Fall Behind

Dear readers, you may be wondering what I’ve been up to, since lately dispatches are few and I never call anymore. Well, I’ve been working on a book. If you want a copy of the proposal, e-mail me and I’ll send it to you. For the purposes of this website, the proposal is to be distributed under the terms of the Godfather Intellectual Property License: If you want to take a look at the book proposal I’ve spent the last three years working on, you may do so free of charge as long as it never redistributed in an incomplete form (i.e., without my name on it). However, in return, know that someday—and that day may never come —I’ll call upon you to do a service for me.

If that’s too much for you, you may enjoy this little video clip I did for MediaChannel a few weeks ago (during this blog’s autumn vacation):

Did I mention I hate what the web does to video? No? Never mind. Let’s just say that as an editor, I deeply resent the reduced frame rate of web video, because all that time I spend making sure the cuts are exact within a thirtieth of a second is essentially wasted. Sigh.

Good For the Gander!

Remember how I used to complain about torture? Well, I have put those fears to rest. The President himself has assured me that the United States does not torture. We merely apply psychological or physical pressure, nothing that leaves marks (never mind that these exact techniques rendered Jose Padilla unfit to stand trial).

Donald Hebb—who worked my old alma mater—helped the CIA figure out that basically, you can drive anybody crazy with a bare minimum of equipment:

From 1950 to 1962, the CIA led a secret research effort to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan project of the mind with costs that reached a billion dollars a year. Many have heard about the most outlandish and least successful aspect of this research — the testing of LSD on unsuspecting subjects and the tragic death of a CIA employee, Dr. Frank Olson, who jumped to his death from a New York hotel after a dose of this drug. This Agency drug testing, the focus of countless sensational press accounts and a half-dozen major books, led nowhere. But obscure CIA-funded behavioral experiments, outsourced to the country’s leading universities, produced two key findings, both duly and dully reported in scientific journals, that contributed to the discovery of a distinctly American form of torture: psychological torture. With funding from Canada’s Defense Research Board, famed Canadian psychologist Dr. Donald O. Hebb found that he could induce a state akin to psychosis in just 48 hours. What had the doctor done—drugs, hypnosis, electroshock? No, none of the above.

For two days, student volunteers at McGill University, where Dr. Hebb was chair of Psychology, simply sat in comfortable cubicles deprived of sensory stimulation by goggles, gloves, and ear muffs.

Ironically, Hebb was the one pioneered research into the physical manifestations of thought patterns in the brain, but as Dana Perino said, “The bottom line is, we don’t torture.” Principally because torture, as we are now defining it, isn’t supposed to leave marks.

And whom do we torture er, ‘legally and successfully interrogate,’ again? Only the most important suspects are tortured in the name of national security, as the television keeps reminding us. We’re talking high value targets here, the Justice Department assures us. Which brings me to point here: if these techniques are truly legal and effective, the next Attorney General really needs to use them on Alberto Gonzalez.

You’re probably thinking, who’s Alberto Gonzalez, and what’s his connection to Bin Laden? Well, in keeping with the ‘eat your own dog food’ principle, it’s important for Gonzalez, if he truly steered the United States government away from committing war crimes (i.e., torture) on a systematic level as he claims, ought to be able to let those same safe, effective techniques help him jog his memory. You may recall the countless (OK, 64) times he said he didn’t recall things during Congressional testimony. What he needs is a little help from his friends, and afterwards, he can testify to Congress about those techniques as part of their ongoing torture investigation. I mean, don’t you think his testimony will be enhanced by a little real world experience?

They Love That Dirty Water

The comic book villain potential of Erik Prince is truly awesome, as noted by the Daily Show—a wealthy, secretive ex-Marine who runs a wildly corrupt mercenary outfit above the law. But while it’s easy to blame Blackwater for the awful things that they do (routinely), let’s look at why Bush needs Blackwater so much in the first place.

Private contractors are needed to protect high-value targets, like American State department employees or drive fuel trucks from Kuwait. Now, Iraqis, including lawmakers and police, get killed all the time. But private contractors—mercenaries— who occupy the kind of legal grey zone that lets you shoot first and ask questions later.

When you can’t distinguish between civilians and assailants, you have to get aggressive, otherwise, you’ll get hit. And we can’t afford that kind of PR. When a Congressional delegation visits Iraq, you need the kind of security detail that plays offense as defense, no matter how many civilians you kill. The Iraq body count website is full of civilians who got shot travelling too close to Americans on the highway.

Running an occupation requires a certain amount of brutality, because the citizens there are never going to view your troops as legitimate. In fact, the only time you get suicide bombers is when you have a foreign military presence. And the kind of targets Blackwater protects are huge gets for an insurgency, because it makes foreign higher-ups wary of visiting the troops.

If you want to wage war, you have to kill as many people as possible—that’s why soldiers make bad peacekeepers. An occupation like the one we’re running in Iraq requires war crimes. And that is just one more reason we need to leave.

Not So Noble

Videos like this one make me ashamed of our side of the global warming debate:

First of all, I appreciate using a chart and all, but this guy needs to stop talking to people who agree with him, because it’s affecting his ability to make an argument.

The biggest flaw in the argument is the assumption that whatever measures we take will work. Now, I don’t think it’s necessarily impossible for us to curb or almost stop global warming. After all, the Montreal Protocol was able to repair the damage to the ozone layer within a relatively short time. However, it is apparent that Al Gore is in fact a pollyanna who’s sugarcoating the situation.

I say this because Al Gore, Nobel and all, is not calling for a reduction in greenhouse gas production. He’s not even calling for a freeze in greenhouse gas production. He’s calling for a reduction in the amount of projected emissions growth. In other words, he believes that the planet can absorb much more carbon without catastrophic effect.

But the range of scientific projections for global climate change scenarios include all sorts of catastrophies, and we’re discovering new ways global warming is going to fuck us every day. I saw a documentary on volcanoes which posited that the 300% increase in volcanic eruptions in the Ring of Fire (home to the majority of the world’s volcanoes, actually) in the past few hundred years may be connected to sea level increases, which put greater pressure on the underground magma chambers causing more eruptions.

If it were truly a moral issue, as simple folk like the guy in this video want us to believe, the answer is simple: stop using gas. I don’t have a car myself for exactly this reason. However, all kind of things I purchase use gas, from transportation to plastic extrusion. The most obnoxious parts of An Inconvenient Truth by the way, re the ones with Gore looking pensive while being chauffeurred around in a stretch limousine.

The reason we don’t get off gas, as the president says, is because we’re addicted, and he should know. The Bush family oil company, Zapata, literally put the “Z” in “Pennzoil” when they merged with Penn Oil. We could raise the CAFE miles-per-gallon standards from the thirties to the thousands (effectively banning gasoline-powered cars)—I just saw a Chevy commercial for a fully electric vehicle, and BMW has ads for a hydrogen-powered car, too. We could even bring back American automobile jobs by following the German model, requiring in-country conversions for all gasoline-powered engines to renewable fuels within a certain time-frame. But then again, transportation only accounts for about 60% of petroleum consumption in developed countries and is actually the minority of petrol use in developing countries, according the Department of Energy’s “Outlook 2000” projections.

When Gore buys “carbon offsets” from a solar plant in India to ‘make up’ for his jet-fuel usage, he isn’t being as clever as he thinks. Then again, neither is his audience; scientists have basically been convinced already. Over the last 20 years, I’ve watched scientific opposition to the threat of global warming wane to the point that the few remaining holdouts have shifted so far from their original position on the issue you can tell they’re just being obstinate.

I’ve watched global warming skepticism (which is important to have, by the way) move from “there is no global warming” to “there may be global warming, but it isn’t human-caused” to “there may be human caused global warming, but it’s insignificant” to “there may be significant human-caused global warming, but let’s wait another generation before we act.” As more data is uncovered (starting with the ice-core samples from Antarctica) the connection between human activity and climate changes since the Industrial Revolution becomes less and less ambiguous.

If Gore is serious about maintaining greenhouse gas emission levels, which is what cap-and-trade is supposed to do, then he should really start talking more about adapting to a world scarred by global climate change instead of pretending we can stop it by flying around the world “raising awareness.”

And this brings me to my second point: let’s grant the other side the benefit of the doubt and pretend that taking action to solve global warming through government expenditure will be bad for the economy (which is patently ridiculous). If regulation is supposed to cause a massive worldwide depression, why is it assumed by the idiot in the above video that taking the same measures while actually saving the planet won’t lead to the same thing anyway? For free-market zealots, it doesn’t matter if government programs work, they’re illegitimate and should therefore be opposed prima facie. (Cf. Bush’s SCHIP veto.)

So you’re not going to peddle this outside of those who have already bought it beforehand, buddy.

Speaking of people who aren’t scientists but pretend they’re just as smart; I’d like to address those people who have glommed onto the fact that the sun has a sunspot cycle which has an effect on the global temperature. Please note—sunspots are not the same as human-caused global warming. They are a separate cofactor in a large and complex system. Climate scientists already know about sunspots. It’s not like there are IPCC researchers who caught the Fox News global-warming-is-a-hoax show and said, “Oh my god! We forgot about sunspots! Erase all the equations from the chalkboard—we have to start again from square one!”

“Forcings,” as scientists refer to them, mean that there are inputs which push a system toward a certain outcome. That’s why the worst of all possible worlds is one where the sunspot-fueled skeptics and the human climate change proponents are both right, and both factors contribute to our suffering. If humans force a natural process to go off the rails, it’s not necessarily a safe assumption to think that we can right the process by contributing as much repair as harm caused. The curve has been irreparably changed.

If you want to talk about the issue with global warming skeptics, you need to talk about the strategic value of renewable energy. I wonder sometimes if Germany is leading renewables research because they remember the Axis was finally brought down by a gasoline blockade. Fossil fuels are strategic resources. Renewables are even more strategic. Everyone has much easier access to them than to oil or natural gas, which, as I’ve pointed out here before, is a major cause behind wars. Even giving our enemies renewable energy helps us, as we are no longer an oil exporter.

Save Arts Education

Has it occurred to these people who are flogging all this increased math and science education spending that the real, enduring legacy of America is cultural—the domain of the liberal arts majors? Even when the DVDs are made in China, they’re still of Hollywood movies. Our culture is the ultimate export. Al-Qaeda sends its video dispatches using American-made software on former Defense Department networks. Can’t we just be satisfied with that and call it a day on all sides?

No, we need to ramp up our math and science programs because lead exposure and television are lowering the collective IQ of American youth.

Now, I didn’t go to college in the U.S., but Elephant is always telling me it’s America’s last real stronghold, our university system. It has become the model for the rest of the world (at least, in terms of secular education). We’ve kind of mortgaged everything else—we’re not the strongest, richest, smartest etc. anymore. Being on top is tough that way, because unipolarity in a system as large as the entire world is very difficult to maintain in the long term. Harvard University, on the other hand, was here before the United States and will probably be here after it, too.

Back to our moron brood—wouldn’t you rather live in a country with more defective three-chord country songs and angsty poems than defective bridges and automobiles? Think of the future, people. Think of the children, so they won’t have to.

R.I.P., Dean Johnson

Dean Johnson, lead singer of the New York band The Velvet Mafia died in Washington last week. It isn’t clear what the immediate cause of death was, but Dean was HIV positive; I don’t know whether his death was a direct consequence.

In high school, my friend was a trumpet player in the Velvet Mafia’s “Mormon horn section,” which was code for the fact that the horn players wee mostly straight, while rest of the band was gay. Dean himself was a giant drag queen who would come out onstage in six-inch heels and sing sort of retroish NEw Wave rock songs about David Geffen and picking up boys on the PATH train.

My friends and I would go see him at CBGB’s a lot. We’d be in the front row; I’d be yelling at Dean—”Dean, have my love child!” or “Freebird!” or something else in drunken teenager, and my other friend, who was literally joining the John Birch Society, would hoot and cheer along. We were the band’s most dedicated groupies—not that we were gay or really had much contact with Dean for that matter, but we were very supportive.

It’s so strange to think that CB’s went only a few months before its legendary owner, Hilly Kristal, and then a few weeks later Dean went, too. The New York of my youth is dying out. The Lower East Side where my new, out-of-towner friends drink is so different from the place where I hung out as a handily-mustachioed underage drinker, even though they share the same latitudes and longitudes. No more Second Avenue Deli, no more Rocky Horror at the Village Cinemas, no more squatters and most of all, no more cheap anything.

Dean is gone and we’ll never get him back. And so, in some ways, is New York City.


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