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Abraham H. Miller

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science and a former head of the Intelligence Studies Section of the International Studies Association.
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Argo: With Apologies to Britain and Canada

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 - by Abraham H. Miller
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I guess it’s fair to say that Ben Affleck is not doing a documentary … or is he? In a recent interview by Terry Gross with Affleck that I caught on National Public Radio, he notes how he studied the Middle East in college and wanted to include the information on Mohammed Mossadeg and the US intervention in Iranian affairs to bring Shah Palavi to power. Affleck left me with the impression that accuracy was very important to the project.

To underscore the film’s commitment to reality, Affleck included information in the film’s front cards that was important to him as a student of the Middle East. This consisted of the historical context concerning the violent overthrow of Mohammed Mosaddegh and the successful CIA plot to consolidate the power of the shah, Mohammed Pahlava. This coup ultimately, according to many observers, led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Is Argo a story that is fundamentally true but appropriately tweaked to create the successful commercial venture, or is it a dramatization that while inspired by real events is largely a work of fiction with a political message? And, if the latter, as Hillary Clinton might say, “Who cares?”

Obviously, I care because too many people, especially young people, go to the movies and are incapable of discerning fact from fiction, especially when a popular and entertaining movie seems to be sufficiently grounded in reality to provide historical context.

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The Sociopath We All Know and Sometimes Love

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 - by Abraham H. Miller

All of us, at one time or another, will have a close, if not intimate, relationship with a sociopath. Some will break this relationship before it gets terribly destructive; others will not.  They will find ways to deceive themselves about the true nature of the relationship so that it can persist.

We encounter numerous Bernie Madoff types in our lives.  Some like Madoff take our money; some plunder our friendship; and still others eviscerate our heart. The victims of sociopaths are numerous and the stuff of good stories, but even more numerous are those who walked away, who avoided entrapment, and who are never written about.  There is no 60 Minutes about the guys who saw right through Madoff and took a hike. Remember, only twenty-five people and organizations provided half of Madoff’s capital.

Normalcy does not make for a good story; the psychopathology of everyday life does.  Similarly, there are many who cannot live with the equilibrium of every day existence. For them, life needs a step function or two, a qualitative change from time to time. And unlike the sociopath, they are incapable of moving to the edge and testing the boundaries of what they can get away with while being oblivious to the consequences; they live vicariously through the destructive sociopath who can do all that.  This is the attraction.  The sociopath provides the soundtrack for other people’s existence. Whether through the vicarious experience of watching the sociopath push life to limits that they could not imagine or periodically going along for the ride with him at the wheel, those who tie themselves to sociopaths find the narrative of their own existence in the relationship.

As a teenager, there is the one fearless friend who gets you to do the things you wouldn’t ordinarily do that ultimately get you in trouble.  And if the trouble didn’t totally destroy you, years later it is the stuff you laugh about and tell your close friends.  But, you might be oblivious to the fact that as an adult, you are repeating this behavior, just in a more subtle and less obvious way.

There are those that believe that they can be in a relationship with a sociopath and stay in control.  Even some therapists will tell you that if you are going to be in such a relationship and can’t break it, then you must become like the sociopath.  You must have an agenda for the relationship that you manipulate to your ends. You must see the relationship as an exploitive relationship and become the exploiter.

There is a major flaw in such advice.  The sociopath neither loses sight of  his ultimate goal nor of his self-interest.  Ordinary people do.  They succumb to the bonds of friendship or intimacy. Ordinary people have feelings.  Sociopaths don’t.  Ordinary people establish feelings of altruism, which the sociopaths do not, and which he ultimately manipulates when others are least ready to resist.

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Boss, the TV Drama: It’s Not Chicago

Sunday, November 6th, 2011 - by Abraham H. Miller

I usually don’t write about the arts.  Politics is my passion.  But when the arts cross into politics, especially Chicago politics, an interest of mine both by profession and birth, well, it’s something I just can’t ignore.

Boss is a new TV series on Starz.  It is about a political boss in Chicago.  It has gotten a lot of good publicity, especially about Kelsey Grammer’s thespian skill in his portrayal of a tough Chicago mayor, loosely modeled, some say, after the inimitable Richard J. Daley, not to be confused with his son, Richard M. Daley.

Grammer’s Tom Kane character is tough and violent, caught between the pragmatic desire to get things done for the city he loves and the numerous obstacles presented by a multiplicity of parasitic, selfish interests wanting to forever feed on the body politic.  Kane accomplishes this by being ruthless, violent, and demanding a type of loyalty and obedience last seen when Saddam Hussein had members of the Ba’ath Party hauled out  as traitors, one by one, from a large meeting in  July 22, 1979, when those yet to be manhandled started singing Saddam’s praises hoping if they sang loud enough they wouldn’t face the executioner.

But this is not Chicago.  This is some Hollywood writer’s myopic, stereotypic view of Chicago as probably seen from the top floor of the “W” on a foggy night.  Chicago politics is not about the mayor grabbing a henchman’s ear and squeezing it until the pain is so excruciating he is about to faint.  This scene occurs because one of his underlings violated the chain of command and in so doing, stupidly threatened a major construction project that required years of negotiations and ugly payoffs to get built. It is a project that Kane desperately wants and the city desperately needs — the expansion of O’Hare Airport.

Chicago politics is about power, ambition, greed, and functional corruption, at least it was under Richard J. Daley.  Chicago politics is not about a ruthless and violent mayor torturing his henchman or his henchman demanding medieval-style tribute by taking the ears off the lackey who forgot what the chain of command looked like.  The lackey, at a very upscale festive occasion, his ears bandaged, hands over a tastefully wrapped gift box to Kane.  At home, Kane opens the box to find the man’s ears.  Without emotion, Kane simply puts the ears in the garbage disposal and grinds away.  I got the immediate impression the shows producers thought they were competing with AMC’s The Walking Dead for an audience.

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