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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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Sunday, 15 August 2004

Topic: The Culture

Sensitivity and its Limits

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, went online earlier today. That would be Volume 2, Number 32.

Along with extended versions of items that first appeared here, you will find two new photography sections, along with a page of photos that first appeared here. Bob Patterson returns as "The World's Laziest Journalist" of course. And here you will discover the connection between the hard-boiled Chicago writer Nelson Algren and the French feminist icon and friend of John-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir - and their mysterious connection to Mom's Bar and Grill. And they said it couldn't be done.

What follows is an extension of this item - Male Identity: Peri Bathous, or the Art of Sinking to the Profound

This sensitivity business that started last Wednesday or Thursday has been on my mind.

And what would that be?

Cheney criticizes call for `more sensitive' war
Vice president twisting senator's words, Kerry campaign says
The Associated Press - Updated: 12:58 p.m. ET Aug. 12, 2004

The item comes from Dayton, Ohio - home to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the birthplace of Orville and Wilber Wright, and one dull place. Been there - about halfway between Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

But it wasn't dull last week.
Vice President Dick Cheney ridiculed Sen. John Kerry's call for a "more sensitive" war on terrorism Thursday, saying it would not impress the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists or the Islamic militants who had beheaded U.S. citizens.

"America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive," Cheney told supporters in this swing state. "A sensitive war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans. ... The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity."

He was referring to Kerry's statement last week at a minority journalists' convention in which Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, said: "I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history."

Phil Singer, a spokesman for Kerry, said Thursday that Cheney was being disingenuous and was twisting Kerry's words. Singer noted that President Bush had also used the word "sensitive."

"Dick Cheney's desperate misleading attacks now have him criticizing George Bush's own words, who called for America to be `sensitive about expressing our power and influence,'" Singer said.

"Dick Cheney doesn't understand that arrogance isn't a virtue, especially when our country is in danger. ... If Dick Cheney learned this lesson instead of spending his time distorting John Kerry's words, this country would be a safer place," he added.
Arrogance isn't a virtue?

One could argue that even if it isn't a virtue, it wins votes. (Argued in Playing Fair: The Bad-Boy Vote.)

Cheney's position is this -
"Those who threaten us and kill innocents around the world do not need to be treated more sensitively. They need to be destroyed," he said.

None of the country's military heroes would follow Kerry's advice, he told an audience that included many veterans.

President Abraham Lincoln and Gen. Ulysses Grant "did not wage sensitive wars," Cheney said. "... As our opponents see it, the problem isn't the thugs and murderers that we face, but our attitude. We, the American people, know better."
We do? Speak for yourself, white man!

The idea we can be better thugs and murderers, and be those things but for good ends, than the pitiful thugs and murderers the other side develops for evil ends, is curious.

We need nurture and develop the appropriate kill them all mind-set? I guess.

Then what are we doing in Najaf trying to avoid blowing up the famous shrine where Sadr is holed up? Why not pull back and drop the big one? Are we such pussies we actually care what a bunch of crazy rag-heads would say or do if we did? These guys have their fake, strange (no Jesus!) religion - and we're sensitive to that? This business in Najaf and spreading across Iraq, is, as anyone can see, now a civil war. We have chosen sides. Iran has chosen sides. When Sherman marched across Georgia on our own Civil War, was he picky about what he burned to the ground?

Maybe Cheney is ticked at our own military for being such wimps. It would seem so. We don't need no allies, and we don't need no advice from no experts on Islam or Islamic culture, and we don't need nobody's damned permission - we need to kick some serious ass here.

One might point out that all this has its limitations, and that there might be trouble down the road with actions that follow from this stance. You know, unintended consequences and that sort of thing. What do they call it, nuance? That's a French word isn't it?

But Cheney is a man's man - the kind who folks in Ohio love. He's no wimp.

Well, the Associated Press reports elsewhere that Senator Tom Harkin said this -
"When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil," Harkin said. "Those of us who served and those of us who went in the military don't like it when someone like a Dick Cheney comes out and he wants to be tough. Yeah, he'll be tough. He'll be tough with somebody else's blood, somebody else's kids. But not when it was his turn to go."
I guess Tom isn't buying this "man's man" macho business.

Want to avoid all the manly crap? It's hard.

Sunday morning with a decisive thump the multi-pound Los Angeles Times lands on my doorstep. Harriet-the-Cat jumps. I switch on the coffee machine and start to disassemble this Times package. Let's see - this weekend's magazine is the fall fashion issue (sultry models - fur is back, it seems), and many inserts wanting us all to buy the latest back-to-school crap (fancy photos of winsome kids with colorful outfits, looking uncomfortable) - and the slick but stunningly shallow Parade Magazine.

Page two of Parade is always the "personality" page - Walter Scott answers your questions about famous and no longer famous folks - minor celebrity gossip and such. And what does the "personality" page give us this weekend? This -
Q. George W. Bush has occupied the White House for almost four years, yet little is known of his personal preferences. Can you fill in the blanks? -- J. Brinkley, Los Angeles, Calif.

A. He's a man of simple tastes whose favorite foods are peanut butter (creamy, not chunky) and jelly sandwiches and Fritos. According to Ronald Kessler's A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush, just out, the health-conscious President brings his own treadmill and nonallergenic pillows on long trips.
Ah, good to know.

Digby over at Hullabaloo put it best -
The audacity of presenting this election as a choice between an effete French pussy and macho manly man is mind-bending.

Clearly, this election is a choice between a sixty-year-old man and a five-year-old boy.
But the five-year-old boy is so charming? I suppose in his impish way he is.

Oh, it doesn't matter. His kick-ass take-names no-nonsense nasty uncle will run the country for him. Have another Frito, George. Dick will take care of the bad guys.

But what to do with this?

As above, this business in Najaf and spreading across Iraq, is, as anyone can see, now a civil war. We have chosen sides. But on the Knight-Ridder wire it seems the side we're supporting, the good guys, are just as a bunch of "sensitive wimps" too. The Iraqi army that we work for (it's their country now, right?) is refusing to fight, again. Obviously they are just a bunch of girly-men - acting like John Kerry in Vietnam? Well, that Kerry comparison depends on who is lying.

Here's the deal -
"We received a report that a whole battalion (in Najaf) threw down their rifles," said one high-ranking defense ministry official, who didn't want his name published because he's not an official spokesman. "We expected this, and we expect it again and again."

... "I'm ready to fight for my country's independence and for my country's stability," one lieutenant colonel said. "But I won't fight my own people."

"No way," added another officer, who said his brother - a colonel - quit the same day he received orders to serve in the field. "These are my people. Why should I fight someone just because he has a difference in opinion about the future of the country?"

... when [1st Sgt. Khalid] Ali was asked about the number of guardsmen who have quit since al-Sadr's latest uprising, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Vernon Sparkmon cut him off.

"Certain things, you can't discuss," Sparkmon told Ali. "If somebody asks that question, that's, like, classified stuff."
The fellow asks why he should fight someone just because he has a difference in opinion about the future of the country?

To prove you're a man? To prove you're not French? Men fight. Differences in opinion aren't settled by talk. You want a democracy don't you? (The irony is too obvious, isn't it?)

Kevin Drum over at Washington Monthly says these Iraqis just don't seem to be up for an American-backed civil war. Well, they don't have that manly killer instinct.

Work it all out through discussion and compromise, and maybe through, say, voting? Nope. Ask Uncle Dick - that's not the American way.

Time for a tad more scotch now.

Posted by Alan at 22:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 15 August 2004 22:05 PDT home

Saturday, 14 August 2004

Topic: World View

Paris Notes: A building without a concierge is a building without a soul.

News of the Syndicat National Ind?pendant des Gardiens d'Immeubles, Concierges et Professions Connexes...

I came across this oddity -

Key changes may spell end for the Paris concierge
Jon Henley in Paris, The Guardian (UK) - Thursday August 5, 2004

The concierge is disappearing.
They are as much a part of Paris life as petits caf?s at the comptoir, carnets of violet-tinted tickets for the metro and crottes de chien on the pavement, but their numbers are dwindling and the fate awaiting many is causing concern.

Concierges, the women who wash the doorsteps, scrub the stairs, change the lightbulbs, take out the bins and distribute the post in the capital's apartment blocks, have been in decline since electronic entry code systems were introduced in the 1970s.

But as the older members of a dying profession retire and soaring property prices lead owners to get rid of those who are left, rent out their cramped lodges and use contract cleaners instead, the needs of impoverished ex-concierges are proving hard to meet.

The Paris town hall says up to 2,000 of the 35,000 concierges' jobs in the capital are disappearing each year.
Well, times change.

And it seems largest union of these works, the Syndicat National Ind?pendant des Gardiens d'Immeubles, Concierges et Professions Connexes are getting fed up. Henley says there are many problems: concierges "work for a pittance," retire on minimal pensions, and can be legally evicted from their lodges as soon as they are no longer employed.

He notes that Paris concierges, who since the late forties have almost invariably been Portuguese or Spanish, typically earn ?1,000-1,200 a month before tax and social security, leaving a net pay of about ?600-800. And of course their pensions are much smaller. This too is a fifty hour a week job, or more what with, he notes, are additional tasks - letting workers into the apartments, watering plants, feeding pets, even taking care of schoolchildren for a couple of hours. And of course there is the problem of the residents' attitudes. But Parisians are nutritiously cutting, if not rude - as all non-Parisian French people will tell you. It's kind of like New Yorkers and the rest of us. Henley cites a survey by the union that found verbal abuse or violence had doubled in the past three years. Eighty percent of these concierges surveyed said they had suffered verbal attacks and twenty percent physical assaults. Life is tough.

Then there's this -
To these must be added the determined attempts of some residents' committees to oust them on economic grounds.

"I'm safe, but I've heard of cases where concierges have been given written warnings because of a cobweb," said another concierge. "Or asked to sign contracts that double their workload for the same salary."

Adelina Nunes, who has looked after a 36-flat block in the 10th arrondissement since 1969, is retiring next year.

"My husband has a family home in Portugal," she said. "I'm lucky. But even with somewhere to go, it will be terribly hard after 35 years here, in this building. This is my home. What must it be like for people who have nowhere else?"

Mrs Nunes says she will not be replaced: with her salary and the employers' fees adding up to 12% of the communal charges, a cleaning firm costs less, so her lodge might make way for bikes and pushchairs.

"I understand, I suppose," she said. "But it's sad, don't you think? A building without a concierge is a building without a soul, we say. An electronic entry code isn't going to lend you an umbrella, is it, or take delivery of your mail order shopping?"
Well, times change.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, confirms all this -
Concierges, or gardiennes, are disappearing like snow in August. My building has one of these mysterious contract-cleaning outfits. I haven't heard or seen them for months. Without a concierge, the building management may as well be in Panama.

The question is, when something goes wrong, what are we supposed to do? I don't even know the phone number in Panama. They changed the doorcode last fall without putting a note in the mailboxes. Imagine asking a pizza delivery kid what it is. People coming to - ha-ha - 'water the plants,' ask me what it is.

In the last place I used to chat to the concierge, her kids and her husband. She had two buildings to look after. At least 5 staircases, 8 floors high. The husband did construction work I think. After 20 years here they went back to Portugal in 2002, in their used BMW 530 turbo-diesel, to operate their own bar-restaurant, and live above it - instead of in the shoebox they were in here. I wish I could have gone too.

My last concierge confirmed just about everything that was in this Guardian piece. Tenants are the gardienne's worst enemy. They don't even tip anymore at Christmas - the going rate used to be a 10th of a month's rent. I think they were all glad to go while they were still young enough to have a life in Portugal's sunshine.

You know, Paris has a lot more circuses now, but it's not getting to be a nicer place. Folks are getting ground down. Solidarity is on the wane.

There's a guy in the 17th who gave up his job as an accountant to be a concierge. He tries hard but has said on TV that it's a thankless, uphill job with lots of downside. He organizes fetes in the cour, and some of the sour ones say, 'nobody asked him to do it.' America has no monopoly on pinheads.
My apartment building here in Hollywood has a resident manager - a three hundred pound severe looking Russian woman. And her English isn't good. And she's surly. But things get fixed when they break. That's as close as we get here in Hollywood to having anything like a concierge.

One of my French friends out here has her mother up in Montmartre (rue Lamarck) in a tall building with the standard Portuguese concierge. Mom is in her early eighties now and needs someone around. I wonder if the Portuguese concierge is still there. I shall inquire.

But the world is changing. I fear this Montmartre Portuguese woman is long gone.

Ric says Paris is not getting to be a nicer place. The world is not getting to be a nicer place.

And a photo I found on the net - and will attribute when I figure out where I found it - that shows the Paris of these new times...

Posted by Alan at 13:39 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 13 August 2004

Topic: The Culture

Racial Identity: Who Gets to be Black?

I'm not sure my friend John is stereotypically African-American or not. We worked together for a few years in Pasadena trying to hold the computer systems for a chain of hospitals together through the Y2K business and lots of real crises, and had a pretty good time. He's a Vietnam veteran about my age, and a pretty good photographer as you can see in Just Above Sunset here and here. But I'm a white guy from Pittsburgh living in Hollywood. What do I know about what is typically African-American?

John recently sent me a note with an attached article that that made me wonder about it all.

The note:
Well, well, well.... It was bound to happen. A new way to be black. Or is it really new? Or does it matter?

How are Black Americans viewed when Bill Cosby makes a comment about some black households or this comment that Obama "is not black in the usual way?"

What do the French say about such comments? Do they ever hear them? How about the Germans or Brits, or Russians?
Barack Obama, running for the open Senate seat in Illinois, is the son of black African exchange student and a white woman, and a bit of an overachiever - as in Harvard Law School and President of the Law Review. His paternal grandfather herded goats in Africa. Beat that story, Horatio Alger! Now he is said to be presidential material - articulate, charismatic, generous, thoughtful, and positive - maybe our first black president somewhere down the road. That is possible. A rising star.

But John was referring to this -

Black Like Whom?
Vanessa Williams, The Washington Post, Thursday, August 5, 2004; Page A19

Williams, the assistant city editor at the Post says she is stumped.
Scott L. Malcomson, writing in Sunday's New York Times, declares that Barack Obama, the Democratic Senate nominee from Illinois, "is not black in the usual way." To bolster his argument, he cited an article in the New Republic by Noam Scheiber, who voiced the opinion that Obama is "not stereotypically African-American."

How is one black "in the usual way"? What does it mean to be "stereotypically African-American"?

Malcomson tried to explain by emphasizing Obama's mixed-race heritage -- his father is a black Kenyan, his mother a white Kansan. He pointed out that Obama was raised by his mother and her parents in Hawaii, as opposed to being brought up in a black household. He argued that Obama's keynote address at the Democratic National Convention last week "did not . . . sound the familiar notes of African-American politics."
Geez, I guess Obama doesn't qualify or something. [His speech in Boston was covered in Just Above Sunset here.]

I think the idea is the Democrats are trying to foist a fake black man on us, those crafty devils!

Williams says -
After noting that Obama identifies himself as a black man, Malcomson seemed to be trying to prove that the Senate candidate is mistaken about his own identity. "[W]hile he is black, he is not the direct product of generations of black life in America: he is not black in the usual way," Malcomson wrote. I wonder: Is there a "usual way" to be white?
Now THAT is a curious question. I'm just doing my best, but I'm not sure I'm doing this white thing right, really.

Well, Williams was covering a Washington "Unity" convention for African American, Asian American, Hispanic and Native American journalists. She says the group lobbies the industry to diversify its newsrooms, but its core mission is to challenge to the media to "improve coverage of people of color by dispelling stereotypes and myths." And I guess it isn't working.
In presenting Obama as some new template for black success, Malcomson offered an analysis as shallow as the one sometimes spouted by discouraged black teenagers (and roundly criticized by the black middle class): that to embrace the values and behaviors that lead to achievement is to "act white." Worse, his reasoning as to why white voters find Obama attractive is reminiscent of color biases many thought had long been retired: that society favors those black people with particular bloodlines, schooling and mannerisms, while seeing the lot of black Americans through almost-cartoonish generalizations from the dark days of Reconstruction and Jim Crow.
Okay, I take it back. The idea wasn't to foist a fake black man on us. The idea is the guy is so popular because he acts white and isn't threatening and is still black, sort of.

Some of us thought he was impressive because he made sense and inspired hope and offered fine ideas and was a good man - a natural leader - and that would have been true even if he were purple or green. Ah but he was black, or something like it.

And we have to have the back-story, as we say out here in Hollywood, and this frustrates Williams -
... the news media for the most part continue to cover black people in America through a narrow prism of extremes. I call it the first and the worst approach, focusing on black people who soar to unprecedented heights (Obama was the first black Harvard Law Review president) or sink to unspeakable lows (see the suspects on your local television station almost any weeknight at 11).

What of the majority of black people whose activities are not good enough or bad enough to attract headlines? How often do the news media include the names, faces and voices of African Americans in stories that are not about "black" issues, such as affirmative action, or that don't reveal the latest social epidemic?
Well in a world where news is entertainment, that's just not good material. It's just real. Where's "the hook?"

We want that hook, but Williams see a problem with this top-bottom no-middle media view of black folks -
The other byproduct of the media's inadequate coverage of African Americans is its creation of "black leaders," who are called upon to speak for all black people, regardless of the subject. In many instances these spokesmen are simply the nearest, loudest and glibbest people.

Some of these quote machines have been speaking for "the black community" for decades, sounding like broken records on a tinny Victrola. Is it too difficult or time-consuming for journalists to go out and find black parents, wage earners and professionals who can speak for themselves?
No, it is not too difficult or time-consuming. It just doesn't boost the ratings.

While Williams points out there are, "like Obama, scores of middle-class black professionals who have mastered the art of peacefully coexisting with - and excelling among - whites" that is of course, boring. That doesn't grab audience share.

And John asks what the French say about such comments? I suspect the French are laughing their asses off at this kind of crap. From Sidney Bechet and Josephine Baker in the twenties to Dexter Gordon and Miles Davis and all the rest - and don't forget the very gay and pretty black James Baldwin - folks just know where they are welcome. Or where these things don't matter as much. Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs - the one back Parisian in the NBA - does not spend the off-season in Texas. Why would he?

Are the French laughing their asses off? Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has a comment on that -
I don't think so. Sure the French like circuses, they like black comedy, and on rare occasions they'll vote for ultra right-wing Jean-Marie Le Pen for laughs, to 'send a message.' But, generally, people who are educated get respect - I write 'educated' and not 'rich' - so idiotic attacks on John Kerry and Barack Obama are more puzzling than funny.

They are also annoying. It's like the Republicans have drafted the Marx Brothers' 'Animal Crackers' and this is their whole campaign. They are running Jerry Lewis, but everybody here wants Dean Martin to win, because he's the real thing and old Jerry is the house buffoon....

Excuse me for using the Marx Brothers in this context. They would, if still around, be destroying the GOP with ridicule. Or maybe they wouldn't. The GOP is ridiculous, utter nonsense, and they are not doing too badly in the polls. Americans appear to be bamboozled.

No, I don't think the French are laughing.
My advice to John? Don't want to deal with this are your brilliant or a gang-member murderer stuff? Go to Paris. Meet Ric. And why come back? I'll come along. I like the place.

But this business that Barack Obama isn't really black - or is a new kind of black - or something? Okay. Whatever.

But the joke is Alan Keyes - the guy the GOP just decided to run against Barack Obama in Illinois for the open Senate seat - is the real black guy? Whatever.

The joke making the rounds is Bush and his crew couldn't find the WMD in Iraq, and now they couldn't even find a black man in Chicago and had to borrow on from Maryland. A cheap shot, but funny.

Here's the view from The Economist (UK) this week - The politics of tokenism.

The title says it all -
Three weeks ago in Boston, the Democrats witnessed the birth of a new black star in Barack Obama, their candidate for the open Senate seat in Illinois. Now the Republicans have conjured up a black star of their own to do battle with the self-described skinny guy with an odd name. Alan Keyes, talk-show host, holy-roller social conservative, Maryland resident and sometime presidential candidate, will take Mr Obama on.

The thinking behind this is beguiling in its simplicity: the Democrats have a black man who can give a rafter-raising speech, so we had better find a rafter-raising black man too. Beguiling, but stupid. Mr Keyes's Senate run will produce nothing but disaster--humiliation for Mr Keyes, more pie on the face of the already pie-covered Illinois Republican Party, and yet another setback for Republican efforts to woo minority voters.
A stupid mistake? Republicans make stupid mistakes? Couldn't be!

And why is this a mistake?
Mr Keyes's problems start with his personality. The Republicans' new champion is the very opposite of cool. In 1996 he chained himself to the front door of a television station in Atlanta, Georgia, to protest against a decision to exclude him from a presidential debate (he was then mounting the first of his two bids for the presidency). His speeches can certainly be eloquent. But they can also be intemperate and plain weird, particularly on the subject of gays.

Mr Keyes's politics are of a piece with his personality. He is a genuine intellectual, a disciple of the great Allan Bloom, and has a PhD in political science from Harvard. But his intellectualism drives him to take absolutist positions on some of the most divisive subjects in American politics. He doesn't just call for a reduction of taxes; he calls for the complete abolition of the "slave" income tax. He doesn't just want to blur the line between church and state like George Bush; he argues that the division between church and state has no basis in the constitution. He doesn't just disagree with Mr Obama on abortion; he castigates him for holding "the slaveholder's position" on the subject.
Yeah, Keyes has been saying Obama is a tool of the white slave master and a vote for Keyes is a vote for what God wants. Charming.

Oh, everyone has his or her little eccentricities. But the real problem, as The Economist (and everyone else) sees?
The Keyes candidacy ... smacks of tokenism. The candidate routinely denounces affirmative action as a form of racial discrimination. But what other than racial discrimination can explain the Illinois Republican Party's decision to shortlist two blacks for the Illinois slot--and eventually to choose Mr Keyes? He brings no powerful backers or deep pockets, and was thrashed in his two runs for the Senate in Maryland.

... The Illinois Republicans are not just guilty of tokenism. They are guilty of last-minute scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel tokenism. The local party has been undergoing a sort of collective mental breakdown ever since Jack Ryan's Senate candidacy collapsed in June over a sordid sex scandal. The party tried a laundry-list of candidates, including two former Illinois governors, two state senators, several wealthy businessmen, a former football coach and, according to Dennis Hastert, "a 70-year-old guy who was a great farm broadcaster in Illinois", before turning at last to Mr Keyes.

To make matters even worse for the Republicans, Mr Keyes's numerous defects as a candidate are only magnified by the comparison with Mr Obama. Mr Obama has spent almost 20 years in Illinois--seven as a state senator--and is married to a woman from the South Side of Chicago. He won an impressive 53% of the Democratic primary vote against six strong opponents. He is optimistic where Mr Keyes preaches Sodom and Gomorrah, and moderate where Mr Keyes is intemperate. He is also a rising national star, with unrivalled support from the national party, while Mr Keyes is a serial failure.

The Republicans' fatal mistake was to think that the best way to counter a black man was with another black man. The point about Mr Obama--as the Republicans might have realised if they had paid greater attention to his speech in Boston--is that he is a post-racial candidate.
Exactly. Obama could be purple or green and it wouldn't matter. What he has done and could do, what he thinks and is willing to consider, are what matter here. A lot of the country would rather have things going better than worry about variations on blackness and all the rest. That's so last century.

Yes, the Republicans have made serious attempts to court blacks. Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell aren't chopped liver - even if their actions can be questioned. But how have to agree the Illinois Republican Party's decision to choose Alan Keyes is not a serious attempt at outreach. The folks at The Economist have it right. It is a ridiculous parody of outreach.

It's just sad. Illinois wanted an election campaign based on issues, or one can assume that. The Republicans think a minstrel show would be more fun. They'll lose this one - and look like pandering fools.


And then there is the matter of Teresa Heinz Kerry. See Just Above Sunset for information - here and here for notes on her background. She was born and raised in Africa.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, this week raise the question - So if Kerry wins, will that mean that Teresa will be this country's first African-American first lady?

My sometimes cynical friend John answered that - If Kerry wins and Teresa is loved by world and she does good things for everyone is showered with respect and admiration, the answer is NO. Otherwise, the answer is YES.

The idea is if she turns out to be a fine first lady, well, she's white. Easier to deal with. Fits the national narrative.

But then we get this odd story of well, a white man who puts on blackface to call John Kerry's wife a fraudulent African-American. Really.

The GOP Minstrel Show
A white tycoon in blackface race-baits Teresa Heinz Kerry.
Timothy Noah - Posted Thursday, Aug. 12, 2004, at 2:26 PM PT at SLATE.COM

Noah comments on the new radio advertisements this week by a nonprofit called People of Color United that rag on Teresa Heinz Kerry - saying she's no African, or at least no African American.

The copy? Here's some of it -
His wife says she's an African American. While technically true, I don't believe a white woman, raised in Africa, surrounded by servants, qualifies.
And there more of it. I heard it all.

The spots run in minority communities of course.

Noah points out the odd part -
What's interesting about this blacker-than-thou statement is that it's underwritten by a white man. People of Color United, although run by a black woman named Virginia Walden-Ford, got nearly half the money for its media buy from a Caucasian insurance tycoon named J. Patrick Rooney. Walden-Ford confirmed ... that Rooney gave the group $30,000 for a series of ads that are running in swing-state urban areas, and that the total ad buy thus far cost $70,000. Rooney, she said, was the group's biggest donor. All its funding information will eventually be public, but the law does not require People of Color United to file with the IRS before the ads go on the air. It will be interesting to learn whether a single person of color has written a check to People of Color United.
Hey, whatever works.

But Noah is angry -
I don't know about you, but when I hear a statement meant to inflame gratuitous resentment of white people, I prefer that it come from a black person. A white man who puts on blackface to call John Kerry's wife a fraudulent African-American is committing so many kinds of bad faith that I scarcely know where to start. Why did he do it?

The answer has nothing to do with the struggle for civil rights. Rooney is a medical-privatization pimp. His former company, Golden Rule Insurance Co., and its successor, Medical Savings Insurance Co., market private savings accounts of the type that Republicans are gradually using to displace health insurance provided by the government under Medicare and Medicaid (most recently in last year's Medicare prescription bill). In pursuit of this goal, Rooney, his family, and his employees have lavished more than $5 million on the GOP. Rooney's latest game, according to a recent story in Business Week, is to mau-mau hospitals into lowering rates for uninsured patients while simultaneously (and much more quietly) securing debt forgiveness for his company.
Well, Rooney claims he goes to an all black church - except for him I guess - and was elected to the church board. He says he's one of them. Really.

So he's got brass balls or bad eyesight - or both.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, shot me a few choice, terse comments.
She was born and raised in Mozambique.

Makes her an African-American, more than the 95 percent of black Americans. It's another case of someone knowing absolutely nothing - about Africa. If Americans whose forefathers came from Africa 300 years ago want to identify themselves with Africa they are making a serious mistake. They aren't 'Africans.' Teresa Heinz Kerry is. Millions of whites in Africa are.

This J. Patrick Rooney guy is a total, evil, witless buffoon.

But what has she got to do with anything? Is somebody putting her on a ballot? It's the kid's stuff again.

If we actually cared about Teresa Heinz Kerry's background in Africa, we might want to ask which side she was on in Mozambique. But let's not. It's old history now and she didn't have any choice when it came to parents.

From people I've met who were born or brought up in Africa, I've learned that they are Africans regardless of color. Isn't the business of saying Teresa is a 'fake' African just another way of saying she's 'not American' - a bit like Canadians are 'nice' because they're 'not American'?
Yeah, I guess that is the argument - she's not one of us. Fear of "the other" works in elections.

But Ric's perspective comes from living most of his adult life in Europe, I'd guess - a much smaller place with many languages and cultural differences all jammed together on a chuck of land less than half the size of the United States. The "other" for Europeans can be a two-hour drive down the road - where everything is different, where people speak a completely different language and eat odd food and all the rest. One shrugs, and tries to get along.

We, on the other hand, have always had the luxury of relative isolation. The exotic was always way far away and safe. Fat men in lederhosen swilling beer and doing that dance where they slap each other, and telling what seem to be jokes in an incomprehensible agglutinated language - that was far, far away - except for some German polka halls in Cleveland, and no one goes to Cleveland. Africa - we know that from "Born Free" and "The Lion King" - and all those old Tarzan movies MGM used to shoot down in Culver City (the back lot is now an apartment complex that still has a few of the little lakes they used for the river scenes - and I used to live there). France we know from that Gene Kelly film with Leslie Caron.

And now Kerry wants to foist this odd woman on us. It is un-American or something.

But was the exotic was always way far away and safe for us? Ric in Paris wonders about that.
It you are ever in New York City an interesting trip is the one in the harbor to Ellis Island, which also includes a stop at the Statue of Liberty.

At one time, say from before the founding of the United States, until the 1960s or 1970s, America was exotic itself. Millions of 'exotic' foreigners were filtered into America via Ellis Island, and the statue was a result of a subscription made by the French.

From what I hear, many Americans are now only 'at home' if they live close to a 'mall' containing cloned shops, that are reproduced endlessly across the land. A narrow, twisty, Paris street evokes no affection or awe - it's too annoyingly complicated.

But to Europeans America is truly exotic. Even your hurricanes are exotic. Imagine - you can't leave the 'safety' of your house being destroyed by water and winds because of all the alligators flying around!

It's time for Americans to recognize the exotic at home. The risks of living in America are real. Coming soon - homemade 'boutique' cheese!
Indeed yes.

But it's not, however, that we're racist (the Obama-Keyes issues) or xenophobic (Teresa Heinz Kerry is too odd and neither black nor white). We're just... what? Careful?

This is one interesting culture here.

Posted by Alan at 21:52 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 14 August 2004 10:10 PDT home

Topic: Election Notes

Questions from our man in Paris to Americans over here....

I've been trading a lot of email with Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, on the topics that have appeared this week on this web log.

In regard to this week's posts he asks some questions.
I can't believe how confused potential voters are. A dozen times I've heard something like, "Uh, I guess I'll have to vote for Kerry." It almost sounds like they're thinking of voting for Goering to stop Hitler from getting elected.

What is supposed to be wrong with Kerry? Why is it worse to marry nice rich ladies than to suck up to the Saudis? Why is it worse to have gone to Vietnam, gotten shot, gotten medals and promotions, than to have bugged out from a bug-out unit? Why is it worse to have a French cousin than to fake 'cleaning the yard' on a turn-key ranch? Why is it worse to have army buddies who've lost arms and legs than to have a buncha buds in the Houston Petroleum Club?

Why is it that Americans can't remember who got them into the mess they're in? Why should they trust the guy who dunnit, rather than a guy with clean hands? Is it because he can pronounce words with seven letters?

And then there's this recent talk about Americans loving to have a dodo for president in time of war. How many thought Professor Woodrow Wilson was a dodo? How many thought Franklin Roosevelt was a dodo? Or Harry Truman? Or Ike? Or did it change with Nixon? Not a dodo either, but a liar. Well, a politician. Maybe needs to be a liar. But if you've got a worldwide conspiracy of terrorists on your ass, do you want a dodo as leader? Or are you so terrified that you need one? It's all nonsense. Nonsensical.

Same goes for that macho shit. Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ike WON wars. The Russians collapsed, ran out of steam, so Reagan doesn't count. He, run by Nancy, trail-driven by Nancy; he wasn't a second-rate drugstore cowboy? The only war he really won was the wreckage of the University of California. It was Berliners who tore the Wall down, not Reagan's cunning. He beat up the professors. He would not have lasted a minute up against Woodrow Wilson.

California is a crazy place. Americans shouldn't be blamed for it.

But if people can't figure out who is causing the trouble, then they're not likely to pick the right guy to fix it.

The place is about one ballot away from being a banana republic.
Feel free to respond in the comment area below, or drop a line to - and Ric and I will get back to you.

Posted by Alan at 17:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Running with the story - Say your can't do the job and it's yours....

This item has been in the news for a few days. And it was a big deal on French television this evening.

Unfit for Bottom? Then Try the Top
[no byline], The New York Times, August 13, 2004

The bare bones -
Working for the Central Intelligence Agency is not for everybody. Just ask Porter J. Goss, a onetime covert operative.

In a brief video clip posted Thursday on Michael Moore's Web site,, Mr. Goss says he would not be able to get a job with the modern-day C.I.A.

"I am not qualified," says Mr. Goss, President Bush's nominee to run the agency. "I don't have the language skills. I, you know, my language skills were Romance languages and stuff. We're looking for Arabists today. I don't have the cultural background probably. And I certainly don't have the technical skills. As my children remind me every day, 'Dad, you got to get better on your computer.' "

The clip was taken from an interview conducted with Mr. Goss on March 3, 2004, for Mr. Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11." Mr. Goss, 65, appears briefly in the film, but the excerpt on the Web site does not.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Goss, Julie Almacy, said his comments had concerned the skills needed to be an operative.

"He's certainly qualified to be the director," Ms. Almacy said. "He's talking about a case officer."

UPI covers it this way -
Washington, DC, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- The prospect of Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., facing a tough confirmation has grown with news he once said he was not qualified for a job in the agency.

In March Goss told left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore: "It is true I was a case officer, clandestine services officer, and yes, I do understand the core mission of the business. But I couldn't get a job with the CIA today. I am not qualified."

Goss said that was because he lacked the language and computer skills needed now, the New York Daily News reported. ...
The BBC has this -
US Congressman Porter Goss, nominated to be the new director of the CIA, may be talking himself out of the job, according to film-maker Michael Moore.

Moore, who directed the film Fahrenheit 9/11, has released an interview with Mr Goss in which he says he lacks the qualifications for the top spy post.

"I couldn't get a job with CIA today. I am not qualified," Mr Goss told Moore's production company in March.

The White House has dismissed the interview as "ridiculous hearsay".

The interview did not make it into the final edit of the film, which criticises President George W Bush's policy on Iraq.

But following Mr Goss's nomination by the president, Moore has released the transcript and video excerpt on his website. ...
Well, it had to hit France, right?

In a Friday night email from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, he notes -
This might be 'old' news by now. In any case, my report isn't complete because I wasn't paying attention. This is from tonight's France-3 evening TV-news, broadcast between 19:30 and 20:00. (No TV news on France-2 tonight on account of showing the curtain-riser in Athens.)

Starts off kind of like this - Bush announced yesterday or the day before some dude was going to become CIA head. He's the best, the brightest, blah blah.

France-3 says, 'But!' there's this bit of video tape, left out of Moore's '9/11,' shot last April (2004), where this same dude says he's incompetent to run the CIA - absolutely incapable of doing it.

I didn't see or hear the whole report. The guy in question was talking in English, while French TV-news ran the audio of the French translation over him.

(I've since heard that this is about an old CIA hand, who was operating in the '70s or '80s. But in Moore's video taped in April, the guy says there's no way he can begin to run the CIA.)

What did he say the other day when Bush showed him off to the White House press corps?
Goss said little. Bush said he was wonderful.

Some folks don't think so -
During an announcement made in the White House Rose Garden, Bush described Goss, 65, a Florida Republican as "the right man with strong experience in intelligence and in fighting against terrorism."

This was immediately disputed by two former senior agents.

"When was he in the CIA?" asked former top CIA Iraq analyst Judith Yaphe of Goss's agency career.

When told that Goss had been a case officer from the mid-1960s until 1971, dealing with Latin America, Yaphe said: "But that is so long ago. It's not as if the cultures at the agency now were anywhere near what they were back then. I would worry about his genuine depth of knowledge."

Yaphe said weeks ago Goss deliberately made statements that undercut Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin, adding, "John is a decent, well-meaning man, and Goss really screwed him."

... Former CIA agent Larry Johnson also questioned Goss's qualifications. "There is one thing Goss didn't really do for the last several years -- he didn't chair the House Intelligence Committee, in spite of what his resume claims," said Johnson. "Instead, he did the dead man's float."

Johnson said Goss did not have the experience claimed. Goss did not "push through real reforms, for example, getting more funding for badly clandestine assets. He didn't do any of it."

Former CIA Counter-terrorism Chief Vince Cannistraro agreed: "Goss has never been very distinguished, but he's protected. He's a Bush loyalist and has been in the forefront of those who have tried to place the major blame for the 9/11 attacks on the agency."

... Goss was born in Connecticut, graduating from Yale in 1960, according to his office bio. He went to work for U.S. Army intelligence and after two years, moved to the CIA. He left the agency in 1971, was active in business, and in 1989 was elected to Congress where he has remained. He is currently chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the bio says.

Goss's appointment comes at an awkward time. His nomination, which must be approved by the Senate, comes as Bush is expected to act on a number of executive orders for intelligence reform recommendations from the commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks.

Yaphe, who thinks Goss would be too partisan said: "This whole appointment is a cheap political trick. One of the recommendations of the commission is that no political appointee be made director. But this is so clearly political. If Goss isn't a political appointee, than I don't know what is."
Business is usual.

On 30 January 1976 Gerald Ford made George Bush's father, who later became the first President Bush, the CIA director, where George Herbert Walker Bush stayed up to 20 January 1977 - all of eleven months.

George Herbert Walker Bush came to that post directly from his job as head of the Republican National Committee. Some folks see the job as Director of Central Intelligence as a political position - as you want information you like, not information that upsets you.

Well, Carter became president and that was that.

Oh, don't feel sorry for George Herbert Walker Bush. After leaving the CIA in 1977 he was made director of Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals by Dan Quayle's father and family, who owned controlling interest in the Lilly company and the Indianapolis Star. And it all came out just fine - Bush then got to be president and young Dan got the vice presidency.

Anyway, now Porter Goss is the man of the hour. The Democrats won't oppose him. Not that they don't want to - but they don't have the votes in the Senate and they'd just look bad by raising a fuss in these trying times.

Let the French point out the issues on the Friday night news in Paris. Our press gave up, and we gave up, a long time ago. This is our leader.

Ric in Paris says this -
Considering that many think '9/11' was a failure of intelligence, of spy craft, Bush's choice is astonishing.

Let the CIA candidate speak for himself, as he did to Michael 'Born Troublemaker' Moore.
Well, he spoke, and everyone shrugged. Let him have the job.

Posted by Alan at 16:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 13 August 2004 16:40 PDT home

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