Monthly Archives: May 2011

An Urgent Message

One of the most serious threats to our survival is the vulnerability of our infrastructure to cyberspace hacking. I have a failsafe solution to that potential!

Our Defense Department has only to devise a cyberspace cordon based on the system for recorded messages of the New York State Department of Motor vehicles. It is brilliantly designed to keep anyone from contacting a live human being.

I pride myself in finding ways to get around recorded messages. For example, when I’m automatically asked to answer a question by saying, “Yes” or “No” or any other specific word into the speaker, I simply say, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” or anything else that happens to come to mind. Then I hear, “I’m sorry, I do not understand your response… .” I say, “I’ll bet you don’t.” That does it. I then hear, “Please stay on the line, a representative will assist you.” (I must admit I enjoy her confusion even though she’s not real.)

In some instances, I employ another technique. I listen to the ‘menu’ until I hear a number soliciting me for one of the company’s products or services. I press that number although I have no intention of buying anything. Bingo! I am connected to a salesperson who, in turn, becomes my connection to the person with whom I really need to speak.

I hear rumors that salespersons are shackled to their posts in irons and have electrodes firmly fastened to their heads that will automatically electrocute them if they do not answer my call instantly. I don’t feel guilty about tricking the company they represent because my ruse is justified. Try it, you’ll find that it works!

But I digress.

I’ve just spent an hour trying to break the code of the DMV. I gave up, and decided to go to the nearest DMV. So, I pressed the option that promised to give me the location of each DMV in the five boroughs of New York City and Long Island. In excruciating detail, the recorded messages gave me the location of two departments in the Bronx.

I live in Brooklyn.

So, I waited for information about Brooklyn. There was no information about any borough other than the Bronx. Believing that I might have misunderstood the recorded messages, I tried again. Three times. No, I had not misunderstood the messages. No, I was not given an option for Brooklyn. For whatever reason, only Bronx information was available.

That did it. I hung up and wrote this blog in the hope that some governmental operative reads it and initiates a cyber defense system based on the DMV unassailable prototype. You may ask, “Why don’t you speak to the Defense Department yourself?” I dare not stress my sanity any further by pressing more buttons. I’m already at the edge coping with our new “society by proxy.” 

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Conscience and Consequences

When the Lady in the Harbor invitedamong othersthe “wretched refuse,” terrorists were not on her list of those she welcomed. In her innocence, she thought that everyone yearned to ‘breathe free.’ That is not the case. She could not have known that freedom is not a global aspiration. She could not have known that her lamp would not illuminate the rest of the world. She could not have known that for many she would be just another photo on a tourist’s postcard.

For others, her image is anathema. For them, freedom is the root of all evil. The Lady witnessed their hatred on September 11, 2001. Once again, America suffered a sneak attack. Unlike the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, this attack was fueled by a vague entity without a flag. Like the Vietnam War, this war soon sparked a glut of controversial political views among Americans.

Did you know that the proliferation of new books is so rapid that if each of them were placed side by side on an imaginary track the moment they are published, their proliferation would match the speed of a train running at eighty miles per hour? I learned that fact about two years ago. Judging by talk shows peddling books on TV, I expect that the current speed now approaches the speed of light. Just about every guest on talk shows has written a book!

Most of us keep up with political views as best we can listening to the radio as we drive, or watching newscasters and commentators or talk shows on TV, or clicking those pop-ups when we are online. Keeping up with world events is something like being a hamster constantly running on a wheel. It’s time for us to sharpen Occam’s Razor.

I suggest the following:

1) Do not waste time on cliché partisan arguments. They are riddled with what I call ‘mind clots.’ Mind clots form when the flow of reason is obstructed by implacable partisan clichés. They paralyze the progression of thought and the development of coherent concepts.

I learned that the hard way when I was in my early twenties. I got into a discussion with a young black man who insisted that I had to be prejudiced because I am white. I offered every variation I could think of on the theme that I am not and have never been prejudiced.

After two hours or so of our tiresome ‘debate,’ I realized that reason was to no avail. He wanted me to be prejudiced, and there was nothing I could say to him that would make him feel otherwise (note that I use the word feel, not think). Since then, I have never attempted to prove that I am not prejudiced against anyone. In fact, for my own comfort, I never engage in circular arguments about anything.

Whenever I’m invited to engage in an unsolicited political discussion, I either respectfully suggest we do not talk politics, or (in rare instances) I talk politics until the first cliché rears its circular head. At that time (always early in political talk) I think, “Uh-oh, it’s time to move on to the shrimp salad.” I then politely end the dead-end ‘discussion.’

2) For political information, select the best sources. These do not include conspiracy theorists. Rosie O’Donnell claimed that the Twin Towers were destroyed by our own government (through the evil CIA, of course). When the Towers collapsed, Rosie, an entertainer, suddenly became a metallurgist and an expert on implosive demolition. When homosexual people in San Francisco demanded equal social rights, Anita Bryant, a fruit vendor, became an authority on morality. I ignore the rants of celebrity partisans like Jerry Fallwell, Michael Moore, Reverend This, and Reverend That. If you haven’t already ignored them, I suggest that you do. Militant liberals and conservatives alike, stifle reason.

3) Do not honor phantom issues. Debating Gitmo and Enhanced Interrogation (including water-boarding) is a political game that has nothing to do with human rights, let alone legal ones.

a) Rather than regurgitating the endless pros and cons about keeping Gitmo open, I think it better to simply accept the fact that what is done in a prison has nothing to do with where the prison is located in the free, press-sensitive world.

b) The decision to close or not close Gitmo should exclude consideration of what partisans here or foreigners anywhere think of us. I remember my experience with the prejudiced young man at a person-to-person level. At an international level, I’ve observed that people will think what they want to think of us no matter what we say or do. Let it go at that.

On a domestic level, President Obama thought he could close Gitmo when campaigning for the presidency. Being ‘inside’ now, he has learned otherwise. As far as I know, that is what happens to all presidents in reference to foreign affairs. In respect to foreign hostility, the Office of the Presidency makes the President.

c) Keeping prisoners indefinitely is a direct consequence of an undeclared war without specific leaders, clear boundaries, guarantees that freed prisoners will not fight again (there is a high rate of recidivism), and no end of war in sight. Unprecedented warfare creates unprecedented problems. We cannot allow prisoners to fight us again. That’s why prisoners in past wars were kept until the end of hostilities. It’s unfair to expect our soldiers to have to fight the same man twice or more. That’s stacking the odds against our soldiers.

War is rife with risks that include being captured, perhaps interrogated. Being released depends on the end of hostilities, not on the results of a trial. To exacerbate matters, prisoners at Gitmo were not part of a national army. More or less, they are freelancer hostiles. Unlike infamous criminals against humanity tried by an International Court after a war, our prisoners present a logistic dilemma. In the past, when a peace treaty was signed, soldiers simply went home. The war is not over. This ‘new kind of war’ makes repatriation virtually impossible. In effect, they are now men without a country.

Although some of them may be innocent of war crimes, they are all dangerous. Some of them openly say that if they are released they will kill again. In time, an individual may be reviewed for release even if the conflict has not ended, but a trial, whether in a civilian or military court, is at best inappropriate. Of exactly what may a prisoner of war be found guilty or not guilty?

Armchair Warriors

Obviously, there can be no hotter debate than there is about enhanced interrogation, especially water-boarding. Unfortunately, no distinction has been made between extreme discomfort and torture in the traditional sense of the word.

Before I go further, I’d like to address two personal experiences that have made the distinction between discomfort and torture quite clear to me. The first occurred when I was fourteen years old. I had an infected finger. It was swollen, it throbbed, and constantly delivered excruciating pain. A doctor came to my home, sterilized a dull pair of scissors, and proceeded to drive the steel into my infected finger. That’s torture.

The second experience occurred intermittingly for two or three years during late middle-age. It still occurs from time to time. It’s called apnea. In my sleep, I become conscious that I have stopped breathing. I am unable to move, let alone wake up. An instinct informs me that my life is being threatened and that I am about to die. I’m not afraid of dying, but I am suspended between ‘letting go’ or fighting hard to breathe again. There is no pain, but I’m terrified by not being able to breathe no matter how often I’ve had this experience before.

Now, to water-boarding. I’ve read widely disparate versions of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s water-board sessions. Some ‘reports’ claim there were none, others claim there were as many as 183. So much for ‘reports.’ So, I don’t know if Khalid did better than I at managing the threat of asphyxiation, but he had an advantage over me: he knew that he would not be allowed to drown. I didn’t.

As far as sleep deprivation is concerned, we’ve all been subjected to that at one time or another, usually because of injury or illness. When the waking nightmare is over, we quickly recover without permanent damage. The same is true of interrogation techniques like loud noises, uncomfortable temperatures, and being mocked. They are designed to break resistance, not bones.

I am disturbed by armchair warriors who sanctimoniously condemn ‘torture’ under any circumstances. In the comfort of air-conditioned TV studios or the embrace of living room armchairs, they self-righteously proclaim their moral superiority. Again, it is useless to argue in circles. Suffice it to say that abhorrence to torture is not limited to those who are passionately opposed to any form of coercion. I no longer make an effort to convince anyone that I am at least as compassionate as anyone else. That is a certainty deep within me that includes my concern for civilians and soldiers who are vulnerable to falling into enemy hands.

It takes denial, self-delusion, or dishonesty to attribute compassion as the sole reason for opposition to coercive interrogation. Blind opposition ignores a startling reality: In effect, those who oppose interrogation enjoy a clear conscience at the expense of soldiers, civilians, and their loved ones.

To be fair, I must add that most people consciously do not want to do that. Perhaps they are unable to imagine the consequences of their ideals. Perhaps they simply fail to make a connection between their ideology and reality.

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A Hint of Justice

Watching the news last night, I saw a definitive act of justice. A small boy was baiting a larger boy into a fistfight. The bully brandished his tightened fists and hopped about like a prizefighter, taunting the passive boy to fight him. Apparently, someone in complicity with the bully recorded the scene.

The bully’s target remained motionless and silent as his tormenter pranced about him with a malicious smile. Suddenly, the larger boy, grabbed the bully by his legs, tossed him over his head, and threw him to the ground. The bully ran off.

For me, that was poetry in motion.

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Politically Inadequate

Back in the 90s, there was a TV talk show hosted by Bill Maher. The provocative title of the show was Politically Incorrect, then a relatively new expression. An amateur philosopher, Bill Maher is nourished by a bottomless well of venom. He’s still at it with a show titled Real Time with Bill Maher. But this blog refers to two shows he hosted on Politically Correct, one in February 1997, the other in July 1998, and an interview hosted by Larry King.

The structure of Politically Incorrect followed the pattern of virtually all talk shows. Basically, those shows are designed so that the host and guests boost each other’s careers peddling a book, film, or their celebrity as an end in itself. In that sense, most talk shows are a continuous commercial interrupted by commercials.

On that winter night in February, Bill featured an ‘intellectual’ debate that revolved around the question of whether or not a sculptured image of President Ronald Reagan should be added to the presidential memorial at Mount Rushmore.

At that time, the film Titanic was the rage. One of Bill’s guests (Frances Fisher) appeared on the show to plug the film and herself. When she was asked if homage to Reagan should be made by carving an image of him alongside the other presidents, her response was, “What’s the difference? He wouldn’t remember it anyway.” (A reference to Reagan’s Alzheimer’s Disease.) The audience predictably roared with laughter. She scored. She knew her audience. Would the audience have laughed if she had made that extraordinarily insensitive remark about President Roosevelt’s polio affliction? I think not.

In addition to the personal hurt to Reagan’s family and friends, her cheap joke must have hurt millions of people who grappled with the devastation that Alzheimer’s Disease brings to victims and their families and friends. Given the political atmosphere of the studio and national audiences, the joke she vomited can hardly be considered ‘politically incorrect.’

A year later, there was another segment of Politically Incorrect that bears mention. This time the target was Robert Dole. The ‘intellectual’ discussion centered on President Clinton’s sexual activities with a woman who claimed that Clinton had groped her. When a guest on the show made a remark about Dole groping a woman, Bill Maher quipped, “He’d have to do it with one arm.” Again, robust laughter from the audience. Bill scored. He, too, knew his audience. Apart from the fact that Robert Dole lost his arm so that Bill Maher could exercise free speech under the guise of humor, there was nothing politically incorrect about his joke. He was right on target.

In July of 2001, Larry King asked Bill to comment on the difference between entertainers and politicians. Bill responded to Larry’s question with his signature aloofnessan exquisite blend of cynicism and intellectual superiority. Looking as though there were a bad smell in the studio, Bill’s response to Larry’s question was, “At least Hollywood has good taste.” Really Bill! Your ad homonym savagery precludes you from any discussion about taste.

The three incidences described above are just the scum on the surface of Bill’s murky well of venom. Before writing this blog, I watched a full hour of his current show. I couldn’t help but notice that he is still the king of lowlife celebrities.

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Then and Now

There was a time when films of adventure, crime, or science fiction guaranteed the audience that he would save her, he would find the solution to the crime, he would know what the nasty alien is thinking. The ghost of Ibsen’s Helmer in A Doll’s House condescendingly whispered to women in the darkened theater, “Don’t bother your pretty little head about it.” There were exceptions, of course, but most films safely stuck to the predictable male and female formula.

Now, she saves him, she finds the solution to the crime, she knows what the nasty alien is thinking. Condescension is delegated to the assumption that the male characters need not bother their empty little heads as long as she is in charge.

Most of today’s films replace one stereotype with another. Scripts, roles, and plots are designed to reverse the ‘traditional’ male and female formulas. This is especially visible in action films. Most of them are at least as far removed from reality as their predecessors had been.

Back then, she would become part of a space adventure by sheer chance. She might have lingered on the spaceship a bit too long and suddenly found herself zooming into space with an all-male crew. That scenario served three purposes: a) it provided the film with ‘love interest’, b) it provided her lover any number of opportunities to protect her on a hostile planet, and c) it provided an intermediary between men of science and the audience: she’d ask questions so that the audience might be enlightened by their responses to her questions.

Now, she is a crucial member on the team because she is a specialist in extra-terrestrial life. In effect, the action of the film is based on her authority and leadership. She is the only scientist in the world who can find a way to halt the proliferation of the alien monster loose onboard the spaceship. By and large, the men still do most of the grunt work but not much thinking. Of course women in real life are every bit as competent as men in all science disciplines. But do we really need to have women depicted as their answer to Einstein in virtually every science fiction film?

Now, she not only knows that the earth is about to belch a volcano in the middle of Manhattan, but she also knows how to divert its lava flow out to sea. She is the first to recognize a pattern of earthquakes that can split the earth in two. She isolates and finds a way to destroy a virus that threatens mass extinction.

There was no reason why that role would be played only by males for decades. That is, no reason except the reciprocal fantasies of Hollywood and audiences. A reversal of roles is disingenuous at best. It distorts reality and is offensive to objective men and women. In some ways, the offence is greater against women who are looking through the glass ceiling when they are not in a movie theater.

Then and now, darkened theaters are powerful hosts to films that secretly brainwash their viewers with subliminal opinions. But something new has been added to current crime and political films. In contrast to the simple reversal of gender, a variety of techniques are deeply imbedded in the plots and characters of those films.

Then, crime films focused on historic or fictitious criminals and their crimes, not on the lawmen who played a part in the advancement of plot. The lawmen had character but were not characterized as necessarily evil because of their occupation. Now and then, we witnessed a ‘bad apple’ in the ranks of lawmen, but almost always a lawman’s function was to solve crimes and bring criminals to justice.

Then, the pattern for political comedies focused on characters, not ideologies. They were not biased except for an occasional punsometimes good-natured, other times notat the expense of Republicans.

Now, there is a plethora of films, usually in the guise of action films, that are engaged in brainwashing. More often than not they are as exciting as the best adventure films. They are often so well made that I watch them despite their thinly veiled bias against American institutions. Totally unaware of a film’s context, I turn on TV and within a few moments I know who the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys are. Just a few words of dialogue tip me off. Sometimes an image conveys bias instantly.

For example, I got my first image of Avatar when I turned on my TV and the film happened to be near its end. I needed only an instant to see that the American Army was engaged in genocide. If the mission depicted had been an international one, the film’s message would have been objective in so far as it would indict humankind, not just Americans.

Another example of bias is Edge of Darkness. This film reeks with bias. Its predictable villains are an American corporation, senator, and the Defense Department. Bias doesn’t get much thicker than that. Like 99.9% of other politically biased films, the film lacks the element of surprise. However diligently the film’s writer, director, and actors worked to keep viewers from knowing who the bad guys would turn out to be, its senator, corporate moguls, and the Defense Department are dead giveaways by definition. The same is true for major CIA characters. I invariably spot them as prime suspects of crime or worse the instant they are introduced. Many of our major movie stars score some of their biggest hits when their characters fight the inherently evil CIA.

It’s interesting to note that when I checked the date for the Edge of Night on the Internet, I paused to read a review of the film. The critic claimed the film had no politics.’! He is either incompetent or (more likely) so politically in agreement with the underlying politics of the film, that he saw nothing political about it.

He is not alone. Filmgoers, including critics, are anesthetized by a film’s action and are susceptible to being brainwashed in the dark.

There are a handful of political films that are not biased, notably Advise and Consent. That film objectively reveals unethical activities of some members of congress, but it is neither explicitly nor implicitly Anti-American. On the contrary, this 1962 film (based on Allen Drury’s book) depicts the American way as I experienced it when I was a young man. Am I biased? Certainly not when that America, whatever its faults, is compared to the America of today.

But I remain hopeful.

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