31 janeiro 2006
30 janeiro 2006
Roosevelt was definitely the more susceptible of the two. Paradoxically, this came from his own vanity. Proud of his famous charm, he was convinced that he alone could win Stalin to a postwar partnership after the wartime alliance. But such a transformation was highly unlikely. Roosevelt overestimated his own abilities and completely underestimated Stalin’s paranoid schizophrenia, xenophobia, ruthlessness and cruelty.
Roosevelt’s instinctive generosity and vision in 1941 must be recognised when he decided to throw his country’s industrial might into supporting the Soviet Union immediately after the Nazi invasion. The letters in My Dear Mr Stalin, a collection of the correspondence between the two, remind us of the staggering scale of US aid. In October 1942, at the height of the Battle of Stalingrad, Stalin provided a shopping list for delivery each month: 500 fighter planes (he understandably rejected the American Kitty Hawk as obsolete and demanded the newer Airacobra); 8,000 to 10,000 trucks; 5,000 tons of aluminium; and 5,000 tons of explosives. “In addition to this,” Stalin continued, the USSR needed “two million tons of grain” over 12 months as well as “fats, food concentrates and canned meat”. Machine tools, smelters, even refineries were to be shipped.
The great irony, unacknowledged by Russian historians even today, is that had it not been for the hundreds of thousands of Dodge and Studebaker trucks, the Red Army would never have reached Berlin before the Americans.
Roosevelt refused to attach strings to aid. Nor, more surprisingly, did he intervene or protest when it was discovered that the Soviet Military Mission in the US was spying shamelessly and flying quantities of stolen documents from the Manhattan Project out of the country. Stalin, not surprisingly, paid tribute to the largesse of American capitalism, even if the reasons for its efficiency were ignored for obvious political reasons. Yet the chief interest to historians in these letters is not in the mutual compliments and statesmanlike expressions of gratitude or admiration, but the explanations that they offer on the origins of the Cold War.
Stalin, the victor of Stalingrad and commander-in-chief of the Red Army, which had borne the brunt of the sacrifice, was able to dictate the military strategy of his Western Allies. All too aware that millions of Soviet citizens had died, the British and American leaders naturally suffered blood guilt. Stalin deferred to Roosevelt on the surface, but laid down the basic plan for the Western Allies. Their main thrust against Germany had to come across the Channel and through northern Europe.
Churchill, rightly afraid that Stalin would impose a Soviet dictatorship across the Balkans and Central Europe, preferred the political advantages of a Mediterranean strategy, attacking northeastwards from Italy into Austria and Hungary. But he was wrong for the sound military reasons of difficult terrain and over-extended supply lines.
Roosevelt, in his urge to take the pressure off the Red Army, declared that Anglo-American armies would launch a cross-Channel assault as early as the summer of 1942. This was not simply ill-considered but frankly irresponsible. Stalin locked on to this commitment. Even a year later, an attempt to invade the Continent would have met with disaster. We did not have the landing craft and the American armies were not yet battle ready. As a result, Churchill’s delaying tactics turned out to be the greatest service to the Allied cause — a failed invasion in 1943 would have been disastrous in every way. Stalin, however, saw these postponements as hard evidence that all his suspicions were justified. The Western capitalists were deliberately allowing the Soviet Union to bleed to death: “You write to me that you fully understand my disappointment. I have to tell you that this is not simply a matter of disappointment of the Soviet Government, but a matter of preservation of its confidence in the Allies.”
He underlined the tiny sacrifices made by Western armies in comparison with those of the Red Army. Stalin almost certainly despised the Western reluctance to risk lives. He would have been quite prepared to throw away 100,000 men in a premature attempt, just as he had sent untrained and unarmed militia to fight German divisions in the late summer of 1941.
When Roosevelt had to tell Stalin that the invasion of France would take place not in 1943 but “as soon as practicable”, he rightly (but in vain) emphasised the importance of the strategic bombing campaign by the USAF and the RAF. This aerial second front diverted Luftwaffe resources, both fighters and anti-aircraft batteries, away from the Eastern Front.
“As you are aware,” he wrote, “we are already containing more than half the German Air Force in Western Europe and the Mediterranean.” This proportion would rise above 80 per cent by the end of the following year, with huge advantages for the Red Army which, for the first time, benefitted from virtual air supremacy. One could argue that Operation Bagration, which destroyed Army Group Centre in the greatest surprise attack of the war in the early summer of 1944, depended largely on the fact that German reconnaissance aircraft had not stood a chance.
This book is a curious mixture from a publisher as distinguished as Yale. It is one of the most important collections of 20th-century correspondence for a long time, and yet the introduction and commentary reveal the heavy responsibilities of an editor.
Susan Butler deserves credit for recognising the importance of this collection, but the number of mistakes and the degree of misunderstanding of key issues are at times bewildering. They show that the editor, whose previous speciality was the life of Amelia Earhart, is badly out of her depth in the Second World War. She confuses Colonel Stauffenberg, the failed assassin of Hitler, with Count von der Schulenberg, the German Ambassador in Moscow at the time of the Nazi invasion.
Her beliefs, based on partial truths, are simplistic, if not naive. Roosevelt is the noble idealist, the only man that Stalin, the great Soviet leader, respects. Butler goes on about Roosevelt and his great vision of the United Nations, but Stalin, as the Yalta discussions showed only too clearly, was prepared to humour Roosevelt on this side issue provided that he got what he wanted over Poland and Central Europe.
Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill could have saved Poland in 1945. As the American diplomat Chip Bohlen observed, “Stalin held all the cards”. But the issue of Poland is so central to the origins of the Cold War and to this correspondence that a basic degree of accuracy is required.
Butler evidently has no idea of Stalin’s personal hatred for the Poles, dating back to his own humiliation in 1921 during the Soviet-Polish War. The Katyn massacre of Polish leaders comes up, but there is no indication that she understands how the Poles suffered at the hands of the NKVD after Stalin stabbed the country in the back in 1939 and set out to liquidate its leadership and intelligentsia through mass murder. Polish suspicions of Stalin and his puppet Lublin Government are made to appear unreasonable and reactionary. It is not hard to imagine non-Communist Poles reading these passages speechless with rage at the impression given.
Inconsistencies are brushed over or ignored. “The President,” she writes in her introduction, “was determined to break through an arms-length relationship, get to know his man, and make Stalin trust him. To a great extent he succeeded.”
Yet how does she reconcile this notion of success with the cold anger and barefaced lies in Stalin’s signals to Roosevelt as soon as the Yalta honeymoon was over?
Letter after letter — whether about the surrender negotiations in Italy, Stalin’s allegations that the US Army was allowing the Germans to transfer troops against the Red Army, his insinuations that the Americans had deliberately given them false intelligence on German plans, and his fury at any opposition to his plans to turn Poland into a Soviet satellite — reveal how utterly superficial this trust really was. Arthur Schlesinger Jr in the foreword is far closer to the truth. Roosevelt’s “vision of the wartime alliance prolonged into peacetime encountered the hard rock of Stalinist ideology”, he writes. “No one should be surprised by what ensued. The real surprise would have been if there had been no Cold War.”
My Dear Mr Stalin: The Complete Correspondence of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph V. Stalin, edited by Susan Butler, is published by Yale, £17.50, 380pp; offer £15.75 inc p&p from 0870 1608080
Exchanges from the pens of the powerful
by Michael Binyon
On September 11, 1939, President Roosevelt sent a message to the the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. He was seeking information about the war and wanted to establish contact with a British leader who might take over should Neville Chamberlain resign.
So began a correspondence unparalleled among national leaders. The easy, affable style of their letters foreshadowed their friendship; Churchill signed himself “Naval Person”, which became “Former Naval Person” after he had moved to Downing Street.
The two exchanged thousands of messages, letters and telephone calls. But their friendship was not without tensions — glossed over by Churchill after Roosevelt’s death — as the Prime Minister became suspicious of Roosevelt’s correspondence with Stalin.
Transatlantic correspondence continued, however. Eden wrote to Eisenhower, but with little warmth. The letters chart a relationship that decayed from geniality to disaster. Eisenhower addresses Eden as “Dear Anthony”; he replies “Dear Mr President” and only later “Dear Friend”. As the Suez crisis unfolded, the letters became blunter, with Eisenhower all but ignoring Eden’s pleas for support.
Macmillan fared better with Kennedy, but the President’s most crucial correspondence was with Nikita Khrushchev during the 1962 Cuba missile crisis. The Soviet leader’s letters were alternately threatening and conciliatory — on one day one of each arrived. Kennedy ignored the bluster, responded to the conciliation and the tension was defused.
Most US presidents have written to European leaders; Lincoln used such messages to dissuade Britain from supporting the South during the Civil War.
European monarchs were also great letter writers. Catherine the Great kept up a long and lively correspondence with Voltaire, who was also a penfriend of Frederick the Great of Prussia. Queen Victoria wrote endlessly to other monarchs, mostly her offspring: she showed great affection for Tsar Nicholas II but was frosty towards Kaiser Wilhelm II. It is even believed that Elizabeth I and Ivan the Terrible exchanged messages.
Imperial correspondence goes back to Roman times. Augustus kept up a lively correspondence with the younger Pliny, then a governor in Asia Minor, advising him to turn a blind eye to the activities of the Christians.
[Antony Beevor at the TimesOnline]
25 janeiro 2006
Jake Gyllenhaal of Donnie Darko (and more recently Brokeback Mountain) fame plays Anthony Swofford, who wrote the book that the movie is based on. He's a bright guy who reads Camus and is separated from the rest of the square-jawed, foul-mouthed jocks in his platoon by the fact that he speaks some Arabic and doesn't really want to be a killing machine (he claims to have ended up in the Marine Corps because he got lost on his way to college). The training scenes will look familiar to anyone who has seen Full Metal Jacket: they're all scary-looking, leather-faced lieutenants bellowing at the new recruits and accusing them of being queers, lazy sons-of-bitches, motherfuckers, etc. It's the later war scenes, in which there are no scenes of war, that are weird and eerie.
Having spent more than 150 days in the desert doing not very much, Swofford and his fellow 'jarheads' (a reference both to marines' cropped haircuts and the fact that their heads are seen as empty vessels waiting to be filled by war talk) get overexcited when they're finally called on to fight. They dig trenches in the sand and train their guns on anything on the horizon that looks vaguely like an Arab. But still nothing happens. They wander through the desert with the oil vomited up by burning pipelines (set alight by fleeing Iraqi soldiers) squelching beneath their feet but find no one to fight. Swofford and a colleague hear what sound like Iraqi soldiers over a sand dune, so they sneak up on them, sure that this, at last, is the moment they will get to fire their weapons. But they are not Iraqis; they are American soldiers celebrating the end of the war. Swofford's face is a picture: 'What war?' he wonders.
Jarhead is directed by Briton Sam Mendes, who seems obsessed by the dark underbelly of American life: his first feature film was American Beauty, which exposed hypocrisy and violence in suburbia; his second, Road to Perdition, was about Depression-era gangsterism. Jarhead has been criticised by both the pro- and anti-war camps. Those who support the current US-led intervention in Iraq are concerned that it will dent soldiers' morale; those opposed to the Iraq war are disappointed that the film is 'neither overtly political enough, nor unambiguously anti-war enough' (perhaps they wanted Mendes to make a public announcement broadcast instead?). Others point out that Mendes seems to have wanted to comment on the current Iraq war but has chosen to do it through the earlier Iraq war, a bit like the way that 70s US series M*A*S*H depicted the Korean war but was really about the Vietman war - and no doubt that is true. But it seems to me that for all these complaints, Mendes has made a film that captures very well the peculiar inhumanity of contemporary warfare.
Yes, as numerous reviewers have pointed out, the film shows how the American military's reliance on airpower threatens to make Joe Soldier redundant. But it is about more than the futility of war, even the futility of a massive air war conducted by some of the most powerful nations on Earth against one of the weakest. It is more depressing than that; it's about the futility of life in general. Swofford and his colleagues are all young men with dull and directionless lives. On the flight to Iraq they feel like they have finally come to life, having spent years trying to get to the ninth level of some video game or other. 'You know what happens when you get to the ninth level?' one of them says. 'Nothing.' Swofford didn't really get lost on his way to college; he's just not convinced that going to college and getting a good job is all it's cracked up to be.
In contrast to the speedy and lively photography of their time in the desert, their civilian lives are depicted as grey and static. One is shown stacking supermarket shelves; another gives a soulless presentation to a bunch of boardroom execs; Swofford sits in front of a blank computer screen. They don't go to the desert to fight for something (as evidenced in their heated debates about whether this is a war for oil or to liberate Kuwait or what?) but rather to find themselves. They believe the physical experience of fighting in a war will give a kind of meaning to their otherwise bland existences. That's why, when one of Swofford's mates has the opportunity to kill an Iraqi general with a sniper's rifle, only for the operation to be called off at the very last minute, he breaks down and sobs uncontrollably. This, he insists, was 'my moment'. 'It's my kill!' he bawls. He doesn't see knocking off the Iraqi as one small part of a greater war effort (whatever that might be) but as something akin to popping his cherry, a cathartic experience that will make him more of a man than he is.
This belief that war has a special power to imbue our personal lives with purpose has been doing the rounds, and not only among jarheads. Many journalists over the past 10 years have thrown themselves into war situations in search of that special something that seems to be missing from their daily lives. In his widely-praised War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning (the title kind of says it all), the New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges writes of having become addicted to war in the 1980s and 90s and how he much preferred 'the simplicity and high' of war to 'the routine of life', our 'sterile, empty, futile present'. 'Many of us, restless and unfulfilled, see no supreme worth in our lives', says Hedges. 'We want more out of life. And war, at least, gives a sense that we can rise above our smallness and divisiveness…. The eruption of conflict reduces the headache and trivia of daily life.'
In a more embarrassing contribution (but which was equally widely praised by other journalists) British writer Anthony Loyd wrote a memoir called My War Gone By, I Miss It So about his experience covering the civil war in Bosnia for the London Times. He describes the Bosnian war as being like 'falling in love…a heady sensual rush' which 'I have never found elsewhere'. He takes journalistic narcissism to a new low when he describes even a sexual encounter with a Serb woman as part and parcel of his thrilling sense that he was in the midst of a good war against a bad people (the Serbs). 'We screwed each other in her flat: proxy war repackaged as love', he writes. 'I wanted to bite her, scratch her, hurt her, fuck her, love her.' Various reviewers have noted the close relationship between sex and death (or more accurately wanking and wanting to kill) in Jarhead, but journalists seem just as capable of seeing their dicks as an extension of their wartime egos. (The penis is mightier than the pen, perhaps?)
What these jarheads and journalists reveal (aside from the fact that reporters today can make everything, even someone else's horrible bloody war, all about themselves) is that contemporary war is less the pursuit of politics by other means than it is simply the pursuit of meaning. It is a vacuum in the West, a sense that our lives have become 'empty' and 'futile', that can make other people's wars seem attractive to both wide-eyed wannabe marines and the cheerleaders of war in the media. In this sense, the jarheads' search for something bigger than themselves in Iraq is a microcosm of what Western military intervention itself has become over the past 15 years, from the first Gulf War to the current Gulf war. These sporadic interventions are driven less by the quest for profit or territory than they are by a desire for moral renovation on the part of confused and crisis-ridden elites. At a time when our leaders struggle to create even a minimal consensus at home the appeal of intervening abroad is that they can pose as morally serious actors in some far-off foreign field. They, too, like Swofford and his fellow jarheads, go tripping to various deserts to fill a gap, looking for that something which seems to be missing from the everyday. They intervene, not with a mission, but in search of one.
One of the freakier scenes in Jarhead shows Swofford stumbling upon an Iraqi family burnt to death while sitting around a campfire. Their bodies are blackened to a crisp. He doesn't know what to make of them, just as he doesn't know what to make of the war itself: are they the enemy, civilian casualties, collateral damage, what? Really they are none of these things; they are props in Swofford's and the American military's morality play in the desert. It's a stark reminder that trying to find yourself by fighting in someone else's backyard can have deadly consequences for those who live there.
The aurora australis (southern lights).
24 janeiro 2006
The Web search engine Google continues to expand its power in cyberspace. Everyday people come up with another quirky way to make use of its almighty algorithms. First came the Googlewhack, where people with way too much time on their hands tried to find two different words that would come up with a single search result. But it didn't stop there.
Now a German blogger has come up with a world map that shows what traits different nationalities are especially known for. It's called "The Prejudice Map," but it seems more like a catalog of stereotypes and clichés to us. But seeing as how such stereotypes can lead to prejudice, we can probably let that slide. How does it work you ask? Well, its creator has simply put the phrase "Germans are known for *" into Google and the the search engine has done the rest. SPIEGEL ONLINE turned that tactic against Google itself and found out that the Web site is known for its relaxed corporate culture, simplicity and frequently changing its ranking methods.
23 janeiro 2006
NEXT time you are organising a cheese and wine party, don't waste your money on quality wine. Cheese masks the subtle flavours that mark out a good wine, so your guests won't be able to tell that you are serving them cheap stuff.
Bernice Madrigal-Galan and Hildegarde Heymann of the University of California, Davis, presented trained wine tasters with cheap and expensive versions of four different varieties of wine. The tasters evaluated the strength of various flavours and aromas in each wine both alone and when preceded by eight different cheeses.
They found that cheese suppressed just about everything, including berry and oak flavours, sourness and astringency. Only butter aroma was enhanced by cheese, and that is probably because cheese itself contains the molecule responsible for a buttery wine aroma, Heymann says. Strong cheeses suppressed flavours more than milder cheeses, but flavours of all wines were suppressed. In other words, there are no magical wine and cheese pairings.
Heymann suggests that proteins in the cheese may bind to flavour molecules in the wine, or that fat from the cheese may coat the mouth, deadening the tasters' perception of the wines' flavours. The paper will appear online in March in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture.
Peter H. Fogtdal has written 10 novels in Danish, four of them best sellers. One (Le Front Chantilly, O Paraíso de Hitler) is translated into French and Portuguese.
This is what interests me, that a (small?) Portuguese publishing house brought this to our attention, Mercado de Letras.
Since there's not a word translated to English anywhere, here's a synopsis from Webboom:
«A "Frente Chantilly" foi o nome dado por Adolf Hitler ao seu protectorado modelo na Dinamarca (...) Conta a história, baseada na realidade, de Andreas Spiess, um oficial austríaco responsável por um quartel alemão na Dinamarca durante a II Guerra Mundial. Um dia, Spiess conhece David Huda, o único judeu da aldeia (o avô materno do autor). Entre o oficial alemão e o judeu lavrador nasce uma amizade que pode ter sérias consequências para ambos. Através de uma lógica de flashbacks, seguimos o jovem oficial por Berlim (onde era propagandista do Terceiro Reich), pela Dinamarca e pela Frente Leste.»
Words from someone who met the author and recommended the book to the publisher:
«Uma derradeira palavra para a Dinamarca do Peter H. Fogtdal. Esta nação foi das que menos pactuou com o opróbrio e com o anti-semitismo nazis. Através da sistemática desobediência civil e de uma coragem digna de nota, os dinamarqueses salvaram os seus judeus. Apenas 477 judeus dinamarqueses (de um total de 6500) foram capturados pelos esbirros de Hitler. E a dignidade e a coragem deste gesto não podem ser olvidadas, porque, em derradeira instância, resgatam inúmeras indignidades alheias. Que a publicação deste livro entre nós, seja também uma singela homenagem aos que tiveram a coragem de ser decentes quando era perigoso sê-lo.»
22 janeiro 2006
The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere even knew that there was another one.
We've sure come a long way since then. Sometimes I wish we hadn't. I hate H-bombs and the Jerry Springer Show
But back to people like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, each of whom have said in their own way how we could behave more humanely and maybe make the world a less painful place. One of my favourite humans is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana.
Get a load of this. Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was not yet four, ran five times as the Socialist party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, almost 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:
"As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
"As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it.
"As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
Doesn't anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools, or health insurance for all?
When you get out of bed each morning, with the roosters crowing, wouldn't you like to say. "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
How about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
And so on.
Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly George W Bush, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld stuff.
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
It so happens that idealism enough for anyone is not made of perfumed pink clouds. It is the law! It is the US Constitution.
But I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened instead is that it was taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d'état imaginable.
I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your hair stand on end: "C-Students from Yale".
George W Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.
To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete's foot. The classic medical text on PPs is The Mask of Sanity by Dr Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia, published in 1941. Read it!
Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything.
PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!
And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George Bush, and not because he's against gay marriage.
So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.
They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't. Do this! Do that! Mobilise the reserves! Privatise the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody's telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!
There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president. This was true even in high school. Only clearly disturbed people ran for class president.
The title of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is a parody of the title of Ray Bradbury's great science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451. Four hundred and fifty-one degrees Fahrenheit is the combustion point, incidentally, of paper, of which books are composed. The hero of Bradbury's novel is a municipal worker whose job is burning books.
While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.
So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.
And still on the subject of books: our daily news sources, newspapers and TV, are now so craven, so unvigilant on behalf of the American people, so uninformative, that only in books do we learn what's really going on.
I will cite an example: House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger, published in early 2004, that humiliating, shameful, blood-soaked year.
In case you haven't noticed, as the result of a shamelessly rigged election in Florida, in which thousands of African-Americans were arbitrarily disenfranchised, we now present ourselves to the rest of the world as proud, grinning, jut-jawed, pitiless war-lovers with appallingly powerful weaponry - who stand unopposed.
In case you haven't noticed, we are now as feared and hated all over the world as Nazis once were.
And with good reason.
In case you haven't noticed, our unelected leaders have dehumanised millions and millions of human beings simply because of their religion and race. We wound 'em and kill 'em and torture 'em and imprison 'em all we want.
Piece of cake.
In case you haven't noticed, we also dehumanised our own soldiers, not because of their religion or race, but because of their low social class.
Send 'em anywhere. Make 'em do anything.
Piece of cake.
The O'Reilly Factor.
So I am a man without a country, except for the librarians and a Chicago paper called In These Times.
Before we attacked Iraq, the majestic New York Times guaranteed there were weapons of mass destruction there.
Albert Einstein and Mark Twain gave up on the human race at the end of their lives, even though Twain hadn't even seen the first world war. War is now a form of TV entertainment, and what made the first world war so particularly entertaining were two American inventions, barbed wire and the machine gun.
Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don't you wish you could have something named after you?
Like my distinct betters Einstein and Twain, I now give up on people, too. I am a veteran of the second world war and I have to say this is not the first time I have surrendered to a pitiless war machine.
My last words? "Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a mouse."
Napalm came from Harvard. Veritas
Our president is a Christian? So was Adolf Hitler. What can be said to our young people, now that psychopathic personalities, which is to say persons without consciences, without senses of pity or shame, have taken all the money in the treasuries of our government and corporations, and made it all their own?
[Kurt Vonnegut's Memoirs extract at The Guardian]
21 janeiro 2006
But the writer-director was in debt by $300,000 and had no other prospects. He turned to his quiet, intense assistant — a director manqué himself whose dream project was a hallucinatory epic about the Vietnam War shot on Super-8 home-movie film — and asked what he should do.
"Take it, Francis," the assistant said. "We’re broke."
The assistant, who showed here the first spark of the commercial sense that would later make him the most successful man in the history of show business, was George Lucas. The filmmaker was Francis Ford Coppola. And neither they nor anybody else who had anything to do with The Godfather would ever come close to reaching the artistic heights they achieved with a project undertaken because its director needed the money so he could make so-called "personal" films.
Now, 28 years after its release, The Godfather has firmly established itself as the single greatest achievement in the history of film. (Some still argue for Citizen Kane, but they’re wrong.) It’s the peerless cinematic epic, the story of the destructive power of love and family. Coppola jettisoned the pulpier aspects of Mario Puzo’s novel, which wasted countless pages on roman-à-clef renderings of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, to focus in on the tragedy of Michael Corleone. Slowly, magisterially and heartbreakingly, the young hero back from World War II loses his soul because he cannot escape the call of his blood — and it is the particular punishment for his father Vito, who had hoped that Michael would transcend the thievery and thuggery into which Vito had descended as a young man, that he must watch sadly as his son is inexorably transformed into a colder and more ruthless version of himself.
It was Puzo’s wily conceit that these Mafiosi weren’t just criminal bums but Roman emperors and generals in modern garb, fighting over turf and position not for money but for the greater glory of their family names. But it was Coppola who took that conceit and made it into a human drama both amazingly intimate and grandly horrifying. Coppola gives us the same kind of exquisitely careful detail in the sequence when the wounded Vito is presented hand-made get-well cards by his loving grandchildren after he is nearly assassinated as he does in the famous climax when Michael renounces Satan during the baptism of his godchild even as his henchmen are simultaneously wiping out his rivals all over New York City.
In Coppola’s rendering, even in a new world where men like Michael are free to choose the lives they wish to lead, the demands of family and tradition win out — and are so powerful that they can destroy everything that’s good in a man who had greatness in him.
About the book Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker’s Life, by Michael Schumacher.
Read more at the Policy Review
«When it comes to dealing with an ex-dictator’s body (or that of a war criminal), at some point in time, men have done all of the above and more. But which methods have successfully closed dark chapters in history and which ones have led to public embarrassment or worse? It might be helpful to examine a few historical examples spanning the good, the bad, the ugly, and the just plain bizarre.»
Read on from Policy Review
In 1949, Cardinal Jószef Mindszenty appeared before the world's cameras to mumble his confession to treasonous crimes against the Hungarian church and state. For resisting communism, the World War II hero had been subjected for 39 days to sleep deprivation and humiliation, alternating with long hours of interrogation, by Russian-trained Hungarian police. His staged confession riveted the Central Intelligence Agency, which theorized in a security memorandum that Soviet-trained experts were controlling Mindszenty by "some unknown force." If the Communists had interrogation weapons that were evidently more subtle and effective than brute physical torture, the CIA decided, then it needed such weapons, too.
Months later, the agency began a program to explore "avenues to the control of human behavior," as John Marks discusses in his book The Search for the Manchurian Candidate. During the next decade and a half, CIA experts honed the use of "chemical and biological materials capable of producing human behavioral and physiological changes" according to a retrospective CIA catalog written in 1963. And thus soft torture in the United States was born.
In short order, CIA experts attempted to induce Mindszenty-like effects. An interrogation team consisting of a psychiatrist, a lie-detector expert, and a hypnotist went to work using combinations of the depressant Sodium Amytal and certain stimulants. Tests on four suspected double agents in Tokyo in July 1950 and on 25 North Korean prisoners of war three months later yielded more noteworthy results. (Relevant CIA documents do not specify exactly what, but reports later claimed that the special interrogation teams could hold a subject in a "controlled state" for a long period.) Meanwhile, the CIA opened the door to pre-emptive psychosurgery: In a doctor's office in Washington, D.C., one unfortunate man, his name deleted from documents, was lobotomized against his will during an interrogation. By the mid-to-late 1950s, experiments using "black techniques," as the agency called them, moved to prisons, hospitals, and other field-testing sites with funding and encouragement from the CIA's Science and Technology Directorate*.
One of the most extreme 1950s experiments that the CIA sponsored was conducted at a McGill University hospital, where the world-renowned psychiatrist Dr. Ewen Cameron had been pioneering a technique he called "psychic driving." Dr. Cameron was widely considered the most able psychiatrist in Canada—his honors included the presidency of the World Psychiatric Association—and his patients were referred to him from all over. A disaffected housewife, a rebellious youth, a struggling starlet, and the wife of a Canadian member of Parliament were a few of the more than 100 patients who became uninformed, nonconsenting experimental subjects. Many were diagnosed as schizophrenic (a diagnosis since contested in many of the cases).
Cameron's goal was to wipe out the stable "self," eliminating deep-seated psychological problems in order to rebuild it. He grandiosely hoped to transform human existence by opening a new gateway to the understanding of consciousness. The CIA wanted to know what his experiments suggested about interrogating people with the help of sensory deprivation, environmental manipulation, and psychic disorientation.
Cameron's technique was to expose a patient to tape-recorded messages or sounds that were played back or repeated for long periods. The goal was a condition Cameron dubbed "penetration": The patient experienced an escalating state of distress that often caused him or her to reveal long-buried past experiences or disturbing events. At that point, the doctor would offer "healing" suggestions. Frequently, his patients didn't want to listen and would attack their analyst or try to leave the room. In the 1956 American Journal of Psychiatry, Cameron explained that he broke down their resistance by continually repeating his message using "pillow and ceiling microphones" and different voices; by imposing periods of prolonged sleep; and by giving patients drugs like Sodium Amytal, Desoxyn, and LSD-25, which "disorganized" thought patterns.
To further disorganize his patients, Cameron isolated them in a sensory deprivation chamber. In a dark room, a patient would sit in silence with his eyes covered with goggles, prevented "from touching his body—thus interfering with his self image." Finally "attempts were made to cut down on his expressive output"—he was restrained or bandaged so he could not scream. Cameron combined these tactics with extended periods of forced listening to taped messages for up to 20 hours per day, for 10 or 15 days at a stretch.
In 1958 and 1959, Cameron went further. With new CIA money behind him, he tried to completely "depattern" 53 patients by combining psychic driving with electroshock therapy and a long-term, drug-induced coma. At the most intensive stage of the treatment, many subjects were no longer able to perform even basic functions. They needed training to eat, use the toilet, or speak. Once the doctor allowed the drugs to wear off and ceased shock treatments, patients slowly relearned how to take care of themselves—and their pretreatment symptoms were said to have disappeared.
So had much of their personalities. Patients emerged from Cameron's ward walking differently, talking differently, acting differently. Wives were more docile, daughters less inclined to histrionics, sons better-behaved. Most had no memory of their treatment or of their previous lives. Sometimes, they forgot they had children. At first, they were grateful to their doctor for his help. Several Cameron patients, however, later said they had severe recurrences of their pretreatment problems and traumatic memories of the treatment itself and together sued the doctor as well as the U.S. and Canadian governments. Their case was quietly settled out of court.
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, CIA experts thought they understood the techniques necessary for "breaking" a person. Under a strict regime of behavioral conditioning, "the possibility of resistance over a very long period may be vanishingly small," several researchers concluded in an analysis used in the CIA's 1963 manual Counterintelligence Interrogation. At the agency, pressure increased to field-test coercive interrogation tools. The task, as CIA second-in-command Richard Helms urged, was to test the agency's techniques on "normal" people. At times, this imperative made the agency reckless. As part of the now notorious MK-ULTRA program—"one of the seamiest episodes in American intelligence," according to journalist Seymour Hersh—the CIA set up a safe house in San Francisco where its agents could observe the effects of various drug combinations on human behavior. They were in search of a "truth serum" and thought LSD might be it. Prostitutes were hired to bring unwitting johns back to the house, where the women slipped acid and other strong psychoactive substances into the men's drinks. From behind a one-way mirror, investigators watched, notebooks and martinis in hand. Sometimes the men took the drugs and managed to carry on. Sometimes they babbled or cried. An internal CIA review condemned these high jinks in 1963, but Congress didn't investigate them until 1977, after a post-Watergate crisis of confidence in the agency.
At least officially, the CIA ended its behavioral science program in the mid-1960s, before scientists and operatives achieved total control over a subject. "All experiments beyond a certain point always failed," an operative veteran of the program said, "because the subject jerked himself back for some reason or the subject got amnesiac or catatonic." In other words, you could create a vegetable or a zombie, but not a robot who would obey you against his will. Still, the CIA had gained reliable information about how to derange and disorient a person who was reluctant to cooperate. An enemy could quickly be made into a confused and desperate human being.
Since 9/11, as government documents and news reports have made clear, the CIA's experimental approach to coercive interrogation has been revived. Last week, as the Washington Post revealed the existence of secret CIA-run prisons—"black sites"—in Eastern Europe, Vice President Dick Cheney continued to campaign to ensure that the agency will not be prevented from using "cruel, inhumane, and degrading" methods to elicit intelligence from detainees. The operatives of the 1940s would approve.
Correction, Nov. 18, 2005: The article originally referred to the CIA's Technology and Science Directorate. The correct title is the Science and Technology Directorate. Return to the corrected sentence.
20 janeiro 2006
Losing everything from ODE
18 janeiro 2006
Logos (...) is "the rational, pragmatic and scientific thought that enabled men and women to function well in the world." (...)
Mythos, in contrast, is "not concerned with practical matters, but with meaning."
Unmissable article on this groundbreaking event in Salon
The story of the two hostages Brian Keenan and John McCarthy in the 1979-91 Civil War in Lebanon, with Ian Hart and Linus Roache as you've never seen them before.
Blind Flight, Luta Cega em português.
17 janeiro 2006
This is paradoxical. Rarely in Britain has the book trade seemed so vigorous. In 1990, 65,000 new titles were published here. Last year, the total had risen to a staggering 161,000, far greater, pro rata, than France, Germany or even America. Never mind the figures. Britain's literary microclimate is tropical in its fever and Elizabethan in its profusion. Book festivals from Folkestone to Edinburgh heave with visitors; book clubs and reading groups have become middle England's bingo; book prize news breaks ceaselessly. And that's not to mention the broadcasters, from The South Bank Show and Richard and Judy to Book at Bedtime. No genre of contemporary writing escapes the programmers.
If, on this evidence, you were tempted to call this a golden age of publishing, you should first talk to the publishers. To them, the IT revolution cuts both ways. It has inspired a boom, but it also threatens to turn the book world upside down. As Richard Charkin, president of the Publishers' Association, told The Observer: 'I spend four-fifths of my time worrying about technology.' In the near future, Charkin believes that book publishing will be unrecognisable.
[From The Guardian]
Main Entry: whis·key
Variant(s): or whis·ky /'hwis-kE, 'wis-/
Inflected Form(s): plural whiskeys or whiskies
Etymology: Irish uisce beathadh & Scottish Gaelic uisge beatha, literally, water of life
1 : a liquor distilled from the fermented mash of grain (as rye, corn, or barley)
2 : a drink of whiskey
I speak on this subject with authority. Anyone who makes a living from broadcasting will get more than his share of GIB letters. Anyone who dares to write a book about the English language had better change his address if he’s not prepared to be swamped. Yes, it can be profoundly irritating. A Green Inker will always spot the mistake. So will many other readers but the GI will write to tell you about it. And if any GIs are reading, I know that the first edition of my last book awarded a distinguished academic the Noble Prize. What I don’t know is how it slipped past me, my editor, the proof reader and on into infinity. But it did. Thank you for pointing it out — but please, no more letters.
All of which leads me to wonder how David Crystal manages to get anything done. He has probably written more books about the English language than any other living soul and that in itself would make him a fat target for the GIB. But it’s what he says in them that makes me worry for him. How the hell does he cope with the GIB when he comes out with this sort of thing: his contention that, for instance, aberrant apostrophes don’t necessarily matter.
When he sees a greengrocer selling “potato’s” he does not reach for his horsewhip; he merely points out that in the 18th century it would have been perfectly acceptable. Indeed, he says, it is perfectly acceptable in the 21st century because there is no room for ambiguity. Everyone knows it must be a plural for the obvious reason that we know potatoes do not have the ability to possess things.
Can you begin to imagine the effect such heresy will have on the GIB? Here is a learned academic, arguably the most respected scholar of the structure of the English language in the land, telling us that Lynne Truss — and, by extension, every pedant in the land — is wrong. He goes farther. He compares people who pontificate on language and think they can sort out language problems with people who can fix our car when it goes wrong — and the language lot come off the worst. Some people, he says, “without any training at all even go so far as to write repair manuals about language and expect other people to live by their recommendations”.
Professor Crystal takes particular exception to those who think a large proportion of the population is “linguistically criminal”. They believe in the small set of rules they have managed themselves to acquire. They condemn others who have not had the same educational opportunities for not following those same rules: “Enthused by the Stalinesque policing metaphor, they advocate a policy of zero tolerance to eradicate all traces of the aberrant behaviour.”
Well now, steady on, professor. Lynne Truss can perfectly well defend herself without any help from me; she has a couple of million devoted readers to call on if she needs to. But I’ve never really thought of myself as Stalinesque — even if I do get a bit cross with people who break certain basic rules when they should know better. The truth is, it depends on the rule.
Alert readers will have spotted that I am not averse to beginning sentences with conjunctions or ending them with prepositions. Indeed, I applaud the rather gauche young man from the Deep South who, I was told when I was writing my book, won a scholarship to Harvard. On his first day there he approached a couple of elegant young New Englanders who clearly knew their way around.
“Hey y’all. Can you tell me where the library’s at?” One of them looked down at him with disdain and sneered: “At Harvard, we tend not to end sentences with prepositions.”
The young man thought for a moment. “OK,” he said. “Can you tell me where the library’s at . . . asshole?” Now that shows a fine understanding of English as well as a proper contempt for linguistic snobbery. But it is neither snobbish nor Stalinesque to argue for “a system beneath the apparent chaos of usage”. That system must be based on some rules.
Crystal began studying English more than half a century ago. There is a gulf as wide as the Pacific between his knowledge of the subject and mine. But by the time I left school at the age of 15 I had at least been taught the basic rules of grammar and it was enough (with a little judicious lying about my years at school) to get me a job on a local newspaper. It gave me a start.
I wrote my book mostly because an entire generation of children has been denied that basic knowledge. Idiotic experts decided for idiotic reasons that there was no reason to teach children grammar. Many believed that it would somehow constrain their imaginations. The truth is the opposite: a knowledge of grammar is empowering and liberating.
For all that, Professor Crystal’s latest book is essential reading for everyone who is fascinated by language. He cheerfully admits that some of it has appeared in his earlier books. What he has done is take familiar ideas and rethink them with a focus on the “how”, rather than on the “what” or the “why”. There are no fewer than 72 chapters beginning with the word “how”: everything from how we make speech sounds to how writing differs from speech to how children “learn to mean”.
It seems that a three-year-old has an active vocabulary of at least 2,000 words. I hope, in some future book, he will consider my own pet theory — based on vast research involving my own small child — that children have an instinctive understanding of grammar, much of which they manage to unlearn as the years go by. How else to explain that, since he was 3, my son has invariably put “only” in the correct place in the sentence (“I’m taking only one dinosaur to nursery”) and would never dream of saying “James and me are . . .”? Granted, he may be a genius and will turn into the next David Crystal, but there may be a more prosaic explanation.
Let’s hope there will be many more Crystal books. The man is a national treasure. Just one word of warning: I spotted several solecisms. And that means the GIB will spot them too. Stand by for the letters, professor.
16 janeiro 2006
We've made our first machinima animation to tell the tale. What is machinima? It is animation produced by using computer games. For this movie, we used a wonderful game called 'The Movies' by Lionhead Studios.
Click the image to get to see the movie :-)
WASHINGTON DC -- To many privacy geeks, it's the holy grail -- a totally anonymous and secure computer so easy to use you can hand it to your grandmother and send her off on her own to the local Starbucks.
That was the guiding principle for the members of kaos.theory security research
when they set out to put a secure crypto-heavy operating systems on a bootable CD: a disk that would offer the masses the same level of privacy available to security professionals, but with an easy user interface.
"If Granny's into trannies, and doesn't want her grandkids to know, she should be able to download without fear," says Taylor Banks, project leader.
It's a difficult problem, entailing a great deal of attention to both security details and usability issues. The group finally unveiled their finished product at the Shmoo Con hacker conference here Saturday, with mixed results.
Titled Anonym.OS, the system is a type of disk called a "live CD" -- meaning it's a complete solution for using a computer without touching the hard drive. Developers say Anonym.OS is likely the first live CD based on the security-heavy OpenBSD operating system.
OpenBSD running in secure mode is relatively rare among desktop users. So to keep from standing out, Anonym.OS leaves a deceptive network fingerprint. In everything from the way it actively reports itself to other computers, to matters of technical minutia such as TCP packet length, the system is designed to look like Windows XP SP1. "We considered part of what makes a system anonymous is looking like what is most popular, so you blend in with the crowd," explains project developer Adam Bregenzer of Super Light Industry.
Booting the CD, you are presented with a text based wizard-style list of questions to answer, one at a time, with defaults that will work for most users. Within a few moments, a fairly naive user can be up and running and connected to an open Wi-Fi point, if one is available.
Once you're running, you have a broad range of anonymity-protecting applications at your disposal.
But actually using the system can be a slow experience. Anonym.OS makes extensive use of Tor, the onion routing network that relies on an array of servers passing encrypted traffic to permit untraceable surfing. Sadly, Tor has recently suffered from user-base growth far outpacing the number of servers available to those users -- at last count there were only 419 servers worldwide. So Tor lags badly at times of heavy use.
Between Tor's problems, and some nagging performance issues on the disk itself, Banks concedes that the CD is not yet ready for the wide audience he hopes to someday serve. "Is Grandma really going to be able to use it today? I don't know. If she already uses the internet, yes."
Experts also say Anonym.OS may not solve the internet's most pressing issues, such as the notorious China problem: repressive governments that monitor their population's net access, and censor or jail citizens who speak out against the government.
Ethan Zuckerman, fellow with Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, works extensively with international bloggers and journalists, many of whom live under constant threat from their own governments. He see Anonym.OS as a blessing for some -- but not for those at the greatest risk.
"I think it's going to be tremendously useful for fairly sophisticated users when they are traveling, but where it may not be as effective as people would hope is in counties where the government is really seriously about locking down the net, constraining internet access," Zuckerman says.
Because most people in the developing world use the internet from shared desktop environments, services for them have to consider office place and cyber cafe-based computer situations. "Rebooting isn't often an option," explains Zuckerman, who would like to see anonymity solutions move toward minimally invasive strategies like the TorPark, a USB key that allows access to a Tor enabled browser without rebooting, and private proxies matched up one by one with dissidents.
But kaos.theory members say Anonym.OS is just the first step in making anonymity widely available. Future versions, they say, may run on a USB keychain. Additionally, they plan to implement Enigmail to allow encrypted e-mail for Thunderbird and Gaim Off The Record, which allows users to use instant messaging without their logs being tied to them.
David Del Torto, chief security officer of the non-profit CryptoRights group, says projects like Anonym.OS are heading in the right direction, but thinks the project overreaches by trying to be useful to everyone. "Grandmas are not the ones that need this right now.... My instincts tell me that it's a very small number of people (that can use Anonym.OS). You can't really solve this problem by simplifying the interface. It's almost impossible to anticipate everything a user can do to hurt themselves."Wired
Britons eat their way through 600,000 tons of carrots every year. They are the biggest-selling vegetable after potatoes.
Chantenay sales currently stand at 8 per cent of the carrot market. Growers have their sights set on a 25 per cent share.
80g of Chantenay (approximately five carrots) count as a portion of vegetables. Each portion contains just 20 calories.
20,000 bales of straw are used to protect Chantenay carrots from frosts. This means they can be stored in the ground over winter and harvested when needed, therefore losing none of their nutrients in conventional storage. The straw is then ploughed back into the land to enrich it.
More from the Telegraph
THE brave seamen whose great voyages of exploration opened up the world are iconic figures in European history. Columbus found the New World in 1492; Dias discovered the Cape of Good Hope in 1488; and Magellan set off to circumnavigate the world in 1519. However, there is one difficulty with this confident assertion of European mastery: it may not be true.
It seems more likely that the world and all its continents were discovered by a Chinese admiral named Zheng He, whose fleets roamed the oceans between 1405 and 1435. His exploits, which are well documented in Chinese historical records, were written about in a book which appeared in China around 1418 called “The Marvellous Visions of the Star Raft”.
[From The Economist]
[Hollow Laughter, Kurt Vonnegut on The Guardian]
15 janeiro 2006
14 janeiro 2006
“Our company can bypass your brain and heart and go for your erogenous and other viscera on its way to your wallet. Nothing personal, by the way.”
Lengthy article on the pornification of public spaces, from Salmagundi
13 janeiro 2006
08 janeiro 2006
07 janeiro 2006
06 janeiro 2006
05 janeiro 2006
Wings of Support currently has 50 volunteers. The foundation receives financial support from 1,700 donors and is sponsored by a growing number of companies, institutions and private citizens. Together, they have managed to get more than 180 projects off the ground in Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Romania, Mexico, the Netherlands Antilles, Brazil, Surinam, India, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, China, the Dominican Republic and Thailand. The foundation is independent of KLM. Employees of the Netherlands-based airline Martinair have also joined the campaign. More information: www.wingsofsupport.org
"Jon is the epitome of a perfect host — smart, engaging, irreverent and funny," Oscar producer Gil Cates said. Stewart released a statement of his own: "As a performer, I'm truly honored to be hosting the show. Although, as an avid watcher of the Oscars, I can't help but be a little disappointed with the choice. It appears to be another sad attempt to smoke out Billy Crystal."
Friedman was in awe the next morning when he met Damchaagiin Gendendarjaa, a 110-year-old Tibetan Buddhist lama: He had earned a doctorate in theology at age 106. He had all his teeth. He had never seen a doctor in his life, yet mild arthritis in his lower back was his only ailment.
''He was the holiest person I've ever been in the presence of,'' Friedman recalled of his February 2003 trip. ''It's hard to describe, other than he had a certain countenance I had never experienced before.''
The lama was one of more than 50 ''supercentenarians'' - people at least 110 years old - whom Friedman interviewed and photographed for a book, Earth's Elders: The Wisdom of the World's Oldest People.
Friedman, 58, a commercial photographer, closed his Connecticut studio so he could travel the world to track down his elderly subjects, verify their ages as accurately as possible and document their life stories.
"This process has changed me completely, just meeting these people,'' he said. ''I have learned to listen. I have learned that my own cultural bias (about the elderly) needs to be addressed and changed.''
His journey started in 2001, when he ''embedded'' himself at his mother's assisted-living facility in Westwood, Massachusetts, and lived there for four days. He set out to get a glimpse into his future, but he saw much more than that.
''What I saw really opened my eyes. I saw so much good and bad,'' he said, explaining how he found people ''living in a cultural shell''.
''We as a culture have found a way to move them out of the mainstream and box them in.''
And the good? ''They are people we can learn from,'' he said. ''They are just sitting there, waiting to give us this extraordinary information. You just have to listen.''
Before he could embark on his globe-trotting search, Friedman needed a ''compass'' to find the world's oldest people. He found one in Robert Young, an Atlanta-based investigator for the Gerontology Research Group, which keeps a global database of supercentenarians.
As of October 31, the group's database listed the names, ages and hometowns of 65 women and nine men who are at least 110 years old, but that's only the number the group's researchers have been able to validate.
Young said there are an estimated 300 to 450 living supercentenarians worldwide, with around 60 in the United States.
To separate actual supercentenarians from those who are either mistaken or lying about their age for attention or personal gain, Young and other researchers search for birth and baptismal certificates, marriage licences and census records.
''Believe it or not, scientists have not found a way to accurately determine the age of a human body,'' he said. ''So if there is no paperwork, there is really no way to prove a person's age.''
Friedman started his project in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, where he interviewed 112-year-old Ann Smith at a retirement home. Smith made him wait an hour while she finished her dessert.
''She was testing me,'' he writes in his book. ''At 112, time was of no importance to her. ... It was her will against mine and she dictated the terms.''
From there, his search took him across the United States to New York, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska and South Dakota, and overseas to Italy, Portugal, Spain and Morocco. Ten of his subjects were from Japan, which Friedman describes as the ''gold standard'' for how a country treats its elders.
''There is a basic reverence for their knowledge,'' he said. ''Once they reach a certain age, they are venerated for being cultural treasures.''
One of the first people to whom Friedman showed his photographs was Lama Surya Das, a Buddhist teacher who founded the Cambridge-based Dzogchen Meditation Centres. Surya Das, who lived in the Himalayas for 20 years, agrees with Friedman that elders in the United States are largely an untapped resource.
''In general, in the old eastern cultures, age is a mark of respect, experience. The people have a place in society,'' he said. ''In the modern West, everything is about the new, the culture of youth. There is not that much respect for the elders.''
No matter where he travelled, Friedman found some common threads among the people he interviewed. Most were ''extremely optimistic'', despite having endured ''all kinds of calamities''. Many were poor, but had a strong network of family and friends. And longevity seemed to run in their families.
Not all his visits were heartwarming. In East Boston, one of Friedman's subjects became agitated and started to scream for help when he photographed her.
''I saw some things that would make you cry,'' he said. ''Not every experience is going to be terrific, but you need to find a silver lining in each one.''
Friedman invested a chunk of his life savings in the project, but he said all the proceeds from the book's sale will go to the Earth's Elders Foundation, a non-profit he founded.
''I profit every day, but not financially,'' he said. ''It changed me for the good.''