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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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Wednesday, 23 August 2006
Waking Up
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Waking Up
You read it here first, from infrequent contributor Rick the "News Guy in Atlanta" (he's called that because he's one of the guys who got CNN up and running back in the early eighties, knows all the key players there, and his wife is still there, a key executive). See November 7, 2004 - Listen up! There IS no War on Terror! - where after some prefatory matters and before reactions from others, he says this (and remember it was election time) -
Okay, I'm confused and need some help. Is it just me, or has anyone else in this country noticed that there is no "War on Terror"?

Polls show Americans trust Bush more than Kerry on the issue of protecting the country from terrorism. Really! (They obviously ignore the fact that Kerry has actually killed someone face-to-face, while the closest Bush got to doing that was when he giggled it up as some born-again Christian woman was on the way to one of his Texas execution chambers.)

But other than that, when you think about it, what has Bush done in this so-called "War on Terror"?

He attacked Afghanistan? Big deal! Hell, if 9/11 had happened on Calvin Coolidge's watch, he'd have invaded Afghanistan during a break in one of his famous afternoon naps!

Bush invaded Iraq? Okay, if you insist on considering Iraq part of the "War on Terror," then you must admit to it being one hugely-botched battle at best, with terrorists now operating out of that country and doing things Saddam Hussein would never have allowed them to do. But in fact, Iraq, as has now been demonstrated, originally had nothing to do with the war on terror anyway, although probably now it does. Which leaves us with Afghanistan, where the Taliban still lives, and as Osama bin Laden possibly does, too.

(Okay, looking on the bright side, isn't it nice that Saddam was removed from power? Yes, but considering the subsequent blowback, celebrating Saddam's being gone is like calling the glass ten-percent full instead of ninety-percent empty. One can understand some Iraqis being happy about this, but it has certainly not made the world safer.)

Is this war just a metaphor, like the "War on Poverty"? Apparently Bush doesn't think so, charging that anyone (i.e., Kerry) who thinks this war is just a metaphor is not fit to be president. (Lots of Bush's fellow Republicans have called it a metaphor, but that's okay, they're not candidates for the job.)

Can this war be won? Apparently Bush doesn't think it can be, not in the classic sense (although he had to later clarify that argument by inserting some flip-floppy ambiguity into it.)

Is it a law-enforcement matter? Bush says no, that's just "September 10th thinking," the sort of thing his opponent is guilty of. (You know, it seems this business of hunting down this war is like Twenty Questions, with no end in sight.)

But in truth, if it's not a metaphor; and it can't really be won in the usual sense; and it's not a law-enforcement thing; and if even Tommy Franks has told people Afghanistan is really more of a man-hunt than a war - and as has been pointed out before, shortly after our invading Afghanistan, there were more American soldiers in Salt Lake City, protecting the Winter Olympics, than there were fighting our so-called war in Afghanistan - then where is this war everyone's talking about?

Even Bush and his people admit that this "war" has produced absolutely no actual "war prisoners" as such that fall under Geneva Convention protections. Shouldn't that alone tell us something?

Look, I have ideas of war in my head. Take WWII; now that was a proper war! So was WWI and the Civil War and the War of 1812 and the War for Independence! Real wars you can see and smell, and run to join up with, or maybe run away from. Korea and Vietnam were called "police actions," but whatever you called them, they walked and talked like wars to me.

So if anyone tries to tell you that this is a war unlike others and it isn't between nations and that it doesn't take place in any one chunk of geography, but is in fact taking place in the slums of Hamburg and the jungles of Indonesia, and hundreds of other secret places where these vermin try to hide, and that it won't end with someone signing a peace treaty, and may not /ever/ end in the conventional sense, and is not fought only by soldiers with guns but also by prosecutors with subpoenas ... you see where this is going?

Tell them what they're describing is only "metaphorically" a war, but is really mostly just a law-enforcement issue that, like crime itself, will probably never end -- and certainly not the sort of thing to allow a president to lay claim to being a "wartime president". I'm sure future historians will someday compare the mass hysteria rampant in early 21st century America, as it fought its imaginary war, to the Salem witch burnings and communist-hunts during the McCarthy era.

It seems like such a classic case of emperor-wearing-no-clothes, and it seems that nobody wants to bring this up, so let me do it now:

I need everyone's undivided attention! Listen up! There IS no War on Terror!

I repeat: There IS no War on Terror! None! We have all been conned!

Anyone? Please feel free to convince me otherwise.
Well, it took two years, but the London "liquid bomb" plot that was foiled - as in "Rats! Foiled again!" - seems to be not a victory in the war on terror by the only means we say works (send in the smart bombs), but a matter of law enforcement. Kerry was right. Even hyper-conservative George Will says so here - he notes in a candidates' debate in South Carolina (January 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world," and so it seems to be so. Oops. We must have misjudged the man. Will is miffed with Bush these days.

It took enough time for people to start coming around, didn't it?

And now people are saying all sorts of things, like John Mueller in the oh-so-serious journal Foreign Affairs (published by The Council on Foreign Relations) with this -
Summary: Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable - but rarely heard - explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.
He's not exactly saying the whole thing is a hoax, but wonders how much we should worry about it. Is the threat posed by al Qaeda terrorists equivalent to that of fascists back in the thirties? Well, no -
Although it remains heretical to say so, the evidence so far suggests that fears of the omnipotent terrorist - reminiscent of those inspired by images of the 20-foot-tall Japanese after Pearl Harbor or the 20-foot-tall Communists at various points in the Cold War (particularly after Sputnik) - may have been overblown, the threat presented within the United States by al Qaeda greatly exaggerated. The massive and expensive homeland security apparatus erected since 9/11 may be persecuting some, spying on many, inconveniencing most, and taxing all to defend the United States against an enemy that scarcely exists.
And he has evidence, and reasons from it. But it is quite long and no one will have the patience to read it. And it is heretical to say such things - everyone knows the bad guys want to kill us all, and are working on that tirelessly. They don't actually seem to be, but never mind.

In lieu of that some might want to read Ronald Bailey's Don't Be Terrorized, where there's a statistical look at things - you're more likely to die of a car accident, drowning, fire, or murder, than be a victim of terrorism. But of course it doesn't feel that way. Terrorism hysteria is the order of the day, even if you read careful analysis like this from David Weigel, about the triumph of us busting up the terror plot in Miami in June, which wasn't much of a plot, and the forces in play to make us believe it was something, when the guys were pretty much hapless jerks.

Something is up. As Rick said, it seems like such a classic case of emperor-wearing-no-clothes, and nobody wanted to bring it up - but the war on terror is a farce, and the threat hardly existential. It's a problem. You solve it.

But now that Iran wants to discuss its nuclear program, but won't stop research as a precondition to the talks, we all no war is coming. The Chinese and Russians say cool, let's have the talks. We say no. No talks unless and until they stop all research and promise not resume it, ever - then we'll talk about things. We have to stop them, and the sole condition for talking is clear. So if the world won't agree to sanctions, you know what's coming next. We know what will happen if they continue.

But a House committee on Wednesday, August 23, said we don't -
Noting "significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the various areas of concern about Iran," the House Intelligence Committee staff report questioned whether the United States could even effectively engage in talks with Tehran on ways to diffuse tensions.
In the Republican-controlled House we have a Republican-controlled committee saying it's not just that we don't really know anything about their nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons programs, we don't even know enough to talk to them intelligently.

It may be safe to assume even the pro-Bush folks are wising up. No one wants to get hung out to dry again. The White House, in response, says that they are "taking steps" to do better. Somehow that's not reassuring.

But there are the bad guys, now being called the "Islamofascists" in the pro-Bush media - which Matthew Yglesias here says he can "only understand as a sign of increasing desperation" - and the president himself has adopted the "slightly-less-absurd" formulation "Islamic fascists." It just isn't helpful.

There's a lot of talk about Spencer Ackerman here making a basic pragmatic argument - Muslims everywhere really don't appreciate this terminology at all. Not even in Detroit, or especially in Detroit, with its large Muslim, and pro-American, population. It just pisses them off.

Yglesias notes too it's worth calling attention to the function of this rhetoric -
"Fascist," in this context, just roughly means "bad." Add in the "Islamic" and what you come to is the conclusion that we're in a war and that the enemy in this war is Muslims who subscribe to bad ideologies. This has the consequence of taking a set of institutionally and ideologically distinct actors - Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, Iraq, Iran, Syria, al-Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, Iraqi insurgents, etc. - and treating them as a single phenomenon. To do so would be a serious mistake. And to call it a mistake is not to deny the obvious fact that these are groups that are to some degree interrelated. There's some ideological overlap. Some of these groups are allied with each other at the moment. Some have been allied in the past. Some might ally in the future.

Nevertheless, they are different things. And the essence of sound strategy has long been to look at potentially hostile actors and try to divide them. To decide what your top priority is and focus on it. The "Islamofascism" rhetoric is part of a continuing campaign to do the reverse.
But it does keep the hysteria up. They're all alike. They all want to kill us. And we have to stay in Iraq because there sure are a lot of them there, and if we leave they'll just come here, or whatever.

That may be nonsense, but it is important nonsense. See the Washington Post here interviewing an anonymous "top GOP strategist" - most likely Karl Rove -
The strategist, who is involved in GOP efforts to capitalize on the issue of national security, said one of the big challenges in the months ahead will be "making sure the terrorism issue sticks to Iraq." With some GOP candidates distancing themselves from Bush's Iraq policy, the strategist said, it has been difficult marrying the issues of terrorism and Iraq. This is disturbing to top GOP officials because support for the war is low, and dropping, and Iraq is a bigger issue in many of the campaigns than the less-defined effort against terrorism, the strategist said.
But it's just not sticking, as shown in the New York Times poll here -
Americans increasingly see the war in Iraq as distinct from the fight against terrorism, and nearly half believe President Bush has focused too much on Iraq to the exclusion of other threats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed saw no link between the war in Iraq and the broader anti-terror effort, a jump of 10 percentage points since June.
And there's the CNN USA Today poll here -
Most Americans, according to the poll, seem to have separate opinions about the war in Iraq and terrorism, with more than half (52 percent) saying the war in Iraq is a distraction from the U.S. efforts against terrorists who want to attack targets inside the United States.

A smaller percentage, 44 percent, said the war in Iraq "is an essential part" of U.S. efforts against terrorists who want to attack targets inside the United States.
People are catching up to Rick in Atlanta, even the "security moms" as the Post noted here, providing much fodder for the political talk shows -
Married mothers said in interviews here that they remain concerned about national security and the ability of Democrats to keep them safe from terrorist strikes. But surveys indicate Republicans are not benefiting from this phenomenon as they have before.

... Jean Thomas, a married mother of one, said she still feels a pang of fear every time she boards an airplane for work travel around the Midwest. "Terrorism," she said, "is the biggest concern on a daily basis." But she said she is "pretty frustrated with politics driving decisions" in Washington. That is why she said she is strongly considering abandoning her support of Republicans to vote for the Democrats challenging Rep. Deborah Pryce and Sen. Mike DeWine on Nov. 7.

… Jo Ann Smith, a divorced mother in Upper Arlington, said she voted for Pryce last time but certainly will not this fall because of the war issue alone. "I am just totally disgusted with this war," Smith said. "I understand terrorism and the threat, but I am sick of hearing about it." Smith said she will vote for Democrats across the board, mostly because she considers Republicans the "worst of two evils."

… Marylee McCallister, a mother of three who was a Republican for 42 years until this April …. voted for Bush because she believed his warnings that the Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), would weaken the nation. "I was dumb," she said. "Now, granted, they came here and rammed bombs into us, but I am afraid we have gotten into something full scale which perhaps did not have to be."
This comment at Firedoglake sums it up nicely -
The themes are clear - like the rest of us, these Bush voters feel like terrorism has been used as a political sledgehammer, and they know that Dubya is in way over his head in Iraq. But they also know that September 11th wasn't just a movie, and they're personally frightened of it happening again.

They should have listened to Rick in Atlanta. The policy was wrong say what you will about specific tactics, or on a larger scale, general strategies - some have been boneheaded and some have been fine - at the highest level is policy. That was the problem. The policy - we will fight terror with war, regime change and occupation - made things worse.

And the fourth part of that policy was disdain for diplomacy and alliances (listening to advice).

See John Judis here on the history and track record of "conservatives' odd aversion to diplomacy and liberals' tragic failure to adequately resist it."

As Matthew Yglesias, again, notes here -

The upshot is that, specific issues and countries aside, the whole assumption that there's anything to be gained by either de facto or de jure denying diplomatic recognition to other countries is wrong. Having ambassadors in each others' countries and regular talks between officials about matters of common concern is just what countries that aren't actively at war with each other do. The idea that talking to Syria - not necessarily agreeing with Syria about anything, but just talking so as to explore the possibility of agreement or at least understand what we're disagreeing about - would meaningfully set back the cause of Middle Eastern democracy is daft.
Daft? No one uses that word much these days. But it fits.

Ah, they called Howard Dean daft. When he said, more than a year ago, that the war is Iraq was worse than pointless, it was counterproductive, even most Democrats ran away from him. You just don’t say things like that. And now more than half the country agrees with him. That's very odd.

Watch him on MSNBC and CNN here (full video clips) wher he comments on what he sees now, and most folks agree.

On George Allen - "I served with George Allen when he was Governor. I don't think he belongs in public service. There are Republicans who are capable and smart, thoughtful people, and he's not one of them. "

On Joe Lieberman - "Ned Lamont is a Democrat. But Joe is the past and I think we need a new direction in this country and it's not just the Lieberman Lamont race. It's all over the country. People are looking for a new direction for the country. "

On John McCain - "You know how everybody leaves the ship once it heads in the wrong direction. McCain was a huge booster of the war until now I guess things are getting hot in the kitchen, so he decided to get out. "

On the Bush press conference August 21 - "You don't make a permanent commitment to a failed policy."

On Hurricane Katrina -
I think Katrina - the response to Katrina was effectively the end to the President's presidency in the sense that people all of a sudden saw the small man behind the curtain.

People in America and throughout the rest of the world for a long time have believed that Americans can fix anything - that we're better organized and better managed - managed better than anybody, and that if something really awful happens, call on the Americans.

And for the first time in our lifetime and in the world's lifetime, since World War II - since before World War II - we suddenly saw an American president just descend into failure.

And I don't think he's ever recovered from that.
On Iraq and Vietnam and Bush and Nixon (CNN with Wolf Blitzer) -
DEAN: This is exactly what was going on in Vietnam. And the president and the vice president are saying exactly what Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew said again and again and again. It resulted in 25,000 more Americans being killed in Vietnam, and the result was the same as it would have been had we left earlier.

This is wishful thinking on the part of the president. They never thought this out.

I can remember the secretary of defense saying the whole world would be paid for by Iraqi oil. The vice president was saying we'd be greeted as liberators.

These folks are fundamentally out of touch with what's going on in Iraq and they're fundamentally out of touch with the needs of the American people. And we need a new direction in this country, Wolf, and we're going to have a new direction after November.

BLITZER: But as you know, a lot of Democrats, especially Democratic senators, are also saying the U.S. should try to finish the job and not set an artificial deadline for getting out.

DEAN: Finishing the job? The job was finished. We went in there to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We got rid of him. Then we decided we were going to occupy the country, and then we decided that we would try to mitigate a civil war, which we're now in.

The problem is the job, as far as the president keeps defining it, is a moving target. He doesn't know what the job is. He doesn't know what the end point is.

The idea that we're going to have a democracy that looks like America was a ridiculous right wing neo-con idea from the beginning.

They're out of touch.

Most of them have never served in the army and the ones that have rarely served abroad defending the country.
On where this leads -
The country fundamentally wants a different direction. The Republicans are just going to give us more of the same.

We want a new direction in the economy, we want a new direction in health care, we want a new direction in foreign policy, we want a new direction in Iraq, we want a new direction for gas prices. We need a new direction. You can't get that by voting for Republicans.
So now he's become mainstream? Who'd have guessed? Well, Rick in Atlanta might have guessed.

On the other hand, counterbalancing this is an analysis by Scott Winship here on the data that show substantial numbers of people in America basically have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to politics, and that the deeply ignorant are also much more persuadable than the well-informed.

There are further comments here on The Mushy Middle -
My favorite term for undecided voters often gets a lot of complaints. But I think it's important to understand that "centrist voters" - which conform to some Beltway Pundit view of centrism - and "swing voters" are almost entirely different animals. Centrist voters who conform to the rough Washington Post editorial board center-right position do exist, but most of what we think of as "swing voters" are either completely clueless or they're more in the Ross Perot/Pat Buchanan/Reform Party mold (not mutually exclusive categories) for which there is no clear party.

You reach clueless voters by leading, not pandering, because their cluelessness makes them somewhat difficult to pander to.

And, no, saying people are clueless about politics is not necessarily insulting them. I pay attention to politics. A lot of people don't. They may be smart about many things but not so smart about politics.
And there's an extended discussion here -
Certainly, the Republicans, for whatever reason, seem to better understand heuristics and are willing to demagogue wherever necessary. These last few years have taught us nothing if they haven't taught us how far you can go even when you make no sense whatsoever.

But the fact remains that this is not good for the country. We simply cannot adequately govern ourselves if a large number of us are dumb as posts and vote for reasons that make no sense.
Ah but things are changing. To modify Abraham Lincoln's famous dictum - you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can only fool thirty-eight percent of the people all that time. And you can't fool Rick in Atlanta.

Posted by Alan at 22:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 24 August 2006 07:17 PDT home

Tuesday, 22 August 2006
Impulse, Intuition and Maturity
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Impulse, Intuition and Maturity
Something is up when the Associated Press, on Tuesday, August 22, runs something like this - a discussion of how "informality" is a reflection of President Bush's "style."

Maybe it was a slow news day, but it opens with this -
Stepping outside the boundaries of strict political and diplomatic protocol gets no more attention than when the president of the United States does it. And President Bush has been doing a lot of it recently.

He called Canada's prime minister by his first name, massaged German Chancellor Angela Merkel's shoulders and played tour guide to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at Graceland, the Memphis home of Elvis Presley.

His biggest gaffe was that caught-on-tape moment at the G-8 Summit last month with British Prime Minister Tony Blair - the one that featured Bush cursing and talking with his mouth full before a microphone that was supposed to be off. That set off tut-tuts around the globe.
Indeed it did.

But a good guess at what got the ball rolling on the whole issue was this single paragraph in US News and World Reports' "Washington Whispers" column -
Animal House in the West Wing

He loves to cuss, gets a jolly when a mountain biker wipes out trying to keep up with him, and now we're learning that the first frat boy loves flatulence jokes. A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior. But he's still a funny, earthy guy who, for example, can't get enough of fart jokes. He's also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides, but forget about getting people to gas about that.
There certainly was a lot of comment on that - the president cutting farts in formal settings to shock people. And he likes to see others wipe out when they try too keep up with him on his bicycle - he laughs when they get hurt. So he's informal and competitive, if you're a forgiving sort looking at all this. If you're not the forgiving sort, it's somewhere between embarrassing and alarming.

Digby over at Hullabaloo is not the forgiving sort, one wanting to let this pass (sorry for the pun), as he says this -
The president who claimed he would bring honor and dignity to the White House is apparently known for puerile fart jokes - and even emits them in the office to play jokes on his aides. Me, I much prefer a grown up president who privately has sex in the oval office than one who farts publicly. But that's just me.

But this is the part I find interesting and the little blurb doesn't elaborate at all: "A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior."

Forget the farting. What's with the paranoia around women? (There is apparently a clinical term for it called "gynophobia" which I've never heard of until today.) It's quite clear that he doesn't know how to behave around powerful women he doesn't control, judging from his inappropriate groping of the prime minister of Germany. And I've often wondered about his relationship to Rice, Hughes and Mieres - the office wives. Is he afraid that he's going to accidentally pass gas or use a bad word in front of these women or does he let fly with women he knows and is just paranoid around strange women? I'm genuinely curious. This is very weird for any sixty year old man, much less a highly successful politician.

He is such an immature person that I think it's entirely possible that he's still stuck in that pre-pubescent little boy state where girls are just "yucky." That's how his behavior comes off anyway. There's some frat boy stuff, to be sure, especially in his behavior with other men. But I'm thinking that when it comes to women, he's stuck even further back than that - cub scouts, maybe. Did mommy lock him in the closet or something?
Who knows? But the immaturity seems to have come up as an issue now, when it hasn't been noticed before.

As for the business with German Chancellor Angela Merkel a month ago - sneaking up behind her and giving her a quick shoulder rub - that was just spooky. She practically jumped out of skin - you can watch the video of that here. She tried to be a good sport but this was way out of bounds.

That mid-July trip was disaster in some ways. The president tried to keep things light - Israel has just bombed the Beirut airport and things were looking grim, so he kept talking about how his was looking forward the pig roast that evening. Folks take things so seriously.

Jon Stewart at the time had the key clip and made a comment (video here) -
REPORTER: "Does it concern you that the Beirut airport has been bombed, and do you see a risk of triggering a wider war? And on Iran, they have so far refused to respond. Is it now past the deadline, or do they still have more time to respond?"

PRESIDENT BUSH: "I thought you'd ask about the pig."

JON STEWART: "There you have it. Comedy stylings from President George W. Bush. He'll be playing at the White House in Washington DC for the next two and a half years. I'm sure it's a 200-drink minimum."
And the Merkel massage elicited comments like this -
Well, Dear Leader really showed his true colors at this year's G8 summit. He's like your drunk uncle at the family barbecue; insulting the neighbors, interrupting conversations, tripping over the pets, until finally he's puking loudly and violently in the yucca plant and calling his new wife a stupid bitch for letting him get too wasted.

First came the roast pig. And no, unfortunately, that doesn't mean that John Bolton got a sunburn or set himself on fire with his own overheated rhetoric. It just means that early in the conference, when confronted with a non-softball question about the situation in Israel and Lebanon, Uncle Dubya declared that he'd rather talk about the fact that he gets to carve up the roast pig they're having for dinner.

Watch the video … and pay special attention to the look on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's face. That's what, in my family, we call "smiling through your teeth", also known as "smiling to keep from screaming". Oh, Angela! It's going to get worse for you before it gets, well, even worse.

Then came a little tragedy that I call "Open Mic Night at the Summit", in which Uncle Fucker, not having learned his lesson from that incident where he called New York Times reporter a "major league asshole" while sitting at a live mic, sat chawing away (with his mouth open!) on a buttered roll, talking arrogant smack for ALL THE WORLD TO HEAR while Tony Blair tried in vain to discuss the looming crisis in the ME.

… The thing that strikes me the most about that clip is not the s-word, not his cavalier attitude toward a crisis where hundreds if not thousands of people are suffering and dying, and not his disgusting table manners, but rather his completely fatuous and dismissive body language when speaking to the leader of the only country of import who supported his now-failed invasion of Iraq. He won't even turn and look at Blair. If that was your coworker or business partner acting that way at a conference, wouldn't you seriously start thinking about finding another job? 'Course, that might be just what Tony Blair needs to be doing.

… The piece de la resistance came, however, when Chimpy interrupted a conversation between Chancellor Merkel and Romano Prodi, the new Italian Prime Minister, to give Merkel a rather ham-fisted impromptu shoulder rub, which clearly not only squicked her out, but also managed to piss her off … in which she seems to be giving vent to the same frustration that all Reality-Based Americans currently feel toward this shrugging, mugging, bumbling dickhead we call "Mr. President", i.e., "BACK THE FUCK OFF, YOU FUCKING IDIOT!"

… And of course, just like your shit-heel uncle waking up the day after the barbecue and declaring that it was a GREAT party, you know Resident Bush went back to Washington thinking he really showed those mealy-mouthed furriners who's The Boss, dammit. Who needs them and their stupid summits anyway? They can't even speak English, fer god's sake!

Gawd. Wake me in 2009, somebody. I don't know how much more of this kind of embarrassment and disgust I can take. No wonder our image is plummeting all over the globe! We're being represented and (supposedly) governed by a guy that can't not be a spoiled, childish rube long enough to effectively participate in a meeting of, oh, only the most powerful nations on the planet. That's just great. I am SOOOOO proud to be an American that I could just puke on my shoes. Whooo-hoooo.
And there was this -
Every woman will recognize the guy who sidles up and starts "casually" giving you a backrub without even looking at you, because he wants to preserve deniability in case you freak out. Like any practiced groper, Bush stares right past Merkel as she recoils from his touch.
People were not impressed. And now we have the story of the farting to embarrass people. Oh my.

Still the AP item was very kind, noting that while "four-letter expletives" or a shoulder massage of a co-worker of the opposite sex "could raise eyebrows in many office settings" (in many states you could lose your job, as those of us who have worked in corporate human resources know quite well), the president gets a pass from the big-time etiquette experts.

One is of course, Letitia Baldrige, President Kennedy's social secretary and now the expert on what's proper - "Part of it is he comes from Texas, and they don't stand on a lot of formality in that state - I think you get the Eastern kind of aristocrats, like the old days, they're always going to be more formal, they're always going to have a jacket on." She says it's not much different than Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson - both informal fellows.

Somehow it seems different.

And AP tracks down Paul Frazer, the former Canadian ambassador to the Czech and Slovak Republics, now a consultant in Washington. He's telling Canadians not to make too much of Bush addressing Prime Minister Stephen Harper as "Steve" earlier this summer. But he does say getting too "chummy" can confuse people - Canadians could get the wrong impression and think there's a special relationship. They might think Bush thinks Canada matters in some way. International politics isn't like that. There's the personal stuff. And then there's policy.

AP also talks with P.M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of "Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct." He has a simple explanation - Bush is a baby boomer who "came of age when respect for authority was plummeting" and that explains it all. And Baldrige agrees, saying Bush is not so much breaking new ground as "echoing the casual mood of the times."

It's not what people expect, the both say, and it jars people.

Okay, maybe it's not a big deal. Maybe it's just a Texas thing - Lyndon Johnson showing reporters his surgery scar, or lifting the beagle up by the ears. The man could be crude. On the other hand he seemed an adult - and mean and ruthless one at time, and crude. But there wasn't the sniggering, nasty kid about him. He was "adult nasty." He twisted arms and made deals and got things done.

Well, we live in a different age and the baby boomers - Clinton and Bush - are sixty or thereabouts. The whole idea of "the gentleman" - quiet dignity and consideration of others, even if calculated - is so thirties and forties. Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo in Casablanca and all that.

Or maybe that's eighteenth-century, Lord Chesterfield stuff - "Good breeding is the result of good sense, some good nature, and a little self-denial for the sake of others."

Or this - "Horse-play, romping, frequent and loud fits of laughter, jokes, and indiscriminate familiarity, will sink both merit and knowledge into a degree of contempt. They compose at most a merry fellow; and a merry fellow was never yet a respectable man."

Or this - "There is nothing that people bear more impatiently, or forgive less, than contempt: and an injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult."

Ah, those days are gone.

As for Jimmy Carter, he could be informal, but the also had that "Southern Gentleman" thing going for him - and he was no dummy, with his PhD and having commanded a nuclear submarine. He could be gracious and thoughtful, and kind. He just had a problem with being effective.

As for the current "farts are funny" occupant of the White House, none of that applies. Some find all this above funny, some alarming, but it's what we have.

For a deeper analysis of the actual issues that may be at play here, David G. Myers, a social psychologist at Hope College in Michigan, and author of Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, sees what happening as the result of a man who exclusively relies on his intuition, his hunches, his "gut" - and that's the root of all this.

He laid that out in the August 22nd Los Angeles Times here -
Say this much for President Bush: He is not deaf to the inner whispers of his intuition.

"I know there's no evidence that shows the death penalty has a deterrent effect," he reportedly said as Texas governor, "but I just feel in my gut it must be true."

Six years and two wars into his presidency, the president still relies on his gut instincts. His recent fly-in to Baghdad was, he explained to U.S. troops, "to look Prime Minister [Nouri] Maliki in the eyes - to determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are." The president's snap assessment? "I believe he is." He told Larry King in an interview last month: "If you make decisions based upon what you believe in your heart of hearts, you stay resolved."
Yep, you stay resolved, even if you're dead wrong.

But here's the deal -
For those disposed to follow their inner guide, today's pop psychology offers books on "intuitive healing," "intuitive learning," "intuitive managing," "intuitive trading" and much more.

So, when hiring and firing, fearing and risking, investing and gambling, should we follow Bush's example and tune down that analytical, linear, left-brained mind? Should we stop obsessing over logic and data and trust the force within?

Today's psychological science documents a vast intuitive mind. More than we realize, our thinking, memory and attitudes operate on two levels - conscious and unconscious - with the larger part operating automatically. We know more than we know we know.

Studies show that as we gain expertise, even reasoned judgments can become automatic. Rather than wend their way through a decision tree, experienced car mechanics and physicians will often, after a quick listen and look, diagnose problems. Chess masters intuitively know the right move. And Japanese chicken sexers use complex pattern recognition to separate newborn pullets and cockerels with near perfect accuracy.

Moreover, we're all experts when it comes to reading people's emotions.

… So, is our president smart to harness the powers of his intuition? Or should he, and we, be subjecting our hunches to scrutiny?
Well, no he's not smart to do that. Scrutiny is rather helpful, really.

Examples offered -
My geographical intuition tells me that Reno is east of Los Angeles and that Rome is south of New York. But I am wrong. "The first principle," said Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, "is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." In hundreds of experiments, people have greatly overestimated their eyewitness recollections, their interviewee assessments and their stock-picking talents. It's humbling to realize how often we misjudge and mispredict reality and then display "belief perseverance" when facing disconfirming information.

… Smoking kills 400,000 Americans a year, and carbon dioxide looks to be the biggest weapon of mass destruction, but terrorists frighten us more. We are told, but are unmoved by, statistics showing that the most dangerous part of air travel is the drive to the airport.
And to get to the Pacific you head southeast through the Panama Canal - look at a map. So intuition - automatic, effortless, unreasoned thinking - is more than overrated.

Note also - after meeting Vladimir Putin, Bush felt that he had him sized up - "I looked the man in the eye [and] I was able to get a sense of his soul." Oops. That didn't work out. Bush also told Bob Woodward that intuition was a real key to his decision to launch the Iraq thing - "I'm a gut player. I rely on my instincts."

Right, and now Iraq a mess and his intuition is silent - so we must keep doing what we're doing, or it'd be a bigger mess. And thus each presidential press conference seems to be a textbook display "belief perseverance" when facing disconfirming information. It seems we're all supposed to wait until his gut speaks again, if it will.

Myers' conclusion -
The president, like all of us, should check his intuitions against the facts. He can welcome the creative whispers of the unseen mind, but only as the beginning of inquiry. Smart thinking often begins with hunches but continues as one examines assumptions, evaluates evidence, invites critique and tests conclusions. As Proverbs says: "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool."

Now that wasn't a nice thing to say.

And I'm not sure any of that explains the public farting and the sneak-attack massage.

Well, you do what seems like a good idea at the time, and leave thinking of the actual consequences for the stuffy people who think too much. It's a hell of a way to run things, and now people are noting the damage it has done.

But there's no fixing it, for now.

Bush massages German Chancellor Angela Merkel's shoulders -

 

 

Mary Worth reacts -



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional note from Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, now in America - in Queens actually -

I am doubtful. Bush farts and suddenly everybody remembers that he was a boobie in Europe - a month ago? He fondled Angela and now the media remembers?

He can fart all he wants but he gets no respect here. He gives, if I may be blunt, nobel farters a bad name. If he keeps doing it we may be forced to stop. It would be a terrible thing but if it annoyed Bush in any way I would try to quit farting and ask everybody I know to quit too. If you want peace quit farting!

Well, we live in a different age and the baby boomers - Clinton and Bush - are sixty or thereabouts. The whole idea of "the gentleman" - quiet dignity and consideration of others, even if calculated - is so thirties and forties. Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo in Casablanca and all that.

Quiet Dignity

You probably won't believe that I was 'on the spot' again last night in the right place at the right time, but I was. Just thinking of what I did yesterday nearly makes me blush, but about 21:00 I was being 'gentlemanly' for a few minutes in this Latino bar-restaurant in Queens having an outrageously delicious dessert when I noticed the Mets were playing - against the Saint Louis Cardinals? - in Shea Stadium, on a big, wide-screen TV hanging over the bar. It looked bad for the home team. Near the end with the Cards leading and pitchers and batters having ho-hum innings. Yeah, well, there was this little suspense, over just when or who would snap the world's turn out of the routine. Close-up on the pitch, fastball on express, drilling past the batter into the catcher's mitt, the umpire throws out the out fingers. While the telephoto lens is focused there, we see behind home plate, Bill Clinton - this is a true story, exclusive to JAS! - yawning, eyelids at half-mast. Another pitch, another unswung strike, and Bill is sinking deeper into his seat, eyes glazed. Then there is a brief flurry, Mets get a runner on first, bottom of the ninth, one run behind the Cards. Bill Clinton is passed out! Delgado steps up with his moustache and big hard bat, just a little harder than the Card's pitcher and blasts a fast one - that Delgado socks fair and square, right out to some fence - I saw it the other night - some 400 yards from home plate - yeah, so, it knocks the two runs in, Mets win, everybody up leaping, cheering, Bill Clinton completely forgotten - gawd, maybe he's slumped on the floor, covered in peanut shells, hot dog wrappers... in quiet dignity, tuckered out from his busy day as ex-president.

The is exclusive to JAS because Bill snoozing was clipped from the Channel 11 sports news report, shown later on TV-news about 22:50 last night. They showed Bill awake and alert, enjoying the football game.

- Ric
Received in Hollywood Wednesday, August 23, 8:00 am Pacific Time -

Posted by Alan at 20:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006 09:17 PDT home

Monday, 21 August 2006
The Hedgehog Is Back
Topic: Couldn't be so...
The Hedgehog Is Back
Note that Monday, August 21, brought us The Armor of God Pajama Set -
The Armor Of God PJ's were inspired by a mother reading Ephesians 6:10-18 every night to her daughter to give her a safe and secure feeling in the dark. As they read the scriptures, they put on each spiritual and powerful piece of the Armor of God to keep them safe and peaceful while they slept. At that moment, God gave me the idea how wonderful it would be if all children could have the opportunity to put on a pair of pajamas that symbolized the Armor of God for the same purpose… that with their belief in Jesus and His protection they will feel safe and secure during the night as they sleep. As they dress in the mornings, they should replace them with the spiritual Armor of God to protect them in their daily activities.
If you click on the link, you'll see two cute little blond kids looking like happy little Crusaders - with the Knight of the Cross thing mid-chest - and you seem to get a soft and cuddly shield with the set. Cool. The cloud effects at the top of the page are nice. Make of it what you will. We live in strange times.

As for the real crusader, Monday, August 21, brought the administration new poll numbers - "Just 35 percent of 1,033 adults polled say they favor the war in Iraq; 61 percent say they oppose it - the highest opposition noted in any CNN poll since the conflict began more than three years ago."

Send in the kids in their new pajamas? That may be all that's left to do. Sixty-one percent of us now have no idea what this war is about, although the president's approval rating rose to forty-two percent in this one. But it may be an outlier - an AP poll just had him at thirty-three percent (here) and all the others are in the mid-thirties, even Fox News.

But the forty-two percent approval here has some nasty detail for the White House. The president himself is in the doghouse -
Most Americans (54 percent) don't consider him honest, most (54 percent) don't think he shares their values and most (58 percent) say he does not inspire confidence.

Bush's stand on the issues is also problematic, with more than half (57 percent) of Americans saying they disagree with him on the issues they care about.
No one trusts him? That's what this seems to indicate - and in generic congressional polling, Democrats poll fifty-two to the Republicans' forty-three percent. Oh my, things may be shifting.

And he's not the only one is trouble. There's George Felix Allen. As discussed last week here, he made some unfortunate comments, and now the "macaca" has hit the fan as we see here -
In an election for the United States Senate in Virginia today, 8/21/06, incumbent Republican George Allen edges Democrat challenger James Webb 48% to 45%, according to an exclusive SurveyUSA poll conducted for WUSA-TV Washington DC.

Since an identical SurveyUSA poll released 6/28/06, Allen has lost 8 points and Webb has gained 8 points. Allen's lead has shrunk from 19 points to 3 points.
Drat, as they say. And as the voters of Virginia are beginning to wonder about the guy, lists like this must have them even more puzzled - bills he has introduced in the UN Senate for which he could find no co-sponsor -
41. S.3288 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on handheld electronic can openers. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

42. S.3289 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric knives. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

43. S.3290 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on toaster ovens with single-slot traditional toaster opening on top of oven. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

44. S.3291 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on ice shavers. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

45. S.3292 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on dual-press sandwich makers with floating upper lid and lock. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

46. S.3293 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric drink mixers with tilt mixing heads and two-speed motors. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

47. S.3294 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric juice extractors greater than 300 watts but less than 400 watts. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

48. S.3295 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric juice extractors not less than 800 watts. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

49. S.3296 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on open-top electric indoor grills. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

50. S.3297 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric coffee grinders. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

51. S.3298 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electric percolators. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

52. S.3299 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on automatic drip coffeemakers other than those with clocks. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

53. S.3300 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on automatic drip coffeemakers with electronic clocks. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

54. S.3301 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on electronic under-the-cabinet mounting electric can openers. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)

55. S.3303 : A bill to suspend temporarily the duty on food slicers and shredders with top-mounted motors and replaceable mixing bowls. Sponsor: Sen Allen, George [VA] (introduced 5/26/2006) Cosponsors (None)
It may not be the racist stuff that sinks him - there are enough good ol' boys and he could squeak though - but he seems to have a thing with small household appliances. He's a strange man. Actually he appears to be in the pocket of some odd appliance manufacturers - Ronco and the like. You get you campaign money where you can get it.

Senator John Kerry laid into him about calling what he though was a young Indian immigrant a "macaca" - saying, in essence, welcome to America you dark-skinned loser - with this -
Welcome to our America, where immigration is a source of pride and not a punch line. Welcome to a politics where a young Indian American born in Fairfax Virginia can tell a US Senator: "I'm just as American as you are." And welcome to Virginia where it's clear some Republicans need reminding about the "truths" a real Virginian-Thomas Jefferson - wrote were "self evident" two hundred thirty years ago. And if you ever want a test of whether Republicans are ashamed of George Allen or just embarrassed by him, it comes on November 7th when we have a chance to say "welcome to the United States Senate - to his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb."
And Kerry didn't even mention the automatic drip coffeemakers, other than those with clocks.

And there was a curious slap-down of another sort the same day, courtesy of The Observer (UK), reporting here that some British officials fear they were forced to act too hastily in the arrest of the guys who wanted to blow up all the airplanes bound for America - they and may not have enough evidence to properly charge all suspects. Two of the two dozen men arrested have already been released without being charged.

It's the Americans, who need to talk tough to prove to the voters that the administration really is keeping everyone safe -
The British security services, MI5 and MI6, are understood to be dismayed that a number of sensitive details surrounding the alleged plot - including an FBI estimate that as many as 50 people were involved - were leaked to the media.

FBI sources confirmed to The Observer that the bureau had been ordered to stop briefing at the request of the British authorities. "The shutters have come down," a bureau source said. "We have been told not to discuss the case any more."
So the Brits told the FBI to just shut up. "You blokes are just messing everything up" It seems they want to stop the bad guys lock them up for a long tim, convicting them on solid evidence, by the rules - while we want to make sure the November elections don't result in the wrong sort of Americans controlling congress. Of course this is all a matter of which you think is more important. Kudos to the FBI for defying the White House and, well, shutting up.

But wait! There's more. And it's also from the UK.

There's this -
The alliance between George Bush and Tony Blair is in danger after it was revealed that the Prime Minister believes the President has "let him down badly" over the Middle East crisis.

A senior Downing Street source said that, privately, Mr Blair broadly agrees with John Prescott, who said Mr Bush's record on the issue was "crap."

The source said: "We all feel badly let down by Bush. We thought we had persuaded him to take the Israel-Palestine situation seriously, but we were wrong. How can anyone have faith in a man of such low intellect?"

Blair had famously said, before the war, that a major reason he was on board with the thing was he had been assured by George Bush that the approach was not just "go get Saddam," but comprehensive and far-sighted, as the American government knew a core issue in the region was the Israel-Palestine issue and that would be addressed, and dealt with thoroughly.

It wasn't, and Tony and his boys seem to be miffed - and you get the added insult that they think our president was just too stupid to figure out the Israel-Palestine was more than a little important. It's not the he didn't keep his word. He was too dumb to understand the problem at all. And this is closest and pretty much only ally.

Given all this, while Laura was perhaps ordering her husband an Armor of God pajama set to make him feel safe and peaceful while he slept, the president went on the offensive against all the bad news and held a very rare press conference.

It was surprise - unscheduled and certainly unexpected.

The transcript is here, and the pretext of the event was to urge, publicly, that certain nations stop farting around and actually supply some of the fifteen thousand troops for the UN force that is supposed to flood southern Lebanon, with the Lebanese army, and keep the peace, after the thirty days of war that killed a lot of folks and proved a lot of nothing, and destroyed Lebanon's infrastructure and set their economy back thirty years. The European Union has just put off considering the matter - troubled that what the troops were supposed to do was never clearly defined in the UN resolution - and things were heating up again. It was a bit of scolding the wimps and cowards who wanted details and rules for what to do and what not to do. That's not how we operate. What's the problem? You just go in and do things. Like we did in Iraq.

Then it was question time and that led to Iraq. The government of Israel may fall as the Prime Minister, Olmert, is taking a lot of heat for a war that accomplished nothing, got a lot of people killed, and made Israel look, in the eyes of most of the world, like idiots for doing the "shock and awe" thing rather than the usual measured response, mixed with clever diplomacy. A massive war for no good purpose that didn't work is the issue.

Here it's not and you got thing like this -

The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve the objectives and dreams which is a democratic society. That's the strategy. The tactics - now - either you say yes it's important we stay there and get it done or we leave. We're not leaving so long as I'm the president. That would be a huge mistake. It would send an unbelievably you know terrible signal to reformers across the region. It would say we've abandoned our desire to change the conditions that create terror.
That's it - at least 884 more days of more of the same. He knows the objectives and dreams of Iraqi people - and they are not the dreams of the Sunni and Shi'a factions, or the Kurds, who really don't want independence. He know what they really want. And we'll get "it" done - whatever it is. That's a bit unclear, as is how he really knows the underlying truth about who wants what. But the whole idea is that this war will change the conditions that create terror. Somehow.

And will not leave as long is he is president - this is not Israel where the people have a say. Screw the poll results.

Over at a UCLA Law Department faculty blog there was a lively discussion of what he really meant - some arguing that the president must have been saying, in effect, "we're not leaving prematurely, so long as I'm President" - rather than a flat statement that we're not leaving, period. See Orin Kerr here, after watching the tape of the thing over and over, saying it was pretty unambiguous. The president is the decider. The decision has been made. Deal with it. We're staying. There are certain signals you cannot send.

As for the whole idea is that this war will change the conditions that create terror, that may be debatable, given London, twice, Madrid, Bali and Casablanca. But the presidnet did add this warning, quoting General Abazaid - "If we leave [Iraq] before the mission is done the terrorists will follow us here."

They will? Well, they're already all over and Iraq doesn't seem to be an issue for them.

And Digby at Hullabaloo adds this -
I would normally say we should use logic and reason by pointing out that all the terrorists aren't in Iraq - as the foiled British plot recently showed - so being in Iraq can't prevent terrorists who are elsewhere from coming over here.

But that's too complicated. When a Republican says "if we leave Iraq before the mission is done the terrorists will follow us here" the Democrat should reply, "Well, unlike the Republicans, I won't let 'em in."

Democrats get too fine with this stuff. Trash talk is trash talk and they should just throw it back in their faces.
It did seem to be trash talk. You're not supposed to think about it. You're supposed to cheer.

And he got serious - he said the United States would lose "our soul as a nation" if it gave up on the Iraq war now. You see, it would be a "disaster" if our troops left before the new Iraqi government can control the country. Most think they never will be able to control the country, at least not this crew. But our very souls depend on it. Those are high stakes. One wonders who believes such things. Do we lose our souls if we stay another decade trying to hold the place together?

And is this any way to talk about a cost-benefit thing? We stay, things get worse. We leave, things get worse. We've put ourselves in a lose-lose situation, by choice. What can we salvage?

But that's not how we think about such things any longer.

In these pages, see, from December 21, 2003 - Hedgehogs and Foxes - a discussion of Isaiah Berlin's The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953). That was a look at the conflicts at that time - on which way we proceed, and whether we reelect, or actually elect, our current leaders for another four years coming down to a vote between people who are stuck in brutal simplifications, and those who enjoy unsettling complexity. One side will say the other is making simple things needlessly complex. The other side will say their opponents are foolishly ignoring the real complexity of the world, of the economy, of the environment. The hedgehogs will face off against the foxes. As Berlin put it - "There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.'"

Here we are again - "The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve the objectives and dreams which is a democratic society. … We're not leaving so long as I'm the president. That would be a huge mistake."

Bill Montgomery - Monday, August 21, 2006 - with this -
When Berlin divided writers and thinkers (which leaves Shrub out) and human beings in general (I suppose we have to include him) into two categories - the hedgehogs and the foxes - he didn't mean for either label to be taken pejoratively. After all, his list of hedgehogs included Dante, Plato, Dostoevsky and Proust, while Shakespeare, Aristotle and Erasmus were among his foxes.

What Berlin meant, I think, is that hedgehogs try to integrate all of their experiences and thoughts into a single, overarching concept of life and their place in it, while foxes, as he put it, have ideas about the world "without… seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision."

At this point, I would say Shrub is acting like a hedgehog on hallucinogens. His one big integrative idea - exporting American-style "democracy" to Iraq at the point of a gun - has proven fatally, disastrously wrong, but he can't let go of it, because it's the only idea he's got. He's fully vested in it, like a '90s e-trader who decided to throw caution to the wind, empty his retirement account and bet it all on pets.com.

I think if Shrub were ever forced to let go of his vision, his one big idea, it would not only crush his fragile ego, it would leave him completely incapable of making any sense at all out of his presidency, out of America's role in the Middle East, out of the universe.

So now he's imitating the hedgehog as literally as any human being can - he's rolled himself up into a defensive ball, spines out. He has nothing useful to say and absolutely no strategy beyond hunkering down and passively defying reality. Which leaves the generals and the troops no choice but to hunker down with him.

The next two and a half years are going to be very long ones.
Well, we chose the guy, and now we have a hedgehog on hallucinogens. But he probably has his neat new Armor of God pajamas.

This is not looking good.

On the other hand there's this -
A Bipartisan commission quietly started work last spring with a mandate to help the Bush administration rethink its policy toward the war.

… [W]hat makes this particular commission hard to dismiss is that it is led by perhaps the one man who might be able to break through the tight phalanx of senior officials who advise the president and filter his information. That person is the former secretary of state, Republican insider, and consigliere of the Bush family, James A. Baker III.
Who knew? And the item ends with this -
"The object of our policy has to be to get our little white asses out of there as soon as possible," another working-group participant told me. To do that, he said, Baker must confront the president "like the way a family confronts an alcoholic. You bring everyone in, and you say, 'Look, my friend, it's time to change.'"
That's most curious. Everyone knows it's time to do something.

Running simple-minded, short-tempered, underachieving alcoholic seemed like a good idea at the time - he would be a useful front, and it was joke on the Democrats with their candidates who served with distinction in wars and wrote books and spoke different languages. It just didn't work out. And the real powers behind things - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle and the rest, and their cheering pundits, Kristol and the rest - were themselves drunk on odd theories others had laughed at before, and they wanted their moment to shine. The experiment must be shut down.

And Baker's motivation, or mandate -
"… he wants a ceasefire in American politics," a member of one of the commission's working groups told me. Specifically, he said, if the Democrats win back one or both houses of Congress in November, they would unleash a series of investigative hearings on Iraq, the war on terrorism, and civil liberties that could fatally weaken the administration and remove the last props of political support for the war, setting the stage for a potential Republican electoral disaster in 2008.

… "I guess there are people in the [Republican] party, on the Hill and in the White House, who see a political train wreck coming, and they've called in Baker to try to reroute the train."
There's a more complete discuss of all this here - nasty and angry - but the commission is real. It just may be too late to reroute this particular train.

Buy maybe if Laura gives him the new PJ's he'll go quietly.

Posted by Alan at 22:36 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 21 August 2006 22:39 PDT home

Sunday, 20 August 2006
Hot Off the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements
Hot Off the Virtual Press
The 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 34, for the week of August 20, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week, six extended commentaries on current events - on whether can you win a war after the fact by saying you won, and a detailed review of the very odd race-baiting scandal in Virginia (the senator said what?), the argument for abolishing August as really bad things happen in August, a review of the big dispute in conservative circles on God and their view of politics, extensive notes on the big legal story of the month (and the one that is silly), and some notes on what politicians do when they cannot use logic to argue they should be reelected. In short, the usual.

The International Desk lights up again this week, unexpectedly - Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, is in New York, in Queens and Manhattan, with words and great photos.

The local photography this week covers some really spiffy architecture from Hollywood's Golden Age, and on the other end of things, the shocking pink walls of the world famous home of Trashy Lingerie. Throw in some nightmare faces and odd murals and you'll get a feel for this end of the world, and for automotive buffs, there's one of those ultimate California cars to round things out. Then take two pages of botanicals and one abstract and you'll be fine.

Our Texas friend is back with more of the weird, of course, and the quotes this week are on winning - but not the usual ones.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________________

Winners and Losers
Race: A Minor Incident Turns Major as People Put Two and Two Together
The Dog Days: Everything Turns Sour in the Heat
Conservatism: What's God Got To Do With It?
Two Cases: What Legal Matters are Hot, and What Legal Matters Are Not
Weekend Note: Making Sense of Things

The International Desk ______________________________

Our Man in Paris: New York, Water Taxi Beach, Long Island City, Queens (and More)

Southern California Photography ______________________________

Architecture: Fine Living in Hollywood's Golden Age
Color: Pink Trashy Walls
Faces
A Bicycle: A California Bird
Cars
Botanicals: Hibiscus
Light: Adventures in Backlighting
One Shot

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of August 20, 2006 - Are We Winning?

All that took some time of course. Commentary here will resume tomorrow - Monday, August 21, 2006 - the birthday of Count Basie (1904) and Aubrey Beardsley (1872).

Posted by Alan at 19:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 19 August 2006
Weekend Note: Making Sense of Things
Topic: Political Theory
Weekend Note: Making Sense of Things
Okay, the week ended with the president making some remarks to the press. He had met with his top people at Camp David to discuss the economy, a summit on how well things were going and how to convince the American people - whose real wages had been flat or worse for five years, unless they were top executives, and who were being pressure by ever increasing costs for healthcare and gasoline (to get to the jobs they were afraid of losing as this and that moved offshore) - that things were going just fine, and they'd get theirs sooner or late, so to speak. Many are afraid they will.

But the three wars kept coming up in the questions - the first war in Afghanistan that seems to be heating up again, the second in Iraq where things are quickly disintegrating and here's trouble on the Kurdish-Turkey border now, and the recent war in Lebanon.

The third, where the president had earlier declared Israel had won a stunning victory over Hezbollah, was the issue. No one else in the world saw it that way, not even the Israelis, where the government might fall as most think nothing was accomplished in the month-long dismantling of Lebanon - Hezbollah is doing just fine. They didn't think they'd won.

This called for some explaining, so the president said this -
The first reaction, of course, of Hezbollah and its supporters is, declare victory. I guess I would have done the same thing if I were them. But sometimes it takes people a while to come to the sober realization of what forces create stability and which don't. Hezbollah is a force of instability.
On a Friday afternoon before a long weekend no reporter was going to point out that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has previously said this -
For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East - and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course.

As mentioned in these pages, that seemed odd, saying instability is a good thing and, as she said later when we did our best to block any immediate cease-fire in the Lebanon war, this was the "birth pages" of a new Middle East, so the war was good in a lot of ways. The president had followed her lead and said much the same thing - the previous stability in the region had just made people frustrated, so they flew airplanes into three of our most iconic buildings, so we needed to shake things up and, logically, there'd be no more of that. It made little sense, but the press likes to give him the benefit of the doubt - just report what he says and don't smirk. Let the readers and viewers make of it what they will.

But these Friday remarks were funhouse stuff. Instability is good. Got it. But Hezbollah was and is a force for instability and that is, of course, bad, really bad. But Hezbollah lost the war, really, which is good, so Hezbollah can't be a force for instability any longer. That's really good. Yeah! But then we wanted instability, actually. That's how things change for the better. But then…

Just where is this going?

Bill Montgomery comments here - "The bottom line, which an odd member of the punditburo might even reach one of these days, is that this is an administration that no longer makes any sense at all - not even on the most formal, semiotic level."

Well, the public makes sense of things as best they can, and perhaps doesn't expect anything like sense for the leadership we have. After a while you just throw up your hands and give up.

The public decides what it thinks is going on, and what matters, on its own, as in this -

A Pew Research Center poll released Thursday found "no evidence that terrorism is weighing heavily on voters - just 2 percent cite that as the issue they most want to hear candidates discuss, far fewer than the number mentioning education, gas prices, or health care." The center continued: "And while roughly a third of Americans (35 percent) say they are very concerned that if Democrats gain control of Congress, they will weaken terrorist defenses, even more (46 percent) express great concern that Republicans will involve the U.S. in too many overseas military missions if the GOP keeps its congressional majorities."
So it doesn't matter what's said on the lawn at Camp David - things cost a lot more than ever, the pay is effectively lower, and they worry all the guys in power now are just cooking up more wars.

Perhaps the Republicans should be worried, if the polls are right - which they say they say just cannot be.

But if the polls are right, something must change. Otherwise they're gone, swept out of power.

What must be done? See Digby at Hullabaloo with Jungle Drums.

This is a long item on the only thing to do now is play the race card, and it's argued convincingly.

Way back when, at the time of Hurricane Katrina, he had written this -
There's one other little way to gin up base conservative voters that we can already see developing on the shout fest and gasbags shows. But this is one that the leakers know very well mustn't be mentioned to writers for Time magazine. They are already dusting off their old tried and true southern strategy manual and after more than 40 years it's like a favorite old song - they just started regurgitating their coded talking points without missing a beat. They'll need to. This happened deep in Red territory.

On This Weak, George Will basically said that the problem in New Orleans is that blacks fuck too much. Or rather, the problem of the "underclass" can be traced to so many "out of wedlock births." I think it's pretty clear he wasn't suggesting that abortions be made available to poor women. (If Bill Clinton thought he neutralized that line with welfare reform, he was sadly mistaken.) As far as the right is concerned, it's all about that old racist boogeyman "dependency." Last night on the McLaughlin Group, Pat Buchanan was foaming at the mouth about "the welfare state." He was in his element, getting his "we're gonna take our cities block by block" Pitchfork Pat mojo back. These are code words. They aren't about class - although they will certainly claim that's what they're talking about. These are code words for blacks.

… Immigration had already reared its ugly head out of nowhere, and now this. I believe the Republicans already see the elections of 06 and 08 as an opportunity to revert to a tried and true code saturated "law 'n order" strategy. The War on Terrorism has been losing its juice for sometime - and Iraq is nothing but an embarrassment now. It's time to go back to what works.

For those who think that we are in a post racist world because George W. Bush appointed blacks to his cabinet, think again. The modern Republican Party was built on the back of an enduring national divide on the issue of race. George Bush may not personally be racist (or more likely not know he's racist) but the party he leads has depended on it for many years. The coded language that signals tribal ID has obscured it, but don't kid yourselves. It is a party that became dominant by exploiting the deep cultural fault of the Mason-Dixon Line.
And the current item adds this -
… then there's Senator George Felix "Macaca" Allen. He's just a stone racist, but I think it's worth noting nonetheless that he knew he could play the race card among his supporters in "the real world" of Virginia. You didn't have to know what "macaca" meant to know what he was saying (and I would guess that more than a few of his supporters know very well what it meant.) His face in that video shows a barely leashed anger, the tight smile, the sarcastic edge - and his supporters all got the point, laughing and tittering at his nasty little aside. Nobody has asked what purpose it served for Allen to point out this guy videotaping the event in the first place. I assume Allen's supporters thought he was with the campaign not with Webb, and even if they did I doubt they would have thought much about it. But Allen, either out of personal pique or political calculation (or both) brought this lone dark-skinned person to the attention of his audience and identified him with the opposition. He did that for a reason and I suspect it's because the word has gone forth that race is on the table in this election. (The fact that he's even more brain-dead than Bush is what did him in - he pulled it on a guy who was videotaping him. Jesus.)

This is happening because the Republicans are on the run and they have to pull out all the stops to GOTV [get out the vote]. Mostly, however, I think it's an attempt to neutralize Katrina. Let's face it, there is nothing the Republicans can do to improve their image when it comes to their performance last September. It was a national disgrace and we are going to relive the whole awful scene in living color on the first anniversary. Their only hope is to stoke enough under-the-radar racial resentment to mitigate the damage. I suspect they have been thinking about this for the past year and carefully laying out all the little racist signposts we've been seeing over the past few months.

Katrina remains very damaging for Republicans unless they can find some way to kick in the racist lizard brain. They are very good at tickling the primitive, tribal side of human nature - in fact, that's all they are good at. Subtly and not so subtly playing the race card is one of their specialties and I think it's pretty much all they have left in their hand to play this time out. (Immigration is another racial card for this cycle although I think it's really aimed at '08.)

… And it remains to be seen whether they can find a way to touch once again that deep, unexamined part of the American psyche that Katrina revealed - not hatred, but fear of African Americans. Fear, after all, is the GOP's stock in trade.

I doubt it will work. I think we have come too far for racism of that kind to last beyond a single moment. It reared its hideous head briefly during the crisis but I don't think Rove can bring it back with standard racist appeals. His problem is that it's all he's got.

Keep your eyes open, though, for signs of this phenomenon. It's clear to me that this is the GOP subtext of the election. It's quite amazing when you think about it. Bush ran as the Republican who was beyond racial politics, known for his outreach to Hispanics and African Americans. But when it comes down to it, racism is really the heart and soul of the modern Republican party, the essence of their electoral strategy and the underlying sentiment that drives their appeals to "tradition" and "religion." We'll see if they can crank up the old macaca machine and make it work for them one more time.
So when things don't make sense, or cannot be explained without some rolling their eyes, some smirking, some laughing out loud - and most just walking away and thinking it might be time for a new leadership team - you play the last thing you've got, the last card in your hand.

Will the Ace of Spades slapped on the table win the hand this time? It seems it's all they've got.

Posted by Alan at 17:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 19 August 2006 17:50 PDT home

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