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

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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Wednesday, 31 December 2003

Topic: Photos

The Last Sunset of 2003 Over Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood
Wednesday, December 31, 2003 17:15 PST
Done. A new year will arrive soon. Fine with me.




Posted by Alan at 17:01 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Topic: World View

Franco-American Relations: The Diplomatic War Intensifies
It's not going to be pretty.


On Friday, 19 December 2003 in these pages I mentioned an item that was being published the next day in le Fiagro that was most curious.

Here's the passage (no longer available on the net):
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.
And now the domestic press has picked it up.

See Will the French Indict Cheney?
Doug Ireland, The Nation, posted online on December 29, 2003

The gist of it?
Yet another sordid chapter in the murky annals of Halliburton might well lead to the indictment of Dick Cheney by a French court on charges of bribery, money-laundering and misuse of corporate assets.

At the heart of the matter is a $6 billion gas liquification factory built in Nigeria on behalf of oil mammoth Shell by Halliburton - the company Cheney headed before becoming Vice President - in partnership with a large French petroengineering company, Technip. Nigeria has been rated by the anticorruption watchdog Transparency International as the second-most corrupt country in the world, surpassed only by Bangladesh.

One of France's best-known investigating magistrates, Judge Renaud van Ruymbeke - who came to fame by unearthing major French campaign finance scandals in the 1990s that led to a raft of indictments - has been conducting a probe of the Nigeria deal since October. And, three days before Christmas, the Paris daily Le Figaro front-paged the news that Judge van Ruymbeke had notified the Justice Ministry that Cheney might be among those eventually indicted as a result of his investigation.

According to accounts in the French press, Judge van Ruymbeke believes that some or all of $180 million in so-called secret "retrocommissions" paid by Halliburton and Technip were, in fact, bribes given to Nigerian officials and others to grease the wheels for the refinery's construction.

These reports say van Ruymbeke has fingered as the bagman in the operation a 55-year-old London lawyer, Jeffrey Tesler, who has worked for Halliburton for some thirty years. It was Tesler who was paid the $180 million as a "commercial consultant" through a Gibraltar-based front company he set up called TriStar. TriStar, in turn, got the money from a consortium set up for the Nigeria deal by Halliburton and Technip and registered in Madeira, the Portuguese offshore island where taxes don't apply. According to Agence France-Presse, a former top Technip official, Georges Krammer, has testified that the Madeira-based consortium was a "slush fund" controlled by Halliburton - through its subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root - and Technip. Krammer, who is cooperating with the investigation, also swore that Tesler was imposed as the intermediary by Halliburton over the objections of Technip.
Cool. Uncle Dick may be in trouble.

And the questions come up.
The suspected bribe money was mostly ladled out between 1995 and 2000, when Cheney was Halliburton's CEO. The Journal du Dimanche reported on December 21 that "it is probable that some of the 'retrocommissions' found their way back to the United States" and asked, did this money go "to Halliburton's officials? To officials of the Republican Party?" These questions have so far gone unasked by America's media, which have completely ignored the explosive Le Figaro headline revealing the targeting of Cheney. It will be interesting to see if the US press looks seriously into this ticking time-bomb of a scandal before the November elections.
Now wait a minute! Who ignored the story? Not MY readers!

It seems as if the new year is shaping up as a real political donnybrook between France and the United States.

One gets the feeling our government is edging toward revoking the right of Air France to land anywhere in this country. The whole thing with the cancelled Air France flights from Paris to Los Angeles last week seems to many a political set up - we told them bad guys were going to be on those flights, and urged them to cancel the flights, which they willingly did, and then they could find none of these bad guys, because they never showed up at CDG and perhaps never were going to show up. Then we called them incompetent and berated them for announcing they were canceling the flights when we obviously wanted to catch the bad guys boarding the airplanes in Paris. A "no win" set-up of the French government. Cool. We got them good. We made them look real bad.

But now they may indict Cheney. Touch?.

This is not going to be nice.

By the way, I have flown that Air France non-stop from CDG to LAX twice, Flight 68, and the last time was the morning after Richard Reid was caught trying to blow up his funky sneakers on that American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. Quite safe - but a long, boring December flight leaving CDG in the late morning, climbing northwest over London then Belfast then Greenland and up over the arctic circle, where the sun drops below the horizon and it's night again, and then rises for a second time as the fight drops down over the back end of Canada, over Montana then Las Vegas and into Los Angeles. Two sunrises in one day. The sun also rises? This is not what Hemingway had in mind.

Posted by Alan at 09:00 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 31 December 2003 08:42 PST home

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 asnyder111@hotmail.com. This article is copyright by Allen Snyder and originally published by opednews.com 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
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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

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