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Morning Lecture Recaps

Playwrights Hnath, Hamill take stage to talk writing, theater with Kahn

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  • Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Kahn leads the Morning Lecture with Playwrights Lucas Hnath and Kate Hamill in the Amphitheater on Friday, June 29, 2018. HALDAN KIRSCH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In the finale of “The Life of the Written Word,” playwrights stepped out of the wings to discuss taking their scripts to the stage.

More than 30 years after leaving his mark on Chautauqua Institution, Michael Kahn returned to lead the 10:50 a.m. (the 10:45 a.m. lecture started five minutes late) conversation Friday, June 29 in the Amphitheater as the curtain call of Week One.

Kahn, the founder of Chautauqua Conservatory Theater Company, now Chautauqua Theater Company, is the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. He will retire in 2019 after more than 32 years with the company.

In 1983, he was nominated for a Tony Award for his direction of Show Boat. His work at the theater earned him the award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 2012. Kahn is an inductee in the American Theatre Hall of Fame and was named an honorary knight of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

Now, he said in regard to his panelists, “we are in a golden age of playwriting.”

An international playwright, Lucas Hnath’s work includes A Doll’s House, Part 2, a look at what happens to Nora after the bold ending of A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Hillary and Clinton, Red Speedo, The Christians and Death Tax.

Hnath is a 2017 Tony nominee for Best Play, a recipient of Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play, the Windham-Campbell Prize and an Obie Award. He serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Dramatic Writing at his alma mater, New York University.

For Hnath, theater combines his childhood loves: Disney, which was in the backyard of his childhood Orlando home; megachurches, which his family attended often; haunted houses, which he hated; and magic shows, which he adored.

Kate Hamill works both behind the page and on the stage; named The Wall Street Journal’s Playwright of the Year in 2017, her work includes an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which won the 2016 Off-Broadway Alliance Award and was nominated for the Drama League Award. She debuted the role of Marianne.

“I think of ‘Kate the actor’ and ‘Kate the playwright’ as two different people,” she said.

She has also written adaptations for Vanity Fair and Pride and Prejudice; she acted in both plays. Hamill is also working on The Odyssey and The Scarlet Letter.

Kahn opened the conversation asking why each playwright chose to write for the theater.

“I get to make my own little stage, and I get to put something in three dimensions,” Hnath said. “There’s no other form where you really get to do something that moves through real time and space like that.”

For Hamill, the theater feels like a unique religious ritual.

“As opposed to when you watch a film or TV or something,” she said, “a play is actually changed by an audience.”

Hnath’s work presents characters with polarizing themes that challenge their beliefs. For example, A Doll’s House, Part 2 challenges the idea of monogamous relationships.

“It comes from a desire to understand something I don’t agree with,” he said.

He recounted working for a nonprofit law clinic, listening to people talk about horrific moments in their lives, and how it shaped his playwriting. Hnath’s job was to establish cases for his clients, but to do so he had “to understand the argument against them.”

He asks himself a series of questions when writing a play: “What do you know?” “How do you know it?” and “Are you sure you know it?”

“If you have a really big problem that people can connect with for 90 minutes, you might have a play,” Hnath said.

For Hamill, her inspiration for “woman-central plots” stemmed from a frustration about the lack of powerful roles for female actors.

“I would go to an audition where there would be 400 women in an room trying their best to play the male protagonist’s wife, or girlfriend or prostitute,” she said.

Her work is also focused around personal questions. For Sense and Sensibility, Hamill played with responses to social pressures.

For adaptations of 19th-century novels, Hamill begins by reading or re-reading the book, then researching context and themes, and then writing. Her plays are not a “copy and paste” of the original work.

“I start writing and try to meet the author where they are,” Hamill said.

Hnath usually starts with a conflict — maybe a few characters — but he builds his stories around “fragments.” They might just be a few lines he concocts after his morning coffee or full pages of dialogue, but they fill in holes in his scripts.

He deletes and rearranges ideas by playing with the fragments and the actors during rehearsal — insisting he directs the first few workshops for each of his plays.

He described workshopping the Broadway production of A Doll’s House, Part 2 with actor Laurie Metcalf.

“When we went into rehearsal, I did not realize that Laurie was both off book — she had memorized all her lines — but she had pretty much memorized all the fragments too,” he said. “When I would ‘Oh, this one moment it’s not right,’ she’d say, ‘Oh, I remember fragment dated such and such, I could try that here,’ and she just knew it.”

Hamill said she also periodically thinks of snippets for plays — some make it into her work, others wait in the wings.

“Sometimes I write segments, and I don’t quite know what play it goes to,” she said.

Like Hnath, Hamill also workshops her scripts during rehearsals; she changes lines and stage directions if they feel unnatural to the actors, “shaping everything to fit the actor’s mouth.”

The playwrights said they each write everyday and are constantly working on multiple pieces.

“It helps me to have multiple projects at once so if one drives me nuts, I can switch to another,” Hamill said.

Despite having a myriad of ideas and finished plays, Hnath is very critical of the work he presents to the public.

“I just have to ask myself, ‘Does this need to live in the world?’ and sometimes it just doesn’t,” he said.

Kahn asked the playwrights if there’s anything they ask of the audience during a performance.

“Don’t unwrap hard candies,” Hamill said jokingly over a wave of laughter and applause.

Hnath said there is a difference between playwrights’ and audiences’ language; for the audience, it usually boils down to whether the play was “realistic or not.” Hnath hopes that audiences “endeavor (to find) more words to describe plays.”

For Hamill, openness and empathy is key for her audiences.

“It’s so easy to be cynical and too jaded about what you’re seeing, or (have) prejudice against ideas or prejudice against viewpoints, …” she said. “If our lives were reflected on the stage, we would not like our petty hypocrisies in our lives that we tell ourselves, and our behaviors reflect it. I think it’s so interesting to come in with openness in mind and empathy, and hopefully you can put yourself in someone else’s skin.”

Prompted by a question from President Michael E. Hill to open the Q-and-A, the playwrights said they don’t “lock in their words” for future performances, but hope theaters and directors respect their initial vision.

“I don’t have children myself, but it must feel a little bit like you raised a child and the child is in the world and you’re like, ‘I hope you don’t go to jail,’ ” Hamill said.

Kahn, a director himself, said he feels responsible for honoring the playwright’s intention, dead or alive.

Hill closed the lecture — and the week — by asking where the panelists think the future of theater is headed.

Hnath sees more playwrights directing their own work; Kahn doesn’t know where theater is going, but he is sure it will persevere.

“Everyone is always predicting the death of the theater, but I don’t think it’s dying,” Hamill said. “It’s been around for thousands of years. I think the old girl has still got some kick in her.”

Stamper dives into words’ origins, ‘irregardless’ of consequences

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  • Lexicographer Kory Stamper lectures on the secret lives of words in the Amphitheater Thursday, June 28, 2018. RILEY ROBINSON/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

As Chautauqua Institution gets ready to close the curtain on “The Life of the Written Word,” Kory Stamper pulled that curtain back to reveal the secret life of language.

The lexicographer delivered the morning lecture Thursday June 28 in the Amphitheater as the second-to-last-lecturer for Week One.

Stamper joined Merriam-Webster in 1998; she worked for the company for 20 years, and was responsible for explaining the “F-bomb” entry in the dictionary. Stamper is the author of Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, and her writing has also been featured in The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Stamper opened her multimedia presentation with the definition of “lexicographer” — an author or editor of the dictionary.

“I did not write that definition by the way,” she said over a roar of laughter. “It was already there.”

But what does a lexicographer really do? It’s a question Stamper asks herself often.

“If you’re anything like I was, you didn’t even realize lexicography was a job,” she said. “I didn’t realize it was a job until I was hired to do the work. And when I started doing the work,I thought,‘Why? What do you mean dictionaries need to be written? We already wrote the dictionary.’ And then I thought, ‘How do dictionaries get written and what kind of person writes dictionaries?’ ”

And some of you are probably thinking, ‘They let you write dictionaries?’ ”

To be a lexicographer, reading is a must — compulsive reading is a bonus, Stamper said.

“I am in fact a compulsive reader,” she said. “I am not an avid reader; I’m not a voracious reader — I am a pathological, compulsive reader. I am the woman on the train who you see reading her receipts from her pockets if there’s a delay. That’s me.”

Lexicographers spend at least two hours a day reading, and it’s not just novels. Anything in print is up for grabs, according to Stamper — from beer bottles, to diaper boxes, bills, the Yellow Pages and menus — especially menus.

“When you’re reading, you’re not reading for content. I don’t read David Brooks’ column in The New York Times to find out what he thinks about our current economic situation, I’m looking at the word level, I’m looking for a brand new use of the word ‘voodoo’ in voodoo economics,” Stamper said. “So, I read compulsively, but remember nothing about what I’ve read.”

But although David Brooks might use the word “voodoo” in reference to economics, that doesn’t guarantee that definition will make it into the dictionary.

At Merriam-Webster, new words or new uses for words are flagged, and lexicographers must evaluate and decide if they merit an entry. To merit an entry, the word must have widespread, sustained and meaningful use.

Widespread use is both geographical and tonal.

“I want a word to be used in the Wall Street Journal and in Vibe magazine,” Stamper said. “I want to see a word that’s used in the The Washington Post and The New York Times Book Review and People magazine and on somebody’s blog.”

Sustained use is the second criteria.

“A word needs a shelf life to be entered into the dictionary because once a word gets into the dictionary, people tend to use it more, and it’s really hard to get a word out of the dictionary,” she said.

The final measure is meaningful use. Stamper clarified the distinction between “significant” and “meaningful” use.

“Of course, words have meaning, but not all printed words get used with a meaning I can grab onto. The word ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ appears in print as an example of a long word, but it doesn’t mean a long word. Nobody would say, ‘He put a lot of disestablishmentarianism in his dating profile to attract women’ because that’s not what that word means,” she said. “In that case, ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ does not have meaningful use.”

Language enthusiasts have two principles of thought: prescriptivist and descriptivist. Prescriptivism is “an approach to language that champions the best English,” according to Stamper. Most people would agree that dictionaries are “prescriptivists.”

Descriptivists believe that all language is equal — that there is no “good or bad English.”

“People that care deeply about language hate descriptivists,” Stamper said. “So, you will imagine my surprise when I discovered that dictionaries are descriptivists. The reason that dictionaries are descriptivists goes back to Noah Webster. He said, ‘Collect, arrange and define all the words in a language.’ And it’s not until you start doing this job that you realize the language goes in some really weird and ugly places.”

The audience erupted into laughter.

“If you’d like to get up and leave now, I won’t be offended,” she said, as the word “irregardless” appeared on the screen.

“Irregardless,” the most hated word in the English language, Stamper said, turned her lexicographic career upside down.

Stamper read an email, which she received from an upset consumer early in her career at Merriam-Webster:

“To whom it may concern;

As any educated Mississippian knows: ‘irregardless’ is the superlative form of regardless. Not used in lieu of ‘regardless’ as it states by y’all.

Regards.”

Dumbfounded by the thought of a nonsensical word appearing in the dictionary, Stamper went to work to prove this disgruntled reader wrong; unfortunately, she proved herself wrong — irregardless was in the dictionary and was used in abundance from the 1700s through the early 20th century, according to Stamper.

The audience burst into murmurs and gasps.

“Irregardless is a dialect term,” she said.

Dialects are subsets of language that people usually associate with accents but that also have their own grammar.

“There’s Southern English, then there’s whatever they speak in Boston,” she said. “There’s California English — there’s whatever they speak in Boston … everyone grows up speaking a dialect, in fact most of you speak multiple dialects and you switch between them easily, but none of you natively speak standard English.”

English is a written standard, a standard that grew out of the development of the middle-class and fall of the upper-class. To maintain their power, members of the upper-class clung to manners and language to assert their dominance — they pinned “elegance of language with elegance of mind and elegance of character.”

“Prescriptivism champions the best of English and what are the best practices — those that are right and correct and, you know, morally good,” Stamper said. “Then, clearly descriptivism, with its lack of attention to rules and boundaries and belief that anything in use in a language is fine is just too loosey-goosey and a little corrupt and must be morally bad.”

“I will remind you that dictionaries sit on the morally evil part of the spectrum,” she said. “So, you start your job as a lexicographer thinking that you are going to save the language, and it turns out that you are a hippie, liberal, pinko, commie nut job that puts ‘irregardless’ in the dictionary.”

The idea that the “best practices of English are morally right” is how people have come to assume that certain dialects are associated with lack of education.

But practices of poor grammar are not exclusive to the “uneducated” — Shakespeare was a grammatical mess, Stamper said.

“Verb to nouns — uncle is not a verb nor is grace — pronoun problems, subject verb issues in Julius Caesar,” she said, rattling through a list of errors on the screen. “Nope … not correct … double negatives …”

The best practices of English are not static. One-hundred and fifty years ago, the phrase “the house is being built” was considered incorrect; the structure “the house is building” was preferred, Stamper said.

Instead, she said, think of the English language as a child.

“You ask them as unruly teenagers, ‘Can you just clean this up a little bit, can you get rid of “irregardless” no one needs to see that,’” Stamper said, “and the language slumps in its chair and writes ‘irregardless’ all over its arms with ballpoint pen and says that you’re ruining its life, and it goes to its room and listens to moody music in the dark.”

Stamper reiterated themes from throughout the week like inclusivity,which Lisa Lucas stressed in her morning lecture Wednesday June 27 and the power of words from Tyehimba Jess on Tuesday  June 26.

“The glorious thing about English is that it is by design inclusive,” she said. “No one person has any say over the language. I don’t get to say where the lan- guage goes, we all together get to choose where the language goes; it is a truly democratic institution in that way.”

To close the lecture, Stamper left those who criticize younger generations for ruining language with the words of Wendell Berry:

“Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

After the lecture, Vice President of Marketing and Communications and Chief Brand Of cer Emily Morris opened the Q-and-A with what words Stamper thought will be added into the dictionary in 2019.

“Lexicographers make lousy clairvoyants,” Stamper said.

However, she did predict that new definitions of “collusion” would be added to Merriam-Webster.

When asked about accepting “they/them” pronouns, Stamper said that English is fluid and people will adjust as they did 700 years ago with the transition from the singular pronoun “thou” to “you.”

“It’s a really a matter of respect; it’s a matter of honoring someone’s decision — regardless, no irregardless — of what you might see,” she said.

Finally, Stamper assured she would “never say irregardless again.”

National Book Foundation’s Lucas pushes for literary diversity and inspiring youth

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Lisa Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, delivers the 10:45 a.m. lecture at the Amphitheater on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. ABIGAIL DOLLINS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Lisa Lucas wants reading to be “cake, not spinach.”

The executive director of the National Book Foundation delivered the morning lecture Wednesday, June 27 in the Amphitheater during Week One, “The Life of the Written Word.”

This was Lucas’ first visit to Chautauqua Institution.

“I’m not intimidated at all,” she joked to open her lecture. “This is all very normal.”

Lucas started working in theater — a path vastly different from her current trajectory — for Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. Later, she moved to film, serving as director of education at the Tribeca Film Institute and as a consultant for the Sundance Institute, San Francisco Film Society and Reel Works Teen Filmmaking.

Before joining the National Book Foundation, Lucas served as a publisher of the nonprofit online magazine, Guernica.

She is the first woman and African-American to serve as executive director of the National Book Foundation, which is responsible for the annual National Book Awards.

Lucas called herself an “independent reader” from a young age, but she never anticipated taking a hobby and turning it into a career.

Lisa Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, delivers the 10:45 a.m. lecture at the Amphitheater on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. ABIGAIL DOLLINS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“I never really even dreamed of taking this thing that I loved and actually just get a job at 32 years old, working in publishing — something I’d never done before — but I did it,” she said. “Almost two-and-a-half years ago, I found myself appointed director of the National Book Foundation.”

Her new job came with a long history.

The first National Book Awards were awarded and celebrated in 1950 through a joint effort by the American Book Publishers Council, the Book Manufacturers Institute and the American Booksellers Association. In 1980, it broadened and was renamed the American Book Awards, which awarded 28 prizes.

Its gross expansion watered down the impact of the awards, and in 1986, the organization returned to being the National Book Awards.

“We were no longer just thinking on how to sell a book, or two books or 27 books maybe — we weren’t about just making money,” Lucas said. “It was about thinking about the core of what the book is to American culture and thinking about how to protect and preserve that.”

Lisa Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, delivers the 10:45 a.m. lecture at the Amphitheater on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. ABIGAIL DOLLINS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

From there, the organization worked to reignite the glamour of books. Lucas described the National Book Awards as “the Oscars on a bad year.”

“We spent a lot of years making (the National Book Awards) into a big benefit that actually drew the eye and brought people to celebrate the work we do,” she said.

Her first encounter with the organization was at the after-party in 2012. Lucas described being in awe of the authors, designers and publishers she was surrounded by, thinking that she had ”made it”; she returned to that party every year after.

After the former executive director of the National Book Foundation announced his impending retirement, Lucas received a call from a recruiter asking if she knew anyone who would be a good hire. She rambled off names before giving some choice advice.

“You really should think about having a person of color,” she said, before breathlessly rattling off that “you probably should think about hiring a woman. Because there really aren’t many women running things and there aren’t really many people of color running things, and you know things are really changing because things are the same as they were 20 years ago, and you should think about that.”

The recruiter said “Why not you?” Lucas submitted a resume and was rejected.

She returned to the after-party that year, upset. But, later the National Book Foundation called again with the job offer.

When she first got the news, she thought of the offer as a great opportunity.

“I really just thought about a couple of ex-boyfriends that might be really sad they dumped me,” Lucas said. “I thought about my parents being like ‘Oh, that’s a good job.’ They were always a little concerned about my path that I chose.”

Lucas didn’t think about the magnitude of her accomplishment until stories and interviews with publications like The New York Times and NPR began piling up. When the news broke, the response was overwhelming.

“There was this constant repeated message — everything changed,” she said.

Lucas called her presence at the organization “woke.”

One of her first tasks at the National Book Foundation was to update the mission, which she read to the audience:

“The mission of the National Book Foundation is to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture.”

A key element of the mission that shifted, according to Lucas, was to celebrate the “best literature in America” rather than the “best American literature.” Prompted by this, the organization added a fifth National Book Award for translated texts earlier this year.

“We thought, ‘We’re talking to Americans, Americans are from all over the world’ — we’re a country of immigrants. So why should we encourage reading only our stories when we should also be reading stories from Japan, Kenya, from China, from Mexico and from all around the world? All of these cultures influence our culture and are a part of us.”

Lisa Lucas, Executive Director, National Book Foundation 

“We are looking outward — even though we are an American institution devoted to celebrating American literature — we also want to celebrate the American reader,” Lucas said.

Lucas acknowledged diverse characters in books, but said inclusion must go further. She pointed to the publishing industry.

“It’s not only the fact that we don’t see ourselves,” she said. “It’s also that no one is telling us that books are for (minorities).”

Marketing in most publishing houses is aimed at white women, according to Lucas, and it is affecting the reading habits of underrepresented youth.

“Who’s telling you that (reading) is cake and not spinach?” she said.

But building a love for literature starts at home, Lucas said, to make sure kids are getting their “spinach” and enjoying their cake. Lucas emphasized the urgency to change the narrative around representation in books and the health of the book business.

“The book is definitely— 100 percent, in no way — dead,” she said.

Book sales are raising among young people, bookstores are becoming community hubs and the electronic book is not overpowering paperback sales, according to Lucas.

“We have to believe in the book, support our institutions, and celebrate the book and support our authors,” she said.

After her lecture, Chautauqua Chief of Staff Matt Ewalt opened the Q-and-A by asking Lucas how to address dated cultural attitudes in many classic novels.

Lucas said it is important to impress that “there are different cultural narrative(s)” throughout history and that parents, teachers and mentors should impress onto young people that, despite oppression faced by minorities in 19th- and 20th-century novels, they own their own narrative.

Ewalt then opened the floor to audience questions. An attendee asked how people manage to find time to read among other obligations.

“I hear people say ‘I have to go to yoga, but oh, did you see ‘The Wire’ last Night? I watched all ve seasons,’ ” Lucas said.

She reflected on the Harry Potter craze, where everyone found the time to read the series because everyone was talking about it, according to Lucas.

“When there’s cultural pressure, people will find the time to read,” she said.

The lecture concluded with a question that asked how to encourage and influence more people to read.

“It’s like how everyone that likes a candidate brings two people to the polls — bring 10 to the bookstore,” Lucas said.

Reconstructing history, deconstructing poems: Pulitzer-winning Jess shares syncopated sonnets

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  • Tyehimba Jess reads poems from his book "Olio" during the morning lecture in the Amphitheater, Tuesday, June 26, 2018. BRIAN HAYES/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Tyehimba Jess brought the written word to life.

The accomplished poet highlighted his unique — and crafty — style Tuesday, June 26, in the Amphitheater for Week One’s second morning lecture and the first Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Roundtable.

An award-winning slam poet turned author, Jess’ first book of poetry, Leadbelly, won the National Poetry Series competition in 2004 and was hailed one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2005” by Library Journal and Black Issues Book Review.

Jess’ most recent work, Olio, won awards such as the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and The Midland Society Author’s Award in Poetry.

The word “olio” describes a mixture of “heterogeneous” ingredients; in historical and the book’s context, “olio” refers to the middle of a minstrel show.

“Minstrel show is a form of entertainment started in the 19th century which consisted of white performers putting on blackface and tattered clothes in order to make caricatures of African-Americans,” Jess said. “It was principal for a form of psychological warfare that continued throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century and still manifests today.”

Jess pointed out a book — “a handy dandy guide for how to put together a minstrel show.” The first entry was titled, “How to Black Up.”

Olio centers on African-American artists and creators, an interest spawned from Jess’ curiosity about the origin of black music, he said.

Millie and Christine McKoy are Jess’ subjects for five pieces in the book.

The McKoy women were conjoined twins, fused back-to-back from the base of the spine to the tailbone. The two were born into slave-state North Carolina in 1849 and their master sold them to the circus at 18 months old, according to Jess.

“The twins did not just stand and get gawked at,” Jess said. “They sang — duets of course.”

Jess’ first poem about the twins — “Millie and Christine McKoy” — is written, and can be read, in three parts. The first from the perspective of Millie runs down the left of the page; Christine’s voice runs down the right. Their united voice runs through the center.

“We’re fused in blood and body — from one thrummed stem/ budding twins blooms of song,” Jess read down the center. “We’re a doubled rose…”

Jess moved to read Millie’s side:

“We’ve mended two songs into one dark skin / bleeding soprano into contralto…”

Then from Christine’s side:

“We ride the wake of each other’s rhythm/ beating our hearts’ syncopated tempo…” he read.

Jess finally blended the three columns and two voices, reading:

“We’ve mended two songs into one dark skin / we ride the wake of each other’s rhythm/ bleeding soprano into contralto/ beating out hearts’ syncopated tempo / — we’re fused in blood and body — from one thrummed stem, budding twin blooms of song. We’re a doubled rose…”

Olio is structured to give the reader flexibility.

“The reader can choose any path they want in these poems — I just make the decision as I go through about which way I want to go,” Jess said.

This line of continuity runs through each poem and even onto the cover, which spells “olio” from the left, right, up and down.

Following “Millie and Christine McKoy,” Jess read a poem titled “Millie-Christine: On Display.” The piece cries out in response to “egregious damnation,” Jess said, to which the McKoy women were subjected, forced to expose themselves to prove they were conjoined.

Again, the middle of the poem reads as the twins’ conjoined voice:

“We count the blessings of our doubled shell / as we pay our dues. We’ve proven ourselves / for science. We’ve been taken town to town / like prize bovine: We’ve been pawned up and down / each sawbone has searched us from spine to loin / our wondrous one- ness exists. We’re conjoined / We’re not frauds, but born of providence / God mended two souls into one dark skin,” Jess read.

Jess demonstrated the flexibility by reading the poem backward, adding in lines from the left and right sides, both Millie and Chris- tine’s voices.

In the next piece, Millie and Christine have been kidnapped and taken to Britain to perform, forcing their mother to choose between the United Kingdom, which had abolished slavery, and “Dixie’s rebellious mouth.”

Their mother ultimately chose the South.

The McKoy twins were able to profit from their act and eventually buy the plantation on which they were once enslaved. Jess jumped from line to line in the poems, skipping and repeating phrases, owing from one stanza to the next.

The final piece, a star- shaped poem, merged each of the prior poems and featured repeating lines throughout.

“A star of syncopated sonnets — because the McKoy twins were stars right?” Jess said over murmurs of awe from the crowd.

The final sonnet’s features mimic that of its subjects — not only a star, but two heads, a conjoined middle and two bases. The son- net can be read in infinite combinations, Jess said.

“Whichever direction you want to go with your eyes, tracing across the bottom of the poem in the same way that the gawker’s eye traced across the body of the McKoy twins,” Jess said. “Except in this case, you are taking the story of the McKoy twins and you are getting involved in their story and not just looking at their body.”

Jess also shared the story of Bret Williams and George Walker, comedians he described as the “Key and Peele of their generation.” His piece is a dialogue between the two men.

“There’s a coherent relationship between the right and the left side,” Jess said.

He, again, jumped and repeated lines, demonstrating the poem’s flexibility and how the connotation changes with every combination of lines. Each line of the poem can be paired with any of the five surrounding it, Jess said.

“… believe the human / might be saying ‘Look at that handsome man!’ Nobody/ might be saying, “Look at that handsome man!’…” Jess read.

After Jess finished “Brett Williams / George Walker Paradox,” he grabbed Olio, moved in front of the lectern and ripped the page from the book’s spine. He began folding the page to reveal new combinations of the poem. He brought the edges together to form different cylinders; with a fold and a twist he created a Möibus.

“I want the reader to deconstruct the book in order to reconstruction the people inside the book,” Jess said.

After the lecture, Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education David Griffith opened the Q-and-A with a question about Jess’ transition from slam poetry to prose.

Jess said competitive slam poetry taught him how to engage with — and keep — an audience.

“The harder you work on the page, the less you have to work on stage,” he said.

Griffith then turned to questions from the audience. One attendee asked about the reasoning for the church names that line each of Olio’s pages.

Lining the pages with the names was inspired by activist organization Black Lives Matter’s practice of repeating the names of those killed by police, as well as the lack of tribute to black churches that were burned down in the 19th and 20th centuries, Jess said.

A year prior to Olio’s publication, nine people were shot and killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. To Jess’ surprise, that church had also been burnt down decades earlier; it became the first and last church listed in Olio.

The final question asked whether Jess has or would write poetry about the current political climate — echoing a similar theme from Monday’s conversation with John Irving.

“All kinds of things happen around the word that deeply trouble me, and I think what I’m writing about now answers or corresponds with what’s happening the world today,” Jess said.

Irving, Paul discuss writing methods in regard to present politics, social issues

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John Irving always starts with the end.

The renowned author spoke to his reverse writing process in a conversation with Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review, on Monday, June 25, in the Amphitheater to open the season’s morning lecture series and Week One’s theme of “The Life of the Written Word.”

Irving’s work has earned him accolades, including three National Book Award nominations, winning once for his 1980 novel The World

According to Garp. His works have been translated in over 35 languages — A Prayer for Owen Meany is his best-selling novel in every language.

Outside of the literary circle, Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules, and The World According to Garp became an Academy Award-nominated film starring Robin Williams.

Pamela Paul, a journalist and author herself, grew up reading Irving (after watching the movies).

For his first four novels, including The World According to Garp, Irving started with the ending — something he thought he’d outgrow.

But, his method stuck.

“I don’t know where else to begin,” he said.

His process usually takes him around the plot; he starts with the ending, moseys around the story and ends at the climax.

“Even after the end comes to me, the novel will wait eight, 10 or more years before I decide to begin,” Irving said.

For Irving, the characters don’t drive the plot, and there’s no guarantee that they will be alive for the whole novel.

“You’ve heard writers say ‘the characters tell me what’s going to happen,’ but not with mine. I’d kill that character off very quickly,” Irving said.

Irving described his cataclysmic approach as a product of his “disaster- prone imagination.”

“If there weren’t something in the novel that I hope never happens to me or someone I love, if there wasn’t that element in the story and if that element wasn’t crucial to the story, I don’t know why I would give it so much thought,” Irving said.

His ending-driven plots reflect his love for 19th-century literature.

“Whether you finished Moby Dick or you just can’t, you know you can’t get on the Pequod and get home safe,” he said.

Despite the influence of writers like Melville and Dickens, Irving said his writing could never sound anything like them — even if he wanted to — because of cultural differences. Irving said the language and attitudes toward sex have changed, allowing him to write about what his predecessors could not.

Addressing timely political and social issues is a driving force in Irving’s novels, which proves to be timeless in works like his 1978 novel, The World According to Garp.

“What I think really went into the writing of The World According to Garp was principally a lot of anger and disappointment at what I thought was going to be a sexual revolution, at what I thought was going to be a feminist movement and a sexual liberation movement,” Irving said.

Irving reflected on how Garp echoes similar themes in 2018, despite celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

“The sad thing about that novel is that its not to my credit that it’s still relevant — it’s an embarrassment,” he said.

The Cider House Rules addresses abortion, which was legalized 12 years before the book’s publication. While working on the novel, Irving said people thought it was “quaint” that he was writing literature on a issue that was “solved.” In response, he said, “This one will ever be solved.”

“I said, let’s tell a story where a lot of awful things happen, not one of which would have ever happened if abortion had been legal, safe and available,” he said. “Everything in Cider House Rules happens because abortion is illegal, not safe and not available.”

He said it’s upsetting how his predictions for the future are usually wrong, but his prediction about the discussion surrounding abortion rights is the “small political point (he’s) been right on.”

Paul prodded at this, asking how Irving felt about the political state of the country. Irving paused.

“I never thought I’d hear myself say I wish George W. (Bush) was back,” he said over a cacophony of laughter and applause.

Now a permanent resident of Toronto, Irving is eligible for Canadian citizenship but plans to keep his American citizenship.

“I don’t want to not ever be able to vote here,” he said. Irving stressed the right to vote — he emphasized the importance of not wasting a vote by not voting.

“I expect Republicans to disappoint me; I am angry when my fellow Democrats disappoint me,” he said, regarding the millions of Americans who forwent the voting booth in the 2016 election. “I don’t care if you don’t like either candidate, one is always better than the other.”

Paul asked if Irving could see himself writing a protest novel about the current political era and what that would look like. Irving said he “doesn’t do the future well.”

Irving went on to compare President Donald Trump’s “bullying” tactics to that of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini — Irving specified that Mussolini had better hair.

“The vulgarity aspects of Mr. Trump aside — the extreme narcissism aside — fascism is looking alive and well, and not only in the United States,” he said.

Fascism is seeping into developed countries from Italy to Canada, Irving said. Paul added to that with examples including Brexit and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

“Xenophobia is not Mr. Trump’s idea. Hatred of others, blaming of others instead of addressing what the problem is here at home, is an old, old tactic,” Irving said. “If we don’t make education the priority of every functioning democracy, how can we expect everyone to know that? We always need to know more, but I’ve never lived in a time when so many of the general population know less.”

After the conversation, Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill started the Q-and-A with speakers’ advice for young writers.

“My advice to anyone that wants to write is to read,” Paul said.

Irving agreed and added that he was fortunate to be an avid reader as a young man.

Hill closed the Q-and-A with an audience question about the writers’ daily writing routines.

For her most recent book, My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, Paul said her time to write was limited to the 38-minute train ride to and from work. She said having that tight window forced her to crank out pages at a time.

“That’s impressive,” Irving said. “I’m trying to think of the last time I did anything in 38 minutes.”

Irving compared his routine to training for wrestling, or any sport.

“The discipline comes in loving repetition,” he said. “You have to love the process itself; you can’t be enamored with the end result.”

Conrad: ‘Do what is in your heart and soul and spirit’

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Barbara Smith Conrad speaks during Thursday’s morning lecture in the Amphitheater. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

During her lecture at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater, Barbara Smith Conrad did what she’s always done best: She sang.

The small woman on stage approached her friend, pianist Patsy Sage, to decide which song to sing. The words that escaped her lips were much more booming than her voice had been before — even with the aid of the microphone.

She sang: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace./ Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

That first song, “The Prayer of Saint Francis,” was sung in its entirety, followed by Fred McDowell’s “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.” She also sang part of W.B. Stevens’ “Farther Along” and ended her time on stage with “Amazing Grace.”

“My sister said that I was a preacher woman,” Conrad said. “Well, I don’t think so. What I am is a girl born in Northeast Texas into a rural Baptist church, whose values have never changed, whose dreams basically have never changed, but has been fortunate to meet people who have expanded my life in a way that I never dreamed possible.”

Conrad, the fourth speaker in Week Four’s topic on “A Case for the Arts,” is an African-American mezzo-soprano opera singer. She has possessed a natural talent for music since she was very young, growing up in Center Point, Pittsburg, Texas. Though she said she wanted to visit the Chautauqua Institution for a very long time, this visit was her first.

Her speech focused on her various life experiences regarding opera.

Geof Follansbee, Chautauqua Foundation CEO and Thursday’s moderator, said Conrad’s life itself is a case for the arts.

She discussed her time at The University of Texas at Austin, where she inadvertently became a pioneer in the push for equality and diversity at universities.

“To all the people who dream these dreams,” she said of anyone with aspirations in life, “don’t let anyone stop you. Ever.”

Accordingly, Conrad was cast as the female lead in the university’s 1957 production of Dido and Aeneas with a white man as her counterpart, causing a stir. The story gained national attention when the situation reached the Texas legislature, which leaned on the university president to remove her from the cast.

Eventually, a white woman was cast as her replacement.

In response to this event, famed activist Harry Belafonte offered to finance her way to any school in the world.

“Do you know what that means to a young singer?” she said, beaming. “It’s wonderful.”

When she went home to discuss the offer with her parents, her father simply told her to do what she felt was right. Ultimately, Conrad chose to remain where she was, eventually graduating in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in music.

“At the end of the day, you have to do what is in your heart and soul and spirit to do,” she said, “or you will miss out on a big chunk of life.”

Since then, Conrad has performed in well-known venues across North America and Europe alongside, as Follansbee said while introducing her, some of the most talented symphonies in the world.

Conrad said it amazes her to think that she went from living in a deeply segregated world to being able to stand in front of an audience to share her story. She said she is deeply grateful for the chance.

She commended the Chautauqua Institution’s staff and scenery, saying how visiting this place had been a lifelong dream that she never got around to completing. Now that she has, it’s just another dream she’s been able to achieve.

She reminded the audience members to never let go of their dreams.

“Even if it means just singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’” Conrad said, “get up and sing your song and let no one stop you.”


Q: You were part of the first class with African Americans in it at Texas, as I understand. How did that figure into your decision or not at all?

A: Oh, very much so. I was lucky to have one voice lesson per semester where I was. And it’s just that the school was not designed that way. There was interest, always. Where there are people who like singing, you’re going to find someone who can do something. But really, it boiled down to that I wanted something resembling an education that would let me go someplace and to do something beyond the boundaries I was used to. And a man came by and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and that’s when I went to my second year of college.

Q: Quickly you were thrust into a situation where this came to the fore where, having been cast in a role where within the music school, all of a sudden you’re surrounded by a university-wide controversy. How do you respond to that? What impact did it have?

A: Well, first you get mad. That’s a healthy thing to do: Just go get mad. And you’ll do something — who knows what that’s going to be. But you have to do something. The university offered me several opportunities, the first being, “Can you stand on your own two feet?” Yes, I can. I used to tell everybody, “My father is Conrad Smith, my mother is Gerrie Smith and we can do anything.” That was very important. Those are the things you grasped. But then you start to meet people who have a similar dream … because I didn’t know quite what to do, Belafonte said, “Choose any school you want and we’ll go there,” and when I talked to my father about it, he said, “If you want to go, go. If you don’t, don’t go. Go right down to that University of Texas and show them how to do it.” Well, that was more (easily) said than done, but it led me to where I am.

Q: (In 1957), when you remained at Texas, were you able to continue your music studies? Were you able to perform in other offerings?

A: That’s a good question. This is why friendships mean so much. Because … they knew I was way behind in everything and hadn’t even had an opportunity to stop and even look at what (Center Point) looked like. So I had support from students and friends and faculty. The thing that’s always impressed me, is how the staff at the College of Fine Arts could be one way and the rest of the world was asleep. We weren’t going anyplace; we were Texans. We had not so many choices, especially those of us who dreamed of having careers of any kind having to do with music. But the best thing of all is: No. 1, your faith, your family, your friends, your dreams; that all comes together. One way or the other, you’ll figure it out — and you do.

Q: What are your favorite roles and songs?

A: Oh my God. Through the eyes and ears of the passions of my brother Denard, who is also a French major, French songs are way up there. But in terms of dramatic roles, the lady at the piano really messed over my life when she said I should sing (Wagner) — one of the best days of my life, actually. [Asking her accompanist, Patsy.] Am I the only African American who did that in Brussels? I met all of those girls, and that was a huge victory. First of all, I’m clearly not German, but may as well be when you’re around Patsy. So — how do I put this? — it was fortuitous. I went from doing lots of Verdi and Carmen … and then found myself falling in love with Wagner.

Q: What are the lessons you consciously teach your students today about character and motivation?

A: Very good question. It’s my Aunt Maggie again, or my grandmother, and she would sit me down in her big rocking chair and she’d say, “Come, let us reason together,” and that started when we wanted band suits for our school, because schools were still segregated then. And then, at the end of that … she said, “You have a built-in motivation for living, child, and you just don’t know it yet.” And that’s been my credo.

Q: Another question has just come up that wants to know a little bit more about your parents and to ask, how did they receive an education for people of their race and generation in the South? It’s remarkable that they were able to become educated.

A: Center Point is Center Point, because anyone who ever lived there or went to school there is enamored with it, because it was the first and only accredited black school in the state of Texas. That’s No. 1; No. 2 is it took on a whole community of people who have something they could be proud of and proud about, and a way to make a living. My father was (one of) five children: He had three brothers and a sister whom I didn’t know, but they walked every weekend, 22 miles from Newsome to Center Point throughout the entire school.

Q: What is your next challenge in life and work that you look forward to taking on?

A: Well, like many people of my generation, I didn’t record as much as I could have and should have. So I’m trying to do some of that. I’m doing a lot of work with AT&T; that’s something that I had not even had any thought about ever in my life. But now I understand what my father meant when he said, “Carry the torch and carry it steady.”

—Transcribed by Emma Morehart

Lynch: Arts are an absolute necessity for the nation

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Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, gives Friday’s morning lecture in the Amphitheater. Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

Robert Lynch’s career began with a lie.

It was January 1975. He’d had his hand in the creation of the New England Artist Festival and Showcase, today called the New England Arts Biennial.

The team of founders — including Lynch — marketed it as “New England’s largest gathering of artists, craftspeople, performers, poets and other creators.”

The lie: It had never happened before this; there was a chance no one would even show up.

That wasn’t the case.

The event, held in May, attracted 20,000 people. And as this was Lynch’s first adventure into marketing, a variety of mishaps ensued.

Tickets cost 99 cents, but the event organizers hadn’t expected patrons to want the penny change; they had to come up with 20,000 pennies

The volunteers providing security showed up dressed in riot gear and carrying billy clubs, despite the festival’s family-friendly image.

A symbolic release of white doves was actually a flock of pigeons, and they stuck around once released — and with them came their droppings.

Finally, when the North Hampton mayor boarded a hot air balloon there, it lifted 10 feet off the ground before blowing sideways 100 yards, plowing over two interns in the process.

“I was completely booked,” Lynch said. “The excitement, the energy, the arts.”

He said once all the problems had been solved, people were free to enjoy the music and the artwork. It was then that Lynch understood: Art can bring communities together. There was a sense of understanding among the patrons.

Lynch, the final speaker in Week Four’s topic on “A Case for the Arts,” said art is so instrumental he questions why communities have yet to take it seriously.

Lynch is the president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, an organization that promotes art and art education. His speech, titled “America at a Cultural Crossroads,” explored the history and benefits of the arts on communities and education.

Benefitting from the arts

When Lynch was growing up, his parents had a very different view of how his life would go: His mother wanted him to a dentist, while his father wanted him to be a lawyer.

“I chose creative writing, specializing in poetry — where the big bucks are,” Lynch said sarcastically. “So I got out, and I discovered all the poet jobs were taken.”

Though he joked about this, he said the arts actually contribute to the economy quite well — $166 billion a year, to be specific. They generate 1.7 million jobs and $30 billion in taxes.

Furthermore, arts can result in creativity, self-actualization and self-discovery. Lynch said most people already know this, thanks to religious services, communities, environments and personal lives.

When asked in a survey what inspires innovation, superintendents said the No. 1 factor is arts education in schools. Similarly, a group of American businessmen said arts education is the No. 2 factor.

Arts have had a place in America’s history since the very beginning, he said.

It’s mentioned in the Constitution, reading that Congress should have the right “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Even today, interest in the arts is thriving, despite reports from the National Endowment for the Arts saying otherwise. The NEA reached that conclusion because of fewer ticket sales — but Lynch said the organization failed to take online and television views into account.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, he said, is responding to this demand by inviting amateur musicians 25 years of age or older to play with its members. Although the orchestra expected only a few responses, 400 people took the opportunity.

“It’s out there,” Lynch said. “The hunger (for the arts) is there.”

It’s these facts, he said, that policy makers need to hear about if supporters of the arts hope to make change.

The issue behind it all

Despite all these positive trends, Lynch said, the arts are getting very minimal government funding.

Sixty percent of funding comes from revenue earned by individual art organizations, and foundation and corporate funding provides about 4 percent each. Individual donors make up about 20 percent, with the remaining 12 percent coming from the government.

The NEA, he said, provides less than 1 percent of total funding for the arts, even though it’s one of the most known supporters of the arts.

Lynch said the main goal behind it all should be to find a way to make people understand the necessity behind the arts. Arts education is one way to solve this.

Presidents have enjoyed the arts; militaries have utilized the arts; communities depend on the arts. Yet, Lynch said, governments officials don’t recognize their impact.

“We’ve enjoyed the fruits,” Lynch said, “but we need to spread the word, making the value of arts — in a very practical nation — better understood as a critical need right now.”


Q: As we begin, I’m thinking of the opening lecture of the week, Rocco Landesman, and the three people that are standing there (representing the ratio of National Endowment for the Arts funding to the gross amount of arts funding). He made an interesting statement, which I wonder if you find is a contradiction. One of the things he talked about was a misallocation of supply and demand. He quoted the number of people actually attending arts productions and then turned and quoted the number of nonprofit organizations that have grown in that same period of decline of membership. He was saying that there’s something wrong with this picture; we have a glut of participant organizations and an increasingly smaller attendance population. He thought we just had too many of these organizations; we need to cut them back. What’s your reaction to that?

A: Great. Actually, how many people heard Rocco’s speech? What a character, don’t you think? I love Rocco. I actually talked to him personally about that question when he first came out with those statements, because I have a very different point of view. He said, ‘I’m just trying to get the conversation going,’ and so I thought that was terrific. So here are my thoughts on it. The first thing is that you have to understand and look carefully at what studies say, and then what they mean for the larger context. So, for example, there are many studies that say that attendance in various arts activities is down, meaning people sitting in seats, listening to opera, watching dance or theater. So the NEA has interpreted that as demand for the arts is down. I do not. Because when you look at other kinds of demands — online demands, for example — different kinds of ways that, whether they are electronic or through new kinds of arts activities — hybrid arts activities — people are engaging in the arts. Demand for the arts is actually quite strong. Demand for a particular kind of art form in a particular kind of venue is not as strong. What that means to me is that we in the arts world have to do some serious thinking about our marketing approach, about the products that we have and the places through which we deliver those products. That’s not good if all you are interested in is people sitting in seats seeing you; you’ve got a tough time. If we can, as the Metropolitan Opera and other entities have done, expand the way of looking, we have more audiences to deal with. So that’s one thing. The second thing is we have a very different system in America than anywhere else in the world. We have a market system for arts organizations coming into being. Nobody is supporting those 109,000 non-profit arts organizations with enough money to be able to make a difference about them coming or going. Meaning, they survive on a mix of public, private and earned money. And so what that means is that when there is no longer a demand or an audience, they’ll go out of business. But for us to say that there’s too many of them, and that they should be put out of business, is not the way we’ve done arts growth in America, and I, first of all, don’t think it can be done. I think what you’re going to see are more arts organizations changing and some merging and even many new kinds of organizations coming into being. I think you’ll see growth.

Q: This person declares that he’s a dentist with a piano in his waiting room — I thought it said he’s also an amateur surgeon, but it actually says an amateur singer — so he agrees with the arts being valuable and all but then goes into a long piece about how governments can misuse the arts. He quotes Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s use of artists and basically asks at the end, therefore, isn’t it better if the arts remain in the hands — that is, their support — remains in the hands of private individual?

A: Well, two things. In America. the arts are in the hands of private individuals; you just have to look at the numbers I gave you: 60 percent earned income, that’s you voting with your pocketbook; and 30 percent private individuals, business; 10 percent, even less than that, government. So government is not in control; that’s the first thing. Secondly, the value of government is not to say what art gets delivered to you or not. The value of government is to help stimulate more of it for everyone; at least, that’s what I feel. That’s why the great leveraging power of those three bodies up there (the three people in the audience who represent the government portion of arts funding) — and you see how cutbacks are happening; there’s two of them sitting there right now — becomes, I think, really critical to understand that it’s about the leveraging, it’s not about any kind of control. The third thing I’ll say is that we must not confuse government — which every nation has — with Hitler or Stalin. Those were bad people, bad governments. Everything can be abused. Our job is to have good government and not abuse the things that we want to have for our people, like the arts, and the arts should be one of them, as far as I think.

Q: How many members of Congress have some background and education in the arts? How can Congress in general be more encouraged to participate more in the arts?

A: You know it’s interesting, how many people here sing in a chorus? Would you raise your hands? How many people here — leave those hands up — play an instrument for yourselves at home? How many people here write poetry? So now we’ve got almost every hand in the room up. Congress comes from the people, just like you; you are a good example of what Congress comes from. Almost every congressperson has something that is related to the arts in their background; that’s what I find. Every March, we have something called National Arts Advocacy Day. About 600 people come in from around the country, many others from online, and we visit almost every congressional office. If you go to every congressional office, you’ll see pictures of music-making or of visual art or something that connects to the arts. About 20 or 30 of them have some sort of professional connection to the arts. The others enjoy the arts even if they vote against the arts, all the time. Many years ago, I got to meet with Jesse Helms and he said, ‘Bob, I love the arts,’ but he always voted against the arts. So that interest is there. Making it understood as a public sector priority, as a policy priority, that’s another question. Those congresspeople might participate, and we want them to more of that. But getting them to understand why it’s a public good — why it does help with some of the things their constituents want done — that is what gets them to vote for the arts. I’ll just say this: Sadly, in some ways, the No. 1 reason that we have seen growth of federal money for the arts — according to the surveys that we’ve done — is the economic impact of the arts argument, as opposed to the inherent value argument. So we need to do both more, but it’s important for us to know what they respond to.

Q: Every speaker at the Hall of Philosophy this week at 2 p.m. mentioned that he or she had one or two mentors, most of them accidental. Could, or does, Americans for the Arts encourage or sponsor formal mentoring programs at the local level?

A: You know, that’s a great idea. We do not have a formal mentor program. We do have a number of programs, conferences and leadership forums, where we bring speakers and bring local leaders to be there and meet with other people and form their own mentorship opportunities. The woman who was my mentor — a woman named Lee Howard, here from Huntington, N.Y. — I met in that way, some 35 years ago at a conference for this organization. I came to the conference, and here was this person going on about fighting the fight at the local level, and we bonded and she helped me. So I think that’s a great idea to make that even more formal. So I’m going to take that back, and maybe you’ll see one next year.

Q: Pretend you’re meeting face-to-face with an inner-city elementary school principal, and you want them to purchase a well-respected series of dance classes. What two or three points do you make to convince them the arts are critical to the students?

A: In a study done with the Department of Justice and the city of Atlanta, the city of Portland, Ore., and the city of San Antonio, it was clearly done that with the involvement of dance and music and theater in classrooms for inner-city kids, particularly at-risk kids, recidivism rates went down, juvenile delinquency reportage went down, the ability to communicate went up, the ability for kids to graduate went up and the track record of kids going on and getting jobs and being contributors to the community was much higher than without the arts.

—Transcribed by Sarah Gelfand

Stamberg: Art and museums can, and will, save the world

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Photo | Megan Tan Susan Stamberg, NPR special correspondent, asks the Amphitheater audience for a show of hands from public radio listeners during her Wednesday morning lecture.
Susan Stamberg, NPR special correspondent, asks the Amphitheater audience for a show of hands from public radio listeners during her Wednesday morning lecture. Photo by Megan Tan.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

It was a cold Thursday morning in February. NPR’s Susan Stamberg waited anxiously in front of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. — not an uncommon locale for her, considering her regular art reporting.

But this time was different.

She had received a phone call days before from long-time listener Juan Hamilton, a sculptor and companion of painter Georgia O’Keeffe. They placed a special antenna on their roof specifically to listen to “All Things Considered,” of which Stamberg was the host.

Hamilton had asked Stamberg if she would like to attend an exclusive preview of a new art exhibit with O’Keeffe and him.

Her answer was a joking, “Oh, you know, I’ll have to look at my schedule.”

The taxi pulled up, and out stepped Hamilton — quite handsome, as Stamberg remembered. He turned to help the 96-year-old O’Keeffe from the vehicle.

“Georgia, this is Susan Stamberg,” Hamilton said. “We listen to her in Abiquiú, (N.M.).”

O’Keeffe looked at Stamberg and, as Stamberg recalled it, she “showed some teeth,” rather than smiling.

Similar mannerisms continued through the museum, and all the while, Stamberg recorded O’Keeffe’s comments and remarks. To this day, Stamberg considers the recording — though it’s not great quality — one of her most treasured.

Stamberg shared this story as part of her lecture at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater. Stamberg shared her views of art as a 40-year broadcast journalist, specifically that art will save the world.

Stamberg was the third speaker in Week Four’s topic on “A Case for the Arts.” During her speech, titled “Museums Matter,” she described herself as more of an art enthusiast than an expert.

“Why do museums matter?” Stamberg asked. “I think the answer to that is: Why do we need rain? I believe that (art) museums in particular … nurture our souls, and they help us to grow. They soak us with beauty, or discovery, or sometimes dismay — that’s fine.”

They matter, she said, because they can inspire and thrill. They can change “nondescript” towns into something more. They bring pride to people, and they can take people away from the horrors around them.

Furthermore, Stamberg said, artwork has the ability to relate people with each other. She compared the paintings of Edward Hopper and Gustave Caillebotte, who each painted modern art in their own times. Even though our modern times are very different from theirs, Stamberg said, viewers are still “forced to feel” when viewing their paintings.

Directly after the 9/11 attacks, she said, museums and art helped people cope. She had a part in this by bringing pianist Leon Fleisher onto her show to aid the emotional recovery of the nation.

“Great art — whether it’s music, painting, sculpture, drawing, fiction — takes us away from the present,” Stamberg said, “and engages, clears, airs out our minds of the present, so we can go back to our realities refreshed.”

Refreshed people are more willing and able to perform the difficult tasks with which they are presented, she said.

When Stamberg was growing up, her father would take her to a museum every Saturday. She and her late husband, Louis, did the same for their son Josh, even though they sometimes had to drag him along.

She said she’s very glad they had this tradition, because her son now visits museums in every new city he visits.

“He’ll go to any museum any place,” Stamberg said, “because there will always be, and he knows this, at least one thing, one treasure, that will intrigue or provoke or enchant, puzzle, annoy him, cause a reaction. That’s the point — to prompt some sort of an emotion.”

Throughout her speech, Stamberg drew on personal experiences regarding many living and deceased artists, including Paul Gauguin, César Baldaccini, Mark Strand and Edward Hopper.

Stamberg quoted Robert Frost, saying, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Museums, she said, are the same.

“When we have to go (to museums), they have to take us in, to welcome and expose us to the truths of our time and other times,” Stamberg said, “to help us to look at ourselves in fresh ways, to synthesize — through great works of creativity and discovery — our feelings, our fears, our aspirations. It helps us to express what has been inexpressible in our day-to-day language that we are meant to create.”

She said it’s reasons like these that she chose to spend so much of her life devoted — as both an enthusiast and a journalist — to art and museums. She didn’t have to cover so much art in her broadcasts. She chose to do so.

“I believe art will save the world,” Stamberg said, “if anything can.”

Q: How does a curator make a museum? What makes a well-curated show? Can you give us some examples of that?

A: It’s not so different from the way I work in telling stories. Have an idea. They have an idea about something. Things that have been out there, with old paintings, for hundreds of years, but try to look at it in some fresh way and tell a new story. And so much for the art curators happens because of advances in technology. Well that’s true for us as well, because there are better ways to X-ray paintings, to see what their history has been, to notice hitherto unnoticed aspects of a painting, or discovery of manuscripts, discovery of paintings that have been in somebody’s attic — all these things allow the curators to deepen their scholarship, the information they have, and shape whatever it is that is the story they want to tell in a particular exhibition. Sometimes it’s as simple as just chronological. I find those — well, I was going to say the least interestingn, but that’s not true. If you look at chronological exhibits, say, of Picasso — although there would be no museum in the world big enough to hold all of them, you could do a retrospective — but if you arranged his pictures in chronological order in an exhibition, what you would find would be extraordinary. You would see him painting his way through every era of art. Absorbing it. Changing it. And moving on to the next one. So he had to invent cubism by the end, because he’d run out of other people to be. So he had to invent this new thing, and then after that, he went back to some of those classic forms that he started with. So I can’t say chronological is the least interesting with someone like Picasso, but sometimes, often, in the case of others, it’s not as interesting as other ways of gathering.

Q: What do you think about opening up a Louvre in Abu Dhabi?

A: Well, aren’t they lucky to have all that money? I would love to go there because they are doing extraordinary things in architecture. Do you remember the time when the Japanese started buying up major works of art? I remember wandering into the Phillips and seeing some Japanese visitors with stacks of art books that they were buying and carrying back home. And then they just started amassing these extraordinary collections. And now in Dubai, that money is creating cultural opportunities for those citizens as well as destinations. I’m sure Rocco Landesman, if you went to hear him, that art works and creates cultural tourism, and brings cultural tourism — not that they need it so much in Abu Dhabi — but brings in money to a country or a town or an organization as well as spreading culture and showing people wonderful things.

Q: Your advice, please, for aspiring broadcast journalists?

A: Oh, I’m so happy that there are those. You have to go into public radio. Go and volunteer at your local public radio station. They always need help. Get a job. Now, I’m not sure if this is still true; this is traditionally been the advice I gave, which is avoid journalism school.  Gosh, I hope there are no professors of journalism in this audience. Get on the job training, because there’s nothing like it. Go work at a local, small newspaper. That’s the part I’m not sure about anymore, if that’s great advice. Although this daily paper you have is really something. I’m very impressed at the level of reporting. I was reading Stanley Fish’s remarks written up in today’s paper, and it was such a terrific summary of the things that he said — very good. I’ll see what tomorrow’s paper brings. But anyway, that traditionally has been a great thing to do because you get editing by professional editors who will help guide you and shape you from the local newspapers. And they have been big enough so that the editors can take that time to help teach you. I’m afraid those days are over as papers shrink and collapse. Strangely, it’s been to the benefit of National Public Radio. It’s nothing we ever wished for, but when we started, we all have all observed our 40th anniversary now, and when we began we never dreamt that 40 years later, we would be people’s major source of information as the newspapers collapse and as television really gives up news for whatever they’re doing now. These reality shows. But now there’s this whole aspect of citizen journalism. I have very mixed feelings about that as well. I really do believe in carefully trained reporting where you’ve got editors looking over your shoulder and telling you, ‘That doesn’t work,’  ‘How do you verify that?’ ‘Who confirmed that source?’ ‘How many sources did you have on it?’ The whole business of reporting, which I fear is getting lost as well, but still the public stations are there, and they’re trying to do what they can to expand their own local news reporting. I think that would be a big piece of advice. We have a wonderful internship program — it’s very competitive — but it’s something else for young journalists to think about applying to and getting. And it’s not just gopher work. There’s plenty of gopher work that we get those poor young people to do, but there’s also really hands-on help that they provide to us all the time. And volunteering at the local public station will allow you to do things, because they’re so desperate. They really need you. They have small staffs and tremendous pressures on them to do the work. Those are the ways. I don’t know what paying jobs are anymore for young people to get into it. I don’t know.

Q: Tell us about some museums you don’t like.

A: I don’t think there’s a single museum I don’t like. That’s very shallow of me, or unselective, but as I said, there will always be some one thing — you zip through and many museums, especially in small towns, have started because the rich folks in town bought paintings and decided the way they would put their mark on the town was to start a museum and turn their personal collections over. That’s the case with Barnes, except it was not exactly voluntary on his part. He opened his home and his extraordinary collection — he has more Renoirs then anywhere else in the world — he did it first as a adjunct to the arts school that he wanted to form in which he could extend his own personal philosophies of what art should be. Well, now there’s so much controversy, as you may know, about the moving of that museum, which he was very adamant in his will: ‘They will not lend; they will not borrow; you make an appointment to come in; you can’t just wander in off the street.’ There was one rule after another in a lovely residential neighborhood outside of Philadelphia where parking was difficult, neighbors were complaining. It became a tremendous hassle, and eventually the will was broken; it spent a lot of time in court, and the decision, although it is still being fought, is to move the collection, recreate its hanging as best as they can, and it’s a very idiosyncratic way that they’re displaying art, that he decided art should be displayed in that wonderful building, home, but to recreate it in a new facility in the heart of Philadelphia. And there are arguments back and forth, there’s a film, a documentary some of you may have seen, something about theft. What is it? “The Art of the Steal,” which presents its case pretty forcefully, but you can also make the case that the level of hassle it took to get out there, and the advance planning. The first time I went there, which was in the ’60s, I think, you had to write a letter months in advance just to get permission to come, and they were told on a particular day at a particular time. So there is a case to be made for making it available, more centrally located, in a place where many many more people can have a chance to look at it.

Q: Is the Guggenheim a good place to display?

A: That’s a controversy, too. It was when I was there, but they had (Richard) Serra, those huge waves of sculpture, and in that building, it looked great. Others say that the gallery space is not particularly conducive to looking at the art. It’s too bad, but you get to see that building; you get to have that experience of space and the pioneering way that (Frank) Gehry was able to conceive of it based on computer technology developed by the aerospace industry. He was able to create forms and architecture that have never existed before. But I haven’t gone back since, as I said, this was 2001, and I haven’t gone back to see any other sorts of exhibitions there.

Q: How many museums have opened this year, and how many have closed?

A: I don’t know the answer to that. Does anybody here? There are new wings; there are not so many brand new museums; per se, but there have been capital campaigns from before 2008 and the economic collapse to raise money for the edition of wings by major architects to many museums. So those have opened, and they have been able to take out of storage things that nobody ever had a chance to see before, and put on display. I think Cleveland was the most recent one that I visited. Oh, and also, Richmond, Va., which has a terrific wing. And I know I’m forgetting others. What is it? (Renzo) Piano’s addition to the Art Institute. Oh my lord, it’s fantastic, all that natural light pouring in. Well, Piano, didn’t he do Richmond as well? Anybody from there? I was just there a few weeks ago, but I can’t remember. And Detroit, so I’ve heard, but I haven’t seen that. That seems to be the trend, rather than brand new museums opening, although again in my hometown, Washington, they’re working toward a 2015 opening of an African-American museum, and I heard on the radio, my best source, the other day, that a small venue, 5000 square feet, has opened to show the African-American role in the Civil War somewhere in Northwest Washington. So museum spaces are opening up, but as far as new space and commissioned space, they’re attached to the older institutions. And I don’t know about closings.

Q: Are you worried about rising admissions cost?

A: You have to spend, I think it’s $20, to get into the Museum of Modern Art. I’m so spoiled, and I don’t think it’s going to last long, in Washington, D.C., where admission to every museum is free. It’s extraordinary. Except for my favorite, the Phillips. But all of those Smithsonian museums, you just walk in the door. In some ways, in this economy, they may have to start charging. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. And charge $5, or charge $10. The worst accusations of the arts are that they are elitist, and those kinds of fees will only exacerbate that level of criticism. But there are other museums doing creative things in order to keep their doors open or their prices down. And one I’m thinking of is the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, which opens its doors to yoga classes. They have yoga classes in galleries right underneath some of their wonderful — wouldn’t you love to do that? I would. And whatever the charge for the yoga class is, a percentage of it gets brought to the museum. So those are imaginative ways. A main way that they raise money is through their museum shops, which I always find a very mixed blessing, because I hate being herded out of galleries into the shop. I’d rather have a little breathing space before they want me to spend my money on something. On the other hand, I can’t begrudge that, because it’s a good revenue producer for them, and a big percentage of their income comes from that. I just lament so the idea of how high these fees are getting. But these are our new realities, I’m afraid. We’re living in a really difficult economy, and we want to keep those museums’ doors open. Some are closing, not closing down, but because security guards are expensive, they’re cutting back on number of days the museums stay open, and I’m afraid we’ll see more of that.

Q: Is our contemporary art going to rank with the great stuff of the past?

A: Gee, don’t you wonder? A lot of it — and this is the hopeful part in a way — is being created online and through the Internet. How that gets preserved, I don’t know, because it’s out there, and it’s essentially ephemeral. Some of the recent stuff, Julian Schnabel putting pieces of crackery into his canvasses. I don’t know how you roll that up when they take down the exhibition. So the extent to which those pieces will last is unknown. There are people breaking ground. I don’t have nearly as easy a time with truly contemporary things as I do, as you can hear, with some of the things from the past. But I did talk a few months ago, again in Paris, with David Hockney, who was at an exhibition of his newest art, which is making art on iPhones and iPads. The gallery was full of one wall on which iPhones — 20 of them — were hung, all on, and the other wall was iPads all turned on, with that light coming out of all of them. And these images — which there’s an app, which I’m going to buy for the iPhone, called “Paintbox,” or something like that. And a little paint box comes up at the bottom of the screen, and you dip into it and make images on the iPhone, and he said he had gotten into it so much that he was wiping his hands on his smock and then going back to paint some more. And he started doing this — he would wake up at his house, I guess, in Whales, and next to his bed was always his sketchbook and some pencils, but he’d look out the window and see this gorgeous sunrise, and he decided he wasn’t going to sketch it, he was going to grab his iPhone, turn it on, and with this brand new app, start making sketches. And then he would email them to his friends, and that’s how this began. I offered to give him my email address. He laughed, but the other thing he said was, ‘I haven’t figured out a way to make money from this yet.’ So if David Hackney can’t make money off of this, how can these new artists and people coming in and using the web to make art, how will they ever find a way to support themselves? Although there’s room for graphic and commercial artists, I think, online. But in a way it’s a time I, as an old fogy, lament things past, but it’s really an exciting time of enormous activity and invention that could lead us places we’ve never even dreamt of before. For instance, the little disc that will be soon embedded in my head replacing Google, and just at the moment when memory is utterly shot, I can just do this and it will all come back. And you will have that, too.

—Transcribed by Josh Cooper

Fish: Value of arts, humanities found in pleasure we take in them

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Stanley Fish, a columnist for The New York Times and professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, speaks at Monday’s morning lecture in the Amphitheater. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

Stanley Fish, professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, read and analyzed George Herbert’s poem “The Forerunners” during his lecture at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater.

The poem, found in 1633’s The Temple, depicts a struggle with senility and the loss of the mastery of language. The poem reads: “True beautie dwells on high: ours is a flame/ But borrow’d thence to light us thither./ Beautie and beauteous words should go together.”

Fish, the second lecturer in Week Four’s topic on “A Case for the Arts,” is also a columnist for The New York Times. He used this poem in support of his argument for keeping liberal studies as college graduation requirements. Without the study of humanities, he said, cultural artifacts would be lost.

“I hope you agree with me that ‘The Forerunners’ is an amazing poem,” Fish said once he had finished a 20-minute reading and analysis. “I would even call it a supreme achievement of mind. It’s really good. But, our question today is, ‘What’s it good for?’”

He said it further begs the question of whether funding used to pay humanities professors is justified.

Fish said a popular argument for the humanities is that they inspire critical thinking. On that subject, Fish mentioned the writings of Victor Farrell, who said there’s no ground in arguing that humanities inspire good thinking any more than another subject.

As true as it is that college graduates make more money on average in a lifetime than those who stop at high school, Farrell wrote that this fact refers to all college educations, not specifically liberal arts.

Another argument that Farrell disputed is that liberal arts educations build oral and writing skills. He said the same skills can be learned from a vocational education or education earned from the workplace.

Finally, Farrell also argued against the assertion that, because most people these days will have several careers over their lifetimes, a liberal arts education will prepare students for later life.

He wrote of an imaginary man, John, who runs a bike shop, then works at Volume Communications, Inc. and finally becomes a sales executive. Farrell questioned how studying English literature, philosophy or French helps in those fields.

“But you’ve got to remember that Farrell is a defender and lover of the humanities,” Fish said, “and yet he runs through every argument for supporting them in the universities and finds each argument wanting.”

The question, Farrell wrote, is how to prove that studying the humanities is useful when the subject itself is not. Farrell said liberal arts colleges would need a large-scale, long-term public relations campaign — but based on the actions of those colleges in the past, that would prove unsuccessful. Fish agreed.

Fish said these ideas directly counter the ideas of Richard Brodhead and John Rowe, the co-chairs of the American Academy Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Brodhead, who also serves as president of Duke University, said businesses recognize the following from liberal arts educations: communication skills, cross-cultural understanding, history and an understanding of personal values and the social good.

Rowe, who also serves as chairman and executive officer of Exelon Corporation, said excellence in the sciences is “inextricably linked with the humanities.”

Fish said this claim is unsupportable and is thus unviable.

Fish said as long as the commission thinks like this, it will “produce nothing.”

“The demand for justification is always a demand that something be justified in terms not its own,” he said. “Nothing in the commission’s (goal) acknowledges that the arts and humanities might operate according to their own terms or that these terms might be the basis both of the value they have and of the pleasure we take in them.”

Indeed, he said, people enjoy the arts and humanities. There wouldn’t be theater, music, poetry readings, book clubs, dance festivals or art shows if that weren’t the case. The Chautauqua Institution itself, he said, is the perfect example of this point.

Still, Fish said, there’s a question of why there needs to be academic departments in universities dedicated to these subjects.

“So the question is, how do we justify not the existence of ‘The Forerunners,’ but the academic study of ‘The Forerunners’?” Fish said.

The poem, he said, doesn’t supply a life lesson to most people; it doesn’t inspire its readers into becoming responsible democratic citizens; it doesn’t enhance the life of the mind. The audience stirred at these assertions.

As these are common justifications of humanities education, Fish probed the audience for the answer. What justification can be provided?

He said the understanding of poems like “The Forerunners” can only be achieved with a background in the humanities. To keep alive the culture, those who study the culture must have a place in society and in the university.

“If the study of the arts and the humanities is to be justified,” Fish said, “it will be because it keeps alive and refurbishes glorious human artifacts that might well be lost or less available to future generations if they were no longer taught.”


Q: Who was your best teacher and why?

A: That’s an interesting question. I’d have to say my best teacher was a teacher I had in Classical High School in Providence, R.I., where I grew up. Classical High School, just as it sounds, is a high school built on the Boston Latin model, where we had four years of Latin, three years of French, two years of German and some adventurous souls — I was not one of them — also took Greek in addition to the other usual subjects. I had an English teacher by the name of Sarah Flanagan who simply inspired me to become interested in the kinds of questions and problems that came up in her class.

Q: Why do you forbid The New York Review of Books in your home?

A: Well, there’s something called the New York Intellectual World, which is a world that Tom Wolfe satirized in one of his novels and a world which has often been satirized in movies. It’s a lot of bright people, well-dressed, but well-dressed in a kind of respectably seedy way, standing around in an apartment either in Greenwich Village or on the Upper West Side and talking brightly about the plight of the poor, or of the horrible state of things in some foreign country, and then offering bromide solutions and philosophical disquisitions which usually begin with Hegel. I just hate the feel and smell of it. Is that enough?

Q: This question is referring to a specific university, but I think we should expand it beyond a particular place. What, if anything, could have been done to prevent the removal of foreign language programs from this university and what can we do to bring back these programs?

A: That must be our old friend, SUNY Albany, where it was announced brightly by the president that they’re going to ax, meaning get rid of, goodbye, “go birds of spring,” French, Italian, Russian, theater and classics. OK. What can be done? Well, the first thing that can be done, and I mean this quite seriously, is don’t hire a president like that. There is a movement, which is, I think, increasing in its acceleration, to look to business executives or industrial executives for senior positions in the academy. Now the reasons for this are superficially cogent. First of all, as the university and college world becomes more and more cash-strapped, it makes more sense to hire a CEO who is a CEO, who knows what it means to be a CEO. Another cogent reason given is that academics themselves are not trained in large-scale management, but I think that these advantages that a CEO from another field might bring the organization of a college or university are far outweighed by a simple fact: In colleges and universities, as in other institution structures, everything depends on what and who is at the top, because the entire atmosphere, the way of everyday feeling that pervades the institution, stems from the top. If you have at the top someone who is not himself or herself absolutely invested in the enterprise because he or she has taught in the enterprise, written about it, done work that has earned graduate degrees, I … think that if you have someone who doesn’t have that experience and yet has all of the business acumen in the world, it’s going to be a disaster, because when push comes to shove, and judgments have been made, that person will not have an intimate knowledge of what he or she is supposed to be judging.

Q: This is a teacher of humanities, who has a master’s degree from SUNY Albany, who wants to know: How do I encourage my career-driven 17-year-old students to love learning for the sake of knowledge instead of for a specific job?

A: Well, we had a discussion last evening before we went to bed — several people discussing education and teaching — and I made a point that I’ve often made, which is that the way in which you teach is a function of your personality. There are many methods of teaching that will produce the results, but not all those methods are available to every one of us, because our personalities are suited to some methods and not to others. You’ll not be surprised that my method could be described as a combination of shock treatment and saturation bombing. So that the first thing I tell my students, and this is not a recommendation — some of you could never do this, and I could never do some of the things that you can do — the first thing I tell my students, no matter what the class is, is I haven’t the slightest interest in any opinion you have ever had about anything. And I don’t want to hear them, although I will want to hear what you have to say of a relevant kind about the materials we study. That’s enough at the beginning, because students have often been taught or told or allowed to believe that the reason they’re in a college classroom is so that they can express themselves. So that’s one thing; they come in with a certain set of attitudes. Also, here’s something I recommend. I sound like — you know the Click and Clack brothers? They’re always saying at the end of the program, “This is NPR,” even though when so and so hears it … well, when I say this, my wife cringes in the same way. I say, I always like shame and humiliation as good pedagogical techniques at the beginning; get things started in the right direction. When I first became chairman of the English department at Duke, one of my colleagues, after about six weeks, said, “Are we going to have a meeting in which we fashion bylaws?” And I replied, “No bylaws. My laws.”

Q: Are Great Books programs the answers?

A: Great Books programs are part of an answer. I think Great Books programs have an appeal. I think Great Books programs work well in small colleges. I haven’t said very much about the difference between institutional education and institutional draw, but the difference is vast. If you have the small liberal arts college where students know each other and instructors know all of the students and students know all the instructors, the campus is quite small, then the Great Books education will often serve as the glue that holds the entire enterprise together. That kind of education also used to serve a social function. It used to provide what sociologists call social capital. If you want a Great Books education, then you entered society either in the business world or medical world or political world, and you were able to refer with familiarity and ease to Milton or Herbert or George Elliott or Homer or Virgil or Goethe or Tolstoy. You were then, in fact, carrying a piece of currency that stood you in good stead. I don’t think that’s any longer the case. I think if you find yourself in certain kinds of business and even political environments today, and start talking about Herbert’s “The Forerunners,” you will soon be the only person in the room.

Q: How much of this is going to be on the test?

A: I don’t give tests, but I require papers.

– Transcribed by Elora Tocci

Landesman: The arts build better communities

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Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, is interrupted by Chautauqua Opera Young Artists performing a flash mob during his lecture Monday in the Amphitheater. Photo by Megan Tan.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

When Rocco Landesman was young, his uncle would give his brother and him $5 for every F they got in school. His uncle, after all, went on to found a personal management company, its motto being, “We take the sting out of success and put the fun back in failure!”

“For some reason,” Landesman said, “that business never really took off.”

Nonetheless, Landesman took his uncle’s motto to heart.

Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, opened Week Four’s morning lecture series on “A Case for the Arts” at 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Amphitheater. His speech, titled “Art Works: A Conversation,” spanned three “acts” regarding the arts as community-builders: embracing failure, motivating audiences and investing locally.

Act I: Embracing failure

As Landesman delivered the first commencement address he’d ever been asked to make, he spoke to the graduating class at the Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts. He wished upon them one thing: failure.

Since the 1980s, success in art has been reviewed by analyzing attendance, income and national attention. Landesman said the simplest way theaters achieve those goals is by practically mimicking Broadway or by playing it safe with familiar, popular material.

“But what is the result of defining success that way?” he said.

Small playhouses attempting mainstream success across the nation, he said, lose their identities and their ability to take chances.

Failure, he said, is required to find “alternate pathways to success.”

If applied to schoolchildren, failure helps them to adapt and to try harder. Failure, to those children, is nothing but the “permission to try again.” Innovation, he said, can be called “the art of productive, noble, fun failure.”

Landesman said failure shouldn’t be stigmatized in schools like it is today. Instead, it should be treated as one absolutely acceptable outcome. Encouraging students to try again, he said, is where it counts.

In that way, Landesman said, failure can inspire success.

“I think we can use the arts to give the luxury of failure to our students,” he said. “The arts allow for experiment, for risk. The arts often engage students who are not succeeding in other arenas — those who know what failure is and who navigate it every day.”

In this economic recession, though, art is often the first thing cut in struggling education budgets.

He ended this portion of his talk by referring to various failures that ended positively: Christopher Columbus sailing for India but finding America and Alexander Fleming neglecting to clean his lab before a holiday and discovering penicillin.

Act II: Motivating audiences

One of the biggest problems Landesman has encountered at the National Endowment for the Arts — and one of the most interesting conversations — regards that of shrinking demand for arts, while the amount of arts organizations continues to grow. Nationwide, demand for arts has shrunk 5 percent, but not-for-profit arts supply has increased by 23 percent.

Solving this problem, Landesman said, is all about increasing the demand for arts.

In boosting that demand, he said, one of the only reliable predictors of arts participators is if arts education was offered to them when they were children. Factors such as age, race, ethnicity and income level fall short of arts education.

Secondly, singing and dancing are becoming more popular — as a result, he said, arts suppliers should take advantage. As primetime television is filled with shows like “Glee” and “Dancing with the Stars,” theaters should start producing shows to appeal to those audiences.

Lastly, Landesman suggested arts organizations should “offer free samples.” Contrary to popular belief, presenting clips of music and plays makes audiences more likely to attend shows.

Essentially, he said, it’s about taking the audience seriously.

He said to imagine an arts organization in the future that valued the audience as highly as the artists and curators. Alongside the artistic director, there would be an audience director. There would be audience residencies with artist ones — where audiences would receive stipends to attend other shows.

“What if we saw this as an investment in building a stronger, more committed, more literate audience?” Landesman said.

Some art houses have found ways to engage their audiences, he said.

At the Seattle Art Museum, some tour guides are paid to give their opinions on art they do and don’t like. The museum recognizes that every audience member won’t like every single piece of art — and they want to encourage that.

In tandem with this, the box office at the National Theatre in London tracks the likes and dislikes of audience members to suggest which plays to skip.

Though these aren’t necessarily specific changes Landesman suggests, he said they’re on the right track to engaging their audiences.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZDGNVOdnOQ]

Act III: Investing locally

Before Landesman could begin to talk on this subject, members of the Chautauqua Opera Young Artists Program interrupted his lecture — a flash mob had begun.

Each singer stood up from the audience or appeared on stage, singing different operatic tunes in both English and Italian. Spanning almost 10 minutes, the group performance ended with all participants together in a full-stage finale.

Landesman compared the short performance to a group of Knight Foundation opera singers called Random Acts of Culture, which exposes people to opera in public settings. The Young Artists supported his point: Local arts need to be supported.

“At the NEA, I’m calling for the arts community to stop looking toward Broadway or the equivalent for other art forms,” Landesman said. “Indeed, we need artists to invest in the places where they live, and we need those places to invest in their artists.”

A study by The Knight Foundation found that people most like the places they live for three reasons: social offerings, openness and aesthetics — art.

Another study found that communities greatly benefit from high levels of cultural activity. Namely, those cultural cities have more stable governments, better child welfare and less poverty.

“So why isn’t everyone just wildly investing in the arts?” Landesman said. “That’s a question I’ve been asking for more than a couple of years.”


Q: When you were talking about acknowledging viewers’ tastes, I found myself thinking about your point about certain static demands and that sort of thing, but taste isn’t static. Taste is elastic, and exposure — a certain amount of surprise exposure, if you will — has a certain stimulative effect on expanding taste. How can we make certain, in the array of offering of the arts, that people are challenged enough to expand those parameters of taste?

A: Well, first of all, I think access is a part of this — to get more and more people into the experience of the arts, which means knocking down one of the chief barriers, which is cost. It also means getting the arts institutions out and around their communities. Sometimes, you have these high temples on a hill that are pretty forbidding as places to access. Then I think also, it is the dynamic between the people who know the subject and the audiences. People who are presenting the work of art do have to listen to their audiences, as I’ve said, but the audiences also need to be guided by people who know the subject. I don’t think that everyone’s opinion about art is absolutely equal, although everyone seems to think that it is. Art is one thing in which everyone’s an expert. S. J. Perelman had one of my favorite remarks. He said, “I don’t know much about medicine, but I know what I like.”

Q: Many universities and colleges are cutting dance programs. (The questioner) cites the UNC Asheville program that only has five students. How can this change? I guess that’s talking about the balance between dance and classics. Are you observing that balance at war, and who’s winning, and is it good?

A: Well, it’s certainly not good. A lot of these have to do with cost pressures. The performing arts, especially the very labor-intensive ones, are easy ones for cutting because they take a lot of people. The presentation you just saw was as powerful as it was because it wasn’t just two people doing it. It was a dozen. And I think we’ve got to find a way to preserve that kind of participation.

Q: Do you think there’s any correlation between attendance and the cost of theater, museums, et cetera? That is, that in tough times, attendance declines because it’s too expensive to attend?

A: Yes. Certainly. I think that’s true for everything. And one of the things we have to do is work hard on the subsidy aspect of the equation so the accessibility and the cost can be brought down. It’s one of the things that we in the commercial theater are facing on Broadway. As our costs keep escalating, eventually it’s going to have an effect on audiences.

Q: What would it take to revive funding to individual artists as the NEA does for writers and other artists?

A: I think that’s one of those questions that it’s the 11-foot pole rule, for the questions I shouldn’t be touching with a 10-foot pole, but I will anyway, even though I will get in trouble. We’re the National Endowment for the Arts. We should be supporting artists as directly as possible, not through every other intermediary. We should be giving direct support to artists. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s now mandated by Congress, and it’s one of the things I think we have to change.

Q: Can you give us examples of productive failures within NEA, and what are the consequences?

A: Yes, I can. As a matter of fact, it’s actually a very interesting question. When I first arrived there, I didn’t know better, and our budget was $168 million. The first thing I did was I went to the White House and to the key congressional people, and I asked for an appropriation for Our Town, my new signature program, of another $150 million. By the time they got done laughing and the eyebrows which had been raised went down, we started the conversation that resulted in, ‘OK, if you’re not going to get this money appropriated by Congress, and you feel this is such an important program, how can you get the money?’ And the answer is, there are other federal agencies in the federal government that have connections with the arts, that have big art aspects. If you look at, for instance, Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius’ agency, well, there are natural intersections of the arts and childhood development, early cognitive training, mental health, geriatrics. There are all kinds of points of intersection. HUD, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Education obviously, the Department of Agriculture. All of these agencies have natural intersections with the arts. So it became my job to go to each of these cabinet secretaries and start to commandeer some funds from them. We also started a major initiative in the private sector, which you’ll be hearing more about shortly. That was a perfect example of productive failure. We failed to get the appropriation, but we set about trying to find the money somewhere else.

Q: This question, I think, goes to the supply and demand question. It focuses on the phenomena of the Met’s use of live opera broadcasts. Is this expanding supply, and is its effect to limit demand in the sense of herding regional operas, or is it driving people to regional operas?

A: I think it’s a great program, and it’s expanding both supply and demand. People you know, they beam it in two times squared. They beam it into theatres all across the country. People will see opera who have never encountered opera before, who have never experienced it, and some of them are going to become opera fans, so it’s going to increase demand without a doubt. And as far as decreasing supply, I think it has exactly the opposite effect. As people get excited about opera, it creates more employment opportunities both at the Met and everywhere else, and I just think it’s one of those win/win things that’s a great program all around.

Q: Let’s go to pragmatics. If one is working to renovate an old historical building in an economically challenged town to create a farmers market and gathering space for artists and music festivals, dance, how do we apply for grants from NEA?

A: The Our Town program is administered through our design discipline. It’s run by a brilliant guy named Jason Schupbach, and we’re in the process of now soliciting and welcoming applications for the Our Town program, and I would welcome them to be submitted.

Q: I’m trying to speak to the issues of evaluation in the grant process. How do arts organizations accomplish their goals in communities when so much funding relies on a grueling process of grant-writing and reporting with more and more demands of proving successful use of those funds in a constrained period of time?

A: Well, one of the first things that came to my attention was through my wife, Debby, who’s had a career in philanthropy. She looks at the application that we had and she says, ‘My god, you’re going to be getting people to be great grant writers.’ It may have nothing to do with them being great theatres or opera companies or dance troupes, because the application process is such a cumbersome thing to go through. We’re trying to streamline that as best we can within the parameters of what Congress and our oversight agencies mandate. I mean, there are certain things that have to be done, certain information that has to be provided, but we need to have a streamlined process so that the arts organizations can put their energy into making art, not into making grant applications.

Q: You talked about creatively engaging audiences at a variety of levels. With the empowerment of audiences, and maybe even regardless of that preface, what will be the role of the critic?

A: It goes back to what I said before, where you know I don’t know much about medicine, but I know what I like. The critic is presumably trained in that field, and one of the most alarming things that’s going on now in this world is what’s happening at newspapers across the country. The Chautauquan Daily actually does have some criticism, one of the few papers left, and the critics are presumably the experts in this field. I don’t think we have a healthy situation where all the criticism you get is people just blogging their opinions. I think you have to have some people who know what they’re talking about, presenting an expert point of view, and we now at the NEA are taking this very seriously. We have a program that we’re developing in coordination with the Knight Foundation. It’s a contest to try to see if there can be new business models, new sustainable models for criticism in communities, because most of the newspapers have gotten rid of all of their critics. There are now four papers in the United States that have an art critic. There used to be dozens, and this is not good.

Q: Would you please comment on your experience with, and your opinion of, the confirmation process?

A: I wouldn’t advise it for anybody. It’s not fun. It’s long and protracted and invasive, and frankly, I think it discourages people from serving in the government. I think it’s needlessly difficult. I think that should be streamlined just like our grant applications. I actually feel strongly about that.

Q: You’ve described many fabulous projects on the local level for which NEA provides seed funding grants. How frequently, especially in the last 10 years, do these programs continue once the grant funding ends?

A: Well, we try to monitor that pretty closely, and we want to start to have metrics where we can start to evaluate the programs over a period of time. This will especially pertain to our work with the private sector with private foundations who want to see the results of what they’re doing. Mike Bloomberg in New York has a great line. He said, “In God we trust. All others bring data.” And I think we’re trying to establish metrics of data and evaluation so we can keep track of what may start as a seed grant, but we want to see how things develop and keep track of it.

Q: What’s NEA doing, if anything, to specifically address the overwhelmingly difficult problem of the cost of health care insurance for self-employed artists?

A: That one is the 12-foot pole rule. We are not engaged in anything that could be construed as any kind of political action. We are really a bipartisan agency. That might be something for Bob Lynch, who’s going to be speaking here on Friday, at Americans for the Arts. He can address that much better than I can. We’re careful to avoid advocacy of that kind.

Q: What is being done to preserve arts education in schools nationwide, and what role is there for an organization like NEA to participate in that national dialogue when decisions are made locally?

A: Yes, as you know, most of this is at the state and local level with school boards and school districts. I will say that Arne Duncan, the new Secretary of Education, is not only a visionary, but he cares very deeply about the arts. And there was just a recent notice of funding availability for his Promise Neighborhoods program where the arts, for the first time, was included as a metric in these grants. If you’re a school that has an arts program in it, you have an advantage over programs that don’t, and this is the first time the arts have been included in that, and that’s a big win for the arts and for the NEA, and I’m very grateful to Arne for doing that.

Q: How do you balance, or do you believe there is a value in balancing the exposure of audiences to innovative, perhaps unpopular, works and the overall issue of needing to promote the support for the arts and “butts in the seat”?

A: I think you have to do both. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing popular programming and understanding the taste of your audience and playing to that, but there also has to be, at the same time, work that is challenging and venturesome and risky. That, after all, is the nature of subsidy. Presumably, you’re given a subsidy because you’re being protected from the exigencies of the marketplace and within that framework, as is happening at the Chautauqua Theater here, you’re going to do work that’s more venturesome, as the work they do is. I know that the “Three Sisters” was controversial, but that’s exactly the kind of work that isn’t going to be done if what you’re doing is just polling your audience. They’re leading the audience in that way, and I think that’s very important.

Q: Have you been watching the events around New York City Opera, and can you comment on their prospects for success or what, if any, role government might have in helping them?

A: I don’t know. I followed it like everybody has, but I know too little about the subject. I recently did see one of the city operas, Séance on a Wet Afternoon. My ex-wife and still very good friend, Heidi Ettinger, was the designer of that, and I thought it was a marvelous, marvelous opera, but the issues of their policy and programming, I’ll have to leave to them.

Q: In your mind, what is the ideal resident non-profit theater in the country, and why?

A: Well, we have a great one here. We really do. There’s no question. From all I’ve heard, they really do take risks and take chances, and one of the good things about it here is that — and Tom (Becker) and I were talking about this earlier — it’s very similar to the model that I was trained in and grew up in, where you have a mixture of equity actors, non-equity actors and students. I was trained at the Yale School of Drama, where there was the School of Drama, there were the students — those of us getting degrees there — but there was also a professional repertory company, an equity company. The students benefited enormously from their contact with those professionals. The professionals taught in the program. I think they benefited enormously from being exposed to new thinking and to new people coming through. I think that kind of symbiosis is very productive and healthy, so that kind of modeled what I would call a conservatory professional theater model. It’s one that I think is ideal. I think you had it when I was at the Yale Repertory Theatre, and I think you have it here at Chautauqua.

Q: What advice do you have for parents who appear to take extraordinary measures to ensure that their children do not experience failure?

A: Who was it that wrote that book? The Chinese woman? Yes, the Tiger Mom. Well, I’m glad to say that I never read the book or bought it, but I did read the reviews of the book with a tremendous sense of outrage and anger. I saw a lot of the discussion about it. I would say, actually, to be serious for a moment, that that is exactly what you don’t want to do, and her kids are trained in the arts to be concert pianists and so forth. I can’t think of a better way to stifle creativity.

– Transcribed by Taylor Rogers

Woolsey: U.S. energy can be target of terrorist attacks

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R. James Woolsey speaks in the Amphitheater Friday, closing a week of lectures on “American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage, and Alliances.” Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

During a summer storm in Cleveland a few years back, the conditions knocked branches from their trees — much like many storms nationwide. The result of this one was very different.

Branches struck power lines, making a regular storm into something much worse. Fifty million people were left without power, some of them for days. By the end, the economies of the U.S. and Canada lost almost $10 billion.

“Now we come to the real problem,” R. James Woolsey said after presenting the story. “Terrorists are a lot smarter than tree branches.”

Woolsey said during his lecture, 10:45 a.m. Friday in the Amphitheater, that Americans need to take measures to protect the country’s energy resources, especially in today’s age.

Woolsey is former head of the CIA, having held the office between 1993 and 1995. He also is a member of the board of directors of Week Three partner the International Spy Museum.

His speech, titled “Keeping Our Infrastructure Secure in the Age of the Internet: The Case of Energy,” was the fifth and final lecture in Week Three’s topic on “American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage and Alliances.” Unlike the rest of the speakers this week, Woolsey focused most of his speech on how to counter foreign espionage.

Oil and transportation

While electricity comes from several sources, Woolsey said, 97 percent of U.S. transportation is fueled by gasoline and diesel. Furthermore, the 12 nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries control 78 percent of the world’s known oil.

“We have oil, which has a virtually complete monopoly on (U.S.) transportation, and we have OPEC, that has a degree of monopoly over oil,” Woolsey said.

He called this a “conspiracy in restraint of trade” because OPEC supplies about a third of the U.S.’s oil. In trade with this oil, the U.S. borrows more than $1 billion a day in order to import oil.

He said to solve this problem, many people suggest buying oil from Canada instead of, say, Saudi Arabia. This would solve nothing, he said, as there’s only one world oil trade. If the U.S. bought from Canada, everyone else would buy from Saudi Arabia.

Another suggestion, he said, is for the U.S. to pump its own oil and to only pump what it uses. That way, the U.S. would not partake in the world oil market. Great Britain, he said, is almost at that point — but oil is still expensive there.

“The problem can’t be solved that way,” Woolsey said. “The problem has to be solved by breaking oil’s monopoly over transportation and breaking OPEC.”

A security problem, nonetheless, lies in America’s dependence on oil, he said. Al-Qaida has been saying for years that it is very important to attack the infrastructure of the Middle East oil trade.

Furthermore, he said, entrenching and strengthening occurs in any dictatorial or autocratic government that becomes the owner of a large portion of a commodity.

Of the top 10 oil-exporting countries in the world, eight are dictatorships, Woolsey said. Of the top 22 countries dependent on exporting oil for their national economies, all of them are either dictatorships or autocratic kingdoms.

The unsafe energy

As suggested by his story, Woolsey said, terrorists have the means to cut power to many Americans. This is mostly because the means to controlling power now lie on the Internet — meaning hackers can access it with the right skill.

“We’ve got 18 critical infrastructures in the U.S. — water, food, sewage, electricity, gas pipe lines, etcetera,” Woolsey said. “All 17 of the others (aside from electricity) depend on electricity.”

If the power grid was to go down because of an attack, it wouldn’t just be electricity Americans would be without, he said. It would be like dropping to the 1870s in an instant.

He said it’s important to remember it was a single teenager who gave hundreds of thousands of secret cables to WikiLeaks.

Another issue that faces the electrical grid is that of the electromagnetic pulse. EMPs are emitted from nuclear bombs and other high-energy explosions. They can affect the ground even if the bombs are detonated at very high altitudes.

EMPs can travel along electrical wiring, Woolsey said, disrupting and destroying transformers and other electrical devices as they go.

Even though the U.S. has been aware of EMPs since the Cold War, Woolsey is concerned because he believes the U.S. has not done enough to protect its electronics. The technology to shield from EMPs has been developed but has been largely neglected.

If North Korea or Iran launched a relatively small scud missile, Woolsey said the bomb could do “a pretty brutal job” against shares of America’s important electronics.

As a result of the advent of terrorism, Woolsey said, attacks can now be completely unidentified, be it because of suicide missions or computer-based attacks from other countries.

Furthermore, the designs of those grids lie in wait on the Internet, Woolsey said. On these maps, the most “sensitive areas” are marked with “Danger” and “High Voltage” signs to make maintenance easier.

“The transformers are well protected — they’re 30 yards from the side of the highway; they’re well fenced-in by cyclone fences and by big signs that point to the transformers and say, ‘Danger! Do not touch,’” Woolsey said. “Well, the system is pretty well-designed to keep out, let’s say, a drunk teenager on Saturday night.”

The problem here is that the transformers were designed before terrorism, when the U.S. never expected to be attacked at home, he said.

“We don’t have (an energy protection) problem that we can solve with better intelligence,” Woolsey said. “We don’t have a problem we can solve with better weapons. We have got to begin to have our electricity system evolve into something that is a lot more resilient.”


Q: If you think back to 2006 — when the report was given about the status of the Iranian nuclear capacities — how did the DCI and the CIA get that assessment so terribly wrong?

A: Well, the short answer is, “I don’t know,” but let me explain how I think it was wrong. This was the assessment in December of ’06 that said that the Iranians, two years before, had stopped their nuclear weapons program, and that was the headline, and then buried down in a footnote, it said, “Oh, and by the way, they’re continuing with their uranium enrichment.” Now, the long pole in the tent in a simple, sort of straightforward nuclear weapon, the simplest kind, so-called “shotgun” design, just blasts highly enriched uranium down into a socket, essentially, that is also highly enriched uranium, and the mass goes critical, and you have a nuclear explosion. It was what we used at Hiroshima without one having been tested ever in the history of the world. We were so clear it would work. What we tested at Alamogordo was a plutonium bomb, which is very different, but the very simple, highly-enriched uranium bomb, we used in combat without it ever having been tested in the history of the world. We were so sure it would work, and the designs for it are all over the Internet. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about anything that’s very hard to do. What’s hard to do, to get a nuclear weapon, is to get the highly enriched uranium. You only need uranium enriched up to about 3 percent, U-235, to run a power plant, and you need one that is enriched up to about 90 percent for weapons-grade. Now it seems like there’s a big gap there, but in fact, there’s not. The way the curves work: Essentially, once you have enriched uranium, enough to use it in a power plant, you’ve done about, let’s say, 70 percent of the work necessary to get it up to 90 percent, so that’s what North Korea did; it said, “Nobody here but us electricity generators,” and they enriched enough to make bomb-grade and have had one, maybe two, tests. That’s what Iran is doing; it is enriching enough to get up to 20 percent with a medical justification, and that means at that point they’re about 80 percent of the way toward getting weapons-grade. And then in some place, either after they withdraw from the treaty or before, they’ll go ahead and have a bomb. So that estimate took a relatively minor and easy thing to do — design the weapon itself — probably had good information that it had been halted for some reason. But it’s easily started up again, and it’s unfortunately not too big a deal. They made that the headline, and then the footnote that the Iranians were carrying on with their enrichment program; they put in the footnote what should have been the headline and put in the headline what should have been in the footnote. I don’t know the people who actually wrote that, but I’ve got to say, I’ve been reading National Intelligent Estimates since 1968, and that’s the worse and most intellectually dishonest estimate I’ve ever seen. It had the effect of having the country say, “Well, gee, we can’t do anything about this; and we don’t need to do anything about this, because they’ve stopped.” And that was the general impression in the press, and the general impression for a lot of people in the government. Maybe the authors wanted to make sure that George W. Bush didn’t go bomb Iran; I don’t know. I don’t know why they did it, but this is not a small mistake. This was not a misunderstanding. This was a really, really terrible job.

Q: What magnitude of resources are being allocated to revising the grid structure currently, and what sort of timeline is realistic for significantly hardening its defenses?

A: Let’s talk about distributed generation, and what you’d do. There’s a pretty simple tool. It’s called a C.L.E.A.N., for a lot of organizations, and C.L.E.A.N. means “Clean Local Energy Accessible Now.” The older term derived from the German is feed-in tariff, which nobody likes; it’s translated directly from the German, and it sounds like it might be an import duty on animal feed or something, but what both of those mean is that the government will pass a law telling the utility that they have to give you, if you want to produce electricity at under 20 megawatts from renewables, they will see that you are given a 20-year contract to sell that to the electric grid. It’s called wholesale distributed because you’re selling it to the grid; it’s not just going on your roof to reduce your own personal electrical bill. It seems like it ought to be very expensive. I mean, my gosh, aren’t these renewable systems extremely expensive? Well, they’re getting cheaper all the time, especially solar, especially in sunny places, and today, at a cost for the solar part of their feed-in tariff in Germany, it costs about one euro per month per family because you spread the cost over all rate payers, about one euro per month, and Germany has the skies that are the equivalent, essentially of those over northern Alaska, not even southern Alaska. And Germany has 18 times per capita more solar than the United States. There’s more solar on one building in downtown Munich, a big building, two megawatts, than there is in the entire state of Texas. And the reason is the feed-in tariff. Utilities fight it. They fight it hard because each dollar of electricity that you’re paid for having, let’s say you’ve got a farm, you’ve got an acre of solar out there and you’re making a few thousand dollars a year by shipping it to the utility, and they have to take it because of the feed-in tariff law; utilities don’t like that. They’d rather build a big utilities scale plant of some kind and keep the money themselves. So it’s a pretty straightforward fight. So far there are two states in the United States, Vermont and Hawaii, and a few local areas, a few towns, that have feed-in tariffs. But since 40 countries have followed Germany, Spain did and kind of fouled it up, and the people who don’t like feed-in tariffs always point to Spain, but pretty much every place else has done it well. You have 40 countries following Germany. You have India, China and Japan all in the process of adopting a feed-in tariff. Probably the United States will be one of the last, but it would be good if on a local basis, people started generating it, because it does wonders in terms of increasing renewables, and furthermore, renewables under 20 megawatts, so they fit into the distribution grid; so they’re distributed; they don’t have anything to do with the transmission lines.

Q: Are young computer hackers being recruited into the intelligence community, and are they an asset?

A: Well, they would be; I mean, they would be a huge asset, but I don’t think they are being. The community has always had difficulty with things like internships because of classification. It’s hard to give somebody a full background investigation to have a small summer job or something, so they start mainly working with people when they’re — especially in the computer areas — when they’re in college, or often graduate school. And there are several graduate schools around the country that supply a lot of people to NSA, and on that side of things, there’s a fair amount of interaction. But at the really talented 14-year-old stage, we’ve got to wait till they get to college or graduate school.

– Transcribed by Aaron Krumheuer

Ignatius: Ethical dilemmas are very present in international espionage

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David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post and author of the novel Body of Lies, gives the Thursday morning lecture at the Chautauqua Amphitheater. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

When David Ignatius was trying to get his first novel, Agents of Innocence, published, he found himself rejected by a dozen companies. The book started as nonfiction, but it became fictionalized as he wrote.

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., finally approved the novel, but only on the basis that they wanted a nonfiction book next.

Later, once Agents was published, Ignatius said he remembers speaking to his children’s classes. First, he would read the rejection letters — which weren’t very nice, in his opinion. Then, he’d pull the book from a bag, placing it on the table. Then he’d place the same book in French, then German.

“And pretty soon there’s this stack of books that was translated into, maybe, 15 languages, and it’s this high,” Ignatius said, holding a hand about two-and-a-half feet from the podium, “all balanced on these letters of rejection that were so mean. So the moral of the story is: Stick with it.”

Ignatius, an international affairs journalist, columnist and spy novelist, presented three ethical dilemmas regarding foreign affairs. He said that by analyzing these issues, Americans may attain better public policy.

Ignatius delivered his lecture at 10:45 a.m. Thursday in the Amphitheater. His speech, titled “Spy Fact, Spy Fiction,” was the fourth in Week Three’s topic on “American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage and Alliances.”

Political covert action

Covert action, Ignatius said, is the use of American resources to influence foreign political outcomes in America’s favor. Sometimes this can mean bribing politicians to vote differently, or maybe getting certain parties to speak up or to keep quiet.

“That may sound terrible,” he said, “but I want you to think about the greatest example of covert action in modern history.”

That example, he said, is the CIA’s late 1940s campaign to combat the spread of Communism in Europe. Some countries were very close to turning Communist — without these covert actions, Ignatius said, Communism likely would have spread.

The ethics of unmanned drones

To illustrate this point, Ignatius read almost five minutes of his most recent novel, Bloodmoney. It depicts the violent deaths of an entire family due to an American drone in South Waziristan, Pakistan.

Though one official Ignatius spoke to about these drones said he feels no ethical dilemma at all about them due to their precision and control, Ignatius said there is most definitely an argument to be had.

That very same man said a drone could hover over a mark playing with a grandchild until the child leaves, if that was the case. Drones, the man said, reduce the number of bystander deaths.

Ignatius said his main problem with drones is not the harm drones can cause.

“Rather, I worry that these weapons are becoming addictive,” he said. “It is too easy — and an effective way to project power — without putting boots on the ground, to use the common phrase, and risking American lives.”

The danger these drones pose is quickly becoming a threat to America as well, he said. Other countries are attempting to develop similar weapons.

It’s not that he wants to completely eliminate the use of drones, Ignatius said. Instead, he thinks it’s important for the public to be aware of them. As moral and democratic as the U.S. is, he said, there needs to be more debate on the subject.

Ambiguity in covert action

In 1979, a Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorist named Ali Hassan Salameh was assassinated with a car bomb in Beirut, Lebanon.

In 1980, Ignatius had lunch with an anonymous administration official as part of his preparation for covering a story.

“You know, the Israelis just killed our man in the PLO,” the official said to Ignatius.

“What?” Ignatius said.

“Oh, I shouldn’t have said that,” the man responded.

To this day, Ignatius said, he isn’t sure whether the man purposely let that information go. Nonetheless, it put him on the trail. He began to think the man the official referred to was Salameh, the PLO chief of operations. At the time, PLO was the biggest terrorist adversary to the U.S.

For the next two years, Ignatius worked on that story. He found sources and began to spend more and more time with those people. A story began to unfold that was deeper than he had originally thought.

Salameh, he discovered, had been working with the CIA for almost 10 years.

“This man was a terrorist,” Ignatius said. “But also, according to the testimony of American diplomats and others who had worked with him, he had saved hundreds — maybe thousands — of Americans lives.”

In 1983, months after this discovery, Ignatius was in Beirut again when a bomb went off in the U.S. embassy. The bomb had killed Robert Ames, a CIA analyst and director, along with more than 60 others.

This event left Ignatius the only person, he said, who knew the ins and outs of the Salameh story. Arabs who had worked with the CIA began to come to Ignatius to share their stories.

“I became the repository for this history than I had been scribing,” he said. “It didn’t take long to realize that there was no way that I could write all of this in a newspaper story.”

Agents of Innocence, that first novel, resulted.

The point of this story, Ignatius said, is the ambiguity. The U.S. worked with a terrorist to reduce the number of American deaths by terrorism. Meanwhile, that same man was killing Israelis, residents of a U.S. ally.

When Israelis questioned U.S. officials regarding the agreement, the relationship was denied.

American espionage versus the world

“I’ve written in my columns that the CIA sometimes seems to have a permanent ‘Kick Me’ sign on its backside,” Ignatius said. “And it gets kicked plenty, as we know reading the newspapers in the last few years. But for decades, this has been a controversial area.”

The truth is, he said, the U.S. isn’t the only country that has espionage and intelligence agencies — Americans have to remember that.

Since all these countries are spying on one another, there’s a lot of international lawbreaking even by American spies.

“Spying is about lying,” Ignatius said. “Our agencies are out there recruiting people through bribery, through blackmail, through other techniques, to commit treason in their own countries. And that’s just the simple part.”


Q: To begin, David, I wonder if you could comment on this whole scenario you’ve built about the GID in Jordan, starting with the reference to tenant and using that as a resource, then your familiarity with this person. Both in your book and the movie, there’s a certain amount of tragedy in the way in which the two countries’ intelligence services interacted. A fair amount of that seems to have been created by a cultural abyss. I guess the question of you is, is that true, and is that a general problem for our intelligence service as we try to work particularly in the Middle East in the Arab world?

A: I would say, without question, that lack of sufficient knowledge and clarity is our biggest problem in the Arab world, in the Islamic world, everywhere in the world. If there’s one theme that runs through each of my seven spy novels, it is that the United States does not know enough to be getting as deeply involved in the places where we go as we do. In Body of Lies, we see at the end of the book that it is the Jordanian who’s had all the strands of the story in his hands, and we have a CI officer, played by Russell Crowe, a kind of loudmouth know-it-all who thinks he knows what he’s doing who repeatedly blunders and is rescued by a Jordanian who had a deeper understanding of what the play was.  You’ll find that theme in many of my books, to some extent it’s in Bloodmoney, but I think it goes, Tom, to your question. Of course people in the region understand this better. They live there.  This is the sea in which they swim. We come in with our Aqua Lung and our night-vision goggles, and we think, “How can we make mistakes?” Well, we make mistakes because we don’t understand the basics.

Q: With Leon Panetta now Secretary of Defense, will the CIA merge with military intelligence, and since 9/11, how much cooperation is there really between the intelligence services?

A: One of the big trends in the last few years has been the joint operations of our special operations forces and the CIA. The most obvious example was the ray that killed Osama bin Laden, where Navy Seals were under the operational command of the CIA and Leon Panetta. The reason for that was that this was an active war in a country with which we’re not at war — Pakistan — and so had to be conducted under Title 50 and the authorities of the CIA. There is a wonderfully elusive fragment in the National Security Act of 1947 that says that the National Security Council shall conduct such other activities as it deems necessary. Folks, that is basically the legal rationale for covert action. So the CIA, under Title 50, has the authority to break the laws of other countries and deny it, and that’s the authority that we use, but these joint operations are increasingly frequent. If you and the audience would like, Tom, I just spent a week with General Petraeus, the next CIA director, and I can tell you in just a few words about where he’s going in the post-Panetta era. I did travel to Afghanistan with General Petraeus after his confirmation hearing. We talked for many hours. I’ve known him well for a number of years, and I’ll just say some basic things about Petraeus. First, he really wants this job, which is important. If he thought it was a consolation prize for not becoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs or something else — we’ve had CI directors, notably John Deutch, who had that feeling. They really would rather have been doing something else, and it’s not good. Petraeus really wants the job. Second, he knows that he needs to demonstrate, and demonstrate to his workforce, that he has sufficient intellectual distance from subjects, especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that he can be the president’s intelligence advisor. As part of that, he knows that he’s not a military commander anymore. You can’t just give an order and expect it to be carried out. The CIA isn’t like that. It’s a much more delicate kind of organization. He also knows, frankly, that this is a culture; this is an organization that can eat outsiders alive. I’ve been covering this for more than 30 years, and I have watched outside directors either been co-opted, so they become quasi-cheerleaders, or isolated and expelled from the culture. This is a rough crowd. Petraeus knows that. As he says, this isn’t the first time he’s managed difficult people. Petraeus is a complicated person, but I think what he accomplished in Iraq, with President Bush’s support, I think it’s a mistake not to just say that this was a real achievement. Getting into Iraq was Bush’s biggest mistake, but having the guts when the military and everybody wanted out — the country was screaming to get out — to stay long enough to come up with a more stable endgame than we would’ve had was a great achievement and a courageous achievement, and the person who did that on the ground was Dave Petraeus. I think he’s the real deal. To my mind, it’s fascinating Obama chose him for the CIA and fascinating that he accepted, and it will be the best spectator’s sport in town, if only we could get a seat, but we can’t.

Q: As you might imagine, there’s lots of questions about drones. There’s two parts to this question. One has to do with an inquiry about could you give us some examples of the rules that now govern decisions on whether or not to implement these strikes, but the other side of it has to do with moral accountability, and what are the moral responsibilities with a specific reference to Harold Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School, having said that drones are less harmful to human life than bombs and thus more humane? Would you comment on that kind of moral reasoning?

A: There are rules to give at least the veneer of due process before we launch the missile from 10,000 feet. I have to say that those rules have been loosened somewhat under President Obama, so that what’s known as signature targeting, where you don’t need to be 100 percent certain of the individual, you hope you know who it is, but it has the signature, he’s got a telephone handset that you know has been in contact with people who are part of al-Qaida, or he’s driving in a car that yesterday was being driven by so-and-so’s body guard, or he’s going to a safe house that three days ago — so in other words, the signature is there, and so the rules of engagement, I believe, have been stretched to allow those kinds of attacks. As is well known, the Obama administration radically increased the number of predator attacks and the number of countries in which they’re used. President Obama said, before he was elected, that he was going to be aggressive with this weapon, and he has been. I have asked the top officials — these conversations were off-the-record, so I shouldn’t name them — but I’ve asked them, “Are you troubled morally by this? Does this raise issues for you?” And the answer that I’ve typically have gotten was, “No.” These are the most precise weapons that have ever existed, so far as I know. Because they have cameras, we can watch. If a target is playing with his grandchildren, we will hover and wait for the grandchildren to run away. This gives us a degree of flexibility that we would not otherwise have. You get those kind of defenses, and I’m even going to stipulate that the number of civilian casualties, relative to other weapons, is very low. Even so, I think we need to talk more about the use of these drones.

Q: There have been several references this week to the threat of homegrown terrorism, the number of young people that are attracted to the terrorist cause. Several questions ask you what’s your assessment of this as a risk, and where is the balancing point between protecting ourselves against that eventuality and infringing on the rights of American Muslims?

A: If you were to ask the FBI director, he would say, “Poor Stella Rimington.” It’s much harder to do this job in Britain, because their Muslim communities are nowhere near as comfortably assimilated in their society as America’s, and I think that’s still true. What we depend on is that Arab-Americans living in Detroit — let’s say, in Dearborn, the big Muslim communities around Detroit — have felt their chance to grab for the American dream, and in many cases have been extremely successful, and their friends see it and know it. Most struck by no matter how screwed-up politics are back at home, people come from that culture to America, and they have great ideas. They build good companies. They’re successful. That’s, to me, our saving grace, is that we are still a company where immigrants can come — whether they’re Muslims, Arabs, you name it, Chinese — and prosper, and then everybody sees it. Everybody in the Arab world has a cousin or an uncle who’s in the States and who’s done great. Because of that, our security service, the FBI, and our local police have been able to have networks of informants within these communities. Where there’s a mosque, you know, the sheik, or somebody close to the sheik, he’s in touch with the appropriate people, and when he sees a young person who’s beginning to get a little weird and get a little jihadi, he’ll tell somebody, and that’s what’s been our big protection. It is first the fact that people feel they are Americans and that they are respected as Americans and that they’ve done well, and they have a stake in the country’s stability. The idea that we should make Arab-Americans a special target and get all — I understand the human reaction to go, “Oh, you know,” — but if you want a guarantee that this problem will get worse, do that, and it will.

Q: Would you share your comments on the Valerie Plame affair?

A: Great movie. There are few absolute rules about press coverage of intelligence activities, but one of them is that you do not name CI officers whose identities are undercover, and it is well understood, and I believe respected by news organizations, and the fact that White House — let’s be honest; the fact that the Bush White House — more or less deliberately outed her and put that name out is outrageous. It is just outrageous. I think the people who were involved in that have been identified and punished, although, they were, in some cases, pardoned. Just to say one other thing about the press and these intelligence secrets. If a CI officer were here, there may be some, but if he took me aside after and said, “Nice of you to say all those things, David, but be honest; the press drives us nuts. As soon as we get a secret, you guys rush to blow it, and you’re one of the offenders.” I think there is tension between what people do in my profession, which is try to tell the public as much as we can about things that matter and try to talk, as I have today, frankly about issues that I think the public needs to think about, even if I get into areas that people say, “It’s really better not to talk about that.” We do have a practice that was inaugurated by my beloved, late chairman of the board Katharine Graham, who said in the 1980s that whenever a Washington Post reporter has some information that you’re thinking of publishing that affects one of the intelligence agencies, you have a responsibility, as a Post reporter or editor, to go to the agency that may be affected and let them make their case that this will be damaging. That this will get people killed, that this will have severe damaging affects on the United States, and they’ll listen. We’re not going to let them make up their minds, we don’t have a censorship system, but we’re going to listen to them and then try to make what we think is the responsible decision. She would say that now. I think we really have tried to follow that. We write a lot of stories that give the government heartburn. If you sat where I’ve sat as an editor, you’d be surprised at how many stories don’t get published.

Rimington: U.K. espionage has evolved as times changed

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Stella Rimington, retired director general of the British Security Service, MI5, speaks about her rise through the MI5 ranks and changes in Britain’s approach to espionage Wednesday in the Amphitheater. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

In 1967, Stella Rimington had been in India for two years with her husband, diplomat John Rimington. She had dropped her career and had begun working as a housewife.

“And there I was, in India, doing what diplomats’ wives did in those days — which I have to say was not very much, except organizing thrift sales and coffee mornings and appearing in amateur dramatics and things — when somebody sidled up to me in the compound at the British High Commission and said, ‘Psst, do you want to be a spy?’” Rimington said jokingly. “Or something like that.”

In reality, she was asked to help a first secretary at the High Commission, only to discover he was a member of MI5, one of three British intelligence agencies. Thus, from 1967 through 1992, Rimington rose through the ranks, until she became director general in 1992. Rimington retired in 1996.

Rimington discussed how espionage has changed with the advent of terrorism during her lecture at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater. Her speech, “The Changing Face of U.K. National Security,” was the third in Week Three’s topic on “American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage and Alliances.”

MI5 before terrorism

Before terrorism became the main threat to national security, the U.K. primarily battled espionage attempts from other countries, Rimington said. German espionage operatives had been in the U.K. gathering all sorts of information since before World War I.

Thus, in 1909, the U.K. formed the Secret Service Bureau, which later became MI5. MI5’s main objective is to intercept and combat espionage attempts within the U.K.

During the Cold War — during which Rimington joined the ranks — MI5 battled Soviet spies. As the agency feared Soviets had infiltrated all institutions of government and military, these were times of extreme turmoil, Rimington said.

As a result, MI5 became extremely secretive, she said.

“There were strict rules about what you could say about where you worked and did,” she said. “And the rule was: You can’t say anything to anybody about anything.”

Even sharing intelligence among international allies was limited, she said, because they feared other countries, too, had been infiltrated by the Soviets.

When the Cold War ended and the Russian KGB was suddenly an ally, Rimington was sent to Russia to make first contact with the KGB. When she returned, she was told she had been promoted to director general.

Combating terrorism

Today, British intelligence is aware of 200 terrorist networks within the borders of the U.K. MI5 is aware of 30 plans to launch terrorist attacks at any given time. Rimington said very few are completed, and the media are aware of very few of those foiled.

The U.K. has been battling terrorism since it became so prominent in the 1980s and 1990s. One challenge in countering terrorism, Rimington said, is that although MI5 gathers a lot of intelligence on various threats, they aren’t sure which can be trusted as real, possible dangers.

If MI5 acted on every bit of information it uncovers, Rimington said, the public would feel very unsafe — there would be far too frequent evacuations and warnings. Instead, MI5 waits and analyzes all information before acting.

Rimington said she remembers briefing the prime minister on possible threats about which she didn’t have every piece of information.

“Well, prime minister,” she used to have to say, “we know that the IRA is about to bring in a large lorry bomb. We don’t know when it’s coming in; we don’t know which port it’s coming in at; and we don’t know what the target is. But, prime minister, I thought you should know.”

Rimington said former Prime Minister John Major would lean back and close his eyes before saying, “Stella, do your best.”

And often, she said, those lorry bombs were intercepted.

Eliminating some secrecy

Once the Cold War ended, Rimington said, there was no longer a need for international secrecy in intelligence. Instead of fearing the Soviets had infiltrated the global ranks, MI5 had to begin sharing intelligence once again.

“Terrorists work across national boundaries,” she said. “Terrorism can be planned in one country, financed in another to take place in a third. So we all had to start to get to know new allies and to work out ways of passing sensitive intelligence secretly between different countries.”

This sometimes caused various issues. One country may believe a particular bit of intelligence, while another may see it as unreliable. This would result in embarrassment, confusion and criticism. Collaboration, Rimington said, was a requirement.

Secrecy was further lowered when she became the first MI5 director general to have her name publicly announced. Though her photo wasn’t released, the media quickly tracked down her home to nab one.

“All my neighbors started to get very upset,” Rimington said, “because they suddenly realized that this quiet lady who lived on their street for the last 10 years was not what she seemed and presented, as they saw it, a risk.”

One woman said to Rimington that she wasn’t comfortable driving her children to school when Rimington was leaving for work, as the IRA was a major threat at that time.

Sexism in the agency

One particular issue Rimington saw in MI5 was that of sexism. In order to join MI5, candidates had to be “tapped on the shoulder.” There was no application process. As a result, ex-military men often hired former colleagues — other ex-military men.

“And (those men) were often assisted by well-bred, but not necessarily well-educated, women,” she said. “Not me. I quickly found that rather than a glass ceiling in this outfit, there was a glass box. It was more about what we women couldn’t do than what (men) could do.”

She said women were employed for deskwork: typing, filing and intelligence analysis, if they were especially bright. Even Rimington had originally been hired as a typist — but she said she was hired more because she was, at the time, a diplomat’s wife.

In the mid-70s, MI5 began recruiting young men directly from universities. She said these men had just as much experience as any of the female workers, so it was only fair that women would be given equal chances. Rimington was the first woman to be accepted as a field worker.

She told a humorous story about her first training assignment. She was to learn as much as possible about a person in a “very sleazy dump” of a pub near London’s Victoria Station, all while using a cover story. Then, another agent would enter the pub and refute her cover. The test was to see how she handled the situation.

She learned very quickly that even the field tests were designed for men; the pub was filled with only men, all drinking pints and smoking cigarettes.

“I went up to one of these guys and started chatting him up, and he was clearly beginning to think my purpose was quite different than what it was,” Rimington said to laughs from the crowd. “Then the man from the force came in, and I treated him as a bit of a savior, because I had got into a very difficult situation.”

That was the “breakthrough,” she said. As a result, female agents began to flow into the field.

Drawing from her experience as a woman in the field, Rimington took up fiction writing once she retired. She invented the character Liz Carlyle, a 34-year-old female MI5 agent with a sexist partner. Liz has been Rimington’s heroine in six books since 2004.

Her books, Rimington said, are more realistic in comparison to traditional spy media. Shows like “Spooks” and movies in the “James Bond” series are largely dramatized, she said, and are therefore less true.

“(Being in Russia after the Cold War) certainly gave me my one and only ‘James Bond’ moment,” Rimington said, “as I drove on a snowy Moscow night in the British ambassador’s Rolls-Royce, Union Jack flying off the bonnet, to have dinner with the KGB in one of their safe houses. Very strange experience after all my time.”


Q: There’s been a lot of talk this week about the concern that our fears might be a failure of imagination, that certainly there was a failure on the part of our services’ imagination to imagine anything as terrible as 9/11. I’m wondering what the British services are doing to create that imaginative approach to what might happen next.

A: I think the situation in Britain, before 9/11, was rather different from the situation here because we had already experienced a long period of terrorism on our own territory. So we were perhaps more expecting of that kind of thing happening, whereas in the United States, although there had been terrorist incidents — your embassies, for example, had been blown up — they had been outside the confines of your own country. I think, therefore, the imagining something awful as 9/11 happening in your own country was a huge, not surprising, a huge leap of the imagination, whereas, perhaps, in Britain, nothing, in a sense, surprised us about what might happen. Nowadays, the imagination is overflowing with possibilities. I think here, as well, you are now alert to practically anything happening. We certainly are in Britain. We know our intelligence services are doing their very best to protect us. But I think all of us know, in this country, as well as at home, that there is no such thing as 100 percent protection. We live in a dangerous world, and that’s why, I think, we feel that governments have a responsibility to warn us that we live in a dangerous world and not to tell us that they can wrap their arms around us and protect us from everything. I think that’s the stance that we take in the United Kingdom.

Q: To what extent is it possible to identify the key factors in radicalizing young people in Britain, and to act effectively against that process of radicalization?

A: I think some of the key factors are pretty obvious, but they change. Every time anything happens in the world that they can use as an excuse for this awful route that they’re on, then they shift a bit. They shift their rationalization. The most difficult thing to understand is why young men — who’ve been at ordinary schools at Britain and have had this experience of being British citizens in our suburbs or in our cities — why is it that they are vulnerable to people in arms, for example, coming over from Pakistan or wherever with an extremist message? How is it — and I don’t think we know the answer to this — that they can, intellectually, make that shift between living at peace, living in a country like Britain, and then suddenly feeling that all of the people they’ve known are their enemy? I don’t think we understand that. I do not think we do, and I think it takes psychologists to understand this caste of mind. They obviously feel alien, but why do they feel alien to such an extent? I don’t know.

Q: Is there a connection between British intelligence and the current Murdoch hacking scandal?

A: “No” is the answer to that. I think everybody in Britain is watching with great interest, particularly as it concerns Rupert Murdoch, who is not one of Britain’s favorite people. He owns a very significant number of our newspapers: The Times, The Sunday Times, the News of the World and The Sun. Two tabloids and two serious newspapers, and he also owns a great part of one of our television channels and wanted to buy the whole of it. I think there’s a complex relationship between members of Parliament, for example, who have suffered at the hands of our tabloid newspapers, exposing their private lives and all sorts of things. Now, they feel that they have an opportunity to get back at the tabloids. All of this dislike of the idea of Rupert Murdoch taking over more of our media, dislike of the tabloids, dislike of the kind of journalists who do this sort of thing — it’s all coming together. There’s a huge, great pot being stirred, but it’s got nothing to do with our intelligence services, I am very pleased to say. It doesn’t threaten our national security, so it’s not their concern.

Q: What is Britain’s policy regarding enhanced interrogation, such as waterboarding?

A: We would describe waterboarding as torture. Any kind of torture is illegal in Britain. Therefore, we regard those forms of practices as illegalities. That is why we have got at least two investigations going on at the moment. It has been said that our intelligence services were aware that those kind of practices were being carried on. Our intelligence services say that although they are now aware, they were only aware at quite a late stage. The argument goes that if they were aware, they should not have been collaborating with organizations that were carrying out those practices. The other problem, as I alluded to, is that now some people are coming back from having been in prison in Guantánamo Bay and are telling tales of how British intelligence offices were present at torture that was being carried out on them in various parts of the world. British intelligence service officers say they were not. So we’ve got this going on at present, and various inquiries into it. But torture of any kind is illegal in Britain.

Q: We have a few questions around this. This is one of the statements of it: Why doesn’t it make more sense to approach the War on Terrorism as a military action, rather than a legal action?

A: The phrase, “the War on Terrorism,” is one that I don’t myself like or use because it implies that you can defeat terrorism by force of arms alone, and, in my opinion, you can’t. The way to defeat terrorism is by a multi-faceted approach. Military — yes, if you need to. Intelligence — yes as well, because it will give you the ability to prevent quite a lot — if your intelligence services have a grip of it — of what is being planned. That helps to destabilize and undermine the terrorists and makes them think about other things. Politically — you have to defeat terrorism, ultimately, by political means, by getting at the root cause of what’s causing this, and —though it’s very difficult and takes a long time — ultimately, trying to settle it. We have experience with this in Northern Ireland. We were able, by good intelligence, to create a situation where the government could actually talk to the leaders of Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army, and eventually, that resulted in what we called a peace process. But they couldn’t have done that if the intelligence services had not created a situation where the terrorists were being unsuccessful, and so were beginning to think that they needed to turn their minds to something else. So defeating terrorism has got to be a multi-faceted approach, and you can’t do it by force of arms alone.

Q: Here’s someone who’s going to the special master class this afternoon, wanting to know: When you were a spy, did you have to change your appearance?

A: No, because when I was a spy, for a long period, nobody knew who I was at all because we all live undercover. We don’t talk about what we do; we don’t go out and say to our neighbors, “Look, we’re spies.” So I didn’t actually have to change my appearance. I was working, mainly, in Great Britain, and there was no need for me to change my appearance. I was not in a hostile environment, except in Northern Ireland. So no, I never had to change my appearance. I had to change my cover story — in other words, who I was. I made up all kinds of stories about who I was and what I was doing — learned, I would say, in that pub in Victoria so many years ago. But no, I never had to change my appearance.

Q: We have several questions about the relationships among countries as they are cooperating or not. Summarizing them in a couple of ways: Do countries spy on each other, even allies, and how hard is it today for the United Kingdom and the United States to collaborate with the Soviet, Russian intelligence?

A: Yes, countries do spy on each other, even though they’re allies. I couldn’t possibly tell you who the British spy on, or who the Americans spy on, but yes, certainly. You can have various levels of collaboration and cooperation, but not all of them are entirely trusting. So you tend to back them up with some secret information as well. The relationship with the Russian intelligence services has been very rocky. As far as Britain is concerned, it’s still really in cold storage, particularly —as I said — after the death of Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered on the streets of London by someone pouring polonium in his tea. He took a very long time to die, which meant that a lot of research could be done about what had happened to him. It was clearly a form of murder that could only have been carried out by a state. People do not have quantities of polonium. The track of this polonium — out of Russia, around through Germany, into Britain — was there. It had left a trace that could be checked by our people. So that was a murder on our streets, carried out by a foreign intelligence service, and that put relationships into cold storage. That’s where I believe they are now. There will be relationships on certain levels, but not the deep sort of relationship that we have with your intelligence services.

Q: What are the three books that you mentioned that you recommend about the history of MI5?

A: There is a wonderful new book called Defend the Realm, which is on sale in the book shop up there, which is written by professor Christopher Andrew. It is a history of the first 100 years of MI5, written in a considerable amount of detail, full of anecdotes, events and such-like. It’s really well worth reading. There’s another history of MI6 — The Secret History of MI6 — written by another professor, Keith Jeffery from (Queen’s University Belfast), which is a history of MI6, but surprisingly enough for our secret intelligence service, it goes from 1909 to 1949 — no further, because MI6 decided that they were not prepared to reveal their recent history, whereas MI5 threw it all in, and it goes up to the modern day. And then there’s a history of Government Communications Headquarters, which is an unauthorized history written by another academic (GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency by Richard J. Aldrich). That’s available as well. They are there for anyone who is interested.

Q: Were you consulted on the TV show “MI5,” and does it get anything right?

A: They did ask me to be an adviser halfway through, but by then, I had seen some of their efforts and I thought they were so unlike reality that I decided I didn’t want to get involved in it because what I would tell them would probably ruin their show. It’s very popular in Britain, as well as here, but in every episode, a small handful of people go out and save the world against serious threats. They put themselves at serious risk in doing so and terrible things happen to them, whereas in real life, you’re working in a big team and the whole purpose is to try and stop your officers getting killed or getting themselves into dangerous situations by using tradecraft to protect them. None of that comes out in “MI5.”

Q: You briefly mentioned finding the right balance between privacy and security. Could you elaborate on that? What is that balance?

A: The balance between our rights to our private life and the government’s responsibility to defend us is basically a very difficult one to establish. There is no line that you can draw. The line moves depending on the threats. Obviously, at a time of enhanced threat, the government will move its protections further into looking after us. At a time of not-such-great threat, then the protections should move back again. But we certainly felt, under the government of Tony Blair, that the government was much more about protecting itself from criticism, should anything dreadful happen, than it was really about being open and honest with the British public, that we are in a time of very serious risk and threat. “We will do our best,” they should be saying, “to defend you, but we know you wish to live your private lives and we must warn you that there is a threat.” That is, I think, the line that a government should take. Not, “We are going to increase our powers to do this, that and the other. We are going to wrap our arms around you,” because they can’t, and we don’t want —well, personally speaking, I don’t want — to be surveilled everywhere I go. I don’t want my children stopped by policemen, just in case they might be carrying a bomb, when there is no evidence. It’s a fine line. It’s a line that we have to rely on our governments to take. And if they don’t take it correctly, we have to tell them, in my opinion.

Q: This is a double question, and I think it will probably be the last, although we have many, many more. On your first day as chief of MI5, what was the one tool or resource you felt was needed to secure the organization’s success, and why? The other part of the question is: On your last day, what was the one tool or resource that you thought the agency needed?

A: I think on my first day, I decided that we needed to be more open because we were getting a lot of criticism. Many people were saying, “The Cold War has come to an end, now. We don’t need you lot. You’re all about spies and stuff. Why are we giving you so much money and such? We don’t need you.” I knew, we all knew, that we were needed even more because of the increasing threat of terrorism. I thought the first thing we needed to do was to explain ourselves better, so the people understood more what intelligence services do in democracies, and what they don’t do. That was what I thought we needed, and that is what we set about doing. On my last day, what did I think they needed? The answer was, I thought they needed more resources because by then, we were very, very stretched, actually. One of the great things about the British intelligence services is that they’ve always remained small. That’s been a kind of democratic thing. We don’t want huge intelligence services; we want small, highly competent, highly focused ones. By the time I left, I thought they needed more resources. After 9/11, they are now about double the size that they were when I left, so they’ve got more resources.

Riedel: Understanding al-Qaida is the key to its defeat

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Bruce Riedel lectures on the past and future of al-Qaida in the Amphitheater Tuesday morning. Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

Bruce Riedel, former CIA analyst, presented a dilemma to the audience during his 10:45 a.m. lecture Tuesday in the Amphitheater.

He asked the crowd to imagine being given pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. However, it can’t be certain whether the tasked puzzle has 500 pieces or 1,000 pieces. Either way, there are only 100 pieces at the moment. What’s worse: Not all of those pieces belong to that particular jigsaw puzzle, but it’s unknown which ones don’t belong.

Every morning, collectors bring in more pieces — sometimes 10 or five, sometimes only one. But even those pieces might not belong to that puzzle. At the end of each day, the boss asks about the progress. What’s been found out?

“It’s hard, tedious work,” Riedel said, “but that’s what led to the events of May 1, 2011.”

For 10 years, before the death of Osama bin Laden that day, analysts performed activities much like the above situation. All of that work paid off, Riedel said, when bin Laden was finally killed.

Riedel was the second speaker in Week Three’s topic on “American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage and Alliances.” He is currently a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution.

His speech, “The Intelligence War with al-Qaida,” focused on both intelligence failures and successes in the war against the global terrorist network.

War against al-Qaida

Though Riedel said the 9/11 attacks were one of the worst intelligence failures in U.S. history, he also said the death of bin Laden was one of the greatest intelligence successes.

He said that with the death of bin Laden, the organization is facing its very first leadership transition. As a result, it’s also suffering from vulnerability. Thus, Riedel said, al-Qaida is under an attack like it has never seen.

Riedel said drones are a force al-Qaida has had trouble combating. These unmanned aircrafts are considered “covert actions,” but he said they are perhaps the “least covert covert action … in history.”

Nonetheless, he said that these drones are “terrorizing the terrorists” because President Barack Obama has greatly increased the use of drones in warfare.

Al-Qaida was formed between 1988 and 1989, led by Osama bin Laden and a few others. The organization calls for global jihad, which in part means declaring war on the U.S.

“We don’t get declared war on every day,” Riedel said. “Even by nutcases, it doesn’t happen every day. And we’ve learned since then that these may have been nutcases, but they’re deadly serious.”

A war with al-Qaida isn’t a war with a country, Riedel said. Since al-Qaida has “franchises” in many countries, this war is unlike any other. The 9/11 attacks cost al-Qaida $500,000, but the damages totaled more than $2 trillion to the U.S., Riedel said.

Aside from those attacks, al-Qaida has been the force behind various defectors, suicide bombers and attempted car and subway bombings all over the world. Because of intelligence provided on these attacks, Riedel said, many high-profile attacks have been deflected.

Pakistan’s involvement

Bin Laden was hiding in a private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, when he was killed on May 1, 2011. Bin Laden had been staying there for at least the past five years. The structure was less than a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy, which Riedel said is Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point.

“It is strange credibility for anyone who has studied Pakistan,” Riedel said of this proximity, “to believe that no one in the Pakistani army knew Osama bin Laden was in that building.”

The CIA said the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, one of Pakistan’s three intelligence services, is one of America’s best partners against al-Qaida, but it is also the most difficult, Riedel said.

After bin Laden’s death, relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have been strained, he said. Part of that issue is America’s questioning of Pakistan’s involvement with bin Laden.

“(The army was) either clueless or complacent,” Riedel said. “If they were clueless, it raises disturbing questions about security in the most dangerous country in the world. And if they were complacent, it raises very fundamental questions about the nature of the Pakistani Army and the ISI.”

Solving the problem

Riedel said he hopes Americans understand that very few Muslims worldwide follow the ideologies of al-Qaida. Even those Americans who defected to al-Qaida make up a very small minority of American Muslims.

“One of our challenges in dealing with this is not to tar an entire sector of America — Muslim Americans — for the mistakes of a tiny few,” he said. “We cannot turn America into a police state.”

Despite the fact that most Muslims view al-Qaida’s ideology as a “criminal attempt to justify mass murder in the name of religion,” Riedel said, al-Qaida only needed 19 people to enact the 9/11 attacks. Terrorism, he said, requires very little money and men.

In order to preempt the actions of al-Qaida, he said the U.S. needs to be able to understand the organization. That way, the U.S. can know exactly what needs to be done to combat al-Qaida ideology.

On June 4, 2009, Obama presented a speech in Cairo, Egypt. Riedel said that speech is an absolute attack on that ideology. That speech was an attempt to sway the populations overseas away from al-Qaida influence.

“During World War II, we spent a great deal of time studying Nazi ideology, because we wanted to understand what made the Wehrmacht tick,” Riedel said. “During the Cold War, we studied Communism and created institutes across America to Russian studies and Communist studies. We haven’t done enough to understand al-Qaida, but we’re getting there now.”


Q: You talked about how it took only 19 people for September 11. What percentage of the scope of the network was that back then? I mean, how many followers did Osama bin Laden truly have back then? Were these the 19? Were there 100? Was it 1,000? Is it possible to try to categorize that or quantify it?

A: It’s a very good question. It’s clearly an obvious question. It’s also a difficult question. Counting the enemy is one of Intelligence & Analysis’ most difficult jobs. It’s relatively easy to count the enemy when they’re organized in an army. We had a pretty good idea how many Germans were going to be on Omaha Beach, or at least, we should have in 1944. It’s a lot harder when they’re not an army. Al-Qaida doesn’t have a health insurance system. It doesn’t have a secret handshake. It’s hard to know who’s in and who’s out. With all those caveats, in the late 1990s, al-Qaida trained tens of thousands in its camps in Afghanistan. Now, not all of them were trained to be global terrorists; most of them were trained to fight in Afghanistan. But thousands, literally, were trained in the arts of terrorism, and it continues to train people since then. It’s a lot harder when you can’t operate in Afghanistan the way they did before, and it’s a lot harder when you can’t operate in northwest Pakistan because of the drones.

Q: Are there significant areas of cooperation between the United States and Indian anti-terrorist efforts? And how effective are they at upgrading India’s rather poor efforts in this area?

A: The answer is, we do a lot. We’ve done more. Leon Panetta, in his first foreign trip as director of central intelligence, went to India before he went to Pakistan. He did that on purpose. It was a signal both to India and Pakistan of a new era. India still has a serious terrorism challenge. There are several what-ifs about the future of the War on Terror, which I didn’t have time to mention, but one of them, of course, is what if there’s another attack, like the attack on Mumbai — 26/11, as it’s called in India. Will India simply restrain from acting again? Or would another attack precipitate an India-Pakistan war? Was that the real intent of the attack of Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Qaida in 2008? Do they want war between India and Pakistan? Would war between India and Pakistan become a nuclear war? These are very real scenarios that the intelligence community and the policy community need to focus on and think about and plan for now, not the day that they happen.

Q: You referred to September 11 as an intelligence failure. Wasn’t it rather the failure to act on intelligence that had been supplied?

A: It’s clearly a question from a friend of the intelligence community. And I thank you, whoever you are. Listen, there’s a lot of blame for what happened on September 11. Plenty of blame to go all around — signals missed in the White House; a failure to understand, despite briefings from senior officials from the previous administration that al-Qaida was a mortal threat; failure in the intelligence community to connect the dots, to put the puzzle together; failure to alert U.S. domestic law enforcement, the FBI, to the presence of two al-Qaida operatives in this country for months and months. But the biggest failure, I have always felt, was a failure of imagination. I can tell you, I was in the White House in September of 2001. I was in it through the entire summer of 2001. On the day of the attack, I was sitting next to Dr. Condoleezza Rice in the White House Situation Room when the door opened and an aide came in and said, “A second airliner has attacked the World Trade Center.” And in an instant, we knew the world had changed. The biggest failure was a failure of imagination. We knew al-Qaida was planning an attack on America or American interests, and we assumed it would be something like previous attacks: embassies, maybe an American naval ship — maybe a bomb on a metro somewhere in the United States. The idea that four airliners would be hijacked simultaneously and then used as missiles to bring down buildings required a leap of imagination. In retrospect, it’s easy to see it; 20/20 is always easy in hindsight. In fact, you can find a precedent. In 1994, an Algerian Islamist organization hijacked a plane in Algiers and flew it to Southern France, where French commandos stormed the plane. They knew that the plot was to smash that airliner into the Eiffel Tower. Christmas 1994 may have been 9/11, only in Paris. But too few people paid attention to that plot. Too few people thought in terms of the United States. Too few people had the imagination to see just how big a plot could be. And I’m not being critical of the Bush administration, or Dr. Rice, or the CIA, or anyone. As I said, there’s plenty of blame to go around, and wallowing in blame does us no good. What? In my judgment, it was an intelligence and a policy failure.

Q: How do intelligence analysts express their assessments of the likelihood of events? Do they use like “somewhat likely,” or probabilities, or ranges of probabilities, or odds?

A: In the wake of another debacle in the American intelligence community — weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — the U.S. intelligence community, for its National Intelligence Estimates, has come up with a glossary — or a thesaurus, if you like — of terms. So at the back of every National Intelligence Estimate, it says, “If we say it’s probable, it means it is more likely than not. If we say it is possible, it means we don’t know how likely it is, but it is possible.” And I’m giving you two extremes. But they lay all of that out. You know, the English language is subject to interpretation, but they’ve tried to lay out a glossary so that when you read a National Intelligence Estimate, as best as possible within the limits of the English language, you have a pretty good idea of what the analysts mean by what they say.

Q: What is Iran’s relationship to Pakistan? Is it supplying weapons?

A: Iran is a seriously dangerous country with its own nuclear weapons program with a history of supporting international terrorism. It is not a friend of Pakistan. It is not an enemy. They have a very neutral relationship with each other. Iran has a very complex relationship with al-Qaida. Al-Qaida is a Sunni-Muslim fanatic movement. It hates Shias, and Iranians are Shias. Shias hate fanatic Sunnis. But sometimes, the enemy of my enemy may not necessarily be my friend, but I might let him slip through my airport or travel through my country without stamping his passport. And Iran has a history of very puzzling relations with different elements of al-Qaida. Up until last year, several very senior al-Qaida officials, who had fled Afghanistan in 2001, lived in Iran under some kind of detention. They weren’t imprisoned. It wasn’t exactly house detention. We don’t know exactly what it was. Late last year, they were all sent back to Pakistan. Again, we don’t know why. We’re still trying to figure that out. This very complex relationship is an area, frankly, where more intelligence, collection and analysis need to be done. Iran is a puzzle in all of this.

Q: How important are the education of women and girls, and the role of women in Pakistani society, to defeating al-Qaida and terrorism?

A: Absolutely critical. Pakistan, I’ve already described to you as a very important and very complicated country. It’s filled with contradictions. It’s an artificial country. It was created in 1947 out of British India to be the other place — the place for Muslims, not India. Its identity has always been in question. And today, there is a war underway inside Pakistan over the future of the country. On the one hand are those who believe in the vision of Pakistan that its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had, which was a modern, tolerant, open country where anyone could pray any way they wanted to. He envisioned Pakistan to be England on the Indus River. That vision is under attack by jihadists — and it has been under attack almost since the day Pakistan was created — who want an Islamic extremist state. And women play a critical part in this. Some of the strongest opponents of the dark forces in Pakistan have been women like Benazir Bhutto. They are still there, fighting it. The head of Pakistan’s premier think tank, called the Jinnah Institute, Dr. Sherry Rehman, is a brave woman who was on the hit list of al-Qaida, and yet every day, she speaks out against the (Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence’s) double game. She speaks out against the Army’s role in government. And she calls for more resources devoted to the education of women. I’m going to piggyback on this question, if you don’t mind, and go to the next level. What can we do, as Americans, to help those people in Pakistan? Well, we’ve tried economic assistance. It was a good idea. But frankly, we’re broke. We don’t have $1.5 billion to give Pakistan this year. And even if we did, this Congress is not likely to give it to them. And foreign assistance always is an effort that creates a lot of resentment and friction in the country where foreign assistance works. It has a large American tail. A lot of corporations in Arlington, Va., get more money than Pakistanis on the ground. A better approach would be to change tariff rates for Pakistan. Pakistan’s textile products, their main export, are tariffed at three times the level of China, India or Bangladesh, because there is no lobby in the United States lobbying for Pakistani textiles to come into this country. Establish an equal playing field. Pakistani textiles will come into this country. Since most are made by Pakistani women, they’ll get jobs; they’ll have opportunities; they’ll get education for their daughters. Pakistani entrepreneurship will have a chance to rise. It won’t immediately turn the situation around, obviously…

Q: Could you speak to attempts for dealing with future terrorists, seeking to address points of contention that might diffuse their anger?

A: This is an important point. The narrative I talked about is built on real issues. Al-Qaida did not attack us 10 years ago because of our so-called values. They don’t care whether you vote. Frankly, they don’t care what you wear to the beach. They don’t care what you drink. Osama bin Laden said it very well: “If the issue was your values, we would have attacked Sweden, not America.” It’s policies. It’s what our government has done over many years, and what it’s not done. We need to address those policies — not because we seek to appease al-Qaida. We seek to destroy al-Qaida. But part of the process of destroying al-Qaida is to undermine their narrative and to demonstrate to Muslims that we are not a Zionist crusader alliance with an atavistic desire to steal their resources. That means addressing the very real issues that have divided the Islamic world and America for 50 years, including Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. That doesn’t mean giving up Israel. That means a just, fair and lasting peace so that Israelis and Palestinians can live in their common homeland in two sates.

Q: Here’s a question about drones: It says, a good number of other nations are equipped with them — can they be controlled, and can they be used against us?

A: Of course. The drones are an amazing platform — extraordinary. A pilot in Las Vegas, Nev., flies them, goes home for dinner with his kids. A CIA officer in McLean, Va., watches the monitor all day and says, “We got him.” Calls the director, and, “We got him.” But they’re just a platform. They’re not a strategy. Other people will build this platform, too, and other people will use this platform. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the drone operations. I recommended to the president, ”Slam your foot to the pedal. Use them. But don’t become addicted to them. Don’t think they’re the answer. They’re a tactic, not a strategy. They have downsides — very serious downsides. Use them, but bear in mind that every day, there’s a price, and that balance between utility and price has to be reassessed all the time.”

Q: What would the state of terrorism be if al-Qaida disappeared?

A: I’m afraid it won’t be over. The reason I spent so much time on Phase II, the syndicate of terrorism, is that’s what I’m really worried about. I think al-Qaida core is in its terminal stage. I don’t know when we’ll find Ayman al-Zawahiri — I hope sooner rather than later. I don’t know whether they have a bench that can replace him. I hope not. I’m not writing their obituary yet. I think we’ve written al-Qaida’s obituary far too many times in the past. I wish Secretary Panetta would be a little more guarded in his predictions these days. But even if we do succeed in defeating and destroying al-Qaida, there will be other parts of the global jihad, mostly in Pakistan but also in Yemen. And they will be a difficult problem for us to deal with for years and years to come.

Earnest: U.S. espionage has been present since revolution

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Peter Earnest, executive director of The International Spy Museum, speaks in the Amphitheater on Monday. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

It’s thousands of years ago. Humankind is undeveloped, living practically naked in caves. Wealth is not measured in gold, but rather in nuts and berries — the only things that will keep your family alive.

A neighboring cave houses another human, but you notice this human has better nuts and berries than you do.

“Your national security is your family, because that’s all you have,” said Peter Earnest, executive director of the International Spy Museum.

So the next morning, before your neighbor leaves his cave, you climb a tall tree to watch where he goes. This, Earnest said, is intelligence covertly acquired. It is also surveillance — the first “aerial reconnaissance,” as Earnest called it.

If you then attempted to eliminate that patch of nuts and berries, you’re using covert action, he said.

Earnest walked the audience through the history of espionage and intelligence gathering during his lecture at 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Amphitheater. His speech, titled “Intelligence Today: Why We Spy — How We Do It,” was the first in Week Three’s topic on “American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage and Alliances.”

Earnest spent 35 years working for the CIA and was a founding executive of the International Spy Museum. While working at the CIA, he ran counter-intelligence and double-agent operations. He has been awarded two medals from the CIA for his work.

Earnest said that that very intelligence gathered through espionage is the basis of winning battles. The task of intelligence workers, Earnest said, is to give information to policymakers so that they can make informed decisions. It is not the business of intelligence agencies to decide what to do with it.

It wasn’t always called “intelligence,” but Earnest said information covertly acquired has always served the same purpose: security.

Since the very beginning

Espionage has been around since the beginning of war, although Earnest said it wasn’t always used as a means to gather information solely from the enemy.

Alexander the Great read the letters his soldiers had written for the family and friends they left behind. Caesar disguised himself as a soldier to walk among his men. Both leaders used these tactics as a way to measure the morale of their troops, to know what they were saying and thinking about the operations.

“The difference between then and now,” Earnest said, “is that it (used to be) the decision of an individual commander — whether it was Caesar or Alexander or whoever — to go out and to get intelligence.”

‘The father of American intelligence’

George Washington was not just one of the Founding Fathers. Earnest said he is also the father of American intelligence.

“He had an acute sense of the need for accurate and timely intelligence,” Earnest said. “He did not want secondhand information.”

One of the museum’s success, Earnest said, was the acquisition of a letter written and signed by Washington. The letter assigned its recipient to create a spy network in New York City, which was then held by the British.

Intelligence during the Civil War

Earnest said most people would think of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency when asked to think of Civil War espionage, but that’s not the only one.

The Pinkertons claimed to have foiled an assassination attempt on then-president-elect Abraham Lincoln after acquiring intelligence on the alleged event. There are several other instances of non-government intelligence agencies during this time.

At the time, Col. George H. Sharpe was the only designated intelligence officer in the Army, Earnest said.

However, the first real government agency dedicated to intelligence gathering was the Bureau of Military Information.

“The bureau … was the beginning of modern military intelligence,” Earnest said, “because they used information from all sources — from prisoners, from newspapers, intercepted telegraph lines.”

Modern espionage

Trench warfare, gas and machine guns killed thousands of people in order to achieve small strides during World War I, Earnest said. He called these tactics the first weapons of mass destruction.

Military intelligence was used during these times to intercept radio signals and to break codes. This was the beginning of the tactics employed by the National Security Agency during the Korean War.

During the time between World War I and World War II, the Soviets recruited more than 500 agents in the U.S. The U.S. recruited none in Moscow. There was no U.S. agency dedicated to such a feat, Earnest said.

It wasn’t until 1947 that the CIA was created. It continued to evolve into what it is today through the Cold War, Vietnam War and Korean War.

‘Failures of imagination’

Earnest said intelligence agencies in the U.S. acknowledge their failures because they are learning experiences.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, was an intelligence failure, he said, because the military had broken the Japanese naval code but did not know the precise location of attack.

Earnest used the phrase “failure of imagination” to describe the attack on Pearl Harbor. He used this phrase because it was possible to predict, but yet it was not foreseen.

“It did not occur to leadership — they did not imagine — that the Japanese would do what they did,” he said. “And if you would leap forward a few years, intelligence had warned that al-Qaida was going to resort to the use of planes, that they might intend to use them as weapons.”

Yet the U.S. failed to take precaution, Earnest said. Thus, he said, 9/11 is also viewed as a failure of imagination.

However, not all intelligence failures can be attributed to this phenomenon. He said recent intelligence failures include that of the question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the idea that Saddam Hussein was involved with the 9/11 attacks.

Today’s issue: Cyberwar

Espionage today uses all those tactics used in the past, but they are also applied to the Internet. Milton Maltz, another former spy and chairman and founder of the International Spy Museum, opened Monday’s lecture, explaining that cyberwar is becoming more prominent.

Cyberwar is the attempted hacking of computer systems to gain military or political intelligence. Most prominently, the Chinese, Russians and Americans have used it in recent years, Maltz and Earnest said.

In 2007, Estonia was attacked by thousands of Chinese “cyber-spies,” Maltz said. Its infrastructure and economy were devastated. The U.S. Department of Defense said millions of attempts have been made to hack into its computer system.

“As the world becomes increasingly dependent on the Internet,” Maltz said, “electric utility grids, our nation’s water supply (and) our banking system are vulnerable to attack.”

Earnest also touched on WikiLeaks as a potential issue in intelligence, although it is not necessarily related to cyberwar. He said that, had Osama bin Laden read through WikiLeaks properly, bin Laden would have moved his location and would still be alive. He called leaks like that “totally irresponsible.”

Espionage: a child’s dream

President Barack Obama and his family visited the International Spy Museum on June 30, 2010. Earnest personally gave them a tour of the museum. Earnest said Obama was especially interested in the letter from George Washington.

Earnest said the Obama children are on record as saying the Spy Museum is their favorite place to visit in Washington, D.C.

“Everybody wants to be a spy,” Earnest said. “The president’s kids are no exception.”


Q: Much has been said about the disruption of multiple arenas of intelligence gathering. Post-9/11, one of the commissions reports was that intelligence communities needed to be coordinated better, thus a restructuring of all of that. What’s your read about the status of that restructuring, and have things been improved?

A: Let me touch on that terrific question. Post-9/11 Commission felt that in some way, the intelligence community should be centralized, if you will. Remember, in 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency was created. The word that’s important there is “Central.” Trying to do the same thing that (Col. George H.) Sharpe did during the Civil War, it was an agency designed to get reporting from all over — signals, intelligence, satellites — bringing it into one place, analyze it and report to the president and the policymakers; that was the role. But the individual that held that office wore another hat. He was to head the community as well. The commission determined that was too much — no man or woman could spread themselves that wide. Better to have an individual of another office, so they created the Director of National Intelligence. General Clapper presently holds that post. It is still trying to find its role. Is it like (the Office of Management and Budget) — is it simply to help manage and coordinate resources and people? Is it supposed to direct the intelligence units? I think the verdict is in: It’s not expected to do that, but it is still working out what it is expected to do. The other office that was created by the 9/11 Commission was what we now know as the Department of Homeland Security. That, with a wave of the wand, created an agency of 180,000 people. That has not gone smoothly, either, but that is with very bright and very dedicated people working the problem. No one, confronted with some of these problems, could have done better than they have done. It is still less than perfect; it is a community that is involved in continuous self-improvement because it needs it and is aware of it.

Q: Let’s talk about checks and balances. Intelligence has unique requirements of secrecy, and yet our country is founded, in part, on a recognition that people are fallible, greedy, eager for promotion, power-hungry and that checks and balances are essential to proper governance. With that in mind, how can we effectively oversee and govern our intelligence agencies?

A: I can’t remember anybody eager for promotion. Some of you will remember the Church and Pike Committees in the mid-’70s. Frank Church from Idaho, Otis Pike from New York — they conducted hearings and found that both the CIA and the FBI had engaged in some irregularities — irregularities that were against the law. These had to do with mail openings to the Soviet Union and some wiretappings. As a result of the Church-Pike Committee hearings in the 1970s, they then formed, on Capitol Hill, two permanent oversight committees: one in the House and one in the Senate. We report to those committees; we don’t take our direction from them. They investigate us. Congress approves every nickel we spend, so we are answerable to Congress in that regard, and, yes, there’s the usual tug and tensions between executive and legislation, as historically there are, and that’s part of checks and balances. But, that is one of the strongest oversight mechanisms you have. The president also has a president’s foreign intelligence advisory board, as well as an oversight board. I have had to testify before all of them. They are all made up of distinguished people who are doing their best to insure that intelligence is on track and not going off the track, as can happen from time to time. So those bodies take their role very seriously, and it’s always the hope that they will master what intelligence is, so they neither overestimate nor underestimate what its capabilities are.

Q: The CIA prides itself in retrieving foreign nationals who have been informants. Why did the CIA so easily cash in on Valerie Plame? Why didn’t the CIA stand behind its valuable employee? I think “not standing behind her” refers to the controversy of her being exposed.

A: Well, I know Valerie Plame, and I had Valerie Plame to the museum. She appeared there as a featured guest. Valerie Plame, through no fault of her own, was, as they say, “outed.” She was exposed as a CIA — we don’t call ourselves “agents” — she was a CIA case officer. She was conducting operations. She did use cover. She was in touch with people who, as a result of her being outed, fell under suspicion as being covert assests of the United States government and of the CIA. Through no fault of her own, this happened. I think she tried, in her way, to defend herself, all compounded by the fact that her husband, Joe Wilson, had carried out a mission for the CIA trying to get to the bottom of what turned out to be a fraudulent letter from Nigeria on a weapon of mass destruction ingredient. So I’m not clear on — you were using the words “CIA cashed in.” I’m not sure that the agency cashed in on anything. I think it was a very awkward situation for the agency.

Q: Historically, where have you seen the greatest conflict between intelligence processes and human rights, and how have they been resolved? Another question is more terse: Can you comment on spying and ethics?

A: I’m a graduate of Georgetown University. I had four years of Jesuits there — maybe that explains where I ended up — four years in which I took ethics every single day. To get there, I went to Georgetown Prep, which is run by Jesuits, and I had three years of ethics training there. I, like everyone else who enters the agency, have my own background. Whatever their education was, whatever their upbringing was, whatever their culture was. I attended several symposia in CIA on the ethics question. We regularly had outside people come in and give us lectures on the subject. There was, I think, an American — and I’ll call it American consciousness — of what was appropriate and what went beyond the pale. Where we are seeing this play out today, probably — and this isn’t just CIA; this is us as a nation, our military and the intelligence services — is on some of the signals intelligence, a very tricky area to get a hold of. Osama bin Laden was reduced to using an ancient form of communications: couriers. He, because of a media leak, knew that were listening to his cell phone. He knew we were listening to the cell phones of people around him, and it was a cell phone call that resulted in our identifying his courier and getting his true name, but I think that area is one of the ones that brings up ethical questions. There are courts trying to deal with it; it is being addressed in the process. The other one, of course, is the interrogation of prisoners and the treatment of prisoners. That, too, is being played out by the press, and I think it raises questions for all of us.

Q: The most frequently asked question, I think, most directly put: How did the CIA get it so wrong with the Iraqi WMD capabilities?

A: One of the things that you hear so often is: Yes, they got it wrong, but so did everyone else, and part of the problem with the wrong call on WMDs is that’s no excuse. It doesn’t matter if everyone else got it wrong. There were dissenters. The small intelligence unit in the state department, State INR, believes that that was incorrect. There were dissenters within the agency. Dissent is encouraged in the agency, right up to the director. As I said, the emphasis is on getting it right, getting the truth. That was encouraged. I went to a hearing with one of the directors — a closed hearing — to talk about covert action, and the senators in that hearing asked the director, “Mr. Director, does everyone agree with this covert action that you’re proposing in the Middle East?” and he said, “No, sir, they don’t. In fact, I have a number of letters from my senior officers. Would you like to see them?” Dissent — disagreement — is a practice that is valued. There are several things, also, to keep in mind. One, there are those that feel that some of the chemical weapons may have been slipped out of Iraq just before we went in for the inspections. That’s easy to say; they may have gone to Syria. And the other thing is, and this gets to (Donald) Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” and “known unknowns,” Saddam Hussein — as we learned from his statements to the FBI agent, you remember, before he was hanged — had his own interest in not revealing to Iran, his archenemy, that he did not have weapons of mass destruction. He had been on that path; he conned his own generals into believing that he had weapons of mass destruction. If we had had an asset sitting at his staff conferences, they would have said, “Oh, no, we do have, and we are making progress on, weapons of mass destruction.” So here is a man lying to his own subordinates about that, and this can be argued, and I’m going to do this: It’s not quite fair, but I’m going to ask you to raise that question with Bruce Riedel. Don’t tell him I told you to do it, but here’s a fellow who was very close to that and will offer great insight into how that issue was handled.

Q: Can you comment on cooperation between Israel and the United States regarding intelligence?

A: I think there has been probably extraordinary cooperation between the United States and Israel. People are often very complimentary of the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, and, I think, rightly so. One of the advantages, I think, the Mossad has, by and large, their target is fairly constrained — that is, a very sharply focused area. There is no question that for all intelligence services, the phenomenon of the Arab Spring is, yet again, enormously complicating the world, and it will complicate the world of Israeli intelligence because the world that they’re used to. It’s like a kaleidoscope — you keep turning it and different beads and different colors come up. But certainly, there has been cooperation. We are in touch with intelligence services. The first thing that happened when the Cold War happened, Bob Gates, then-director of the CIA, flew to Moscow. He wanted to sit down with the head of the KGB and explore, “The war’s over. How can we cooperate?” He took with him, by the way, the photographs of the bodies of the Russian sailors that we brought up in the Glomar Explorer operation from 16,000 feet down. No one had ever done that deep. The deepest was well over 200 feet, and the word went out, “What agency can go down 16,000 feet?” and the CIA, “Oh, we can do it!” and they did it. We brought up bodies and we buried them at sea, and we provided, as close as we could, a Russian naval burial service ceremony, and we videotaped it. Bob took that videotape to Russia to give to the president and the head of the KGB as one of the signs of our good faith as a people. His word to me when he went, because I was then his director of media relations and spokesman, he said, “When I give that to the Russians, I will cable you, and you release it to the American media,” which I promptly did.

Q: There has been much controversy over the covert role the CIA played destabilizing the Chilean government under the presidency of Salvatore Allende, leading to the military coup and assassination of Allende. Would you please comment?

A: There is a process for covert action. Covert action is attempting to influence the outcome of events through covert means. We employed covert action in trying to keep Italy from going Communist at the end of World War II, in trying to keep France from going Communist; we employed it in Poland. In Chile, there was concern about Allende’s government, and I am trying to recollect whether there was a presidential finding. To carry out a covert action, today, of significance, you require what’s called a presidential finding. The president of the United States must find, in writing, that this action is necessary. I do not remember if there was a finding for that period, but, typically, when the CIA carries out a covert action, it is not because a bunch of guys went in on Saturday morning and said, “Hey, I found a small country we can probably overthrow!” It comes from the president and it comes from the National Security Council and, typically, it has the stamp of the attorney general, and, often, the ideas don’t come out of CIA; they come out of somewhere else. I have never had the experience of the agency acting alone.

Q: How does a person become a member of the Intelligence Committee? Is there a civil service test, and, I love this part, what are the age limits?

A: Who’s interested? I’ll take your name! Right now, for what we used to call “junior officers,” for what I did, clandestine operations, I think the age limit is 35. Typically, most of our analysts, we could staff a university today. Most of our analysts hold master’s (degrees), many of them hold Ph.D.s or are getting them. On the operations side, we like to look for a college degree. We are looking for personality. We are looking for people who are judged to be able to learn languages, to move into a foreign culture, to function in a foreign culture and to be able to deal with people from another culture effectively. Those things, typically, are looked for the moment you express interest in the agency and are screened. We’re not big enough, like the military, to sort of bring you in and send you somewhere else. When I was commissioned in the Marine Corps, they said, “Where do you want to go?” and I said, “Well, I’m engaged. I’d like to stay here to get married and get on with a family.” Fine, they sent me to Japan. If the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one, for heaven’s sake.

– Transcribed by Patrick Hosken

Sandel: Equality is the key to the common good

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Michael Sandel, professor of political philosophy and government at Harvard University, lectures in the Amphitheater Friday morning. Photo by Ellie Haugsby.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

Smoking is popular in the Czech Republic. When the Czech government considered raising the tax on those cigarettes — the very ones that kill thousands of people each year — major cigarette corporation Philip Morris was very unhappy.

Philip Morris presented a cost-benefit analysis on the effects of raising the tax on the national budget.

The cigarette company explained that, although it’s true that smokers impose greater medical costs, those costs are only applied while they are still alive. Once they have died — from, say, lung cancer — those costs are no longer applied. As smokers generally have lower life expectancies, having more smokers actually increases the national gross domestic product.

Thus, Philip Morris presented its findings: Raising the tax would actually reduce the country’s GDP. Specifically, each smoking-related death saved the government $1,227. However, the study failed to include the costs imposed on the smokers and the families as a result of smoking.

The public went wild with outrage.

Michael Sandel, political philosopher and Harvard University professor, told this story during his lecture at 10:45 a.m. Friday in the Amphitheater.

His lecture, the fifth and final in Week Two’s topic on “Applied Ethics: Government and the Search for the Common Good,” focused on inequality and the disinclination to address morality in political policies as barriers to reaching the common good.

“What passes for political argument too often consists of shouting matches on cable television and talk radio, ideological food fights on the floor of Congress,” Sandel said. “So the question I’d like to ask today is: How we can do better? How can elevate the terms of public discourse? How can we reach for a new politics of the common good?”

Rising inequality

If the U.S. population were listed in order of wealth, the top 1 percent has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, Sandell said. Furthermore, he said the average CEO makes more money in a day than the average person makes in an entire year.

“(Some people say) we don’t have to worry so much about the redistribution of income and wealth in this country because, unlike Europe, we believe in mobility,” Sandel said. “You’re not stuck where you begin. We believe in the ability to rise. So it matters less, the argument goes, that there’s an uneven redistribution of income and wealth if people can rise by their own efforts.”

At this point, someone in the audience yelled, “If.”

The problem, Sandel said, is that this isn’t the case.

Those born into the bottom quintile on the income scale have a 42 percent chance of remaining in that bottom quintile for their entire lives, Sandel said.

Furthermore, there’s only a 6 percent chance that those born in the bottom quintile will rise to the top quintile — and the top quintile is only considered upper-middle class. With a college education, that number rises to 19 percent.

“The single biggest determinant of where you end up,” Sandel said, “is not college education; it’s where you were born. The best way to land on top, now, is to have the good judgment to be born to parents who started on the top.”

America, he said, is no longer the “land of opportunity.” That title deserves to be given to Denmark, he said, because Denmark has the most promising statistics of rising income levels. France, Spain and all the Scandinavian countries have better chances than America.

He used the imagery of skyboxes in sports stadiums as an illustration to this widening rift between the rich and the poor. When he was younger, Sandel said, everyone — no matter their income levels — sat with one another in stadiums. Today, the rich are able to sit “segregated” from the poor.

This rich-poor gap makes democracy less effective, he said. The rich and the poor are leading very different lives and therefore want different things. The issue here, he said, is that not everyone is represented.

Morality in public discourse

Sandel said another obstacle is the reluctance or fear to utilize moral and spiritual means in public discourse. He said that the disagreement in terms of morality and spirituality means those are not welcome in politics. Sandel doesn’t think it should be that way.

“When you bring morality or spiritual questions into public light,” he said, “the argument often goes, ‘That’s a recipe for intolerance at best, and maybe for coercion. We don’t want that. We’re going to keep morality at arm’s length.’”

He said those same people view shouting matches and the like on broadcast stations as examples of that very same unrest. He said it’s the very opposite; it’s the lack of “genuine moral engagement” that creates so much political aggression.

Instead of creating equality by stifling all spiritual and moral ideas, Sandel said equality should be made by including all of them.

“In a politics of moral engagement, it’s a better way of respecting our fellow citizens,” he said, “than trying to pretend that we can conduct our public life without reference to these big moral questions.”

Markets reaching from their spheres

The third obstacle to reaching the common good, Sandel said, is that markets and market reasoning are creeping into areas of sociality that do not use market norms.

Once the Cold War was over, Sandel said, the U.S. saw that capitalism had prevailed. This “market triumphalism” gave the impression that market thought was the tool for achieving the common good, he said. That thought continued through today.

Through this way of thinking, cost-benefit analysis began to be applied to more than just corporations, such as in the story about cigarettes in the Czech Republic, in which a company tried to put a monetary value on human life. There have been numerous other examples of this as well.

He said the idea is flawed in itself but became more so once the financial crisis struck.

‘An expression of the truth’

When Sandel explained the facts about the difference in income between the rich and the poor, the crowd erupted into applause.

“You like that? Well, we shall see,” he said, mistaking the applause for approval.

He pointed to a man in the audience. “Why do you like that idea?”

“It’s an expression of the truth.”

“Oh, it’s an expression of the truth,” he said. “Do you like the condition, the fact that it describes?”

“No,” the man said.

“Do you think it’s unfair?” Sandel said.

“Yes, sir,” the man said.

“You do? Does everyone agree?”

And the Amp responded with favorable applause.


Q: To begin, I couldn’t help but think about inequality in this country. It is also a fact, that in the last — I forget the number of years; 10 years, let’s say — in a combination of China and India alone, half a billion people have emerged from poverty. Thinking of poverty as a basic moral issue, an ethical issue, clearly the motivation of that is indeed a market robust activity. Can you explain that?

A: Markets can be very useful and powerful instruments for organizing productive activity and increasing affluence. But markets by themselves cannot define justice and cannot produce a good society. And if you consider China, which has lifted more people out of poverty in a shorter time, maybe than any country in the history of the world, that’s a great achievement. And yet, the Chinese themselves, including the Chinese government, are acutely aware that, along with rising GDP and the creation of the middle class, have come great social challenges, the first of which is rising inequality and the social friction, the threat to social cohesion that comes with it — also, real environmental challenges. So the question is not whether to use markets. The challenge, and this is a question that needs to be worked out for each society and each country for itself, is to use markets as tools rather than allow markets to come to define us and the common good. Here’s a way of thinking about it: What’s happened to us, I think, is that we have slipped, without quite realizing it, from having a market economy to becoming a market society, and that’s the danger.

Q: There are several questions that have to do with inequality and the behavior of elected officials. To what extent, for example, do tax preferences distort the invisible hand or market triumphalism? What do you think about flat tax to help promote the common good?

A: I’m not keen on a flat tax. I think there are two forms of tax reform, which might achieve greater simplicity and which might also serve fairness. One of them would be to try to shift taxation from work to consumption. Now the risk of doing that is that a consumption tax, unless it’s thought through carefully, can be regressive. So you would have to do it in a way that exempted basic necessity, so it didn’t fall most heavily on the poor, but you could do that. You could design a consumption tax; you could do it in a way that was progressive. Then, we would not only put less of a burden on work, and I think the greatest burden. The greatest tax on work is not the income tax; it’s the payroll tax, which is increasingly a regressive tax. But, I also think an advantage of putting more weight on consumption taxes than on taxes on labor is that it is a way of leaning against the consumerist ethos that takes hold of us, and it’s a way of doing what we say we want to do, which is to prize and recognize and honor work rather than consumption. Now there are other alternatives to a flat tax, which would simplify the tax system, and that would be to have a few steps of taxation in marginal rates, which could be much, much lower than they are if we got rid of all the tax loopholes and tax deductions, including oil and depletion allowances and so on that riddle the tax system. And whether or not in this budget debate, this debt-ceiling debate, I don’t know; it might be too ambitious for this round. So those are some alternatives to a flat tax. I would just add one other thing on taxation. For all of the argument we have about taxes and the burden of taxes, by the standard of all other democracies in the world — this will get me in trouble, but I’m just stating a statistical fact — we are under-taxed. The percent of GDP that we spend in taxes, federal and state taxes, is at its lowest level since 1965. It’s not that tax burdens have increased; it’s as low as its been since 1965. And it’s the lowest of all the OECD countries, with two exceptions: Chile and Mexico. In the European countries, by-and-large, the tax-take relative to GDP ranges from 30 percent to the low 40s. The highest, by the way, at around 40 percent, I think, is Denmark, which placed with the greatest economic mobility of any country, far greater than ours.

Q: There are a host of questions that are struggling with your critique of the cost-benefit analysis, acknowledging in every case the imperfection of the process, but nonetheless the argument being that at some point quantification is a technique necessary for a meaningful broad-based kind of discussion. What decision-making process and tools are you proposing to add to the issue of quantification?

A: There are two problems with trying to quantify all costs and all benefits. One is a false scientism, a false precision, as in the example with the nuclear particle accelerator. There’s another danger, which is the more we consign policy making, decision making, to cost-benefit analysis, the more we give it over to experts and to technocrats who crank through these numbers, the more we remove these numbers from democratic discourse. So, I am all in favor of deciding public policy based on weighing the competing considerations. That’s fine; how else could you do it? You have to weigh the competing considerations. The question is whether you can translate all the costs and benefits of a proposed policy into monetary terms. I think that’s a mistake, and it’s a mistake with pernicious effects when you think about the way in which it takes decision making, about the environment, for example, out of democratic deliberation, which, after all, is the place where competing values should be debated and argued about, and it consigns those decisions to bureaucrats who claim the expertise to assign the costs and the benefits. So the pubic should be made aware, surely, of the costs of the policy. How to weigh the benefits? If it’s in lives saved or in the quality of the common life that’s achieved, those are value-laden, not scientific questions that should be debated by everyone.

Q: There’s a question specific to the Supreme Court decision that, in effect, makes corporations persons having to do with contributions to the electoral process. Does this relate to your presentation today?

A: Well, it does in the sense that it’s an obstacle to revitalizing democratic politics. If corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money in campaigns, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to move away from a market-driven, interest-driven kind of politics. So the Citizens United decision, yet another five-to-four decision of the Supreme Court, a very broad decision striking down legislative attempts to limit the role of money in politics in the name of free speech. I think free speech properly understood is speech that takes place in a framework of genuinely democratic, political debate and argument. And that framework is eroded when corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns.

Q: There are questions that focus on schools, on roadways. This one, I think, captures a sense of where they were all going though. Do we have private security, because public security failed to keep us secure? Why did that happen? Are we looking at incompetence, the courts, mismanagement or wasted tax dollars?

A: Well, all of the above. And the question in a way is a kind of challenge, as I hear it, to my worrying about the eclipse of public police protection by privatized security. It is true; there is a vicious circle, as public facilities and institutions weaken. The schools are bad; after a certain point, it’s certainly a lot to ask even the most civic-minded to send their children there, and so it’s perfectly rational. If public service is deteriorating beyond a certain point, the schools and the police protection, to try to opt out if you can afford it, but what I’m saying is that this sets in motion a corrosive cycle that we should worry about, that we should debate politically. That this is what these presidential candidates should be addressing, instead of some of the things they do talk about; it affects the character of our common life and the extent to which we really, in fact, share a common life. That’s the prerequisite of democracy; not that there be perfect equality of incoming wealth, but that there be a rough equality of sufficient conditions, so that we, as citizens, share a common life. So that we bump up against one another from different walks of life, in downtown areas, or in the public schools, or on the soccer field, or on public transportation. And if that doesn’t happen, then, increasingly, we don’t think of ourselves as sharing a community, a common life. And if that doesn’t happen, democracy, in any meaningful sense, becomes impossible. So that’s the challenge, and it’s a reason to care about the quality of public services that goes beyond the inconvenience that comes with bad public services; it’s a civic reason to care about the quality of public services and public life.

Q: This person is certain that you’ve thought about this deeply. What are the moral dimensions that you think are missing in the discussions of the provision of health care in this country?

A: The health care debate, for the most part, descended into a technocratic debate. The summer when the Tea Party rose up against health care, I heard President Obama, I was watching C-SPAN, and he was making the case for health care, talking about the need to bend the cost curve in the out years. And I thought, “My gosh, if he’s speaking that technocratic language about health care, we’re never going to get it.” What I was hoping he would do, and he did this to some extent later in the fall, when he gave a speech to Congress about health care, was to bring it back to the moral and the civic question. That is how Senator Kennedy, a great advocate of health care, spoke about health care — always as a moral question and a civic question. In an affluent nation, it simply isn’t right that your ability to get care when you’re sick should depend on your ability to pay. That’s the fundamental, moral principle that I think should have figured more prominently in the health care debate. There is a fundamental, moral principle, I should say, on the other side, which also was obscured in the discussion of the costs, and how (health care) would drag the economy down. The opponents of health care, the ideologically consistent ones, had a certain idea of freedom; that this was a violation of what they understood to be freedom. “Why should I be commanded by the government to buy health care or to pay for health care for somebody else?” And I think those of us in favor of health care should have addressed that argument directly, challenged that idea of freedom and made this moral argument about whether access to health should depend on your ability to pay. Unfortunately, the health care debate often left aside those fundamental questions of principle, and maybe that’s why we got such a watered-down result; I’m not sure.

Q: This questioner points out here that individual freedom is the basis of our constitution. So is there a conflict between common good and individual freedom?

A: It depends what you mean by individual freedom. Actually, I was listening to this first Republican debate, and the one I liked best was Ron Paul. He’s a consistent libertarian, and that leads to him against government spending, and it also leads him to be against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was consistent with his libertarian principles, and there’s something admirable about that. Now, I think the libertarian view of freedom is flawed; I think it’s overly narrow. But there has been a great debate in the history of our country, going back to the Constitution about what freedom means. And there’s one view of freedom that says, to be free is to be able to act on my desires, so long as I don’t hurt somebody else. Now that first idea says, therefore, it’s a violation of liberty to require you to buckle up your seat belt; it’s a violation of liberty to require you to wear a helmet when you’re riding a motorcycle. I think that’s a wrong-headed idea of freedom. The other idea of freedom is often not articulated as powerfully as it should be, and that’s what might be called the civic idea of freedom that says fully to be free is not just to be able to get what I want, to satisfy my preferences and desires; really to be free, is to live the kind of life, and it is a common life, that is to reflect critically on what I may want, or prefer, or think is in my interest at any given moment. That idea of freedom might be called civic freedom because it can only happen — it can’t happen only in private, in a democratic society, where citizens, as equals, can argue with one another and challenge one another about the meaning of liberty and what is worth wanting, what is worth desiring. That’s, I think, a higher idea of freedom and too often, in our public debates, the notion of liberty is conceded to the free-market, laissez-faire libertarian view, and it sometimes suggests, “Well yeah, we want some other things too.” No. The argument should be that’s too narrow an idea of freedom; that’s a consumerist idea of freedom, but there’s a higher idea of freedom, and that’s the freedom of citizens.

– Transcribed by Sarah Gelfand

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