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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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Saturday, 1 April 2006
On Taking Things Too Literally, and Too Seriously
Topic: Political Theory

On Taking Things Too Literally, and Too Seriously

The administration says things. The idea is that we're supposed to believe them. Why bother rehashing what turned out to be not so - the reasons we had to go to war, the threat of the WMD, the ties between the regime of Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, and that the whole thing would pay for itself, we'd be greeted at liberators and be out in a trice and all the rest? We didn't want this war but that man just wouldn't the inspectors in so we had to take over the place? The difference between what is said and what turns out to be so gets discussed enough. It makes people wary. The polling numbers show that. The president's approval ratings are at record lows, in Nixon territory, and the disapproval ratings on just about everything are abysmal. Pew polling shows the one-word descriptors for the president now include "idiot" and "incompetent." Yeah, yeah. Things are spinning downward.

But something is shifting. There may be new consultants at the White House trying a new tactic to stop the self-reinforcing spiral. The stance now seems to be that the problem is with how people interpret what they hear, not with what was said.

On April Fools Day we get this -
BLACKBURN, England (CNN) -- One day after Condoleezza Rice said the United States made possibly "thousands" of tactical mistakes in the war against Iraq, the secretary of state says she was speaking "figuratively, not literally."
The trail run of the strategy seems to have been in January, just after the president delivered the State of the Union Address, with this -
WASHINGTON - One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.
You see what's happening here, the new strategy? The problem is we weren't paying enough attention in high school English class - one must learn the difference between literal statements and those which fall under the rhetorical devices known as metaphor, simile, allegory and the like. We've stupidly taken as literal what was meant as symbol. They were being, if you will, almost poetic, while we were the plodding dullards confused by thinking the poet was actually talking about the rose or the blackbirds.

The new line seems to come down to this - "How could you people be so dumb!" It's an attack on our simple-minded narrowness. We just don't "get" it.

We just don't get the subtleties, and this turns the tables on all those who thought the president was a dull frat-boy who didn't understand much, didn't read much, didn't want to know much and was incapable of coherently articulating what he was thinking, or even incapable of thinking coherently. Those people now are on notice. They are the simple-minded literalists who have little if any appreciation of complex thought and how language works. Back to high school English class for them - reading comprehension would be a place to start.

The man and his subordinates are the grownups, who give us these complex and subtle truths. Is it their fault the critics are the dullards in the back row who, way back when, sullenly wondered why they had to read Shakespeare when none of it makes any sense?

These new consultants, if there are such, are really good. It's a very clever turning the tables on those who keep nailing the administration on this or that - "You thought that statement was literal? What's your problem?"

The idea that the American public should think more clearly and recognize metaphor, and be able to differentiate between sign and symbol, is interesting. There's an enormous block of ordinary people who just hated all that stuff in high school English. There may be a backlash.

Or maybe it'll work. Who knows?

But of all the recent political maneuvering, this has more of a whiff of desperation than most all else.

It seems we're too subtle for you? That may not fly.

But what should you take literally?

Senator Feingold has introduced a motion to censure the president. Friday the 31st there were the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on that idea. There's the 1978 law, amended many a time and again quite recently, that states, without ambiguity, that if for some reason you need to secretly listen in on the telephone calls of American citizens, or read their mail, electric or paper, or any of that sort of thing, in that case you should get a warrant where you show why you need to do that. There's a special secret court just for that purpose. And if you're in a jam you can do the eavesdropping or whatever and get the approval after the fact. The president a few years ago authorized the NSA to do all that with the warrants. And he continues to renew the authorization every forty-five days. And he knows it's against the law, but his team says the law need not be followed, because he may have the choice, as commander-in-chief, to ignore any law that he thinks hobbles his efforts to get that bad guys. And there are all those video clips of him saying, as the NSA program was humming along, that no American need worry about the government spying on them, as if he ordered that he would always, every time, get a warrant from the secret court.

Now this seems straight-forward. He says he broke the law, is continuing to break the law, and will continue to do so - the congress can pass all the laws they want, but he decides which ones he should follow and at what times (which cannot be revealed for security considerations) and for what reasons (which cannot be revealed for security considerations). And he flat out said, publicly, that he would never do such at thing, as he was doing such a thing. So, Feingold suggests, those who passed the law in question should put down a marker, a censure in this case (with no real legal force) to note they passed a law that applied to the executive branch and the president said fine, but such things mean little if anything. Heck. What's the point in passing any law if one guy, the president in this case, says he alone is above any law he feels is getting in his way. And, oh yeah, he lied about all this to everyone. The censure is little more than a you-shouldn't-have-done-that place marker. Will anyone join him in saying those who make the laws have some purpose in what they do?

No. All but two of his fellow Democrats are running for the hills. The Republicans are somewhere between bemused and outraged, but like the hearings so they can expose Feingold as either an overly ambitious fool who want to be president, are a tight-ass who takes things, like the specifics of the law and the constitution, and himself, far too seriously. It's war, or something like it. Russ needs to loosen up.

As the New York Times covered the hearings here, you just cut the president some slack, because he means well, and that should be good enough for anyone. The Watergate guy, John Dean, who said this was worse than Nixon and the break-ins and all the rest, was full of crap -
Several Republicans argued that whatever the legal status of the spying program, it did not deserve punishment because, unlike Nixon, Mr. Bush had acted in good faith.

"This is apples and oranges," Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told Mr. Dean. "Anybody who believes that Richard Nixon was relying on some inherent-authority argument is recreating history."
Of course that's bull, as that's just what they claimed in 1969 (see this), but who reads old Time Magazine articles? For a full discussion of the illogic of the "good faith" see Glenn Greenwald's site here. The item is detailed but contains this - "... even if Bush's motives are as pure as the driven snow, it doesn't justify knowingly violating the law, at least outside of very extreme and short-term emergency scenarios. The viability of our system of constitutional government depends on the willingness of our leaders, particularly the president, to take seriously the concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances embodied in our Constitution."

Well, he wasn't willing to take that stuff seriously, or putting it another way, people should loosen up. They take the law constitution far too literally.

And there's this, a discussion of Republican senator Orrin Hatch saying that "censure" itself was unconstitutional, even though he said precisely the opposite thing during the Clinton impeachment hearings. Whatever. Loosen up. It's just that law.

Glenn Greenwald on that -
This seems to be an accurate summary of the evolution of Sen. Hatch's views of constitutional law:

(1) The Congress has the right to restrict the President's eavesdropping activities, and to make certain eavesdropping activities a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

(2) Therefore, Hatch votes several times for FISA.

(3) Every President since then complies with the law - including President Reagan and Bush 41 during the height of the Cold War - and no Administration or member of Congress challenge its constitutionality.

(4) George Bush gets caught violating FISA by engaging in the precise eavesdropping which FISA criminalizes.

(5) Hatch says that the Leader did nothing wrong because the law which the Leader violated - the same one Hatch voted to enact and to amend repeatedly - is unconstitutional.

Hatch has been in the Congress for more than 30 years. He was in Congress when FISA was enacted 28 years ago. He never once claimed that it was unconstitutional in any way - until it was revealed that George Bush has been deliberately violating the law. Then he suddenly said that Congress had no right to pass that law, so after 28 years, the whole thing is all just totally invalid.
Well, that is curious. But times change.

And there was the idea that this wasn't about the law at all. It was about the man. Senator Sessions said this - "Our President is an honest man. A candid man, a strong leader. And the people of America know it."

Good enough? People should loosen up?

The best the Democrats not with Feingold could come up with was this from the rising star, young senator Obama from Illinois, in a letter to a constituent -
Thank you for writing about Senator Russ Feingold's proposal to censure President Bush. I understand your strong feelings on this issue. While I share your frustration and anger, I do not think censure is justified at this time.

I agree with Senator Feingold that the Administration's attitude toward congressional oversight and the FISA law has been cavalier and arrogant. We are a nation of laws, and those laws should be applied to all of us, from humblest citizen to the president of the United States. No president should be allowed to knowingly and willing flout our laws, and I believe the President exceeded his authority with his domestic wiretapping program. The justifications offered - that the president possesses inherent presidential authority under Article II, or was granted that authority in the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force - seem to contradict prior precedent and our constitutional design.

But my and Senator Feingold's view is not unanimous. Some constitutional scholars and lower court opinions support the president's argument that he has inherent authority to go outside the bounds of the law in monitoring the activities of suspected terrorists. The question is whether the president understood the law and knowingly flaunted it, or whether he and his aides, in good faith, interpreted their authority more broadly than I and others believe the law allows. Ultimately, this debate must be resolved by the courts.
So the question is whether the president understood the law and knowingly flaunted it, or he really is just a good guy doing his best. Obama thinks the former, but won't touch this with a ten foot pole. Let someone else decide.

Ah well, the free ride continues.

You see the pattern. All this business is coming down to telling the lawmakers and the country they all take things too literally and far too seriously. Got to stay loose, after all.

That actually may work. Americans don't much like details - "Just get it done."

That's not a bad thing to base your political strategy on. You can get away with murder, literally.

Posted by Alan at 18:40 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 1 April 2006 18:46 PST home

Friday, 31 March 2006
Press Notes: Objective Reporting and the Immigration Crisis
Topic: The Media

Press Notes: Objective Reporting and the Immigration Crisis

The Set-Up

Since Just Above Sunset went online in May 2003 the topic of the press has come up again and again. Is the press biased one way or the other, and can the press really be objective - or is that unrealistic? Just what is "fair and balanced" and do you report both sides of a dispute even if one side bases their argument on what is just not so? Should national leaders be excused for saying things that just aren't true, on the record, out of respect or because, well, that was what they said and you should just report it without comment? Do you report on the actual facts that makes the public figure look bad - as if the speaker is cynically lying to make some point, or delusional, or just tired, confused or not that good with words? Would that make you look like you have an axe to grind? There is, it seems, the issue of the fine line between reporting an obvious contradiction and being seen as clearly out to nail some public figure - so you need to be careful. (Joe Conason deals with that issue here at in Salon, Friday, March 31, 2006, saying you really should report the president saying something that is just not so, and is vital, particularly when he's saying it repeatedly.)

And there's the whole issue of war reporting. Should you be objective and not take sides, or should you be what you are, which in our press is being an American who doesn't want to do the nation any harm? How do you deal with that? Just how do report bad stuff, and how much of it, and in what way? How do you report the good stuff when bad stuff is happening - one story from each category, even if there are nine big negative stories and two positive stories that day?

And how do you deal with the commercial aspect of the news? You have an audience that wants to know what's going on, but that includes news of the missing white woman of the month, some fetching sweet kid now missing, and some celebrity news like last year's Michael Jackson trial, and news of murder, mayhem and perverts on the prowl. Add shark attacks, and a long car chase covered live, and all the rest. Add those stories about racial matters, and immigration. Add the economic news for those worried about their jobs, or their portfolios. Add the health and medical news stories. Add the "lifestyle" stories. In the broadcast and cable media you have only so much airtime available between the blocks of advertising, and in print only so many column-inches amid the display ads. Do you give people what's important, when you see it developing, or give people what they want, even if the other stuff is seemingly vital? Often you can do both. Sometimes you cannot. And your audience can change channels, or read some other newspaper or magazine. There go the advertising revenues as your market share drops and you have to lower your rates. What do you tell the corporate shareholders when profits drop? And who is among the survivors in the newsroom when the staff cuts come?

It's a puzzle. And in these pages much of the discussion of the puzzle has included comments, and an occasional column, from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta. He's been there.

Rick's involvement in the start-up of CNN can be found in Hank Whittemore's CNN: The Inside Story, a book from 1990, on the tenth anniversary of CNN and the transformation of the news business. See the index under Rick Brown, and the photos, even if he doesn't look much like that any longer (he looks better). Rick finished working for CNN in 1985, although he did publish his TV News Journal after that, until 1988. We've known each other since the mid-sixties and I consider him an "old school" journalist sort - one of the guys who actually knows what fair and balanced really means. There are not many of them left.

Of course, he did note this last week in the column where more was said about the press puzzle - "I must confess my role in the creation of the new medium had little to do with editorial matters, but specifically had me inventing the 'satellite desk,' which dealt with how to get all those reports, both live and on tape, back to headquarters so they could be sent back out to the world."

But he knows the players - "Christiane Amanpour herself is one of these bullets-whizzing-by reporters, or at least was when she worked next to me over on the CNN foreign desk" - and a bit of web searching will show that his wife is a person of some consequence at CNN now. She didn't leave.

That quote from Rick was from What journalism is and what it is not. A dialog. - posted June 27, 2004 - on war coverage and balance. In this, 'Maybe a little less of the pervert of the day...' (June 5, 2005), Rick has some things to say on Ted Turner, who didn't think much of the sort of news people were demanding. That was in the news at the time, and it was in the news again this week - Ted Turner blasts the media, Bush - and himself - "There's an awful lot of superfluous news, the pervert of the day and someone that shot seven people at a fraternity party. Who needs it all?"

Rick also had a few things to say on Anderson Cooper, CNN and disaster coverage here, from September 4, 2005, and you know what was happening then in New Orleans. That touched CNN management and their choices. In fact, in The news media wakes up and starts doing its job?, back in July 2004, Rick was saying things like this - "I just so wish we could go back to the days when delivering news was considered a sacred public trust, instead of an opportunity to 'enhance shareholder value' by being the most popular kid in school."

The Issue, One More Time

The whole business comes up again, but this time with one of Rick's friends for decades, CNN's Lou Dobbs.

See this:

The Twilight of Objectivity
How opinion journalism could change the face of the news.
Michael Kinsley - Posted Friday, March 31, 2006, at 6:08 AM ET SLATE.COM

It opens with the "inside baseball" stuff -
CNN says it is just thrilled by the transformation of Lou Dobbs - formerly a mild-mannered news anchor noted for his palsy-walsy interviews with corporate CEOs - into a raving populist xenophobe. Ratings are up. It's like watching one of those "makeover" shows that turn nerds into fops or bathrooms into ballrooms. According to the New York Times, this demonstrates "that what works in cable television news is not an objective analysis of the day's events," but "a specific point of view on a sizzling-hot topic." Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia Journalism School, made the same point in a recent New Yorker profile of Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. Cable, Lemann wrote, "is increasingly a medium of outsize, super-opinionated franchise personalities."

The head of CNN/US, Jonathan Klein, told the Times that Lou Dobbs' license to emote is "sui generis" among CNN anchors, but that is obviously not true. Consider Anderson Cooper, CNN's rising star. His career was made when he exploded in self-righteous anger while interviewing Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu after Hurricane Katrina and gave her an emotional tongue-lashing over the inadequacy of the relief effort. Klein said Cooper has "that magical something ... a refreshing way of being the anti-anchor ... getting involved the way you might." In short, he's acting like a human being, albeit a somewhat overwrought one. And now on CNN and elsewhere you can see other anchors struggling to act like human beings, with varying degrees of success.

Klein is a man who goes with the flow. Only five months before anointing Cooper CNN's new messiah (nothing human is alien to Anderson Cooper; nothing alien is human to Lou Dobbs), he killed CNN's long-running debate show Crossfire, on the grounds that viewers wanted information and not opinions. He said he agreed "wholeheartedly" with Jon Stewart's widely discussed and uncharacteristically stuffy remark that Crossfire and similar shows were "hurting America" with their occasionally raucous displays of emotional commitment to a political point of view.

But that's just a personal gripe (I worked at Crossfire for six years), easily resolved by a slavish apology. More important is that Klein is right in sensing, on second thought, that objectivity is not a horse to bet the network on. Or the newspaper, either.
This followed by a discussion the problem - the Internet, as "no one seriously doubts anymore that the Internet will fundamentally change the news business." Who is going to pay for "a collection of articles, written by professional journalists from a detached and purportedly objective point of view?"

No one seems to want that now. Boring. And everyone gets the same thing. And people now want something "more personalized, more interactive, more opinionated, more communal, less objective."

Perhaps so.

And there's this on objectivity -
Objectivity - the faith professed by American journalism and by its critics - is less an ideal than a conceit. It's not that all journalists are secretly biased, or even that perfect objectivity is an admirable but unachievable goal. In fact, most reporters work hard to be objective and the best come very close. The trouble is that objectivity is a muddled concept. Many of the world's most highly opinionated people believe with a passion that it is wrong for reporters to have any opinions at all about what they cover. These critics are people who could shed their own skins more easily than they could shed their opinions. But they expect it of journalists. It can't be done. Journalists who claim to have developed no opinions about what they cover are either lying or deeply incurious and unreflective about the world around them. In either case, they might be happier in another line of work.

Or perhaps objectivity is supposed to be a shimmering, unreachable destination, but the journey itself is purifying, as you mentally pick up your biases and put them aside, one-by-one. Is that the idea? It has a pleasing, Buddhist flavor. But that's no substitute for sense. Nobody believes in objectivity, if that means neutrality on any question about which two people somewhere on the planet might disagree. May a reporter take as a given that two plus two is four? Should a newspaper strive to be open-minded about Osama Bin Laden? To reveal - to have! - no preference between the United States and Iran? Is it permissible for a news story to take as a given that the Holocaust not only happened, but was a bad thing - or is that an expression of opinion that belongs on the op-ed page? Even those who think objectivity can be turned on and off like a light switch don't want it switched on all the time. But short of that, there is no objective answer to when the switch needs to be on and when it can safely be turned off.
That is followed by an argument for a post-objective press modeled on the Guardian (UK) and other such papers. Don't hide your point of view. Don't "follow a trail of evidence or line of reasoning until one step before the conclusion and then slam on the brakes for fear of falling into the gulch of subjectivity." Why not go there? Just be "factual accurate," as the truth does matter. People disagree with you? So what? The idea is the reporting is now lively, and the facts are there too. Lou Dobbs, without distorting the facts, makes the issues come alive. Not a bad thing.

Our News Guy Responds

Rick view, via email, Friday, March 31st -
This "objectivity" discussion, taken up here from a fellow ex-CNNer (but one I didn't know; I think I was gone before he started there), can get boringly arcane for people both inside and outside the business, but it seems to be headed for a conclusion that I came to years ago - that journalistic objectivity, long thought to be a cardinal principle handed down by God, comes down to merely a question of marketing.

If your object is to reach the most people with what you think they want and they think they need, is it best to do it by playing to the louts in the cheap seats, as Fox News Channel is often accused of doing, or to play to those folks who want to become familiar with a story without the filter of a reporter's point of view, which is what NPR listeners think they're getting?

Hey, it's your network to program the way you think you should. I can't tell you what to do, so have at it!

Personally, although I think Lou Dobbs has a right to take the approach he takes, and I find his experiment interesting, I also think he's dug himself into a bit of a hole. For one thing, his show seems to have become the "Illegal Immigration Show," as if that's the only issue worth talking about. For another, there's so much investment on the show in Lou's point of view on this story - which, by the way, I largely disagree with - that I suspect any and all others will get short shrift. But finally, will Lou be sharing his personal views on just this story, or will he soon be telling us which party he wants to win the midterm elections this fall?

(I should say, by the way - just in case Lou Googles himself and maybe ends up reading this - that he is a very nice guy who has been very good to me in the past and that I don't mean any of this as a personal attack, but that we're just noodling here about issues and stuff, if you know what I mean. That said, I'll continue.)

Is being objective just exhibiting bad sense, as Kinsley suggests? I mean, must a reporter be forced to choose sides between Bin Laden and Bush?

I must admit, I would have much preferred that the American networks, including the one I once worked for, not seem to take sides in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I realize the difficulty of imbedding reporters in the Iraqi military in the way it was done on the U.S. side, but even as the people back home may have wanted all the flag-waving, what they really needed was the unvarnished truth.

I would have liked to have seen, for example, any of the CNN execs, just before hostilities got underway, lead a meeting of anchors and reporters and producers and assignment editors and writers, and ask for a show of hands of those who thought the network should recommend that viewers vote for the Republican candidate in the presidential elections the following year! Okay, now how many of you think CNN should back the Democratic candidate? (I doubt any hands would go up for either of those.) Okay, how many of you think CNN should be cheering on the Iraqis in the upcoming war? And how many think we should be cheerleaders for the American side?

I suppose you might get a few hands on that last one, but merely asking the question might have driven home the point that the most trustworthy reporters are just that - "reporters", not "supporters." But then again, sometimes, just to do your job, it takes more courage than you can possibly muster.

Not that opinion has no place at the networks. Very early in CNN's history, Ted Turner decided to go on his own network's air and give his opinion about something - as I remember, it was against media promoting violence the way it does - and shortly after that, Dan Schorr (he worked for us back then) came on with a rebuttal - an editorial that top producers somehow found a way of allowing very little airplay. Well, the whole thing caused such a fuss that Ted decided to cancel all opinion shows on the network. (This was reminiscent of an incident in early Hollywood history in which studio boss Irving Thalberg sent out a memo banning all minor chords from movie sound tracks because he had heard one in a song he didn't like. Irving's dictum didn't last any better than Ted's did.)

But in fact, I myself find it helpful to hear other people's opinions about issues in the world, and a network with all news and no thinking is even more boring than ... well, than the discussion we're having here!

Is objectivity a rhetorical trick? I find Kinsley's note, that "most reporters work hard to be objective and the best come very close," good enough for me. Having a report presented AS IF it were being delivered by some detached Martian may be the best we can hope for when we go looking for the truth of a matter. And hey, marketing trick or not, even a failed attempt at objectivity works for me better than relying on Rush Limbaugh or the Daily Show to tell me what's happening in the world.

Okay, I may be part of an incredibly shrinking demographic, but I'm pretty sure I will always be seeking out whatever news medium (in my opinion) does the right thing.
So there!

But then, Rick is part of a shrinking demographic - "folks who want to become familiar with a story without the filter of a reporter's point of view."

What demographic has Joe Klein set out to capture, unleashing Lou Dobbs?

As Tim Grieve points out here, a March 28 Public Opinion Strategies poll says we're split just about evenly - half of Americans think immigration is an economic benefit and half think it is an economic threat. Republicans poll about the same as Democrats on seeing immigration and immigrants as a danger. Is it a "serious problem?" Another poll shifts there to Republicans.

Grieve thinks the issue is split on class lines - "Working-class Americans, who find their factory wages or their service sector jobs undercut by new arrivals to the country, see a problem. White-collar Americans, who benefit from the illegal immigrants who accept minimum wages to build their houses, clean their cars and wash their dishes, see immigration as a boon."

If so, CNN is fanning class warfare, of a sort. Unless they're playing with the Tom Tancredo take on it all, which sounds a lot like white supremacy crap - "You have to understand there is a bigger issue here. Who are we? Do we have an understanding of what it means to be an American, even if we are Hispanic or Italian or Jewish or black or white or Hungarian by ancestry? Is there something we can all hang on to? Are there things that will bind us together as Americans?" Well, that what he said to Grieve.

Dobbs and his enabler Klein may be digging a deeper hole than Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, sets out here.

But what is the press supposed to do? And for whom?

Posted by Alan at 21:45 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 31 March 2006 21:47 PST home

Spin: Getting the Narrative Back on Track
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Spin: Getting the Narrative Back on Track
Missing Day

Note: This was to be posted on Thursday, March 30, 2006 at nine in the evening Pacific Time. But it could not be posted. The Lycos hosting service had a notice up that they were moving all their servers to a new data center. That started at seven in the evening, Eastern Time. Everything was locked until they plugged in the boxes in the new building or whatever and run all the tests. Obviously there were problems. This is not unusual. This blog and its related sites will move to another hosting service as soon as possible.

As the content of this item was time-bound, consider this an historical document. There was no way to post it in any timely manner with Lycos.

Thursday, March 30, 2006, the first news release was brief -
Kidnapped U.S. reporter Jill Carroll has been released after nearly three months in captivity, Iraq police and the leader of the Islamic Party said Thursday. Her editor said she was in good condition.

"She was released this morning, she's talked to her father and she's fine," said David Cook, Washington bureau chief of The Christian Science Monitor.

He said the paper had no further details immediately and just learned of her release about 6:15 a.m. EST.
So out here on the west coast, where their six in the morning is our three in the morning, we woke up what seemed like good news, with more detail - even though her translator has been killed in the ambush when she was snatched she said she had been treated well. The bad guys just dropped off near the Iraqi Islamic Party offices in Baghdad, she walked inside, and they called American officials. Her first words to the press - "I was treated well, but I don't know why I was kidnapped." She was kept in a furnished room with a window and a shower, had no clue where she was, but she was not mistreated, it seems. There were those two videotapes when those who had her threatened to kill her, but then this - "They never hit me. They never even threatened to hit me."

This is odd behavior, or lack of the expected behavior, from those who are just evil - and you need know no more than that they are. It doesn't fit the narrative. We're good, they're bad. End of discussion. Why would anyone need to know more? In the war on terror ambiguity is as big an enemy as any dude with a bomb strapped to his waist hanging around Grand Central Station. She says they just left her to be, essentially, worried and really, really bored, while they did their political posturing. They didn't torture her or starve her or anything? What's up with that? They didn't get the script?

And then there was this - "During the TV interview, Carroll wore a light green Islamic headscarf and a gray Arabic robe."

Bad move. Doesn't fit the narrative of our times. If this were a movie, someone on the set would be shouting, "Wardrobe!"

But there were the predictable government responses. The Secretary of State - "This is something that people have across the world worked for and prayed for and I think we are all very pleased and happy to hear of her release." The President - "Obviously, we are thrilled and relieved that she has been released. We want to thank all that have supported and prayed for her. We want to especially thank The Christian Science Monitor, who did so much work to keep her image alive in Iraq."

This was a relief. People don't like your war when the bad guys are holding a twenty-eight-year-old American woman and making demands, as if you're powerless to do much about it unless you give in. Looks bad. It looks like you're not really in control of events. Carroll's release helped a bit - one less reminder that you're not in control of all events and things aren't going swimmingly, and one less lever those who think the war was worse than boneheaded and creating no end of decades of upcoming woe. Subtract that story from the array of items people point to, saying you've screwed up. Good.

The end of the story? Hardly.

The problem is with "we're good, they're bad" set up that we've been told to accept and avow for five years. Those who internalized that concept, because it made easy-to-grasp, smug and simple sense of the awful world in which we live, got all confused. They didn't starve and torture here? And she was wearing what? And Rice and Bush are happy? There was a big, steaming hunk of dissonance to resolve. It was good that she was released. Fine. But the bad guys are supposed to be bad. Just bad, nothing else. And she's supposed to be good, and dressed the part. It was bad enough with Jessica Lynch, the sweet young thing from West Virginia we rescued with that raid on the Iraqi hospital all those years ago - she fought with all her might until she passed out and was then mistreated. But when it turned out she hadn't been doing the final heroic shoot out scene but just terribly injured when the truck rolled over, and then she was had been being given quite competent medical care by the Iraqi doctors, in a hospital that wasn't even guarded by anyone - well, that wasn't fair. And Pat Tillman, who gave up his fine and well-paid career in the NFL to fight in Afghanistan and was killed saving his buddies - it was friendly fire and a botched mission, and there are letters where he says the Iraq war was stupid, and it seems he read an enjoyed Noam Chomsky, and his brother at the funeral goes on a rant about how Tillman was a total atheist and the whole thing was crap? It's not fair.

And now this. The narrative needed to be put back on track.

Out here in Hollywood when this sort of thing happens they call in the crew of "script consultants" - the rewrite team.

So those who make their mortgage money convincing others to heed their opinions on behalf of the grand narrative were not as blandly kind and gratefully relieved as Bush and Rice.

The first to take a stab at getting the "we're good, they're bad" narrative back on track was John Podhoretz of the National Review with this - "It's wonderful that she's free, but after watching someone who was a hostage for three months say on television she was well-treated because she wasn't beaten or killed - while being dressed in the garb of a modest Muslim woman rather than the non-Muslim woman she actually is - I expect there will be some Stockholm Syndrome talk in the coming days."

That'll get the narrative back on track. She's gone slightly mad. That's understandable. We all remember Patti Hearst, after all. Such thing happens. So, resolution.

A response? There's this - "This is a day that we should celebrate Jill Carroll's courage. She put herself in danger to try to give the world a more accurate picture of Iraq. It is totally inappropriate to assume that her description of how she was treated is motivated by anything other than a desire to tell the truth."

Yeah, well, sometimes there's the truth of what happened, the actual events, and the larger truth of the big forces of good and evil in the universe. Podhoretz is concerned with the latter. Think of it as a sort of neoconservative Platonic Idealism - facts are only shadows on the cave wall and all that.

And there are the tin-foil folks, the conspiracy crowd who resolve cognitive dissonance in their own way, as in this (uncorrected) -
I will always believe this to be a set up situation... I think she was in on it and I said at the time if she was released unharmed she was part of the setup.... now I will prepare to hear how she wouldn't have been in the situation to begin with if the US hadn't invaded and OCCUPIED the poor little Iraq's..

Does anyone else wonder why no other American Woman "Journalists" are kidnapped??? -- Just this one who has been an apologist for the terrorists from the beginning... and foreign females from liberal papers????
It was all a secret plot, to embarrass us and derail the narrative, no doubt. Whatever.

Of course, there was even another way to get the narrative back on track. Hint that Bush and Rice were just saying pleasant things for the rubes, but they're not really happy with this whole business - no patriotic American is. That's what Debbie Schlussel does here. She's the fetching blond, blue-eyed, multilingual crusading commentator of the conservative right (her bio is at the link if you drill down), out to say how things really are.

How things really are? They're like this -
Why are so many people who claim to be patriotic Americans so overjoyed that Jill Carroll was freed, yet hardly a peep when American contractors and others were freed?

Here's a clue for the obviously dimwitted. Why was Jill Carroll freed? Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she HATES AMERICA and our Mid-East policy. And, oh yeah, she HATES ISRAEL, too.

Not that this should have dawned on people when extremist Muslim groups like HAMAS front-group CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) flew all the way to Amman, Jordan to plead for Carroll's safety.

This was like shouting from the rooftops: This Infidelette is one of our USEFUL IDIOTS. Please do not kill our propagandista. Keep killing American troops and contractors instead. Please more Nick Berg videos, but not Jill Carroll ones.
Schlussel too reminds us she had said so before -
The kidnappers who abducted her could not have chosen a more wrong target. True, Jill is a US citizen. But she is also more critical of US policies towards the Middle East than many Arabs. ... Jill has been from day one opposed to the war, to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

More than just being sympathetic with average Iraqis under war and occupation, Jill is a true believer in Arab causes.

From Arabic food to the Arabic language, Jill has always wanted to know and experience as much as possible about Arab identity, and she is keen on absorbing it, learning, understanding and respecting it.

She doesn't just "like" Arab culture, she loves it. ... It is simply unconscionable for any Arab to want to harm a person like her.
Learning about something, understanding it, respecting it? Schlussel says we all know where that leads.

She wraps with this -
Oh, and by the way, you know those female Iraqi terrorists we released for Princess Jill? Why have we never done anything like that for the lives of sundry American contractors and soldiers risking their lives over there? But yet we do it for this spoiled brat America-hater from Ann Arbor. Why?

Don't expect "journalist" Jillie to "investigate" that one. But hey, she says her Islamic terrorist captors treated her "very well," and she talked about the nice shower and bathroom they gave her.

Since things were so great in captivity, maybe she should have remained at Terrorist Day Spa. And maybe they should change the name from "Stockholm Syndrome" to "Baghdad Syndrome."
So Carroll is not only slightly "hostage mad," she hates America (and Israel). Resolution.

From two female military veterans we get another way to resolve the dissonance - it's the "hidden motive" theory, as in this -
Everything is fine and dandy. Jill got a little bored, but it was worth it, now that she's on her way to becoming a media darling and quite rich telling her story. My question is this: will she keep her hijaib now that she's free? Will she convert? I just can't wait for the movie, y'all!
So, it was all a set-up so she could get rich and famous and move out here to Hollywood and make a movie down the street at Paramount. Don't you just hate the things people will do to get in the movies?

Well, that's even another way to resolve the events and get the narrative back on track.

Then there was these exchanges on MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, the host Don Imus and his executive producer Bernard McGuirk, and the ever-present Charles McCord, shooting the breeze on that somewhat informal show -
MCGUIRK: She strikes me as the kind of woman who would wear one of those suicide vests. You know, walk into the - try and sneak into the Green Zone.

IMUS: Oh, no. No, no, no, no.

MCCORD: Just because she always appears in traditional Arab garb and wearing a burka.

MCGUIRK: Yeah, what's with the head gear? Take it off. Let's see.

...

MCCORD: Exactly. She cooked with them, lived with them.

IMUS: This is not helping.

MCGUIRK: She may be carrying Habib's baby at this point.

...

IMUS: She could. It's not like she was representing the insurgents or the terrorists or those people.

MCCORD: Well, there's no evidence directly of that -

IMUS: Oh, gosh, you better shut up!
...
MCGUIRK: She's like the Taliban Johnny or something.
Ah, one more resolution to the dissonance! It was sexual. She's a pervert and has an irrational thing for Arab men, and she just had to get some.

That's novel. But it does provide a way out of the discomfort. That explains everything.

This response to that idea deserves to be quoted at length, an open letter to McGuirk (and you'll see why the author probably wouldn't mind this getting lots of play) -
I've started this letter to you several times. Each time, I erase the polite salutations and explanations of why I'm writing to you, the explications of my background and my opinions, because while there are circumstances which warrant addressing people with whom I disagree with respect and dignity, I see no such need for courtesy here.

I don't just disagree with you, sir. I am sickened by you. I am ashamed to share membership in the family of mammals with you, you miserable, selfish, sanctimonious prick.

How dare you? How DARE you? I can see from your own background that you fancy yourself a journalist. Have you ever known a foreign correspondent? Counted one amongst your family and your friends? I wonder what that family member, that friend, would say to your callous, uninformed, savage commentary about a person who does what you can't bring yourself to do: go out and get you information about the world. You may not care about the world. But Jill Carroll did, enough to bring you back tales of the war you cheer from your fat chair in your cozy living room. She cared, and for that, you give her ... this? Are you mad? Are you suffering from some disease? Did someone, at some point, against your will, remove your soul? Your life is information. So is hers. That's what she was doing there, you smug, complacent jackass. She was telling stories to people like you. You weren't even required to enjoy them or approve. She didn't even know you'd be listening. She spoke anyway, hoping somebody was. That's what people like her do, you bologna pony. You absolute ass. You may be unable to conceive of an unselfish act in the middle of a world that is actively melting down, but thank God for the sake of all our souls there are still people out there who can. You don't have to bow down to that. This is a free fucking country, after all. But you should at least be expected to refrain from making crass, sexually suggestive, demeaning comments about her following the day she was released from being kidnapped. You should, at the very least, be condemned from the tops of tall buildings. Decent people should spit on you in public. People should turn away when you approach.

Mr. McGuirk, to your remarks about her attire. Have you ever spent time in another culture? Ever tried to get someone different from you to trust you, to believe that you, a stranger and outsider, deserve to hear their stories, are sincerely trying to understand? It helps, you selfish asshole, if you at least make the most cosmetic of attempts to show that you respect their culture, their way of life. I don't expect you to understand respect yourself, but surely at some point in your illustrious career the concept has crossed your desk. Since you obviously missed this lesson in journalism school let me give you a remedial session: if you're interviewing a concert pianist, try to make sure you can pick a piano out of a lineup. If you intend to tell the stories of ordinary Iraqis in the middle of a war, it helps to move among them freely, to speak their language, to understand their customs. You would know that if you ever left your couch.

Hmm. I cannot appeal to you as a journalist. Let me try to speak to you as a person who must love at least one other person in the world. I can only imagine, having spent scant amounts of time reporting from overseas, how Jill Carroll and her family must have suffered. Do you have children, sir? Would you think on them, please, and imagine giving their names and photographs to the State Department, their identifying characteristics, their last known addresses, the identities of their associates, conversing with their employers to find out if they're alive or dead? And then imagine turning on the radio, to hear someone such as yourself, making jokes. Imagine the person you most love in your life, imagine him or her in peril, imagine your laughter echoing in those ears. This may be a joke to you, sir. Jill Carroll is real. The danger she was in was real. Yet you laugh.

I can't say I'm entirely surprised, having watched people of your political stripes on one hand cheer a war and on the other make jokes of those who fight it and inform you of the fighting. I'm not surprised. I'm sickened, sickened by you, sir. I'm sickened that you thought you had the right to so much as open your mouth about Jill Caroll. You should apologize for your comments, and then you should resign. From the human race, is what I'd prefer, since being in the same gene pool with you makes me nauseous, but at the very least, from any occupation which places you in the position to open your fat fucking mouth.

Thank you for reading this letter, not in the least because I'm sure it must have taxed your literacy skills considerably. I look forward to your statement of apology to Ms. Carroll, her family, and anybody and everybody who might have been listening to the radio, including but not limited to the entire planet, the Internet, and areas of known fucking space.
Well, that's a bit blunt. But the poor fellow just needed to make sense of what didn't make sense to him. And, unlike the letter writer, he's a man. Things are about sex. And about the other guy getting the pussy when you don't.

So there were lots of resolutions to the narrative problem. The facts of the story messed up the larger truth, or some such thing. So you work with them.

In terms you might use in a philosophy class, it's the empirical realists versus the Platonic idealists, round ten thousand seven hundred sixty-eight or so, but who's counting? In political terms it's wrestling back control of the master narrative that keeps you in power when ambiguities arise. In the world of conservative politics its making stuff up so your head doesn't explode.

By the way, the other big story of Thursday, March 30th was this from Murray Waas at the National Journal. It's very dense and detailed, but it's a tale of keeping the narrative under control. The gist is this - new memos are uncovered. In the run-up to the war there is now documentation that the president knew full well that not only was the who uranium-in-Africa thing bogus, there are notes on meetings where he was specifically told the aluminum-tubes-from-hell was most likely bogus too - the tubes had nothing to do with centrifuges for enriching uranium. He used the two concepts anyway. But the kicker in the documentation was the Karl Rove plan to keep the latter under warps until the sometime after the November 2004 presidential election. Who was told to lie about the briefings and the notes when and where, and to whom, is laid out carefully - the memos show that. Rove is on record saying the narrative had to be set up that the president just didn't know, when he did know. It was a scramble, but Rove reminded everyone of the deadline. Keep it close until the election was over - protect the grand narrative.

Ah well, what does it matter now? Maybe it's not a big story. What's done is done.

And some, like R. J. Eshow here are suggesting the whole grand narrative is on its last legs.

He's bugged by the "nerve" thing, as in the president's frequent statements -

"I will not lose my nerve in the face of assassins and killers."

"They have said that it's just a matter of time, just a matter of time before the United States loses its nerve."

"We will not lose our nerve."

"If people in Iran, for example, who desire to have an Iranian-style democracy .. see us lose our nerve, it's likely to undermine their boldness and their desire."

"The enemy believes that we will weaken and lose our nerve. And I just got to tell you, I'm not weak and I'm not going to lose my nerve."

Yawn.

Eshow -
This particular buzzword's going to bring him down. It's "bring it on," squared. Here's a man who's spent a lifetime losing his nerve, who blinks in thinly disguised panic when he's asked a question that's not in the script.

Suddenly his character is crystallizing for the American people, and so - by inference - is that of the party that chose him to lead it;

– "Nerve" is playing the game on the field, not wearing cheerleader whites and waving your arms from the sidelines;

– "Nerve" is serving in combat when you support a war, not hiding behind beer kegs and sorority girls' dresses while others die in your place;

– "Nerve" is making your own way in the world, not spending a lifetime financially dependent on your family and its friends;

– "Nerve" is letting all the votes be counted and standing or falling on the results, not sending John Bolton into the vote counting rooms in Florida to say "I'm from the Bush/Cheney campaign and I'm here to stop the voting."

– 'Nerve" is not sending other people's kids to die or be maimed to prop up your failing image as a strong leader.

I could go on, but the zeitgeist is doing my work for me. Like they say down South: "Son, I just got one nerve left in my body, and you just got on it."
His character is crystallizing for the American people by inference? Possibly. And the zeitgeist may very well be shifting more and more. Facts do tend to mess up simple-minded theories.

Maybe were seeing the swelling up of a deep desire for something you might call reality.

Or not.

Posted by Alan at 00:17 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 31 March 2006 00:21 PST home

Wednesday, 29 March 2006
A Triple Helping of Minor Unmitigated Gall
Topic: Couldn't be so...

A Triple Helping of Minor Unmitigated Gall

The Appetizer: Logic Soup

Start with an amazing radio interview, one party in New York, one in Baghdad - Wednesday, March 29, 2006. The party in New York is the host, one of the many conservative, pro-Bush, pro-war, commentators on AM radio, Hugh Hewitt, who is definitely of the Bush-can-do-no-wrong school. The party in Baghdad is Michael Ware, Time Magazine's bureau chief there.

Hugh Hewitt is a southern California phenomenon. Here's the bio from his site -
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show heard in more than 70 cities nationwide, and a Professor of Law at Chapman University Law School, where he teaches Constitutional Law. He is the author of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World as well as the New York Times best selling author of If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat. He has written 4 other books. Hewitt has received 3 Emmys during his decade of work as co-host of the PBS Los Angeles affiliate KCET's nightly news and public affairs show Life & Times. He is a weekly columnist for The Daily Standard, the online edition of The Weekly Standard.
Chapman University, by the way, is down in Orange County, in the City of Orange, near Disneyland and the famous Philip Johnson designed Crystal Cathedral (two photos here at the bottom of the page). At one point Chapman University was California Christian College, but it's all grown up now. Orange County is, of course, famously conservative - the John Birch Society was founded there, down in Newport Beach at the Balboa Bay Club, and the headquarters of the organization that says there was no Holocaust at all is in Costa Mesa, or was at one time. It's sort of the opposite of Hollywood.

Michael Ware, an Australian citizen, in the interview says this about himself -
I'm actually a lawyer or an attorney by training. But after graduating law school, I only stayed in practice for one year after working in our court of appeal, then fell into journalism, working for Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation newspapers in Australia, where I eventually covered the conflict in East Timor. After that, I took a job with Time Magazine in Australia, and then after September 11, I was sent to Afghanistan, where I stayed for over a year. And then as the war in Iraq approached, I entered Iraq through Iran, into the Kurdish North, where I hooked up with U.S. Special Forces, and the Peshmerga militia, and covered the Northern front line. Ever since then, I have essentially been living in Baghdad.
So they should get along, right? There's the law, and Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News and has turned it into the voice of the administration.

They didn't get along. Radio Blogger has the full text of the interview here, and it's rather extraordinary. Hewitt is essentially arguing with Ware, and to Ware, that because Ware has interviewed a number of people on the other side Ware cannot be a real reporter. By speaking with those who are pure evil, and reporting what they say are the reasons for what they're doing, he's essentially become their mouthpiece, and maybe he ought to quit right now, no matter how brave he's been in getting the inside story. The idea is everyone knows they're just evil, and Ware has given them one more forum. He needs to stop this reporting. It's morally wrong.

Using that Socratic method in the manner the law has been taught since Harvard Law decided that was the way it should be done, Hewitt sets the guy up.

"Michael, can you quantify for my audience the amount of time you've spent with the jihadis, and the amount of time you've spent with the insurgents?" So Ware explains.

Then there's the classic buddy-trap "Okay, indulge me, a lawyer, and you're a lawyer, so you know. I'm just trying to get a sense of it. Has it been five different times out with the jihadists and 20 different times with the insurgents? I'm not looking for minute counts here, but I am trying to get a sense of how often you'll cross over to the other side and spend time with them." So Ware explains a bit more.

Then the trap is sprung -
HH: All right. So we've got a good grounding here. Now this brings me to the interesting issue that we talked about on CNN, and that is the morality of doing that. Why do you do that?

MW: Well, there's a number of reasons. I mean, you can look at it very, very cynically. One is know thy enemy. Now I cannot begin to tell you how much the American people, not to mention the Brits and the Aussies back home, have been significantly misled about the nature of the enemy. I mean, I've been at press conferences under the CPA. I've been at press conferences under the interim Iraqi government. I've been to press conferences under the current regime. I've listened to all manifestation of U.S. military spokesmen, of diplomats, of ambassadors, discuss and describe the enemy. And so often, it has been wrong. And it's either because these people don't understand what they're up against, or more likely, it's that these people are not telling the public the truth about them, about the fact that they're not just one homogenous group, that there are many different motivations. And that was a very, very valuable thing to come to understand, because it's led to the point now, that we see, where we have this Bush administration opening dialogue and negotiations with the more nationalist, or Baathist elements of the insurgency. So learning that this was not one homogenous, scary boogeyman was vital to not just my and the public's understanding, but also to military intelligence and this administration's. Look what it's led to.
That's it. Hewitt is all over him. Ware says the good guys sometimes either lie or else just don't get what they're really facing. But Hewitt is smug - he has, with his impeccable logic, exposed someone who is undermining our war efforts.

Ware explains our military trusts him and uses his insights, and praises his efforts, and he's been in every major battle but two, and the bad guys have threatened to kills him any number of times, and once kidnapped him. Ware doesn't get the new discourse in America -
HH: Now that's very interesting, because that would indicate that... and I understand it, but that fear is affecting your reporting, or your candor level.

MW: ... I mean, one has to be careful about how you couch things, but it doesn't stop you reporting the facts.

HH: No, but it does, however, get to the question of whether or not media from the West should be... what's the right word, Michael Ware? It's not assisting, but providing information flow to the jihadis about whom I'm quite comfortable, and I think most Westerners are quite comfortable, just declaring to be evil, because they kill innocents, and that killing of innocents is evil, is it not, Michael?
Cool, Time Magazine's bureau chief in Baghdad has just been swift-boated live, on air, by the braver, more heroic man, who knows, like everyone the bad guys are just evil and the details beyond that don't matter, and in any event, shouldn't be discussed, as in this - "Michael Ware, what is the difference between what you've been doing, especially with the jihadists, though to a certain extent with the insurgents as well, and say a World War II-era reporter making numerous trips to the German side to talk with the Nazis, and then coming back and being ambivalent about reporting on the Nazis, or being candid about the Nazis.

Ah ha! The Nazi gambit. That always works in complex arguments. It simplifies matters. Ware must like Hitler, or something.

And as for relative risk and bravery, we get this -
HH: I'm really fascinated by the question of whether or not it's ever good journalism to consort with the enemy in search of interesting stories. And there's not denying, Michael, where you get scoops. It's fascinating to read. You've got a great deal of courage, of physical courage, in doing this. So no one's denying that. I'm just wondering whether or not there's a line that you have in your mind reconciled yourself to crossing not once, but scores and scores of times, to report on the enemy, and whether or not that's a good thing. And you think it is, I think I hear you saying, because the public will not otherwise know what it is that you're reporting. Is that a fair summary?

MW: That is fairly accurate, and let's look at it this way. I mean, you're sitting back in a comfortable radio studio, far from the realities of this war.

HH: Actually, Michael, let me interrupt you.

MW: If anyone has a right...

HH: Michael, one second.

MW: If anyone has a right to complain, that's what...

HH: I'm sitting in the Empire State Building. Michael, I'm sitting in the Empire State Building, which has been in the past, and could be again, a target. Because in downtown Manhattan, it's not comfortable, although it's a lot safer than where you are, people always are three miles away from where the jihadis last spoke in America. So that's...civilians have a stake in this. Although you are on the front line, this was the front line four and a half years ago.
What a hoot! Needless to say, Hewitt was ridiculed mercilessly by the folks on the web for a full day. But then, if George Bush, flying a bit for the Texas Air National Guard in the late sixties and mysteriously dropping out, is the more manly man than John Kerry, decorated combat veteran of the war on the ground in Vietnam, this makes sense. Grabbing a cab to get to midtown takes courage too, and Hewitt actually sat in the actual building as he interviewed Ware. He wants his due. (Some Californians, it seems, think Manhattan is really, really, really scary, but does this look scary?)

But Ware didn't hang up. He just remained calm and took a bit more abuse before he snapped (emphases added) -
HH: Now this raises a question of whether or not American journalists generally, and perhaps you specifically, Michael, have an investment in describing this as a genie out of the bottle, have an investment in ignoring, say, the benefits the Marsh Arabs have achieved, the benefits the stability, relative stability in Mosul... they just had an attack in Mosul, so it's relative stability, not great stability. What is it? Thirteen out of the provinces are generally sedate. It is Baghdad, Anbar, the Syrian Desert there, that are the terrible places of great conflict. And while 50 to 60 bodies a day is a horrible toll, Mark Steyn argues that on a net, there are 100,000 Iraqis more alive every year that Saddam is gone, than every year this insurgency goes on. Does that not make a difference in your understanding of the conflict?

MW: Well, I mean, like I said, it's very hard to compare. If 100,000 more people are alive, then clearly, that's a blessing. How we come to those numbers I wouldn't have a clue. But I mean, what I can say is that I, for one, certainly have no investment in beating one administration, or favoring one party over the other. I'm an Australian who reports for an American magazine. I have no stake in your political process whatsoever. I just call it as I see it. I mean, there's nothing to be gained for someone like me. And look, there's enough people here that I've certainly come across in the three years, and who have been writing or publishing or broadcasting, that would be more than happy to tout the successes. Yet those people either can no longer be here because of the security, or I found that a lot of them like some of the soldiers I know, are just being warn down by the horror and drudgery of this place, to the point where that perhaps their views have changed. So I mean, I can't speak for every journalist. All I can say is that I don't personally have a liberal, anti-administration bias. And I can't say that I say that many of my colleagues do.
Oh yeah? Go to Hugh Hewitt's site here for Hewitt's restrained but smug gloating. He seems to think he finally and definitively, or at least logically, exposed the anti-American bias of the press on the ground in Iraq, and their near treasonous reporting on what the enemy is thinking. And they think they're so brave.

Enroll in the law school at Chapman University for more. And visit nearby Disneyland, paying particular attention to Fantasyland.

The Entrée: Mystery Meat

Actually, in France the entrée is the appetizer, and the plat is the main course, but no matter. This was still a mystery.

Wednesday, March 29th, as the Democrats unveiled their new National Security Strategy, saying they had better ideas than the incompetents in the White House on how to keep the country safe and secure, the president held a news conference. Yep, bad timing there. But they're Democrats, after all.

Of course the situation in Iraq looks dismal, what with twenty or more headless bodies showing up every day, militias roaming around killing for one side or the other, no government being formed and everyone mad at us for this or that. And there are reports of twenty or thirty thousand civilians displaced, afraid to go home to where they used to live, but with no place to go. And we seem to have created a whole new generation of people who want us dead. And the world thinks we're bullies or fools, or both.

But the president calmly explained none of this was his fault. Oddly, he didn't blame Bill Clinton this time.

It all would have worked out fine. But now it's "tough." The problem was Saddam Hussein, not anything at all the Bush administration ever did - "President Bush said Wednesday that Saddam Hussein, not continued U.S. involvement in Iraq, is responsible for ongoing sectarian violence that is threatening the formation of a democratic government."

The logic here? Saddam Hussein was a tyrant. Got it?

And he used violence to aggravate all the sectarian divisions there, to keep himself in power. Got it?

So he started it, we didn't. All this tension between folks over there? "The enemies of a free Iraq are employing the same tactics Saddam used, killing and terrorizing the Iraqi people in an effort to foment sectarian division."

See? Not his fault. The Democrats can come up with whatever plan they want, but what can you do with these Iraqi folks? They had a bad role model.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid - "The president can give all the speeches he wants, but nothing will change the fact that his Iraq policy is wrong. Two weeks ago, he told the American people that Iraqis would control their country by the end of the year. But last week, he told us our troops would be there until at least 2009."

But the president is adamant. What does it matter what plans you make? Damn that Saddam guy. He messed everything up - "Iraq is a nation that is physically and emotionally scarred by three decades of Saddam's tyranny."

Say, about this scarring business, didn't we dismantle (as in "blow up") their infrastructure, and stand aside as the cities were looted, and manage to fail gloriously at putting things back together, like the electrical system, the oil industry, and most basic services?

Ah well, what can you do? Got to stay and see this though. These Iraqi folks have been abused. They need therapy? Something like that.

He did say the folks there really need to meet again, one day soon, let bygones be bygones, smoke a peace pipe or whatever they do in those parts, and form some sort of national government. What's the problem?

But all this bad stuff happening now? "It's not my fault." The weird guy with the moustache did it.

Add your own comment about the era of personal responsibility.

And how are things there as he gave this speech? See this, from the famous Riverbend, posting from Baghdad daily -
I was reading the little scrolling news headlines on the bottom of the page.... Suddenly, one of them caught my attention and I sat up straight on the sofa, wondering if I had read it correctly....

"The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area."

That's how messed up the country is at this point... The situation is so bad on the security front that the top two ministries in charge of protecting Iraqi civilians cannot trust each other. The Ministry of Defense can't even trust its own personnel, unless they are "accompanied by American coalition forces."
Some sort of national government may be a long way off. No one is in charge. Anyone in uniform could be, well, anyone. For your safety the government says don't trust the government - there really isn't one yet. You could get killed. If the Americans are tagging along with someone in uniform, maybe you could be okay. You're on your own. Do your best.

But it's Saddam's fault. What did we do? We freed them. What can you do?

Dessert: Mock Apple Pie in the Sky

Oh, the issue has come up before. May 1, 2005 - The Oppressed Minority - Christians in America and Conservative Republicans - one of many commentaries on the Christian right playing victim. Everyone is out to get them. The government won't allow them to require all school children in public schools, whatever the kids' religion at home, recite prayers to their God, which is, after all, the only true God, as everyone knows. They feel they've been denied their rights there. What's the problem? They want their kids to pray in public school. Why insult the religion of most real Americans and say they can't?

And the ACLU backed that atheist who didn't want his kid to be forced to say the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance - but what about their kids? Their kids wouldn't be allowed to say the words, and that's not fair. What's the harm? Why does his kid matter more than theirs? One guy messing everything up.

And the Ten Commandments statue thing had to be removed from that courthouse. That was an insult. Didn't Justice Scalia himself, of the Supreme Court, say it was "a fact" the this country was not really founded on people getting together to form a self-governing republic, but really as a something God directed? You just know "for the people, of the people and by the people" was in God's mind before Lincoln said it that way. Isn't that obvious?

Why is everyone picking on them?

And there was that insulting business when major retailers at Christmas had staff saying "Happy Holidays" and not "Merry Christmas" at the cash registers. That was just a slap in the face. Sure, the Jews have some sort of holiday around that time, and there are a few other holidays, but what about a little respect? It's not fair. The Jews wouldn't have minded.

And there was that business at the Air Force Academy - why couldn't officers there demand all cadets find Jesus or be harassed? If part of your religion is that everyone must agree with you and worship your God, with all the right details, isn't saying you can't demand they do a violation of the that particular officer's right to religious freedom? It's just not fair.

Well, another year has passed. Time to ramp up the victim thing again.

In the Washington Post, Wednesday, March 29, 2006 - 'War' on Christians Is Alleged. This is about the big conference and the subhead is "Conference Depicts a Culture Hostile to Evangelical Beliefs."

Here we go again -
This week, radio commentator Rick Scarborough convened a two-day conference in Washington on the "War on Christians and the Values Voters in 2006." The opening session was devoted to "reports from the frontlines" on "persecution" of Christians in the United States and Canada, including an artist whose paintings were barred from a municipal art show in Deltona, Fla., because they contained religious themes.

"It doesn't rise to the level of persecution that we would see in China or North Korea," said Tristan Emmanuel, a Canadian activist. "But let's not pretend that it's okay."
Oh, let's do. It might be fun.

Why? The keynote speaker was Tom DeLay, under felony indictment in Texas, and there were Senators John Cornyn and Sam Brownback - and Phyllis Schlafly, Rod Parsley, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes. It was a fun crowd. They were there for "a hard but necessary look at moral relativism, hedonism and Christophobia, or fear of Christ."

Oh my!

Tom DeLay in his keynote address - "Sides are being chosen, and the future of man hangs in the balance! The enemies of virtue may be on the march, but they have not won, and if we put our trust in Christ, they never will ... It is for us then to do as our heroes have always done and put our faith in the perfect redeeming love of Jesus Christ."

Out here in godless Hollywood Harriet-the-Cat watched the Chris Matthews political shouting show on MSNBC, Hardball, where one of the guys from the conference, Tony Perkins, faced off with Reverend Al Sharpton (video clip here at Crooks and Liars). It was amusing. Sharpton asked what DeLay had to do with Jesus, or Christianity, given he seems to be a crook and a bully. Perkins said he hadn't been convicted, just accused, and anyway, the whole thing was cooked up because he was a good Christian and people wanted to see him fall, because they hate good Christians. You figure that out. Matthews was bemused, but in closing said there really was a war on Christians. Odd. He's a Catholic, as he often reminds everyone, but half the evangelicals don't think much of that Cult of Mary. Maybe he was joking. Harriet-the-Cat tells me he was smiling when he said that.

One comment on the web here, at a website with a great name, "Bark Bark Woof Woof" -
There is no war on Christianity; there's just a resistance movement - an insurgency, if you will - against the brand of pompous, arrogant, self-pitying and homophobic brand of "christianity" that these people practice. Other denominations such as the Unitarians, the Quakers, and the more tolerant among the Episcopalians don't label other people who don't toe their line as heretics and blasphemers, and I would hazard a guess that they don't feel as if they're persecuted - except by the bullies of the Religious Reich.
But these other folks are persecuted too.

Who is catching crap? The United Church of Christ. And that has been covered here before, see this from January 30, 2005, explaining the business where James Dobson was all upset about the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. Dobson thought he was kind of gay. So the United Church of Christ adopted SpongeBob SquarePants as a mascot. They had a bunch of ads they couldn't get any television network to accept - "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." Too controversial. So they did the mascot thing for the fun of it. Meet absurdity with absurdity. There were follow-up items in these pages here and here.

And that was that. The issue went away.

But this week the United Church of Christ has more ads they just cannot get anyone to run on national television, no matter what they're willing to pay for airtime. This one is funny, and this one is devastating. Same message - "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."

No one will touch these. There is no war on Christianity - there's a war within Christianity. No national television network wants to get involved in that and be accused of taking sides. The avenging Jesus who turns his back on those who don't do the right thing and abandons them to the pain and death they deserve versus the loving, inclusive Jesus? Who would want to get into that fight? You'd lose viewers either way.

After Dinner: The Digestif

In France, that's what you have after dinner and dessert - cognac, Armagnac, brandy - that sort of thing. Pour a stiff one.

Posted by Alan at 23:12 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 29 March 2006 23:59 PST home

Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Some thoughts on spin and posturing...
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Some thoughts on spin and posturing...

Tuesday, March 28th, was a day of heavy rain in Los Angeles, blunting things. That's explained here, with photos - it's the dreaded Pineapple Express. There were fewer students in the street protesting the proposed changes in immigration law, not like the day before, and that was not just because of the lousy weather. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) just locked down the middle schools and high schools (local story here) - if you got to school and into a classroom you weren't going anywhere. They held discussions of the proposed legislation. What fun is that? Some kids got out anyway, and marched in the streets, down in Carson and a few other places, and the Vincent Thomas Bridge was closed for a time. Then it really started pouring. So much for that.

The media coverage? The same problems with "the other" - and outrage with the interlopers, the law-breakers. Lou Dobbs was on his CNN crusade. And we all know who the bad guys are.

But then, see this -
Open letter to CNN and other mainstream US media outlets:

1. The vast majority of Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S. (75 percent of us) were born and raised here, including many of us who have roots here that predate the arrival of the pilgrims.

2. "Immigrant" is not synonymous with "Latino" and the media should stop pretending they mean the same thing.

3. The CNN analyst who said today "Keep in mind, Latino voters are LEGAL immigrants, not illegal immigrants" should be FIRED for sloppy thinking. MOST LATINOS ARE NOT IMMIGRANTS AT ALL, PINCHE CABRON.

4. Immigrants to contemporary USA come from EVERYWHERE. There are, for instance, 100,000 Nigerians in Houston, and tens of thousands of ILLEGAL Irish in Boston. If this debate is truly about immigration, as opposed to racist portrayals of Latinos, please curb your coverage to be more responsible.

5. Just because someone waves a Mexican or Colombian flag at a peaceful demonstration does not mean the demonstration is a "riot" or the people un-American. Lou Dobbs should get his panties out of a knot and realize it is no different than someone waving an Irish flag in Southie or an Italian flag in Queens. These flags are not waved as proof of national allegiance; they are waved in solidarity with a person's cultural heritage.

6. You can be a Mexican American and never have had an ancestor come over the US border; vast portions of the United States of today USED TO BE MEXICO or SPAIN. If you failed to learn this in high school, your teachers should be fired.

7. The vast majority of Hispanics/Latinos in the US speak English as a first language. The Pew Center for Hispanic research shows that by the third generation, all Latin American immigrant descendents - 100 percent of them - are English-first, English dominant. Zero percent speak Spanish as a first or primary language by the third generation.

8. The US has TWO international borders, not ONE. To date, not a single terrorist has gotten to the US through Mexico; to date, at least two suspected terrorists have arrived here through Canada. In fact, I would not be surprised if, while the media and xenophobes are focused on the Mexican border, terrorists figure out that it might be a good idea to walk over from Vancouver to Seattle for a latte.

9. Not all Hispanics/Latinos are Mexican or of Mexican origin in the U.S., and most people of Mexican extraction in the US were born in the UNITED STATES. ...
It goes one for a quite a bit more, but you get the idea. Just what are we arguing about?

The author, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, ends with this -
Shut up about this non-issue and get back to BEING JOURNALISTS, covering the REAL issues, like the illegal war in Iraq and the lies that got us there; the record-setting trade deficit; Bush's bankrupting of America; NSA's illegal wiretapping of American citizens; the fact that our public schools are MORE segregated than they were before Brown vs. the Board of Education; the fact that we as a nation have now slipped to having only the 27th freest press in the world; the Plame leak and the consequences of it being that Americans are much less safe than we were before Cheney and his friends played "revenge"; the disappearance of the American middle class and unions; the sorry state of the FAA; the rapid devaluation of the American dollar on the world market thanks to idiot leaders; the dismantling of the endangered species act by our administration; the rapid and unprecedented rise of a white underclass (the fastest rise in poor whites in American history has occurred under Bush); the enormous and growing gap between rich and poor in America.
But the brown-skinned high-school kids in the streets! The five hundred thousand in the streets of Los Angeles the day before that, waving foreign flags! We'll have to speak Spanish and listen to banda music! The world is ending.

No, it isn't, at least not over this. People are in the streets because what is a an administrative issue was approached as a national crisis, the party in power needing a wedge issue for the upcoming election ("Look, BROWN PEOPLE, everywhere!") advancing legislation to "get them." They've been busting their butts trying top get a better life here, violating the administrative laws, and perhaps wonder why this and why now? What changed since last summer, since five years ago?

And the racial nastiness is rather ugly. Marching in the streets is what you would expect.

There's no doubt a sensible way out of this, but not this year. It's an election year. The ruling party, with other matters not going that well, needs someone to be the bad guy. Osama got away. The war is a mess. There's a need for a new focus, to show you're doing something, a new for new, fresh devils. The brown folk who clean the restrooms will do. They're not happy about that, nor are the people who kind of look like them.

Hey, sometimes enough is enough.

But some things are changing. The president is cleaning house, making the White House vastly more efficient and responsive. Not.

The media tried to play up the big change at the White House as the rains poured down out here in Hollywood. A big story! The Chief of Staff since the president took office was suddenly gone. It wasn't to be, as the hype fizzled.

A typical headline was Bush Replaces Card With Another Longtime Loyalist, with the opening words, "Republicans gave a collective shrug to President Bush's decision Tuesday to replace chief of staff Andrew Card with budget director Josh Bolten, another longtime loyalist..."

It was a non-story. Nothing will change (a good analysis here) - all that talk about bringing in a fresh views was for naught. Bolten had been second in command to Card, and has been working for the president since 1999, so this is like a pit stop in a long race. You change the tires, top off the tank, but you go out and then drive around in circles as fast as you can with no fixed destination as such, just trying to finish ahead of everyone else. The press covered the pit stop. Fine. But if Republicans gave a "collective shrug" to the whole business, then you know the item is up there with which tie the president wore Tuesday with the dark blue suit. Yawn.

What's the real news? The New York Times kind of did mention this - Shiite politicians in Iraq saying that our ambassador to Iraq had a message for them - George W. Bush wants Iraq's prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to go away, and it's their job to dump the guy.

The reaction? "How can they do this? An ambassador telling a sovereign country what to do is unacceptable."

They don't know George. They may have voting control of whatever government they ever get around to forming, but this Ibrahim al-Jaafari is a pain - big mouth, too angry, a loose cannon, and he sometimes says bad things about us. And he's stirring up trouble by not reining in the militias on the Shiite side. If they know what's good for them, they'll have to deep six him. We didn't toss out Saddam Hussein for this sort of crap.

Of course the claim may not be true at all, just posturing having to do with internal power struggles there. We deny our ambassador ever said such a thing, but if it is just posturing it is odd that they seem to have some sense that they can use the common view of our president's personality as a tool in whatever local maneuvering is going on. He has this reputation now - he does things the way he sees them and gets what he wants, no matter what the rules.

That we promote democracy and when people vote "the wrong way," as in the recent Palestinian elections brining Hamas to power, we do our best to undermine what "the people" have chosen is kind of helpful. So why not this ploy? It sounds just likely enough to be useful. Or maybe it's true. No one will ever really know.

Heck, all politicians do all sorts so maneuvering. It happens over here too, as the same day we see an interesting move from presidential hopeful John McCain, the senator from Arizona, who, the last time he ran for the nomination had that bus with "Straight Talk Express" on the side. They call him a maverick, because, they say, he always speaks his mind. And he has opposed his party on any number of issues.

And it's been rough. Way back when, after he won the presidential primary in New Hampshire, Bush's man Karl Rove destroyed him in the South Carolina primary with all those rumors about his love child with a crack-addict black prostitute and rumors that all his years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam had rendered him effectively insane and barely functional. That worked. It was over for McCain. And he was pissed, but just last year was hugging Bush on stage. Huh?

And now? He once called the evangelical Christian Republican leader Jerry Falwell an "agent of intolerance" for all the sort of things Falwell had been saying - Muhammad, the prophet is Islam, is a "terrorist" - "If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being" - Blacks, Hispanics, and women are "God-ordained minorities who do indeed deserve minority status" - "Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home" - if the Antichrist did exists and were alive today "of course he'll be Jewish" (Links to the Falwell statements can be found here.)

McCain was not having any of this, as in this - "Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right."

That was 2000. Now he supports the mandatory teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools and has just accepted an invitation to be a graduation speaker at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell's university for budding Christian "theocons," as it were. The story is here, where Falwell says that he and McCain have worked out their differences. There's still "a lot of fence mending to do" but Falwell says McCain is coming around.

Right. You do what you do. There's posturing. There's image.

But as E. J. Dionne in the Post suggests here - "Once lost, a maverick's image is hard to earn back."

Well, one has to be very careful.

But then there are those who aren't careful. The same rainy day here in Los Angeles the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Hamdan v. Rumsfeld with its big issues.

The Associated Press account is here, opening with this -
A lawyer for Osama bin Laden's former driver urged the Supreme Court today to curb President Bush's use of wartime powers to prosecute terror suspects held at a U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Attorney Neal Katyal, who represents Salim Ahmed Hamdan, told justices the military commissions established by the Pentagon on Bush's orders are flawed because they violate basic military justice protections.

"This is a military commission that is literally unburdened by the laws, Constitution and treaties of the United States," Katyal said.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, the newest member of the court, pressed Katyal to explain why a defendant before a military commission should be given something that defendants in civilian criminal trials normally don't get - the chance to challenge the case before a verdict is reached.

"If this were like a (civilian) criminal proceeding, we wouldn't be here," Katyal said.

Scalia's presence on the bench signaled his rejection of a request to recuse himself that was filed Monday by five retired generals who support Hamdan's arguments. In a letter to the court, the generals asked Scalia to withdraw from participating in the case because of remarks he made in a recent speech in Switzerland about "enemy combatants." Speaking at the University of Freiberg in Switzerland on March 8, Scalia said foreigners waging war against the United States have no rights under the Constitution...
Yep, Antonin Scalia had a position. He pretty much said how he'd vote long before the trail. No bullshit from Fat Tony. But to be fair he did recuse himself from the cases about the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, after all his speeches where he said the idea that the government was formed by the consent of the people was wrong-headed, as clearly our form of government was ordained by God, and that was a fact no one could dispute - that was just the way it obviously was. Here his has a son in the military. It's personal.

There's a narrative of what happened in session here from an expert in constitutional law, Dahlia Lithwick. The government's arguments got more and more absurd as the session when on. The justices got more and more angry in their probing, just amazed at the flaws in basic logic. The government's attorney was finally explaining that, yes, what he was saying made no logical sense, if you used logic, "but this was war." Antonin Scalia didn't say that very much. Maybe he was bored. So far it looks like the government will lose this one.

But still, at least with Scalia, you don't get any of this posturing or image stuff, as in this -
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia startled reporters in Boston just minutes after attending a mass, by making a hand gesture some consider obscene.

A Boston Herald reporter asked the 70-year-old conservative Roman Catholic if he faces much questioning over impartiality when it comes to issues separating church and state.

"You know what I say to those people?" Scalia replied, making the gesture and explaining "That's Sicilian."

The 20-year veteran of the high court was caught making the gesture by a photographer with The Pilot, the Archdiocese of Boston's newspaper.

"Don't publish that," Scalia told the photographer, the Herald said.

He was attending a special mass for lawyers and politicians at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and afterward was the keynote speaker at the Catholic Lawyers' Guild luncheon.
Ah, refreshing. You know where he stands. He's with God, and if you don't like it, he flips you off. Maybe he shouldn't be judge, what with the ideas he has about how this is really a theocracy of sorts, and with making up his mind before he hears a big case and refusing to recuse himself, but he is brilliant and glib, and you know what you're dealing with. It's endearing in a sort of "Sopranos" way - appalling yet compelling.

And judges can be blunt, not just this one. At the same time the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Arlen Specter, held hearings on the NSA spying business, asking the five FISA judges about oversight. All five said, yep, oversight has to be there, and the president was on shaky ground, and his claim of "inherent authority" to ignore the law was pure crap, although they said it more nicely than that. Well, one of them, Judge Allan Kornblum, was less kind with this - "I am very wary of inherent authority. It sounds very much like King George."

That's not nice. But it's not posturing or image building. Just colorful.

Well, everyone has their views, and sometimes they just say them, and let the chips fall where they may.

Last week in these pages here, the views are strong, as in that survey about religion or lack of it, which might be now called the Justice Antonin Scalia Was Right Poll -
American's increasing acceptance of religious diversity doesn't extend to those who don't believe in a god, according to a national survey by researchers in the University of Minnesota's department of sociology.

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society." Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. "Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years," says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study's lead researcher.

Edgell also argues that today's atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past-they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. "It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common 'core' of values that make them trustworthy-and in America, that 'core' has historically been religious," says Edgell. Many of the study's respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.
Yep. Bad people, except Andrew Sullivan, the conservative, catholic, gay, and ex-British commentator, who has been writing about such matters for some time now, got this letter from one of his readers -
I write this with a certain weariness, but nevertheless it is important. I can't help but read your blog because as an articulate gay, Catholic conservative you are inevitably conflicted and therefore rarely have uninteresting things to say!

In more hubristic moments I sometimes think of myself as something of a mirror image of you: I am an entirely monogamous heterosexual man (I have only ever had sex with one person in my life - my wife of 14 years). We have two thriving children. Put simply, my family is the almost perfectly nauseating embodiment of what the Dobsons of this world dream about, but with one caveat: none of us have the slightest interest in the idea of God in any of his incarnations.

I don't like the word "atheist" because it implies the absence of a God and this is not the way we live our lives. We live joyful, peaceful, happy, fulfilling lives - we take nothing for granted, but we have never experienced spiritual hunger or thirst, or whatever metaphor you want to use and yes, we have been through very difficult times, but the idea of a God has always been either meaningless or counter productive in our struggles through life.

I have the greatest respect for your sexuality, your religion, and your conservatism and would never presume for a second that somehow my sexual disposition and the choices I have made in my life represent anything more my sexual disposition or the choices I have made. This is America, and I am happy to be evangelized by any one who makes the effort, but the sooner the haters ... who want to legislate my sexual disposition, my morality, my family values, my absence of religion, and my ethical choices - get lives for themselves and leave the good people of this country alone, the happier we will all be.
Yep, posturing is a pain, and religious posturing is the worst kind. It leads to odd legislation. Let people be.

Sullivan finds a quote from John Adams - "Government has no Right to hurt a hair on the head of an Atheist for his Opinions. Let him have a care of his Practices." - and Sullivan adds this - "People have this strange idea that Americans are much more secular today than they once were. In fact, the kind of religious fundamentalism we see today, while always part of the American fabric, has rarely been as dominant. The faith of the founders' was a drier, more Enlightened type; and it's fair to wonder whether some of them were believers at all in the modern sense of the term. That's why a defense of secularism is by no means un-American. It is the essence of what made the United States such a radical experiment in its time: the separation of government from God. Just don't tell that to the theocons."

Ah well, they have their motives. (And now they have John McCain, and he, in turn, has his own motives.)

From last weekend's collection of quotes: "Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is." - Mohandas K. Gandhi

In any event, the I'm-right-and-you're-wrong-and-there's-no-compromise national conversation rumbles on. Religion, immigration, the president is a bully and a fool, the president is noble and not corrupted by all that effete book learning, we're winning the war, we're not - and all the rest - spins along. Everyone's got an angle.

Even here.

Posted by Alan at 22:45 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2006 22:50 PST home

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