Friday, December 31, 2010

A petition against the renewal of ROTC at Harvard

After many years, the Harvard administration recently decided to allow ROTC back on campus. It had been stopped as a result of the Harvard strike of 1969 and faculty discussions. Later, during the military/political homophobic policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the ban continued. Given a heroic campaign by gay and lesbian activists in the military, other honorable soldiers and citizens, and as he promised, Barack Obama, the Senate has barred discrimination. This is an historic change, and one that will lead over time, given a core and growing sentiment for equal basic rights for all citizens, to the legalization of gay marriage across the country. This repeal was one of the signal achievements of the Obama administration that any democrat can admire.

Joe Biden recently sent out a Christmas letter to those who campaigned for Obama, celebrating the abolition of "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell!,” and with no mention of Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan or the use of randomly murderous drones in Pakistan. Nothing for decent people, as Biden knows, to be proud of there….* Obama had run as the “anti-dumb-Iraq War candidate.” Yet he is now engaged, as I have emphasized here, here and here, in 5 occupations and aggressions, including an escalation of troops and mercenaries in Afghanistan and large scale murders of civilians with drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Neo-con think tanks emphasize the ratio of innocents to Pakistani Taliban killed as 5 to 1 – that is better than 80% of those murdered by drone. (The Pakistan government which opposes the use of drones estimates 600 civilians for 1 Taliban leader). With a war effort like that, following up on senselessly aggressing against a Middle Eastern country for oil and military bases, practicing torture itself, not punishing high-placed torturers, and sabotaging international law, the US, even under Obama, produces increasing reasons for many Arabs to tolerate Al-Qaida and the Taliban and, more frequently, to oppose the United States. The policy is remarkably counterproductive (see John Mearsheimer’s lead article "Imperial by Design" in the January-February issue of The National Interest here).

What motivates the American policy of global military domination as well as a claim to control outer space is the impact of the war complex (the military-industrial-political-media-intelligence complex as I have called it), in particular, the rise of the military, and its continual pressure to extend occupation and suck up unlimited resources, even with America in a depression (17.2% real unemployment, counting those who have given up looking for work, and those who have part-time jobs who would gladly accept full-time ones). This is what Martin Luther King spoke of presciently during Vietnam as “the destructive demonic suction pump” of militarism, at war with the poor in America. Today the suction pump is even more dramatic, and much of the middle and former working class are sinking into poverty.

America has a desperate need to strike out in the direction of green manufacturing, to become again a productive economy. Obama took some steps in this direction (the initial stimulus), but has since, under heavy attack, retreated. The current tax cuts for the poor are also a stimulus, but one with no promise for setting the economy on a road out of being merely a hollowed out, privatized war economy, combined with a financial casino.

For the military has been eaten in America by mercenary companies like Xe (Blackwater). In Obama’s surge in Afghanistan, there were 7 mercenaries for every 3 soldiers. In the continuing occupation of Iraq, there are 72,000 mercenaries and 50,000 soldiers. The idea of privatizing everything has led to the US not even having a military under the control of the government (the military will do what the government asks when the government can pay the price, for private profit. The military budget for last year, $708 billion, was 2 and 1/2 times larger than Cold War military spending. See here. The Petraeus machine is less and less a real military, more and more something which has a head – Generals who “counterfeit COIN” (counterinsurgency recycled from Vietnam) in Andrew Bacevich’s phrase, the appearance but not the reality of a serious military – combined with lots of weapons. Beneath, in the rest of the “body,” the military is becoming a private, perhaps vigilante (for pay, rather than ideology) force.

If one wants to understand why China came out of the depression and is growing so rapidly compared to the United States, it has controlled the banks (they are not allowed, as in America, to retain a tiny fragment of deposits and speculate - derivatives, collateralized debt obligations, and the like). China has no privatization of the military - what is genuinely public activity when not engaged in aggressions and occupations - and thus, no corruption, and comparatively inflated costs in this decisive respect.

The corporate press fawns on the military. When General McChrystal gave a press conference in Paris, demanding 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan, the press uniformly repeated his charges, Democratic “experts” like Leslie Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, who had recently regretted his opportunist (more “TV face time,” as he put in an article in Foreign Affairs) and foolish support for lies leading up to the Iraq aggression, demanded that Obama must give in right away to McChrystal. Taking five weeks to think about the escalation, Gelb said, was “harming our military…” Similarly, the Republicans and Bill Kristol yelped for more war even though the enterprise in Afghanistan is foundering and without purpose (Al-Qaida is now in the tribal areas of Pakistan…).

Actually, McChrystal had broken the leading Constitutional principle of civilian domination over the military. In making his views public rather than raising them privately, he had violated the chain of command. Obama should have fired McChrystal for this, not for his comparatively minor later remarks about the cabinet reported in Rolling Stone. In a press with even a smidgen of understanding of what American democracy is about, that would have been the central issue. While Gelb and Kristol thundered from the right in the corporate press, not one editorial or op-ed raised this decisive issue.

This is a central aspect of what Martin Luther King during Vietnam named American militarism. See here and here. For the generals, all aspects of American life must be increasingly subordinate to military corruption. At Harvard, members and supporters of the strike against ROTC in April, 1969, led by John Berlow and Nathan Goldschlag, circulated an eloquent letter to the Boston Globe, criticizing their editorial which announced that with the abolition of don’t ask don’t tell, Harvard must welcome back ROTC. I signed this letter, as did Michael Schwartz and John Womack, among many others.

A somewhat longer version of the letter now appears below as a petition. Anyone from Harvard in the 1960s-early 70s who supports the petition, please sign – you can email me and I will forward your name to John Berlow. The Globe is a “liberal” paper editorially, and yet criticism of the presence of the military is anathema. As John wrote to me,

“The Globe not only didn't print the letter, but didn't print a single letter from anyone opposing their editorial in support or the policy itself. Please put the petition on your blog with invitations to sign.”

ROTC is primarily a problem because of the harms of militarism and America’s many and hopeless aggressions. In addition, its “courses” are propaganda, a parody of education. Despite growing disapproval from ordinary people (63% now oppose the war in Afghanistan here), militarism expands into ever new aspects of American life. ROTC at Harvard or the Dream Act, allowing “illegals” who have lived and gone to school entirely in the United States (their parents employed/exploited by American companies) to be eligible for funding if they go to college - a good idea - but also making them citizens if they join the military**). It is important, in a many-faceted way, to oppose the increasing militarization of American life.

The Petition

Harvard’s recent decision to allow ROTC back on campus, based on the elimination of the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, is seriously misguided. As supporters of the campaign against ROTC at Harvard in the late 1960s, we want to remind readers--including present members of Harvard’s staff, student body and faculty--of the motivations for that widely-supported struggle against ROTC. At the time, the U.S. military was carrying out a war, based on a flagrant lie (the Bay of Tonkin ‘incident” which soon after was revealed never to have happened). This war resulted in the loss of 3 million Vietnamese lives (10%-12% of its population), poisoning of large tracts of land through use of toxic defoliants, uncountable casualties, tens of thousands killed in Laos and Cambodia, as well as tens of thousands American soldiers, many of whom were sent to Vietnam against their will. In doing so, the U.S. government committed a series of horrendous war crimes, including rape, murder of civilians, ecocide and torture. These crimes occurred in the context of a war of aggression, considered at Nuremberg to be the supreme war crime since it includes all the other war crimes. Since the War in Vietnam, the U.S. military has continued a pattern of invasion (Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq), covert overthrow of elected governments (e.g. Chile), torture and other belligerent and criminal interferences abroad. We now find ourselves in an Orwellian state of perpetual war, with tragic consequences for millions of people around the world, for U.S. military personnel, for the U.S. economy and for the U.S. polity which has been increasingly militarized since Eisenhower’s famous warning of the growth and influence of the “military-industrial complex.” Harvard University, by accepting ROTC back on campus, not only subverts its own claims to political neutrality and intellectual freedom, since ROTC’s curriculum is dictated and overseen, not by the University but by the military; it also gives aid and comfort to a military—unfortunately our own—which commits war crimes and wreaks havoc abroad. We invite all members of the community to express their displeasure with this turn of events.

*Biden initially dismissed Wikileaks as “not revealing anything new.” This is not true – the documents underline and detail the grim criminality of much American militarism and even, sadly, diplomacy (Ambassador Aguirre, as I have emphasized trying to halt Spanish justice in investigating the murder by American soldiers of the journalist Jose Couso at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in 2003 is one of many examples; see here and here). Biden’s statement backhandedly recognized that it would be a fantasy under American law to indict an Australian for publishing documents, even if they had been classified by the government as secret.

But the loony authoritarians are howling on the right about the government murdering Assange, or changing the Constitution to be able to indict him (Joe Lieberman), since I guess, in a police state, why do you need a Constitution? Pseudo-reverence for the document fades quickly on the Right (the political Straussians and neocons prefer a police state). Even four justices on the Supreme Court seek to enact Carl Schmitt’s “state of the exception” – i.e. government “prerogative” to do whatever it wants to prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere in violation of the rule of law and decency. Under pressure, Biden suddenly announced that Assange, now an international hero of resistance. is a “high tech terrorist.”

What “terror” has Assange, or private Bradley Manning, whose torture – extreme solitary confinement – the United Nations’s special rapporteur on torture is now investigating – committed? If Manning did what is alleged in the press (no charges have been preferred by the government), he committed a nonviolent crime, though nothing in relation to the mass, violent criminality (aggression, torture, indefinite detentions, kidnapping, and the like) of the United States government. Probably torture for seven months and very likely altering his personality permanently is already a very heavy – though illegal under American law – price. Assange did no crime – though he was, of cours,e labeled by Sarah Palin, with her usual keen grip on reality, a “traitor” (one would have thought Assange, an Australian, could not commit treason in a country of which he is not a citizen, but…).

Biden voted for the Iraq war, an aggression which has cost the lives of perhaps a million Iraqi civilians (Rumsfeld forbade the military from keeping a count, or at least publicizing it, in the initial period of the war, so it is very difficult to say). He has favored firing murderous drone missiles here and there. His comment is not true of Assange, but is a psychological projection about himself.

The charmed circle of the corporate media prints this silly judgment without question. Among the rest of the world and many who see clearly in the United States, it is despicable. When Biden wrote his Christmas letter, omitting the continuing war in Afghanistan, perhaps he revealed that even he has some slinking awareness of facts…

**Four of the first 100 American soldiers killed in Afghanstan were illegals. After their deaths, Congress debated whether or not to make them citizens. This aspect of the Dream Act responded to their dilemma. (Among Senators and Representatives, Jim Webb excepted, who don’t send their children to fight the wars, this discussion is something only a Jonathan Swift might have imagined…)

Of course, a civilized and pragmatic regime rather than a stupid and racist one would make bright young people who been Americans all their lives and finished high school eligible for funds to go to college. But despite 55 votes in the Senate, the Dream Act failed. Plainly a majority of representatives and more importantly, a huge and courageous movement are, in this respect, fighting for decency in the United States.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Poem: the dead


livedinCos tame sa

no place to walk








no little bars


Norteamericanosall lookdown

Spain nam e d





this place

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The divine, the charioteer and writing in Phaedrus, part 2

The story of the birth of eros – arising from the conjunction of Poros (resource) and Penia (penury) in the Symposium defies the conventions of Athens and is brought to Socrates – against Athenian patriarchy – by the prophetess Diotima. One should, in this context, take note of the metaphor of Socrates as himself, through questioning, a midwife of ideas. What is the living significance of the words about Diotima, and of Diotima’s story compared to the conventional image of Eros, son of Aphrodite? Reading the Phaedrus and the Symposium together makes a reader suspicious of Socrates’ adherence, in the Phaedrus, through the warning of his daimon (inner or guiding spirit), to eros as a god. Socrates has done something sort of "impious" to eros, but does not, in the Phaedrus, entirely tell the truth about him. In contrast, Diotima’s story itself is but more of the truth, a grander image or metaphor, still not the idea but a more interesting psychological gesture at it...In addition, the image of Diotima, the prophetess who postponed the plague for 10 years so it could arrive, as Thucydides reports, just after Pericles' Funeral Oration, and mark a sharp decline in Athens politics and power, is also a warning about the limits of the story. Further, Socrates in the Phaedrus, speaking as Stesichorus – he who resists tyrants (see the end of part 1 here) - also ascends to some of the truth. For Socrates is then guided by his daimon to the grand image of the soul as charioteer, the comparison of an able farmer to a teacher as distinct from a writer, and the transformation of the dialogue from cattiness about lovers into something deep.

The Phaedrus tells a story of the immortality of the soul, of its capacity to rise to divine contemplation (to see the shining ideas of the beautiful, the wise, the just and perhaps the good – the sun of the noetic universe in the wild image of the Republic), and to the two horses, one, something like spiritedness in the Republic but more linked with the charioteer to seeking these ideas, the other, the black horse, displaying appetites, lust. In the grand image, the charioteer, who is purest, soars highest, can sometimes see these images, though pulled down, after glimpses, by the black horse of desire. Perhaps this is a metaphor for Socrates: I do not know, but I am, by fashioning arguments day after day, following a path…His eros or coquettishness with students, notably Meno but, to some extent, Glaucon, for example, is perhaps a manifestation of the black horse. But souls can achieve a divine state, what makes the god divine (thus, Plato was referred to as a divine man…) after long effort and contemplation. Here is the image of recollection or unforgetting from the Meno, given in a new and dazzling way. When one questions and ascends through argument, one fights the rule of the black horse…

Socrates indicates that there are 9 types of fallenness, the highest, the philosopher, who never has to go down in a cycle and can get off the wheel of reincarnation in three eras of life/death, the lowest the tyrant. The philosopher, here (and as implied in the story of Odysseus in the Myth of Er in the Republic) is different, freed from the bonds of desire, no longer on the cycle. In contrast, for the others, the hold of psychology, of desire (what moderns might speak of, somewhat aptly, as the unconscious) and previous experience, is very powerful. Each worshipper follows – displays eros toward - a god in his own image (consider the guiding spirits in the Myth of Er; each psyche chooses according to his previous experience). As Socrates puts it in the Phaedrus:

“Now he who is a follower of Zeus, when seized by eros can bear a heavier version of the winged god; but those who are servants of Ares and followed in his train, when they have been seized by eros and think they have been wronged in any way by the beloved, become murderous and are ready to sacrifice themselves and the beloved. And so it is with the follower of each of the other gods; he lives, so far as he is able, honoring and initiating that god, so long as he is uncorrupted, and is living his first life on earth, and in that way he behaves and conducts himself toward his beloved and toward all the others. Now each one chooses his love from the ranks of the beautiful according to his character, and he fashions him and adorns him like a statue, as though he were his god, to honor and worship him.” (252c-d)

Note again, that the orator Lysias is Phaedrus’s god at the outset of the dialogue – he loves Lysias – and Socrates, a contrary spirit, poses for Phaedrus the choice between rhetoric and philosophy as ways of life.

The number 9, of types of souls, is also a hint at the central role of mathematics in Plato’s spoken teaching (something that Jay Kennedy at Nottingham has been uncovering features of). In the Republic, Socrates obscurely says that the happiness of a just man is 729 times that of a tyrant. That number is 9 to the power of 3 (or 3 – the parts of the soul in the image of the charioteer with his horses in the Phaedrus or reason, spiritedness and appetite in the Republic - to the power of 4). 9 types of soul, 9 to the power of 3 in the separation between the happiness of the philosopher Socrates who is murdered, and the unhappiness of the tyrant who seemingly has whatever he wants (on the tyrant's misery, see Xenophon’s Hiero as well as the Republic, however).

So some of the secrets of Plato are apparently mathematical. One studies Greek mathematics, in particular the partly visible, mainly hidden Pythagorean mysteries, a few of which are left to us, as in the famous theorem - as part of long investigations to become a philosopher in order to perhaps see these meanings, to have the visible world (partly) revealed in (mathematical) ideas. The Pythagorean theorem, for instance, concerns the geometric and algebraic properties of right triangles (again, the number 3). The square of the hypoteneuse is equal to the squares of the other two sides. A right triangle is, of course, also one with a 90 degree angle. In Euclid, the proof is similar to - of the same method as - the proof which Socrates elicits from the slave by questioning in the Meno. Proclus, writing nearly a thousand years later, attributes an algebraic and geometric proof of Pythagorean triples to Plato (a Pythagorean triple consists of three positive integers, a, b and c, such that a squared + b squared=c squared; a right triangle whose sides form a Pythagorean triple is called a Pythagorean triangle). Versions of the Pythagorean theorem extend back into India, where Pythagoras travelled, among other places.** In some ways, Plato’s or Pythagoras’s mathematical mysticism promises or touches upon modern physics and chemistry…

In the Phaedrus, the black horse lusts after beauty, wants to throw himself on it. Here again in the charioteer’s halting of him is the image of Platonic love (love that is not consummated in the body – a little like Taoist or Tantric love perhaps – but strengthens the soul). But it just doesn’t seem true or simply true of Socrates, for whom the case of Alcibiades is enormously complex, one in which they are not on a common path, but rather, for Alcibiades, on an horrific one (becoming a traitor, a leader of the Spartans…). Socrates is Alcibiades’s friend, gives him arguments which make Alcibiades dream of growing old sitting by Socrates, saves Alcibiades’ life in battle, announces that Alcibiades was his jealous lover, but, according to Alcibiades, has never made love with him. See here. The image of Platonic love is reinforced by the white horse in the Phaedrus. (253-254e)

“If now the better elements of the mind, which lead to a well ordered life and to philosophy, prevail, they live a life of happiness and harmony here on earth, self controlled and orderly, holding in subjection that which causes evil in the soul and giving freedom to that which makes for virtue, and when this life is ended they are light and winged, for they have conquered in one of the three truly Olympic contests. [256b - I don’t now the other two]

But here, too, one does not quite know where the continuing dialogue between Aristophanes and Socrates into the night, he who would, long after, tell the story to another, Aristodemus, by his own report, drifting in and out of sleep, leads…

Interestingly, there is also an image in the Phaedrus of eros encouraging the sprouting of wings. This is of course today a common image of eros; it probably foreshadows the image of angels (I haven’t looked into this in Greek orthodox Christianity, but it is amusing that so many beautiful Italian images – say Fra Angelico’s Annunciation – probably stem from neoPlatonism*:

“And as he looks over him [a god-like form, a beautiful boy…], a reaction from his shuddering comes over him, with sweat and unaccustomed heat; for as the effluence of beauty enters him through the eyes, he is warmed; the effluence moistens the beginning point of feathers, and as he grows warm, the parts from which the feathers grow, which were before hard and choked, and prevented the feathers from sprouting become soft, and as the nourishment streams upon him, the quills of the feathers swell and begin to grow from the roots over all the form of the soul, for it was once all feathered.” (251a-b)

The even more startling image, however, is the one that the playfulness of the Phaedrus has led up to. The written word, says Socrates, is like a statue. If you ask it a question, misunderstand or revile it, it has no father to defend it. Here he defends the spoken word in the moment – the only words delivered by Socrates who himself did not write.*** He asks Phaedrus who comes up with a just response – the written word is but the occluded image of the word written in the soul, the spoken word of someone who knows something true. The written word, the material of rhetoricians and lawyers whom Socrates mocks, can easily be perverted from the truth. The truth, one that unfolds or plants seeds in the soul of she who knows how to read a complex literary work, a dialogue, spreads gradually among those few, blossoms into eternity.

Socrates dresses up the rhetoricians “like statues” and makes their harmfulness clear. Thrasymaschus from book 1 of the Republic appears again initially and briefly. But one remembers. In the Republic, Thrasymachus is fierce. He might – as a beast or wolf - drag Socrates down if Socrates had not, as in a legend, looked at him first. For Thrasymachus, “justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger.” Here again, Plato adumbrates the trial of Socrates. In the Phaedrus, Socrates escapes through speeches and argument, but not ultimately as a mortal seeking the truth in this life. Socrates gave his life for philosophy – and perhaps for a near democracy – a switch of 30 votes out of 500 - which would not murder or exile those who speak the truth to its bloody political leaders.

The main role is assumed by Tisias who recommends rhetoric for a court case. A big man who is a coward is beaten up by a little man who is brave. Tisias says that the big man through shame will say that there were two who assaulted him. The little man can then, even though he committed the crime, point out contradictions in what he says. Then the little man, having established that it was only him and the big man, can say: "Look, I’m little. It’s ridiculous to think I could beat him up."

The idea of rhetoric, Socrates suggests, is to know what’s true and change things near enough so that one keeps the appearance of truth. Phaedrus agrees about the inanity of this. In fact, as Socrates observes, however, a rhetorician turns evil into good, good into evil. For this is the same rhetoric which convicts Socrates (of which Thraysmachus in the Republic and Callicles in the Gorgias are belligerent practitioners). It is a variant of the rhetoric offered in written form by Lysias in the speech which Phaedrus reads to Socrates at the outset.

Socrates employs the metaphor of a farmer/gardener who has beautiful seeds. Would he plant them in the garden of Adonis, Socrates asks, where they would sprout beautiful flowers in eight days…? 8, it seems for Socrates and Plato, was not so resonant a number as 9 or 3. Adonis was the lover of Aphrodite. He died. She mourned him, and he was restored to life for 6 months (the other 6 with Persephone). During the Adonia, the ancient Athenian festival celebrated from below by women as a form of resistance, women would plant gardens of Adonis - wheat, barley, lettuce, fennel, and other quickly germinating plants - in baskets and shallow pots on roofs. The plants blossomed but then died because of shallow root systems. The women discarded them at the end of eight days, often with other images of the god. Note the intense sense of impermanence or mortality in the ritual, like Tibetan and Navajo sand paintings, which have a beautiful but short life, are taken up, poured (by Tibetans) into a river, something that perhaps Plato was less comfortable with.

The occasion was one of communal mourning for the women in Athens - lamentation being a role to which women, in subordination after the defeat of the matriarchal civilizations of the Greek islands, were largely confined.***** See here, here, here and here. Even lamentation had been curtailed in fifth-century funeral rites that stressed eulogy - for instance, Pericles' Funeral Oration. Thus, the Adonia was actually a form of struggle from below, by women, to restore even this place in patriarchal Athens. In a somewhat sexist vein (at least “not noticing” the real significance of the ritual), Plato’s Socrates says:

“Now tell me this. Would a sensible gardener, who has seeds which he cares for and which he wishes to bear fruit, plant them with serious purpose in the heat of summer in some garden of Adonis and delight in seeing them appear in beauty in eight days, or would he do that sort of thing, when he did it at all, only in play and for amusement? Would he not, when he was in earnest, follow the rules of husbandry, plant his seeds in fitting ground and be pleased when those which he had sowed reached their perfection in the eighth month?”

“Phaedrus: Yes, Socrates, he would, as you say, act in that way when in earnest and in the other way only for amusement.”

“Socrates: And shall we suppose that he who has knowledge of the just and the good and beautiful has less sense about his seeds than the husbandman?” (276b-c)

If one wants to see the truth about these ideas for Plato – what he, as a gardener/farmer, nurtures - one has to learn the Delphic meanings of the dialogues, take in what one can of the force of the spoken word, “the word written upon the soul,” not just the written word. One cannot read a dialogue, even persistently, and wrestle with surface arguments as if they alone were the issue (they are often contradictory or incomplete). Instead, one must follow out the whole meaning, including the setting, and the elliptical comments. One must try to understand the person who, resembing eros, is divinely inspired to seek and speak the truth and who will thus be hated by the powerful as well as those who sit at the doors of the rich (comparably, in the Old Testament, one might think of the prophet Amos versus the king’s man, Amaziah, see here). *****

The context of Plato's dialogues is also important. For the most part, smart but well-to-do aristocrats haunted Socrates’ footsteps or studied with Plato. Many of these did not like the democracy and were tempted by tyranny, even after long study (for Socrates, Critias and Alcibiades; Glaucon is the one he heads off). For Plato, Aristotle, who did not become Plato’s successor in the Academy, annexed himself to Alexander the Great. In contrast, Demosthenes, a very different student of Plato, spoke out in his Phillipics against Phillip of Macedon, Alexander’s father. Alexander had Demosthenes arrested in a temple on the island of Calauria. Pretending to write, Demosthenes sucked poison through a reed. Saying that Alexander had defiled even the sanctuary, he got up, walked a few steps, and fell by the altar. Both Aristotle and Demosthenes could not be, in their conduct, in their understanding of Plato, in their being or souls, right (and if Aristotle were right, that also divides Plato from Socrates). So Plato either tempted students on a false path – away from Socrates – the Heidegger and Strauss interpretations, see here, here, here, here, here and here, or he did not. The idea that Plato in the end betrayed Socrates (Xenophon’s or Strauss’s "Socrates" – those who make Socrates into the image of the philosopher-king or a counselor to tyrants, wishing he had ruled over a diminished and degraded Athens, mirroring those who have degraded America) is, very likely, false.

Plato taught aristocrats. He set them deep problems, a years-long course of study, to become philosophers (Aristotle was at the Academy 20 years). But Plato also depicts some complex democrats. For instance, Socrates became a philosopher even though he had been an artisan. And Socrates taught some democrats like Polemarchus (though his father Cepahalus, a metic, was rich) and Chaeropohon who asks the question of the Delphic oracle in the Apology which sets Socrates’s quest to prove that he cannot, knowing (almost) nothing, possessing only a human wisdom, be the wisest by questioning those who think themselves wise.

Plato’s loyalty was to Socrates who did not unite with tyrants. Plato sought to innoculate his students through deep study against the temptation to become tyrannical (Glaucon in the Republic is, again, a graphic example). But as we can see especially with Aristotle (though perhaps Heidegger as well, see here and here), philosophical brilliance and deep study can be connected to the worst and ugliest, most fallen, degraded, forms of tyranny (there is no worse than Hitler; enthusing over Nazi propaganda, Heidegger even became enamored with Hitler’s “beautiful hands” – see here). About the just, the good and the beautiful, one should cleave to the white horse…

*The Popes and the Medicis hunted and killed neo-Platonists; European neoPlatonism was long underground in the Middle Ages and later, among artists, architects, designers of gardens...

**I have sometimes mentioned the coincidence in time of Socrates and Buddha, separated by 800 miles. In a legend, Pythagoras travelled to India, was invited to fast and meditate to prepare for learning, objected but did it, and afterwards, saw knowledge, notably mathematical knowledge, in a different way. His school had 3 different levels of participants. Indian studies, methods and secrets - as well as those of Egypt - were part of the origins of Greek thinking. Some versions of the theorem appear in Indian sutras (one contemporary with Pythagoras, one later), reflecting overlapping oral traditions.

There are also proofs of (aspects of) the theorem in China (from which knowledge disseminated through the later Arab West (Spain), along with Greek manuscripts.

***Heinrich Meier, Leo Strauss and the Theological-Political Predicament, introduction, p. 20, maintains that Strauss's writings contain his central hidden messages. Though students often rely on what he told them, for instance Catherine Zuckert, Meier suggests, that is not what Strauss fully believed. Strauss wanted to a) hide, though, out of probity, hint at his past – as a Jewish pro-Nazi. See here. This is a very unlikely thing and so most of his followers, except his literary executor Joseph Cropsey and Meier, often fail to take it in, and b) found a clique of wouldbe policy-makers to remake the United States around authoritarian imperialism appealing to religion - Evangelicism - and despising “the last men,” those who prefer peace or nonmurderousness or not blowing the world up (point b reflects the consensus of reactionary political Straussians - Bill Galston and Francis Fukuyama are exceptions- who are the core of neoconservatism).

Plato stresses the living word of the teacher, conveyed or hinted at in dialogues read in a certain way, also to suggest something Delphic. But though he was not completely a democrat – just, decisively a democrat against tyranny – and perhaps had some thoughts about philosopher-rulers or at least was willing, as was Aristotle, to try to modify tyrants as his visit to the young Dionysius at Syracuse (the Seventh Letter) shows, he urged resisting tyranny. His inner political purpose was thus bound far more closely to his outer purpose; it was not that of a manipulative “philosopher” which Strauss projects on him, something needing more fundamental disguise. Also, his masks were often for aristocratic students, to move them, as critics of democracy (he was one also) toward fighting for democracy against tyranny. Plato’s was a subtle strategy, one which did not always work. In contrast, Strauss’s disguises were to hide from democrats (and often many of his often determinedly reactionary students) just how reactionary he was.

****The mysteries, under the guidance of Demeter and Persephone and in which women probably played a strong role, were, however, a survival, as one of these posts emphasizes, of the earlier egalitarianism of the islands and contributed to Athenian democracy.

*****Steve Wagner had emphasized to me the role of mania in elite stereotyping of radicals – thus, Martin Luther King or John Brown or Jesus or communists or Julian Assange...They are outside agitators who say things in a “strange” often foreign language, have mania, and somehow stir up otherwise happy people – “dupes” – to rebel. Why they get a following is, on this view a mystery. But there is, of course, an obvious answer – that they have told, in important respects, the truth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The living word and silent writing in Phaedrus, part 1

These are the fifth and sixth posts (two on the Meno and two on the Symposium precede these, here, here, here, and here) in response to Steve Wagner’s distinction between philosophical stories, in dialectic with argument, and merely manipulative ones (“the noble lie” or Phoenician tale and not much else). Plato's Phaedrus gives a whole new sense of image, one in which the written word is but a symbol of the living word, written in the soul (psyche) of him who speaks (276a).

The Phaedrus thus defends, against the surface or the existence of the dialogue as a written document, the word of one who knows. This suggests, with Socrates who perhaps knows something more than others, long days – each day - of asking questions and forging arguments. But such words are also, except in image, beyond those who are just beginning to make arguments and may, as Steve observes, not yet, or perhaps not at all, be grasped as arguments. Socrates distinguishes between what are good arguments now (subjects which one can, through questioning, figure out the truth about; geometry in the Meno), things which may at least not yet be teachable to others (the idea of the good in the Republic) and things which may not, like what happens to each of us in dying, be “graspable” beforehand.

Writing is bad for memory, Socrates says in the Phaedrus; a dialogue does not reveal its secrets on the surface. Only she who knows how to read – and not the ordinary reader - will fully understand it (274e-275c). The Phaedrus also presents the stunning image of the soul as a charioteer with a black and white horse which can, despite their contrary pulls, wing to glimpse the realm of ideas. It shares and transforms a depiction of life and death and the great journeys of the Myth of Er in the Republic and the conclusion of the Gorgias. The philosopher may come to share in the divine and by repeated striving (three 1000 year-long cycles, 249a – the afterlife journeys are plainly not in human time), ascends again toward the contemplation of those things through which god becomes divine or which make god divine (pros oisper theos on theios estin, 249c). So divinity comes from the contemplation of these things; the universe is perhaps not made by a god…

Here again, the grand, many-sided, Delphic quality of the images is visible, their hinting at a long course of study, the primacy of a certain quality of reading – one that understands the complex significance of the pointing, and perhaps the need for a course of living study beyond what the texts can offer. The paths are treacherous. For instance, I suggested here, here, and here, that Aristotle (and Al-Farabi, Heidegger and Strauss), all took a prominent but wrong path – that of the overt and hidden pointing of the Republic to philosopher-kingship emerging out of a certain kind of tyrant and identifying the tyranny of the supposedly wise. But Plato intended his students to adopt the fierce rejection of tyranny in his surface argument, the allegiance of Socrates and philosophers - the seekers for wisdom rather than highhanded philosopher-rulers, supposedly already wise, supposedly to themselves gods – to the truth against tyranny. See here ("Do Philosophers counsel tyrants?," Constellations, March, 2009, in which I took a wrong path about Plato for a time).

Socrates meets Phaedrus and they walk into the country. Phaedrus, a handsome and conversational young man, is the lover of the great orator Lysias who has written a speech about love. Phaedrus has been desperately trying to memorize his lover's words, but, still holding the copy of the speech beneath his cloak, has not yet succeeded. He is in love with written speeches, wishes to be or emulate a great orator. But the end of the dialogue reveals that Phaedrus does not have a good memory for argument: "Yes, I thought so, too; but please recall to my mind what was said" - 277c. The ending mocks writings in an Egyptian story of the god Thoth who invented the written word for the king of the gods, Thamus (Ammon). Contrary to Thoth, Thamus says that writing will not help memory but substitute for it, not lead to the truth but to the imitation of truth. People will babble of all sorts of things of which they have sloppy knowledge (of couse, this can also be true with an unwise teacher). Hearing this Egyptian story, the bedazzled Phaedrus blurts out that Socrates can invent any story or image he wants (is a better orator than the orators, one whom, as Alcibiades says in the Symposium, one might grow old sitting beside):

“‘This invention [of letters], O king, said Theuth, ‘will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.’ But Thamus replied: ‘Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise but only appear wise.’” (274e-275b)

Phaedrus’s performance at the beginning of the dialogue is the living example of the point at the end. He loves to memorize written words and loves speeches, but has little ability, through questioning, to acquire wisdom. His temptation toward philosophy (his relation to Socrates) is shown, particularly in his response to Socrates’s dazzling last speech. Despite soaring images, however, philosophy remains, for Phaedrus, but a temptation:

“And if in our former discourse Phaedrus and I said anything harsh against you [eros], blame Lysias [Socrates perhaps displays jealousy or erotic competitiveness here], the father of that discourse, make him to cease from such speeches, and turn him, as his brother Polemarchus is turned toward philosophy, that his lover Phaedrus may no longer hesitate, as he does now, between two ways, but may direct his life with all singleness of purpose toward love and [or with] philosophical discourses (pros erota meta philosophon logon -257b)

Lysias is the brother of Polemarchus, who, like Phaedrus early in the dialogue (236 c-d),* threatens to beat Socrates up unless he comes and performs for them – a talisman of Socrates’s coming trial and death. It is perhaps also an emblem, as in America today, that the first reaction of a troubled city or country, and of many people within it, is force (in America, there is also, among many of us, revulsion at imperial force…).

Socrates goes along with Polemarchus, a stupid bully, in book 1 of the Republic - he mocks him - only because Glaucon, with whom he has gone to the Pireaus and in whom he has a philosophical/erotic interest, insists. Socrates fears injustice and “sitting at the door” of the rich” more than death or physical harm. In the course of the first book, Polemarchus takes in the argument of Socrates against Thrasymachos, begins to change. In contrast, in the gentler Phaedrus, the rhetorical threat from Phaedrus is then followed by a greater and successful one, that he will show Socrates no more speeches. In the Phaedrus, Polemarchus is now described, importantly, as a philosopher…

Now Polemarchus would lead the fighting of the democratic party in the Piraeus against the Tyranny of the Thirty, headed by Plato’s relative Critias (a student of Socrates who features prominently in the Timaeus and Critias). Polemarchus died there. I had initially been struck by the fact that there is no Platonic dialogue named Polemarchus. But the Republic and especially the Phaedrus mark out Polemachus for himself seeking philosophy. They defend him – now a philosopher - for going down to the Pireaus – recall the first line of the Republic - to fight tyranny, just as they defend Socrates doing so (Socrates defends the democracy which tolerated him for 70 years, until the trial, tries to make it a better home for philosophy). Polemarchus has become what neither Lysias the orator nor Phaedrus, torn between rhetoric and philosophy, is.

The images of the dialogue reveal rhetoric – as, for example, that which convicts Socrates in the trial - as that which cares nothing for the truth, which paints good as evil and evil as good. (Consider the continuing wars/occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan in Bush and Obama and their representation in the corporate media versus the truth). Lysias and, to a large extent, Phaedrus – except perhaps if he hears the end of the dialogue - side with the rhetoricians; in contrast, Polemarchos and Socrates are on the path of truth.

Lysias’ oration has the unlikely theme that the lover, not the beloved, needs gifts (as Socrates says amusingly, hopefully, he will next praise the rich for giving to the poor, since most of us are poor…227d). But then Socrates is provoked to a speech, tricked up, as he says, with all kinds of meter, in which the lover turns out to be just awful to the beloved, to want to restrict him to be dumber than the lover (and hence exchange his beauty for not very much of the promised teaching...), and further gets sick of the beloved, so he adds carping to his unlovely physique/stage of life. Being touched by a lover is unpleasant (almost as in one of Picasso’s late sketches), but the words…

Socrates has not written his speech down, but Phaedrus takes it in, is prepared to demand a revision (in writing) from Lysias. Oration will contend with oration…

But speeches too can be deceptive. Socrates's inner voice – his daemon – warns against his own speech as well as that of Lysias. For he has mocked all lovers – and so, a serious and gentle lover would think him uncouth – and been impious toward eros the god. This is the charge of the Apology, that Socrates is impious, though in this dialogue as well, he hurries from it, tells us that eros is the child of the beautiful Aphrodite, the conventional view.** Phaedrus will then deliver that view, not very dazzlingly in the Symposium, in which, as I emphasized in the posts on story and image here and here, Socrates denies that eros is a god and traces a different lineage. In the Symposium, Plato signals sharply that Socrates does disagree with the conventions, is impious toward the gods of Athens. Recall the prophetess Diotima who is the philosopher, in Socrates’s tale, to Socrates’s bumbling, stumbling interlocutor (rhetorically, Plato's Socrates shifts the impiety to her, so that a careless reader may not notice).

On the celebration of the birth of Aphrodite, Diotima tells the deeper story of penia (poverty), lying down in the garden of Zeus beside the drunken Poros (resource) and engendering – causing Poros to engender in her – eros. Eros – the ever impoverished and gifted by mania, resourceful hunter after Aphrodite or beautiful boys and philosophy (Socrates) or the idea of beauty as conjured in the Symposium – its oceans, in Diotima’s words – and even more startlingly, in Phaedrus, in the divine image that is glimpsed through sight. Wisdom, Socrates says, would be more startling, but is not seen, in the way that beauty is seen [Phaedrus, 250d]. Beauty is glimpsed by the charioteer with a white horse that rises and an unruly black horse that pulls downward. This image of the soul reveals differently the tellingness of Alcibiades’ drunken, manic metaphors for Socrates as Silenus (uncouth on the outside, filled with golden images within) or Marsyas (the satyr flutist; Socrates enchants with words and questions, without a flute).

Eros resembles Socrates; he is a being between the mortal and the divine, seeking the latter, as the Symposium tells us, inspired by a divine mania (what the Phaedrus exemplifies). Socrates is not sane in the everyday sense, but instead sees and seeks the truth, the whole, busting up conventions (Phaedrus, lines 244-245).

“For if it were a simple fact that insanity is evil, the saying would be true; but in reality the greatest of blessings come to us through madness when it is sent as a gift of the gods. For the prophetess at Delphi and the priestesses at Dodona when they have been mad have conferred many splendid benefits upon Greece both in private and public affairs, but few or none when they have been in their right minds; and if we should speak of the Sibyl and all the others who by prophetic inspiration have foretold many things to many persons and thereby made them fortunate afterwards, anyone can see that we should speak a long time.”

Note that there is quite a lot irony in Socrates’s speech; yet he speaks himself as something of a prophet, here and in the Phaedo. He says he is speaking to Phaedrus, the son of Pythocles [the name suggests: eager for fame – a quality of a rhetorician] of Myrrhinus, whereas Socrates will now, in the soaring speech that follows, speak as Stesichorus, son of Euphemus [reputable or man of pious speech] of Himera [town of desire] 244a. As with Diotima, so with Stesichorus (who is unspecified, except in his parentage and town), one must think about the complexities of who is speaking, what is said and perhaps not said. Now Stesichorus was the first poet of the Greeks after Homer, who told grand or epic stories in lyric meter. Homer was actually a collective poet, whose songs like those of Beowulf all rhymed so that the tellers could go perform in villages as the nights came on, around the fire. There were undoubtedly variations and additions among the many nameless singers. Stesichorus is the first poet who composes verses of his own that have come down.

Stesichorus is also known for opposing the tyrant Phalaris [Aristotle quotes a speech to the people of Himera against the tyrant – Rhetoric, 1393b). Again, Socrates speaks for resistance to tyranny and prophetically warns against Aristotle’s siding with Alexander.

Socrates’s fear in the dialogue also emulates Stesichorus. For Stesichorus was initially blinded and then cured, after a dream, for composing verses first insulting and then flattering Helen of Troy. Socrates had, as it were, a near miss. In addition, Aphrodite went off with Mars. The first impulse of a poet and perhaps of a philosopher is to oppose war, but one must, as it were, experience war (say, against tyrants, perhaps, we think now, by mass, nonviolent engagement) to conquer war, if it can be conquered.

Stesichorus, is of course a poet. Socrates’s invocation of dazzling images is, in this vein – and with the limits of poetry, here as in the Myth of Er, stretched as opposed to some of Socrates’s sayings in book 10 of the Republic. But they are still the words of a poet rather than a philosopher. To attempt to win Phaedrus to philosophy in the contest with rhetoric - to persuade him to change gods - Socrates needs to attract or beguile him through poetic imagery, fused with, but also soaring beyond questions and argument.

*What Phaedrus says is ”Now my friend you have given me a fair hold [he is speaking as one who wrestles or exercises naked with Socrates]; for you certainly must speak as best you can, lest we be compelled to resort to the comic ‘you’re another’; be careful and do not force me to say ‘O Socrates, if I don’t know Socrates, I have forgotten myself,’ and ‘he yearned to speak but feigned coyness.’ Just make up your mind that we are not going away from here until you speak out what you said you have in your breast. We are alone in a solitary spot, and I am stronger and younger than you; so, under these circumstances, take my meaning, and speak voluntarily, rather than under compulsion.” (236c-d)

**Showing the folly of pseudo-wise, or a certain kind of rural questioning about nothing, Socrates also recalls the injunction of the Pythia (the Delphic oracle) in the Apology “to know yourself.” (229 c-e)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Poem: pogrom

The monestir at Urgell

greatChristsurging u p

de Maria


martyrs stoned

Sant Ursul

bythecr ude

stretched on the wood


herclothes ripped off

Sant Llucia

Theboy worksthebellows

Valbon a de Monges

lit tledarkjewinthepot




twoother jews


eyesa w a y

shavedhead monk

littlering ofhair



flameslea p


angelssendl i g ht


spearholdin g

stomp s

in the pot

Monday, December 13, 2010

Should international studies schools intimidate would-be diplomats?

One of my first students at the Korbel School of Intenational Studies (then the Graduate School of International Studies) was Paul Trivelli, who took courses with me on the conversation between Marxism, liberalism and conservatism, as well as democratic theory. He also specialized in Latin American politics. One day, Paul told me that he had taken the foreign service exam and been interviewed. When asked to discuss “the satellites,” Paul – having learned about dependency theory mainly in other courses – started talking about Latin America. “No,” the foreign service officer said, “I was asking you about Eastern Europe.” Paul gulped, and was sure, he told me, that they would never take him.

I pointed out to him that 99% of smart graduate students at the time (the late 1970s) might have made that mistake (Even the phrase was a generational thing, used by an older and comparatively conservative foreign service officer, for instance, Josef Korbel, extremely critical from his own life of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, did not choose to speak of “satellites” so that it is quite likely a number of well-informed students of Soviet oppression at our school, might nonetheless have guessed Latin America). An interviewee would have to be an ideologue, uninformed and pretty slow, to have fallen in with that question without missing a beat. If the State Department were smart, I suggested to Paul, you would be exactly the kind of person they want. Among other things, someone who knows about dependency theory, including its weaknesses, can probably talk to Latin Americans, then experiencing at gunpoint US influence, with sophistication, and represent US interests creatively where – extraordinarily during the Nixon-Kissinger, Reagan period in Latin America – diplomats have decent purposes or are trying to defend human rights.

Paul was out of touch for many years. But in the 1990s, I heard him, as spokesman for the Embassy in Nicaragua, decrying the Sandinistas. That could have been what he then believed, or what he had been instructed by higher-ups to say. I find it amusing, after our long ago conversation, that he has had a substantial career in the foreign service.

Now three of my students, Aaron Ferreira, Matt Bates and Joel Pruce, have reacted forcefully to the career counselling office at Korbel sending around a fear-mongering Washington Post op-ed about the "danger to your career" of looking at Wikileaks. Americans must quaver and make themselves small to get government jobs. In general, the Post editorial page is now disgustingly imperialist – neocon, not even the Democratic neo-neo con variety – and apparently believes (and wants to make) America again a hellhole of black lists. A little poisonous breath of McCarthyism… If you want a career in the foreign service, says Derrick Dortch, you must – must – close your mind and your search engine to Wikileaks. You must prove that your mind has always been – certifiably – closed to any thought or debate. Everyone else can look at the documents, particularly people you might have to work with (those foreigners…), but you must not - even though you are not yet working for, might not even yet have thought about working for the US government – exhibit a dollop of curiosity.

Or as Aaron writes: are you now or have you ever Wikileaked? Do your friends Wikileak? Do your parents Wikileak?…

It would be particularly surprising if this came from Hillary Clinton who knows and should do better. Now as Wikileaks has revealed, she has organized spying on Ban-ki Moon, head of the UN, so really not much is beyond her; she has not shaken the corruption she achieved in her Presidential campaign or the long, bipartisan hangover of Bush-Cheney (Barack of course may have signed off on this as on so much else…). Hopefully, however the wind blowing through will enable her to wake up, snap out of the tyrannical sleepwalking of American elite politics, and do something decent. That would be one of the many good things resulting from Wikileaks’ publication of Pentagon and diplomatic documents.

Of course, if Dortch is to be believed, the State Department now seeks only incurious and rigid/authoritarian recruits. In fairy tales, children are told not to do things, which of course they then do, and that starts the adventure. Intelligent people, inside and outside the State Department, have come up with very good arguments – see here – for what State Department people do and the need for discretion, and op-ed pieces, for instance in the International Herald Tribune express reassurance, judging by these memos, about the intelligence and decency of the American foreign service. As I have emphasized, these positions are often importantly right. But the overall argument fails because it deliberately ignores the sheerly criminal activity of quite a number of Ambassadors revealed in the documents and, more broadly, the context of American militarism. For instance, Bush crony and political appointee as ambassador to Spain Aguirre – i.e. not a person who makes a career in the foreign service - interfered massively in the Spanish courts as reported in El Pais. The American Ambassador in Germany tried covertly to block investigation into the kidnapping and extraordinary rendition of Khaled El-Masri, mistaken for a terrorist, flown to Spain (where Ambassador Aguirre also worked to kill legal proceedings) and then to Bagram, tortured and drugged for years, and then released, with the intervention at last of my student Condi Rice, naked and without money on a mountain road in Albania. El-Masri thought they were taking him out of the prison to kill him. Good to know how America treats the innocent against whom it has – for no reason at all – committed crimes…

Condi lacked the principle or courage to tell the German government that the US had kidnapped and tortured El-Masri. The Obama administration has now blocked El-Masri suing in American courts – a trashing of the rule of law in America (under pressure by the executive, our “courts” increasingly become shadows of judicial institutions) – and the Bush administration, now compounded bipartisanly by Obama - has undermined the German justice system as well. The rule of law and protection of the equal basic rights of individuals is, however, central to, a prerequisite for democracy. This is the action of a so-called democracy, an oligarchy with parliamentary forms crazed by militarism or the war complex, to undercut international law, German law and domestic law. It is the opposite of the ideologically much-touted “democratic peace.”

It is thus mistaken, merely to praise, as these commentators do, the intelligence of Anne Patterson in Pakistan, and overlook the war criminality which these other ambassadors embody. But foreign interlocutors – for instance, every Spaniard – are likely to have read about this and want to engage Americans and others about it. A would-be diplomat and citizen might be prepared, by looking and thinking about the memos, to talk about why such things must never happen again. Obama who gave a free pass to torturers but persecutes bizarrely the Australian Julian Assange is spinning a story that, as it comes out, is likely to make America a laughing-stock. See the third story below: the illegal “sex” for which Julian Assange is being held without bail in Britain now turns out to be a charge that his condom broke and he didn’t stop to put on another one, by a woman who threw a party for him afterwards, twittered over her sexual conquest, and then tried to remove the twitters while getting him charged…the case was dropped by the prosecution and then renewed, one of only two Interpol rape cases from Sweden, because of Ameican influence. The poor would-be diplomat might have a hard time with this travesty. Still, one can always hope in one's career to help the government to do better. Or following Dortch and the Washington Post, one might imitate the three monkeys (apologies for the speciesism): see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. But an intelligent State Department, for instance the one that recruited Paul Trivelli, would be uninterested in such a person, just as a serious editorial page would be uninterested in Dortch.

Second, there is a profound issue about whether America is becoming a police state. It is relentlessly stupid for the Obama administration to forbid officials even to look at the memos. But it is a crime against freedom of speech and freedom of thought for it to forbid any person who might want a job with the government in future, now as a private citizen, to read, think and engage in the ongoing debates. It really gave Prime Minister Putin, whose regime murders dissidents in London with polonium, a remarkable, new opportunity to nail America’s hypocrisy:

“Asked about cables depicting him as the ‘alpha-dog’ boss of a corrupt and anti-democratic bureaucracy, he responded “’do you think the American foreign service is a crystal-clean source of information?’”

‘…If it is a full democracy, why have they hidden Mr. Assange in prison? That’s what, democracy?’

‘So, you know, as we say in the village, some people’s cows can moo, but yours should keep quiet. So I would like to shoot the puck back at our American colleagues.’”

The hypocrisy of the Bush and now Obama administration’s criticizing others for torture or for lawlessness has long been evident. But this proceeding – which I guess they fantasize ending with a “show trial” of Assange in the United States, the place too cowardly to abolish Guantanamo because our maximum security prisons couldn’t hold the ‘terrorists,’ or even to try "terrorists" in American courts – is likely to end in farce. The US is a rapidly fading power; perhaps our future diplomats could learn enough hockey-speak to respond to Putin (i.e warn Obama that this is nuts). Or perhaps Mr. Dortch or some more powerful luminary will discover that hockey is Canadian, i.e "foreign."

The US is clear enough about freedom of speech in Russia or China, but tries ferociously to cut such freedom off about documents now in the public space by forcing Amazon, Paypal and Visa to cancel contractual agreements. Obama has remained silent while powerful Americans - the Kristols, Liebermans, Feinsteins (a member of Obama's own party), Palins and McConnells - issue threats of murder or changing the laws to make acts not previously criminal a crime (ex post facto laws are barred by the Constitution), etc. The elite mocks freedom of the press, the Bill of Rights and the rule of law.

Now Dortch’s column in the Post is that of an authoritarian bureaucrat rather than a democratic public servant. He wants only those recruits who will trim their sails at a moment’s notice because it is what the boss ordered. He shils for insecure bosses who want only yes- men and women, those who are ignorant, inexperienced and reactionary, for instance the Xe-Blackwater hires with which General David Petraeus’ seeks to replace the professional diplomats in Iraq…See here, here and here.

Worse yet, however, the Columbia international studies program and my school have circulated Dortch’s column to students without critical comment. But at Columbia, as Joel Pruce relates below, they have been greeted by protest and given up being the cat's-paw of a (perhaps imagined) tyrant. We should as a school protest against the government’s abridgment of free speech for citizens as well as the vapidity of the request. We should point out that it is against education and thoughtful debate to make any such requirement on citizens about documents now internationally in the public domain, and that it is against fundamental American principles. I should note as well that Christopher Hill, Joe Szyliowize and I debated Wikileaks at the Korbel School – see here – without feeling any constraint about examining documents. So it seems that our school in the forefront of actual democratic discussion of the documents as well as assessing the costs, sometimes serious, to that element in American diplomacy which is honorable.

Matt Bates also sent an interesting piece on Julian Assange from someone who knows him. See here. I also post below an intelligent piece on the foolishness of the Obama administration's attack on Assange by Jack Goldsmith from Lawfare (a neocon site named for the practice deliberately perverting law into a form of war fare, a self-consciously tyrannical policy of the Rove/Ashcroft/Gonzalez "Justice" Department. Though Goldsmith courageously withdrew Yoo's torture memos as head of the Office of Legal Counsel and thus deserves credit for an heroic public act, he is sometimes way reactionary).

Here is Matt's note:

"Hi Alan,

Just in case you missed it, DU sent out this email regarding Wikileaks to the students. I find it highly unlikely that the decision to send this out came from the Office of Career Services. I would guess that it is being routed through the OCS by the administration in order to deflect any criticism of self-censorship encouraged by the school. As I have graduated, however, I don't have a real sense of how the school is reacting otherwise.

It occurs to me that Freedom of speech in the U.S. currently accommodates ubiquitous disinformation from news outlets, the government and corporations, but shutters at the truth. Anonymous US lawyers have suggested that Assange has already been tried by the Justice Department in a sealed case. I have been following along with your blog and look forward to your future coverage.

Below is a short article I thought you may have missed by someone close to Assange:

Best wishes,


I just received an email from the Josef Korbel Office of Career Services. It is a link to a Wash Post article warning job seekers not to read the Wikileaks cables. Here it is:

This happened at Columbia a week ago and it seems to be spreading. Could it be because those who read them will be disgusted at the thought of gov't service? Hmmm. I spread the word to my fellow students via facebook.

I wonder if that will be a question on a security clearance questionnaire. Are you now, or have you ever read a Wikileak? Or do you associate with someone who has? Does your family read Wikileaks? This is absurd.


Joel Pruce also sent me a note: "I don't appreciate career services interjecting in student free speech, and am concerned about undercurrent of censorship around the Wikileaks issue," and appended a note to the career services office:

"Since the Careers Office felt it necessary to give advice on what to access on the internet through the link sent to students today, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you what the State Department actually says about this: and The blog post from Wash Post you forwarded does not actually quote anyone from State; it merely makes guesses - and those guesses influence and compromise students' ability to view whatever they want on the internet, freely.

SIPA at Columbia gave this same advice to its students earlier this week, and then rescinded its remarks under pressure.


Derrick T. Dortch
Washington Post, Thursday, December 9, 2010

You have always had an interest in the U.S. government and the missions of the agencies that deal with national security and international affairs.

You even hope to work for the feds or serve in the military one day.

Then you find yourself - an avid reader and seeker of knowledge - face-to-face with the WikiLeaks Web site.

This rare look inside government operations could also cost you a potential security clearance.

What WikiLeaks has done is considered illegal in the United States. U.S. law says that whoever receives or obtains, or agrees or attempts to receive or obtain, from any person or any source having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document or other materials relating to the national defense, or information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

This is serious business across all government agencies and the military, where people have been ordered not to access the WikiLeaks Web site.

So what does this have to do with you, the federal job seeker? You are not working for the government, and you think accessing WikiLeaks is acceptable. But according to the government, it is not.

Although the information is in the public domain, it does not change the status of that information.

Now, given that WikiLeaks is a public site, it's unlikely that the Justice Department will go after any U.S. citizen for accessing it. But if you are trying to get a government job and designated to get a security clearance, even at the lowest levels, you may be asked during your personnel security interview if you accessed the WikiLeaks Web site and looked at any classified documents. If your answer is yes, then the road ahead may be rocky.

Here's why:

Under the Adjudication Desk Reference, a guide published by the Defense Human Resources Activity that serves as a resource to personnel security adjudicators, investigators and managers, it notes in the "Handling Protected Information" section that deliberate or negligent failure to comply with rules and regulations for protecting classified information, or for protecting other sensitive information (such as for official use only, proprietary, export-controlled or privacy information), raises doubt about an individual's trustworthiness, judgment, reliability, or willingness and ability to safeguard such information and is a serious security concern.

The ADR points out potentially disqualifying conditions, ranging from "deliberate or negligent disclosure of classified information" to "efforts to obtain or view classified or other protected information outside one's need to know."

But all hope may not be lost if you took a gander at the WikiLeaks site. There are some mitigating conditions, according to the ADR: (A) So much time has elapsed since the behavior, or it has happened so infrequently or under such unusual circumstances, that it is unlikely to recur and does not cast doubt on the individual's reliability, trustworthiness or good judgment. (B) The individual responded favorably to counseling or remedial security training and demonstrates a positive attitude toward the discharge of security responsibilities. (C) The security violations were the result of improper or inadequate training.

The average job seeker can probably make the case that this situation happened so infrequently and was the result of inadequate training on security violations, because nine out of 10 times this is true. The key thing now, however, is to probably avoid WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks has harmed the U.S. government. Don't let it harm your job-hunting efforts.

Got a question about getting hired? Post it in the comments section for this column at, or e-mail federal jobs expert Derrick T. Dortch at


Seven Thoughts on Wikileaks
by Jack Goldsmith

1. I find myself agreeing with those who think Assange is being unduly vilified. I certainly do not support or like his disclosure of secrets that harm U.S. national security or foreign policy interests. But as all the hand-wringing over the 1917 Espionage Act shows, it is not obvious what law he has violated. It is also important to remember, to paraphrase Justice Stewart in the Pentagon Papers, that the responsibility for these disclosures lies firmly with the institution empowered to keep them secret: the Executive branch. The Executive was unconscionably lax in allowing Bradley Manning to have access to all these secrets and to exfiltrate them so easily.

2. I do not understand why so much ire is directed at Assange and so little at the New York Times. What if there were no wikileaks and Manning had simply given the Lady Gaga CD to the Times? Presumably the Times would eventually have published most of the same information, with a few redactions, for all the world to see. Would our reaction to that have been more subdued than our reaction now to Assange? If so, why? If not, why is our reaction so subdued when the Times receives and publishes the information from Bradley through Assange the intermediary? Finally, in 2005-2006, the Times disclosed information about important but fragile government surveillance programs. There is no way to know, but I would bet that these disclosures were more harmful to national security than the wikileaks disclosures. There was outcry over the Times’ surveillance disclosures, but nothing compared to the outcry over wikileaks. Why the difference? Because of quantity? Because Assange is not a U.S. citizen? Because he has a philosophy more menacing than “freedom of the press”? Because he is not a journalist? Because he has a bad motive?

3. In Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward, with the obvious assistance of many top Obama administration officials, disclosed many details about top secret programs, code names, documents, meetings, and the like. I have a hard time squaring the anger the government is directing toward wikileaks with its top officials openly violating classification rules and opportunistically revealing without authorization top secret information.

4. Whatever one thinks of what Assange is doing, the flailing U.S. government reaction has been self-defeating. It cannot stop the publication of the documents that have already leaked out, and it should stop trying, for doing so makes the United States look very weak and gives the documents a greater significance than they deserve. It is also weak and pointless to prevent U.S. officials from viewing the wikileaks documents that the rest of the world can easily see. Also, I think trying to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act would be a mistake. The prosecution could fail for any number of reasons (no legal violation, extradition impossible, First Amendment). Trying but failing to put Assange in jail is worse than not trying at all. And succeeding will harm First Amendment press protections, make a martyr of Assange, and invite further chaotic Internet attacks. The best thing to do – I realize that this is politically impossible – would be to ignore Assange and fix the secrecy system so this does not happen again [why is common sense "politically impossible" in America? - AG]

5. As others have pointed out, the U.S. government reaction to wikileaks is more than a little awkward for the State Department’s Internet Freedom initiative. The contradictions of the initiative were apparent in the speech that announced it, where Secretary Clinton complained about cyberattacks seven paragraphs before she boasted of her support for hacktivism. I doubt the State Department is very keen about freedom of Internet speech or Internet hacktivism right now.

6. Tim Wu and I wrote a book called Who Controls The Internet? One thesis of the book was that states could exercise pretty good control over unwanted Internet communications and transactions from abroad by regulating the intermediaries that make the communications and transactions possible – e.g. backbone operators, ISPs, search engines, financial intermediaries (e.g. mastercard), and the like. The book identified one area where such intermediary regulation did not work terribly well: Cross-border cybercrime. An exception we did not discuss is the exposure of secrets. Once information is on the web, it is practically impossible to stop it from being copied and distributed. The current strategy of pressuring intermediaries (paypal, mastercard, amazon, various domain name services, etc.) to stop doing business with wikileaks will have a marginal effect on its ability to raise money and store information. But the information already in its possession has been encrypted and widely distributed, and once it is revealed it is practically impossible to stop it from being circulated globally. The United States could in theory take harsh steps to stop its circulation domestically – it could, for example, punish the New York Times and order ISPs and search engines to filter out a continuously updated list of identified wikileaks sites. But what would be the point of that? (Tim and I also did not anticipate that state attempts to pressure intermediaries would be met by distributed denial-of-service attacks on those intermediaries.)

7. The wikileaks saga gives the lie to the claim of United States omnipotence over the naming and numbering system via ICANN. Even assuming the United States could order ICANN (through its contractual arrangements and de facto control) to shut down all wikileaks sites (something that is far from obvious), ICANN could not follow through because its main leverage over unwanted wikileaks websites is its threat to de-list top-level domain names where the wikileaks sites appear. It is doubtful that ICANN could make that threat credibly for many reasons, including (a) the sites are shifting across top-level domains too quickly, (b) ICANN is not going to shut down a top-level domain to get at a handful of sites, and (c) alternative and perhaps root-splitting DNS alternatives might arise if it did.

Something is Rotten: The Strange Case of Interpol's Red Alert on Assange, and the US Attack on WikiLeaks
Friday 10 December 2010 Truthout

by: Dave Lindorff | This Can't Be Happening | Op-Ed

Far be it from me to minimize the issue of rape, but to borrow from the Bard, in the case of the “rape” case being alleged against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (technically, Swedish prosecutors say it's not rape, it's "sex by surprise"), currently being held in a British jail without bail pending an extradition request from Stockholm: “Something is rotten in Sweden.”

As I wrote earlier in this publication, the alleged sexual crimes that Assange is currently being sought for by a Swedish prosecutor are:

1. Allegedly failing to halt an act of consensual sexual intercourse when his sex partner and host, Anna Ardin, claims she somehow became aware that the condom he was using had “split” and,

2. Having consensual sex with a second woman a few days later without informing her that he had just been with Ardin, and then, a day later, allegedly refusing to return a phone call on his cell phone, when she tried to call him to ask him to take an STD test. (Assange says he had turned off and was not using his phone for fear he was being traced through it, not that refusing to take a call from a woman one recently slept with should be considered criminal. Cold or even cruel, maybe, but not justification for a rape charge!)

In most countries, including the US and UK, these would not pass the test to be considered a crime, much less qualify as a category of “rape," but Swedish authorities, who in all of this year have only submitted one other request to Interpol for assistance in capturing a sex crimes suspect, asked the international police agency to issue a so-called Red Alert for Assange, who was subsquently asked by police in the UK, where he was staying, to turn himself in or face arrest. (The other Interpol Red Alert sought by Swedish prosecutors this year was for Jan Christer Wallenkurtz, a 58-year-old Swedish national wanted on multiple charges of alleged sex crimes and sex crimes against children.)

You have to ask, given that Sweden has the highest per-capital number of reported rape cases in Europe, how it can be that only these two suspects--Wallenkurtz and Assange--are brought to Interpol.

You also have to wonder how it is that Assange--charged only with consensual sex “offenses”--is denied bail by a British court magistrate, despite having several people at his arraignment hearing, including a well-known British filmmaker, ready to post whatever bail might be required to assure his return to court for an extradition hearing, while even people charged with aggressive rape are apparently routinely released on bail in both the UK and Sweden.

Here’s an interesting letter that ran yesterday in the Guardian in England, authored by Katrin Axelsson, of the British organization Women Against Rape:

"Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued for rape allegations. Women in Sweden don't fare better than we do in Britain when it comes to rape. Though Sweden has the highest per capita number of reported rapes in Europe and these have quadrupled in the last 20 years, conviction rates have decreased. On 23 April 2010 Carina Hägg and Nalin Pekgul (respectively MP and chairwoman of Social Democratic Women in Sweden) wrote in the Göteborgs-Posten that "up to 90% of all reported rapes never get to court. In 2006 six people were convicted of rape though almost 4,000 people were reported". They endorsed Amnesty International's call for an independent inquiry to examine the rape cases that had been closed and the quality of the original investigations.

“Assange, who it seems has no criminal convictions, was refused bail in England despite sureties of more than £120,000. Yet bail following rape allegations is routine. For two years we have been supporting a woman who suffered rape and domestic violence from a man previously convicted after attempting to murder an ex-partner and her children – he was granted bail while police investigated.

“There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women's safety. In the south of the US, the lynching of black men was often justified on grounds that they had raped or even looked at a white woman. Women don't take kindly to our demand for safety being misused, while rape continues to be neglected at best or protected at worst.”

The long arm of the US in this case is hard to miss here.

Especially in view of one of the latest WikiLeaks State Department cables to be disclosed in the New York Times, which in an article on Thursday laid out how the US had strong-armed even the powerful German government into blocking German prosecutors from indicting and requesting the extradition to Germany of 13 CIA agents involved in the illegal kidnapping and renditioning to Bagram prison in Afghanistan of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen wrongly thought by the CIA to be a terrorist. El-Masri was kidnapped by these agents in 2003, stripped, bound, placed in an adult diaper with a plug in his rectum, and flown by the CIA to Bagram, where he was repeatedly tortured, sodomized, injected with mind-altering drugs, and held for months, before being simply dropped off by the CIA on an Albanian roadside, after it was determined by the US that a “mistake” had been made. The US did not want its rendition program and its policy of officially-sanctioned torture disclosed and so it pressed German authorities to drop all prosecution of the agency kidnappers, threatening “the implications for relations with the U.S.” (El-Masri has been barred from suing the US government for damages.)

It strains credulity to believe that the same US government that put such pressure on a NATO ally Germany is not behind Swedish prosecutors’ sudden intense interest in this preposterous case of consensual sex and a broken condom--particularly as the initial prosecutor in the case dropped it after learning that the two women, far from being upset following their nights with Assange, had in one case thrown a party for him following the alleged incident, and in the other, left him in her bed while she went out to buy him breakfast. (Both women reportedly sent twitters to friends bragging about their conquests, messages they later tried to have expunged from the Twitter system).

It also strains credulity to believe that the denial of bail to this particular suspect by a British court--particularly given that he is not charged with any violent act, and has no criminal record--is not the result of behind-the-scenes US pressure.

Indeed, it appears that the US is busy trumping up more serious charges against Assange, with his lawyers saying they are anticipating that the US Justice Department (already reportedly in discussions with Swedish authorities about getting their hands on Assange), is planning soon to charge him under the 1917 Espionage statute, the same law that the Nixon Justice Department tried to use unsuccessfully against Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case. That could explain why efforts are being made to try to keep Assange held in a cell.

It could also explain why Assange is challenging the Swedish extradition request.

Opposition to the Afghan and Irag Wars is intense in the UK and is supported by the overwhelming majority of British citizens, which makes Assange something of a hero in Britain for his WikiLeaks exposes of the ongoing crimes by US and UK forces in those conflicts. British government acquiescence to an extradition order from the US on espionage charges would likely lead to massive opposition by British citizens. Sweden, on the other hand, which is not a member of NATO, but which has some 500 troops participating in the "NATO" war in Afghanistan, does not face the same kind of popular opposition to its role, and Assange may fear that Sweden, a very small country, could be pressured much more easily to hand Assange over to US authorities, with little resulting fuss from the Swedish public.

Back in the US, there has been no move by news organizations to come to Assange’s defense. In fact, the corporate media reaction to this whole issue has been the opposite. For the most part, the Swedish charges, and his arrest in Britain on the basis of the Interpol Red Alert, are reported as being about “rape,” without any explanation of the actual “violations,” which would not even rise to the level of a crime in the US. Meanwhile, most editorial pages are condemning the violation of diplomatic secrecy, not the government’s efforts to shut down a source of important news about government ineptness, malfeasance and deceit.

Yet if it turns out, as I’m confident it will, that the US government has been the driving force behind both the arrest and imprisonment of Assange, and his extradition to Sweden, and if it turns out, as appears increasingly likely, that the US government has also been behind simultaneous decisions by Visa, MasterCard, Paypal and several Swiss banks to refuse to handle donations to WikiLeaks, as well as by Amazon, which withdrew Wikileak's access to its cloud data storage system, and a DNS registry which de-registered WikiLeak's URL, publishers and broadcasters, and journalists themselves, should be up in arms defending him. As I wrote here earlier, this kind of attack on a news source for purely political reasons is a threat to the First Amendment as profound as the Nixonian attack on Daniel Ellsberg, and the attempt to block the New York Times from publishing his purloined documents about the origins of the Vietnam War.

Andreas Fink, CEO of DataCell ehf, the Swiss company that has been accepting donations on behalf of Wikileaks via Visa, had this to say about the Dec. 8 decision by Visa to cease processing Wikileaks donations:

“The suspension of payments towards Wikileaks is a violation of the agreements with their customers. Visa users have explicitly expressed their will to send their donations to Wikileaks and Visa is not fulfilling this wish. It will probably hurt their brand much much more to block payments towards Wikileaks than to have them occur. Visa customers are contacting us in masses to confirm that they really donate and they are not happy about Visa rejecting them. It is obvious that Visa is under political pressure to close us down. We strongly believe a world class company such as Visa should not get involved by politics and just simply do their business where they are good at. Transferring money. They have no problem transferring money for other businesses such as gambling sites, pornography services and the like so why a donation to a Website which is holding up for human rights should be morally any worse than that is outside of my understanding.”

Contributions can still be made to Wikileaks and to Assange’s Defense by wire transfer and by check and ordinary mail. To find out how to contribute, go to:
By the way, if there is anyone out there working for Visa, MasterCard, Paypal, or any banking organization, or in a government office, who can provide me [Dave Lindorff at Truthout] with evidence that the US has been behind the decision of any of those organizations to freeze out WikiLeaks and destroy it financially, I will guarantee your anonymity at all costs. Please contact me [Lindorff] or send me documentation