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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Thursday, 5 February 2004

Topic: Bush

Things we really don't want to think about...

Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation has always been direct. When I see her on talk shows she seems for the most part exasperated and inpatient, and usually for good reason, being paired up with Ann Coulter or some other less-than-accurate talking head from the right. Of course, balanced panels do give each side heartburn.

Left to herself she can be pretty devastating.

And I didn't know that domocrats.com last summer launched a website petition to declare Bush insane under the 25th amendment. Cool.

Here is the woman at full throttle.

See Liar, Incompetent or Space Cadet?
The Nation 02/04/2004 @ 8:29pm

The set-up ...
Is he incompetent, clueless, lying? Why has President Bush - once again - asserted that he went to war because Iraq refused to allow weapons inspectors into the country? Last Wednesday, Bush went on about how "it was [Saddam's] choice to make, and he did not let us in."

Bush made the same false statement, last July, with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at his side. "We gave [Saddam] a chance to allow the inspectors in," Bush declared, "and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power."

These statements defy rational explanation. As Democrats.com observed last summer--after launching a website petition to declare Bush insane under the 25th amendment--"everyone in the world knows that Hussein allowed a fully-equipped team of UN inspectors to comb every inch of his country... The only conclusion we can draw is that Bush has lost touch with reality. In other words, he has gone mad."
Many of us have suggested this. But many of us were joking.

Katrina vanden Heuvel goes on to speculate these statements that do not at all correspond to any actual events in the real world as we know it are perhaps not indicators of madness - as it is possible Bush just doesn't know what happened.

She reminds everyone that last September on Fox News Bush did say he had his own source for news. Not newspapers or television or anything else: "The best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."

Yeah, that might explain it.

Then she raises another alternative - the question of whether Bush was just lying.

That is a good question. She says her personal view is that "Bush doesn't have the fullblown Nixonian character to blatantly lie on issues of war...".

Maybe so.

But people will believe most anything if it's said firmly and often by an authority figure. Hey, it works for entrepreneurial doctors selling diet plans.

And one could, if inclined to think of these things in terms of evil Orwellian conspiracies, argue that yes, Bush knows what he is saying is flat out wrong. Of course he does. What he said happened did not happen at all, and anyone who glanced at the news in the last year knows that. But if he says it often enough, and others pick up on it, then people will forget what the saw and heard with their own eyes and ears and feel just fine with Bush's version of events.

And that is useful. It becomes the virtual history of the war, not the real history - a kind of shorthand. Yes, it seemed evil in 1984 - but in the real world, not Orwell's, it does provide a kind of comfort. No one wants to think his or her president tricked us into this war, or that we elected someone who is jerking us around for his own ends. What would we then think of ourselves? That we're suckers and rubes? That's not acceptable.

Katrina vanden Heuvel raises the issue of the responsibility of the press. Is it not the duty of the press to call those in power on their foolishness and lies? Well, that is somewhat idealistic. Tim Russert's show "Meet the Press" this Sunday will feature an interview with George Bush. Russert's reportedly going to ask Bush about his somewhat vague military service record - was Bush AWOL or whatever? I doubt it will be very probing. Russert has a reputation for hard, persistent embarrassing questions. But he'll take a dive. Or to change the sports metaphor, he'll toss only softballs to George. The network has advertisers. And the FCC can be unfriendly in the future. And you don't mess with the most powerful man in the world.

Katrina vanden Heuvel quotes the former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee appropriately- "Even the very best newspapers have never learned how to handle public figures who lie with a straight face." Yep.

But she does also quote Paul Waldman of the Post saying that, "when politicians or government officials lie, reporters have an obligation not only to include the truth somewhere in the story or let opponents make a counter-charge, but to say forthrightly that the official has lied. When a politician gets away with a lie, he or she becomes more likely to lie again. If the lie is exposed by vigilant reporters, the official will think twice before repeating it."

Yeah? I doubt that. Not when the lies, even if exposed, make people comfortable.

We don't want to think we freely and willing elected a manipulative liar who is jerking us around and sneering about it when we're not looking. And we certainly don't want to think of the alternative, that we elected a madman who is detached from reality. Either would mean we are real fools.

Tell us that and it more likely we'll turn on the media and say they are trying to cause trouble.

Thus Fox News.

Posted by Alan at 21:01 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: The Culture

From Sopchoppy in northern Florida to Baghdad by way of the Super Bowl

In an earlier post I made some comments about the Super Bowl and how it might be seen by the al-Qaeda and the man in the street in Baghdad. Not terribly original. Many have suggested the same.
It wasn't just the briefly bouncing boob and the awful music. Add in the commercials - the farting horse and the dog that bites a fellow's testicular apparatus to get his master a beer. And all this framed by a few hours of costumed steroid-enhanced mutants on speed clobbering each other for glory.

This was showing the people who wonder about what we're doing in their neighborhood just what folks in the Middle East could have if they give in to us - what they could be.

Some future.
But I did get a reaction from Phillip Raines in Georgia:
There are some people who think football is a metaphor for life. Is the super bowl their great pilgrimage? The Hajj is it? Then we are, in fact, a culture in swift decay.

Alan's take at the end cracked me up in that "theater of the absurd" kind of way. But yeah, I think that's the way it is. Jaws dropping in the Middle East at the sight of such a ridiculous extravaganza. Their version of religious fanatics shocked and awed - "should we cut off her breast or gauge out our own eyes. Whip me with a chain, or I'll do it myself!" The Super Bowl use to make me feel kind of sick - like I'd eaten an entire can of cake frosting. I just couldn't care less about football.

I've missed the bowl the past three years. I made a point to go read my poetry at a coffee shop, so glad to be of an audience who doesn't give a shit about the super bowl, or its commercials. This year I was riding back from Sopchoppy, musing on the sunset behind the silos and flat fields with tractor tracks. Most bucolic. My passenger, a retired chimney sweep and former basketball scholarship at Georgia Tech kind of guy searched the AM waveband in vain for the game, or just the score. The static wasn't much worse than the game, I figured. The sound of switching AM stations at night was like a Theremin in a black and white sci-fi movie from the 50's. I'll sort of miss it when I get XM.
Yes, there is life other than that surrounding the Super Bowl.

Phillip's photo essays on the treehouse he built for his boys near Sopchoppy are here, here and here.

Posted by Alan at 18:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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How to keep your head from exploding these days...

Yesterday I posted an item on the wonderful leaps of logic we are forced to make these days, covering the ever-changing explanations of why we went to war, to the new commission to discover the facts about weapons of mass destruction we were told, for a fact, were there in Iraq, but don't now seem to be there. It does strain one's patience.

In short, we got rid of a guy that really, really wanted to have weapons of mass destruction, and we're told that this made him dangerous. I really, really want a Ferrari. Does that make me rich?

And we are now told we didn't have the actual "facts" about what he had. But we foolishly thought we had been told that we did have the facts, when we should have understood Powell's presentation at the UN was about facts that might have been facts as if so, made Saddam Hussein really dangerous. We couldn't wait. War was necessary.

Fine. Do we keep this guys in power come November, or will our brains explode?

Form his exile in eastern France my grumpy American friend adds this:
And if we had any ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had any eggs....

The task of getting rid of those bozos is really quite simple, we just have to find a way to make voters of those literally millions of people who already hate Bush's guts, but don't vote. That's a much simpler problem that trying to debunk and deprogram. And television ads won't do the trick.

Republicans are terrified that minorities might become interested in politics. The more sensible position is to be terrified that they might not.
I'm not sure there is a giant bloc of previously non-voting, silent, minority folks ready to throw the bums out. Yes, if Karl Rove thought this, he'd be worried. And if they existed, the Democrats would be foolish to ignore them, and terrified they had overlooked that resource.

But that's a little hypothetical for me.

On the other hand, to save our heads from exploding from the pressure of being forced, weekly, to rethink the logic of why we're in Iraq - and to reconsider what it means that our reason for being there is a bit vague, and becoming more and more vague by the day - we could elect a new team to run the country.

Could we?

Here's what I see folks saying today...

Plutocrats And Populists
Harold Meyerson, The Washington Post, Thursday, February 5, 2004; Page A21

At the core of what Meyerson says is this - Bush could be tossed out. But it wouldn't be because of war. It's the economy. It's the masses rising up against the rich.
Given the choice between serving the national interest and favoring the rich, George W. Bush has opted incessantly, even obsessively, for the latter.

That is the main reason why he may well be unseated in November. If Bush tax policies are not class warfare, then the term has no meaning at all. Moreover, in the age of globalization, the interests of many U.S.-based corporations grow increasingly divergent from those of the American people.

It's not that these corporations have not resumed hiring, but much of that hiring takes place abroad. A new survey in the Financial Times of the 100 largest American companies notes that they paid 30.6 percent of their 2003 income in taxes, down from 33 percent in 2002 - a change that the Times attributes to their increasing share of economic activity overseas. The administration's response to the challenge of "outsourcing" has been to slash taxes on investment, even as investment in corporations has less and less to do with creating jobs here at home.

What the Democrats' neo-populists are taking aim at isn't business as such, of course, but policies that reward outsourcing and do nothing to foster employment in the States. "This has nothing to do with class warfare," Kerry told supporters in St. Louis last week. "There are great companies and great CEOs throughout America, and I don't want us to be a Democratic Party that loves jobs and hates the people who create them."
Okay. Set the war aside. Forget about where those tons of nerve gas and antrax and whatever else may be. Or if they even "be" - so to speak. We could change things because of the economy.

Maybe so.

What should the Democratic opposition do?

Be pragmatic.

But that has its limitations. And the Democratic Party is a mess.

Michael Kinsley nailed that today in Slate - and his columns usually appear the next day in the Washington Post - so you'll probably see it there too.

See The Pragmatists' Primary
Desperately seeking electability.
Michael Kinsley - Posted Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004, at 12:26 PM PT SLATE.COM

He starts out nasty:
Democrats are cute when they're being pragmatic. They furrow their brows and try to think like Republicans. Or as they imagine Republicans must think. They turn off their hearts and listen for signals from their brains. No swooning is allowed this presidential primary season. "I only care about one thing," they all say. "Which of these guys can beat Bush?" Secretly, they believe none of them can, which makes the amateur pragmatism especially poignant.

Nevertheless, Democrats persevere. They ricochet from candidate to candidate, hoping to smell a winner. In effect, they give their proxy to the other party. "If I was a Republican," they ask themselves, "which of these Democratic candidates would I be most likely to vote for?" And by the time this is all over, most of the serious contenders will have been crowned the practical choice for at least a moment. First it was Lieberman the Centrist. "I'm actually for Dennis Kucinich," a Democrat might say, "because I like his position on nationalizing all the churches. But I'm supporting Joe Lieberman. His views on nearly everything are repellent to me, and I think that's a good sign."

Then the General entered the race. And I don't mean General Anesthesia. A man in uniform, Democrats thought. People like that sort of thing, don't they? And yet he's a Democrat. Or at least he plays one on TV. True, on most issues he has either no known position or two contradictory positions. But he says he can requisition those missing parts. And he's a General. Talk about pragmatic! But when the General traded in his uniform for a fuzzy sweater, he suddenly looked less General-like than Al Sharpton.

Some Democrats cheated and looked into their hearts, where they found Howard Dean. But he was so appealing that he scared them. This is no moment to vote for a guy just because he inspires you, they thought. If he inspires me, there must be something wrong with him. So, Democrats looked around and rediscovered John Kerry. He'd been there all along, inspiring almost no one. You're not going to find John Kerry inspiring unless you're married to him or he literally saved your life. Obviously neither of those is a strategy that can be rolled out on a national level. But he's got the r?sum?. And gosh, he sure looks like a president (an "animatronic Lincoln," as my Slate colleague Mickey Kaus uncharitably described him).

So, it's a deal? Probably, but just to be completely businesslike, Democrats are taking the opportunity to check out John Edwards. He certainly is good-looking, though maybe not in a presidential way. He lacks the uniform, but he has a Southern accent, which is almost as good if you're trying to seduce those non-liberals. Aspiring pragmatists also have noted recent press reports that Edwards has a stunning ability to sway an audience. I'm not looking to be swayed myself, our Democrat thinks. No need to sway me this year; my views don't matter, even to me. But swaying the heathenry would be good.

And Edwards is a first-term senator who never held office before. Thus he offers almost no experience, which is just the right amount. No political experience at all makes you look silly running for president, as Wesley Clark is discovering. But experience is also a disadvantage in American politics. All politicians, including incumbent presidents, campaign against Washington insiders and the political establishment. But it's a bit more convincing if you're a relative newcomer. Also, experience means a record of past votes and speeches. This limits your ability to invent yourself for the needs of today. As Kerry is discovering, even the most uninteresting two decades in the Senate can provide rich material simultaneously for Bush operatives trying to convince voters that you are a dangerous liberal and for primary opponents trying to convince voters that you are not one.

As each candidate takes his turn in the pragmatists' spotlight, he gets beaten up a bit, irritates supporters of the other candidates, and gives the Bush troops a chance for some early target practice.

If political pragmatism is defined as thinking like a Republican, it's no surprise that Republicans do it better.
That hits the nail on the head. The whole thing is a great read, if somewhat depressing for any Democrat.

His conclusion is that the Democrats are intent on figuring out what other people want. Republicans know what they want.

As for me, I just want my head NOT to explode from trying to figure out what I'm supposed to think is the reason my friends and relatives are over in Iraq now.

I did listen to George Tenet today give a speech in which he said the CIA never really said Iraq was an imminent threat, but that they sort of were, really. Depending on how you look at it.

All this is most disorienting, but I guess that's the idea. They win.

Posted by Alan at 17:21 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 5 February 2004 17:27 PST home

Wednesday, 4 February 2004

Topic: Iraq

Today's lesson in careful reasoning...

Follow the logic here.

Powell Says Invasion Justified by Iraqi 'Intent'
Tuesday Feb 3, 4:28 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Regardless of whether Iraq had stockpiles of banned weapons, Washington would probably have decided to invade Iraq anyway because of its "intent" and its weapons-making ability, Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Tuesday.

"I think it was clear that this was a regime with intent, capability and it was a risk the president felt strongly we could not take and it was something we all agreed to and would probably agree to it again under any other set of circumstances," Powell told reporters....
Got the concept?

The Bush Doctrine, current release (3.0) summarized:

Preemptive invasion and occupation of nuclear-armed - oops, well not exactly - dangerously armed - oops, well, sort of - well then... pretty much unarmed third world countries that "would love to" attack the US immediately - oops, doesn't seem to be so - well... "soon" (user defined term) - with nuclear weapons, or with biological weapons, or with chemical weapons of mass destruction - if only they were armed.

As one blogger put it -
There you have it. It didn't matter whether Iraq posed a threat or not. Bush still would've invaded because Iraq wanted to be a threat.

So every classroom nerd deserves to be beaten by the bully, because those nerds all fantasize about besting the bully. (I know. I was a classroom nerd.)
Logical? Maybe not.

Well, folks buy it. The swarthy folks scare them - which may sound racist, or more charitably, ethnocentric - but nine-eleven changed everything. And most folks know logic is something odd used by east coast Jewish liberal intellectuals to make George Bush look bad - when he's really a good guy who is selflessly protecting us all.

Consider Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction and no connection to al-Qaeda and nine-eleven. But they probably wanted to be a threat. What would you do, logically? Whoop their sorry asses. Of course.

Sigh.

But the most curious logic has to do with Bush finally giving in and agreeing to form a commission to investigate "intelligence failures." He wants to get the facts. After he told us he had the facts. And war was the only choice - given the facts.

We knew the weapons of mass destruction were there. We proved that to the UN - with visual aids and everything - way back when. Uncle Colin said we knew the facts. And the damned French said let the inspections continue, Iraq is contained. In spite of the facts!

Today Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld testified to Congress, and explained that David Kay, the weapons expert handpicked by the president to spend months in Iraq along with a team of fellow weapons experts searching for weapons of mass destruction, got it wrong. There WERE weapons of mass destruction. And according to Rumsfeld, the weapons were probably transferred to another country or else destroyed before the war.

How does he know this? Why would Kay and his team have gotten it wrong? If Saddam had weapons, why didn't he use them? Donald doesn't know. But he's sure they were there. Kay was wrong. Powell was being silly.

He's not following the script! He's still using the beta release of the Bush Doctrine!

He needs to remember that it doesn't MATTER if they were there, only that Saddam Hussein WANTED them to be there.

Whatever.

But no one has found them. And he said we would. He said we KNEW where they were.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and other Democrats on the committee reminded Rumsfeld that in September 2002 he said "we know" where weapons of mass destruction are stored in Iraq.

Explaining that remark, Rumsfeld told the panel that he was referring to suspected weapons sites, but he acknowledged that he had made it sound like he was talking about actual weapons.

The remark "probably turned out not to be what one would have preferred, in retrospect," he said.
An unfortunate choice of words, but innocent. I see.

Explain that loose wording to the five hundred twenty-three dead soldiers, Donald. No, they're dead. Explain that loose wording to their families. Explain that loose wording to their friends.

Oops, getting a little bitter there... One should be generous.

It might occur to someone ungenerous that the gap between "we know where weapons of mass destruction are stored" and "we know where we suspect weapons of mass destruction are stored" is rather large.

But does it matter? Powell explained the new line of reasoning - Saddam "wished he had" the weapons. Good enough. Good enough for some perhaps.

Let's see ...

If you were an ungenerous person you might consider that making it sounds like you were talking about weapons when you were not, in fact, talking about weapons comes awfully close to lying to congress.

But one should trust one's leaders, and they wouldn't lie to congress, or to us.

Okay. Enough sarcasm.

We'll see how this plays out.

Posted by Alan at 17:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Tuesday, 3 February 2004


Political Wrap

An interesting night in the primaries, wasn't it? The polls show Kerry could now defeat Bush, and Edwards could too, but by a narrower margin. And they both did well tonight. Kerry cleaned up, actually. Clark squeaked through in Oklahoma. Joe dropped out. Dean looks weak. Sharpton picked up his first delegate.

The odd thing is Edwards' surge. A nice guy people trust, who refuses to rant about the inadequate character of others or about the problems and mistakes of the past, and tends to think instead about how to fix things now and what might be good to do in the future? How odd. Blame is so much fun in politics! Well, the commentators on the right have a new nickname for him - "The Breck Girl." We'll see what happens to him. I'll watch for the Ann Coulter article mocking him.

So this week's primaries are over.

What do it all mean? Too early to tell. But as Markos Moulitsas Z?niga put it:
In Kerry's nightmare world, Dean and Clark drop out. He doesn't match up favorably one-on-one versus Edwards. So today's muddy results (Clark wins one, Edwards wins one) was probably Kerry's best realistic outcome (short of winning every contest). It makes sure the field remains fractured.
And on we go.

But if the Super Bowl halftime show showed anything at all, it showed we really care about Janet Jackson's erect nipple.

What really matters? Celebrities.

So as seen from Hollywood, the list of who is supporting whom:

Dean has the backing of two fictional presidents, Martin Sheen (President Josiah Bartlett of "West Wing") and Michael Douglas (President Andrew Shepherd of "The American President"), although the man who created both characters, writer Aaron Sorkin, reportedly decided to support Dick Gephardt. Oops. Gephardt was gone in a flash. Dean also has the support of Director Rob Reiner, comedian Robin Williams, and actors Paul Newman, Whoopi Goldberg and Susan Sarandon. Ah, old folks.

Clark has Madonna, political provocateur Michael Moore, and actor Ted Danson under one big tent. (Looking ahead to a possible Bush-Clark debate, Moore said, "I really want to hear President Bush have to say, 'Yes, General, No, General.'")

In the battle of the bands, Kerry appears to have captured the nostalgia vote with endorsements from James Taylor, Carole King, Bette Midler and Peter Yarrow - of Peter, Paul and Mary. More old folks.

Edwards has the slightly younger folks with Hootie and the Blowfish, while Dennis Kucinich is being backed up by Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Ani Difranco and Michelle Shocked.

Oh yeah, before he dropped out Gephardt was endorsed by Michael Bolton, Barry Manilow and Tony Bennett. Need one say more?

Edwards has been endorsed by "pretty boy" actor Ashton Kutcher.

Kucinich has pretty impressive list of endorsements: Danny Glover, Ed Asner and Joaquin Phoenix.

Now that you know all this, who do you think will receive an endorsement from Janet Jackson, or Michael Jackson, or Kobe Bryant, or Martha Stewart, or Scott Peterson? Enquiring minds want to know!

This is not to say we are a shallow, frivolous people. No.

But doesn't it strike you that the Super Bowl and its halftime show was a great recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and its variants? Was this evening designed to give the "resistance fighters" in Iraq - with their roadside bombs and exploding Toyotas - a reason to fight on?

It wasn't just the briefly bouncing boob and the awful music. Add in the commercials - the farting horse and the dog that bites a fellow's testicular apparatus to get his master a beer. And all this framed by a few hours of costumed steroid-enhanced mutants on speed clobbering each other for glory.

This was showing the people who wonder about what we're doing in their neighborhood just what folks in the Middle East could have if they give in to us - what they could be.

Some future.

Posted by Alan at 21:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 3 February 2004 21:24 PST home

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