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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Saturday, 2 December 2006
December Arrives
Topic: Perspective

December Arrives

"I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood." - Bill Watterson

"Too bad Lassie didn't know how to ice skate, because then if she was in Holland on vacation in winter and someone said 'Lassie, go skate for help,' she could do it." - Jack Handy

"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show." - Andrew Wyeth

"There are three reasons for becoming a writer: the first is that you need the money; the second that you have something to say that you think the world should know; the third is that you can't think what to do with the long winter evenings." - Quentin Crisp

"There's a certain Slant of light, Winter Afternoons That oppresses, like the Heft Of Cathedral Tunes." - Emily Dickinson

"A moment, and its glory was no more. The sun went down beneath the long dark lines of hill and cloud which piled up in the west an airy city, wall heaped on wall, and battlement on battlement; the light was all withdrawn; the shining church turned cold and dark; the stream forgot to smile; the birds were silent; and the gloom of winter dwelt on everything." - Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit

"It was one of those chilly and empty afternoons in early winter, when the daylight is silver rather than gold and pewter rather than silver." - G. K. Chesterton, The Wisdom of Father Brown "The last day of the old year was one of those bright, cold, dazzling winter days, which bombard us with their brilliancy, and command our admiration but never our love." - Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne's House of Dreams

"Winter is icumen in, Lhude sing Goddamm, Raineth drop and staineth slop, And how the wind doth ramm! Sing: Goddamm." - Ezra Pound

"Winter is nature's way of saying, 'Up yours.'" - Robert Byrne

"Spring, summer, and fall fill us with hope; winter alone reminds us of the human condition." - Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966

"Antisthenes says that in a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time then thaw and become audible, so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer." - Plutarch, Moralia

"Winter is not a season, it's an occupation." - Sinclair Lewis

"In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary." - Aaron Rose

"The purpose of life is to fight maturity." - Dick Werthimer

"The aging process has you firmly in its grasp if you never get the urge to throw a snowball." - Doug Larson

"A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water." - Carl Reiner

Posted by Alan at 17:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Monday, 27 November 2006
Traps - Human Experience Filtered and Mediated by Human Linguistic Constructions
Topic: Perspective

Traps - Human Experience Filtered and Mediated by Human Linguistic Constructions

To put things in perspective -
General Semantics is an educational discipline created by Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950) during the years 1919 to 1933. General Semantics is distinct from semantics, a different subject. The name technically refers to the study of what Korzybski called "semantic reactions," or reactions of the whole human organism in its environment to some event - any event, not just perceiving a human-made symbol - in respect of that event's meaning. However, people most commonly use the name to mean the particular system of semantic reactions that Korzybski called the most useful for human survival.

Advocates of General Semantics view it as a form of mental hygiene that enables practitioners to avoid ideational traps built into natural language and "common sense" assumptions, thereby enabling practitioners to think more clearly and effectively. General Semantics thus shares some concerns with psychology but is not precisely a therapeutic system, being in general more focused on enhancing the abilities of normal individuals than curing pathology.

According to Alfred Korzybski himself, the central goal of General Semantics is to develop in its practitioners what he called "consciousness of abstracting," that is an awareness of the map/territory distinction and of how much of reality is thrown away by the linguistic and other representations we use. General Semantics teaches that it is not sufficient to understand this sporadically and intellectually, but rather that we achieve full sanity only when consciousness of abstracting becomes constant and a matter of reflex.

Many General Semantics practitioners view its techniques as a kind of self-defense kit against manipulative semantic distortions routinely promulgated by advertising, politics, and religion.

Philosophically, General Semantics is a form of applied conceptualism that emphasizes the degree to which human experience is filtered and mediated by contingent features of human sensory organs, the human nervous system, and human linguistic constructions.

The most important premise of General Semantics has been succinctly expressed as "The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing defined."
Got it? "The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing defined." We may need a kind of self-defense kit against manipulative semantic distortions routinely promulgated by advertising, politics, and religion. Our experience of the world is determined by human linguistic constructions - they allow us to think about things. Words are the medium of thought. Words matter.

That is why, on Monday, November 27, this mattered - "On the Today Show, NBC announced to the world that the violence in Iraq can now be labeled a civil war Monday morning. NBC assured us that they didn't just come up with that label. It asked many people and held careful deliberations."

Yeah, well, duh. Out here the Los Angeles Times had made the shift a few days earlier. Of course, there's this video and transcript, Dana Priest of the Washington Post saying that newspaper avoids "Civil War" language because what passes for a government in Iraq says there's no such thing going on, and it's their country after all. And our administration over here says there is no such thing going on. Mark Finkelstein here covers the back and forth at NBC - retired General McCaffrey and the White House saying the term is "Nonsense." It is just not a civil war. The White House view - "The violence is primarily centered around Baghdad and Baghdad security and the increased training of Iraqi Security Forces is at the top of the agenda when [Bush and Maliki] meet later this week." So stop this nonsense.

But it is too late. Newsweek editor and columnist Fareed Zakaria is on it -
We're in the middle of a civil war and are being shot at by both sides.

There can be no more doubt that Iraq is in a civil war, in which leaders of both its main communities, Sunnis and Shiites, are fomenting violence.

… To speak, as the White House deputy press secretary did last week, of 'terrorists targeting innocents in a brazen effort to topple a democratically elected government' totally misses the reality of Iraq today. Who are the terrorists and who are the innocents?
Okay does it matter? Edward Wong in the Sunday New York Times thinks it does -
In the United States, the debate over the term rages because many politicians, especially those who support the war, believe there would be domestic political implications to declaring it a civil war. They fear that an acknowledgment by the White House and its allies would be seen as an admission of a failure of President Bush's Iraq policy.

They also worry that the American people might not see a role for American troops in an Iraqi civil war and would more loudly demand a withdrawal.

But in fact, many scholars say the bloodshed here already puts Iraq in the top ranks of the civil wars of the last half-century. The carnage of recent days - beginning with bombings on Thursday in a Shiite district of Baghdad that killed more than 200 people - reinforces their assertion.

… "It's stunning; it should have been called a civil war a long time ago, but now I don't see how people can avoid calling it a civil war," said Nicholas Sambanis, a political scientist at Yale who co-edited "Understanding Civil War: Evidence and Analysis," published by the World Bank in 2005. "The level of violence is so extreme that it far surpasses most civil wars since 1945."

On Friday, Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, insisted that the Iraq conflict was not civil war, noting that Iraq's top leaders had agreed with that assessment. Last month, Tony Snow, the chief spokesman for President Bush, acknowledged that there were many groups trying to undermine the government, but said that there was no civil war because 'it's not clear that they are operating as a unified force. You don't have a clearly identifiable leader.
Okay, fine. But what about CNN's Michael Ware talking to Kitty Pilgrim on the previous Friday -
Pilgrim: Michael, the Iraqi government and the U.S. military in Baghdad keep saying this is not a civil war. What are you seeing?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, firstly, let me say, perhaps it's easier to deny that this is a civil war, when essentially you live in the most heavily fortified place in the country within the Green Zone, which is true of both the prime minister, the national security adviser for Iraq and, of course, the top U.S. military commanders. However, for the people living on the streets, for Iraqis in their homes, if this is not civil war, or a form of it, then they do not want to see what one really looks like.

This is what we're talking about. We're talking about Sunni neighborhoods shelling Shi'a neighborhoods, and Shi'a neighborhoods shelling back.

We're having Sunni communities dig fighting positions to protect their streets. We're seeing Sunni extremists plunging car bombs into heavily-populated Shi'a marketplaces. We're seeing institutionalized Shi'a death squads in legitimate police and national police commando uniforms going in, systematically, to Sunni homes in the middle of the night and dragging them out, never to be seen again.

I mean, if this is not civil war, where there is, on average, 40 to 50 tortured, mutilated, executed bodies showing up on the capital streets each morning, where we have thousands of unaccounted for dead bodies mounting up every month, and where the list of those who have simply disappeared for the sake of the fact that they have the wrong name, a name that is either Sunni or Shi'a, so much so that we have people getting dual identity cards, where parents cannot send their children to school, because they have to cross a sectarian line, then, goodness, me, I don't want to see what a civil war looks like either if this isn't one.
Well, as many have pointed out, this may not matter, really, except to the politicians and those who want us to continue whatever it is we're doing in this post-war war (and that may be an accurate but odd semantic construction in and of itself.). Note Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings - Civil War, Or The Failure Of Reconstruction? Who Cares?

But if you're going to think about how to make thing even a bit better, what words rattle around in your brain that could possibly settle into anything like a coherent policy? What are you working with here?

Maybe these folks just skipped the civil war thing and moved a step or two beyond that - to your basic chaos. Iraq looks like a failed state, with a government that is powerless to control its own factions. And there may be no movement to install "something else." Who is fighting for that, really? We have general lawlessness and every man for himself, or every sect, or tribe, or whatever. Christopher Hitchens sees the whole region disintegrating (and that may be the right word) in his Monday item, From Beirut to Baghdad - The Ghastly Predictability of Nihilist Violence.

So, we're fighting Islamic fanatics there so we don't have to fight them here - and all that stuff that looks like a civil war is just background noise. That would lead you to one set of approaches. Or we have a civil war, with two distinct sides - Sunni and Shi'a - and that needs attention. That would lead you to another set of approaches. Or we have unstructured nihilistic violence - internecine war with no clear objectives, or just criminal thuggish crap. That would lead you to yet another set of approaches.

It does seem to be a matter of how you conceptualize it. Words matter.

But out here in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday morning brought an overarching, and arch, solution proposed by Jonathan Chait - Bring Back Saddam Hussein.

What? It seems this was meant to provocative.

Digby at Hullabaloo assumed so - "I assumed he was making a Swiftian modest proposal. I read his piece to be a satirical left hook to the notion that the Baker Commission was going to find some magical solution to the Iraq quagmire and conclude that the only formula that would work would be to put Saddam back in charge."

But the he saw Chait on Chris Matthews "Hardball" explaining that he was engaging in "a little bit of hyperbole but I think there's something to it" and "maybe we should put it back where we found it."

So he was sort of serious? Chait did say "almost everyone with a brain says we shouldn't have gone in the first place" but then admits that he was for the war but on different grounds - because he thought "weapons of mass destruction were the rationale" and "I didn't pay attention to, I confess, I didn't pay much attention to the possibility of a completely failed state. When the Bush administration talked about democracy I thought they were lying the way they lie about everything else that they do."

Well, maybe they were serious.

The there's this -
Matthews reminded him that in 1991 Baker and Powell had warned about the break up of Iraq if the US invaded and admitted that he got tired of hearing about that and now knows they were right. Chait, however, disagrees. He says that the post war was "bungled as badly as you could have, they had no plan, Rumsfeld threatened to fire the next general who said, 'what do we do about Iraq' in the post war. They didn't have enough troops, they broke up the Baathist bureaucracy, they broke up the army, they did it as badly as you couldn't have, so you know, I think what they could have had was a stable, you know ... last vicious dictatorship.

Matthews asked if he would have gone with the INC and Chait responds, "No, no, I thought what they would do all along was keep the Baath Party in place, get rid of Saddam, get rid of his sons..."

Matthews interrupted as he always does and moved on to another point, so perhaps Chait had something else to say, but I have to admit I was astonished by his point of view throughout the exchange. I had thought his op-ed a rather unsubtle piece of satire and it turns out that it was only barely exaggerated version of what he thought should have happened to begin with and what he still thinks should happen now. He's making a real argument.
Maybe he just got caught up in his own words.

Digby notes there was Jonathan Chait, in The National Review in October of 2002 saying this -
When asked about war, they [liberals] typically offer the following propositions: President Bush has cynically timed the debate to bolster Republican chances in the November elections, he has pursued his Iraq policy with an arrogant disregard for the views of Congress and the public, and his rationales for military action have been contradictory and in some cases false. I happen to believe all these criticisms are true (although the first is hard to prove) and that they add more evidence to what is already a damning indictment of the Bush presidency. But these are objections to the way Bush has carried out his Iraq policy rather than to the policy itself. (If Bush were to employ such dishonest tactics on behalf of, say, universal health care, that wouldn't make the policy a bad idea.) Ultimately the central question is: Does war with Iraq promote liberal foreign policy principles? The answer is yes, it does.

Liberals and conservatives share many foreign policy values in common: encouraging democracy and capitalism, responding to direct aggression, and so on. That is why, for instance, both overwhelmingly supported overthrowing the Taliban and hunting down Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In the post-cold-war era, though, liberals have centered their thinking around certain ideals with which conservatives do not agree. Writing in these pages in 1999, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer identified three distinctly liberal principles: advancing humanitarian (rather than merely national) interests; observing international law; and acting in concert with international institutions, such as the United Nations. Krauthammer cited these three principles in order to dismiss them. I disagree. Underlying all three is an understanding that American global dominance cannot last unless it is accepted by the rest of the world, and that cannot happen unless it operates on behalf of the broader good and on the basis of principles more elevated than "might makes right."
Back then was back then. Now it may be time for a friendly dictator. Or maybe that was "really" the idea back then.

But we need to get some democratic western values in that region, right?

Digby -
Indeed, it was the official liberal argument in favor of the war. Only realist misanthropes and dirty hippie throwbacks argued that the democratic domino theory was a crock. We were borderline racist and hated America for even suggesting that it might be just a tad unrealistic.

To be sure, Chait based his argument most fully on the WMD threat, but for all his skepticism about Bush's honesty in other areas, it apparently didn't cross his mind that they might lie about that. Neither did it occur to him and all the other liberal hawks that Saddam might have had good reason to exaggerate his arsenal for regional or domestic purposes, something that the thin gruel Powell presented to the UN and the continuous debunking of "proof" (as with the aluminum tubes and the drone planes) should have made thinking people at least consider.

But now we find out that certain liberal hawks (or Chait at least) always had their own "cakewalk" fantasy. The US was going to invade, get rid of the WMD, install our own friendly dictator and then get out. Who knew?

… But it does raise the question: do liberal hawks think that this is still a solution to the problem? Chait indicated that he was exaggerating to get people "thinking." But perhaps his "bring Saddam back" was as serious a piece of advice as his earlier exhortations that liberals should support the war. I would suggest that it has just as much merit.
Ah, but it is a solution. And the words spin on…

Chait was on with Tucker Carlson also -
We've learned that there are worse things than totalitarianism and one of them is unending chaos... My argument is not an entirely cynical argument... One of the things that foments chaos is the expectation of chaos, when people's behavior changes, when they don't see any established order, and one of the few things we'll be able to do, I was sort of supposing, would be the return of Saddam Hussein - he has high name recognition, people know who he is, they know what he's capable of doing and you have, it's still a recent enough that he was in charge of the state, that you still have the Baath army units and the infrastructure to put in place. So I was hypothesizing that this may be the only force capable of actually ruling the country, not that we want that by any means, it was horrendous, but simply that you have order, I mean it might be the best of some very, very, bad alternatives.

Carlson: Best for us. It seems to me the one thing about Saddam, as deranged as he may have been, he did have something to lose, he didn't want to die, and he wasn't a religious nut, he was incredibly brutal. Does that tell us something about what we would need to do in order to secure Iraq. I mean, he killed people with poison gas, Was that something he had to do? Was that required?

Chait: No I don't think so. But look, he's psychotic so you can't assume that anything a psychotic man does is something he rationally had to do. And he would still be psychotic if he was in power. There would be no doubt about it. I mean, it certainly would be better for us - we wouldn't have the Iranian influence and you wouldn't have Iraq becoming a potential terrorist haven, both things that threaten us a great deal, if we had Saddam in power. You would have someone who would brutalize his own population but again you're getting that right now anyway and you might be getting less of it if he returned.

Carlson: Obviously we're not... because there is a civil war, and according to NBC it officially begins today, that kind of implies we ought to pick a side. And in fact pick a strongman to preside over the country in a less brutal way than Saddam did, but in a brutal way nonetheless and keep that place under control? Should we pick a side?

Chait: I don't know. I think I'm probably like you. You read all these proposals about what to do with Iraq and there all people who specializing in the topic and know more about it than I do and probably more than you do and it just doesn't sound that convincing and when they pick apart the other guy's proposal, when they say "here's why we need a strongman and here's why partition won't work" and you say "that makes a lot of sense" and the other person says "here's why we need partition and why the strongman won't work" and that seems right also, so that sort of the mode I'm in. I just don't know what to do. The only time anyone seems convincing is when they say why everything else won't work.
Yep, words are funny that way. Alfred Korzybski knew a thing or two.

And Digby says this is all "chickenshit nonsense" -
This guy makes a living as a pundit. He wrote an extremely provocative article saying that we should re-install Saddam (or some other strongman.) And then he cops out by saying he's confused because the "experts" don't have any easy answers.

This kind of thinking has permeated the establishment from day one. Plenty of people said in advance that the war was a mistake for exactly the reasons that Chait is now so surprised by. Nobody listened to them then and nobody is listening to them now. In fact, they were and are derided and marginalized. Today allegedly liberal pundits are rather seriously discussing the merits of installing friendly dictators now that their fantasies failed to become reality. How ridiculous.
Words can do that. No one agrees on the terms we should use.

At the end of his interview with Chait, Matthews said something like "what's going on with you guys at The New Republic? You're going liberal." Chait said, "We've always been liberal."

Digby - "Mark my words, soon it will be said that when the going got tough the liberals said we should bring back Saddam Hussein. Everybody knows that the left are totalitarians from way back."

It will be a war of words.

And what of that publication, The New Republic? Their new issue is devoted to "What To Do About Iraq" and it seems it all depends on how you frame the problem. There are two pieces, both by political science professors. They are puzzling.

Kevin Drum suggests that they are "diametrically opposed and yet still manage to contain not a single glimmer of intelligent thought between them." As in "James Kurth suggests we obliterate the Sunnis because they've been such bastards, while suggests we obliterate the Sunnis because they've been such bastards, while Josef Joffe suggests we team up with the Sunnis in order to annoy Iran. Neither writer even remotely explains how we're supposed to accomplish either one of these goals."

But seem to have bought the "civil war" construction. That's the thing now. That's "the word" (or words). And it's a matter of which side to choose for which reason.

And George Packer in the same issue seems to use the Hitchens semantic construction - we not dealing with civil war, but something like nihilist violence. And it may be time to think about saving those who stuck by us -
Those Iraqis who have had anything to do with the occupation and its promises of democracy will be among the first to be killed: the translators, the government officials, the embassy employees, the journalists, the organizers of women's and human rights groups.

... If the United States leaves Iraq, our last shred of honor and decency will require us to save as many of these Iraqis as possible. In June, a U.S. Embassy cable about the lives of the Iraqi staff was leaked to The Washington Post. Among many disturbing examples of intimidation and fear was this sentence: "In March, a few staff approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate." The cable gave no answer. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad does not issue visas.

... We should start issuing visas in Baghdad, as well as in the regional embassies in Mosul, Kirkuk, Hilla, and Basra. We should issue them liberally, which means that we should vastly increase our quota for Iraqi refugees. (Last year, it was fewer than 200.) We should prepare contingency plans for massive airlifts and ground escorts. We should be ready for desperate and angry crowds at the gates of the Green Zone and U.S. bases. We should not allow wishful thinking to put off these decisions until it's too late. We should not compound our betrayals of Iraqis who put their hopes in our hands.
So choosing sides in the civil war is moot. It really is beyond that now.

Drum -
On moral grounds, it's hard to conceive of any argument against Packer. The only question is: Is it practical? Can we actually do what he suggests? How would we address the obvious security problems inherent in a relocation program?

The only way to know is for people with experience to study the issue and create a plan. But what are the odds that anyone in the Bush administration will ever allow this to happen?
The odds are nil. Of the three ways to put this into words - we're fighting Islamic fanatics there so we don't have to fight them here and all that stuff that looks like a civil war is just background noise, or we have a civil war, with two distinct sides and the needs attention, or we have unstructured nihilistic violence - the Bush administration will only credit the first semantic construction. You can only think in the words that you allow yourself to use. It's a funny trick, or maybe it isn't so funny.

Posted by Alan at 22:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 28 November 2006 06:54 PST home

Saturday, 25 November 2006
Thanksgiving is so over...
Topic: Perspective

Thanksgiving is so over…

For your amusement, so be grateful. (More in tomorrow's Just Above Sunset…)

"Persons thankful for little things are certain to be the ones with much to be thankful for." - Frank A. Clark

"Having listened to people for a long time, I believe many of us should be thankful not to be shot." - Leston Havens

"Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed." - Mark Twain

"Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life." - Robert Louis Stevenson

"I have strong doubts that the first Thanksgiving even remotely resembled the 'history' I was told in second grade. But considering that (when it comes to holidays) mainstream America's traditions tend to be over-eating, shopping, or getting drunk, I suppose it's a miracle that the concept of giving thanks even surfaces at all. - Ellen Orleans

"Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for - annually, not oftener - if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man's side, consequently on the Lord's side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments." - Mark Twain

"I feel a very unusual sensation - if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude." - Benjamin Disraeli

"Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive." - Edward Gibbon

"Gratitude - the meanest and most snivelling attribute in the world." - Dorothy Parker

"Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs. - Joseph Stalin

"A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues." [Gratus animus est una virtus non solum maxima, sed etiam mater virtutum onmium reliquarum] - Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero), Oratio Pro Cnoeo Plancio (XXXIII)

"He is ungrateful who denies that he has received a kindness which has been bestowed upon him; he is ungrateful who conceals it; he is ungrateful who makes no return for it; most ungrateful of all is he who forgets it. [Ingratus est, qui beneficium accepisse se negat, quod accepit: ingratus est, qui dissimulat; ingratus, qui non reddit; ingratissimus omnium, qui oblitus est.] - Seneca (Lucius Annaeus Seneca), De Beneficiis (III, 1)

"In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican." - H. L. Mencken

"It's a sign of mediocrity when you demonstrate gratitude with moderation." - Roberto Benigni

"When I'm not thanked at all I'm thanked enough." - Henry Fielding

"Man always travels along precipices. His truest obligation is to keep his balance. - Jose Ortega Gasset

"One of the effects of a safe and civilized life is an immense oversensitiveness which makes all the primary emotions somewhat disgusting. Generosity is as painful as meanness, gratitude as hateful as ingratitude." - George Orwell

"No favor can win gratitude from a cat." - Jean de La Fontaine

Posted by Alan at 15:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 18 November 2006
Things Change
Topic: Perspective
Things Change
Looking back on the week, some things people have said about change -

"In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." - Al Rogers

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." - Alan Watts

"'One and one make two' assumes that the changes in the shift of circumstance are unimportant. But it is impossible for us to analyze this notion of unimportant change. - Alfred North Whitehead

"Change lays not her hand upon truth." - Algernon Swinburne

"The things that have come into being change continually. The man with a good memory remembers nothing because he forgets nothing. - Augusto Roa Bastos

"Change is one thing, progress is another. 'Change' is scientific, 'progress' is ethical; change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy. - Bertrand Russell

"Change begets change. Nothing propagates so fast. If a man habituated to a narrow circle of cares and pleasures, out of which he seldom travels, step beyond it, though for never so brief a space, his departure from the monotonous scene on which he has been an actor of importance would seem to be the signal for instant confusion. ... The mine which Time has slowly dug beneath familiar objects is sprung in an instant; and what was rock before, becomes but sand and dust." - Charles Dickens

"If you don't pay attention to the periphery, the periphery changes and the first thing you know the periphery is the center." - Dean Rusk

"Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks." - Doug Larson

"If you don't change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. Is that good news?" - Robert Anthony

"All change is not growth; all movement is not forward. - Ellen Glasgow

"Men make the mistake of thinking that because women can't see the sense in violence, they must be passive creatures. It's just not true. In one important way, at least, men are the passive sex. Given a choice, they will always opt for the status quo. They hate change of any kind, and they fight against it constantly. On the other hand, what women want is stability, which when you stop to think about it is a very different animal." - Eric Lustbader, The Kaisho

"Money is always there but the pockets change." - Gertrude Stein

"He who rejects change is the architect of decay." - Harold Wilson

"I soon found out you can't change the world. The best you can do is to learn to live with it." - Henry Miller

"What I possess I would gladly retain. Change amuses the mind, yet scarcely profits." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Men may change their climate, but they cannot change their nature. A man that goes out a fool cannot ride or sail himself into common sense." - Joseph Addison

"People change and forget to tell each other." - Lillian Hellman

"We are restless because of incessant change, but we would be frightened if change were stopped." - Lyman L. Bryson

"I don't think that a leader can control to any great extent his destiny. Very seldom can he step in and change the situation if the forces of history are running in another direction." - Richard Nixon "A man will never change his mind if he have no mind to change.' - Richard Whately

"Why abandon a belief merely because it ceases to be true? Cling to it long enough and it will turn true again, for so it goes. Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor." - Robert Frost

"Such is the state of life, that none are happy but by the anticipation of change: the change itself is nothing; when we have made it, the next wish is to change again. The world is not yet exhausted; let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before." - Samuel Johnson

"Men are always sincere. They change sincerities, that's all." - Tristan Bernard

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Posted by Alan at 14:14 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Friday, 17 November 2006
Notes from All Over
Topic: Perspective
Notes from All Over
Just some end of the week notes from various places - Tennessee, Binghamton in south central New York, from a Brit correspondent in Washington, what the Miami Herald reports is planned at Guantanamo, and a reaction from Berlin citing what the attorneys from Seaton Hall in central New Jersey think about such things. Friday, November 17, 2006 - it's a small world after all (don't think of the song).

The Tennessee item is very odd. That would be Deep-Fried American Flags Ruled Bad Taste -
CLARKSVILLE, Tennessee (AP) - A museum director in this military town removed an art exhibit that featured several deep-fried American flags.

Art student William Gentry said his piece, "The Fat Is in the Fire," was a commentary on obesity in America. "I deep-fried the flag because I'm concerned about America and about America's health," Gentry said.

Customs House Museum executive director Ned Crouch took down the artwork Wednesday, less than 18 hours after it went up in this community next to Fort Campbell.

"It's about what the community values," Crouch said. "I'm representing 99 percent of our membership - educators, doctors, lawyers, military families."

He also said the timing of the piece could cause "incendiary reactions."
Of course you can click on the link and read on, if you wish. You'll find a description of the works and a few reactions.

The symbolism is delicious, so to speak. But it is too bad the items in question are only about obesity. In so many ways right now, regarding America, the fat really is in the fryer, what with Iraq in chaos, the Democrats about to take control of Congress and change everything, the president in Vietnam saying the war there decades ago has taught us all a valuable lesson regarding the war now in Iraq - you can't win if you quit (obviously he's unaware of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions). The South Koreans then announced they'd not join us interdicting all shipping in and out of North Korea - they'd listened politely to what Bush had to say about really isolating and punishing their northern cousins, and decided he was on what they think is the wrong tract. They're more into diplomacy. So the Asian summit was not going well. Ah well, at least the food was great.

But they didn't serve deep-fried American flags. In the months before the midterm elections the Republican House and Senate had of course decided the war and the economy and immigration reform and what some call the healthcare crisis were really not the issues we should worry about. The summer brought us what they said the real threat to America, and proposed starting the process of changing the Constitution of the United States to ban gay marriage and ban flag burning - making that a carve-out to that freedom of speech business that pesky people like to claim. Both efforts failed, and the clumsy attempt to "change the subject" probably wasn't the best way to tee up for the November elections. Some someone thought it was worth a try. No one at the time even mentioned banning deep-frying the flag. It might have made the long speeches a bit more interesting, but it probably wouldn't have helped. And, wouldn't you know, someone actually did it. Amazing.

And then, by way of James Wolcott at Vanity Fair, we have some distressing observations from SUNY-Binghamton, actually from Immanuel Wallerstein at the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Gee, the last time I was in Binghamton was back in the late seventies. I was recording with an "alternative" band - a reggae version of the Stone's "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," the unchanged lyrics sung by a chubby lesbian. My job was to do the bass line on tenor saxophone - overdubbed three times so there was three of me. Actually, the thing worked well - Bob Marley meets an inside-out version of Mick Jagger. Maybe you had to be there. A tape is available upon request.

But serious things also happen there in Binghamton, it seems. Wallerstein, at the center with the long name, observed we're in for some trouble -
On November 7, the Republican Party lost the midterm elections. As Bush himself said, in all the close races, the margin was very slight, but overall it was a "thumping." The degree of thumping is underlined by the fact that, after the elections, Bush's poll ratings went down still further.

This will box in Bush's options and range of movement, particularly abroad.

The one thing that is sure is that there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq as we approach the 2008 elections. The voters and the military made that clear in the 2006 election. Of course there will be a massive blame game - among Republicans as to who lost the 2006 elections, and between Democrats and Republicans as to who lost Iraq. But the word on everyone's mind is "lost."

We can also be sure that bombing either North Korea or Iran is off the real agenda (including for Israel). The U.S. armed forces and the U.S. electorate will not tolerate it (not to speak of the rest of the world). Where will this leave the United States as a world power? It will probably result in a big push towards drawing inward. Already, in the 2006 elections, many candidates won by opposing "free trade" and Iraq was a dirty word. The political temptation will be to go local in emphasis. One of the major side effects will be a notable reduction in U.S. support for Israeli foreign policy, which will be wrenching for Israel.

The Democrats are united on internal economic legislation - higher minimum wages, better and more affordable health care, financial aid to college students. They are also going to push ecology issues and medical advances (stem cell research, for example). If the Republicans hope to recuperate strength, they will have to move their economic program as well as their program on social issues somewhat in a centrist direction.

The result, as is already obvious, is to create major turmoil in the Republican Party, while reducing it in the Democratic Party - the exact opposite of what has been the case in the last decade. And in early 2009, George W. Bush will fade into the wilderness, remembered (if we bother) for being the front man for the mother of all defeats - in Iraq, in the world-system, and at home for the Republican Party.
The midterm elections did all that? That's pretty grim. Everything has indeed changed.

And Wolcott is worried - "But will Bush recede into the night? Bush-in-a-box - contents under pressure - could become an explosive property if not properly handled."

And that leads to even more distressing news from Andrew Stephen, Washington correspondent for the New Statesman (UK, which explains the spelling). Maybe it's not really news, just hints at trouble ahead -
I was asked on BBC radio a couple of days ago whether Democratic victories would temper Bush's recklessness. I replied that I could answer that only if I could peer into the strange mind of a 60-year-old recovering alcoholic named George W Bush

Rumours persist here (and I have heard them repeated at a very senior level in the UK, too) that Bush has actually resumed drinking; I throw this into the mix not to sensationalise, but because I have now heard the rumour repeated at a sufficiently high level that I believe we must face the possibility that it might be true.

Bush was huddled inside the White House eating beef and ice cream on election night with Rove, my friend Josh Bolten, and four other trusted aides who will stick with him to the end. He was not drinking on this occasion, I'm assured - but, more than ever, my depiction of an unstable man living out his final days in office inside his bunker seem no longer to be fanciful. Hemmed in by Democratic foes wherever he looks, determined to be remembered in history as an unwaveringly strong leader, and increasingly detached from reality: now that suddenly becomes a very frightening vision indeed.
Damn. It's that Nixon thing, again. And we get Kissinger in the mix too. As is often said - History always repeats itself, and that's the trouble with history. Maybe it had to be this way. Bummer. Here we go again.

As for things elsewhere, like Cuba, the end of the week news brought this -
The U.S. military on Friday said it plans to build a $125 million compound at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base where it hopes to hold war-crimes trials for terror suspects by the middle of next year.

The compound, designed to accommodate as many as 1,200 people, would include dining areas, work spaces and sleeping accommodations for administrative personnel, lawyers, journalists and others involved in trials at the isolated detention center in southeast Cuba.

It would create a total of three courtrooms on the base to allow for simultaneous trials, and a separate high-security area to house the detainees on trial.

"We need to build more courtrooms, and we want to do multiple trials," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler, a Pentagon spokesman. He said the government hopes to begin construction as soon as possible to be ready for trials no later than July 1.
It's a Halliburton contract of course, or will be - plans for this compound are provided in a "presolicitation notice," dated November 3 and posted on the Internet for potential government contractors. You might want to bid, if you're handy at building things around the house. This whole business was first reported by the Miami Herald, but only widely reported later.

It may not be built. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents several hundred of Guantanamo detainees quotes as saying this - "This is a huge waste of taxpayer money. They've been trying to try people for five years, and until they try somebody according to the Constitution, nothing's going to happen there."

Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, says this compound proposed by the Pentagon is basically "a permanent homage to its failed experiment in second class justice."

We'll see. If you do bid, know that the contractor will be required to complete work by next July - including "a secure perimeter," a garage for one hundred government vehicles and a closed-circuit video transmission center. And know that the government is drafting new rules for the trials under the Military Commissions Act, which the president signed last month. The Supreme Court had declared that previous efforts to try Guantanamo detainees were unconstitutional, and might do so with whatever the administration comes up with now. It's all a bit iffy.

And that takes us to Berlin, to the November 17 meeting of the Club de Madrid, Berlin, Germany. That's where Scott Horton has a few things to say about the work of the faculty and students at Seton Hall Law School, who have examined what is happening at Guantanamo and issued that report.

Horton has this to say -
Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to read your newspaper today very carefully. In it you will find another - now the third - report prepared by faculty and students at Seton Hall Law School examining the Combat Status Review Tribunal, a board composed to confirm the status of detainees in Guantanamo. Based on its determinations, detainees may be held for indefinite periods - potentially forever. Yet, as this study reveals, most proceedings occupy only a few hours, involve no witnesses and generally little meaningful evidence of any sort. The detainees are not confronted with the accusations or evidence against them, given an opportunity to ask questions or conduct a case. Once more, the model that is adhered to is not the rich criminal or military justice system of the United States, but the model of Franz Kafka's Penal Colony. What attitude towards justice does this reveal?

I am not here to argue for release or freedom for those detained in the campaign against terror. I am arguing for justice. That is something quite different. It may well be that Majid Khan is a serious criminal responsible for crimes against humanity. It may well be that he used or promoted the use of terror as a device. If that is so, he should be charged and given a fair chance to defend himself. This trial, fairly run, will vindicate my nation's counterterrorism efforts. It will show those who are held for heinous criminals, if they are heinous criminals. It would promote the view in the world that my nation has and pursues a just cause, and treats those in its power with justice, though the justice be severe.

In the end justice is a glorious thing and the evasion of justice is shameful. But we must remember, as both Robert H. Jackson and Hannah Arendt have taught us, that this process is not simply about justice. It is also about the appearance of justice. Failing that, we run a severe risk. The penal colony may now be an island. But soon it may become the world.
Okay then, you have your American attorney in Berlin, citing the work done in a top tier New Jersey law school, referencing the work of a dead Czech Jew, regarding what we're up to in Cuba. It is a small world - and do you really want to bid on that contract?

Not up on your Kafka? Never read the Penal Colony? Horton's summary -
In the Penal Colony, a visitor - on a voyage of exploration, he says - arrives on a tropical island which serves as a penal colony. Shortly he receives an invitation from the island's military commander to witness an execution. In a drawn-out discussion, the visitor learns from an officer sent to greet him that the prisoner who is to be executed has no idea that he has been accused or charged of anything; nor of the penalty that awaits him. The penalty, in fact, is horrific - before he is executed, the prisoner is to be mutilated by a great machine designed to carve his offense in florid letters into his body. The process is a simple one, says the officer: he handles every stage of it, and there is no need for a defense - after all, says the officer, who is accuser and judge, he always starts from the premise that the accused is guilty. Indeed, are we not all guilty?

This presents a moral dilemma to the visitor. He recognizes the injustice and inhumanity of what is about to transpire. But he is after all just a visitor; moreover, a foreigner. What does all of this mean to him? Isn't it easier for him just to hold his peace and get off this island hell as quickly as he can?
Well, we're all in that position, What do Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Baghram and the Salt Pit, for instance, mean to us, after all?

But we cannot get off the island, even if more than half of us have had more than enough of this particular "military commander" and his crew and elected folks to rein things in, even if they probably cannot.

And now we cannot even deep-fry a flag in protest. What a world.

Posted by Alan at 21:28 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 18 November 2006 06:24 PST home

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