Hannah Arendt

I am now referring to the evacuation of the Jews, to the extermination of the Jewish People. This is something that is easily said: ‘The Jewish People will be exterminated’, says every party member, ‘this is very obvious, it is in our program — elimination of the Jews, extermination, a small matter.’ And then they turn up, the upstanding 80 million Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. They say the others are all swine, but this particular one is a splendid Jew. But none has observed it, endured it. Most of you here know what it means when 100 corpses lie next to each other, when there are 500 or when there are 1,000. To have endured this and at the same time to have remained a decent person — with exceptions due to human weaknesses — has made us tough, and is a glorious chapter that has not and will not be spoken of. Because we know how difficult it would be for us if we still had Jews as secret saboteurs, agitators and rabble-rousers in every city, what with the bombings, with the burden and with the hardships of the war. If the Jews were still part of the German nation, we would most likely arrive now at the state we were at in 1916 and 17.   Heinrich Himmler, October 4, 1943

Some people I know recently saw the film “Hannah Arendt” and reported that they liked the film and that, after all, she was right. I refer, of course, to her comment about “the banality of evil”. I have to admit that I have long misunderstood the comment, and I am glad I did.

What she meant was that people like Adolf Eichmann were not “evil” in the sense that mankind usually imagines evil, as some malevolence that is clearly evident in manners or attitudes or expressions or even body language. In fact, in Arendt’s view, Eichmann was, in a way, not even really evil. We know today that Arendt believed Eichmann when he told the Israeli court that he was merely following orders, when he facilitated the murder of five million Jews, and that he, personally, bore no animus towards them.

It has emerged that Eichmann left some writings that clearly expressed an absolutely savage attitude towards the Jews. He lied to the Israeli court and it is not to Arendt’s credit that she believed him.

It causes me no end of wonder that she believed him.

I’m astonished.

Now, I had misunderstood the phrase “banality of evil”. I had thought that Arendt was telling us that evil often looks banal to us, but it is still evil. That evil is often disguised as good intentions or well-meaning attitudes. But it is still evil. In essence, I thought she was saying that people are extraordinarily talented at casting their own evil impulses as intentions that are noble or admirable in some way, like bringing freedom to Iraq or Viet Nam, or education to Afghani women, or democracy to Cuba. What people believe in these instances is that we should kill people who don’t agree with our ideas about freedom and democracy. But of course, you can’t say that, so you say, we are here to liberate you. With very few exceptions, this attitude is always a lie. We never really ask our brave young men to die for their country, though we say we do, when we hold sacraments and rituals to commemorate it.  No, what we want them to do for our country is kill.   But to say that aloud would be to make the evil in us naked, so we don’t.  Instead, we engage in banal demonstrations of fealty and admiration.

In my view, Eichmann– even if you can believe his protestations at his trial– was actually evil, and we had better understand that most of the evil that occurs in our world is caused by Eichmanns and they do mean it no matter how talented they are at making it all look rational and sad and necessary.

Nazi Germany did not just walk into Poland and announce that they were conquering a nation in order to take their land. The Germans first staged fake attacks on German citizens by fake Polish soldiers, then howled in outrage, and set out to punish the miscreants. Yes, even the Nazis felt a need to put on a face. Himmler’s speech, as quoted above, is remarkably naked, and remarkably true. He observes the amazing capacity of a nation to indulge in utter denial: everyone pretended it was not “extermination”– it was “resettlement”. Goering himself castigated an underling for using the wrong word once. He learned.

Himmler’s purpose, you need to know, was to destroy the possibility of all those present to deny that they knew what was happening, in the face of Germany’s imminent defeat. He didn’t want them all to be able to say, with Eichmann, I didn’t know what the ultimate destination was. I didn’t know they were going to exterminate them.

This is what Hannah Arendt did not get: that people are powerfully able to present themselves as moral and conscientious while they really are selfish and self-interested. In fact, a good portion of popular culture consists of presenting ourselves as selfless and kind and adorable, for the purpose of which we knowingly falsify our own stories. We killed thousands of Viet Namese because we were all able to pretend that it was about democracy and human rights when it was really all about global domination: America was terrified that the communists would end up controlling most of Asia.

And yes, we killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for the oil. The fact that this was officially presented and accepted as bringing human rights and democracy to Iraq does not mean that most Americans really believed that, or that they really believed that bringing democracy and human rights to Iraq did not include the oil. If, in fact, America had restored democracy to Iraq and Iraq had elected a government that chose not to sell it’s oil to America, the vast majority of Americans would have been outraged and would have urged the government foment a coup.


There is a VERY hot debate going on between partisans of Arendt and critics. Critics claim that Arendt reduced Eichmann to a mere “cog” in the machine, and therefore “less evil” than he really was. Partisans say she did not. But the partisans clearly mean that Arendt didn’t think Eichmann was innocent, which, obviously, is true. So, therefore, she didn’t diminish his culpability. But, in fact, she does, in my opinion, because she asserts that Eichmann’s willingness to be part of a machine, to obey orders, to go along with his friends and family and colleagues and government, is not itself an evil, or at least, not an extraordinary evil. (Borrowing from Martin Heidegger, she suggests that Eichmann wasn’t even a authentic person.)

His unwillingness to decide morally against participation and act on this conviction– is, in my opinion, itself as evil and monstrous as, say, the police in Chicago during the riots of 1968 who saw protesters as weirdoes and freaks, or Joshua Bolton advocating war on Iran, or William Calley, or thousands and millions of others.

As Buffy Ste. Marie would say, “he’s the universal soldier and he really is to blame...” The soldier asserts that he is willing to die for his country. But he knows that he is willing to kill for his country, and that is most authentic thing about him.

Is There Anything Good About Men?

This is a response to an article called “Is There Anything Good About Men”.

I’m sure the author feels assured that most people will regard his title as amusing or intentionally provocative, and not ridiculous, or offensive, as it would be if it were “Is There Anything Good About Negroes?” or “Is There Anything Good About Women?”. It’s the kind of bullying, self-amused irony only allowed because men are positioned so comfortably in a privileged position, that no one could possibly regard it as threatening or really pejorative.

The article is linked in an article in the New York Times entitled “Why Men Need Women”. which does more to convince me that the persistent lack of women geniuses is causing some desperation out there.

This is the kind of bullshit that nowadays passes for serious social theory:

We recognize the direct advantages that women as leaders bring to the table, which often include diverse perspectives, collaborative styles, dedication to mentoring and keen understanding of female employees and customers. But we’ve largely overlooked the beneficial effects that women have on the men around them. [NY Times, July 21, 2013]

Gosh, I’d like to meet those women!

Now, I know that any generalized knowledge, especially from the social “science” sector, includes a hell of a lot of selectivity and redundancy, therefore providing a barn door’s worth of anomalies, but even so, the idea that there are a lot of women managers out there selflessly promoting their colleagues and underlings and bringing “diverse perspectives” to management meetings is a bit of a stretch.

The one area where women are more than the equal of men is self-interest, even if the the social sciences as a block generally refuse to recognize just how self-interested a lot of overtly “selfless” behavior is. Anyone who has ever forgotten to thank his mother or wife knows this. Any girl in school who hasn’t made the correct gestures of gratitude and loyalty knows this.


Equality at Last!

The evidence presents a seeming paradox, because the tests of creativity generally show men and women scoring about the same, yet through history some men have been much more creative than women. An explanation that fits this pattern is that men and women have the same creative ability but different motivations. [See web link in right column.]

Studies can prove whatever you pretty well want them to prove. I admire the way Mr. Roy Baumeister has tried to conceal his tracks here: “some men” is a clever alternative to saying that every major invention and design has originated with a man. By isolating “motivation” as a component separate from creativity– as if such a thing were possible– he claims that really, men and women are equally creative, but women just aren’t as motivated as men to actually create. It’s like saying that men eat more food then women but they are equally hungry. The problem is, we don’t really care who is more hungry: we care about how much we eat.

But let’s get to the bait and switch here. Who is “good”? What makes a gender “good” and another gender “bad”? Is this contest rigged? Do we have someone who examines the two genders, identifies a number of traits belonging to each, and then decides that one particular set of traits are “good”, and the other bad. Surprise: women are better. Then he proceeds to argue that even though women are better then men, they are essentially the same. Women can do anything men can do, on their own, better.

Maybe there really isn’t any point in arguing which gender is better because both genders are absolutely essential to life and culture and history and society. There is nothing you would have without both genders. It is quite arguable that if neither gender could create culture or society on it’s own, than neither gender could be good or bad or better. They are essentially one being.

I remain unconvinced that women would ever have been capable of building a steam locomotive. To build a steam locomotive, or, rather, to embark on the path of theoretical development, and design, and development, and research and physical construction, necessary to end up with, say, a Soo Line Locomotive 2713, requires a lot of specific energies and aptitudes and inclinations, which I don’t think are strong enough in women to succeed.

Some “research” claims to show that women are just as capable at math as men are but are less motivated to work towards advanced degrees. Oh, the lovely rationalizations! “Yeah, we could do that physics thing if we really wanted to, you know, but we just don’t want to, so there!” But if there was ever a place for that kind of rationalization it would be in the lonely feminine assets: men could be more nurturing and supportive and collegial if they wanted to, but they don’t. They don’t because the drive to succeed, to get on top, to be the alpha dog, to make a lot of money, is part of what drives achievement. And locomotives.

Women are moving into business management. First, business culture in the western world had to expand it’s inconsequential middle, the layer of people who don’t produce any real objects or services but simply “manage”, so that women had a class of professions to move into.

Women are More Equal Then Men

So do it.  Check out: the top ten inventions by women.  They include liquid paper, a remedy for vaginal infections, and square-bottomed paper bags.  And the circular saw.


One thing that is not going to get mentioned very much in this debate: a certain definite percentage of human beings are born with ambiguous genitalia.  We have no idea of how many men and women in history may actually have been hermaphrodites.

It shouldn’t need to be said but will be: the belief in legal equality has nothing to do with belief in equal capability.

Dan Rather’s Big Lie

After 50 years, I remain fascinated by a single incident related to the Kennedy Assassination. And I really believe that you may find it as fascinating as I do no matter what you believe about the Kennedy Assassination. Actually, I don’t think that’s true at all, but I don’t care. You should be fascinated by it– it makes no sense. And it makes all the sense in the world.

It was known almost immediately that someone had shot a film of the assassination. In fact, there were several films, but there was only film that captured the essential event in glorious colour, with sharpness, and reasonable proximity: that is the film, of course, shot by clothing merchant, Abraham Zapruder, who was standing on a kind of pagoda with the assistance of his assistant, Marilyn Sitzman. A reporter chatted with Zapruder after the assassination. If you are into conspiracies– and who can resist– you will note that the reporter offered to put Zapruder in contact with a Secret Service Agent, who, we would have assumed, would have loved to have a beautiful, clear, colourful, cinematic souvenir of them all standing on the follow-up car staring at the assassination event.

The Secret Service accompanied Zapruder to a local television station and then to Eastman Kodak’s local processing plant, and then to another processing plant, the Jamieson Film Company, to have some copies made. The Secret Service had a look at this film. And then Richard Stolley, an editor from Life Magazine, amazingly arrived to negotiate with Zapruder for exclusive rights to the film and all prints from the film, for about $150,000. Richard Stolley worked for a man named C. D. Jackson at Time-Life.

C.D. Jackson was a close friend of the CIA, and helped establish the Bilderberg Group. You couldn’t make this shit up. Yes, this guy who had obtained custody of the most compelling evidence of a conspiracy in the Kennedy Assassination worked with the CIA.

We now know it didn’t work, but, if you were the suspicious sort, what this looks like is the conspirators jumping in to make sure that nobody ever sees the evidence that might disprove that Oswald and Oswald alone killed Kennedy, from the 6th Floor the Texas Book Depository, from behind.

I say it did not work. Or it worked better than in their wildest dreams.

Zapruder had a nightmare about people paying to see his film in Times Square. He didn’t mind the paying part. But I guess his nightmare included people being repelled about the idea of him selling frame 313, in which Kennedy’s head explodes. So a condition of sale was that frame 313 could not be shown. He kept his money.

Life Magazine eventually published very poor quality prints taken from the film, but that was all the American public would see of the film for a long, long, long time.

Understandably, there was considerable curiosity about the film. Once it became clear that a “commission” of sterile old fat white men was going to pin the whole thing on a “lone nut” no matter what the evidence was (I’m not sure why they even bothered to hold hearings or examine anything: they disregarded any evidence that opened any doors), there was even more curiosity. One of the central tenets of the Warren Commission’s findings was that all of the shots came from behind, from Oswald’s “sniper’s nest”. But some witnesses and conspiracy theorists didn’t believe Oswald could have fired all of the shots. Some people in Dealey Plaza thought the shots came from the grassy knoll. There was some discussion even at Parkland Hospital about an “entry” wound in the neck, and about the head snapping backwards, and even about an entry wound in the forehead.

In the midst this hot and heavy discussion rode CBS reporter Dan Rather to the rescue. The public was told that, as little children, as tiny, irresponsible, wee little children, they could not be trusted to view the best evidence of who killed their president, but Dan Rather would assume this burden for us, almost like Jesus going on the cross. And so Dan Rather watched the film very, very carefully– this was by far, the biggest news story of the decade, after all, so he wouldn’t want to miss a detail– and then, instead of staying to try to outbid Life Magazine for the film, he ran as fast as he could back to the local CBS affiliate so he could breathlessly report to the American public that the film, indeed, showed Kennedy’s head going violently forward with the impact of the third shot. “Forward and to the right”.

“forward and to the right”

I am still astonished at this. Kennedy’s head, of course, jerked violently backwards, to the left. It’s the most obvious thing about the third shot: backwards and to the left. As if Kennedy might have been shot from the front.

I leave aside the complicated argument that a shot from the rear could have produced that motion.  It is possible, but complicated.

So, Dan Rather, with a chance to be at the center of the biggest news story of the decade, lies to millions of people. Why?

Was it a mistake? Could it be that Dan Rather, for all his fame and all of his promotion and self-promotion, and self-aggrandizement, and posturing, was a complete idiot who couldn’t tell left from right, up from down, or in from out? Could it be that he could not, fifteen minutes later, remember which direction Kennedy’s head was going in when his skull was blown open by a rifle shot, after viewing the most shocking, important 22 second film clip in history?

Did Dan Rather know that the assassination was to be pinned on a lone gunman shooting from above and behind and that all conspiracies were to be excluded? It seems unlikely: Rather saw the film on the day of the assassination. On the other hand, everyone knew, by then, that the suspect had worked in the Texas Book Depository, and I’m sure Rather’s instincts were that the American public needed to be reassured that there was no conspiracy regardless of whether or not there had actually been one. Oswald was in custody. He knew the outlines of the conspiracy. He certainly could have been aware of which conspiracy would be the preferred conspiracy.

But perhaps Dan was already prepared, emotionally and intellectually, to play his role in American politics and culture over the next forty years, that of a superficially liberal journalist, of slight but discernibly progressive inclinations, but fundamentally establishment in orientation and interests. This is someone who might eventually think that Nixon should be impeached, but only after he has observed that all political parties do dirty tricks. This is someone who would become opposed to the Viet Nam war only after every other credible authority has long before switched sides, and then he would try to make it sound like he was being courageous. Rather would observe that peaceniks are naïve, because, after all, real enemies will really resist all our attempts to take all their oil.

It was this kind of faux liberalism that led the New York Times to endorse the Iraq war at the time the Bush Administration was hustling it.

About the Camera

The Camera: a Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series Model 414 PD

1960 Bell and Howell Camera DUO Power Zoom Zoomatic its the image 1

Dan, do you wish that, fifty years later, people would just leave it alone? Sorry. You don’t deserve that kind of forgetfulness.

About Mrs. Kennedy

There is another surprise. Rather — accurately, for a change– described, in his first recorded account of the film, how Mrs. Kennedy had tried to get out of the car in the middle of the assassination. The next day, the day after the assassination, CBS decided to have Rather broadcast his experience of the film live again (Rather was being groomed after all). But, they told him, leave out the part about Mrs. Kennedy. It was considered indecorous. America, they said (according to Dan) was not “ready” to absorb the image of the first lady trying not to get shot.

In fact, I still believe Mrs. Kennedy was trying to retrieve part of John Kennedy’s skull, which had been blown off and was slipping down the back of the limo. It was later recovered by a bystander and “returned” to the Secret Service (and flown up to Bethesda to be reunited with the body.)

I am astonished, but then not astonished, at how casually the establishment decides for Americans what they should or should not know. Just astonished. The omission of important information about what happened is bad, bad journalism, dishonest and irresponsible. And it is these same people, these same institutions who turn pale and almost feint when the idea of getting your news through the internet is raised…. unmediated!! You must be mad!

My Theories on Conspiracies

The Magic Bullet