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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, 12 September 2004

Topic: Photos

Sunday, the day of rest...

The new issue of Just Above Sunset is now on line. That would be Volume 2, Number 36 of course.

The usual hot topics in the news, or that should be in the news, with new comments from Paris, Atlanta and upstate New York - what first appeared here corrected and extended.

Bob Patterson has three items this week - his column on the uses of the past, a new Book Wrangler, and a short film review of one more subversive movie. And the two (2) photography sections cover the Frank Lloyd Wright house in my neighborhood (an amazing Mayan thing), and, since this is Hollywood, some celebrities.

And the usual odd quotes - this week, everything you ever wanted to know about Paul Val?ry, and more...

And something I came across last week at Fafblog - home of the Medium Lobster, Fafnir and Giblets - from Thursday, September 09, 2004, serious scandals!

Kitty Kelly's book comes out Tuesday, and we get this -
I am now in quite a pickle over who to vote for. I was boppin back n forth between George Bush an his deep heartland values an John Kerry an his actually bein able to run a country an I just could not figure it out but then these Kitty Kelley rumors came up an it just blew my squishy little mind!

The Poor Man says there are other scandals out there like a half-trillion dollar deficit an a phony war an such but before I could always balance those out with George Bush's brush-clearin skills an godly faith which could always resolve serious security concerns an international crises. Like what if you open your door one day an there is like thousands a yards a hostile brush outside - terrorist brush - an you are all "Oh no brush!" With all due respect to John Kerry I do not think his skill in international relations an killin Viet Cong could help us out with that crisis, I think right there we would need George Bush to clear that brush before it endangers our freedom.

Or what if Jesus comes back but is hit by radioactive rays an turns into radioactive monster MegaMechaJesus an goes on a rampage destroyin cities an such? It would take a leader of strong inner Jesusy faith to negotiate with the mutant Son of God before he seriously disrupts international stability.

But now all that is up in the air! What if George Bush really did have a coke habit an he is chasin down Osama bin Laden some day an he is closin in on Osama bin Laden an goin "oh I'll get you Osama bin Laden" an Osama bin Laden drops a bag a coke an George Bush is so overpowered by his desire to snort coke that he lets Osama get away?

Or what if George an Laura Bush really did smoke pot in the seventies? This could change everythin because I want to think of my president as a president I could have a beer with but I am not quite comfortable smokin pot with my president. I would have to smoke pot with all of his pot friends which means smokin up with like Dick Cheney an Karl Rove an Lewis "Scooter" Libby an they would probly start hittin me up for cash an I'd be all "but I do not have much cash on me Karl Rove" an Rove would be all "cmon Fafnir it's for tax relief, you like tax relief, dontcha" an then Cheney would get the muchies an eat the Congressional Budget Office or somethin.

So you can see how it would make my decision more difficult cause you can never compartmentalize bein a pothead in the seventies. Oh such weighty decisions!
Actually, Kitty Kelly hits the news and talk shows tomorrow, doing the promotional interviews for her new book.

Expect discourse like this.

And clearing brush is important.

And from this week's Just Above Sunset Photos - the Frank Lloyd Wright house a few blocks west of here....

Posted by Alan at 19:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 12 September 2004 19:49 PDT home

Saturday, 11 September 2004

Topic: The Media

Film: The fox condemns the trap, not himself....

The quote is from William Blake, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" (1793).

This review, by Bob Patterson, will appear in tomorrow's weekly edition of Just Above Sunset. It is posted here should you wish to add comments (click on "post your comment" below) or send a response via email (click on "Email the Editor" in the left column). Your observations, within the (wide) bounds of taste, will be published along with Bob's review tomorrow.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
- unrated -
Film review by Bob Patterson

If the fact that the New York Post film reviewer didn't like this movie is an unexpected bit of information for you, then you may be in for a spectacular surprise if you see this film. For a wide variety of other reactions check out the links provided by the Movie Review Query Engine.

The Fox News Channel has the motto "Fair and Balanced." This movie, which was original released as a DVD but is now playing in selected theaters, features a series of segments with the underlying premise that what you see on The Fox News Channel isn't what they say you are going to get.

This documentary film, directed by Robert Greenwald, presents various TV style "talking head" shots that present analysts and commentators who tell you what you can expect to see on that particular network and then follow with a quick series of on-air examples that prove the contention and contradict the claim that Fox's content is "fair and balanced."

After Australian newspaper baron Rupert Murdoch bought the broadcasting enterprise, he decreed a change of routine. The result was program content would adhere closely to what the executives wanted to emphasize for each new day. They show some examples of a daily position memo from Fox management and then provide an example of how the on-air talent complied with those "suggestions."

The results are as close to objectivity as one might expect if a well-known chef were to offer to hold a benefit barbecue for PETA. By the time the film is over, asking the question does Fox present the news with spin or not is like wondering if you should invite an avid Dodger fan to participate in a tribute to the Giants. Were the stories in the Voelkischer Beobachter fact filled and opinion free?

Visually the unending string of talking head shots is about as exciting as would be a baseball game that went to the bottom of the ninth inning with the opposing pitchers both throwing a perfect no-hitter. Leni Riefenstahl, a pioneer documentary filmmaker, proved that the genre can incorporate dramatic well composed images.

Ultimately seeing a relentless presentation of evidence to convince the viewer that propaganda disguised as objective reporting raises a question of hypocrisy. It makes the viewer wonder, with clich?s about a diligent electorate making a informed decision, if perhaps FNC is subconsciously making a mockery of the concept of democracy. It's as if they say: "We'll make your mind up for you." The fact that the Fox News Channel ratings have grown enormously, obviously will produce a "steady as she goes" response from their proud owner.

Intellectuals who find the concept that a business organization that promises "fair and balanced" news can attract a bigger audience with a bit of rhetorical chicanery, will find this film provides the food for thought that they had been seeking elsewhere.

The website for this film is here.


Editor's Note - for a previous discussion of this matter see Just Above Sunset - October 19, 2003 Opinion. The subtitle is "Thoughts on nailing mashed potatoes to a wall. Or - `We report, you decide.' - Disseminating Ignorance." This is about how watching the news can actually sometimes make you dumber, and have you believe things that just aren't so. It is a discussion of the results of a study done by researchers from the Program on International Policy Attitudes (a joint project of several academic centers, some of them based at the University of Maryland) and Knowledge Networks, a California-based polling company. The study represents a year tracking the public's misperceptions of major news events and polling people to find out just where they went to get things flat out wrong. They went to Fox News. The data show a direct relationship between relying on Fox News for information and getting the facts wrong. The Just Above Sunset item also contains comments from Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta.

Another item from William Blake, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" - "Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ'd." Not these days.

Posted by Alan at 11:59 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 11 September 2004 12:03 PDT home

Friday, 10 September 2004

Topic: The Culture

Philosophy: True Lies

Over at The Chronicle Review - a publication of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Lynch, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, has a curious little essay. This essay is adapted from his book True to Life: Why Truth Matters, to be published in October by the MIT Press.

What is this about?

See Who Cares About the Truth? from the issue dated September 10, 2004

Much of this is a critique of an earlier essay by Stanley Fish that argued, as Lynch summarizes, that not only is objective truth an illusion, but even worrying about the nature of truth in the first place is a waste of time. In short, debating an abstract idea like truth is like debating whether Ted Williams was a better pure hitter than Hank Aaron: amusing, but irrelevant to today's game. Yeah well, I would argue that the late Roberto Clemente was also.... Nope. Can't go there.

Lynch of course runs down the problem with the reasons we went to war in Iraq, and has a problem with folks, the majority now, who really don't care that much whether what we were told was true or false. The reason, or reasons, we went to war, turned out to be based on what was not true, and now, if you are following the opinion polls, no one much cares -
... the belief that Iraq was an imminent nuclear threat had rallied us together and provided an easy justification to doubters of the nobility of our cause. So what if it wasn't really true? To many, it seemed na?ve to worry about something as abstract as the truth or falsity of our claims when we could concern ourselves with the things that really mattered -- such as protecting ourselves from terrorism and ensuring our access to oil. To paraphrase Nietzsche, the truth may be good, but why not sometimes take untruth if it gets you where you want to go?
Well, we are, after all, a practical, pragmatic people. And it does sort of depend on where you want to go. Whatever works.

But Lynch, the philosopher, presents the classic classroom questions -

1.) At the end of the day, is it always better to believe and speak the truth?
2.) Does the truth itself really matter?

And he admits most Americans would look at these two questions "with a jaundiced eye." He thinks we are a little cynical about the value of truth. (And who liked those late afternoon classes where you were forced to deal with "deep questions" when you just wanted to get your credits and move on?)

Who cares?

You would think the conservative right cares, but not exactly... (my emphases) -
William J. Bennett, for example, in his book last year, Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism, laments the profusion of what he calls "an easygoing" relativism. Longing for the days when children were instructed to appreciate the "superior goodness of the American way of life," he writes: "If the message was sometimes overdone, or sometimes sugarcoated, it was a message backed by the record of history and by the evidence of even a child's senses." In the halcyon days of old, when the relativists had yet to scale the garden wall, the truth was so clear that it could be grasped by even a child. That is the sort of truth Bennett seems to think really matters. To care about objective truth is to care about what is simple and ideologically certain.

As a defense of the value of truth, that is self-defeating. An unswerving allegiance to what you believe isn't a sign that you care about truth. It is a sign of dogmatism. Caring about truth does not mean never having to admit you are wrong. On the contrary, caring about truth means that you have to be open to the possibility that your own beliefs are mistaken. It is a consequence of the very idea of objective truth. True beliefs are those that portray the world as it is and not as we hope, fear, or wish it to be. If truth is objective, believing doesn't make it so; and even our most deeply felt opinions could turn out to be wrong. That is something that Bennett -- and the current administration, for that matter -- would do well to remember. It is not a virtue to hold fast to one's views in face of the facts.

Thus some writers, like Fish, say that since faith in the absolute certainties of old is na?ve, truth is without value. Others, like Bennett, argue that since truth has value, we had better get busy rememorizing its ancient dogmas. But the implicit assumption of both views is that the only truth worth valuing is Absolute Certain Truth. That is a mistake. We needn't dress truth up with capital letters to make it worth wanting; plain unadorned truth is valuable enough.
Yeah, if you can see it. Sometimes it's hard to see it.

And it is easy to be cynical, like the Fish fellow. But Lynch says this is confused, and further, that philosophical debates over truth matter because truth and its pursuit are politically important.

Politically important? Really?

Lynch argues this -
There are three simple reasons to think that truth is politically valuable. The first concerns the very point of even having the concept. At root, we distinguish truth from falsity because we need a way of distinguishing right answers from wrong ones. In particular, and as the debacle over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq clearly illustrates, we need a way of distinguishing between beliefs for which we have some partial evidence, or that are widely accepted by the community, or that fit our political ambitions, and those that actually end up being right.

... We think it is good to have some evidence for our views because we think that beliefs that are based on evidence are more likely to be true. We criticize people who engage in wishful thinking because wishful thinking often leads to believing falsehoods. In short, the primary point of having a concept of truth is that we need a basic norm for appraising and evaluating our beliefs and claims about the world. We need a way of sorting beliefs and assertions into those that are correct (or at least heading in that direction) and those that are incorrect.
Of course this flies in the face of what my conservative friends say - that when you assume personal responsibility for your life and adopt the right attitude, that what you want to happen will happen, you will succeed at anything you try.

Really? The line between having a positive attitude and delusional wishful thinking is, it seems to some of us, quite hazy. Saying that, of course, makes us defeatists and losers - the kind of people who do contingency planning for worst case scenarios and try to imagine a range of consequences for actions, and not just assume the most desirable consequences, and only those, will naturally occur.

But what is the truth about what will happen? Before the war critics were full of warnings, and the administration said no, they themselves had the truth - we would be greeted as liberators, with flowers and sweets and all that. Thus the critics were wrong, as their warnings were not based on any truths, but only on worries and what-if conjectures.

But neither the warnings nor the "wishful thinking" (positive attitude) was "true" - as we hadn't invaded and taken over Iraq. All we had was opinion, and smattering of "facts" - like those Colin Powell presented at the UN to prove we had to act immediately. The world was asked to decide which opinion was more grounded in truth - but it was all still opinion.

And we skeptics unreasonable want rather substantial evidence.

So, consider this. As a default opinion should we simply (that word was selected carefully) trust our leaders? We did have the faith to elect them (sort of) after all. That, in fact, was an act of faith, more than anything else. There was no way to be certain how the new leaders would react to events, and the events over the last few years were not exactly something anyone really anticipated.

Here is Lynch's "thought experiment" on that idea -
Now imagine a society in which everyone believes that what makes an opinion true is whether it is held by those in power. So if the authorities say that black people are inferior to white people, or love is hate, or war is peace, then the citizens sincerely believe that is true. Such a society lacks something, to say the least. In particular, its people misunderstand truth, and the nature of their misunderstanding undermines the very point of even having the concept. Social criticism often involves expressing disagreement with those in power -- saying that their views on some matter are mistaken. But a member of our little society doesn't believe that the authorities can be mistaken. In order to believe that, they would have to be able to think that what the authorities say is incorrect. But their understanding of what correctness is rules out such a possibility. So criticism -- disagreement with those in power -- is, practically speaking, impossible.
Which is right where we find ourselves now, of course. Listen to the defense of the current administration.

Lynch of course spends some time on George Orwell's 1984. But he says we read it wrongly.
... The most terrifying aspect of Orwell's Ministry of Truth isn't its ability to get people to keep people from speaking their minds, or even to believe lies; it is its success at getting them to give up on the idea of truth altogether. ... Eliminate the very idea of right and wrong independent of what the government says, and you eliminate not just dissent -- you eliminate the very possibility of dissent.
There is a lot more detail, but that's the general idea - as Lynch puts it, just having the concept of objective truth opens up a certain possibility: It allows us to think that something might be correct even if those in power disagree.

But is that what we want while we're waging this war on terror, this war to eliminate evildoers? Is that wise, or useful? Discuss in a three-page essay, due next Wednesday.

No? Then consider this. You fundamental rights are at issue here - so you'd better not say it's all opinion and there's no real truth -
The second reason truth is politically important is that one of our society's most basic political concepts -- that of a fundamental right -- presupposes the idea of objective truth. A fundamental right is different from a right that is granted merely as a matter of social policy. Policy rights -- such as the right of a police officer to carry a concealed weapon -- are justified because they are means to a worthwhile social goal, like public safety. Fundamental rights, on the other hand, are a matter of principle, as the philosopher Ronald Dworkin has famously put it in a book by that title. They aren't justified because they are a means to valuable social goals; fundamental rights are justified because they are a necessary component of basic respect due to all people. Fundamental rights, therefore, override other political concerns. You can't justifiably lose your right to privacy, for example, just because the attorney general suddenly decides we would all be less vulnerable to terrorism if the government knew what everyone was reading, buying, and saying. The whole point of having a fundamental or, as it is often put, "human right," is that it can't justifiably be taken away just because a government suddenly decides it would be in our interest to do so.
Oh really? This fellow should wake up. We bought into that, willingly.

But is this true?
It follows that a necessary condition for fundamental rights is a distinction between what the government -- in the wide sense of the term -- says is so and what is true. That is, in order for me to understand that I have fundamental rights, it must be possible for me to have the following thought: that even though everyone else in my community thinks that, for example, same-sex marriages should be outlawed, people of the same sex still have a right to be married. But I couldn't have that thought unless I was able to entertain the idea that believing doesn't make things so, that there is something that my thoughts can respond to other than the views of my fellow citizens, powerful or not. The very concept of a fundamental right presupposes the concept of truth. Take-home lesson: If you care about your rights, you had better care about truth.
Now imagine Pontius Pilate washing his hands. "I am innocent of this man's blood. Look to it yourselves." Matthew 27:24

Lynch adds the obvious too -
The conceptual connection between truth and rights reveals the third and most obvious reason truth has political value. It is vital that a government tell its citizens the truth -- whether it be about Iraq's capacities for producing weapons of mass destruction or high-ranking officials' ties to corporate interests. That is because governmental transparency and freedom of information are the first defenses against tyranny. The less a government feels the need to be truthful, the more prone it is to try and get away with doing what wouldn't be approved by its citizens in the light of day, whether that means breaking into the Watergate Hotel, bombing Cambodia, or authorizing the use of torture on prisoners. Even when they don't affect us directly, secret actions like those indirectly damage the integrity of our democracy. What you don't know can hurt you.
Except we welcome tyranny, as it makes us feel more safe and secure, and there are so many bad guys out there. They want to kill us all. Truth can wait for the days when they are all dead?

We are buying into that, or so the polls are telling us.

Did Bush lie, or at least hammer us into delusional wishful thinking, to have his vanity war? Maybe so. Did he lie about his service record - this week's mini-scandal? Note that no one much cares.

We don't want the truth, and find it tiresome. QED.

Posted by Alan at 17:16 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 9 September 2004

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Framing Issues - Refer to a movie, or to sports, or...?

The Army points to the CIA and says it's their fault! What are the parents to do when the kids fight?

Army Says C.I.A. Hid More Iraqis Than It Claimed
Eric Schmitt and Douglas Jehl, The New York Times September 10, 2004
WASHINGTON, Sept. 9 - Army jailers in Iraq, acting at the Central Intelligence Agency's request, kept dozens of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and other detention facilities off official rosters to hide them from Red Cross inspectors, two senior Army generals said Thursday. The total is far more than had been previously reported.

An Army inquiry completed last month found eight documented cases of so-called ghost detainees, but two of the investigating generals said in testimony before two Congressional committees and in interviews on Thursday that depositions from military personnel who served at the prison indicated that the real total was many higher.

"The number is in the dozens, to perhaps up to 100," Gen. Paul J. Kern, the senior officer who oversaw the Army inquiry, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Another investigator, Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, put the figure at "two dozen or so," but both officers said they could not give a precise number because no records were kept on most of the C.I.A. detainees.

Under the Geneva Conventions, the temporary failure to disclose the identities of prisoners to the Red Cross is permitted under an exemption for military necessity. But the Army generals said they were certain that the practice used by the C.I.A. in Iraq went far beyond that.

The disclosure added to questions about the C.I.A.'s practices in Iraq, including why the agency took custody of certain Iraqi prisoners, what interrogation techniques it used and what became of the ghost detainees, including whether they were ever returned to military custody. To date, two cases have been made public in which prisoners in C.I.A. custody were removed from Iraq for a period of several months and held in detention centers outside the country.

Another question left unanswered on Thursday was why Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the military intelligence officer who oversaw interrogations at the prison, agreed to let C.I.A. officers use the prison to hide ghost detainees. General Kern said that when Colonel Pappas raised questions about the practice, a top military intelligence officer in Baghdad at the time, Col. Steven Boltz, encouraged him to cooperate with the C.I.A. because "everyone was all one team."
And what team would that be? The team that makes people disappear?

I supposed it is important that our enemies fear us, and that they realize that anyone we round up could mysteriously disappear, and no one would know anything. No accounting, no visits from anyone, no charges, no trail - no nothing. Poof. Gone. We need to show we aren't playing by anyone's sissy rules here. You don't mess with us. No one and nothing is going to protect you.

And the Army goes and points fingers and says the CIA isn't playing fair. Not useful.

I suspect the idea here is that the world has to understand we are not what they think - and the United States of America now doesn't play by any rules. Because 9/11 changed everything of course, and rules are for sissies and wimps. Like these army guys. And folks who would vote for Kerry.

We have been told, and many believe, the most important thing in winning this war on terror, is showing the evildoers that we are tough. Maybe it is the only thing that really matters. Unless they understand we will break any rule, toss out the rights of even our own citizens, ignore any law that gets in our way, over there or over here - well, otherwise they will think us weak and keep attacking us.

That strategy may just make these bad folks hate us all the more, and throw away everything we say we stand for, but at least we won't seem weak.

For this strategy to work one has to assume that being ruthless, amoral, and, when we feel like, lawless, has the particular direct effect on the bad guy of making them back off in awe, and fear, of our power and toughness.

Do you believe there is a direct cause and effect - act tough and the other side will then be good? Have you ever seen that principal work in life? What? You say when someone acts tough and slaps an opponent silly, and breaks all the rules to do it, sometimes that opponent seethes with resentment and gets even nastier? Ah, really? Well, you are not in charge here. Keep you illogical fantasies to yourself. Our leaders know real life.

A bit further down in the Times article there too is this -
... The new disclosures about unregistered prisoners drew angry criticism from Democrats and Republicans, and a promise from Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia and the committee chairman, to hold a separate hearing.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said, "The situation with C.I.A. and ghost soldiers is beginning to look like a bad movie."
I'm not sure what movie McCain was thinking of, but "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" comes to mind. Remember the scruffy bandit, when his authority is questioned, says this - "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!" Perhaps McCain was thinking of some other film. The guys at the Times should have asked which one.

Now I'm not sure which movie one would think of seeing this Associated Press item -
The military has lost key evidence in its investigation into the death of an Iraqi man beaten by Marine prison guards, throwing into doubt the status of a court-martial of one of the guards.

The missing evidence includes bones taken from the throat and chest of Nagem Hatab, attorneys said Thursday at a hearing for Maj. Clarke Paulus.

Hatab, 52, died last year at a makeshift camp in Iraq that was run by Marines. He had been rumored to be an official of Saddam Hussein's Baath party and part of the ambush of a U.S. Army convoy that killed 11 soldiers and led to the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch and five others.

The missing bones are just one of several errors in the investigation that came to light at Thursday's hearing.

Hatab's organs, which were removed during autopsy, were subsequently destroyed when they were left for hours in the blazing heat on an Iraqi airstrip. A summary of an interrogation the Marines conducted with Hatab shortly before his death at the camp also is missing, as is a photo of Hatab that was taken during questioning.
Oops. But no movie title comes to mind here. Some Keystone Cops thing? No - too benign. This is from some forties film noir potboiler - the cops protecting one of their own conveniently lose the incriminating evidence. No, that doesn't work either. We need Oliver Stone here to directed on of his conspiracy epics, like his JFK or something. But the bad guys and the good guys get all mixed up here. Maybe the Cohen brothers could make something of this.

One fears this sort of thing just makes us look bad to everyone else in the world - the two possible explanations for this missing evidence are incompetence or arrogant scorn for what anyone thinks. The reaction in the Arab world, with our allies who really want to support us, and allies who wonder about us, will be devastating. But then again, we long ago stopped caring what "they" think. Well, Kerry does. That alone will lose him the election.

Well, his concern for our international reputation and for gaining the support of other nations may be moot.

The election itself may be moot.

Here's a summary of some issues as of Thursday, September 09, 2004 -
The state of California has decided to sue Diebold, the nation's largest manufacturer of electronic (touch screen) voting machines because the company lied about the machines' security. The machines have a special feature that creates fake vote totals when a secret 2-digit code is typed in. The LA Times article about the lawsuit does not specify whether there are separate codes to fake a Bush victory and fake a Kerry victory or whether one candidate's victory has been programmed in advance or whether election officials can enter any result they want. However, Diebold's CEO, Walden O'Dell, has said he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for the president." The suit comes 6 months after the machines failed in the March primary. The machines are used in 19 California counties and many states nationwide.
Well, I suppose I could use my computer skills, and free time, to hack in and make sure all of California's electoral votes go to Tommy Chong. Others may have the same idea, of course. Joan Rivers or Brian Wilson could carry the state. One never knows. These machines are not that complex. The field is open. The hackers are giggling. This could be great fun.

Finally, if you want one last item on the current follies, I recommend this.

Wrong-Way Bush
In the war on terror, the worst defense is a bad offense.
William Saletan - Posted Thursday, Sept. 9, 2004, at 3:42 PM PT SLATE.COM

Saletan takes us back to January 1, 1929 - the Rose Bowl - Cal plays Georgia Tech. Roy Riegels was the center and captain of the California team. Riegels was the guy who ran the wrong way and almost scored a touchdown against his own team. He was a bit confused. Saletan reminds us that when Riegels was heading the wrong way one of his teammates chased him and just begged him to stop. Riegels was steadfast and resolute and uttered the proud words - "Get away from me! This is my touchdown!" One of his teammates finally grabbed him and held on to him until his own team could catch up and tackle their own captain. They stopped him at the three-yard line. The other team was either staring in amazement or laughing their asses off. It is said the Georgia Tech coach tranquilly observed - "He's running the wrong way. Let's see how far he can go."

You see the parallel. Imagine Osama Bin Laden as the Georgia Tech coach and al-Qaeda as his team, and you can hear him tranquilly saying (but in Arabic) - "He's running the wrong way. Let's see how far he can go."

Yep. But what's this about the wrong way?
... In the Bush-Cheney worldview, all foreign adversaries blur into one: "the enemy." All U.S. options simplify to two: "offense" or "defense." Going on offense shows "strength" and defeats the enemy. If the president starts running with the ball, and you criticize him, you show "weakness" and invite terrorism.
And that about sums it up. As above, winning this war on terror is all about showing the evildoers that we are tough. Unless they understand we will break any rule, toss out the rights of even our own citizens, ignore any law that gets in our way, over there or over here - well, otherwise they will think us weak and keep attacking us.


But here's the rub -
But what if there's more than one enemy? What if the enemy we're "fighting back" at isn't the one that struck or threatened us? What if the president turns away from the team that was trying to score on us, and he starts heading for another team that's sitting in the stands, behind our own end zone? What if his "offense" is losing yards with every stride?

That's the lesson of three years of investigations.

The 9/11 commission has found "no evidence" of "a collaborative operational relationship" between Iraq and al-Qaida. Bush's handpicked chief weapons inspector, David Kay, says there "were no large stockpiles of WMD." What has this diversion done for the war on terror? A year ago, U.S. intelligence officials told reporters that "as much as half of the intelligence and special forces assets in Afghanistan and Pakistan were diverted to support the war in Iraq." While we've been bogged down in Iraq, Iran has revved up its own nuclear program, and North Korea has acquired the fuel for as many as eight nukes.

Bush screwed up. He picked the wrong target. He's been running the wrong way.
Ah, details, details, details....

Saletan runs the Bush-Cheney quotes and takes apart the whole mess. And you can almost hear Bush say, "Get away from me! This is my touchdown!"

Saletan see himself on the three-yard line holding on, waiting for the team to catch up and stop this -
Bush says, "The world is a safer place with Saddam Hussein sitting in a prison cell." That's true. Every arrest of a bad guy makes the world safer. But the world is full of bad guys, and we have limited resources. The arrest of Saddam has cost us about $200 billion, absorbed our attention, and forced us to pull American troops from other countries. That means other bad guys have gone unchecked. Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the worst attack on the U.S. mainland, remains at large. In North Korea, the world's worst proliferator, Kim Jong-il, has built more nukes. Saddam had no nukes and never attacked the U.S. mainland.

Bush says, "Free societies in the Middle East will be hopeful societies, which no longer feed resentment and breed violence for export." That's true, too. But it will take a lot more time, money, and American casualties to transform Iraq into a free society. It would take still more time and money--and perhaps more casualties--to spread that transformation to the countries that contributed to the 9/11 plot. Even if this were possible, it's a very long and roundabout way of getting to a result that could be addressed more immediately by pursuing the people who struck us on 9/11 or threaten us today.
And there is much more of that.

This football story is, of course, an odd reference - an odd way to frame the business.

Monday afternoon I will have the occasion to drive past the Rose Bowl - appointments in Pasadena - and I will smile as I do. Not that it matters - as the majority of the country is pleased that the guy is running with complete conviction at a goal, no matter right or wrong. It's the complete conviction that matters.

I'd rather win the game.

Posted by Alan at 22:58 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 9 September 2004 23:15 PDT home

Wednesday, 8 September 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Bush's Bad Day at Black Rock (CBS)

At mid-week, Wednesday, things were making the folks a little grumpy at the White House.

David Froomkin in the Washington Post has a handy list with links of these minor irritations -

1.) We finally passed one thousand of our people dead in combat in Iraq, and although the White House is saying little, the media is doing heavy coverage of the milestone, if it is one.

2.) There are lots of big headlines about the record $422 billion budget deficit and the multi-trillion-dollar deficit projections for the future.

3.) Then there are many, many the stories about Vice President Cheney's statement yesterday that a Kerry victory would result in more terrorist attacks. So everyone should vote for George, or surely you will die. Yes, his own staff is now qualifying it. The Democrats, Edwards in particular, are all over it. Late in the afternoon, and not covered by Froomkin, the president was asked whether he agreed with the statement - and he just stared at the reporter, and did not say a word. This, I believe, was a steely-eyed Clint Eastwood moment.

4.) And of course Bush's National Guard record during the Vietnam War is turning into a real mess. CBS was all over it tonight on "Sixty Minutes II" and not kind.

5.) Florida Senator Bob Graham is all over the media - MSNBC "Hardball" a few hours ago - charging Bush with covering up evidence that might have linked Saudi Arabia to the September 11 hijackers.

6.) And there is Kitty Kelley's book in pre-release discussion everywhere on the net - not in the major media - on Bush using cocaine long after he said he stopped, and drinking heavily again now.

The "Sixty Minutes II" segment features Ben Barnes explaining how he pulled strings to get George Bush into the National Guard in 1968. But CNS has more stuff: new documents from the personal files of Colonel Jerry Killian, Bush's squadron commander.

And this is four new documents:

1.) A direct order to Bush to take a physical examination in 1972. Physical exams are an annual requirement for pilots.

2.) A 1972 memo that refers to a phone call from Bush in which he and Killian "discussed options of how Bush can get out of coming to drill from now through November" because "he may not have time." This was presumably in preparation for Bush's departure for Alabama that year, but is nonetheless damning since there's no reason that working on a Senate campaign should have prevented him from showing up for drills one weekend per month.

3.) A 1972 order grounding Bush. This order refers not just to Bush's failure to take a physical, but also to "failure to perform to (USAF/TexANG) standards."

4.) A 1973 memo titled "CYA" in which Killian talks about being pressured to give Bush a favorable yearly evaluation. He refuses, saying, "I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job."


A comment from Kevin Drum -
This story is a perfect demonstration of the difference between the Swift Boat controversy and the National Guard controversy. Both are tales from long ago and both are related to Vietnam, but the documentary evidence in the two cases is like night and day. In the Swift Boat case, practically every new piece of documentary evidence indicates that Kerry's accusers are lying. Conversely, in the National Guard case, practically every new piece of documentary evidence provides additional confirmation that the charges against Bush are true.

In fact, these four memos are pretty close to a smoking gun, since it's now clear that (a) Bush was directly ordered to take a physical in 1972 and refused, and (b) he plainly failed to perform up to National Guard standards, but that (c) he was nonetheless saved from a failing evaluation thanks to high-level pressure.

So why did Bush refuse to take a physical that year? And why did he blow off drills for at least the next five months and possibly for a lot longer than that?

And finally, why did he get an honorable discharge anyway?
Because he could, Kevin, because he could.

We see here some in the press who are patriotic Americans are making journalistic decisions for the good of America. KWTV in Oklahoma City moved the CBS show from its mid-evening slot to 3:15 in the morning. But they said it wasn't political. And late in the day, after they got they got so much grief, they reversed themselves and decided to show the CBS "Sixty Minutes II" at its normal time. Odd. The CBS affiliate in Indianapolis said they'd only air the show at 2:30 in the morning, not at its normal 8:00 time. Why. Who knows? But the pressure from viewers got to them and they'll show it at 9:00 - only one hour late.

Most curious.

But Wednesday started with the bombshell article of the day -

Bush fell short on duty at Guard
Records show pledges unmet
The Boston Globe, September 8, 2004
... reporters Stephen Kurkjian, Francie Latour, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Michael Rezendes, and editor Walter V. Robinson.

It was written by Robinson.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, provides a summary and a comment -
The gist: Bush not only signed a pledge in 1968 saying he could be punished for not doing his drills, which he didn't and wasn't punished, but also that when he got permission to quit early to go to Harvard, it was on the condition he find a unit in Boston and finish out his service there, which he didn't and wasn't called on it. He could have been called up again because of it, but apparently "gamed the system," as one military guy puts it.

Yeah, I still think it's an issue with short legs, but maybe that's because the Kerry campaign is not making it clear to voters that when one is applying for this particular job, one's whole life of service and commitment, especially to one's country, is a legitimate subject of scrutiny.

If I went for a job interview, but told my prospective employers that since I found Jesus when I was forty, anything that happened before that was none of their business, wouldn't they have a right to drop me from consideration for the job? Hey, that finding-Jesus thing seems to have covered a multitude of sins, and as his possible employer, I think I have a right to know what those sins are!
Anyway, here are keys items from the article.
In February, when the White House made public hundreds of pages of President Bush's military records, White House officials repeatedly insisted that the records prove that Bush fulfilled his military commitment in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. But Bush fell well short of meeting his military obligation, a Globe reexamination of the records shows: Twice... Bush signed documents pledging to meet training commitments or face a punitive call-up to active duty. He didn't meet the commitments, or face the punishment, the records show....

On July 30, 1973, shortly before he moved from Houston to Cambridge, Bush signed a document that declared, ''It is my responsibility to locate and be assigned to another Reserve forces unit or mobilization augmentation position. If I fail to do so, I am subject to involuntary order to active duty for up to 24 months... " Under Guard regulations, Bush had 60 days to locate a new unit. But Bush never signed up with a Boston-area unit.... Dan Bartlett told the Washington Post that Bush finished his six-year commitment at a Boston area Air Force Reserve unit after he left Houston. Not so, Bartlett now concedes. ''I must have misspoke," Bartlett, who is now the White House communications director, said in a recent interview....

Bush, a fighter-interceptor pilot, performed no service for one six-month period in 1972 and for another period of almost three months in 1973, the records show.... Bush's attendance at required training drills was so irregular that his superiors could have disciplined him or ordered him to active duty in 1972, 1973, or 1974. But they did neither. In fact, Bush's unit certified in late 1973 that his service had been ''satisfactory" -- just four months after Bush's commanding officer wrote that Bush had not been seen at his unit for the previous 12 months....

Army Colonel Gerald A. Lechliter, one of a number of retired military officers who have studied Bush's records and old National Guard regulations.... ''He broke his contract with the United States government -- without any adverse consequences. And the Texas Air National Guard was complicit in allowing this to happen," Lechliter said in an interview yesterday. ''He was a pilot. It cost the government a million dollars to train him to fly. So he should have been held to an even higher standard."

Even retired Lieutenant Colonel Albert C. Lloyd Jr., a former Texas Air National Guard personnel chief who vouched for Bush at the White House's request in February, agreed that Bush walked away from his obligation to join a reserve unit in the Boston area when he moved to Cambridge in September 1973. By not joining a unit in Massachusetts, Lloyd said in an interview last month, Bush ''took a chance that he could be called up for active duty. But the war was winding down, and he probably knew that the Air Force was not enforcing the penalty."...

Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs in the Reagan administration, said after studying many of the documents that it is clear to him that Bush ''gamed the system." And he agreed with Lloyd that Bush was not alone in doing so. ''If I cheat on my income tax and don't get caught, I'm still cheating on my income tax," Korb said. After his own review, Korb said Bush could have been ordered to active duty for missing more than 10 percent of his required drills in any given year. Bush, according to the records, fell shy of that obligation in two successive fiscal years.

Korb said Bush also made a commitment to complete his six-year obligation when he moved to Cambridge, a transfer the Guard often allowed to accommodate Guardsmen who had to move elsewhere. ''He had a responsibility to find a unit in Boston and attend drills," said Korb, who is now affiliated with a liberal Washington think tank. ''I see no evidence or indication in the documents that he was given permission to forgo training before the end of his obligation. If he signed that document, he should have fulfilled his obligation."...

In June 1970, after five additional months of specialized training in F-102 fighter-interceptor, Bush began what should have been a four-year assignment with the 111th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. In May 1972, Bush... move to Alabama.... But Bush's service records do not show him logging any service in Alabama until October of that year. And even that service is in doubt... no one has come forward with any credible recollection of having witnessed Bush performing guard service in Alabama or after he returned to Houston in 1973.... On May 1, 1973, Bush's superior officers wrote that they could not complete his annual performance review because he had not been observed at the Houston base during the prior 12 months.

[S]ome [records]... suggest that he did a flurry of drills in 1973 in Houston -- a weekend in April and then 38 days of training crammed into May, June, and July. But Lechliter, the retired colonel, concluded after reviewing National Guard regulations that Bush should not have received credit -- or pay -- for many of those days either. The regulations, Lechliter and others said, required that any scheduled drills that Bush missed be made up either within 15 days before or 30 days after the date of the drill.... Bush had little interest in fulfilling his obligation, and his superiors preferred to look the other way. Others agree. ''It appears that no one wanted to hold him accountable," said retired Major General Paul A. Weaver Jr., who retired in 2002 as the Pentagon's director of the Air National Guard.
Ah well.

Actually, I'm of the opinion all this may actually play well to Bush's base. He beat the system - he stuck to "the man." He knows how to play the game. He's a sly fox. He's our kind of guy - to all those guys who wish they could get away with such things. It will increase their admiration of him. And that is the sort of things you hear on AM talk radio about all this.

Now Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, was one of the guys who started CNN and his wife is an executive there now, and he adds this -
I saw Judy Woodruff's interview with Globe editor Walter Robinson on CNN's "Inside Politics" an hour ago, and he made it sound like the Bush controversy is basically nailed, that for anyone who cares, the guy is guilty as the day is long.
Maybe so. But I watch CNN on and off too.

The White House and Wolf Blitzer (CNN two hours later) are saying they have proof Bush corresponded with a Denver Air National Guard unit while at Harvard and this technically fulfilled the requirement. There is no problem.

Bush didn't fly, he didn't attend any drills, he didn't show up for anything, but he wrote some letters saying he would if he had to. Case closed?

Maybe so.

But a minor note in ABC's "The Note" mentions in passing that the White House has now assumed all jurisdiction over any Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests, so that will stop things dead. No more of this. The White House must now approve all requests for government documents - think Karl Rove.

Works for me - shut it all down. This is making the president look bad. Facts do that.

I suppose the thing to do here is add a spirited defense of our right as citizens to know the facts of what our government does, and see the records of events and what people did at certain times when they were working for us in the government or military. Hell, we were paying their salaries. Of course you must make exceptions for matters that would reveal military or state secrets, or get people killed and all that. But still....

One could imagine a spirited defense of that idea. Go ahead. Imagine it, because I'm too dispirited to write it.

Finished yet? Good.

This story will probably fade away.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, thinks it's an issue with short legs - because the Kerry campaign is not making it clear to voters that when one is applying for this particular job, one's whole life of service and commitment, especially to one's country, is a legitimate subject of scrutiny.

Like that matters?



Architect: Eero Saarinen and Associates
Developer: CBS
Erected: 1965
In midtown Manhattan, the "Black Rock," as this headquarters building of CBS is popularly known, has befuddled and confounded architecture critics since its inception.

Is it great architecture or bad urbanism?

Like most real-life either/or questions, it isn't that simple.

This 38-story, sheer, freestanding tower set in its own shallow sunken plaza is unquestionably great architecture because it is original, consistent, boldly expressed and daring. Initially, some observers did not like its dark coloration, and considered sunken plazas anathema and its aloofness rather condescending and disrespectful of the common man, that is, the pedestrian. These attributes, however, were not really negatives given its context of fronting on an avenue whose smile then displayed many broken and missing teeth because of the existing irregular pattern of nearby public plazas. Moreover, its context along the Avenue of the Americas was generally undistinguished design. ...
The link will give you more details, and photographs.

Posted by Alan at 20:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 September 2004 20:34 PDT home

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