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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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Sunday, 19 March 2006
Hot Off The Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot Off The Virtual Press

Just Above Sunset logoThe new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is the parent to this daily web log, is now on line. This is Volume 4, Number 12 for the week of March 19, 2006.

This week's issue opens with five extended commentaries - on the third anniversary of the war we're waging, on the rhetoric and posturing of the past week, on the issue of what we seem to expect in leaders, manliness and competence and how we define those, on religion and politics (and on that fellow who sold his soul on eBay), and finally, on a simmering background issue, healthcare in America, but here offering the extended observations of a reader from Canada on how things work there, and here. The first drafts of these appeared earlier here.

The International Desk is dark. Our Man in Paris will return next month, or perhaps sooner.

This week there's a wide array of photography, again from the edge of Los Angeles - The Most Picturesque Basketball Court In The World, something for those who like incredible stonework, startling botanicals, a stab at nature photography with a more than a few birds, and a look at the coast here - the part you seldom see.

And there's a new feature, links to pages at Just Above Sunset Photography, where one or two special shots are posted each day that don't fit into any theme for the weekly.

Bob Patterson is back too, with an item on nonsense and a Book Wrangler item on books by or about starving artists.

The quotes? Matters related to the war turning four.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

Milestones: Three, Going on Four
Perspective and Fear: Starting the week with alarms and chaos...
Manliness and Competence
Religion: Tales of the eBay Atheist
Healthcare: When Politics Become Personal, A Canadian View

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in Paris is busy. Sorry. He explains here.

Southern California Photography ______________________

March Madness: The Most Picturesque Basketball Court In The World
Stonework
Botanicals: Detailed Pairings
Birds
The Coast

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Don't Step In The Buncombe!
Book Wrangler: Vicarious Looks At The Life Of A Starving Artist

Quotes for the week of March 19, 2006 - As the War Turns Four

New photos at Just Above Sunset Photography ______________________

Hollywood Places
Hollywood Wall
Racing with the moon...
Roots (light and shadow)
The Flag

Posted by Alan at 08:37 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 19 March 2006 08:40 PST home

Saturday, 18 March 2006
Milestones: Three, Going on Four
Topic: Dissent

Milestones: Three, Going on Four

On Saint Patrick's Day three years ago we saw this on television - the president, standing behind a podium, stiff and grim, saying that if Saddam Hussein didn't step down, if he didn't give up and leave Iraq, we'd invade and remove him and his government. He had forty-eight hours. Forty-eight hours later we attacked. It was over before long. He was gone. We were there.

We're still there. The war turns four.

On May 1st in 2003 the president declared "Mission Accomplished" (the White House photos from the aircraft carrier off San Diego are here - the shots of the "Mission Accomplished" banner looming large in the background now gone - it's just barely visible in one shot).

No one seems to have any victory celebrations planned for May 1st - but, since that is the day set aside by the Second Socialist International in 1889 to commemorate "labor" and celebrated around the world, there is a conflict. That day is already "taken." And people seem to be using the weekend of March 18-19 to have their say about the ongoing war.

Saturday was the big day.

Around the world here (AP) - "Thousands of people held anti-war demonstrations Saturday in global protests that marked the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq by demanding that coalition troops pull out." But everyone is just tired - in London, police said about fifteen thousand marched from Parliament and Big Ben to a rally in Trafalgar Square, but the authorities had been told there'd be a hundred thousand. In Stockholm, about a thousand marched to our Embassy, and it seems someone held up a United States flag with the white stars replaced by dollar signs. Two thousand marched in Copenhagen, and more around Denmark - the five hundred thirty Danish troops stationed in southern Iraq need to come home. AP notes big demonstrations in Turkey, but then "previously close relations with Washington were severely strained after parliament refused to allow U.S. troops to launch operations into Iraq from Turkish territory." And there was that movie -
A movie depicting Americans as the bad guys in Iraq has become a super hit in Turkey, a secular Muslim country and a NATO ally of the United States.

More than 2.5 million Turks thronged to see the movie "Valley of the Wolves - Iraq" in the first 10 days and pirate copies reportedly are doing a roaring business.

"The film is absolutely magnificent," Bulent Arinc, the parliament speaker and one of several politicians to attend the gala in Ankara, told The London Times. "It is completely true to life."
And elsewhere? "In Italy, Romano Prodi, the center-left leader who is challenging conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi in next month's election, said he and his supporters wouldn't join Rome's march because of a risk of violence." And there were small demonstrations in Greece, Berlin, Vienna, and Spain of course, and three thousand marched in Seoul, South Korea.

The French were busy - "Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of French cities to protest against a youth labor law proposed by the prime minister." All three cable networks carried live images, long segments of scuffles in Paris, not any of the ant-war marches around the world. And the administration thought French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was their enemy, given what happened at the UN when he was the French ambassador there and elegantly dismissed Colin Powell's "smoking gun" presentation on why the UN had to get behind our proposed overthrow of the government in Iraq. Now he's keeping the anti-war images off our television screens by arranging photogenic street battles on the boulevards of Paris that are far more compelling than scruffy marchers at the same time seeking some air time. Very convenient. But, of course, not his plan.

Here in Hollywood, there was this - "Paul Haggis, the Canadian director of 'Crash,' this year's Oscar winner for best picture, will lead a protest in Hollywood this weekend against the war in Iraq, now three years old, organizers said."

Yep, he's Canadian, and the movie is about how people just cannot connect in this awful, dangerous, crime-ridden place - so Canadians know something we don't? Noon. Hollywood and Vine. But the Paris scenes are on television. We'll, Haggis is a director, not a marketing guy. Martin Sheen and Harry Belafonte seemed like a good idea. So was Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, the author of the book "Born on the Fourth of July" - later a film where Tom Cruise played Kovic (Oliver Stone won the 1990 Oscar for Best Direction, Cruise was nominated for Best Actor). But then, Tom Cruise wasn't there. He was also busy - he had just forced Comedy Central to cancel a "South Park" episode about Scientology, threatening to boycott publicity events for his new movie and pull ads and all that. The extraterrestrial Thetans inside his brain told him protecting the faith was from satiric cartoons more important, just like in the world of radical Islam.

But the marches are pointless.

Yes, three years ago Rumsfeld was talking about a war that would last weeks rather than months. Cheney was saying out troops being greeted as liberators. We had a spare Iraqi government in reserve - Ahmed Chalabi (with his PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago) and his band of Iraqi-Americans who after three or four decades exile wanted to get back home. Pop them in power. Accept thanks. Go home.

Yes, that didn't work out. We have 133,000 troops still serving in Iraq, some on third and fourth tours of duty. And there was this on the 16th from the US commander for the Middle East, General John Abizaid - "The general trend, given a legitimate government emerging, will be, Iraqis do more, we do less and eventually more reductions come about." Abizaid says troop levels are trending downward, generally, but this is "a period of sensitivity" when "sectarian tensions are high." He thinks national unity government must be formed in the "relative near term."

The new Iraqi parliament did meet, finally, for the first time, on the 16th - for thirty minutes. They couldn't agree on a speaker. They adjourned indefinitely. They'll meet again later, sometime. The "relative near term" seems unlikely.

This isn't looking good, and here Reuters surveys the thinking of experts on what to expect in the next three years of this - something between, on the upside, "gloomy," and on the downside, "apocalyptic" -
"The reconstruction is destined to fail," said Pierre-Jean Luizard, an Iraq expert at France's CNRS state research council. "Iraq is condemned to an endless civil war."

... Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst at the U.S. National Defense College, saw no great change soon: "I see the current situation - the insurgency and violence - persisting for the next foreseeable period. I don't know what the period is."

Henner Fuertig at the German Institute for Middle East Studies envisages four scenarios, more or less equally likely. They range from a best case where the U.S. plan actually works to a worst, in which civil war combines with a proxy "war of civilizations" between Muslims and Americans fought in Iraq.

... Another could be a new, probably Shi'ite, "dictatorship". That possibility was also raised by Charles Tripp, a British historian of Iraq, who questioned how much party "oligarchs" in Baghdad can control supporters and leaders in the provinces. "Much will hinge on the relationship between the two," he said. Political parties are weak, he added. Bargaining in the capital would depend on whether local followers respect their leaders' promises on security, oil supplies or other issues. If not, anarchy and local warlordism could prevail.

... The International Crisis Group think-tank said last month: "A civil war ... could trigger the country's dissolution, as Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites step up the swapping of populations ... It would come at terrifying human cost."

One personal story, among many, is illuminating. A Shi'ite relative of an Iraqi journalist was shot at home in the Sunni city of Fallujah by sectarian gunmen this week. It took days to bury him because of obstructive local officials and medical staff who made no secret of their anti-Shi'ite views. "When a couple of thugs start killing people for their religion, it's bad," the journalist said. "But when a whole community joins in with them, I'm not sure there's any hope."
Just reporting. That's what they said. It could all work out. You never know.

But marching down Hollywood Boulevard on a Saturday afternoon demanding that the war end will help? It's hard to see how. The administration will suddenly see no one trusts them and most thing this is going badly and will end badly?

They know that. A week of awful polling ended with this from Newsweek -
President Bush's approval rating has dropped to new lows on domestic issues and public anger is rising over his handling of Iraq and homeland security, according to NEWSWEEK's latest poll. ... His image as an effective leader in the war on terror is tarnished, with less than half the public (44 percent) approving of the way he's handling terrorism and homeland security. Despite a series of presidential speeches meant to bolster support for the war in Iraq, as well as the announcement of a major military offensive when the poll was getting under way, only 29 percent of the people questioned approved Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq. Fully 65 percent disapprove.
They know.

The counterargument came from the president in his weekly radio address, as the AP explains here - you see, all that sectarian violence in Iraq, with mosques blowing up left and right and reprisal executions of the families of those who have insulted the other, is really a good thing. Why, you ask? Because it "has motivated warring political factions to move quickly to set up a representative government."

Yep, it's a great motivational tool. Except they're not doing that.

AP - "Bush's broadcast came in advance of a speech he plans to deliver in Cleveland on Monday, the second in a series of talks marking Sunday's three-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In the speech, Bush will discuss how the United States is working with various sectors of Iraqi society to defeat terrorists, restore calm and help rebuild homes and communities."

He'd better screen his audiences more carefully than ever before.

And as for that major military offensive launched when the Newsweek poll was getting underway (news item here), well, luckily the polling was completed before items like this -
According to a colleague of mine from Time who traveled up there today on a U.S. embassy-sponsored trip, there are no insurgents, no fighting and 17 of the 41 prisoners taken have already been released after just one day. The "number of weapons caches" equals six, which isn't unusual when you travel around Iraq. They're literally everywhere.

... About 1,500 troops were involved, 700 American and 800 Iraqi. But get this: in the area they're scouring there are only about 1,500 residents. According to my colleague and other reporters who were there, not a single shot has been fired.

"Operation Swarmer" is really a media show. It was designed to show off the new Iraqi Army - although there was no enemy for them to fight.
Then Time reported On Scene: How Operation Swarmer Fizzled -
... Contrary to what many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war... In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

The operation... was initiated by intelligence from Iraq security forces... But by Friday afternoon, the major targets seemed to have slipped through their fingers.
And elsewhere a Vietnam veteran says this - "Hey, folks, this is a small operation. It sounds like a battalion of infantry (maybe two battalions) from the 101st Airborne Division and some Iraqi police troops. In Vietnam this operation would have been too small to have been given a name. It would have just been, 'what you were doing tomorrow.'"

Was someone impressed? (Note: for a full discussion of the effects of air assaults and aerial bombardment on "insurgency" or "guerrilla" forces see this - the effect is always to increase the anger and will of the resistance, and to assure more people join them.)

But there will be the speech Monday in Cleveland. We'll be told we're doing fine, or doing the right thing and things will, at some point, be just fine.

Jennifer Loven explains what to expect in Bush Using Straw-Man Arguments in Speeches -
"Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day," President Bush said recently.

Another time he said, "Some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."

"There are some really decent people," the president said earlier this year, "who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care ... for all people."

Of course, hardly anyone in mainstream political debate has made such assertions.

When the president starts a sentence with "some say" or offers up what "some in Washington" believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.

The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.

He typically then says he "strongly disagrees" - conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.

Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed "critics," is just as problematic.

... A specialist in presidential rhetoric, Wayne Fields of Washington University in St. Louis, views it as "a bizarre kind of double talk" that abuses the rules of legitimate discussion.

"It's such a phenomenal hole in the national debate that you can have arguments with nonexistent people," Fields said.
Well, it sure beats dealing with real people. Of course the question is whether this is a cynical rhetorical trick to manipulate the gullible, or whether the speaker actually believes those who oppose him are arguing nonsense that the didn't actually say but really meant to say. Is the speaker deeply cynical, or merely delusional, living in a world of imaginary people who oppose him for no good reason and spout nonsense.

Take this for what it's worth -
Abrahams, who has a vast knowledge of improbable scientific literature, compares Gier's work to that of two Cornell scientists who showed that one attribute of extreme incompetence is "that the person so afflicted is incapable of knowing that he is incompetent." The study, titled "Unskilled and Unaware of It," demonstrated that people who scored, on average, at the 12th percentile in tests of humor, grammar and logic assessed themselves to be, on average, at the 62nd percentile. Incompetence at the extreme is a double-whammy, the authors declare: "Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it."
So three year on, that's where we are. March in the streets if you'd like. It won't do much good.

__

Note: Saturday, March 18, 2006, brings us this in the New York Times, one more exposé - everything you wanted to know about Task Force 6-26, our military's free-lance torture unit and the "Black Room" at Camp Nama, a converted Baghdad military installation located at the Baghdad airport -
There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room.

In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball. Their intention was to extract information to help hunt down Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to Defense Department personnel who served with the unit or were briefed on its operations.
And their slogan? "No Blood, No Foul" -
"If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said.
The Times - "The new account reveals the extent to which the unit members mistreated prisoners months before and after the photographs of abuse from Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, and it helps belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib."

Maybe so. But who knows? As in - "Army investigators were forced to close their inquiry in June 2005 after they said task force members used battlefield pseudonyms that made it impossible to identify and locate the soldiers involved. The unit also asserted that 70 percent of its computer files had been lost."

As Andrew Sullivan notes here -
Induced drowning, hypothermia, repeated beatings, the torture of relatives of intelligence targets: we have seen all these already multiple times. They are always the same techniques, almost as if someone had figured them out and trained people in them. But that couldn't have happened, could it? We don't know. We do know that the Pentagon's Steven Cambone tried to stop it, which implies the second explanation, which is that there were elite military units beyond the control of the Pentagon and the law, let alone the Geneva Conventions, who felt they had been allowed to enter the twilight zone.

Cambone's efforts seem to have come up empty, by the way. We have the far-right Christianist, general William Boykin, telling Cambone on March 17, 2004, that he had "found no pattern of misconduct with the task force." (Boykin was the man who declared the Iraq war one between his God and the God of Islam. He suffered no discipline for that comment.) So the alternative explanation is simply a complete breakdown in the chain of command. Other agencies - even CIA officials some of whom had been trained to abuse inmates at Gitmo - tip-toed around this black hole. They acted as if they knew someone had sanctioned it; or that no one dared stop it; or that these troops were empowered to do whatever they wanted.
Nothing new, but for the new unit. Readers here know Boykin, as in, from Monday, 8 December 2003, Who would Jesus assassinate? (subhead - "We ask our consultants. Lieutenant General William 'Jerry' Boykin and his Christian Army learn from the Israelis") For Stephen Cambone and the torture business, from May 23, 2004 see Notes on the War Scandals. It just takes time for things to develop.

But we are where we are. March if you will. Those in power will shrug. One thinks of what our governor out here in California, Arnold Shwarzenegger, said in a 1990 interview with US News and World Report - "My relationship to power and authority is that I'm all for it. People need somebody to watch over them. Ninety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told what to do and how to behave."

Back to sleep.

Posted by Alan at 16:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 18 March 2006 16:04 PST home

Friday, 17 March 2006
Healthcare: When Politics Become Personal, A Canadian View
Topic: For policy wonks...

Healthcare: When Politics Become Personal, A Canadian View

Context

In the almost four years that Just Above Sunset has been on line the topic of healthcare has come up almost twenty times. The topic bubbles up now and then because it is a matter public policy, and for most Americans, personal. The costs keep rising, employers are playing less and less and employees more. And for what? The World Heath Organization rates healthcare in the United States rather low - France most recently had the best system in the world. We have approximately forty-four million uninsured, a rather high morbidity rate, a rather high rate of infant mortality, and we spend the most per capita on healthcare. What up with that? Could it have to do with for-profit providers and administrators, a private systems lightly regulated by the government, and a tradition of health insurance provided only by employers? It is somewhat a free-market approach. We have decided the government has no business in running a "single-payer" system, supported by taxpayers, that assures every citizen can get access to medical care. We trust to market forces and "freedom to choose" - if people want care and will pay for it, the vendors will compete for their dollars, offering more and more and better and better care, at lower and lower cost, as they compete with each other for those dollars. Well, it's a theory, or, more precisely, and ideology.

But we have a mixed-mode system. The government provides Medicare for those for whom the system has no answers, the poor and unemployed and elderly (and Wal-Mart workers). The government takes care of veterans. And hospital emergency rooms and regional trauma centers are required by law to treat whoever walks in, or is rolled in, regardless of their ability to pay for immediate, necessary treatment. Of course, the latest issue is Medicare Part D - the government covering the cost medications for the poor and unemployed and elderly (and Wal-Mart workers). That program is not going well - so complex no one much can understand how to use it, designed to protect and boost the profits of the pharmaceutical industry, not bad for the HMO's, absurdly expensive for the government, and driving even Texas pharmacies into bankruptcy - but not the topic here.

Here the topic is the whole idea of just who pays for what. Everyone chips in for the national defense, and for roads and such (infrastructure), for police and fire services. We, alone among all the nations in the industrialized world, don't seem to want to move healthcare into this category of "basic stuff the government does for the common good paid from general funds." We like the market model, with exceptions we make grudgingly. We're not getting our money's worth, given the statistical results, and cars built in the United States cost GM and Ford around fourteen hundred dollars more per unit, to cover employee and retiree health insurance, but that's just the way it is. We prefer that to "big government" running things, or even just collecting and administering the funding. We've made our choice.

Other countries have made other choices. From April 17, 2005 see Healthcare in America is the Best? - looking at our system, the one in France, the one in the UK, and a few others. From October 2, 2005 see The Nation's Health - Our Man in London, Mike McCahill, on how their system is working there. From July 10, 2005 see Oh, Canada! - on the cost of building cars here and in Southwestern Ontario, where a whole lot of "American cars" are actually built.

And the topic is in the media right now. See The Health Care Crisis and What to Do About It - Paul Krugman and Robin Wells in the March 23rd New York Review of Books, making the case for a health-care system that is not only "single payer" - the government handles the finances - but is pretty much "single provider," with the government supplying the services directly.

The counterargument to that appear in the Washington Post, Friday, March 17th, from Michael Kinsley - To Your Health: Why Modest Reform Is Preferable To Single-Payer Health Care (also posted at SLATE.COM and syndicated widely) -
Krugman and his co-author, Robin Wells, correctly diagnose the problem with the Bush administration's pet health-care solution of encouraging people (with tax breaks, naturally) to pay for routine care à la carte instead of through insurance. Like Willie Sutton in reverse, this notion goes where the money isn't. Annual checkups and sore throats aren't bankrupting us: It's the gargantuan cost of treating people who are seriously ill. People who can get insurance against that risk would be insane not to, and the government would be insane to encourage them not to.

Most lucky Americans with good insurance are doubly isolated from financial reality. They don't pay for their health care and they don't even pay for most of their insurance—their employers or the government pays. Of course, one perversity of the current system is that you can lose your insurance either by losing your job if you've got one or by taking a job (and losing Medicaid) if you don't.
The argument that follows is "let's not go so fast" - this is pretty radical.

The Washington Monthly (Kevin Drum) here says this "sure gets tiresome sometimes" -
... various forms of single-payer have been in use in dozens of advanced countries for decades - including Medicare right here in the United States. There are few social programs we know more about than single-payer, and what we know is that in a well constructed program costs are lower, the quality of healthcare is better, the amount of healthcare is higher, private healthcare remains available to anyone who wants to pay for it, and people are generally far more satisfied than American healthcare consumers are. The problems Kinsley tries to scare us with flatly don't exist in the simplistic ways he presents them, and it's dishonest for him to pretend otherwise.
Well, keeping us scared is the current mode of governance in use these days. We're used to being scared. Terrorists? Universal healthcare? Whatever. (Drum also points to others commenting here and here.)

The Canadian Experience

One reader, Ross Mallov, has much to say about their system of universal healthcare, call it Canadian Medicare, and how it works in contrast to ours. Ross Mallov, by the way, is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada. He has lived in Canada since very early childhood, and attended university in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Here's the real story -
There are several reasons why Canadians cling to Medicare.

In the sixties, there was a lot of fuss. But afterwards, it worked well! There were actually more resources because Parliament allocated money for it. It was both compassionate and sensible for everyone, so it constituted progress - pure, undiluted progress. I think there was a tremendous amount of national patting ourselves on the back, especially since the US did not do it - it became a part of the Canadian identity.

It is hard to make Americans see the tremendous freedom of entering the doctor's office, paying only with your health card, not forms, no reimbursement, without a thought of cost. Maybe this leads to irresponsibility - I don't know.

The system worked pretty well into the early nineties. Then troubles started. Health care demand soared, as in the whole first world. Immigration brought millions of people, making even more demand. In a diabolical bit of completely false economy, provinces listened to a bunch of idiots who said we had a "doctor surplus" (according to statistics at the time, Canada had fewer per 100,000 than the US and most of Western Europe), and cut medical school enrollments at a time when demand, remember, was soaring. This has failed to prevent rising health costs, too. And surprise, surprise - people without family doctors will go straight to hospital - making care less smooth, and surely in fact more costly.

In Nova Scotia where I am, the province's restrictions on doctors' freedoms led doctors to leave for Ontario or the States. In Truro, before this happened, a doctor was prevented from settling there by other doctors who didn't want competition (what happened to their selfless commitment to professional freedom?) - several of those God damned doctors afterwards left for the States, leaving the rest of us in the lurch. There went money used by the province to train and pay them.

My current experiences are mixed - I have a good doctor at my university health service . Doctors and nurses do their best generally with insufficient resources - Halifax's hospitals provide care of such quality, even delivered with a smile most of the time. But I waited several months for a colonoscopy, and only that because my community is fortunate to have such a doctor - if I'd been in Halifax at the time, it would have been more than a year. Then I waited several months for a rheumatology appointment. Neither of these cases was urgent, but both were painful. The Regional Health Authorities are often quite bureaucratic - after the Halifax one refused to provide another colonoscopy room, one of the gastroenterologists left for Ontario. Except for MRI's, there is no private health care available in NS like in Québec or Ontario. I am having trouble getting back to a gastroenterologist, too, and a lot of intestinal pain from my misgrown large intestine hurts me daily. I do not see how the poor benefit from my misery. Inevitably priorities mean that most people who will die without care get it decently quickly, occasionally not, but any non-urgent cases have fantastic waits (hip replacements!)

Much as I hate to admit it, I would be better off in the US, although a number would not. Canadians are as selfish and complacent in some ways as Americans - many well people do not care if others must wait for months in pain, and figure they're okay and will be okay. Also, I think we cling to Medicare because in other areas, Canada is not really an equitable society - it ranks just above Britain and the USA for poverty.

Cancer survival rates are similar to the US. The life expectancy is high, but it is not in itself adequate proof of a quality system - perhaps Canadians aren't quite as portly on average. But I bet the population as a whole is healthier because of a universal system. What good is it if two more in ten thousand survive cancer if people die from completely preventable diseases for lack of ability to pay - thousands a year by the US feds' estimate? However, that would yield a strange situation in which the Canadian population is healthier, but the average Canadian has poorer care than the average American.

My mother's family hoped her brother would be born after 1 Jan 1959, when the hospital insurance act came into effect, but he wasn't. And she grew up and spent her young-adult years in Medicare's glory days, so she still deeply believes in it. But I and a growing number of Canadians believe that it must be possible to avoid monstrous waiting lists without denying one in seven health insurance and letting middle class families' finances be ruined by cancer. France's system stems demand probably unfairly, especially on the poor, by co-payments that do not vary with income. However, they have managed to avoid the British situation's dualism of public-private quality and cost. On a website for Britons moving to France, I saw -"Comparing private and public hospitals in France to the same in the UK is like comparing apples and oranges. There is no difference in the quality of care between public and private hospitals, and there is not necessarily any great difference in price."

I am quite jealous of this French feat, particularly since, if I got cancer there for example, all costs would be covered. Excellent - quick curative care and financial security too would clearly leave both Canada and the US in the dust. France has been accused of maintaining well-funded hospitals by over-focusing on curative and hospital care at the expense of community and preventative care - don't know how fare this is true. France also has great flexibility - you can go to a specialist directly, and now you must pay for it yourself, but that's only fair. In Canada, you can have as much choice as is now possible, but not that - gatekeeping and rationing for short supply are necessary, and while freedom of choice for family doctor was never purposely eliminated (this was AMA propaganda), it has become effectively quite rare since a number of people cannot even have a family doctor.

It should be noted that, just as Republicans rant about public health care, many of the people who helped hurt Canada's system did so by treating it as just another budget problem, not as a public INSURANCE plan - many of these are Republicans' own ideological counterparts, such as Ralph Klein, and Mike Harris in Ontario's "common sense revolution" (Ha!)

Confusion also results when Americans try to fit our politics into the left-right boxes of American politics (or vice versa) - political systems are not quite equivalent. However, this is in some ways a good thing, because Canada and the US are of similar origin, but turned out differently - each represents what the other could have been. However, I think we both should look beyond each other, toward Europe and Australia as well.

A well-thought paper on the Swedish system noted that if some patients go private, not only can they make themselves better off, but they actually shorten the list for those in the public queue. This could help. However, if not carefully regulated, a private system could poach scarce resources from the public system, denying availability to these physicians except at a high price. I wonder if this happens in the UK or New Zealand - it would probably happen in Canada if allowed, where the real problem is not enough doctors and nurses.

This is pretty accurate, I hope you'll find. I used to be a passionate supporter of Medicare on principle, but my own illness has forced me to look more practically , so I'm not an ideologue. What I'm saying is the truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
And he adds this -
You should realize that I have never been to France, so I do not have first-hand knowledge of their system. However, all sources that I have read say that France, with a few exceptions, has no waiting list problem. To me, this sounds better than the current American system. In France, people who have certain serious diseases (there is an official list) have one hundred percent of conventional medical bills covered (although some extra billing is possible, I believe, if a doctor charges more than the usual fee, the tarif conventionné). In the US, even good insurance does not provide any such security. In an article (I can't remember where it was), the author remarked that part of the focus should be on how American health insurance is not only bad for those with no insurance, but also is bad for ordinary Middle America, which can face financial ruin if medical bills exceed catastrophic medical expense coverage.

My paragraph about my family wasn't that clear. In case it was incomprehensible, I'll explain. My grandmother was pregnant with my uncle in December 1958. They were very poor, and I believe had no health insurance. (Even in the sixties, although costs were much lower, a far greater percentage of Canadians lacked health insurance then than lack health insurance now in the US).

They were hoping that she wouldn't give birth until Jan 1 1959, when general hospital insurance took effect. However, my uncle was born in December, so he had to be born at home. Also, when I said that Parliament allocated more resources for it, I meant that Parliament allocated money to expand medical facilities etc. when Medicare came in.

In recent developments, in the last few years, provinces have upped medical school enrollments. I am not sure what effect that will have, since those medical students will not become full doctors for a bit.

I am not sure if you wanted to know this, but I'm trying to round out what I said earlier.
So there you have it. What they have up north kind of works. And what we have down here?

The two countries are so much alike - my two years working in London, Ontario was a breeze and quite comfortable, and I have only fine memories of the good, slyly funny, just decent people who became my friends there. But there were differences - there wasn't much free-market right-wing ideology, nor much or the left - just an effort to get what was going on and do the best for everyone concerned. The aggression and pushiness was confined to the London Knights minor league hockey games. And this is the country that gave us curling (men with brooms).

There's much to consider here.

Posted by Alan at 19:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006 19:20 PST home

Thursday, 16 March 2006
A Day Off

A Day Off

No blogging today. Thursday is photography day and that meant a trip back down to San Pedro, to Angels Gate Park, for follow-up shots. The high-powered Wall Street attorney in Manhattan, who often contributes photography to the weekly Just Above Sunset, wanted shots of the most picturesque basketball court in the world, the basketball court in the sky at Angels Gate Park. Three of them are here. And Phillip Raines, the musician and mason who has written extensively for the weekly, wanted shots of the stonework at the pagoda - professional interest. And there was a lot to see there. Two hundred shots of all sorts of things in the area. Culling the good shots and getting them web-ready takes time. Commentary will resume tomorrow.

Posted by Alan at 19:44 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006 19:45 PST home

Wednesday, 15 March 2006
Manliness and Competence
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Manliness and Competence

The state of play as of Wednesday, March 15th - as even more polling shows approval for the president and his policies now at record lows - worse than any second-term president ever - and as even members of his own party are calling for the White House do something - anything, bring in some grownups - it's coming down to a real basic showdown on core values. Do you want the leader we have elected, for whatever previous reasons and under whatever questionable circumstances in Ohio, to be manly, or do you want him to be competent? It seems you can't have both.

A manly man doesn't attend to what others are saying. He's steadfast. He believes what he believes. He does what he does from instinct. Mistakes? Others can comment on those if they wish, but that's of little importance. He shrugs them off as if they didn't happen. In fact, the whole concept of "mistakes" is not exactly relevant. He does what you does, and if others say what he has done is a mistake, and has screwed things up royally (choosing that word carefully), well, that's their business. At least he did something. What have they done?

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not going that well, various advisors indicted and a few charged with crimes, with people angry at the response to crises like the destruction of a major city and most of the Gulf Coast, upset they cannot figure out how to get their medications under the new Medicare benefit that is making the pharmaceutical companies rich and doing little else, and with the disapproval ratings high, this seems to be the response - claiming that being steadfast, resolute, determined and never changing your mind is the mark of a real leader. That trumps competence. Some things are more important.

At least that seems to be the case the administration has put before us. Which is more important - manly, simple, instinctive action without all that sissy analysis and planning, or prissy timidity, worrying about getting things right? Time to choose.

Context

Iraq - authorities there find the bodies of eighty-seven men, murdered, execution-style (the Associated Press item here). These are Sunnis. This is retaliation for a bomb and mortar attack two days earlier on the Shiite low-rent part of east Baghdad, Sadr City. Fifty-eight died there, including women and children. Wednesday morning we raid a house in Baghdad and do capture a "suspected insurgent" - but we kill a few civilians, including children (we say four, the locals say eleven). The basic story is and Associated Press run a photo of one of the dead children here. The press didn't used to do that sort of thing.

All day long the news shows are burbling softly in the next room - various generals saying this is a "rough patch" and not a civil war at all. One wonders what giving it a label means. It's trouble. Where is this all leading and what can we do? The questions come up. The administration doesn't waver. We're doing the right thing. They will have a unified, secular, Jeffersonian democracy over there. It's coming. Be patient. We were right to do this. How hard could it be?

Tuesday we hear we may have to increase troop strength (here) and Wednesday we announce just that (here) - bring in the reserves from Kuwait. Seven hundred more may help. It's temporary. The Secretary of Defense said the senior commander in Iraq wants to "bulk up" on troops in advance of upcoming holidays there - but we're is still planning on drawing down troops. The president keeps taking about the "real progress" we're making in turning things over to Iraqi security forces.

But then there's this in the Washington Post - military experts and some administration officials (off the record) saying that turning over control to Iraqi forces might not make much of a difference in anything. Yes, the "Iraqi-owned battle space" is growing, but the Post tells us administration officials are warning "against assuming that American troops could come home" just because more Iraqi forces are standing up.

It doesn't work that way - Iraqi forces will still need a whole lot of support from us - "Moreover, because much of the insurgency has been concentrated in four provinces, Iraqi forces could theoretically control the bulk of the country without eliminating the bloody resistance to the U.S.-supported government."

Great - and Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, points out the obvious. This "let them do it themselves" build-up of Shiite-dominated security forces that we're working on is just going to make things more difficult - "When we make these forces stronger, we make the underlying problem worse, not better. We're throwing gas on the political fire."

But that's what we're doing - manly, simple, instinctive action without all that sissy analysis and planning, or prissy timidity, or worrying about getting things right.

The problem might be that while this may not be a civil war, there are two sides, each with subsets, doing the revenge executions and bombings. We have this idea that that there's a national fervor there - a majority who long for a unified Iraq that includes everyone and tolerates everyone. That was the gut-instinct concept we started with. That's our story and we're sticking to it. Ahmed Chalabi said it was so. So we train "them" to defend that noble idea. It's the right thing to do - good for them, good for us, good for the world. Multiple "thems" with conflicting aims? Details, details, details. That's for sissies, for defeatists, for women.

And anyway all this is Iran's fault. They're behind the roadside improvised explosive devices (IED's) that kill our troops.

The president on Monday explains -
Some of the most powerful IEDs we are seeing in Iraq today includes components that came from Iran.

Our director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, told the Congress, Tehran has been responsible for at least some of the increasing lethality of anti-coalition attacks by providing Shia militia with the capability to build improvised explosive devices in Iraq.

Coalition forces have seized IEDs and components that were clearly produced in Iran. Such actions, along with Iran's support for terrorism and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, are increasingly isolating Iran.
Yep, got to do something Iran too, obviously.

Of course there was this the next day at the Pentagon press conference -
President George W. Bush said on Monday components from Iran were being used in powerful roadside bombs used in Iraq, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last week that Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel had been inside Iraq.

Asked whether the United States has proof that Iran's government was behind these developments, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon briefing, "I do not, sir."
No evidence. Details, details, details. Facts are for sissies (and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs will no doubt got a dressing-down for dealing with them).

Andrew Sullivan here - "I cannot imagine it's a good idea for the president to offer what is billed as an honest assessment of what's going on in Iraq, while his chief military commander sees no proof for the accusation. We've just learned not to trust what this president says about Iran. It keeps getting better, doesn't it?"

Define better.

Well, there was this, Wednesday, March 15th, late in the day - "The United States is being reduced to a minority of one in its unyielding opposition to a proposal to create a new Human Rights Council (HRC) to replace the UN's existing much-maligned Human Rights Commission in Geneva."

We sent a man's man, John Bolton, there to tell them they were all fools and crooks and had better shape up. The Senate wouldn't confirm him and the president had to use a recess appointment to make him our UN ambassador, bypassing the girly-men in the senate. Real men don't care what the rest of the world thinks. He's there to kick ass. The rest of the world is wrong.

Mistakes? We don't make them, even if we do, as here we see that prosecutors have told the judge in the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the "twentieth hijacker," that there is no point continuing the trial.

Why? There was that ruling the day before, banning some evidence and some witnesses. She was already dubious about asking for the death penalty for someone who failed to stop a crime. That's a stretch. And she told the feds they could not coach certain witnesses. That was a court order. They did anyway, so the witnesses wouldn't say anything that might cause liability for any airline. It was just a court order, and then the woman said the witnesses can't testify. Geez. Details, details, details. The guy said he was part of the plot then ended up in the World Trade Towers falling and the Pentagon in flames. He says he hates America and is part of al Qaeda. What's the problem? He's supposed to die. What's all this with rules and tainted witnesses and such. Just like a woman...

Yep, another loss for the Justice Department in its war on terror or whatever it is, but Moussaoui will still do life in prison. But that's not very satisfying. Real men think that's just crap. The guy should die.

Eric Alterman, the NYU journalism professor and author adds this -
Did they think that nobody was paying attention? They've lost Bin Laden, screwed up Afghanistan, completely wrecked Iraq, destroyed our fiscal future, left us completely vulnerable on homeland security, ignored the threats to New Orleans, messed up its recovery, thrown science out the window, attacked our civil liberties, undermined freedom of the press, you know the drill. Why is anyone surprised that they are both incompetent and dishonest when it comes to seeking justice for the terrorist murder of thousands of Americans?
No, no one is surprised. Competence is overrated. They want results. (By the way, Alterman links to the Los Angeles Times' detailed rundown of all the mistakes that preceded this one, here - these guys don't do detail and many have walked, and many were nobodies, and doing nothing much.)

Ah well. We don't sweat the details. Like what happen long ago at that Abu Ghraib prison.

Tuesday the 14th brought us something odd - a web publication, SALON.COM, probably breaking federal law. What did they do? Well, here they published the entire collection of Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse photos. The feds have been in court trying to block their release.

On January 10, 2004, these photos were handed over to the military by Joseph Darby. The Army started its investigation the next day. Selected photos were made public. Now, for the first time, all of the photos in the Army's dossier were put on the net. Go look before they have to take them down - "Today, Salon presents an archive of 279 photos and 19 videos of Abu Ghraib abuse first gathered by the CID, along with information drawn from the CID's own timeline of the events depicted."

Or don't go look. Women worry about such things

The guy with the dog in the photos, Sergeant Michael J. Smith? He's on trail at the moment, laughing -
An Army dog handler charged with using his animal to terrify Abu Ghraib prisoners laughingly claimed he was competing with a comrade to frighten detainees into soiling themselves, according to testimony Tuesday at his court-martial.

The testimony on the second day of the trial was the most damaging evidence yet against Sgt. Michael J. Smith. The witness, Sgt. John H. Ketzer, was an interrogator at the prison in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. He testified that one night, he followed the sounds of screaming to a cell where Smith's black Belgian shepherd was straining against its leash and barking at two cowering, teenage boys.
It's a guy thing, and Ketzer said Smith laughingly told him afterward: "My buddy and I are having a contest to see if we can get them to (defecate on) themselves because we've already had some (urinate on) themselves."

Jeralyn Merritt, the noted defense attorney from Denver says this -
This abuse was carried out in the name of the United States of America, a country that occupies a position of trust in the world - and in which it has caused war to be launched on foreign soil. The abuse may have been carried out by "a few bad apples" but it wasn't their idea. The Untied States owes it to every citizen on the planet to find out who, at the highest levels, authorized this torture. Those are the persons who must be held primarily responsible and sanctioned for their acts.

When Bush's presidency is over, the historical review of his tenure will be shamed by this above all. As it should be.
And spoken like a woman. She doesn't get it.

How is this all playing with the nation?

Well, Wednesday brought the new Pew poll -
Currently, 48% use a negative word to describe Bush compared with just 28% who use a positive term, and 10% who use neutral language.

The changing impressions of the president can best be viewed by tracking over time how often words come up in these top-of-the-mind associations. Until now, the most frequently offered word to describe the president was "honest," but this comes up far less often today than in the past. Other positive traits such as "integrity" are also cited less, and virtually no respondent used superlatives such as "excellent" or "great" terms that came up fairly often in previous surveys.

The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is "incompetent," and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: "idiot" and "liar." All three are mentioned far more often today than a year ago.
But he's manly. Being called a liar and an idiot with the NASCAR crowd means the guy is just fine, a good ol' boy. You could be called worse - careful, thoughtful, cautious, open-minded.

The day also brought the news whole bunches of people in the president's party were urging that things be changed. Bring in some new folks. Stop this slide in the polls. Get some competent advisors and lawyers and planners. You can read all about it here - White House Dismisses Speculation Of Staff Shake-Up (Reuters).

What problems?

The Grand Unifying Theory of Manliness

Wednesday brought this, something noted by Dana Milbank in the regular list of weekly political events -
Wed - Will they serve beer? The Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, hosts Harvey C. Mansfield, who, "Drawing from science, literature, and philosophy ... examines the layers of manliness, from vulgar aggression, to assertive manliness, to manliness as virtue, and to philosophical manliness. He shows that manliness seeks and welcomes drama, prefers times of war, conflict, and risk, and brings change or restores order at crucial moments. Manly men in their assertiveness raise issues, bring them to the fore, and make them public and political - as for example, the manliness of the women's movement." 4 p.m., 1015 15th Street NW, Sixth Floor.
Yep, the neoconservatives have their theorists telling us about what we should do in the world - remove pesky governments and remake the benighted so they're more like us - and the manly have this guy.

Harvey C. Mansfield is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard. He studies and teaches political philosophy. He's written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a "defensible liberalism" and in favor of a "Constitutional American" political science, whatever that is. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power, and as a translator of Machiavelli and of Tocqueville's Democracy in America. He has been at Harvard since 1949, and on the faculty since 1962. And of course he completed a book on manliness.

That would be Manliness, Yale University Press (February 6, 2006) ISBN: 0300106645

Amazon at the link about quotes Publishers Weekly, not thinking much of it -
Harvard government professor Mansfield delves into philosophy, literature and science to define manliness and to argue that it should have a place in an increasingly non-gender-specific society. Throughout, Mansfield clearly states his intentions, and though he may have convinced himself he accomplished his goals, readers will be skeptical; when, for example, he sets out to "elevate manliness from aggression to assertion and thereby discover its connection to politics," he jumps from Hemingway to Achilles before posing a question that has little more than a thin patina of importance: "In our time there are many who say that heroes lack humanity and few who will admit that humanity needs heroes. But at all times heroes have to assert themselves. The question is, what is in it for us?" Similar murky questions and non-sequitur lines of logic continue throughout: "Man has fearsome powers of wisdom and fire over beasts. All beasts fear fire, which perhaps represents the Promethean gift of technology." This clunky chain of supposition is followed by a brief foray into The Jungle Book. But Mansfield's theories on gender equality are likely to create the most conversation: "women are the weaker sex," "women's bodies are made to attract and to please men" and "now that women are equal, they should be able to accept being told that they aren't, quite" all appear on the same page. Mansfield set out to write a provocative book, but ended up penning a juvenile screed.
But this juvenile screed got Mansfield a trip to DC to talk to the big-time conservative foundation.

And Naomi Schaefer Riley in the Wall Street Journal back on March 4th said nice things about him in Calling All Hombres: A Harvard Sage Makes The Case For Manliness.

Riley opens with this -
"Defend yourself." That's the lesson Harvey Mansfield drew for Larry Summers the week before Harvard's president was forced to resign. Mr. Mansfield, a 73-year-old government professor and conservative elder statesman of the university, went on to suggest that Mr. Summers's capitulation to those he offended (when he said women might be biologically less inclined to succeed in the hard sciences) is not simply a craven kowtow to political correctness, but proof, also, of a character flaw. Indeed, Mr. Mansfield continued with a mischievous smile, "He has apologized so much that he looks unmanly."

Perhaps this seems like a quaint insult, but Mr. Mansfield means something very particular by it. He would like to return the notion of manliness to the modern lexicon. His new book, "Manliness" (manfully, no subtitle), argues that the gender-neutral society created by modern feminists has been bad both for women and men, and that it is time for men to rediscover, and women to appreciate, the virtue of manliness.
And on it goes -
Mr. Mansfield's contention that women and men are not the same is now widely supported by social scientists. The core of his definition of manliness - "confidence in a risky situation" - is not so far from that of biologists and sociologists, who find men to be more abstract in their thinking and aggressive in their behavior than women, who are more contextual in their thinking and conciliatory in their behavior.

Science is good for confirming what "common sense" already tells us, Mr. Mansfield allows, but beyond that, he has little use for it: "Science is a particular enemy of manliness. Manliness asserts something you can't scientifically prove, namely the importance of human beings." Science simply sees people as just another part of the natural world. But what manly men assert, according to Mr. Mansfield, is that "they are important and that their party, their country, their society, their group, whatever it may be, is important." As examples, Mr. Mansfield offers Arnold Schwarzenegger (predictably, since he's no girly-man), Humphrey Bogart, Donald Rumsfeld and Margaret Thatcher - yes, women can occasionally be manly. (Both Clintons are manly in their own ways - Hillary is "formidable," while Bill is the "envy of vulgar men.")
That's an odd list. And science is a particular enemy of manliness? Curious, that explains a lot about the administration's stance on global warming and teaching "intelligent design" (the first isn't happening and the second should be required). Science deals with facts, confirmed by observation. Other things are more important - asserting yourself.

This is the key to it all.

There's more from Christopher Shea in the Boston Globe, March 12th, here, opening with this -
Who is not just a man, but a manly man? And who today can even say the words ''manly man" without smirking?

These questions are at the heart of ''Manliness" (Yale), the new book by Harvard government professor Harvey C. Mansfield, who has long shouldered a reputation as the campus's most outspoken conservative.

In answer to the first question, Mansfield nominates, among others, the marshal played by Gary Cooper in ''High Noon." When the town's sniveling semi-men slink away from the task, Cooper boldly goes out to fight the thugs arriving in his town. As for the second question-well it just shows how wanly gender neutral our society has become: Manly men scare us.
Maybe. Maybe the president scares people. Of course it may not be the manliness, just the incompetence, as noted in the pew poll.

But there is the main argument -
For better and worse, men are more willing than women to stick out their necks for causes, ideas, and people. They possess a greater taste for the physical and intellectual combat that has led to mankind's (yes, mankind's) greatest achievements. ''I don't think we need to preserve manliness," he said in an interview. ''I think there is plenty of evidence that manliness is around us. But women need to come to terms with it - society as a whole does." The gender-neutral society is by definition a mediocre one, with male greatness viewed as threatening to the social order and men and women crammed into boxes they don't fit in.

... Mansfield allows that women can sometimes do manly deeds -Thatcher prosecuting the Falklands War, for example, or Grace Kelly picking up a rifle at the climax of ''High Noon." But Mansfield says it should be obvious they are doing something unusual for their sex. Forcing manly men to wash dishes, or to curb their aggressive ways in politics or business out of deference to ''sensitive" women, does violence to nature and gelds modern society.
Ah, bring the guy to Washington! He can explain Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to us all. They're heroes.

You can read Mansfield himself here in the essay her turned into a book.

Samples -
Manliness can be heroic. But it can also be vainly boastful, prone to meaningless scuffling, and unfriendly. It jeers at those who do not seem to measure up, and asks men to continually prove themselves. It defines turf and fights for it - sometimes to defend precious rights, sometimes for no good reason. Manliness has always been under a cloud of doubt - raised by men who may not have the time or taste for it.

... Though the word is scarce in use, there is an abundance of manliness in action in America today. Young males still pick fights, often with deadly weapons. What we suffer from today, is a lack of intelligent criticism of manliness. Feminism has undermined, if not destroyed, the counterpart to manliness - femininity - and with it the basis on which half the population could be skeptical of the excesses of manliness.

... Manliness is a quality that causes individuals to stand up for something. It is a quality that calls private persons into public life. In the past such people have been predominantly male, and it is no accident that those who possess this quality have often ended up as political rulers and leaders.
The Bush presidency explained, the frat-boy king.

Of course, the acerbic James Wolcott of Vanity Fair says here that he has discovered the "sacred text" that inspired and animated Mansfield and his crowd, and "provides their vision of a future patriarchal society in which the warrior within every man is restored to his lounge-recliner throne" -
Indeed, it is not a text at all, but a cult film that illustrates what awaits civilization if it sinks into the abject sissyhood and surrenders to female sovereignty. And the radical hot beef injection that it will take to restore civilization to primitive glory.

I speak of John Boorman's 1974 sci-fi low-budget beefcake extravaganza Zardoz, starring Sean Connery, who, in Pauline Kael's classic review, "traipses around in a loincloth... playing the only potent man at the discotheque." He struts around the movie with prowess and assurance, but his face registers the doubts of an actor wondering how he got roped into this thing. Kael: "[H]e acts like a man to agreed to do something before he grasped what it was. He hangs in there stolidly, loyally, his face saying, 'I'm wrong, but I'll do it.'"

Uttering lines like "Stay behind my aura" probably made Connery question his very raison d'etre as an actor, not to mention his decision to quit making Bond films.

Set in the year 2293, which'll be here before you know it, Zardoz posits a "stately yet cranky vision of a future society dominated by immortal, hyperintelligent women - soulless, heartless, sexless." And this was before Hillary Clinton appeared on the scene to shrink all those chipmunk testicles out there! "The men are immortal, too, but, being impotent, they are passive and effete."
Ah, that's it! This movie just scared them! So that's why they formed the Project for the New American Century a few years later! Hollywood does have an influence on politics after all.

Of course there are other views of manliness. While Mansfield was speaking to the conservative think-tank in DC, in Cleveland they were inducting Miles Davis into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, and explains here, there is another model.

After a long discussion of the music, and the classic My Funny Valentine recording, he notes this -
Davis became a matinee idol in the mid-1950s when dark-skinned men were beginning to break through the barriers that kept them from being seen in romantic roles or thought of as superb interpreters of love songs. Davis shared this moment with Sidney Poitier and Nat Cole, but his persona included something that neither of theirs did. Following Charlie Parker, in whose band he did some of his earliest work, Davis was moody. He gave the impression that he was not even interested in being known, especially by white folks. The trumpeter was not given to any aspect of the minstrel tradition that has dogged the Negro artist for over a hundred years and has most recently restated itself in the jigaboo antics of rap videos.

It was not that Davis did not smile as much as the fact that Davis, like Parker, did not consider smiling part of his job. The glowering black trumpeter was there, in those little murky clubs from one end of the country to the other, leading a band and making beautiful music in circumstances that were about as opposed to artistic statement as one could imagine. Drinks were sold, people talked, drugs were pushed, prostitutes circulated, and the cash registers rang. At their worst, those circumstances could be as wild as any in the Old West, which is why some of the joints were referred to as "buckets of blood."

Miles Davis, however, tamed those savage surroundings and made it clear that if he didn't feel respected or comfortable he would leave and the paying customers could have it out with the club owners. But if he stayed and felt like playing, his music did not hold back on the lyric quality. That element gave a charismatic frailness to his ballad interpretations. It was a sound that rarely arrived full-blown in American popular art, though it was strongly alluded to by actors such as Leslie Howard, who was often cast as a dreamer just a bit too soft for the world. There was an atmosphere of inevitable doom surrounding such characters, most of whom might be called "gallant fools." Through such types a basic idea was sustained in popular art: Romance was itself a form of heroic engagement and falling in love with an idea, a cause, or a person was an act of bravery.

By bringing that to his music, Miles Davis remade the expectations of the audience. As we hear throughout My Funny Valentine, the trumpeter taught his listeners that a whisper could be as powerful as a shout. A gallant fool, yes, but free of the maudlin Jell-O that usually came with the white American idea of the poetic soul. Davis was just as free, it seemed, of the pool-hall and street-corner braggadocio of the Negro hustling world. Little, dark, touchy, even evil, Miles Davis walked onto his bandstand and made public visions of tenderness that were, finally, absolute rejections of everything silly about the version of masculinity that might hobble men in either the white or the black world.
That same rejection of "everything silly about the version of masculinity that might hobble men" could be useful now. It's messed up the country and the world no end. But Mansfield is the cultural hero now.

So listen to Miles Davis.

Miles Davis, 1957

Posted by Alan at 22:23 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006 22:38 PST home

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