Commentary Magazine


Topic: scientist

Why Aren’t There Any Republican Scientists? The Answer May Not Be So Complicated.

Over at Slate, Daniel Sarewitz cites a 2009 Pew Research poll that found only 6 percent of scientists are Republicans, while 55 percent are Democrats. According to Sarewitz, this poses a problem because several controversial scientific issues — such as global warming and embryonic stem cell research — are intrinsically tied to partisan policy positions.

But while Sarewitz looks into the potential political dilemmas of this trend, he doesn’t spend as much time focusing on the really interesting question: why are so few scientists Republicans?

Left-wing bloggers have come up with the predictably unconvincing responses (i.e., there are no Republicans in science because Republicans hate facts), but there may be a much more simple explanation buried in the original polling report. According to Pew, the survey’s sample of scientists was extracted entirely from the membership rolls at the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

Results for the scientist survey are based on 2,533 online interviews conducted from May 1 to June 14, 2009 with members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A sample of 9,998 members was drawn from the AAAS membership list excluding those who were not based in the United States or whose membership type identified them as primary or secondary-level educators.

And the society didn’t just provide Pew with its membership list. “[AAAS Director] Waylon Butler and his colleagues as AAAS were instrumental at constructing the sample of scientists and managing the recruitments of participants for the scientist survey,” says the Pew report.

This is important, because the AAAS is (as its name suggests) a political advocacy group. And, according to its website, the top issues it advocates for are climate change legislation, increased funding for the National Science Foundation, stem cell research, and green energy initiatives. Obviously, these aren’t the types of efforts that Republicans tend to support. It’s not hard to see why GOPers wouldn’t want to shell out the $146 membership fee to join an organization whose main mission is to advocate for issues they personally oppose.

So it makes sense that the Pew poll may be skewed in favor of liberal Democrats. But the question of where most scientists stand on the political spectrum is still worth looking into, and I’m curious to see what a broader study might show.

Over at Slate, Daniel Sarewitz cites a 2009 Pew Research poll that found only 6 percent of scientists are Republicans, while 55 percent are Democrats. According to Sarewitz, this poses a problem because several controversial scientific issues — such as global warming and embryonic stem cell research — are intrinsically tied to partisan policy positions.

But while Sarewitz looks into the potential political dilemmas of this trend, he doesn’t spend as much time focusing on the really interesting question: why are so few scientists Republicans?

Left-wing bloggers have come up with the predictably unconvincing responses (i.e., there are no Republicans in science because Republicans hate facts), but there may be a much more simple explanation buried in the original polling report. According to Pew, the survey’s sample of scientists was extracted entirely from the membership rolls at the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

Results for the scientist survey are based on 2,533 online interviews conducted from May 1 to June 14, 2009 with members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A sample of 9,998 members was drawn from the AAAS membership list excluding those who were not based in the United States or whose membership type identified them as primary or secondary-level educators.

And the society didn’t just provide Pew with its membership list. “[AAAS Director] Waylon Butler and his colleagues as AAAS were instrumental at constructing the sample of scientists and managing the recruitments of participants for the scientist survey,” says the Pew report.

This is important, because the AAAS is (as its name suggests) a political advocacy group. And, according to its website, the top issues it advocates for are climate change legislation, increased funding for the National Science Foundation, stem cell research, and green energy initiatives. Obviously, these aren’t the types of efforts that Republicans tend to support. It’s not hard to see why GOPers wouldn’t want to shell out the $146 membership fee to join an organization whose main mission is to advocate for issues they personally oppose.

So it makes sense that the Pew poll may be skewed in favor of liberal Democrats. But the question of where most scientists stand on the political spectrum is still worth looking into, and I’m curious to see what a broader study might show.

Read Less

Strange Herring

Iranian nuclear scientist defects to U.S. Will replace Kate Gosselin’s original partner on So You Think You Can Dance, who, ironically, defected to Iran.

The worst-kept secret in the history of subterfuge.

Don’t you dare call this woman a terrorist. She just wanted a perm.

Great — after I worked three jobs for nine years to pay off $35,000 for an associate’s degree in Adventure Recreation, the president goes all kumbaya on student loans.

Afraid that the government is everywhere these days? You’re right. (Under “Race,” I wrote “Daytona.” Under “Origin,” I wrote “scientific experiment gone crazily awry.”)

Lest I be accused of anti-government paranoia, your meds are talking about you behind your back too. I predicted all of this in my 1997 book, Your Meds Are Talking About You Behind Your Back Too. So kudos to me.

Glenn Beck has written a novel. Words fail.

Karzai blames dirty rotten foreigners for the widespread fraud in the Afghan election last year. He then demanded the chip be removed from the base of his skull lest the Mother Ship watch him while he does No. 1.

Rumor has it that the iPhone may be coming to a network that won’t employ such a cranky spokesman. Which is all I ask of my telephony. That and an app that will kill any chance of this happening.

Want to live forever? Start the day with a good old-fashioned English breakfast. And finish it off with chocolate. And a cold frosty mug of beer. Just don’t smoke — among other things, it makes you stupid. So it’s stupid to smoke. Repeat.

And pull up your pants. You look like an idiot.

American mathematician John Tate wins Abel prize for his theory of numbers, namely that they float when inflated. I swear, you live long enough and somebody’ll give you an award for just about anything.

Cretin alert: Do not take drugs for conditions you do not suffer from. Also, do not run with scissors, play in traffic, or eat less than one hour after swimming. (I may be mistaken about that last one.)

LL Cool J is not, repeat, NOT going to be on the new Sarah Palin show. And Toby Keith says his so-called interview is just recycled hype. Bobby Fischer will also not be appearing. (BTW: The show is called Real American Stories. Where oh where has that little hyphen gone?)

Obama’s Eternal Campaign hopes to cash in on words that are dirty. Republicans counter with Commemorative Stripper Polls. If I’m not mistaken, this is how Bulgaria lost its empire.

Scientists believe they now have a treatment for sleeping sickness. The cancellation of The Bill Engvall Show was certainly a good start …

Iranian nuclear scientist defects to U.S. Will replace Kate Gosselin’s original partner on So You Think You Can Dance, who, ironically, defected to Iran.

The worst-kept secret in the history of subterfuge.

Don’t you dare call this woman a terrorist. She just wanted a perm.

Great — after I worked three jobs for nine years to pay off $35,000 for an associate’s degree in Adventure Recreation, the president goes all kumbaya on student loans.

Afraid that the government is everywhere these days? You’re right. (Under “Race,” I wrote “Daytona.” Under “Origin,” I wrote “scientific experiment gone crazily awry.”)

Lest I be accused of anti-government paranoia, your meds are talking about you behind your back too. I predicted all of this in my 1997 book, Your Meds Are Talking About You Behind Your Back Too. So kudos to me.

Glenn Beck has written a novel. Words fail.

Karzai blames dirty rotten foreigners for the widespread fraud in the Afghan election last year. He then demanded the chip be removed from the base of his skull lest the Mother Ship watch him while he does No. 1.

Rumor has it that the iPhone may be coming to a network that won’t employ such a cranky spokesman. Which is all I ask of my telephony. That and an app that will kill any chance of this happening.

Want to live forever? Start the day with a good old-fashioned English breakfast. And finish it off with chocolate. And a cold frosty mug of beer. Just don’t smoke — among other things, it makes you stupid. So it’s stupid to smoke. Repeat.

And pull up your pants. You look like an idiot.

American mathematician John Tate wins Abel prize for his theory of numbers, namely that they float when inflated. I swear, you live long enough and somebody’ll give you an award for just about anything.

Cretin alert: Do not take drugs for conditions you do not suffer from. Also, do not run with scissors, play in traffic, or eat less than one hour after swimming. (I may be mistaken about that last one.)

LL Cool J is not, repeat, NOT going to be on the new Sarah Palin show. And Toby Keith says his so-called interview is just recycled hype. Bobby Fischer will also not be appearing. (BTW: The show is called Real American Stories. Where oh where has that little hyphen gone?)

Obama’s Eternal Campaign hopes to cash in on words that are dirty. Republicans counter with Commemorative Stripper Polls. If I’m not mistaken, this is how Bulgaria lost its empire.

Scientists believe they now have a treatment for sleeping sickness. The cancellation of The Bill Engvall Show was certainly a good start …

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Democrats  get fingered, again, as much less supportive of Israel than Republicans and Independents. Thankfully, however, overall support for Israel is up, “Which should be a comfort to supporters of the Jewish State, who have felt an icy breeze wafting from the White House over the past year.” Still it does reraise the question, given Jews’ overwhelming identification as Democrats: “Why do they despise their familiars and love The Stranger who hates them—and hates them all the more for their craven pursuit of him?”

The Climategate participants get fingered, again, for playing fast and loose with the facts. “The scientist who has been put in charge of the Commerce Department’s new climate change office is coming under attack from both sides of the global warming debate over his handling of what they say is contradictory scientific data related to the subject. … [A] climatologist affiliated with the University of Colorado who has crossed horns with [newly appointed Thomas] Karl in the past, says his appointment was a mistake. He accused Karl of suppressing data he submitted for the [UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s] most recent report on climate change and having a very narrow view of its causes.”

Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett get fingered, again, as flacks for the Iranian regime. (“The Leveretts’ sensitivity to suggestions they are in touch with Revolutionary Guards representatives is especially curious given that that Flynt Leverett has in the past boasted of his contacts with the Guards.”) And Lee Smith smartly concludes that “Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran has gone nowhere, and true believers are dropping by the wayside. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is calling for regime change, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reviving a promise from her own presidential campaign to extend a nuclear umbrella to protect Washington’s allies in the Persian Gulf. … The United States must stop the Iranians by any means necessary, and it must do so now.”

Barack Obama gets fingered, again, as a hypocrite. In 2005, he said: “You know, the Founders designed this system, as frustrating it is, to make sure that there’s a broad consensus before the country moves forward.”

Sen. Arlen Specter  gets fingered, again, in a poll for defeat. Pat Toomey leads by 10 points in a potential general-election match-up.

Eric Holder gets fingered, again, by Andy McCarthy: “Their typical scandal pattern is: (a) make bold pronouncements about unprecedented transparency, (b) show a little leg, and then (c) stonewall, after which (d) White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel assures some friendly journalist that everything would have been different if only they’d have listened to him. The result is the trifecta: the administration ends up looking hypocritical, sinister and incompetent.”

Nancy Pelosi gets fingered, again, for lacking the votes for ObamaCare II: “There are 15-20 House Democrats who are withholding their support for President Barack Obama’s healthcare proposal, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said Wednesday. Stupak led a broad coalition of anti-abortion rights Democrats in November, demanding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) include tough abortion restrictions in the lower chamber’s legislation lest she lose a chance of passing the bill. … In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) accused [Eric] Cantor of ‘playing games’ but did not say whether House Democrats have the votes to pass the president’s fixes.”

Kirsten Gillibrand gets fingered, again, as a vulnerable Democrat. The newest potential challenger is Dan Senor, foreign-policy guru and co-author of  Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

Democrats  get fingered, again, as much less supportive of Israel than Republicans and Independents. Thankfully, however, overall support for Israel is up, “Which should be a comfort to supporters of the Jewish State, who have felt an icy breeze wafting from the White House over the past year.” Still it does reraise the question, given Jews’ overwhelming identification as Democrats: “Why do they despise their familiars and love The Stranger who hates them—and hates them all the more for their craven pursuit of him?”

The Climategate participants get fingered, again, for playing fast and loose with the facts. “The scientist who has been put in charge of the Commerce Department’s new climate change office is coming under attack from both sides of the global warming debate over his handling of what they say is contradictory scientific data related to the subject. … [A] climatologist affiliated with the University of Colorado who has crossed horns with [newly appointed Thomas] Karl in the past, says his appointment was a mistake. He accused Karl of suppressing data he submitted for the [UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s] most recent report on climate change and having a very narrow view of its causes.”

Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett get fingered, again, as flacks for the Iranian regime. (“The Leveretts’ sensitivity to suggestions they are in touch with Revolutionary Guards representatives is especially curious given that that Flynt Leverett has in the past boasted of his contacts with the Guards.”) And Lee Smith smartly concludes that “Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran has gone nowhere, and true believers are dropping by the wayside. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is calling for regime change, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reviving a promise from her own presidential campaign to extend a nuclear umbrella to protect Washington’s allies in the Persian Gulf. … The United States must stop the Iranians by any means necessary, and it must do so now.”

Barack Obama gets fingered, again, as a hypocrite. In 2005, he said: “You know, the Founders designed this system, as frustrating it is, to make sure that there’s a broad consensus before the country moves forward.”

Sen. Arlen Specter  gets fingered, again, in a poll for defeat. Pat Toomey leads by 10 points in a potential general-election match-up.

Eric Holder gets fingered, again, by Andy McCarthy: “Their typical scandal pattern is: (a) make bold pronouncements about unprecedented transparency, (b) show a little leg, and then (c) stonewall, after which (d) White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel assures some friendly journalist that everything would have been different if only they’d have listened to him. The result is the trifecta: the administration ends up looking hypocritical, sinister and incompetent.”

Nancy Pelosi gets fingered, again, for lacking the votes for ObamaCare II: “There are 15-20 House Democrats who are withholding their support for President Barack Obama’s healthcare proposal, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said Wednesday. Stupak led a broad coalition of anti-abortion rights Democrats in November, demanding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) include tough abortion restrictions in the lower chamber’s legislation lest she lose a chance of passing the bill. … In an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) accused [Eric] Cantor of ‘playing games’ but did not say whether House Democrats have the votes to pass the president’s fixes.”

Kirsten Gillibrand gets fingered, again, as a vulnerable Democrat. The newest potential challenger is Dan Senor, foreign-policy guru and co-author of  Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

Read Less

The Latest Global-Warming Baloney: Glaciergate

Those busy denying the impact of the Climategate e-mails have a new piece of damaging evidence to downplay: the much publicized claim that the Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2030 turns out to be another global-warming fraud. The New York Times reports today that the 2007 assertion, made by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the group that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore that year), is based on bogus data:

But it now appears that the estimate about Himalayan glacial melt was based on a decade-old interview of one climate scientist in a science magazine, The New Scientist, and that hard scientific evidence to support that figure is lacking. The scientist, Dr. Syed Hasnain, a glacier specialist with the government of the Indian state of Sikkim and currently a fellow at the TERI research institute in Delhi, said in an e-mail message that he was “misquoted” about the 2035 estimate in The New Scientist article.

This new story comes on the heels of the Climategate e-mails, which revealed the fraud behind the global-warming movement’s efforts to suppress opposing voices. As with the data behind the exaggerated claims of increases in world temperatures, this revelation doesn’t mean that there isn’t some evidence that glaciers may be retreating. But there is a big difference between insisting that these glaciers will disappear and a more modest argument that there is evidence that they may be getting a bit smaller. The former reinforces the international hysteria that could lead to developed countries putting costly restrictions on economic activity — exactly what the Left had hoped would happen at the recent failed Copenhagen conference — while the latter would be something that would merely merit further study.

Yet what these revelations do prove, again, is that the groups and individuals attempting to sell the world the idea that “the planet is melting” are, at best, prone to wild exaggerations to scare people into accepting radical plans that would cripple economies and restrict freedom. At worst, they have, again, shown themselves capable of outright fraud in the name of their ideological commitment to cripple capitalism. Though most of the mainstream media continue to downplay or ignore Climategate, we can only hope that this latest story of global-warming baloney reinforces a growing trend of skepticism about the claims of environmental alarmists and puts a brake on damaging plans to “cap and trade” carbon, as well as other draconian measures that will do little about temperature changes but much harm to our future.

Those busy denying the impact of the Climategate e-mails have a new piece of damaging evidence to downplay: the much publicized claim that the Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2030 turns out to be another global-warming fraud. The New York Times reports today that the 2007 assertion, made by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the group that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore that year), is based on bogus data:

But it now appears that the estimate about Himalayan glacial melt was based on a decade-old interview of one climate scientist in a science magazine, The New Scientist, and that hard scientific evidence to support that figure is lacking. The scientist, Dr. Syed Hasnain, a glacier specialist with the government of the Indian state of Sikkim and currently a fellow at the TERI research institute in Delhi, said in an e-mail message that he was “misquoted” about the 2035 estimate in The New Scientist article.

This new story comes on the heels of the Climategate e-mails, which revealed the fraud behind the global-warming movement’s efforts to suppress opposing voices. As with the data behind the exaggerated claims of increases in world temperatures, this revelation doesn’t mean that there isn’t some evidence that glaciers may be retreating. But there is a big difference between insisting that these glaciers will disappear and a more modest argument that there is evidence that they may be getting a bit smaller. The former reinforces the international hysteria that could lead to developed countries putting costly restrictions on economic activity — exactly what the Left had hoped would happen at the recent failed Copenhagen conference — while the latter would be something that would merely merit further study.

Yet what these revelations do prove, again, is that the groups and individuals attempting to sell the world the idea that “the planet is melting” are, at best, prone to wild exaggerations to scare people into accepting radical plans that would cripple economies and restrict freedom. At worst, they have, again, shown themselves capable of outright fraud in the name of their ideological commitment to cripple capitalism. Though most of the mainstream media continue to downplay or ignore Climategate, we can only hope that this latest story of global-warming baloney reinforces a growing trend of skepticism about the claims of environmental alarmists and puts a brake on damaging plans to “cap and trade” carbon, as well as other draconian measures that will do little about temperature changes but much harm to our future.

Read Less

Re: Big Bang Machine Felled by Frenchman from the Future

Anthony, we cannot rule out your theory that some Frenchman from the Future may have been behind the halt to the quixotic quest to find the “God particle” — even if you got the information from CNN. The scientist in the video you cited says $10 billion has been spent so far to find that particle, before the Large Hadron Collider up and (to use your quasi-scientific terminology) “went phfffff.”

My own theory is there may be an invisible soccer ball and an invisible ref, who may have called “time” on this particular game (although not the entire season).

The invisible soccer ball (although not necessarily the invisible ref) is the metaphor used by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi in their 1993 book The God Particle, which sought to explain particle physics’ search for the ultimate explanation. They asked readers to imagine superintelligent visitors from another planet, able to see everything except black and white — and for whom zebras, NFL refs, and soccer balls are all invisible. They watch a soccer game and cannot understand it. People run back and forth and in circles, kicking the air every so often and falling down, and once in a while the person at one end or another of the field dives, the crowd cheers, and a point goes up on the board.

Totally inexplicable, completely meaningless — until one of them comes up with a theory: assume a ball. By positing a ball, all of a sudden everything works, the game makes sense, and it can be appreciated by the human mind — although another lesson may be that we should be respectful of what we don’t know, and may never know, even as we continue to seek it.

That ball is the equal possession of both religion and science: both posit a set of laws that govern the universe, even though the critical part of the game is invisible and not totally explicable. Both share a faith (since there is no actual proof) that the sun will come up tomorrow.

The book ends with a scene from an imagined movie. A scientist is standing on the beach at night, shouting at the universe that is the product of his mind: “It is I who provide you with reason, with purpose, with beauty. Of what use are you but for my consciousness and my constructions, which have revealed you?”  At that point:

A fuzzy swirling light appears in the sky, and a beam of radiance illuminates our man-on-the-beach. To the solemn and climactic chords of the Bach B Minor Mass, or perhaps the piccolo solo of Stravinsky’s “Rites,” the light in the sky slowly configures itself into Her Face, smiling, but with an expression of infinite sweet sadness.

It is unfortunate that so many years, and so much money, have been spent chasing a particle that has now apparently hidden itself (if CNN and a scientist we can barely understand are correct). But perhaps we should have mixed, even contradictory, emotions about this.  The proper response to this news may be a feeling of infinite sweet sadness.

Anthony, we cannot rule out your theory that some Frenchman from the Future may have been behind the halt to the quixotic quest to find the “God particle” — even if you got the information from CNN. The scientist in the video you cited says $10 billion has been spent so far to find that particle, before the Large Hadron Collider up and (to use your quasi-scientific terminology) “went phfffff.”

My own theory is there may be an invisible soccer ball and an invisible ref, who may have called “time” on this particular game (although not the entire season).

The invisible soccer ball (although not necessarily the invisible ref) is the metaphor used by Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi in their 1993 book The God Particle, which sought to explain particle physics’ search for the ultimate explanation. They asked readers to imagine superintelligent visitors from another planet, able to see everything except black and white — and for whom zebras, NFL refs, and soccer balls are all invisible. They watch a soccer game and cannot understand it. People run back and forth and in circles, kicking the air every so often and falling down, and once in a while the person at one end or another of the field dives, the crowd cheers, and a point goes up on the board.

Totally inexplicable, completely meaningless — until one of them comes up with a theory: assume a ball. By positing a ball, all of a sudden everything works, the game makes sense, and it can be appreciated by the human mind — although another lesson may be that we should be respectful of what we don’t know, and may never know, even as we continue to seek it.

That ball is the equal possession of both religion and science: both posit a set of laws that govern the universe, even though the critical part of the game is invisible and not totally explicable. Both share a faith (since there is no actual proof) that the sun will come up tomorrow.

The book ends with a scene from an imagined movie. A scientist is standing on the beach at night, shouting at the universe that is the product of his mind: “It is I who provide you with reason, with purpose, with beauty. Of what use are you but for my consciousness and my constructions, which have revealed you?”  At that point:

A fuzzy swirling light appears in the sky, and a beam of radiance illuminates our man-on-the-beach. To the solemn and climactic chords of the Bach B Minor Mass, or perhaps the piccolo solo of Stravinsky’s “Rites,” the light in the sky slowly configures itself into Her Face, smiling, but with an expression of infinite sweet sadness.

It is unfortunate that so many years, and so much money, have been spent chasing a particle that has now apparently hidden itself (if CNN and a scientist we can barely understand are correct). But perhaps we should have mixed, even contradictory, emotions about this.  The proper response to this news may be a feeling of infinite sweet sadness.

Read Less

One Step Closer . . .

Since Iran’s nuclear program was exposed in August 2002, Tehran has protested its innocence and claimed its nuclear program has only civilian purposes. The IAEA has just produced its latest report and it is not expressing confidence in Iran’s version of the facts. The IAEA pressing Iran on a number of findings about clandestine military activities–a diagram for an underground testing arrangement, the testing of explosive bridgewire detonators normally used for nuclear weapons, and documents about modifying the Iranian Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear warhead. And the report includes the following statement:

The Agency has also inquired about the reasons for inclusion in the curriculum vitae of an IAP [Institute of Applied Physics, a military-linked institute implicated in some of Iran’s nuclear activities] of a Taylor-Sedov equation for the evolving radius of a nuclear explosion ball with photos of the 1945 Trinity test–the July 16, 1945 US test of a nuclear plutonium bomb in the New Mexico desert.

Iran has denied that there is any connection to nuclear weapons, just as it denied that it had asked for a nuclear warhead design it obtained from the network of Pakistani scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan. But these denials are starting to ring more and more hollowly, even to the ears of IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, not exactly unsympathetic to Iranian arguments. The IAEA has now verified that the design Iran has is identical to the one Pakistan has–so we now know that Iran obtained a design for a nuclear weapon from the Khan network, built an underground testing range, developed special detonators for a nuclear weapon, modified its long range missiles to fit a nuclear warhead, and has set physicists to studying nuclear blasts. What more does the international community need to know about this program before it recognizes that stronger measures are needed to prevent Iran from achieving its goals?

Since Iran’s nuclear program was exposed in August 2002, Tehran has protested its innocence and claimed its nuclear program has only civilian purposes. The IAEA has just produced its latest report and it is not expressing confidence in Iran’s version of the facts. The IAEA pressing Iran on a number of findings about clandestine military activities–a diagram for an underground testing arrangement, the testing of explosive bridgewire detonators normally used for nuclear weapons, and documents about modifying the Iranian Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear warhead. And the report includes the following statement:

The Agency has also inquired about the reasons for inclusion in the curriculum vitae of an IAP [Institute of Applied Physics, a military-linked institute implicated in some of Iran’s nuclear activities] of a Taylor-Sedov equation for the evolving radius of a nuclear explosion ball with photos of the 1945 Trinity test–the July 16, 1945 US test of a nuclear plutonium bomb in the New Mexico desert.

Iran has denied that there is any connection to nuclear weapons, just as it denied that it had asked for a nuclear warhead design it obtained from the network of Pakistani scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan. But these denials are starting to ring more and more hollowly, even to the ears of IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, not exactly unsympathetic to Iranian arguments. The IAEA has now verified that the design Iran has is identical to the one Pakistan has–so we now know that Iran obtained a design for a nuclear weapon from the Khan network, built an underground testing range, developed special detonators for a nuclear weapon, modified its long range missiles to fit a nuclear warhead, and has set physicists to studying nuclear blasts. What more does the international community need to know about this program before it recognizes that stronger measures are needed to prevent Iran from achieving its goals?

Read Less

The Bourne Delusion

I am suffering from cognitive dissonance. On Monday night—the very same night it was collecting three Oscars–I watched on TV The Bourne Ultimatum. It is, as many reviewers last year noted, a first-rate thriller. It is also a deeply crackpot view of the CIA.
It harks back to 1970s paranoid thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View which depict “the Agency” as deeply malevolent but also darn-near omnipotent. The conceit of the Bourne movies is that Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been trained to be a professional assassin by the CIA; in The Bourne Ultimatum the training techniques seem to involve water-torture and, as a final initiation rite, making him shoot a handcuffed, hooded prisoner.

Once Bourne goes renegade, the CIA dispatches other teams of killers to try to take him down. Sitting in a control room in New York, agency muckety-mucks hit a few buttons on their computers to access any information in the world.

Uh, right.

My cognitive dissonance stems from the fact that I just read the galleys of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, a first-rate book coming out in July from Encounter Books. The author is “Ishmael Jones,” a recently retired veteran of the CIA’s Clandestine Service who spent years abroad working under non-official cover.

The agency he depicts couldn’t be more different from the one shown in the Bourne movies. It is well-meaning but fundamentally plodding and risk-averse. Far from giving its employees the right to kill on sight, the agency he served requires approval from multiple layers of bureaucracy before a field agent can even telephone a nuclear-weapons scientist from a rogue state. Jones recounts how he had to ignore the bureaucracy just to contact such a scientist because if he had waited for approval it would have been too late. “A CIA officer visiting a nasty rogue state to conduct an intelligence operation was out of the question,” he adds.

Which is the real CIA? The one so beloved of popular fiction or the one depicted by so many of its former employees who like Jones have written memoirs of their service? I wish it were the former but I fear it’s the latter.

Which is why serious attention should be focused on a proposal that Jones puts forward at the end of his tome: to disband the CIA altogether and to assign its functions to existing agencies—the State Department, FBI, and military intelligence—that he thinks work better.

I am suffering from cognitive dissonance. On Monday night—the very same night it was collecting three Oscars–I watched on TV The Bourne Ultimatum. It is, as many reviewers last year noted, a first-rate thriller. It is also a deeply crackpot view of the CIA.
It harks back to 1970s paranoid thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View which depict “the Agency” as deeply malevolent but also darn-near omnipotent. The conceit of the Bourne movies is that Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been trained to be a professional assassin by the CIA; in The Bourne Ultimatum the training techniques seem to involve water-torture and, as a final initiation rite, making him shoot a handcuffed, hooded prisoner.

Once Bourne goes renegade, the CIA dispatches other teams of killers to try to take him down. Sitting in a control room in New York, agency muckety-mucks hit a few buttons on their computers to access any information in the world.

Uh, right.

My cognitive dissonance stems from the fact that I just read the galleys of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, a first-rate book coming out in July from Encounter Books. The author is “Ishmael Jones,” a recently retired veteran of the CIA’s Clandestine Service who spent years abroad working under non-official cover.

The agency he depicts couldn’t be more different from the one shown in the Bourne movies. It is well-meaning but fundamentally plodding and risk-averse. Far from giving its employees the right to kill on sight, the agency he served requires approval from multiple layers of bureaucracy before a field agent can even telephone a nuclear-weapons scientist from a rogue state. Jones recounts how he had to ignore the bureaucracy just to contact such a scientist because if he had waited for approval it would have been too late. “A CIA officer visiting a nasty rogue state to conduct an intelligence operation was out of the question,” he adds.

Which is the real CIA? The one so beloved of popular fiction or the one depicted by so many of its former employees who like Jones have written memoirs of their service? I wish it were the former but I fear it’s the latter.

Which is why serious attention should be focused on a proposal that Jones puts forward at the end of his tome: to disband the CIA altogether and to assign its functions to existing agencies—the State Department, FBI, and military intelligence—that he thinks work better.

Read Less

Why Are We Funding Bushehr?

Yesterday, John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, charged that a Department of Energy program is financially supporting two Russian institutes helping to build the Bushehr reactor in Iran, the country’s first nuclear generating station. The Bush administration has worked hard—and unsuccessfully—to stop Bushehr, which could be operating in a few months. “What policy logic justifies DOE funding Russian institutes which are providing nuclear technology to Iran?” Dingell asked in a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. “How does this advance our non-proliferation goals?”

Good questions, Mr. Dingell. The program in question, the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, was created in 1994 to employ Russian scientists laid off after the end of the Cold War so they wouldn’t work for terrorist organizations or rogue states. Dingell cited two institutes funded by the program, Scientific Research Institute of Measuring Systems and the Federal Scientific and Industrial Center of Nuclear Machine Building.

The Department of Energy, through a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, denied the charges. “We are confident that none of the projects cited by the House committee, or any of the department’s scientist engagement projects with Russia, support nuclear work in Iran,” the NNSA stated. “In coordination with other U.S. government agencies, we take all measures necessary to ensure that neither money nor technology falls into the hands of countries of concern.”

Unfortunately, these days Washington and Moscow are not concerned about the same countries. We may think that Iran is exceedingly dangerous, but Russians apparently view that country as just another customer wanting to harness the atom for the good of humankind. Russia’s commercial relations with Iran, especially those involving the Bushehr plant, are one reason that Moscow is not willing to back meaningful sanctions in the United Nations Security Council.

There is another principal concern. It does not matter whether American funds are specifically earmarked for Iranian projects at those institutes. There is a problem if our money is going to those institutes for any purpose. Why? Because cash is fungible—any dollar that goes to an institute permits that organization to free up resources to help Iran. Moreover, Russian institutes seem to be thriving these days, so it’s high time to consider whether we should curtail our support of Russian nuclear scientists. “How many other Russian institutes funded by DOE are also performing work on the Iranian nuclear program?” Dingell’s letter asks. At present, we are paying for more than a hundred projects.

As Dingell noted this week, Federal law sanctions U.S. companies that develop Iranian oil. If we sanction our own companies, how can we assist Russian businesses that are hard at work furthering Tehran’s nuclear ambitions?

Yesterday, John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, charged that a Department of Energy program is financially supporting two Russian institutes helping to build the Bushehr reactor in Iran, the country’s first nuclear generating station. The Bush administration has worked hard—and unsuccessfully—to stop Bushehr, which could be operating in a few months. “What policy logic justifies DOE funding Russian institutes which are providing nuclear technology to Iran?” Dingell asked in a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. “How does this advance our non-proliferation goals?”

Good questions, Mr. Dingell. The program in question, the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, was created in 1994 to employ Russian scientists laid off after the end of the Cold War so they wouldn’t work for terrorist organizations or rogue states. Dingell cited two institutes funded by the program, Scientific Research Institute of Measuring Systems and the Federal Scientific and Industrial Center of Nuclear Machine Building.

The Department of Energy, through a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, denied the charges. “We are confident that none of the projects cited by the House committee, or any of the department’s scientist engagement projects with Russia, support nuclear work in Iran,” the NNSA stated. “In coordination with other U.S. government agencies, we take all measures necessary to ensure that neither money nor technology falls into the hands of countries of concern.”

Unfortunately, these days Washington and Moscow are not concerned about the same countries. We may think that Iran is exceedingly dangerous, but Russians apparently view that country as just another customer wanting to harness the atom for the good of humankind. Russia’s commercial relations with Iran, especially those involving the Bushehr plant, are one reason that Moscow is not willing to back meaningful sanctions in the United Nations Security Council.

There is another principal concern. It does not matter whether American funds are specifically earmarked for Iranian projects at those institutes. There is a problem if our money is going to those institutes for any purpose. Why? Because cash is fungible—any dollar that goes to an institute permits that organization to free up resources to help Iran. Moreover, Russian institutes seem to be thriving these days, so it’s high time to consider whether we should curtail our support of Russian nuclear scientists. “How many other Russian institutes funded by DOE are also performing work on the Iranian nuclear program?” Dingell’s letter asks. At present, we are paying for more than a hundred projects.

As Dingell noted this week, Federal law sanctions U.S. companies that develop Iranian oil. If we sanction our own companies, how can we assist Russian businesses that are hard at work furthering Tehran’s nuclear ambitions?

Read Less

Let’s Keep Our Eye on the (Nuclear) Ball

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a terrible tragedy. It is also a strategic nightmare for the United States and much of the world.

Estimates vary, but Pakistan is believed to possess an arsenal consisting of perhaps as many as 120 nuclear weapons. Its population is riddled with Islamic fundamentalists and supporters of the Taliban and of al Qaeda, the very forces who are claiming credit for carrying out this brutal killing. These radicals are said to have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI.

If the country’s nuclear weapons ever appeared in danger of falling into the hands of the Islamists, Pakistan’s neighbors would almost certainly feel compelled to act. India, a nuclear power itself, would be the most apprehensive among them all.

The United States could also easily be drawn into the fray. If Washington cannot accept an Islamic regime in Iran that would have one or two bombs, it could hardly accept a similar or even more radical regime in Pakistan that would have more than 100.

Even under our ostensible ally, General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan became the world’s worst proliferator of nuclear weapons, the site of the worldwide atomic bazaar set up by the country’s most famous scientist, A. Q. Khan. The dangers that far worse might come are obvious and would pose a severe challenge to the United States, even as we are focused on two other wars in the same “arc of crisis” — to use Zbigniew Brzezinski’s term for the region.

To contemplate a scenario in which one of Pakistan’s neighbors or the United States attempts to disarm Pakistan by force is to contemplate a chain of events that could easily result in a major war. Could such a scenario unfold? Where are Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stored, and could they be captured or destroyed by an outside country? Who guards them, and who guards the guards?

These are only some of the questions that should be occupying U.S. intelligence on an urgent basis. For anyone interested in answers that are in the public domain, The Security of Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan by Shaun Gregory is an excellent place to start.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a terrible tragedy. It is also a strategic nightmare for the United States and much of the world.

Estimates vary, but Pakistan is believed to possess an arsenal consisting of perhaps as many as 120 nuclear weapons. Its population is riddled with Islamic fundamentalists and supporters of the Taliban and of al Qaeda, the very forces who are claiming credit for carrying out this brutal killing. These radicals are said to have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI.

If the country’s nuclear weapons ever appeared in danger of falling into the hands of the Islamists, Pakistan’s neighbors would almost certainly feel compelled to act. India, a nuclear power itself, would be the most apprehensive among them all.

The United States could also easily be drawn into the fray. If Washington cannot accept an Islamic regime in Iran that would have one or two bombs, it could hardly accept a similar or even more radical regime in Pakistan that would have more than 100.

Even under our ostensible ally, General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan became the world’s worst proliferator of nuclear weapons, the site of the worldwide atomic bazaar set up by the country’s most famous scientist, A. Q. Khan. The dangers that far worse might come are obvious and would pose a severe challenge to the United States, even as we are focused on two other wars in the same “arc of crisis” — to use Zbigniew Brzezinski’s term for the region.

To contemplate a scenario in which one of Pakistan’s neighbors or the United States attempts to disarm Pakistan by force is to contemplate a chain of events that could easily result in a major war. Could such a scenario unfold? Where are Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stored, and could they be captured or destroyed by an outside country? Who guards them, and who guards the guards?

These are only some of the questions that should be occupying U.S. intelligence on an urgent basis. For anyone interested in answers that are in the public domain, The Security of Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan by Shaun Gregory is an excellent place to start.

Read Less

More Good News from the MTF

Today at the White House President Bush announced the results of this year’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. This widely respected survey, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, tracks smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use among the nation’s secondary school students, assessing every year about 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in more than 400 secondary schools.

The key findings are that 8th, 10th, and 12th graders across the country are continuing to show a gradual decline in the proportions reporting use of illicit drugs.

“The cumulative declines since recent peak levels of drug involvement in the mid-1990’s are quite substantial, especially among the youngest students,” said University of Michigan Distinguished Research Scientist Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the MTF study.

The proportion of 8th graders reporting use of an illicit drug at least once in the 12 months prior to the survey was 24 percent in 1996 but has fallen to 13 percent by 2007, a drop of nearly half. The decline has been less among 10th graders, from 39 percent to 28 percent between 1997 and 2007, and least among 12th graders, a decline from the recent peak of 42 percent in 1997 to 36 percent this year. All three grades showed some continuing decline this year in the prevalence of illicit drug use, though only the one-year decline in 8th grade (a drop of 1.6 percentage points) achieved statistical significance. The rates for the three grades now stand at 13 percent, 28 percent, and 36 percent. Today 860,000 fewer young people than in 2001 are using drugs.

Read More

Today at the White House President Bush announced the results of this year’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. This widely respected survey, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, tracks smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use among the nation’s secondary school students, assessing every year about 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in more than 400 secondary schools.

The key findings are that 8th, 10th, and 12th graders across the country are continuing to show a gradual decline in the proportions reporting use of illicit drugs.

“The cumulative declines since recent peak levels of drug involvement in the mid-1990’s are quite substantial, especially among the youngest students,” said University of Michigan Distinguished Research Scientist Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the MTF study.

The proportion of 8th graders reporting use of an illicit drug at least once in the 12 months prior to the survey was 24 percent in 1996 but has fallen to 13 percent by 2007, a drop of nearly half. The decline has been less among 10th graders, from 39 percent to 28 percent between 1997 and 2007, and least among 12th graders, a decline from the recent peak of 42 percent in 1997 to 36 percent this year. All three grades showed some continuing decline this year in the prevalence of illicit drug use, though only the one-year decline in 8th grade (a drop of 1.6 percentage points) achieved statistical significance. The rates for the three grades now stand at 13 percent, 28 percent, and 36 percent. Today 860,000 fewer young people than in 2001 are using drugs.

According to the MTF survey, we also saw a drop in smoking for all three grades. Including the decline this year, the rate of smoking in the prior 30 days is now down by two thirds among 8th graders to 7 percent from the peak level reached in 1996 of 21 percent. “That should eventually translate into many fewer illnesses and premature deaths for this generation of young people,” said Johnston. This year’s survey also noted the long-term decline in alcohol use among eighth-graders, down to 31.8 percent in 2007 from a peak of 46.8 percent in 1994.

“We are definitely seeing a decline in substance abuse among our youngest and most vulnerable teens,” said Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the director of the National Institutes of Health.

The results from the MTF survey builds on the good news we have seen on a range of social issues during the last ten to fifteen years, progress that my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin and I discuss in our essay in the December 2007 issue of COMMENTARY.

What accounts for the progress we’re witnessing? When it comes to teen drug use, smoking, and alcohol consumption, a key factor is perceptions of the dangers, consequences, and acceptability of using illegal substances. And those perceptions, in turn, are shaped by the messages, including the moral messages, sent by parents and adults, schools, community groups, television ads, and government (both in terms of what its leaders say and the policies they implement). Drug use, like welfare and crime, are areas in which we have seen public policies make an enormous and positive impact.

It is generally considered obvious that government should not, indeed cannot legislate morality. But in fact it does so, frequently; it should do so more often; and it never does anything more important. By the legislation of morality I mean the enactment of laws and implementation of policies that proscribe, mandate, regulate, or subsidize behavior that will, over time, have the predictable effect of nurturing, bolstering, or altering habits, dispositions and values on a broad scale.

So saith George Will in his 1983 book Statecraft As Soulcraft: What Government Does. Will was right in what he wrote—and we are seeing some of the good fruits of statecraft in the MTF results today.

Read Less

The First Movie of the Post Stem-Cell Debate Era!

The highly entertaining sci-fi flick I Am Legend stars Will Smith as the last man left in New York City (and maybe on earth) after a cure for cancer mutates into a virus that kills 90 percent of the population and turns 99 percent of the remnant into flesh-eating zombies, is likely to be the big winner at the Christmas box office. Those who enjoy tracking blockbusters more for their allegory than their grosses, though, may relish the movie’s timing because of its surprising subtext about how religion and science can co-exist.

Call this the first movie of the post-stem cell-debate era. After last month’s wonderful news that genetically matched stem cells could be developed without embryos, liberals were flummoxed (and maybe angered) by the news that, when it comes to medical ethics and science, Bush-era America actually could walk and chew gum at the same time. No embryos means no embryo destruction, therefore no moral problems with the stem-cell research of the future.

Smith plays a soldier/scientist immune to the virus that has destroyed humanity and turned Manhattan into a postapocalyptic wasteland where deer and other wildlife run free but there is no sign of another human being. In a twist on the grimy despair of last year’s similar Children of Men, Smith’s character has hopes of using his own blood to concoct a serum that will reverse the effects of the virus and turn the zombies back into ordinary people. He’s an atheist who believes that science, and science alone, holds the key to the future. But in a third-act twist, it turns out that religion and blind faith will have equally important roles to play if there is to be a cure–you might also use the word “salvation”–for humanity.

The highly entertaining sci-fi flick I Am Legend stars Will Smith as the last man left in New York City (and maybe on earth) after a cure for cancer mutates into a virus that kills 90 percent of the population and turns 99 percent of the remnant into flesh-eating zombies, is likely to be the big winner at the Christmas box office. Those who enjoy tracking blockbusters more for their allegory than their grosses, though, may relish the movie’s timing because of its surprising subtext about how religion and science can co-exist.

Call this the first movie of the post-stem cell-debate era. After last month’s wonderful news that genetically matched stem cells could be developed without embryos, liberals were flummoxed (and maybe angered) by the news that, when it comes to medical ethics and science, Bush-era America actually could walk and chew gum at the same time. No embryos means no embryo destruction, therefore no moral problems with the stem-cell research of the future.

Smith plays a soldier/scientist immune to the virus that has destroyed humanity and turned Manhattan into a postapocalyptic wasteland where deer and other wildlife run free but there is no sign of another human being. In a twist on the grimy despair of last year’s similar Children of Men, Smith’s character has hopes of using his own blood to concoct a serum that will reverse the effects of the virus and turn the zombies back into ordinary people. He’s an atheist who believes that science, and science alone, holds the key to the future. But in a third-act twist, it turns out that religion and blind faith will have equally important roles to play if there is to be a cure–you might also use the word “salvation”–for humanity.

Read Less

Stem Cells in New Jersey

On Tuesday, New Jersey voters defeated a state ballot referendum that would have put $450 million of taxpayer funds into stem cell research. It was a rare electoral victory for opponents of embryo-destructive research—made all the more surprising by its Garden State venue. New Jersey, after all, has some of the most extreme pro-cloning and embryo research laws in the country, explicitly permitting, for instance, the creation of cloned embryos and their development in the womb until the moment of birth.

In search of an explanation, the New York Times offers up the absence of a massive media campaign with deep pockets, of the sort employed in similar referenda in California in 2004 and in Missouri in 2006. In both cases, tens of millions of dollars were spent on ads attempting to persuade voters of the promise of embryonic stem cells—often using starkly dishonest and distorted arguments.

In Missouri, for instance, the advertising campaign coined the clever term “early stem cell research” (as in this ad) to avoid using the word “embryo,” and asserted that embryonic stem cells would cure Alzheimer’s (despite a near consensus to the contrary among researchers). In California, where a similar effort resulted in the creation of a $3 billion stem cell institute in 2004, pre-election deceptions about how the project would work continue to plague the new institute, which has now gone through several difficult leadership changes. Most recently, the institute hired as its director an Australian scientist who was caught lying to the Australian parliament in 2002 in order to obtain support for stem cell research.

Read More

On Tuesday, New Jersey voters defeated a state ballot referendum that would have put $450 million of taxpayer funds into stem cell research. It was a rare electoral victory for opponents of embryo-destructive research—made all the more surprising by its Garden State venue. New Jersey, after all, has some of the most extreme pro-cloning and embryo research laws in the country, explicitly permitting, for instance, the creation of cloned embryos and their development in the womb until the moment of birth.

In search of an explanation, the New York Times offers up the absence of a massive media campaign with deep pockets, of the sort employed in similar referenda in California in 2004 and in Missouri in 2006. In both cases, tens of millions of dollars were spent on ads attempting to persuade voters of the promise of embryonic stem cells—often using starkly dishonest and distorted arguments.

In Missouri, for instance, the advertising campaign coined the clever term “early stem cell research” (as in this ad) to avoid using the word “embryo,” and asserted that embryonic stem cells would cure Alzheimer’s (despite a near consensus to the contrary among researchers). In California, where a similar effort resulted in the creation of a $3 billion stem cell institute in 2004, pre-election deceptions about how the project would work continue to plague the new institute, which has now gone through several difficult leadership changes. Most recently, the institute hired as its director an Australian scientist who was caught lying to the Australian parliament in 2002 in order to obtain support for stem cell research.

These are just a few of the countless examples of exaggeration and outright deception in the political fight for embryonic stem cell funding. Recall, for instance, John Edwards’s promise in the 2004 presidential campaign that “when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”

Such tactics have lent something of the stench of the snake oil salesman to stem cell advocacy, and this has clearly had an effect. Opponents of the 2006 Missouri initiative found in the closing days of the race that pointing out the dishonesty of the initiative’s supporters was the most effective arrow in their quiver, and when they began to focus their energies on that case they very nearly defeated the effort.

Opponents of the New Jersey referendum learned that lesson. Referring to New Jersey governor Jon Corzine (who invested $150,000 of his own money in the ballot initiative campaign), one commercial run by opponents showed a slick salesman enticing viewers with “Governor Feelgood’s Embryonic Stem Cell Elixir; just $450 million—why, that’s practically free!”

Another ad put the matter bluntly. The referendum, it said, “is about taking your tax dollars for something that Wall Street and the drug companies will not invest in.”

Clearly this combination of the whiff of fraud and the specter of waste—rather than ethical objections to the destruction of embryos—brought down the referendum. Garden State voters have not suddenly become pro-lifers. But the tricks and deceptions of stem cell advocates in recent years might just have become all too apparent in New Jersey.

Read Less

Golden Silents

In his foreword to a lavishly illustrated new book from Little, Brown, Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture by Peter Kobel, director Martin Scorsese points out that viewers of silent films today are like “time travelers.” Precious cultural evidence from before 1900 until the end of the 1930’s, Scorsese observes, was lost when 90 percent of silent films were destroyed or allowed to disintegrate. Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture reproduces posters and other items from the Library of Congress (LOC) film archive, which is energetically engaged in preserving what is left of this legacy.

The LOC’s website offers fascinating short Edison films that document urban overcrowding, whether on New York’s Lower East Side in 1903 or on Paris’s Esplanade des Invalides and Champs Elysées, both from 1900. Perhaps most fascinating of all is a 1903 San Francisco demonstration for Chinese-American rights, on the occasion of an eerily majestic funeral procession. Tom Kim Yung (1858–1903), a Chinese military Attaché, committed suicide in San Francisco after being a victim of police abuse. The procession, as captured by Edison’s cameras, shows hundreds of solemn marchers, while gawkers look on. Later artful documentaries offer fascinating details for history buffs, whether about 1929 Russia in Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera or 1928 Germany in Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City.

Read More

In his foreword to a lavishly illustrated new book from Little, Brown, Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture by Peter Kobel, director Martin Scorsese points out that viewers of silent films today are like “time travelers.” Precious cultural evidence from before 1900 until the end of the 1930’s, Scorsese observes, was lost when 90 percent of silent films were destroyed or allowed to disintegrate. Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture reproduces posters and other items from the Library of Congress (LOC) film archive, which is energetically engaged in preserving what is left of this legacy.

The LOC’s website offers fascinating short Edison films that document urban overcrowding, whether on New York’s Lower East Side in 1903 or on Paris’s Esplanade des Invalides and Champs Elysées, both from 1900. Perhaps most fascinating of all is a 1903 San Francisco demonstration for Chinese-American rights, on the occasion of an eerily majestic funeral procession. Tom Kim Yung (1858–1903), a Chinese military Attaché, committed suicide in San Francisco after being a victim of police abuse. The procession, as captured by Edison’s cameras, shows hundreds of solemn marchers, while gawkers look on. Later artful documentaries offer fascinating details for history buffs, whether about 1929 Russia in Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera or 1928 Germany in Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City.

As Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture reminds us, even fictional silent films, many recently transferred to DVD, can give us a taste of bygone eras that cannot be experienced merely by reading about them. D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915)—despite its racist, pro-Ku Klux Klan message that makes the recent statements of scientist James Dewey Watson seem innocuous by comparison—visually echoes Civil War photos by Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner. Griffith’s depictions of 19th century battles are now chronologically closer to these real-life skirmishes than we are to Griffith. Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 Battleship Potemkin, which dramatizes events from a 1905 anti-czarist uprising a mere twenty years after the fact, inevitably idealizes and glorifies matters propagandistically, but is a must-see for its flavor and verve. American director William Wellman (1896–1975) made Wings, a 1927 drama about World War I fighter pilots, a mere decade after he himself served in the Lafayette Escadrille during that conflict. Above and beyond the fictional plot of Wings is a recreation of the bloody 1918 Battle of Saint-Mihiel, featuring dogfights, bombardments, and crashes with an authenticity that today’s special effects technicians cannot surpass.

As DVD companies strive to outdo one another with historical material, even unexpectedly racy material has appeared, such as a collection of French silent films originally made in 1905 and after, to be shown in the waiting rooms of Paris bordellos. Nostalgically titled The Good Old Naughty Days in re-release, this compilation reminds us that some aspects of mankind’s historical behavior are still with us today.

Read Less

The Bush Administration’s Secret Secret

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, calls the Bush presidency the “most secretive of administrations.”

Helen Thomas of UPI says “[t]his is the most secretive administration I have ever covered.”

Caroline Fredrickson of the ACLU says “this has been the most secretive administration since the Nixon years.”

Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, says “it is one of the most secretive administrations in recent history.”

The British Guardian Weekly calls it “the most secretive administration in U.S. history.”

Glenn Greenwald of Salon, call it “the most secretive in history.”

Is Bush really so secretive, and if so, so what?

Read More

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, calls the Bush presidency the “most secretive of administrations.”

Helen Thomas of UPI says “[t]his is the most secretive administration I have ever covered.”

Caroline Fredrickson of the ACLU says “this has been the most secretive administration since the Nixon years.”

Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, says “it is one of the most secretive administrations in recent history.”

The British Guardian Weekly calls it “the most secretive administration in U.S. history.”

Glenn Greenwald of Salon, call it “the most secretive in history.”

Is Bush really so secretive, and if so, so what?

The U.S. was struck by terrorists on 9/11 killing thousands. Our troops are now engaged in two hot wars overseas. If under those circumstances our government were not generating lots of secrets, that would be a cause for worry and alarm.

But the biggest secret of all is that, despite what one hears incessantly from the New York Times and its echo chamber, the Bush administration has been making significant strides toward more open government.

The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) in Washington D.C. is the official body that keeps tracks of such things. According to its latest report, the executive branch declassified 37,647,993 pages of “permanently valuable historical records” in fiscal year 2006, which is a 27-percent increase over the previous fiscal year.

At the same time, the number of newly classified documents—called “original classification decisions” in the lingo of the bureaucracy—declined by 10 percent. Perhaps of even greater significance is the fact that for the second year in a row, the majority of new secrets have been assigned a ten-year classification period. Historically, only 34 percent of new secrets were given such a short life; 25-year sentences used to be the norm.

Obviously, secrecy has many dimensions, and such statistics do not tell the whole story about current trends. But they do tell a part of it. Why are they not better known?

This brings us to one of the major hidden sources of secrecy in recent years. For even as the media and the interest groups lambaste the Bush administration for being the most secretive of all time, they are keeping these numbers from the public. One certainly can not read about them in the New York Times.

The exception that proves the rule comes from Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientist, who has posted a notice about the ISOO report on his invaluable blog, Secrecy News.

Read Less

Our Fallible CIA

I just finished reading Mark Bowden’s gripping account of the Iranian hostage crisis, Guests of the Ayatollah. And just in time, it seems. The Washington Post is proclaiming “A New Iranian Hostage Crisis” caused by Tehran’s illegal detention of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari.

Bowden’s book has been extensively reviewed (including by Gabriel Schoenfeld in COMMENTARY), and I won’t bother to go over the same ground here. But one point that emerged from his account and that bears emphasizing is the CIA’s long track record of incompetence.

The “students” who took over the U.S. embassy in 1979 were convinced it was a “Den of Spies” plotting to overthrow the Islamic revolution and to assassinate their beloved Ayatollah Khomeini. In reality, as Bowden notes, the entire CIA presence consisted of three newly arrived officers, none of whom spoke Farsi, and who had no useful agents in the entire country. (The agency’s level of perceptiveness is suggested by an August 1978 analysis which concluded that Iran “is not in a revolutionary or even a prerevolutionary situation.”)

Read More

I just finished reading Mark Bowden’s gripping account of the Iranian hostage crisis, Guests of the Ayatollah. And just in time, it seems. The Washington Post is proclaiming “A New Iranian Hostage Crisis” caused by Tehran’s illegal detention of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari.

Bowden’s book has been extensively reviewed (including by Gabriel Schoenfeld in COMMENTARY), and I won’t bother to go over the same ground here. But one point that emerged from his account and that bears emphasizing is the CIA’s long track record of incompetence.

The “students” who took over the U.S. embassy in 1979 were convinced it was a “Den of Spies” plotting to overthrow the Islamic revolution and to assassinate their beloved Ayatollah Khomeini. In reality, as Bowden notes, the entire CIA presence consisted of three newly arrived officers, none of whom spoke Farsi, and who had no useful agents in the entire country. (The agency’s level of perceptiveness is suggested by an August 1978 analysis which concluded that Iran “is not in a revolutionary or even a prerevolutionary situation.”)

It’s no wonder the agency was so deceived. The CIA had depended for its knowledge of Iran on the Shah’s intelligence service, and when the Shah was overthrown, America’s intelligence agencies were left dumb and blind.

Unfortunately, there is good cause to suspect that conditions have not improved substantially in the past 28 years. The CIA has never had much luck operating in countries where there is not even an American embassy, and it would be remarkable if Iran today were an exception.

In fact, the Robb-Silberman Commission’s 2005 report strongly suggested—with details omitted in its unclassified version—that the American intelligence community has scant knowledge of what’s happening behind the scenes in either the North Korean or Iranian nuclear programs:

We found an intelligence community that has had some significant successes, but that is, on balance, badly equipped and badly organized to confront today’s threats. We found human intelligence collectors who have struggled in vain to find sources with valuable information—and often failed to vet properly the sources they did find. We found technical intelligence collectors whose traditional techniques have declining utility against threats that are increasingly elusive and diffuse. And we found an analytical community too quick to rely upon assumptions or conjecture, and too slow to communicate gaps and uncertainties to policymakers.

But above all, we found an intelligence community that was too disorganized and fragmented to use its many talented people and sophisticated tools effectively.

Keep the above in mind if you happen to read David Samuels’s cover story in the current issue of the Atlantic. Called “Grand Illusions,” it is a veeeery long account of the author’s travels and interviews with Condi Rice during her Middle Eastern diplomatic efforts. Amid the stultifying litany of meetings and press conferences, Samuels nonchalantly passes along a rather startling claim. A claim, in fact, that suggests the CIA is having a lot more behind-the-scenes success in Iran than anyone suspects.

Citing “[s]ources in the United States and the Middle East familiar with the covert side of the American-led effort to push back Iran,” Samuels claims that American agents are responsible for a series of recent events in Iran:

a bomb in Zahedan, the economic center of the province of Baluchistan, that killed 11 soldiers in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on February 14; the mysterious death of the Iranian scientist Ardashir Hosseinpour, who worked on uranium enrichment at the Isfahan nuclear facility; and the defection of a high ranking Iranian general named Ali Asgari.

If true, this would be good news, indicating that the CIA is conducting an effective covert action against the Iranian regime currently making war on us in Iraq and other places. But a healthy measure of skepticism is warranted. I asked a friend, a former CIA clandestine-service officer, about the veracity of Samuels’s reporting. His response: “It’s all crap. The Atlantic should not have put that in. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The Atlantic should not descend to the level of the New Yorker.”

Of course my friend’s dismissal of these allegations will not convince hardcore conspiracy theorists. They will think that his words are part of an elaborate disinformation campaign. There is, apparently, no shortage of people, especially abroad, who watch movies like Spy Game (2001) and The Bourne Identity (2002) and think that they provide an accurate picture of CIA capabilities—that with a few words the CIA director can launch a commando mission to free a spy from a Chinese prison or send hit teams to Europe to hunt down a renegade agent. While Hollywood often depicts the CIA and other intelligence agencies such as the NSA (Enemy of the State, 1998) as malevolent entities, it inevitably presents them as nearly omnipotent.

Too bad the real world doesn’t bear much resemblance to the reel world. In fact, the upcoming film based on the classic TV series Get Smart might provide a more accurate picture of our intelligence capabilities.

Read Less

Trust the Experts

Judging by the number of outraged responses, I seem to have struck a nerve with my post, “Maybe Al Gore Is Right.” Many readers wrote in to question the scientific consensus once again. As I said before, I’m not a scientist, much less a specialist in the field, so I don’t feel comfortable debating the pros and cons of the IPCC report. What mystifies me is why so many other readers who also aren’t experts feel comfortable disputing the experts’ judgment.

One reader, for instance, wrote: “The problem is that those who sound the alarm about catastrophic global warming tend to make statements like . . . ‘it has been the warmest January in 60 years.’ I am sure you see the logical disconnect there, but let me be explicit; they are acknowledging that there was a warmer January just 60 or so years ago. So, what does this prove?” Suffice it to say that the scientists behind the IPCC report didn’t base their conclusions on such anecdotes. The available scientific evidence, in their view, proves a human link to global warming with 90-percent certitude.

I have no problem accepting the collective wisdom of the global scientific community over the dissent of the popular novelist Michael Crichton and a few actual scientists, many of whom lack credentials in climatology or any related discipline. (I note that Kevin Shapiro, who answered my post, is a neuroscientist and medical student.) Imagine, by way of analogy, if I had gone to twenty oncologists and they all told me that I had cancer, but a metereologist buddy looked at the test results and told me to ignore the doctors because they didn’t know what they were talking about. Would Mr. Shapiro—or Mr. Crichton—applaud me in those circumstances for adopting the minority view?

A more fruitful line of argument is to discuss the policy implications of global warming—an area where we don’t have to defer to scientists. As I mentioned, I remain skeptical of the Kyoto Protocol. I think there are better, more market-friendly approaches we should consider, such as tradeable emission credits, more nuclear energy, more research on alternatives to fossil fuels, the elimination of sugar subsidies (to make sugar-derived ethanol more affordable), and higher gasoline taxes. Such policies would be a two-fer: not only would they reduce global warming, but they would reduce our dependence on oil, which comes from such unsavory states as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Iran. Which is why these sorts of ideas have been championed by Jim Woolsey and other conservatives, raising the possibility of a conservative/Green coalition to break our oil addiction.

Judging by the number of outraged responses, I seem to have struck a nerve with my post, “Maybe Al Gore Is Right.” Many readers wrote in to question the scientific consensus once again. As I said before, I’m not a scientist, much less a specialist in the field, so I don’t feel comfortable debating the pros and cons of the IPCC report. What mystifies me is why so many other readers who also aren’t experts feel comfortable disputing the experts’ judgment.

One reader, for instance, wrote: “The problem is that those who sound the alarm about catastrophic global warming tend to make statements like . . . ‘it has been the warmest January in 60 years.’ I am sure you see the logical disconnect there, but let me be explicit; they are acknowledging that there was a warmer January just 60 or so years ago. So, what does this prove?” Suffice it to say that the scientists behind the IPCC report didn’t base their conclusions on such anecdotes. The available scientific evidence, in their view, proves a human link to global warming with 90-percent certitude.

I have no problem accepting the collective wisdom of the global scientific community over the dissent of the popular novelist Michael Crichton and a few actual scientists, many of whom lack credentials in climatology or any related discipline. (I note that Kevin Shapiro, who answered my post, is a neuroscientist and medical student.) Imagine, by way of analogy, if I had gone to twenty oncologists and they all told me that I had cancer, but a metereologist buddy looked at the test results and told me to ignore the doctors because they didn’t know what they were talking about. Would Mr. Shapiro—or Mr. Crichton—applaud me in those circumstances for adopting the minority view?

A more fruitful line of argument is to discuss the policy implications of global warming—an area where we don’t have to defer to scientists. As I mentioned, I remain skeptical of the Kyoto Protocol. I think there are better, more market-friendly approaches we should consider, such as tradeable emission credits, more nuclear energy, more research on alternatives to fossil fuels, the elimination of sugar subsidies (to make sugar-derived ethanol more affordable), and higher gasoline taxes. Such policies would be a two-fer: not only would they reduce global warming, but they would reduce our dependence on oil, which comes from such unsavory states as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Iran. Which is why these sorts of ideas have been championed by Jim Woolsey and other conservatives, raising the possibility of a conservative/Green coalition to break our oil addiction.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.