Monthly Archives: February 2020
By John Kendall Hawkins
“The glitter is in everything.”
-An old friend from way back when
Who’s to say what consciousness is? Nobody knows. Only a few good wo/men seem to give a shit at any given moment. The poet T.S. Eliot famously noted that humankind cannot stand too much reality and that we are distracted from distraction by distraction. As Jack Nicholson once growled at us, like a Gitmo poster boy, tortured souls sandwiched between our knocking knees, “You can’t handle the truth.” And now with the glaring prospect of four more years of Trump ahead of us — violence guaranteed — understanding consciousness seems to be the last thing on most people’s minds. We long ago lost our sense of conscience; consciousness could not be far behind. And yet.
In Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, philosopher Philip Goff invites the reader along on a dialectical journey from the first constellations of science toward a future of interpenetrating consciousnesses, from the ‘discovery’ of gravity to the still-mysterious workings of quantum mechanics. It’s not an exhaustive journey, either in method or intention, but it’s an enjoyable day trip through philosophical jungle — a tour down the Amazon that includes the oohs-and-ahhs of piranha-baiting, views of well-fed boas, ‘happy-shiny’ shamans waving from a deforested shore. Goff’s examples are exemplary: We creep up on Susan from behind; we meet Mary black-and-white; we see things done with Okham’s razor; we see the shit scared out of Philosophical Zombies (but not really), and, glimpse the creepy mind-computer merge ahead.
Ultimately, as the book title suggests (and cutting to the chase), Phillip Goff wants us to consider how Galileo, “the father of modern science,” created The Consciousness Problem when he separated quantitative information from qualitative, leaving the latter out of scientific inquiry, and resulting in a mind-body dualism we are still wrestling with today. Panpsychism is Goff’s proposed scientific solution.
Goff begins Galileo’s Error by asking the reader to go on a guided meditation with him. “As you read this page, you are having a visual experience of black letters against a white background,” he writes, “You can probably hear background noises: traffic, distant conversation, or the faint hum of a computer….” You could be Descartes meditating on his Cogito. In fact, your guide informs you as you listen to your environs, “[T]here is one thing I know for certain: I exist as a conscious being.” But Goff is leading us not to René, but to Galileo Galilei, “the father of modern science.”
According to Goff, looking up at the stars, Galileo had an epiphany — not about what he saw, but how he understood: “[T]he universe, which stands continually open to our gaze…cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed.” Galileo thought that there was a mathematical language embedded in the cosmos that could only be seen once qualitative phenomena were removed from the quantitative. Thus, in his observations, he removed sensory data derived from the five senses, and was left with a set of quantitative data — Size, Shape, Location, Motion — that became the basis for a new paradigm called science, which went beyond the limits of philosophical reasoning to the development of the scientific method.
The subjective world of sensory experience that makes up the mental phenomena of mind could not be accounted for in an objective fashion, and are “forever locked out of the arena of scientific understanding,” writes Goff, and he adds that this lock-out is how “Galileo created the problem of consciousness.” This mind-body dualism, which has been with us now for hundreds of years, accepts that “reality is made up of two very different kinds of thing: immaterial minds on the one hand and physical things on the other.”
To understand this, Goff asks us to creep up behind Susan, sitting in a chair, with the top of her skull sawed off, for our scientific convenience. We’re looking at her brain. Can we see her consciousness, her experiences at work, her sensory conjurings? No, we can’t, but somewhere, somehow in that brain, consciousness is at work. Goff writes,
For the dualist, the relationship between Susan and her physical body is a bit like the relationship between a drone pilot and his drone. Just as the drone pilot controls the drone and receives information about the world from it, so Susan controls (to an extent) her body and receives information from its eyes and ears.
Raise your hand if you’re uncomfortable with the drone pilot analogy.
As opposed to a reality composed of separate physical and “immaterial” properties, these days we’re inclined to see everything included under the rubric of physical causes and effects only — including mental phenomena. In fact, if you go insane you’ll discover that the psychiatrist has no interest in your sob story at all — it’s all seen as symptoms and chemical imbalance, and you won’t leave the doctor’s office without a mandated prescription. (All those years of medical school down the drain, you’ll “think,” when they could’ve just brought in an astrologer and handed them a script pad.) De-institutionalization: a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Goff rages against the machinery of materialism throughout Galileo’s Error. But after he’s cooled down some, he offers up another female volunteer in his narrative — this time it’s Mary Black-and-White — to explain the limitations of materialism. Picture Mary, he says, locked away in a black-and-white room her entire life, no peeky-boo windows looking out onto external reality. Everything she knows about color is from something read, and she’s well-read. “If materialism is true and neuroscience is able to give us a complete theory of the nature of color experience, then what pre-liberation Mary has learned is the complete and final theory of color experience.”
One thinks of the Allegory of Plato’s Cave; and Chance the gardener from Being There. Goff writes, that no matter how much theory Mary’s been imbued with, she’s missing one thing that doesn’t happen until she leaves her room: experience, the experience of color. Consequently, Goff asserts,
It follows that a neuroscientific theory of color experience is necessarily incomplete. It leaves out the subjective qualities involved in color experience, those qualities we are directly aware of when we see colors.
Consciousness involves the subjective experience of phenomena — a kind of epiphenomena, or je ne sais quoi experience you can’t measure. He adds, “Neuroscience cannot teach the blind/color-blind what it’s like to have color experience.” Which reminds me of one of my favorite blind-leading-the-blind enlightenment stories: Raymond Carver’s, “Cathedral.”
In his further furtive assault on the human body (ostensibly in defense of the mind), Goff introduces the concept of the Philosophical Zombie. He writes, “If you stick a knife in a philosophical zombie, it’ll scream and try to get away, but it doesn’t actually feel pain” because “A philosophical zombie is just a complicated mechanism set up to behave like an ordinary human being.” But his essential point is a logical one. Goff writes, “It can be logically demonstrated that if zombies are even possible—not actual, merely logically possible—then materialism cannot possibly be true.” Goff even proposes a six-step, if-then, Zombie Argument.
He’s not done there though. Goff conjures up a barroom scene where he has a shitfaced materialist feeling the blues and staggered by a thought,
I pushed my way out of the bar and stood in the cold rain with my eyes closed. I couldn’t deny it anymore. I’d already accepted that if materialism was true, then I was a zombie. But I knew I wasn’t a zombie; I was a thinking, feeling human being. I could no longer live in denial of my consciousness. I became something of a closet dualist.
The reader cringes to see a philosopher lean towards the politically incorrect.
All that loving on the legacies of Descartes, Newton and Galileo that takes place early in the journey, followed by jumping the materialist behind the tavern and beating the living snot out of him and unbalancing his chemicals, is all meant to lead us to the Shangri-La of panpsychism. And for Goff it seems almost akin to a religious experience. Goff riffs, “I can’t help being excited by the possibility that, in a panpsychist worldview, the yearnings of faith and the rationality of science might finally come into harmony…Panpsychism offers a way of ‘re-enchanting’ the universe….” It turns out that Goff was in the closet too. He comes clean: “In panpsychism I found intellectual peace; I could live comfortably in my own skin.”
For Goff consciousness goes to the core of the meaning of life — literally. Citing Thomas Nagel’s 1972 article, “Panpsychism,” Goff calls it the “third way” between dualism and materialism. On the surface, it smells of rancid pantheism, but with a privileged consciousness taking the place of a murdered God in the cathedral.
But, Goff, however enthusiastically he waxes, like a reborn sinner, about the joy of panpsychism and the many rivers in one to cross, wants to bring in the authority of science. First he cites Stephen Hawking, who has insisted that humans will one day come up with a Grand Unified Theory that explains everything — even he seems to have doubted that it would be fully “satisfying,” as Goff puts it. Hawking noted: “Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” For Goff, consciousness is the heavy breather.
Goff pushes quantum mechanics. In it he sees an integral place for consciousness. But more specifically a pilot seat for observation. Explaining the concept of superpositioning, Goff cites the example Schrödinger’s cat, put in a box, with a vial of poison and radioactive material. If the material decays, the vial will smash, and the cat will die. But, notes Goff,
If the radioactive substance doesn’t decay, the cat will be saved. While the box is closed and the system unobserved, Schrödinger’s equation rules the roost, with the result that the radioactive substance exists in a superposition of both decaying and not decaying, from which it follows that the cat is in a superposition of being both alive and dead.
But when the box is opened, and the cat’s observed, it will be either dead or living.
This is conceptually weird, this on-and-off at the same time stuff, but it’s the promise that quantum computing holds, and it is, says Goff, scientifically sound, and goes to the heart of particle physics. Picture the famous rabbitduck illusion, where both the duck and rabbit are present together before you, but only one of them can be seen at any given moment. Imagine a computing system that could be on and off like that at the same time. But it’s the observational aspect of this phenomenon that Goff is keened to.
However, the more you delve into this, the stranger it gets — even in Freud’s Uncanny sense — as though, extrapolated to Reality, you could come to believe you were in two places at once. While some of this thinking leads toward multiverses, and the like, there’s an area Goff concentrates on that is most eerie of all: Integrated Information Theory (IIT). According to Goff, “The theory tells us that, in any physical system, consciousness is present at the level at which there is the most integrated information.” The system needn’t be human. At the same time, Goff is not articulating that everything in the universe has a form of consciousness. It depends on the level of integration.
There are levels, leading to a ‘maximum of integration’. Goff explains that a single neuron is highly integrated, but not as integrated as the brain it belongs to, which contains a forest of neurons. Further, and from a different perspective,
A human society has a great deal of integrated information, due to its complex social connections. However, a society is not a maximum of integration, as it is surpassed from below: people make up societies, and their brains have significantly more integrated information than does the society as a whole.
That’s all fine and dandy, that leaves room for people to go all shape-shifting Shangri-La when they discover the beam-me-up-Scotty joys of panpsychic integration — “consciousness is the intrinsic nature of matter” — but then the other shoe drops on a phenomenological turd.
Goff considers the current human-machine trajectory of the Internet, and it can get scary in a hurry, depending on whether or not you welcome the coming Singularity or regard its arrival as akin to having Freddie Krueger over for a dinner of pulled pork, the pig not happy in the sty. Goff anticipates:
IIT predicts that if the growth of internet-based connectivity ever resulted in the amount of integrated information in society surpassing the amount of integrated information in a human brain, then not only would society become conscious but human brains would be “absorbed” into that higher form of consciousness. Brains would cease to be conscious in their own right and would instead become mere cogs in the mega-conscious entity that is the society including its internet based connectivity.
And you thought today’s Internet activity was out of control, full of fakery, dark web secrets, overcommercialization. Imagine absorption in that unenlightened Mind-set. Maybe it wouldn’t be so ducky down the rabbit hole after all.
But that worry aside, Goff suggests several times in his book that we are on the verge of something, a new paradigm, that we are waiting for a “Newton of consciousness” to come along to affirm the scientific validity of panpsychism, and the age-old mind-body problem will be resolved once and for all. But more than that, maybe we should be invoking Copernicus, rather than Newton, coming to terms, spiritually and scientifically, that as Earth is not the center of the solar system, human consciousness is not the center of the universe: consciousness abounds. The universe is not all about me.
Let us now return to trashing Trump: The Shitter is in everything.
By John Kendall Hawkins
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? [sinister laugh] The Shadow knows.”
– from The Shadow, a radio drama from the ‘30s
What a difference a week makes, the kind where you feel more certain than ever that signs are mounting that we are historically placed somewhere between the profligate days of Caligula and a postmodern Apocalypse where God is taking no prisoners. An Iceberg-looking submarine smacking at the Titanic — like a taunt. The Burger King ad featuring Thanatopsis, making a time-elapsed burger look like a picture of what smoking does — you wondering, if the burgers are better at Burger King, then what next? Joe Biden speaking in tongues. King Trump grinning, threatening Romney like a crime boss, while contradictorily claiming to be the nation’s top law enforcement agent. Buttery margarine, human-y AIs: It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.
Things finally got back to what passes as normal when the Ukraine government recently announced through their local press that they had begun work on turning their government itself into a “service-sector” function of their young democracy. They call it Diia, “the state in the smartphone.” All government services would be available through an app on a smartphone, including, the most important function for a modern democracy, voting for politicians.
The Idea means well. Many countries have super-apps like this that feature aspects of Ukraine’s proposed system, including Australia, but voting on-line makes the proposition iffy. Ukraine is drawing on the experiences of Lithuania and Estonia, two former Soviet-bloc nations that have gone digital, and include e-residencies and tax havens, and voting, for citizens, tossed in. According to a New York Times piece, most Estonians seem to agree that a paperless bureaucracy is vast improvement over the officious inefficiencies of the Soviet past. According to Wired, “Estonia is the world’s most digitally advanced society” and there is shared euphoria, maybe gone too far (“a digital Estonia would never cease to exist”), as it flaunts its Brand of freedom.
But Ukraine is no puckish Estonia. Her corruption is world-renowned. And if you had half a brain, you probably would have to worry when your government flat out wants to crow about your service-sector future. One pictures mattresses and a nation on its back. Mikhail Fedorov, the ‘mastermind’ of the system, both Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation, envisions a ‘fast-track rollout’, from the late 2019 unveiling of the project to February’s introduction of a working device. (The original unveiling was scheduled for January, but had to be moved back to accommodate Federov’s “illness.”)
Ukraine has many problems, other than corruption, to overcome to make such an enterprise even conceivable — let alone do-able. Oliver Boyd-Barrett, a political researcher and media specialist for the region, cites the national decline after Ukraine refused an IMF offer in 2014 leading to a CIA-influenced coup, an “oligarch democracy,” and a “historical brain drain” that leaves the impression that a nation of Borats was left behind. But also, not many people in Ukraine have smartphones. So there’ll have to be a massive gifting of such mobiles by the government or industry (no doubt, with backdoors installed) before the benefits of e-government can kick in and Ukraine can be a successful brand™ like Estonia. Five months from concept to rollout. Unh-huh. That’s funny.
There’s also the problem that the Ukraine government has not budgeted any funds for the DIIA project. Money has been obtained through a “private-public partnerships,” says Federov, who further explains, “”I rely on an effective team and international technical assistance, public-private partnerships, volunteering.” Volunteering? One of the “private” funders is old friend USAID, coming along with its easy-to-obtain high interest rate loans. Curious citizens were directed to a YouTube explanation and were (are) met with hunh?
If anyone can do it, maybe Federov is the man. President Zelinsky came to power in 2019 through the prowess of Federov’s machinations and Facebook manipulations. The ex-actor and comedian won in a landslide, with Federov behind him, fighting heroically against “disinformation,” pressuring Facebook to take down ‘fake ads’ and ‘news’ from Russia meant to futz with the election. If true. But Federov seems far more interested in making a long term buck. When asked during the campaign Why Zelensky? What can he offer? It wasn’t a democratically satisfying response: he can monetize stuff. Oh, Fredonia, don’t you cry for me.
One claim that NYT seemed to let stand, without critical appraisal ,was that Russians were approaching everyday Ukrainians and offering to pay cash-money to “rent” their Facebook accounts for disinformation purposes. Again, suggesting a Borat-like nation nimcompoopery. The NYT piece inexplicably referred to this as “an evolution in tactics.” What, are we evolving to a clown species?
As if such absurdity weren’t sufficient, the Times went on to blatherscheiss — “Facebook Tackles Rising Threat: Americans Aping Russian Schemes to Deceive” — that Americans were emulating the Russkies by way of pressuring tactics. Still, signing up for Facebook with multiple (perhaps paid) troll accounts is different than having to picture some swarthy stranger coming up to you and pssssting that you could make a buck airbnbing your Facebook account. Wouldn’t you run?
Strange news comes out of Ukraine that nobody really pays much attention to. For instance, last week a Ukrainian publication reported that Viktor Shokin, the prosecutor Joe Biden had successfully got fired for, ostensibly, failing to aggressively pursue corruption allegations at Burisma Holdings, had himself, on February 7, appealed to the National Police to prosecute Biden for the “commission of a criminal offence by Biden both in the territory of Ukraine and abroad…In particular, Biden was accused of interference in the work of a law enforcement body under Section 2 of Article 343 of the Penal Code of Ukraine.”
Shokin Gun? Did Trump push him to appeal? (More impeachableness.) Funny stuff, out of Ukraine.
Of course, DIIA, the smartphone government for stupid people, got me thinking about high tech in America. Gadgets and gizmos, smartphones and apps, seems to be the way we’re going, and not necessarily in a benign way. For instance, the Diebold machines that helped fuck up the 2000 Florida election, along with Gore not winning his home state and Nader offering an alternative with integrity, just sold to another company, which reportedly has the same problems with hackability. Jeesh.
But also, and finally, when one thinks of Ukraine’s new infatuation with service-sector politics, Iowa comes to mind. One problem with Shadow, the app meant to calculate the caucus vote, was that it was fanfared with much promise and too few people to roll it out properly. Brand recognition was the game. Now, Acronym, the non-profit agency that used the device at the caucus is ducking from the fallout after the app’s catastrophic failure. It makes the Dems look techo dumb.
Perhaps the real worry, though, should be what the names evoke. When I think of Acronym, I think of FBI, CIA, NSA, and all the funny ones that Edward Snowden describes in Permanent Record that don’t mean anything in themselves and cover something else up. Shadow we know, or don’t, thinking along a Jungian strain. When the acronyms and the shadows merge you just know some SHIT is going to hit the FAN.
By John Kendall Hawkins
In his memoir, Permanent Record, Edward Snowden insists there’s a serious distinction between whistleblowing and leaking. “A ‘whistleblower’, he writes, “ is a person who through hard experience has concluded that their life inside an institution has become incompatible with the principles developed in…the greater society outside it, to which that institution should be accountable.” Snowden has often referred to Daniel Ellsberg, distributor of the Pentagon Papers, as a model for the type. He compares whistleblowing to leaking — “acts of disclosure done not out of public interest but out of self-interest, or in pursuit of institutional or political aims.”
Daniel Ellsberg, who has said of Katherine Gun, the depicted GCHQ whistleblower in Official Secrets, that her heroic decision to risk everything (career, marriage, freedom) to blow the whistle on Great Britain’s collusion in blackmailing UN Security Council members into supporting an illegal war (the US and the UK knew there were no WMDs) against Iraq in the spring of 2003 was a “model for other whistleblowers. She’s my hero.”
He has used similar accolades to describe Snowden’s revelations. In recently announcing Snowden’s addition to the board of directors of Freedom of the Press Foundation, co-founded by investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, to enhance and strengthen first amendment rights, Ellsberg said: “He is the quintessential American whistleblower, and a personal hero of mine…Leaks are the lifeblood of the republic and, for the first time, the American public has been given the chance to debate democratically the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.”
These whistleblowers are citizens we should be most proud of, as they have the public interest of America at heart: they see terrible things happening when secretive governance works to evade accountability and undermine the Constitution with their actions. They often hang out together. To hear Ellsberg, whistleblowing is as American as Mom’s Apple Pie. And is always a la mode.
But not every whistleblower is equal. Take Mark Felt. When he was known as ‘Deep Throat’, telling heroic journalists (Redford and Hoffman) from the Washington Post to follow the money and uncover the Watergate era shenanigans of the Nixon administration, Americans were sucked into the intrigue of his deep state doings. In the newspaper, whose motto is: Democracy Dies in Darkness, insider Felt was painted as a hero of the Republic.
But many years of political sobriety later I’ve come to the conclusion that Felt was no whistleblower. He was what Snowden calls a leaker; he acted “out of self-interest, [and] in pursuit of institutional or political aims.” You could argue that the MSM – and the rest of us — got played when Deep Throat helped take down a hated president, Richard Nixon. Had Felt been made director, we never would have had Deep Throat. It was nice to see Nixon go, but Felt was a leaker, not a whistleblower. And the fact that Felt was close friends with journalist Bob Woodward — even before Watergate — is never mentioned.
There is an alternative way of looking at what Deep Throat accomplished. In an article titled “The deeper truth about Deep throat,” author George Friedman of Stratfor writes,
This was not a lone whistleblower being protected by a courageous news organization; rather, it was a news organization being used by the FBI against the president, and a news organization that knew perfectly well that it was being used against the president. Protecting Deep Throat concealed not only an individual, but also the story of the FBI’s role in destroying Nixon.
Even as we consider the source (Stratfor), considering an alternative way of reading Deep Throat’s patriotism is — obligatory. And may be relevant to what has happened recently with Trump’s impeachment. Felt’s no Ellsberg.
In fact, while it’s ‘obligatory’ to bring intel secrets to the grave with you, Felt probably did the right thing when he went public in old age and outed himself as Deep Throat. He was evidently pressured not by vanity but by the sensible desire to help his grandchildren pay for university. Vanity Fair jumped on his confession. A book contract followed. Then a movie. Felt, for money, told ghosts how he blew minds back in the day, so that his grandkids wouldn’t be just more debt slaves to Sallie Mae. $1.6 trillion and counting. (Fuck. If he’s only framed it that way in the end, he’d been a national hero all over again: follow the money, he’d a-said, about the student loans.)
In the context of Ellsberg, Snowden, Gun, Radack, et al, where does the Ukraine whistleblower fit in? Did he deliver a Pentagon Report or StellarWind revelation or NSA blackmail-for-war report? No. Did s/he have first hand information about the phone call that President Trump had with Ukraine’s President Zelensky? No. Someone told him about the phone call and the quid pro quo and he went to the appropriate authorities to begin an abuse of power probe, but at third hand. Afterward, unlike the whistleblowers described above, our Ukraine whistleblower went back to work for the CIA.
Whether you are Left or Right of the political spectrum, when we begin to examine the motivations of why this whistleblower came forward, one has to wonder if there is any public interest in that motivation. Quid pro quos are the bread and butter of Congress, definitely including the anti-opponent kind Trump is said to have been caught up in. Put differently, had Obama been “caught” qpq-ing a foreign power, say, against McCain, would the MSM have given a shit? Many people would like to see the non-politician Trump deposed, but if the whistleblower is more akin to Mark Felt than Daniel Ellsberg I’m not interested in doing it through partisan hypocrisy.
Despite the fantasy game that the MSM is playing regarding the Ukraine whistleblower, indulging in the idea that s/he is motivated by public interests, and hiding his identity, so many journalists have looked into the background of the alleged whistleblower, outed in several middle and conservative publications, that if it’s true that this whistleblower once worked for Obama’s NSC in Ukraine until just after Trump’s inauguration in 2017, and that they have an established relationship with Joe Biden, then there is a conflict of interest, and the protected whistleblower, call him Deep State Thoat, is more akin to Felt than Ellsberg or Snowden.
To date, the CIA whistleblower that the left-center MSM refuses to name, is supposedly protected by whistleblower legislation, which any sensible American citizen should want to honor. But the name is out there. The same name. And it becomes surprising, given the rhetoric about this person’s need to be guarded 24 hours a day, why they simply haven’t just come forward and averred that they are not the whistleblower. If it turns out that they do have connections to the previous administration, it pays to do what the previous Deep Throat suggested: follow the money.
Even controversial CIA whistleblower, John Kirikaou has weighed in on the Ukraine whistleblower (in a generic way). He says, “If he’s a whistleblower, and not a CIA plant whose task it is to take down the president, then his career is probably over.” Elsewhere, he opines even further:
“I don’t think this is a whistleblower, not at all,” Kiriakou told FNC’s Tucker Carlson. “I think this is an anonymous source for the Democratic staff in the House of Representatives. You can’t hide this person’s identity just to save him from embarrassment or trouble of being recognized. It’s just not appropriate. If this is a whistleblower, he needs to come forward in public, testify in open session and blow that whistle.”
In the CIA, you are a pariah, after “ratting.” Somehow, the Ukraine whistleblower went back to work at the CIA. Either, like Mark Felt, his job was to take down a president, like Mark Felt, or, if he is a real whistleblower, he will be ‘reluctantly’ pushed out into the world of Snowden-like contractors, unknown, and unaccounted for.
Like most sane and sensible people I detest Trump’s presidency, but there’s a danger that MSM journalism will take a further tumble into absurdity if it slavishly follows partisan bicker-streams and refuses to wonder what the Ukraine whistleblower’s motivations are. I favor a whistleblower law that totally protects the whistleblower: if they need to quit as a result of their leaks, then the law should provide full salary for a career; a pension should be safe; health insurance guaranteed, plus, if necessary, they should receive paid protection. But if our Deep State Throat is just another political blow-hard with a partisan agenda, then they get no protection beyond what their handlers can provide.
Why isn’t a single journalist wondering aloud what Cofer Black is up to on the board of directors at controversial Bursima Gas (since May 2017) in Ukraine? Is there any relation to Deep State Throat’s whistle and Black in Ukraine. Has the whistleblower ever been in contact with Black?
Let’s see those phone transcripts.
By John Kendall Hawkins
Lots of people think the folk/rock era began when Dylan went electric at the 1965 NewBob Folk Festival. They couldn’t hear his voice over the amped-up instruments. Word is, some folkies went starkers. In the fictional film I’m Not There, sweet Pete Seeger tries to take an axe to the sound, and has to be wrestled to the ground. Some critics wondered whether Dylan’s do was attempted murder or career suicide. Plugged-in Alienation never jangled so many nerves.
Howeer, some others say that folk/rock actually began in the quiet hills of Laurel Canyon a month or so earlier. It still involved Dylan, but as an observer listening in on Roger McGuinn and The Byrds rehearsing “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Said band member David Crosby at the time, “He listened to us play it electric and you can hear the gears turning, you know. He knew he wanted to do that immediately.”
But the story of folk/rock’s beginnings is even more convoluted and intriguing than that. Andrew Slater’s Echo in the Canyon attempts to solve this riddle that nobody’s much given a poop about in decades. But, the thing is, he does it in such a way that the journey is joyous, invigorating and enlightening. He brings in an assortment of legends and their kin to tell the story of the greatest musical era of our times. Oh, what fun it is to see and hear Jakob Dylan, Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, Fiona Apple, Beck, Norah Jones, Regina Spektor, Cat Power, Jade Castrinos, John Sebastian, Lou Adler. It’s never dull.
Andrew Slater says that he was watching an old B-movie, Model Shop, from 1969, when it oddly occurred to him: “That movie looked like the sound of The Beach Boys and The Mamas & Papas.” Call it sensimilla synesthesia. The movie features Gary Lockwood lost in the space that unrequited love leaves you in when the rent-a-model you’re attracted to just isn’t in to you. This, coming a year after the homoerotic voice of HAL did shit in the cosmos when “his” love went unrequited and opened up wormholes we may not have recovered from. Pass the bong, please. I never would have seen an explanation for folk/rock coming from this. You mean that black plinthy beacon from outer space was another side of Dylan?
Anyway, Slater, Echo’s director and the former president of Capitol Records, was in a good position to bring together the aforementioned musicians from the early days of the folk/rock era. As the title suggests, Slater makes the place, Laurel Canyon, the hero of the story. This is where it happened, the place where songsmiths came together in a musical mélange that pushed pop music from doo-wop sentimentality to lyrical depth psychology. Or, as only David Crosby could put it, before folk/rock, “It was June, Moon, Spoon. Baby I love you Ooh, ooh. [It] wasn’t ‘Dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free.’”
In the 60s, word was that California was the place to be and the place to bee. The Bay area had its attractions and its evils, its ghosts and its upheavals, and was distinct from the sound and the fury of the south, the Circe city, that LA Woman, that Hotel California you could check into but never leave. But Laurel Canyon, we’re told, was none of that. It was a place to malinger, get laid, or try out a new singer and smoke a new hashish grenade. A mind-blowing environment for creative types.
Michelle Philips of the Mamas and the Papas is the first to testify as to the vibe of the Canyon. It was “like a hangout for, ah, bohemians and actors,” she tells us, “It was full of charming little houses and it was a very joyful time.” And Graham Nash was instantly enthralled: “Just driving up those canyons and people pointing out houses of famous people that lived there, Houdini and Tom Mix and Zappa and, you know, it was a fabulous time.” Roger McGuinn adds, “We moved into Laurel Canyon and we just loved the scene there. And a lot of people, a lot of folk singers would come around and play and we’d, you know, get high and stuff. It was… a fun time.” Joyful, fabulous, fun. And that’s how the film plays to us.
We’re provided with a couple of amusing anecdotes of the free-expressionism that ruled Laurel Canyon back in the ‘zen’-then. One is the sight of the chin strip and ‘stached resident Frank Zappa emerging from his home, across the street from Stephen Stills. “Once [Zappa] stood in the middle of the street reading me the lyrics of ‘Who Are The Brain Police’, like Alan Ginsberg.” (Segue) And the other chucklesome moment came when Ringo Starr and George Harrison “drove up to wherever Micky Dolenz lived and Stephen Stills was there and several other people. And they were all being hippies in the nude. And when they saw it was George and I driving they all run in and got dressed!” Nuff seen, nuff said.
Folks were getting together in all kinds of ways, and the recollection of that togetherness is at the heart of Echo in the Canyon. The Byrds listened to the Beatles, and the Beatles listened to Beach Boys, and the Beach Boys listened to Bach, and they all listened to Dylan. The Byrds’ 12-string electric sound wowed the Beatles and Bob. Napoleon in Rags took the new sound to Newport, and George Harrison incorporated the 12-string vibe into the first “folk rock” album, Rubber Soul. The Beach Boys were blown away by Rubber Soul and it inspired Pet Sounds, which, in turn turn turn, inspired the Byrds and the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And so on. They called this process “cross-pollination.”
Tom Petty claims “the Beatles actually started the folk rock in California,” and he tells the story of how John Hall of the Rickenbacker Guitar flew to New York to give John Lennon, who played a Rickenbacker 6-string, a 12-string version, “But George had the flu, the other three had gone out for a photo session, and George nabbed the 12-string. Mm hmm. That changed pop music….” We can only imagine how John Lennon might have changed things had he been in that day.
The Beatles invited the Byrds over to England. During a gig at the Blaises Club “Chris was so nervous he broke a bass string,” says McGuinn. “And nobody ever breaks a bass string, but he did.” The adventure continued with drugs. Dylan had famously turned the Beatles on to marijuana. The night after the Blaises’ incident, McCartney took McGuinn for a ride in his Aston Martin DB5 and they ended up at the Rolling Stones’ house where “they showed us how they rolled joints. And they had a butler that rolled joints and put them on the stairs for them in the morning like the morning coffee!” The next time the Beatles were in California, the Byrds “introduced us to a hallucinogenic situation,” says Ringo.
Brian Wilson loved the Beatles. “I really liked them a lot,” he said, “… one of my buddies…kept playing [Rubber Soul]. and playing it, and I said wow! I couldn’t believe it. That made me write the Pet Sounds album.” Michelle Philips was there to witness how he took that zeal and churned it.
[Brian and Marilyn] lived right down the street from us… And one day I went over there and the whole living room was full of sand…[with] nothing in the living room but a Steinway and a piano bench and just all sand. And I looked at her and I said, what is going on? She said, I know it’s crazy, but he’s writing some great songs.
The ever-influential Pet Songs.
It wasn’t just instruments and harmonies that made the California sound different, but also the universally well-regarded studio engineering that helped bands put out conceptual albums. Brian Wilson discusses how “Good Vibrations” was pieced together through four studios:
Well, each studio is different, you know? Like you can’t… not any one studio’s the same. Western was good for the, ah, instrumentation, like the bass, the drums, guitars. Sunset Sound, I liked their tech piano. I used that on the bridge to “Good Vibrations.” Gold Star was good for just the echo. The echo of Gold Star was good. And RCA Victor, that’s where we did the vocal.
Such knowledge became crucial to bands like the Beatles, after they stopped touring because crowd noise was so loud, they said that they couldn’t hear themselves playing.
One of the other great features of Echo in the Canyon is Jakob Dylan’s covers of period songs, many of which include fantastic female vocal accompaniments. Jade Castrinos on “Go Where You Wanna Go” is as good as it gets. Norah Jones on “Never My Love” shows off her depth and smooth passionate articulation. Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, Cat Power. The album would be worth purchasing for these voices alone, but you can hear them for free.
Speaking of Jakob Dylan. He does a marvelous job of attending to the stories of various musicians. He listens keenly and without much interruption. And it adds value. But his personality does shine forth once in awhile, as in this exchange regarding the “Mr. Tambourine Man” rehearsal:
Dylan showed up.
You have to be more specific. No, I’m kidding!
You mean there’s more than one?
Jakob Dylan (laughing)
Bob showed up.
It’s kind of a tender moment. You realize just how impossible it must have been to get out from under the shadow of his super-presence father. Like he knows the viewer’s just waiting for discussions to turn to Bob or a sudden cameo appearance changes the chemistry. Thank Christ it never happened. Jakob shone.
Andrew Slater said, “if Roger McGuinn had just played the opening notes to The Byrds’ debut album and dropped dead, he would have still exercised the most pronounced influence over the folk rock movement in 25 years. And he was right. Because in 1965 when those songs went on the radio, it was the first time a song of poetic depth and grace had become a hit song and it inspired a whole generation
of writers to write differently and to come to California, which gave birth to the Laurel Canyon scene.”
Echo in the Canyon was released last summer in America, but had a very limited distribution. It has recently won some industry awards, including one for best documentary and nods for its sound quality. However, not much marketing has gone into it and it seems destined to become one of those word-of-the-mouth cult favorites. Which is too bad, because it’s so upbeat and we all sure use a hot of that right about now. Never once does that other Dylan make an appearance, so you withdraw from the viewing un-jangled and keeping that sustained high.
It’s available on Netflix (overseas, I had to use a VPN to get a US IP address), but also at a number of other sites, including Vimeo, Apple, and Vudu.
By John Kendall Hawkins
…[M]en should be treated in such a way that there’s no fear of their seeking revenge…
-Nicolai Machiavelli, “Mixed Principalities,” The Prince
“You come at the king, you bess not miss.”
– Omar, The Wire
Donald Trump sat with Recep “Cepi” Erdoğan
At a nez à nez cafe in the Golden Horn,
Fog over the Straits, fishmongers singing the blues,
Their little secret summit all over the news.
They gazed, they preened, with their fincan pinkies high,
Just two kings talking — evil eye to evil eye.
DJ flashed his grand, bizarre smile and sneered, “The Press
Is all over me and the country is a mess.
I fear some Lefty might impeach me with a gun
And I’ll find myself leaping in front of my son.”
Cepi laughed at that, and said, “Well, listen to this:
When they did Khashoggi — Oh, I watched with such bliss.
I jail journos, make them watch Midnight Express for fun.”
“Enemas of the State,” they harmonized, “Undone.”
They laughed about Idlib, and al-Baghdadi’s face
When he realized there was no escape cave in place.
Trump said, “He died like a dog and blew up the kids —
I lied,” he smirked, “Abbottabads Abbottobids.”
Cepi howled, “Badda bing bang boom — politics!
Nothing wrong with you a good hamamin’ can’t fix.”
The garson brought the tab and DJ made a lunge —
He didn’t want Cepi to think he was a sponge.
But Cepi was quick and snatched the bill and snickered,
“Your money’s no good here,” said Cepi; they bickered.
“CNN’s the most phoney fakes of news,” Trump said.
“What about the Kurds?” he mimicked the talking head.
At that, Cepi gave the garson a second glance,
Took back his tip, and made the poor waiter’s eyes dance.
The two good buds arose, Cepi winked and they strolled.
DJ said, “Mohammad got back to me to scold.
He said sweetly, ‘Donald, that wasn’t very nice’
To treat my discombobulations as a vice.
What if I’d made fun of your curtsy and laughed
To your face?’” Cepi cracked up, thinking DJ gaffed.
“There goes that Trump tower in Riyadh,” howled Cepi,
And slapped DJ on the back, dancing, two-steppy.
DJ morosely followed his Turkish delight.
They strode through the twists and turns of the Taksim night,
Down cobblestone streets, Cepi, like Virgil, leading —
Well, maybe if Virgil had had no real breeding —
And on the buds strode, ignoring the blood-kurdling screams,
Cepi saying, “Journos” (wink) “at work in their dreams.”
DJ pictured Maddow, with new bounce in his bones —
In fact, all the press! — and their screams became his koans.
After their purgatorial conversation,
They came to the Red Light D and knew their station.
They passed pervs, punks, pimps and glassed-in storefront cages
With dancing mannequin-like Beatrices of all ages.
Cepi said to DJ, “Go have a pussy grab.”
Trump groaned, “No can do, Cepi, my hand’s in rehab.
Until after November.” They left Paradise,
With the promise of pleasure still twinkling their eyes,
They giggled and goosed all the way to Taksim Square —
Pigeons out of control, broken heads strewn everywhere,
Tumbleweed tabloids, Atatürk’s pic on the ground,
Tarzan-like prayer calls, cab honks, and no other sound.
“DJ, you gotta break a few eggheads” (puffing)
“If you wanna make an Om.” But Trump’s mind was muffing
Back in the Red Light D. Cepi said, “Listen to this,
If you want to kill the king, you’d better not miss.”
By John Kendall Hawkins
- Abbie Hoffman, his war cry from Fuck the System (1967)
The System Is the Solution
- AT&T ad, circa the 70s
One of the funniest bits I can remember reading about Abbie Hoffman was the time he tried to get himself arrested at a police station and the cops wouldn’t bite. His friend, and fellow Yippee, Paul Krassner said, “We went to the 9th precinct. Abbie wanted to get busted to show solidarity between the hippies and the ethnic groups. But they wouldn’t arrest him.” The Yippies had a sit-in outside the police station, where Abbie carried on, telling cops: “I want to be arrested because I’m a nigger. You’re arresting my black brothers. Arrest me.” He was invited inside the police station to talk.
Inside the station house he jumped from desk to desk, and demanded to be arrested. They laughed at him. So he leapt off the desk, “going, ‘Na, Na!’” and kicked out the glass from a trophy case and ran. One cop yelled, “You goddamn bastard, now you’ve had it.” They chased, but he got away. He called days later to arrange his arrest. About 40 cops were waiting for him at the rendezvous point, when a van pulled up “and about seven guys come running out who look exactly like Abbie Hoffman with the big Afro and they run into the crowd and the goddamn cops are chasing all of them!” Then, Hoffman called to them, “Yoo Hoo! You Hoo! Here I am!” And disappeared.
Vintage Abbie. Seven cops holding up seven Afro wigs — like they scalped ‘em.
In Steal This Book, his street survival manual, Abbie had advised the reader to keep on hand a few costumes for street theater and escapades. You never knew when a ‘nice’ suit bought at Salvation Army might come in handy to score a free meal at a decent restaurant (bring your own cockroach or broken glass). Costumes had played their role in spoofing justice at the Chicago 7 trial in 1969, when Abbie and Jerry Rubin had come to court one day wearing judges robes — and, when told to take them off NOW!, they revealed cops uniforms underneath. The judge was a Hoffman and Abbie had even called him Dad and offered to set him up with some Hoffman (LSD). The whole trial was a trip, including the outrageous bounding and gagging of a black man.
But serious contemplation was also at work behind Abbie’s modus o; it wasn’t all hippie razzmatazz. This week we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the sentencing of the Chicago 7 and for Abbie’s later writing of his introduction to his timeless paean to freedom, Steal This Book, which Abbie called “a manual of survival in the prison that is Amerika.” With all the proliferating criminal breaches of privacy and freedom by the System since 9/11, as described in copious detail by Edward Snowden’s revelations in Permanent Record, Abbie’s description of Amerika has never been truer. On February 19, the Chicago 7 were found guilty of inciting a riot during the DNC convention of 1968, as well as, for their courtroom antics, 175 counts of contempt of court. The convictions were later overturned on appeal.
In his introduction, Abbie simplifies his Yippie war cry with a three-part approach to take in the counterculture revolution against the System — i.e., the Military-Industrial (MIC) system that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about in his farewell speech. First, we must Survive. Abbie writes, “Revolution is not about suicide, it is about life.” And that really is the serious thread of practical philosophy that informs Steal This Book. There are ways of surviving, essentially off the grid, if you’re willing to live the lifestyle — and a lot hippies did. Free food, free clothes, free communications, free books, free accommodation all there to be had.
The second part is Fight. “We cannot survive without learning to fight,” he writes, and “The purpose of part two [Fight] is not to fuck the system, but destroy it.” The System is definitely not the solution. And, again, with the prospect of a Democratic party offering no real alternative to the economic plight many Americans find themselves in — and people getting themselves ensconced in debt slavery by taking one of those candy-colored credit cards they practically give away (and you thought sub-prime mortgages were a potential global economic disaster) to pay their bills. Remember how much fun it was to play personal pyramid scheme by paying off one credit card with another? Fuck the system. Destroy the MIC.
Finally, there’s Liberate, which is essentially a guide on how to live free in four cities: New York, Chicago, and San Francisco and LA. But it’s the attitude of community action that comes through that makes it worth reading. Steal This Book is not anachronistic, it’s alive and well, and remains a feisty little blueprint for expressing your freedom in a locked-down world.
Abbie took ‘taking the mickey out of’ the MIC to heart. He didn’t just talk the talk, he strat the strut. Just a year before he and the Yippies ran Pigasis for the presidency in their Festival of Life outside the DNC convention, Abbie had had a go at the Industrial (or corporate) side of the MIC by leading revelers to the NY Stock Exchange and raining dollar bills down on the brokers below. As Larry Sloman describes it,“The brokers started scrambling, pushing each other, grabbing for the money. When the avalanche subsided, they actually looked up at the gallery and demanded ‘More’!” As the straight press chased him with the 5Ws, Abbie shouted over his shoulder, “Guerilla Theater,” laughed, and hopped into a getaway cab.
In October 1967, during a mass protest march on the Pentagon, Abbie took the mickey out of the Military side of the MIC when he convinced officials he could levitate the Pentagon and entered into negotiations as to how high. Said Daniel Ellsberg, working on the Pentagon Papers at the time, “Levitating the Pentagon struck me as a great idea because removing deference from any of these institutions is very important….” Abbie’s friend, Sal Gianetta described the scene: “Ab was adamant that the fucking building was gonna go up twenty-two feet… If the fucking building went up twenty-two feet, the foundations were gonna crack, so there was discussion about foundations and cracks, it was fucking unbelievable.” Abbie and the officials negotiated the levitation down to three feet and “they sealed it with a handshake.”
Just before the event, Abbie had contacted John Garabedian, a reporter for the New York Post, who relates how Abbie informed him that
hippie chemists had invented a new wonder drug which combined the best properties of LSD with a drug called DMSO…[and] on the day of the march to the Pentagon…hippie chicks would fill squirt guns full of this love potion…and squirt them on the soldiers or anyone else of an evil or war like frame of mind thereby causing them to want to stop making war and immediately make love.
Talk about love as a battlefield.
Ironically, the military developed this idea later. It became the Gay Bomb, winner of the Ig Nobel Peace prize in 2007. It, too, would have caused the enemy soldiers to ‘turn on’ each other and orgy-up the battlefield. Presumably, the idea was scrapped when an ear got whispered into and some General Studly suddenly realized, like a freight train, that with a shift of wind the blowback could be devastating. More Pentagon levity.
After Abbie went underground in 1974 to avoid going to trial for dealing cocaine, he continued, as Barry Freed, to be an advocate for change and to defend communities from the destructive powers of the System. Living in upper state New York, he helped fight against the dredging destruction of the St. Lawrence River system by the Army Corp of Engineers. However, having to keep his head down and his psyche out of the limelight didn’t suit Abbie and, word is (p.277), he became gloomier and more depressed as time went on. Being without his wife, Anita, and son, america, deepened his suicidal ideation. Still, his work with Save the River was extraordinarily important.
Abbie showed he still had a working protest finger in 1986 when he and Amy Carter (and others) defended their arrests following disruptions of CIA recruitment efforts on a college campus in Massachusetts, successfully arguing in court with a ‘Necessity Defense’ that their minor criminality had the far greater public benefit of shedding light on the criminal activities of the CIA in Central America. This event was a welcome alternative celebration to the crap provided to the public during the televised Iran/Contra hearings, during which Oliver North successfully marketed himself as a hero.
Not long before Abbie committed suicide, he was still at it, trying to rouse the troupes, in a series of debates with his old Yippie pal Jerry Rubin, who’d gone over to the other side. In his last Yippie versus Yuppie debate, in Vancouver, in 1988, the two tangled over the same ol’ question: Can the System be effectively resisted from the outside, or must change come from inside? Rubin made some good points, noting that “male chauvinism helped take down the movement,” and that Yippies “were not open to self-criticism,” but when he calls the Babyboomers Yuppies taking over the reins of government, Abbie rightly points out that Rubin is just a “born-again capitalist” and that Yuppies are not new; they’re a throw-back to the so-called Status-Seekers of the 50s, making Rubin a regressive, not a progressive.
As if to demonstrate how much air has gone out of the 60s party balloon, during the Vancouver debate one female student ran up on stage and attacked Rubin with a cream pie, disrupting the event. It was almost comical watching the woman make her escape, nobody giving a shit; even the camera seemed indifferent. It was hard to tell who it was more embarrassing to — Abbie or Jerry. The entire debate is worth watching. It’s available here.
Looking forward to the horror show ahead in November, what with Democrats seeming in disarray — Warren fading fast, Bernie looking ancient, Biden looking done, and Buttgieg on the ascent: You can almost see Trump handling any of them on stage with his nincompoop’s invective in October; you can smell re-election; you can almost predict the world’s end can’t be far behind. Wouldn’t it be nice to have Abbie here for some guerilla theatrics; to maybe lead Congressmen in an Augustus Boal tactic or two — Legislative Theatre, making laws as psycho-drama, senators acting out citizens without health insurance, representatives acting out young people crushed by student debt, Pelosi tearing up the military budget, and Abbie presiding like some genius clown shaking us loose from the gravity of the situation.
By John Kendall Hawkins
Who is this guy, Jim Mitchell? Evidently, I overslept and woke up smack dab in the middle of the post-Truth era. Where does a man get the moxie to have his work comprehensively condemned and declared illegal by a Senate Intelligence sub-committee, and then turn around, look us square in the eye, and declare he would “do it all again’? But that’s what Mitchell, the so-called “architect” of the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) did the other day at a pretrial hearing before the military commission at Guantanamo.
How can this guy be a self-described “strong supporter” of Amnesty International? Has he read what they’ve published about his tactics? Look: “The perverse ‘work’ of these psychologists has dramatically set back the global fight against torture. The interrogation methods they championed have had a rippling effect around the world.” Amnesty International should immediately cancel his subscription, telling him they refuse to take money bloodied by torture. But maybe it was a generous donation.
The American Psychological Association (APA) is appalled enough by his behaviorism, although he is not an APA member, that they’ve tried to take away his license to practice counseling (presumably) in Texas. Emotion denied. Why Texas? It’s like he’s performing some kind of stations-of-the-Cross — first Alaska, then Florida, then Texas, sweet Jesus, can a presidential run be far behind? Or maybe he’s angling for a job in the recently relocated to Texas Black Museum — where it — and he — spiritually belong.
Where did this guy get his hubris? Who inflated his ego? Why was he hired in the first place? Sydney Gottlieb must be rolling over in his grave. We have a country that for little more reason than amped-up paranoia brought into the USA after WW2 some of the most evil war criminals known to Man under Operation Paperclip, whose rhetorical motto was: Why hang them at the Hague when we can hire them to help kill baddies before the Russians do. Vivisection. Mind control. Eye-ball poppings. They really knew how to take the glove off back in the day.
But Mitchell? Master of Science in Psychology from the University of Alaska. Specialty: counseling. Not Maslow’s arty-farty Self-Becoming kind, but the woof-woof-inspired salivation army of those who’ve learned to be helpless and who only Jimmy can rebuild with his science degree. (I try to picture Mitchell’s Alaskan clients and their unique delusions.) And then, lo, there’s more: a PhD in nutrition. Thesis: For hypertension, what works better exercise or diet? After he’d relieved Zubaydah of his hyper-tension, did he offer dietary advice? We already know there was plenty of exercise. What am I missing? Just how long did I over-sleep? Is it some kind of CIA gag?
And Mitchell didn’t like it when he was called “a pussy” by some CIA hombre calling himself “The Preacher,” who detained the psychologist himself at a “black site” against his will, and forced Mitchell to continue waterboarding Zubaydah — even after Mitchell had reached a breakpoint rapportment, and said, “no more.” But, Mitchell tearily explained at the Gitmo hearing, he went ahead and pseudo-drowned his newfound poetical buddy again anyway, because he was ordered to (remind you of another famous psychology experiment?). Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, when all was done and done. And he’d do it again.
But he did ‘rat out’ Charlie Wise, the Preacher, to the ICIG for bringing to the EIT table Sydney Gottlieb’s KUBARK manual that Wise used to train Contras in Nicaragua, including rectal feeding. Wow. That IG report makes Jim Mitchell a bonafide whistleblower. I don’t know if that’s irony or what. But Mitchell ended up winning his “turf war” with Wise, because soon thereafter the asshole Preacher, and his laying-of-hands-on approach, retired from the CIA, lived a cloistered life (as far as we’re allowed to know), and died of an apparent heart attack in 2003.
However, nothing Mitchell did surpassed his “I’d do it again” overzealousness of waterboarding the presumed, and to this day merely alleged, Mastermind of the 9/11 attack, Khaled Sheik Mohammed. KSM was blubbooled 183 times. In the film, The Report, Jim Mitchell is depicted as panicky, because the effectiveness of his EIT is being seriously called into question. (In the film, his CIA colleagues don’t look convinced from the beginning, as he shows powerpoint slides of his intended techniques). Because the legality of what they’re doing depends on the effectiveness of EIT (“It’s only torture if it doesn’t work.”), Mitchell and the CIA are keen to show amazing results. KSM is broken, becomes genteel, and writes “tribute” poetry to an interrogator’s wife, they claim.
Of course, it was CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, in an interview with ABC’s Brian Ross, that provided most of the details of what happened to Abu Zubaydah and KSM. Kiriakou claims that, because “they hate us more than they love life,” drastic measures are required to get through to them. A conflicted Kiriakou told us that waterboarding worked (p.5), that it provided valuable information (p.6) that helped thwart future attacks, and that though he now regarded it as torture he left open the door for using it again. Like Abu Zubaydah, waterboarding produced another poet. (p.12) The CIA, he said, now had sufficient leads developed. “And — as a result, water-boarding, at least right now [my italics], is unnecessary,” (p.8) Kiriakou said.
But one wonders how Kiriakou and Mitchell would answer Dianne Feinstein’s question posed in the film: “If it works, why do we need to do it 183 times?”
I try to avoid thinking of the Torture Report any more, because then I have to remember Feinstein’s committee report was only necessary because the CIA destroyed the video tapes of their interrogations of detainees before they could be evaluated. I’d also have to recall that CIA Director John Brennan ordered a breach of the sub-committee’s computers — almost certainly a criminal violation of the separation of powers. (And he’d certainly do it again.) When I do find myself thinking of all this depressing shit that must betoken the end of empire (if not more), I try to use an alternative entryway — like Sid Jacobson’s visual learner-friendly version of the Feinstein committee’s findings: The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation.
But probably we should honor the artist and poet-in-residence at Guantanamo, Abu Zubaydah, which probably has more emotional depth and verisimilitude embedded in the arresting drawings than Jacobson’s. I don’t know if KSM draws, but I have a gut feeling he’s going to turn out to be some kind of beat poet. Recently, I filed a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain copies of KSM’s poetry. If it was written on Uncle Sam’s dime, then it belongs to our exceptional democracy and we should be able to see it.
I would love to read KSM’s paeans and tributes to CIA rapport-specialist Deuce Martinez’s wife. (Did he show her pictures?) I almost feel inspired enough, in thinking about it, to write a paean to her myself. I would volunteer to collate and honestly edit Gitmo detainee poems, illustrated by AZ and other graffiti artists, and publish them on Amazon for Kindle download.
I pace, wondering what sounds I will hear, and think of the office water cooler blubbooling — in iambic pentameter. The Misfit at the end of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” free-associates. John Donne comes back, like Quasimodo, to fuck with this old tolled-out “soul.” I hear:
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Fucked, and under water.
by John Kendall Hawkins
…[B]oundless mental energy, imaginative outbursts of inventiveness and creativity …without this illness Dr Johnson’s remarkable literary achievements, the great dictionary, his philosophical deliberations … may never have happened….
JMS Pierce, describing the effects of Tourette’s syndrome on the great Samuel Johnson
I’m Jack Johnson, heavyweight champion of the world. I’m black. They never let me forget it. I’m black all right. I’ll never let them forget it.
From the classic A Tribute to Jack Johnson by Miles Davis
According to my mother (RIP), my first verbal expression was not Mama or liebfraumilch, like a lot of kids, but Jell-o — J-E-L-L-O — but, then, she also confided, later in life, that I came from Cherokee stock, and that my Dad broke broncos in rodeos. (It even inspired an early poem.) So, you had to gently consider the source on these matters, keep your visits short, nodding a lot as she played out Mother Mitty, and seek out reality-based thinking back home on the business end of a bong.
Somewhere along the line, probably while the smoke was still bubbling, I gave some thought to the origins of language (as you do, sitting there like a stoned Rodin) — not my language, with its pudding proof of a neglected childhood spent placed before a TV set, introjecting jingles and their subliminal messages, remembered six decades later against your will — but human language, the big soup, how we climbed out, and went from twitching primordial gefilterfish to quantum orgasmatrons of higher thinking we can’t help telling each other about on Facebook, and Liking, almost against our wills.
Well, something happened, a brownout maybe, and when I came to, in late middle age, I recalled I had degrees in philosophy and language. So, I must have spent years thinking about all kinds of cogitos and summa cums. But, speaking as an old fart frankly, breaking wind, as it were, at both ends of the candid, I came to recall that in the great navel-gazing debate over consciousness nobody knows to this day whether it’s an innie or an outie. The same’s true of language. Is it the chicken or the egg of consciousness? I used to know, but I forgot, so I picked up Don’t Believe A Word, by David Shariatmadari, to remember.
Shariatmadari’s not bad at reactivating all the learning channels of yore with his survey of the gringo’s lingo; I could feel bright neurons lighting up (and the dim wit of my many meurons, too). He’s got all the bases and graces of language covered — origins; class, race and cultural differences; finding language in other species: insects, animals, computers; thought and communication; wordplay and translations. And he devotes a whole chapter to challenging Noam Chomsky’s ‘language instinct’ and its evolution.
But, as I read, I started thinking about my pudding proof again and what came before my cry of Jell-o. Before all of our cries of Jell-o. At what point did thoughts and language come spontaneously combusting out of our brains, as if our ganglia-jungle were suddenly woken up by Johnny Weismuller? That’s what I was wondering. However, Shariatmadari doesn’t really address ancient languages — or more specifically, the oral tradition we all come from, so we’ll never know, from this book, how language produced by oral-centric people is (or was) different than that produced by the meaning of, say, reading this page.
That’s fine. I put on my beanie for a minute and recalled a book I’d read as an undergrad, titled The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. The interesting thing the book posits is the notion that language preceded consciousness, that the left wing and right wing of the brain were in constant dialogue, creating gods, making us functional schizoids, until the imaginot line was breached and a unitary consciousness emerged. “Iliadic man did not have subjectivity as do we,” wrote Jaynes. “He had no awareness of his awareness of the world, no internal mind-space to introspect upon.” There was no consciousness of consciousness, like that which informs a review such as Shariatmadari’s Don’t Believe A Word.
The nearest Shariatmadari wants to get to the origins of language is through the lens of certain academic presumptions: Chomsky’s language instinct, which the author wants to challenge; and, what he calls the etymological fallacy, putting a lie to the notion that tracing a word back to its root meaning clarifies a modern understanding. Shariatmadari not only devotes an entire chapter to reducing the value of Noam Chomsky’s long-held, and widely accepted, language acquisition gene, but comes at him right from the introduction on.
Universal Grammar, the common rule or set of rules underlying all grammars, can be understood as akin to the Collective Unconsciousness archetypes of Jungian psychology — the grammatical structures, like the archetypes, are there already and will develop over time naturally. As Chomsky puts it, “We do not really learn language; rather, a grammar grows in the mind.” It doesn’t matter what culture you belong to, what tribe, what language you speak, from English to Mandarin. Underlying his UG is the precedence of syntax, with surface structures (idiosyncratic) and deep structures (universal).
Shariatmadari describes Chomsky’s crucial later concept, Merge, “which apes, birds, dolphins and every other species lack. It is what enables children to acquire language so quickly and dramatically, because they perceive, beyond the jumble of words at the surface, an inner order… Merge is the holy grail.” Because of this function humans are able to generate an infinite number of sentences out of one set of rules.
But for Shariatmadari there’s more to it than mere functionality. Whereas Chomsky posits that “the overwhelming use of language is internal — for thought,” Shariatmadari emphasises a more primary social purpose. He writes, “[L]anguage is fundamentally a social phenomenon. Its structure does not derive from an internal blueprint, but from the general cognitive abilities of a social species, and external factors….” And, really, his whole book is not about how we think about language, but, rather, how we engage each other in social situations and experience in a variety of spheres — “psychology, sociology, neuroscience, anthropology, literature, philosophy and computing.” Although, the author does push for greater self-consciousness. In fact, he suggests that we may be entering a new paradigm regarding language similar to Galileo’s heliocentric splash.
Shariatmadari also cites the etymological fallacy — tracing a word back to its root as an authoritative explanation for a current usage, which the author declares can be “a form of deceit.” He cites, as one example, how following such a trace for the word ‘treacle’ could leave one “in a pickle” because ultimately it means “a wild or venomous beast.”
He goes on with another example, “I have legs. Words have meanings. But is the ‘have’ in the first sentence the same as the ‘have’ in the second? Obviously not.” Obviously not. He goes hilariously further with the word ‘slab’. He says it’s “an example of word-as-tool. Its meaning, in the context of a building site, was to get someone to do something that would help build a wall.” (Yell ‘slab’ to a mate driving away in a ute in Australia and he’ll bring you back a sexie sixie of XXXX beers. If he’s a real mate.)
Well, anyway, Shariatmadari’s stated concern with these trace-backs is that “the institutions that define standard language: universities, newspapers, broadcasters, the literary establishment” might employ such fallacies to maintain control of meaning, as they did with the Canon, before postmodernism came along to bust their balls. Nuff said.
But Shariatmadari’s position may be a little overstated. We learn much by tracing, say, the word ‘tragedy’, as Nietzsche did, back to its goat beginning. And, as another example, it’s important that, say, the root of the N-word, which literally means black, and goes a long way toward demonizing a quality a human cannot change, even if he wanted to.
This discussion seems to lead naturally into Shariatmadari’s somewhat jocular section of the alleged demise of language proposed by certain elements of the upper establishment. Shariatmadari spends a chapter discussing the popular highbrow notion that “language is going to the dogs.” What does he mean? Prudes, pedants and English teachers, other than Robin Williams (RIP), worry that postmodernism, the replacement of critical thinking skills with standardized testing, the clickety-cluckety noise of the Internet, have led to an Anything Goes approach to language as a conveyor of ‘deeper meaning’. I profess a fondness for sonnets, so I can understand the thinking here.
As an example of such prudery, Shariatmadari trots in a British organization to have their imperial say:
“[The decline of the English language] is something the Queen’s English Society…has been trying to prevent. ‘Some changes would be wholly unacceptable,’ the Society says, ‘as they would cause confusion and the language would lose shades of meaning.’ With a reduced expressive capacity, English would no longer be up to the task of describing the world around us, or the world inside our heads.”
Again, to a certain degree I concur. One frightening thing for a literate person is the prospect the author raises of a future world that no longer even comprehends Shakespeare’s “old” English.
First, it was going to the groundlings, to the feisty little Falstaffs in the crowd, but now, according to the haughty culture, English is going to the mad dogs. But Shariatmadari says implicitly ‘phooey’ and that degeneration is a sentiment that has been common throughout the evolution of language. Like a latter-day Will Rogers, he agrees that ‘nothing is the way it used to be — and never was.’ As far as he’s concerned, language is alive and well: “Most democratic freedoms have been preserved and intellectual achievement intensified. Information has become far more accessible, news media have proliferated and the technological advances have come thick and fast.” If it comes down to it, Fuck Shakespeare is a development he seems okay with.
But I’m not sure I agree with Shariatmadari’s oblique (o bleak!) optimism. Look at the state of the mainstream media he describes as conduits of productive information. No, for me, it recalls a Nietzsche nugget regarding Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press — that’s great, he said, but then the Germans went ahead and threw it all away by inventing the dirty noisy newspaper. Things kind of got out of hand from there, just as they did with poor ol’ Tim Berners-Lee and the WWW in our time. Pearls before swine. The road to good intentions turns out to be the road of excess, with neither leading to any real wisdom. As newspapers have been in the past, the Internet today is largely only good for wrapping up fish, or kindling a small fire to cook it on.
The prudery Shariatmadari refers to is further expanded in a section that discusses Race, Class, and Cultural differences. He who controls the narrative arc controls what happens to the characters. Thus we get spin cycles in the news; attempts to control how information is processed by hearts and minds. Shariatmadari provides examples of how these motifs are played out in the social milieu.
For race, he cites ebonics (or what he calls African American Vernacular English, or AAVE) as an example of how a ‘second language’ can work to empower Black people, such as in its expression in hip-hop, while also providing cover for White criticism of a historically marginalized group’s lack of assimilation. It’s also self-reinforcing on each side to the point that the dominant side (The Mighty Whitey) can’t even understand Mr. Ebony. Remember Archie Bunker and his tussles with Lionel Jefferson next door and the communication gap? Shariatmadari paraphrases the Bunker mindset, when he cites an Oakland Department of Education decision: “The desire to bend over backwards to accommodate an ethnic group’s sensitivities was trumping the need to deliver a high-quality education to the students….” (But it’s okay to bend over forward for the upper class?)
Similarly, in discussing Class, Shariatmadari cites the language differences of the Upstairs/Downstairs experience of shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue versus Klein. Citing a linguistic study by Bill Labov, among many differences over time he notes how in Saks how clear and well-enunciated “fourth floor” rings from employees, while at Klein he hears, instead, “fawth flaa.” You could tell where someone might shop just from how they handled Rs. One is reminded of the Harvard student Matt Damon gets initially punked by, onnacounta his Boston accent, which he later pays back in spades and the famous punchline: “So how do you like them apples?” Nuff Said.
On Shariatmadari goes, “When you say something you send out social signals.” (Indeed, what would be the point of cracking the wind with a tongue whip, if not to communicate your desire to an other? Grrrr. Minnie.) He cites an amusing example for cultural differences — the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious. Unlike the Rolling Stones, who Shariatmadari claims were putting on “a bluesy drawl” to please Americans when they sang, You make a dead man cum, in “Start Me Up,” he claims that if “Sid Vicious tried to sound American he would’ve been seen as inauthentic – something that was anathema to the punk ethos.” (In the punk bar I used to hang out in, if the regulars didn’t like the look of you — maybe you were dressed like Jim Carroll — when it came your turn to swan into the mosh pit, everybody moved away while you were in mid-air.) We’ve all laughed at attempts to sound like another culture, even fascist ones.
There’s a section where Shariatmadari seems to go off the rails some, going all Tourette’s for a minute, with a flush of coprolalia (familiarly knowns as, talking shit) maybe channeling Samuel Johnson. It’s hard to tell sometimes:
“I can say ‘Fuck me!’ as an exclamation, but I can’t say ‘Fuck me precisely’ or ‘Fuck me by midday’ without reverting to the literal meaning. ‘Fuck me!’ is an emotional signal rather than an example of propositional speech.” No fuckin comment.
And, the Turks say: Avrupalιlaştιrιlamayanlardansιnιz, which means ‘You’ re one of those we can’t make a European out.’ And we say: antidisestablishmentarianism, which means ‘You’re one of those we can’t make a good Catholic out of.” Will they ever see eye to eye?
The author continues on with a few other areas of interest, most notably human attempts to communicate with other ‘species’ — including insects, animals, and computers. He describes the expressive dance of bees, but there is no language. We have a long history of trying to find consciousness in animals, so that we can communicate, but to sometimes crazy ends. And he sporadically makes references to computer-speak, which he reckons could, in the future, be most efficiently programmed with Sanskrit (!). By the time I was finished I felt I needed a good sit-down session with a compassionate shrink — and found Dr Eliza, who helped get me to another day.
Nietzsche always said that when you look into the abyss, look out mofo, because the abyss also looks into you. I’ve taken that wisdom on board and made it part of my practical philosophy, and find myself these days looking into the abyss reflecting on the philosopher Harold Lloyd’s simple visual motto. If you must take the mickey out, begin with yourself. Einstein said the universe is warped. Like Lloyd, I can totally relate. Pass the bong.