Bram Boroson, Master of Subtle Ways and Straight (bram) wrote,
Bram Boroson, Master of Subtle Ways and Straight

Dodge and Burn, Giordano

A quickie political post, to be followed by a quickie science/philosophy post.

This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of herd life, the military system, which I abhor. That a man can take pleasure in marching in fours to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. He has only been given his big brain by mistake; unprotected spinal marrow was all he needed. This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism--how passionately I hate them! How vile and despicable seems war to me! I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such an abominable business. My opinion of the human race is high enough that I believe this bogey would have disappeared long ago, had the sound sense of the peoples not been systematically corrupted by commercial and political interests acting through the schools and the Press.

There are several things I find remarkable in this passage. The author, Albert Einstein, is often considered the greatest human genius and held as an exemplar of intelligence and rationality. His language here is intemperate though--"I would rather be hacked in pieces"--and his perspective on pacifism is unheard of nowadays. Only once does Einstein even mention its violence as a reason to--of all the crazy radical ideas!--abolish the military! No, Einstein seems to want to do away with the military and all patriotism because they require unity and discipline!

Now, many things have changed since Einstein wrote this. He himself changed his opinions on war and pacifism in response to Nazi Germany, a threat that needed a military response. And the German military he was responding to was probably very different from the modern American military in culture.

And I'm certainly not saying I adopt what Einstein wrote at all. Oddly, but perhaps appropriately for these Orwellian times, I admire prominent people who have military experience: Colin Powell (the sane member of the Bush Administration), Kerry. It's the "Chickenhawks" who love the unity and discpline common to the stupid but who shirk duty when it's their turn--those are the ones who piss me off.

What I do respond to in the Einstein quote above is in realizing that nobody, certainly nobody like Einstein, would think of saying anything like it today. I don't think even Chomsky or Zinn would (correct me if you can find a quote.) I think it's more because debate has narrowed and the left has been marginalized than because the American military is different from the German military...

* * *

Bought an interesting book by Nancy Chang, "Silencing Political Dissent: How Post-September 11 Anti-Terrorism Measures Threaten Our Civil Liberties." Page after page is worth quoting. For example:

A recent news account confirms that since the USA PATRIOT Act was passed, law enforcement agencies have been making "unprecedented demands on the telecommunications industry to privide information on [their] subscribers." Albert Gidari, an attorney who represents Internet service providers and telephone companies, has offered that the number "of subpoenas that carriers receive today [for their customer records] is roughly doubling every month" to the point where "we're talking about hundreds of thousands of subpoenas for customer records--stuff that used to require a judge's approval." Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University, has warned that since September 11, law enforcement agencies are exerting pressure on telecommunications companies to turn over customer records voluntarily, in the absence of either a court order or a subpoena, "with the idea that it is unpatriotic if the companies insist too much on legal subpoenas first."


Under Section 216 of the ["PATRIOT"] act, courts are required to order the installation of a pen register and a trap-and-trace device to track both telephone and Internet "dialing, routing, addressing, and signalling information" anywhere within the United States when a government attorney has certified that the information to be obtained is "relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation." Section 216 does not authorize the tracking of the "contents of any wire or electronic communications." In the case of e-mail messages and Internet usage, however, the act does not address the complex question of where to draw the line between "dialing, routing, addressing and signaling information" and "content." Unlike telephone communications, in which the provision of dialing information is separate from, and does not run the risk of revealing content, e-mail message move together in packets that include both address and content information. Also, Section 216 does not resolve the question of whether a list of Web sites and Web pages that have been visited constitutes "dialing, routing, addressing and signaling information" and "content."

[Some stuff about "Carnivore" internet tracking...] Section 216 is not scheduled to expire.

Finally this great quote from Justice Robert Jackson:

Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order. If there is any fixed star in our constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion...

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