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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, 6 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

A short meditation on the nature of faith and reason....

Bush's new campaign advertisements....

"Lead," "Tested," and "Safer, Stronger" were produced for the Bush campaign by Maverick Media. You can watch these on the Bush campaign website. For streaming video try this. And for transcripts click on this.

A lot of people, like Bill Maher on HBO this weekend and who knows how many other comedians, have been branding these advertisements as essentially carrying the message "It's not my fault." Bush inherited the recession from Clinton and all the economists are wrong? That, and much else, is implied.

The advertisements do have little substance. A good discussion of them can be found here:
Morning in Bush's Head: The president's new feel-good ads.
William Saletan and Jacob Weisberg, SLATE.COM - Posted Friday, March 5, 2004, at 2:00 PM PT

Weisberg offers this summary:
Advertisers draw a distinction between product ads, which are supposed to sell something specific to customers, and image ads, which promote familiarity and positive associations with a company or brand. These first Bush commercials are political image advertising. In them, the president doesn't tout any particular aspects of his first-term record, such as signing a law subsidizing prescription drug benefits for the elderly, or even any second-term proposals, such as making his tax cuts permanent. Rather, his media team weaves together images, words, and music in an effort to "redefine" Bush after a season of Democratic attacks and make voters feel good about him in general.

Like its commercial cousin, this sort of political advertising relies heavily on clich?d images of Americans going about their jobs and lives. With a bit of re-jiggering, the 60-second spot called "Lead" would work as an uplifting commercial for General Electric or AT&T. The stock images such ads use come in several varieties: nostalgic, technological, patriotic, multicultural, and sentimental. This one begins with a shot of a uniformed waitress switching on the neon "Open" sign in a coffee shop before sunrise. The next picture is of a white businessman making entries in a handheld computer. Then we see a young minority woman at work; white and black construction workers in white hard hats; a minority mother in military camouflage with her child; a Caucasian family sitting on the hatchback door of a station wagon; an Asian-American teacher at the blackboard; an African-American grandmother laughing with her adult granddaughter; and so on. What, one might reasonably ask, does any of this have to do with the election? The final image is of a white president strutting along a white portico in the White House. George W. Bush: He'll bring the economy back to life.

Amid this wash of feel-good Americana, the president and first lady enumerate the incumbent's leadership qualities: optimism, strength, focus, and "belief in the people of America." One can't dispute the accuracy of anything in this ad because, as the New York Times tartly notes, it "makes no verifiable claims." If you think Bush is a great president, you will probably like it. If you dislike him, you will think it massively evasive of all the issues in the campaign.
Weisberg is the latter:
But the display text implicitly makes a more tendentious point, depicting the president's first term as the story of him being handed a country in deep economic crisis, exacerbated by the terrorist attacks, and now finally "turning the corner" thanks to his leadership.

This is a selective version of the past four years, to say the least. Where'd the Iraq war go? And how did Bush become a victim of a weak economy, rather than the perpetrator of one? There is also some explicit dishonesty. The text of "Safer, Stronger" begins: "January 2001, The challenge: An economy in recession. A stock market in decline. ..." In fact, as Bush acknowledged quite recently in his Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert, he did not inherit a recession from President Clinton. The recession began two months after he arrived, in March 2001.
This is the only demonstrably untrue statement to be found in these three ads. Tellingly, it is also nearly the only statement of fact in any of them.

Then Saletan piles on -
Bush won the presidency in 2000 by reframing everything that had gone right under Clinton as a given, to which Clinton had failed to add more. The "prosperity" had been handed to Clinton, who in turn had failed to put it to a larger "purpose." Now Bush plays the same game with his own administration. The recession that began two months into Bush's term? The terrorist strike that happened eight months in? Well, as Bush likes to say, if you've got a problem, blame somebody else.
Yep. Clinton should have taken care of Saddam and Osama. He didn't. And it must be those guys at the CIA who fooled Bush with scare stories and made him go to war when he didn't really want to do that at all. Poor George.

Of course you're read everywhere about the widows of men who died at the World Trade Center being upset, and not mildly upset, at how one ad uses an image of a body, or at least body parts, being carried from the rubble in a flag-draped box. It seems that they think this man should not use that kind of image to seek out votes - as this is the same man who will only give the commission investigating what happened one hour of his time, and not under oath at all, and only informally, with the two chairmen and no one else who might ask pesky and impertinent question. I guess they think it's not fair. But of course he is a busy guy. And the union representing the firemen there are ticked off too - this man using this image to fish around for more votes is the same guy who is cutting funding for fire and police and "first response" teams. They don't like that much. Are they crybabies? As they say over at fair and balanced Fox News - we report, you decide.

Well, all this pales in comparison to what Jimmy Breslin has to say.

See He molests the dead
Jimmy Breslin, Newsday, March 6, 2004

I like the subtle opening:
In his first campaign commercial, George Bush reached down and molested the dead.

Here's what Breslin means:
... this only in keeping with both Bushes. George Bush, Sr., had the badge of officer Eddie Byrne, who was gunned down in South Jamaica, and he stood up at Christ the King High School in Middle Village and held it up and said he would have this badge on him forever. Some chance. Bush then led high school girls into insane cheers for the death penalty.

Now, right off, this second George Bush came up with the badge of a Port Authority cop, George Howard, who died. He was from Hicksville. His mother gave Bush the son's badge. When Bush came back to the trade center a year later, he reached into his pocket and whipped out that badge and he had a tear in his eye. What makes it worse is that this George W. Bush acts like he's entitled to treat the remains of a dead man like a souvenir. Now he shows a commercial with dead bodies....

"Bush is afraid to let us see the dead being brought back from Iraq," one fire fighter said yesterday.

The ad is nothing more than another George W. Bush fraud. First, arriving at the trade center, he was led by a flunkey to a retired fire fighter, Bob Beckwith, who had come down three days after the attack to take a look. Bush's flacks had Beckwith stand on a destroyed fire engine and Bush came up next to him and Bush put an arm around him and, two heroes, Bush called out "we're tough" to the television cameras.

He had all he wanted out of the place. A picture.

You all saw Bush play dress-up and land on the aircraft carrier and stand there, the helmet under his arm just like an Ace from the top of a bloody sky. The aircraft carrier had to be turned around so the skyline of San Diego wouldn't be seen.

Now he has his world trade center commercial out there and a lot of decent people regard it as an insult.
Ah Jimmy, Bush is a politician. What did you expect?

Click on the link and read the rest, because Breslin immediately proceeds to rip Rudolph Giuliani a new nether orifice. Well, Newsday is a New York publication. This is Jimmy's beat, his home turf. And Rudolph Giuliani comes off as pretty creepy given the events related here.

But George Bush and Rudolph Giuliani are heroes to most people. And their faith in these two will not be shaken by facts.

Isn't faith described as what you believe in the absence of facts? Or what you believe to be true when the available "facts" are ambiguous?

What do you call it when the facts are not ambiguous at all, but you still believe in something? When the hard and quite real evidence points to what you believe being flat out wrong - and you still believe you are right?

There is a word for that.

Posted by Alan at 13:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 6 March 2004 14:07 PST home

Friday, 5 March 2004

Topic: The Culture

Open Season on Those Who Make Us Uncomfortable
This week's issue of L.A. Weekly seems to feature analyses of political gadflies. Each item is quite long and worth a click and a read.

First up is Michael Moore.

See American Bigmouth: Why Michael Moore won't shut up
Ella Taylor, L.A. Weekly, issue of March 5 -11, 2004

Taylor interviews him and offers some thoughts. She opens with this:
Other things being equal, Moore's president of choice remains Dennis Kucinich, but he knows his favorite doesn't have a prayer, and given that all the candidates are "to the left of Gore in 2000," he says he'll go with any of them who can get George Bush out of office.

Except, apparently, Howard Dean.

... Moore insists -- twice -- on his admiration for what Dean has done to energize young people to become politically involved. "But spend 10 minutes in the same room with Dean," he says, "and you're asking, do you want to support him?"


"He's kind of a prick."

There's a moment of revisionist silence, followed by Moore's trademark high-pitched giggle.

"Prickly, really. I hate to slag him, but as you look at him, where will he win?"
Well, Moore isn't exactly subtle.

But here's the core:
... It's not hard to understand why conservatives can't stand Moore and why there are several Web sites exclusively devoted to zealously combing his every speech, book and movie for inaccuracies. For all Moore's protestations that liberals are less nasty and more laid-back than conservatives, he is one of the few on the left who hacks away at the right with its own methods, and he's usually more to the point. While Matt Drudge pants away on his Web site trying to drum up sexual dirt on John Kerry, Moore is busy firing off "Dear George" letters out of his, calling Bush on his policies at home and abroad. He remains the left's only well-known shock jock. And it's unlikely that either Al Franken or Molly Ivins, both of whom have anti-Bush books on the best-seller lists, would have gotten the book deals they did without Moore's trailblazing hits. Moore lacks the intellectual chops of either, but he's a deft popularizer and a very funny guy.

Which may be one reason why so many liberals and leftists, at least those who are over 30, don't like him. One New York Times piece fingered him as a senior member of the "Bush-hating left," and Daniel Okrent, introducing himself as the paper's new ombudsman, wrote snootily, "I'd rather spend my weekends exterminating rats in the tunnels below Penn Station than read a book by either Bill O'Reilly or Michael Moore." And few on the left are likely to be amused by his "endorsement" of Oprah, Paul Newman or the Dixie Chicks for president.

Moore has been dumped on by organs as disparate as Alexander Cockburn's shrill far-left rag Counterpunch and the staidly democratic-socialist Dissent, which last spring heaped scorn on Moore's confrontational tactics, sniffed at his gifts as an entertainer, and accused him of cynicism for railing at both political parties. This last is absurd -- you only have to spend five minutes in Moore's company to realize that sincerity is one quality he possesses in spades.

But even in England, the liberal newspaper The Guardian last November suggested that Moore has gotten sloppy and become a "left-wing version of loud-mouthed ultra-conservative shock-jocks such as Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter."
That is rather harsh, but perhaps true.

Then Marc Cooper gets his shots in with Moore Is Less: One stupid white man's problem with the man in the ball cap.

The problem? Moore is not Mort Sahl.
I know very well the role that Michael Moore ought to be playing.

For it was neither Marx nor Marcuse that initially radicalized me as a teenager in the 1960s but rather the comic, Mort Sahl.

... On Sahl's word that the now-defunct Hunters was L.A.'s best political bookstore, I began frequenting the shop on Little Santa Monica. And one afternoon in 1967 I bumped right into Sahl as he thumbed through the special table of titles on Vietnam. We chatted for a half-hour during which he told me I still had a lot to learn. As a last-minute gesture, Sahl bought me a copy of British correspondent Bernard Fall's classic The Two Viet-Nams -- a moment, and a book that would mark the rest of my life.

I cannot imagine Michael Moore having that sort of transformational effect on anyone. Moore arrives before us not with a newspaper under his arm, but rather with a bullhorn and a sledgehammer. Sahl engaged his audience in subtle, complicated dialogue, enticing his fans to think beyond the conventional wisdom. Moore's style is to bully and bluster. Sahl helped teach me how to think. Moore purports to tell us what to think.

Which wouldn't be so objectionable if there was evidence that Moore had any depth, any nuance or at least some consistency to his own thought.

I find no trace.
So it's "Dump on Michael Moore Week" here in Los Angeles?

Maybe so. But Brendan Bernhard examines Dennis Miller in Miller's Crossing: Can a pro-Bush comedian get laughs?

Actually, a lot of this item is a discussion of John Stewart's "The Daily Show" - and it's rather positive about that, and its format.

As for Dennis Miller and his new show on MSNBC?
Miller begins each episode of his program with "The Daily Rorschach," a segment in which he sits at a desk and delivers wordy -- some would say laborious -- riffs on the news, much as he once did on Saturday Night Live and Dennis Miller Live on HBO. (Sample jokes: "A new poll shows that Senator Kerry's support in the South is strongest among blacks. Kerry's appeal to Southern blacks is obvious: He's a white man who lives far, far away. Kerry's campaign is also gaining support among women. However, Kucinich is still tops among post-op trannies.") This part of the program, at least, could benefit mightily from a live audience, because without some laughter to feed off, Miller the comedian can seem a little lost, even with crew members providing some consolation chuckles offscreen.
Well, the show has been yanked for a few weeks to be "retooled." And it will come back with a live audience. But Miller will still be the bloodthirsty, mean-spirited, kill-them-all right-winger he has now become. It won't be any funnier, I'd guess.

Finally Kate Sullivan writes about Howard Stern in Really Hot Air: Viacom sucks up to FCC over Howard Stern's indecent exposure.

Stern was just cancelled by Clear Channel, the radio empire run by a personal friend of the Bush family and darling of the FCC run my Michael Powell, the son of the Secretary of State. Stern was indecent, it seems. But Stern has been all over the airways and in the press saying he was never in trouble with his naughty show until he made some anti-Bush comments. Then they canned him. Clear Channel says that's only a coincidence, that after the Janet Jackson bouncing bare boob thing at the Super Bowl, they decided it was time to be more responsive to the wishes of all Americans, who hate smut and nudity and dirty talk and all that sort of thing. If their audience is neo-Puritan, and the FCC is making noises about cleaning things up, well, they are just giving the audience what they are demanding and adhering much more strictly to what the FCC tells them to do. Heck, the FCC has rules. Ask George Carlin about the seven dirty words you are not allowed to say on television. Howard Stern had to go. Times are changing. Or to be more precise, now the rules really do matter.

Sullivan comments:
I'm no Howard Stern fan, but it seems unfair that a guy who was hired precisely to be trashy is now being punished for holding up his end of the bargain.

Obviously, it's also a bit retarded for the federal government to try and determine what is and isn't offensive to consumers. As Limbaugh said after his bosses at Clear Channel dropped Stern, "You know, I'm in the free speech business here, my friends. I couldn't survive without it. And it is one thing for a company in business to determine whether or not they're going to be party to it. It is quite another thing for a government."

At the same time, Washington's shrill reaction to everyday tastelessness has got to be a boost for Stern -- who banks on an outlaw rep. (Stern once released a CD called Crucified by the FCC, which contained censored bits from his show and featured cover art of Stern carrying a cross.) Last week he waxed heroic on his show. "They are so afraid of me and what this show represents," he said. "I don't think I'm going to last a month."
That was just prior to the air going dead.

Moore, Miller, Stern... surprising that we now, given this administration, even allow them to live.

Posted by Alan at 13:56 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 4 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Get with the program - the most influential item published today...

What might that be? What is being linked everywhere (even by the conservative but gay Andrew Sullivan) and quoted everywhere? Who gets the big prize for actually managing to nail the proverbial mashed potatoes to the wall?

It's William Saletan.

See Confidence Man: The case for Bush is the case against him.
William Saletan, SLATE.COM, Posted Thursday, March 4, 2004, at 4:24 PM PT

I recommend reading the whole thing by clicking on the link - but here's the core.

After a long discussion of how Bush will run as "steady and principled" and try to portray Kerry as "wavering" and ever changing and thus dangerous, Saletan offers this advice:
How can Kerry persuade moderates to throw out Bush? By turning the president's message against him. Bush is steady and principled. He believes money is better spent by individuals than by the government.

He believes the United States should assert its strength in the world. He believes public policy should respect religious faith. Most Americans share these principles and think Bush is sincere about them. The problem Bush has demonstrated in office is that he has no idea how to apply his principles in a changing world. He's a big-picture guy who can't do the job.
The idea is to show what "steady and principled" really means.
From foreign to economic to social policy, Bush's record is a lesson in the limits and perils of conviction. He's too confident to consult a map. He's too strong to heed warnings and too steady to turn the wheel when the road bends. He's too certain to admit error, even after plowing through ditches and telephone poles. He's too preoccupied with principle to understand that principle isn't enough. Watching the stars instead of the road, he has wrecked the budget and the war on terror. Now he's heading for the Constitution. It's time to pull him over and take away the keys.
Then, of course, you give Bush credit!
Bush was right to go to war against the terrorists who struck us on 9/11. He was right to demand the overdue use of force against the scofflaw Iraqi regime. But he couldn't tell the difference between the two threats. He figured that since both Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were evil, they had to be connected. Saddam must have helped orchestrate the 9/11 attacks. He must have built weapons of mass destruction to sell to al-Qaida.
Well, he had the GENERAL idea. Not subtle, but we bought it.

And really not based on any facts - but no problem, right?
In recent months, congressional hearings and document leaks have unearthed a disturbing history. Again and again in 2001 and 2002, U.S. intelligence agencies sent signals that Bush was wrong. The FBI and CIA debunked putative links between Iraq and al-Qaida. The CIA rejected the claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa. In its National Intelligence Estimate, the CIA calculated that it could take Saddam up to five years to make a nuclear weapon and that he would transfer WMD to terrorists only if he were invaded. The Defense Intelligence Agency advised the administration that there was "no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing or stockpiling chemical weapons." The Air Force disputed the suggestion that Iraq had developed aerial drones capable of delivering chemical or biological toxins. Analysts questioned whether the White House was right that Saddam's aluminum tubes were designed for building nukes, or that two trucks the White House found suspicious were designed for making biological weapons.

Bush ignored every one of these warnings. They couldn't be true, because they didn't fit his theory. He couldn't stand the complexity of the facts or the ambiguity of intelligence. "Until we get rid of Saddam Hussein, we won't get rid of uncertainty," he told aides in November 2002. Four months later, on the eve of his invasion of Iraq, he declared, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." After the war, when Diane Sawyer asked Bush about the discrepancy between his ironclad statements and the more tentative weapons estimates provided by U.S. intelligence, he replied, "What's the difference?"
Well, perhaps most people feel exactly the same way.

The problem is some people, maybe more than you would expect, don't feel the same way.

Here's the deal. We all needed certainty. And that's what Bush provided, in spades. And may get him reelected.

This all comes down to whether one values certainty above all else.
That's Bush all over: Certainty. No doubt. No difference. But it makes a difference to Britain, France, and Mexico, which no longer trust our requests, based on U.S. intelligence, to cancel flights to the United States. And it makes a difference to China, which refuses to accept our report, based on U.S. intelligence, that North Korea is operating a highly enriched uranium program. Bush's overconfidence - reflected in a series of exaggerations wholly unnecessary to the punishment of Saddam for his noncompliance with U.N. inspections - has trashed our credibility and cost us vital help with other terrorist and WMD-related threats.
Yeah, well, who needs these other folks? When you're certain you are just, well, by definition, right.

The Saletan extend the argument to other areas:
Bush was right to propose tax cuts in 1999. The economy was booming. The surplus was ballooning. Liberals were itching to spend the money on new programs, despite Bill Clinton's promises to pay down the national debt. Bush wanted to get the money out of Washington before that happened. That's why, under his plan, the size of the tax cut was to grow from year to year. The point was to keep the surplus from piling up, refunding more and more money as it poured in from a growing economy. That's also why Bush cut taxes across the board instead of targeting middle-class families who would spend the money immediately. He wasn't trying to stimulate the economy. He was trying to give the money back to the people who had paid it in, which meant largely the rich.

Then everything changed. The stock market tanked, and the economy slowed. Sept. 11 shook the nation's confidence and drastically altered military budget projections. Bush didn't need to drain a surplus anymore. He needed to fund national defense and stimulate the economy. He needed to get rid of his back-loaded across-the-board tax cut and replace it ... with front-loaded tax cuts aimed at consumers. Instead, Bush claimed that his original tax-cut elixir was just as good for the new malady as for the old one. The deficit exploded, the economy failed to recover the jobs it had lost, and much of the country remained unprotected from terrorism. The world changed, but Bush couldn't.
Ah yes, but he WAS certain and stuck to his principles.

Then there are some other matters:
When Bush banned federal funding of research on new embryonic stem cell lines, he said sufficient research could proceed because "more than 60" existing cell lines would still be eligible for grants. The true number turned out to be less than half that, but Bush didn't budge. Last fall, in the name of human life, he signed into law a bill that required any doctor performing a second-trimester abortion to cut up the fetus inside the woman instead of removing it intact. Good principle, atrocious policy. His initiative to fund faith-based social programs has been a classic liberal misadventure, adding religious mini-bureaucracies to various Cabinet departments despite a study last year that showed faith-based job training programs were no more effective, and in some ways less effective, than regular job training programs.

Now, to save the family, Bush proposes to monkey with the Constitution. Why is this necessary? Because conservative states might be forced to honor gay marriages performed in liberal states, says Bush. But didn't the Defense of Marriage Act void that requirement? Yes, Bush argues, but DOMA might be struck down. Unwilling to wait for a ruling on DOMA, Bush prefers to circumvent the court system and local democracy by reopening the nation's founding document. He seeks to impose a permanent federal definition of marriage on "any state or city," regardless of what the voters in Boston or San Francisco want.
As I have said elsewhere, this forms a symbiotic "call and response" liturgy with the American people.

It's like this. Thousands die two and a half years ago - and most Americans suddenly realize that the world is indeed a dark and scary place, full of mortal uncertainty. Of what now can we be certain? Oh woe, the world is a chaotic place -

"... for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

"Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

See The Bumper Sticker Version Of Existentialism from February 6, 2004 for a discussion of Matthew Arnold's poem and all the rest.

Anyway, we were desperate for strength and confidence, and certainty. We needed that. George jumped in and started chanting back to us. He was sure. Evil was evil and one just had to say so. We were good. They were bad - whoever thay were. As simple as that.

Was he wrong about things? No matter. He was confident. What a relief!

We all signed on and worshiped him.

Not Saletan.
President Bush. Strength and confidence. Steady leadership in times of change. He knows exactly where he wants to lead this country. And he won't let facts, circumstances, or the Constitution get in his way.
But we're scared, still, and we know we're innocent victims who never did anything bad to anyone anywhere else in the world, and thus we will reelect [sic] him. We need the comfort.

He may be a fool, and dead wrong, but he's certain of himself. That's his trump card. He knows our need for strength, for certainty, far outweighs our need for common sense.

And that's the price of assuming the role of frightened, innocent victim. We get four more years of this foolishness, but can feel noble and wronged.

Stay sacred - and feel noble and wronged - and this is what you get. You get what you deserve.


The emphases are mine throughout.

Posted by Alan at 22:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 4 March 2004 22:02 PST home

Wednesday, 3 March 2004

Topic: Bush

Kulturkampf? Blitzkrieg? Why would a critic of George Bush use such words?

Sidney Blumenthal is a former senior adviser to President Clinton and author of The Clinton Wars - a book which explains, in detail, just who was out to "get" Bill Clinton and when, and who paid for it. And he's a man with a grudge. Here's something he just published regarding Bush's new culture war against gays and uppity scientists and who know who else....

See: Bush goes to war with modernity: The more Bush supplicates his core voters, the more he repels the rest
Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian (UK), Thursday March 4, 2004

After a discussion of the primaries here, he gets to the point:
The launch of his Kulturkampf has been a blitzkrieg. Bush proposed a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. He dismissed two scientists who dissented on his bioethics board, which he has used to ban forms of stem cell research, replacing them with adherents of the religious right. Bush made a recess appointment of William Pryor of Alabama as a federal judge, blocked in the Senate for his extremism. Pryor had said that "abortion is murder" and supported the building of an altar of the 10 commandments in a courthouse. Then the attorney general, John Ashcroft, subpoenaed the medical records of women who have had abortions at planned parenthood clinics.

Bush followed by supporting the unborn victims of violence bill, creating a new federal crime of foetal homicide that passed the Republican-dominated House of Representatives on February 26. At Bush's order, the Senate is being transformed into a battlefield of the culture war.

But Bush's instigation of religious wars in America, while it mobilises the evangelical Protestant faithful, is also unexpectedly thwarting him.
Well, his popularity didn't exactly jump due to all this.

But as Blumenthal points out, Bush lost the popular vote by more than half a million. And Bush does seem to have decided he has no choice but to chase his base, so to speak.

And I haven't said much about the Pryor appointment, or about Ashcroft's subpoenas of the medical records of any woman who has had an abortion. What is there to say? That's the way things go. I did, a bit back, comment on how twenty Noble Prize winning scientists were a bit put off by this administration's sort of kind of changing the basic findings in all sorts of studies because those findings gave people the wrong impression - that global warming might be real, that minorities had rather bad health and even worse healthcare, that condoms actually worked to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, and so on. (See Not that it matters from Thursday, 19 February 2004)

Blumenthal ties this all together in a discussion of Bush courting the Jewish votes by leaning toward Israel and, at the same time, courting the Evangelical Christian Right vote. Heck, that is rather hard work. You have to satisfy the neoconservative theorists who want the world changed to be full of new secular free-market democracies in the Islamic world, and, on the other side, appeal to the folks who long for a theocracy here at home run on the idea the New Testament contains everything you need to run a society and order the functioning of its government. Satisfying both sides a lot of work.

The problem?
The born-again Bush, who reconstructed his self-image after 9/11 as a messianic leader, assumed that the agendas of the neocons and the theocons were one and the same. However, Bush outsourced his foreign policy on the Middle East and Israel to the neocons in part for an electoral purpose, hoping to capture the Jewish vote, which will not be fulfilled because of his anxious devotion to the theocons.
Cool. Each part of the base was concerned with different, contradictory things.

But both sides hated the sixties, if that matters. And this alliance worked for Ronal Reagan.
The neocons and the theocons were bound together in reaction against the 1960s for different reasons: the neocons by foreign policy, the theocons by their continuing fundamentalist revolt against modernity. Under Ronald Reagan, this coalition was held together in the crusade against godless communism. But George Bush is haunted by what happened next to his father.
Yep, what are you going to do when what Ronald Reagan called "the evil empire" is gone. Find another, of course. The Muslim hoards and the gay guys! They'll do.

After all whole lot of words Blumenthal then trots out the fellow who loves making crude jokes about gay guys and films devoted to torture and death:
Just as Bush stokes the culture war, Mel Gibson enters, sprinkling holy gasoline on the fires. Only in the combustible atmosphere Bush has fostered could Gibson's grand guignol version of an anti-Semitic medieval passion play, The Passion of the Christ, become the number one box-office hit. This is the ultimate Mad Max escapade: blowing up the cultural contradictions of American conservatism.
Yep, the culture war is underway. And it's a mess. Gibson forgot the Jews are the good guys now - killing Palestinian children (by mistake) and building big walls to keep them out (Bush chants again and again Ariel Sharon is a "man of peace"). Mel, get it straight! Jews are victims of the Islamic bombers killing their children! They aren't the bad guys! They may vote Republican in the fall! Man, you just can't depend on religious zealots anymore....

But Blumenthal sees the real problem for Bush in broader terms.
With his culture war the son is echoing another political error of the father, who alienated Jews and Catholics by permitting his 1992 convention to be used as a platform for the religious evangelical right. This latest revival is frightening Jews, cautioning American Catholics (overwhelmingly of the liberal John XXIII/Vatican II persuasion, and holding the same view on abortion as other Americans), and scourging mainline Protestants. The more Bush supplicates his base, the more he repels the others. Moreover, Bush is running against a Democrat who's a modern Catholic, with lineage to the oldest mainline Protestant families of New England and Jewish ancestry.

This political miscalculation at home is far outweighed by the disastrous consequences in the Middle East. With increasing desperation, Bush is campaigning on behalf of his various fundamentalisms in a crusade against modernity in America, his greatest war of all.
Oh well. The modern world is overrated, isn't it?

One sort of wonders if Bush was always like this? Was he always so opposed to what some call modern ideas?

One of his former teachers says this:
At Harvard Business School, thirty years ago, George Bush was a student of mine. I still vividly remember him. In my class, he declared that "people are poor because they are lazy." He was opposed to labor unions, social security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools. To him, the antitrust watch dog, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission were unnecessary hindrances to "free market competition." To him, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was "socialism."

Recently, President Bush's Federal Appeals Court Nominee, California's Supreme Court Justice Janice Brown, repeated the same broadside at her Senate hearing. She knew that her pronouncement would please President Bush and Karl Rove and their Senators. President Bush and his brain, Karl Rove, are leading a radical revolution of destroying all the democratic political, social, judiciary, and economic institutions that both Democrats and moderate Republicans had built together since Roosevelt's New Deal.
Hardly surprising.

See President George Bush and the Gilded Age
March 1, 2004 - Yoshi Tsurumi (now Professor of International Business, Baruch College, the City University of New York)

Read all about the economy and about the man who wishes to direct it. He has his principles -- moral and economic -- from which he has never really wavered. He just didn't mention them in his campaign against Al Gore. Wouldn't be prudent. But we should have known.

Geez, at least none of my former students has really embarrassed me, so far.

Posted by Alan at 22:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: World View

Mel Gibson gets his audience in France...

On Sunday, 29 February 2004 I commented on how Mel Gibson's new film "The Passion of the Christ" was creating some uproar in France and might not find a distributor. Passions regarding anti-Semitism were running high. See Jerry Lewis, not Mel Gibson for that.

Well, the matter has been settled as I see from a scan of items from l'Agence France-Presse (AFP) by way of The Tocqueville Connection.


Here's the scoop:
PARIS, Feb 29 (AFP) - Mel Gibson's controversial film "The Passion of the Christ" will be shown in France despite rumours that it could not find a distributor, the Journal du Dimanche newspaper reported Sunday.

Gibson's production company Icon was quoted as saying that the name of the French distributor would be revealed Monday.

Marin Karmitz, president of the French National Federation of Film Distributors, angrily rejected reports that the film might be boycotted because of fears it could stoke anti-Semitism -- saying the row was manufactured as a marketing device.

"It was a deliberate tactic on the part of Icon to make themselves look like martyrs ... It is a totally unacceptable kind of marketing," he said.
It is? Unacceptable?

This Karmitz fellow doesn't know anything about marketing as we practice it here. And no wonder Vivendi made such a hash of their brief ownership of Universal. The French think us crass, but this seems just na?ve.

On a lighter note, I did also come across this:

PARIS, March 3 (AFP) - Nostrils were twitching at Paris railway stations Wednesday as olfactory advertisements wafted the scent of rosemary over commuters to remind them of the joys of holidays in the south.

Timed to coincide with the return to work after the winter school break, the week-long campaign was launched by the region of Languedoc-Roussillon which wants to boost its image as a tourist destination.

Posters set up on the metro system are equipped with tiny emitters which spray out essence of rosemary -- the odour which "best evokes the atmosphere, food and landscape of Languedoc-Roussillon," the region's tourist office said.

Perfume manufacturers have used olfactory advertisements in the past, but this is the first time the technique has been used to promote tourism here, the office said.
Will we catch a whiff of similar promotions in the subways of New York and Boston? Perhaps a strategic puff of nitrous oxide mixed with taco spices to make you think of visiting Los Angeles?

As for the French thinking of heading south, just don't take the TGV to get there. I once took the TGV nonstop run from Paris to Avignon. Nice trip. I wouldn't do it today.

PARIS, March 3 (AFP) - The French government is being blackmailed by a previously-unknown group which has planted at least one bomb on the country's railway system and is demanding a ransom of more than five million dollars, the interior ministry said Wednesday.

Since December a group calling itself AZF has sent six letters to President Jacques Chirac and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, condemning France's political and economic establishment and threatening to explode 10 bombs on the railways unless the money is paid.

The government said it is taking the threat seriously and has activated the anti-terrorist section of the police as well as the domestic intelligence agency DST. A judicial investigation has been set up under the country's top anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere.

No group called AZF is known to the authorities, but it may be significant that AZF was the name of a chemical factory that blew up in the southern city of Toulouse in September 2001, killing 30 people and injuring around 1,000 others. The accident caused enormous local anger.

Police said there was not believed to be any link with Islamic terrorism.

The first letter, received on December 14, contained a series of denunciations of "politicians more pre-occupied with themselves than with the state ... a corrupt economy ... and a reductive education system" and ended with the words, "You will hear from us again soon."

In subsequent messages AZF described itself as a "pressure group of a terrorist nature." It said that 10 devices had been planted across the railway network, and that these had been fitted with timers to go off at intervals unless four million dollars and one million euros were handed over.
Actually this is quite refreshing. Not much of a political agenda here, and certainly no fanatical religious agenda either - these guys just want the money. Quite straightforward, isn't it?

Perhaps this group could ask for a bit more if they identified themselves with some religion or other, or against some religion or other. "Entrepreneur" may be a French word, but these guys need to get with the program.

Posted by Alan at 09:25 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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