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Consider:

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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 3 April 2006
Fantasy and Avoidance
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Fantasy and Avoidance

The week began with the usual madness.

"It is not very comfortable to have the gift of being amused at one's own absurdity." - W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

That said, Zacarias Moussaoui, is now quite comfortable.

Why? On Monday, April 3rd, he got what he wanted -
A federal jury found al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui eligible Monday to be executed, linking him directly to the horrific Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and concluding that his lies to FBI agents led to at least one death on that day.

A defiant Moussaoui said, "You'll never get my blood, God curse you all."
Charming. So he gets convicted, now he's made "eligible" for being removed from this world by the state, and the jury will hear days of "impact" testimony, from the widows of the World Trade Center attack of course, and hear lots of the audio tapes of distress calls that day, and decide if, since he's now eligible, he wins the prize.

Dahlia Lithwick, the attorney who does legal analysis for the online Slate site and the Washington Post (and now and then appears on MSNBC) nails the absurdity here -
Hand it to Zacarias Moussaoui, who managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with his fantastical eleventh-hour trial testimony last week about a never-before-mentioned fifth 9/11 airplane; the one that he would apparently have co-piloted with Richard Reid and flown into the White House. In a trial featuring some of the most spectacular episodes of government overreaching and misconduct we will ever see, Moussaoui managed to persuade the jurors that he was a key figure in the 9/11 attacks - even though he was in jail at the time and had always claimed before that Sept. 11 was "not my conspiracy."

When it looked like little Moussaoui was too small to play the outsized role the prosecutors had scripted for him, he simply grew himself to fit into it.
Yep, there is convincing testimony that his al Qaeda buddies thought him a useless fool and generally ignored him as a tiresome incompetent, and he seems to have resented that. Now he's the big man he always said he was when his friends all shrugged that Arabic equivalent of "whatever, big guy. He showed them all. Waleed bin Attash, Sayf al-Adl, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed were wrong ion their testimony. He was important. The jury said so. So there.

Lithwick on the dynamics -
Put aside the uncomfortable fact that Moussaoui was always willing -even eager - to die as a martyr. Put aside also the fact that Moussaoui told the prosecution that he wanted to be executed. And that he was willing to testify against himself if it would mean avoiding a life sentence - because it was "different to die in a battle ... than in a jail on a toilet," as he put it.

Why shouldn't his jurors make his dreams come true?

This was what negotiators describe as a Pareto-optimal result: a win-win, in which Moussaoui, the government, and Americans craving vindication all got what they wanted. In the end, the verdict's only casualties are a few impossible-to-explain facts. Facts that should have added up to just this: We don't execute people for fanciful happenings that may have followed from imaginary conversations.
That's the rub. Even the judge was saying this was odd, new legal ground being opened here. This is the death sentence for conversations that did not happen - if, hypothetically, way back when, he had been truthful on this one date about these particular things, which he wasn't, then the authorities might have done this thing or that thing, hypothetically, which they didn't. That's a curious if-then reason to kill him. But the jury made the leap. There might have been this alternative, better reality. You never know.

Of course that leap assumes the swift-acting and highly competent FBI that would have leapt into action and collated all the information, working seamlessly with all levels of law enforcement, and stopped the plot cold. Well, they might have. You never know. All real-world, empirical evidence suggests otherwise, but they might have. You never know - if the conversation that never happened had happened, they might have done what they don't quite seem capable of doing. It's possible.

But as Lithwick concludes, this exercise in alternative realities works out fine for everyone -
Nobody will dispute that Moussaoui would have happily done anything at all to help the 9/11 plot succeed. But he did nothing to help it succeed because, as everyone but Moussaoui now agrees, he was flaky, wifty, and weird. It's not a capital crime to be flaky, wifty, or weird. Nor is it a capital crime to wish you were a hero instead of a dud.

Yet because of Moussaoui's false testimony, the government's nutty conspiracy theory, and the nation's need for closure, Moussaoui's name will be in the history books and the law books for all time; inextricably linked with 9/11, just as it has always been in his dreams. And perhaps we will all sleep better for believing that if Moussaoui had come forward and told what little he knew, we could have stopped those terrible attacks, just as it happens in our own dreams.

How lucky for Moussaoui that his fantasies and ours are such a perfect match.
It's a funny thing, and almost as if we're all in one of those fifth rate science fiction tales where someone travels back in time and bumps off Hitler's grandfather and WWII never happens and the world is a far different place that the one we've got, or the other tale where someone goes back in time and changes something that seems insignificant but turns out to be critical and a means the someone who went back was then never born so really didn't go back and change that one things, so that person was born and did go back, and so on and so forth.

The case law established here, with its hypothetical realities, is perhaps the legacy of those "Back to the Future" movies where Marty and the mad professor are always trying to work out such problems. And it is fun. But it's an odd way to run a legal system, where you execute people for the hypothetical "might have been."

But then, yes, here all parties get what they want - the real essence of the law, not what is logical.

And it's better than just punting.

That's what happened with the Supreme Court, Monday, April 3rd, as noted here - "The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by terrorism suspect Jose Padilla and avoided deciding whether President George W. Bush can order Americans captured in the United States to be held in military jails without criminal charges or a trial."

The question is, can, as the administration asserts, the president order the arrest of an American citizen on American soil and hold that citizen without charges, without any right to an attorney much less to any appeal, and certainly with no trial, for as long as he chooses (in this case, nearly four years) on the president's declaring that this person is really an enemy combatant - with the reason for that designation not open to any examination by any other branch of government, and certainly not the courts, as such actions are within his constitutional, plenary powers as commander-in-chief time of war.

It's an interesting question. In a time of war, does the president have the right to declare that some citizens have forfeited their rights as citizens by some action or planned action, on evidence he has been presented, evidence that should not be presented to any court, as that would interfere with his waging the said war, which is his job, after all? That the person may be innocent, in these cases, not relevant. The decision has been made - for the safety and security of the nation. This is too important.

Then are we at war? The administration says we are, but the Attorney General in the first NSA hearing says, strictly in terms of the law, we're not. But close enough?

And with the Jose Padilla case it's complicated. He was held four almost four years as someone who had, in the judgment of the president, forfeited his rights as a citizen - for planning to blow up something or other with a dirty bomb. Then the administration dropped that whole idea and charged him with an actual crime, transferring him to civilian custody (discussed in these pages here last December). The administration asked the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate its prior ruling that he was someone the president could hold forever because he was so very dangerous. He was, really, just a criminal, so he did have rights - to know what he was being charged with, the right to an attorney, and to a trial and all that. They changed their minds. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was not impressed.

So the question comes up to the Supreme Court. What's with this original ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that the president could hold him for four years? That doesn't seem right, that the president can order the arrest of an American citizen on American soil and hold that citizen without charges, without any right to an attorney much less to any appeal, and certainly with no trial, for as long as he chooses, upon the president's declaring that this person is really an enemy combatant - with the reason for that designation not open to any examination by any other branch of government, and certainly not the courts, as such actions are within his constitutional, plenary powers as commander-in-chief time of war.

What's with that? Is that right?

By a six to three vote the court Monday the 3rd said, well, it's moot. They tell the attorneys for Padilla, that since the guy is no longer locked up with no rights but is being tried on actual criminal matters, now is not the time to decide whether the president can do such things. But they say if it happens again Padilla can certain come back and ask about it. No problem. Let us know. Keep in touch.

Reactions?

This - "Keep in mind that Padilla has not been charged as the dirty bomber. My guess is that the evidence against him wouldn't hold up in civilian court. Backed into a corner the Administration had two choices: let Padilla's appeal go through and risk losing the 'right' to detain Americans forever - or charge Padilla only on broad ties to terror and hope that the Supreme Court would let their swindle stand."

This - "The importance of this case and this area of law in post-9/11 America should not deter judicial review, it should invite it so that it can be settled once and for all, lest the ambiguity invite more and more abuses."

Or this, noting that it was Justice John Paul Stevens' "dissenting opinion two years ago that concluded that Padilla's case implicated 'nothing less than the essence of a free society.' Today, he appears to be the critical vote to deny review."

So they're kicking that can down the road. Later.

So we roll on.

Ah well, make of it what you will. And how it's reported will be as an outrage, or a sound legal decision, or as a curiosity. But nothing was settled. Smiles in the White House on this particular Monday evening.

But be careful. The president is said to be an impulsive fellow. And this site you're now reading had a logon last week from the CIA, and one from the Department of Homeland Security, and Monday, April 3rd, one from the Sergeant of Arms at the US Senate. And the Customs Department has been reading the various items here on visas and entry to the United States, the items on Farley Mowat and the musings of Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, who has commented on such matters. We live in odd times.

Or we live in fine times. It depends on what you believe. It depends on what you read or see.

Is the media biased and messing with your mind? That's hard to say.

But then, here Jack Shafer points to a new and interesting study by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, two economists from the University of Chicago - Media Bias and Reputation (PDF format).

Economists? Math? Complex formulae and all that? Yep. Just something that will appear in the April issue of the Journal of Political Economy, everyone's favorite magazine.

But Shafer makes it easy stuff, with this summary -
1) If a media outlet cares about its reputation for accuracy, it will be reluctant to report anything that counters the audiences' existing beliefs because such stories will tend to erode the company's standing. Newspapers and news programs have a visible incentive to "distort information to make it conform with consumers' prior beliefs."

2) The media can't satisfy their audiences by merely reporting what their audience wants to hear. If alternative sources of information prove that a news organization has distorted the news, the organization will suffer a loss of reputation, and hence profit. The authors predict more bias in stories where the outcomes aren't realized for some time (foreign war reporting, for example) and less bias where the outcomes are immediately apparent (a weather forecast or a sports score). Indeed, almost nobody accuses the New York Times or Fox News Channel of slanting their weather reports.

3) Less bias occurs when competition produces a healthy tension between a news organization's desire to conform to audience expectations and maintaining its reputation.
Jack Shafer uses this to do a riff on CNN versus Fox News and all the rest, and if you're a news junkie you can click on the link and read all that. You believe who you trust, and the economics are such they give you what you want, so you trust them, and they make money. It's a self-reinforcing economic loop. And if they're biased it's on things no one can verify at the moment, or the next day.

The idea here is that if you don't want bias you have to break the loop - split up the big media giants and all that. That's unlikely. And these two Chicago people say if you want to combat all that anti-Americanism in the foreign media, instead of trying to get Al Jazeera off the air, or get them censored, you stimulate completion for them, funding anyone who want to play - flood the market with start-ups, no matter what they broadcast. That's unlikely too. The president is on record thinking it might have been a good idea at one time to bomb the main Al Jazeera headquarters. The president is said to be an impulsive fellow.

Should we bomb the Washington Post for reporting this on the same Monday morning?
Three U.S. Marines and a sailor were killed in action in volatile Anbar province, the U.S. military reported Monday, bringing to 10 the number of American deaths over the weekend amid insurgent violence that also claimed dozens of Iraqi lives.

... Also Sunday, the military reported the deaths of six soldiers and airmen, including two who were killed when their helicopter apparently was shot down during a combat air patrol southwest of Baghdad on Saturday.

... Their deaths added to a toll of at least 50 Iraqis who were killed Sunday in a spate of violence that included a mortar attack, military firefights, roadside bombings and other explosions.
Or this?
A reconstruction contract for the building of 142 primary health centers across Iraq is running out of money, after two years and roughly $200 million, with no more than 20 clinics now expected to be completed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says.

The contract, awarded to U.S. construction giant Parsons Inc. in the flush, early days of reconstruction in Iraq, was expected to lay the foundation of a modern health care system for the country, putting quality medical care within reach of all Iraqis.

Parsons, according to the Corps, will walk away from more than 120 clinics that on average are two-thirds finished. Auditors say the project serves as a warning for other U.S. reconstruction efforts due to be completed this year.
Or we go after the New York Times for reporting that over there the Shiite bloc now appears willing to chuck out Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari - the Kurdish and Sunni members of the National Assembly are ticked. The dynamic duo of our Secretary of State Rice and the UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw make a surprise visit and tell them all they really have to get it together - a government of some sort three months after the damned elections is something we expect - and as the Times says - "The developments suggested that a new phase in Iraq's convulsions might have started by opening a possibly violent battle for the country's top job between rival Shiite factions, which both have militias backing them. The incumbent prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, has said he will fight to keep his job, and his principal supporter is Moktada al-Sadr, a rebellious cleric whose Mahdi Army militia has resorted to violence many times to enforce his wishes."
This is not looking good. Is it bias to report these things? Is there a way to spin this positive?

And what do you do about, on NBC's Meet the Press, General Anthony Zinni, former commander of our forces in the Middle East, calling on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush officials to resign for making a "series of disastrous mistakes" in Iraq?

You can watch the video clip here -
Zinni: ... I heard the case being built to go to war right away- I was hearing a depiction of the intelligence that didn't fit what I knew. There was no solid proof that I ever saw that Saddam had WMD...

ZINNI: I saw the - what this town is known for, spin, cherry-picking facts, using metaphors to evoke certain emotional responses or shading the context. We know the mushroom clouds and the other things that were all described that the media has covered well. I saw on the ground a sort of walking away from 10 years' worth of planning. You know, ever since the end of the first Gulf War, there's been planning by serious officers and planners and others, and policies put in place - 10 years' worth of planning were thrown away. Troop levels dismissed out of hand. Gen. Shinseki basically insulted for speaking the truth and giving an honest opinion.

The lack of cohesive approach to how we deal with the aftermath, the political, economic, social reconstruction of a nation, which is no small task. A belief in these exiles that anyone in the region, anyone that had any knowledge, would tell you were not credible on the ground. And on and on and on, decisions to disband the army that were not in the initial plans. There's a series of disastrous mistakes. We just heard the Secretary of State say these were tactical mistakes. These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policies made back here. Don't blame the troops. They've been magnificent. If anything saves us, it will be them.
Ah, but he's biased. Or not.

But then, things are coming right along. Zacarias Moussaoui will die, making everyone happy, even Zacarias Moussaoui. That Padilla fellow will be fine, and if they lock him up again and throw away the key, his attorneys can ask for a clarification. And the war is going as well as you see it going.

All's fine. And our friends at Parson's headquarters out in Pasadena, near the Rose Bowl, get to come home after all that work overseas.

Posted by Alan at 22:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006 22:40 PDT home

Sunday, 2 April 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

Just Above Sunset logoThe new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 14 for the week of April 2, 2006.

This week, six extended commentaries on current events, staring with the immigration business as just down the street Hollywood High was shut down and Al Franken was doing his national radio show fifty feet away, chatting with Meg Ryan and Cindy Sheehan at the local jazz club. There's an item on the pitfalls of political positioning, as someone is sure to be very angry, and the an item on pure gall as one of our local conservative radio talk show host chats with Baghdad, from Manhattan, and says odd things, and he's just one of the three saying really amazing things. There's an item on the release of Jill Carroll, the reporter held hostage in Iraq, and what happened when she said the wrong thing, and dressed funny. The item on press coverage of the immigration story centers on CNN's Lou Dobbs, and features an exclusive to Just Above Sunset, one of his old friends who worked with him at CNN has more than a few things to say about the Dobbs Crusade. And should the congress censure the president for obviously breaking the law? There's a report on the new defense - everyone is taking things too literally and far too seriously.

The photography this week documents this particular and peculiar place, the odd storefronts on Hollywood Boulevard and more. And there are two architectural studies for those who want to see old Hollywood - your choice, Zigzag Moderne or Art Deco. We have it all. The botanicals? Extreme roses, and a bonus manly shot.

Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, isn't. He's still in New York for a visit there. His column will return later.

And the usual. The weird continues, and the quotes this week are appropriate to the shift to daylight savings time.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

LA Notes: Strange doings out here on the far edge of the continent...
Positioning: Defining the Good and the Bad
A Triple Helping of Minor Unmitigated Gall
Spin: Getting the Narrative Back on Track
Press Notes: Objective Reporting and the Immigration Crisis
Political Strategy: On Taking Things Too Literally, and Too Seriously

Southern California Photography ______________________

Hollywood Storefronts
Places Time Forgot
Architecture: Zigzag Time
Architecture: Old Art Deco Hollywood
Botanicals: Gaudy Beverly Hills


The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of March 26, 2006 – Daylight Savings Time Begins


By the way, this is your photographer and editor, with his tripod, looking out over Hollywood, from Mount Lee, a few feet below the Hollywood Sign.

The view from Mount Lee, Hollywood, at the Hollywood Sign

Posted by Alan at 09:19 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006 22:42 PDT home

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

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