Lack of Accountability Means Future Torture

Ryan CooperThe big question is what this means for the future. Torture is extremely illegal (no matter what Bush’s Justice Department said) — but as the blog emptywheel points out, so is perjury, making false statements as a government employee, and obstruction of justice, all of which has continued up to this year. (It is worth keeping in mind that there is no statute of limitations on torture that is known to risk or cause serious injury or death.) Any halfway competent prosecutor would be able to roll up half the agency with those tools and this report.

But the only person who has gone to jail over this program is the man who exposed it in the first place: John Kiriakou, for leaking classified documents. Nobody gets prosecuted when they leak classified information to win public support for war crimes, but a decent and honorable whistleblower got 30 months in federal prison.

It’s time to start treating the CIA for what it is: a clear and present danger to the United States as a democratic nation. The CIA has proved time and again that it is a rogue institution that follows its own destructively idiotic instincts — and the post-9/11 era has been no different.

A legislature with even the slightest scrap of dignity or self-respect would at a minimum immediately undertake a complete reorganization of the security apparatus, followed by a truth and reconciliation commission. Better yet, an official war crimes tribunal.

But we’re not going to do that. Republicans overwhelmingly support torture as affirmatively good policy, which means the only change we’ll see with the incoming Congress is more deference to CIA goons. The executive won’t punish anyone, either — President Obama, to his shame, has already ruled that out, again. And much of the mainstream media is incapable of treating this subject seriously. John Yoo, author of the worst legal memos in American history justifying the torture program, gets a respectful hearing on Morning Joe. Michael “37 pages of lying” Hayden gets kid glove treatment in Politico.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the SSCI, says the point of the report is to prevent torture from ever happening again. But without any accountability, it’s just as likely that America will torture again in the future.

—Ryan Cooper
Why America Will Torture Again

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Radio Shack Shows No Company Values Privacy

Adios Radio Shack

Have you read the privacy policy here at Frankly Curious? I’m assuming not, because there isn’t one. But if there were one, I can promise you this: I would have really meant it when I wrote it. I’m like Google: I do my best not to be evil — as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me much. But if I had a bunch of your private information, and I could sell it and retire in Paris (or even Canada), I would have a policy change. You would probably think that I was a jerk, but I would be justified in thinking that you were an idiot for believing me. For one thing: you didn’t even know that I didn’t have a privacy policy! If I did, I would doubtless have put something in it to allow me to weasel out of it.

Okay, maybe not. I pride myself on standing for something. Just the same, I have my price. I wouldn’t murder someone just to spend my evenings in cafes drinking Burgundy, but giving your contact information so that some company could sell you things is not the same. If someone offered me a more reasonable (but still unrealistically large) amount of money, like $1,000, I wouldn’t do it. I already have a hard enough time living with myself; I don’t need that on my conscience. So you are safe. More or less.

But given that privacy policies are apparently not legally binding, one might wonder why companies have them. The reason, I think, is because they are evil. They don’t know what they are going to do with all the personal information they have, but they know that it might be helpful to have it. At some point, it might be worth a lot of money. And then it is Burgundy Time, my friends! (How ever they may define that.) And then they just change that policy and sell out. Go team!

The reason I bring this up is because Radio Shack just announced that because of its bankruptcy, it is selling all of our personal information for $26 million. If you are as old as I am, you may remember that you simply could not go into a Radio Shack and purchase a half foot of wire without providing them with your full name and address. Really, the next time an employer wants to know where I’ve lived the last ten years (and increasingly, they all do), I should just refer them to Radio Shack. Or rather, Standard General, the company that is buying Radio Shack’s rotten corpse.

As Michael Hiltzik noted, Radio Shack made a very big deal out of their commitment to the personal data that the company collected on upwards of 120 million of us:

“We will not sell or rent your personally identifiable information to anyone at any time,” the chain stated on its website. At the checkout registers in its stores, a placard read: “At RadioShack, we respect your privacy… We pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing list.”

They did pride themselves on that! And now that they did exist, they don’t need no stinking pride. They need money to pay their creditors. And these creditors aren’t little people like are in their data files; they are rich people; you know, people who matter. Hiltzik joked that Radio Shack is like Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore, for whom “never” means “hardly ever.” But I’m afraid that is too generous a description of the company. Radio Shack valued customer privacy exactly up to the point where it didn’t.

The government doesn’t care. “Privacy Ombudsman” Elise Frejka decided that it was okay for Radio Shack to sell the data because it “is not of a sensitive nature.” One has to wonder, however, if that’s the case, why did Radio Shack make such a big deal out of collecting it? Also, it seems to me that it provides enormous amounts of personal data about shopping patterns. Regardless, if it is such banal data, why is it worth $26 million?

My only advice is to not trust anyone. And that is impossible in this modern world. We are supposed to have a government to protect us from such things. But in America, the government just facilitates whatever the rich want. The only solution if for us to take control of the government. I’m not hopeful about that.

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Sympathy for Josh Duggar but Not His Parents

Josh DuggarMany years ago, I had the unfortunate experience to see the television documentary, 14 Children and Pregnant Again! about the Duggar family. And then there was 17 and 18 and finally 19 Kids and Counting. I thought it was very creepy. The family had child rearing systematized, so that after the first year or so, the older children raised the younger children. It seemed to me that Michelle Duggar might be addicted to babies — neither she nor Jim Bob seemed to care that much about the children. But what really bothered me was the complete lack of individuality of the children — and the complete lack of anything that I recognized as true joy. Of course, there was also the fact that the family clearly fetishized baby making, while taking an “abstinence only” approach to sex for the the kids and all the others who were not married according to God’s plan.

So now that we know that Josh, the eldest of the Duggar children, molested four of his younger sisters, we should not be surprised. Nor should we be surprised that Duggar Inc seemed to have already spent years with lawyers and PR advisers in preparation for this moment. Both the statements by Jim Bob and Michelle, as well as that by Josh himself, refer to him being a “young teenager.” Not so much. I’ve gone over the 33 page police report from 2006, and Josh was molesting his sisters at least from June 2003 to March 2004 — that’s when Josh was between the ages of 15 and 16.

The statements are also full of euphemisms so juicy that I got dragged into this whole thing. Josh said he “acted inexcusably” and took steps to address the “situation.” His parents said that Josh made “some very bad mistakes” and they were “shocked.” And, of course: “Even though we would never choose to go through something so terrible, each one of our family members drew closer to God.” I’m really tempted to make a sarcastic comment here, but it seems inappropriate. Christians always claim that no matter what happens to them, it brings them closer to Jesus; that’s fine, but maybe we should let the young women speak for themselves.

Apparently, after Josh’s behavior was first alerted to his parents, he was sent to a “rehab” for three months. But according to the person who alerted the police to the situation, it was “not a rehab for sex offenders.” Given the timing of the first occurrences — roughly June 2003 — I assume it was some kind of Christian summer camp where postpubescent boys are taught that they must stifle all sexual urges until they get married. In other words, exactly the kind of thing that doubtless brought out this behavior in Josh in the first place.

I doubt very seriously that Josh Duggar is some kind of sexual deviant. Or at least if he is, that he was born that way. I simply do not think you can have a family whose raison d’être it pumping out babies and not make a 15 year old (or 14 or 13 — we don’t really know) mighty curious about what’s down there. And given the philosophy of the family about sex, it isn’t surprising. Stifling biological urges tends to create neuroses. So I’m inclined to be sympathetic to young Josh. (Grown Josh seems to be a total jerk.)

I’m also, of course, sympathetic to the Duggar girls, who would have been ages 9-10, 10-11, 12-13, and 13-14. (I’m assuming he did not molest Joy-Anna, who would have been 5-6.) In the police report, they seem to have forgiven their brothers and gotten on with their lives. But that gets back to what originally creeped me out about their kids: their acceptance of how ever life was — like dogs suffering from learned helplessness. I don’t know, but I wish them well.

But my sympathy does not extend to the the Duggar parents. To me, they’ve treated their children as a kind of commodity — something they sell for their very station in life. We didn’t need a sex scandal to know this. They’re clearly scarred their children in their clear neglect. And I wonder what other wounds are lurking in that family — both obvious and not. It’s very sad. Please Lord, don’t let these people adopt. And please just make them go away.

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Morning Music: Bill Deraime

Brailleur De Fond - Bill DeraimeI said before that I wanted to go back to Europe. And that usually means France. So I figured that we would highlight the French blues musician Bill Deraime. But I know how most of you are with songs in other languages, so I’ve made it easy on you. Here he is performing Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay,” which is on his album, Brailleur de Fond. He does it in French, of course — but you already know the lyrics.

But actually, you don’t. Deraime is from Senlis, France — very far away from any bays, with or without docks. So the refrain is, “Assis sur le bord de la route,” which means roughly, “Sitting on the side of the road.” Anyway, it’s a great performance with a great band:

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Anniversary Post: Windows 3.0

Windows 3.0On this day, 25 years ago, Microsoft released Windows 3.0. It was a very big deal. You see, for almost a decade before that, Microsoft had only managed to provide MS-DOS. It was an 8086 clone of the CP/M operating system, written by 25-year-old programmer Tim Paterson. Just to be clear, all Microsoft did was buy what Paterson had written. And this may explain why for the next nine years — 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, 6.0, 7.0, 8.0! — Microsoft hardly managed to improve it. Of course, Microsoft did manage to come out with Windows 1.0 in 1985 and Windows 2.0 at the end of 1987. They were pathetic attempts. The only thing more pathetic was that Apple (Of course!) sued Microsoft for copyright infringement — unleashing on the world the “look and feel” lawsuit. (Note: the lawsuit that started this kind of anti-freedom nonsense actually dates back to Broderbund Software Inc. v Unison World, Inc. Courts should not be allowed to rule on technology or science when they don’t understand it — which they rarely do.)

But with Windows 3.0, Microsoft had finally managed to create something that was usable. It certainly wasn’t great. And a lot of it was just that computers were more powerful by that time, so the program could work reasonably well. Even still, the earlier versions of Windows did not multitask well. But let us remember: Windows 3.0 was a program that ran on MS-DOS. It was not until Windows 95 (version 4.0), that Microsoft managed to combine MS-DOS and Windows. And it wasn’t until Windows 2000 (version 5.0) that it became a modern operating system. (For the record, Windows XP is Windows 5.1. I find it annoying that people think that Windows XP was this major release. But all they did was put a different UI on it. If you wanted to save some resources, you could make it look just like Windows 2000. Indeed, my current Windows 7 computer looks just like Windows 2000. I don’t like change.)

So there you go. You may think that I’m opinionated about politics, but clearly computer history trumps that. And that’s especially true when I’m talking about Microsoft and Apple. Bill Gates is (usually) the richest man in the world for one reason: he got the contract to provide the operating system for the new IBM personal computers. He used that advantage to stifle innovation for years. But mostly because of computer heroes like Mitch Kapor (creator of 1-2-3), Gates was able to become an incredibly rich man despite the fact that he was only hurting the industry. But it after Apple lead the way with the graphical user interface (which they stole before they started suing everyone who did the same thing), that Gate got immorally rich based upon his control the operating system that so many people used because of the great programs created by people who were not Bill Gates nor worked for Bill Gates.

Happy birthday to the first decent product that Microsoft managed to produce!

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Matryoshka Doll Ultrasound

Matryoshka Doll Ultrasound

I found this cartoon over at The Incidental Economist, Matryoshka Ultrasound. Austin Frakt over there loves this kind of thing. He has a good sense of humor. And this is clever. We have a Matryoshka — Russian nesting doll — getting an ultrasound and it is creating an infinite regression. It’s charming. But it bugs me.

Unlike most people, I’ve had a lot of ultrasounds. I wasn’t pregnant. They were of my heart. And they were painful, because for whatever reason, the tech seemed to think that it was necessary to push down with all her strength — despite the fact that I weighted just 100 pounds and there was basically no flesh to push through. So I’ve been in the position of that doll — looking at the screen and seeing what was bouncing off my innards.

Given this experience, perhaps you can forgive my pedantry. Or just cluelessness. I don’t really know. Maybe I’m missing something. But I think it is more likely that I’m over-thinking it. So here goes: there would not be an infinite regression. There is no doctor doing an ultrasound on the doll inside her. And even if there were, he wouldn’t be in that position, because there isn’t enough space!

Yes, yes, yes: pedant! But I could go further. I could note that an ultrasound does not provide a picture of your entire insides. Look at the size of that device! And we are talking about the entire inside of her. That’s the thing about the Matryoshka doll: they fit tightly together. If they didn’t, then it would be just a doll with a bunch of crap in it. Also: isn’t this very wasteful in a world of limited healthcare resources? Couldn’t the doctor just have asked any 5-year-old girl what was inside of this doll? Also: Matryoshka dolls are generally the same shape but not the same decorations. Ha! Answer that, cartoonist! (It’s by the brilliant cartoonist at The New Yorker Paul Noth.)

But here’s what I think is really interesting: if the cartoon were done “right,” it would still be funny. It would consist of only the doll on the screen. But that’s still funny. What does she have inside of her? A smaller version of herself. I get that the cartoonist wants to get across the idea that there are many versions of her inside her. But it just doesn’t seem worth the bother of putting a doctor outside ever doll. Yeah, yeah, yeah: universes inside universes — that pug in Men in Black. But that’s not what Matryoshka dolls are!


It bothered me when I was a kid that the Matryoshka dolls didn’t regress forever. My mathematical sensibilities made me want to see an endless number of dolls. I wasn’t happy with the practical limits of the toy.

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Lucky Dragon 5 and the Hydrogen Bomb

David KalatOn March 1st, 1954 eight months to the day before the Japanese premiere of Godzilla, the United States set off its first hydrogen bomb. It happened in the Marshall Islands — tiny islands that have been passed back and forth between sundry European powers for hundreds of years — until the Japanese took them over after Word War I. During World War II, they changed hands once again when relentless American bombing raids decimated the population, ravished the countryside, and forced the Japanese to relinquish control. From that point on, the US military took to using the Marshall Islands as a nuclear proving ground. All told, 67 nuclear devices were detonated there — including the first H-bomb. In 1956, the year that Godzilla was exported to American movie screens, the atomic energy commission declared the place by far the most contaminated place in the world. And it was practically at Japan’s backdoor.

The scientists responsible for the world’s first H-bomb weren’t 100% certain that it would explode correctly. Best case scenario, it would explode with a force a thousand times that of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Worst case scenario, nothing at all. Setting aside the irony of what constituted “best case” and “worst case” in this situation, the upshot was that the Japanese public was told to stay away from the island in question, but weren’t given an explanation why.

The crew of the Daigo Fukuryū Maru — that’s “Lucky Dragon Number Five” to you — figured that they were being extra clever by heading out to troll for tuna. “There’s no competition!” they congratulated each other. Then there was a flash in the sky, like a second sun. The light was so bright, it could be seen as far away as Okinawa. The Lucky Dragon was so far from the blast, they didn’t hear its accompanying thunder for another eight minutes. It was clear to them that they’d made a mistake. But the consequences were now impossible to outrun. They pulled in their nets, stowed their catch, and returned to the mainland as quickly as possible. They were sick. The radio operator, a fellow named Aikichi Kuboyama, would die from radiation sickness. And let’s be clear: Kuboyama received a lethal dose of radiation on March 1st, then spent nearly seven months slowly dying — eventually passing from this world on September 23rd. With his dying breath, he begged, “Please make sure that I am the last victim of the nuclear bomb.”

The Japanese press noted that as the first person killed by the H-bomb, he was Japanese — just like the only humans killed by A-bombs.

—David Kalat
From Commentary on Godzilla

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Obviously, Republicans Are Not Turning Libertarian

Libertarian RepublicanDigby wrote a great article over at Kevin Drum’s blog at Mother Jones, No, the GOP Has Not Lost Its Lust for War. It is about all the garbage that we’ve been hearing from “centrist” pundits about how the Republican Party is finally turning libertarian. The truth is that Republicans have never been libertarians. It is an affectation. And during the glory months of the Tea Party, it was a delusion.

The main thing you have to remember is that most Republicans are sheep. They don’t really think anything; they just feel — mostly, outrage and fear. And so, when the Tea Party was big, they were willing to follow along with the libertarian bent of the early days. Of course, that libertarian bent was only there so they could justify the policy that they were suddenly for. Remember that the Tea Party did not start because of the bank bailouts. It started when the federal government wanted to help homeowners. So supporters of the movement didn’t want to come off as the complete jerks that they were. So now they were against all government intervention! And that meant they were “libertarians”!

Once the coast was clear and there was no Fox News drum beat about this stuff — no Amy Kremer interviews to explain what they were to think — they went back to their base instincts. As Elvis Costello put it in Suit of Lights, “If it moves then you fuck it. If it doesn’t then you stab it.” In the case of the Republican base, it is about “getting those people.” And that means cuts to welfare for the poor and more foreign wars. In other words: the standard conservative line. And the elites were fine with it, as long as the base kept voting Republican.

Of course, even in 2010, the main thing that distinguished Tea Party candidates was there extreme social conservatism. The single most important issue was abortion absolutism: no abortions for any reasons at all (even the anti-libertarian belief of no exception for the life of the mother). So none of this should come as any surprise. The truth was that Rand Paul’s non-interventionist positions were treated with either mystification or hostility. And as I predicted, Rand Paul has been willing to abandon even his tepid libertarianism. Why? Because he has to — there is no appetite for it in the Republican Party.

Digby’s article quoted an NBC-WSJ poll that found that a whopping 27% of Republicans said that national security/terrorism was the most important issue facing the country. This has more than tripled since the question was last asked in 2012. And way? Check out this amazing reason that goes right along with what I’ve been saying, “[A] ‘savvy Republican operative’ explained that this threefold increase in concern can be attributed to the rise of ISIS and the movie American Sniper arousing the militarist urge in the GOP base.” A movie! Of course, as Digby commented, “That may be true, but let’s just say it was never exactly deeply buried.” That’s right: outrage and fear.

I’ve argued a lot in the past that if libertarians were serious, they would be more attracted to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. The Democratic Party is much stronger on individual rights. What the Republican Party is good at is the rights of the wealthy. That may be great in a theoretical sense, but as a practical matter, it is the Democratic party that increases liberty. The Republican Party is still dead set against cannabis legalization. Of course, the vast majority of libertarians are not serious.

What Republicans mean when they say they are libertarians is that they are for “smaller government.” As should be clear by now, Republicans Are Not for Smaller Government. And in the same way, they are not for libertarianism. (Not that many actual libertarians are either.) But Republicans will call themselves anything as long as they are told to. They are excellent followers.

See also: Republican Party’s Libertarian Fantasies.

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American Torture and Lack of Accountability

CIA TortureI watched the Frontline episode Secrets, Politics, and Torture. It’s sad that the show now has to be so careful, but even still, the whole thing is outrageous. I was literally talking to the screen while watching it. And there really wasn’t anything in it that I didn’t already know. I suppose the hard part about watching it was seeing these people who clearly should be prison for the rest of their lives. And I have a policy idea that I’ll discuss in a bit.

Not surprisingly, most of the CIA didn’t show up to be interviewed. The main representative was for Deputy Director John McLaughlin. And despite all his apologetics and, frankly, outright lies, his position was summarized in this quote, “We were at war; bad things happen in wars.” That’s so true. But that didn’t stop us from trying and executing Nazis. But of course, the statement itself is disingenuous. We were at war, but that wasn’t what the torture program was all about. Obviously, the CIA’s torture program eventually infected the military, but it didn’t start there.

Regardless, the torture program was not a matter of some agents getting out of hand — over-eager in carrying out their duties. This was a clear plan — decided at the top. It was implemented with eyes wide open. And that is clear from the other representative of the government CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo. He did everything he could to get political cover for the torture program and lay the legal foundation for it. I don’t especially blame him; he’s a lawyer, after all. But the fact remains that the torture program was no accident of war.

Rizzo claimed that he had never heard any complaints about the program not working or being, you know, wrong. I believe him. Why would he have been told? I do think it most likely that he did everything he could to avoid hearing anything. But the others knew. And they didn’t care. Or more accurately, they didn’t care what they were doing to other people; they loved the program. Perhaps we can say that George W Bush was just misinformed. But clearly, the top people in the CIA pushed the program and lied about its effectiveness to keep the torture going. They should all die in federal prison.

A very telling part of the documentary is the story of Abu Zubaydah. After his capture, FBI agent Ali Soufan was brought in to use the standard — and highly effective — technique of rapport building. And Zubaydah was very helpful. But the CIA were certain that they could get more from him if they just got tough. Think: Tom Clancy Combat Concepts. So the CIA took over and began to torture him, using two charlatans who had no actual experience with interrogation. And in the end, they got nothing. This is largely due to the fact that the opportunity costs of torture greatly outweigh any possible benefits. But also because they had always been wrong: Abu Zubaydah was not a high ranking member of Al Qaeda. But that didn’t stop Deputy Director McLaughlin from repeatedly claiming that the torture was necessary because Zubaydah was a “psychopath,” who wouldn’t be truthful — even though he had been!

I have an idea for how we can avoid these things. As we saw at Abu Ghraib, even when people are held to account, it is just low level people. What was done at that prison was nothing compared to what the CIA did for years. So I say we hold top people accountable for systemic “failures” like this — because they aren’t failures. Sure, there will be the occasional “bad apple.” But what happened at the CIA was not a case like that. In fact, it seems that many if not most of the agents being forced to do the torture didn’t want to — at least in the early days. So when Jose Rodriguez erased the torture tapes, he should have been arrested, tried, convicted, and spent the rest of his life in jail. So should John McLaughlin and George Tenet and Dick Cheney and many others. Will that mean that people are reticent to take those jobs? Sure. But who cares? All the high level people will have a great incentive to not allow anything to get out of hand.


The documentary ends with a discussion of the Panetta Review. It is a “top secret” document that apparently shows that internally, the CIA agrees with everything the Congressional investigation found. The main thing I thought while watching it was that none of it or any of the other documents will come out in my lifetime. But the reason that they won’t is the same reason that the United States probably won’t be a great nation in a century. Like all great empires, we spend most of our time just trying to hang onto power and save face. Meanwhile, there are countries out there that are actively working to improve themselves. There is too much power consolidation in the United States. And power will do whatever it can to maintain that power in the short term. And inch by inch, our country is destroyed. The day will come when our economy just can’t bear to spend almost as much on our military as the rest of the world combined. And after that, what do we have?

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Morning Music: Jane Siberry

The Speckless SkyI really want to get back to Europe for the Morning Music posts. But I seem to be having a hard time keeping up with the site these days, so I will do something easy. For whatever reason, Jane Siberry popped into my head. There was a time a couple of years ago where I was listening obsessively to her first ablum, Jane Siberry, and her last album, Meshach Dreams Back. It was quite an experience because that first album is almost folk. And the last album is about as complex as any pop music gets — dare I saw: jazz.

I first discovered her because of her second album, No Borders Here. And I saw her live three times. She put on a great show. The following song is more or less the title track off her third album, The Speckless Sky. The song is actually called “One More Colour.” It’s a beautiful song. But this video is from 1985. And videos sucked in 1985. Still, this one at least has a hand puppet:

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Anniversary Post: Pietà Attack

Laszlo TothOn this day in 1972, Laszlo Toth attacked Michelangelo’s Pietà. And because he was trained as a geologist, he did a lot of damage. But let’s back up a bit on this.

Toth was born in Hungary in 1938. He got a degree in geology in 1965 and moved to Australia. But he had difficulty finding work. This was partly due to the fact that his degree was not recognized there. It was also party due to the fact that he didn’t really speak English. But it was mostly due to the fact that he was crazy.

In 1971, he moved to Italy, even though he knew no Italian. But he seemed to want to get close to Pope Paul VI (also know as “the pope who looked like Jonathan Pryce”). By this time, Toth believed he was Jesus Christ. But the pope apparently never answered his letters. So on 21 May 1972, Toth entered St Peter’s Basilica and attacked the Pietà, yelling, “I am Jesus Christ — risen from the dead!”

He was wielding a geologist’s hammer. And, “With fifteen blows he removed Mary’s arm at the elbow, knocked off a chunk of her nose, and chipped one of her eyelids.” American sculptor Bob Cassilly, who was visiting, was the first to grab him, followed quickly by a number of others who managed to subdue him as seen in the photo above.

Laszlo Toth was never charged with a crime. He spent two years in a mental hospital, after which, he was shipped back to Australia where he was cared for until he died on 11 September 2012. The Pietà was completely repaired after the incident and is now displayed behind bulletproof (and geologist’s hammer proof, I would assume) glass.

Happy anniversary for this unfortunate, but somehow amusing, attack.

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The Americanization of Godzilla

Godzilla“History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men.” That bit of wisdom from Blue Öyster Cult (or Richard Meltzer if you prefer), is a condensation of the 1954 classic, Godzilla. Last weekend, I got the Criterion Collect DVD of the film. It was very exciting. I grew up watching Godzilla films, but I had never seen the original. So I watched both versions — Japanese and American — twice: once straight and once with what is very possibly the best commentary ever, by David Kalat. It is quite an experience — especially because the two versions are so different.

Godzilla was such a big deal in Japan, that when American distributors bought it, they decided not just to dub the film; they shot extra scenes and turned the main (human) character into an American reporter, played by Raymond Burr.[1] And it works remarkably well. The film editor Terry O Morse was hired to direct the whole thing, and with television writer Al C Ward, he used the existing movie to tell the story from a remarkably different perspective. It’s especially interesting to see how conversations are totally changed from one version to the other.

But even while marveling at just how clever Morse and his team was, there is a fundamental problem: they didn’t do a very good job of matching the style of the original. Ishirō Honda and his team made a very good film that is visually interesting even without Godzilla. The camera is relatively fluid, the shots are always well framed, the lighting is realistic. It’s what we’ve come to expect from feature films. The scenes with Burr are static and flat. Great care is taken to make things match up, but it does feel choppy.

In addition to this, the film is excessively narrated. I suspect that this decision was made so as to require as little dubbing as possible. And that does work. There is relatively little on screen dubbing. And despite the fact that the dubbing actors didn’t even get to look at the scenes they were dubbing, it works quite well. But it does mean that we see a lot of the backs of America doubles while the dialog takes place.

Still, all of this occurred to me because I had just seen the original. I think it wouldn’t be nearly as clear if I had just watched the film cold. But the original is clearly the superior film. That’s not just because of the awkwardness of the added material. The original is also a more thoughtful and subtle film. It actively engages with an issue that I care deeply about: the responsibility of scientists for the uses of their findings. The two scientists in the film are disgusted by the state of the world. On the other hand, sometimes you just need to get through the crisis at hand. It doesn’t matter that, “History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men.”

[1] It’s very cool. At the end, he has Godzilla on the stand. “And was it not you who destroyed Japan — going so far as to chew on a rail car?!” And Gozilla broke down, “It’s true! I couldn’t stop myself!” Alright, maybe not. But I think Godzilla vs Perry Mason would have been a fantastic film.

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