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

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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Thursday, 9 March 2006
Our Man in Paris: What's LA Smell?

Our Man in Paris: What's LA Smell?
Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, attends the opening of "Los Angeles 1955-1985" at the Pompidou Center in, of course, Paris. Three more of Ric's photos follow the text, and some items from the Los Angeles Times on the show. This is the week Los Angeles made the big time, or something. The original text of this item can be found at MetropoleParis here in a quite different format.

Rainy Paris street, Wednesday, March 8, 2006What's LA Smell?

Paris, Wednesday, March 8 - Did I say it is raining? Before I went out I popped an eye out the window to see if the windshield wipers were wiping on the cars swimming past down below. If they were not, it was not raining. But we are having changeable weather and by the time I arrived on the sidewalk it was raining. At the corner of the building it was like a North Sea gale.

I wouldn't try to say it never rains in Paris, but for the past dozen years it hasn't rained much. This year seems to be trying to catch up, possibly because of the drought. Next thing you know we will be having the flood of the century. If it wasn't for the rain and the snow in the far off Alps, we'd be aces.

Anyway, while it was raining I hopped on the Métro and rode through dry tunnels down to Les Halles, where I realized that I'd made a mistake. Les Halles in rush hour is always a mistake. By the time I got out of that jam I knew I should have got off one stop before, at Chatelet, and walked the extra block. As it was I walked two extra blocks underground in le maze des Halles.

Then it was, still raining, as I skipped over to, head down, to the Pompidou culture factory to see the Los Angeles exhibition that had its opening night free drinks binge Tuesday. I was on this case in January when Gary De la Rosa was here for his annual forget-LA visit, and Tomoko sent me an email yesterday saying he's back, and the plan was to meet in the Pompidou, and there I was, damp but on time.

The Pompidou is a big thing. I didn't know where I was supposed to meet Tomoko and Gary, with his free tickets, so I bought a ticket at full price because I forgot to take the welfare card I don't have, and there's no discount for beauty or age. Going in I got all three ticket-takers to electro-flash the ticket, but it blew no gaskets.

Then I took the escalator to the 6th floor. It is actually about a dozen escalators and it takes about two days but there's was fine view of a soaking Paris, gray and fleeting golden with rain, Tour Eiffel stabbing the horizon, take a photo, buy a postcard. There are other sights to see and it's worth the admission price, since the lookout on top of Samaritaine closed. [Editor's Note - see Ric's photo coverage of that in these pages in Taps for Samaritaine, July 12, 2005.]

I found the LA expo at the end of a long corridor, and then Tomoko found me, and asked, "Where's Gary?" for not the first time this year. She also got in for free because she brought her welfare card. We flashed our tickets at the flasheuse and trawled the exhibition.

This went along fine until I decided to ask if I could take some photos to go along with this piece. There are royalties concerned, the museum might want to collect something, the artists certainly, and most important, never on the 'Net, the short answer was 'non.' As the conversation moved into its 2nd hour and displaced from inside to the entry, Tomoko came past, saying she was going to park herself someplace.

In the entry I took the only legal photo. Then Gary arrived, with one of my club members who is not Tomoko but Linda. Gary said he arrived from Los Angeles Tuesday night, with a pass to the drinks uproar, but they wouldn't let him in because it was past his bedtime. He put up a fuss, for an hour - honest - he told me! - then he was overcome with jetlag.

I started with the expo again. Gary had to read all the little tickets on everything so I quickly got ahead of him. The expo is called 'Los Angeles 1955-1985, etc etc.' I began to realize it is really different. LA is something smelly. There was this thing of Ketchup bottles, blood, black gunk. I thought, maybe it's ripe.

Another sign said, "NAHSBOF," which is a new word for 'sneeze' in German. There were fine photos, like the one for the poster all over Paris, shot by Dennis Hopper in 1961. Further on, after much other odd stuff, another message said, "A hell if there ever was one," attributed to Alexis Smith, in 1982. Art in LA has the talkies.

My day, rain and all, was made complete by the fine piece that was a chicken in a small but elaborate coffin, titled 'Blink's Coffin.' Nearby there was a map showing the location of Blink's coffin in the LA cemetery. For fans of French the translation was not a big hurdle, with La version originale de Blinky le poulet sympa, 1978.

This reminded me that it was news time, which meant that I was hungry. Outside it having become night, wet, slick, glistening, and the yellow lights were lit and glittering in the puddles. I skipped Les Halles and caught the Métro at Chatelet's Opportune hole, the underground looking grimly like St. Pauli on a wet day in Hamburg.

This LA show - is worth a visit, if you like strange stuff than smells, and it continues until July 17, which is a Monday I bet. Open from 11am to 9pm daily except Tuesdays, and on Thursdays late until 11pm. At the Centre Georges Pompidou, Place Georges Pompidou, Paris 4. Métro: Rambuteau. InfoTel.: 01 44 78 12 33.

__

... but there's was fine view of a soaking Paris, gray and fleeting golden with rain, Tour Eiffel stabbing the horizon, take a photo, buy a postcard.

The Eiffel Tower from the Pompidou Center in Paris, Wednesday, March 8, 2006

















In the entry I took the only legal photo...

The opening of the opening of 'Los Angeles 1955-1985 at the Pompidou Center in Paris, Wednesday, March 8, 2006

















Did I say it is raining?

Rain seen from the top floors of the Pompidou Center in Paris, Wednesday, March 8, 2006

















Photos and Text, Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

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The Local Review

Angels in the City of Light
Los Angeles artists find a like-minded audience in Paris as their work is chronicled in a major show at the Pompidou.
Geraldine Baum - Los Angeles Times - March 10, 2006
PARIS - There are probably no two cities with less in common than Paris and Los Angeles. But in spite of that, and perhaps because of it, Parisians this week embraced with a passion - yes, with a kiss on each cheek! - a generation of Los Angeles artists and their work.

The French turned out by the thousands in a cold rain for the opening night of a new exhibition, "Los Angeles 1955-85," at the Centre Pompidou. They were fawning and gushing even as they admitted they knew little of the place that produced the artists and their creations.

"I love it," said Valentine Gautier, a young Frenchwoman, as she listened to an older African American poet in the packed first gallery of the Pompidou. Wanda Coleman, the noted L.A. poet, had spontaneously broken into verse as she stood in front of Ed Kienholz's brutal assemblage about abortion, "The Illegal Operation." The French stood in rapt attention, listening earnestly as Coleman's warrior voice boomed...
And so on and so forth.

Ric's comment -
On a rainy night, the night following the vernissage, Wednesday to be precise - there were hardly 'thousands' ogling the LA exhibit. There was no line, no waiting, and it was easy to circulate within the expo.

If I were to say how it struck me, I'd say LA as presented by these artists, is a small, self-conscious burg. Little folks doing their little LA things. This is not to say that many pieces were not amusing - a good sign - they don't take themselves too seriously - but there were not, unless I overlooked them somehow - there were no big pieces, no grand visions. A room-sized white panel fringed with blue neon was hardly engrossing or thought-provoking. Where the hell is Ed Roth?

What Gary wanted, tried to make happen - show the barrio artists, your taggers, the wild hombres with the pure colors, the sultry senoritas with the red fingernails - nowhere, not to be seen in this LA show. Maybe Gary will get his homies together; it will take some time - but they are already booked for Madrid.
From the Times -
Elisabeth Lebovici, art critic for the newspaper Libération, said it will be an effort to get the French from A to Z because they simply don't know L.A.'s history. "There are beautiful pieces, but it's odd to see so much about a place I know so little about." She had just perused works that made reference to the Watts riots. "I heard about those Berkeley riots," she said, confusing her California towns, "but I can't tell you anything about them.

"For me," Lebovici added, "this is like going to the Louvre of L.A."
Whatever.

From the Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2006 -
In an official expression of support for the arts, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a media conference Friday at the Caltrans downtown headquarters to celebrate landmark exhibitions of Los Angeles contemporary art and architecture coming soon to Paris.

"Los Angeles 1955-1985," featuring about 350 works by 87 artists, and "Morphosis," exploring a prominent architectural firm's work, will open March 8 at France's Pompidou Center.

"This is a transformational milestone that will establish Los Angeles as a leading artistic and cultural capital," Villaraigosa told an audience of artists and representatives from museums and art schools. "Los Angeles" will track the art scene's coming-of-age in a sprawling survey. "Morphosis" - to appear at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2007 - will present recent projects of the group whose founder, Thom Mayne, won the 2005 Pritzker Prize and designed the Caltrans building.

As the media conference evolved into an L.A.-Paris love fest, Scott Stover, head of the Pompidou Foundation, announced plans to base the support group's American branch in Los Angeles.
See also -

L.A.'s so aujourd'hui
Paris puts up 30 years of Southern California art history - or at least one interpretation.
Suzanne Muchnic - Los Angeles Times - February 26, 2006


Posted by Alan at 19:21 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006 10:36 PST home

Wednesday, 8 March 2006
Edgy Times (kind of like the seventies)
Topic: Making Use of History

Edgy Times (kind of like the seventies)

Are there periods of relative calm in public life, and other times that are just edgy - when things seems to be spinning out of control? Or are all times edgy, and looking back from a safe distance of a few years takes the edge, or edges, or edginess, off some seemingly crucial events, while the actually crucial events only become obvious by contrast? Driving up the mountains above Asheville in western North Carolina and hearing the news, back in Watergate days, late October 1973, that Nixon had told the Justice Department to fire Archibald Cox and no one would do that, and Elliot Richardson resigned as he just wouldn't do it, then his second in command did the same, and finally Robert Bork did the deed - the Saturday Night Massacre as they called it - well, that seemed a big deal even as it happened, a sure sign things were spinning out of control. The world seemed odd at that time - Nixon had been to China the previous year and surprised everyone, and a two years earlier those students had been gunned down at Kent State. We lived in the world of big events, and 1973 was a pip - OPEC doubled the price of oil and we waited in line for hours to fill the tank, an October war in Israel (Egypt and Syria attacked Israel and got creamed), Allende assassinated in Chile, the Roe v Wade decision, Spiro Agnew resigning. Interesting times. The American Indian Movement (AIM) seized Wounded Knee in South Dakota. And the Sidney opera house opened, and they finished the Sears Tower in Chicago. Quite a year.

Then there was Ford, then Carter, then Reagan, the first Bush, then Clinton - and those years had their big events of course, the first Gulf War, but somehow those years seem, in retrospect, not quite as dramatic somehow. Carter fighting off the killer rabbit, Reagan claiming he ended the cold war all by himself, and his wacky Star Wars plan, and then the Bill and Monica scandal just don't cut it.

But we finally got someone to shake things up in the old Nixon style. We got someone in the White House, who, once again, seems to get a kick out of shaking things up - kicking things down, breaking all the rules or simply ignoring them, shaking up the world order just to see what will happen, maybe something good. You never know. We've waged our first elective war, justifying it with evidence no one in the world much believed and which turned out to be false, we occupy a foreign country the we cannot seem to reassemble to our liking, the economy is now run on loans from foreign countries and we care barely service the interest on the bonds, the rich get tax breaks and the poor and unlucky get reductions in aid, we lose a major city to a hurricane and nothing much is being rebuilt, and the president's legal team says he really don't have to follow the law - the courts now have no jurisdiction there and whatever laws the congress passes or checks it tries are, well, just plain unconstitutional. It's like old times.

Or maybe year or two from now this will all seem minor stuff, as the Brits say, small beer. But maybe not.

What probably started this "let's kick open the hornets' nest and see what happens" way of running the government was a "big concept" thing, when the president, after the events of September 2001 in New York and Washington, laid it all out. There was an "axis of evil" - and we were the center of good - godly, wronged, and angry. You were either with us or against us. And we, representing "the good" (it wasn't anyone else, except maybe the Brits - or maybe just Tony Blair - and most certainly not France), were here on earth to fight "evil" - and we'd do that by making selected counties into democracies with free-market unregulated economies, even if it took war to do that, and even if they ended up resisting us after we arrived. Things would change. The world would be transformed.

Most of the world was at best befuddled by all this, and many appalled, and those asked to declare whether they were evil or good, one or the other, right now, resentful if not angry. But we had a mission.

Watching the speech where this was laid out before us as our new national purpose was a 1973 moment. Something had shifted, big time. Bush will not go down in history as a caretaker president. He gets points for changing everything - if you get points for any big change, whether or not it's brilliant or boneheaded, as long as it's a change. Future historians can do that assessment.

But how is this all going? All we have are "spots in time" - not any long view.

The spot to consider is Wednesday, March 8, 2006.

We Fight the Axis Powers

As mentioned in these pages last week (here) the conservative commentator George Will finally, like William F. Buckley and Francis Fukuyama the same week, said the three countries in the president's axis of evil were cleary "more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002." The backers of the "big concept" were abandoning the concept. It was a stupid idea, really. Oops.

And on the "spot in time" considered here the evidence is becoming clearer. Iran warned that it will cause the United States "harm and pain" if we succeed in winning sanctions against the country for its nuclear program. (Details here.) But what alternative do we have? Our whole military is a bit busy. Diplomacy is it. Of course Vice President Cheney is saying we really could blow up all their nuclear facilities, and just might, and might get rid of their government if they tick us off any more than they already have (details here) - but who believes him? Bluster. If we had the resources and the will to do that, which we don't, the diplomatic blowback would be messy and a regional war likely, and the majority of the folks stateside think the war to get the guy who was behind 9/11 and who had those WMD to set up a model Jeffersonian Wal-Mart democracy in Iraq was a really, really, really bad idea. Bu then the same day here we see even diplomacy, those Security Council sanctions, is a dead end - one of the permanent members of the Security Council, Russia, says no sanctions, no nothing. They'll veto any of that. This "spot in time" is a disaster, a stop-dead problem with no solution.

The same day North Korea test fired two short-range missiles - a test of its own nuclear program. We see here White House press secretary Scott McClellan saying these tests confirm that North Korea's missile program is "a concern that poses a threat to the region and the larger international community." So those six-country talks to stop the country's nuclear program that stalled out a long time ago need to start up again. We still won't talk to them one-on-one. That would reward bad behavior and all that. What else can we do? Right.

As for Iraq, Associated Press here has the summary for this spot in time. Our ambassador there says we've open a "Pandora's box" - we removed the repressive monster who held the place together through fear and murder, and now the Sunnis are fighting the Shiites openly, private armies are at each other and you've got your al Qaeda operatives blowing things up to make things even worse. And here William Odom, director of the National Security Agency under Reagan, says Iraq may end up looking like Vietnam. But then, really, it's actually worse this time around - "Vietnam did not have the devastating effects on US power that Iraq is already having."

Ah, that's all general stuff. What about specifics of the day?

There's this in the Washington Post -
The bodies of 23 men who had been strangled or shot were found in two locations in Baghdad Wednesday morning, with 18 discovered aboard an abandoned bus in a predominantly Sunni area of the capital, police and the U.S. military said... The discovery of executed people - sometimes from an entire family, often with their hands bound, their mouths gagged and shot in the head - has become commonplace.
Commonplace? Could this be so? It depends on who you believe.

In the Post elsewhere the same day there's this -
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today presented an upbeat report of the conflict in Iraq and said he agrees with the commander of the U.S.-led coalition, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., that the news media has exaggerated the number of civilian casualties in the conflict.
It's not all that bad, you see.

And late in the day AP ran this -
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunmen wearing commando uniforms of the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry on Wednesday stormed an Iraqi security company that relied heavily on Sunni ex-military men from the Saddam regime, spiriting away 50 hostages. The ministry denied involvement and called the operation a "terrorist act." ...
Just another day, or special "spot in time?" Who knows?

As for this new national purpose, our mission, the day too brought unwelcome ambiguity as, late in the evening, there was this - US To Hand Over Detainees Despite Torture Concerns (Reuters) -
Despite accusing countries such as Jordan and Egypt on Wednesday of torturing detainees, the United States said it will keep sending suspected militants to foreign prisons if governments pledge not to abuse them.

Human rights groups said the policy was illegal because the United States could have little faith in the governments' promises and knew there was a high risk of torture, especially after detailing widespread prisoner abuse in an annual report.

They also said U.S. credibility in criticizing human rights abuses was damaged because the report highlighted incommunicado detentions abroad without acknowledging Washington also uses the illegal practice in its war on terror.

In Jordan, detainees were beaten, deprived of sleep and left hanging in the air, and, in Egypt, there were many credible allegations of security forces abusing prisoners last year, the State Department said in a worldwide evaluation of rights abuses.

But Washington, which sometimes captures terrorism suspects abroad and sends them to prisons in their native countries, only does so after winning assurances they will not be abused, the report's main author, Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron, said.

"We do not send detainees to countries if we believe that they will be subjected to torture," he said. "If we get the guarantees that they will not be mistreated, they go home."
There are more details at the link, but you get the idea. We know these countries torture prisoners, but we'll send folks there, because they say, this time, they won't. What's the problem? Don't you trust them? Don't you trust us?

The trust thing has become more of a problem. They don't get it.

Diversions or Big Deals?

This new national purpose, our mission, may not be the big news. The congress has is busy on other things - blocking any hearings into the administration secretly spying on citizens here at home without warrants (here), and deciding if the folks from Dubai are harmless or not (here). Those may be big stories. They may be secondary. Looking back on the day several decades from now will make it possible to determine which it is. Hard to tell.

The president? Well, after the AP got hold of those videotapes where he was told New Orleans was going under when he later said no one told him, it was time to ignore the Axis of Evil and how all that was going and do a visit. So he did. AFP runs this - Bush Urges Congress To Act On New Orleans Aid. The headline is fine. He said that. Fox, CNN and MSNBC carried the New Orleans speech live. AFP doesn't capture the tone. He was saying none of this was his fault. Congress is letting everyone down, not him. Yep, nothing much is fixed and not much panned. But it's not his fault. He cares. You just can't trust the congress to care about the American people like he cares. He was really flogging that. It's a hard sell these days.

But he has a plan. He just issued an Executive Order, a shiny and glittering new one, directing the Department of Homeland Security to establish program to get Faith-Based church folks to do the planning and coordinating of disaster relief. It's pretty much saying that if no one trusts him or FEMA or Homeland Security when terrible things happen, and if, as he says, congress is useless, well then fine - the churches really should do what used to be expected of the government. You know countries run by clerics are more responsible and effective, and more caring, than those run by elected officials.

Supply your own sarcastic comment here, and mention Iran and the mullahs. Or read The Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster Will Save You From Terrorist Attack.

Ah well, they are managing to keep the economy sputtering along, and some folks are doing well. It's sort of under control, except for this - "The Treasury Department has started drawing from the civil service pension fund to avoid hitting the $8.2 trillion national debt limit. The move to tap the pension fund follows last month's decision to suspend investments in a retirement savings plan held by government employees."

The future will take care of itself? Use the funds today? Maybe these folks won't live long enough to draw pensions or retirement. Think positive. The invisible hand will fix everything.

Actually, looking back on this one day from decades in the future, that may be the big story, as they then try to figure out how it came to breadlines and people starving in the streets and America as a third-world nation.

Or late in the day will this be the big story historians note as a turning point? Defying Bush, House Panel Votes to Block Port Deal - "The House Appropriations Committee defied President Bush this evening, voting overwhelmingly to scuttle a deal giving a Dubai company control of some major seaport operations without awaiting the outcome of a 45-day review of potential security risks."

The vote was sixty something to two. This is the day he lost his ability to govern? Could be. But it's too soon to tell. He may pull some rabbit out of his hat to make this work. On the other hand, Harriet Miers. He had to have her bow out.

Oh heck. It's just a blip. And second one, but he'll be fine. Historians will ignore it.

The day also gave us what could be a big story - the publication of the Vanity Fair piece on Jack Abramoff here (PDF format) a series of interviews with David Margolick. Abramoff says just who was on the take, accepting bribes for voting as instructed. And all those Republican who said the never met him, or hardly knew him? He covers that.
On President Bush: President Bush, who claims not to remember having his picture taken with Abramoff. According to Abramoff, at one time, the president joked with Abramoff about his weight lifting past: "What are you benching, buff guy?"

On former Rove deputy Ken Mehlman: According to documents obtained by Vanity Fair, Mehlman exchanged email with Abramoff, and did him political favors (such as preventing Clinton administration alumnus Allen Stayman from keeping a State Department job), had Sabbath dinner at Abramoff's house, and offered to pick up Abramoff's tab at Signatures, Abramoff's own restaurant.

Tom DeLay: Abramoff has "admired Tom DeLay and his family from the first meeting with him," he tells Margolick. "We would sit and talk about the Bible. We would sit and talk about opera. We would sit and talk about golf," Abramoff recalls. "I mean, we talked about philosophy and politics."

On Newt Gingrich: Newt Gingrich, whose spokesman Rick Tyler tells Margolick that "Before [Abramoff's] picture appeared on TV and in the newspapers, Newt wouldn't have known him if he fell across him. He hadn't seen him in 10 years." Abramoff says "I have more pictures of [Newt] than I have of my wife."
And so on and so forth - "You're really no one in this town unless you haven't met me."

Opera and the Bible? Curious.

Well, it's not the Pentagon Papers. It's not the damning Nixon tapes that forced Nixon from office. This decade's equivalent? We shall see.

But somehow it's like old times.

Posted by Alan at 23:12 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 March 2006 23:26 PST home

Tuesday, 7 March 2006
Reading the Tea Leaves
Topic: Reality-Based Woes

Reading the Tea Leaves

Reading tea leaves? The lateral outgrowths from a plant stem that are typically a flattened, expanded, variably-shaped greenish organ, constituting a unit of the foliage, and functioning primarily in food manufacture by photosynthesis? No, no. Political tea leaves (or the alternative, leafs) - as of late in the day, Tuesday, the seventh day of March of this odd year.

So how's the struggle going, the one between the president and his administration on one side of the issues, and, on the other side, the congress, the courts, the American people (according to all the polling on most all national issues)? Who is likely to come out on top?

Late in the day the USA Patriot Act was renewed, finally. A win for this president. The Associated Press has the story here, but say the whole business was a cliffhanger (odd term). But it passed, "extending a centerpiece of the war on terrorism at President Bush's urging after months of political combat over the balance between privacy rights and the pursuit of potential terrorists."

It breezed through the House and that's that - but earlier there was a Senate filibuster that forced the guys in the White House to accept some "curbs."

Curbs?

Now, if you get a court-approved subpoena for information in some sort of terrorist investigation you have the right to challenge the earlier requirement that you must not tell anyone anything about any of what's going on. So you can tell your wife you're worried.

And now there's no longer a requirement that "an individual provide the FBI with the name of a lawyer consulted about a National Security Letter, which is a demand for records issued by investigators." So if you seek legal advice you don't have to explain it to the feds and identify your lawyer, so the feds can go after him or her. Hey, anyone, even a public defender, who represents someone suspected of terrorism is probably a terrorist too, right? That assumption was removed.

And the library thing was straightened out - librarians don't have to provide the feds with records of who reads what and tell no one they have given the feds a record of what you like to read. They can just be librarians, not secret agents.

The White House is unhappy with the changes, but they'll take this as a win, just four days before the whole USA Patriot Act was to have expired in a puff of smoke and the smell of cordite.

And the changes are minor. The rest stands - "federal officials can still obtain 'tangible items' like business records, including those from libraries and bookstores, for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations."

They just have to do it the old fashioned way, without enlisting librarians as informers and without harassing attorneys asked to look into things.

And they still have their "national security letters" directing employers, banks, credit card companies, and other such entities to turn over their records when asked, and the USA Patriot still prohibits those who must turn over these records from revealing they have done so to the "subject" of the probe. You'll never know. That's still in there. There's word that a whole bunch of these "national security letters" have been ordered for reporters who have written about the NSA thing or the secret prisons we run for people we have made non-people. But that can't be confirmed. No one is allowed to say anything about it.

It's a win for the White House side.

Of course it's not a "clean bill" - it has these new restrictions on selling over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines. You see, if you buy enough of that stuff you can actually use it to manufacture methamphetamines. Don't want that. It may have nothing to do with terrorism, but it's in there. And there's a maritime thing in there too, to impose "strict punishment on crew members who impede or mislead law enforcement officers trying to board their ships." Whatever. But then too there's nothing in there about opening up the Alaska wildlife refuges to oiling drilling, and no funds for the new NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte or for pocket parks in downtown Indianapolis. Close enough.

So late in the day the White House got a win, and they got a loss - White House Effort to Block Challenge to Ports Deal Collapses (Washington Post, dated March 8) -
Efforts by the White House to hold off legislation challenging a Dubai-owned company's acquisition of operations at six major U.S. ports collapsed yesterday when House Republican leaders agreed to allow a vote next week that could kill the deal.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) will attach legislation to block the port deal today to a must-pass emergency spending bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A House vote on the measure next week will set up a direct confrontation with President Bush, who sternly vowed to veto any bill delaying or stopping Dubai Ports World's purchase of London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steamship Co.
No, not that Jerry Lewis, the puffy old comedian the French used to like for some reason. This guy's a Republican from out this way. And he and the rest of the Republicans in the House of Representatives just told the president what he could do with this Dubai World Ports deal. He can stuff it. They'll stop it.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, the fellow who got Tom DeLay's job - "Listen, this is a very big political problem." Yep, he just wants the whole thing to go away. Speaker of the House, the former high school wrestling coach Dennis Hastert, is standing also standing behind this other Jerry Lewis. No deal. Former Bush-is-God types Duncan Hunter and Peter King are quoted as being outraged by the whole idea of a company owned but the United Arab Emirates operating out key ports.

This not a win. The White House will need to spin this quite a bit to say it is. And they sort of do
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said last night that the administration is "committed to keeping open and sincere lines of communication with Congress." She added, though, that "the president's position is unchanged."
Translation? "Gee, what interesting thoughts, and we appreciate them, but these interesting thoughts, and the people who think such interesting thoughts, don't mean a thing - the deal will go down - but we appreciate the heartfelt sincerity, as pointless as it is."

Not a win.

But the same day there was another win (details here) - Pat Roberts' Senate Intelligence Committee voted not to investigate any of that NSA spying on Americans without warrants stuff. The senator from Kansas met with the White House and decided that wasn't necessary. They could just form a subcommittee for "oversight" of this apparently illegal eavesdropping program. That'd do.

It looked like there might be an investigation. Senator Jay Rockefeller proposed one. He got key folks from the other side to agree - like Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. Pat went to the White House and came back saying it was a bad idea. And Snowe, after publicly saying hold the investigation, changed her mind. The committee voted to bag it, and her vote tipped it. Rockefeller is quoted as saying the committee is basically under the control of the White House - "It's an unprecedented bout of political pressure form the White House."

Really. That's what winning is about. They don't want anyone looking into this. Roberts is their man. Snowe knows Rove is dangerous. And a win is a win.

Of course there's another committee that will hold investigations. That's Arlen Spector's Senate Judiciary Committee. Spector, a Republican from Pennsylvania, isn't as pliant as Roberts. He thinks something smells here. We'll see if he visits the White House and sees the light.

Does the president have to obey the clear-as-day and quite specific law? He's says no, he has an exemption, Article II of the Constitution no one can question any battlefield decision he makes as commander-in-chief in wartime, or something like wartime. And this was a battlefield decision. That's just the way it is. And your telephone calls and emails are out there on the battlefield.

And the news is part of the battlefield too, as in this -
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today presented an upbeat report of the conflict in Iraq and said he agrees with the commander of the U.S.-led coalition, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., that the news media has exaggerated the number of civilian casualties in the conflict...

"We do know, of course, that al-Qaeda has media committees. We do know that they teach people exactly how to try to manipulate the media. They do this regularly. We see the intelligence that reports on their meetings. Now I can't take a string and tie it to a news report and then trace it back to an al-Qaeda media committee meeting. I'm not able to do that at all.

"We do know that their goal is to try to break the will; that they consider the center of gravity of this - not to be in Iraq, because they know they can't win a battle out there; they consider it to be in Washington, D.C., and in London and in the capitals of the Western world."
Their media is better than our media. If only our news folks were more like Fox News, cheering us on and keeping our "will" up, then we'd win. That's the real war. How people feel. We need to manipulate the media better than we have been doing. We need to catch up. We will have won when we convince people we have won, and everyone believes it, deeply.

Of course it's nonsense. If we all clap Tinkerbell won't die. That whole theory was discussed in these pages here in May of 2004 - this whole concept that the problem is that the media just isn't believing hard enough that we're winning. The mosques blow up. The murder squads go after folks. They cannot form a government even after the elections. But, according to Rumsfeld, it's a media problem. He's a pip.

But then, the same day, the media is filled with an example that Rumsfeld is onto something, and it's an ongoing big win for the administration. The media has a story that people are comfortable with, so they run it again. One more time, as in this in the Washington Post - "Democrats Struggle To Seize Opportunity - News about GOP political corruption, inept hurricane response and chaos in Iraq has lifted Democrats' hopes of winning control of Congress this fall. But seizing the opportunity has not been easy, as they found when they tried to unveil an agenda of their own."

It's called conventional wisdom.

The New York Times runs a variation here about how the Democrats are "trotting out" the fact that the Republicans have been lax on port security. How sad.

Yes, the Times notes this -
• In 2003, House Republicans, on a procedural vote, agreed to kill a Democratic amendment that would have added $250 million for port security grants to a war spending package.

• Two years later, nearly all House Republicans voted against an alternative Homeland Security authorization bill offered by Democrats that called for an additional $400 million for port security.

• Senate Republicans stood together in 2003 to set aside a Democratic amendment that would have provided $120 million more for port cargo screening equipment.

• One year later, all but six Senate Republicans voted to reject a Democratic attempt to add $150 million for port security in a Homeland Security appropriations bill.
But the Times sees the Democrats "trotting out" these facts as kind of pathetic. That's what real losers do when they have no agenda. Or something.

What's up with that?

NYU journalism professor Eric Alterman explains here -
The power of the consensus narrative in journalism is all but impermeable to reason or evidence. The right understands this and the left does not. That's why the right worries little about nuance or getting the details straight; it's the story that matters. Once you've defined the story, journalists struggle to make the facts fit the narrative rather than vice-versa.
E. J. Dionne at the Post agrees -
It is now an ingrained journalistic habit: After a period of bad news for President Bush, media outlets invariably devote time and space to "balancing" stories that all say more or less: "Yes, the Republicans are in trouble, but the Democrats have no alternatives, no plans," etc.

The pattern began to fall in place this weekend in the wake of two truly miserable weeks for Bush. The stories about the Democrats are by no means flatly false - Democrats don't yet have a fully worked-out alternative program - but they are based on a false premise, and they underestimate what I'll call the positive power of negative thinking. The false premise is that oppositions win midterm elections by offering a clear program, such as the Republicans' 1994 Contract With America.
That Contract With America came late in the 1994 campaign, and gas little to do with anything. It's not why the Republicans won. It was window-dressing. Dionne is talking about the power of the narrative, the story everyone accepts, as it's comfortable, like those old shoes that after a time just feel good.

So ignore this -
PRINCETON, NJ - The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Feb. 28 to March 1, finds the Democrats holding a substantial lead over the Republicans as the party more registered voters currently support in this fall's elections for Congress. More than half of registered voters (53%) favor the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in their district; only 39% favor the Republican.

Gallup's recent trends on this "generic ballot" question - from October 2005 through early February 2006 - found a smaller six- to seven-point lead for the Democrats. However, the current 14-point Democratic lead is similar to a 12-point Democratic lead recorded last August. It is also among the highest seen since the Republicans came into power more than a decade ago.
Doesn't fit the "story" - disregard. Everyone likes a good story. Why ruin it? (And for a discussion of narrative theory and how it shapes the news, see this in these pages from May of 2003.)

Of course there are some narratives that are as persistent as the "hapless, ineffective Democrats" myth (using the term myth in its proper sense, a shared fiction that explains the world). How did Will Rodgers put it? "I don't be belong to any organized political party - I'm a Democrat." The myth has been around forever.

The counter-myth is that of the fat-cat Babbitt Republican, as in the Congressional Quarterly reporting this -
On many a workday lunchtime, the nominal boss of U.S. intelligence, John D. Negroponte, can be found at a private club in downtown Washington, getting a massage, taking a swim, and having lunch, followed by a good cigar and a perusal of the daily papers in the club's library.

"He spends three hours there [every] Monday through Friday," gripes a senior counterterrorism official, noting that the former ambassador has a security detail sitting outside all that time in chase cars. Others say they've seen the Director of National Intelligence at the University Club, a 100-year-old mansion-like redoubt of dark oak panels and high ceilings a few blocks from the White House, only "several" times a week.
That makes sense to people. It's what they think happens, down to the cigar and the dark oak panels and high ceilings. That's the way things are supposed to be.

And the "little people" are supposed to suffer, nobly. That's how the world works, as you in this exchange between President Bush and a Nebraska supporter during on of those staged Social Security tours in Nebraska back when he wanted to "fix" that program -
Woman: "That's good, because I work three jobs and I feel like I contribute."

Bush: "You work three jobs?"

Woman: "Three jobs, yes."

Bush: "Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)"

Woman: "Not much. Not much."
Everything fits. The rich and powerful do what they do. The working stiffs do what they do. All is right with the world. Everyone wins. (Credit: SusanG at "Daily Kos" seems to be the first to line up these two items here.)

But sometimes the narratives, the myths bump up against each other. It happened out here in Los Angeles on Ash Wednesday, as you can see here when Los Angeles' Cardinal Roget Mahoney ran the old Christian myth up the flagpole, and no one saluted - if Congress passes legislation to criminalize the act of offering support to an illegal immigrant, he will instruct his priests and Catholic parishioners to ignore the law.

Oops. Lots of angry letters to the Los Angeles Times as the "broken borders" narrative - we need to build a wall, we're being overrun, our schools and hospitals are swamped with criminals who snuck in - championed by Lou Dobbs on CNN and half the Republican Party - runs the other way. The Republican sponsors of the bill say that they're just targeting those who smuggle immigrants, but they've written such a broad definition of "alien smuggling" that it could potentially include babysitting for a neighbor or working at a soup kitchen. The legislation has already passed the House and is being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Mahoney says he'll close no soup kitchens. He'll take care of these people in need. It's the Christian thing to do. There are irate letters in the Times every day asking how the CHURCH could advocate breaking the law - that's just not right, and seems immoral. Various priest are, each day, saying they're with Mahoney - it's a matter of conscience.

Sometimes the narratives collide. Don't you hate when that happens? The shared fiction that explains the world splits in two. Yipes.

There's another example of that here from Digby at Hullabaloo, regarding the big news out of the heartland - South Dakota Bans Abortion, Setting Up a Battle.

They banned abortion almost completely. No exception for rape or incest, and very few for the health of the woman. Five years in jail for any doctor involved - Class 5 felony. They want to see if they can get this past the newly configured US Supreme Court.

But Digby covers the logic here. They say abortion is the murder of actual children, but only make it a Class 5 felony, not murder. And should the woman be held legally liable for having an illegal abortion? What about charging her with at least a Class 5 felony, if not murder? There's something wrong with the narrative. They don't have their story straight.

He links to a video in which anti-abortion protesters are asked why not punish the woman. And they seem not to have thought of that -
That is as I suspected. It's time we make them think about it. Most anti-abortion legislation makes no sense morally and these people need to be led through the various steps that will show them this. The cognitive dissonance was apparent on these people's faces. It's a question that everyone from the family pro-choice supporter to professional interviewers should always ask.

Picture if you will a poll in which Americans are asked if women should be jailed for murdering their unborn child with an illegal abortion. What do you think they would say? Considering the fact that even the anti-abortion picketers in that video don't know what to say, I think it's fair to assume that it would be rejected by more than 90 percent of the population.

That's because it's clear that there is almost nobody who believes that abortion is murder in the legal sense of the word. How can there be a law against "murder" where the main perpetrator is not punished? How can it be murder if these people don't believe that the person who planned it, hired someone to do and paid for it is not legally culpable?

The looks on these women's faces in that video were amazing: confusion, frustration, pain. Their position is untenable and they know it.

... I think we need to have this discussion. Let's debate it out in the open and "air both sides" because from where I sit it's the "pro-lifers" who haven't thought this thing through. Nobody says they can't agitate against abortion and stand out there with their sickening pictures and try to dissuade women from doing it. I will defend their right to argue against abortion forever. But when they use the law to enforce their moral worldview they need to recognize that they can't have it both ways. If fetuses are human and have the same rights as the women in whom they live, then a woman who has an abortion must logically be subject to the full force of the law. It would be a premeditated act of murder no different than if she hired a hit man to kill her five-year-old. The law will eventually be able to make no logical moral distinction. Is everybody ready for that?
No. Apparently not. You don't mess with myths, although the "abortion is murder" narrative has its internal contradictions.

Well, you win arguments on other grounds. The president wins most by just doing what he wants. What argument? He trusts enough folks buy into the myth of the presidency where he's some sort of fisher-king, if you know the narrative there, down to the detail of the hero killing his own father to renew that land and all that sort of thing. Rumsfeld is saying winning a matter of taking hold of the narrative and redirecting the myth - winning is defining winning and facts and reality are minor matters of little importance. Cardinal Mahoney is on this old narrative no one's buying - good works and doing that right thing trump the laws of man. The anti-abortion folks need to get their story straight.

If you're going to win, you need to get your story straight.

Posted by Alan at 23:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 7 March 2006 23:19 PST home

Monday, 6 March 2006
When the facts aren't enough...
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

When the facts aren't enough...

Preface

In early January in these pages, in We Ourselves Are Only Temporarily Modern, you would find a discussion of a short column by Eric Jager that appeared in the Los Angeles Times as the month began. Jager, who teaches medieval literature at UCLA, there argues we are not in the Information Age at all, or the Digital Age or the Connectivity Age, or whatever you choose. This is the New Middle Ages. And he thinks we ought to be honest about it - "With the resurgence of legalized torture, rampant religious fanaticism, widespread poverty and illiteracy, the threat of mysterious plagues, fascination with magic and the occult and suspicion of science, what else would you call it?"

Maybe so. There's this - a 1741 play by Voltaire, the French champion of that eighteenth-century Enlightenment thing, cannot be performed - too dangerous. You cannot even perform it in one of the more obscure corners of the world. From the Wall Street Journal via the Santa Barbara News-Press
SAINT-GENIS-POUILLY, France - Late last year, as an international crisis was brewing over Danish cartoons of Muhammad, Muslims raised a furor in this little alpine town over a much older provocateur: Voltaire, the French champion of the 18th-century Enlightenment.

A municipal cultural center here on France's border with Switzerland organized a reading of a 265-year-old play by Voltaire, whose writings helped lay the foundations of modern Europe's commitment to secularism. The play, ''Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet,'' uses the founder of Islam to lampoon all forms of religious frenzy and intolerance.

The production quickly stirred up passions that echoed the cartoon uproar. ''This play ... constitutes an insult to the entire Muslim community,'' said a letter to the mayor of Saint-Genis-Pouilly, signed by Said Akhrouf, a French-born cafe owner of Moroccan descent and three other Islamic activists representing Muslim associations. They demanded the performance be cancelled...
But the performance was not canceled. The socialist mayor of the town, Hubert Bertrand, arranged for extra police for a reading last December. And there was a small riot - a car torched and a few garbage cans too. Bertrand says this was ''the most excitement we've ever had down here." No doubt. (The news item gives background on the play itself, by the way - the theme is the use of religion to promote and mask political ambition, and it may have been a thinly-veiled attack on Christianity, using Islam for ironic effect, as the Paris Roman Catholic clergy denounced the thing when it was for performed 1741. Go figure - or go read this, a hyper-scholarly discussion of the play by David Hammerback also of UCLA, if you can keep your eyes open.)

Background? There's this
...Supporters of Europe's secular values have rushed to embrace Voltaire as their standard-bearer. France's national library last week opened an exhibition dedicated to the writer and other Enlightenment thinkers. It features a police file started in 1748 on Voltaire, highlighting efforts by authorities to muzzle him. ''Spirit of the Enlightenment, are you there?'' asked a headline Saturday in Le Figaro, a French daily newspaper.

A debate on Swiss television last month degenerated into a shouting match when the director of the Saint-Genis-Pouilly performance accused a prominent Muslim of campaigning to censor Voltaire in the past. The two men also have traded insults in the French media...
Well, everyone writing about the international furor, riots and deaths following the publication of those cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in an obscure right-wing Danish newspaper, sooner or later gets around to mentioning Voltaire and Enlightenment, one way or the other. The news item mentions a headline in France Soir as the demonstrations around the world escalated into riots with embassies being set ablaze here and there and all the rest - ''Help us Voltaire. They've gone mad.'' But he's dead, real dead. Gone. He may have said ''I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it," but that's so eighteenth-century. We've moved on.

That sort of tolerance is now seen as insulting, and irresponsible - now the "good people" stand, hands over their ears, eyes closed shut, for their specific values, and their "deeply held beliefs." That's how you tell just who are the good people - the "values coalition" that always votes Republican (even against their own economic interests) over here, and the "insult The Prophet and you DIE" follow-our-rules coalition over there.

Of course, generally, we have moved on from valuing that other Enlightenment stuff that actually underpins the tolerance - relying less on God and working more with reason and "human" understanding, and working with facts and reality, using the methods of science to figure out what's up (look at the evidence, and if you have a theory of how something works, test it, and, if it works, show that anyone can do the same thing). Good enough for Jefferson and the Founding Fathers - and modern science and all the resulting technology followed, and modern medicine and safe food and all the rest.

So basically you work with the facts, the observable facts. Everything else follows. That did some good over the long years.

But then, of course, you have to agree on the facts.

Facts

So what are the facts in what is the oddest thing this country has ever done - start an elective war on evidence that turned out to be wrong, invading and occupying a country where we are now pretty much resented, inflaming anti-Western anger and resentment around the world, making us less safe than ever before, exhausting the military an transforming to economy to keep it afloat on bonds we sell to foreign governments, a few of which, or maybe most of which, don't have our best interests in mind all the time?

Will Iraq be able to avoid what seems like a slide into civil war, with the Shiite and Sunni Muslims fighting in the streets endlessly as each jockeys for power, while up north the Kurds just get rich and become a de facto nation on their own? Since now two thousand three hundred of our troops have died in this business, and more than ten thousand have been maimed for life, it would be nice to know if things will, say, work out? It's not like none of our business. If Iraq is a shambles and the world hates us - or in the case of our allies, resents us and doesn't believe what we say and thinks we're going through a period of stunning block-headed foolishness - then it would be nice to know if this will all work out and we'll be vindicated. This is the government we elected. It represents what we seem to have wanted.

Just how are we doing? These guys in Washington work for us. Time for a report to the stockholders, or whatever.

Are things getting better?

Before the Oscar stuff on march 5th you could have watched the Sunday talk shows, where such "reports to the people" are generally made, but the second and third tier folks as the man the top explains things only infrequently, and then in no detail and without much "fact" (he sees his job as to motivate us, not to explain much of anything).

So that Sunday you could listen to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace say things are "going very, very well" in Iraq, as in "I wouldn't put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they're going very, very well from everything you look at."

Oh.

He cited political progress - holding elections and writing a constitution - and military progress - training Iraqi security forces. What about the mosques blowing up and all the dead people? Well, that Shiite mosque thing two weeks ago did cause some "problems," but that had forced Iraqis to look into "that abyss" and realize "that's not where they want to go." He said, "I believe the Iraqi people have shown in the last week to ten days that they do not want civil war."

Is that a fact? There's more detail in the Associated Press account here, but the truth of this, or its truthiness (close enough for the rubes), is not exactly clear. Work with the facts, the observable facts. Of course, he's been there. All we have is what we see in the news. The news must be wrong. His facts are better than the reporters' facts?

No - he's offering a theory (look at the evidence, and if you have a theory of how something works, test it, and, if it works, show that anyone can see just the same thing). That was on NBC's Meet the Press.

Over on CBS' Face the Nation you could see that congressman from the Deer Hunter part of Western Pennsylvania, John Murtha, suggesting the theory wasn't supportable by observation - Iraq has sixty percent unemployment, oil production well below prewar levels, water service to only thirty percent of the population. And that's not good. And as for civil war, he said we're doing everything we can militarily but our forces "are caught in a civil war" - it's that ethnic-religious thing. "There's two participants fighting for survival and fighting for supremacy inside that country, and that's my definition of a civil war."

Oh. He was a Marine for thirty years and a congressman just about as long, and he's got lots of friends in the highest levels of the military. Are all these then facts? There does seem to be aa bit more detail, detail about the electricity and all that can be confirmed.

Who to believe?

Murtha was asked if he believed General Pace. He said, "No, why would I believe him?" Dead silence.

So to help out he listed the things that didn't turn out to be so - the WMD not there, no ties to al Qaeda and all the rest. And this. "The rhetoric is so frustrating - when they keep making statements which are very optimistic, and then it turns out to be the opposite."

But we believe Pace. The administration wouldn't lie. It's all in how you look at it.

Well, no. Over at Crooks and Liars (here) there are links to video files where you can see Murtha say this -
The public is way ahead of what's going on in Washington. They no longer believe it. The troops themselves, seventy percent of the troops said we want to come home within a year. The only solution to this is to redeploy. Let me tell you, the only people who want us in Iraq is Iran and al-Qaeda. I've talked to a top-level commander the other day, it was about two weeks ago, and he said China wants us there also. Why? Because we're depleting our resources, our troop resources and our fiscal resources.
Do people see that? Maybe so. It sounds true, not truthy - and rubes who believe "truthiness" sometime recover from their rubidity (a term used in medicine with another meaning, and in brewing, but used in a different sense here).

On the other hand, military families hate Murtha (personal experience in this case). One is reminded of the Roman Catholic clergy in Paris in 1741. "He's full of it - he doesn't know anything." Or, "He's dangerous, undermining our troops, and our faith in what we're doing." Or, "La, la, la, la - I can't hear you." (Yeah, that last one is a line in an Eddie Murphy movie.)

But then there are some odd events. You remember the AC-130 gunship things from the Vietnam War - fly low and slow and lay down a wall of 50 mm metal, circling an area for hours if necessary. Nothing lives down there. Very effective. Note here we just moved two to a base in Iraq. Things are getting better? (Note here that they're named Spectre and Spooky.)

And the day after Pace and Murtha had their say, this -
One of the highest-ranking generals in Iraq's new, U.S.-trained army was shot dead in Baghdad on Monday, the U.S. military and Iraqi police said.

Major General Mubdar Hatim al-Dulaimi, commander of all Iraqi army forces in the capital, was killed by a sniper, police sources said. he was shot as he drove through western Baghdad.
One comment here - "Reports that Bush shut his eyes, put his fingers in his ears, and began shouting "Purple Finger! Purple Finger! Purple Finger! Purple Finger!" at the top of his lungs when told of Gen. al-Dulaimi's death have not been confirmed."

Fallout? There's this -
Iraq's president failed in a bid Monday to order parliament into session by March 12, further delaying formation of a government and raising questions whether the political process can withstand the unrelenting violence or disintegrate into civil war.

The deadlock came as snipers assassinated Maj. Gen. Mibder Hatim al-Dulaimi, the Sunni Arab in charge of Iraqi forces protecting the capital. A torrent of bombings and shootings killed 25 more Iraqis on Monday, ending a relative lull in violence. Officials also found four bodies...
Looks like we won't have a government there soon. Our commander in Iraq, General George W. Casey, sent condolences to "his family, tribe, and the Iraqi Army during this tragic loss." His statement included, "This tragic incident will neither impede the 6th Iraqi Army Division from continuing its mission of securing Baghdad nor derail the formation of the government of Iraq."

But there'll be no parliament for the foreseeable future. The facts be damned - nothing is derailed.

''Help us Voltaire. They've gone mad.''

Getting the Facts

So where do you get the facts? The government supplies some. People you know supply some. Some you dig up yourself. You try to sift through what seem like facts until you're satisfied a few of the, actually are like facts. And you also consult the press - they hire people to find out the facts and write them down. You pay them, one way or another, to do that - and if you get what seem like facts, well, you keep paying them. It's hard enough to figure out what the heck is going on. You tap all your sources.

But you may lose one. As Pace and Murtha gave their different "facts" that Sunday morning, on the front page of the Washington Post you could read this -
The Bush administration, seeking to limit leaks of classified information, has launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. The efforts include several FBI probes, a polygraph investigation inside the CIA and a warning from the Justice Department that reporters could be prosecuted under espionage laws.

In recent weeks, dozens of employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies have been interviewed by agents from the FBI's Washington field office, who are investigating possible leaks that led to reports about secret CIA prisons and the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillance program, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials familiar with the two cases...
And if your read on you'll see they're talking about going after journalists - James Risen at the New York Times for writing about the NSA warrantless spying on our own citizens, and Dana Priest at the Post for revealing our collection of secret foreign prison where there are no rules, and so much more. It's not just making them choose between revealing their sources or going to jail. Yes, that would make it possible to prosecute the whistle-blowers in the government. (They're also hinting at criminal action against the Times and the Post for violating the Espionage Act - revealing state secrets in wartime. Ten years in jail, minimum. Ah, but that's only a hint. Some leaks are useful. Some are treason.)

Up at Harvard, the man who has been a top-level advisor to four presidents, three Democrats and one Republican, David Gergen, had a few things to say that same Sunday morning on CNN, on Howard Kurtz's Reliable Sources (video and partial transcript here, emphases added) -
KURTZ: ... and that is the story on the front page of this morning's "Washington Post" about White House effort to stem leaks. And it talks about the administration, the Bush administration, having launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. These involve federal employees being questioned on "The New York Times" story about the national security wiretaps, on the "Washington Post" story about secret CIA prisons, Valerie Plame, all of that.

Do you - you have been on both sides of this fence. Do you see this as an administration that really is going after journalists, or just legitimately trying to stem the flow of classified information leaking out to the press?

GERGEN: I am glad you brought that up. This administration has engaged in secrecy at a level we have not seen in over thirty years. Unfortunately, I have to bring up the name of Richard Nixon, because we haven't seen it since the days of Nixon. And now what they're doing - and they're using the war on terror to justify - is they're starting to target journalists who try to pierce the veil of secrecy and find things and put them in the newspapers.

Now, in the past what the government has always done is go after the people who leak, the inside people. That's the way they try to stop leaks. This is the first administration that I can remember, including Nixon's, that said - and Porter Goss said this to Congress - that we need to think about a law that would put journalists who print national security things to... bring them up in front of grand juries and put them in jail if they don't - in effect, if they don't reveal their sources.
Well, times change. But many on the web are point to this (emphases added) -
In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, "write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?" Wallace's answer to those questions was published in the Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. See how much you think his statements apply to our society today: "The really dangerous American fascist," Wallace wrote, ". . . is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power."

In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism he saw rising in America, Wallace added, "They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection."
Well, Vice President Henry Wallace is not Vice President Richard "Dick" Cheney. And now, in 2006, we face a real threat, not as, in 1944, just a minor problem, that war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. Right.

Well, this could put a certain damper on the press. No one wants to go to jail.

And there's more.

As the widely read Glenn Reynolds says here, believe General Casey, specifically, and the administration generally. And these pesky facts the press keeps digging up about which laws we break and which treaties we violate and about all the torture stuff? A warning - "The press had better hope we win this war, because if we don't, a lot of people will blame the media."

Got it? The press reveals how we get things done. That aids the enemy. If they win, you can only blame the press.

The First Amendment attorney, Glenn Greenwald here -
Those who insisted on this war, who started it, who prosecuted it, who controlled every single facet of its operation - they have no blame at all for the failure of this war. Nope. They were right all along about everything. It all would have worked had war critics just kept their mouths shut. The ones who are to blame are the ones who never believed in this war, who control no aspect of the government, who were unable to influence even a single aspect of the war, who were shunned, mocked and ridiculed, and who have been out of power since the war began. They are the ones to blame. They caused this war to fail.
Greenwald seems a bit bitter. But the talking point has been established. It's out there. Greenwald may mock it. It's gathering strength.

Who lost Iraq (if it's lost)? The press?

Funny, the chief neoconservative theorist and "preemptive war around the world for the good of the natives out there" cheerleader at both the Weekly Standard and from his perch as commentator at Fox News, William "Bill" Kristol, the same day as all the rest here, suggests, well, if Iraq is lost, maybe it's because Bush, Cheney and the rest, are, oddly, incompetent -
I think it's become in people's minds an emblem of the administration that just isn't as serious about the competent execution of the functions of government as it should be. And even - I'm struck talking to conservatives and Republicans - they agree with the president on basic political philosophy, the they agree with his basic policy agenda, but they are worried that they just don't seem to be able to execute as well as they should be.
He's allowed to say that on Fox News - Bush and his gang can't do what they say? Glenn Reynolds will get him.

But the poll Murtha refers to, showing seventy percent of our troops say it's time to pack it in, can't be right either. That can't be "a fact." Why? Well, here Josh Marshall points to an item in the Fort Collins Coloradoan - military officers in uniform has started standing on stage at political rallies for Republican congressmen. The poll must be wrong. The military backs the Republicans. A fact?

Well, there is a ban on that -
... The existence of this ban and the enforcement of it are hugely important both to good order and discipline within the military and to preserving our democratic republic. The military can't be made into an arm of one or the other political party. Nor can the executive be allowed to enlist members of the armed forces, either individually or en masse, willingly or not, as soldiers in his domestic political battles.
Times change. The military takes sides.

And they side with the man who doesn't keep up on things. Out here Ron Brownstein opens his Sunday column with this -
President Bush barreled straight ahead with old answers when ABC's Elizabeth Vargas asked him a new question about Iraq last week. And like any driver who missed a turn in the road, the president quickly found himself in a ditch.

Vargas sensibly asked Bush how the growing civil strife in Iraq between the majority Shiites and the Sunnis who dominated the country under Saddam Hussein might change the U.S. mission there. Bush, to his credit, acknowledged the importance of encouraging Iraqis to form a "unity government" in the dangerously prolonged political haggling that has followed December's election.

But the president gave no hint he'd considered how the widening gulf between Sunni and Shiite might alter America's strategy. Instead, he summoned old sound bites, as if cueing them on tape. "The troops are chasing down terrorists," he told Vargas. And: "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

Those arguments reflect the model that Bush, his aides and most Americans have used to understand the war in Iraq. In that framework, Iraq - like Vietnam - is a contest between a central government and an insurgency determined to overthrow it.

But many experts are asking whether that construct really explains the challenge in Iraq anymore - especially after the horrific sectarian violence that swept the country following the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.
Never mind. Say the magic words. Things will be fine. Barrel straight ahead.

Facts? ''Help us Voltaire. They've gone mad.''

And there are the facts about the odd death of Pat Tillman, NFL hero turned war hero, except our guys shot him. The Inspector General of the Pentagon has asked the army to open a criminal investigation into Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan (story here). Go here for an analysis of the whole context of why it was important to cover up the "friendly fire" thing and lie to the family for so long. The news cycle didn't allow it. Some facts need to be timed. The fact, from family and friends and from his own letters and notes, that Tillman thought the Iraq war was stupid (Afghanistan made sense to him), and that Tillman liked reading Noam Chomsky (gasp!), is dealt with here - a clip of Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, agreeing on Fox News that they just didn't believe it. "La, la, la, la - I can't hear you."

Yeah, but people pay attention (sometimes) to the evidence. And sometimes they apply logic, not faith, and come yup with things like this - If Saddam is found guilty of genocide, can Rumsfeld be innocent? Think about it - "The question to ponder is this: If Saddam Hussein is guilty of genocide for gassing Kurds in 1982 and the Reagan Administration via Rumsfeld's efforts concluded an agreement with him one year later that supplied weapons and important weapons technology, including the wherewithal to manufacture poison gas, then can Rumsfeld and other involved parties be anything other than complicit in genocide?"

Logic can be a bitch. No wonder these guys want to move well beyond Voltaire and the Enlightenment.

__

Time for a little William Blake (1757-1827) - faith always wins

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau:
Mock on, mock on: 'tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.

And every sand becomes a Gem,
Reflected in the beam divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking Eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And the Newton's Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.

Posted by Alan at 23:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006 23:10 PST home

Sunday, 5 March 2006
Thoughts and Images for Oscar Day in Hollywood
Topic: Announcements

Thoughts and Images for Oscar Day in Hollywood

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent of this web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 10 for the week of March 5, 2006 - the view from Hollywood.

This week in Current Events, seven items - analysis of and commentary on the new stories of the past seven days, from the business with Dubai Ports World (sounds like a cheesy theme park) and our ports, to what looks like civil war brewing in Iraq and all the neoconservative thinkers changing their minds (and all the negative polls, even from our troops), to that trip to India and the odd deal about nuclear support, to the new Hurricane Katrina business with the revealing videotapes, to any number of juicy scandals, to minor details (the key password that lets you hack most electronic voting machines), to the conceptual issues for policy wonks, ending with a dialog where readers from all over discuss what can and cannot change.

Correspondents? A first-hand report, with photos, of that mountain lion in a suburban Los Angeles backyard, and from Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, March coming in like a lion in Paris.

Bob Patterson is back, with the World's Laziest Journalist's take on what he hears on talk radio about the Dubai deal, and with the Book Wrangler's take on a fine publishing house.

Photos this week? Hollywoodland. There actually is such a place. And some shots of "insider stuff" - below the line organizations headquartered here on Sunset Boulevard. And in the "art photo" mode, some odd walls with Hollywood history. And a very odd old movie poster. And a Hollywood dog named Sherlock. And the usual botanicals - six this week, including strawberries.

Quotes this week? We publish on the day the Oscars are handed out, so we gather all the quotes about Hollywood over the last three and half years.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

The Next Election Let's All Join In For The Results We Want
Close Enough: Close Enough For Some, Not For Others
Differentiations: There's News And Then There's News
Midweek Madness: Specific Chickens - Briefly Forgotten - Coming Home To Roost
Defining Success: Ups And Downs, But Mostly Down
Closing the Week: Getting the Details Wrong, and the Concept
Dialog: Changing Things

Elsewhere ______________________

Nature: A Mountain Lion in Los Angeles
Our Man in Paris: The News There

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of World's Laziest Journalist - Dubya and Dubai - Rx for Republican Disaster?
Book Wrangler: A German Publisher Finds An American Market

Local Photography ______________________

A Tour: Adventures in Hollywoodland
The Industry: Very Local Organizations
Odd Walls
Values: Hollywood has always been out of touch with Middle America...
Sherlock
Botanicals

Quotes for the week of March 5, 2006 - Hollywood and the Movies

Commentary here will resume this evening. And something new will be posted later on the sister blog, Just Above Sunset Photography.

Posted by Alan at 12:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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