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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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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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Saturday, 20 December 2003

Topic: Music

Lenin on Beethoven
"Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast."
Not exactly.

"I know of nothing more beautiful than the Appassionata, I could hear it every day. It is marvellous, unearthly music. Every time I hear these notes, I think with pride and perhaps childlike naivete, that it is wonderful what man can accomplish. But I cannot listen to music often, it affects my nerves. I want to say amiable stupidities and stroke the heads of the people who can create such beauty in a filthy hell. But today is not the time to stroke people's heads; today hands descend to split skulls open, split them open ruthlessly, although opposition to all violence is our ultimate ideal--it is a hellishly hard task."

- Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, quoted in Maxim Gorky, Days with Lenin

Posted by Alan at 19:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Iraq

Bitter Brits: They may be our allies, but it seems they really don't share our values, or our insights into causation....

In today's Guardian one finds a bit of a disconnect with our kipper-breakfasting friends.

This is not a big problem as The Guardian has always been a bit outspoken and left of center, thus the Fox News fans and Rush Limbaugh "dittoheads" can say that this particular news source, like the BBC, obviously hates America - and thus wants Saddam to return to power and have everyone eat French cheeses and have everyone actually approve of the silly people who choose to act "gay" and give them legal rights and so on.

Oh well. For what it's worth, the two Saturday items are quite negative.

The first claims executing folks isn't a nice thing to do. This is a very anti-American view.

See Bush wants Saddam to hang, but we must resist
The US president is reflecting his own brutish view of the world
Max Hastings, The Guardian, Saturday December 20, 2003

Max has this to say:
America's wealth and power are inescapable realities. It seems self-indulgent to lavish emotional and intellectual energy on deploring the shortcomings of the world's only superpower. From Tony Blair downwards, all of us must focus on coming to terms with the US, rather than figuratively waving placards to demand that this great nation should be something other than it is.
How generous of Max. He doesn't want to change us at all.

But Max adds:
Yet, it is hard not to hate George Bush. His ignorance and conceit, his professed special relationship with God, invite revulsion. A few weeks ago, I heard a British diplomat observe sagely: "We must not demonise Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz." Why not? The US defence secretary and his assistant have implemented coalition policy in Iraq in a fashion that makes Soviet behaviour in Afghanistan in the 1970s appear dextrous. The British are hapless passengers on the Pentagon's juggernaut.
Hey Max, what the problem?

Here's what Max says:
The president's personal odyssey touched a new low this week, when he asserted publicly that Saddam Hussein should die. After a fair trial, he says, Iraq's former dictator should swing or be shot, though Washington thinks it expedient to delegate Iraqis to do the business.

Max knows Tony Blair will fall in line this, and it bothers him:
There will be no trouble with the British government about this scenario. Downing Street's line suggests a script originally written for Pontius Pilate. Tony Blair declares that what an Iraqi administration chooses to do with Saddam is absolutely no business of Britain's. If the powers-that-will-be in Iraq decide he should take an early bath on the scaffold, then what can Britain's prime minister do, save shrug?

In reality, Bush's eagerness to see Saddam swing reflects not an overarching objection to murderous dictators, but an ad hominem desire to complete the liberation of Iraq with a gesture that fits his own brutish view of the world. The least Blair can do, on Britain's behalf, is to say that we can no more endorse the sponsorship of a hanging carried out by Iraqi stooges of the coalition, than fly out Geoff Hoon to do the job personally.
Max, Tony won't say a thing. Tony sold the UK to us lock stock and barrel - or to put it another way, Tony is George's bitch now.

Get over it.

Then there's this, an item that suggests some things should be connected which Americans simply will not connect, and other things decoupled that Americans connect. Isn't it a bit presumptuous for a Brit to tell us we have facts wrong?

See Only disconnect
It's official: there is no link between cause and effect in our crazy world
Al Kennedy, The Guardian, Saturday December 20, 2003

Well, I haven't read Howard's End in a long time, but I do remember the last line. Be that as it may, Al starts his ironic so-very-British-rant this way:
Just because one event follows another, it doesn't mean one causes the other. Which is why it would be ludicrous to link resistance to the occupation of Iraq with the occupation of Iraq. And we shouldn't link the US throwing its weight around like a drunk sailor at an Amish wedding with turmoil in North Korea, South Korea, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bali, the Philippines, Taiwan, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Russia, Georgia - oh, just pick a name in your atlas, if it's not right now it soon will be.

But there are no links. So the Pentagon suddenly takes an interest in the numbers of dead Iraqi Muslims - so what? There is no connection between the Pentagon and the dead. Take Riad Khalas Abdallah, for example - one minute he was 25 years old and driving along in Kirkuk in an unarmed way, the next he was dead. This had nothing to do with the US troops who shot at him. Muslims die very easily, they are delicate and can blow up at any time - but this isn't because of anything. They're just made that way. You simply have to bulldoze their homes, concentrate them in secured areas and hope. Every Iraqi in Awja is much safer now it's razor wired shut, and look at the long-term joy those walls are bringing Gaza.
Well, everyone makes mistakes. And as for that Gaza reference, well, George Bush has said Ariel Sharon is "a man of peace." Al, who are you going to believe?

The Canadian business was unfortunate perhaps:
When the US secretly deports Canadian citizen Maher Arar to Syria, it's not because prisoners are known to be tortured there. And it's a coincidence when he happens to end up being tortured. And a complete fluke that US companies export "crime control" equipment to regimes known to torture systematically. Torture is not US policy.
Indeed, torture is not our policy. As Donald Rumsfeld is fond of saying, however, democracy is messy and things happen. And we may apologize to Canada - maybe - if they're good.

Anyway, Al's list of things we really should connect is sarcastically listed here:
You also shouldn't link: a) Draconian suppression of US dissent by hardline police chiefs like Miami's John Timoney, the FBI and private security companies with Republican funding; b) "embedding" of Republican journalists with police departments during anti-war demonstrations; c) Cheney and Halliburton kickbacks; d) Perle and Boeing kickbacks; e) the epidemic introduction of dodgy Diebold voting software before the next presidential elections; f) the Universal National Service Act 2003. If you do link them you'll just get this queasy, d?j? vu, Nazi feeling and have to lie down.

And there is no Nazi link with George Bush, grandson of one of the Reich's bankers, now overseeing Operation Iron Hammer - the charming revival of a Luftwaffe codename for the attempted crushing of the Iraqi resistance. And don't link George's famous dodging of national service, the last time it was all the rage, with any trouble he might have relating to (non-Wehrmacht) military types, leading him to defraud them of benefits, put them in the way of death and amputation, disappear their casualties, embarrass them with premature victory banners, jazz up his foreign trips using fake Thanksgiving photo ops involving a "model" turkey dinner - perhaps because a real one would have been too heavy and caused George's arms to shake. Lord knows, that's the kind of heart-breaking distress you wouldn't want to force on anyone.
Look here, Al, we are told these are NOT connected. We're patriots and must agree.

The item ends with this: "Remember - life is chaos. The fewer the links, the greater the joy".

Hey, that's what Fox News is for, patriotic joy.

Ah these Brits, so skeptical!

Posted by Alan at 08:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 20 December 2003 09:06 PST home

Friday, 19 December 2003

Topic: The Economy

Free Trade: How Airplanes Get Purchased

In today's issue Le Figaro looks at the issue of shrimps for Airbuses...

France wants to sell Airbuses to Thailand but Thailand wants to sell its shrimps to Europe.

Prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra says Thailand will buy Boeings from America unless the French authorities lobby Brussels to ensure that Thai shrimps are given a better chance in Europe.

An anomaly in trade rules means Thai shrimps face a twelve percent import levy in Europe whereas shrimps from Malaysia can be sold to Europe at only a four percent customs charge.

Bring our shrimps into line with Malaysia's, say the Thais, or we'll buy Boeings.

Boeing is in a bit of a slump. They've got a new plane, but no one much wants that new 7E7 "Dreamliner" thing. This could help.

The article is only available for a fee on the net.

La Tha?lande veut faire voler les crevettes
V?ziane de Vezins, le Fiagro, 19 d?cembre 2003

Am?rique, par exemple et au hasard. Bangkok commandera des escadrilles de Boeing aux Etats-Unis qui, eux, se feront un plaisir d'accueillir ? des tarifs pr?f?rentiels les nu?es de...

As for Saturday's issue, you don't even want to know about this one:

Enqu?te sur l'affaire Halliburton
Eric Decouty, le Fiagro, 20 d?cembre 2003

Pour la premi?re fois en France, une information judiciaire a ?t? ouverte pour ?corruption d'agent public ?tranger?. Elle vise notamment la soci?t? fran?aise Technip et l'am?ricaine Halliburton associ?es dans une op?ration au Nigeria. Une telle enqu?te internationale est possible depuis l'adoption en 1997 de la convention de l'OCDE ?sur la lutte contre la corruption d'agents publics ?trangers dans les n?gociations commerciales?, entr?e en vigueur en droit fran?ais depuis 2000. C'est donc dans ce nouveau cadre juridique que le juge Renaud Van Ruymbeke m?ne ses investigations et que le parquet de Paris envisage la mise en cause de l'actuel vice-pr?sident de Etats-Unis, Richard Cheney, en sa qualit? d'ex-PDG de Halliburton... .

You get the idea.

Posted by Alan at 20:35 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 19 December 2003 20:59 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

Well, he wasn't a very good running back. Now he's left wing.

Former Denver Bronco Reggie Rivers is the host of "Drawing the Line" Wednesdays on KBDI Channel 12, Denver. And his stats were not that impressive.

Now he's doing political commentary.

See We believed because we were scared
Reggie Rivers,The Denver Post, Friday, December 19, 2003

It's the usual:
I was at first stunned and then elated by the images of a defeated, disoriented and disheveled Saddam Hussein submitting to an inspection for lice and having a flashlight shined into his mouth. The picture painted far more than 1,000 words.

But as someone who opposed this war, the capture of Hussein does not distract from the basic issues that need to be examined.

The problem with this war is that President Bush and his staff told a series of deliberate lies and/or gross misrepresentations in order to convince the American people to support military action in Iraq.
Yeah, yeah.

And he trots this out:
If you listen to President Bush today, you'd think that the American people were primarily thinking about poor Iraqis. He's making the case that "Operation Iraqi Freedom" wasn't just a clever name for a war; it was actually the primary mission. The capture of Hussein is proof that it was worthwhile.

But even though Americans are generous, I doubt most citizens would have supported a plan to spend $150 billion and hundreds of American lives if the primary goal was to rescue the Iraqi people.

A year and a half ago, President Bush doubted it, too. That's why he didn't ask us to take this on as a humanitarian effort. Instead, he told us that we had to act because we were in immediate danger.

He argues that we agreed to a war because we were scared to death. And Bush fed that fear.

This is more interesting for the source of the comments. When you've lost the NFL, then Karl Rove should start to worry.

Posted by Alan at 20:07 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 19 December 2003 19:54 PST home

Topic: The Economy

Face it. You're never going to get rich. This life of yours? You're stuck. Get used to it.
Goodbye, Horatio Alger. And goodbye, American Dream. Really?

Is it true that inequality is getting worse, social mobility is declining, and it's all being helped along by very deliberate policy decisions. I wonder how long it will take before even conservatives admit that it's a real problem?

The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has a column that just appeared in The Nation and is getting a lot of comment. Yes, most on the right consider him a raging, left wing pessimist, full of unwarranted doom and gloom. Maybe so. But he is often insightful, if a bit dour.

See The Death of Horatio Alger
Paul Krugman, The Nation, posted December 18, 2003 [from the January 5, 2004 issue]
The other day I found myself reading a leftist rag that made outrageous claims about America. It said that we are becoming a society in which the poor tend to stay poor, no matter how hard they work; in which sons are much more likely to inherit the socioeconomic status of their father than they were a generation ago.

The name of the leftist rag? Business Week, which published an article titled "Waking Up From the American Dream." The article summarizes recent research showing that social mobility in the United States (which was never as high as legend had it) has declined considerably over the past few decades. If you put that research together with other research that shows a drastic increase in income and wealth inequality, you reach an uncomfortable conclusion: America looks more and more like a class-ridden society.

And guess what? Our political leaders are doing everything they can to fortify class inequality, while denouncing anyone who complains - or even points out what is happening - as a practitioner of "class warfare."
Is this man serious? Can't anyone grow up to be president? George Bush did. Well, maybe he's not a good example. Some say he started out a bit ahead, so to speak.

Krugman of course, being a Yale (or is it Princeton?) economist with his fancy PhD and all his books on economic theory, does review income distribution data. You can click on the link for all the details, but these stuck me:
According to estimates by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez - confirmed by data from the Congressional Budget Office - between 1973 and 2000 the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers actually fell by 7 percent. Meanwhile, the income of the top 1 percent rose by 148 percent, the income of the top 0.1 percent rose by 343 percent and the income of the top 0.01 percent rose 599 percent. (Those numbers exclude capital gains, so they're not an artifact of the stock-market bubble.)
Well, yes, the rich get richer, but perhaps this has always been so.

And that leads to this:
As a general rule, once they've reached their 30s, people don't move up and down the income ladder very much. Conservatives often cite studies like a 1992 report by Glenn Hubbard, a Treasury official under the elder Bush who later became chief economic adviser to the younger Bush, that purport to show large numbers of Americans moving from low-wage to high-wage jobs during their working lives. But what these studies measure, as the economist Kevin Murphy put it, is mainly "the guy who works in the college bookstore and has a real job by his early 30s." Serious studies that exclude this sort of pseudo-mobility show that inequality in average incomes over long periods isn't much smaller than inequality in annual incomes.
Well drat! If you can't trust the conservatives on economic facts, who can you trust?

Here's Krugman on how this all is playing out, and he sees some "bad guys" of course -
Business Week attributes this to the "Wal-Martization" of the economy, the proliferation of dead-end, low-wage jobs and the disappearance of jobs that provide entry to the middle class. That's surely part of the explanation. But public policy plays a role - and will, if present trends continue, play an even bigger role in the future.

Put it this way: Suppose that you actually liked a caste society, and you were seeking ways to use your control of the government to further entrench the advantages of the haves against the have-nots. What would you do?

One thing you would definitely do is get rid of the estate tax, so that large fortunes can be passed on to the next generation. More broadly, you would seek to reduce tax rates both on corporate profits and on unearned income such as dividends and capital gains, so that those with large accumulated or inherited wealth could more easily accumulate even more. You'd also try to create tax shelters mainly useful for the rich. And more broadly still, you'd try to reduce tax rates on people with high incomes, shifting the burden to the payroll tax and other revenue sources that bear most heavily on people with lower incomes.

Meanwhile, on the spending side, you'd cut back on healthcare for the poor, on the quality of public education and on state aid for higher education. This would make it more difficult for people with low incomes to climb out of their difficulties and acquire the education essential to upward mobility in the modern economy.

And just to close off as many routes to upward mobility as possible, you'd do everything possible to break the power of unions, and you'd privatize government functions so that well-paid civil servants could be replaced with poorly paid private employees.

It all sounds sort of familiar, doesn't it?
Ah, yes it does.

Where is this taking us? Will this eventually create "a class of rentiers in the U.S., whereby a small group of wealthy but untalented children controls vast segments of the US economy and penniless, talented children simply can't compete."

Will we end up suffering not only from injustice, but from a vast waste of human potential, as Krugman fears?

Who cares? I got mine.

Posted by Alan at 11:29 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 19 December 2003 12:23 PST home

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