February 14, 2015
Crisis: Films, Milliband, Obama's Wars, Privacy, Stanley Milgram
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next


1. Oscars Make History, So Hollywood’s War Stories Need To
     Be True

2. Ed Miliband: I will not back down on tax avoidance
Calls Grow to Reject AUMF That Permits 'Waging War All
     Over World'

'Privacy Critical to Human Freedom': Snowden, Poitras,
     and Greenwald Talk NSA

Rethinking One of Psychology's Most Infamous


This is a Nederlog of Saturday, February 14, 2015.

This is a crisis log. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about films and propaganda by films; item 2 is on Ed Milliband's not backing down on tax avoidance; item 3 is about Obama's vaguely worded proposal to have (minor?) wars everywhere, without Congressional approval, also; item 4 is about a recent interview with Snowden, Poitras and Greenwald that seems quite good but that
I so far have not been able to find; and item 5 is about one of the very few
experiments in social psychology that made much sense and also got quite famous (but that these days is "critiqued" by some, mostly - it seems to me -
by far dumber academics than Milgram was, and to ease their own careers).

1. Oscars Make History, So Hollywood’s War Stories Need To Be True  

The first item today is an article by Peter Maass on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:

When the Academy Awards are handed out, history will be made.

I’m not referring to the Oscars that particular films might win, but our embrace of their narratives of history. If “American Sniper” gathers a fistful of statues, even more people will see a film that presents a skewed view of the Iraq war. If the “Imitation Game” gets lucky, a lot more people will watch a movie that erroneously portrays Alan Turing as a social idiot. If “Selma” catches some of the limelight, more people may believe that Lyndon Johnson wasn’t entirely supportive of Martin Luther King.

This year’s controversy over films and history has led to a dismissive shrug from cultural critics who wearily tell us that movies are just movies, you shouldn’t take their versions of truth to heart, just enjoy the show. “Going to a Hollywood movie for a history lesson is like going to a brothel for a lecture in philosophy,” wrote Esquire’s Stephen Marche. “You’re in the wrong place.” A.O. Scott, the New York Times film critic, tweeted for the hard of understanding, “FEATURE FILMS ARE NOT HISTORY. THEY ARE HISTORICAL FICTION.”

I agree with A.O. Scott, though I also agree with Peter Maass's ending:
By all means, let movies engage history — this is a wonderful thing — but their narratives of violence should not be spared a confrontation with the truth.
Indeed, Peter Maass's article is more subtle than its title, with which I disagree, again because “FEATURE FILMS ARE NOT HISTORY. THEY ARE HISTORICAL FICTION.”

That this comprises the case of quite a few out-and-out propaganda films that sing the song of Our War in which Our Very Own Superheroes commit all kinds of Heroic Acts - that also are believed as true by many who saw these movies, and especially if they themselves are neither intelligent nor well educated (which comprises the majority, I'm very sorry to say), is quite evident and quite deplorable.

But since that is less a consequence of the dire deceptions planned by bad film directors or scriptwriters (although these are quite possible) as it is of the wide lack of intelligence and the conformable presence of lots of ignorance, I disagree with the title.

2. Ed Miliband: I will not back down on tax avoidance

The next item is an article by Patrick Wintour on the - mostly destroyed, formerly quite fine, presently very ugly and very bad website of [1] - The Guardian:
This starts as follows (and you are supposed to know who Ed Milliband (<- Wikipedia) is):

Ed Miliband is to promise that regardless of how much he is attacked, he will not back down in his campaign against tax avoidance, saying that in government he will insist that the rich play by the same rules as the poor.

In a speech to the Welsh Labour conference on Saturday, he will claim that the HSBC scandal is much more than a row that has shaken the world of finance and politics and argue that it has also crystallised a deep sense of injustice about how Britain is run and who it is run for. He will say that the episode has threatened the fabric of a society that depends on all sections abiding by the same rules.

Well... I agree, and I also think Milliband would be a less bad leader of Great Britain than David Cameron, who simply is for the rich and against the poor, but that is about the extent of my agreement, because I also dislike Labour, though  less so than the Conservatives.

I also agree with this:
Miliband will argue that these disputes are not about who is up or down at Westminster, but about the risk of a country divided, with one rule for the rich and powerful and another for everybody else. The government has failed to take action on tax havens, tax transparency, profit shifting and aggressive tax avoidance, he will claim.
But I do not trust either Milliband or Labour, although upon the whole, and without Blair and Brown, they are a bit less bad than the Conservatives, but hardly more credible, though that is more due to Blair and Brown than to Milliband.

3. Calls Grow to Reject AUMF That Permits 'Waging War All Over World'

The next item is an article by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:
This starts as follows:

Opposition to President Barack Obama's request to authorize another endless war in the Middle East continues to build, with progressives charging that the draft resolution is far too broad and anti-war activists mobilizing to defeat the measure.

As Common Dreams has reported, the proposed authorization for use of military force (AUMF) gives approval for open-ended and geographically limitless military operations. Its vague wording leaves the door open to use of ground troops, which the administration has previously vowed to avoid, and does nothing to repeal the sweeping 2001 AUMF, which is still being used to justify ongoing military actions in various regions around the world.

"This Resolution sets a dangerous precedent," said Francis Boyle, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law and author of Tackling America’s Toughest Questions. "Up until the 2001 AUMF, all War Powers Resolutions had been adopted with respect to a State, not alleged terrorist organizations that can operate anywhere in the world as defined by the President."

But "[t]his Resolution continues in that dangerous path, basically substituting ISIS for al-Qaeda and continuing to wage a global war on terrorism," Boyle continued. "So if Obama cannot plausibly invoke the 2001 Resolution because there is no connection to 9/11 as required therein, he will simply invoke this Resolution. Between the two resolutions you can have the U.S. government waging war all over the world."

Yes, indeed. There is considerably more in the article, including this:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is one of the only U.S. senators to have offered a firm position on the AUMF.

"I oppose sending U.S. ground troops into combat in another bloody war in the Middle East," he said Wednesday. "I therefore cannot support the resolution in its current form without clearer limitations on the role of U.S. combat troops."

But so far Sanders is one of the few to oppose the AUMF. I think he is right,
but with the present Congress Obama's awfully vague ruling will probably prevail.

And so there will be lots more wars and lots more war profits (except that you may not call them wars and you should not think anyone makes a profit from them).

4. 'Privacy Critical to Human Freedom': Snowden, Poitras, and Greenwald Talk NSA

The next item is an article by Jon Queally on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

During a unique conversation hosted by the New School and the New York Times on Thursday, the three people most responsible for bringing the story of mass global surveillance programs orchestrated by the U.S. National Security Agency were brought together for the first time since they first met in a Hong Kong hotel in 2013.

Filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald sat with the New York Times media columnist David Carr on stage while the whistleblower himself, Edward Snowden, appeared via videolink from Russia where he remains under asylum protection.

I should start with saying that - so far - I have not been able to find any viewable copy from the interview. This may in part be due to my decision
to block almost all cookies and to totally not use Javascript, but I find it
odd that this Common Dreams article ends with this:

Watch the conversation:

After which there is no link of any kind, also not in the html for the site.

So all I can do is quote from this article. To start with, here is Glenn Greenwald:

Greenwald, who along with his colleagues at the Guardian, won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Snowden documents, said during the talk, "The realm of privacy is critical to human freedom, to political activism and is something that we've always sought out."

Rejecting the idea that "only people who have something to hide" should be worried about government surveillance, Greenwald continued by arguing that what those people are saying "is that 'I've agreed to turn myself into such a submissive, pliant, uninteresting person that I actually don't think the government is interested in me.' That in itself is an extraordinary damage—that you accept that bargain or that that bargain even exists. But I think for all of us, just the knowledge that we might be watched at any given moment is very psychologically damaging," for individual people and for society as a whole.

Yes, I quite agree. And as I have said before - first on December 25, 2012, before knowing anything about Snowden or about his many revelations - I think (with a father and a grandfather locked up as "political terrorists" by the Nazis, which my grandfather did not survive) this is in fact the start of American fascism, for (1) only extremely evil governors insist on knowing everything about anyone (and all in secret, done by anonymous people, shielded by secret courts, whose decisions often are secret) and (2) spying on everyone is fundamentally undemocratic, extremely bad and very dangerous, and is also fundamentally anti-Constitutional.

This is also why I am less optimistic than is Edward Snowden:

(...) Snowden said, "The reality is that people care about our ability to communicate and associate without being monitored and judged based on private activities. And as long as we have that, we will win regardless of the efforts against us."

He continued, "When it comes down it—and, yes, governments possess extraordinary powers—but at the end of the day there are more of us than there are of them. And as long as we work together and as long as we value our rights, we will be able to protect them and assert them."

I doubt it, but I have lived more than twice as long as Snowden, and I probably also have lower opinions than he does about ordinary men (the link is quite revealing).

But I agree with his concluding words - we need to work together and we need to value our rights, specifically - and can only hope for the best.

5. Rethinking One of Psychology's Most Infamous Experiments

The next and last item today is an article by Cari Romm on The Atlantic: This starts with the following subtitle:
In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram's electric-shock studies showed that people will obey even the most abhorrent of orders. But recently, researchers have begin to question his conclusionsand offer some of their own.
And that indeed is the subject. To start with, here is a link to Stanley Milgram (<- Wikipedia), who got to be only 51, and a link to Christopher R. Browning, whose book "Ordinary Men" taught me rather a lot about ordinary men in a state of war or under a totalitarian government, and who was - among other things - inspired by Milgram.

The article itself starts as follows:

In 1961, Yale University psychology professor Stanley Milgram placed an advertisement in the New Haven Register. “We will pay you $4 for one hour of your time,” it read, asking for “500 New Haven men to help us complete a scientific study of memory and learning.”

Only part of that was true. Over the next two years, hundreds of people showed up at Milgram’s lab for a learning and memory study that quickly turned into something else entirely. Under the watch of the experimenter, the volunteer—dubbed “the teacher”—would read out strings of words to his partner, “the learner,” who was hooked up to an electric-shock machine in the other room. Each time the learner made a mistake in repeating the words, the teacher was to deliver a shock of increasing intensity, starting at 15 volts (labeled “slight shock” on the machine) and going all the way up to 450 volts (“Danger: severe shock”). Some people, horrified at what they were being asked to do, stopped the experiment early, defying their supervisor’s urging to go on; others continued up to 450 volts, even as the learner pled for mercy, yelled a warning about his heart condition—and then fell alarmingly silent. In the most well-known variation of the experiment, a full 65 percent of people went all the way.

Until they emerged from the lab, the participants didn’t know that the shocks weren’t real, that the cries of pain were pre-recorded, and that the learner—railroad auditor Jim McDonough—was in on the whole thing, sitting alive and unharmed in the next room. They were also unaware that they had just been used to prove the claim that would soon make Milgram famous: that ordinary people, under the direction of an authority figure, would obey just about any order they were given, even to torture. It’s a phenomenon that’s been used to explain atrocities from the Holocaust to the Vietnam War’s My Lai massacre to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Yes, indeed. It also explains why my father and grandfather were not ordinary men, for they were some of the very few Dutchmen who went into resistance against the Nazis who occupied Holland from May 1940 - May 1945; who opposed the maltreatment of the Jews (of which more than 116,000 were murdered, in part thanks to the collaboration of the rich Jews David Cohen and Abraham Asscher with the Nazis); and who were arrested in July of 1941, and convicted by collaborating Dutch judges as "political terrorists" to German concentration camps, where my grandfather was also murdered.

There is a lot more in the article, in part about criticisms of Milgram, that I mostly, as a philosopher and a psychologist with excellent degrees, and a specialization in methodology, cast aside as trivial, not relevant or mere fame-
hunting by my esteemed academic colleagues.

So here I am one of "the many":
But many psychologists argue that even with methodological holes and moral lapses, the basic finding of Milgram’s work, the rate of obedience, still holds up.
I agree. For more, see the article, that is quite interesting and good.

[1] I will write an article about it next week, but all I say for the present is that at The Guardian it seems, at least for me, as if most act as if nothing happened, nothing needs any discussion, and everything with their 1992 text style in their 1935 lettering is quite fine. It is not, but I will explain this next week, and then leave it alone, mostly because I am not British, and because I have seen Dutch dailies being destroyed as well, and also could not do a thing to stop the destruction and the - quite intentional! - stupification.

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