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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, 21 June 2004

Topic: Iraq

"On the other hand... The insightful, level-headed News Guy clarifies matters."

Previously in these pages here, and in Just Above Sunset here you will find an analysis of what someone I knew in college, and now a rather important thinker on public policy, has to say about America and the world right now. That would be Stephen Holmes, research director and professor at the Center for Law and Security at New York University School of Law.

After you've read that, you might like to read this response, from Rick Brown, late of AP and CNN, my friend I like to call The News Guy. Rick also knew Holmes back in college -
Although I do agree with most everything Holmes says (at least in your Cliff Notes version), and I do think his focus highlights one of the most prominent failings of Bush and his people, I do take issue with some of the straw men he sets up to knock down.

Specifically, I'm not sure I've heard Bush say the war is between "Democracy versus Terrorism," although I have heard "Freedom versus Terrorism" and the like. I think Bush has generally stayed away from using the "d" word when so many of our allies in the Middle East don't practice it.

Then again, I suspect he promotes democracy in that part of the world in the probably naive belief (held by so many of us Americans) that if these people would just take over their own affairs, they'd stop blaming our country for everything, much in the same way that after we all left our nests, our parents just wished we would quit going to psychotherapists to complain about our upbringing, would get jobs and have children and finally learn the true meaning of responsibility. (This is not to say the U.S. IS the parent, or that all those third world nations are our children, but that's just the way we so often seem to see it.)

And although I like Holmes's take here on Machiavelli, I think the phrase most frequently cited by neoconservatives has NOT been, "it is better to be feared than loved," but has instead been "it is better to be respected than loved." Did Machiavelli ever actually say it this way? Not sure, but if it's a misquote, please blame the neocons, who I'm pretty sure confuse "fear" and "respect" in either case. But in fact, I don't think these American bully-types have any real "respect" for people or things they themselves "hate," so why do they seem to imagine that anyone else does?

... Also, even as I do like Byron Rushing's argument about terrorism being a crime rather than something warranting, as [some] rightly describe, "this vague, undeclared, indeterminate 'war' Bush is perpetrating," that would seem to deny the political nature of al Qaeda as an ideology, rather than some criminal venture based on personal gain. I think that too often in history, thug regimes have made the mistake of throwing political opponents in jail and labeling them "common criminals" as a cover for something much larger. The radical Islam movement may not be the traditional nation-state enemy we're using to confronting, but I think it is bigger than just some gang, and to defeat them, we need to fight them on a larger battlefield than we would a bunch of crooks. (The downside is, of course, that this makes Bush a "wartime president," and a perpetual one, at that.)

One problem I've had from the beginning with this so-called "war" as it's being waged has been that it should be fought specifically against al Qaeda, the enemy that attacked us, and not against some nebulous concept called "terrorism". For one thing, a "War on Terrorism" allows others to ask why we don't go after their particular enemies, such as "Hamas"; for another, it allows us to wander off the trail of Osama bin Laden and attack someone like Saddam Hussein, for no self-evidently good reason at all.

But I would go Holmes even one better in the damage done to us by the Iraq War (although he might have mentioned this in his own non-digested version, which I haven't read) in that it exposed our intelligence weakness in not finding all those WMD that we kept saying ahead of time "we know he has." While before, those who wish us ill, along with their fellow travelers, might have suspected we knew more than we let on, now they're likely to suspect we know even less than we claim.

Finally, even as I am so often a defender of American journalism in these ... exchanges, I do agree with Holmes's judgment of the U.S. News Media. I just so wish we could go back to the days when delivering news was considered a sacred public trust, instead of an opportunity to "enhance shareholder value" by being the most popular kid in school. (I caught just part of Michael Moore speaking with Katy Courick this morning, and thought he was right on when he said something like, "You news people are in the privileged position of asking these people any question you want, and going into this war, you didn't do it. You really let us down!")

Although I don't want to end this on a sour note -- I really do like what Steve has been saying lately, including in this piece -- I must say that I seem to remember reading something he wrote before the war that argued in favor of allowing the post-war Iraq to become a democracy, and probably dominated by the Shiites, which (I think he said) would be inevitable anyway, since they're the majority. I remember thinking at the time that this seemed to run counter to most expert advice -- that it should be a democracy, but one that takes into account the country's multi-ethnic character, in which no one group would have the upper hand.
Enough said.

The damage has been done. The news media certainly haven't helped. Those in power confuse fear with respect. And there are few ways out of all this.

Posted by Alan at 20:07 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: Couldn't be so...

Monday - and the madness continues...

Note to readers of Just Above Sunset: the problem with photos not being displayed? Fixed. Earthlink gave me a way to bypass a damaged utility file. There are new photos posted on the page Paris Notes - and a few sentences rewritten here and there for clarity. Whatever.

To business.

This web log leans left, of course. Bloggers blog because they have a point of view. But that doesn't stop us from reading what folks on the other side of the dancehall are writing.

I came across this gem in Men's News Daily (...the home of real men, the manly men?) telling me to relax about Bush and the war and all that.
What is going on in the Middle East is not difficult or complex. These Muslim terrorists are evil; we are good; and we should not hesitate to wipe them off the face of the earth, like we did the NAZIs.

We are over-thinking this war, and it's time to stop it. The reason why we are over-thinking it is because the left is forcing us too.
As one wag puts it - Damn liberals, always making us think and stuff!

Yes, hate does make you stupid.

But I can hear George Bush saying those words, protesting that he doesn't LIKE to think. And why should he have to? He has Dick Cheney for that hard stuff.

And on the general theme of not thinking things through, note this item from the Associated Press:
Even with concerns growing about military troop strength, 770 people were discharged for homosexuality last year under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, a new study shows.

The study, which analyzed discharges between 1998 and 2003, found the majority of those let go under "don't ask, don't tell" were active duty enlisted personnel in the early stages of their careers.

Of the nearly 6,300 people discharged during that six-year period, only 75 were officers. Seventy-one percent of those discharged were men.

Hundreds of those discharged held high-level job specialties that required years of training and expertise, including 90 nuclear power engineers, 150 rocket and missile specialists and 49 nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare specialists.

Eighty-eight linguists were discharged, including at least seven Arab language specialists.

Brian Muller, an Army bomb squad team leader who had advanced training on weapons of mass destruction and served on a security detail for President Bush, said he was dismissed from duty after deciding to tell his commander he's gay.

"I didn't do it to get out of a war - I already served in a war," Muller, 25, said in an interview. "After putting my life on the line in the war, the idea that I was fighting for the freedoms of so many other people that I couldn't myself enjoy was almost unbearable."
Did I say hate makes you stupid?

Here you might say it is not hate, but fear - those gay folks will corrupt us and we'll all be humming shows tunes and dying of AIDS. Or it's hate and fear, mixed with a religious fervor to shun sinners and sins.

Do we need these gay folks? Should we have toss them out?

I see we're kind of running out of troops - and they're cutting way back on training. The Pentagon is sending over much of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin (Barstow). I know someone involved as part of that, in the Regiment's Black Horse Squadron. The experienced trainers - the person I know has been playing the part of a wild Sunni cleric lately in the simulations -- are too valuable not to use in combat. Training from now on, for Iraq, will be pretty much hands-on on-the-job training. Training has been scaled back. Way back. New motto? Learn by doing. Or maybe it's "Make it up as you go along." (Isn't that the motto of the whole administration?) Anyway, this move, along with shifting three thousand guys from Korea to Iraq (announced last week), will help out the 138,000 we have there now - some of whom need a rest. The local Barstow economy may take a big hit. Oh well.

At least we're not sending any of the Village People.

But the news today is filled with lots of stuff about Bill Clinton's new book, My Life - for sale tomorrow. Almost one thousand pages! What did Richard Wagner say? "Beware of thick books!" Yeah, and beware of long, dull operas about Rhine Maidens.

So all the chat now on television and in the opinion pages is about assessing Clinton - corrupt and evil, master politician, murderer and rapist. All those scandals!

The most amusing comment I've seen so far is from Joe Klein in the Time Magazine cover story, and it gets to the heart of all the controversy.
In retrospect, it is clear that there was no substance to the Whitewater allegations and the other White House scandalettes -- the travel-office firings, the FBI files, the death of Vince Foster -- except, of course, Lewinsky.
The only thing folks remember.

Did I say hate makes you stupid? So does sex.

___

Footnote:

Training Units May Go To Iraq
Associated Press, May 26, 2004
WASHINGTON - In a sign of the Iraq war's strain on the U.S. military, the Army is planning to send into combat thousands of soldiers whose normal job is to play the role of the "enemy" at training ranges in California and Louisiana, defense officials said Tuesday.

... With nearly every other major combat unit either committed to or just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, the Army is planning to call on two battalions and one engineer company - about 2,500 soldiers - from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which serves as a professional enemy force at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. The regiment last saw combat in the Vietnam War.

The Army boasts of the "tough and uncompromising standards" of the 11th Armored Cavalry, which it says makes it the premier maneuver unit in the Army and "the yardstick against which the rest of the Army measures itself."
The news of this has been out there, just not much noted.

Posted by Alan at 18:38 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 22 June 2004 07:22 PDT home

Sunday, 20 June 2004

Topic: Photos

The Sunday note...

The new issue of Just Above Sunset just went on line.

That would be
Volume 2, Number 24
Sunday, June 20, 2004


Items of interest?

Photography: Venice Beach (the heart and soul of La-La Land), the odd side of Southern France, and Dingo and Phoenix of London... / Bob Patterson channels the dead in his weekly column! / More inside news from Ric in Paris... / More great quotes... / Rick, late of CNN, comments on Fox News...

... and the usual flood of political commentary, expanded and extended from items which appeared here.

Technical Note: One photo on the home page isn't working (linking). A few photos in the archives don't work. I wasn't able to load the appropriate pictures into the Paris page. All else is fine. Earthlink tells me lots of web builders are having the same problem - it started today - and assure me they are working on it. Should be fixed soon. I'll try a reload, republish Monday afternoon. Check back for what you may have missed.

THIS ISSUE

Current Events


Major News : The Big Stories of the Week. Not Really News. Just Confirmations.

Policy Notes:Policy Notes: Who needs respect? As long as they fear us we're safe?

Impeachment: Impeachment: The Issue is Actually Raised by Over Four-Hundred Legal Scholars

Press Notes: Press Notes: Fox News Officially Censured for Lying (but not here)

Follow-Up: Follow-Up: The wheels turn slowly, but they do turn....

Odds and Ends: Odds and Ends: What to cover, and in what depth...

Arguing with others...

Michael Moore: Michael Moore: Asking the right questions?

Christopher Hitchens: Christopher Hitchens: Speak for yourself, white man!

David Brooks: "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

Second Thoughts: When Good Conservatives Get Grumpy

Features

WLJ Weekly: The World's Laziest Journalist - A poltergeist guest and a feast of paranoid speculation...

From Paris: This Week's Exchange with the editor of MetropoleParis

Television: The Politics of the Heartland

Photography: Photography: As seen by others... Guest Photographers

Quotes: Useful Pithy Observations... Steinbeck and Nietzsche



And something saw yesterday - the sun over Santa Ana, California ...




Posted by Alan at 16:58 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 20 June 2004 16:59 PDT home

Saturday, 19 June 2004

Topic: Photos

No entries today...

I am off to Orange County for a family celebration. In my absence, Dingo will keep you company. Dingo answers, sometimes, to Stephan Valcourt of London, Ontario, Canada - and that's where you see him here, wishing you all well.



Posted by Alan at 12:23 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
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Friday, 18 June 2004

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Sunny optimism or early onset Alzheimer's - We report and you decide...

The big story of the week turns out to be more of the same.

Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie; Describes a Wider Plot for 9/11
Philip Shenon and Christopher Marquis, The New York Times

WASHINGTON, June 16 - The staff of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks sharply contradicted one of President Bush's central justifications for the Iraq war, reporting on Wednesday that there did not appear to have been a "collaborative relationship" between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. ...

So?

The president says there is a link, sort of, really. The vice president says there is, and attacks the Times as irresponsible. The Times editorializes that Bush and Cheney should apologize. Bush and Cheney say the Times should apologize.

To be clear, the commission's report does not, really, have anything to do with whether or not we should have gone to war in Iraq. That wasn't what they were up to. And is there a contradiction? It is not true that these findings really do contradict what Bush and Cheney said, literally, about Al Qaeda and Iraq. And Bush is carefully saying that he does NOT dispute the findings of the commission.

The problem is with what is said literally, and what is implied.

On his Thursday broadcast Jon Stewart on his satiric "newscast" The Daily Show did run the clip of Bush saying, "You can't distinguish between Iraq and Al Qaeda when you're talking about the War on Terror." And Stewart made great fun of that.

But Bush was speaking of the big picture, the moral "good and evil" overview, not the details. The idea is Saddam Hussein did not, of course, have anything to do with the four hijacked airplanes and that whole really bad day almost three years ago. But he was still bad. He was, sort of, one of THEM. Sort of. "We never said that Saddam specifically...."

You get the idea.

You might glance at this comment -
Live by Syntax, Die by Syntax.

I wish there were a pithy, catchy way to say it, because it's important: George W. Bush and his administration used certain rhetorical and syntactical techniques to convince Americans that a war against Saddam was connected to 9-11, and they do not have the right to complain now when those same techniques imply that they are lying, manipulative bastards.

... The folks in this administration were careful in the way they constructed their talking points prior to the war. I've always thought that each mention of Iraq in relation to the WoT was vetted in anticipation of a situation like this week's.

... The evidence of their intent is in the result of their efforts: a majority of Americans have believed that Saddam had something to do with 9-11.

Well, not only did he not have anything to do with 9-11, he really had very little to do with Al Qaeda beyond a meeting here, or an overture there. But now, suddenly, Bushco wants to go back and parse their sentences and say, "see? see? We didn't really say that."

Well, shut up. You made the rules, and if you're getting your asses kicked now, it's your own damn fault.
Well, the situation is a little awkward. Perhaps we should have listened more carefully.

There were connections, a few meetings and such, and Iraq never really did anything for Al Qaeda in the end, but, but, they MIGHT have.

Matthew Yglesias offers some thoughts, and an interesting theory to the mix:
On the one hand, the administration, in the past, suggested that Iraq was behind 9-11. Currently, they aren't doing that, but they are "overstat[ing]" the extent of Saddam/Qaeda links and keeping stories alive "long after others in the government thought [them] discredited." The result of all this is "to keep alive in the minds of many Americans a link between Iraq and the attacks" which... was put there by the administration in the first place.

The administration, in other words, is trying to mislead people into ignoring the difference between being responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans and not being responsible for those deaths. The administration's accusers, by contrast, are trying to mislead people into ignoring the distinction between misleading the public about this (after lying to them), and lying to the public. On what planet is the latter "almost" as irresponsible as the former? One is a question of life and death -- war and peace -- and the other is semantic hair-splitting.
Oh man, that just makes my head hurt.

And Yglesias knows he's being unclear - and links to David Adesnik saying something much simpler:
David Adesnik remarks that my throry that the administration's weirdly nonsensical discourse on the Iraq/Qaeda connection is designed to mislead people while protecting them from elite media criticism that it has not, in fact, protected them from such criticism. Rather, his "best guess is that Bush himself (along with Cheney) is deeply in denial. It's the same phenomenon we saw with Reagan. When you believe in something with all your heart and then stake your reputation on it, letting go is the hardest thing to do."
Yep, that's right.

And if Bush wants to be associated with the dead Reagan, he should remind people he's as good at denying reality as the Gipper ever was. Folks find that comforting. You stay the course, in spite of everything. Sunny optimism or early onset Alzheimer's. Whatever.

It was Ronald Reagan who famously said, "Facts are stupid things." He said that in 1988, and probably was confusing it with - "Facts are stubborn things." But who needs details? You get the gereral idea. Sort of.

So, it comes down to who are you going to trust? As the old Groucho Marx line goes, "Who are you going to trust - me or your own eyes?"

Posted by Alan at 12:12 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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