Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dirty Mac - "Yer Blues"

The Political Class Is In Session

political class

by Thomas L. Knapp


Any number of recent political developments would serve equally well as the “news hook” for today’s column:

  • The US Senate’s determination to spend $1.75 billion on combat aircraft that the Pentagon has said it doesn’t want.
  • The inclusion of punitive tariffs in the Waxman-Markey “cap and trade” climate bill.
  • The Obama administration’s decision to purchase arms for Somalia’s “legitimate” government.

In five more minutes, I could probably find five more items, but these three will do.

Do you often find the operations of government confusing and seemingly counterproductive? You’re not alone. It’s not your fault. There’s actually a simple explanation, but understanding that explanation requires you to mentally rebel against a lifetime of “education,” conditioning and propagandization.

Here’s that simple explanation:

The purpose of all, or nearly all, functions of the modern state is to facilitate and maximize the transfer of wealth from the pockets of the productive class to the bank accounts of the political class.

Take a moment to digest that claim, and come back when the room stops spinning.

Are you back? There, there … have a sip of wine, rub your temples a bit, regain your composure. Unless you’re already a proponent of the stateless society, you’re probably either upset by the obvious truth of the claim (and perhaps berating yourself for not having arrived at that truth on your own long ago), or outraged that I’d dare make it.

If the latter happens to be the case, I’m going to say it one more time, just to help you get used to it, and then I’m going to explain it:

The purpose of all, or nearly all, functions of the modern state is to facilitate and maximize the transfer of wealth from the pockets of the productive class to the bank accounts of the political class.

This isn’t a new claim by any means. It goes back more than a century-and-a-half to Comte and Dunoyer, and if you’re a student of political theory you’ve seen it in bastardized form, courtesy of Karl Marx (he asserted a different set of classes — “labor” and “capital” — and was unwilling to give up the state as an instrument in his own attempts to establish a classless society; we’ve seen how well that turned out).

Government usually starts with the sincere enunciation of some high-flown ideals. For example:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …

But it’s all downhill from the “governments are instituted among men” part. It’s never very long before a political class emerges — a ruling class composed not only of those who seek to wield power as functionaries of the state, but also of those who aim to profit by gaining influence with those functionaries.

The government-affiliated members of the political class curry favor with the profiteer element by dispensing favors: Sweetheart government contracts, for example, and never mind that the goods or services contracted for may serve no particular “public good.”

The profiteering members of the political class reward their government-affiliated counterparts with campaign contributions, the delivery of constituent blocs to the polls, and lucrative employment opportunities after “retirement” from government “service.”

And you? Well, you pay for it, of course. The political class drinks milk, the productive class gets milked.

If you doubt the truth of this simple explanation, no problem — this is something you can test for yourself:

  1. Pick up (or point your browser at) any newspaper, and find the first ten most visible articles on legislation under consideration by your Congress, Parliament, state legislature, city council — any level of government, anywhere on Earth.
  2. Research those ten pieces of legislation. Look at the alleged “public good” goals … then look behind those goals to where the money’s actually going. For extra credit, research the outcomes of similar past pieces of legislation.

I’m confident that in at least 8 of 10 cases, and probably 10 of 10, you’ll discover that the legislation can’t possibly achieve its stated “public good” (and that past similar legislation hasn’t) … but that as a result of the legislation, a lot of government jobs are secured, and a lot of politically connected companies make money. Come back in five or ten years, and I’m also confident that you’ll find some of that legislation’s political proponents sitting on those companies’ boards.

10 years after Napster, online pirates alive and well



A file-sharing fine against a Minnesota woman that mushroomed from $220,000 to nearly $2 million last week is just the latest evidence that illegally trading music and videos online is still with us in a big way.

In the spring, while pirates off the coast of Somalia were getting all the high-seas attention, four Swedish pirates of a totally different sort were being sentenced to pay more than $3 million in fines and serve a year in the brig. Their crime: running The Pirate Bay, one of the Web's most-visited file-sharing communities.

The Pirate Bay is part of the trend of peer-to-peer technologies used to illegally swap music, videos and applications. Public sites such as Pirate Bay, IsoHunt and Mininova index and track BitTorrent files, which allow computers to connect and download content. People go to these sites to search for and grab music or videos.

Private "torrent" communities, such as PassThePopcorn.org, What.cd and Waffles.fm are so popular that there are many websites devoted solely to gaining entry to these cyberguilds. What.cd, for instance, has more than 96,000 registered users.

The legal ramifications of peer-to-peer file-sharing are still being worked out, but copyright infringement is a crime. Anyone who widely distributes copyrighted material runs a risk of being fined — or worse. Part of the appeal of peer-to-peer file-sharing is that it is difficult to shut down because pirated files are never kept on a single server that can easily be targeted by law enforcement.

Websites such as The Pirate Bay argue that they don't actually take part in the transfer of illegal content, they simply help users who are looking for the same files get connected.

File-sharing clubs

While The Pirate Bay and other public sites get the most news coverage, the momentum now is toward the private torrent communities: Websites that are accessible by invitation only, have strict rules about sharing and etiquette and usually focus on a single type of pirated content, such as music or films.

PassThePopcorn.org, as the name implies, tracks only files for downloading films but offers everything from the lowest resolutions all the way up to the high-definition quality available on Blu-ray discs. To join, you have to be invited by a current member.

The What.cd community, operating on a similar model, shares more than 270,000 musical albums representing 140,000 bands, according to internal statistics posted on its website.

Mike Masnick, CEO of research firm Techdirt, say that while private BitTorrent trackers are proliferating, it is difficult to directly assess this growth. Shrouded in secrecy, private trackers are illegal and try not to attract attention.

In a widely publicized incident in 2007, private community Oink.cd — whose members famously included Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor — was raided by international police organization Interpol, and a few of its members were charged with copyright infringement.

Industry fights back

It's been 10 years since the original Napster was launched, ushering in the concept of picking up songs, TV shows and movies for free via online uploads and downloads.

And despite growing popularity of legal media sites such as iTunes, Hulu and Rhapsody, worldwide media piracy still looms large.

Scott Harrer, brand director at P2P intelligence and security firm Tiversa, said his company monitors more than 1.5 billion peer-to-peer searches a day, up from 500 million just one year ago.

Still, Recording Industry Association of America spokesman Jonathan Lamy says the tide is starting to turn, just a bit. He points to a recent study by market tracker NPD Group showing that in 2008, 18% of Internet users downloaded music or other media from a pirate site, compared with 22% who opted for a legitimate site.

The RIAA, which has initiated copyright-infringement legal action against 35,000 individuals, is no longer actively suing folks for unauthorized music sharing online.

Despite its big Minnesota win, it now prefers to work directly with Internet service providers to get its message out, via warning letters and more.

Lamy won't say which ISPs the RIAA is partnering with. But he says that now someone engaging in file-sharing would simply be dropped by the ISP rather than sued.

While the industry doesn't publicize the warnings, some people have posted their experiences at Broadbandreports.com and other sites. Earlier this year at an industry conference, an AT&T executive said it, too, was giving warning letters a try.

Karl Bode, editor of Broadbandreports.com, doesn't think such approaches will work: "I've seen every attempt in the book to reduce peer-to-peer piracy, but it just continues to grow."

Contributing: Jefferson Graham

Monday, June 29, 2009

Declaring War on the American Economy

thomas-jefferson-bigJohn Steele Gordon


The Cap-and-Trade bill that passed the House yesterday will be a declaration of war on the American economy if it ever is enacted into law. It is ostensibly supposed to help the American economy transition from the old, carbon-based industrial economy to the broad, sunlit (and presumably unpolluted) uplands of a post-industrial one. According to an infomercial masquerading as an AP news story, the “climate bill may spur energy revolution.” Overlooked by the AP and other minions of the left is the fact that that revolution has been underway, largely without the federal government’s help, for more than a generation now. In 1970 a one-percent increase in GDP meant a one-percent increase in oil consumption. Today its means less than a third of one percent increase in oil consumption. It would be considerably less than that had the left not brought the development and exploitation of nuclear power to a screeching halt thirty years ago because too many of them went to see The China Syndrome. (The producers, to be sure, arranged, in a stroke of commercial genius, for the movie to open twelve days before the accident at Three-Mile Island occurred.)

And as Kim Strassel pointed out yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, the so-called science behind this massive bill is looking increasingly shaky.

If it’s enacted in its present form, what the cap-and-trade bill will certainly do is

1) Massively increase federal power not only over the economy but over daily life as well. Building codes have always been the province of the states, but this bill, according to one blogger, would require federally mandated energy audits before you could change a window in your home and specifies the number and location of electrical outlets to be permitted;

2) Start a trade war with India and China by slapping tariffs on goods from countries that don’t conform to US standards on carbon emissions;

3) Act like the governor on a steam engine, increasingly slowing down the economy through energy taxes whenever the economy accelerates. In other words, its virtually guarantees economic stagnation at best. And most economists who are not working for liberals think it will be far more economically pernicious than that.

This last, at least, is in the great tradition of the Democratic Party. The party’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, tried to deal with the high-handed ways of the Royal Navy and French privateers by a blockade–not of their ports, but of ours. Thomas Jefferson, in other words, went to war with the American economy. In a series of acts beginning in December, 1807, that Congress passed at Jefferson’s behest, American merchants were forbidden to trade with any other country on pain of fines of $10,000 and forfeiture of goods. The U.S. Navy was dispatched to help enforce the act by stopping vessels leaving American ports. Port cities (which at that time were all large American cities and many small ones) plunged into depression. Smuggling across the Canadian border grew so extensive that Jefferson actually declared parts of northern New England to be in a state of rebellion. The New England economy came close to collapse as it was then heavily dependent on foreign trade. (The American merchant marine at this time–mostly New England owned and built–was second in size only to Britain’s.)

The Embargo Act was, politically and economically, an utter disaster, as anyone who understood anything about commerce, economics, and human nature could have foreseen. Indeed, Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, did understand and wrote the president, “As to the hope that it may. . . induce England to treat us better, I think is entirely groundless. . . . Government prohibitions do always more mischief than had been calculated; and it is not without much hesitation that a statesman should hazard to regulate the concerns of individuals as if he could do it better than themselves.”

Good advice from a very wise man who did this country many a good service. Too bad Thomas Jefferson didn’t take it. Nor, alas, will his present-day successor if he gets a chance to sign this utterly misbegotten bill.

Derrick Jensen on Pacifism

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why are you working so hard?


Alain de Botton's riveting book examines jobs from painting to rocket science and wonders what it all adds up to.

By Heather Havrilesky


Even the best job in the world can be difficult to enjoy on a bad day. No matter how rewarding your work is, no matter how much meaning you derive from it, there are those times when you wonder if it makes sense to devote most of your waking hours to one pursuit. "Wouldn't it be better to spend part of my day outdoors?" you think. "Shouldn't I be helping those in need? Will I ever find a way to express the innermost reaches of my soul?"

In "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work," Alain de Botton tackles the modern problem of labor in his characteristically untamed, thoughtful style, revealing the ways work can bring us meaning or strip our lives of it, depending on our circumstances. De Botton explores 10 different professions, from biscuit manufacturing to entrepreneurship to painting to rocket science, examining each with a magnifying lens in order to better fathom it. Interspersed with the text are 200 original black-and-white photographs -- a janitor vacuuming the floor at an aerospace convention, electrical pylons in a weedy field, women in hairnets sorting biscuits -- that complement the book's moody tone.

De Botton, who has written several works of nonfiction on wide-ranging subjects from love to class status to architecture, launches his investigative journey armed with the Marxist notion that most of us are not only alienated from our own jobs, but we're also out of touch with the labor that goes into the products and services that we consume: "Two centuries ago, our forebears would have known the precise history and origin of nearly every one of the limited number of things they ate and owned, as well as of the people and tools involved in their production."

This is part of the author's quest, to enrich our understanding of where products come from. Thus do we come to appreciate the "highly precise, efficient and universal vocabulary" of the transmission engineer, the accountant's office, with its intriguing blend of "camaraderie, intelligence and futility" or the ways that a fisherman in the Maldives strikes a tuna "vengefully" because "[t]his is the first tuna he has caught in eight days, and there are six children waiting at home."

Like a philosophical adult version of Richard Scary's children's book, "What Do People Do All Day?" "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" outlines some of the technical, logistical or political aspects of these jobs, but every element is weighed in emotional terms. Are these workers happy launching satellites into space or auditing a plastic packaging company? What aspects of their jobs bring them satisfaction or leave them wishing for more? De Botton lingers on trivial details until he can locate their larger meaning, and has a particular knack for finding the emotional center of a seemingly neutral setting. Take his description of a large diner next to a freeway: "Anyone nursing a disappointment with domestic life would find relief in this tiled, brightly lit cafeteria with its smells of fries and petrol, for it has the reassuring feel of a place where everyone is just passing through -- and which therefore has none of the close-knit or convivial atmosphere which could cast a humiliating light on one's own alienation. It suggests itself as an ideal location for Christmas lunch for those let down by their families."

De Botton not only captures the longing inherent to modern life, but he explains, with stunning accuracy, the ways that longing becomes encoded in specific objects and places. "[N]o quayside can ever appear entirely banal, because people will always be minuscule compared to the great oceans," he writes, "and the mention of faraway ports will hence always bear a confused promise of lives unfolding there which may be more vivid than the ones we know here, a romantic charge clinging to names like Yokohama, Alexandria and Tunis -- places which in reality cannot be exempt from tedium and compromise, but which are distant enough to support for a time certain confused daydreams of happiness."

Reading De Botton's words, which so often ramble free of the stodgy conventions of nonfiction, can feel like an act of discovery. Like a combination of Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace and pop philosopher Thomas Moore, De Botton's dense, pensive prose expresses a palpable preoccupation with finding better ways of living in our bewilderingly estranged age, littering astute observations with revealing personal asides. De Botton is happy to throw himself into any story, as long as there's some poignancy or humor in doing so. Of a career counselor he affectionately writes, "Not even the most extreme quirk of the mind appeared liable to surprise him or elicit humiliating judgment. I harboured a confused wish for him to be my father." De Botton's perspective is so vivid and self-exposing that it's hard not to crave it well after you've put down his books. He has that rare ability to sum up our experience in a handful of well-chosen words, hinting at the pox upon us at this particular point in history with such incisiveness and wisdom that you can't resist searching for remedies in his subtext.

In "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work," he asks what is perhaps his most unsettling question yet: What does all this work add up to, in such a short life? After enviously surveying a room full of paintings that present explicit evidence of what the artist has accomplished over the course of several years, he reflects, "Our exertions generally find no enduring physical correlatives. We are diluted in gigantic intangible collective projects, which leave us wondering what we did last year and, more profoundly, where we have gone and quite what we have amounted to. We confront our lost energies in the pathos of the retirement party."

It's impossible to read "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" without contemplating the work of De Botton himself, a flexible, interdisciplinary intellectual with an uncanny talent for summing up our universal emotional response to certain shared human experiences in succinct, evocative ways. That may be the reassuring subtext we're looking for: Even as he unravels the limitations and disappointments of modern work, De Botton demonstrates, by example, how to become your own unique, unpredictable invention.

Are we witnessing the end of science?

Dark matter


Physicists only really understand 4% of the universe's constituents – the rest is mysterious dark energy and dark matter (represented here in purple, flanking the Bullet colliding galaxy clusters). Photograph: AP

Wired magazine is well known for its catchy cover lines. I won't forget one from 2007. Alongside a mocked-up image of a yellowing lab notebook and magnifying lens, it proclaimed: "The end of science: The quest for science used to begin with grand theories; now it begins with massive amounts of data."

Scientists and science commentators often say that if yesterday's science needed outstanding individuals such as Darwin and Einstein, tomorrow's theories will be shaped by the vast quantities of data pouring forth from networked computers and from the labours of big research teams working in areas such as particle physics, the human genome and astronomy.

The End of Science was also the title of a book published in 1996 by science writer John Horgan, though Horgan thought the pursuit of science was coming to an end for different reasons. He claimed that the basic scaffolding of the natural world is now mostly understood – the big bang theory, the structure of DNA and evolution by natural selection and the periodic table of elements are not going to change. Yes, many refinements are needed in our understanding of how things work, but as we are closer to reality in so many fields, the chances of seeing revolutionary new thinking will be that much less.

Will we never witness a scientific revolution again? And will tomorrow's theories be guided by big data rather than revolutionary ideas?

I recently put these questions to particle physicist Alison Wright, chief editor of the journal Nature Physics and to Lewis Wolpert, pioneering biologist from University College London, when I chaired a debate on the future of science.

Lewis's view is that fundamental biology is now unlikely to throw up any new surprises: there is much we don't know, but the fundamental architecture won't change. Alison takes a similar view for physics and says that we shouldn't expect any new shocks to the system, though, unlike Lewis, she recognises that you can never say never.

I'm with Alison on this – something tells me that physics has the potential to take off in directions that we cannot predict. Many physicists would like to see a single theory explain all of the fundamental forces of nature, or at the very least see experimental verification of the Standard Model of particle physics.

There are good reasons for this. Unification in physics has a long history – electricity and magnetism were unified in the 1800s, and later mass and energy were found to be interchangeable. In the latter half of the 20th century, two further forces were unified: electromagnetism and the "weak" force. But for the past 30 years, experimental verification of theory in physics has been more limited. This may well be because scientists have lacked the right equipment – results from the Large Hadron Collider at Cern could break the logjam.

But you do see something similar going on in physicists' attempts to unpack the composition of the universe. According to the big bang model, our universe is made up of around 4% of normal (atomic) matter; 22% dark matter and 74% dark energy. Some research groups claim to have found a signature for dark matter – but their results have not been corroborated by others. As for the idea of dark energy, Alison describes it as a "sticking plaster" that masks the fact that we don't really know what it represents.

But if we assume for a minute that physics holds the potential for a revolution in thinking, would we be able to see one coming?

Revolutions in scientific thinking are always difficult – but perhaps one reason why we may see fewer of them in the future is because of the highly professional way in which modern science is organised. It takes a lot of courage to challenge conventionally accepted views, and it needs a certain amount of stamina to constantly battle those who want to protect the status quo. Mavericks do not do well in large organisations, which is what some scientific fields have become.

Progress in science needs researchers who are not afraid – or who are encouraged and rewarded – to ask awkward and difficult questions of theory and of new data. It is easier to question mainstream views if you are independently wealthy, as many scientists in previous ages tended to be. But I wonder how many of us would do so if we were employed by the state and our career progression depended on the validation of our peers?

Ehsan Masood is a science writer and chaired Nature's Big Science Debate on the future of physics and biology, which took place on 8 June

The Rise of the Poor

10-Microfinance-Institution-BandhanAlvaro Vargas Llosa


WASHINGTON—Two years ago, the life of Manuel Mendez del Rio, general director and head of global risk management at the Spanish bank BBVA, took an unexpected turn. His fellow directors decided to entrust him with the responsibility of launching a BBVA Microfinance Foundation that would bring credit to the poor in Latin America. The conditions were simple: He would have 200 million euros (about $277 million) at his disposal, but he would have to run a profitable enterprise because the foundation would not get one more penny from the bank.

The mission fit Mendez del Rio’s own philosophy well. He believed in enterprise rather than charity and was convinced that the big financial institutions were missing the chance to serve potentially 500 million poor people in the world by placing most of their focus on their clients’ collateral and guarantees, as opposed to the merits of their business proposals. And, it could revolutionize economic development.

To be sure, a few other microfinance institutions lend money to the poor without asking for collateral. The best known is Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, which won the Nobel Prize a few years ago. But it is funded by selling bonds guaranteed by the Bangladeshi government and operates on the principle of peer pressure—each borrower has to be part of a group that makes sure he or she manages the loan responsibly and pays it back. Mendez del Rio manages risk the old-fashioned way—by gauging the sustainability of the proposals put forth by borrowers. And he has no government backing.

The BBVA Microfinance Foundation went around Latin America buying various nongovernmental or semi-governmental organizations and turning them into small private banks obliged to survive by making a profit. From Colombia to Peru to Chile to Puerto Rico, the foundation absorbed, restructured and trained the various institutions, and then started to engage the entrepreneurial poor. In just one year, it has lent money to more than a million Latin Americans. In Colombia, the average loan, typically involving commercial activities, amounts to $870, while in Peru, where the lending relates primarily to farming and livestock, the figure is $1,600. The rate of delinquency is a mere 3 percent. The foundation is on the verge of being profitable and will reinvest all the money, expanding its reach to other parts of the world.

“We want the activities we fund to be sustainable,” Mendez del Rio recently told me over lunch, “because that is the only way to effect economic development for millions of poor people.”

The obstacles standing in the way are not a dearth of business initiatives, lack of infrastructure, or insufficient education and capital. The main problem is that government policies are inadequate and insensitive to the entrepreneurial revolution now taking place among people once considered beyond the reach of bank loans and the market.

“Current regulations,” says Mendez del Rio, “are focused on regulating the microfinance institutions themselves rather than setting a very general framework for the activity, and this has the effect of mixing up productive loans with a minimal delinquency rate with consumer loans, mostly through credit cards, in which excessive credit and high delinquency are the norm.” In other words, government rules are hurting the good guys in attempting to pre-empt the bad ones.

Mendez del Rio wants nothing from politicians—except sorting out the property registries, which are a mess, and clearly defined property rights. Because of current inefficiencies, there is no reliable registry of the credit records of most of the poor. He considers this unfair: “The greatest wealth that the majority of poor people have to start with is their honesty and fulfillment of commitments, something that, in the absence of records, is lost.”

In his book “Security Analysis,” Benjamin Graham, the legendary Wall Street figure and theoretician of “value investing,” wrote that “traditionally the investor has been the man with patience and the courage of his convictions who would buy when the harried or disheartened speculator was selling.” At a time when the world is picking up the pieces of the last speculative bubble, it is heartening to know that there are still investors out there renewing the promise of free enterprise for the excluded masses.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Hypocratic Party

The One Minute Case Against Consumptionism


There is a tradeoff between economic growth and consumption

Economic growth is made possible by forgoing current consumption. For example, consider the case of a teenager considering whether to save money for his future. If he spends his salary on toys and trinkets, he will never accumulate any savings. If, on the other hand, he minimizes expenses and saves money for college, he will forgo current consumption and invest in capital improvements. The same tradeoff applies to all consumers and producers: capital improvements require a sacrifice in current consumption to invest resources needed to expand future production.

Production, not consumption drives economic growth

The lack of a consumer culture is not an impediment to economic growth, as resources that are not consumed are invested into new markets and production capital. If a consumer forfeits a new car now to buy a better car at some point in the future, his savings are not lost. Instead of being directed into present consumption, his savings become the investment capital for new factories and R&D into cheaper and better cars. This is why such high economic growth is possible in “Asian tigers” such as Hong Kong and South Korea – high rates of savings support rapid technological progress and investment into industry at the cost of a much more frugal lifestyle than in the West.

Capital has structure

Politicians and the media treat GDP as a single number, but it is crucial to understand that producers face a choice between producing consumer goods and investing in intermediate goods used to create consumer goods. Those goods differ as well: a factory owner can invest in merely maintaining his factory, building a similar factory to expand production, or engaging in a long-term research and development program in a new product or production process. Thus, the goods produced by an economy can be one, two, or more level removed from consumer goods.

Capital investments require savings and stability

Economic and technological progress requires that entrepreneurs make long-term investments in intermediate production goods many levels removed from the consumer. In order for this to happen, two things are necessary: that consumers forgo current consumption to invest in future production, and that reliable long term predictions can be made about future savings rates and demand patterns.

Monetary policy disrupts economic growth

Governments control over the currency allows them to use monetary policy to achieve short-term economic goals, such as increasing GDP. But the consequences of artificially manipulating interest rates are disastrous. By expanding the money supply through manipulation of interest rates or (as is happening now) sending money directly from the printing presses to banks and other corporations, the government is devaluing savings and redirecting them into increased consumer spending. This improves the economic statistics in the short run at the cost of wiping out the resources set aside for long-term capital improvements. Furthermore, the arbitrary nature of government intervention in the economy makes long-term predictions about future savings and demand impossible.

Let the market direct savings and investment or face financial ruin

There is no single right answer to the tradeoff between current consumption and the savings available to invest in future production and increased economic growth. Every individual must choose for himself how to balance present spending with investments in his future. In a free market, the sum of individual savings rates becomes the real interest rate.

For the last few decades, America’s spending binge has been funded by foreign investment and rapid technological innovation, but ultimately, unless we drastically cut our consumption, and direct our income into savings and repaying our debts, we will find our money increasingly worthless both here and internationally. The dire consequences of hyperinflation can be seen in Zimbawbe, where life expectancy has declined from 60 to 37/34 years, unemployment is at 80%, and as much as half the surviving population has left the country.

Further Reading

What Battlestar Galactica Taught Me About Healthcare "Reform"

Shut Up about Iran

Americaby Sheldon Richman, June 19, 2009

Here’s some advice for Barack Obama, John McCain, and any other U.S. politician who feels the urge to issue a declaration about the election in Iran: Shut up.

True, Obama has said he does not wish to interfere in the Iranian election. Others, such John “Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran” McCain, have no such compunction. But any statement at all — even a statement about not making a statement — is a mistake. The record of the U.S. government in Iran over the last half-century is so tainted that it would be better for all officials to just keep quiet.

The results of the presidential election certainly suggest a fix. But that is for the Iranians to work out.

For the last few years, the U.S. “military option” has been prominently “on the table” when it comes to Iran. The U.S. government’s closest ally in the Middle East, Israel — especially under the new hard-line prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — clearly would like to see Iran attacked for having the nerve to develop nuclear technology. U.S. intelligence says Iran gave up a weapons program long ago — before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president — but Israel apparently won’t tolerate an Iran even with only a civilian nuclear-power industry. Apparently the thought of another country’s challenging Israel’s 40-year nuclear-weapons monopoly in the Middle East — and thus being able to deter aggressive military action — is intolerable. (Ahmadinejad, incidentally, has no military authority under Iranian law.)

The U.S. government, then, can hardly be an unbiased observer of Iran’s political process. Besides, it is well known that U.S. governments have routinely meddled in elections throughout the world, overtly and covertly. The National Endowment for Democracy, a government-funded organization, is just the most obvious way that American officials interfere. (Remember how outraged people were in the Clinton years when they thought the Chinese had funneled money into the U.S. electoral system?)

Most of all, the U.S. government needs to keep silent because of 1953. That was the year the CIA — that model of openness and commitment to democracy — drove an elected, secular Iranian prime minister from office in order to restore to power the brutal monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. For the next quarter century, the shah ruled with an iron fist — secret police, torture, the works. “Enlightened” Americans used to say that he was “dragging his people kicking and screaming into the twentieth century.” He was a close friend of American presidents and Israeli prime ministers, and a main instigator of high oil prices. With all that oil money, he could easily buy the latest weapons made by American contractors, keeping them and his American political sponsors happy. He was “our” man in one of the world’s hotspots.

It was a sweet deal for everyone — except average Americans and Iranians. In 1979 the Iranians had had enough and, led by the charismatic ayatollah, Ruhollah Khomeini, they again drove the shah from power — this time for good — in the Islamic revolution that has reigned in Iran ever since. The U.S. government’s crimes against Iran were not forgotten, as the U.S. embassy was seized and the personnel held hostage for 444 days. When the hostage crisis began, President Jimmy Carter dismissed the connection to 1953, claiming that it was “ancient history.” It is from such utterances that the term “ugly American” was born.

What was ancient to Carter and unknown to most Americans was fresh in the minds of Iranians. Middle-class Iranians may have a high regard for the American people and our way of life, but that does not mean they welcome intervention.

In Cairo, Obama acknowledged that history. Good. However, acknowledgement is not enough. Deeds must match regrets — if that’s what he feels — about 1953. The U.S. government must forswear intervention, take the military option off the table — and mean it.

The Obama administration says the United States has two concerns regarding Iran: its support for terrorism in the Middle East and its nuclear ambitions. Neither concerns the American people. Even if Iran builds a weapon, the leaders there are not suicidal. And the way for the United States to safeguard against terrorism is to follow a noninterventionist foreign policy. U.S. troops can’t be attacked in the Middle East if they aren’t there. Someone as bright as Obama ought to realize that.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation, and editor of The Freeman magazine and author of “‘Ancient History’: U.S. Conduct in the Middle East since World War II and the Folly of Intervention.”. Send him email.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The United States Of North Korea

Friday Flashback: The Pixies - "Head On/Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons" (Live on Dennis Miller)

The Art Instinct

art instinct

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Can you imagine what our cave people ancestors were thinking as they relaxed by the side of a fire and enjoyed a beautiful sunset? If you think that we've only learned to appreciate beauty more recently, think again. We are celebrating Darwin's bicentennial year with author Denis Dutton and his book The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution which explores the evolutionary role of aesthetic appreciation.

  • Denis Dutton, founder and editor of the hugely popular Web site Arts & Letters Daily, author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution

Intellectual Property Rights Debate

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Political Consequences of Child Abuse

child-abuseby Alice Miller

The Journal of Psychohistory 26 (2) Fall 1998


Although centuries of novels and autobiographies have dealt with the subject of child abuse in all its forms, society has been slow in recognizing the frequency with which this assault is committed. Only in the last twenty years has there been any real progress in this respect, and most of it is due to the efforts of a small number of researchers and above all to the media. Still underestimated and sometimes contested are the consequences very early abuse will have for the victims in their adult lives. The issues involved have been largely ignored, and there is correspondingly little mention of them in historical and anthropological studies. Thus sociologist Wolfgang Sovsky is able to write an otherwise impressive work on forms of violence without making one single reference to the childhood dimension. He gives very considerable space to the willful infliction of suffering, calling it "mysterious," although it is readily explicable once we countenance the idea that the bodies of the executioners, torturers and the orchestrators of organized manhunts may have learned their fateful lessons very early and thus very effectively.

Also Goldhagen restricts himself to a phenomenological discussion of the people who volunteered to torture and humiliate others, without giving any consideration to their childhood. He does devote much attention to the emotions of the perpetrators, a subject hitherto largely ignored, but without the background of their early upbringing their behavior still remains mysterious. The reader seeks in vain for an explanation. What made respected members of society suddenly act like monsters? How could a former teacher like Klaus Barbie, and other men described by their daughters as kind, caring fathers, have innocent people tortured or indeed do the torturing themselves? Goldhagen does not address this question. He is obviously convinced that references to traditional anti--Semitism in Germany provide a satisfactory answer. They do not.

The hypothesis that German anti--Semitism was the real reason for the Holocaust has been rightly criticized by urging a comparison with the First World War. At that time anti--Semitism was just as strong in Germany but no organized genocide resulted. And why no Holocaust in the other anti--Semitic countries‹Poland, Russia and other parts of Europe? The argument that in the Weimar Republic unemployment and poverty caused immense general frustration that was discharged via the mass murder of the Jews is hardly convincing, given that Hitler was quickly successful in getting unemployment under control.

There must have been other factors at play which have hitherto been ignored, factors going some way to explaining why the Holocaust happened in Germany and why it happened at this particular time rather than another. In my view, one possible operative factor is the destructive child--rearing style practiced widely on infants around the turn of the century in Germany, a style I have no hesitation in referring to as a universal abuse of infants.

Of course children in other countries have been and still are mistreated in the name of upbringing or caregiving, but hardly already as babies and hardly with the systematic thoroughness characteristic of the Prussian pedagogy. In the two generations before Hitler's rise to power, the implementation of this method was brought to a high degree of perfection in Germany. With this foundation to build on, Hitler finally achieved what he wanted: "My ideal of education is hard. Whatever is weak must be hammered away. In the fortresses of my militant order a generation of young people will grow to strike fear into the heart of the world. Violent, masterful, unafraid, cruel youth is what I want. Young people must be all that. They must withstand pain. There must be nothing weak or tender about them. The free--magnificent predator must flash from their eyes again. I want them strong and beautiful...That way I can fashion things anew." This education program revolving on the extermination of everything life--giving was the forerunner of Hitler's plans for the extermination of an entire nation. Indeed it was the prerequisite for the ultimate success of his designs.

The numerous and widely--read tracts by Dr. Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber, the inventor of the Schrebergärten (the German world for small allotments) are of major interest here. Some of them ran to as many as 40 editions, and their central concern was to instruct parents in the systematic upbringing of infants from the very first day of life. Many people motivated by what they thought to be the best of intentions complied with the advice given them by Schreber and other authors about how best to raise their children if they wanted to make them into model subjects of the German Reich. They did this without even remotely suspecting that they were exposing their children to a systematic form of torture with long--term effects. Germany sayings and catch--phrases like "Praise be to the things that make us tough" and "What doesn't kill us will strengthen us," still to be heard from educationists of the old school, probably originated in this period.

Morton Schatzman, who quotes highly enlightening passages from Schreber's writings, is of the opinion that here we are in the presence not of child--raising methods but of systematic instruction in child persecution. One of Schreber's convictions is that when babies cry they should be made to desist by the use of "physically perceptible admonitions," assuring his readers that "such a procedure is only necessary one, or at the most twice, and then one is master of the child for all time. From then on, one look, one single threatening gesture will suffice to subjugate the child." Above all, the newborn child should be drilled from the very first day to obey and to refrain from crying.

Today, people who have been brought up in anything even remotely approaching a humane way will hardly be able to imagine the rigor and tenacity with which Schreber himself implemented this program. Psychoanalyst Wilhelm G. Niederland quotes examples that cast light on the everyday practical conduct of child--rearing in those decades‹for example, recipes for inculcating the "art of self--denial" into infants. "The method should be simple and effective: the child is placed on the lap of its nanny while the latter is eating or drinking whatever takes her fancy. However urgent the infant's oral needs may become in this situation, they must not be gratified."

Niederland quotes an account by Schreber from his own family life. A nanny eating pears while holding one of his children on her lap was unable to resist the temptation of giving the infant a slice. She was immediately dismissed. The news of this draconian measure quickly spread to all the other nannies in Leipzig, and from that time on, writes Schreber, he "never again encountered such insubordination, neither with that child nor with any of the others that came later."

Contrary to received opinion prevalent as recently as 15 years ago, the human brain at birth is not fully developed. The abilities a person's brain develops depend on experiences in the first three years of life. Studies on abandoned and severely mistreated Romanian children revealed striking lesions in certain areas of the brain and marked emotional and cognitive insufficiencies in later life. According to very recent neurobiological findings, repeated traumatization leads to an increased release of stress hormones that attack the sensitive tissue of the brain and destroy existing neurons. Other studies of mistreated children have revealed that the areas of the brain responsible for the "management" of emotions are 20 to 30 percent smaller than in normal persons.

The children systematically subjected to obedience drill around the turn of the century were not only exposed to corporal "correction" but also to severe emotional deprivation. The upbringing manuals of the day described physical demonstrations of affection such as stroking, cuddling and kissing as indications of a doting, mollycoddling attitude. Parents were warned of the disastrous effects of spoiling their children, a form of indulgence entirely incompatible with the prevalent ideal of rigor and severity. As a result, infants suffered from the absence of direct loving contact with the parents. The best they could hope for was to find some kind of substitute from the servants, who in numerous cases used and exploited them as objects of pleasure, thus frequently adding to the children's emotional confusion.

Since the experiments conducted on monkeys by Dr. Harlow in the Fifties, we know that animals raised by artificial "robot" mothers later turned aggressive and showed no interest in their own offspring. New research on macaque monkeys revealed that they kill even members of their own species if they were brought up without appropriate care. John Bowlby's studies on the absence of early attachment in delinquents and René Spitz' descriptions of small children dying of hospitalism following emotional neglect during hospitalization under extremely hygienic conditions are indications that not only animal but also human babies require reassuring sensory contact with their parents if socialization is to take a normal course.

These findings presented by Bowlby and Spitz almost 40 years ago are corroborated by recent neurobiological research. The studies in question suggest that not only active battering but also the absence of loving physical contact between child and parent will cause certain areas of the brain, notably those responsible for the emotions, to remain underdeveloped. Hence the children "subjugated by looks" suffered emotional harm that was only to develop its full destructive potential in the next generation.

Present--day neurobiological research makes it easier for us to understand the way Nazis like Eichmann, Himmler, Höss and others functioned. The rigorous obedience training they underwent in earliest infancy stunted the development of such human capacities as compassion and pity for the sufferings of others. They were incapable of emotion in the face of misfortune, such feelings were alien to them. Their total emotional atrophy enabled the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes imaginable to function "normally" and to continue to impress their environment with their efficiency in the years after the war without the slightest remorse. Dr. Mengele could perform the most cruel experiments on Jewish children in Auschwitz and then live for 30 years like a "normal," well--adjusted man.

In the absence of positive factors, affection and helping witnesses, the only course open to the mistreated individual is the disavowal of personal suffering and the idealization of cruelty with all its devastating after--effects. Undergoing an exceedingly humiliating and cruel upbringing at the preverbal stage, usually without helping witnesses, may instill into the victim admiration of this cruelty if there is no one in the immediate vicinity of the child to query those methods and stand up for humane values. People subjected to mistreatment in childhood may go on insisting all their lives that beatings are harmless and corporal punishment is salutary although there is overwhelming, indeed conclusive evidence to the contrary. Vice versa, a child protected, loved and cherished from the outset will thrive on that experience for a lifetime.

Binjamin Wilkomirski, the author of a harrowing and intensely illuminating book about his childhood in the concentration camps, once confided to me in a personal encounter some observations made with the eyes of an imprisoned but extremely wide--awake child on the behavior of the female camp guards. He said that it had taken him 50 years to inquire who those "blokowas" really were, those women who had so openly and unreservedly relished the job of tormenting and humiliating Jewish children and subjecting them to every conceivable variety of mental and physical cruelty.

To his astonishment, perusal of the trial records revealed that most of them were young women between 19 and 21 who had formerly had quite ordinary jobs as seamstresses or sales clerks and whose biographies contained nothing in any way unusual. During the trial they unanimously claimed that they had not been aware that Jewish children were human beings. The conclusion that immediately suggests itself is that ultimately propaganda and manipulation are sufficient to transform people into sadistic executioners and mass murderers.

This is not an opinion I share. On the contrary. It is my belief that only men and women who had experienced mental and physical cruelty in the first weeks and months of life and had been shown no love at all could possibly have let themselves be made into Hitler's willing executioners. As Goldhagen's archive material shows, they needed next to no ideological indoctrination because their bodies knew exactly what they wanted to do as soon as they were allowed to follow their inclinations. And as the Jews, young or old, had been declared non--persons, there was nothing to stop them indulging those inclinations. But no amount of indoctrination alone, at school or wherever, will unleash hatred in a person who has no preconditions in that direction. It is well known that there were also Germans, like Karl Jaspers, Hermann Hesse or Thomas Mann, who immediately recognized the declaration that Jews were non--persons as an alarm signal and the rallying cry of untrammeled barbarism.

For people like the "blokowas," exposed to emotional confusion in their early childhood, the declaration was a highly convenient expedient. All they needed to do was refuse the children water to wash themselves and that gave them sufficient reason to hate them for being dirty and coal--black. They could toss lumps of sugar to starving children and then despise them for the alacrity with which they scrambled to pick them up. Those young women could turn the children into precisely what they needed to feel powerful and could thus vent on their victims the old, unconscious rage slumbering within them.

However brutally these people were brought up, they showed no immediate signs of the harm done to them. On the contrary. Many of them grew up into seemingly well--adjusted young people. But sooner or later, usually one generation later, when the tormented children had themselves become parents, the former victims did the same with their children as had been done to them, with no feelings of guilt. It was the only thing they knew, after they had repressed and denied their own pain.

Studying child abuse confronts us with the astonishing fact that parents will inflict the same punishment or neglect on their children as they experienced themselves in their early lives. But as adults they have no recollection of what they went through. In the case of sexual assault on children, it is quite usual for the perpetrators to have no conscious knowledge of their own early life--history or at the least to be cut off from the attendant feelings aroused by those experiences. It is not until they are in therapy‹always supposing they are given any‹that it transpires that they have been reenacting what they went through as children.

The sole explanation I can advance for this fact is that information on the cruelty suffered in childhood remains stored in the brain in the form of unconscious memories. For a child, conscious experience of such treatment is impossible. If children are not to break down completely under the pain and the fear, they must repress that knowledge. But the unconscious memories drive them to reproduce those repressed scenes over and over again in the attempt (and with the false hope) to liberate themselves of the fears that cruelty and abuse have left with them. The victims create situations in which they can assume the active role in order to master the feeling of helplessness and escape the unconscious anxieties.

But this liberation is a specious one because the effects of the past don't change as long as they remain unnoticed. Over and over again the perpetrator will go in search of new victims. As long as one projects hatred and fear onto scapegoats, there is no way of coming to terms with those feelings. Not until the cause has been recognized and the natural reaction to wrongdoing understood can the blind hatred wreaked on innocent victims be dissipated. The function it performs, that of masking the truth, is no longer necessary. Sex criminals who have worked through their lives in therapy may no longer run the risk of a destructive reenactment of their traumas.

What is hatred? As I see it, it is a possible consequence of the rage and despair that cannot be consciously felt by a child which has been neglected and mistreated even before he or she has learned to speak. As long as the anger directed at a parent or other first caregiver remains unconscious or disavowed, it cannot be dissipated. It can only be taken out on oneself or stand--ins, on scapegoats such as one's own children or alleged enemies. Sympathetic observation of the cries of an infant brings home forcibly to the onlooker how intense the feelings involved must be. The hatred can finally work as a life--saving defense against the life--threatening powerlessness.

The studies at my disposal already in 1980 and referred to in my book For Your Own Good confirmed my conjecture that, both in Nazi Germany and among the professional American soldiers who voluntarily served in Vietnam, brutally--raised children figured prominently among the most vindictive war criminals. Further confirmation was brought by study of the childhood biographies of those exceptional people who in times of terror had the courage to rescue others from extermination.

Why were there people brave enough to risk their lives to save Jews from Nazi Persecution? Much scientific inquiry has been expended on this question. The usual answers revolve around religious or moral values such as Christian charity or a sense of responsibility instilled in them by parents, teachers and other caregivers. But there is no doubt that the active supporters of the extermination and the passive hangers--on had usually also been given a religious upbringing. So this can hardly furnish a sufficient explanation.

I was convinced that there must have been some special factor in the childhood of the rescuers, in the prevailing atmosphere of their childhood, that made it so fundamentally different from what the war criminals had experienced, but at first I couldn't prove my hypothesis. For years I sought in vain for a book that would give this subject adequate coverage. Finally, thanks to Lloyd deMause's help, I found an empirical study by the Oliners, The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe, based on interviews with more than 400 witnesses of those dark days. It confirmed my hypothesis. The study concluded that the only factor distinguishing the rescuers from the persecutors and hangers--on was the way they had been brought up by their parents.

Almost all rescuers interviewed reported that their parents had attempted to discipline them with arguments rather than punishment. They were only rarely subjected to corporal punishment, and if they were it was invariably in connection with some misdemeanor and never because their parents had felt the need to discharge some uncontrollable and inexplicable feeling of rage on them. One man recalled that he had once been spanked for taking smaller children out onto a frozen lake and endangering their lives. Another reported that his father had only ever hit him once and apologized afterwards. Many of the statements might be paraphrased thus: "My mother always tried to explain what was wrong about whatever it was I had done. My father also spent a lot of time talking to me. I was impressed by what he had to say."

What a different picture we get from the reports of the persecutors and hangers--on: "When my father was drunk he took the whip to me. I never knew what I was being beaten for. Often it was for something I had done months before. And when mother was in a temper she tore into anyone who got in her way, including me."

Unlike such uncontrolled affective discharges subjectively felt to be justified, explaining what the parent feels is wrong is synonymous with trust in the otherwise good intentions of the child. Such a course is motivated by respect and faith in the child's ability to develop and change its behavior for the better.

People given early affection and support are quick to emulate the sympathetic and autonomous natures of their parents. Common to all the rescuers were self--confidence, the ability to take immediate decisions and the capacity for empathy and compassion with others. Seventy percent of them said that it only took them a matter of minutes to decide they wanted to intervene. Eighty percent said they did not consult anyone else. "I had to do it, I could never have stood idle and watched injustice being done."

This attitude, prized in all cultures as "noble," is not something instilled in children with fine words. If the behavior actually displayed by caretakers is such as to contradict their own words, if children are spanked in the name of lofty ideals, as is still the custom in some parochial schools, then those elevated sentiments are doomed to go unheard or even to provoke rage and violence. The children may end up aping those high--minded phrases and mouthing them in later life, but they will never put them into practice because they have no example to emulate.

Martin Luther, for example, was an intelligent and educated man, but he hated all Jews and he encouraged parents to beat their children. He was no perverted sadist like Hitler's executioners. But 400 years before Hitler he was disseminating this kind of destructive counsel. According to Eric Ericson's biography, his mother beat him severely before he was treated this way by his father and his teacher. He believed this punishment had "done him good" and was therefore justified. The conviction stored in his body that if parents do it then it must be right to torment someone weaker than yourself left a much more lasting impression on him than the divine commandments and the Christian exhortations to love your neighbor and be compassionate toward the weak.

Similar cases are discussed by Philip Greven in his highly informative book, Spare the Child. He quotes various American men and women of the church recommending cruel beatings for infants in the first few months of life as a way of ensuring that the lesson thus learnt remains indelibly impressed on them for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately they were only too right. These terrible destructive texts which have misled so many parents are the conclusive proof of the long--lasting effect of beating. They could only have been written by people who were exposed to merciless beatings as children and later glorified what they had been through. Fortunately, these books were not published in 40 editions in the USA.

An animal will respond to attack with "fight or flight." Neither course is open to an infant exposed to aggression from immediate family members. Thus the natural reaction remains spent up, sometimes for decades, until it can be taken out on a weaker object. Then the repressed emotions are unleashed against minorities. The targets vary from country to country. But the reasons for that hatred are probably identical the world over.

We know that as a boy Hitler was tormented, humiliated and mocked by his father, without the slightest protection from his mother. We also know that he denied his true feelings toward his father. The real sources of his hatred thus become obvious. I had gone in search of the true motives not only for Hitler's mental make--up but also that of many other dictators. In all of them I identified the effects of hatred of a parent that remained unconscious not only because hating one's father was strictly prohibited but also because it was in the interests of the child's self--preservation to maintain the illusion of having a good father. Only in the form of a deflection onto others was hatred permitted, and then it could flow freely. Hitler would hardly have found so much support if the "caregiving" patterns he had been exposed to and their detrimental after--effects had not been so widespread in Germany and Austria.

But Hitler's specific problems with the Jews can in fact be traced back to the period before his birth. In her youth, his paternal grandmother had been employed in a Jewish merchant's household in Graz. After her return home to the Austrian village of Braunau, she gave birth to a son, Alois, later to become Hitler's father, and received child--support payments from the family in Graz for 14 years. This story, which is recounted in many biographies of Hitler, represented a dilemma for the Hitler family. They had an interest in denying that the young woman had been left with child either by the Jewish merchant or his son. On the other hand, it was impossible to assert that a Jew would pay alimony for so long without good reason. Such generosity on the part of a Jew would have been inconceivable for the inhabitants of an Austrian village. Thus the Hitler family was faced with the insoluble dilemma of devising a version that would serve to nullify their "disgrace."

For Alois Hitler the suspicion that he might be of Jewish descent was insufferable in the context of the anti--Jewish environment he grew up in. All the plaudits he earned himself as a customs officer were insufficient to liberate him from the latent rage at the disgrace and humiliation visited on him through no fault of his own. The only thing he could do with impunity was to take out this rage on his son Adolf. According to the reports of his daughter of his former marriage, Angela, he beat his son mercilessly every day. In an attempt to exorcise his childhood fears, his son nurtured the maniac delusion that it was up to him to free not only himself of Jewish blood but also all Germany and later the whole world. Right up to his death in the bunker, Hitler remained a victim of this delusion because all his life his fear of his half--Jewish father had remained locked in his unconscious mind.

I have set out these ideas in greater detail in my book, For Your Own Good. Many people have told me that they found them highly unsettling and in no way sufficient to explain Hitler's actions. Not all his actions, perhaps, but certainly his delusions. And those delusions are at the very least the foundation of his actions. I can certainly picture the boy Hitler swearing vengeance on "the Jews," those monstrous fantasy--figures of an already diseased imagination. Consciously, he probably thought he could have led a happy life if "the Jew" had not plunged his grandmother into the disgrace that he and his family had to live with. And it was this that in his eyes served to excuse the batterings he received from his father, who after all was himself a victim of the evil and omnipotent Jew. In the mind of an angry, seriously confused child, it is only a short step from there to the idea that all Jews should be exterminated.

Not only Jews. In the household of Hitler's family lived for years the very unpredictable schizophrenic aunt Johanna whose behavior is reported to be very frightening to the child. As an adult, Hitler ordered to kill every handicapped and psychotic person to free Germany society from this burden. Germany seemed for him to symbolize the innocent child who had to be saved. Consequently, Hitler wanted to protect his nation from the dangers he himself had had to face. Absurd? Not at all. For an unconscious mind, this kind of symbolization might sound very normal and logical.

Besides the sources of his fears connected with father and aunt, there was his early relationship with his very intimidated mother who lived in constant fear of her husband's violent outbursts and beatings. She called him "Uncle Alois" and endured patiently his humiliating treatment without any protest. Adolf's mother had lost the first three children due to an illness, and Adolf was her first child to survive infancy. We can easily imagine that the milk he drank from his mother was in a way "poisoned" by her own fear. He drank her milk together with her fears, but was of course unable to understand nor to integrate them. These irrational fears‹that an outside, watching his speeches on videos can easily recognize‹stayed unrecognized and unconscious to Hitler until the end of his life. Stored up in his body, they drove him constantly to new destructive actions, in his endless attempt to find an outcome.

In the lives of all the tyrants I examined, I found without exception paranoid trains of thought bound up with their biographies in early childhood and the repression of the experiences they had been through. Mao had been regularly whipped by his father and later sent 30 million people to their deaths, but he hardly ever admitted the full extent of the rage he must have felt toward his own father, a very severe teacher who had tried through beatings to "make a man" out of his son. Stalin caused millions to suffer and die because even at the height of his power his actions were determined by unconscious infantile fear of powerlessness. Apparently his father, a poor cobbler from Georgia, attempted to drown his frustration with liquor and whipped his son almost every day. His mother displayed psychotic traits, was completely incapable of defending her son and was usually away from home either praying in church or running the priest's household. Stalin idealized his parents right up to the end of his life and was constantly haunted by the fear of dangers that had long since ceased to exist but were still present in his deranged mind. The same might be true of many other tyrants. The groups of people they singled out for persecution and the rationalization mechanisms they employed were different in each case, but the fundamental reason behind it was probably identical. They often drew on ideologies to disguise the truth and their own paranoia. And the masses chimed in enthusiastically because they were unaware of the real motives, including those operative in their own biographies. The infantile revenge fantasies of individuals would be of no account if society did not regularly show such naive alacrity in helping to make them come true.

Naturally, my references to Schreber and his methods are not sufficient to explain the history of the Holocaust. Countless books have been written about it, but the enormity of those crimes still defies comprehension. Much more research needs to be done before we can even start to truly understand. Given what we know today, attempting to build an explanation around any one single factor would result in crass over--simplification. It leaves too many other things out of account. Also, such a monocausal explanation might lead to an exoneration of the perpetrators, relieving them of their responsibility by declaring them sick. No upbringing, however cruel, is a license for murder. But blaming the whole thing on a defective genetic blueprint is just as unsatisfactory. Why should there have been so many people born 30 or 40 years before the Holocaust in Germany with such a fateful genetic disposition? I do not know of any gene researcher who would have tried to answer this question.

My references to the systematic humiliation of children around the turn of the century and the torture small infants were exposed to (tragically never recognized as such by the parents) seem to me, however, to be an important element within the complex concatenation of causes. Unfortunately it has yet to be given the attention it deserves. The reasons for this neglect are probably closely connected with the general taboo that has been imposed on the subject of childhood. But for quite hard--headed pragmatic reasons, notably a concern for the future, it is important to break with this taboo and venture onto this largely unexplored territory.

The total neglect or trivialization of the childhood factor operative in the context of violence and the way it evolves in early infancy sometimes leads to explanations that are not only unconvincing and abortive but actively deflect attention away from the genuine roots of violence. The abstract term "anti--Semitism" contains an infinite number of meanings and frequently only serves to blur the complicated psychological processes involved, processes that need to be identified and called by name. Only in this way can we hope to change anything.

In my view, a close comparison of parenting methods today and in the past can bring about such a change. It can open up new vistas and encourage the formation of new and healthier structures in raising children. Many new enlightening books on parent--child relations are instances of concrete help for parents in incorporating the information at our disposal into the practice of childrearing. Parents who are able to integrate this new information are likely to find it easier to respect, encourage, understand and love their children and to learn from them.

But working toward a better, more aware future cannot be done in isolation from the ongoing attempt to understand our history in all its facets, for us as individuals and as society. The work started by Lloyd deMause and continued by him and other psychohistorians is to my knowledge the first systematic research in this direction. The history of childrearing might be more illuminating than many others in illustrating the dangers for society at large attendant on willful ignorance about child development. The ongoing research on babies from birth to three might be helpful for eventually overcoming this ignorance. It may enable some historians to raise more frequently the question raised for the first time by Lloyd deMause: what does it feel like to be an abused infant, without any enlightened witness? Unfortunately, the early childhood of people who recently mercilessly killed in Rwanda has not yet become an issue for psychological or sociological investigation. But should empathic psychohistorians once become interested in finding out and describing the atmosphere of the first years of the killer's life, they could probably be able to explain some of the events that still seem inexplicable.

Alice Miller is a Swiss psychotherapist and author of such books as The Drama of the Gifted Child, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child--Rearing and the Roots of Violence, Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuriesand Breaking Down the Wall of Silence. This article was written as the Distinguished Lecture for the 21st Annual International Psychohistorical Association Convention in New York City, and contains parts of her upcoming book, Paths of Life.

Terry Gross Interview with Woody Allen


Woody Allen On Life, Films And 'Whatever Works

Listen to segment

After more than five decades of making movies, Academy Award-winning writer and director Woody Allen has made his 40th film, Whatever Works. The movie, which stars Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood, tells the story of a "genius" professor in New York who ditches his upper-class life for something simpler — winning, along the way, the devotion of a beautiful young girl from Mississippi who is almost 40 years his junior.

Though audiences may see parallels between the character's relationship with a younger woman and Allen's own marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, Allen tells Terry Gross that the film is purely fictional.

"People always look for clues [about me] in my movies … no matter how many times I've told them over the years I make this stuff up," he says.

Allen is often seen as a mousy intellectual type who hides behind black-rimmed glasses, but he says that that identity isn't an accurate portrayal of who he really is. He played ball, won track medals and flunked out of college as a motion picture production major.

"I'm the guy you see in his T-shirt with a beer watching the baseball game at night at home with the television," says Allen. "I was never a loner or a loser — always the first one picked for the team."

Allen says that he originally wrote Whatever Works for the legendary actor Zero Mostel in the 1970s, but then put the script aside. Thirty years later, he dusted it off again when he needed a quick script to beat the writers' strike.

For Allen, filmmaking is an art that, he says, "distracts me from the uncertainty of life, the inevitability of aging and death and death of loved ones; mass killings and starvation, from holocausts — not just man-made carnage, but the existential position you're in."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Friday Flashback: Nick Lowe - "Cruel to be Kind"

Nothing Nice on This List — iAwful State Legislation

internet laws


Sometimes legislation is so bad, it’s awful! or iAWFUL (the Internet Advocates’ Watchlist for Ugly Laws).

I’m happy to announce that NetChoice just created a top ten list where we’ll keep track of the worst of the worst. iAWFUL identifies the 10 worst legislative and regulatory proposals targeted at the Internet. We’ll continually update to reflect the most immediate dangers, based on regulatory severity and likelihood of passage.

While misguided Internet legislation is nothing new, the threat that such legislation poses has increased dramatically. The latest breed of legislative proposals are among the most restrictive we’ve ever seen, and they can crop up anywhere, as state lawmakers increasingly take the lead.

Bad Internet bills unfortunately take many forms, but we see 4 broad categories:

1. Misguided efforts to ‘child-proof’ the Internet

New Jersey Social Networking Bill (A 3757) – What’s wrong? It turns social networking sites into social networking police. It requires social networking websites to promptly review user allegations of harassment and abusive language, and to provide a report of the result of any review “upon request” from the user (blog post here).

California Social Networking Bill (AB 632) – What’s wrong? It can be abused to stifle free speech. It should seem obvious that if you post a photo onto a social networking site, it’s a public image. California doesn’t think so, so it’s micromanaging website terms of service. It started as a tech mandate, and would have imposed civil liability on websites that failed to implement technologies that would prevent copying or saving of images. This bill was recently amended to require social networking websites to disclose to its users that uploaded photos can be copied without consent by persons who view the image. The definition of a “social networking Internet Web site” is broad, so this would apply to a large number of sites on the Internet (previous blog post here).

2. There’s a tax for that!

Connecticut Tax Bill (SB 806) – What’s wrong? It confuses Web 2.0 advertising for a traditional sales force. This bill would create nexus for sales tax purposes over any person who enters an agreement with a resident that pays any consideration or commission for referring potential customers to the retailer. Connecticut business that depend on Internet ad revenue better watch out—the money will dry out if this passes. Here’s more information.

North Carolina Tickets Bill (SB 99) What’s wrong? Taxes the Internet (and only the Internet) resale of tickets. SB 99 violates federal law because it explicitly targets Internet—and only Internet—ticket sales. The Internet Tax Freedom Act Amendment Acts of 2007 (Public Law No: 110-108) provides a moratorium through November 1, 2014 on any “multiple or discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce.” This law bars federal, state and local governments from imposing discriminatory Internet-only taxes such as bit taxes, bandwidth taxes, and email taxes. It also prohibits the sort of prima facie discrimination exhibited by SB 99—“Reselling or offering to resell admission tickets on the Internet…”). For more information, go here.

New York Online Employment Services Taxation Issue – What’s wrong? Discriminates against Internet services. The New York Tax Dept asserts that online job-seeking and resume services may be subject to sales taxation. New York currently taxes “information services” and believes that the providing of employment information falls within this definition. However, online companies fulfill the traditional role of a “headhunter” (which is a non-taxable service) only using non-traditional means. The fact that information is provided or utilized digitally does not change the fact that their service is designed to establish an employment relationship between an employer and a job seeker.

North Carolina Digital Downloads Tax Bill (HB 558/S 487) – What’s Wrong? Discourages the Greenest Way to Purchase Music and Other Content. This bill would discourage the most environmentally friendly way for consumers to purchase movies, music, and software by applying a sales tax to the digital download of these goods. The bills would also place local businesses in those states selling these goods at a disadvantage to out-of-state competitors. Here for more info.

3. Imposing liability on platforms and intermediaries

Connecticut Internet Resellers Amendment (SB 1002)– What’s wrong? It discriminates against the Internet (only) and allows unwarranted search of people’s homes. An amendment to SB 1002 requires Internet sellers to maintain an elaborate record-keeping system (in English, by the way) whenever they purchase and resell goods obtained from someone who is “not regularly engaged in the business of dealing in such goods.” The bill requires that the physical location of these records—often someone’s own house—to be open to the public for inspection!

Federal Bills on Organized Retail Crime – What’s wrong? They create extraordinary burdens on online marketplaces. The Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2009 (S 470), the Organized Retail Crime Act of 2009 ((HR 1173)) and the E-Fencing Enforcement Act of 2009 (HR 1166). Together, the bills would mandate online and off-line marketplaces to investigate suspicious sales, place disclosure requirements on online marketplaces, impose obligations upon online marketplaces known to be used by high volume sellers of stolen merchandise and force online marketplaces to collect information that law enforcement can use to prosecute those that fence goods on their websites. More information.

4. Tech Mandates

Nevada Encryption Bill (SB 227) – What’s wrong? Mandates a one-size fits all tech standard. This bill thinks that encryption is the answer…for everything! It would impose a hard encryption mandate that would require businesses to implement encryption technology that has been adopted by an established standards setting body. The bill prohibits any business from (1) transmitting personal information outside of the secure system of the business or (2) moving any data storage device beyond the logical or physical boundaries of the business, unless secured by encryption.

Texas Security Breach Bill (HB 345 & SB 327)What’s wrong? Transforms business and technology standards into legislative mandates, harming innovation and the next generation of security technology. This bill seeks to impose Payment Card Industry (PCI)-like data security standards, and, in the event of a security breach, liability on businesses that failed to meet such data security standards. It enables the Attorney General to seek reimbursement for costs incurred by a financial institution in the aftermath of a security breach.