Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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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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Monday, 9 February 2004


More proof that the neoconservatives are right, all the world envies the United States and wants to be just like us, but needs a little help - a nudge now and then. They may not have the concept exactly right.

See this item, one of many from -
World Briefing: Europe
The New York Times, Published: February 7, 2004
FRANCE: STELLAR SHOWING

The Michelin Red Guide added three restaurants to the much-coveted three-star category: L'Esp?rance and La C?te Saint Jacques, both in Burgundy, and Les Loges de L'Aubergade in the southwest join 24 other restaurants on the list. One specialty of Les Loges is a foie gras hamburger with a c?pe mushroom-based catsup called "Ketc?pes," a name Michel Trama, its chef, has trademarked. The suicide last year of Bernard Loiseau, chef of the three-starred La C?te d'Or, drew attention to the high-pressure struggle to achieve and retain top ratings.

- Helene Fouquet (NYT)
What more is there to say?

Posted by Alan at 20:44 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 February 2004 21:19 PST home



Plato's Cave, the Titanic in the Caribbean?
What was that Bush interview yesterday really about?


In the current issue if parent magazine Just Above Sunset I posted an item on our leader, George Bush - Is our leader dumb as a post, a liar, or mad as a hatter? - and now that he's done the interview with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" people are weighing in on the matter.

Take Fred Kaplan in Slate for example.

See Bush at Sea: Does this war president have any idea what he's talking about?
Posted Monday, Feb. 9, 2004, at 1:54 PM PT, SLATE.COM

Kaplan opens with this:
Going over the transcript of Tim Russert's interview with President Bush, a disturbing question comes to mind: Is the president telling lies and playing with semantics, or is he unaware of what's going on - including inside his own administration?
Good question.

Kaplan reviews the Kay Report and the weapons of mass destruction that weren't there, and according to David Kay, weren't ever there - at least for almost the last decade. Kaplan suggests this might have given George Bush pause when considering the reasonableness of our new doctrine of preventative/preemptive war.

Nope. Bush said Saddam Hussein wished he could have such weapons, so we had to take him out. Since last week this has been our new explanation for the war.

Kaplan's problem?
First, President Bush seems to be vastly enlarging his doctrine of pre-emptive warfare. This doctrine originally declared that the United States has the right to attack a hostile power that possesses weapons of mass destruction. The idea was that we must sometimes strike first, in order to prevent the other side from striking us.

Now, however, the president is asserting a right to strike first not merely if a hostile power has deadly weapons or even if it is building such weapons, but also if it might build such weapons sometime in the future.

The original doctrine, though controversial, at least stemmed from the logic of self-defense. Bush's expansion of the doctrine, as implied in his remarks to Tim Russert, does not.

If no commentators have noted, or perhaps even noticed, this new spin on American military policy, it may be because they don't take Bush's unscripted remarks seriously. (It's just Bush, talking off the top of his head. No sense parsing the implications.) That in itself is quite a commentary on this president. But it's not clear that these particular remarks were unscripted. Bush used the same phrase -"a capacity to make a weapon" - three times; it was almost certainly a part of his brief. Either the statement means something - that we now reserve the right to wage pre-emptive war on a hostile power that has the mere capacity to make weapons of mass destruction - or it's empty blather. It's unclear which would be more unsettling.
Oh heck, either way, we're in trouble. It's either nonsense or... nonsense.

Kaplan too is troubled by the discussion of a previous war.
Also worthy of note were Bush's comments on the war in Vietnam. Russert asked him whether he supported that war. Bush replied that he did, sort of. The president added: "The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me, as I look back, was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is a lesson that any president must learn, and that is to set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective."

... While Bush himself may not have done much micromanaging of the war, his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, not only helped pick targets, but rearranged the structure of the units sent into battle. In preparing for Iraq, he ordered the removal of several heavy-artillery battalions from Army divisions. In the weeks leading up to the invasion of Afghanistan, he rejected several war plans submitted by Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. Central Command, until the general devised an unprecedented combination of troops and special operations commandos that conformed to Rumsfeld's concept of "military transformation" and smaller, lighter forces.

... But the point here is that if civilian interference is "the thing about the Vietnam War that troubles" George W. Bush, why wasn't he troubled about the way his own wars were planned and fought, for better and for worse? Or has he ever really been troubled about the Vietnam War, back then or now? And was he aware of the intense internecine fighting between Rumsfeld and the Army over the war plans for Iraq? The main message that President Bush tried to send during his session with Russert was that he is a leader in command. "I'm a war president," he said at the start. "I make decisions here in the Oval Office on foreign policy matters with war on my mind." But in some of his remarks that followed, the president cast doubt on how much he's even in the loop.
Fred, Fred... assume he isn't.
____

The previous evening William Saletan brought up a more basic issue.

See You Can Make It With Plato: Bush's difficult relationship with reality
Posted Sunday, Feb. 8, 2004, at 2:19 PM PT, SLATE.COM

Here we get a lengthy lesson in Platonic versus Aristotelian view of what is real. Honest! We do. And how this then applies to the behaviors of our leader is explained. You see, Bush said he was only being realistic about the real dangers in the world.
Realistic. Dangers that exist. The world the way it is. These are strange words to hear from a president whose prewar descriptions of Iraqi weapons programs are so starkly at odds with the postwar findings of his own inspectors. A week ago, David Kay, the man picked by Bush to supervise the inspections, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that his team had found almost none of the threats Bush had advertised. No chemical and biological weapons stockpiles. No evidence of a renewed nuclear weapons program. No evidence of illicit weapons delivered to terrorists. "We were all wrong," said Kay.

... Again and again on the Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked Bush to explain the discrepancies. Again and again, Bush replied that such questions had to be viewed in the "context" of a larger reality: I see the world as it is. Threats exist. We must be realistic.
This big-picture notion of reality, existence, and the world as it is dates back 2,400 years to the Greek philosopher Plato. Plato believed that what's real isn't the things you can touch and see: your computer, your desk, those empty barrels in Iraq that Bush thought were full of chemical weapons. What's real is the general idea of these things.
Ah, Bush the Platonic Idealist. That explains it!
In Bush's Platonic reality, the world is dangerous, threats exist, and the evidence of our senses must be interpreted to fit that larger truth. On the night he launched the war, for example, Bush told the nation, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." Russert asked Bush whether, in retrospect, that statement was false. Bush replied, "I made a decision based upon that intelligence in the context of the war against terror. In other words, we were attacked, and therefore every threat had to be reanalyzed. Every threat had to be looked at. Every potential harm to America had to be judged in the context of this war on terror."

You can hear the gears turning in Bush's mind.

... The more you study Bush's responses to unpleasant facts, the clearer this pattern becomes. A year and a half ago, the unpleasant facts had to do with his sale of stock in Harken Energy, a company on whose board of directors he served, shortly before the company disclosed that its books were far worse than publicly advertised. Bush dismissed all queries by noting that the Securities and Exchange Commission had declined to prosecute him. "All these questions that you're asking were looked into by the SEC," Bush shrugged. That conclusion was his measure of reality. As to the different version of reality suggested by the evidence, Bush scoffed with metaphysical certainty, "There's no 'there' there."
Well, you could count the coffins of our sons and daughters.

Be that as it may, this dive into the history of philosophy ends with this:
Why did Americans elect a president who thinks this way? Because they wanted a leader different from Bill Clinton. They liked some things about Clinton, but they were sick of his dishonesty in the Monica Lewinsky affair and his constant shifting in the political winds. Bush promised that he would say what he believed and stick to it.

On Iraq, Bush fulfilled both promises. "What I do want to share with you is my sentiment at the time," he told Russert. "There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America." Note Bush's emphasis on his subjective reality: "my sentiment," "no doubt in my mind." When Russert asked Bush about his unpopularity abroad, Bush answered, "I'm not going to change, see? I'm not trying to accommodate. I won't change my philosophy or my point of view. I believe I owe it to the American people to say what I'm going to do and do it, and to speak as clearly as I can, try to articulate as best I can why I make decisions I make. But I'm not going to change because of polls. That's just not my nature."

No, it isn't. Bush isn't Clinton. He doesn't change his mind for anything, whether it's polls or facts. And he always tells the truth about what's in his mind, whether or not what's in his mind corresponds to what's in the visible world.

What are the consequences of such a Platonic presidency?
And I don't know the answer to that question.

Yes, Bush accomplished exactly what he set out to do in this interview: He showed you how his mind works. But as this guy sums up: "Republicans used to observe derisively that Clinton had a difficult relationship with the truth. Bush has a difficult relationship with the truth, too. It's just a different - and perhaps more grave - kind of difficulty."

_____

Not to be unbalanced to the left, one might note what those on the right thought of the interview. Kevin Drum kept on eye on the website of The National Review, William F. Buckley's flagship publication. And here's what he found.
Michael Graham: President Bush looks like he's afraid of Tim Russert. He's stammering and unsteady. For the first time, I've felt a twinge of fear myself about the November election.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Not to pile on here, but I think lots of eyebrows legitimately raise re: the March 2005 commission deadline. I'm not sure he sufficiently answered that...

Kathryn Jean Lopez: A pundit-type just said to me: "If he loses this year, this will be the day he lost it."

Rod Dreher: I'm afraid I have to side with Michael on the Bush interview. I kept wincing as the president bobbled his answers.... He had better get his act together....

John Derbyshire: Just got through watching the President on Meet the Press. I thought it was a pretty dismal performance. I'll be voting for GWB in November, but let's face it, the Great Communicator he ain't. The tongue-tied blather was coming thick and fast. At times, he looked like Al Sharpton on the Federal Reserve.

Rod Dreher: ... I can't believe that fiscal conservatives were relieved by the president's patently dishonest answer when Russert brought up the spending issue. Russert said to Bush that even conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh are criticizing his spending. The president countered by saying that in times of war, every government spends more money, for the sake of the troops. Which is true, but evades the point of the Right's critique of this administration's fiscal irresponsibility. Nobody in Bush's base is complaining about military spending. It's all the other spending that's got our knickers in a knot. Bush had nothing to say about that.
Oh my!

And over at The Wall Street Journal the woman who worships the man, Peggy Noonan, said the whole thing was pretty dismal. Ouch!

Well, a lot of the talk about the budget upset the conservative folks, like Andrew Sullivan:
I'm not one of those who believes that a good president has to have the debating skills of a Tony Blair or the rhetorical facility of Bill Clinton. I cannot help liking the president as a person. I still believe he did a great and important thing in liberating Iraq (although we have much, much more to do). But, if this is the level of coherence, grasp of reality, and honesty that is really at work in his understanding of domestic fiscal policy, then we are in even worse trouble than we thought. We have a captain on the fiscal Titanic who thinks he's in the Caribbean.
Ouch again!

Oh well.

___

And yes, Bush said he wasn't really AWOL from the National Guard for a year back in the early seventies. He served his country proudly. The issues have been reviewed in the these pages.

But it seems everyone on the web today is quoting Secretary of State Colin Powell in his autobiography, My American Journey -
I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well-placed... managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units ... Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to their country.
Powell should have never written THAT!

All in all? I suspect the tide is turning against Bush.

Oh heck, everyone sees it now.

Posted by Alan at 16:12 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 February 2004 16:45 PST home


Topic: Photos

Look up from your work at noon and you just might see a dirigible just outside your window. Today seems to be the day for such things out here in Hollywood. Sunny, in the sixties, and strange as usual.


Posted by Alan at 11:59 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Sunday, 8 February 2004


Political Evaluations from the "Bush Is As Good as it Gets" Side of Things

One of my friends has followed the career of the journalist-gadfly-intellectual Christopher Hitchens in some detail. Hitchens seems to have been everywhere and seen everything, and has morphed for a left side critic to an ardent supporter of George Bush and this war against the fanatical Islamic world. Here he sizes up the opposition to Bush. And it is curious:

See All Against Bush: Whom should the Democrats nominate?
Christopher Hitchens, SLATE.COM, Posted Sunday, Feb. 8, 2004, at 9:39 AM PT

First of all, the surprise. He likes the man from Cleveland!
Dennis Kucinich is the sort of guy who we need in politics. He thinks long-term, and he doesn't think that in the short or long term it pays to trade principles for compromises. That's the attitude one wants in a president, of any party. This, however, is probably not the year for a man who basically believes in the downsizing of the United States.
Well, that's matched by this mixed review of Wesley Clark.
Wesley Clark is a loss to the United States armed forces, and President Clinton and Defense Secretary Cohen ought to have been excoriated for firing him when they did, as well as for how they did it. Many Kosovars owe their lives to Clark, and the victory won in that war also helped to bring at least a semblance of democracy to Serbia. But there's something bizarre about a conceited man in uniform who now can't remember which regime-change he favored or why, which party he belongs to, or which "faith-based" community he espouses. He also has a weakness for half-cooked conspiracy stories and gets snappish when he's questioned on the last weird thing he said. Again, beware of those who run to pacify their internal demons.
Yeah, yeah.

But the real surprise is this:
A couple of years ago I wrote a profile of Sen. John Edwards for Vanity Fair and decided that he is a good man who is in politics for good reasons. He voted for the essential measures on Iraq, but has also made some trenchant criticisms of the Homeland Security farce. I'd add to this that he has since - unlike Joseph Lieberman, say - given up his very promising Senate career in order to run. I leave to you the calculations about his Southern roots, his trial-lawyer connections, and all the rest of it, except to say that he earned his money from fighting large and negligent corporations rather than from fawning on them. I'm totally bored with the idea of "small town" origins, since for generations most Americans have lived either in big cities or suburbs, and it's high time for someone to advertise himself as urbane. However, a good man can be glimpsed even through the necessary hypocrisies of election time. He has a terrific wife, as well.
But then, he's why he thinks you'd be a fool not to vote for George Bush.
I'm a single-issue person at present, and the single issue in case you are wondering is the tenacious and unapologetic defense of civilized societies against the intensifying menace of clerical barbarism. If in the smallest doubt about this, I would suggest a vote for the re-election of George Bush, precisely because he himself isn't prey to any doubt on the point. There are worse things than simple mindedness - pseudo-intellectuality, for example. Civil unions for homosexuals, or prescription-drug programs, are not even going to be in second or third place if we get this wrong. And presidents can't make much difference to the stock market or the employment rate or to income distribution. But they can and must uphold their oath to defend the country. So, having said that "issues" are only tangential to campaigns, the best estimate I can make is one about the seriousness of individuals. I was open-mouthed at the idea that anyone would even consider entrusting the defense of the United States and its Constitution to Howard Dean, but that problem appears to have taken care of itself, even if only through the sort of voter-intuition that one is ultimately forced to recommend.

Make up your own mind, is my own best recommendation, and put "electability" (once a Dean property, for heaven's sake) to one side. An Edwards-Kerry ticket would be made up of serious men, at least, and this is a test that people and politicians have to pass whether they are looking for votes or not.
The fellow who claims to be a "real intellectual" has spoken. For what it's worth.

Posted by Alan at 09:37 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 8 February 2004 09:41 PST home


Topic: Election Notes

Why We Fight - The Evolving Consensus View for Perplexed Americans

David Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale University and a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard. That publication is often called "The Bible of the Neoconservative Movement" - what with Kristol and Kagan and the rest pretty much explaining the Cheney-Wolfowitz vision, which Bush fronts when he's not napping. The Weekly Standard is our guide to why things are as they are, and as they should be.

Today Gelernter lays out the latest version of the Bush Doctrine (version 3.5 by now) and we need to get behind this one, or at least understand it. We put these guys in office - so we are accountable for this doctrine. We own it.

In a syndicated column that I caught in the Los Angeles Times but is probably available elsewhere, Gelernter explains it all to us.

See The Happy Error: It took phantom WMD to rid the world of a great evil.
David Gelernter, The Los Angeles Times, Sunday, February 08, 2004

Here's the opening, the set-up:
Thank God for those phantom Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Politically, they are a nonissue. Morally, they are an amazing piece of luck. Strategically, they are a guide to the future. The missing WMD were not merely an honest mistake; they were a providential mistake.

Saddam Hussein was the slaughterer of his own people, benefactor of Palestinian terrorism, enemy of the United States. But political realities here and abroad meant that all we could do was draw a bead on the man and tell him, in effect: Make our day. And he was so stupid, he did.

When do the informal, uncodified rules of international politics allow a foreign nation to invade, occupy and rebuild a monstrous tyranny? How does a dictator qualify for mandatory relocation? Not merely by unspeakable savagery to his own people. Not even by posing a threat to the prospective invader. He must be seen to pose a threat.
This of course is followed by a long history of recent events, indicating how threatening things seemed. This was not a view shared by any major governments but those of the UK and Australia, and not the view of the UN, nor of the UN weapons inspectors like Hans Blix and Scott Ritter who we pretty much labeled blind, incompetent fools.

Not important - all these folks were looking at the meager facts, not a how things seemed.

Yeah, yeah. So what does all this mean in term of future policy?

Here `tis ...
What happens now? We institutionalize the phantom-WMD maneuver. It was all a mistake, but it worked beautifully.

The end of the Cold War brought big changes to the moral universe. Any nation has a duty to alleviate suffering. Any totalitarian dictatorship is a threat to world stability and therefore to the United States. Yet the Hippocratic Oath applies: If forcibly removing a tyrant generates more net suffering than leaving him, leave him.

The end of the Cold War greatly expanded our scope of action and, therefore, our moral obligations. How do we react to our new, expanded duties? Today there are lots of tyrannized nations we could liberate without provoking world war. But we can't march into them all, all at once. What procedure do we follow?

The Bush method. We publish an official list of tyrants we consider it our moral duty to overthrow
. The implied next sentence is obvious: Give us an excuse and we'll do it. Play games with the U.N.; show us your true colors. Meanwhile, we might pray for the strange, accidental wisdom to make another providential mistake.
You get the idea. We have the moral duty to overthrow selected governments. And we really don't need facts about any threat. And this is how you get things done in the world - how you make things better.

Look for this in the upcoming campaign.

Posted by Alan at 08:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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