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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, 24 August 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Spite and its uses... Why One Votes for Bush

Why one votes for Bush? You will find this comment at the end of the last column, From the Department of Useless Advice - "...half the country likes this child bully who can sucker-punch the skinny, brainy wimp and get away with it. Hey, it is entertaining - and plays to the secret fantasy of so many who feel life, and brainy wimps who get along with the French, have treated them unfairly and mocked their lack of education and their simple incurious values and tell them life is complicated when it really isn't."

Here - (Mark Ames in the NY PRESS - Volume 17, Issue 23), curiously, this is explained in great detail - and this is an executive summary with key quotes -
PREMISE: In this country, tens of millions of people choose to watch Fox News not simply because Americans are credulous idiots or at the behest of some right-wing corporate cabal, but because average Americans respect viciousness. They are attracted to viciousness for a lot of reasons. In part, it reminds them of their bosses, whom they secretly adore. Americans hate themselves for the way they behave in public, always smiling and nodding their heads with accompanying reallys and uh-huhs to show that they're listening to the other person, never having the guts to say what they really feel. So they vicariously scream and bully others into submission through right-wing surrogate-brutes. Spending time watching Sean Hannity is enough for your average American white male to feel less cowardly than he really is.

PROPOSITION: What if Americans are not a likeable people? The left's wires short-circuit when confronted with this terrible possibility; the right, on the other hand, warmly embraces Middle America's rank soul and exploits it to their full advantage. The Republicans know Americans better than the left.

THE POWERLESS VOTE OUT OF SPITE AND ENVY: This explains the mystery of why Bush still has a chance of winning in November, even though most Americans acknowledge that his presidency is little more than a series of slapstick fuck-ups with apocalyptic consequences. Inspector Clouseau meets the Book of Revelations. Close to half of this country will support Bush simply to spite that part of America that it sees as most threatened by the Iraq debacle. If the empire ends up collapsing into that filthy, sizzling hellhole in the desert, if more terrorists are created to help set off dirty bombs in Manhattan or Los Angeles, our spiteful voter has a real chance of finally achieving some empowerment.

... Spite voting is mostly a white male phenomenon, which is why a majority of white males vote Republican. It comes from a toxic mix of thwarted expectations, cowardice and anomie that is unique to the white American male experience.

... One look at Bush and you'll know why: Bush is the privileged frat-boy/jock asshole that every spiteful male recognizes from his school days. Spiteful males may have supported him in the past, but only because Bush's cartoonish stupidity gave a daily dose of stomach cramps to the responsible, concerned Americans who voted for Gore. And really, what white male in his spiteful mind could possibly have voted for Al Gore, with that pained "Am I pleasing you?" smile he beamed at you? Spiteful white males don't want to be pleased-they want other people to be displeased.
Of course the whole item is much more detailed, and angrier. This summary is, after all, only that, a summary.

Read the essay here.

What to conclude? Never underestimate the power of spite. The old adage that some people will cut of their nose to spite their face? Maybe that applies here in some way.

The Bush campaign as planned by Karl Rove effectively harnesses this spite. What possible counter effort can his progressive-liberal-Panglossian opponents mount?


ADJECTIVE: Blindly or naively optimistic.
ETYMOLOGY: After Pangloss, an optimist in Candide, a satire by Voltaire (1694-1778).

A Voltaire quote -
"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O, Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it." (Letter to M. Damilaville - May 16, 1767)

Posted by Alan at 15:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Election Notes

From the Department of Useless Advice

Previously in The Story That Won't Die - leading to a precise definition of cowardice.... you will find passages from Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo where Marshall makes a brief argument about George Bush, asserting he is a specific kind of coward, a moral coward.

Marshall elaborates a bit a day later (Tuesday, August 24, 2004) and gives us this, and the excerpt here is only a taste. The emphases in bold are mine.

I'm not sure this is good campaign advice for John Kerry.
The current debate about these two men's military service has put the spotlight on physical courage. But that really is a side issue in this campaign, if we're talking substance. The real issue isn't physical bravery but moral cowardice.

President Bush is an exemplar of that quality in spades. And it cuts directly to his failures as president. Forget about thirty years ago, just think about the last three years.

Before proceeding on to that, one other point about the two men's service. On the balance sheet of moral bravery, as opposed to physical bravery, the two men are about as far apart as you can be on Vietnam. On the one hand you have Kerry, who already had doubts about whether we should be fighting in Vietnam before he went, and put his life on the line anyway. On the other hand, you have George W. Bush who supported the war, which means he believed the goal was worth the cost in American lives. Only, not his life. He believed others should go; just not him. It's the story of his life.

That is almost the definition of moral cowardice.

We have a more immediate sense of what physical bravery and cowardice are. In fact, when we speak of bravery and cowardice, the physical variety is almost always what we're talking about. It's whether or not you can charge an enemy position while you're be fired at. It's whether you're immobilized by the fear of death.

Moral cowardice is more complex. A moral coward is someone who lacks the courage to tell the truth, to accept responsibility, to demand accountability, to do what's right when it's not the easy thing to do, to clean up his or her own messes. Perhaps we could say that moral bravery is having both the courage of your convictions as well as the courage of your misdeeds.

As I've been saying here for the last couple days, the issue isn't that Bush ducked service in Vietnam. It's that he tries to smear other people's meritorious service without taking responsibility for what he's doing. He gets other people to do his dirty work for him.

... The key for the Kerry campaign to make is that the president's moral cowardice is why we're now bogged down in Iraq. It's a key reason why almost a thousand Americans have died there. President Bush has set the tone for this administration and his moral cowardice permeates it.

Consider only the most obvious examples.

The president didn't think he could convince the public of the merits of his reasons for going to war. So he lied to them. He greatly exaggerated what was thought to be the evidence of weapons of mass destruction and completely manufactured a connection between Iraq and al Qaida. He couldn't get the country behind him on the up-and-up. So he took the easy way out; he took a shortcut; he deceived them. And now the country is paying a terrible price for it.
He and his advisors knew that if they leveled with the public about the costs of war -- in dollars, years, soldiers -- he'd have a very hard time convincing them. So he didn't level with them. He took the easy way out.

The sort of forward planning that would have made a big difference in post-war Iraq was scuttled or attacked because it would make the job of selling the war harder. Those who sounded the alarm had their careers cut short.

Once we were in Iraq and it was clear that we had been wrong about the weapons of mass destruction -- a judgment that's been clear for more than a year -- he wouldn't admit it. And he still hasn't. A year and a half after we invaded Iraq and he still can't level with the American people about this. He still relies on his vice president to try to fool people into thinking Hussein was tied to al Qaida and the 9/11 attacks.

More importantly, once it became clear that the president's plans for post-war Iraq were producing poor results, he refused to shift policy or to reshuffle his team. He refused to demand accountability from his own team because of how it would have reflected on him. He's preferred to continue on with demonstrably failed policies because to do otherwise would be to admit he'd made a mistake and open himself to all the political fall-out that entails. And that's not something he's willing to do.

The stubborn refusal ever to change course, which the president tries to pass off as a sign of leadership or devotion to principle, is actually an example of his cowardice.

For the same reasons, he runs from soldiers' funerals like they were burying victims of the plague -- because it's the easy way out. If there's a problem, he denies it or finds someone else to take the fall for him.

Everyone has these tendencies in their measure. No one is perfect. But they define George W. Bush.

The same sort of moral cowardice that led him to support the Vietnam war but decide it wasn't for him, run companies into the ground and let others pay the bill, play gutter politics but run for the hills when someone asks him to say it to their face, those are the same qualities that led the president to lie the country into war, fail to prepare for the aftermath and then refuse to take responsibility for any of it when the bill started to come due.

That's the argument John Kerry needs to be making. And he needs to make it right now.
All very well argued, but were John Kerry to stand in front of a national audience and say this - "President Bush. Be a man. Take responsibility for what you do, and what you have done. Grow up." - Kerry would change no voters' minds.

Almost all votes have made up their minds already. And half the country likes this child bully who can sucker-punch the skinny, brainy wimp and get away with it. Hey, it is entertaining - and plays to the secret fantasy of so many who feel life, and brainy wimps who get along with the French, have treated them unfairly and mocked their lack of education and their simple incurious values and tell them life is complicated when it really isn't.

I don't think this will fly.

Posted by Alan at 09:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Monday, 23 August 2004

Topic: Election Notes

The Story That Won't Die - leading to a precise definition of cowardice....

As a follow-up to Attack Ads: The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and all that...

Below? Arguments that Bush is either a liar or cannot remember what he said, he's a moral coward who has others do his dirty work, and he's a shallow sadist.

Monday's statement from President Bush, as reported the Associated Press (byline David Espo, AP Special Correspondent - Monday, August 23, 2004)
President Bush on Monday criticized a commercial that accused John Kerry of inflating his own Vietnam War record, more than a week after the ad stopped running, and said broadcast attacks by outside groups have no place in the race for the White House.

"I think they're bad for the system," added Bush, who had ignored calls to condemn the ad while it was on the air. ...
And this is followed by a whole lot of reported comment - Democrats saying this was too little too late, Republicans calling for Michael Moore's movie to be pulled, and late in the day Bush saying he was disappointed that Kerry didn't join him in this call for and end to these "Exception 527 to the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill" advertisements.

Yeah, when Bush signed the bill into law he said these 527 exemptions were wonderful - allowing for free speech to bloom. Oops.

Nick Confessore over at Tapped rightly says this (with active links to document it all) -
President Bush's denunciation of 527s is hypocritical and self-contradictory. This is especially true given (let me add some more examples) that the campaign finance law the president signed just a few years ago deliberately avoided closing the 527 loophole; that Bush beat Sen. John McCain (R-Ari.) during the 2000 primary in part with the help of a 527 run by his supporter Sam Wylie; that Bush's own campaign manager, campaign counsel, and political guru (Ken Melhman, Ben Ginsburg, and Karl Rove, respectively) have attended fundraising and organizational events for Progress for America, a 527 founded by Bush's political director from the 2000 campaign, Tony Feather; that GOP chairman Ed Gillespie and Bush campaign chairman Mark Racicot recently issued a statement designating PFA and yet another GOP 527, the Leadership Forum, as a good place for Republicans to give money to; and that the second-biggest 527 in the U.S. is the Republican Governors Association, a group spun off by the Republican National Committee two years ago specifically to collect and harness soft money for state and local GOP candidates.

If President Bush is opposed to 527s, somebody better tell his senior campaign staff, and quick.
Oh well, Bush's statement sounds good for the masses, now that it is too late to do anything about the anti-Kerry ads. Ha, ha.

[Over at Open Secrets you will find a ranked list of political 527 organizations with the amounts they have spent so far.]

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo gives this perspective -
THERE WAS A brief hubbub over the web earlier this afternoon when it seemed that President Bush had denounced the Swift Boat ads. Needless to say, of course, he had done no such thing. He simply repeated the line Scott McClellan has been peddling for days -- that he denounces all independent expenditure ads.
Then Marshall prints a long block of verbatim comments from Bush ending with this -
BUSH: Absolutely. I don't think we ought to have 527s.

I can't be more plain about it. And I wish -- I hope my opponent joins me in saying -- condemning these activities of the 527s. It's -- I think they're bad for the system. That's why I signed the bill, McCain-Feingold.

I've been disappointed that for the first, you know, six months of this year, 527s were just pouring tons of money -- billionaires writing checks. And, you know, I spoke out against them early. I tried to get others to speak out against them as well. And I just don't -- I think they're bad for the system.
Really? Yeah, he said the opposite, but this is probably not lying. He probably believes he once said that. He didn't. But, you know, he has some problems in expressing himself. We get the idea. Maybe he didn't understand what he was signing? It happens.

But all though the verbatim transcript Bush will NOT say that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisements were wrong in and of themselves.

Marshall nails it here -
... of course the bigger point is that President Bush won't denounce the ads. If someone asks me to denounce Joseph Stalin and I say, "Well, yes, I'm against all politicians who support the death penalty" then I haven't denounced Joseph Stalin, right? This is the same thing.

Now, let's step back and consider where we are. Everyone in the country seems to have an opinion on this -- just go see the chat shows, the opinion columns and talk radio. Everybody has an opinion but George W. Bush, the man at the center of it all.

The reason, as we said earlier, is that the president is a coward -- a fact for which this dust-up constitutes merely an example. And ... President Bush's moral cowardice -- not his physical cowardice or bravery, of which we know little and which is simply a side issue -- is the essence of this campaign.
And what did Marshall say earlier?

He said this -
I don't say he's a coward because he kept himself out of Vietnam three decades ago. I know no end of men of that age who in one fashion or another made sure they didn't end up in Indochina in those days. (I quickly ran through both hands counting guys I talk to on a regular basis.) And they include many of the most admirable people I know.

He's a coward because he has other people smear good men without taking any responsibility, without owning up to it or standing behind it. And when someone takes it to him and puts him on the spot to defend his actions ... he's literally speechless. Like I say, a coward.
The pattern is clear. Marshall goes into great detail of what the Bush folks did to McCain in 2000 and all the rest.

But the key contention - that moral cowardice is the essence of this campaign? Gee, which of the two candidates volunteered for service in Vietnam? Cheney himself managed five deferments in a row - as, he has said, he had other priorities.

And now their surrogates claim Kerry wasn't really any kind of hero and his wounds superficial and his medals not merited. And Bush says, oh well, everyone should stop such ads.

The Middle East expert from the University of Michigan, Juan Cole, puts it this way -
The true absurdity of the entire situation is easily appreciated when we consider that George W. Bush never showed any bravery at all at any point in his life. He has never lived in a war zone. If some of John Kerry's wounds were superficial, Bush received no wounds. (And, a piece of shrapnel in the forearm that caused only a minor wound would have killed had it hit an eye and gone into the brain; the shrapnel being in your body demonstrates you were in mortal danger and didn't absent yourself from it. That is the logic of the medal). Kerry saved a man's life while under fire. Bush did no such thing.

What was Bush doing with his youth? He was drinking. He was drinking like a fish, every night, into the wee hours. For decades. He gave no service to anyone, risked nothing, and did not even slack off efficiently.

The history of alcoholism and possibly other drug use is a key issue because it not only speaks to Bush's character as an addictive personality, but may tell us something about his erratic and alarming actions as president. His explosive temper probably provoked the disastrous siege of Fallujah last spring, killing 600 Iraqis, most of them women and children, in revenge for the deaths of 4 civilian mercenaries, one of them a South African. (Newsweek reported that Bush commanded his cabinet, "Let heads roll!") That temper is only one problem. Bush has a sadistic streak. He clearly enjoyed, as governor, watching executions. His delight in killing people became a campaign issue in 2000 when he seemed, in one debate, to enjoy the prospect of executing wrong-doers a little too much. He has clearly gone on enjoying killing people on a large scale in Iraq. Drug abuse can affect the ability of the person to feel deep emotions like empathy. Two decades of pickling his nervous system in various highly toxic substances have left Bush damaged goods. Even for those who later abstain, "visual-spatial abilities, abstraction, problem solving, and short-term memory, are the slowest to recover." [source linked at site] That he managed to get on the wagon (though with that pretzel incident, you wonder how firmly) is laudable. But he suffers the severe effects of the aftermath, and we are all suffering along with him now, since he is the most powerful man in the world.

... decades of this sort of behavior do not leave a person untouched. Our world is in crisis and our Republic is in danger. It should not be left in the hands of a man who spent his life like this.
What? He's either a liar or cannot remember what he said, he's a moral coward who has others do his dirty work, and he's a shallow sadist.

So? He sort of won the last election. He will probably win this one. Maybe that's what we want.

Posted by Alan at 20:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 23 August 2004 20:52 PDT home

Topic: Election Notes

Guest Columnist Rick Brown -
It's the Electoral College, Stupid!

Not being a sports fan, I have little clue what the term "fantasy football" means, but if it is what I think it is, then it must be something like what I concocted below. Lots of fussing around with arcane figures, the results of which probably resemble reality as much as what happens inside the head of your average six-pack quarterback approximates the real NFL. But whatever. As they say, it's only a game.

The presidential race is not just a horse race, of course, it's also a numbers racket, and it was a glance at a list of such numbers in a recent special section of the New York Times devoted to the Electoral College, under a huge headline "Could It Happen Again?", that brought me to the startling conclusion that 538 is an even number!

Not to argue that this is a huge breakthrough in mathematical theory, only that it makes one wonder how close we could be to having a dead-heat in the horse race in 2004. So I started diddling around to find out.

First, just to remind anyone who may have forgotten about what happened in 2000, George Bush needed one-half of the 538 electors, plus one, to win; he got plus two, or 271. (Leaving the Supreme Court issue out of the discussion, of course.)

By the way, that should have left Al Gore with 267, but in fact, Barbara Lett-Simmons, a 73-year-old elector from the District of Columbia, turned in a blank ballot to protest DC's not having any votes in Congress.

But the year 2000 was also a census year, which means that since then, states gained or lost electors according to population shifts. So I asked myself, what if, in 2004, Bush were to win the same states as he did last time, and Kerry were to take the same states that Gore took in 2000?

It seems that Bush would have triumphed, with 278 electors to Kerry's 259. (In short, Bush was favored in states that had small but growing populations.)

And again, just for the fun of it, I wondered what it would take for a tie, which would throw the whole contest into the House of Representatives.

As it turns out, if just one state, Colorado, which was not too far from 50-50 in 2000, actually took its present nine votes from Bush and gave them to Kerry, it would give Bush 269 to Kerry's 268. It would then hopefully be a simple matter to persuade all three of the DC electors to play along and cast all of their votes this time, bringing Kerry and Bush even at 269 votes each.

What happens then? It goes to a vote in the House of Representatives, in which each state has one vote. And how would that go? There's no guarantee that each state would follow their original votes, but if they did, Bush would win, 30-21. (This tally assumes DC has a vote in the House. I forget whether or not they do, but it wouldn't change the outcome if they didn't.)

(With the exception, of course, of Colorado -- and, of course, my having that stray DC elector actually cast his/her vote this time -- all of the above assumes that this year's Democratic candidate still gets the majority of the popular vote. In other words, even if there were a tie in the Electoral College in this fantasy race, the Constitution once again will allow the people to be overruled. This whole electoral system, including that House of Representatives chaser, seems to favor the candidate who is liked by the less populous states. I suppose we really should get around to fixing that problem someday.)

But before we end this, let me lead this back to the real world, in which things are apparently happening that might lift the spirits of the "Anyone But Bush" crowd, and which brings me back to my original premise: "It's the Electoral College, Stupid!"

With all of these neck-and-neck polls we hear about every weekend, we tend to forget, as we do every presidential election year, that all these polls about the popular vote don't really mean that much in a close popular race; what really matters is what's happening in the states.

And yes, even though pundit Charlie Cook -- reputedly as good at this political prediction stuff as anyone can be -- is now saying that Kerry is way ahead, I myself imagine it's still too early to nail it all down.

Still, go look at, a website I just found, that allows you to roll your mouse over a map of the country and get the most recent poll results from each state. It's really neat! You should bookmark it, because it changes from day to day.

When I went there just now, they had Kerry with 286 electoral votes to Bush's 233, which does not include the two states shown to be "Exactly Tied," Wisconsin and Colorado. (See what I'm telling you? This whole race may swing on Colorado!) Of course, some of the states are listed as "Weak" or "Barely" for a certain candidate, so things could change at any time, especially during whatever bounce, if any, happens after the upcoming GOP convention in New York.

By the way, I tried to imagine a tie scenario on that map, but I couldn't do it. Still, this is not to say that couldn't change over the next two months.

- Rick Brown

Posted by Alan at 13:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 23 August 2004 19:05 PDT home

Sunday, 22 August 2004

Topic: Photos

New Today!
Just Above Sunset now on line!

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, went online late today. That would be Volume 2, Number 33.

Hot topics in the news, or that should be in the news, peppered with comments from friends around the world. Published late in the day, as I was out of town yesterday and missed a day of production, and the hosting service today got a tad flaky on me.

Special items this week -

Joy Childs on the film you are NOT allowed to see.... (with photo)

Ric Erickson in a special column from Paris, with notes on Franco-American misunderstandings....

Bob Patterson with his weekly column (dry this week) and a book review....

Thoughts on the passing of Julia Child and Donald Justice...

Some spooky Hollywood Stuff...

And a new item in Links and Recommendations - Don Smith, Paris photographer and his Left Bank Lens

Along with political thoughts on the week that was....

In this week's quotes?

Try ROBERT A. HEINLEIN: Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.

Or WILLIAM GLADSTONE: Liberalism is trust of the people, tempered by prudence; conservatism, distrust of people, tempered by fear.

And here's a Hollywood ghost....

Posted by Alan at 21:36 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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