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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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Monday, 19 July 2004

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Not quite so... but close enough for government work...

You might have missed this over the weekend...

PM admits graves claim 'untrue'
Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor, The Observer (UK), Sunday July 18, 2004

The facts -
Downing Street has admitted to The Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that '400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves' is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered.

The claims by Blair in November and December of last year, were given widespread credence, quoted by MPs and widely published, including in the introduction to a US government pamphlet on Iraq's mass graves.

In that publication -- Iraq's Legacy of Terror: Mass Graves produced by USAID, the US government aid distribution agency, Blair is quoted from 20 November last year: 'We've already discovered, just so far, the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves.'

On 14 December Blair repeated the claim in a statement issued by Downing Street in response to the arrest of Saddam Hussein and posted on the Labour party website that: 'The remains of 400,000 human beings [have] already [been] found in mass graves.'

Not to repeat myself but I does seem the reasons we said we had to got to war, against the advice of the UN and most of our traditional allies - not to mention most world opinion - were not supported by the facts of the matter. Of course since then we've said the original reason - that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was an immediate and grave threat to this country - wasn't the REAL reason. It was the ties to al-Qaeda - Iraq was in league with those guys to bring us down. Seems the facts don't support that either. We'll that wasn't the REAL reason. We went to war to liberate the Iraqi people. But they don't seem to like our version of liberation and things are a bit difficult on the ground there. They don't want this kind of liberation? Well, that wasn't the REAL reason we went war. It was set up a representative democracy there, with voting and a free press, and open, utterly deregulated markets - and the nations in the area would then get the idea and toss out their monarchies or theocracies or tribal confederations and jump on the Jeffersonian bandwagon. The Iraq example would transform the region. Well, that doesn't seem to be working out as planned - we're selling this idea and not many folks are buying it, even with our armed troops in their streets and with many, many local folks in prison being treated, to put it mildly, shabbily, and we won't tell them why they are in prison because we don't have to. Guess they just get this democracy thing. They think we're bullies and fools? Doesn't matter. That wasn't the REAL reason we went to war. It was humanitarian - Saddam was a bad man. Yes he was. Did horrible things to his own people. He did. Things are better with him gone. Probably.

And now this. We were kind of exaggerating. We do that.

As someone else said, Stalin probably killed more people than this on any given Thursday in 1931, and if you amortize the executions Bush signed off on in his few years as the governor of Texas, versus the five thousand executions Saddam pulled off in twenty-five years, well, I wonder who's ahead? Some wise-ass is probably doing the math right now.

I guess we may need a new reason why we did this war. Number six, if you're keeping count.

We went to war in Iraq to prevent the legalization of gay marriages in Haiti? We went to war in Iraq to stop family planning clinics from offering abortion advice in China? Whatever.

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly says this:
I suppose the politically correct stance is that murder is murder, and quibbling over numbers doesn't change the fact that Saddam was a monster. Which is true enough.

But the fact is that, yes, it does matter, in at least two ways. First, it matters because part of the humanitarian case against Saddam was that he was not merely a garden-variety nasty dictator, he was arguably the #1 nastiest dictator on the planet. If he wasn't, it does weaken the emotional case for intervention, just as very high numbers strengthen the case for intervention in the proto-genocide currently taking place in Darfur.

Second, and perhaps more important, is the question of whether Tony Blair (and apparently the U.S. government as well) flatly lied about this. This was not a case of intelligence estimates, after all, it was a categorical statement that 400,000 bodies had actually been found by actual troops digging up actual graves.

... this wouldn't matter if it were the only exaggeration surrounding the war. But it's not. There was no WMD, no collaboration with al-Qaeda, no 45-minute missiles, no mobile bioweapons labs, no regional military threat, and now it turns out that even the humanitarian case wasn't as clear cut as they suggested.

Is there anything left that these guys told the truth about?
Well, they didn't lie when tell told us they didn't do nuance.

Yes, we've been jerked around again.

And half the country it seems doesn't much like that. You get a sense more and more folks are starting to run out of patience.

And the other half of the country loves each new revelation - sly George pulled another one and outfoxed the peace and love fools one more time. Ha, ha. In your face, sissy liberals!

This cuts both ways. The response on the right has generally been - so what? We did what we did, and it was good, so what's the problem? Get over it.

The response on the left?

Posted by Alan at 20:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Law

The Company We Keep
Quick - what is unique about the Congo, China, Iran, Pakistan, and the United States, and only these five nations?

These are the only five countries in the world that have, in the last four years, executed juveniles.


Well, coming up to the Supreme Court in the fall is Roper v. Simmons, 03-633, if you follow such things.

You'll find this summary from the law school at Duke University -
Simmons committed murder when he was 17 years old and was sentenced to death. After his conviction was affirmed and post-conviction relief denied, he petitioned for relief on the ground that executing an individual for a crime he committed when under the age of 18 is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court of Missouri ruled in favor of Simmons, setting aside his death sentence and resentencing him to life without parole. In 1989, the United States Supreme Court in Stanford v. Kentucky had decided that executing those who were 16 or 17 years old at the time of their crimes does not violate the Eighth Amendment.

However, in 2002 the Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia held that a national consensus had emerged against the execution of mentally retarded offenders. Based on the reasoning in Atkins, the Missouri Supreme Court found that the national consensus against executions of juvenile offenders that was lacking in 1989 now exists. The Missouri court held that it was not bound by the Supreme Court's decision because the Eighth Amendment must be interpreted "in a flexible and dynamic manner" based on current standards.

Questions Presented:
1.Once this Court holds that a particular punishment is not "cruel and unusual" and thus barred by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, can a lower court reach a contrary decision based on its own analysis of evolving standards?
2. Is the imposition of the death penalty on a person who commits a murder at age seventeen "cruel and unusual" and thus barred by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?
Got it?

Note that both Richard Nixon and Angela Davis are graduates of Duke Law School. The summary is probably okay.

Seven recent op-ed pieces on the case can be found here - from source ranging from The National Law Journal to the Miami Herald.

Now the Associated Press is reporting that Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, the American Medical Association and forty-eight countries are "urging" the Supreme Court to find for Simmons and halt the execution.

"By continuing to execute child offenders in violation of international norms, the United States is not just leaving itself open to charges of hypocrisy, but is also endangering the rights of many around the world," said a friend of the court filing today on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize winners, including former President Carter and former Soviet President Gorbachev.

"Countries whose human rights records are criticized by the United States have no incentive to improve their records when the United States fails to meet the most fundamental, baseline standards," it said.

The 25-nation European Union, plus Mexico, Canada and other nations argued that execution of juvenile killers "violates widely accepted human rights norms and the minimum standards of human rights set forth by the United Nations."

Mexico noted separately that three of the 73 current death row inmates condemned for killings that took place before they were 18 are Mexican nationals.

The American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association and other medical and mental health groups also told the court they oppose execution of teen killers, as did the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Diplomats including former undersecretary of state Thomas Pickering and former ambassador to France Felix Rohatyn argued that growing international consensus against such executions leaves the U.S. diplomatically isolated.
Okay, you can discount Jimmy Carter, as he hates America, as my conservative friends insist was conclusively demonstrated when Carter accepted the Nobel Peace Prize after he suggested Bush might have been a tad wrong about having a war with Iraq. So Carter is a traitor? Fine. And Rohatyn was ambassador to FRANCE - so we know he was corrupted there. But the AMA, and the American Psychiatric Association, and the Conference of Catholic Bishops? Now the Catholic Church is working toward excommunicating John Kerry and anyone who votes for him, so what's up with this anti-Bush, anti-Republican stance? They don't believe in justice? Very puzzling.

Also this from the AP wire - the other side of the argument -
Two friend-of-the-court briefs filed earlier support continuation of the practice.

"(Our) experience strongly indicates that a bright-line rule categorically exempting 16- and 17-year-olds from the death penalty - no matter how elaborate the plot, how sinister the killing, or how sophisticated the cover up - would be arbitrary at best and downright perverse at worst," lawyers for Alabama, Delaware, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia told the court.

Those states are among 19 that allow execution of killers who were 16 or 17 at the time of the crime. Not all states that allow the death penalty apply it to underage killers, and no state allows the execution of those who were younger than 16 at the time of the crime.
But is sixteen just an arbitrary number too?

Note also that the Houston Chronicle reported in January that the decision could affect twenty-six folks on death row in Texas. (This is available only in pricey online archives.) It seems Texas has twenty-six prisoners on death row who were under eighteen at the time of their crimes. Quite a place.

Over at Talk Left you find a link to more interesting facts -
... The U.S. has executed at least 366 persons for offenses they committed as juveniles (below the age of 18).

... The first recognized juvenile execution occurred in 1642, when Thomas Graunger was executed in Plymouth, Massachusetts for committing the crime of bestiality when he was 16 years old.

... The youngest known person to be executed in the U.S. was James Arcene, a Native American boy who was 10 years old at the time of his crime.

... Since WWII, the youngest known person to be executed in the U.S. was George Stinney, a fourteen-year-old African American boy who was so small (weighing only 95 pounds) that the oversized mask fell off his face while he was being electrocuted by the state of South Carolina.
But do native Americans and African-Americans really count?

The item that got me started on this says they've been harping on this since January and links to a piece in the Christian Science Monitor and suggests political action.

But with forty-eight countries and the AMA and the Catholics and all the rest speaking up, it is covered.

The ruling? Late in the year at the earliest. Should be interesting.

Posted by Alan at 17:20 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Backgrounder

Bob Patterson, the World's Laziest Journalist, sends along this note on an odd news day.
After I zoom around the Internet and hit three or four sites I check each morning - Romenesko's Media News, Drudge - maybe Instapundit.

I hit a brick wall. What should a person read to find out what's the topic de jour for blogs? Is there a good Washington morning report? Other than Instapundit, who else is worth checking?

You said recently that for your own reading (books) you seem to like serendipity and spontaneity. Do you like unpredictable nonsense? Where do you go to find it?
Ah, good questions.

The daily political topics being tossed about are best found at these sites:

Real Clear Politics - with links to the major editorials of the day, about two-thirds on the right side of things.

Cursor - which by noon eastern time each weekday provides links to the major stories, a bit from the left.

From the left side? Working for Change - which always posts the latest Molly Ivins item, and a daily cartoon, and a quote, and "This Day in Radical History."

Later in the day Slate starts filling up with commentary, some of the best, but it is owned by Microsoft and MSNBC and co-produces the NPR radio show "Day to Day" weekdays at noon. Mainstream. Slate carries good summaries of movie and book reviews too.

For the daily wire stories and everyone's schedule, ABC's "The Note" is useful. That's here. If you want to know just when Bush will arrive in Peoria tomorrow, they have it.

The Blogs?

Here are the majors, and minors....

Andrew Sullivan - issues as seen by a conservative gay right-wing Republican, born and raised in the UK but now living at the tip of Cape Cod. Yep, he's conflicted.
Bartcop - very angry left and not terribly coherent...
The Best of the Blogs - not really, but pretty good.
Whiskey Bar - one of the most thoughtful, with long-form essays, not little nuggets.
Body and Soul - again, mostly long form, but the best of real humanism. Recommended.
The Daily Kos - much into being specific, with lots in individual states and their issues.
Altercation - Eric Alterman Monday through Friday. Forceful. Recommended.
Eschaton - short and sweet entries by Washington insiders. The granddaddy of them all. Highly Recommended.
FafBlog - way off the wall political humor from the Medium Lobster.
Hullabaloo - blunt and essential. One of the best. Recommended.
Political Animal - Kevin Drum's daily blog for the Washington Monthly is a must. Highly Recommended.
Oliver Willis - short, pointed, and spotty.
Semi-Daily Journal - Professor Delong here, of UC Berkeley, used to work in the White House as an economist for the Clinton Administration. So this is mostly about economic issues.
Tacitus - from the middle right, not the left.
Talking Points Memo - Joshua Micah Marshall, the ultimate Washington insider. The most depth. And a careful man. Highly Recommended.
Talk Left - multi-award winning blog on criminal and constitutional law, by attorneys but quite readable. Highly Recommended.
The Left End of the Dial - James Benjamin is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Behavioral and Social Science at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. Politics as seen by a psychologist - and some jazz items too, as he's a fan.
The Volokh Conspiracy - a big-gun UCLA law professor, his students and friends hold forth on the issues of the day, from the prospective of constitutional, criminal and copyright law.
This Modern World - the cartoonist Tom Tomorrow and his friends hold forth on the day's issues.
War Blogging - one very angry and very articulate ex-military dude posts every third or forth day.
World O'Crap - "A daily diatribe about current events, bad movies, pop culture, Ann Coulter, etc." And so it is.

Others of note?

Matthew Yglesias
Roger Ailes - no, not THAT one, the other one...
Sadly, No!
Tapped - the blog of The America Prospect
Quark Soup - a science blog from David Appell, and sometimes a bit technical of course
Margaret Cho - the comedienne of the left side of things ...
Patriot Boy - General JC Christian who signs each item "Heterosexually Yours" - the manly man - tries to rid himself of his "inner Frenchman" and wonders why his little general (and two grenades) won't stand up at attention when called upon.... You get the idea. Political satire at its snarkiest.
UggaBugga - often has good diagrams but posts at odd intervals...
Sisyphus Shrugged - wise woman blogger

That should hold you for a bit.

Odd stuff?

For what's up in France try these:

The Tocqueville Connection - for AFP wire items in English updated several times a day
RFI Press Review - Radio France International's daily English summary of the top stories in the French national press
France Daily - an infobot that pops up all stories from the wires that have the word France or Paris in the title or first paragraph
Yahoo - France - current AP and Reuters (and other wire services) stories regarding France

The arts?

Arts and Letters Daily - a service of The Chronicle of Higher Education providing links to stories on music and all the arts, book reviews of note, and some politics
About Last Night - Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal on music, dance and theater, with neat quotes now and then, and no politics at all

Finally, an odd UK tabloid site -

Ananova - and check our their "Quirkies" of course....

That'll do for now.

Posted by Alan at 11:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 19 July 2004 11:54 PDT home

Sunday, 18 July 2004

Topic: Photos

Heads Up!

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 2, Number 28 - went online today.

There you week find expanded versions of what first appeared here, eight essays this week, many with new commentary from friends here in North America and in France.

There's also a new column from Bob Patterson that will no doubt have the FBI, Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft at his door Monday morning.

Amusing quotes from Montaigne and Hunter S. Thompson!

Photography? You will find Lake Hollywood AND Ashcroft Street!

My favorite quote this week is Hazlitt explaining why Jonathan Swift went mad -
"There is nothing more likely to drive a man mad than being unable to get rid of the distinction between right and wrong, and an obstinate, constitutional preference of the truth to the agreeable."
... William Hazlitt, "On Swift" (1818)

He was wrong. Swift had an inner ear problem - Meniere's Disease - and that drove him mad. But maybe Hazlitt had it right too. We will all go mad.

Check out the new issue. Blogging resume here tomorrow.

Posted by Alan at 21:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 18 July 2004 21:29 PDT home

Saturday, 17 July 2004

Topic: Bush

The Joy of Psychopathology

James Benjamin is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Behavioral and Social Science at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. And he has a web log, The Left End of the Dial, where you will find this observation -
We do know, for example, that chronic alcohol abuse can lead to brain damage - in particular the prefrontal cortex of the cerebrum. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is responsible for much of what we consider rational thought, and damage to this part of the brain can manifest itself in terms of rigidity of thought, poor impulse control...
Yeah, yeah. So what?

Benjamin points us to this:
Is Bush's past now present?
Douglas Yates, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Fairbanks, Alaska), Thursday, July 15, 2004

Who, pray tell, reads the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, perhaps even in Fairbanks? And this Douglas Yates appears to be a Marine Corps veteran and a writer, and photographer, living in Ester, Alaska. This is not your usual news source, but even the wilds of Alaska one can connect the dots, and, as I suspect there is not much to do in Ester, Yates does so.

Here's a bit of the dot-connecting:
By his own admission, Bush was a heavy drinker for more than 20 years. While more than 10 million Americans are similarly afflicted, only one has been elevated to the presidency. Though it is reported that he stopped drinking in 1986, at the age of 40, Bush's policies and judgment appear linked to alcohol addiction.

A growing number of professionals in psychopathology and alcohol counseling claim that Bush exhibits characteristics of "dry drunk" syndrome. A term adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, a dry drunk is a person who shows impaired behavior, although not actually imbibing. While technically "dry," such individuals are not truly sober. Dry drunks tend to extremes while also displaying increased anxiety, irritability, resentment, impulsive anger and lack of empathy. They are rigid, judgmental and often present an inordinate sense of entitlement.

Katherine van Wormer, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa and co-author of "Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective," points to Bush's language as a way to see through the smoke.

"First there were the terms--'crusade' and 'infinite justice.' Next came 'evil doers,' 'axis of evil,' and 'regime change' ... the polarized thinking and the obsessive repetition reminded me of many of the recovering alcoholics/addicts I had treated," van Wormer writes.
Well, an ex-Marine might know about such things. But this idea has been floating around for a long while. A local Beverly Hills psychotherapist I knew well, who passed away a few months ago, discussed this with me in the autumn of 1999 as Bush was running for president. She had worked with alcololics. She knew. She thoughty Bush dangerous. And she was a smart woman - in fact, I named my cat, Harriet, after her.

But Yates is concerned with the present, and Harriet (the psychotherapist not the cat) is gone. And he points out the idea persists -
Other researchers cite the president's black-and-white view of the world. Although one of the first principles of leadership is the ability to consider opposing points of view, Bush can't muster such perspectives. In regard to foreign policy, Bush has said, "... my job isn't to try to nuance. I think moral clarity is important ... this is evil versus good."

Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of communication at New York University, examined Bush's language for evidence of distorted thinking. Author of "Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder," Miller initially intended an amusing catalog of Bush's verbal gaffes. Played for laughs by many, some view Bush's stumbling speech as an endearing tic.

However, in reading the transcripts of his speeches, Miller realized something more serious was going on. Bush's garbled and confusing sentences may actually reveal a hidden personality disorder.

Miller builds the case that Bush's gaffes occur only when he's speaking about things that mean little to him. Topics such as the poor, idealism or compassion are often twisted beyond meaning.

However, writes Miller, "He has no trouble speaking off the cuff when he's speaking punitively, when he's talking about violence, when he's talking about revenge. When he struts and thumps his chest, his syntax and grammar are fine. This is a guy who is absolutely proud of his own inflexibility and rectitude.
Well, that's how Bush has been sold to America. A large enough segment of the voting public just eats that up, maybe a large enough voting bloc so that Bush will win in November.

Benjamin then turns to Arianna Huffington's summary of the recently published book, "Bush on the Couch," by Justin A. Franks, M.D. -
Poking around in the presidential psyche, Frank uncovers a man suffering from megalomania, paranoia, a false sense of omnipotence, an inability to manage his emotions, a lifelong need to defy authority, an unresolved love-hate relationship with his father, and the repercussions of a history of untreated alcohol abuse.

... One of the more compelling sections of the book is Frank's dissection of what he calls Bush's "almost pathological aversion to owning up to his infractions" -- a mindset common to individuals Freud termed "the Exceptions," those who feel "entitled to live outside the limitations that apply to ordinary people."

... But you don't make it as far as W. has without some psychological defenses of your own -- especially when it comes to insulating yourself against your own fears and insecurities.

Raised in a family steeped in privilege and secrecy, and prone to the intense aversion to introspection and denial of responsibility that are the hallmarks of a so-called dry drunk -- one who has kicked the bottle without dealing with the root causes of the addiction -- Bush has become a master of the psychological jiu-jitsu known as Freudian Projection.

For those of you who bailed on Psych 101, Freudian Projection is, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a defense mechanism in which "the individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by falsely attributing to another his or her own unacceptable feelings, impulses or thoughts."

In layman's terms, it's the soot-stained pot calling the kettle "black."
Well, it seems unethical, in a medical ethics sort of way, to do a differential diagnosis of a severe psychopathology from the outside, and certainly without the patient's permission - but it is kind of fun.

And Benjamin has some fun with it all. The psychology professor from Oklahoma offers this:
To make the story as short as possible, Bush's psyche can be best summed up as that of a right-wing authoritarian. Authoritarians are characterized by a number of traits (see Altemeyer, 1981, 1988, 1996, for more details):

Conventionalism - a tendency to go along with the prevailing societal norms, especially those norms sanctioned by authority figures in the home, church, etc. This same trait is also characteristic of most conservatives, although typically not carried to the extreme as is the case with authoritarians.

Authoritarian Submission - a tendency to essentially do what one is told without question, as long as it's sanctioned by an authority figure. Right-wing authoritarians will readily submit not only to authority figures whom they like and respect, but also to those whom they do not like (they may gripe a bit in the latter case, but will do what they're told regardless).

Authoritarian Aggression - authoritarians are no more or less prone to aggression and violence than the rest of us. However, they are a rather vengeful and punitive lot who will commit acts of aggression or violence if they perceive that such acts are endorsed by relevant authorities. Right-wing authoritarians also tend to view the world as a dangerous place, in which there are enemies lurking behind practically every corner, and such worldviews tend to facilitate acts of aggression - especially against out-groups (e.g., ethnic minorities, gays, liberals, etc.).

Rigidity of Thought - To these first three traits I'd like to add this fourth trait based on the observation that right-wing authoritarians are not known for their cognitive complexity. They tend to see the world in black and white, in terms of absolutes. They are not generally interested in looking for the nuances in an argument, or for handling the ambiguities that characterize life in a diverse democratic republic.
Oh my!

If you click on the top link and go to the Benjamin site you will, of course, find that his text is filled with live links to the relevant research and documents, should you wish to see how he reached these conclusions. That's recommended for the obsessive among you.

I particular like "a tendency to essentially do what one is told without question, as long as it's sanctioned by an authority figure." That explains Dick Cheney's role. He stays.

And a willingness to "commit acts of aggression or violence if they perceive that such acts are endorsed by relevant authorities." That will get you a war - as Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Perle and the rest said a war would be just fine. Colin Powell was not relevant.

And a tendency to "view the world as a dangerous place, in which there are enemies lurking behind practically every corner?" We are actually being told to buy into that by Ridge and Ashcroft. And indeed it does "facilitate acts of aggression." We are told X or Y deserves just that aggression.

But is this at all valid? Perhaps not.

Irving Berlin once said - "There is an element of truth in every idea that lasts long enough to be called corny."

Here, with this Bush dry-drunk psychopathology - does the same apply?

Posted by Alan at 20:16 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 17 July 2004 20:17 PDT home

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