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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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Wednesday, 28 January 2004

Topic: Bush

MAILBAG: Bush, Wealth and the Rich Folks

A few of the recent entries here have been on these topics.

I received this reaction from an old friend, a woman who teaches in Boston:
And on how Americans love the rich, yeah, yeah, I know. But through my experience working and worshipping among the urban poor, I have come to prefer their company a zillion times over than those who are preoccupied with how to spend the next several thousand. Personally, I'd rather be glued to a tree in a swamp than to dwell among those whose primary concerns are brand name clothing, fancy car and jewelry purchases, home(s) decorating, obtaining tickets to major sporting events, appointments for the spa, manicurist, masseur, hairdresser or personal trainer, charity ball, the lives of celebrities, various surgeries to evade the natural effects of time and whatever else the conspicuously wealthy do to fill their idle purposeless days.

... So many Americans, rich, poor and in between, seem to have lost the concept of Enough. Sufficient. Satisfied. I suspect it's the ugly underbelly of the culture of fear and is perpetrated by those who want us to believe we can spend our way to immortality. Just stuff enough stuff into the emptiness and fear (Of what? Death? Insignificance? Old age? Exposure for the dull and ordinary souls we really are?) will cease. What a shell game!!! There was a man in colonial Boston, forget his name, who prayed daily that his daughters would NOT marry a rich man. He wanted them to be happy, fulfilled.

...I realize this is a lot more complicated that I suggest in this rant, but it's fun to rant. And I'm disinclined to get more complicated at the moment.
And so she should be.

As for me? The rich?

My view is skewed by living in Hollywood for almost fifteen years. Need I say more? It's a joke. I'm not kidding when I say I sense most folks love the idea that they, some fine day, could, maybe, be rich themselves, and then abuse others. Cheney and Halliburton? Hell, it excites them to think about what he gets away with. Bush - inarticulate, proudly ignorant, scornful of those who read - and in love with abusing those who oppose him? They LOVE that. It feeds their fantasies. When you're powerless you tend to think of revenge without effort. You admire Bush. You want to be just like him - a fellow with enormous power no discernable talent who doesn't have to take crap from anyone. Folks think it's cool when he smirks at intellectuals and foreigners. They imagine how good it would feel to be able to pull that off. And that's why I suspect he'll win the next election easily. He'll ride to victory on a wave of popular anger and resentment against how unfair the world is.

Cynical? You bet. No wonder George Carlin appeals to me.

Ron Suskind's new book The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill tells it all.

Suskind unwittingly explains the visceral appeal of George Bush.

To O'Neill, the overriding impression was of a president who lacked curiosity, deprecated dispute and remained disengaged. Honest brokers need not apply for high positions. Global warming? Fuggeddaboutit. Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman, another of Suskind's major sources, says she was reduced to making "blind stabs at deducing the mind of the President." Bush "doesn't offer explanation, even to his most senior aides," as Suskind puts it. "O'Neill knew that Whitman had never heard the President analyze a complex issue, parse opposing positions, and settle on a judicious path. In fact, no one - inside or outside the government, here or across the globe - had heard him do that to any significant degree."

He does need to. People love that. Bush is the kind of guy who just gets what he wants, and doesn't take crap, or need to look into things. Isn't that the fantasy of many people?
O'Neill was watching Bush closely. He threw out a few general phrases, a few nods, but there was virtually no engagement.... O'Neill had been made to understand by various colleagues in the White House that the President should not be expected to read reports. In his personal experience, the President didn't even appear to have read the short memos he sent over. That made it especially troubling that Bush did not ask any questions.... 'This meeting was like many of the meetings I would go to over the course of two years,' ...
Ah, the good life - all power and no need to worry about things.

Yes, Bush "was caught in an echo chamber of his own making, cut off from everyone other than a circle around him that's tiny and getting smaller and in concert on everything.... " And frankly, that's comfortable. His supporters envy him this state of ease.

Suskind's book is full of such stuff. Bush's well-known propensity to assign nicknames, he says, is more than a cute ingratiation maneuver, for "nicknaming ... was a bully technique. I've given you a name, now you wear it."

How many Bush supports wish they could do that at work?

I suspect Bush support is broad and deep because Bush is leading the life his supporters wish they themselves could live. They cheer him on. They get their vicarious jollies through him.

And that circles back to how folks feel about they rich. They wish they had the balls to grab the money and laugh all the way to the Swiss bank. They cannot. Life's not like that. But they can dream.

So Bush will be elected, again - or elected "for real" if you wish. And things aren't going to get any better.

This is what people want to see - Bush smirking and the rich grabbing everything. What they see feeds the fantasies that keep ordinary life from being overwhelming.

Posted by Alan at 07:05 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 28 January 2004 07:35 PST home

Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Topic: Iraq

A voice from the past longs for the good old days....

In case you missed it, Daniel Ellsberg is calling for someone to, well, "pull an Ellsberg."

For those of us of a certain age, this has some resonance.

And it really resonates out here. Ellsberg took the now famous "Pentagon Papers" from the offices of the Rand Corporation ten miles west of here, down in Santa Monica. Heck, it's local history.

But the idea of someone today finding such papers and sneaking them off to the copy center Ellsberg used down the hill in West Hollywood, just a few blocks from here, and then the idea that today's New York Times would have the balls to print the papers - well, that's pretty far-fetched. The Times has been defanged. Heck, the Times has been toothless for a generation. Along with the rest of the media.

The world has changed. And the Patriot Act is now in play. And the current Rove-Cheney Texas fellows play a lot nastier game than the Nixon team ever did. You don't mess with these guys. And they're untouchable.

Still Ellsberg wants someone to grab some papers and find some wide-circulation newspaper or magazine with the audacity to publish the stuff.

Dream on. That's not today's media.

But for what it's worth check out:
Leak against this war
US and British officials must expose their leaders' lies about Iraq - as I did over Vietnam
Daniel Ellsberg, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday January 27, 2004

After the obligatory tale of being under fire in a rice field in Vietnam, chatting with the grunts dodging bursts of fire from the faceless locals, and realizing that particular war was a tragic farce, he gets fed up. You get a bit of what he was thinking. It felt like being a British Redcoat in New England in the 1770's, and it looks like Iraq now.
Foreign troops far from home, wearing helmets and uniforms and carrying heavy equipment, getting shot at every half-hour by non-uniformed irregulars near their own homes, blending into the local population after each attack.

I can't help but remember that afternoon as I read about US and British patrols meeting rockets and mines without warning in the cities of Iraq. As we faced ambush after ambush in the countryside, we passed villagers who could have told us we were about to be attacked. Why didn't they? First, there was a good chance their friends and family members were the ones doing the attacking. Second, we were widely seen by the local population not as allies or protectors - as we preferred to imagine - but as foreign occupiers. Helping us would have been seen as collaboration, unpatriotic. Third, they knew that to collaborate was to be in danger from the resistance, and that the foreigners' ability to protect them was negligible.
Concord in 1773, Vietnam 1968, Iraq last weekend. Same stuff.

So? Here's the logic:
I served three US presidents - Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon - who lied repeatedly and blatantly about our reasons for entering Vietnam, and the risks in our staying there. For the past year, I have found myself in the horrifying position of watching history repeat itself. I believe that George Bush and Tony Blair lied - and continue to lie - as blatantly about their reasons for entering Iraq and the prospects for the invasion and occupation as the presidents I served did about Vietnam.

By the time I released to the press in 1971 what became known as the Pentagon Papers - 7,000 pages of top-secret documents demonstrating that virtually everything four American presidents had told the public about our involvement in Vietnam was false - I had known that pattern as an insider for years, and I knew that a fifth president, Richard Nixon, was following in their footsteps. In the fall of 2002, I hoped that officials in Washington and London who knew that our countries were being lied into an illegal, bloody war and occupation would consider doing what I wish I had done in 1964 or 1965, years before I did, before the bombs started to fall: expose these lies, with documents.
Daniel, no "officials in Washington and London" would consider that. What were you thinking?

Yes, there are, no doubt, "thousands of pages of documents in safes in London and Washington right now - the Pentagon Papers of Iraq - whose unauthorized revelation would drastically alter the public discourse on whether we should continue sending our children to die in Iraq."

Hey, Daniel, get a grip! Joseph Wilson can tell you that you just don't mess with these folks, and his wife can tell you too. And David Kelly is walking a fine line these days, saying there really were no weapons of mass destruction there for years - but he's being real careful to say Bush and his team should be mad at the CIA and the rest of the intelligence crew for misleading poor George. Yeah, right. How many times did Cheney say just screw the CIA and let's trust the Iraqi exile community's rumors?

Of course both Downing Street and the White House organized covert pressure to punish these guys and to deter others. But that's when they're being nice. You don't want to mess with them when they're in a really bad mood - and "the Pentagon Papers of Iraq" getting printed up and read all over the world would put them in a very bad mood.

Yes, Daniel, you faced twelve felony counts and a possible sentence of 115 years, and the charges were dismissed only when it was discovered that White House actions aimed at stopping further revelations of administration lying had included criminal actions against you.

The current guys are more careful and they don't get caught.

This is not the late sixties or early seventies. That "kinder, gentler world" is long gone.

Any other ideas?

Posted by Alan at 21:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 27 January 2004 21:46 PST home

Topic: The Culture

The problem with strong, educated women with opinions? They ruin everything!

In this blog on Saturday and in the magazine on Sunday I wrote about Teresa Heinz Kerry. The idea was we're really not ready, should John Kerry become president, for an outspoken strong-willed first lady. We have become accustomed to Laura Bush.

In As Seen from Just Above Sunset: Trouble on the Horizon: The United States is Just Not Ready for THIS!

And in Just Above Sunset Magazine: Election Notes: Women! - "Portuguese, born in Mozambique, fluent in French and four other languages! Trouble."

So what would having a well-educated, outspoken and strong-willed first lady be like? Tony Blair can tell us.

A Times of London article says a new book details Cherie Blair's "displays of open animosity towards President Bush," which included picking a fight about the death penalty over dinner.

If you hop over to "A Conservative News Forum" you'll find the article and reactions.

The article:
Cherie [Blair] said Bush 'stole' power and tackled him on executions
London Times, January 24, 2003, London Times
Cherie said Bush 'stole' power and tackled him on executions
By Nicholas Wapshott in New York, Philip Webster and David Charter

TONY BLAIR has been embarrassed by his wife's displays of open animosity towards President Bush, according to a forthcoming biography of the Prime Minister.

Cherie Blair is said to have made no secret of her conviction that Mr Bush "stole" the presidential election, and picked an argument with him over the death penalty during a private dinner.

Although the Prime Minister was pragmatic about Mr Bush's victory, Mrs Blair was far less sanguine about the Supreme Court decision that gave him the keys to the White House. She believed Al Gore had been "robbed" of the presidency and was hostile to the idea of her husband "cosying" up to the new President.

Even as they flew to Washington for their first meeting with the presidential couple, Mrs Blair was in no mood to curry favour, the book Tony Blair: The Making of a World Leader by Philip Stephens, states. "Cherie Blair still believed that Bush had stolen the White House from Gore," he wrote. She asked more than once during the journey why they had to be so nice to "these people".

Mrs Blair scarcely concealed her impatience as the Blair team debated on the plane whether the gift he had brought for the President, a bust of Winston Churchill, was of sufficient quality for the Oval Office. They decided to find a better one and that Mr Blair would tell the President it was on its way. Mrs Blair was annoyed at the fuss but was overruled. Another bust was delivered months later.

The book's disclosures of Mrs Blair's forthright views will cause embarrassment in Downing Street, because of Mr Blair's good working relations with Mr Bush, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, although they will not surprise officials or ministers who know her well. She is known for expressing her views forcefully in private.
You get the idea.

But the core is here:
Stephens writes that Mrs Blair behaved impeccably at her first meeting with the President "for all her outspoken resentment on the flight" and "to the great relief of her husband and aides" she had been at pains to make friends with Laura Bush.

But when the Bushes came to Britain in the summer of 2001, Mrs Blair, "more tribal in her politics than Tony", according to a close family friend, embarrassed her husband. As the two couples sat down to dinner, with the officials no longer there, Mrs Blair could not resist an argument. She is a human rights lawyer and turned to the death penalty, a subject on which she has blunt views.

Judicial executions were an immoral violation of human rights, an affront under the US Constitution as much as under European laws to the fundamental principles of justice, she said. This opinion was delivered to a man who as Governor of Texas signed warrants for more than 150 executions.

Mr Blair was reported to have "squirmed", even though he shares her opposition to the death penalty. The author says that when he asked Mr Blair about the incident during research for the book he looked uncomfortable - all he would say was that Cherie had raised the issue but as far as he was concerned the United States and Britain simply had different systems.
Damn. It's embarrassing when your wife is an actual attorney with strong views! She might even express them!

But then it gets worse for Bush too.
Stephens also states that later in the evening Mr Bush had been embarrassed by his wife. Laura Bush had made it clear that her views on abortion were a great deal more liberal than his.
Really? No one ever knew that. Laura knows usually enough to keep her damned mouth shut. A good woman.

By the way, Stephens is a political columnist on the Financial Times and the paper's former political editor. This biograrphy of Blair was commissioned by the publishers Viking to meet an urgent demand from Americans for more information about the Prime Minister and his family. The book will be published in here on February 5 and is expected to sell reasonably well.

And the comments you will find at "A Conservative News Forum"?

"Cherie is nothing but an embarrassment, to her husband and the rest of the country. The criminal-consorting, hypocritical, spurious 'human rights' lawyering, crystal gazing bit? I wouldn't worry about anything this dumb cow has to say.
posted on 01/24/2004 1:00:06 AM PST by ScudEast

"Laura should have bitch-slapped her !!"
posted on 01/24/2004 1:12:07 AM PST by Rainmist

"Cherie Blair is L? all the way. Looney left liberal. A chowderhead. Britain is full of these cranks. I will however give her credit for being woman enough to bear 4 children."
posted on 01/24/2004 1:24:07 AM PST by dennisw ("We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way." - Toby Keith)

John and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, better watch their backs.

Posted by Alan at 10:47 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 27 January 2004 10:59 PST home

Topic: World View

America as seen from Paris last week...
Two items down, from last night, you will find my comments on Paul Krugman.

Christine Mital had a profile of Paul Krugman last week in Le Nouvel Observateur. This was in the section of the magazine - Les nouveaux economists - in the L'Am?rique qu'on aime edition of the magazine.

The theme of this issue?
Elle est ?videmment anti-Bush. Et m?me violemment. Mais elle est cr?atrice, g?n?reuse, innovante. A l'origine des ONG les plus contestataires. A l'avant-garde de la litt?rature et de l'art. A la pointe des techniques mais aussi des id?es. Certes, ? un an de l'?lection pr?sidentielle, jamais cette Am?rique n'a ?t? aussi ?loign?e du pouvoir. Mais l'enqu?te de notre correspondant Philippe Boulet-Gercourt, de notre envoy? sp?cial Jean-Gabriel Fredet ainsi que des diff?rents services du ?Nouvel Observateur? montre ? quel point elle n'a pas disparu. A quel point elle fourbit ses arguments contre l'Am?rique n?oconservatrice de George W. Bush. Voici l'histoire de cet affrontement - un des plus forts qu'aient sans doute connus les Etats-Unis. Voici aussi, ? travers ses principaux porte-drapeaux, la carte de cette ?autre Am?rique?. Avec ses n?opopulistes et ses radicaux, ses dissidents et ses moralistes, ses alternatifs et ses artistes, qui n'ont jamais ?t? aussi cr?atifs que dans le refus de l'ordre ?tabli ...
Seems the editors think there is some hope for us.

For the Krugman piece see...
Paul Krugman : L'?conomie ? l'estomac
Semaine du jeudi 22 janvier 2004 - n?2046 - Dossier

Yes, it is in French.

Oh yes, see Les n?opopulistes for the Fran?ois Forestier profile of Michael Moore. Click here Michael Moore : Flingueur-n? for that. Michael Moore is on the cover of the magazine, as a scruffy version of the Statue of Liberty, France's gift to us.

By the way, you can see the Michael Moore cover on Ric Erickson's site MetropoleParis on this page - The Week's New Metropole Paris Posters II. Ric each week publishes four to six photographs of posters currently in the kiosks of Paris. Pretty cool. Highly recommended.

Back to the ?Nouvel Observateur? ... in the section Les r?volt?s de la culture you will find these short portraits: Sean Penn : Le bad boy de Hollywood along with the odd Eminem : Le n?gre blond.

Interesting stuff, no?

Posted by Alan at 07:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 27 January 2004 09:26 PST home

Monday, 26 January 2004

Topic: The Culture

Everyone has his or her heroes. For me? Duke Ellington, and Roberto Clemente, and, yes, George Carlin.
Heroes? Well, folks I admire might be a better term.
"I'm splitting semantic hairs here, but that's what they're for."

In an earlier post I pointed out that Jonathan Swift in his the "Digression on Madness" (1710) implies that the world can be divided into "fools" or "knaves" - the only two options.

It's quite funny, and nasty. And very cynical.

Swift only implies a third alternative - there are fools, and there are knaves, and then there can be total cynics who trust no claim about anything, ever.

I said that I'm working on that third option. George Carlin has it down.

George Carlin is sixty-six and still a hoot. Carlin now has twenty-four albums, he's done twelve HBO specials, and he has three Grammy Awards and five Emmy nominations. And his next book, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? will be published later this year. Should be amusing.

And it seems Carlin recently gave a telephone interview to The Idaho Statesman. It's pretty cool.

See 'Liberal' is a dirty word for George Carlin
Michael Deeds. The Idaho Statesman, January 24, 2004

Here's some of it.
Q: You don't do a lot of topical, current event comedy, do you?

A: I don't like topical stuff. It's too easy. Anybody can make fun of Bush. Hillary Clinton. Monica Lewinsky. Mike Tyson. That ... ain't hard. That's like shooting fish in a barrel. So I prefer going at things from an odd angle, different angle. I'm doing stuff about suicide ... I'm doing stuff about the fabric of space-time splitting open. I'm doing stuff about being a modern man with the language. So I'm just different, you know?

Q: Is being dark as important to you now as it was earlier in your career?

A: I don't know that I ever was (dark) - except now. I like testing people's limits. I like finding out what an audience feels uncomfortable with and pushing on that. That's the fun of art.

Q: You're known as a very liberal comic. Are you trying to change people's political views when you go out there? Do you have an underlying agenda?

A: No. First of all, I'm not liberal. I'm just about (being) anti-United States. I don't like the way this country operates. I think we've ruined this place. And I think it's largely because of businessmen. And businessmen are not liberals. So if that makes me a liberal, then that's just an association. It's not a choice. ...

I do not care about changing anybody. Nobody. I go out there to show the rest of the Americans how badly they're doing
. This country has been, for about 180 years now, badly mishandled. And it's been in the wrong hands. It's been in the hands of the business interests.

And a lot of the beauty of this country has been shattered by them. The physical beauty and the kind of institutional beauty that was originally built into this place - this experiment, this magnificent experiment in democracy is just being shredded to pieces by these right-wing Christians, the Ashcroft branch of Republicanism. (They're) just shredding the rest of the Bill of Rights which hadn't been shredded already. (But) they'd been doing a pretty good job on it up until then, anyway.

Q: Do you feel like this country has progressed any way, shape or form in the past 20 years?

A: Everybody's got more jet skis and Dustbusters now and sneakers with lights in them. They've got more cheese on their thing that they buy. They get double helpings.
Yep, they do.

Of course he's saying Americans measure all their progress in the wrong way. This seems be about our national character and priorities. I guess it's bigger than Bush.

And this doesn't even touch on religion. You might want to check out Positive Atheism's Big List of George Carlin Quotations for his take on that.

And there is Carlin's work on language. And you might check out the interview he gave The Onion a few years ago. Here's some of that - just a bit...
O: You've said, "If you think there's a solution, you're part of the problem." Do you really lack hope?

GC: Well, they say, "If you scratch a cynic, underneath you'll find a disappointed idealist." So I would imagine there's some little flame, however weak, that still burns, but I know time is against my seeing that. I think this world would need a long time, maybe a thousand years, to evolve to what may be a golden age, and in the meantime, there are all these very small, parochial struggles between peoples of different language and color and arbitrary political and national boundaries. And my understanding of it is that there is no hope, because I think we're locked in by commerce. The whole idea of the pursuit of goods and possessions has completely corrupted the human experience, along with religion, which I think limits the intellect. So with those two things in place as firmly as they are, I don't see any hope for getting around them short of some sort of interesting cataclysm. So I root for a cataclysm, for its own sake, just as entertainment. I don't even care if it has a good result. We're circling the drain, and I just like seeing the circles get faster and shorter all the time.

O: I was reading your web site [], and you referred to George W. Bush as a fascist. But you don't vote. Why not vote against someone you think is a fascist?

GC: Well, because it wouldn't make any difference. When fascism comes to this country, it won't be wearing jackboots; it'll be wearing sneakers with lights in them, and it'll have a smiley face and a Michael Jordan T-shirt on. They learned the mistake of overt control. They've learned how to be much subtler. No, I don't think my vote would mean anything, and at the same time, it would make me very untrue to myself to participate in what I really think is a charade.

O: Well, you more or less hate society anyway, don't you?

GC: Um, I'm very disrespectful of it, and I'm contemptuous of it, but I don't think hate is in me, although we use that word the same way we use love: "Oh, boy, I love ice cream and I hate the Dodgers." But it is a distaste, a contempt, a dissatisfaction, a disillusionment, and a lot of qualities and feelings that come together and appear as anger on stage. I don't experience them as anger; I experience them as a deep distaste. I'm splitting semantic hairs here, but that's what they're for.

O: Aren't you supposed to be slowing down?

GC: Yeah, that's the "old" deal, yeah. That's right. You know, I'm blessed with a great genetic package: Among the genetic qualities I got for free was this energy and stamina, as well as great enthusiasm and a positive, optimistic sense of self. My personal sphere is really positive; it's the world that I have my doubts about.
Yep, some of us have the same doubts.

Posted by Alan at 21:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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