Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Going Medieval: Watching Too Much Pulp Fiction

In my previous post I attempted to explain why Dick Cheney is out on his "Justification of Torture Tour". Primarily, he is attempting to shape the debate so he can avoid going to prison for war crimes. At least his motivation, covering his own behind, is understandable. Treasonous, but understandable.

What is more difficult to pin down is why so many other people are going out of their way to justify torture. In some ways, the focus on waterboarding has made many people forget that other actions also occurred. We now know that methods such as sleep deprivation, chaining to ceilings and walls, banging heads against walls, intimidation with dogs, enforced and prolonged isolation were among the methods used in addition to waterboarding (please see ACLU website to read the torture memos in their original).

It is too easy to say that torturers and defenders thereof are sadistic. They may be, but that is not the total sum of the answer. As Stanley Milgram discovered in his classic studies on obedience, most individuals will carry out rather cruel and inhumane acts with a minimum of prodding (Milgram, 1963, 1974). However, this research demonstrates what people will do in an unexpected situation. What is shocking to me is that people are actually advocating torture after having time for reflection.

Psychologically, torturers are acting out feelings of inferiority and fear. The desire to dominate and totally control others is internally generated by feelings of fear and anxiety that results from feelings of being out of control. By subjecting the detainees to torture those who authorized, carried out and support torture are demonstrating their absolute fear of these individuals.

For more evidence of the sheer terror in which those attempting to justify torture live, witness their reaction to bringing prisoners from Gitmo to the U.S. mainland and placing them in the federal or military prison system. Hysteria surrounds this issue with politician after politician denouncing such moves. There is no rationale for this position. In a nation with over two million people incarcerated, locking people up is one of the things we do exceedingly well. If we can keep serial killers like Charles Manson and the rest of the criminal element incarcerated, then certainly we can keep religious fanatics contained. We already have Ramsi Yousef and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman in confinement and I don't believe I have heard any concern about their incarceration endangering the country.

Torture is similar to the rage expressed by abusive parents who delude themselves that the only way to control the child is to beat them. In a similar vein, many of those defending torture engage in the self deluded notion that the only way to get the information they seek is through the means they have chosen.

Let us not leave revenge out of the equation. Just as in the movie Pulp Fiction when the character of Marcellus Wallace announces he is going to "go Medieval," on someone out of revenge, there is a tendency to support those who fight back against extreme abuse. Of course, Marcellus was a thug whose desire for control again points to feelings of inferiority.

The parallel does not end there. Just as Marcellus was emasculated by being sodomized in the backroom of the gun store, so were the members of the Bush (mis)Administration. Reeling helplessly as the nation was attacked, they sought to restore their own emasculation. Failing to protect the nation, despite their claims about what has happened since, the attacks of 9/11 rendered the nation psychologically impotent.

Torture, renditions, and contrived wars since have only served to fan the flames of the very problems that led to 9/11. Like a gangster noir film, the good guys and the bad guys seem pretty much the same.

Life is not a movie. Being guided in our actions by Pulp Fiction and 24, is insane. That's why Quentin Tarantino is not Secretary of Defense. Too bad Donald Rumsfeld, with his classic narcissistic facade, could not have become a film director.

Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67: 371-378.

Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority; an experimental view. Harper Collins.

British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill Costs

  • 11 workers killed in initial blast
  • Damage to Ocean Ecosystem
  • 35,000 to 60.000 Barrels of Oil Per Day. That's somewhere between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons a day or 150 to 300 million gallons already spilled into the ocean as of July 27th by that estimate.
  • Gulf Fisheries Industry
  • Gulf Tourism (ongoing costs)
  • Long Term Health Effects to Humans and Wildlife (to be determined)

Worst Oil Spills

  • Kuwait 1991 - 520 million gallons: Gulf War I
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 - 206 million gallons: BP Oil
  • Mexico, Bay of Campiche 1979 - 140 million gallons: Pemex Oil
  • Trinidad & Tobago 1979 - 90 million gallons: Greek Oil Tanker Atlantic Empress
  • Russia 1983 - 84 million gallons: Leaky Pipeline collapsed into Kolva River
  • Iran 1983 - 80 million gallons: Tanker collided with Oil Platform
  • South Africa 1983 -79 million gallons:Tanker Castillo de Bellver sank
  • France 1978 - 69 million Gallons: Amoco Cadiz ran aground and broke in half.
  • Angola Coastal Waters (700 miles at sea) 1991 - 51-81 million gallons: ABT Summer exploded at sea.
  • Italy 1991 - 45 million gallons: M/T Haven Oil Tanker exploded.
  • Source: Mother Nature Network. The 13 largest oil spills in history. by Laura Moss. Friday July 16, 2010.

Nuclear Accidents (Under Construction)

  • 1957 Windscale, UK
  • 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, US
  • 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, US
  • 1984 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1985 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1986 Plymouth, Masachusetts, US
  • 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR
  • 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US
  • 1989 Griefwald, Germany
  • 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
  • 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US
  • 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan
  • Source: Benjamin Sovacool

Mining Disasters (Under Construction)

  • China 1942 - 1549 deaths
  • France 1906 - 1100 deaths
  • Japan 1963 - 447 deaths
  • Wales 1913 - 438 deaths
  • South Africa 1960 - 437 deaths
  • Source: Epic Disasters Website
  • Note: Do not look at the dates herein and conclue that mining disasters are a things of the past. Every year thousands of miners die worldwide in largely unreported accidents.

OIL IS OVER! - Resources

  • Hibbert's Peak - "The" source that explains why Oil is Over.
  • Tragedy of the Commons -Garrett Hardin
  • The Land Ethic - Aldo Leopold
  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann
  • Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching


  • The Dirt People - Ray Bawarchi (yes, that's me)
  • The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham
  • Demian - Herman Hesse
  • Black Elk Speaks - Black Elk (as told to R. Neimur)
  • The Quiet Don - Mikhail Sholokov
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Delicious Laughter - Jallahudin Rumi
  • The Sybil - Par Lagerksvitz
  • The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  • Spirits Rebellious - Khalil Gibran
  • The Quiet American - Graham Greene
  • Midaq Alley - Nagib Mafouz
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
  • We - Yevgeny Zamyatin


  • John Coltrane - St. John the Divine
  • Patti Smith
  • The Clash - the only band that matters
  • Billy Bragg
  • Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band
  • Art Blakey
  • Death - pre-punk visionaries from Detroit
  • PJ Harvey - Polly Jean, Polly Jean
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Michael Franti (Spearhead)
  • Public Enemy
  • Ray Charles - the Genius
  • Bob Dylan
  • Velvet Underground
  • Flaming Lips
  • John Doe & X
  • The Beatles

opiate of the masses

  • God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. - Voltaire
  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and inellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei
  • The ink of a scholar is worth far more than the blood of a martyr.- Mohammad
  • If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. - Sheldon Kopp
  • No one will be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Louisa Mae Alcott
  • When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.- Voltaire
  • If God were alive today, he'd be an athiest. - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The god I worship is not short of cash, Mister. - Bono
  • Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. My sins they only belong to me. - Patti Smith
  • God sure baked a lot of fruitcake baby, when Adam met the Eden lady. - Joe Strummer