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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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Tuesday, 30 December 2003

Topic: Election Notes

Election Notes: Bush Will Win Because Real Men Are Angry

Much has been said in political circles since Howard Dean mentioned he would seek the "Bubba Vote" - those guys in the pick-up trucks with the gun racks and a Confederate flag in the window. People said Dean was insulting the South, that he was reinforcing vile stereotypes, and that he was out of touch with this or that. And Dean backed off a bit.

I don't agree. Dean, and all who run against Bush, need to consider these guys. I must have come across fifty articles in the last few weeks asserting, in one way or another, that Bush would win the next election because he had the "white male vote" tied up. They were his, whether they were called NASCAR dads or Bubbas or anything else. Any opponent of Bush needs to figure out a way to get some of this vote.

Is it possible? No. Not at all.

Here's a fellow who disagrees with me. Then I disagree with him.

See Why Can't Bubba Vote Democrat?
Allen Snyder, OpEdNews, Tuesday, December 30, 2003

First of all the item came with this disclaimer:
Allen Snyder is an instructor of Philosophy and Ethics. He can be reached at This article is copyright by Allen Snyder and originally published by but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached.
Fine. I've done my duty.

First, defining terms:
'Bubba', you may recall, is the generic name for the guy Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean appealed to; the blue-collar white guy with the pick-up, Confederate Flag (if he's a Southerner - the North has its Bubbas, too), gun rack, spit cup, NASCAR ball cap, 'I Pledge to One Nation Under God' bumper sticker, and big chip on his shoulder.
This now being out of the way, here are Snyder's main points:
At least rich Bubbas have an excuse for voting Republican. They have lotsa money and Republicans love helping rich people get richer, especially if they can get poor Bubbas and their yet-to-be-born children to foot the humungous bill, thank 'em for it, and ask for more.

But what's Poor Bubba's excuse? He doesn't have a pot to piss in. He's living paycheck to paycheck and up to his eyeballs in debt. Meanwhile, GOP hucksters ram through labor, middle, and lower-class unfriendly legislation that screws him over both economically and politically. Rather than punishing them, poor Bubbas from Savannah to El Paso to Knoxville line up every election to vote for more Republicans.

What's happened here? It's trivial to say there's one and only one cause for Bubba's changing attitudes, but the reasons aren't as complicated as you'd think. What attracts Bubba to the GOP is their not-so-closet intolerance, pumping testosterone, and defiant machismo.

You see, Bubba don't like too many people. He's got a 'problem' with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Asians, Europeans (especially the French), the camel jockeys, towel-heads, fags, Jews, Catholics, atheists, tree-huggers, liberals, commies, and the ACLU. But what he really hates is blacks and women, especially those with power. All Bubbas are dangerously narrow-minded and are either racists, sexists, or homophobes, a combination of these, or in extreme, but not entirely rare instances, a heady mix of all of them (think Senator Santorum - Yikes!).

Bubba tends to like other Confederate flag waving God-fearing Protestants, have a 'nuke 'em all to hell' mentality, trust the government without question (unless it's full of Goddamn bleedin' heart liberal Democrats), hate dissenters, like his womenfolk figuratively barefoot/pregnant and literally submissive, and his blacks in their place.

He lives vicariously through military action, a testosterone-fest if ever there was one, imaginarily killing and maiming his way to world dominance.

Pacifists are pussies, the ends justify the means, if you want something - take it, and the USA is #1!

Bubba idolizes Rush and O'Reilly, and thinks Ann Coulter often 'makes some good points'. They get it. They know him, are him, and feel his pain (they say). They fan his anger and frustration, directing it toward the evil liberals, peaceniks, and Democrats responsible for this national cultural nightmare. They willingly enable his various 'isms', phobias, and fears.

Bubba's afraid he's lost control, lost power, become a minority in his own country. He's the victim of an evil liberal plot to de-white the country.

Everybody wants to take him down, make him pay, and the only ones who care are Republicans. 'It's OK to hate women, fags, and blacks', the GOP happily says, 'we don't like 'em, either - and we run the government!'
Well, all perhaps a bit over the top. But I know some of these guys. There's enough truth here to consider the implications. Would that this had been put in a more measured, scholarly fashion.

Of course, as Snyder points out, Democrats, on the other hand, are the party of Civil Rights, blacks, gays, feminism, the environment, international cooperation, and world peace - all things Bubba thinks the world would be better without. "Bubba wants and needs the security of being in charge, being top dog, and BushCo's GOP-sponsored plan for world domination through oppressive fear, bullying intimidation, and manly war neatly fits the bill."

Yep, a problem. So, how can the Democratic Party get votes from these guys?
Democrats have to stick to the issues; they can't let themselves get too tangled up in taking sides in the 'cultural war' questions of the day. They can't get any real mileage out of affirmative action, the pledge of allegiance, and gay marriage, 'cause the right sings Bubba's tune on those issues.

But what Bubba doesn't know is how much he's been lied to about things he actually cares about - war and the economy. Bubba's dying in Iraq and being sucked dry at home. The left needs to do more than simply confront Bubba with BushCo's destructive policies and their hideous consequences. They need to show Bubba how badly BushCo lies about everything and do so unceasingly.

'Cause if there's one thing Bubba hates more than being out of beer on game day, it's being made a fool of.
I think Snyder is wrong. These votes will never come back.

I suspect the voter bloc he identifies admires crafty liars. This bloc no doubt knows it has been lied to. So what? The cultural issues identified here carry far more weight.

How can you argue with the obvious - with a whole bloc of voters who pretty much tell you "Bush may be a liar, but he's our kind of liar, and he puts uppity folks in their place."

These guys will gladly be "economically exploited" if in return they can feel some cultural control, a feel a part of the power that rules the world.

Write off these votes.

Posted by Alan at 16:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 30 December 2003 16:05 PST home

Topic: Iraq

Today's Examples of Forceful Writing: Candidates for the Purple Prose Award
Over at Princeton University one of the fellows in the Computer Sciences Department takes a stab at political analysis. He writes a lengthy analysis of current US foreign policy, and it is a good read. But the prose style is most "unscholarly" - so to speak. "Our foreign policy is fueled by overt paranoia and an imperious sense of omnipotence." Really? "Its shrill, threatening rhetoric, relentlessly echoed by a gang of media goons, has coarsened public discourse and alienated friends and allies." Maybe so.

See Bush's Desolate Imperium by Bernard Chazelle

Here's a sample:
Ah, the ease with which George W. Bush attracts superlatives! Helen Thomas calls him "the worst president ever." A kinder, gentler Jonathan Chait ranks him "among the worst presidents in US history." No such restraint from Paul Berman, who brands him "the worst president the US has ever had." Nobel Laureate George Akerlof rates his government as the "worst ever." Even Bushie du jour, Christopher Hitchens, calls the man "unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things." Only Fidel Castro, it would appear, has had kind words for our 43rd President. "Hopefully, he is not as stupid as he seems, nor as Mafia-like as his predecessors were."

Vain hopes. In a mere three years, President Bush has compiled a record of disasters that Fidel could only envy. While cutting taxes for the rich, starving out federal programs for the poor, dismantling environmental protections, riding roughshod over civil liberties, and running the largest budget deficit in history, his administration has pursued a "law of the jungle" brand of foreign policy fueled by overt paranoia and an imperious sense of omnipotence. Its shrill, threatening rhetoric, relentlessly echoed by a gang of media goons, has coarsened public discourse and alienated friends and allies.

At home, Bush has stoked the fears of a public traumatized by 9/11 and encountered rare success preaching an "us-against-them" Weltanschauung soaked in self-righteousness. Dissent has been equated with lack of patriotism, illegal detentions have gone unchallenged, and racial profiling has been given new life. In the run-up to the war, international disapproval met with sophomoric tantrums ("freedom fries, anyone?") and vindictive hissy fits (canceled exchange programs with French high schools): hardly America's finest hour.

Abroad, the image of the United States has never been worse. Ever. While the horrors of 9/11 prompted an unprecedented outpouring of sympathy for the US worldwide, Bush squandered it all away and morphed "America the Benevolent Giant" into "America the Shrill Bully." Bush's vision of a dog-eat-dog Hobbesian universe in which the US plays by its own rules is repellent to most nations.
He goes in this vain for many pages. You may not agree with him, but he does build up a head of steam.

The item is quite long, but quite lively.

The other bit of purple prose you will find in yesterday's item in Cold Fury posted by Arthur Silber

Check out this to his pro-war friends who fill their web logs (blogs) with comments on the debt the Iraqis owe us for freeing them:
In view of the fact that Saddam most probably would not have achieved or maintained power in the first place without our aid, considering that we supported him in countless ways while knowing a great deal about his vicious and brutal tactics, and in light of the fact that we stood by while thousands of Iraqis were killed after we ourselves had encouraged them to rise up against the evil of Saddam's rule, the Iraqis owe us precisely nothing. To the contrary - and try to get this simple moral truth through your incredibly thick and intentionally self-blinded skull - we owe them. Indeed, we owe them so much that it can never be repaid - and once again, we appear to be failing miserably in our attempts to right our past wrongs. We are failing because, yet again, we have refused to learn anything from the past, and we are therefore repeating all the same mistakes over and over and over again.

I want to state one thing very clearly and unmistakably for the benefit of any warbloggers who might read this -- particularly those warbloggers and other hawks who strut their self-announced moral superiority and constantly shove it in the face of everyone else, and who act as if any disagreement with their historically ignorant views of the world constitutes some sort of treason. You are the enemies of America - just as you are the enemies of thought, of history, of ideas, of any conception of what genuine liberty means, and how it is to be achieved.

You are a disgrace to this once-great nation, and if you have your way, this nation will follow many others on the route of total self-destruction in a conflagration of military might strewn purposelessly and mindlessly around the globe, while an increasingly authoritarian government destroys what remains of freedom here in the United States. And I also want to make it clear that there are many of us who are not at all cowed by your moral blustering. Many of us see it exactly for what it is: the phony posturing of a coward who relies on intimidation in place of argument, who feels that shouting mindless slogans will silence any opposing viewpoints, no matter how well-reasoned, and who counts on the reluctance or unwillingness of his opponents to stand up to the taunts of an obviously ignorant bully.

As your hollow and offensive tactics increasingly reveal themselves to be almost entirely devoid of thought, of any kind of historical grounding, and of any basis in principle, I think more and more people will call your bluff - and finally shame you into silence. You are anti-American in every important sense: you have no understanding of individual freedom or how it is maintained, you have no appreciation of the dynamics of foreign affairs, and you have no grasp of how ideas or a culture of freedom are spread.

So, as I have said before and with a deeply grateful nod to a genuinely great American whose greatness is lost on you, and with regard to your uninformed, incorrect and disgustingly ignorant charges of anti-Americanism and disloyalty, I repeat yet again: If this be treason, make the most of it.
Wow. This fellow doesn't like ambiguity. And was that last comment a challenge to Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly? Let the fun begin.

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

Topic: The Culture

News Items That Provoke Thought

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University. He writes this from Canberra:

A mission for moderates
Amin Saikal, The International Herald Tribune, Monday, December 29, 2003

He sees three kinds of really unhelpful people:
Three minority extremist groups - the militant fundamentalist Islamists exemplified at the far edge by Al Qaeda, certain activist elements among America's reborn Christians and neoconservatives, and the most inflexible hard-line Zionists from Israel - have emerged as dangerously destabilizing actors in world politics. Working perversely to reinforce each other's ideological excesses, they have managed to drown out mainstream voices from all sides. Each has the aim of changing the world according to its own individual vision.

If these extremists are not marginalized, they could succeed in creating a world order with devastating consequences for generations to come.
Come now.

Is he saying the fanatical Muslims, the born-again Christian right and the Sharon-Likud-Zionist folks are all cut from the same cloth? Yep. Worth a look. It's a convincing argument.

Another item of note comes from Reuters.

See Phony Paris Hiltons Buy Plenty of Pizza
Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Attorney General John Ashcroft does have something in common with Paris Hilton:
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The simple life has rubbed off on hotel heiress Paris Hilton - or so one would think judging by the amount of Domino's pepperoni pizza ordered in her name.

"Paris Hilton" is the No. 1 fake name used by people calling for pizza deliveries, according to a survey of Domino's Pizza drivers in Washington, D.C., released Monday by the pizza delivery chain. And 38 percent of those using the name of the socialite model ordered pepperoni topping.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft might want to open an investigation into these findings -- he was No. 2 on the list of assumed names used by people ordering pizza.

Of course, given his conservative bent, he probably wasn't among those answering the door in the nude, who the survey said tend to tip better than people who answer in their pajamas.
Ah, I recall my friend Cindy more than once greeted the pizza delivery person in the altogether. But I digress.

The item has all sorts of odd details. You will discover people with "Dean for President" bumper stickers on cars in their driveways tipped twenty-two percent higher than people with "Bush for President" bumper stickers. And people with "Bush for President" bumper stickers were three times more likely to order meat-topped pizzas than "Dean for President" drivers. I'm sure this all means something. But I don't know what.

Posted by Alan at 13:32 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 30 December 2003 17:19 PST home

Monday, 29 December 2003

Topic: Iraq

If George Orwell argued that "The whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish day-dream" then are George Bush and the rest of us childish for being so pleased with the idea that really bad people should be executed, and proud of our record of doing so as often as possible? Could Orwell be wrong?

This is worth a read.

George Packer. The New Yorker, Issue of 2004-01-05, Posted 2003-12-29

Packer opens with this:
"Revenge Is Sour" is the title that George Orwell gave to a short essay on war-crimes trials, written just after the Second World War. "The whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish day-dream," he argued. "Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also." He cited the story of an old woman reported to have fired five shots into the body of Benito Mussolini, one for each of her dead sons. "I wonder how much satisfaction she got out of those five shots, which, doubtless, she had dreamed years earlier of firing," Orwell wrote. "The condition of her being able to get near enough to Mussolini to shoot at him was that he should be a corpse."

If revenge is psychologically impossible, justice is politically necessary - not the fantasy of righting monumental wrongs but the reality of holding wrongdoers to account. The twentieth century came and went without justice. None of the century's great totalitarians ever had to sit at a defense table, confer with lawyers, rise with the court when the judge entered the room. Mussolini was lynched; Hitler committed suicide; Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot died in old age. Two international tribunals are currently grinding away at more recent crimes; but the Hutu propagandists convicted of genocide in Rwanda last month were barely known outside that country, and Slobodan Milosevic was a second-tier dictator. The trial of Saddam Hussein will be the first of a world-class mass murderer. The number of potential counts against Saddam exceeds half a million. Behind the Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni Arab Iraqis who were his principal victims stand Iranians and Kuwaitis with war-crimes charges of their own. Saddam imposed his name, his face, and his will on Iraqi history to a degree that makes lesser cults of personality seem like ordinary narcissism. The symbolic importance of his trial is exactly proportionate to his vast power.
You can imagine how the rest of it runs.
Ann Clwyd, Tony Blair's special representative to Iraq, proclaimed, using American jargon, that Saddam's capture would bring "some kind of closure" to Iraqis. This thinking recalls the Bush Administration's original idea of a simple war of liberation, and shows as little grasp of the reality of Iraqis' lives. The insurgency against American and coalition forces gives no sign of relenting. Its inspirational leader has been ignobly caught, but guerrilla wars are seldom centrally controlled, the foreign occupiers remain in Iraq as targets, and the prospect of a more representative government is as threatening as ever to the privileged status of the country's Sunni Arabs. Nothing has been closed.
Bringing closure - I never knew what then meant, or more precisely, how it was supposed to work. A bad guy kills my family, then the state kills him, and I feel all better. I don't get it. My family is not coming back. It allows me to stop obsessing about revenge so I can go back to work and be normal? Maybe that's it.

Anyway, there is a long discussion here of what kind of trial Saddam Hussein might have and all the implications of what might be said. A good analysis of what can be done with Hussein.

But Packer ends with this:
... at least a trial will bring Iraqis face to face with what was done to them and what they became. In this sense, Saddam's capture represents the opposite of "closure." "I hate this man to the core of my bones," an Iraqi engineer told a Times reporter after watching footage of the King of the Arabs submitting to a mouth inspection like a vagrant at a mobile health clinic. "And yet, I can't tell you why, I feel sorry for him, to be so humiliated. It is as if he and Iraq have become the same thing." Separating Iraq from Saddam will be far harder than toppling a statue or capturing a fugitive. One way to begin is by resisting the illusion that killing Saddam will cleanse the legacy of Baathist rule, which, after all, was launched with televised trials and public hangings.
What? We try the guy, we execute him, and everyone feels lots better. Done. Achieving closure is a false concept?

I think it is. But the arrayed forces of American psychobabble are formidable.

Posted by Alan at 18:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 29 December 2003 18:40 PST home

Topic: The Culture

On Bullies: Some Things People Are Saying

First of all I came across this "letter to the editor" in Slate that was pretty good - and the whole thing is much longer.
Subject: "Aggressive Use of Force Against -- What?"
From: BeverlyMann
Date: Sun Dec 28 1642h

... Bush is concertedly provoking hatred of America and sympathy and support for al Qaeda, because there appears to be a close correlation between his aggressive and abrasive persona toward the rest of the world and his political popularity among white American men.

Or, more to the point, there appears to be a close correlation between Bush's aggressive and abrasive persona toward the rest of the world and his political popularity among white American men who themselves are not in the military or national guard and who don't have a child or other close relative who is.
Curious. An "aggressive and abrasive persona" is a desirable asset in the political world. Howard Dean should then do well.

Ah, but we are told "anger" will not win elections. That's what Dean's opponents are saying. One thinks of an angry man running for president in 1948 - "Give 'em Hell, Harry." That would be Truman. His "angry" persona led to Dewey trouncing him so badly, didn't it? Not exactly.

But that was a long time ago. Things must be different now.

Then I came across this:

Sam Smith, The Progressive Review, Monday, December 29, 2003

Here Smith, provides a long preamble regarding how "the Republican right has engaged in a politics of cultural bullying that is the direct descendent of the southern segregationists. It is based on anathematizing a minority in order to solidify its own political base around false assumptions of purity and superiority..." - and so on. Then he gets to an interesting place.

Smith asks us to imagine, for example, a Democratic candidate who is asked in a debate, "What do you think about gay marriages" and replies with this:
"I'm a heterosexual and I'm married so I don't think about it much at all. What does bother me is when one group in this country tries to foist their personal values on another, and even tries to enforce it with a constitutional amendment. That's about as un-American as you can get. If you don't like gay marriages, then don't become a gay and don't get married.

"I'm not asking you to approve of gay marriages anymore than I would ask you to believe in the Virgin birth or the apocalypse. But what if someone told you that it should be illegal to practice rites presaging the second coming of Christ? Should we have a constitutional amendment to ban that, too?

"What I am asking you to do is to be good, decent and fair-minded Americans and practice the sort of reciprocal liberty in which citizens say to each other, I will respect your liberty because I expect you to respect mine. We do not have to agree, we do not have to approve of each other, we do not even have to like either other, but we do have to share this land and our community fairly. That is what being an American is about.

"In my campaign I am trying to gain support of as wide a cross-section of America as I can. To do this, I may sometimes compromise, I sometimes equivocate, but I will not - as conservative politicians so often do - expel, isolate, and eliminate constituencies simply because they do not look or think like me. I will not sneakily encourage others to hate and bully. To do so is to take us back to shameful times, such as to that time less than 40 years ago when you could be arrested and jailed for being married to the wrong person - not then because of the person's sex but because of their skin color.

"As a public official I will not debate the issue of gay marriage because it is not the business of public officials. It is the business of religions and of the individuals involved. If the state can write a church's rules on marriage, it can determine how holy communion is performed and how its bishops are selected. But it can't do that because the constitution says it can't.

"We live in a society in which, over the past few decades, the division over another cultural issue - abortion - has been the subject of a bitter, costly and ultimately pointless debate with few minds changed along the way. What if we had understood at the start that our proper goal was not to force everyone to agree with us, but to make sure that each side could practice its beliefs without interference by the other. That would have been the truly American solution to the problem."

"Being American means living in close proximity with people whose values, intrinsic nature or behavior may not just be different, but which you may not like at all. Does that mean we just sit on our front porches and glare at our neighbors? Or worse? It doesn't have to be that way.

"It is not a conservative or liberal matter and it is not an issue of morality; it is an issue of whether we will treat other Americans with fairness and respect or as playground bullies and cultural tyrants."
This hypothetical candidate would be crucified for saying such things. But it sure is a cool speculation.

And one more thing that will never happen.

Posted by Alan at 18:07 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 29 December 2003 18:52 PST home

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