example." Torture has metamorphosed, these past few years, from an execrable war crime to a "key issue." From something forbidden by international treaty and condemned by domestic law to...something to be debated. Something one can stand on either side of.

Something we can live with.

What notes on scandal could be complete without mention of the presiding master-scandal of our age, The War. One uses capitals to denote not a set of discrete events—a set of particular people being cut down or blown apart by particular violent actions at particular times—but a state of mind. Threat becomes not only a political shield but what is in the end much more dangerous: a source of bottomless self-justification. What is dangerous is not only that our leaders have endlessly maintained that they are right but that they believe they are. George Bush, as he declared to the world in a proudly emphatic phrase, had been reborn as a "war president."

George Orwell has long since surveyed this ground, most famously in 1984, in his perpetual war between Eastasia, Eurasia, and Oceania, a never-ending, shape-shifting struggle that, if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are set at such an angle that they are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless.... It helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs.

How will history choose to explain a war launched in the cause of ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist? It is a tantalizing question. Will the Iraq War take its place as a historical curiosity, alongside the Guano War of the nineteenth century or the Soccer War of the twentieth? And how interested will our descendants be in the response of our democratic polity: the investigations that, like dinosaurs slowly rousing themselves from the mudhole, ever so slowly got under way and then, after years of lumbering effort—hundreds of hours of testimony, thousands of documents examined—finally discovered...What...?

In the end, there was, alas, no "smoking gun."

-Mark Danner (Excerpt: "Frozen Scandal,"NY Review Of Books, Volume 55, Number 19 · 12.4.2008. Image: Poster for "The Pit And The Pendulum," directed by Roger Corman, 1961).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Old Reality: Lizards, Chimps & A Dozen White Heterosexual Males...

WHAT:

"For the past eight years, conservatives have marched in lockstep to defend the indefensible. Just about everything that President Bush and his administration have done has been endlessly praised, defended and echoed. In fact, in their arrogance, Republicans have described Bush's actions -- to an increasingly skeptical populace -- as creating its own new reality.

I'm thinking of the unnamed Bush official who, in 2005, told reporter Ron Suskind, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Now that most of America has rejected Bush's version of reality, you have to ask, what were these people thinking?

Was it the lizard brain in action? That's the "Amygdala" , an almond-sized part of the right side of the brain that generates fear and blocks out the logical left side of the brain. When presented with a life-threatening situation, the Amygdala kicks into gear in the classic "flight or fight" mode. Reason becomes impossible and the subconscious looks for any nonverbal cue that communicates safety and security.

Since 9/11, the lizard brain of the white heterosexual male appears to have been in charge of the national psyche. Fear of terrorism, of "the other," of pointy-headed do-gooder liberals out to take your Bibles and guns away, of homosexuals and feminists and black people -- has been steering the ship of state. No questions allowed.

We like to think that this election was a triumph for the reality-based, multicultural community, the people who didn't believe we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq and who suspected that cowboy capitalism...just might not advance the greater good.

WHY:

"Primatologists have known for some time that organized, lethal violence is common between groups of chimpanzees, our closest relatives. Whether between chimps or hunter-gatherers, however, intergroup violence is nothing like modern pitched battles. Instead, it tends to take the form of brief raids using overwhelming force, so that the aggressors run little risk of injury. "It's not like the Somme," says Richard Wrangham, a primatologist at Harvard University. "You go off, you make a hit, you come back again."This opportunistic violence helps the aggressors weaken rival groups and thus expand their territorial holdings."

What: -Joyce Marcel, "Lizard Brains," CommonDreams.org, 8.19.2008, Why: -Robert Holmes, "How Warfare Shaped Human Evolution," New Scientist, 11.12.2008. Image: Screenshot -"2001: A Space Odyssey," directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1968).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On Moral Derangement: The Psychopath Carries Disaster Lightly In Each Hand...

"Psychopaths are as old as Cain, and they are believed to exist in all cultures, although they are more prevalent in individualistic societies in the West. The Yupik Eskimos use the term "kunlangeta" to describe a man who repeatedly lies, cheats, steals, and takes sexual advantage of women, according to a 1976 study by Jane M. Murphy, an anthropologist then at Harvard University. She asked an Eskimo what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, and he replied, “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.”

The condition was first described clinically in 1801, by the French surgeon Philippe Pinel. He called it “mania without delirium.” In the early nineteenth century, the American surgeon Benjamin Rush wrote about a type of “moral derangement” in which the sufferer was neither delusional nor psychotic but nevertheless engaged in profoundly antisocial behavior, including horrifying acts of violence. Rush noted that the condition appeared early in life.

The term “moral insanity” became popular in the mid-nineteenth century, and was widely used in the U.S. and in England to describe incorrigible criminals. The word “psychopath” (literally, “suffering soul”) was coined in Germany in the eighteen-eighties. By the nineteen-twenties, “constitutional psychopathic inferiority” had become the catchall phrase psychiatrists used for a general mixture of violent and antisocial characteristics found in irredeemable criminals, who appeared to lack a conscience.

In the late nineteen-thirties, an American psychiatrist named Hervey Cleckley began collecting data on a certain kind of patient he encountered in the course of his work in a psychiatric hospital in Augusta, Georgia. These people were from varied social and family backgrounds. Some were poor, but others were sons of Augusta’s most prosperous and respected families. Cleckley set about sharpening the vague construct of constitutional psychopathic inferiority, and distinguishing it from other forms of mental illness. He eventually isolated sixteen traits exhibited by patients he called “primary” psychopaths; these included:

Being charming and intelligent, unreliable, dishonest, irresponsible, self-centered, emotionally shallow, and lacking in empathy and insight.

“Beauty and ugliness, except in a very superficial sense, goodness, evil, love, horror, and humor have no actual meaning, no power to move him,” Cleckley wrote of the psychopath in his 1941 book, “The Mask of Sanity,” which became the foundation of the modern science. The psychopath talks “entertainingly and is “brilliant and charming,” but nonetheless “carries disaster lightly in each hand.” Cleckley emphasized his subjects’ deceptive, predatory nature, writing that the psychopath is capable of “concealing behind a perfect mimicry of normal emotion, fine intelligence, and social responsibility a grossly disabled and irresponsible personality.” This mimicry allows psychopaths to function, and even thrive, in normal society.

Indeed, as Cleckley also argued, the individualistic, winner-take-all aspect of American culture nurtures psychopathy.

The psychiatric profession wanted little to do with psychopathy, for several reasons. For one thing, it was thought to be incurable. Not only did the talking cure fail with psychopaths but several studies suggested that talk therapy made the condition worse, by enabling psychopaths to practice the art of manipulation. There were no valid instruments to measure the personality traits that were commonly associated with the condition; researchers could study only the psychopaths’ behavior, in most cases through their criminal records. Finally, the emphasis in the word “psychopath” on an internal sickness was at odds with liberal mid-century social thought, which tended to look for external causes of social deviancy; “sociopath,” coined in 1930 by the psychologist G. E. Partridge, became the preferred term. In 1958, the American Psychiatric Association used the term “sociopathic personality” to describe the disorder in its "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders." In the 1968 edition, the condition was renamed “general antisocial personality disorder.”

Cleckley’s book fell out of favor, and Cleckley described himself late in life as “a voice crying in the wilderness.” When he died, in 1984, he was remembered mostly for his popular study of multiple-personality disorder, written with Corbett Thigpen, “The Three Faces of Eve.”

One of Kiehl's postdocs, Karla Harenski recently interviewed a Western prison inmate who scored a 38.9. “He had killed his girlfriend because he thought she was cheating on him,” she told me. “He was so charming about telling it that I found it hard not to fall into laughing along in surprise, even when he was describing awful things.” Harenski, who is thirty, did not experience the involuntary skin-crawling sensation that, according to a survey conducted by the psychologists Reid and M. J. Meloy, one in three mental-health and criminal-justice professionals report feeling on interviewing a psychopath; in their paper on the subject, Meloy and Meloy speculate that this reaction may be an ancient intraspecies predator-response system. “I was just excited. I was saying to myself, ‘Wow. I found a real one."

The Hare Psychopathy Checklist:

Robert D. Hare, Ph.D., is considered one of the world's foremost experts in the area of psychopathy and he is the author of the popular book, "Without Conscience." Dr. Hare is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, and has researched psychopathy for more than twenty years. The following is his well-known and implemented Hare Psychopathy Checklist. For each characteristic that is listed, the subject is given a score: 0 for "no," 1 for "somewhat," and 2 for "definitely does apply."

1. Glibness/superficial charm
2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
3. Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
4. Pathological lying
5. Conning/manipulative
6. Lack of remorse or guilt
7. Shallow affect
8. Callous/lack of empathy
9. Parasitic lifestyle
10. Poor behavioural controls
11. Promiscuous sexual behaviour
12. Early behaviour problems
13. Lack of realistic, long-term plans
14. Impulsivity
15. Irresponsibility
16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
17. Many short-term relationships
18. Juvenile delinquency
19. Revocation of conditional release
20. Criminal versatility

Narcissism is also a characteristic.

Sound familiar anyone?

- John Seabrook, (Excerpt: “Suffering Souls,” The New Yorker, 11.10.08. Image: -Jean-Philippe Charbonnier, Paris Psychiatric Hospitals, 1954).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

From Love To Possessions: A World Of Consumption...

Products no longer simply appear in shows – they're becoming important parts of the plot, too. Forget "product placement" – that's so 20th century. Even "product integration" is passé. Advertisers these days want to do far more than just place BMWs, Manolo Blahnik shoes, and other luxury items within reach of favorite TV and movie characters. They want to create entire worlds of consumption.

For instance:

• CW Television Network's "Gossip Girl" features characters whose lifestyles are driven by the Prada bags they want and the La Perla lingerie the highly sexualized characters need.

• Actresses in "Roommates," a MySpace TV Web series, use their characters' online profiles to chat with fans and dish out information about their clothing and other products as well as advice on where to buy them.

These are the heady days of "brand integration" and "immersive" commercial environments. "We are in an increasingly commercialized culture," says David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, who points out that as consumers develop more tools to screen out traditional ads, such as 30-second TV spots, advertisers must get more subtle and innovative. The result? "Less story and more push to consume," he says. This also leads to "more potential for manipulation," says David Howard, a marketing professor at Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University.

The trend is expected to grow. Global ad dollars spent on product placement of all kinds will expand from $3 billion in 2006 to $5.6 billion by 2010, according to PQ Media. A July poll in the trade magazine Ad Age found that 60 percent of TV and movie audiences say they are influenced by product placements.

While audiences are migrating to many new-media gadgets and outlets, such as iPods, video games, and even the displays on gas pumps, advertisers still depend on the content and large audiences that TV delivers. "Television is sooo not dead," says Dennis Ryan, chief creative officer at Element 79, a Chicago-based ad agency. "All that is going on is a diversification of screens."

In the summer, for example, Mr. Ryan's firm created "Ball Girl," a video showing a girl in the audience leaping to her feet to make a spectacular catch at a minor-league baseball game. As she returned to her seat, the camera casually spied a Gatorade bottle next to her. There was no tag line for the online version, which used a news footage style and easily passed as an actual event. After allowing the clip to generate some online buzz, the firm moved it to television, where it picked up a Gatorade tag line, identifying it as a commercial. But this subtle form of messaging can occasionally produce troublesome results.

Ryan points to a campaign from Cardo Systems, a manufacturer of wireless headsets, that ran online this past summer. The firm produced a trio of videos made to appear homemade, in the style of YouTube, depicting cellphone signals powerful enough to pop corn kernels. The videos ignited a flurry of news coverage about the topic of possible brain damage from mobile-phone signals. The subtle message: Buy one of Cardo systems' headsets and keep your head a safe distance from those scary cellphone transmissions.

The blurring of story and selling concerns many media watchdogs, not to mention parents and educators.

"This selling of a consumer lifestyle can be very detrimental to the development of a healthy sense of self and the kind of values a society needs," says Naomi Johnson, assistant professor of communication studies at Longwood University in Farmville, Va. She points to the romance novels that inspired "Gossip Girl" and says that a significant shift from internal values, such as true love and romance, to possessions and shopping is evident. The issues of manipulation and deception lie at the heart of many critics' concerns. Some, such as Professor Howard, say that while today's consumers are far savvier than previous generations, they aren't infallible and dislike being tricked or manipulated.

The most successful relationship advertisers can strike with consumers is the most overt, says Richard Notarianni, executive creative director of media for Euro RSCG, a New York ad agency.

"Consumers will engage when they feel they are being treated honestly."

A healthy cynicism about media messages is the best tool against manipulation, say most observers. Vigilance is doubly important when dealing with underage audiences. However, unlike some, she sees value in the shows as a teaching tool about what's important. After all, she says, "you don't come out of the womb asking for a Louis Vuitton handbag."

-Gloria Goodale (“Advertisers Up the Ante as Products Become TV Plots,” The Christian Science Monitor, 11 .3 .2008. Image: Screen shot: Dystopian Los Angeles 2019, "Blade Runner," directed by Ridley Scott, media.bladezone.com, 1982).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dear Mr. President: "A True Patriot Is A Lover Of His Country Who Rebukes And Does Not Excuse Its Sins..."

Dear Mr. President:

Victory achieved. "Its been a long time coming”…too long. The tears you witnessed on election night were tears of joy, pride and ultimately relief. Finally, after eight years of negativity and darkness, the light called Democracy ignited again. It was an incredible night in this country's history. In a moment, we saw the United States renewed for the sole reason that its citizens came out of their caves and voted for change...for light.

Our request is to ask you to bring Democracy and Justice full-circle. For a Democracy is not that...if those who willingly chose to subvert, distort and ignore it are permitted to enjoy the benefits of freedoms and decency that they denied others for eight long secretive, torturous and needless death-filled years. You know of whom I speak: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, David Addington, John Woo, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, etc. For these men to retire to their luxurious mansions and pristine golf courses without repercussions for their lies, their disdain for our Constitution and finally for their crimes against humanity would be a travesty of Democracy, a travesty of Justice and would certainly lessen the significance of the people's victory on November 4.

We respectfully ask that you open a full-investigation into the Bush Administration's past governmental activities. We know they broke the laws many times. It’s been documented, reported and archived. However, these men must be held accountable for their actions. If action is taken in this direction, then our Democracy is working. It means that you cannot break the law and get away with it even if you are the King or a subject in the King's Court. You cannot twist the laws of this country. You are not entitled to make any rules that you desire just because you wear a crown. Following the laws of our Constitution and displaying simple human decency are what separate the United States from the rest of the world. We must restore the Constitution. We must punish the King for being a King in what was designed to be a Federal Constitutional Republic. They have willingly broken the laws of our Founding Fathers. They must atone.

We realize you have more urgent matters to attend to first. The economy being of that upmost importance at this time but we ask you to devote some time to this too. It is a long process. It will cost money we don’t have. However, we guarantee you it will be money well spent. If you proceed, you will have support from the majority of Americans and you will have served your country as the Founding Fathers intended. A million innocent Iraqi civilians and 4191 American soldiers will have not died in vain. Close the circle that you drew for us on Nov. 4. 2008. Close it so this country can begin anew in all the just ways and finally close it for any future Presidents who might try to govern under the same lawless and despicable policies.

"A true patriot is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins.
"
-Frederick Douglass

-VioletPlanet (Letter to Office of The President-Elect Barack Obama: Change.Gov, 11.7.08. Image: Nazi Party Leaders, Hermann Goring & Rudolph Hess on trial for crimes against humanity. Reaction as the verdicts are read, Nuremberg Trials, National Archives, 10.1.1946).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Origins Of An Infinite Universe? A Fractal Conversation...

THE PREMISE: "Galaxy Map Hints At Fractal Universe":

Is the matter in the universe arranged in a fractal pattern? A new study of nearly a million galaxies suggests it is – though there are no well-accepted theories to explain why that would be so.

Cosmologists trying to reconstruct the entire history of the universe have precious few clues from which to work. One key clue is the distribution of matter throughout space, which has been sculpted for nearly 14 billion years by the competing forces of gravity and cosmic expansion. If there is a pattern in the sky, it encodes the secrets of the universe. A lot is at stake, and the matter distribution has become a source of impassioned debate between those who say the distribution is smooth and homogeneous and those who say it is hierarchically structured and clumpy, like a fractal.

Nearly all physicists agree that on relatively small scales the distribution is fractal-like: hundreds of billions of stars group together to form galaxies, galaxies clump together to form clusters, and clusters amass into superclusters.

The point of contention, however, is what happens at even larger scales. According to most physicists, this Russian doll-style clustering comes to an end and the universe, on large scales, becomes homogeneous. But a small team of physicists, including Francesco Sylos Labini of the Enrico Fermi Centre in Rome and Luciano Pietronero of the University of Rome argue that the data shows the opposite: the universe continues to look fractal as far out as our telescopes can see...Article Continues Here

THE DEFINITION: Fractal |ˈfraktəl| Mathematics

Noun: A curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic. -New Oxford American Dictionary, 2008.

THE CONVERSATION:

VioletPlanet: Fascinating article. You must educate me. In layman’s terms what does this mean? What is the concept of a fractal universe?

IvansArmy: Usually, Fractal is used when referring to a fractal system. In layman's terms a fractal is a part of a system or a whole (singularity) which in itself possesses all the information necessary to create a singularity or a system of its own. The most obvious fractal example is Nature. You have a seed or a singularity which grows into a plant with a stem and the off-shoots. The leaves or branches divide into their own singularities; then you can say that we are fractals of our parents since we literally come out of them and contain their DNA.

In mathematics there are fractal equations which may be represented as fractal graphs. One of the key characteristics of these graphs is that you may "zoom" or scale into the graph indefinitely with new geometric structures being created by the equation into infinity.

You may see how it becomes very intuitive to view the entire universe as an infinite, complex, fractal structure. This is not really any groundbreaking idea, but it's only recently that our "modern" science is coming to terms with reality and shedding some old abstract ideas about the nature of existence. These ideas are mainly influenced by a specific point of view held in the West that we (as self-conscious beings) are observers separate from the universe in which we exist. This point of view is not necessarily directly expressed but is more a state of self-consciousness which observes the universe but is not aware of its own state and therefore has fundamental hang-ups in its perception of itself and everything around it.

VioletPlanet: So...Quantum Physics is definitely true in this case. We are all connected and the universe is the seed.

IvansArmy: We are all...the universe. To be connected to the universe assumes that in some way we are "other" and therefore need to connect to it. We just are...IT. There is nothing but the universe so "we" cannot be other from...IT.

VioletPlanet: But didn't the universe ever have a beginning...hence "the seed?" Or has it always been infinite or shall we say immortal? Is it possible for anything to be immortal?

IvansArmy: Death and life are very relative concepts. There is a birth and a death of the ego or what we think of as...I. However, the line between life and death becomes blurred when you ask... what is the exact point of differentiation in time between the two and who is doing the measuring? For the purposes of convenience, we say someone is born on the day they come out of mother's womb. However, does this mean that the previous day that same person was not alive? When does life start? Is it during Gastrulation when bases of all the rest of the tissues are created? Or is it upon fertilization of the egg? Or is it when the spermatozoa are created in the testicles of the father and the ovum in mother? Or is it the birth of the mother and the father? We could say that life and death are complements of each other or duality of being. Therefore, immortality as the western dualistic and moralistic philosophy might view it...does not exist because it implies absence of death, which is absurd since we see things die daily.

Another problem with "immortality" is that it implies a concept of linear time which is purely an abstract human concept created for utilitarian purposes. We forget that just like the number 3, or the equator line, time as we perceive it...is purely an abstract human construct and the true reality of time is inconceivable purely through the linear data-processing of our mind. In this sense, when we talk about immortality what is usually implied is a constant unchangeable measure of time which is divorced from the universe in which it exists and therefore is non-existent.

Scientists are a part of our culture and they view the world through the "lens" of the Ego or the finite "I." This is logical to them: I (the Ego) have a beginning and an end. Therefore, the universe must have a beginning and end. Yet, when you were born your body did not come out of nothing but was constructed with atoms of numerous elements which were utilized by other systems (bodies of your parents) to assemble you. When you die your body does not disappear into thin air but is dissolved back into the environment. The molecules and atoms are recycled into other life forms, particles of dust, soil, plants, etc. Therefore, it's not possible to claim with any degree of certainty that the universe had a definite beginning before...which it did not exist. I am not saying there was no big bang or a similar happening, but it's false to assume the universe's non-existence prior to the happening. Universe is immortal purely in its existence.

VioletPlanet: Life and death on earth parallel life and death within the universe, the death of stars, planets, black holes are dead etc. Therefore, the inter-connectedness makes sense. We would mimic that which created us. There is an order to things...which is infinite. The earth is one gigantic cell within the universal body. The cycle the universe offers us is cyclical: life, death, life, death etc. However, all cells die. We know when we die on earth that our bodies become fertilizer. However, if the earth were to die, would it regenerate into something else? Would that something else be alive or dead or a better word....functioning? What fertilizes the universe? I totally agree re: man-made time construct but if the universe's structure is cyclical at what point was the circle constructed? At what point did the circle begin?

IvansArmy: Trying to answer that question is like chasing a ghost. It's entirely relative to who is observing. If we say we're "observing" and we concluded that we're the universe then it's us "observing...ourselves," hence the impetus to ask the question: when did I begin. Postulating that question divides us from our true existence. It implies we are something other than ourselves observing that "other" in Euclidean time and space. The problem is impossible to solve since it requires "othering" from the universe in order to observe it which creates an abstract reality. Ultimately, even if there is a logical answer, I believe a much more relevant and question is: Why is this answer so important?... or even better, Who wants to know?

VioletPlanet: But yet everything must begin...begin from what?

IvansArmy: Why must there be a beginning, and how do you define beginning and end?

VioletPlanet: A singular point of origin...everything originates from something else. Endings are just new beginnings. In other words, has it been scientifically proven that the universe is infinite or is there something greater and more vast than the universe? If the fractal article is correct then by your own description and the picture you sent me of the cauliflower, an origin must exist. Notice the base of the cauliflower and notice the top of the cauliflower. There are two distinct points.

IvansArmy: You have just answered your own question. Science cannot with any certainty prove its major theories about the universe, hence the theories. Origin of something does not necessarily mean...a beginning.

VioletPlanet: Good Answer.

- Amanda Gefter ("Galaxy Map Hints at Fractal Universe," NewScientist.com, 6.25.08. Image: Fractal Cauliflower, 2008).