Monday, December 29, 2008

Milgram Again! 45 Years Later

Having so often discussed the original Milgram experiment with friends, colleagues, students and teachers, I never thought the experiment would be repeated, but it has been.

From yesterday's New York Times, Adam Cohen provides the juicy details:
Jerry Burger of Santa Clara University replicated the experiment and has now published his findings in American Psychologist. He made one slight change in the protocol, in deference to ethical standards developed since 1963. He stopped when a participant believed he had administered a 150-volt shock. (He also screened out people familiar with the original experiment.)
Professor Burger’s results were nearly identical to Professor Milgram’s. Seventy percent of his participants administered the 150-volt shock and had to be stopped. That is less than in the original experiment, but not enough to be significant.
Much has changed since 1963. The civil rights and antiwar movements taught Americans to question authority. Institutions that were once accorded great deference — including the government and the military — are now eyed warily. Yet it appears that ordinary Americans are about as willing to blindly follow orders to inflict pain on an innocent stranger as they were four decades ago...The findings of these two experiments should be part of the basic training for soldiers, police officers, jailers and anyone else whose position gives them the power to inflict abuse on others.

I'd love to know a little more about the change in the research protocols and the new screening process, as well as what motivated the researchers this time around. I'll be checking out Professor Burger's article in American Psychologist...and don't anyone get any bright ideas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Christmas Present

My 20-month old son Noah just climbed on my lap, pointed to the monitor and said "A." Then he pointed to a soda can and said "Not A."

He repeated this a few times. That this was for my benefit was made clear by the expression on his face. When he was satisfied I understood, he lept off my lap and happily walked away.

May everyone feel love this Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

ecclecicism on steroids

Listening to the oddest mixture of ska, ragtime, folk, progressive and even medieval music tonight...

Mark Nichols' interpretation of three songs from Brecht plays

"I Been Around," Ruskabank
"My Friends," Ruskabank

"Oh Lonesome Me," Mary Chapin Carpenter

"Kiss Him Goodnight," The Regulators

"Pretty in Pink," The Dresden Dolls
"Lonesome Organist Rapes Page-Turner," The Dresden Dolls

"Stella Splendens," Cantus Firmus

"We Saw Jerry's Daughter," Camper Van Beethoven
"Good Guys & Bad Guys," Camper Van Beethoven

"Stockton Gala Days," 10,000 Maniacs

"Through to Sunrise," Girlyman

"Bolovan," La Santa Krudelia

"Ragtime Annie," Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers

"Kamielis varda Rasta," Voiceks Voiska

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Obama: Science Key to Survival

Dot Earth, the New York Times' science blog, has the skinny on Obama's time-for-a-change pro-science rhetoric:
For anyone who feels science has been disrespected in the White House of late, the language of change was all there. “Whether it’s the science to slow global warming; the technology to protect our troops and confront bioterror and weapons of mass destruction; the research to find life-saving cures; or the innovations to remake our industries and create 21st-century jobs — today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation,” he said. (The full text of the Obama message on science is on his news blog).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

incremental theological freedom, halleluja!

Over at Daily Kos, Gregory Paul delivers the Good News (pardon the pun)
Although still a small minority, nonbelievers are easily the fastest growing segment of the population. The rise of liberalism is more incremental, but they already make up a very large and growing minority that when allied with the often sympathetic moderates constitute the great majority. Basically, America is undergoing a delayed version of the sociopolitically progressive secularization that has already occurred in all other advanced democracies. To a certain extent this is because the conservative movement has always contained the seeds of its own destruction, and these seeds are sprouting.
This secularization is a good thing, even from the perspective of left-oriented believers, "liberal Christians" and other non-conservative and unorthodox believers. It means less dogmatism and orthodoxy, plain and simple. That makes it easier to practice open-minded faith and perhaps even save people from spending their lives being taught to be ashamed of their critical thinking skills and sexual urges!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dresden Dolls: War Pigs

This 2005 video of the Dresden Dolls covering the Black Sabbath classic "War Pigs" embodies everything I love about the Dolls, and also offers a unique, extended look at Brian Viglione's drumming skills. It's a unique, intense, compelling and fun piece of footage.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Anyone else thinking what I'm thinking?

The answer: of course they are...before I did, even...

"That really hurt! I'm gonna have a lump there, you idiot! Who throws a shoe? Honestly! You fight like a woman!"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Best comeback article of the year

Beth Myers, the executive director of STITCH, asking those worker-bashing Republican toads:
Have you ever wondered what Japanese bankers make? According to a November 28, 2008 Wall Street Journal Story, executives at banks in Japan make A LOT less than their US counterparts. The gap is huge...But at Morgan Stanley, in which MUFG acquired a 21% stake in September, John Mack, the chief executive, alone took home five times that amount -- $41.4 million -- in the year ended Nov. 30, 2006. ... On average, chief executives at Japanese companies with more than $10 billion in annual revenues are paid about $1.3 million a year, including bonuses and stock-option grants, according to Towers Perrin, a consulting firm, based on data gathered between 2004 and 2006. But chiefs in the U.S. are paid about $12 million, and chiefs in Europe are paid $6 million. ... Which bank do you think Senator McConnell should call first?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Writers, Editors, Ad-sellers Wanted


The intensification of local, national and global politics necessitates a forum for thoughtful political analysis; intense debate over visions, strategies and tactics; and the building of a pluralist progressive community of activists, scholars, and journalists. This necessity to seize the political moment and shape the coming political epoch inspires our decision to launch Shared Sacrifice: The Journal of Progressive Thought.

The journal will offer progressive dialogue as a new model for the exchange of political and cultural thought. In addition to enjoyable and thought-provoking essays, in-depth news analysis, and cultural reviews, our site will be unique in its facilitation of national and international dialogue between activists, progressive political candidates, and writers and critics. The site will feature an activist calendar and message board, and we plan on hosting robust and relevant debates as an ongoing feature of the site. Although our primary form of discourse will be written, we will supplement text with voice and image, including podcasts of essays, videos of commentary and events, and even editorial cartoons.

If you like to write, draw, think and/or speak, you should get in touch with us fast. Due to the success of our internet radio show Shared Sacrifice, the site will have an instant readership which will only grow with time. Today’s volunteer submissions and positions will become tomorrow’s paid work as the site becomes economically self-sustaining.

What we need:

Writers: We plan on posting ten or more new articles per week, including contemporary political analysis, policy and movement advocacy, reviews of movies, books, theater, music and more, economic analysis, and reports of political activity anywhere and everywhere. Writers may contact Matt Stannard to receive an assignment, or submit unsolicited manuscripts. Standard length for essays and feature articles is between 1,000 and 1,500 words; reviews, news briefs and shorter pieces should be between 500 and 1,000 words.

Editors: While we will not edit content once we have accepted a submission, we will edit for style and mechanics. Time permitting, editors may work with writers to improve pieces; in deadline situations, editors will clean up pieces for posting. Editorial experience is the edge for those seeking to break into the writing and publishing business, so this may be a valuable opportunity for many of you.

Advertising Sales Reps: We will offer a variety of advertising options for clients who are comfortable with the political and cultural perspectives of the site. Our goal is to make the site and its parent organization economically sustainable within six months. We seek confident people to help us sell ads for what will be an exciting, well-traveled site.

Exposure and Support: Listen to the radio show and, once the site is up, visit it and comment on the content. Send the links to the show and the site to as many people as you can. Help us link up to thousands of blogs, political sites, and message boards, to promote our model of dialogue and sacrifice across a wide spectrum of progressive-minded communities.

For more information, or to send submissions, contact Matt Stannard:

Monday, December 08, 2008


From CNN, a story full of antagonists. If we can call the Iraqis who died protagonists, we won't hear from them in the U.S. media. Undoubtedly some of those who died were innocent, while others, even if complicit in violence, would factually be alive today but for the U.S. occupation.

There is absolutely nobody to trust here. Those who criticize the Iraqi government as being the fruit of the U.S. occupation can't take the results of an investigation by the Iraqi government as gospel truth; Blackwater is in major CYA mode, the Justice Department is in a corner after eight years of misrule, and the defendants themselves most likely did some stupid stuff in a context where their prejudices and private interests asserted themselves above all else.

Aspiring for the rule of law is good; the colonization of the rule of law by this particular combination of characters is not so good.

"Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop."
--Abel Meeropol

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Thomas to Obama: You've Been Punked?

Still some confusion, which may be cleared up by the time you read this:

KARK, Little Rock/, seven hours ago, refers to a much earlier Washington Times story:
The decision on granting a hearing challenging President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. citizenship is still pending.
The "Washington Times" reports that the U.S. Supreme Court held a private conference Friday morning to discuss whether to take up a lawsuit but it was not on the list of court orders for the day.
According to the "Times" a Supreme Court spokesman said the decision to hear the case will most likely be announced next week.
If four of the nine justices vote to hear the case, oral arguments could be scheduled.
The Daily Writ, 9 hours ago says that the absence of the case on the list for next week means they won't hear it:
The Supreme Court appears to have declined review in a case filed against the Secretary of State of New Jersey that sought to nullify Barack Obama’s election to the presidency. The case, which centers on Obama’s citizenship, was not among those for which the Court accepted review on Friday; thus, watchers of the high Court expect review to be formally denied on Monday.
Whatever the outcome, I'll bet you a quarter this was revenge from Clarence Thomas for Obama's casual dismissal of Thomas's intellect:
Obama said, “that’s a good [question],” and then explained: “I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don’t think that he, I don’t think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation. Setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretation of a lot of the Constitution.” Obama added that he wouldn’t have appointed Justice Scalia, and perhaps not John Roberts, either.
Nia-Malika Henderson agrees that it's at least a possibility, speculating on Politico:
Maybe Thomas is just returning the favor — putting through a case that questions whether Obama should be president, after Obama said he wouldn't have picked Thomas for the high court.
And, whatever the outcome, the fact that the SCOTUS even considered hearing it at all...well...that's a testament to the American dream: Any complete idiot with a poor excuse for an argument, given enough bitterness and enough money, can win the ear of a dimwitted Justice.


Compliments of Jeremy Scahill at AlterNet, we have a reading of the New York Times and other news reports on the collective sigh of relief from the war hawks concerning Barack Obama's Iraq plans. He has no intention of a complete withdrawal from Iraq, not in 16 months, not in two years, maybe not in ten years. This makes a few people happy: It makes the Bush administration happy because it won't appear as if Obama is really that out of step with eight years of Bush. It makes the corporate producers of military equipment happy, as well as the private contractors who are still making billions of dollars on this occupation, this occupation that was based on lies, misinformation and the politics of fear to begin with.

The plans to stay in Iraq are NOT designed to make a couple of important constituents happy: There's no consideration here for the approximately 60% of the American public who is opposed to the occupation of Iraq. And even more offensive, there's zero consideration here for the millions of progressive, anti-war Americans who worked thousands of hours, proactively, to get Barack Obama elected president. You worked for him because he promised to end the policies of the Bush administration. His reward to you was Robert Gates. You worked for him because he blatantly said he would get the U.S. out of Iraq. His reward to you was to kiss the bum of the military industrial complex.

Thom Shanker of the New York Times News Service puts in in starker terms:
On the campaign trail, Sen. Barack Obama offered a pledge that electrified and motivated his liberal base, vowing to "end the war" in Iraq.
But as he moves closer to the White House, the president-elect is making clearer than ever that tens of thousands of American troops will be left behind in Iraq, even if he can make good on his campaign promise to pull all combat forces out within 16 months.

Bill Van Auken over at the World Socialist Web Site writes:
...Obama's anti-war rhetoric was from the outset deliberately misleading, designed to con the millions of Americans who went to the polls with the aim of voting to stop the war.
As for Obama's 16-month deadline for withdrawing "combat" forces from Iraq, the Times reports that Pentagon planners are currently drawing up projections for up to 70,000 US troops continuing the occupation not only well past May 2010, but also long after the supposed December 31, 2011 deadline for a full withdrawal established under the recently concluded status of forces agreement reached between Washington and its client regime in Baghdad. It is generally believed that this deadline will be annulled in subsequent negotiations.

I'm with Joseph A. Palermo at the Huffington Post, who writes:
...the United States was not "invited" into Iraq by any Iraqi government, puppet or otherwise, so the occupation remains essentially unilateral in nature. It will therefore require unilateral action to end it. Iraq's government has nothing to say to the United States about when and how American combat troops are disengaged. The country has been under occupation for over five years, the regime is corrupt at every level, and it lacks legitimacy both abroad and with its own people. The United Nations "mandate" came after the U.S. had intervened. There is no "leader" in Iraq, or "parliament," that can tell the American people they must continue to spend $12 billion each month on Iraq's "security" until 2012. It was an American decision to go into Iraq. It will be an American decision to get out of Iraq. In the current context, the desires and demands of the fractured and dependent regime inside Baghdad's "Green Zone" matter little.

Perhaps the best sign that we have been bamboozled, and our election field labor and campaign contributions swindled by the Obama regime is that Obama now has a new fan: Henry Kissinger. In addition to being National Security Advisor and Secretary of State for both Nixon and Ford, Kissinger was an assassination coordinator, enabling various dictators to kill tens of thousands of people. Kissinger can't even travel abroad to many places in Europe or Latin America right now, because he will be subpoenaed (at least) if he does. Kissinger writes in the Washington Post that "President-elect Barack Obama has appointed an extraordinary team for national security policy." I think we should be concerned about Obama receiving such endorsements. I think they denote something that many of us failed to realize over the past several months: Barack Obama is a corporatist, militarist politician. He may not always have been, but that's what he is now. His social function is to continue U.S. corporate and military dominance, to give it a human face, to make the rest of the world like us so we can continue to do, basically, the same things we've been doing all along.
Okay, we can give that a moment to sink in.

The bottom line is this: Prior to the Obama phenomenon, progressives were poised to chart their own course. Now, in an understandable and laudable effort to break the stranglehold of white supremacy, our allies in the Democratic Party and the progressive movement have expended a great deal of money and energy to elect a black person president. That's been done, and in and of itself, in a very isolated and abstract way, sure, it's a good thing. But that person is determined to play it safe, because he doesn't conceive of politics the same way we do. It's not that he fears a backlash among conservatives. It's that, compared to the people who carried him into victory, Barack Obama IS a conservative.

Let me say that again so everyone understands what I am getting at. I said: compared to the people who carried him into victory, Barack Obama IS a conservative. I don't mean he's George Bush. But I do mean that he is too ideologically and morally weak to undo the damage Bush has done.

It's time to go back to charting our own course. This doesn't mean we need to enable the right wing crazies who are out to ruin Obama. The entire point in charting our own course is to change the way the majority of people in America conceive of politics to begin with. Obama has made this more difficult by using the veneer of grass roots political action in a process that ultimately culminates in...yes, Robert Gates as Defense Secretary, endorsements from war criminals like Henry Kissinger, and indefinite Iraq occupation. So we need to start over again. So let's review some facts and get back to the basics on Iraq: While we watch Obama's so-called "transition," remember this:

1. The war was justified to the American people, and to Congress, on the basis of WMDs being manufactured in Iraq. This was a lie.

2. The war was enthymematically justified by exploiting the misunderstanding that Americans had about Islam: many Americans believed that Iraq was behind the 9-11 attacks, and no Bush administration official did anything to correct that misperception. Instead, they exploited it by saying things like "we need to invade Iraq to prevent another 9-11."

3. The Bush administration literally destroyed the careers of people who questioned their policies.

4. The Iraqis are not, by any reasonable measure, "better off" than they were under Saddam Hussein, which doesn't make Saddam a nice guy, may he rot in hell, but it just proves that sometimes there are no heroes, and it undercuts even the post-hoc justifications used by the Administration to justify the invasion long after the initial reasons were exposed as falsehoods.

And most importantly: Barack Obama has questioned none of this, and there is no sign that he intends to.

I submit to you that a PROGRESSIVE position on war and military occupation is this: War is a sign of both political cynicism and a profound failure of creativity and ethics in policymaking. We will never know what its alternatives were because we accepted, from the beginning, the paradigms that dragged us into war. Progressive politicians need to invite open, deliberative exploration of those alternatives. In order to do this, we need to break away from corporate dependency, because corporations will ALWAYS profit from war.

Whatever his other virtues, and we certainly hope we see them, Barack Obama has not broken from corporate dependency, and therefore, he is unable to break away from militarism, and ergo, he is unable to break away from, or even condemn, the cycle of lies and propaganda that were used to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Score so far: War 1, American People zero. The ball may be in Obama's court, but there is another ball, another court, another set of players, and that is us.