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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 13 September 2004

Topic: Election Notes

What's being said on Monday....

If you go to The American Prospect you will find this -

The Pathetic Truth
A unified theory of everything that explains why Democrats always get outfoxed.
By Michael Tomasky - Web Exclusive: 09.13.04

The argument is that, as he explains, Democrats fight campaigns on issues while Republicans fight them on character. Republican positions on most issues are basically unpopular, so their only hope of winning is a relentless assault on the character of their Democratic opponent.

The key paragraph -
The problem begins with the fact that majorities of the public tend to agree with Democrats on the issues. This isn't universally true, of course, but it's true with regard to more issues (perhaps many more issues) than not. On health care, the environment, investment, education, just about everything except national defense, majorities lean toward the Democratic position.
Maybe so. But if so, then what's the problem?

Kevin Drum explains the problem here -
... Now, I happen to agree with Tomasky that Republicans generally go for the jugular more effectively than Democrats, but it's a big mistake for us liberals to kid ourselves into thinking that Republicans win elections solely because they fool people into voting for them. It's not just that this is a debilitating mental attitude -- although it is -- but it's also not true. Our main problem isn't that this year's campaign has ignored the issues, our main problem is that the #1 issue in this campaign is national defense, and on that issue -- like it or not -- the majority of Americans favor the Republican position. If John Kerry wants to win, he should focus on the issues, but he has to focus on the issues that matter most in this campaign cycle.

It's all about 9/11, Iraq, terrorism, and national security, baby. This election is going to be won on that issue, and Kerry needs to convince the country that he can handle it better than Bush. And really, considering the botch Bush has made of national security, that shouldn't be all that hard.

Bottom line: Republicans aren't avoiding the issues. It's just that their signature issue happens to be the one people care most about this year. Democrats had better figure that out pronto.
Yes, but there are so many diversions.

Kerry, Edwards and Daschle May Face Vote on Flag
Helen Dewar, The Washington Post, Monday, September 13, 2004; Page A19

It opens thusly -
For some Republicans it is the perfect political storm: a Senate vote on a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. flag that would put Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, running mate John Edwards and Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle on the spot just a few weeks before the Nov. 2 elections.

The Senate GOP leadership has not scheduled a vote on the proposed amendment, but Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) noted last week that it is a high priority for veterans groups.
It is? Their dwindling benefits is not an issue of the veteran's groups? Frist knows better?

No, everyone sees this has one purpose - to make the Democrats uncomfortable with all this business about free speech being important, and force at least some of them say it really isn't, or else say the scruffy fools who oppose the president and his policies have the right to this symbolic gesture that makes so many "right thinking" Americans so angry they could spit nails. Force them to say one can do this in protest. Geez. These guys could work a little harder on passing a budget. But they do have a way of tapping the fear and anger of the masses.

Atrios says this -
This stuff just makes me embarrassed. I could point out that there are more important things to be worrying about. I could point out that in a free society individual political speech should be afforded the highest protection possible. I could point out that the proper way to retire a flag is, yes, to burn it. I could wonder out loud what will become of all the "flag clothing" and how a Supreme Court would have to waste time dealing with all the ridiculous cases that would result.
Well, it's all theater, isn't it?

It wins the votes.

Josh Marshall has some observations on this all, and why Bush is ahead. And his take on things is that Iraq is not a factor at all -
There are many reasons President Bush has taken a narrow but perceptible lead in the polls. Some are tied to tactical decisions on both sides; others are products of accidental developments; still others emerge from more deeply-rooted trends that won't be clear for months or years.

But all of them amount to the same thing: the president's campaign has managed to take Iraq out of the election debate.

Iraq remains ever-present, but as a rhetorical fixture, not a reality. Who's tougher; who's been consistent; who likes Saddam Hussein more, and so forth -- that's all there. The increasingly tenuous claim that Saddam Hussein had any relationship to Islamic terrorism -- that's there too.
But the actual Iraq war is nowhere to be found. Sunday was a disastrous day in Iraq, both for the Iraqis and for the American enterprise in Iraq.

But it garnered little attention here. The American death rate has creeped up as the occupation has continued. And to anyone who has eyes to see it, the entire American venture in Iraq has become a disaster of truly monumental proportions.
So? So it doesn't matter to most folks. It's just background noise, which is what I suppose he means by saying it has become a a rhetorical fixture.

... In the last two months, all of this has been pushed to the side of the election debate -- either by rhetorical tangles over 9/11 and terrorism, or attack politics centered on the two men's war records or lack thereof. That is the reason for the president's resurgence in the polls. It's really that simple.

There's another point that worth noting here too. And it's at least played a role in pushing Iraq out of the political debate. That is, that President Bush has been able to mobilize his manifest failure as a political asset, and the Kerry campaign has allowed him to do so.
Yep, the screw-up in now an asset.

And there's this. Gregg Easterbrook in The New Republic argues that the whole Iraq business was just an honest mistake -
The White House, Rumsfeld, and the National Security Council thought: Afghanistan is unconquerable, it overcame the British and the Soviets, we want to have limited involvement in Afghanistan and set expectations low. Iraq, on the other hand, will be a cakewalk like in 1991, and they'll cheer us in the streets as we arrive. The administration believed that all-out commitment to Afghanistan would lead to embarrassing mess, while invading Iraq would be a big success, bringing praise and perhaps stabilizing the Middle East - maybe even changing the psychology of the terror war if Al-Jazeera showed throngs of Muslims cheering U.S. soldiers in the streets of Baghdad. What happened turned out to be the reverse of the plan on both counts; Afghanistan went surprisingly well (in part because the Afghans wanted us, whereas they despised the Soviets) and Iraq couldn't have gone much worse. But it's hardly irrational to avoid the place where you think you will fare poorly and act in the place where you expect victory, which is essentially what Bush decided.
So they were only doing the logical and rational thing, given their view of the facts.

Shouldn't you be held accountable for getting the facts wrong?

Andrew Sullivan responds -
Of course, what we do now is another matter. Gregg thinks we're killing hundreds of mujahideen on Iraq, which can only be a good thing. Yes it is - as long as the conflict doesn't create many replacements. And the poor people of Iraq surely deserve more than being in the middle of an open-ended exercise in urban warfare in which their country is slowly destroyed. My early hope was that, having stabilized the country, U.S. forces could indeed have attracted professional terrorists to Iraq and killed them. But the Bush administration never sent enough troops to pacify the country, and so provoked the terrorism without being able to suppress it effectively. That's the worst of all possible worlds. Look, we have to tough it out. But how much confidence can anyone still have in the president who engineered this in the first place, and who still refuses to recognize that anything is fundamentally awry?
Good question. But folks want Bush to remain in office, or so it seems now.

The most harrowing comments from Sullivan are these -
HOW TO LOSE A WAR: Here's a quote [from The Observer (UK)] that unnerves me. It's from a Sunni insurgent who was once, he says, pro-American. What turned him into an enemy? The incompetence of the occupation, in part, beginning with the post-liberation looting: "When I saw the American soldiers watching and doing nothing as people took everything, I began to suspect the US was not here to help us but to destroy us ... I thought it might be just the chaos of war but it got worse, not better." My own hope a year ago was that the sheer amount of reconstruction money that would be spent in Iraq would surely win over the population. But I was dumb enough to believe that the Bush administration was competent enough to spend it.

Barely five percent of reconstruction funds have been disbursed. I wish the blogosphere would focus more on this particular scandal than on the provenance of type-writers in the 1970s. And what's worrying about this particular ramshackle terrorist is that it appears he has taught himself. He isn't sponsored by Iran or the Baathists or al Qaeda. I guess the Observer could be peddling propaganda, but the story reads persuasively to me (the terrorist reveals his own racism, for example, hardly an interpolation by his p.c. British interpreters). We have to face facts, I'm afraid: we have helped create a classic guerrilla insurgency in Iraq in which the U.S. is struggling not to be defeated politically. The consequences of failure are exponential. And yet I see no awareness in the administration - or even among many of their supporters - that they even have a problem.

BUSH'S WAR STRATEGY: His brilliance as a war-leader, so heralded at the New York convention, bears new fruit. The Iraqi government is beginning to lose control of Baghdad now. I think the Rove political strategy must now be simply to hope that no one notices anything that is happening in Iraq before they vote in November. Just say after me: 9/11, 9/11, 9/11. If anyone brings up Iraq today, just put your fingers in your ears and start singing loudly. Thank God the campaign is more focused on what Bush did in the National Guard thirty years ago and what Kerry's votes were in the 1980s. Otherwise we might have to debate reality.
No, we'll debate the proposed amendment to the constitution to ban burning the flag in any protest demonstration. Iraq will fall apart, and Bush will win.

Posted by Alan at 12:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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

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