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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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Thursday, 18 December 2003

Topic: Election Notes

Time to pay attention, I suppose. Diebold. Employing convicted felons to assure our votes are counted fairly....

I haven't commented much on the voting machine problems, as most of the country moves toward a uniform, computerized touch-screen system for the next presidential election. Yeah, in Georgia they may have screwed the Democrats out of a senate seat in the last election, as many votes kind of got lost - votes for Max Cleland. Oh well. These Diebold machines cannot be audited and leave no paper trail.

Yeah, I read when Diebold made its sales pitch to the government of Ohio the president of Diebold said he was committed to delivering all the Ohio Electoral Votes to George Bush in the next election - but perhaps he was just being a tad enthusiastic. Diebold wouldn't cheat, would they?

Yeah, out here in California our folks, led by Barbara Boxer, are insisting Diebold alter their machines to provide each voter a receipt, and provide a "paper trail" for the official records. Diebold says that will triple the cost of the machines and cannot be done fast enough for the next election - lots of coding and hardware changes would be necessary. And we're in a bit of a bind out here as the state just today declared a "financial crisis" - no money for all that.

Yeah, I know the Diebold corporation gives major contributions to the national Republican party and many state parties, and no money to the Democrats.

I know all that. But I hadn't paid much attention.

Given all that today I came across this last straw.

Con Job at Diebold Subsidiary
Associated Press 10:05 AM Dec. 17, 2003 PT
SAN FRANCISCO -- At least five convicted felons secured management positions at a manufacturer of electronic voting machines, according to critics demanding more stringent background checks for people responsible for voting machine software.

Voter advocate Bev Harris alleged Tuesday that managers of a subsidiary of Diebold Inc., one of the country's largest voting equipment vendors, included a cocaine trafficker, a man who conducted fraudulent stock transactions and a programmer jailed for falsifying computer records.

The programmer, Jeffrey Dean, wrote and maintained proprietary code used to count hundreds of thousands of votes as senior vice president of Global Election Systems. Diebold purchased GES in January 2002.

According to a public court document released before GES hired him, Dean served time in a Washington state correctional facility for stealing money and tampering with computer files in a scheme that "involved a high degree of sophistication and planning."

Well, one blogger is pretty upset:
What the hell is wrong with this country!?!? Screw Saddam. Screw Michael Jackson and screw every other stinking story the press thinks we should give a flying shit about. There should be no other story more important!!! None! Period. Nothing cuts to the core of our democracy, any democracy, like voting. Voting is democracy! Why did we fight the British for independence? Why did we fight the Nazis? The communists? What the hell have we been shedding blood over if not to defend the right of a free people to choose their own Representative government!?!?

Hello 60 minutes? Hello 20/20? Hello Nightline? Hello anyone??? Sure we can all call Barbra Boxer's office and we can all call our local rep's office and we can all call our state senator but maybe it's time we start a full court press on the press! Have we fallen so far into one party rule that one party control of our voting apparatus just doesn't matter??

Here's a plan. Go here and print out any of the stories. Take a big black marker and hand write WHY IS THIS NOT BEING COVERED?? over it and mail it to every paper in your city. Start sending in letters to editors. Start sending letters to your favorite candidates campaign. Hey DNC: want a talking point? How about PRESERVE DEMOCRACY NOW! If this story can't be taken seriously then nothing else matters! Game over. Pack it up.

If this isn't corrected by the '04 elections then our wildest dreams will be little more than our worst nightmares.

God this story just pisses me off.
Too much coffee? Maybe not.

I should have been paying more attention.

Posted by Alan at 20:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2003 21:06 PST home

Topic: The Culture

Film Notes - the third of the Lord of the Rings films: three hours of atavistic classicism, racism and xenophobia... as if the age of reason never happened.

This is worth a read. You might try the whole thing, not just the extracts below.

See The Return of the King: Tolkien and the new medievalism
K.A. Dilday, Open Democracy, 18 - 12 - 2003
The obsession with power, will and hierarchy in Peter Jackson's film trilogy adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings fuels its dangerous topicality: a vindication and veneration of empire.

Ah, what have we here?
... We are living in times when the public rhetoric is medieval. Politicians and pundits invoke the words good and evil casually, as if the age of reason never happened. They speak proudly of killing, bullet-ridden corpses are triumphantly paraded. And like in Lord of the Rings, we define evil by demographics. The bloodline, the colour of skin, the ethnic background or nationality makes someone immediately suspect.

Can one judge a film with the morals of politics? Is Lord of the Rings seen differently in the United States than it is in Europe where the majority of people were against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? A fable is "a narration intended to enforce a useful truth." When I look at the Lord of the Rings as the fable its author, J.R.R. Tolkien, intended it to be, I see a world clearly divided into races and regions of leader and followers, I see Calvinist pre-determinism and I see the vindication and veneration of empire unfolding in frame after frame. And I feel the quick burn of shame that I always feel when realising that as a child I was taken in by a "useful truth" that now seems odious.

I can't lay the sole blame for the Lord of the Rings' atavistic classicism, racism and xenophobia with either auteur or author. It was Peter Jackson, the director, who chose his alabaster cast and decided that the camera would lovingly caress their sky-bold eyes. But Tolkien had lived through the horror of the "great war", and he imagined a world where the qualities of leadership were in the blood and where social and moral hierarchy was clearly identifiable through race and appearance. As the spectre of a second world war loomed, it was a soothing reordering of the world with a clear delineation of good and evil. ...

But where's this coming from (beside the UK)?
... in times of war, the definition of culture is loaded with meaning: it is a way of setting your world apart from the enemy's. To be worth dying for, it must be weighty and distinct. In these times are we so consumed by war that all art takes sides, or does art cease to become art once it is political? Theodor Adorno wrote that the genius of art lies in its ability to reveal what ideology conceals.
Oh. That.

But isn't Tolkien a harmless, quite dead linguistics don? Heck, back in graduate school I read his analysis of the language in Beowulf and his comments on the odd Middle English used in The Battle of Maldon - didn't everyone? (Well, maybe not.)

These Lord of the Rings books seem harmless fantasy. Folks like the films. On the other hand Dilday points this out:
The world Tolkien lived in frightened him, and despite his protestations, he transferred his fears and experiences to his secondary world. Middle Earth reflected the deathly struggles he'd seen but he made it much simpler to distinguish good from evil. Elves, humans, hobbits and wizards were good for the most part. Orcs, trolls, and Sauron, the evil genius and lord of Mordor were smelly, ugly, and bad and none could shake their destiny. What was bred in the bone came out in the flesh. ... Tolkien's fusty belief in hierarchy was probably common in 1930s Oxford, but Peter Jackson's energetic interpretation of it in the 2000s is regressive.
Regressive? Okay.

I don't go to movies much anyway.

By the way - Dilday here wonders how the last of the three The Lord of the Rings films is doing in countries that opposed the war, like France. Well, Le Seigneur Des Anneaux : Le Retour Du Roi is doing quite well, thank you. The very mainstream television network and website TF1 polled it viewers - and the film got the highest "ten" rating: "Plus ?pique, plus grandiose, plus fabuleux, plus... Le troisi?me volet de la trilogie r?alis?e par Peter Jackson est enfin sur les ?crans. Une r?elle et r?jouissante r?ussite. Bravo monsieur Jackson !" Click on lower left of this page and you can watch the trailer in French.

Oh, and while there, you can click on Patricia Kaas - O? sont les homes mentioned here a few weeks ago, and listen to a cut from the new album and check out an interview. Or if you're an old fart click on Johnny Hallyday - Je n'ai jamais pleur?.

Ah, but I digress. The The Lord of the Rings films are imperialistic, racist fantasies that play to the fears of frightened xenophobic old white men who are the leaders of the western world, and enflame their mindless, even more fearful followers to go forth and smite the dusky folks.

Perhaps so.

Posted by Alan at 20:08 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2003 20:13 PST home

Topic: Iraq

The Empire Strikes Out: Two Odd Legal Rulings Today.
Folks seem less trusting these days, don't they?

Basic item:

Court: President cannot detain U.S. citizen as enemy combatant
CNN, Thursday, December 18, 2003 Posted: 2:06 PM EST (1906 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) --In a setback to the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the president does not have the power to detain an American citizen seized on U.S. soil as an enemy combatant. ...
You could read the whole thing, but it has been all over the news.

An appeals court has ruled that "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla can't be held indefinitely without a trial. Basically, the opinion says that the president has no power to detain American citizens without congressional approval, especially given the fact that Congress specifically banned (PDF format) such detentions in 1971:
... the Non-Detention Act provides: "No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress." 18 U.S.C. ?4001(a). The District Court held that this language "encompasses all detentions of United States citizens.

... Both the sponsor of the Act and its primary opponent repeatedly confirmed that the Act applies to detentions by the President during war and other times of national crisis. The legislative history is replete with references to the detentions of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, detentions that were authorized both by congressional acts and by orders issued pursuant to the President's war power. This context convinces us that military detentions were intended to be covered. Finally, the legislative history indicates that Congress understood that exceptions to the Non-Detention Act must specifically authorize detentions.
Thus the constitution does not authorize military detentions and the Non-Detention Act specifically prohibits them. If the president wants authority for military detentions of American citizens caught on U.S. soil, he has to ask Congress for an exemption from the Non-Detention Act, and there's nothing to stop him from doing that. But he didn't.

In the sixty-five page decision has this to say:
The offenses Padilla is alleged to have committed are heinous crimes severely punishable under the criminal laws. Further, under those laws the Executive has the power to protect national security and the classified information upon which it depends. See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. app. ? 3. And if the President believes this authority to be insufficient, he can ask Congress--which has shown its responsiveness--to authorize additional powers.
So that's the basics.

See Padilla v. Rumsfeld, et al for the majority opinion and Padilla v. Rumsfeld, et al [Dissent] for the minority decision. (Both in PDF format.)

The court ordered that Padilla be released from military custody within 30 days, which could force the government to try Padilla in civilian courts. The White House said the government would seek a stay. It is also rumored that the White House and the Justice Department may, in protest, simply ignore the court order and rely on public sentiment that they are right and should be trusted on such matters.

Padilla, as you recall, is accused of plotting to detonate a "dirty bomb," which uses conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials. The government said he had proposed the bomb plot to Abu Zubaydah, then al-Qaida's top terrorism coordinator. Zubaydah was arrested in Pakistan in March 2002.

Interestingly, this former Chicago gang member who converted to Islam was arrested in May 2002 Chicago's O'Hare airport as he returned from Pakistan. Within days, he was moved to a naval brig in Charleston, S.C. That is, he was removed from civilian custody by the military - an American arrested on American soil, but in this case, with no rights, as a "special case."

Note that the only two other people have been designated enemy combatants since the 2001 terrorist attacks: Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar who has been accused of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent, and Esam Hamdi, a Louisiana native captured during the fighting in Afghanistan. In its ruling, the court said it was not addressing the detention of any U.S. citizens seized within a zone of combat in Afghanistan.

So it seems there is an initial ruling that the government, acting solely on the request of the President, cannot designate an American citizen an "enemy combatant" then arrest that citizen, place that citizen in indefinite confinement without access to a lawyer and without charges and without a hearing or trial of any kind, at least on American soil.

Howard Dean and Barbara Streisand can rest easier tonight.

It's hard to see how all of this will play out.

On the talk shows I'm already hearing "the Constitution is not a suicide pact" comments - sometimes you just have to trust the president and assume he would never abuse such powers. The idea is he knows a whole lot more than we do and must have good reasons for doing an end run around the niceties of the Constitution. It's for our own safety. And the courts already have too much power what with legalizing abortion decades ago and now well on the way to legalizing gay marriage. Time to put them in their place.

The other view, that our rights matter, I out there too, obviously. The Bush-Ashcroft-Rumsfeld squad could come for anyone next. Yeah, I suppose. Would they? Probably not.

I doubt the White House would use the third alternative to appealing the decision or ignoring it. That would be martial law, which would render the courts without standing, making them powerless. But one never knows.


Curiously the second ruling today is also a bummer for the administration:

Appeals court says give Guantanamo prisoners legal access,
DAVID KRAVETS, Associated Press, Thursday, December 18, 2003
SAN FRANCISCO - Detainees held at Guant?namo Naval Base in Cuba should have access to lawyers and the American court system, a federal appellate court said Thursday. It was the first appellate ruling in favor of the 660 prisoners at the U.S. base.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' 2-1 decision was a rebuke to the Bush Administration, which maintains that because the men were picked up overseas on suspicion of terrorism and are being held on foreign land, they may be detained indefinitely without charges or trial.
This also will be, no doubt, appealed or ignored.

Why is all this happening - two such rulings in one day?

In a sense the courts may be finally correcting the "overcorrection" of the last years - the blind panic that we are all going to die and must give up the way we used to administer the law in this new and dangerous world.

Or it could be the Bush (and his minions) saying "Trust me" and everyone saying "Fine" has stopped working as well as it had for the last two years. Folks are beginning to wonder.

How the administration reacts to either should be interesting.

Posted by Alan at 14:19 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Culture

The Death Penalty: Bill O'Reilly calls for its use in the matter of book sales statistics. Really!

On the net one of the best examples of what might be called "yellow journalism" is Matt Drudge's site The Drudge Report. I visit it now and then - and it is amusing. Drudge links to some outrageous stuff, and makes his own off-the-wall comments.

Over the last two days he has managed to outrage Bill O'Reilly of Fox News. Cool.

Well, Bill O'Reilly is easily outraged, but this is exceptional. Bill O'Reilly is now saying Drudge is "a threat to democracy" and should be killed.

Say what?

This started yesterday with BOOK YEARENDER: O'REILLY TRAILS FRANKEN IN SCANNED SALES; 'SOUTH BEACH' TOP OF NONFIC LIST - Drudge likes snappy headlines - an item where Drudge reviewed the actual sale of books in this country as reported by barcode scanners where they are sold.

What got Drudge was that Bill O'Reilly had claimed that he is "running against Hillary for most copies of nonfiction books sold this year!" So Drudge decided to get Bill O'Reilly.

Nielsen, the polling company that ranks The O'Reilly Factor the number one show on cable television, currently places O'Reilly at sixth for the year on the nonfiction charts - and Bill O'Reilly's new book, Who's Looking Out for You?, is trailing Al Franken's book mocking Bill O'Reilly by nearly thirty percent. As Nelson Muntz on The Simpsons would say - "Ha, Ha!"

"We've outsold that guy [Franken] all over the place," O'Reilly claimed Monday on NBC's TODAY show. "We're running against Hillary for most copies of non-fiction books sold this year!"

Well, here's the Nielsen list by units scanned:

1. South Beach Diet, Dr. Arthur Agatston - 2,304,608
2. Purpose Driven Life, Warren - 1,507,902
3. Living History, Clinton - 1,084,520
4. Ultimate Weight Solution, McGraw - 836,043
5. Lies and The Lying Liars, Franken - 674,024
6. Who's Looking Out for You, O'Reilly - 430,407
7. Benjamin Franklin, Isaacson - 384,137
8. Dude, Where's My Country, Moore - 365,519
9. Treason, Coulter - 364,848
and so on...

Now what?


Last night on his Fox News show Bill O'Reilly said this: "I mean you can't believe a word Matt Drudge says. Now you've got the Matt Drudges of the world and these other people, Michael Moore and all of these crazies, all right, no responsibility... that is a threat to democracy, I think."

It seems the book's sales ranking was somehow misunderstood, and not seen with the right perspective: "They'll just spin it and twist it and take it out of proportion every which way."

And this morning on MSNBC's cabel show Imus in the Morning O'Reilly called the host, Don Imus, and said this: "There is no other cure than to kill Matt Drudge. I just want to tell everybody that Matt Drudge is smoking crack - right now, in South Miami Beach on Washington Avenue... And the authorities should know it."

Bill O'Reilly on his show The Factor has long held that we should torture all the terrorist suspects we capture - for our own safety. They might know things, after all. And this is war. And he wants to see Saddam Hussein executed, as he deserves that - and, after all, as the most powerful and civilized nation on earth we can do that. Who's going to stop us? France?

Now he wants Drudge eliminated.

Bill O'Reilly is far and away the most popular analyst and commentator in America today. I guess we'd better listen to him.


It's not just one list Bill has to consider. Yesterday USA TODAY published its list of the best-selling books of 2003 and they show this:

7. Living History - Hillary Rodham Clinton

21. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right - Al Franken

60. Dude, Where's My Country? - Michael Moore

63. Who's Looking Out for You? - Bill O'Reilly

Oh well.

Posted by Alan at 09:21 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2003 14:14 PST home

Wednesday, 17 December 2003

Topic: Iraq

Another Hamburger at The Washington Post - What to do with Saddam Hussein now...

In an earlier post I made reference to a long, a book-length poem, In a Cold Season by Michael Hamburger, about the trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann. The core premise of the poem was to raise the question of whether it was good for us that instead of six million dead, we now had six million and one dead. What does that make us?

In the Post today we get the same argument from one of their editorial staff.

See Let Saddam Live
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, Thursday, December 18, 2003; Page A35

Here's this gist of it:
This column may be the most futile of my long career. I am about to plead for Saddam Hussein's life. I do so not because I have the slightest doubt that he is a killer, responsible for taking the lives of many thousands, but because sparing his life would send a message to the world that judicial death - so often abused - is no longer acceptable.
Well, Cohen goes on to review how the death penalty is already illegal in Europe - in fact, renunciation of it is required for admission to the European Union. Yeah, but they're weasels, of course.

Cohen points out that the Untied States, and Sudan and a few others, still executes children (under 18) and the mentally feeble - and, inevitably, the innocent. We think the death penalty is just fine.

Both sides agree. Bush has said Saddam Hussein should be executed, and Joe Lieberman said so too - Sunday on Meet the Press where Lieberman worried that Hussein might be tried in some venue that didn't allow for the death penalty.

The Brits are getting all wimpy on us - Britain's senior envoy to Iraq, Jeremy Greenstock, unfortunately blurted out this: ''The United Kingdom is against the death penalty. So we would have no part of a tribunal or a process that had the death penalty as one of its penalties.''

Perhaps George can have Tony speak with Jeremy about this. The UK abolished the death penalty in 1964 - but the world has changed, right?

As for Lieberman saying we need this death, Cohen points out that probably most of the Democratic presidential candidates agree. Cohen says, rightly, that in the United States the right of the government to take life is almost universally accepted - if not applauded. Yes, in Europe there is no such consensus. Cultural differences. They remember fascist leaders "legally" executing lots of folks - and they didn't like it much at all. The experience made them into skittish wimps, I guess.

Cohen draws a parallel:
In many ways Iraq was the equivalent of a European totalitarian country. Call it Baathist if you will, but Iraq under Saddam Hussein was essentially fascist, with the death penalty meted out willy-nilly, sometimes for serious crimes, sometimes for trivial infractions such as possession of a cell phone. The Iraqis no doubt expect to treat Hussein as he treated them.

It would be marvelous if they were disappointed.

We can do better than an eye for an eye.

We can establish the principle of limited government that should be so dear to American conservatives such as Bush: Among the things government should not do is take a life.
Ah, this Cohen fellow is swimming against the tide. We all know where this is heading. This Hussein fellow will pay with his life.

Cohen adds that Saddam Hussein will certainly understand why he is being executed: "In his reptilian brain, he will understand. He would have done the same thing himself."

Indeed so.

Footnote: Of course such views have been floating around the blogs for a few days. Here's a long one that begins as follows:
If we really wanted to kick-start democracy and try to narrow the differences between Americans, Europeans and Arabs, the White House could contribute the most immense boost to the whole process by declaring tomorrow, for all to hear: We will not seek, indeed, we will actively oppose, the death penalty for Saddam Hussein.

Of course, George W. Bush is in the White House, so nothing of the sort will be said.

But that's what we should do. Not kill Saddam.
And it goes on for quite a while, building the argument quite logically. As if logic were relevant. "Vengeance may sometimes be sweet, but it is always poisonous. So let's break the circle. Let's set an example with Saddam."

Ain't gonna happen.

Posted by Alan at 21:51 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 17 December 2003 22:06 PST home

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