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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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Tuesday, 1 June 2004

Topic: The Culture

I take it all back -

You can find a full discussion of Michael Moore's new film at May 23, 2004 - 'Fahrenheit 9/11' Wins Palme D'Or Award at Cannes - and that contains snippets of reviews and links to reviews, and comments on why it was facing distribution problems, and comments from my friends Emma and Ric in France.

Disney, as reported, was blocking distribution of the film. Miramax Studios, a relatively autonomous subsidiary of Disney that produced the film with Disney money, was trying to buy the domestic distribution rights so folks here could actually see it.

Maybe I don't like Disney Studios very much, the folks who "own" the film. Maybe I harbor secret resentments against Michael Eisner, the Disney CEO, because he was an English major at Denison University ('65) and became a big shot. I was an English major at Denison ('69) and didn't. Bah.

But I made a prediction:
Bob and Harvey Weinstein (Miramax) are still tying to get Disney to agree to a price - any price. Note also Icon Productions, Mel Gibson's company, seems earlier to have tried to buy the distribution rights from Disney - but suddenly backed out (Moore says they probably got a call from the White House). That's when Miramax stepped in and tried. The plot thickens. And Disney is holding the film now - grinning. They won't budge. Disney does make sure Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson get plenty of exposure on their radio outlets. But this film isn't going anywhere near a projection booth soon.
I was wrong.

Last Friday evening Disney sold the film to Miramax.

And now it is coming to a theater near you, or maybe near you.

See Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" Finds Domestic Distributor
Gary Gentile The Associated Press, June 1, 2004
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Michael Moore's award-winning documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" has picked up a U.S. distributor and will hit theaters June 25.

The film will be released by a partnership of Lions Gate Films, IFC Films and the Fellowship Adventure Group, which was formed by Harvey and Bob Weinstein specifically to market Moore's film.

... The Weinsteins, who run Miramax Films, bought the rights to the movie from The Walt Disney Co., which owns Miramax and refused to distribute "Fahrenheit 9/11."

The Weinstein brothers will personally finance and control distribution and marketing, they said Tuesday.

"I am grateful to them now that everyone who wants to see it will now have the chance to do so," Moore said in a statement.

"On behalf of my stellar cast - GW, Dick, Rummy, Condi and Wolfie - we thank this incredible coalition of the willing for bringing 'Fahrenheit 9/11' to the people."

Disney chief executive Michael Eisner said the company "did not want a film in the middle of the political process" because he believed that theme park and entertainment consumers "do not look for us to take sides."

In a settlement reached last week, the Weinsteins repaid their parent company for all costs of the film to date, estimated at around $6 million. Any profits from the film's distribution that go to Miramax or Disney will be donated to charity.
So. It's a done deal.

The issue now is negotiating with the theater chains and other studios. The summer release schedule was locked in ten or more months ago - Harry Potter is back - Spiderman is back - The Day After Tomorrow may have legs (after all, it has a Dick Cheney look-alike as the evil Vice President who is much to blame for the end of the world as we know it and all that). Things will need to be moved around. Money will change hands.

But somewhere, just before July 4th, we will be able to see this film in some markets.

Thank, or blame, the French and that festival.

____________

But...

Any profits from the film's distribution that go to Miramax or Disney will be donated to charity?

Which charity? More to follow on that....

Posted by Alan at 21:25 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Monday, 31 May 2004

Topic: Photos

Memorial Day

It was ninety and cloudless out here in the Los Angeles basin today, with kids screaming in the pool until late in the afternoon, and then a pale sunset. Memorial Day. Late in the morning, with a roar, four F18 fighters in close formation shot low over the Sunset Strip on their way toward the coast - The Navy Blue Angels doing the annual flyover of the sprawling Veterans Cemetery over in Westwood.

Memorial Day. Bush and Rumsfeld spoke at the Tomb of the Unknown in Washington, and Rumsfeld got a standing ovation.

And Time reported President Bush has been given a pistol Saddam Hussein had with him when he was captured and now proudly shows it to selected guests, in the side office at the White House where Clinton had his encounters with Monica. Yeah, so ask yourself, what are you proud of? "He really liked showing it off," a recent visitor to the White House who has seen the gun told the magazine. "He was really proud of it." Whatever.

And Reuters is reporting this:
The Army is investigating reports of assaults against Iraqi civilians and thefts of their money and jewelry by U.S. troops during patrols, raids and house searches, defense officials said on Monday.

...The probe by the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division, or CID, suggests that a major scandal over abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Americans goes beyond detention centers into the homes and streets of the troubled country.

"There are a number of criminal investigations by the Army into allegations of assault, theft and other issues that extend beyond the investigations into activities at detention facilities," Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
Oh great.

This war is not exactly making us look good and noble.

The new WWII Memorial opening in Washington last weekend, ant that helped. That war had fewer ambiguities and we actually were the good guys - if you don't think too much about what the Tuskegee Airmen faced when they got home after their heroics, and if you don't think too much about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated in the Army, fighting for us all in Italy, while their relatives were in our internment camps in California. You see, they were all Japanese-Americans. Curiously, the 522nd battalion of the 442nd Regiment discovered and liberated the Dachau, the other side's much nastier camp, but they were ordered to keep quiet about it. The next day, another American battalion arrived and "officially" liberated the camp. It would be too strange if.... Well, you get the idea.

But that war was easier to honor, generally.

This war, and our guys, some of whom I know, is hard to write about. And one of my family is being posted to Iraq in January - for a year in this war, or peace, or whatever it is.

How to make sense of the day? I found "Billmon" over at Whiskey Bar struggling with it. See his comments where you will find sections like this:
... I come from an old military family, one that has been fighting this country's wars since before it was a country. And they're still fighting them: I have cousins who served, and several who died, in Vietnam. Others served in Desert Storm. Some of their kids are now in Iraq.
So Memorial Day has strong meanings for me - even though I never wore a uniform and have never felt any attraction to the mindless cult of military power that so often passes for patriotism these days, especially on the right.

Like the founders (and Dwight D. Eisenhower, for that matter) I fear the permanent war establishment - the so-called "iron triangle" of a bloated military, a corrupt defense industry and the congressional whores who profit from the care and feeding of both. And I've watched uneasily over the past several decades as the professional officer corps has evolved into something like the armed wing of the conservative movement.

These are fundamentally unhealthy trends for any republic - and especially for one that's already showing a pronounced tendency towards imperial hubris. To a greater degree than perhaps at any time in our history, the military has become a major political player, and a dangerously reactionary one at that. When Rush Limbaugh is the only political voice allowed on Armed Forces Radio, it's fair to say the trend lines for democracy are not good.

But as much as I may distrust an increasingly politicized military establishment, I can't disown the men and women who are serving their country - or trying to serve their country - in Iraq. On this Memorial Day, I must pay my respects to those who have given their lives, and praise their courage and their dedication, and grieve their loss. And I must honor the wounded, those who have seen their limbs shattered or their minds blasted by this war. May they be healed in body as well as spirit. And may all those who fight in this war always know that their country loves them, and respects them, and will never turn its back on them, or blame them for our failure.
The whole thing is worth a read.

He runs through a lot of what going wrong, and right, and in between over there. And then he stops.
But in the end it doesn't really matter - I am an American and these are my people. They've been sent to Iraq to fight, and die, in my name. I can't support the war (which is a lost cause anyway) but I can't turn my back on the troops. It would be like turning my back on my own family.

... When I hear the casualties from Iraq reported on the news, or when photos of their flag-draped caskets leak through the Pentagon's wall of secrecy, I realize I know nothing about the young men and women who have been sacrificed in this war. Where they good soldiers, who served their country well despite everything they were forced to endure? Or were they monsters, who killed or tortured or stole from the people they supposedly came to liberate?

I don't know - I'll never know. But I remember my father's war diary, and the things it taught me about him, and I realize I owe these men and women the benefit of the doubt. However they lived and however they fought, they died in my service, and in the service of my country. And for that I am eternally in their debt.
Of course.

And I couldn't be more proud of the family member I mention. I went to his graduation from West Point. I see him several times a year, for deep discussions of international politics - well, they seem deep - and he reads widely and thinks well. We disagree on many things. But he's a good man. And I wish him well. He has my respect.

But it's not him where I see problems.

Everyone sees the problems.

This is a good summary.
A Foreign Policy, Falling Apart
Robert G. Kaiser, The Washington Post, Sunday, May 23, 2004; Page B01
Syndicated elsewhere as The applause is fading; it's time to change the Iraq script
Monday, May 31, 2004

It's long, but convicing.
We have come to a delicate moment in an absorbing drama. The actors seem unsure of their roles. The audience is becoming restless with the confusion on stage. But the scriptwriters keep trying to convince the crowd that the ending they imagined can still, somehow, come to pass.

The authors stick to their plotline even as its plausibility melts away, and why not? For months the audience kept applauding; many of the reviewers were admiring, while many others kept quiet.

No more. Senior military officers, government officials, diplomats and others working in Iraq, commentators, experts and analysts have all joined a chorus of doubters that is large and growing. And the applause - in this case, public approval as measured in polls - is fading.
Already, some of the authors' friends are grabbing them by their rhetorical lapels. "Failures are multiplying," wrote George Will, the conservative columnist, yet "no one seems accountable."

The original script included parts for American soldiers and diplomats, Iraqis, Arabs and Europeans, but many declined to play along or refused to perform as directed. No matter - the authors promised to "stay the course." A quick look back at the list of promises made and then abandoned demonstrates how little the play now conforms to the original scenario. And by the way, just what is the "course" we are staying on?
Yeah, well, who knows?

Well Kaiser notes that Americans are hopeless romantics - "...we're always looking for the triumph of the good guys and happiness ever after."

Indeed so. Particularly on this Memorial Day.

But it's hard to be hopeful -
... the success promised by the Bush administration both before and after the war has eluded us.

We have not made a "a crucial advance in the campaign against terror," the words US President George W. Bush used when he declared victory in "Operation Iraqi Freedom" on May 1, 2003.
Instead, we have stimulated new hatred of the United States in precisely the regions from which future terrorist threats are most likely to arise, while alienating our traditional allies. By embracing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza, we abandoned the "honest broker" role that US governments tried to play for four decades in the Middle East, and we confirmed the conspiratorial suspicions of every anti-American Arab. Our credibility has been battered.

We set out to put fear into the hearts of our enemies by demonstrating the efficacy of a new doctrine of pre-emptive war. Instead, we have shown the timeless nature of hubris. Last week we announced the transfer of 3,600 troops of the overstrained US Army away from the border of what might be the world's most dangerous country, North Korea. They will be sent to help with the war in Iraq, for which we now acknowledge we had inadequate resources.
Contrary to the Bush administration's stated and implied promises - "we will be greeted as liberators" was Vice-President Dick Cheney's famous version - we did not achieve a relatively low-cost triumph in Iraq. Instead we have a crisis of still-growing dimensions. Our occupation policy has changed as often as the color of Madonna's hair. Ominously, as became clear with last week's assassination of Iraqi Governing Council President Ezzedine Salim, we cannot even protect the Iraqis who have agreed to work with us.

The war has damaged the good name of the United States in every corner of the globe, has cost unanticipated scores of billions of dollars (all of it borrowed) and now threatens long-term damage to our army and the National Guard. War has already disfigured the 3,500 American families whose sons and daughters have been killed or seriously wounded in Iraq, and countless Iraqi families as well.
This man is not looking on the bright side.

Read the whole things and you'll see why there may be no bright side.

And there is history:
The events of the last few weeks recall the trauma of February and March 1968, when Americans were absorbing the impact of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Tet was a brilliant military campaign that won no lasting military benefit for the Vietnamese communists who executed it, but which humiliated an ignorant, over-confident America and destroyed political support for the war in the United States.

Dean Acheson and Clark Clifford, two principal architects of "containment" - the basis of American foreign policy toward Soviet and Chinese communists from Truman to Johnson and beyond - told their friend and president, Lyndon B. Johnson, that the jig was up. The costs of war in Vietnam were too high to justify its continuation.

Soon afterward Johnson announced he would not seek re-election and asked the Vietnamese communists to negotiate peace.
No, don't even think it.

Bush doesn't waver. Moral clarity and all that...

And Bush has a plan, at least a plan to stay in office.

See From Bush, Unprecedented Negativity
Scholars Say Campaign Is Making History With Often-Misleading Attacks
Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei, The Washington Post, Monday, May 31, 2004; Page A01

The facts?
Scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts. Though stretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign, they say the volume of negative charges is unprecedented -- both in speeches and in advertising.

Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27 percent of his total. The figures were compiled by The Washington Post using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group of the top 100 U.S. markets. Both campaigns said the figures are accurate.
The facts are not good in Iraq, and not much better in Afghanistan, and the economy is going great, but only if you own a business or stock in one - not if you are one of the unlucky few, if you're what is quaintly called a "worker."

So, if events are such that they are hard to spin too terribly positively, why this hyper-negative blitz of campaign advertising full of distortions.

A Republican explains -
Scott Reed, who ran Robert J. Dole's presidential campaign that year, said the Bush campaign has little choice but to deliver a constant stream of such negative charges. "With low poll numbers and a volatile situation in Iraq, Bush has more hope of tarnishing Kerry's image than promoting his own."

"The Bush campaign is faced with the hard, true fact that they have to keep their boot on his neck and define him on their terms," Reed said. That might risk alienating some moderate voters or depressing turnout, "but they don't have a choice," he said.
And it will probably work.

Four more years. Four more Memorial Days.



Posted by Alan at 21:20 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Sunday, 30 May 2004

Topic: Photos

New issue of JUST ABOVE SUNSET MAGAZINE now online!

No blogging today. It's a holiday weekend....

And, as usual, Sunday is the day I do final assembly and post the week's new issue of this: Just Above Sunset Magazine.

Commentary here will resume tomorrow.

Check it out the new issue of the virtual magazine, the parent publication of the weblog.






Volume 2, Number 21 Sunday, May 30, 2004


- New columns from Bob Patterson - as The World's Laziest Journalist and as The Book Wrangler
- Vastly expanded items that first appeared on the web log, and new items with comments from France (of course)
- Channel your inner "Newfie" checking out a link to one of our writer's adventures in Newfoundland
- A lot of new quotes to keep you thinking
- Pretty pictures, revisiting old scenes...

Current Events

Bush Speaks: Jumping the Shark

Gore Speaks: Back from the dead ...

Conservative Thought: A whole Lott of love here...

Leadership: What Do You Owe Your Subordinates? Tom Clancy almost punched out Richard Perle? Really?

Sidebar: He died. Sisyphus Shrugged.

Legal Matters: International Law and the Geneva Convention: We Take Hostages...

Odds and Ends: New Urban Legends

Features

WLJ Weekly: (The World's Laziest Journalist) Crazy, man, crazy! The return of the bebop sensibilities?

Books: The Book Wrangler Returns (A Bob Patterson extra!)

Religion: A Follow-Up on the Unitarians (Texas Theology Revisited)

Legal Oddities: Adventures in Intellectual Property Rights

Photography: Good Light in Los Angeles

Quotes: Useful Pithy Observations... (Even more this week!)

Links and Recommendations: Gros Morne National Park, A writer's adventures in Newfoundland...

Note: Some interesting new statistics in "About Just Above Sunset"

______________________

Out my front door, Century City...



Posted by Alan at 20:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 29 May 2004

Topic: Iraq



Sisyphus Shrugged

The story hit the wires early this morning.

Here's the opening of the Reuters version in its latest update.

Ex-US Football Star Likely 'Friendly Fire' Victim
Jim Wolf, Saturday May 29, 2004 05:32 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cpl. Patrick Tillman, killed in Afghanistan last month after spurning a $3.6 million football contract to join the special forces, was probably shot by his own comrades in the confusion of battle, the military said on Saturday.

An investigation of the April 22 death of Tillman, 27, an ex-safety for the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals, did not blame any individual.

Previous military statements had suggested Tillman, perhaps the best-known U.S. casualty of the Iraq and Afghan campaigns, had been killed by enemy fire.

"While there was no one specific finding of fault, the investigation results indicate that Cpl. Tillman died as a probable result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy forces," the U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

The term "friendly fire" is used by the military to describe an accidental or mistaken attack on one's own forces or allies.

Tillman's elite Army Ranger platoon was ambushed by 10 to 12 fighters firing small arms and mortars while on patrol at about 7:30 p.m. near Khost, in southeastern Afghanistan, the Army Special Operations Command said in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The ambushers struck from "multiple locations over approximately one kilometer in very severe and constricted terrain with impaired light conditions," the Central Command said.

Tillman left his combat vehicle and, "in support of his unit, moved into position to suppress enemy fire," the command said.

The investigation's findings "in no way diminish the bravery and sacrifice displayed by Cpl. Tillman," the statement said.

"There is an inherent degree of confusion in any firefight, particularly when a unit is ambushed, and especially under difficult light and terrain conditions which produces an environment that increases the likelihood of fratricide," the military said.
Well, then - what to make of this?

You'll find an interesting response at a web log called Sisyphus Shrugged - a site one cannot recommend too highly. And it does have a great name.
There are a few points I'd like to make about this before everybody gets back from the three day weekend which the Army no doubt took into account when choosing when to release this story.

1) Pat Tillman's death seems to me to be tragic because he was willing to give up a great deal to do what he thought was the right thing. The main thing he put on the line was his life. This makes him one of many hundreds of young Americans who gave up their lives to do what they believed to be the right thing.

I find it incredibly distasteful when supporters of the current administration try to shove him up on a pedestal because he could have been rich instead. I haven't found any other area of political discourse where you folks think that it's honorable and righteous and patriotic to consider anything over profits. Certainly none of your political heroes have.

If you think it's un-American to bitch about Halliburton taking a record rakeoff and serving our soldiers rotted food, just leave Pat Tillman's name out of your mouth. He didn't die for your ideology. He died to show it up.

2) Unless you are a member of his family or one of his friends, you did not lose Pat Tillman (just as you didn't lose the people who died in the WTC and the Pentagon). The parents who gave birth to him and/or played catch with him in the back yard lost him. His wife lost him. His friends lost him. The guys in his unit lost him.

America lost a soldier. That should be enough for you. If you have any of those floods of grief left over, spread it over the other 800 soldiers America lost.

3) It seems to me not unlikely that the man's parents and his wife and his friends will be very unhappy about this news. It is possible that they will have something to say about that unhappiness to the media.

If you are a supporter of the war, and if you have been attempting to trick yourself out in Pat Tillman's sacrifice, this will undoubtedly be upsetting to you. As a strategy for coping with this unhappiness, may I suggest that you shut the fuck up.
Good advice.

The man is dead.

And if you feel like avoiding politics and being religious in this matter?

His brother Rich said in his eulogy at the funeral of Patrick Tillman - "Pat isn't with God. He's fucking dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead."

Move on.

Posted by Alan at 18:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Friday, 28 May 2004

Topic: The Culture

Religion: A Follow-Up on the Unitarians (Texas Theology Revisited)

Readers will find the original items on this matter both on the weekly virtual magazine here and the on daily web log here.

These items noted that Texas grants tax-exempt status to the Church of Scientology, founded by L. Ron Hubbard, who indeed has written more than a few science-fiction novels. But the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn had taken away the tax-exempt status of a particular Unitarian Universalist Church. Yea, the do-gooders who say all religions basically worship the same God, or universal force, or whatever. Carole Keeton Strayhorn says that is not religion, as the organization "does not have one system of belief."

The items reviewed the history and beliefs of the Unitarians. This made no sense. And now the decision has been reversed.

Oops.

See Denison church's tax-exempt status granted
Jay Root, Dallas Fort-Worth Star-Telegram (Austin Bureau) - Posted on Mon, May. 24, 2004

The head of the item -
Reversing an earlier decision, state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced Monday that a Unitarian church in Denison would get its tax-exempt status after all.

The decision came after the Star-Telegram reported on May 18 that the comptroller's office had ruled the Red River Unitarian Universalist Church was not a religious organization for tax purposes.

The status was denied, the state said, because the church "does not have one system of belief."
Stunned church officials said it was the first time in U.S. history that any state had denied tax exempt status to the Unitarians because of their religious philosophy. Father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams are among past adherents of the Unitarian church.

Jesse Ancira, the comptroller's general counsel, sent a letter Monday to Dan Althoff, board president of the Denison church, informing him of the change.

"Comptroller Strayhorn asked that I review the file on your congregation's application for tax exemption," Ancira wrote. "After reviewing the submitted application ... it is my opinion that the Red River Unitarian Universalist Church is an organization created for religious purposes and should be granted the requested tax exemption." ...
Oh good.

Previously from the Star-Telegram (on the 22nd) this was posted:
... "She's either abysmally ignorant of the law or a religious bigot," said Robert London, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C. "She's acting like a grand inquisitor in deciding what should be a religion."

Jesse Ancira, general counsel for the comptroller's office, said Strayhorn is no bigot and isn't prejudiced toward any religion. He said that other Unitarian Universalist church groups have been granted tax exemptions but that each case is evaluated separately.

"In this case, we didn't think they met the test of religious worship," he said this week. "We know they have a common belief in moral and ethical principles, but there is no one statement of faith. It's a free and open belief in several religions, including those that believe in a higher power."
Ah, that is curious. It was just this ONE church seemed a bit too free and easy in its beliefs for the State of Texas. But, what the heck, let it go.

A most curious reversal.

One analysis of this all from deep in Texas is offered by Charles Kuffner over at Off the Kuff and it goes like this -
Now then. In surveying the many, many blog posts and comments on the original story, one theme I saw was the belief that Strayhorn was attempting to court the fundamentalist bloc as part of her plan to challenge Rick Perry for Governor in 2006. This makes no sense to me on several levels - for one thing, Perry has that constituency very tightly locked up (why else would he have taken that secret trip to the Bahamas to discuss school finance "reform" with the likes of Grover Norquist and James Leininger?), and for another, Strayhorn has largely criticized Perry from the left as of late.

Frankly, other than her public expression of distaste for strippers, I can't think of any other recent examples of her pushing a religious conservative agenda item. Finally ... there are still rumors that Strayhorn may switch parties before making her run for the Governor's mansion.
So it might have been that electoral politics was behind this all? Who would have thought such a thing?

But as Kuffner points out, "never attribute to malice that which can be chalked up to stupidity."

Well, sometimes they are hard to distinguish from each other. And sometimes they are the same thing.

Posted by Alan at 15:30 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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