Quote of the moment: Mark Twain, and a majority in favor

August 9, 2008

Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? and ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?

— Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorn Clemens),
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain, Library of Congress image

Mark Twain, Library of Congress image


63rd anniversary: Hiroshima, August 6; Nagasaki, August 9

August 9, 2008

63 years ago, U.S. military action brought a quick close to hostilities without an invasion of Japan, with the detonation of two atomic bombs, one over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and one over Nagasaki on August 9.

Daily Yomiuri Online carried a description of memorial events in Hiroshima today, from Yomiuri Shimbun:

NAGASAKI–The Nagasaki municipal government held a ceremony Saturday marking the 63rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city, at which participants called for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

A total of 5,650 A-bomb survivors, representatives of victims’ families from around the nation and Nagasaki citizens participated in the ceremony. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda also attended the ceremony, which was held in Nagasaki Peace Park near ground zero.

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue read out the Nagasaki Peace Declaration, which urges the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons.

“Human beings have no future unless nuclear weapons are eliminated. We shall clearly say no to nuclear weapons,” Taue said.

The ceremony started at 10:40 a.m. Three books listing the names of 3,058 people confirmed to have died as a result of the bombing in the past year were placed inside a memorial box in front of the Peace Statue.

The total number of books listing the names of the deceased is 147, and the number of names is 145,984.

Representatives of surviving victims, bereaved families, the prime minister and Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba placed flowers at the site.

At 11:02 a.m., the time the atomic bomb struck, ceremony participants offered a silent prayer. At the same time, local high school students rang the Bells of Nagasaki.

In the peace declaration, Taue read from an academic paper written by four people, including a former U.S. secretary of state, which promoted a new policy for developing nuclear weapons. The proposal encouraged countries to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The mayor said world nuclear powers “should sincerely fulfill their responsibility of nuclear disarmament,” and urged the government to pass the three nonnuclear principles into law.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Takashi Nagai, a medical doctor who helped rescue of victims after the bombing.

The mayor referenced one of the doctor’s remarks, saying: “There are no winners or losers in a war. There is only destruction.”

Shigeko Mori, 72, representing survivors of the bombing, read out an oath for peace that said Japan should promote its Constitution and the three nonnuclear principles to the rest of the world to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Fukuda gave a speech, saying, “Japan should play a responsible role in the international community as a nation cooperating for peace.”

(Aug. 10, 2008)

Other information:

Other related posts at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:


John McCain: Constitution, yes or no?

August 9, 2008

In Denver, Colorado, John McCain has an opportunity to stand up and defend the First Amendment and the rest of the Constitution. All he needs to do is issue a statement that he disagrees with the prosecution of the peaceful woman — he could do even more asking the prosecutor to drop the charges.

Ed Brayton describes the case at Dispatches From the Culture Wars.

The silence from McCain: Will it grow deafening?

More reading:


No one believes it. Is it so?

August 9, 2008

One of the great mysteries of history is how an entire nation of people can follow a leader into tragedy — a stupid war, economic morass, cultural suicide, genocide, or other tragedy — without appearing to notice they were going against their national values, against reason, against morality.

I wonder if part of the answer can be found by studying the way our brains perceive things, in particular, the way our brains force us to see things that are not so.

Some things are just so unbelievable, our brains tell us we’re seeing something different, something more believable. Here are two examples, the Charlie Chaplin mask illusion, and the Einstein mask illusion.

Chaplin — you know it’s concave, but the nose sticks out every time:

Einstein — is Big Brother really watching you? What do your eyes say?

Here’s a nasty little kicker: Even when most people know that it’s an illusion, they can’t perceive the illusion-in-action; as Paul Simon wrote, “Still a man sees what he wants to see and he disregards the rest.” See Stephen Fry’s discussion about the illusion from BBC2:

Historical applications

  • CIA chief William Colby was involved in Operation Phoenix during the Vietnam War. When investigations revealed that the operation involved torture, many people refused to believe the U.S. would be involved in torture (good!). And even after he admitted to Congressional committees that he had personally authorized the torture, people had difficulty believing it. David Wise wrote an article about Operation Phoenix for the New York Times Magazine, July 1, 1973: “Not one of Colby’s friends or neighbors, or even his critics on the Hill, would, in their wildest imagination, conceive of Bill Colby attaching electric wires to a man’s genitals and personally turning the crank. “Not Bill Colby… He’s a Princeton man.'”
  • “[T]he Russians are finished. They have nothing left to throw against us,” a confident Adolf Hitler told Gen. Franz Halder in July 1941. Russia mired down the German army, making the phrase “the Eastern Front” a dreaded death sentence in German commands. In the end, it was the Soviet Army that first got to Berlin, and captured Hitler’s command bunker where der Führer had committed suicide a short time before. Adding to the historic irony, twice over: First, Stalin refused to believe his intelligence service reports that the Nazis were massing on the border of Russia, just two years after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which pledged neither nation would invade the other. Second, Hitler’s generals had studied Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, working to avoid all the mistakes Napoleon made. So sure were the Nazis of their superiority to Napoleon in every way, they invaded Russia on the anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion, June 22, 1941. Great shades of Santayana’s Ghost!
  • Bush administration historians will wonder why Bush was able to do what he did, in the Iraq war and other situations foreign and domestic, with even members of his own party who saw him close up believing he’d do something different. See this story by Ron Susskind, “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George Bush,” New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2004.
  • The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, based on an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin near Vietnam.  (See also documents from the National Security Agency archives.)
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

Richard Feynman discussed at length how scientists know their experimental results are accurate, and how to keep science honest. He pointed out that most of the time, errors creep in at the start, and some people just refuse to believe they exist. It is easiest to fool ourselves, Feynman said — and so a good scientist understands that, and protects against self-deception. If only other disciplines could adopt that philosophy, strategy and tactics!

Faith can get us through troubled times, but often gets us into troubled times in the first place.

Do you have other examples of self-delusion by illusionary means?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Vous Pensez.


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