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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Tuesday, 22 June 2004

Topic: Oddities

The French. Cats. Madness.

I sent this Reuters item along to Ric Erickson of MetropoleParis and also to the person I will refer to as "The Chicago Francophile" (TCF) for now. TCF just returned from France as you see from the photos in Just Above Sunset here.

There are strange things happening over there in France.

'Panther on the Loose' Is a Cat'
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - The southern French city of Marseille called off a three-week hunt for a black panther on Tuesday after the animal sighted by several residents turned out to be a large house cat.

"The 'panther' is just a black house cat -- a very big one though," said a spokeswoman for the local prefecture, adding the animal was about 24 inches long and weighed some 22 pounds.

Police deployed dozens of searchers this month after reports that a blank panther was roaming around the nearby Calanques area, popular with tourists for its creeks, rocks and beaches.

Searchers finally caught up with the animal and identified it as a cat but were still unable to catch it, the spokeswoman added.
Paranoia everywhere, not just in the White House.

Ric is used to my postings about politics and expected more on Bush and Michael Moore, as we had been scanning the Christopher Hitchens review of Fahrenheit 911 - which Hitchens called vile and more than wrong-headed.

Ric's reaction to the Marseille cat story?
Just when it is imperative to get in the fight against the filthy rotten liars who will be trashing Moore's film, this comes along! I have been in those calanques, in 1976 I think, and the obvious answer is all the panther spotters have been drinking too much pastis. It's the only liquid anybody drinks down that way. Also, in French, any kind of cat weighing more than two kilos is a 'panther.' There's a big fear of panthers in France. Notice that nobody actually 'caught' it. Cat burglaries are another matter entirely.

PS - Last week it was falcons; this week it's panthers. Could France be the last frontier?
Yes, last week in Just Above Sunset in Paris Notes Ric and I did discuss falcons and such.

TCF added -
Loved this item, of course. It's my understanding that there are a lot of problems with car burglaries and pickpockets around the Calanques area, or so I saw on the signs that were prominently displayed. The French really like signs, I think (route perturb? and all the rest), but I digress. Well, I suppose one could blame the disappearance of small items on the panther. (The dog ate my homework, the panther took your wallet, etc).

I really wish I'd thought of that remark about cat burglars.

And I wish I'd seen the bobos at the Palais Royal. [See Paris Notes for that.] Not to have talked to them, mind you, but to have seen them, all white in the moonlight. One wonders what Colette makes of all this.

As far as panthers and Michael Moore - well, it's like the falcon story. The world is in need of a little comic relief right now, although there are those who think that politicians are already providing that anyway.

Falcons on the BN - M. Chirac must smile to think of all that merde on M. Mitterand's pride and joy.
And yes, the last item is an inside joke for Francophiles who follow French politics.

My final word to Ric?

Hey! Watch it! I'm rather fond of pastis - which is appropriate for Los Angeles and its Mediterranean climate. We have the white stucco houses on the hills with their red tile roofs, the palm trees, and all in all, we're only missing young North African thugs. We have our own types. Otherwise? Marseille, with freeways and smog.

Cat burglars? Each time it gets replayed on television I dutifully watch Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief" - just to remind myself of cat burglars in the south of France. It's a hoot. The part where she's driving Grant in her XJ-120 way too fast on the corniche and along those cliffs is a little odd to watch, given what happened to her. But better than what happened to Isadora Duncan with her long scarf, the wire wheel and the Bugatti on the streets of Monaco many decades before that. The southern coast of France is a dangerous place, or so it seems. Who need panthers?

France the last frontier? Perhaps so.

Posted by Alan at 20:39 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Political Theory

Philosophy 101 - Deconstructionist Semantics

Matthew Yglesias has an interesting column up today over on The American Prospect that attempts a political application of Paul Grice's theory of "conversational implicature" of all things.

Really. That's here.

Yglesias is examining all the business in the news these days with our president getting hammered for, perhaps, misleading us about the need for the current war we just had, or really, may still be having.

The current administration line is this. No weapons of mass destruction? Never said there were any, really - just said we and everyone else thought there were lots of them so why take the chance there were none? The UN inspectors were so very slow and there might be some. Only protecting America, you see.

Then the bipartisan commission says, flat out, that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had nothing at all to do with the terrorists flying airplanes into the two towers in New York and into the Pentagon. No proof at all of that. And the commission adds that the sporadic lower-level meetings over the years between representatives of al-Qaeda and Hussein's functionaries show there was no cooperation between the two. The Iraqi government told the al-Qaeda fellows to take a hike - they ignored al-Qaeda requests for training facilities and the like. In short, there was no "operational relationship" at all. And now the administration tells us they never really said there was a direct connection between Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. Yeah, I suppose. Bush really did say that, reluctantly. And now the administration covers the other issue - that there may not have been any "operational relationship" as the commission finds - but says there was a connection, of intent. And that justified taking out the Hussein government.

Well, Yglesias took a philosophy course or two in college and remembers Paul Grice's theory of "conversational implicature" - and does a riff on it.

He points to this summary:
What a speaker implicates is distinct from what he says and from what his words imply. Saying of an expensive dinner, "It was edible," implicates that it was mediocre at best. This simple example illustrates a general phenomenon: a speaker can say one thing and manage to mean something else or something more by exploiting the fact that he may be presumed to be cooperative, in particular, to be speaking truthfully, informatively, relevantly, and otherwise appropriately. The listener relies on this presumption to make a contextually driven inference from what the speaker says to what she means.
The prose is dense so Yglesias unpacks it.

Here's his simple version:
For our purposes, the point is that a canny speaker can mislead his audience without necessarily saying anything false. If I tell you, "they're not all in the meeting yet" when, in fact, no one is in the meeting, I haven't lied to you about anything. If no one is there, then, indeed, they're not all there. Nevertheless, any reasonable listener will have understood me to mean that some, but not all, of the expected attendees are then. Again, if I say, "some people are in the room" when only one person is in the room, I'm not speaking falsely, I'm simply speaking uncooperatively. You'll infer that more than one person is in the room although, strictly speaking, I said no such thing.
This is, of course, splitting semantic hairs (or some such metaphor).

But it is useful hair-splitting when defending yourself against charges you've lied. If you've been charged with perjury, libel or slander your previous careful wording can be a comfort, and a defense.

Will this work to refute the critics of Bush and Cheney? Will the careful wording make people relax and be comfortable with what we've done, or will it come back to bite Bush and Cheney in the ass?
For the purposes of defending oneself against perjury charges in a quasi-criminal proceeding, this sort of argument may suffice. In Bush's case, however, perjury is not on the table. Rather, the question is whether or not he has led the American people in a responsible manner. In this context the important issue is not whether the administration's various claims can, when taken one by one, somehow be defined as factual. The relevant question is whether or not the picture they sketched enhanced or detracted from the public's understanding of the major issues of the day. Various assertions about ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda must, therefore, be put into the broader context of what the administration was saying about the war. This broad picture included the claim that the invasion of Iraq was an act of preemptive self-defense, that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States, that the Iraq War was part of the war on terrorism, that the desire to invade was motivated by the sense that the country had waited too long before responding vigorously to al-Qaeda, and that the lessons of 9-11 were an important factor in the president's thought process.
I added the emphases in bold here to show Yglesias is reframing the question. Bush and Cheney defenders are absolutely right. These two did not exactly lie. But the question Yglesias is suggesting everyone ask is this - Were they acting responsibly? Don't call them liars. That's a dead end. Ask instead if they were doing the right thing, the responsible thing, in their semantic efforts to get us all excited and ready to go to war.

They said things and let us draw conclusions. They gave us rope - and we hanged ourselves with it.
The point of all this was to lead the American people to believe that the invasion of Iraq was part of the war on terrorism in a rather straightforward sense: Saddam Hussein was likely to give al-Qaeda weapons of mass destruction for use against the United States. Though many voices put forward many arguments for war in the months before the beginning of the invasion, this was the main case put forward by the administration. Not that we needed to invade to avenge a meeting that took place years ago in Khartoum, but that the long-past Khartoum meeting was evidence of the continuing likelihood that Iraq would become a WMD supplier for al-Qaeda.
We made the assumption this was all straightforward. Bush and Cheney, and Powell at the UN, just plopped down items. We connected them. Our bad. Not Bush's fault.

I can see that. But I don't like it.

Neither does Yglesias.
Simply put, there was never any evidence whatsoever to back up the administration's theory on this point. We know that in the past Saddam has simultaneously sponsored terrorist groups (directed against Israel) and possessed WMD (in the form of chemical weapons), but that he never gave such weapons to terrorists because he didn't trust them. We also know that in the past Saddam has passed up on the opportunity to use WMD against American forces, out of fear for what the retaliation would mean for his regime. We know -- as the 9-11 Commission has recently reiterated and the administration has reluctantly admitted -- that Iraq never had an operational relationship with al-Qaeda and never cooperated with them on attacks against the United States or any other country. Last, but by no means least, we know that Iraq's ties with al-Qaeda were less significant than al-Qaeda's ties with such American allies as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. None of the scattered data points the administration's defenders now wish to point to -- a few inconclusive meetings, and an ambiguous relationship between Iraq and Abu Zarqawi (whose relationship with al-Qaeda is, likewise, ambiguous) -- even begins to support the assertion that Iraqi WMD and al-Qaeda terrorism constituted any sort of symbiotic threat to the country.
But we bought the assertion of a threat.

Well, we were all scared. Bad things had happened. We wanted no more of that!

And the other reason we bought the steaming load of crap?
That the administration is bothering to pretend they never said any such thing is a testament to how little they respect the intelligence of the American people, and how confident they are that the media will not point out facts that can be found in plain sight. What, exactly, was the purpose of constant references to Iraqi sponsorship of anti-Israeli terrorism that never came with the qualifier that this was anti-Israeli, rather than anti-American terrorism? Why note that Qaeda-affiliated groups were operating "in Iraq" without mentioning that they operated in the part of Iraq outside of Saddam's control? Why call Iraq "the central front in the war on terrorism?" Why cite "September the eleventh" as a motivating factor for war? The answer is obvious: The administration wished the American people to believe that the government of Iraq was complicit - if not in 9-11 itself -- then in al-Qaeda terrorism in general. If the war was preemptive, and part of the war on terrorism, then what was it supposed to preempt if not a terrorist attack?
Yep, they knew we were scared, and easy prey - prime suckers. And they knew the news media didn't want to be called unpatriotic for calling them on any of this nonsense. The press would roll. They knew that.

It was all too easy. A little of Paul Grice's "conversational implicature" goes a long way.

A final example?
As the president put it in September 2002, "the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al-Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam's madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world." Technically speaking, the president didn't say he had any evidence that this would happen, so the fact that there was no evidence it was likely to happen doesn't show that he was lying.
And it does seem no one wanted to see any evidence that this would happen. We didn't need to. We were scared. We could imagine it might. And the press did not want to call our leaders on any of this. The price was far too high.

Yglesias then adds a frightening alternative. Bush and Cheney and crew were NOT trying to mislead us. Regarding Bush's many pronouncements about all these threats - even if there was scant or no evidence for them and we had to take the dire threats on faith, in him and his team alone, because they were our leaders and we should trust them -
... if he wasn't trying to mislead people, then he and his administration are simply in the grips of a paranoid worldview -- leaping at wholly imagined threats and throwing tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines into battle. Under the circumstances, I find the theory that the president is a liar relatively comforting. I'd be more comfortable still if he simply stopped saying things that aren't true.
Yep, better we assume Bush is irresponsibly misleading us, a lying a bit here and there. The idea the he and his crew are just plain old paranoid maniacs is unacceptable, something we don't want to believe.

I don't like the two alternatives. I do not see any third alternative.

Posted by Alan at 19:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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

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.



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.


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


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

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