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Friday, August 31, 2012

Mannahatta

Mannahatta  / Manhattan

Before the English explorer Henry Hudson arrived in 1609, Manhattan was home to the Lenape Indians who called the island Mannahatta, or "Land of Many Hills."

The result of five years of historical map research, fieldwork, and GIS analysis, the Digital Elevation Model, or DEM, of 1609 was a vital step in the process of recreating Mannahatta.



The 1735 portrait of Lenape Chief Tishcohan 
by Gustavus Hesselius. 
Courtesy of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection, Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia. 
 
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Dutch Broadway
Since time began, Broadway was the main artery of Mannahatta. It began as a Native American pathway called the Wickquasgeck Trail (end of the marsh) that followed the length of the 13-mile island. During Dutch rule, the path was widened as it passed by the fort of New Amsterdam and was named de Heere Straat — the Gentlemen’s Street, but most simply knew it as Breede weg (the broad road), which the British translated to Broadway.

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Read more:
  1. http://welikia.org/science/recreating-mannahatta/ 
  2.  
  3. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/21/nyregion/map-of-how-manhattan-grid-grew.html?ref=design
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Mannahatta

Walt Whitman (1819–1892)
Leaves of Grass  1900

I WAS asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon, lo! upsprang the aboriginal name!
 
Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient;
I see that the word of my city is that word up there,
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays, superb, with tall and wonderful spires,
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and steamships-an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets-high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies;
Tide swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown,
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger adjoining islands, the heights, the villas,
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters, the ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model’d;
The down-town streets, the jobbers’ houses of business-the houses of business of the ship-merchants, and money-brokers-the river-streets;
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week;
The carts hauling goods-the manly race of drivers of horses-the brown-faced sailors;
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing clouds aloft;
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells-the broken ice in the river, passing along, up or down, with the flood tide or ebb-tide;
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d, beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes;
Trottoirs throng’d-vehicles-Broadway-the women-the shops and shows,
The parades, processions, bugles playing, flags flying, drums beating;
A million people-manners free and superb-open voices-hospitality-the most courageous and friendly young men;
The free city! no slaves! no owners of slaves!
The beautiful city, the city of hurried and sparkling waters! the city of spires and masts!
The city nested in bays! my city!
The city of such women, I am mad to be with them! I will return after death to be with them!
The city of such young men, I swear I cannot live happy, without I often go talk, walk, eat, drink, sleep, with them!


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New York -- before the City
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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Most Dishonest Convention Speech


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Paul Ryan's Convention Speech Ignites Media War Over Facts

TAMPA, Fla. -- Before Rep. Paul Ryan left the stage Wednesday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, journalists took to Twitter for some real-time fact-checking.

Soon after, several media outlets, including The Huffington Post, called attention to misleading statements from Ryan's speech. The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn asked if it was the most dishonest convention speech" ever. New York's Dan Amira described it shortly before midnight as "appallingly disingenuous and shamelessly hypocritical," with his colleague Jonathan Chait -- who claims to have "the equivalent of a master’s degree in Ryan lie-ology" -- later calling out the Republican candidate for "brazen dishonesty."

At around 12:15 a.m., the Associated Press hit the wire with a piece detailing "factual shortcuts" on issues like Medicare, economic stimulus, and the closing of a GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wis.

The political media has received its own share of criticism for a "he said, she said" approach to covering politics, giving Democrats and Republicans the chance to simply rebut one another -- sometimes anonymously -- without making a judgment about whether a statement is actually true or false.

But as fact-checking has increased in the 2012 race, so has the backlash against it from the conservative media, quick to suggest "liberal bias" at play. Not surprisingly, several right-leaning journalists and bloggers pushed back Thursday against the flurry of Ryan fact-checks.

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin -- whose colleagues Dylan Matthews and Glenn Kessler each found falsehoods in Ryan's speech -- offered a counter-fact-check. Breitbart's John Nolte declared that the "Era of Media Fact Checkers Intimidating Republicans Is Over." And in analyzing the AP's piece, Hot Air's Ed Morrissey wrote that "fact checkers have made a mockery of their own profession by stepping all over their own biases to refute Ryan."

Despite the conservative media pushback, the emerging consensus among fact-checkers is that Ryan's speech was blatantly misleading. While CNN's fact-check found Ryan's statement on the GM closing to be technically true, it was also "incomplete," neglecting important pieces of context.

Michael Oreskes, the AP's senior managing editor for U.S. news, disagrees with any suggestion of bias.

"When we do it to one candidate, the people who support that candidate feel their candidate's been singled out," Oreskes told The Huffington Post. "Next week, we'll be doing it with the Democrats."

Oreskes said that the "fact-check has become a basic part of our campaign coverage." In this case, five AP reporters, each with different areas of expertise, contributed to fact-checking Ryan's speech. Oreskes said they relied on their own reporting -- including that surrounding the closing of the Janesville GM plant -- not opposition research.

Doing such fact-checking, he said, has become commonplace, with the news organization looking closely at statements from Democrats and Republicans three times per week on average. "What you're seeing here is something we do regularly, being propelled onto a much bigger stage," Oreskes said. "This was the biggest audience Paul Ryan's had. This was the biggest audience for our fact-checkers."

While Democrats may be quick to cite the AP's latest fact-check, Republicans have done so in the past. In fact, Oreskes noted that the RNC has cited AP fact-checks of Democrats twice in mass emails in the month of August.

The practice of media fact-checking -- and the backlash to it -- has been on display throughout the Republican Convention.

On Tuesday, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said at an ABC News/Yahoo panel in Tampa that the campaign doesn't care its ad attacking Obama's waiver policy on welfare has been labeled false by several media outlets.

"We stand behind those ads and behind the -- the facts in those ads," Newshouse said. "And you know what? What these fact-checkers -- fact-checkers come to this with, you know, their own sets of, you know, thoughts and -- and beliefs. And you know what? We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."

Obama seized upon that line the following day on the stump.

Jake Tapper, the ABC chief White House correspondent who jumped in the fray during Ryan's speech to tweet that he was against the debt commission report, told the Huffington Post that not all fact-checking can be done instantaneously on Twitter. He pointed out that the GM plant issue, for one, is a "more complicated story" than can be wrapped up in 140 characters.

Still, Tapper said fact-checkers and reporters regularly fact-checking candidate statements need to be "vigilant," regardless of the criticism levied from either side.

"I've seen liberals and conservatives make fun of fact-checkers," Tapper said. "I've seen both the Obama campaign and the Romney campaign make claims challenged by fact-checkers. The truth of the matter is, it’s a thankless job."

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The Most Dishonest Convention Speech ... Ever?
Jonathan Cohn - August 29, 2012
Fox News' Sally Kohn: Paul Ryan's RNC Speech 'Was Attempt To Set World Record For Blatant Lies'

Paul Ryan's speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday was full of lies, according to Fox News contributor Sally Kohn.

According to Fox News columnist Sally Kohn, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday "was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech."

"On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold," Kohn wrote.

In a surprising move, Fox News joined CNN, The Huffington Post, the Washington Post's Wonkblog, and ThinkProgress in publishing a fact-check of the Republican vice presidential nominee's speech, finding that the speech was full of lies and misleading assertions.

Kohn, who describes herself as a "progressive voice on Fox News," wrote in her Thursday column that though Ryan came off as likable during his speech, his misrepresentations and omissions "caused a much larger problem for himself and his running mate."

In contrast, several Fox News commentators praised Ryan's speech on air after the event, without mentioning his misleading claims, according to Media Matters.

In her column, Kohn called out four lies in Ryan's speech. She criticized Ryan for blaming President Obama for the shutdown of a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wis., that actually was closed during the Bush administration. She also knocked Ryan for pinning the blame for S&P's downgrade of U.S. debt on Obama, when Republicans in Congress helped precipitate the downgrade by threatening to refuse to raise the debt ceiling.

"The good news is that the Romney-Ryan campaign has likely created dozens of new jobs among the legions of additional fact checkers that media outlets are rushing to hire to sift through the mountain of cow dung that flowed from Ryan’s mouth," Kohn wrote.

You can read Sally Kohn's full takedown of Paul Ryan's speech for Fox News here.


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Paul Ryan’s speech in 3 words
By Sally Kohn - Published August 30, 2012 - FoxNews.com

1. Dazzling
At least a quarter of Americans still don’t know who Paul Ryan is, and only about half who know and have an opinion of him view him favorably.
So, Ryan’s primary job tonight was to introduce himself and make himself seem likeable, and he did that well. The personal parts of the speech were very personally delivered, especially the touching parts where Ryan talked about his father and mother and their roles in his life. And at the end of the speech, when Ryan cheered the crowd to its feet, he showed an energy and enthusiasm that’s what voters want in leaders and what Republicans have been desperately lacking in this campaign.
To anyone watching Ryan’s speech who hasn’t been paying much attention to the ins and outs and accusations of the campaign, I suspect Ryan came across as a smart, passionate and all-around nice guy — the sort of guy you can imagine having a friendly chat with while watching your kids play soccer together. And for a lot of voters, what matters isn’t what candidates have done or what they promise to do —it’s personality. On this measure, Mitt Romney has been catastrophically struggling and with his speech, Ryan humanized himself and presumably by extension, the top of the ticket.

2. Deceiving
On the other hand, to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.
The good news is that the Romney-Ryan campaign has likely created dozens of new jobs among the legions of additional fact checkers that media outlets are rushing to hire to sift through the mountain of cow dung that flowed from Ryan’s mouth. Said fact checkers have already condemned certain arguments that Ryan still irresponsibly repeated.

Fact: While Ryan tried to pin the downgrade of the United States’ credit rating on spending under President Obama, the credit rating was actually downgraded because Republicans threatened not to raise the debt ceiling.

Fact: While Ryan blamed President Obama for the shut down of a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, the plant was actually closed under President George W. Bush. Ryan actually asked for federal spending to save the plant, while Romney has criticized the auto industry bailout that President Obama ultimately enacted to prevent other plants from closing.

Fact: Though Ryan insisted that President Obama wants to give all the credit for private sector success to government, that isn't what the president said. Period.

Fact: Though Paul Ryan accused President Obama of taking $716 billion out of Medicare, the fact  is that that amount was savings in Medicare reimbursement rates (which, incidentally, save Medicare recipients out-of-pocket costs, too) and Ryan himself embraced these savings in his budget plan .
Elections should be about competing based on your record in the past and your vision for the future, not competing to see who can get away with the most lies and distortions without voters noticing or bother to care. Both parties should hold themselves to that standard. Republicans should be ashamed that there was even one misrepresentation in Ryan’s speech but sadly, there were many.

3. Distracting
And then there’s what Ryan didn’t talk about.

Ryan didn’t mention his extremist stance on banning all abortions with no exception for rape or incest, a stance that is out of touch with 75% of American voters.

Ryan didn’t mention his previous plan to hand over Social Security to Wall Street.

Ryan didn’t mention his numerous votes to raise spending and balloon the deficit when George W. Bush was president.

Ryan didn’t mention how his budget would eviscerate programs that help the poor and raise taxes on 95% of Americans in order to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires even further and increase — yes, increase —the deficit.
These aspects of Ryan’s resume and ideology are sticky to say the least. He would have been wise to tackle them head on and try and explain them away in his first real introduction to voters. But instead of Ryan airing his own dirty laundry, Democrats will get the chance.

At the end of his speech, Ryan quoted his dad, who used to say to him, “"Son. You have a choice: You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution."

Ryan may have helped solve some of the likeability problems facing Romney, but ultimately by trying to deceive voters about basic facts and trying to distract voters from his own record, Ryan’s speech caused a much larger problem for himself and his running mate.


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The Most Dishonest Convention Speech ... Ever?

Jonathan Cohn -  August 29, 2012

You’re going to read and hear a lot about Paul Ryan’s speech on Wednesday night. And I imagine most of it will be about how Ryan’s speech played—with the party loyalists in Tampa, with the television viewers across the country, and eventually with the swing voters who will decide the election.
I’d like to talk, instead, about what Ryan actually said—not because I find Ryan’s ideas objectionable, although I do, but because I thought he was so brazenly willing to twist the truth.

At least five times, Ryan misrepresented the facts. And while none of the statements were new, the context was. It’s one thing to hear them on a thirty-second television spot or even in a stump speech before a small crowd. It’s something else entirely to hear them in prime time address, as a vice presidential nominee is accepting his party’s nomination and speaking to the entire country.
Here are the five statements that deserve serious scrutiny:

1) About the GM plant in Janesville.
Ryan’s home district includes a shuttered General Motors plant. Here’s what happened, according to Ryan:

A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.
Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

By the way, nobody questions that, if not for the Obama Administration’s decision to rescue Chrysler and GM, the domestic auto industry would have crumbled. Credible estimates suggested that the rescue saved more than a million jobs. Unemployment in Michigan and Ohio, the two states with the most auto jobs, have declined precipitously.

2) About Medicare.
Ryan attacked Obama for “raiding” Medicare. Again, Ryan has no standing whatsoever to make this attack, because his own budget called for taking the same amount of money from Medicare. Twice. The only difference is that Ryan’s budget used those savings to finance Ryan’s priorities, which include a massive tax cut that benefits the wealthy disproportionately.
It’s true that Romney has pledged to put that money back into Medicare and Ryan now says he would do the same. But the claim is totally implausible given Romney's promise to cap non-defense spending at 16 percent of gross domestic product.

By the way, Obamacare's cut to Medicare was a reduction in what the plan pays hospitals and insurance companies. And the hospitals said they could live with those cuts, because Obamacare was simultaneously giving more people health insurance, alleviating the financial burden of charity care.
What Obamacare did not do is take away benefits. On the contrary, it added benefits, by offering free preventative care and new prescription drug coverage. By repealing Obamacare, Romney and Ryan would take away those benefits—and, by the way, add to Medicare's financial troubles because the program would be back to paying hospitals and insurers the higher rates.

3) About the credit rating downgrade.
Ryan blamed the downgrading of American debt on Obama. But it was the possibility that America would default on its debts that led to the downgrade. And why did that possibility exist? Because Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling, playing chicken not just with the nations’ credit rating but the whole economy, unless Obama would cave into their budget demands.4) About the deficit.
Ryan said “President Obama has added more debt than any other president before him” and proclaimed “We need to stop spending money we don’t have.” In fact, this decade’s big deficits are primarily a product of Bush-era tax cuts and wars. (See graph.) And you know who voted for them? Paul Ryan. 5) About protecting the weak.
Here’s Ryan on the obligations to help those who can’t help themselves:
We have responsibilities, one to another – we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves. … We can make the safety net safe again.

The rhetoric is stirring—and positively galling. Analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that 62 percent of the cuts in Ryan budget would come from programs that serve low-income people. And that’s assuming he keeps the Obamacare Medicare cuts. If he’s serious about putting that money back into Medicare, the cuts to these programs would have to be even bigger.
Among the cuts Ryan specified was a massive reduction in Medicaid spending. According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Urban Institute, between 14 and 27 million people would lose health insurance from these cuts. That’s above and beyond the 15 million or so who are supposed to get Medicaid coverage from the Affordable Care Act but wouldn’t because Romney and Ryan have pledged to repeal the law.

I realize conservatives think that transforming Medicaid into a block grant, so that states have more control over how to spend the money, can make the program more efficient. But Medicaid already costs far less than any other insurance program in America. And even to the extent states can find some new efficiencies, the idea that they can find enough to offset such a draconian funding cut is just not credible.

Update: I clarified the passage on Medicare.

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Blind Obedience to Authority

The Perils of Blind Obedience to Authority


By Glenn Greenwald, Guardian UK
27 August 12 

Indie film Compliance recalls notions that the past decade's worst events are explained by failures to oppose authority.


One can object to some of its particulars, but Frank Bruni has a quite interesting and incisive New York Times column today about a new independent film called Compliance, which explores the human desire to follow and obey authority.

Based on real-life events that took place in 2004 at a McDonalds in Kentucky, the film dramatizes a prank telephone call in which a man posing as a police officer manipulates a supervisor to abuse an employee with increasing amounts of cruelty and sadism, ultimately culminating in sexual assault – all by insisting that the abuse is necessary to aid an official police investigation into petty crimes.

That particular episode was but one of a series of similar and almost always-successful hoaxes over the course of at least 10 years, in which restaurant employees were manipulated into obeying warped directives from this same man, pretending on the telephone to be a police officer.

Bruni correctly notes the prime issue raised by all of this: "How much can people be talked into and how readily will they defer to an authority figure of sufficient craft and cunning?" That question was answered 50 years ago by the infamous experiment conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram, in which an authority figure in a lab coat instructed participants to deliver what they were told were increasingly severe electric shocks to someone in another room whom they could hear but not see. Even as the screams became louder and more agonizing, two-thirds of the participants were induced fully to comply by delivering the increased electric shocks.

Most disturbingly, even as many expressed concerns and doubts, they continued to obey until the screams stopped – presumably due to death (subsequent experiments replicated those results). As the University of California's Gregorio Billikopf put it, the Milgram experiment "illustrates people's reluctance to confront those who abuse power", as they "obey either out of fear or out of a desire to appear co-operative – even when acting against their own better judgment and desires".

Bruni ties all of this into our current political culture, noting one significant factor driving this authoritarian behavior: that trusting authority is easier and more convenient than treating it with skepticism. He writes:
As Craig Zobel, the writer and director of 'Compliance,' said to me on the phone on Friday, 'We can't be on guard all the time. In order to have a pleasant life, you have to be able to trust that people are who they say they are. And if you questioned everything you heard, you'd never get anything done.' It's infinitely more efficient to follow a chosen leader and walk in lock step with a chosen tribe.
He suggests that this is the dynamic that drives unthinking partisan allegiance ("What's most distinctive about the current presidential election and our political culture [is] … how unconditionally so many partisans back their side's every edict, plaint and stratagem"), as well as numerous key political frauds, from Saddam's WMDs to Obama's fake birth certificate to Romney's failure to pay taxes for 10 years. People eagerly accept such evidence-free claims "because the alternative mean[s] confronting outright mendacity from otherwise respected authorities, trading the calm of certainty for the disquiet of doubt".
 
This authoritarian desire to pledge fealty to institutions and leaders is indeed the dynamic that resides at the core of so many of our political conflicts (the 2006 book by Canadian psychology professor Bob Altemeyer, The Authoritarians, is a superb examination of how this manifests in the right-wing political context).

One of my first posts when I began writing about politics back in 2006 was an examination of the blindly loyal, cult-like veneration which the American Right had erected around George Bush; as Paul Krugman was one of the first to observe, that same disturbing thirst for leader-worship then drove followers of Barack Obama (Krugman in February, 2008: "the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We've already had that from the Bush administration – remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don't want to go there again").

There is always much to say about this topic, as its centrality in shaping both individual and collective behavior is more or less universal. But I want to highlight two specific points about all of this which relate to several of the topics I wrote about in my first week here, as well as some of the resulting reaction to that:
 
First, there are multiple institutions that are intended to safeguard against this ease of inducing blind trust in and obedience to authorities. The most obvious one is journalism, which, at its best, serves as a check against political authority by subjecting its pronouncements to skepticism and scrutiny, and by acting in general as an adversarial force against it. But there are other institutions that can and should play a similar role.

One is academia, a realm where tenure is supposed to ensure that authority's most sacred orthodoxies are subjected to unrelenting, irreverent questioning. Another is the federal judiciary, whose officials are vested with life tenure so as to empower them, without regard to popular sentiment, to impose limits on the acts of political authorities and to protect the society's most scorned and marginalized.

But just observe how frequently these institutions side with power rather than against it, how eagerly they offer their professional and intellectual instruments to justify and glorify the acts of political authority rather than challenge or subvert them. They will occasionally quibble on the margins with official acts, but their energies are overwhelmingly devoted to endorsing the legitimacy of institutional authority and, correspondingly, scorning those who have been marginalized or targeted by it.

Their collective instinct on any issue is to rush to align themselves with the sentiment prevailing in elite power circles. Most denizens in these realms would be hard-pressed to identify any instances in which they embraced causes or people deeply unpopular within those circles. Indeed, they judge their own rightness – they derive vindication – by how often they find themselves on the side of elite institutions and how closely aligned they are with the orthodoxies that prevail within them, rather than by how often they challenge or oppose them.

It is difficult to overstate the impact of this authority-serving behavior from the very institutions designed to oppose authority. As Zobel, the writer and director of Compliance, notes, most people are too busy with their lives to find the time or energy to scrutinize prevailing orthodoxies and the authorities propagating them. When the institutions that are in a position to provide those checks fail to do that, those orthodoxies and authorities thrive without opposition or challenge, no matter how false and corrupted they may be.
As much as anything else, this is the institutional failure that explains the debacles of the last decade. There is virtually no counter-weight to the human desire to follow and obey authority because the institutions designed to provide that counter-weight – media outlets, academia, courts – do the opposite: they are the most faithful servants of those centers of authority.

Second, it is very easy to get people to see oppression and tyranny in faraway places, but very difficult to get them to see it in their own lives ("How dare you compare my country to Tyranny X; we're free and they aren't"). In part that is explained by the way in which desire shapes perception. One naturally wants to believe that oppression is only something that happens elsewhere because one then feels good about one's own situation ("I'm free, unlike those poor people in those other places"). Thinking that way also relieves one of the obligation to act: one who believes they are free of oppression will feel no pressure to take a difficult or risky stand against it.

But the more significant factor is that one can easily remain free of even the most intense political oppression simply by placing one's faith and trust in institutions of authority. People who get themselves to be satisfied with the behavior of their institutions of power, or who at least largely acquiesce to the legitimacy of prevailing authority, are almost never subjected to any oppression, even in the worst of tyrannies.

Why would they be? Oppression is designed to compel obedience and submission to authority. Those who voluntarily put themselves in that state – by believing that their institutions of authority are just and good and should be followed rather than subverted – render oppression redundant, unnecessary.

Of course people who think and behave this way encounter no oppression. That's their reward for good, submissive behavior. As Rosa Luxemburg put this: "Those who do not move, do not notice their chains." They are left alone by institutions of power because they comport with the desired behavior of complacency and obedience without further compulsion.

But the fact that good, obedient citizens do not themselves perceive oppression does not mean that oppression does not exist. Whether a society is free is determined not by the treatment of its complacent, acquiescent citizens – such people are always unmolested by authority – but rather by the treatment of its dissidents and its marginalized minorities.

In the US, those are the people who are detained at airports and have their laptops and notebooks seized with no warrants because of the films they make or the political activism they engage in; or who are subjected to mass, invasive state surveillance despite no evidence of wrongdoing; or who are prosecuted and imprisoned for decadesor even executed without due process – for expressing political and religious views deemed dangerous by the government.

People who resist the natural human tendency to follow, venerate and obey prevailing authority typically have a much different view about how oppressive a society is than those who submit to those impulses. The most valuable experiences for determining how free a society is are the experiences of society's most threatening dissidents, not its content and compliant citizens. It was those who marched against Mubarak who were detained, beaten, tortured and killed, not those who acquiesced to or supported the regime. That is the universal pattern of authoritarian oppression.

The temptation to submit to authority examined by Compliance bolsters an authoritarian culture by transforming its leading institutions into servants of power rather than checks on it. But worse, it conceals the presence of oppression by ensuring that most citizens, choosing to follow, trust and obey authority, do not personally experience oppression and thus do not believe – refuse to believe – that it really exists


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http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2012/08/26/sunday-review/26bruni/26bruni-articleLarge.jpg

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Frank Bruni has a quite interesting and incisive New York Times column today about a new independent film called Compliance.

Ever Meek, 
Ever Malleable

Frank Bruni - Op-Ed Columnist

I INSTANTLY bought the strip-search. The nude jumping jacks, too.  But the spanking?
That’s the point in the provocative, gripping new movie “Compliance,” about the degradation of a restaurant employee, when some people in the audience reportedly shake their heads and walk out.

Like them, I was tempted to reject the plausibility of what was happening on-screen. It’s hard to swallow. But “Compliance” asks questions too big — and too relevant to a political season of grandiose persuasion and elaborate subterfuge — to be dismissed or ignored. Although it’s playing in just nine theaters nationwide for now, it deserves a higher profile, broader notice and a viewing from start to finish.

It’s an essential parable of human gullibility. How much can people be talked into and how readily will they defer to an authority figure of sufficient craft and cunning? “Compliance” gives chilling answers.

Made on a modest budget and set during one shift at a fictional fast-food restaurant called ChickWich, it imagines that the manager, a dowdy middle-aged woman, gets a call from someone who falsely claims to be a police officer. (I haven’t spoiled much yet but am about to, at least for anyone unfamiliar with the real-life events on which “Compliance” is based.)

The “officer” on the phone tells the manager that he has evidence that a young female employee of hers just stole money from a customer’s purse. Because the cops can’t get to the restaurant for a while, he says, the manager must detain the employee herself in a back room. He instructs her to check the young woman’s pockets and handbag for the stolen money. When that doesn’t turn up anything, he uses a mix of threats and praise to persuade her to do a strip-search. And that’s just the start.

The manager’s boyfriend later assumes the duties of watching over the detained employee. Cajoled and coached by the voice on the phone, he makes her do those jumping jacks, which are meant to dislodge any hidden loot. By the time he leaves the back room, he’s also been persuaded to spank and then sexually assault her.

Preposterous, right? But the details in the movie are more or less consistent with an incident at a McDonald’s in Kentucky in 2004. And that incident was part of a series of hoaxes in which a prank caller manipulated workers at McDonald’s franchises and at other fast-food restaurants into the kind of invasive, abusive behavior depicted in the movie.

History has amply documented the human capacity for cruelty and quickness to exploit vulnerability, and “Compliance” touches on those themes. But it has even more to say about the human capacity for credulousness, along with obedience.

People routinely buy into outlandish claims that calm particular anxieties, fill given needs or affirm preferred worldviews. Religions and wrinkle-cream purveyors alike depend on that. And someone like Todd Akin, the antihero of last week’s news, illustrates it to a T. The notion that a raped woman can miraculously foil and neutralize sperm is a good 10 times crazier than anything in “Compliance,” but it dovetails beautifully with his obvious wish — and the wishes of like-minded extremists — for an abortion prohibition with no exceptions. So he embraces it.

People also routinely elect trust over skepticism because it’s easier, more convenient. Saddam Hussein is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction; the climate isn’t changing; Barack Obama’s birth certificate is forged; Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years. To varying degrees, all of these were or are articles of faith, unverifiable or eventually knocked down. People nonetheless accepted them because the alternative meant confronting outright mendacity from otherwise respected authorities, trading the calm of certainty for the disquiet of doubt, or potentially hunkering down to the hard work of muddling through the elusive truth of things. Better simply to be told what’s what.

AS Craig Zobel, the writer and director of “Compliance,” said to me on the phone on Friday, “We can’t be on guard all the time. In order to have a pleasant life, you have to be able to trust that people are who they say they are. And if you questioned everything you heard, you’d never get anything done.” It’s infinitely more efficient to follow a chosen leader and walk in lock step with a chosen tribe.

In fact, what’s most distinctive about the current presidential election and our political culture isn’t their negativity — though that’s plenty noteworthy and worrisome — but how unconditionally so many partisans back their side’s every edict, plaint and stratagem. Some of them behave, in a smaller and less sinister way, as characters in “Compliance” do. They surrender to and accept instructions from a designated leader rather than examining each new assertion on its own merits, for its own accuracy. They submit, nudged along by emphatic oratory, slick advertising, facts thoroughly massaged and lies smoothly told.

“Compliance” charts the mechanisms and progress of mind control. The “officer” introduces himself with utter confidence, sure of himself and unambiguous about the necessary course of action. He expresses sympathy, telling his human puppets that he knows how confusing and difficult everything he’s asking of them must seem. He doles out compliments and rebukes, establishing himself as someone who sits rightfully in a position of judgment. He insists that he’s mindful of their self-interest: “You need to listen to me for your own sake.”

And he grows bolder in studied increments, knowing that once a person has decided to believe you, he or she is more likely to continue to, because to rebel at a late juncture is to admit that you’ve been duped all along. At a certain point you’re psychologically invested in fealty. At a certain point a spanking is no longer outside the realm of possibility.

After the restaurant’s manager and employees realize that the “officer” was nothing of the sort, the manager defensively tells a journalist: “He had an answer every time that I asked a question.”
The great hucksters do, and that’s why we should all bear in mind something that the journalist subsequently asks her.
“It never occurred to you,” he says, “to think twice?

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 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/opinion/sunday/bruni-gullibility-in-politics-and-in-film.html?_r=2
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