Monday, April 27, 2009

Legal Analysis Should Not be a Partisan Plaything

First published on BlogCritics on 27 April 2009

There is an old legal maxim,
When the facts are on your side, pound on the facts.
When the law is on your side, pound on the law.
When neither is on your side, pound on the table.

Sometimes this works, but more often it fails. The table is being pounded upon, very heavily and very noisily, but neither the law nor the facts appear to be on the side of the principal pounders.

The Geneva Convention provides various protections for "prisoners of war," as defined in Article 4. In relevant part, Article 4 provides

Article 4

A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

1. Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfill the following conditions:

(a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

(b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;

(c) That of carrying arms openly;

(d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

3. Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.
Such protections are not provided for people not meeting the definitional requirements.

However, it is argued that the portions of the U.S. Code dealing with "torture" are to be read independently of the Geneva Convention and its various protocols. I think this is incorrect. Nevertheless, assuming arguendo a lack of interdependence, "water boarding" and other forms of "harsh interrogation" still do not seem to violate, or in the the past to have violated, the U.S. Code. 18 U.S.C. Section 2441(d)(1)(A) defines "torture" as follows:
The act of a person who commits, or conspires or attempts to commit, an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation, coercion, or any reason based on discrimination of any kind. (emphasis added)
In subsection (d)(2), applicable following the 2006 enactment of he Military Commissions Act a few changes are made including that the term "severe" is replaced by "serious,", :
the term “serious physical pain or suffering” shall be applied for purposes of paragraph (1)(B) as meaning bodily injury that involves—

(i) a substantial risk of death;

(ii) extreme physical pain;

(iii) a burn or physical disfigurement of a serious nature (other than cuts, abrasions, or bruises); or

(iv) significant loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty; and

(E) the term “serious mental pain or suffering” shall be applied for purposes of paragraph (1)(B) in accordance with the meaning given the term “severe mental pain or suffering” (as defined in section 2340(2) of this title), except that—

(i) the term “serious” shall replace the term “severe” where it appears; and

(ii) as to conduct occurring after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the term “serious and non-transitory mental harm (which need not be prolonged)” shall replace the term “prolonged mental harm” where it appears.
Hence, some definitions were different after the the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was enacted, and some were not. Water boarding appears not to have taken place subsequent to 2006, and I am unaware of any legal basis for applying definitions in criminal statutes retroactively. However, it seems as though even well before 2006, substantial efforts were made to avoid the intentional infliction of "severe" or even "serious" physical or non-transitory mental harm, prolonged or otherwise.

Manfred Nowak, who serves as a U.N. special rapporteur in Geneva, said Washington is obligated under the U.N. Convention against Torture to prosecute U.S. Justice Department officials who wrote memos that defined torture in the narrowest way in order to justify and legitimize it, and who assured CIA officials that their use of questionable tactics was legal.

"That's exactly what I call complicity or participation" to torture as defined by the convention, Nowak said at a news conference. "At that time, every reasonable person would know that waterboarding, for instance, is torture."
One of the functions of an attorney is to advise his client how to achieve his lawful goals legally, and one aspect of this function is to base his advice on statutory definitions and case law. It is not a proper function of an attorney representing a client to elevate his own notions of morality, or of what "every reasonable person would know," to a position of superiority over what the law says or over the lawful goals of his client. Should he feel compelled to do so, he should cease representing the client, because he can not in those circumstances provide adequate representation.

As a reading of the quoted portions of Title 18 U.S.C. Sections 2441 and 2340 should suggest, statutory construction can be a tedious process. Should it be desired to make changes, that should be done by amending the pertinent statutes to provide, with adequate specificity, what is desired, for prospective application. For the meaning of laws to be second-guessed long after the fact by those who seek to elevate and apply retroactively their own notions of morality above the definitions provided by statute, is confusing and pernicious. Here, it has led to arguments driven by partisan politics and the associated desire for revenge -- which sometimes backfires; that may be happening. A recent poll indicates that
Only 28% of U.S. voters think the Obama administration should do any further investigating of how the Bush administration treated terrorism suspects.

Fifty-eight percent (58%) are opposed. Democrats are evenly divided over whether further investigation is necessary. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of Republicans and 62% of voters not affiliated with either major party are against more investigating.

Sizable majorities of Republicans and unaffiliated voters say the release of the CIA memos about the interrogations hurts national security. Democrats are evenly divided on whether the release hurt national security or helped the image of the United States abroad.
Here is a fascinating editorial from the Wall Street Journal. Here is another, a commentary by Peter Hoekstra, minority leader of the House of Representatives, and finally, we have an article from the Weekly Standard. The articles pertain to the recent controversy over "torture," and their thrust is that President Obama, by reversing direction and suggesting the further public and adversarial ventilation of what went on with "torture" several years ago would open an enormous can of worms, from which neither Democratic Party leaders nor Republican Party leaders nor -- of far more importance -- the United States, would escape unscathed.

It is now becoming quite clear that the leadership of the Congress, from both sides of the aisle, was kept well informed of what was going on and offered no objections.
Porter Goss, former CIA Director and past chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, blasted the Obama administration for releasing Justice Department memos on harsh interrogation techniques. "For the first time in my experience we’ve crossed the red line of properly protecting our national security in order to gain partisan political advantage," Goss said in an interview.
Goss, a former CIA operative, has made few public comments since leaving his post as DCI in September 2006. In December 2007, he told a Washington Post reporter that members of Congress had been fully briefed on the CIA’s special interrogation program. "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing," Goss told the Post. "And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."
Mr. Gross' comments are further reflected in an April 25, 2009 editorial in the Washington Post here. It is also becoming clear that the materials recently released by the Obama administration were redacted to leave out information outlining the effectiveness of the mild forms of "torture" which were used on a very few high value subjects, and the likelihood that many U.S. citizens who are now alive might otherwise now be dead. This is claimed to have been normal editing, for purposes of brevity. Right. There are those who argue that harsh interrogation can and does produce valuable information, and there are others who argue to the contrary. Unless important decisions are to be made in the abstract, which seems unwise, information as to the consequences of such interrogations should be made public. There are at least two sides to the story, and the public release of a manifestly one-sided report mandates the public release of the other side.

There may be some who would abstractly prefer more dead Americans to a very few water-boarded and otherwise harshly interrogated terrorists, on the ground that the United States should not engage in what they classify as "torture," for any reason and regardless of the consequences of not doing so. I find this position very difficult to understand and even more difficult to accept. I wonder how many of them would feel the same way were they permitted to travel forward in time and see alternative scenarios in which they and their loved ones were, and were not, killed violently and painfully depending on whether "torture" had been employed. Some might view the killings with equanimity, but I doubt it; slaughter does not occur in the abstract. Perhaps lacking the benefits of such time travel, they are excessively intent upon demonstrating their own moral superiority in a context where they and their loved ones are not in immediate danger from their choices, except in the abstract.

This recent Blogcritics Magazine article apparently seeks to have show trials and thereby make a mockery of justice and of national security.
We have every right to see in the public limelight what the world saw after World War II when Nazi criminals were tried and punished on the world stage.
Attempting to create an equality of "torture," in ways previously determined to be lawful, to gain badly needed intelligence, with the blatant crimes committed by Nazis during World War II, is on a par with referring to a city sanitation agency as engaging in a "war" on litter. It grossly dilutes the meaning of both "war crimes" and "war." The comparison to Nazi war criminals and their slaughter of many Jews and others in concentration camps is absurd, and "tortures" both history and common decency.

Although President Obama seems to be trying to "clarify" his administration's position on whether to have some sort of "truth commission" on "torture" by changing that position as the winds shift, substantial confusion has resulted, possibly causing the persistent economic problems facing the country to recede in perceived importance. For example, Chrysler appears to be in imminent danger of bankruptcy, and "the Treasury has an agreement in principle with the United Auto Workers union to protect pensions and retiree health care benefits as a condition of the bankruptcy filing. . . ." GM plants are to be closed for the Summer, following a multi-billion dollar bailout and the replacement of a CEO, which one supposes may have been intended to prevent that sort of thing, as well as the default on a one billion debt and GM's very likely ultimate bankruptcy. Some U.S. banks may well need another trillion dollar bailout on top of what they have already been given. These difficulties are in danger of being displaced from view by a "torture" distraction or something else, perhaps worse.

What does all of this mean? It may suggest that the party now in power is feeling its oats after having regained control of the Congress two years ago and of the Presidency this year, and senses a need to have its modestly disaffected left side coalesce around it's middle to carry out programs more attractive to its left side than to anyone else. Like a pubescent child newly discovering the pleasures of sex, it may just want to get laid, right now, without regard to the consequences. Or, it may suggest that having screwed up royally on the recent "stimulus package," which it pushed through without understanding either its import or its consequences, it wants to divert attention from its past fiascoes and move on to new ones. Or it may simply mean that despite President Obama's great audience appeal, he is seen as well over his head in multiple messes with which neither he, nor his confidants, are able to appear to deal effectively without creating interesting but unrelated and damaging distractions.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pirates of Somalia, Part II

First published on BlogCritics, 12 April 2009

In November of last year, I wrote an article about the pirates of Somalia. Since then, things had not got noticeably better, until today, 12 April.  Indeed, from the standpoint of the United States, things had got worse. On 8 April, one of the very few U.S. flag freighters still plying international waters, the Maersk Alabama, was attacked as it was carrying relief supplies to Africa. Although the unarmed officers and crew managed to overwhelm the pirates, the pirates were able to take Captain Richard Phillips hostage. Captain Phillips is understood to have been the first U.S. citizen taken by pirates since 1804. Then, the U.S. Navy responded by defeating the Barbary pirates off the northern coast of what is now Libya, and the U.S. Marines stormed the shores of Tripoli.

Between 8 April and 12 April, Captain Phillips had been floating around in the Indian Ocean in one of the Maersk Alabama's lifeboats with four pirates, drifting toward the coast of Somalia.  The Maersk Alabama, with an 18-person armed security detail on board continued to her port of destination, Mombasa, where she arrived on 11 April.  I have read nothing suggesting why an armed security detail was not on board the Maersk Alabama when she sailed toward an increasingly popular pirate playground. For the reasons stated previously, she should have been so protected, then.

Meanwhile, on 11 April, pirates captured an Italian owned and flagged 75-meter long tugboat with 16 crew in the  Gulf of Aden. An Italian navy ship headed to the scene.

Soon after the unsuccessful hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, several U.S. warships arrived to assist her. At some point, Captain Phillips managed to jump into the water from the lifeboat where he was held captive and attempted to swim to safety on the Navy vessel. The pirates apparently fired at him and he was returned to custody. At some later point, a small boat  from the Navy vessel approached the lifeboat for reasons which are unclear.  It was fired upon and returned to the Navy vessel without returning fire. Then, on 12 April, close to the coast of Somalia,
Capt Phillips was freed in what appeared to be a swift firefight.

Reports say he jumped overboard for a second time, and the pirates were shot and killed before they could take action to get him back.

US forces apparently took advantage of the fact one of the pirates was negotiating on the USS Bainbridge when the incident happened.
The surviving pirate is now in US military custody, and could face trial in the United States. If convicted, he could be punished by life in prison. A Justice Department spokesman stated, "The Justice Department will be reviewing the evidence and other issues to determine whether to seek prosecution in the United States."  It has been reported that President Obama gave the go ahead for the rescue and, apparently, for the use of firepower to accomplish it.

Until then, the powers that be were apparently trying, with excruciating patience, to figure out what to do. The pirates, meanwhile, put on a good front.
Somalia's Islamist insurgent movement al Shabaab, on Washington's list of terrorist organizations, lambasted the international naval patrols aimed at keeping ships safe.

"You are the ones who are the pirates. Leave our waters. You will be defeated," said a spokesman. The group denies it has links with the pirates, most of whom used to be poor fishermen.
It should be noted that the Maersk Alabama was attacked some 350 miles off shore in the Indian Ocean, in what are presumably international rather than Somalian waters.

Soon after the unsuccessful hijacking attempt, the FBI started a criminal investigation. It was reported that
The FBI investigation is being run out of New York because the office there oversees cases involving U.S. citizens in Africa. Other field offices take the lead depending on where in the world the crime occurs.

The FBI has a legal attache at the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and has agents elsewhere in Africa to assist the investigation.

Whether charges ever get filed depends on how the standoff plays out. If the pirates are captured at sea, it will be much easier for U.S. authorities to prosecute.

The pirates have summoned reinforcements and are trying to make it back, with the hostage, to lawless Somalia. That would make it harder for authorities to stage a rescue attempt and would make the FBI's case murkier because the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Somalia.
It had previously been reported that the crew of a U.S. destroyer on the scene was cooperating with the FBI in attempting to resolve the matter of the hijacking of the U.S. Flag vessel and the taking hostage of Captain Phillips.

Meanwhile, the United States appeared puzzled and undecided about how to deal with al Shabaab, one of the principal terrorist organizations in Somalia whose spokesman referred to above claimed that the folks trying to limit piracy are themselves pirates and should go away. The possibility of strikes on Somalian soil generated rather heated discussions.
Some in the Defense Department have been frustrated by what they see as a failure to act. Many other national security officials say an ill-considered strike would have negative diplomatic and political consequences far beyond the Horn of Africa. Other options under consideration are increased financial pressure and diplomatic activity, including stepped-up efforts to resolve the larger political turmoil in Somalia.
Neither increased financial pressure nor increased diplomatic activity seems likely to do any good at all, however: There is no viable government in Somalia with which to engage in "increased diplomatic activity," and since piracy has become a major revenue source for the people of Somalia, it is far from obvious where the "increased financial pressure" might be applied.

Along much the same lines,
The vice president of the Philippines, the nation with the largest number of sailors held captive by Somali pirates, appealed Saturday for the safety of hostages to be ensured in the standoff.

"We hope that before launching any tactical action against the pirates, the welfare of every hostage is guaranteed and ensured," said Vice President Noli de Castro.

"Moreover, any military action is best done in consultation with the United Nations to gain the support and cooperation of other countries."

U.S. rules of engagement prevent the Americans using their vastly superior fighting power to engage the pirates if there is any danger to civilians.
Senator John Kerry announced plans to hold hearings "to further examine the growing threat of piracy and all the policy options that need to be on the table before the next fire drill becomes an international incident with big implications." No indication was given as to whether representatives of the pirates would be invited to testify. Although I viewed the holding of hearings as an exercise in political point-making, now that the crisis has passed and the end result was good, such hearings might possibly be productive.  The notion of relying on the UN, however, still strikes me as silly, because it seems quite unlikely that the UN would do more than offer a strongly worded condemnation of piracy as it just did in response to the North Korean missile launch. That would certainly work as well with the pirates as it is likely to work with North Korea.

Sitting at a comfortable desk in far away Panama, I am in no position to judge the actions of the officers and crew of the U.S. Navy vessels on site. Nor, since I have never been held hostage, am I in much of a position to argue that the possibility of danger to civilians should not be the absolutely overriding concern.  Even the French, however, appear to be prepared to take an occasional risk in that regard, as evidenced by the recent death of a civilian on a hijacked yacht stormed by French navy commandos.

However, I would be curious to learn why, when Captain Phillips jumped out of the life raft and attempted to swim to safety the first time, no covering shots were fired from the Navy destroyer to protect him, and none were fired in at least an attempt to scuttle the life raft bearing the four pirates. Surely, some sharpshooters were aboard. I would also be curious what was hoped to be accomplished by the small Navy complement in a small boat which was chased away by gunfire, which it did not return. There is doubtless a reason. There has to be.

My suspicion is that the captain of the Navy destroyer on scene was waiting for permission from superior authorities, who were in turn awaiting specific guidance from that well known Virginia landmark, the Pentagon aka Puzzle Palace, which was awaiting clear guidance from the State Department and the FBI, which were awaiting clear guidance from the White House.  The White House, it has been reported, viewed the whole unfortunate mess as a bit of a distraction and President Obama had made made no public comment prior to the successful outcome after guidance eventually came.

The present hijacking ended well, with the ship, her captain, and crew safe and three of the four pirates dead. The prospects for reductions in piracy are at least modestly encouraging because, in this one instance, piracy has been made to have adverse consequences substantially outweighing the profits. Clearly, it was the proper function of the U.S. to protect her own interests, and she must be better prepared the next time to take similar action, vigorously and without further hesitation.

Now that a precedent has been established and what happened is well known, I hope that piracy, at least against U.S. flag vessels, will be dealt with more quickly based on general guidance given to U.S. Navy vessels operating off Somalia before another hijacking or hostage taking develops. Commanders should not be left to flounder around awaiting specific instructions when something bad happens; they need useful and thorough guidance in advance. While a crisis may be a terrible thing to waste, to waste a victory would be even worse. If similar guidance is promptly given to naval vessels of other nations, at least a dent may be made in the piracy problem. Meanwhile, it still seems imperative that commercial vessels operating in or close to those waters take the reasonable precaution of sailing with a team of properly armed and trained security personnel.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Happy Enders' Club (Short story)

When William saw the guy who looked like Ed MacMahon get out of the big white limo parked in front of his house, he imagined that maybe he had been selected as a Big Prize Winner. But he knew that wasn’t it. He had been chosen, but for something else.

It was only moderately surprising; William had been a prime candidate for over a year, and knew that if he lived long enough his time would come. Today was the day. The Enders’ Shepherd delivered the first five thousand New Dollar Magcard, the Enders’ Notice, Toga, and Information Packet.

The Enders’ Notice was printed on a synthetic parchment-like material, much of it in big, bold print, and some of it in print so fine that William could not read it. He had lost his glasses more than a month ago, and had been unable to see well enough to find them. The Enders’ Notice was a blur to William. No matter; the Enders’ Shepherd often dealt with the visually impaired. A pleasant person, he explained the situation in all of its simplicity. William was to be an honored Senior Citizen with enhanced privileges for the rest of his life. He was to be put down two months hence, at shortly after eleven P.M.

When the National Health Care Recovery Program had been proposed more than a decade previously, William had favored it. Care for the elderly had become a major problem, and there were more and more of them, living longer all the time. Something had to be done, and euthanasia had been the answer. There were firm assurances that it would be done fairly: a national lottery, with one thousand winners every day. The pool would consist of all those over seventy, with added points for those without spouses and for those drawing heavily on the Medicare account. Winners would enjoy a privileged status for the remainder of their lives, and receive a weekly stipend of five thousand New Dollars. Even with these special privileges, the resources saved would be astronomical, and would be used to cure AIDS, promote education, end global warming, and ensure honest-to-goodness campaign finance reform. All good works, William was confident.
There was no way to get a deferment. There was no appeal. There was no use whining. Enders could, of course, leave the country; but if they did all their assets were forfeited to the State and they automatically became stateless; no other country would have them.

The Shepherd explained that additional weekly payments of five thousand New Dollars would be deposited directly to William’s electronic account, and could be drawn on as he wished. His Magcard would automatically reflect his current balance, and could be used anywhere in the country. The Shepherd, or one of his colleagues, would come on the afternoon of the end to help prepare William for The Event. He assured William that it would be painless, even pleasant. If William desired, it could be at one of the Happy Enders’ Clubs. In the meantime, any of the Clubs would welcome William and make his remaining time on Earth more pleasant. The nearest club was less than eighty Clintons away, and all he had to do was call. A limo would be dispatched to pick him up immediately.

Even with a thousand new Enders being confirmed each day, there were at any given time fewer than sixty thousand, and they were truly special. They wore their Enders’ Togas everywhere, so they could be recognized and accorded the honors to which they were entitled. The togas were special too: initially deep purple in color with gold trim, they whitened and brightened with age until, by the sixtieth day, they were pure, almost blinding, white.

After the Shepherd left, William decided that his first act as a newly bestowed Ender would be to acquire a new pair of glasses. Maybe even two. He had resisted up to now, because of the long lines of unpleasant people at the optical dispensaries. No longer. Not only would he be given place at the front of the line, his new glasses would be absolutely free. William did not want to go through the rest of his life almost blind. After that, he would check out the Happy Enders’ Club.

Within minutes of his call, the Enders’ Limo arrived. It was the sort of vehicle his late wife had dreamed of, when she had sold cosmetics to her friends and co-workers many years ago. There was no “MelisaK” logo, but there should have been. The limo whisked William to the optical dispensary and waited the short ten minutes for him to return with his wonderful new glasses. Then, in less than five minutes, it was in the Special Traffic Lane (reserved for high Government officials and Enders) and headed out to the closest Happy Enders’ Club.

The club seemed to have something for everyone. There were elegant quiet rooms, glitzy loud rooms, and ethno-centric rooms of every description. There were bowling alleys, shuffle board and tennis courts, and there were even horses for those still agile enough to enjoy them. The sex rooms at first daunted William, but he thought he might soon enjoy that sort of thing again.
The Happy Enders’ Club staff were pleasant and endlessly happy. They appeared to sense William’s desires even before he was able to ask. First, he would go for a ride on one of the horses. Then he would try one of the sex rooms, and after that he would enjoy a big, medium rare filet mignon with mushrooms and a heavily sour creamed baked potato. Then maybe some pecan pie. His worries about cholesterol were over.

The ride on the horse was exciting, and the sex room even more so. His companion couldn’t have been much older than twenty, and she was as beautiful as she was highly skilled. She played William like a fine musical instrument. Veronica looked strangely like his late wife had fifty-some years ago, long before she had died miserably of a lingering disease and his life had become dull. William preferred to think of her as she had been, early in life, and the girl with him now made that easier. Dinner after was probably the best he had ever had.

Finally, William retired to one of the Enders’ Lounges to scan the newspaper and have a drink of brandy. It was not the synthetic, healthy stuff to which he had lately become accustomed. It was good. Damn good.

The Enders’ Limo took William back to his home before midnight. When he entered, he recognized the previously unnoticed semi-squalor in which he lived. He was coming to like being an Ender; he would spend more time at the Happy Enders’ Club, of that he was sure.

Just before bed, William put on one of his new pair of glasses and read the Enders’ Notice in full. It held just one surprise for him: it was not his. Rather, it was for a different William, and bore a different William’s Government Identification Number. A terrible mistake had been made. He did not know what to do. In just one short day, he had come to enjoy being an Ender. True, it meant that he would die in just sixty— no, less than that now— short days. But what days those would be! Maybe he would have some ideas in the morning.

William slept well, and in the morning awoke fully refreshed. For the first time in ages, life was worth living, and he was already excited. He wouldn’t even fix breakfast. He would call for an Enders’ Limo and go to the club, first thing. He would get a better breakfast there than he could possibly fix for himself, even with his new glasses, and then go see Veronica. He hoped she would be there.

But wait a minute. He wasn’t really an Ender. It had all been a mistake, and he had no better idea about how to deal with it than he had had the night before. He wished he could just put it out of his mind. Then again, it didn’t seem right to be usurping the other William’s privileges, and the longer he waited to address the problem, the more difficult it would become. He wondered what the other William would think, and also what Veronica would think if she found out. William was troubled. But he called for the Enders’ Limo anyway and, in less than an hour, was with Veronica. After that, he had a big breakfast and swam in the pool for a while. Then he had a wonderful gin and tonic at the pool side bar and thought some more about his dilemma.
It wasn’t really a great big dilemma. He could probably just go on with the charade and die very happily, without mentioning the problem to anyone. Fifty-nine, actually just a little less than that, golden, wonderful days of life. He would enjoy them tremendously. But what would he think as his time approached; say, on the fifty-fifth day? Or the sixtieth, as night approached? It would just be like it was for all Enders, of course. That wasn’t too bad. But then he wasn’t really an Ender, was he?

There were all sorts of bureaucrats whose job it was to deal with Enders’ problems. Maybe he should go see one of them, and explain the situation. They would know what to do. Then the problem would not be his any longer. William wondered what the solution would be. A new Enders’ Notice, properly made out with his own name and ID number? They probably couldn’t do that; the only way an Enders’ Notice could be issued was through the national lottery. He would almost certainly have to give up his Enders’ privileges, and he certainly didn’t want to do that. He would never see Veronica again. No, there had to be a better way. Perhaps he should go see one of the few remaining non-governmental Enders’ Advocates. But that was awkward; since he wasn’t really an Ender, they would have no idea how to handle his problem.

There had to be someone to whom he could explain his dilemma and get some good advice. It was just that he did not have any idea who that someone might be. Maybe he should find what he could about the other William. It was a long shot, of course, but he did have the other William’s Government ID number; that was a start.

The Chief, Lotteries Branch, Department of Domestic Tranquility, was concerned. He had arranged this sort of scheme before, and it had worked just fine. This time, he wasn’t so sure. First off, the man who had insisted he do it was his ultimate boss, the Secretary. The Secretary had not been pleased to receive an Enders’ Notice, and had demanded that the Chief do something. It wasn’t that the Secretary didn’t believe in the program. Hardly; he had been instrumental in its creation and, as the head of the DDT, was now ultimately in charge of it. It was just that he was very happy in his work, and knew that no one else could possibly do it as well as he did. No, he wasn’t ready to die just yet, thank you all the same. Besides, as the Secretary, he already had access to the Happy Enders Clubs and all of the other important Enders’ privileges. He was no fool. So, the Chief had arranged to pull the Secretary’s Enders’ Notice and reissue it to another man with the same name and of similar age. It would be delivered immediately, and nobody would know the difference, except him and the Secretary. At least it should have worked that way, if he had changed the Government ID number on the fool thing. Somehow, he hadn’t. Therefore, it was possible that the poor simpleton who received it might notice that something was strange. Probably not. Most people who received Enders’ Notices were too shocked, and then too dazzled by their royal treatment, to notice such things. After all, the ID number was in small print, buried in the middle of the Notice, hardly likely to attract much attention. People knew that once they had The Notice there was nothing to be done about it, except to enjoy life while they were still able. The Chief hoped that it would work out that way this time. If it didn’t, and the person made a stink, there could be a monumental scandal. Some people were already complaining about the program and trying to introduce cost cutting measures. Sure, the program had worked as advertised, and the savings in health related costs had been monumental. Still, there could be troubles for the program. And for him personally, of course.

William didn’t think much about the problem for a few days, beyond wondering in a desultory way just who the other William might be. He enjoyed his times with Veronica, and on her day off with one of the other equally lovely and talented young ladies. The food was wonderful beyond description, and all of his desires seemed to be anticipated and fulfilled even before he could ask. He was fitting well into the Enders’ life style, and the thought of giving it up was becoming more and more distressing. He had to die sometime, and there was no way on Earth that his time before then could be as pleasant as being an Ender had made it.

Sometimes, when William could tear himself away from the Happy Enders’ Club, he would go into town and mix with what he had come to think of as the “Common People.” In his increasingly white Enders’ Toga, he was resplendent and everyone was extraordinarily kind to him. Did he seriously think he could revert to existence as a non-entity? Still, he was mindful of the shortness of his allotted time, and realized that he had only forty days remaining until The End. The past twenty had gone by with incredible speed, and he knew that the next forty would as well. Then, it would be all over for him. It pained him to think that others, now mere non-entities as he had once been, would assume his place at the Happy Enders’ Club and, more painful, with his dear Veronica. His sadness was tempered only slightly by the realization that it would happen no matter what he did, and that at least if he did nothing about his misidentification problem, he would not have to worry about it in just a few short weeks.

One evening, over his now customary brandy and newspaper, William read an article about the Department of Domestic Tranquility. He noticed for the first time that he and the Secretary of Domestic Tranquility had the same names. They were identical, first middle and last. That was uncommon; William had never before encountered anyone with exactly the same name as his own. He wondered what the Secretary’s Government ID number might be. He continued to wonder about it as he was driven home, and he had difficulty sleeping that night. Surely, it could not be the number on his Enders’ Notice; that would be just too anomalous. He continued to wonder. He would have to find out.

It would not be easy. Like the old Social Security numbers, the new ID numbers were forbidden to be used for any purpose other than designated Federal Government programs. Unlike the old Social Security numbers, they were not. The laws were enforced, and any non-Federal agency misusing them was deprived of Federal funding. There were criminal penalties for non-governmental use. Still, William knew of some bootleg data banks where, for a fee, he would be able to get the information. Since nearly all of William’s needs were being met by the Happy Enders’ Club, he had found few ways to spend his weekly stipend. He would use some of it to access one of the bootleg data banks.

William was shocked, but not at all surprised, to learn that his namesake the Secretary did, in fact, have the ID number reflected on his Enders’ Notice. Now the question was, what to do about it. The “mistake” could hardly have been inadvertent, William now realized. The person to whom the Enders’ Notice should rightfully have been delivered was not some poor non-entity old fart; it was the Secretary himself. More than likely, the Secretary had orchestrated the whole damn thing. William no longer felt uncomfortable about usurping the other William’s privileges; he was furious. Perhaps, there was some way he could turn the sorry events to his own advantage.

William had a certified copy made of the Enders’ Notice and locked it away in a bank safe deposit box, along with a full account of what he had learned. Then, he called an Enders’ Limo and was driven to the office of the Federal Ombudser, who very politely and deferentially advised him to let it be. It was obviously a simple clerical error, and the Enders’ Notice had, in fact been delivered to him. It was his, and he should not spend his few remaining weeks getting embroiled in an unsettling affair. There was no point to it. It would do no good, and only bad could come of it. So much for the Ombudser. A real toady, in William’s opinion.

William thought briefly of going to a newspaper or television station about the problem, but immediately thought better of it. The best that would happen would be that his Enders status would terminate, and he would revert to being an old non-entity. That was not what he wanted. Not now, not exactly, not after he had become an Ender and knew what real happiness was possible. No, there had to be a better way.

Perhaps he could arrange a private conference with his namesake at the Department of Domestic Tranquillity. The Secretary would probably refuse to see him, but then again he might not. It was worth a try.

The next day, William flew to Washington. He wore his Enders’ Toga, and was accorded every possible deference at the airport and on the airplane. No waiting in long lines, and no crowded seats in economy class for him. When his plane landed at the Washington airport, he called for a limo and was whisked immediately to the DDT offices. The increasingly white toga sure made things a lot easier than they had ever been for him before.

The Secretary was in a meeting, and could not see William. Perhaps he would like to talk with the Secretary’s deputy? She could speak for the Secretary, and could almost certainly deal with any problem William might want to address. No, that wouldn’t be satisfactory. It was a personal matter, relating to the fact that he and the Secretary had identical names.

In a few minutes, the Secretary’s secretary came to fetch William and take him into The Presence. William and William shook hands with some warmth, and then disappeared into the Secretary’s private office. Fifteen minutes passed, then half an hour. The Secretary’s secretary buzzed to let him know that he would soon be late for a meeting with the Vice President, and was told to call the VP and postpone the meeting. The Secretary could not possibly meet with him for at least an hour, maybe longer.

Soon, a breathless and unhappy Chief, Lotteries Branch, entered the Secretary’s office, only to leave a moment later and return three moments later with official looking papers in hand. Soon thereafter he departed, and then so did a very happy looking William. The Secretary finally was able to go to his meeting with the Vice President, only an hour late.

William took the next flight back home, and smiled all the way. He had made the best deal of his entire life. He would not be ended as specified in the Enders’ Notice; not at all. His date had been canceled, but he would retain all of the Enders’ privileges he had come to enjoy. Veronica would remain available, as would the beautiful Happy Enders’ Club and all its amenities. He would have the best of all possible worlds for the rest of his life. “Live long and prosper,” he said to himself as he sipped a cool gin and tonic in the first class cabin.
An Enders’ Limo was summoned by flight phone, and the driver met William as soon as he stepped from the plane. First, he would go to the Happy Enders’ Club and then he would go home for the evening. Even though he was tired, the session with Veronica was incredibly wonderful, better than ever before. Perhaps it was because he knew that he was not going to be put down in just a few short weeks. Perhaps it was something else. William did not know, and didn’t much care. It was grand, and that was all there was to it.

After dinner, brandy and a newspaper, the Enders’ Limo took William home. As they approached his house, William saw the limo and Enders’ Shepherd waiting for him. William wondered how DDT has worked so fast. The Shepherd gave William a new five thousand New Dollar Magcard, a new Enders’ Notice, a new Enders’ Toga, and a new Enders’ Information Packet. William put on his new glasses and checked. As he suspected it would, it bore his own Government ID number. In sixty days . . . .

The Audacity of Sensitive Silence

First published on BlogCritics on 16 March 2009

A recent Blogcritics article contended that, "Today’s abject blanket of silence placed on anyone of a conservative or Republican voice is something new, and rather terrifying." I think that statement is pretty far over the top. Lots of voices from the right, middle and left are available, and I have seen no evidence of such a blanket of silence, abject or otherwise. Perhaps we don't listen to other voices as often as we should, but they are there. If platoons of brown-shirted thugs were burning media outlets because of their presentation of obnoxious opinions, we would notice it. I think those on the right would come to the defense of those on the left, and vice versa. At least I hope so.

However, there is a form of silencing which is less noticeable. The on line version of the National Review posted a fascinating article on 16 March pointing to a form of voluntary silencing which may well happen fairly often but is rarely addressed — perhaps because it is not noticed.

On 5 March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th circuit published an opinion, announced a few days previously, dealing with egregious attempts in Mississippi to disenfranchise minority voters. The opinion affirmed the decision of the trial court that such had happened, blatantly, and held that the remedy provided by the trial court had been proper. The National Review article tries to explore why this decision was overlooked by the media. I Googled the case, and couldn't find any report concerning it either, aside from the National Review article and a few quite marginal sites with which I am unfamiliar, plus other conservative sites with which I am familiar. There may have been something else after the National Review article appeared.

Why would there be such a loud silence about the blatant disenfranchisement of minority voters in Mississippi? Such disenfranchisement is supposed to be quite rare nowadays; a Court of Appeals decision concerning these matters is rare as well. One might imagine that when such things are found, the "man bites dog" rarity alone would grab the attention of the press. Apparently not.

Admittedly, the facts of U.S. v. Brown are unlike those commonly associated with voter disenfranchisement: Black disenfranchisement of White voters was at issue. As the article notes,

When the Fifth Circuit issued its decision on February 27, there was complete silence from Justice. The department typically issues a press release after any significant litigation victory, and the Civil Rights Division trumpets every success. But not here. The silence from the nation’s leading news outlets was also deafening: Not a word was published about the case by the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any other major publication. Why? Because the offensive conduct at issue did not conveniently track with the Left’s view of race discrimination
The Noxubee County case presents a deeply disturbing account of some of the most egregious racial discrimination the Justice Department has encountered in decades. In Noxubee, 80 percent of Democrats are black; 20 percent are white. (There are some Republicans as well, but the number is negligible.) The chairman of the Democratic party, Ike Brown, is black, and he, along with the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee, set about to effectively disenfranchise white voters.

The salient facts are well set forth in the Fifth Circuit opinion linked above, and anyone interested in reading it is invited to do so; there is no need to expand this article as would be required in order to present them here.

There had been, according to the article, lots of resistance within the Justice Department to bringing the action.

This is probably one of the worst cases of intentional voting discrimination that the Justice Department has prosecuted since the 1960s. But the lawsuit was filed only after a vicious internal fight in the Civil Rights Division. Left-wing career lawyers in the Voting Section made it abundantly clear that they didn’t want to use the Voting Rights Act to protect white voters, no matter how egregious the violations. The former Voting Section chief even deleted the recommendation to file suit from the memo sent up to the Bush political appointees running the division. Other partisan career lawyers refused to work on the case. One who went to Noxubee County as an observer admitted to another lawyer that if he had seen the same type of illegal behavior being committed against black voters, he would have been outraged. But he wanted nothing to do with a suit filed on behalf of white voters.

The attorneys who ultimately worked on the case, and brought it to a successful conclusion, "endured significant criticism and abuse from their colleagues for their work on the case and probably jeopardized their career advancement." This was during the administration of George Bush the Illiterate Jerk; the District Court case was filed in 2005.

I have no idea as to the accuracy of the account of the internal workings of the Civil Rights Division, the criticism and abuse suffered by the trial attorneys who prosecuted the case, or as to the likely impact on their career advancement. It may all be wrong. However, based on my brief employment with the Department of Justice back in 1971, and my rather longer time as an attorney in private practice dealing with the Federal Communications Commission, these things do not seem far-fetched.

This type of voluntary silencing has nothing to do with "Vast Right Wing" or "Vast Left Wing" conspiracies. Nor is there any need for such conspiracies. Political Correctness may well be an important factor, however. Few wish to appear to suggest that racism, and its close friend, racial discrimination, are used against anyone other than traditional minorities. Apparently, to suggest such a thing would mark one as prejudiced and lacking proper insight into discrimination against such minorities in years gone by.

Yet, Attorney General Holder considers those who decline to discuss race to be cowards. "In things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards." For this, President Obama mildly chastised him,

The president said he is not someone who believes that constantly talking about race can solve racial tensions. "To address that problem, it will mean fixing the economy, putting people to work, making sure that people have health care and ensuring that children are learning," Obama said.
"I think if we do that, then we'll probably have more fruitful conversations," Obama said in the interview Friday aboard Air Force One.

Well, maybe. Or maybe these comments from Black Media Agenda are right:

It's been only a month since a gaggle of know-nothing, arrogantly racist and essentially cowardly white men ran the Justice Department. In the space of eight years, they turned the agency into a den of corruption and criminality where no "justice" could be found, and the term "civil rights" was an epithet. By the time the Bush men were through, "virtually all" of the career lawyers that were hired were right-wing ideologues opposed to the very concept of affirmative action, or the mere idea of "diversity." The Justice Department - and especially its Civil Rights Division - had been largely transformed into a racist club.
For this reason, it was vitally necessary that the nation's top lawyer use the occasion of Black History Month to shake up the department, and let the rest of us know that it's a new day, that George Bush and his Ku Klux klavern are really gone - something that is not so evident in the rest of the Obama Administration, for example, at the Defense Department.


It strikes me, nevertheless, that if there are to be fruitful discussions of race, i.e. if we are to cease to be a nation of cowards, there must be discussion — even of race-related topics which many of us find distasteful.

I have no idea whether the then still pending Ike Brown case linked above had anything to do with Attorney General Holder's February 18th Black History Month address to Justice Department employees. Perhaps he did not deem it appropriate to comment since the case was sub judice. Or, perhaps it was because the case was brought back in 2005 when, according to Black Media Agenda, "George Bush and his Ku Klux klavern" were in charge of the Justice Department. Perhaps Attorney General Holder found the position taken by the Department of Justice in Ike Brown embarrassing. The Department's failure to put out the customary press release when the Ike Brown case was decided, or when the opinion was released several days later, may suggest the latter. Despite the numerous press releases issued in February and March, there is no mention of that case that I could find.

There are many ways to stifle debate, and some of them are more subtle than others. To avoid race related discussions as politically incorrect because they might be seen by some as hurtful is one way to do it. For the media, by and large, to find less than newsworthy a Court of Appeals decision such as that in Ike Brown, results in the same effect, and probably the same cause. So, for that matter, does the entire notion of politically incorrect taboos.

It is not nice to hurt anyone's feelings, even inadvertently. However, to forgo discussion of topics where that is likely to happen is not a good solution. The voluntary sterilization of debate to avoid giving offense is cowardly, and we should know better.

Channeling Some Dead White Males

First published on BlogCritics 5 April 2006

I have long been a great fan of Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970) and (albeit not for quite so long) of Douglas N. Adams (1952 - 2001). By today's standards, neither could reasonably be deemed a raving or maniacal spokesman for the Loony Left or for the Righteous Right; nor, for that matter, for the Mundane Middle. They were, nevertheless, among the greatest minds of the last century.

Having nothing at all better to do (the rainy season having just begun with a bang — I think it was thunder), and feeling excessively spiritual, I decided to attempt to channel both, in a sort of simultaneous seance, to find out what they might have to say about Life, the Universe and Everything in this age of unprecedented peace and prosperity. A transcript of the seance follows. Uhs, ahs, ummmms and What the Fucks have been redacted for purposes of clarity, brevity, and inoffensiveness.

Seance Chairman (SC): Good evening, Lord Russell, Mr. Adams. It is a pleasure to have both of you appear. To begin: you, Lord Russell died before Mr. Adams had written much of note. You, Mr. Adams, were a young man of eighteen when he passed. Is it therefore reasonable to assume that you two never met?

Lord Russell (LR): No, on Earth we unfortunately didn't. However, we have all of the popular writings, BBC programs and that sort of thing here. Time hangs heavy, and I have read all of his fiction and non fiction. I occasionally wrote a bit of fiction myself (Satan in the Suburbs comes regrettably to mind), but Mr. Adams beat me hands down. Although his serious writing is neither as technical nor as obscure as mine, I do think that for someone not rigorously trained in either mathematics or philosophy, he gets his points across remarkably well. At least, I think I understand most of it.

Douglas Adams (DNA): Thank you kindly, Lord Russell. I was quite surprised to find my scribblings here, along with your own. I was, from my youth, one of your admirers, and think that I profited greatly from some of your more, shall we say, popular writings. Your Outline of Intellectual Rubbish and Why I am Not a Christian are among my favorites. As you may know, I was a Radical Atheist. My funeral was at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, an Anglican church; opening and closing remarks were by the Reverend Mr. Anthony Hunt; a bunch of religious songs and Richard Dawkins were somehow squeezed (uncomfortably, I suppose) in the middle. So, I guess few things make much difference at the end.

SC: I am very pleased to have you both. Now, if you will, some questions. I hope to turn this into an article grounded in politics, broadly speaking. So, if there are no violent objections, can we talk about that?

DNA: Oh, [redacted] grumble [redacted] [inaudible]

LR: Well, if we must. Can we please keep it short? My seventeenth wife is waiting, and I do want to get back to her. She's heavenly, and I don't want what happened with some of my earthly wives to repeat.

SC: Very well then; on with it. Lord Russell, back in 1959, you opined on "Methods of Settling Disputes in the Nuclear Age." There, you dealt with the then few nuclear powers, each capable of obliterating the others, and everyone else besides. You assumed decent levels of rationality and enlightened self interest, along with no side having any predisposition toward suicide, mutually assured or otherwise. Is that a brief, but fair synopsis?

LR: Well, yes I suppose it is. But in my defense, I was writing half a century ago and things have gone skittering down hill ever since. Now, all manner of paranoid lunatics have, or are close to having, nuclear capabilities or worse; what little rationality there once may have been has rather gone out the window. I very much doubt that the big powers will go off on a nuclear frolic — for about the same reasons I stated back in 1959. However, the chances of a cascading nuclear exchange are increasing dramatically as more suicidal maniacs get the stuff, and there is probably very little that the diminishing numbers of sensible people can do to keep them from getting or using it. I certainly wish there were, if for no other reason than that it's already far too crowded here and the simultaneous migration of several billion souls would be highly unsettling.

SC: Do you have any advice?

LR: Get rid of the damn things and revert to nineteenth century weaponry. You might as well try to eliminate the suicidal lunatics. Fat chance of either, however. As Mr. Adams might say, the chances against it are two to the power of fifty-thousand and rising. I don't know what else to say. I was on my way to Trondheim, back in 1948, to make what I considered some brilliant remarks on the prevention of war, and was nearly drowned in consequence. In my later years, some didn't care for my peace efforts and called me a "very intelligent old silly." I disagreed with the "silly" part then, but didn't mind the very intelligent or old bits. Now, I'm not as sure as I was then that the "silly" part was inaccurate.

SC: Mr. Adams?

DNA: I don't know. Perhaps find a way to migrate to an alternate universe? In the Hitchhikers' Guide five-book trilogy, I dealt briefly with the inhabitants of the planet Krikkit. They had had absolutely no contact with other beings, and were mild, untroubled creatures. When contact with other beings was finally thrust upon them, they simply couldn't deal with it. They therefore became very war-like and entirely dedicated to the destruction of all (other) intelligent life in the Universe. They rapidly put together the equipment to do so. They were eventually subdued and their planet was sealed in a Slo-Time envelope, within which everything proceeded v e r y s l o w l y, to remain there until the end of the universe, when Krikkit would emerge (briefly) and be the only planet in the universe. Unfortunately, they got free prematurely and went off doing the same things again. Probably should just have slaughtered the whole lot in the first place and had done with it.

SC: So, Mr. Adams, do you suggest genocide for the emerging nations which now have or are getting nuclear and other massively destructive weapons capabilities for offensive use?

DNA: I deny it, although the Krikkiters may have had a point. Can we change the subject?

SC: I understand. Let's talk about the accelerating changes in the global economy. Lord Russell, you were a Socialist, but denied being a Communist. You wrote Why I Am Not a Communist in 1956. In it, you said,

In relation to any political doctrine there are two questions to be asked: (1) Are its theoretical tenets true? (2) Is its practical policy likely to increase human happiness? For my part, I think the theoretical tenets of Communism are false, and I think its practical maxims are such as to produce an immeasurable increase in human misery.
Where do you think we are now heading? Mr. Adams, please chime in as you wish.

LR: I don't think there are credible arguments that the world is on the road to Communism; that has failed rather miserably wherever it has been attempted. Socialism is a different matter, and I think the world is becoming more socialist daily. In my youth, I was perhaps overly impressed with the beauty and efficacy of mathematics, and envisioned central control of worker-owned means of production as quite promising. Now, Chaos theory seems to have overtaken earlier and more rigid mathematical notions about how things work, and I am no longer as confident of the efficacy of central planning as I once was. Actually, I think the notion is a bit of rubbish. There seem to be an infinite number of variables, and the complexities of their interaction seem greater than those impacting on climate. Humankind has great difficulty accurately predicting weather more than a few hours in advance, and predicting changes in climate within a far more expansive time frame appears to be well nigh impossible. Yet, weather and climate are comparatively simple things, as they involve neither human thought nor human emotion. Satisfactory central control of production, it seems to me, would involve not only a number of variables comparable to weather and climate forecasting, but in addition those involved in actually affecting weather and climate in the desired direction. And, of course, it would additionally require the understanding and quantification of human thought and emotion. Add to this the vast numbers of people living in the United States alone, and the even more vast numbers elsewhere who impact on what needs be produced, how and when, and the complexity becomes even more mind boggling. I very seriously doubt that even Mr. Adams' Deep Thought computer would be up to the task. I have come, tentatively at least, to the view that tremendous quantities of small, incremental human decisions and actions are more efficacious than any form of central planning of which Humankind is now, or is likely anytime soon to be, capable.

DNA: I first took notice of small, potentially useful, computers when I met the Commodore Pet. It was an interesting toy. It's use then seemed limited to arithmetical manipulations. Over the years, the capabilities and usefulness even of small personal computers have increased, oh, I suppose, at least exponentially. No matter how wonderful and complex they and their gigantic semi-cousins become, however, the old GIGO rule applies. You feed in garbage, and that's what comes out; vastly changed and possibly unrecognizable as garbage, but garbage none the less. If Deep Thought were provided non-garbage input, I suppose it might be possible for it (in less than ten million years) to provide useful guidance. So, I suppose Lord Russell and I may disagree on the calculating bit but not on the outcome of the calculating.

SC: Tangentially, what do you think of the current controversy over ways to halt the menace of Man Made Global Warming, as the notion is espoused by Vice President Gore?

LR: [Giggle.]

DNA: [chuckle, choke, gasp.]

SC:Well, if you insist. But back on track, don't the governments of the advanced countries of the world need to guide the vastly selfish private commercial enterprises with sufficient firmness to ensure that they do more good than harm?

LR: Permit me to go first, please. The question contains one articulated, and one unarticulated, major premise. Both are fallacious. As to the second, viz, that governments, and therefore those who run them are, ipso facto, blessed with greater skill and knowledge than other people: I am unaware of any reason at all to accept this thesis. The pool from which governments draw their employees is no different from the pool from which non-governmental entities select theirs. In fact, it is the same pool, and the selection process for government employees is hardly superior. The articulated premise, that government employees possess a higher quality of benignity than is found elsewhere, seems equally fallacious. In a speech I delivered in 1950, I suggested that there are four politically important desires (beyond the bare necessities of life): acquisitiveness, rivalry, vanity and love of power. Obviously, these desires are related to each other and they also actuate people who do not — who do not even want to — work for a government. However, they are at their most dangerous in those who do work for a government. Vanity and love of power on the part of a President of the United States, for example, can be far more egregious than vanity and love of power on the part of the president of a major corporation; and not only because the President of the United States can sometimes fire the president of a major corporation. No. It is because the president of a country already has tremendous power, and is likely to feel a great need for more. True, those who have great financial wealth often devote their lives to acquiring more; acquisitiveness grows with what it feeds on. However, the acquisition of even greater wealth is probably less injurious than the acquisition of even greater power.

DNA: I like that; the analysis, that is. Is it possible, do you suppose, that the Galactic Federation had the right idea? Having a president with no power of any sort whatever, just lots of dash and even more vanity-satisfying glory?

LR: You mean like the royal family in England?

DNA: Almost, but not quite exactly unlike that; it might possibly be fun if the Queen were to steal a spaceship as the President of the Imperial Galactic Government, Zaphod Beeblebrox, once did. I guess it's possible that President Obama's recent IPOD gift to the Queen may have some segments of Hitchhiker's Guide, although I doubt it.

SC: It's time to wrap up this discussion. Let me ask you, can the world extricate itself from the multiple difficulties now besetting it?

DNA: I rather doubt it. However, the more important question is whether it should. Is the preservation of man and of his societies really the ultimate good? I know of no overwhelming reason to assume so. In any event, there are simply too damn many of us for the planet to support, as we seem to wish it to continue doing forever. Right now, the Earth's population is about 6.77 billion; nine billion is the estimate for 2040. Sure, the increase may be slowing a bit, but over two billion more people in less than thirty years? That increase is equal to the entire world population a year or so before Lord Russell got the Nobel Prize for Literature back in 1950. Come on. This can't go on indefinitely without significant reductions. Still, should society as we know it come to a crashing stop, enough people would probably survive to start all over and begin again by banging rocks together. If not, maybe the dolphins would give it a try; or the mice. Surely, there is plenty of time for that before the planet boils or freezes or is atomized while being sucked into a black hole where the sun used to be.

LR: In theory, the earth could be made pleasantly habitable for even the distant future if people were actuated by enlightened self interest. Except possibly for a few saints, they are not. In the 1950 speech I referred to a few moments ago, I closed with the observation that

the main thing needed to make the world happy is intelligence. And this, after all, is an optimistic conclusion, because intelligence is a thing that can be fostered by known methods of education.
Unfortunately, methods of education have, over the intervening almost sixty years, deteriorated disastrously and the numbers of people to be educated have increased also disastrously. On balance, I vote for the mice.

SC: Just one more tangent, if you don't mind. LR, you seem to claim that education has gone to the dogs of late. How so?

LR: Well, probably not literally to the dogs. Dogs are probably about as intelligent, achieving and loving as they were when I was young. They probably haven't changed much since one of my ancestors helped to get the Corn Laws repealed. True, many more people can hang college diplomas on their walls than fifty years ago; some can even read and understand them. I understand that you, Mr. Seance Chairman, can't read yours simply because it is in Latin. Be that as it may, the absolute number of college graduates who know what they are about, why they got there, or what to do about it does not seem to have increased noticeably; the percentage actually seems to have decreased. Back in 1916, I wrote a treatise titled Education. There, I contended that

If the children themselves were considered, education would not aim at making them belong to this party or that, but at enabling them to choose intelligently between the parties; it would aim at making them able to think, not at making them think what their teachers think. Education as a political weapon could not exist if we respected the rights of children. If we respected the rights of children, we should educate them so as to give them the knowledge and the mental habits required for forming independent opinions; but education as a political institution endeavours to form habits and to circumscribe knowledge in such a way as to make one set of opinions inevitable.
True, religious instruction and the inculcation of patriotism are no longer common in Western societies. Both are widespread in Islamic countries, which I consider unfortunate. Thirty-some years later, in 1950, in The Functions of a Teacher, I complained that schools tended to try valiantly to inculcate patriotism. Now, it seems that the pendulum has swung off in the other direction and that anti-patriotism and the idea that "We are always wrong" is being inculcated. Neither is good. Currently, many television news presenters and commentators appear to believe that teaching some political philosophy or other is their function; at least it is possible to turn them off without being sent to detention for misbehavior. A fantastic teacher I once had suggested that history should be well learned; only after it has been well learned, should anyone try to twist it to suit his purposes. Twisting is bad enough, but twisting erroneous information is far worse and all too common.

DNA: I was largely a product — by-product may be a better way of putting it — of the British educational system, against which I rebelled by trying to be funny; my writings have been described as "quirky," and I suppose they were. Our educational systems do seem to be producing extraordinary numbers of automatons, a process which is accelerated by the entertainment alternatives enjoyed by many. It can't be all that bad, though, because I sold a lot of books. My favorite, Last Chance to See didn't do nearly as well as the less socially oriented ones. That may have been a good thing, now that I think about it.

SC: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Perhaps in your eons of leisure time you may wish to continue this discussion. For now, we must stop.