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"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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Friday, 31 March 2006
Spin: Getting the Narrative Back on Track
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Spin: Getting the Narrative Back on Track
Missing Day

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

As the content of this item was time-bound, consider this an historical document.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end of the story? Hardly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

IMUS: This is not helping.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We will not lose our nerve."

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or not.

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

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