Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cleansing Minds

Hal Pepinsky,; “peacemaking” at
September 29, 2013

                Among my fellow criminal justice educators are healers of wayward youth whose calling is to correct offenders’ thinking errors, or on which choices are bad and how to avoid making them.  I hear “bad choices” echoed among penitent sinners and offenders.  On the side of promoting right thinking are those of us who seek to ensure that our graduates know important “facts” and master basic “methods” of learning and analysis, called as they are to practice a truly scientific advancement of knowledge about crime and criminality.  And across the nation, legislators and administrators are consumed with ensuring that our young people learn the right, standardized, privatized “core” stuff, and with closing neighborhood public schools whose students aren’t at least at average grade level.  Among facts taught in textbooks, subject to standardized testing, are those about religion, and state and national history.
                This morning the BBC broadcast an interview with Robert Ford, an English radio operator for the Tibetan government who was subject to rehabilitation through re-education, where over five years he mastered the Chinese fact that he had been a spy for a covert British protectorate.  The BBC interview concluded with the news that Ford had died a week after they had recently taped him, where he explained that in his English-language mind, he remained convinced that he had been no such thing.  Listeners today were reminded that Chinese police continue to fill re-education camps with pre-trial detainees, who confess as surely as pre-trial detainees in the US strike plea bargains.  The Orwellian process that became notorious in the US during the Korean War as “brainwashing” endures.
                It was a harbinger of life to come that my greatest fascination as a Chinese major in college in the early sixties was with Chinese Communist theory and practice of social control, including the critique of the Euro-American notion of due process--essentially that it was a product of Western imperialism that protected the private property claims of landlords, men, and assorted Westerners.  I remember spending some time delving into the US psychological research literature on brainwashing, only to learn later that CIA-military “psychological operations” extended to training, for assassination and other “black ops,” that survivors of MK-Ultra and of Ewen Cameron’s CIA-sponsored physical electronic attempts at mind-replacement have described to me many times over.
                Brainwashing is a translation of the Chinese xi  gan, which I would literally translate as “cleansing minds.”  As I wrote on “comparative method” in 1988 just after returning from Norway, I learn most from other cultures to notice counterparts in mine.  As I heard Robert Ford this morning, describing his re-education by his Chinese captors, the way his essays on whether he had or had not committed an act of war against the Chinese people were historically, personally, right or wrong, sounded exactly like the kind of (re)education I keep hearing that our children need in bigger, more rigorous doses.  Is this not a national calling to cleanse young minds?  Love and peace--hal

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Compstat Manipulations "Discovered," Finally

Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at
September 28, 2013

                Check out this week’s segment on the New York City Police Department’s manipulation of crime statistics to make them appear to be reducing serious crime while making more arrests, on “This American Life,” at .  It has taken 13 years since I wrote that these manipulations were probably occurring, in my article, “Living Criminologically With Naked Emperors,” revised and reprinted at .  Ironically, this article was originally rejected by the editor of a major criminology journal without sending it out for review, on grounds that I had written nothing new.  Better late than never.  As the radio segment indicates, the charade of demonstrating the effectiveness of policing by manipulation of crime and arrest numbers is finally becoming recognized to be characteristic of police departments who have adopted Compstat worldwide.  We criminologists of all people ought to recognize the inherent political fallibility of crime and criminality counts.  Love and peace--hal

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Challenge of Transforming the US War Economy

Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at
September 25, 2013

“War is the health of the state,” the radical writer Randolph Bourne said, in the midst of the First World War.”  Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (1999 edn.), p. 359.

                War has indeed been the continual remedy for economic malaise in the US.  It has its roots in Anglo settlement and conquest that since the establishment of the Massachusetts colony.  In recent times, WWII lifted us out of the Great Depression, and has fueled the military-industrial complex, and its post-Cold War prison-industrial complex, to this day.  In 1999, the Project for a New American Century declared that in this century the US needed a new Pearl Harbor, and so we were “blessed” by 9/11 and the well prepared Patriot Act, war on terror, and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now, caught in the “Great Recession,” the pressure is on, as President Obama put it yesterday, to defend our “core interests,” by unilateral military attacks which violate the UN Charter if necessary, in the Middle East, because of the “exceptional” US obligation to play father-protector to the entire world.
                It is discomfiting to see President Obama and former anti-war activist John Kerry give the threat of expanded launch of missiles credit for our bow to Russian diplomacy over Syrian chemical weapons, while agreeing to talk rather than fight.  It is discomfiting to see Secretary of State Kerry beg the Senate to ratify the newly signed arms trafficking treaty by arguing that it will not affect the hallowed right of private persons to keep and bear arms.  It is discomfiting to see continuing efforts to glorify “our troops” while we continue the tradition of victimizing veterans by sending them to be killed, maimed and neglected and abandoned when they return home.  It is discomfiting to see US economists almost universally declare the imperative to redress economic malaise and decline for the bottom 99 percent of the US population by “growth,” meaning getting further ahead of the rest of the world by economic and military might if necessary, by rebuilding an industrial and manufacturing employment base that has only been resuscitated by war, in a cultural ethos that holds all public service employment to be the enemy of human freedom and prosperity.  How typically, perpetually, “American.”
                 And yet, the US government concession to the Russian peace initiative for Syria may, I hope, become the moment at which the US begins to let go of its claim to global military domination, supplanted by public investment in national care and well-being represented by the seemingly inexorable implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, which in undying US racism has been called “Obamacare” as though our first black president wrote and enacted the law he merely signed off on.  The transition from one male-warrior, Euro-American nation specially favored by the God that belongs to Protestants, to one multi-colored country among many will long remain painful, especially to those whose identity rests on the faith that ours is the greatest nation on earth.  Devolution of economic power into secure, democratically owned and operated local economies like those springing up in Detroit remains in its infancy.  Even as our lives become busier at cyber-speed, transformation of our culture of perpetual warfare abroad, let alone at home as against “criminals” and “underperforming” schoolchildren, like all major cultural transformation, will at best undoubtedly entail generations of homeland struggles to become recognized as our prevailing national identity.  Meanwhile, in moments of US military restraint as now in Syria, I take heart.  Love and peace--hal

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Hal Pepinsky,,
September 8, 2013

                Once again, as it was so often during the Cold War, it is claimed that US credibility depends on US forces carrying out US military threats, right or wrong, for its own sake.  How about the credibility of a US president who pledges to support and defend the US constitution, under which the UN Charter’s restrictions on use of military force have become the supreme law of the land?  How about the credibility especially of a president said to be an authority on constitutional law?  I say the credibility of the US government respect for its treaty obligations trumps vigilantism.  Love and peace--hal

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Love in Darkness

Hal Pepinsky,,
September 4, 2013

                I was intrigued by an exchange between host Krista Tippett and her guest, astronomer Natalie Batalha, on last week’s interview at .  Ms. Batalha likened love—that which connects people—to dark matter.  Ms. Tippett responded that yes, love has been likened to dark energy.
                I can find no other reference to love as either dark matter or energy as love, but I was moved to explore what Batalha meant as she described evidence that gas and solid matter in solar systems including ours accounts for less than 5 percent of the matter and energy it must take to hold planets together and in stable orbit around stars in any solar system.  About 2/3 of the rest must be dark matter, the other third dark energy.  And I ask myself: How does the twin darkness figure in my notion of good and evil (August 30 post on this blog)—in my notion of the interplay between what I know as forces of fear and love and their effects on our relations?  And how do I account for the difference between Batalha calling love dark matter, and Tippett calling love dark energy?
                I used to think “we know” that most of your body and mine is water.  Now I’m told that over 60% of my material self is undetectable.  It is the primary stuff I am made of.  It maintains bodily integrity, homeostasis that is, from conception through growth and decay until the body stops regenerating itself altogether.  You and I are mostly dark, literally invisible matter.  It represents love to Batalha in that it holds us as it holds planetary systems together. It is literally the most abundant substance of all living creatures.
                Like Tippett, I find myself regarding love as dark energy.  Dark energy manifests itself to us, if at all, as consciousness, which is so real that we control our behavior by it, yet otherwise so dark as to be jammed by the electrical noise our most sensitive measuring instruments make.  Dark energy flows through our conscious and unconscious mind in currents, through neural pathways, between two sides of our brains.  The less measurably electrically active side of the brain is the side of incoming information flow exerting greater power over our actions.  That side becomes open to incoming information because the other side is drawing off measurable electrical energy that merely holds onto information.  When the right brain lights up, the left brain is listening to the outside world unconditionally.  When the left brain lights up, the right brain is freed to respond to information from various places inside ourselves.
                There must be a whole lot more information from outside we let redirect our attention and behavior, than information we knowingly act upon.   We humans would have let fly and exterminated ourselves rather abruptly if the dark energy of fear consistently overwhelmed the energy of love keeping us alive across generations.  We can’t materially detect the dark force of love that so dominates our lives.  Try as we might, the force of love cannot be quantified, but we have words for feeling its effects, words of relief from social entropy or heat, words like harmony, trust and security.  We can become conscious of patterns (archetypes?), in stories/accounts/narratives of how people have connected in moments of separation.  I consider these to be stories of triumph of love over fear, stories of peacemaking.  Whether we connect with others or separate is essentially a matter of balance of dark forces flowing through and among us.
                Darkness normally connotes separation from life:  inferiority (as in “darkest Africa”), hiddenness or secrecy, dangerousness, death, or at worst, evil.  But light, as in torture and in the half of the brain that is all lit up, can also connote pain, fear, and ignorance.   Ironically, it is awareness of the force of darkness that leads me, and apparently most of the people in my nation, let alone in others, to resist my president’s call to “solve” a problem of violence in Syria with military action.  On this occasion, whether the dark force of love I let control my behavior prevails over the force that now dominates even my formerly anti-war secretary of state's current rhetoric--that convictions like mine are “armchair” thinking--remains to be seen.
                At the moment, all US news reports and commentary I hear ( excepted) are framed exclusively on whether my president gets the go-ahead from my congress.  They overlook the position President Obama is about to enter at a G-20 summit hosted by a Russian president who sounds to me and much of the rest of the world to be a voice of reason.  Could it be that so long after the Cold War supposedly has ended, my pro-Russian view might be taken at un-American?  Time will tell…love and peace--hal