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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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Tuesday, 17 August 2004

Topic: Backgrounder

Follow-Ups: Sensitivity and Madness (Cheney and Keyes)

Item One:

On the matter of the Republicans jumping all over John Kerry for saying this - "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." - see Sensitivity and its Limits Sunday from 15 August 2004.

Yes, Vice President Dick Cheney ridiculed Kerry's call for a "more sensitive" war on terrorism and said it would not impress the terrorists who took down the World Trade Center or the Islamic militants who had beheaded Daniel Pearl. Cheney said, "Those who threaten us and kill innocents around the world do not need to be treated more sensitively. They need to be destroyed."

Clear enough, although we see that the family of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded in Pakistan two years ago, has requested that his name not be used in a political context. Pearl's father, said that the request was a general one and was not directed at Mr. Cheney in particular, and that it was intended to prevent the stoking of moderate Muslim ire. "We don't take sides between Bush and Kerry," Judea Pearl said. "I don't even know who I'm going to vote for."

One assumes Cheney is angry beyond belief about this request that he be a bit more sensitive. If Cheney is more sensitive then the terrorists will have won? Something like that.

And yes, Bush uses the word all the time, with no problem.

Joseph, my expatriate friend in France commented -
A bit or real irony here: "Sensitive" has many meanings - a sensitive document, to be compassionate and so on. But if the way Kerry meant it was in the sense "to be aware of other's perceptions of ones words and actions," then Kerry wasn't nearly sensitive enough. I knew these words would come back to haunt him the moment I heard them. This is the big-time. This is what politics has become in America. Deal with it.

Bush used the same word? So what. He's entitled. He's dropped a lot of ordinance. When he uses the word, he's speaking softly and carying a big stick, no? Kerry's people should have known better.
Okay, I get it.

Then again, Juan Cole, the professor of history at the University of Michigan, the middle-east expert on Iraq who travels down to Washington to testify before congress now and then, and pops up on the PBS "News Hour" every month or two, here adds some historical perspective.
Many pundits pointed out that George W. Bush had used exactly the same language about a sensitive approach to the war on terror, so that Cheney was implicitly criticizing his own superior.

But as a historian, I have to say that Cheney's statement is bizarre and uninformed. Let me just give one example. The practice round for World War II was fought in North Africa, then controlled by the Vichy French. Dwight Eisenhower developed Project Torch, involving the landing of US troops in Morocco and Algeria.

It was essential to the US effort that the French colonial soldiers be quickly won over and convinced not to put up stiff resistance to the invasion. The original plan would have explicitly used British naval power. But the Free French objected loudly to this plan, since they did not want the British Empire's ships anywhere near their North African possessions. The French and the British had old rivalries in this regard. Moreover, there were still French bad feelings about the British attack on the French fleet at Mers al Kabir in Algeria in 1940.

So Roosevelt and Eisenhower asked Churchill to keep the British navy in the background off Gibraltar and out of sight of the Moroccan coast. Churchill agreed.

That is, Roosevelt and Eisenhower had their successful landing in North Africa precisely because they were entirely willing to bend over backward to be sensitive to French feelings.

And that is the big difference between Cheney and Bush as wartime leaders on the one hand, and on the other Roosevelt and Eisenhower. Cheney and Bush are diplomatically tone deaf, projecting nothing but arrogance and being all too willing to humiliate traditional allies. They have no sensitivity. And it is for that reason that they have the U.S. stuck in Iraq with only one really significant military ally, the U.K. ...
So is it really true that at one time we actually cared what the French thought? Roosevelt and Eisenhower asked Churchill to be sensitive?

Well, in that context it made tactical sense. I'm not sure that Kerry wasn't saying the exact same thing. It's just common sense. You don't piss people off needlessly, and expect them to love you for it. Sometimes being sensitive, and, as in this historical case, diplomatic, is just common sense.

But I guess that's wrong now. Common sense and diplomacy, in the traditional sense where it means something like "sensitivity" for tactical and strategic ends, is now inappropriate. See September 7, 2003 Opinion in Just Above Sunset for how we have redefined diplomacy. It's full of examples of how we have scorned diplomacy of this kind for the whole of the latest Bush administration. Win points in the international community with ridicule and scorn? Mock them and they'll deeply respect our power? Could that really be the idea? Many parents seem to feel they can shame their children into appropriate behavior by sneering at them and mocking them. I don't think that works very well but I've certainly seen that applied quite a bit - watch the parents at any Little League game. In regard to international policy, for the last three years the product we were being sold, and have bought, happily, is that, as Americans, we don't take crap from anyone, and we'll do what we want. And if you don't like that? Too bad.

John Kerry is going to change that dynamic?

In defense of his second amendment right to bear arms, even automatic weapons with armor-piercing cop-killer bullets, and as president of the National Rifle Association, Charlton Heston used to famously say of any gun control laws, "The government will have to pry this rifle from my cold, dead hands." Everyone would cheer.

I'm sure Cheney feels that same way about his right to be as arrogant as he wants, and to humiliate anyone he chooses. No one messes with us. And Judea Pearl can go fuck himself.


Item Two:

Last weekend in Just Above Sunset - in Racial Identity: Who Gets to be Black? - the latter part of the item covered the race for the open senate seat in Illinois where Barack Obama is being challenged by Alan Keyes.

Much of the discussion centered on comments that Barack Obama isn't really black - or is a new kind of black - or something. The idea was that Alan Keyes - the guy the GOP just decided to run against Barack Obama - is the real black guy? Whatever.

The item linked to and quoted many assessments of Keyes - and they were not flattering. Since the item was published Keyes has added more fuel to the fire. Keyes suggested it would be a good idea the we repeal the seventeenth amendment, so senators are not elected at all but, rather, appointed by each state legislature. This has something to do with states rights, but that's a bit confusing. And he has moved to the Chicago area from Maryland, as he must be an Illinois resident on the day of the election to qualify for the office. But he has leased a home, on a month-to-month basis. One suspect he knows the polls are showing he cannot possibly win.

Too add one more touch of strangeness to the whole business we get this -

Keyes likens abortion to terrorism
Natasha Korecki and Scott Fornek, The Chicago Sun-Times, Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Does this make sense?
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes said Monday that women who choose to undergo abortions and the physicians who perform the procedure are essentially terrorists because "the evil is the same."

The remarks came as Keyes was explaining why three months ago he said that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a "warning" from God to "wake up" and stop "the evil" of abortion.

"Now, you think it's a coincidence that on September 11th, 2001, we were struck by terrorists an evil that has at its heart the disregard of innocent human life?" Keyes said in a May 7 speech in Provo, Utah. "We who have for several decades killed not thousands but scores of millions of our own children, in disregard of the principle of innocent human life -- I don't think that's a coincidence, I think that's a warning. ... I don't think that's a coincidence, I think that's a shot across the bow. I think that's a way of Providence telling us, 'I love you all; I'd like to give you a chance. Wake up! Would you please wake up?' "

The speech and transcript of that talk appears on the Web site of a Keyes supporter.

Since he entered the U.S. Senate contest just over a week ago, Keyes has attacked Democratic rival Barack Obama for his support for abortion rights, saying the Democrat holds "the slaveowners' position."

Obama called it "deeply troubling" that Keyes is now evoking the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks in his anti-abortion arguments.
Deeply troubling? Maybe it is, but only in the psychiatric sense. Let him rave. The percentage of potential votes swayed by such an argument is so small as to make no difference. And psychotropic medication gets better all the time. Not to worry.

Keyes seems to be burying himself politically, or trying out some sort of new stand-up comedy routine for his next career, which will be back in Maryland.

What to make of this man? If I remember my sub-atomic physics right, the four properties of the subatomic particle known as the quark are up-ness, down-ness, strangeness and charm. These are some times called the quark's flavors. (What you need to know about ultrarelativistic heavy ion physics might be found here.) One thinks of Keyes, the human quark.

Posted by Alan at 19:22 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Monday, 16 August 2004

Topic: Bush

No one wants to mention the elephant in the room... but things change...

No one wanted to say it, but someone finally did.

In the last presidential election campaign, four years ago now, we were told that George Bush might have had little experience up to that point, and not much curiosity about anything, and he didn't know about a lot of places and people and things, and that, in fact, he might not be terribly smart - but that didn't matter. Intelligence didn't matter. Character mattered. You could look up all the shallow and stupid things Bush said - and see what he knew nothing about - and then find all the conservatives defending him. Bush would to restore honor and dignity to the White House, they said, and his smart advisors, with their decades of experience in previous administrations, would keep him from stumbling.

We were sold his upright character, and a backup infield of great talent. And we bought it. Gore was too smart by half - but you couldn't trust Gore. Gore was liar who had been second in command to an even bigger liar. Honesty, directness, simplicity - in short, character - matter more than how smart you were, or how clever. We didn't need that.

Now Matthew Yglesias says the obvious - in detail. We did need that. The current guy just isn't up to the job and never was. And it's time to say so.

So this was published today, and is getting a lot of press.

The Brains Thing
Three years of watching Bush makes the point: Intelligence matters more than "character."
Matthew Yglesias. The American Prospect - Issue Date: 09.01.04

Yglesias asks you to remember the narrative at the time -
... With the country enjoying a seemingly endless spell of peace and prosperity, and no apparent daunting challenges facing the next chief executive, the media were finally granted the chance to construct a narrative entirely around personalities. Al Gore, based on a handful of small exaggerations and his association with the occasionally sordid behavior of Bill Clinton, was said to have a character problem. George W. Bush, meanwhile, was haunted by a lack of experience and intelligence.

This left liberals flustered. Most of Gore's "lies" were, in fact, nothing of the sort; he was, upon examination, not the same person as Clinton; and finally, his Vietnam experience -- he enlisted in the Army upon graduation from Harvard -- contrasted favorably with his opponent's. But liberals never figured out how to convert these facts into a character argument on Gore's behalf.

Conservatives, on the other hand, had a ready answer to the charges leveled against their standard-bearer: Intelligence didn't matter. A president, after all, is assisted by a cabinet, White House aides, and a staff that numbers in the thousands. Surely those people could help him out when he needed to know the name of the president of Pakistan or run some numbers on a tax bill. Even George Will, who in August of 1999 fretted about Bush's "lack of gravitas -- a carelessness, perhaps even a recklessness perhaps born of things having gone a bit too easily so far," wrote the following January that he was prepared to have his "doubts about Bush's intellectual weight and steadiness" be alleviated by an appropriate vice-presidential selection. Dick Cheney, he suggested, was just the man for the job, and later that year Will became a happy camper.
Well, Cheney may be a hyper-intelligent, ruthless man, of vast experience, but even he cannot make something out of nothing. As Lucretius said a long, long time ago - Nil posse creari de nilo. You need some raw material to work with, after all. In the case of Bush, well, there was much there there.

So why didn't the Democrats and other liberals make more of a fuss about the fact the guy didn't know squat and didn't want to know squat?

Try this (my emphases) -
Liberals unanimously believed that Bush was not up to the intellectual challenges of the job. But fearful of re-enforcing a stereotype of left-wing elitism, they time and again shied away from pressing the argument. With the point thus conceded, Gore fought things out on the enemy terrain of character. To the Bush campaign's promise to "restore honor and dignity to the White House," Gore had no real reply -- except to put as much distance between himself and the incumbent as possible. Thus the country was treated to the strange sight of a vice president essentially disavowing his popular, rhetorically brilliant, and largely successful predecessor. Joe Lieberman was put on the ticket, and the campaign reached its high point when Gore made things really clear by delivering an ostentatious kiss to Tipper on national television at the convention. This, the campaign said, is a candidate who truly loves his wife, not at all like that other guy. But ultimately, character -- at least as defined by the Republicans and, more important, the media, who happen to be the ones who do the defining -- isn't a point on which a Democrat can win.
Yeah, we all wondered what that stupid long sloppy kiss was about. It was, we see, a character thing.

Well, Gore lost and we got the second George Bush. But that there seemingly endless spell of peace and prosperity was broken with those airplanes taking down both towers of the World Trade Center, smashing into the Pentagon and dropping out of the sky east of Pittsburgh - and three thousand dead - all in one morning.

Yglesias suggests it was then, if we admit it, we knew we were in trouble -
If ever there was a moment when the country might have been called to question whether it was well-served in a time of crisis by a leader with scant knowledge of the relevant issues, it was then. Instead, things merely got worse. Intelligence was off the table entirely, while character became the cult of moral clarity, a transformation well expressed by former Bush speechwriter David Frum in his memoir. After the attacks, he wrote, he realized that "Bush was not a lightweight." Instead he was "a very unfamiliar type of heavyweight. Words often failed him, his memory sometimes betrayed him, but his vision was large and clear. And when he perceived new possibilities, he had the courage to act on them -- a much less common virtue in politics than one might suppose." With the nation reeling from attack, the thirst for a strong leader was palpable, and so the press obliged by constructing Bush into one. Lacking the conventional attributes of a skilled -- or even competent -- chief executive, he became, as Frum put it, an "unfamiliar type of heavyweight."
Yeah, sometimes known as a lightweight, or as someone in way over his head.

But no one would say that. We needed to "come together" and all the rest. One didn't say such things.

Yglesias covers that too - how Frum's view was what we were supposed to say.
... Richard Cohen, part of a small army of liberal commentators who would eventually find themselves following Bush into Baghdad, wrote in his December 18, 2001, column that "I applaud whenever George Bush issues one of his dead-or-alive pronouncements" and denounced those, "invariably on the political left," who "upbraid him for his supposed childishness." Unlike his critics, Bush had a Reagan-like "moral clarity" about the struggle; and that, rather than any childishness, was the important point.

Such was the mood of late 2001. On October 20, The New York Times reported that "many Democrats who once dismissed Mr. Bush as too naive and too dependent on advisers to steer the United States through an international crisis are now praising his and his advisers' performance. Some are even privately expressing satisfaction that Mr. Gore, who tried to make his foreign affairs experience an issue in the campaign, did not win." Gore "may know too much," said one anonymous former Senate Democrat quoted by the Times.
Of course, of course - knowing too much is always a problem. Wouldn't want THAT. When the Democrats are saying such things, we are, indeed, in deep trouble.

Yeah, and praise these advisers' performance - Wolfowitz and Rove and Perle and all the rest. You know, the guys who believed Chalabi. You know, the guys who wanted this war with Iraq that would cost very little and where we, the liberators, would be greeted by folks tossing flowers, and everyone would rally around us and admire us in awe. Right.

Yglesias' money-shot is here -
Three-plus years later we know better, or at least we should. Intelligence matters. The job of the president of the United States is not to love his wife; it's to manage a wide range of complicated issues. That requires character, yes, but not the kind of character measured by private virtues like fidelity to spouse and frequency of quotations from Scripture. Yet it also requires intelligence. It requires intellectual curiosity, an ability to familiarize oneself with a broad range of views, the capacity -- yes -- to grasp nuances, to foresee the potential ramifications of one's decisions, and, simply, to think things through. Four years ago, these were not considered necessary pieces of presidential equipment. Today, they have to be.
And that about sums it up.

Yglesias extends his argument to domestic policy and has a long section, quite depressing, on matters with North Korea. And there is quite a bit on how Bush makes decisions. Click on the link for details. It is all quite detailed.

And then Yglesias turns to the local paper out here to wrap up (my emphases)-
Reviewing Clinton's My Life in the June 24, 2004, Los Angeles Times, neoconservative Max Boot happily concluded that "conservatives like character, liberals like cleverness." He's right. But to state what should be obvious, the president is not your father, your husband, your drinking buddy, or your minister. These are important roles, but they are not the president's. He has a job to do, and it's a difficult one, involving a wide array of complicated issues. His responsibility to manage these issues is a public one, and the capacity to do so in a competent and moral manner is fundamentally unrelated to the private virtues of family, friendship, fidelity, charity, compassion, and all the rest.

For the president to lead an exemplary personal life is surely superior to the alternative. But within obvious limits -- no one would want an alcoholic president, for example -- it doesn't really matter. Clinton's indiscretions caused his family pain and produced awkward moments for the parents of some young children. But Bush's bungling has gotten people killed in Iraq, saddled the nation with enormous debts, and created long-term security problems with which the country has not yet begun to grapple.

That the country should be secured against terrorist attacks, that deadly weapons should be kept out of the hands of our enemies, or that it would be good for a wide slice of the world to enjoy the blessings of freedom and democracy are hardly controversial propositions. But these things are easier said than done. Even a person of goodwill is by no means guaranteed to succeed. Yet succeed we must. And if we are to do so, the question of intelligence must be put back on the table. The issue is not "cleverness" -- some kind of parlor trick or showy mastery of trivia -- but a basic ability to make sense of a complicated, fast-changing world and decide how to confront it. Any leader will depend on the work of his subordinates, but counting on advisers to do the president's heavy lifting for him simply will not do. Unless the chief executive can understand what people are telling him and follow the complicated arguments they may need to make, he will find himself paralyzed at every point of disagreement, or he will adopt the views of the slickest salesman rather than the one who's gotten things right.

The price to be paid for such errors is a high one -- it is, quite literally, a matter of life and death. Already we've paid too much, and the problems confronting the country are growing harder with time. Unless the media, the electorate, and the political culture at large can shift their focus off of trivia and on to things that actually matter, it's a price we may pay again and again.
Okay, someone finally said it. The guy is in way, way, way over his head, and we're paying the price.

But intelligence doesn't matter, character does. Moral clarity is all. Or so we're told. We are supposed to prefer character, clarity and unwavering mindless confidence - even in the face of reality - over competence and coherence.

Digby over at Hullabaloo asks the quite obvious question here -
When Republicans tell me that it doesn't matter if Junior is intelligent I ask them if they think it matters if a doctor is intelligent or a judge or a general and if they think the job of president requires any less of a brain than those jobs do. Then picture George W. Bush doing any of them.
Geez, maybe someone should devise a sort of SAT test for presidential candidates - where one must demonstrate comprehension skills answering questions about difficult hypothetic issues, making sure you don't miss key points and complex interrelationships, and where you'd have to write a coherent essay explaining an idea, and you could throw in a multiple choice section on geography and history so you could show you do know where things are in the world and who might be mad at whom and why.

Nope. Bush hated the academics at Yale and blew off a lot of his classes - so that wouldn't be fair. And it may not be what we really want.

Yglesias perhaps would approve of such a basic qualifying exam. Intellectuals would approve. The rest of the country? No. "Character" will do for them.

Then again, at bottom probably no one believes the leader here should be an actual tweed-wearing wooly intellectual with a briar pipe and all that.

But someone who thinks clearly would be nice. Someone marginally coherent would be nice too. Someone who thinks about the real consequences of one's actions would also be nice. A little curiosity wouldn't hurt either. Who cares if he or she doesn't know anything about Lucretius? Basic competence would be nice.

Posted by Alan at 21:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 17 August 2004 11:41 PDT home

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Who do you trust? The New York Times causing trouble again...

First it's Bob Herbert.

Suppress the Vote?
Bob Herbert, The New York Times, Monday, August 16, 2004

The bare bones -
... State police officers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando and interrogated them as part of an odd "investigation" that has frightened many voters, intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown a chill over efforts to get out the black vote in November.

The officers, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are investigating allegations of voter fraud that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March.

Officials refused to discuss details of the investigation, other than to say that absentee ballots are involved. They said they had no idea when the investigation might end, and acknowledged that it may continue right through the presidential election.

"We did a preliminary inquiry into those allegations and then we concluded that there was enough evidence to follow through with a full criminal investigation," said Geo Morales, a spokesman for the Department of Law Enforcement.

The state police officers, armed and in plain clothes, have questioned dozens of voters in their homes. Some of those questioned have been volunteers in get-out-the-vote campaigns.
This probably simple law enforcement. Yes, Bush cannot win in November without Florida. Yes, elderly blacks in Florida are overwhelmingly Democratic. Yes, Jeb Bush, the governor, is the president's brother and seems to have authorized this. Yes, many of these folks are active in get-out-the-vote activities, stuff like that group the Orlando League of Voters. But this is probably simple law enforcement - which officials refuse to discuss.

Not to worry. You have to trust them.

Then there are lawyers. One lawyer representing the seventy-three-year-old president of the Orlando League of Voters, is getting snooty -
Joseph Egan, an Orlando lawyer who represents Mr. Thomas, said: "The Voters League has workers who go into the community to do voter registration, drive people to the polls and help with absentee ballots. They are elderly women mostly. They get paid like $100 for four or five months' work, just to offset things like the cost of their gas. They see this political activity as an important contribution to their community. Some of the people in the community had never cast a ballot until the league came to their door and encouraged them to vote."

Now, said Mr. Egan, the fear generated by state police officers going into people's homes as part of an ongoing criminal investigation related to voting is threatening to undo much of the good work of the league. He said, "One woman asked me, 'Am I going to go to jail now because I voted by absentee ballot?' "

According to Mr. Egan, "People who have voted by absentee ballot for years are refusing to allow campaign workers to come to their homes. And volunteers who have participated for years in assisting people, particularly the elderly or handicapped, are scared and don't want to risk a criminal investigation."
This probably simple law enforcement - and the secondary effect - scaring the crap out of people who might vote the wrong way thus keeping a troubling demographic away from the voting booths, and afraid to even file an absentee ballot - is probably not what they intended at all. They were just doing their job.

There is an implicit message, sure. If you vote, or help the elderly or handicapped or low-income local black folks to vote, you could be in real trouble. Who needs a criminal investigation?

Actually, this is pretty clever. We have an investigation that cannot be publicly revealed and knocks on the door and lots buzz-cut white guys in suits asking questions - and they cannot tell you why they're asking these questions but can that tell you if you don't answer their questions you could be in deep shit.

Pretty clever. These Bush kids know how to play the game, and use all the available tools. Why don't the Democrats ever think of things like this? This works.

The second item in the Times?

F.B.I. Goes Knocking for Political Troublemakers
Eric Lichtblau, Monday, August 16, 2004

As you recall, the preamble to the Constitution says that one of the purposes of government is to "insure domestic Tranquility." (The eighteenth century was when one capitalized proper nouns, of course.) This seems to mean that it is the responsibility of government to enforce law and to preserve order so that citizens may go about their daily business peaceably and secure in their lives, possessions, and rights. Fair enough.

What Eric reports?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been questioning political demonstrators across the country, and in rare cases even subpoenaing them, in an aggressive effort to forestall what officials say could be violent and disruptive protests at the Republican National Convention in New York.

F.B.I. officials are urging agents to canvass their communities for information about planned disruptions aimed at the convention and other coming political events, and they say they have developed a list of people who they think may have information about possible violence. They say the inquiries, which began last month before the Democratic convention in Boston, are focused solely on possible crimes, not on dissent, at major political events.

But some people contacted by the F.B.I. say they are mystified by the bureau's interest and felt harassed by questions about their political plans.

"The message I took from it," said Sarah Bardwell, 21, an intern at a Denver antiwar group who was visited by six investigators a few weeks ago, "was that they were trying to intimidate us into not going to any protests and to let us know that, 'hey, we're watching you.' ''

The unusual initiative comes after the Justice Department, in a previously undisclosed legal opinion, gave its blessing to controversial tactics used last year by the F.B.I in urging local police departments to report suspicious activity at political and antiwar demonstrations to counterterrorism squads. The F.B.I. bulletins that relayed the request for help detailed tactics used by demonstrators - everything from violent resistance to Internet fund-raising and recruitment.

In an internal complaint, an F.B.I. employee charged that the bulletins improperly blurred the line between lawfully protected speech and illegal activity. But the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, in a five-page internal analysis obtained by The New York Times, disagreed.

The office, which also made headlines in June in an opinion - since disavowed - that authorized the use of torture against terrorism suspects in some circumstances, said any First Amendment impact posed by the F.B.I.'s monitoring of the political protests was negligible and constitutional.

The opinion said: "Given the limited nature of such public monitoring, any possible 'chilling' effect caused by the bulletins would be quite minimal and substantially outweighed by the public interest in maintaining safety and order during large-scale demonstrations."
Minimal? Well, I guess - if the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel says that the impact here is negligible and constitutional, well, they must know. They are lawyers, reporting to John Ashcroft. You have to trust them.

No you don't.

Bob Harris makes these comments:
The agents usually ask the same three questions. Are you planning violence or other disruptions? Do you know anyone who is? Do you realize it is a crime to withhold such information.

Now as the tales of Martha Stewart and others remind us, it's the third question that looms. Lie to fed, suffer the consequences. And given that the latter investigations fall under the rubric of Stopping Domestic Terrorism, one can't help but suffer the fear, illogical or not, that a small cramped space at GITMO and an Ashcroft press conference awaits you.

The FBI has been urging local police departments to report suspicious activity at political demos. Including a request for details regarding everything from violent resistance to Internet fund-raising and recruitment. An FBI employee filed an internal complaint regarding the latter, charging that it improperly blurred the line between lawfully protected speech and illegal activity.
That's where Ashcroft's Office of Legal Counsel weighed in. No longer content to authorize the use of torture -- okay, it was just an opinion, since disavowed -- the OLC gave the Feebs a hearty thumbs-up.

... yes, I'm willing to admit that there are public safety concerns in play whenever large groups of people gather to demonstrate. It's just that as always, the Ashcroft Justice Department seems to be not only overreacting, but wasting resources as well.

... Rest easy, America. No Denver anti-war group intern is going to push you around!
This probably simple law enforcement - and the secondary effect - scaring the crap out of people who might say things in public that question the motives and actions, and even the intelligence of our current leaders - is probably not what they intended at all. They were just doing their job, insuring domestic tranquility and that sort of thing.

These two Times items suggest that scaring the crap out of people who are troublesome - those who might vote the wrong way and those who might ask the wrong questions - could be the primary intention here. The government can claim the primary intention in both cases is simply enforcing the law, that the secondary effects never occurred to them.

Which is true? It seems to be a matter of how trusting you are.

We trusted the government on that WMD business, and on the obvious ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. We trusted them on the idea that cutting taxes on the rich would makes us all rich and make the jobs come back. We trusted them on lots of things. Why not on these two?

Are there only so many times you can go back to that well before you find it's now dry? Maybe so. Or maybe not. We will see about that in November.

Posted by Alan at 19:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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

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