Physics Flavored with Politics

Here’s a good blog for those of you who like to keep track of what’s going on in the world of physics. The author throws in some interesting and thought-provoking comments on politics and other topics outside the realm of science, from the point of view of someone who is obviously very smart, but not a policy wonk. For example, here’s one of his latest about Obama’s visit to Russia. It includes the following remark about why we may have elected Obama:

“Where does the difference between the reactions come from? Well, I think that the Soviet Union and other socialist countries have done pretty sophisticated things to improve their propaganda methods and to make the citizens join the official bandwagon and to respect the official cults. They had to be increasingly sophisticated because the citizens were increasingly more able to see through the tricks. Today, the citizens themselves are pretty realistic and many of them can see if someone tries to manipulate with them, especially if the methods are too obvious.

“The Americans and many other nations seem completely naive in these respects, like little kids from a kindergarten who see a magician for the first time. Naive child-like people may be cuter and happier but they may also do many more silly things.”

I rather suspect he overestimates the effectiveness of Communist propaganda and the naiveté of my countrymen here. I lived in Germany in the 70’s for over three years, and occasionally listened to East German radio. It wasn’t grossly inept, but seemed rather crude to me. As for us, we may have elected Obama, but his opponent wasn’t exactly charismatic, and, if the election had taken place in most west European countries, they would have elected him by a much greater margin than we did.

As for our “simplicity,” I suspect it’s not quite as extreme as most Europeans think. We’re used to listening to sophisticated spin, and have much better access to alternative viewpoints than the citizens of any European country I’m aware of. Most of them have nothing like our talk radio, or influential blogs with massive audiences on both the left and the right that are a rapid and effective check on the accuracy of stories that appear in the mainstream media.

Be that as it may, Mr. Motl obviously has no anti-American ax to grind, and his comments are a refreshing departure from the vanilla stuff one usually reads on the European left and right.

Alexander Herzen: My Past & Thoughts

Alexander Herzen
Alexander Herzen
If you haven’t read Alexander Herzen’s “My Past & Thoughts,” I recommend it to your attention. Nobleman, journalist, and anarchist, Herzen’s book is full of interesting historical anecdotes. He must have met nearly every significant 19th century radical of one stripe or another, and a lot of other very interesting characters besides. Some examples:


“I myself made Garibaldi‘s acquaintance in 1854, when he sailed from South America as the captain of a ship and lay in the West India Dock; I went to see him accompanied by one of his comrades in the Roman war and by Orsini. Garibaldi, in a thick, light-coloured overcoat, with a bright scarf round his neck and a cap on his head, seemed to me more a genuine sailor than the glorious leader of the Roman militia, statuettes of whom in fantastic costume were being sold all over the world. The good-natured simplicity of his manner, the absence of all affectation, the cordiality with which he received one, all disposed one in his favour.”


(Buchanan, then ambassador in London, hosted a party for a Who’s Who of European radicals at the behest of President Pierce, who, according to Herzen, was “playing all sorts of schoolboy pranks” on the old governments of Europe at the time.)

“The sly old man Buchanan, who was then already dreaming, in spite of his seventy years, of the presidency, and therefore was constantly talking of the happiness of retirement, of the idyllic life and of his own infirmity, made up to us as he had made up to (Alexey) Orlov and Benckendorf at the Winter Palace when he was ambassador at the time of Nicholas. Kossuth and Mazzini he knew already; to the others he paid compliments specially selected for each, much more reminiscent of an experienced diplomatist than of the austere citizen of a democratic republic.”

Robert Owen

Owen‘s manner was very simple; but with him, as with Garibaldi, there shone through his kindliness a strength and a consciousness of the possession of authority. In his affability there was a feeling of his own excellence; it was the result perhaps of continual dealings with wretched associates; on the whole, he bore more reesemblance toa runined aristocrat, to the younger son of a great family, than to a plebeian and a socialist.”


(Herzen had discouraged one of his revolutionary projects.)

Bakunin waved his hand in despair and went off to Ogarev’s (a friend of Herzen) room. I looked mornfully after him. I saw that he was in the middle of his revolutionary debauch, and that there would be no bringing him to reason now. With his seven-league boots he was striding over seas and mountains, over years and generations… He already saw the red flag of “Land and Freedom” waving on the Urals and the Volga, in the Ukraine and the Caucausus, possibly on the Winter Palace and the Peter-Paul fortress, and was in haste to smooth away all difficulties somehow, to conceal contradictions, not to fill up the gullies but to fling a skeleton bridge across them.”

It’s a good thing all these old nineteenth century idealists and revolutionaries never lived to see what would become of their dreams in the twentieth. To them it would have seemed a tragedy, in spite of spectacular technological advances. In many ways, it was.

Trotsky as Cassandra: The End of the Marxist Dream

Trotsky was the best and brightest, and probably also the most readable, of the old Bolsheviks. He was also the Cassandra of the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” Here’s what he had to say about the historical fate of Communism in “In Defense of Marxism,” a collection of his letters and articles published shortly after he was murdered by Stalin in 1940.

“If, however, it is conceded that the present war (WWII) will provoke not revolution but a decline of the proletariat, then there remains another alternative: the further decay of monopoly capitalism, its further fusion with the state and the replacement of democracy wherever it still remained by a totalitarian regime. The inability of the proletariat to take into its hands the leadership of society could actually lead under these conditions to the growth of a new exploiting class from the Bonapartist fascist bureaucracy. This would be, according to all indications, a regime of decline, signalizing the eclipse of civilisation.”

“Then it would be necessary in retrospect to establish that in its fundamental traits the present USSR was the precursor of a new exploiting regime on an international scale.”

“If (this) prognosis proves to be correct, then, of course, the bureaucracy will become a new exploiting class. However onerous this perspective may be, if the world proletariat should actually prove incapable of fulfilling the mission placed upon it by the course of development, nothing else would remain except only to recognize that the socialist program, based on the internal contradictions of capitalist society, ended as a Utopia.”

Too bad Mao, Castro, Pol Pot,, didn’t listen to him. It would have saved us all a lot of grief.

Milovan Djilas, one of the great political thinkers of the 20th century, wrote a postscript for Trotsky in his seminal work on Communism, “The New Class.” An excerpt:



“The movement of the new class toward power comes as a result of the efforts of the proletariat and the poor. These are the masses upon which the party or the new class must lean and with which its interests are most closely allied. This is true until the new class finally establishes its power and authority. Over and above this, the new class is interested in the proletariat and the poor only to the extent necessary for developing production and for maintaining in subjugation the most aggressive and rebellious social forces.”

Those who would elevate the likes of Chavez and Zelaya to the rank of great heroes of democracy should take note and think again.

Trotsky and Djilas are both well worth reading. Djilas, in particular, is one of the most brilliant and under-appreciated thinkers of the last hundred years. See, for example, in addition to “The New Class,” works such as “Land Without Justice” and “Wartime.” You can find them on eBay, Amazon, Barnesandnoble, etc.


Supply Siders, Redistributers, and the “All American Standard”

There are legions of sages on the Internet who all know exactly what needs to be done to cure the economy.  Their theories are simple, easy to grasp, and certain to work.  The only problem is, they don’t agree with each other.  Half the sages tell us to cut taxes and government spending.  The other half calls for a bigger government that would tax more and oversee a “just” redistribution of the loot.  To sort things out, it sometimes helps to escape the narratives of today and have a look at those of days gone by.  It turns out there have been a couple of quantum flips in the narrative(s) within living memory. 

During the Great Depression, there were many converts to the narrative of the left, especially among the “well-informed” of society, and that narrative became quite extreme.  Its adherents were, if anything, more cocksure they had a monopoly on the truth than those of either the right or the left today.  In those days, opinions that would be considered dangerously radical today were a commonplace in the intellectual journals.  The American Mercury is a good example.  Started in 1924, by H.L. Mencken, the great sage of Baltimore, and his pal George Jean Nathan, the Mercury was taken over by Charles Angoff late in 1933, following Mencken’s resignation.  As will be seen in his contribution below, Angoff was decidedly to the left of Mencken, and would steer the journal sharply in that direction.  A similar, if less extreme, lurch to the left can be discerned in The New Republic, the Nation, Century, and many another “serious” publication of the day.  Here are some examples, all from the Mercury.  Remember, they appeared in a highly respected journal, and not some transient occupant of a socialist bookstore:

 “Under the present economic system it is impossible for our farms and factories ever to absorb all the millions of unemployed… When the government can grant no more concessions to appease its hungry, then revolt on a national scale will be inevitable, with its ensuing chaos, during which some group, knowing what it wants to do, will seize control.  At present the only political party which seems to know what it wants is the Communist Party.”  John L. Spivak, “Bitter Unrest Sweeps the Nation,” August 1934.

“The belief that capitalism is immortal is as superstitious as the belief in witchcraft…  The world, as I have said, is moving in the direction of collectivism…  As for Germany, the disillusionment of the people there with Hitler’s brand of Fascism is widespread and rapidly becoming more articulate.  It is by no means impossible that soon after these lines reach your eye, the lunatic house-painter will be fleeing for his life.  In a way, his insane regime will have done his country good:  it will have hastened the coming of genuine socialization…  What of the United States?  The New Deal is bankrupt.  It was impossible for it to succeed.  Socialism cannot be made to work in a capitalistic society, as any schoolboy could have told Mr. Roosevelt.  The New Deal will inevitably have to move in the direction of Fascism, however much Mr. Roosevelt personally may dislike the Mussolini-Hitler brand of governing.  If the Republicans win in 1936, there will be no more camouflage.  There will then be open and above-board Fascism.  The Republican party, like the economic system it so well represents, will not give up the battle easily.  But its brand of Fascism will be no more immortal than Mussolini’s or Hitler’s…  The Americans are in a rebellious mood…  They will demand, and I believe they will get, some form of real collectivism.” Charles Angoff, “The End of an Epoch,” August 1934.

“Collectivism has made the army and the navy of the United States.  Why should the spirit that inspires it be anathema?”  Ernest Boyd, “Drugged Individualism,” November 1934.

Not everything that appeared in the Mercury would seem so novel today.  Here are some remarks about taxes that have a decidedly modern ring:

“But now the United States Federal government and most of the States and their subdivisions are confronted with another financial crisis in many ways more serious than the one we went through in 1917-18.  Can we provide the revenue to meet the new social obligations which have been thrust upon us by the depression and avoid run-away inflation in the process?  Can we find the ways and means of raising money which will help us out of the depression instead of pushing us further back into the mire.”  Harold M. Groves, “Taxation in America and England,” June 1934.

Fast forward 18 years.  The Soviet purge trials and a World War had intervened to upset the apple card for the sages of 1934.  Prosperity had, after all, returned, and a new hubris pervaded society.  Now it seemed, we were marching forward to a bold new capitalist future, moderated by unabashed redistribution of wealth, in which the gap between rich and poor was shrinking, and becoming increasingly insignificant.  Class economic standards were falling by the wayside, and would be replaced by what Frederick Lewis Allen, a sociologist of that era, called “The All-American Standard.”  Allen caught the spirit of the times in his book, “The Big Change.”   After reviewing statistics on the distribution of wealth and income at the time, he wrote:

 “What do these figures mean in human terms?  That millions of families in our industrial cities and towns, and on the farms, have been lifted from poverty or near-poverty to a status where they can enjoy what has been traditionally considered a middle-class way of life:  decent clothes for all, an opportunity to buy a better automobile, install an electric refrigerator, provide the housewife with a decently attractive kitchen, go to the dentist, pay insurance premiums, and so on indefinitely…  At the top of the scale there has likewise been a striking change.  The enormous lead of the well-to-do in the economic race has been considerably reduced…  Let us see what has happened to the top five per cent of the population, income-wise…  According to the elaborate calculations of Simon Kuznets of the National Bureau of Economic Research, during the period between the two wars the people in this comparatively well-off group were taking a very big slice of the total national income – no less than 30 per cent of it, before taxes; a little over 28 per cent after taxes.  But by 1945 their slice had been narrowed from 30 to 19.5 per cent before taxes, and from 28 to 17 per cent after taxes.  Since 1945 this upper group has been doing a little better, relatively, but not much…  A question at once arises.  Have we, in reducing the slice received by these upper classes, and increasing the slice received by lower groups, simply been robbing Peter to pay Paul?  The answer is that Peter has been getting a smaller relative slice of a much larger pie.  Even after one has made allowance for rising prices, one finds that the total disposable income of all Americans went up 74 per cent between 1929 and 1950.  That is a very considerable enlargement.  So that although the well-to-do and the rich have suffered relatively, it is much less certain that they have suffered absolutely.”

Here is supply side economics turned on its head!  Instead of wealth trickling down from the upper classes, Allen sees it trickling up to them from the classes below.  Allen continues: 

“Much more impressive, however, than the narrowing of the gap in income between rich and poor has been the narrowing of the gap between them in their ways of living…  the rich man smokes the same sort of cigarettes as the poor man, shaves with the same sort of razor, uses the same sort of telephone, vacuum cleaner, radio, and TV set, has the same sort of lighting and heating equipment in his house, and so on indefinitely…  The differences between his automobile and the poor man’s are minor…  What has been responsible for this convergence between the ways of living of rich and poor?  The causes are numerous and complex…”

That is certainly true, and the keepers of the narratives in our own day would hardly agree on them.  Allen wrote those words in 1952, when the upper bracket tax rate had been hovering between 88 to 90 percent for some time.  Still, US manufacturing and productivity were both at unprecedented levels, and showed no sign of turning back.  The expected post-war recession that had been a feature of WWI had not materialized, and there seemed to be no turning back for the economy.  High taxation seemed nearly irrelevant to economic expansion.


Come our own day.  As the graph taken from Visualizing Economics shows, the gap between rich and poor began widening again shortly after Allen had published his book, and the “All American Standard” is a thing of the past.  The explanation for this in our own day will vary, of course, by which flavor of the narrative the explainer prefers. 

And the moral of the story?  Narratives change.  Facts, events, and experience render old ones obsolete, and bring new ones to the fore, and that in relatively short order, depending on how quickly real economic and social conditions, the facts on the ground, or “experiment,” if you will, changes perceptions.  Old certainties become new delusions.  We learn, if we have the capacity to learn, that we are not as smart as we thought we were.

Mossadegh, Iran, and the CIA’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Coup, Part III

The Operations Plan set forth in Wilber’s “History,” envisioned a “massive” propaganda campaign against Mossadegh.  Apparently, the expense of this “massive” campaign was to be some fraction of the overall budget.  As noted in the “History,” “The total estimated expenditure required to implement this plan will be the equivalent of $285,000 of which $147,500 will be provided by the US Service and $137,500 by the UK Service.”  Quoting again from the plan, “One or two weeks before the date set for Situation A, the intensive propaganda effort will begin. The details relative to the execution of this campaign will be the primary responsibility of the US field station.”  The spinners of the Great Coup myth would have us belief that this rather parsimoniously funded “massive propaganda campaign,” launched a mere week or two before the attempt, and consisting of a batch of political cartoons and essays, completely outfoxed the Communists, renowned masters of propaganda though they were, and the entire Mossadegh controlled media, in spite of Wilber’s admission that this magically effective propaganda never appeared in more than 20 of the 273 publications published in Tehran at the time.

The Great Coup didn’t succeed because this “massive propaganda campaign” suddenly convinced the Iranian people they should turn against Mossadegh.  In fact, it was obvious from the start that the only hope of success lay in uniting the existing opposition to him in the country, and galvanizing it into action.  In the end, as we shall see, Mossadegh needed no CIA help to do that.  He pulled it off very nicely all by himself.

It was the CIA’s opinion that “General Zahedi is the only figure in Iran currently capable of heading a new government who could be relied upon to repress Soviet-Communist penetration and carry out basic reforms.”  The other “key elements” in the plan reflected this conclusion.  They were 1) Get the Shah to go along, 2) Insure Zahedi has command authority, 3) An appeal to obey Zahedi.  Getting the Shah to go along was never an issue.  He fled the country on August 15, and would surely have come back to accept power from whoever offered it to him.  In the end, the rest of the plan was moot.  Zahedi was in hiding in a CIA safe house when the decisive events of the coup took place, and his “command authority” was, therefore, irrelevant, as was the appeal to obey him.  He only emerged from hiding when the coast was clear, and Mossadegh’s supporters had already been defeated.

The CIA’s actual attempt to execute the plan outlined above is euphemistically referred to as “The First Try” in Section 6 of Wilber’s “History.”  In fact, it was the only try, as far as the CIA was concerned, and it was a failure.  Of course, as the old saying goes, “Success has a thousand fathers. Failure is a motherless child.”  When the Shah’s supporters won after all, even as the CIA staff were commiserating with each other on their failure, Wilber was quick to put a bold face on things.  He couldn’t tell bald-faced lies, though.  As a result, his “History” appears to be a fairly accurate account of what happened.  It is an account of a botched operation, as anyone who actually takes the trouble to read it can see.  In fact, it makes it quite clear that the CIA did not control or direct the events on August 19 that actually brought Mossadegh down.  The “First Try” occurred on the night of August 15.  It was a debacle.  Wilber’s version was as follows:

 “The precise order of events of the night of 15 August 1953 has not yet been established in all detail. The early accounts of various participants differed widely enough to make it impossible to follow the slender thread of truth through the dark night. However, the main outline of this first try is clear, as are two basic facts connected with it. These facts are: that the plan was betrayed by the indiscretion of one of the Iranian Army officer participants-primarily because of the protracted delay-and that it still might have succeeded in spite of this advance warning had not most of the participants proved to be inept or lacking in decision at the critical juncture.

“At 0545 hours on the morning of 16 August 1953, Radio Tehran came on the air with a special government communique covering the so-called abortive coup of the night just ending, and by 0600 hours Mossadeq was meeting with his cabinet to receive reports on the situation and to take steps to strengthen the security forces at government buildings and other vital points. Again at 0730 hours the communique was broadcast.

“Station personnel had passed an anxious, sleepless night in their office. From the fact that certain actions provided for in the military plan failed to materialize- no jeep with radio arrived at the compound, and the telephone system continued to function-it was obvious that something-or everything-had gone wrong. At 0500 hours, as soon as the curfew was lifted, Carroll toured the town and reported there was a concentration of tanks and troops around Mossadeq’s house, and other security forces on the move. Then Colonel [Farzanegan] called the office to say that things had gone badly, and he, himself, was on the run toward the Embassy in search of refuge. At 0600 hours he appeared, gave a summary of the situation, which was like that of the government communique, and was rushed into hiding. The station was now suddenly faced task of rescuing the operation from total failure…”

Doesn’t sound much like the usual yarns you may have heard about the marvelously, magically successful CIA coup, does it?  In the upshot, the CIA collected up General Zahedi, his son, and some of the other key people they’d been relying on, hid them away, and probably started thinking up ways to explain their abject failure to Washington.  In fact, it isn’t hard to discern the truly dilettantish nature of the affair between the lines.  For example, as noted in the description of the aftermath of the failure in the “History,” “It was now well into the morning, after the papers had been out for some time. Shojat, the substitute for the principal Tudeh paper, Besuye Ayandeh, had been predicting a coup since 13 August. It now stated that the plans for the alleged coup had been made after a meeting between the Shah and General Shwarkkopf on 9 August, but that Mossadeq had been tipped off on the 14th. It should be noted that the Tudeh appeared to be at least as well posted on the coup plans as the government-how is not known.”

Later in the document we read, “Throughout the long hours of 17 August, there seemed little that Headquarters could do to ease the pangs of despair. A wire sent to the station in the afternoon expressed the strong feeling that Roosevelt, in the interest of safety, should leave at the earliest moment, and it went on to express distress over the bad luck.”  Now, however, Mossadegh started making mistakes.  As noted in the “History,” “About 1000 hours a considerable body of the troops that had been dispersed throughout the city were called back to their barracks, as the government was certain the situation was well in hand.”  Mossadegh further alienated the military by broadcasting a list of names of real or supposed plotters who were to be arrested immediately.  Anyone who had previously expressed support for the Shah became suspect. 

On the 17th, a broadcast on radio Tehran called the Shah a traitor, and Mossadegh decreed the dissolution of the Majlis. The Teheran prosecutor arrested thirteen Opposition deputies who had taken asylum in the Parliament building.  Communist rioters destroyed statues of the Shah, and thoroughly frightened religious leaders.  The situation as it appeared at the time was reflected in a contemporary New York Times article:  “Thus, at day’s end, Dr. Mossadegh was alone with the Tudeh party in Iran’s political arena. At the moment, however, the two are uneasy allies.”  The next day, pro-Mossadegh papers further alienated traditionalists by announcing that the Pahlevi dynasty had come to an end.  Of course, the flight of the Shah brought home to many people just how far Mossadegh had gone. 

In a word, Mossadegh had succeeded in uniting and galvanizing opposition forces beyond the wildest dreams of anything the CIA could do with the paltry sums at its disposal.  However, the all-seeing, all-knowing Agency was completely unaware of just how volatile the situation had really become.  As noted in the “History:”

“”Headquarters spend a day featured by depression and despair. The immediate direction of the project moved from the Branch and Division to the highest level. At the end of the morning a handful of people worked on the draft of a message which was to call off the operation. As the message was finally sent, in the evening, it was based on the Department of State’s tentative stand: “that the operation has been tried and failed,” the position of the United Kingdom that: “we must regret that we cannot consider going on fighting” and Headquarters’ positon that, in the absence of strong recommendations to the contrary from Roosevelt and Henderson, operations against Mossadeq should be discontinued.” 

Then, as the CIA licked its wounds, there was a dramatic reversal of fortunes.  Again, quoting from the “History,”

“…before 0900 hours pro-Shah groups were assembling in the bazaar area. Members of these groups had not only made their personal choice between Mossadeq and the Shah, but they were stirred up by the Tudeh activity of the preceding day and were ready to move. They needed only leadership.”  (No there is no mention whatsoever of CIA involvement in getting these people on the street, or any claim that it quickly sprang into action and provided leadership).

“The news that something quite startling was happening spread at great speed throughout the city. Just when it reached Mossadeq, who was meeting with members of his cabinet, is not known. By 0900 hours the station did have this news, and by 1000 hours word had come in that both the Bakhtar-i-Emruz office and the headquarters of the Iran Party had been ransacked. Also about 1000 hours contact was established with the Rashidian brothers who seemed full of glee. Their instructions, as well as orders directed to [Keyvani and Djalili] were now to attempt to swing security forces to the side of the demonstrators and to encourage action for the capture of Radio Tehran. To what extent the resulting activity stemmed from specific efforts of all our agents will never be known, although many more details of the excitement of the day may slowly come to light.” (In other words, the actual assets of the CIA on the street as these events were going on consisted of a grand total of two agents.  The idea that the “specific efforts” of these two altered events one way or the other is ludicrous.  Their accounts of their activities, such as they were, were no doubt embellished, as they knew their compensation would depend on the CIA’s assessment of their actual contributions.)

Continuing with the CIA account:

“Fairly early in the morning Colonel [Demavand] one of those involved in the staff planning, appeared in the square before the Majlis with a tank which he had secured from the Second Battalion of the Second Armored Brigade, [a battalion originally committed to the operation] Lt. Col.[Khosro-Panah] and Captain [Ali Zand] were on hand and were joined by two trucks from the same battalion, while members of the disbanded Imperial Guard seized trucks and drove through the streets. By 1015 hours there were pro-Shah truckloads of military personnel at all the main squares. (Again, the CIA had nothing whatsoever to do with the actions of these military units, which were undertaken at their own initiative.)

“While small groups had penetrated to the north of the city by 0930 hours, the really large groups, armed with sticks and stones, came from south Tehran and merged as they reached Sepah Square in their progress north toward the center of the city. There the troops held in readiness fired hundred of shots over the heads of the crowd, but apparently were not willing to fire at these partisans of the Shah. As a result the crowds were able to fan out toward key points. Just up Lalezar, a main shopping street, the Saadi theater, long sponsored by the Tudeh Party, was burned. The surging crowds of men, women, and children were shouting, “Shah piruz ast,” (The Shah is victorious). Determined as they seemed, a gay holiday atmosphere prevailed, and it was if exterior pressures had been released so that the true sentiments of the people showed through. The crowds were not, as in earlier weeks, made up of hoodlums, but included people of all classes-many well dressed-led or encouraged by other civilians. Trucks and busloads of cheering civilians streamed by and when, about noon, five tanks and 20 truckloads of soldiers joined it, the movement took on a somewhat different aspect. As usual, word spread like lightning and in other parts of the city pictures of the Shah were eagerly display. Cars went by with headlights burning as a tangible indication of loyalty to the ruler.” (In other words, the demonstrations were spontaneous, and the military actions were not guided or directed by the CIA, which would certainly have claimed credit in this self-laudatory report if they had even the slightest basis for making such a claim).

“Those army officers previously alerted to take part in the military operations provided by TPAJAX were now taking separate but proper individual action.” (Another transparent attempt to take credit for something military forces were doing, as the CIA itself was forced to admit, on their own)

“Radio Tehran was a most important target, for its capture not only sealed the success at the capital, but was effective in bringing the provincial cities quickly into line with the new government. During the heat of activiy, it broadcast dull discussions of cotton prices, and finally music only. Already at 1030 hours there had been an inerruption of its schedule, but it was not until early afternoon that people began streaming up the borad avenue toward their goal, some three miles to the north. Buses and trucks bore full loads of civilians, army officers and policemen. Sheer weight of numbers seemed to have overwhelmed the defenders of the radio station, and after a brief struggle in which three deaths were reported, at 1412 hours the station was in royalist hands. At 1420 hours it broadcast the first word of the success of the royalist effort, including a reading of the firman. A stream of eager speakers came to the microphone. Some represented elements upon whom reliance had been placed in TPAJAX planning, while others were quite unknown to the station. Among the former elements were opposition papers [Bakhtiar and Zelzeleh,] one of [Ayatollah Kashani’s sons,] and [likeh Etozadi.] Among spontaneous supporters of the Shah to come to the microphone were Colonel Ali Pahlevan and Major Husand Mirzadian; their presence was the proof- no longer required-of the truth of the TPAJAX assumption that the army would rally to the Shah under just such circumstnces. For some period of time, Radio Tehran was alternately on and off the air. It may have been finally put into good operating condition by those engineers who, as one speaker said, had come along for just such a purpose. Here, as in so many other phases, chance served the cause very well, for, had the original defenders of the radio station managed to damage its facilities, the firm control of the capital might have been delayed.”  (In other words, the decisive takeover of radio Tehran was accomplished entirely by forces in no way directed or guided by the CIA.  Putting a bold face on events, the best it can do is claim, “We knew those guys.”).

This, then, was the reality of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Coup.  It bears little resemblance to the gaudy tales of hoards of “fake anti- and pro-monarchy protesters,” killing each other by the hundreds, supposedly all hired with the paltry sums left over from the CIA’s propaganda campaign, and stage directed by Wilber and Roosevelt.  Google the story, and you’ll find this kind of disinformation spread across the Internet far and wide.  Among the worst of the liars are those who have not only been given a haven in the country they malign and slander, but even hold prestigious and well-paid jobs here.  The words of Mark Twain come to mind; “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”

Parts I and II of this post can be found here and here.

Torture: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

We are told that torture is essential to defend our “security.” Here are a few examples of how torture has contributed to the “security” of society over the years.

From “The History of the Franks,” by Gregory of Tours (in 584 AD a nobleman named Mummolus annoyed Queen Fredegund. Gregory continues with the story):

(The Queen) had a number of Parisian housewives rounded up, and they were tortured with the instruments and the cat, and so compelled to act as informers. They confessed that they were witches and gave evidence that they had been responsible for many deaths. They then added something which I find quite incredible: “We sacrificed you son (a young boy who had just died of dysentery) O Queen, to save the life of Mummolus…

Chilperic (the king) immediately sent his men to seize the person of Mummolus. He was interrogated, loaded with chains and put to the torture. Then his hands were tied behind his back, he was suspended from a rafter and he was questioned about these sorceries…Mummolus was extended on the rack and then flogged with treble thongs until his torturers were quite exhausted. After this splinters were driven beneath the nails of his fingers and toes. So things continued…

From “Red Victory” by W. Bruce Lincoln, describing the methods of the Cheka, the first of the infamous Communist security organizations, during the civil war that followed the 1917 Revolution:

Rapes of female prisoner by Cheka guards and interrogators were so commonplace that they occasioned comment from superiors only if performed in some particularly brutal or perverted fashion…

…each Cheka headquarters evidently developed certain specialities. The Cheka in Voronezh rolled its prisoners around inside a barrel into which nails had been driven, while the Cheka in Kharkov used scalping as a preferred form of torture. In Armavir, the Cheka used a “death wreath” that applied increasing pressure to a prisoners skull; at Tsaritsyn, they separated prisoners joints by sawing through their bones; and, in Omsk, they poured molten sealing wax on prisoners’ faces, arms, and necks. In Kiev, Chekists installed rats in pieces of pipe that had been closed at one end, placed the open end against prisoners’ stomachs, and then heated the pipes until the rats, maddened by the heat, tried to escape by gnawing their way into the prisoners’ intestines.

From a U.S. military autopsy report:

Final Autopsy Report: DOD 003164, (Detainee) Died as a result of asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) due to strangulation as evidenced by the recently fractured hyoid bone in the neck and soft tissue hemorrhage extending downward to the level of the right thyroid cartilage. Autopsy revealed bone fracture, rib fractures, contusions in mid abdomen, back and buttocks extending to the left flank, abrasions, lateral buttocks. Contusions, back of legs and knees; abrasions on knees, left fingers and encircling to left wrist. Lacerations and superficial cuts, right 4th and 5th fingers. Also, blunt force injuries, predominately recent contusions (bruises) on the torso and lower extremities. Abrasions on left wrist are consistent with use of restraints. No evidence of defense injuries or natural disease. Manner of death is homicide. Whitehorse Detainment Facility, Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Such acts really do merit moral condemnation, but we’ve become jaded to moral condemnation. We’ve been afflicted by the professionally pious with their ostentatious displays of superior virtue and their holier than thou preening for so long that we dismiss moral revulsion as a pose, because that’s what it usually is. For the professionally pious, the pose is everything, and the reality nothing. When the reality really is an outrage to human decency, we tend not to notice, dismissing any reservations about, for example, torture, as just another pose, just another facet of someone’s political narrative.

Well, a healthy conscience and a conventional sense of right and wrong aren’t really necessary to understand why it’s necessary to resist the legitimization of torture. It can really be boiled down to a matter of self-preservation. Read through the above incidents, and multiply them hundreds of thousands of times. That’s been the reality of human history. Can anyone really still be so naïve as to believe that what goes around will never come around, that they will never be the victim of what they gladly condone when applied to others? As state power continues to expand exponentially, not only in the US, but in virtually every other country on the globe, who can still be blind enough not to see that, if they legitimize torture, they will eventually become its victim, or, if not them, their children? Has “security” become the sine qua non of modern society, trumping habeas corpus, the right to a trial by jury, the right to confront ones accusers, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without hindrance except by due process of law? If so, then I submit that security is not to be found by the legitimization of torture, but by its final, unequivocal condemnation as a legal instrument of state power.

If security has really become the ultimate social value, then perhaps, when it comes to torture, it would be wise to forget the terminological hair-splitting one finds here, there, and everywhere on the web these days, and coolly consider the odds of ourselves becoming victims. Do you really want security above all else? Then work to put the state out of the torture business once and for all. You’ll be a more secure.


Quote for the Day: Trotsky and the Twitter of 1905

Our pathetic clandestine hectographs, our homemade clandestine hand-presses were what we pitted against the rotary presses of lying officialdom and licensed liberalism. Was it not like fighting Krupp’s guns with a Stone-Age ax? They had laughed at us. And now, in the October days, the Stone-Age ax had won. The revolutionary word was out in the open, astonished and intoxicated by its own power.

Trotsky in “1905”.


Maxim Gorky, Russia, and the Communist Experiment

Humanity has produced many Cassandras over the years. Maxim Gorky was one of them. Or at least he was during the critical years 1917-18, when he edited Novaia zhizn’ (New Life), an independent socialist newspaper. Would that Russia had listened to him. Here are some of his more prophetic passages:

“Imagining themselves to be Napoleons of socialism, the Leninists rant and rave, completing the destruction of Russia. The Russian people will pay for this with lakes of blood.”

“All this (the Bolshevik experiment) is unnecessary and will only increase the hatred for the working class. It will have to pay for the mistakes and crimes of its leaders – with thousands of lives and torrents of blood.”

To the Russian workers:
“You are being led to ruin, you are being used as material for an inhuman experiment, and in the eyes of your leaders you are still not human beings.”

“Therefore I keep on saying: an experiment is being conducted with the Russian proletariat for which the proletariat will pay with their blood.”

Sad, isn’t it, that there are certain things mankind just seems to have to learn the hard way? Of course, when it comes to the messianic quasi-religion of Communism, there were many other Cassandras. Sir James MacKintosh, a brilliant Scottish thinker who died in 1832, long before Communist ideology was systematized by Marx and Engels, nevertheless saw what was coming. Socialist ideas were already quite familiar to the intellectuals of his generation. He remarked that the zealots of the new ideas might eventually succeed in gaining power, but they were doomed to failure. The reason? Unlike religious fanatics, with their celestial heaven, they promised a heaven on earth, and would be exposed as false prophets when it failed to materialize.

We should have listened to Sir James. Instead, it took more than 150 years and tens of millions of corpses before the rest of the world caught on.

The Rise and Fall (and Rise?) of Socialism

Maxim Gorky
Maxim Gorky
There’s an interesting article over at Classical Values entitled, “So who owns Socialism?” The author is in a quandary because so much of what we’ve seen happening on the national scene walks like socialism, quacks like socialism, and flaps its wings like socialism, that a national debate on whether it really is socialism would seem to be in order. Unfortunately, that seemingly innocent word became fouled in the cogwheels of political correctness long ago, and one can no longer use it without treading on any number of ideological toes. It’s too bad. I agree with Eric at CV that, as something very closely akin to socialism, if not actually the genuine article, is already a fait accompli in some branches of industry, a serious national discourse on the subject is long overdue. While, as a rule, I’m anything but an enthusiast, I do make exceptions. For example, I would be a whooping fan of socialism in cases such as, for example, nationalization of the legal industry.

Socialism wasn’t always in such ill repute. The great Russian author, Maxim Gorky, thought, along with many other progressive intellectuals in his day, that “democracy cannot be other than socialist.” (“Untimely Thoughts,” p. 164) In January, 1918, just after the Bolsheviks had seized power, he wrote with what now seems uncanny prescience in his newspaper, Novaya Zhizn, “Therefore I keep on saying: an experiment is being conducted with the Russian proletariat for which the proletariat will pay with their blood, life, and worst of all, a prolonged disillusionment with the very ideal of socialism.”

He certainly got it right when it comes to the ideal of socialism. However, perhaps he was rather too pessimistic when it comes to the reality of socialism.

Hugo Chavez, Lenin, and “What is to be Done”

simon_bolivarVenezuela’s most recent political embarrassment, Hugo Chavez, wants to present Obama with one of Lenin’s tomes at their next meeting. Apparently he’s been in a Rip van Winkle like slumber for the last 20 years, and no one has bothered to inform him about the demise of Lenin’s reputation along with the very bad joke he played on the Russian people known as Communism. Well, the right wing in the US worked itself into a furious lather when the Prez had the common decency to shake Chavez’ hand, so here’s a golden opportunity for him to redeem himself. An appropriate return gift comes to mind. How about “Lenin’s Tomb,” by David Remnick, or Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago,” or Medvedev’s “Let History Judge.” If he prefers a more subtle touch, he might give him something by Trotsky, a Bolshevik writer one can actually read without being bored to tears, or, if his tastes run to one-up-manship, perhaps a copy of the original “What is to be Done.”

The blogosphere has apparently already tired of Chavez’ antics. MSNBC, Fox, and the rest of the major news outlets picked up on this story, but, other than a few mentions here and there, bloggers are giving it the ho-hum treatment. It’s hard to blame them.

South America can never seem to catch a break. One never hears anything about her leaders unless they are abject, tyrannical, imbecile, or as in the case of Chavez, all three. Well, Venezuela has produced better men than Chavez in the past. No doubt she will in the future as well.