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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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Thursday, 16 September 2004

Topic: Iraq

Trends: The rolling stone gathers speed...

Previously here the suggestion was that this week a new narrative started gathering momentum - a new meme, a newly accepted axiomatic sense of what is an actual fact.

That is the idea that we have lost the war in Iraq. You saw it one the blogs, and then more and more in the major media - and it got a major push from Newsweek and media interviews its editors. And this does not seem to be coming from the Democrats assailing Bush - but seem rather a simultaneous awakening by news folks and military folks. Things are bad.

Thursday we see a major leap. The White House has been sitting on an internal report since July - a highly classified National Intelligence Estimate - that says that there are only three possible scenarios now. The best? That would be "a tenuous stability" - but that's unlikely. The second? That would be where "increased extremism and fragmentation in Iraqi society impede efforts to build a central government and adversely affect efforts to democratize the country." The third is an all out civil war in Iraq by 2005, where the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds have it out and we have to deal with that. The document was first reported by the New York Times on its web site Wednesday night.

The Associated Press summary is here - and it is not pretty.

Much of this comes from, of course, a highly placed US official, who, late Wednesday, spoke on the condition of anonymity. I wonder who that was, and if he or she has good insurance? It does, after all, seem unwise to say this -
It "would be fair" to call the document "pessimistic," the official added. But "the contents shouldn't come as a particular surprise to anyone who is following developments in Iraq. It encapsulates trends that are clearly apparent."

The intelligence estimate, which was prepared for Bush, considered the window of time between July and the end of 2005. But the official noted that the document draws on intelligence community assessments from January 2003, before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent deteriorating security situation there.
So. We shouldn't be surprised, even as day after day the president tells us we are making progress in Iraq.

Well, if you say it again and again, and really believe it to be so, and if you keep your resolve and never waver, then you can magically make it so. It's that Tinkerbell thing again - clap loud and long enough and Tinkerbell won't die, and a little fairy dust and you really can fly, if you believe strongly enough. No wonder Bush will easily win the election. We all want to fly off to Never-Never Land with that sexy little Tinkerbell. We want to believe. And we'll toss aside that Kerry guy who says we should be realistic. This is America, where, with hard work and never giving in to self-doubt, and with belief in yourself, you can be or do anything you want. Anyone can be president, even George Bush.

And who wants to stomp on these dreams? Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and the leaders of the other intelligence agencies who approved this fifty-page intelligence document. Losers, all of them.

In a conference call arranged by the John Kerry presidential campaign, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., called on the White House to release the new assessment. "The American people need to know the truth," he said Thursday.
Do we?

AP does note that State Department officials stressed areas of progress in Iraq since the United States turned over political control of Iraq to an interim government on June 28. They cited advances in generating electricity, producing oil and creating jobs.

Yep. They used the word "advances" as you see. But on the ground?

See We Are Losing The War In Iraq - quick summary from Oliver Willis.

Willis cites the Financial Times (UK) - hardly a lefty organization - saying we seem to have lost control of the one safe place for Americans in the capital, the Green Zone in Baghdad -
US military officers in Baghdad have warned they cannot guarantee the security of the perimeter around the Green Zone, the headquarters of the Iraqi government and home to the US and British embassies, according to security company employees.

At a briefing earlier this month, a high-ranking US officer in charge of the zone's perimeter said he had insufficient soldiers to prevent intruders penetrating the compound's defences.

The US major said it was possible weapons or explosives had already been stashed in the zone, and warned people to move in pairs for their own safety. The Green Zone, in Baghdad's centre, is one of the most fortified US installations in Iraq. Until now, militants have not been able to penetrate it.
Oh well. How did Rumsfeld put it? Stuff happens? This seems to be an indication, with the "no go" zones mentioned previously, that things are getting far worse. Perhaps we should take care of Iraq remotely, from Qatar or Bahrain, using remote drones and calling in air strikes. We could relocate our Iraq embassy to, say, Portugal, where no one pays attention to anything. Nothing much ever happens there.

Willis also cites the Bush-supporting Wall Street Journal as they report those fighting us are merging now into a unified force -
Iraqi government officials are especially concerned that the violence in Baghdad in the past week may be fueled in part by growing support for the insurgents in the capital and growing contact with rebel groups active in the countryside to Baghdad's north.

Many U.S. military and Iraqi government officials are focusing on the stronghold of Fallujah, which they suspect the rebels are using as an operational center to launch attacks west of Baghdad and within the city.

"The insurgents are no longer operating in isolated pockets of their own. They are well-connected and cooperating," said Sabah Kadhim, a senior adviser to Iraq's Interior Ministry, which oversees the police and security around the country.
Well, that is progress, but not the sort Bush is envisioning. The folks who oppose us are getting quite organized.

And Willis points out an AP report that the attacks on our guys are getting far more sophisticated -
The spike in bloodshed - more than 200 dead in four days - has stifled American hopes that the transfer of sovereignty and the prospect of a democratic vote in four months could take the steam out of the uprising and pave the way for a reduction in U.S. troops.

Instead, there are signs the Americans and their Iraqi allies are facing an enemy more determined than ever. Insurgents have learned from past mistakes and shifted strategy, cooperating more closely with each other and devising new ways to put their relatively simple arsenal to treacherous use.
Yep, fewer random car bombs and more trained snipers, and carefully targeted car bombs. Great.

Willis himself says this -
This is the story. Not the memos. Not the medals. Not even the vote to go to war or not (though who got us into this in the first place bears remembering). We are losing the war in Iraq. We can't secure the green zone - which is where all our people are - and the rest of the country is ripe with anti-American sentiment. This nonsense about handing over control to the Iraqis and having elections within the year is a sham. At best we would be handing the keys to a puppet regime with no mandate, at worst there will be a civil war. Either way, because we have never set a real exit strategy for Iraq, any move on our part gives the appearance of capitulation. It's not that the people of Iraq aren't smart enough to have a western-style democracy... it's pretty obvious that they don't want one. Even the moderates seem to have a preference for an Iranian style theocracy (the most powerful person in Iraq is Ayatollah Sistani).

At this point, with all the international commitments we have on our plate and the priority of destroying Al Qaeda and its support network, it may be time to limit the scope of Operation: Iraqi Freedom (elimination of chemical/biological/nuclear raw materials - what ever little bit there may be, and the destruction of the terrorist networks that have taken root in Iraq since we invaded) and set the timetable for our troops to be redeployed against Al Qaeda operating elsewhere, or in the case of reservists, to come home.
Iran and North Korea are fast developing nuclear weapons. The Israeli-Palestinian standoff will explode again and again - and Sharon will bluster, with our help, and Arafat be as foolish as usual. The world is running short on oil, and Putin is doing his Mussolini thing and stopping popular elections in the name of fighting terror. We are carrying an enormous federal deficit that will impoverish us for decades, or end most government social programs. Forty-four million of our people are without any health coverage, and millions more out of work. And of course Al Qaeda is doing just fine and that Osama fellow is nowhere to be found, if he's still alive, which may not matter now as his franchisees are thriving.

So what are we doing in Iraq? We lost, or are well on our way to losing. Of course the odious Saddam is gone, and his two thug sons. But now what?

A line that always gets people from "The Man from La Mancha" is this - The only battles worth fighting are losing battles. So noble, and so romantic. And so stupid.

But we love it. Kerry doesn't stand a chance.

Posted by Alan at 17:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 15 September 2004

Topic: Iraq

Trends: Keep your ear to the ground and your ear gets all dirty...

Michael Scott here digs up a comment from the late H.L. Mencken in The Chicago Sunday Tribune, July 25, 1926:

... No normal human being wants to hear the truth. It is the passion of a small and aberrant minority of men, most of them pathological. They are hated for telling it while they live, and when they die they are swiftly forgotten. What remains to the world, in the field of wisdom, is a series of long tested and solidly agreeable lies.

Maybe so, but this is the week a new narrative started gathering momentum - or maybe it is a meme, a newly accepted axiomatic sense of what is an actual fact.

What would that be? Starting late last week with comments here and there on the net, citing various items in the New York Times and various wire services, followed by barrage of stories in the major papers as the new week started, and coming to a head in a short piece in Newsweek, we have a new given.

We are losing, or have already lost the war. That's the meme on the blogs this week. The majors are pretty much saying it too - building on the Newsweek item and interviews all over with its editors. This does not seem to be coming from the Democrats assailing Bush - but seem rather a simultaneous awakening by news folks and military folks. Things are bad.

Sidney Blumenthal - a former senior adviser to President Clinton and Washington bureau chief of SALON.COM - tries to get a sense of this shift here:

Far graver than Vietnam
Most senior US military officers now believe the war on Iraq has turned into a disaster on an unprecedented scale
Thursday September 16, 2004, The Guardian (UK)

The opening -
'Bring them on!" President Bush challenged the early Iraqi insurgency in July of last year. Since then, 812 American soldiers have been killed and 6,290 wounded, according to the Pentagon. Almost every day, in campaign speeches, Bush speaks with bravado about how he is "winning" in Iraq. "Our strategy is succeeding," he boasted to the National Guard convention on Tuesday.

But, according to the US military's leading strategists and prominent retired generals, Bush's war is already lost. Retired general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He adds: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends."
The war is already lost?

Who else is saying such things?

Blumenthal gives us a few:

Retired general Joseph Hoare, former marine commandant and head of US Central Command - "The idea that this is going to go the way these guys planned is ludicrous. There are no good options. We're conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in Iowa, no sense of the realities on the ground. It's so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part of the world. The priorities are just all wrong."

Jeffrey Record of the US Air War College, said: "I see no ray of light on the horizon at all. The worst case has become true. There's no analogy whatsoever between the situation in Iraq and the advantages we had after the Second World War in Germany and Japan." And this guy teaches strategy there,

W Andrew Terrill, professor at the Army War College's strategic studies institute - and the top expert on Iraq there - says similar things.

The Blumenthal piece is full of assessments that are, as they say, dire.

The Newsweek item that everyone cited - It's Worse Than You Think - is subtitled "As Americans debate Vietnam, the U.S. death toll tops 1,000 in Iraq. And the insurgents are still getting stronger..."

It is a wake-up call of sorts, and the most cited paragraphs are these -
America has its own Election Day to worry about. For U.S. troops in Iraq, one especially sore point is the stateside public's obsession with the candidates' decades-old military service. "Stop talking about Vietnam," says one U.S. official who has spent time in the Sunni Triangle. "People should be debating this war, not that one." His point was not that America ought to walk away from Iraq.

Hardly any U.S. personnel would call that a sane suggestion. But there's widespread agreement that Washington needs to rethink its objectives, and quickly. "We're dealing with a population that hovers between bare tolerance and outright hostility," says a senior U.S. diplomat in Baghdad. "This idea of a functioning democracy here is crazy. We thought that there would be a reprieve after sovereignty, but all hell is breaking loose."

It's not only that U.S. casualty figures keep climbing. American counterinsurgency experts are noticing some disturbing trends in those statistics. The Defense Department counted 87 attacks per day on U.S. forces in August--the worst monthly average since Bush's flight-suited visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Preliminary analysis of the July and August numbers also suggests that U.S. troops are being attacked across a wider area of Iraq than ever before. And the number of gunshot casualties apparently took a huge jump in August. Until then, explosive devices and shrapnel were the primary cause of combat injuries, typical of a "phase two" insurgency, where sudden ambushes are the rule. (Phase one is the recruitment phase, with most actions confined to sabotage. That's how things started in Iraq.) Bullet wounds would mean the insurgents are standing and fighting--a step up to phase three.

Another ominous sign is the growing number of towns that U.S. troops simply avoid. A senior Defense official objects to calling them "no-go areas." "We could go into them any time we wanted," he argues. The preferred term is "insurgent enclaves." They're spreading. Counterinsurgency experts call it the "inkblot strategy": take control of several towns or villages and expand outward until the areas merge. The first city lost to the insurgents was Fallujah, in April. Now the list includes the Sunni Triangle cities of Ar Ramadi, Baqubah and Samarra, where power shifted back and forth between the insurgents and American-backed leaders last week. "There is no security force there [in Fallujah], no local government," says a senior U.S. military official in Baghdad. "We would get attacked constantly. Forget about it."

U.S. military planners only wish they could. ...
And it was these "no go" zones - reported in the New York Times the previous week - that seemed to start his ball rolling downhill. It's hard to claim things are going swimmingly when you admit you have decided large areas of the country, including a large part of the capital - Baghdad's Sadr City - are just too danger to enter, even with the tanks and gunships overhead. Report after report seems to indicate only the Green Zone in central Baghdad is secure - were our top guys do their work in Saddam's formal palaces. This does not look good.

And then early in the week the outgoing Marine general in charge of western Iraq says we made a mess with how we handed Fallujah

Key General Criticizes April Attack In Fallujah
Abrupt Withdrawal Called Vacillation
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, The Washington Post, Monday, September 13, 2004; Page A17

What to make of this?
The outgoing U.S. Marine Corps general in charge of western Iraq said Sunday he opposed a Marine assault on militants in the volatile city of Fallujah in April and the subsequent decision to withdraw from the city and turn over control to a security force of former Iraqi soldiers.

That security force, known as the Fallujah Brigade, was formally disbanded last week. Not only did the brigade fail to combat militants, it actively aided them, surrendering weapons, vehicles and radios to the insurgents, according to senior Marine officers. Some brigade members even participated in attacks on Marines ringing the city, the officers said.

The comments by Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, made shortly after he relinquished command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force on Sunday, amounted to a stinging broadside against top U.S. military and civilian leaders who ordered the Fallujah invasion and withdrawal. His statements also provided the most detailed explanation -- and justification -- of Marine actions in Fallujah this spring, which have been widely criticized for increasing insurgent activity in the city and turning it into a "no-go" zone for U.S. troops.
We tried to turn this over to the local fellows, as it is their country now, and they help the bad guys and give them all the guns and equipment we provided.

That is not a good sign.

And here Knight Ridder reports that the anti-American insurgency in Iraq is "growing larger, more sophisticated and more violent," and that many experts believe "the best that can be hoped for now is continued chaos that falls short of a civil war."

The New York Times reports here that our pre-election (ours and theirs) get-tough tactics are backfiring. It seems where we cannot go we send in air strikes - large bombs and such - to blast what we think are places the bad guys congregate - and we kills a lot of the unlucky by mistake. The locals aren't impressed. They seem to see us as murderous cowards.

But we just want to make things better. But that's going sour too.

U.S. Plans to Divert Iraq Money
Attacks Prompt Request to Move Reconstruction Funds to Security Forces
Jonathan Weisman, The Washington Post, Wednesday, September 15, 2004; Page A22

Some things will have to wait (my emphases) -
The Bush administration asked Congress on Tuesday for permission to transfer nearly $3.5 billion from Iraqi water, sewer and electricity projects to pressing security, economic and electoral programs, acknowledging that increasing violence has forced a sharp shift in its rebuilding effort.

Including previous reallocations, the administration hopes to redirect more than 20 percent of $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds to cope with an escalating insurgency and the glacial pace of rebuilding. With two weeks left in the fiscal year, and 11 months after Congress approved the money, only $1.1 billion of it has been spent, because of attacks, contracting problems and other unforeseen issues, according to figures released by the State Department.

Marc Grossman, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, concluded that "without a significant reallocation of resources for the security and law enforcement sector, the short-term stability of Iraq would be compromised and the longer-term prospects of a free and democratic Iraq undermined."

The redirected money would be used for, among other things, 82,000 more Iraqi security personnel, including an increase of about 65 percent in police forces and a near-doubling of the number of border agents.

The shift of funds "is a de facto recognition that [the occupation authority's] ambitious plans to restructure Iraq's entire economy have failed," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a security analyst at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies, "and that . . . efforts to plan the long-term structure of Iraq's economic development have foundered in the face of insurgent attacks, theft and looting, [and] bad planning."

Even administration allies said the State Department has been slow coming to terms with a security environment radically different from what was envisioned when the reconstruction plans were drafted last fall.

... "I don't think anyone can deny we have not been as successful as we would have liked," said Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's foreign operations subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the funds.

"Fewer people will get potable water. Fewer people will get the electricity they need in their homes or their businesses," Kolbe said. "But that's just a recognition of the reality that unless you have the security you need, you can't have reconstruction."
Well, maybe if the Iraqi people had clean water, electricity, and maybe a sewage system that worked, far fewer of them would be fighting us.

But we cannot get there now.

Okay then. We have made a mess of things and seem to be losing or to have lost this war.

Now what? Since the administration will never say things haven't gone well, we have a dilemma.

A few weeks ago here the idea was this a matter of attitude for that administration. You have to have the right attitude. It is a matter of resolve. The bad things that have happened while we've stayed resolved show that good things will happen if only we stay resolved. That's the line we're fed, which I called the "Tinkerbell Theory" - if we clap loud enough and believe... then Tinkerbell will live.

No. That's a fairy tale.

This seems to be the week people are sensing that this resolve and optimism look a little too much like denial and delusion. There just isn't enough fairly dust to fix this one.

We have alienated most of the world who now see us as the enemy - a great item on that is here - and our dream of building a fine democracy in an Iraqi of fawning, worshipful and grateful folks tossing flowers at us, at virtually no cost, seems, at best, absurd.

Bush's opponent, this Kerry fellow, might make much of this turn in the narrative, this new meme, but probably won't, as Kerry is as dull as he is earnest and well-meaning.

But this new idea - that we've probably lost it all - is snowballing. It may help Kerry whether he likes it or not.

The problem is that if he wins, he has to clean up this mess. Maybe he wants to be beaten.

Posted by Alan at 20:11 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 15 September 2004 20:25 PDT home

Tuesday, 14 September 2004

Topic: Bush

Books: The never ending search for truth, justice, the American way, and a copy of Kitty Kelley's new book...

A guest item by Bob Patterson...

Our efforts to snag a copy of Kitty Kelley's latest book, The Family: The Real Story Of The Bush Dynasty began about a week ago, when we started sleuthing around LA's Westside hoping to find a review copy in one of our favorite used book stores. A call and two visits did not produce the desired results.

Previously some other newsworthy books had caused some intrepid booksellers to stay open so that at 12:01 a.m. on the day the book was officially supposed to go on sale, so eager patrons could buy them at the first available opportunity. We were hoping there would be a similar event in conjunction with the start of sales for this book. We called the Westwood outlet for Borders Books and Music and asked if they would be according the new Kelley book that bit of marketing. They said they would not.

On Tuesday, September 14, 2004, the day for the official start of sales for the item, we took a bus up to Westwood and went to our favorite mystery bookstore to see if they were offering the new book that was out of their area of expertise. Our preference would have been to buy the book there, but they weren't going to be selling that item. We ambled down to the Borders location.

A gentleman, approximately sixty years of age, was examining a copy at the same time we were checking the index and assessing the prospect of shelling out some money for a copy. Simultaneously we both asked, "So, what do you think?" I mentioned the fact that Ms. Kelley seemed to present the Bush family's association with the German banker Fritz Thyssen in a rather cursory and colorless manner. At that point the guy took the copy over to the check out counter.

Another fellow, of about the same age, gave the book a brief examination. He looked at the dust jacket information and his manner became disdainful. I mentioned that Ms. Kelley didn't seem to dig in a relentless and comprehensive manner. The guy's demeanor appeared to become more aggressive. He said that "they" should dig deeper into Kerry's voting record. It seems that remarks that Kerry made after returning from Vietnam had become the crucial factor in all this fellow's related decisions. Case closed.

The index made scant mention of some relevant items and seemed to ignore some topics which, it seemed to this columnist and book reviewer, might have merited a bit of consideration. Such as? The Bush family track record regarding the banking industry. Yes, she mentioned Union Banking Corporation in the area devoted to Fritz Thyssen, but, based on a quick scan of the Index, it seems she has passed on BCCI, Silverado Banking Savings and Loan, and Broward Federal Savings as topics to be examined.

Despite our reluctance based on economic considerations, it was time to disregard pecuniary caution and join the crowd who were buying this cultural curiosity de jour.

To make a judgment at this point would be like reviewing a movie's trailer and not the work itself. We will have to read the book before delving into an attempt at a review. The New York Times has published a review in the September 14, 2004 edition.

The last time this columnist/book reviewer recalls buying a book on the day of publication was the day when Madonna's book Sex went on sale. It seems we managed to purchase the last copy available in the Santa Monica, Marina del Rey, Westwood area of Los Angeles.

We don't do it often, hence the experience itself becomes a noteworthy aspect of the purchase.


Editor's Note:

Yesterday, Monday the 13th, Bob suggested I take the digital camera down to Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard for the book signing of the week. Paris Hilton was there, signing copies of whatever it is she wrote, or had written for her. Book Soup is just twenty blocks from home. Perhaps I could get some cool pictures. The event was scheduled for seven in the evening, and when I drove by just before five there were already several hundred young folks milling about and spilling over into the street. Your editor decided that stopping at Franklin and La Cienega, near there, for cat food and a lottery ticket, was better than braving the crowd for a few celebrity shots. Your editor just doesn't have the soul of a paparazzi. Sorry.

I'm sure Paris Hilton is a pleasant young lady. Others covered it. I didn't.


The New York Times review of the Kelley book:

A Bush Biography for the Age of Innuendo
Michiko Kakutani - Published: September 14, 2004
Kitty Kelley's catty new book about the Bush family is a perfect artifact of our current political culture in which unsubstantiated attacks on Senator John Kerry's Vietnam War record and old questions about President Bush's National Guard service get more attention than present-day issues like the Iraq war, the economy, intelligence reform or the assault weapons ban.

It is also a perfect artifact of a cultural climate in which gossip and innuendo thrive on the Internet; more and more biographies of artists and public figures dwell, speculatively, on familial dysfunction and disorder; and buzz - be it based on verified facts or sheer rumor-mongering - is regarded as a be-all and end-all.

... the author's undisguised contempt for many of the Bushes, combined with her failure to come to terms with politics and policy, and her tireless focus on sex, drugs and alcohol, will likely play into family members' penchant for assailing the media. It will likely give them an opening to shrug off this book as a snarky exercise in gossip, instead of forcing them to deal with substantive questions about their political record. Then again, in an election season willfully focused on the past and the personal and the unproven, this book may provide yet another distraction from issues here and now.

Posted by Alan at 17:50 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 14 September 2004 18:00 PDT home

Topic: The Culture

Books: If you're so smart, how come you're not rich?

This is about intellectuals, the thinkers, and not necessarily the doers.

As a warm-up, some comments from others -

"I think, therefore I am is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothaches."
- Milan Kundera, the Czech novelist ("The Incredible Lightness of Being" and others) who a decade ago moved to Paris, learned French well, and now writes his novels in French, not his native Czech. A show off? A toothache undermines the premises of Cartesian epistemology?

"There's always something suspect about an intellectual on the winning side."
- Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident playwright who seems still amazed that he became the leader of the country at the end of the Cold War. He thinks winning undermines his credibility as a thinker?

"I've never been an intellectual but I have this look."
- Woody Allen (in Manhattan that will do)

"Humanity I love you because when you're hard up you pawn your intelligence to buy a drink."
e.e. cummings

It unfair to discuss a book before its release but consider this:

Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?
Subtitle: Confronting 21st Century Philistinism
Frank Furedi
Continuum Books
Publication Date: November 1, 2004
ISBN: 0826467695
160 Pages
$19.95 (hardcover)

The publisher's blurb -
The intellectual is an endangered species. In place of such figures as Bertrand Russell, Raymond Williams or Hannah Arendt - people with genuine learning, breadth of vision and a concern for public issues - we now have only facile pundits, think-tank apologists, and spin-doctors. In the age of the knowledge economy, we have somehow managed to combine the widest ever participation in higher education with the most dumbed-down of cultures.

In this urgent and passionate book, Frank Furedi explains the essential contribution of intellectuals both to culture and to democracy - and why we need to recreate a public sphere in which intellectuals and the general public can talk to each other again.
We need to do that? Don't tell anyone. The general public will run for the doors.

Of course, what with Just Above Sunset and this web log, I suppose I fall under the heading of Facile Pundit, if that. Or maybe I'm a Spin Doctor. Whatever. I don't suppose I count as an intellectual.

But Furedi's table of contents in amusing:
Introduction: A personal journey through the land of the philistines
Chapter 1: Devaluing the Intellect
Chapter 2: Trivial Pursuits
Chapter 3: Dumbing Down
Chapter 4: Social Engineering
Chapter 5: The Culture of Flattery
Chapter 6: Treating People as Children
These topics have come up here. I shall track down the book as soon as I can. Maybe I can claim I'm an intellectual if I read it. I don't look at all like Woody Allen so I do need some help.

The book has been released in the UK and Terry Eagleton, the author of the ever popular The English Novel: An Introduction (Blackwell) has an amusing review of this Furedi book in the current issues of The New Statesman.

Eagleton opens with a reference to music I don't know (shame on me!) but I get the general idea.
The spooky music of Mastermind says it all. Intellectuals are weird, creepy creatures, akin to aliens in their clinical detachment from the everyday human world. Yet you can also see them as just the opposite. If they are feared as sinisterly cerebral, they are also pitied as bumbling figures who wear their underpants back to front, harmless eccentrics who know the value of everything and the price of nothing. Alternatively, you can reject both viewpoints and see intellectuals as neither dispassionate nor ineffectual, denouncing them instead as the kind of dangerously partisan ideologues who were responsible for the French and Bolshevik revolutions. Their problem is fanaticism, not frigidity. Whichever way they turn, the intelligentsia get it in the neck.
Oh woe is me, Terry seems to be saying.

But that's the way it is. The 1964 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction went to Richard Hofstadter for his Anti-intellectualism in American Life, laying out how it has always been so on this side of the pond, from Colonial times to now. (Order a copy here and you too can feel put upon and misunderstood.)

Eagleton says the classical intellectual, "in the heroic mould of Jean-Paul Sartre, Frantz Fanon and Hannah Arendt," seems to have shut up shop. We did inherit the idea of the intellectual from the 18th-century Enlightenment - all that stuff about truth, universality and objectivity - and those days are long gone. These days? - all that stuff is suspect. And Furedi seems to be asserting that these were formerly a problem for the political right. Hey, if you're going to appeal to prejudice, hierarchy and custom, then truth, universality and objectivity are not useful concepts at all. But now the left doesn't like these concepts either. Odd that this happened, isn't it?

Eagleton on why there is now no one around like Sartre, Fanon and Arendt (my emphases) -
In the age of Sontag, Said, Williams and Chomsky, whole sectors of the left behave as though these men and women were no longer possible. Soon, no doubt, they will take to imitating the nervous tic by which the right ritually inserts the expression "so-called" before the word "intellectual". Right-wingers do this because they imagine that "intellectual" means "frightfully clever", a compliment they are naturally reluctant to pay to their opponents. In fact, there are dim-witted intellectuals just as there are incompetent chefs. The word "intellectual" is a job description, not a commendation.

One mark of the classical intellectual (more recently dubbed a "theorist") was that he or she refused to be pinned to a single discipline. Instead, the idea was to bring ideas critically to bear on social life as a whole.

... In fact, a snap definition of an intellectual would be "more or less the opposite of an academic". Once society is considered too complex to be known as a whole, however, the idea of truth yields to both specialism and relativism. Because you can now know only your own neck of the woods, the general critique as launched by the conventional intellectual collapses. There is no longer any big picture, a fact for which our rulers are profoundly grateful. And given that anyone's view is now as good as anyone else's, the authority which underpinned that critique is downsized along with it. To suggest that your anti-racist convictions are somehow superior to my anti-Semitic ones comes to sound intolerably elitist.
Ah, so no one really knows anything much these days. There is no big picture.

But we do value knowledge. People still trot off top graduate schools and the economy depends on a core group of folks who know lots of stuff - management theory, complex computer systems, logistics and distribution, probability and chaos theory as it applies to the trading of financial derivatives, and automobile and aircraft and satellite design. We live is a "knowledge economy" after all.

But there is a catch -
A society obsessed with the knowledge economy, Furedi argues, is oddly wary of knowledge. This is because truth is no longer precious for its own sake.

... At an earlier stage of capitalism, knowledge was not so vital for economic production; once it becomes so, it turns into a commodity, while critical intellectuals turn into submissive social engineers. Now, knowledge is valuable only when it can be used as an instrument for something else: social cohesion, political control, economic production. In a brilliant insight, Furedi claims that this instrumental downgrading of knowledge is just the flip side of postmodern irrationalism. The mystical and the managerial are secretly in cahoots.
Huh? I'll have to think about that last comment - but not too hard. When intellectualism became useful it became useless?

Eagleton explain this, as I understand him, by saying we're short on critical intellectuals - as "thinkers" became "experts" and, in general, culture and education "lapse into forms of social therapy."
The promotion of ideas plays second fiddle to the provision of services. Art and culture become substitute forms of cohesion, participation and self-esteem in a deeply divided society. Culture is deployed to make us feel good about ourselves, rather than to tackle the causes of those divisions, implying that social exclusion is simply a psychological affair. That to feel bad about ourselves is the first step towards transforming our situation is thus neatly sidestepped. What matters is not the quality of the activity, but whether it gets people off the streets. Extravagant justifications for culture are piously touted: it can cure crime, promote social bonding, pump up self-assurance, even tackle Aids. It helps to heal conflict and create community - a case, ironically, dear to the heart of that bogeyman of the anti-elitists, Matthew Arnold. As Furedi points out, art can indeed have profound social effects; but it rarely does so when its value as art is so airily set aside.
Well, people do want what the do to be useful - we are a utilitarian lot. Art for art's sake? That doesn't pay the bills or make us feel better.

And what about education these days? As a former teacher of the useless - English and music - I found this amusing -
The feel-good factor flourishes in education as well. University academics are discouraged from fostering adversarial debate, in case it should hurt someone's feelings. Why indulge in it anyway, if what matters is not truth but self-expression? "Student-centred learning" assumes that the student's "personal experience" is to be revered rather than challenged. People are to be comforted rather than confronted. In what one American sociologist has termed the McDonaldisation of the universities, students are redefined as consumers of services rather than junior partners in a public service. This phoney populism, as Furedi points out, is in fact a thinly veiled paternalism, assuming as it does that ordinary men and women aren't up to having their experience questioned. Rigorous discriminations are branded as "elitist" - an elitist attitude in itself, given that ordinary people have always fiercely argued the toss over the relative merits of everything from films to football clubs. Meanwhile, libraries try frantically not to look like libraries, or to let slip intimidatingly elitist words such as "book".
Ouch! Too true. Did I worry too much about my students' self-esteem? Perhaps I should have undermined it by making them intellectually uncomfortable. Well, actually I did some of that too.

What a mess. We need to identify how we got to this sorry state, where thinking the uncomfortable and challenging each other is a social taboo.

It seems Furedi does not see "market forces or the growth of professionalism as the chief villains in this sorry story." The problem is the politics of inclusion - seeing a virtue in everyone agreeing without much examination of just what it is to which they are agreeing. Can't we all just get along?

Some of us say no. That does not necessarily make us intellectuals, but it's a start.

Posted by Alan at 11:38 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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

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