Where do Republicans want to move if Obama wins?

I’ve already been hearing the same sentiment from my liberal and progressive friends that I heard in 2000 and again in 2004: they’re going to want to move to Canada if McCain wins the 2008 presidential election.

So I got to wondering, where would right-wing conservatives and fundamentalists want to move if Obama wins the election?

Canada, of course, is out, and I doubt many Republicans would want to emigrate to Mexico or Latin America, what with, you know, all the illegal immigrants there.

Up until a year ago, John Howard’s Australia would have a certain allure, except for that distasteful practice of compulsory voting. Come on now, every Republican knows that the government shouldn’t force people to vote. That’s way too much big government. Government should only prevent certain people from voting.

So where could all the forlorn Republicans go? Where would they feel most welcome, most at home with Obama in the White House?

The answer is clear.


Hippies and peaceniks used to be shouted down with “Go back to Russia.” But now, Russia seems to be the neo-conservative’s dream state. Consider how Russia stacks up against Republican priorities:

  • Dominated by the interests of gas and oil monopolies? Check.
  • A mainstream media with absolutely no teeth? Check.
  • Not afraid to invade its neighbors? Check.
  • A robust program of domestic surveillance in the name of national security? Check.

Wow, Russia has it all. And I don’t think they have global warming over there either. What a bonus.

I’d be heartbroken of course to see Republicans forsake the tattered shreds of a Democratic America, but I would try to carry on without them. Knowing they’re safe and happy in the warm, judoed arms of Putin and friends would give me some small measure of relief.

“Africanization” Disappears from NYT Headline

I’ve written before about the way Africa still functions for the news media as a “dark continent” of primitive savagery. So what a sad gift this headline was the other day in the New York Times: “Warming Leads to Water Shortage and ‘Africanization’ of Spain.”

I was getting all psyched up to write about this new symbolic use of Africa — intended by the article as a metonym for desertification, but suggestive of a whole host of fears of the foreign Other, such as the dangerous continent of Africa invading the shores of Spain, the gateway to Europe and Western Civilization — when I went to reread the article and discovered…the headline had been changed!

In the space of three days, somehow the word “Africanization” was dropped from the headline, and the article title now reads: “In Spain, Water is a New Battleground.”

So here I have another gift, another example of the seeming impermanence of new media coupled with the ubiquity of saved or cached data, which allows us to reveal the revisions that the online world feels no need to mention. In this case, the original headline is saved in my TimesFile.

On the one hand, I applaud the Times for yanking a word from their headline which plays upon European fears of African invasion. On the other hand, I wish the Times had made note of the revised headline, and perhaps even explained the reasons for the revision, rather than pretending like it had never happened.

If The Newspaper of Record is so fluid about its online presence, I think we need a new definition of what counts as a “record.”

Gonzales Resigns

Jack Balkin over over at Balkinization says it best:

As for Mr. Gonzales, he was a disgrace to the office. There are many roles he could have competently filled– and did fill– in his career. The Nation’s chief law enforcement officer was not one of them. He abused his office for political gain, repeatedly misled Congress under oath –and probably out and out lied on more than one occasion– and turned a once proud institution of government into an object of deep suspicion.

While others are wondering who Bush will appoint as the lame duck Attorney General for the next year, I am wondering how the growing exodus from the White House will unfold. Who will be next to flee the sinking ship that is the Bush administration?

The CIA, Interrogation, and Mortimer Snerd

I’ve written before about the creepy interrogation manual the CIA issued in 1983 on “Human Resource Exploitation.” The precursor to this manual is the infamous Kubark report, written in 1963. This CIA document outlines various coercive and non-coercive methods of gathering “counterintelligence information” from uncooperative sources. Over forty years later, some of the coercive techniques remain uncomfortably familiar: electric shock, self-inflicted pain, and sensory deprivation in a cell (or even better, confinement in a “water-tank or iron lung”).

But even more disturbing than the interrogation techniques Kubark teaches is the report’s tone.

Kubark is written with a sense of humor.

Consider the page here (larger image), excerpted from a section on “Techniques of Non-Coercive Interrogation Methods of Resistant Sources.”

This page details an interrogation tactic that taps into the deep psychological need to feel intelligent. Kubark explains, “continued questioning about lofty topics that the source knows nothing about may pave the way for extraction of information at lower levels.” Quite simply, ask the subject questions he couldn’t possibly know the answer to. And then, when the interrogator asks something the subject probably does know the answer to, he’s more likely to answer. After being asked impossible questions (often questions which highlight the subject’s low rank in his organization’s hierarchy of command), the subject often experiences a “tremendous feeling of relief…when [the interrogator] finally asks you something you can answer.”

Now where do I see the humor? Look at heading of this section: “Spinoza and Mortimer Snerd”—two examples of lofty topics that the victim presumably knows nothing about.

It’s supposed to be a joke, but there is a serious disconnect between the material and the gratuitously obscure allusions in the heading.

Especially when you consider who Mortimer Snerd is.

I’ll admit—I didn’t know myself. My first thought was just as incongruous as the CIA’s little joke: Wow, now that’s a great name for a rock band.

A quick search revealed two things: first, that Mortimer Snerd was, alongside the more famous Charlie McCarthy, one of the characters of the great puppeteer and ventriloquist Edgar Bergren; and two, that in the seventies Mortimer Snerd was the name of a small-time rock band—supposedly the first Kiss tribute band, in fact.

Now that’s trivia worth being tortured for. But should the CIA ever come knocking at my door, at least I now know the answer. Now I just have to figure out who this Spinoza fellow is.

Can we really be fair?

So I did my jury service. More details later, but first I want to consider all the preliminaries that go up to the actual trial, namely jury selection and the question of “fairness.”

I went through the selection process for two different trials (the first trial was settled in a plea bargain just after the jury was selected and seated, which meant I was shepherded to another courtroom for another round of jury selection). In both courtrooms the assistant district attorney asked every member of the jury, several times, if past incidents in our lives would affect our ability to be fair.

We are expected, in a criminal trial, to put aside all past experiences and enter the courtroom as blank slates. A number of times, a fellow jury member was asked if some experience, say, their own divorce from a physically abusive husband, would affect their ability to be fair, here, today, in this trial of a husband accused of assaulting his wife and child. The jurors in the first trial all answered yes, they could be fair, or at least they would like to think they could be fair.

But could they really? Can anyone ever really be fair?

I think fairness is a myth. We all have our biases and they don’t disappear when we enter a courthouse. A fair juror is like the rational consumer economists premise their calculations on: they don’t exist.

At the same time, however, I believe most people will not be unreasonably unfair due to their past experiences. Although, a few potential jurors in the second trial seemed to be counting on this as a way to be excused from service. One of the witnesses was to be a police officer, and so the judge asked if any people in the juror pool had family members who were also police officers. One woman’s brother-in-law was a cop, and so the judge asked her directly if that would influence in her mind the credibility of the cop’s testimony. She thought about it, and said yes: because she trusts what her brother-in-law says, she would automatically trust the cop in the courtroom. The judge visibly scoffed at this. He said, “Do you mean that because you find your brother-in-law credible, you’ll automatically believe this totally different man whom you don’t know?”

The judge was accusing her of faulty logic and he was correct, it is flawed logic. But again, this is how people operate. There’s too much data in the world so we have to take shortcuts when we can. In this case, the juror relied on an association fallacy (my brother-in-law is truthful; my brother-in-law is a cop; therefore, all cops are truthful). To a rational outsider, the logic obviously doesn’t make sense. But that doesn’t make the logic any less real for the woman.

The judge dismissed that juror and a few more too. Several hours later, the judge and lawyers had finally found twelve “fair” jurors and one alternate juror (that would be me), who was presumably “fair” as well.

How to get out of jury duty

Actually, this post is not about how to get out of jury duty. I’d be the wrong person to write that, since I’m in the jury assembly room right now, waiting to hear if I’ll be called to serve for a trial.

As I wait, I keep thinking back to the last time I was on jury duty. It was late September 2001 in Philadelphia. Security was tight and it took 45 minutes just to get inside the courthouse. I ended up serving on a jury for an armed robbery trial. It was, perhaps, the most maddening experience of my life. The whole trial took eleven days. Our juror deliberations were like 12 Angry Men except in this case, there were men and women, and it took four days instead of ninety minutes. And oh, the one juror who believed the defendant was not guilty actually believed he was guilty, but just didn’t like the Philadelphia police, so she refused to change her mind. As a result, after four days of deliberations, we were a hung jury, 11-1. The whole thing, the whole freaking eleven days was a wash.

I can’t blame the juror too much. The only thing worse than the jury deliberations was the trial itself. The incompetence of the public defender was matched only by the ineptitude of the the young assistant district attorney, who was dressed as sharply as the p.d. was shabbily. Both men were jokes, and I had to sit on my hands during the trial to avoid raising them to ask questions myself.

Law and Order it was not.

The CIA on Effective Arrests

My current research project revolves around the use of torture in the so-called “War on Terror”—and I’m uncovering a wealth of astonishing, depressing material, much of it compliments of the U.S. government.

Here is a page from a top secret CIA manual on “Human Resource Exploitation,” distributed by CIA trainers in Latin America in the seventies and eighties (the full manual, along with its precursor, the notorious “KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation” manual from 1963, are available at the excellent National Security Archive). If you click the image for a larger version, you can read the CIA’s suggestions for the best way to arrest individuals hostile to the current government (say, labor organizers in Honduras):

The manner and timing of arrest should be planned to achieve surprise and the maximum amount of mental discomfort. He should therefore be arrested at a moment when he least suspects it and when his mental and physical resistance is at its lowest. Ideally in the early hours of the morning. When arrested at this time, most subjects experience intense feelings of shock, insecurity, and psychological stress and for the most part have great difficulty adjusting to the situation. It is also important that the arresting party behave in such a manner as to impress the subject with their efficiency.

Wow. This wouldn’t be out of place in some Gestapo training manual, would it? The CIA’s advised method–strike at dawn, be efficient, disorient your victim–reminds me of the so-called Dew Breakers of “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s ruthless regime in Haiti, the secret police who would come shortly before dawn (thus breaking the dew) to arrest and torture anyone who dared speak out against Duvalier. (Edwidge Danticat eloquently writes about one such officer of the Tonton Macoutes in her novel The Dew Breaker.)

My hats off to the CIA for their insights and inspiration to all those aspiring fascists out there. Way to export democracy, guys.

More Political Tag Clouds

It doesn’t attempt the kind of analysis I try with the State of the Union addresses, but chir.ag has a great visual tool that builds tag clouds for hundreds of important presidential speeches and texts, all the way back to the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s State of the Union speeches.

The site has a slider, allowing you to dynamically scroll through the clouds, seeing at a glance what words stick out during what time periods. In the late sixties, “Vietnam” is very bold, indicating it was used quite frequently in presidential speeches. The word “economic” dominates the seventies.

Here’s one surprise: during the eight Reagan years one prominent word is “God.” And that’s one word that doesn’t often appear in G.W. Bush’s speeches, even though he is far more evangelical and beholden to the Christian Right than Reagan ever was.

One thing that would make chir.ag’s dynamic tag cloud even more functional would be an “anchor” feature, in which you could select a specific word, and that word would be highlighted all the way through the hundreds of clouds, whenever it appeared. It’d be fascinating to take an unlikely word (for example, “healing”–which was one of the top 100 words in Gerald Ford’s first address to Congress on August 12, 1974) and see who else uses that word and in what contexts.

Word Clouds for the State of the Union

Pattern Recognition has a word cloud for Bush’s State of the Union address, in which words are weighted according to frequency. So, “terrorism” and “security” appear very, very bold, because Bush mentioned them time and time again in his address. And the word “plan” is much smaller, indicating that it was rarely used in Bush’s speech. And some words that you would think might occur in his national address (say, “New Orleans” or “Katrina”) do not appear at all in the cloud.

While this word cloud is a great visual clue to what we might consider the president’s working vocabulary, I think more can be gleaned by comparing multiple clouds. For example, let’s look at Bush’s 2001 State of the Union, given just months after he lost the popular vote:

additional america americans billion budget care children country debt earn education energy families federal freedom fund government health hope important income increase medicare meet military money nation needs pay people percent plan programs promote rate reading reform relief save schools security social spending support tax test tonight work years yet

created at TagCrowd.com

Here you can see the top 50 words in Bush’s 2001 State of the Union. The word “terrorism” doesn’t even register. Neither does “oil”–which is one of the top 50 words in this year’s speech. Instead, we have domestically-oriented words, like “schools,” “energy”, and “budget.” Iraq isn’t on the radar screen either. So, what we have is a snapshot of Bush’s pre-9/11 policy, one that betrays no hint of the grievous domestic and foreign blunders Bush is soon to make.

Now look at Bush’s 2002 State of the Union, delivered just months after the 9/11 attacks:

11th afghanistan allies america american best budget camps children citizens congress corps country depend destruction develop evil free freedom health homeland hope increase jobs join lives months nation opportunity people protect regimes retirement security states tax terror terrorist terrorists thousands tonight training united war weapons women work workers world yet

created at TagCrowd.com

“Terror” and “Terrorism” bump up into the top 50. “Afghanistan” is there, too (note that it’s not in the most recent address, even though the war there still rages on, and bin Laden is still at large). The word “weapon” now makes an appearance too, foreshadowing the rhetoric of “weapons of mass destruction” that will soon be used to justify the war in Iraq. As for “Iraq” itself, the word doesn’t crack the top 50 in 2002, even though we now know that the idea of invading Iraq was already a routine topic of discussion behind closed doors at the White House.

Of course, word clouds on their own provide no context, so the prevalence of any given word doesn’t tell you what the speaker is saying about that word, whether it’s being used with a positive valence or negative valence. But a word cloud certainly does give you an idea of what the limits of any given text are–what it includes and excludes, and therefore, what ideas are on the table and which are not. Funny, the word–and therefore the concept–“peace” never appears on the table. Neither does “diplomacy.” It’s as if both the end and the means to what we really need to accomplish in the world are missing.

Fly the Fiendly Skies

This is the scariest freaking business I’ve read in a long time: Christopher Soghoian, a computer science student who had created an online generator for fake boarding passes–solely to point out how ludicrously ineffective airport security is–has been visited several times by the FBI, most recently, with a 2am warrant that allowed the Bureau to seize every single piece of tech in the student’s home. (See a scan of the warrant at BoingBoing).

The kid (he’s 24 years old) is simply highlighting that TSA airport security is “security theater”–providing the illusion of security while actually not protecting anything or anyone. Anybody can print their own online boarding pass and use it to get past gate security (as Andy Bowers illustrated in Slate nearly two years ago); and anyone can easily use two boarding passes to not only get past security, but to board the plane under a false ID.

What’s most amazing is that Soghoian is simply revealing flaws in a system that desperately needs fixing. But the federal government is treating him as a terrorist.

Who’s to say that millions haven’t already printed their own fake boarding passes and done what Soghian is only suggesting?

Who’s to say that I, who travel every week from Charlotte to Dulles International Airport, haven’t used Photoshop to doctor an online boarding pass copied from usairways.com to get through security?

I have.

It’s simple, and any idiot can do it.

You take a screenshot of your real boarding pass (right before you print it) (and most airlines allow you to “check in” online, meaning you can call up your boarding pass right in your web browser). And then you edit that screenshot in Photoshop. Substitute your seat assignment, your flight number, whatever. As long as it looks vaguely like US Airways real online boarding pass, you can get right through security.

I did this.

Even though I was a paying customer and had a real boarding pass, I generated a separate fake one. I forged one. Just to test the system.

I got through.

I boarded and flew and landed home.

Now I’m worried. Is the FBI going to come after me? Seize my computers and flash drives and scanners and printers? I did what the terrorists could do. Does that make me an enemy of the state? I broke federal law (DHS Code Title 49, Volume 8; October 1, 2004 rev. [Page 302]. I knowingly lied to a federal official. Security fraud. I committed it.

Or did I?

What if I didn’t print a fake boarding pass. What if I only thought about it. What if I’m lying right now. Who’s to say that I haven’t printed fake boarding passes. Who’s to say that I have.

My lips are sealed.

Except they’re not.

I did this and you should too.

The Origins of Totalitarianism

The same thought trajectory that brought me to Le Bon’s work on crowds has led me to something I should’ve read a long time ago: Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism.

The Origins of Totalitarianism is Arendt’s thoughtful and relentlessly critical dissection of totalitarian movements and nations. In a later chapter called “Totalitarianism in Power,” Arendt argues that the ultimate goal of totalitarian governments is “to conquer the globe and bring all countries on earth under their domination.”

As a result, Arendt argues, a totalitarian government rules as if it were only a matter of time until the world is in fact under its control. Totalitarian regimes, Arendt writes,

conduct their foreign policy on the consistent assumption that they will eventually achieve this ultimate goal, and never lose sight of it no matter how distant it may appear or how seriously its “ideal” demands may conflict with the necessity of the moment. They therefore consider no country as permanently foreign, but, on the contrary, every country as their potential territory. (p. 415)

Let me be clear here: Arendt is specifically talking about Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. She’s not talking about any other nation. And I don’t mean to imply–as one might infer from my politics–that Arendt’s argument can be applied to today’s powerful nations.

The United States is not Nazi Germany. Bush is not Hitler.

Yet Arendt’s remark is nonetheless highly illuminating for the present situation, if only because it underscores how power now operates in the world.

For all the bombs’ bursting red glare and all the talk of bunker busters, the new regimes operate in a fundamentally non-dominational spirit. Or at least (in most cases) the domination assumes a form more alluring than the military occupation that Arendt wrote about. The most striking difference between a totalitarian government like the Nazis and imperial powers today is that the new Empire does not seek to conquer the globe by force, but rather, by a hegemonic false sense of consensus.

In the end, it’s much easier to convince people they want to do something (through powerful media strategies, educational policies, religious orthodoxy) than to hold a gun to their head and force them to do it. That is, essentially, the definition of hegemony.

And the hegemony that has been most wildly successful, the hegemony that is the cockroach of all ideologies, the hegemony that not only convinces people they want to do something, but more importantly convinces them they want to buy something, is global capitalism.

Globalization is the new totalitarianism.

Don’t Hug that Tar Baby

It’s been widely reported (and not just on the Daily Show) that new Presidential Press Secretary Tony Snow used the racist term “tar baby” in his first televised press briefing.

Responding to a question about the NSA’s secret wiretapping program, Snow answered:

I am not going to stand up here and presume to declassify any kind of program. That is a decision the President has to make. I can’t confirm or deny it. The President was not confirming or denying. Again, I would take you back to the USA Today story to give you a little context. Look at the poll that appeared the following day […] something like 65% of the public was not troubled by it. Having said that, I don’t want to hug the tar baby of trying to comment on the program… the alleged program, the existence of which I can neither confirm or deny.

Just to illustrate what “tar baby” means to most people, below is a photograph of Tar Baby’s Pancakes, a restaurant in North Myrtle Beach whose logo taps into the vast reserves of racist imagery comprising our nation’s history.

I snapped this photograph in July 2005, when I was in Myrtle Beach with my family. We didn’t eat at Tar Baby’s, but when I saw the sign, I had to stop and pull over. The sign left me speechless (close-up of the sign at Flickr). Finally–and sadly–I’ve found some relevance to this photograph.

Tar Baby’s (Larger Image)
Posted to Flickr by samplereality.

The Crowd

I discovered a gem tonight in Gustave Le Bon’s classic 1895 study of crowds, La Psychologie des foules. “Civilisations as yet,” Le Bon writes, “have only been created and directed by a small intellectual aristocracy, never by crowds. Crowds are only powerful for destruction.”

I like the tone of this. All fire and brimstone and presciently tapped into the mob psychology of the Facists. Such a welcome counterpoint to the current oh-the-masses-are-so-wise thinking that dominates the networked era.

Le Bon goes on, in his quaint 19th century French manner, to discuss Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and how Napoleon, though he possessed a “marvellous insight into the psychology of the masses of the country over which he reigned,” had somehow “completely misunderstood the psychology of crowds belonging to other races” (i.e. the Spanish). And then, in a witty footnote that would be comical were it not for its uncanny resonance with the present, Le Bon comments that Napoleon’s

most subtle advisers, moreover, did not understand this psychology any better. Talleyrand wrote him that “Spain would receive his soldiers as liberators.” It received them as beasts of prey.

Now, where I have heard that before? Soldiers greeted as liberators? Sounds familiar, but I can’t quite place it. And the second part, about being received as “beasts of prey”? Again, that vaguely seems hazily to be something foggily that is very nearly barely on the tip of my tongue. But I rack my brains and I can’t come up with it.

Le Bon continues in his footnote, “A psychologist acquainted with the hereditory insticts of the Spanish race would have easily foreseen this reception.” Le Bon frames in terms of instinct and race what is better understand in terms of culture and context: invaders are not liberators, occupiers are not liberators, and, when strategic natural resources are involved–whether it’s control of Atlantic shipping in the early 19th century or Mideast oil in the early 21st–the soldiers are indeed seen by the aggrieved crowds as beasts of prey.