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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"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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Saturday, 21 February 2004

No blogging today...

Off to Carlsbad, California through the heavy rain. Family stuff - a birthday party for my sister and her son... with the usual wall-to-wall kids and the slap-happy dogs and the two always frightened cats....

Find you own odd political and cultural items today. I recommend the lists of links in the left column. Have fun.

Posted by Alan at 07:59 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 20 February 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Kerry, Edwards, Reverend Al and Denny - Take a Break!

Yes, in the middle eighties I was related by marriage to someone in the Reagan administration, the Assistant Secretaries of Defense for Health Affairs. And yes, I spent an afternoon at the Pentagon and chatted with his boss, the Secretary of Defense at the time, Franck Carlucci. And I had three or four conversations over those years with the Surgeon General, Doctor Coop. But I never met Reagan's Secretary of the Navy, James Webb. Or maybe I did. I don't really remember.

I wish I had chatted with Webb. As I like to mention, Hemingway once said every good writer needs a foolproof, shockproof crap detector. Webb seems to have one of those, or has one now.

He sure spoke his mind in USA Today this week.

See Veterans face conundrum: Kerry or Bush?
James Webb, USA Today, February 18, 2004

His topic is who veterans should vote for in November, and he rips into Bush on the National Guard thing.
...Recent statements defending Bush claim that the National Guard was not a haven for those who wished to avoid Vietnam; but it clearly was. According to the National Guard Association, only some 9,000 Army Guardsmen and 9,343 Air Guardsmen served in Vietnam. Considering that nearly 3 million from the active forces did so, one begins to understand why so many of America's elites headed for the Guard when their draft numbers were called.

Bush used his father's political influence to move past many on the Texas Guard's waiting list. He was not required to attend Officer Candidate School to earn his commission. He lost his flight status after failing to show up for a required annual physical. These facts alone raise the eyebrows of those who took a different path in a war that for the Marine Corps brought more casualties than even World War II. The Bush campaign now claims that these issues are largely moot and that Bush has proved himself as a competent and daring "war president." And yet his actions in Iraq, and the vicious attacks against anyone who disagrees with his administration's logic, give many veterans serious pause.
It seems these military guys know crap when they see it. And they call it out. They don't like it.

But the most interesting thing Webb gets to, putting National Guard service questions aside, is Bush's performance as the "war president" he styles himself to be:
Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence. There is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened. The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves.
Other than that Bush is, one supposes, a fine president?

No - Webb rips into Bush on issues of character and integrity, of all things.
At the same time, those around Bush, many of whom came of age during Vietnam and almost none of whom served, have attempted to assassinate the character and insult the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with them. Some have impugned the culture, history and integrity of entire nations, particularly in Europe, that have been our country's great friends for generations and, in some cases, for centuries.
I guess these military guys read history - and don't believe insulting and belittling old allies is wise. It's almost like Webb believes when someone disagrees with your position you might listen to them, rather than attack them, or dismiss them as fools. I wonder if he commanded this way as an officer? Maybe it works?

Well, it's a little too late for Webb to give Bush lessons in leadership.

But at least Bush has a good team of smart people around him. Okay, well, maybe the people advising Bush jerked Bush around a bit - maybe they did suggest a bone-headed strategy in the "selling" of the war and in the conduct of the war.

Bush can deal with that? Webb says no:
Bush has yet to fire a single person responsible for this strategy. Nor has he reined in those who have made irresponsible comments while claiming to represent his administration. One only can conclude that he agrees with both their methods and their message....
Well, no. Bush may not agree with any of it. My personal theory is Bush never quite understood any of it. But that may be what my attorney friends call a distinction without a difference.

All in all this Webb rant is quite curious. When a staunch Republican military Reagan guy like this publishes such a piece in a widely read national newspaper, well, something is up.

Perhaps these Democrats eager to unseat Bush should sit back a bit and let the old-line military guys and appalled Republicans do the heavy lifting for a week or two.

Posted by Alan at 22:29 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Culture

Some of us think life is a bit too dukkha these days, but some of us don't...

As some of you know one of he constant arguments I have with my good friend "the conservative" centers on attitude. As I understand his position he maintains the one and the key determining factor in any kind of success in life his having the right attitude - a positive one, assuming things will work out for the best, and denying doubts. Never believe things won't work out. I argue sometimes they don't or even can't work out. Contingency planning is good, not defeatist. He says negative thoughts will produce negative results. We go round and round on this. And drink heavily. He claims I'm so damned European in this, and I say he's doing his "Babbitt" number - the delusional, blindly optimistic na?ve American. No one wins.

Next time we get into such talk I might mention this item by Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun's who wrote a short biography of the Buddha (Penguin Putnam 2001). This little essay here is quite curious.

See Look on the dark side of life: 'Positive thinking' can be a route to spiritual and political disaster
Karen Armstrong, The Guardian (UK), Saturday February 21, 2004

Armstrong begins with a discussion of children's literature, particularly the work of Jacqueline Wilson. But it's no matter if you don't know the realistically dark Wilson, the main point comes after that discussion:
... the best children's classics have always evoked the dark side of life. Alice's Wonderland reveals the arbitrary demands and heartless craziness of the adult world from a child's perspective. The sinister menace of the Wild Wood is a constant threat in The Wind in the Willows. In the novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett, children are regularly abandoned, bereaved, neglected and ill-treated. Some parents would prefer their children to read books that are more upbeat, but Wilson's success and the endurance of these classics remind us that children know instinctively what is best for them, and find that their worst fears become more manageable when they are made explicit. It seems that many children have not yet succumbed quite as fully as adults to the "positive thinking" that is fast becoming a social orthodoxy.
So what's this particular "social orthodoxy" she sees?
Increasingly it is becoming unacceptable to voice legitimate distress. If you lose your job, become chronically ill, or fall prey to loneliness or depression, you are likely to be told - often abrasively - to look on the bright side. With unseemly haste, people rush to put an optimistic gloss on a disaster or to suggest a patently unworkable solution. We seem to be cultivating an intolerance of pain - even our own. An acquaintance once told me that quite the most difficult aspect of her cancer was her friends' strident insistence that she develop a positive attitude, and her guilt at being unable to do so.

Every evening the television news beams images of anguish from all over the world right into our homes - we live on constant terror alert. We naturally want to keep what distress we can at bay. But while it is important not to succumb to despair, it is also dangerous to deny the suffering to which flesh is heir.

As TS Eliot said, humankind cannot bear very much reality.
Yes but what kind of balance between mindless optimism (denial) and despair can we achieve? Where do we turn for guidance.

Some forms of religion encourage us to bury our heads in the sand to block out the suffering that surrounds us on all sides. The rich man in his palace can reconcile himself to the plight of the poor man at his gate by reminding himself that this is part of God's bright and beautiful plan; those who suffer poverty and oppression in this life will be recompensed in the hereafter. When thousands die in an earthquake, we can tell ourselves that God knew what he was doing.
Perhaps God knows. Perhaps not. We certainly don't know.

I do remember those lines from Pope's "Essay on Man" - "All nature is but art, unknown to thee; All chance, direction, which thou canst not see; All discord, harmony not understood; All partial evil, universal good; And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite, One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right."

Talk about cold comfort...

Armstrong recounts that at a literary festival, where she had been describing the fear that lies at the heart of religious fundamentalism, a man in the audience told her that he found this quite incomprehensible. If you have true faith, he argued, you cannot suffer. She suggested that if he lived in a more troubled part of the world (she was in Cheltenham at the time), he might find it more difficult to maintain his equanimity. But he seemed to regard religion as an anesthetic that would even numb the pain of a concentration camp.

Armstrong calls this lazy, inadequate religion. Over on this side of the pond it's called Christian, conservative Republican dogma.

Armstrong suggests Buddhism might be more realistic:
If we deny the reality of suffering, we will ignore the distress of others. At its best, religion requires the faithful to see things as they really are. In Buddhism, the First Noble Truth that is essential for enlightenment is that life is dukkha: "unsatisfactory, awry". The Buddha's father tried to shield him from sorrow by imprisoning him in a pleasure-palace, walled off from disturbing reality. Guards were posted to drive away any distressing spectacle. For 29 years, the Buddha lived in this fool's paradise, locked into a delusion and unable to make spiritual progress. Finally the gods intervened and forced the young man to confront mortality, sickness and decay. Only then could he begin his quest for Nirvana.

The Buddha's palace is a striking image of the mind in denial. As long as we immure ourselves from the pain that surrounds us on all sides, we remain trapped in an undeveloped version of ourselves
Ah, the conservative Christian right is just developmentally challenged! Cool.

Well, yes, sometimes life is dukkha: "unsatisfactory, awry". Shit happens. The point seems to be one should find the ideal and balanced center, which "enables us to face pain with equanimity and use our experience of dukkha to appreciate the sorrow of others."

Easy for her to say. But when you're running the most powerful nation ever to arise in history can you afford such "appreciation" of the pain of others? It's so very unpleasant after all.

No. Such appreciation might be useful.
The failure to confront unpleasant reality can also be politically dangerous. In the Bible, those preachers who told people to look on the bright side, that God would protect Jerusalem and that everything would work out for the best are condemned as "false prophets". The prophet Jeremiah has become a byword for excessive gloom, but if people had listened to his dire predictions, the Babylonian army might not have destroyed Jerusalem. He was not being "negative"; he was right.
Oh no! The former nun is using the Bible to say we need someone to stand up to Bush and Rumsfeld and the rest of the messianic imperialists who tell us we did a good thing in Iraq and things are or will be wonderful. We need some realistic gloom? My conservative friend would be getting really angry now.

Armstrong then adds this!
... In the past, we have sometimes pursued policies that have resulted in great suffering, telling ourselves that all would ultimately be well. We have let conflicts fester until they have become intractable. We have supported such allies as Saddam Hussein, ignoring the atrocities they inflict upon their people. We are now rightly outraged by his massacre of his Kurdish subjects, but at the time we ineffectually turned a blind eye. Today we are reaping the reward of our heedless karma. The pain that we ignored in some parts of the world has hardened into murderous rage.

... The First Noble Truth requires us to acknowledge the ubiquity of pain, even when we are happy and successful. If we get a coveted job, other candidates are disappointed; if our country prospers, it may well be at the expense of other nations that are languishing in poverty and despair. In our privileged first world, we have been living in a bubble of false security that is not unlike the Buddha's pleasure palace. On September 11, reality broke in. If we turn our backs on the suffering in our troubled world, it will come back to us, in a terrible form.
What a downer! She thinks BAD THINGS might happen again? Why is she so negative?

Yeah, well bad things might happen again. And we maybe could become a tad more empathetic in matters around the world. But that seems unlikely.

One suspects we will persist in our "heedless karma" - as it feels mighty good.

Posted by Alan at 19:36 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Election Notes

A short election note...

Dean has dropped out of the race. What to say?

The internet candidate... and that was the problem. It's a lot like internet dating, about which I know quite a bit. You can trade all this email and reveal lots, but sooner or later you actually have to meet the person. And then, sometimes, something doesn't click. My emails a few years ago with a woman were great, and then we met - and I found out about her need to verbally abuse those she didn't consider worthy - waiters and coworkers and all that - because she was smart and well-read and they weren't. Not nice. And she has some odd, inflexible "rules" about life. The whole constellation of traits wasn't in the emails. Curious. So with Howard Dean. He was good on paper. Then we saw him in the flesh. Oh well.

Kerry is fine, if a bit stiff. I like Edwards too. He's got his act together.

Here's Bill Maher on Kerry this week -
One thing you have to give the president: people are "comfortable" with him, they want to have a beer with him - but it's too late for that.

John Kerry doesn't really give off that same appeal, that same "comfort" level - and in a week when Congress was looking into how Janet's boob made us all "uncomfortable," I would like to know when it was that Americans got it in their head that if they were jarred out of their comfort zone for two seconds, the terrorists win.

The Super Bowl was a typical American overreaction to a threat that didn't really exist - it wasn't about sex or nudity, but about COMFORT - the god given American right to never have anything be UNCOMFORTABLE!

And now I'm hearing a lot of people say they don't know if they're "comfortable" with Mr. Kerry. To which I would like to counsel: Who cares if you're "comfortable!" He's not running for national game show host. You don't have to fuck him, just vote for him. Even if he's a prick - I hope he is a prick, if he's a prick who gets things done, who makes the right decisions - I would love a prick like that in the White House. In fact, I think that should be his slogan: "A prick in the White House!"

PS: Representative Wilson was fuming mad at the Viacom guys because her constituents riled her when their comfort level got breached, and that is sort of the way the system works: she is a representative, and the people want her to represent how they feel. It's just a shame the people are such pathetic bunch of simpering schoolgirls.
Kerry will do.

Posted by Alan at 09:15 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Economy

Fixing the job situation in an otherwise booming economy...

This is curious.

See In the New Economics: Fast-Food Factories?
David Cay Johnston, The New York Times, February 20, 2004

Here's the concept:
Is cooking a hamburger patty and inserting the meat, lettuce and ketchup inside a bun a manufacturing job, like assembling automobiles?

That question is posed in the new Economic Report of the President, a thick annual compendium of observations and statistics on the health of the United States economy.

The latest edition, sent to Congress last week, questions whether fast-food restaurants should continue to be counted as part of the service sector or should be reclassified as manufacturers. No answers were offered.

In a speech to Washington economists Tuesday, N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, said that properly classifying such workers was "an important consideration" in setting economic policy.

... "When a fast-food restaurant sells a hamburger, for example, is it providing a 'service' or is it combining inputs to 'manufacture' a product?" the report asks.

"Sometimes, seemingly subtle differences can determine whether an industry is classified as manufacturing. For example, mixing water and concentrate to produce soft drinks is classified as manufacturing. However, if that activity is performed at a snack bar, it is considered a service."

... David Huether, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, said he had heard that some economists wanted to count hamburger flipping as manufacturing, which he noted would produce statistics showing more jobs in what has been a declining sector of the economy.
Indeed, it would produce such statistics.

I myself have managed the system shop at a General Motors factory where they pumped out locomotives and light armored vehicles - using complex mainframe MRP (manufacturing resource planning) systems. We had four to six programmer-analysts keeping that creaky old MRP system running. Sean led a team to design a warehouse pick-list system to get parts to the assembly line on time. Steph and Tim were working on accounting systems, while Rhona was a key DBA (database administrator) keeping things in order on the mid-range Unix boxes tracking all sorts of things. Then there was linking to the big mainframe in Plano to track ten of thousands of parts for NAFTA certification so the finished products could cross borders with minimal tariffs.

Just like MacDonald's and Burger King? Maybe. Maybe not.

But if you want to improve unemployment statistics in regard to manufacturing, this could work. Perhaps I should trot my r?sum? down to the local In-and-Out Burger place on Sunset. My experience could be of use to them?

It strikes me that one reason the economy is booming, with profits soaring and the market rising, and productivity jumping better than it is has in forty or fifty years, is precisely because there may be almost ten million folks out of work. This depresses wages, keeping them quite low - what with everyone worried about being laid off or having their job outsourced to Lahore or Bombay. Pressing for better wages or better benefits would be insane, and collective labor actions foolish. You don't want to roll those dice.

Profits thus rise when labor costs are decreasing dramatically. The current situation keeps workers "in line" and benefits owners and investors. No kidding.

The problem for the current administration is that not just investors and owners vote. Workers vote too. The trick will be convincing these workers that they are in great shape manufacturing useful things for their fellow countrymen.

Well, burgers are useful.

Posted by Alan at 08:26 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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