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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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Wednesday, 29 September 2004

Topic: The Law

Legislation: The guy who used to coach high school wresting has a modest proposal...


Dennis Hastert -

See September 5, 2004 - Well, it could be true... you just never know for a discussion of his hints that George Soros is supporting Kerry with money from drug cartels. Should something happen to the President, then to the Vice President, the next in line to run the whole show is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. You could look it up in the constitution. That go-to guy at present would be Representative J. Dennis 'Denny' Hastert, Republican of Illinois, graduate of Wheaton College (fundamentalist Christian) and a former high school wrestling coach at Yorkville High School (1964-1980). He's been in the House since 1986 and speaker since 1999. Between the coaching gig and the US House, he spent four years in the Illinois House of Representatives. He's been around.

Maher Arar

Arar was the Canadian citizen we secretly deported to Syria. We don't do torture. They do. Torture is not US policy. And we thought he was a bad guy. We picked him up at the Newark airport. But, damn, it seems he wasn't a bad guy. We had bad information. His crime was that his mother's cousin had joined the Muslim Brotherhood long after Maher moved to Canada. And after ten months of torture and incarceration in a quite tiny cell in Syria, he was allowed to return to his home in Canada. Oops. Now he is suing the US government. He is not happy. (Discussed previously here (August 1, 2004) and here (December 21, 2003).


"Extraordinary rendition"

That is the term we now use for sending terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture for interrogation.


That would be an item from UPI - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

See White House backs Senate 9/11 reforms
Shaun Waterman, United Press International

This is long item on the current legislation under consideration to implement the recommendations of the commission that looked into what happened back on September 11, 2001 and what we could do to make sure such a thing never happened again. Parallel bills are working their way through the House and Senate, and everyone, left and right, is trying to drop in special provisions. And the two bills now do not match up at all. It's a bit of a mess.

Buried in the article is this gem -
Supporters of reform on both sides of the aisle say several of the bill's provisions in the House version risk complicating, or even derailing, the bill's progress [in the Senate].

These include measures that make it easier to deport aliens without a court hearing and restrict their right of appeal; a provision that broadens the definition of both "material support" and the organizations to which it is a crime to provide it; and a clause legalizing the practice of so-called extraordinary rendition, when suspected terrorists are removed to countries that practice torture.

Reformers say there are no equivalent provisions to these measures in the Senate bill. These differences are expected to become a complication when legislators from both chambers meet to reconcile their respective versions and hammer out a single measure.
This is only mentioned in passing, and in passing, note that UPI is owned by that odd Reverend Moon, the madly religious conservative fellow who publishes the Washington Times - staunchly pro-administration and pretty far to the right, the newspaper of the current regime if you will.


Someone who calls herself Katherine R has some observations that are a bit unfavorable about the Republican leadership of Congress attempting to legalize extraordinary rendition. She quotes one of our intelligence officials in the Washington Post describing it this way, "We don't kick the shit out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them." She's opposed to it. And, as she points out -
As it stands now, "extraordinary rendition" is a clear violation of international law--specifically, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading and Inhuman Treatment. U.S. law is less clear. We signed and ratified the Convention Against Torture, but we ratified it with some reservations. They might create a loophole that allows us to send a prisoner to Egypt or Syria or Jordan if we get "assurances" that they will not torture a prisoner - even if these assurances are false and we know they are false.
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge and all that - as we may not do torture, but we can outsource it. (Well, at Abu Ghraib and a lot of other places we did do torture, but we're sorry and know now that was wrong, and not approved, and the fault of some low-level fools who didn't understand Rumsfeld wanted them to be careful not to cross any lines, so to speak.)

Katherine R also points out one that last month one Edward Markey, a Massachusetts congressman (a finicky Democrat of course), introduced a bill (PDF format) that would clear this all up and just outlaw extraordinary rendition. But Markey only has twenty-two cosponsors as, one supposes, no one wants to appear to be soft on the bad guys.

Katherine R quotes from press release from Markey's office (her emphases) -
The provision Rep. Markey referred to is contained in Section 3032 and 3033 of H.R. 10, the "9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004," introduced by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL). The provision would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist - thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture. The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish "by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured," would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary's regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will - even countries other than the person's home country or the country in which they were born. The provision would also apply retroactively.

This provision was not part of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, and the Commission actually called upon the U.S. to "offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors." The Commission noted that "The United States should engage its friends to develop a common coalition approach to the detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists. New principles might draw upon Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict. That article was specifically designed for those cases in which the usual laws of war did not apply. Its minimum standards are generally accepted throughout the world as customary international law."
These standards prohibit the use of torture or other cruel or degrading treatment....

Rep. Markey said, "When the Republicans 9/11 bill is considered in the House, I intend to offer an amendment to strike the torture outsourcing provisions from the Republican bill and replace it with restrictions restoring international law as provided in my bill. It is absolutely disgraceful that the Republican Leadership has decided to load up the 9/11 Commission bill with legislative provisions that would legitimize torture, particularly when the Commission itself called for the U.S. to move in exactly the opposite direction."
The part about this applying retroactively is cute, but what is Hastert up to? This former wrestling coach thinks the 9/11 Commission was kidding about offering "an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors." Yeah, Hastert thinks they were kidding, or wrong about that.

Katherine R does point out that there is no possible way for a suspect being detained in secret to prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that he will be tortured if he is deported - especially when he may be deported to a country where has never been, and "when the officials who want to deport him serve as judge, jury and executioner, and when there is never any judicial review."

Well, yeah. And she says that this bill would make what happened to Maher Arar perfectly legal, and "guarantee that it will happen again." And her friend in Markey's office told her "this bill could be on the House floor as early as next week."

You could write your congressman (or congresswoman) and tell them this is an extraordinarily bad provision and it ought to be removed from the bill - as it is counterproductive, rather immoral (or amoral or whatever), and just a really bad idea that would make us even more hated around the world, and for good reason.

Or you could assume it will never survive the conference committee where they try to reconcile the House and Senate versions, and cooler heads than Hastert's will prevail, and folks will laugh at him, and Dennis will bluster, and then the item will just get dropped.

Or you may be one of those people, like Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is strangely attracted to the idea of torturing those who may or may not be innocent and thinks it may be justified these days. Sometimes you just have to do it? I guess.

And you may agree with Hastert because he's resolute and firm, and you may be a former wrestling coach for all we know.

And you may be seething with anger at all these swarthy people in the Middle East making so much trouble and messing with our oil or whatever, and think with glee of scaring the crap out of anyone who looks at us funny by letting them know we play rough.

Or you may just like getting back at people and making them hurt, a lot - even if who you select as your target is perhaps the wrong person. We all have those urges now and then.

Or you may just like the concept of a police state where you're guilty and get what you deserve, unless you can prove otherwise, if we let you. Such states are, in some ways, pretty efficient.

In that case don't write your congressman (or congresswoman).

Posted by Alan at 21:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Election Notes

Facts: The Annuls of Cognitive Dissonance

Last year in Just Above Sunset you would find the October 19, 2003 opinion column had a long subtitle - Thoughts on nailing mashed potatoes to a wall. Or - "We report, you decide." "Disseminating Ignorance." Basically, how watching the news can actually sometimes make you dumber, and have you believe things that just aren't so.

This was a discussion 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 firm. These PIPA folks had spent almost a year tracking the public's misperceptions of major news events and polling people to find out just where they go to get things flat out wrong. The study in question was published October 2nd and the full results are here under the heading - "Misperceptions, The Media and The Iraq War - A PIPA/Knowledge Networks Study." here has a useful table of the results. The conclusion? Statistically, those who consistently get the actual facts wrong about what our country has done and is doing - and about much of what is happening in the world - use Fox News as their usual source of information. Harold Meyerson has a good analysis of the study here in the Washington Post: Fact-Free News, Wednesday, October 15, 2003; page A23 - and Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, had a lot to say last October.

Fast forward. It seems these people at PIPA are at it again with this study, Bush Supporters Misread Many of His Foreign Policy Positions, dated Wednesday, September 29, 2004 with two subheadings - "Kerry Supporters Largely Accurate" and "Swing Voters Also Misread Bush, But Not Kerry."

It opens with this: (my emphases)
As the nation prepares to watch the presidential candidates debate foreign policy issues, a new PIPA-Knowledge Networks poll finds that Americans who plan to vote for President Bush have many incorrect assumptions about his foreign policy positions. Kerry supporters, on the other hand, are largely accurate in their assessments. The uncommitted also tend to misperceive Bush's positions, though to a smaller extent than Bush supporters, and to perceive Kerry's positions correctly. Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments: "What is striking is that even after nearly four years President Bush's foreign policy positions are so widely misread, while Senator Kerry, who is relatively new to the public and reputed to be unclear about his positions, is read correctly."

Majorities of Bush supporters incorrectly assumed that Bush favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (84%), and the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the International Criminal Court (66%), the treaty banning land mines (72%), and the Kyoto Treaty on global warming (51%). They were divided between those who knew that Bush favors building a new missile defense system now (44%) and those who incorrectly believe he wishes to do more research until its capabilities are proven (41%). However, majorities were correct that Bush favors increased defense spending (57%) and wants the US, not the UN, to take the stronger role in developing Iraq's new government (70%).

... PIPA selected these questions from those asked in polls by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations which dealt with issues on which the presidential candidates have taken clear and documented positions.
If you're interested, the full report is available here (in PDF format, so you'll need Acrobat Reader), the questionnaire here (also PDF format) and the press release here.

So what to make of this?

You hear, and read, that Bush does NOT want labor and environmental standards included in any trade agreements we make. The man flat-out says so, repeatedly - he says such concerns hobble businesses trying to thrive and grow and create more jobs. But you don't believe that - because you don't want to?

The other stuff?

We rather publicly, and unilaterally, pulled out of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, that pesky treaty banning land mines (ours at the Korean DMZ were too important to our security), and that tree-huggers Kyoto Treaty on global warming (which has still not been proven to be really happening, according to this administration). We angered most of the world with all these moves. Our allies, or those folks that used to be our allies, were aghast at all this. And Russia may ratify the Kyoto Treaty accords this week, just to tweak us. But you don't believe all this - because you don't want to?

That new missile defense system will be deployed in Alaska just before our election - and it doesn't work (see this and some discussion here) - and it won't work, and the testing and research that proved it just will not work has ended. But you don't believe that - because you don't want to?

This is not a problem with watching Fox News. They reported on all this - and whole-heartedly approved of all these administration positions.

The problem is deeper. At some visceral level more than half of the country wants Bush to win in November, if you follow the polls. And wanting that, they make up stuff about what he does - to assure themselves he's a reasonable, thoughtful guy who is simply misunderstood. These are decent people and want to believe Bush is being a decent and fair guy. These are your friends and neighbors - and people who want us, as a country, to do the right thing.

I suppose here you could say something about the willing suspension of disbelief, but that seems a bit lame, as this isn't a Broadway musical where Puerto Rican gangs suddenly break into Jerome Robbins dances and sing Bernstein, or where Peter Pan flies off with Tinkerbell, and no one minds the shift from realism to pleasant artifice. This is where my nephew in the Army puts his life on the line in Iraq, and where the majority of people around the world see us as dangerous, arrogant bullies who are now the problem, and not, as we have been seen since the late forties until these last three years, the solution.

One can forgive these people supporting Bush for assuming the best about him in spite of the facts. That is natural, and understandable. Look up the term cognitive dissonance.

But facts are facts. And some things - what has been done in our name - just cannot be forgiven.

So is it a new rule - as Bill Maher likes to say - that when in power you can do any amount of damage you want and people, being decent and generous, will tell themselves you didn't do anything at all like that? That seems to be the case.

If it is the case, and you rely on the innate decency and generosity of most Americans, you remain in power.

An old college friend who read this item above asked me what was my take on "the public's death grip on the cognitive dissonance of what he says and what seems to be true?"

My response?

It's fatal to generalize about "the public" - as some are, as we see here, finding self-delusional ways to believe the man is just not that dumb, or that dangerous, and thus find ways to justify having supported him for these four years (that cognitive dissonance rationalizing crowd who doesn't want to believe each and every one of them could have been so wrong about the guy), some are just gleeful that this frat boy who sneers and proudly he doesn't read is now lording over all the so-called intellectuals who think they're too good for NASCAR and Toby Keith (his lying to the elite is an ongoing in-your-face thing they just love), and some are just making up what they want to believe because that is how one gets through life without being upset all the time - you make up the world you live in, as the real world isn't that nice - and some are just not particularly interested in what's happening in the world and assume what they think ought to be so must be so - in a sensible world, and some are just dumb.

Rather than a uniform "death grip on cognitive dissonance," this is a mixed array of folks who hear one thing and see another, and, for many reasons, deal with it as if there is no problem at all. Let's call them the optimists, the folks with a good attitude.

But as for the first group above, that cognitive dissonance rationalizing crowd, say you are the parent of a child you love dearly over the years, and you come to find out he is a sadistic bully who may now have committed some awful crime, and the facts are clear. You'll do almost anything not to believe it, because, well, what does that say about you, the one who showered the child with approval and stood behind him all those years? It's like that. We really wanted to believe the best about this kid, and we're still trying hard to believe the best, but the cops are at the door with the arrest warrant.

Posted by Alan at 19:18 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 30 September 2004 16:42 PDT home

Tuesday, 28 September 2004

Topic: Political Theory

Logic Bombs: Why Bush Will Win the Debates

William Saletan is at the top of his game. Check this out.

Catastrophic Success
The worse Iraq gets, the more we must be winning.
Posted Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004, at 2:53 PM PT - SLATE.COM

The opening is cool, even if my spell-checker tells me unfalsifiable isn't really a word at all -
In 1999, George W. Bush said we needed to cut taxes because the economy was doing so well that the U.S. Treasury was taking in too much money, and we could afford to give some back to the people who earned it. In 2001, Bush said we needed the same tax cuts because the economy was doing poorly, and we had to return the money so that people would spend and invest it.

Bush's arguments made the wisdom of cutting taxes unfalsifiable. In good times, tax cuts were affordable. In bad times, they were necessary. Whatever happened proved that tax cuts were good policy. When Congress approved the tax cuts, Bush said they would revive the economy. You'd know that the tax cuts had worked, because more people would be working. Three years later, more people aren't working. But in Bush's view, that, too, proves he was right. If more people aren't working, we just need more tax cuts.
So how do you counter this kind of logic? Is it possible? When you are proved wrong that only proves you were really right. Do you just heave a sigh of exasperation, as Gore did in the presidential debates four years ago, and thus come off as a pretentious and condescending intellectual snob and alienate everyone by making fun of a simple man with a clear vision.

How do you respond? Is a giggle appropriate? No, that also would come off as condescension.

This kind of logic is a pretty effective trap, and Saletan argues Bush and his handlers are carefully setting the trap again. But this time this issue in the current state of affairs in Iraq - and Saletan points out that when violence there was subsiding, Bush said that clearly proved that he was on the right track. Violence is increasing there now, pretty obviously, and Bush says this, too, proves he's on the right track. Argh!

The examples cited?
On July 23, 2003, three months into the occupation, Bush scoffed that Iraqi insurgents were confined to "a few areas of the country. And wherever they operate, they are being hunted, and they will be defeated. ... Now, more than ever, all Iraqis can know that the former regime is gone and will not be coming back." A week later, he assured reporters, "Conditions in most of Iraq are growing more peaceful. ... As the blanket of fear is lifted, as Iraqis gain confidence that the former regime is gone forever, we will gain more cooperation." Bush warned that failure to stick with his policies "would only invite further and bolder attacks."

A year later, the insurgents are not defeated, conditions are not more peaceful, the blanket of fear is spreading, cooperation is fraying, and attacks on U.S. personnel are growing bolder. Does this prove Bush is failing? No. It proves he's succeeding.

When the violence increased this spring, Bush, Vice President Cheney, and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said insurgents were growing "desperate" in their efforts to "derail the transition" - the handover of sovereignty scheduled for June 30. "This is precisely what our enemies want," Bush argued. The violence proved Bush was on the right track, and the handover would soon be complete, demoralizing the enemy. The insurgents would be crushed. "In Fallujah, Marines of Operation Vigilant Resolve are taking control of the city, block by block," Bush bragged.
Well, that didn't work out. Fallujah, and the Sadr City portion of Baghdad, and so many other places are now "no go zones" where our troops will not operate (see this from September 14 in the New York Times and a discussion here in these pages) - and the elections scheduled for January are in question, and so on and so forth. We turned over sovereignty in June, and things went sour.

A problem? Not really. The new logic is that the new spike in resistance just proves we're right - this sovereignty business ticked off the evil-doers in June, and now, because we're doing the right thing and pushing forward with a partial election in January, in the few areas that are relatively safe (as Rumsfeld said, probably thinking of the 2000 election in Florida, nothing's perfect), this demonstrates our essential rightness.

Does it? Maybe a lot of folks just don't want us there. Which proves we're right, right?

The trap for any critic of all this is clear -
If the situation in Iraq improves in the coming weeks, Bush will take credit. If it deteriorates, he'll take credit for that, too. "Terrorist violence may well escalate as the January elections draw near," he warned Thursday. "The terrorists know that events in Iraq are reaching a decisive moment. If elections go forward, democracy in Iraq will put down permanent roots, and terrorists will suffer a dramatic defeat." So take heart. We've got 'em right where we want 'em.
We do?

I see no way for any opponent of the administration to attack this logic. It's not unfalsifiable. It is impenetrable.

Currently polls show the Bush-Cheney ticket will win in November, as their numbers are strong and getting stronger by the day. And this seems to be a demonstration that people like being told that successes mean we were right and we are winning, and setbacks show, even more clearly, that we were right and we are winning. That makes folks comfortable. There's no downside. Either way we're right, and we're winning. Cool.

As for what Kerry and Edwards can say in the debates? There is little that works against this. Suggesting things are complicated and we need to think about this all makes people uncomfortable - and we can't have that. Asking voters to think about all this stuff is the kiss of death, as people prefer action to analysis. People who think don't get things done - the basic theme of the Bush-Cheney campaign. We cannot afford a thinker now - not in this dangerous world. We have to do things, whatever they are, no matter how much they seem to make things worse. And by golly, worse is better, if you think about it the right way.

Here's a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that's been going around the web (reprinted without permission as no one else seems to have asked either) that speaks to the basic dilemma - two ways of looking at things.

Posted by Alan at 16:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Monday, 27 September 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

Quiet! You might embolden our enemies!

Let's go back to October of 2001 and listen to Richard Perle. This is from and interview on Nightline -
Having destroyed the Taliban, having destroyed Saddam's regime, the message to the others is, "You're next." Two words. Very efficient diplomacy. " You're next, and if you don't shut down the terrorist networks on your territory, we'll take you down, too. Is it worth it?" Of course it isn't worth it. It isn't worth it for any of them.
Thus we are where we are today.

Over at Hullabaloo Digby comments -
You can almost smell the testosterone, can't you? These guys really believed this Neverneverland nonsense. I'm afraid our Boy King still does.

He's just being his typical two-faced self bellowing "bring 'em on" one day and then falling over with the vapors the next because Kerry's words might make the bad guys mad. Nothing new there.
Well, yes, they believed this was the face of the new diplomacy. Thrown out the old way of doing things internationally, and flex some muscles. Folks will fall in line.

But the bastards aren't following in line. People are fighting back when they are not supposed to fight back.

And what is this about Bush "falling over with the vapors because Kerry's words might make the bad guys mad?"

Last weekend in Rhetoric: The campaigns settle on their preferred rhetorical devices for the final weeks you can find a discussion of the new attack on John Kerry, that support of John Kerry is support of terrorism. But what I missed there was the key word in the whole concept. That word is "embolden." And everyone seems to be trying to deal with that word as it is now used day in and day out in the speeches Bush delivers: the things Kerry says - that things aren't going well and we need to do this or that differently - embolden our enemies and undermine our good work. Bush is getting a lot of mileage from that single word.

Matthew Yglesias has discussed use of the word this at length, and he applies some logic to the matter -
Does anyone really believe, after all, that our enemies currently lack for boldness of all things? One can say accurately various nasty things about Osama, his hardened core of terrorists-cum-special-forces, his more conventional guerilla fighters, Zarqawi, al-Sadr, their followers, etc., but one thing they certainly aren't is some kind of chickenshit force that would be really scary if only they got bolder.

... The notion that the USA could possibly impress these guys with grand displays of machismo is silly. The bad guys here are hard-core and that's just the way it is. A strategy to beat them has to be smart and has to use the many advantages America really does have. Worrying about the other side's boldness isn't going to get us anywhere.
And this on Bush -
Truly the man is immune to self-doubt, introspection, and minor concepts like letting his thinking be influenced by reality or learning from experience. And things will only get worse if his mismanagement is ratified by the electorate... It dawns on me that someone really badly needs to ask Bush if he has any regrets about challenging the insurgents to "bring it on" and kill hundreds of additional US troops and significantly more Iraqi civilians. Talk about emboldening America's enemies. I'm sure the relatives of our dead soldiers really appreciate the president's armchair machismo.
Ah yes, armchair machismo.

The curious things here is how effective this is - asking each voter to channel his or her inner bully and feel good about pushing others around. Hey, it works. Read the polls. The internal numbers generally show that people feel Bush has driven the economy into near collapse with the tax cuts for the wealthy and the resulting deficits, that the job situation is awful, that he has no clue about healthcare or the environment, or even about basic science... and generally he's in way over his head - but they love how he sneers at the bad guys. That feels real good. We are an angry country and he has become the point man for our anger. That's good enough for the majority of those who will vote. That's what the polls show.

And Bush has directed a good portion of that anger at John Kerry. Kerry, by criticizing the execution of the war, and the war itself, is trying to make the bullies look foolish, and since we all buy into "the bully approach" as what must be done, and which also just feels so good, Kerry is attacking us all. So fight back!

Some don't buy it. This from Digby is shrill but an interesting counterargument -
And anyway, doesn't it seem a bit, well...girlie-manish...for our swaggering Crusader Codpiece to be tremulously waving his hands and shushing his opponents because it might make the nasty terrorists even bolder than they already are? Surely, superheroes such as he are much too strong and manly to care whether the bad guys are emboldened by talk of any kind. Real men say "bring it on," right?

Clearly, people who are willing to blow themselves up aren't suffering from a lack of physical courage. That is not the problem. Indeed, until we create a corps of suicide bombers they have the advantage in willing human cannon fodder material. Our military superiority isn't supposed to be our "courage" and "boldness" - it is our international leadership, advanced technology and smart strategy, none of which Junior has employed worth a busted fuck.

This has been part of the fallacy driving Junior's misbegotten strategy from day one. While it's obvious that a fair amount of his ridiculous Hopalong Cassidy bullshit was calculated to thrill the rubes here at home, there is ample evidence that many of the starry-eyed neocons truly believed that a thrilling show of Big American Power would snap some of those Ay-rabs out of their little dreamworld and bring them around right quick to the knowledge that they can never win against us, the Ubermenschen.
Nietzsche? Just who are we using as models? Nietzsche mentioned this ubermenschen concept very briefly only in the prologue of Thus Spoke Zarathustra - thinking of Napoleon. And what Nietzsche wrote may have somehow led to the odd little Austrian fellow with the mustache. Oh my!

No. Let's not got there.

But in the end, this thrilling show of Big American Power has not snapped the bad guys out of their dream world. Actually it seems to have - note this irony well - emboldened them. As noted last weekend, the whole concept of threatening folks into a sniveling, fearful puddle of compliance just doesn't work very well.

To repeat - Think of the bully who has you cornered, grabs your shirt and sneers, "Okay, give ten good reasons I shouldn't beat the crap out of you right now?" An angry and frustrated American people can understand why playing the part of that bully is just plain satisfying, and relatively easy given our military resources - no one pushes us around. Hey, anything else is just too much of a bother, and kind of French.

But it is too bad that people who have been repeatedly bullied fight back in sneaky ways that make life hard. They just don't get it. Algeria in the fifties, Vietnam in the sixties, Gaza and the West bank now, Northern Ireland since 1688 - and so many other examples of the defeated and powerless just not accepting their worthlessness - make you wonder if this "prove to me you don't deserve a beating" stance really works.

It doesn't, but it's what we do. And one does not sense much change in the air.

And I guess all of these words above have also emboldened our enemies.

But that just doesn't make sense.

Our enemies should worry that we might suddenly change course, gather real allies, and suddenly shift from using any brute force at all to using crafty diplomacy (secret deals and back-door alliances and all the rest) and the soft power of making them look silly and us look good. If "the West" got all cooperative and sly and subtle? They'd be in trouble.

Lucky for them that will never happen now.

Posted by Alan at 21:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 28 September 2004 09:52 PDT home

Topic: The Culture

Theology: The Paris-Atlanta Dialogs

In Just Above Sunset here (and in these pages here) you will find a discussion of the graphic that seems to show the first three hurricanes that hit Florida this year walloped the counties that voted for Bush in the 2000 election and miraculously spared those counties where folks voted for Al Gore. The title of the item was A Curious Map Reveals God's Politics. Could this be true? Or is this one more urban legend, as they say? Or just political humor based on coincidence and a clever presentation of selected data?

Whichever it was, my friends got to talking about it.

Joseph - our Hollywood expatriate who chucked it all and moved to France - sent this from somewhere near Paris -
Okay, it's a tragedy, a disaster, but far be it from me to resist a bit of schadenfreude...

The map is pretty amusing in the context of the many comments made by yahoos interviewed on CNN. I heard many people say that they weren't worried about the approaching hurricane because god would protect them, or afterwards that they escaped damage because god did protect them.

Did these people think that they were the object of God's protection because they were special, or at least more righteous than those that God would not or did not protect? If they had been hit hard, would they have concluded that they weren't as righteous as those who escaped damage - or that God was displeased with them? Can they not see the deeply un-Christian impulse that lies beneath? "I'm the best! Jesus loves ME!"

If one is ready to credit god when one escapes damage, it seems that one should be prepared to pass a little blame his way if the Big Guy doesn't come through. But the protection hypothesis is sadly a one-way affair. Sadder still, critical thought will end with "whoops" and they will suffer the same fallacy the next time around. I guess you really can't prove a negative. Not to a true believer, anyway.
Phillip, master mason and ace jazz musician near Atlanta rose to the occasion...
Not from around here (the South) are you JT?

Since God is everywhere (he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake), and especially has great cable reception, there is no doubt He will catch the sound bite of trailer trash interviewed beside rubble. Struggling for stature, holiness is about all a rube can cling to - to set them apart from really, really low class dumb asses, you know, booger eating glue sniffers aspiring to be meth heads. But just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no atheists in trailer parks when a storm is spawning a dozen tornados a night. They may actually feel clever buying a house for fifteen grand and a spot to plop it for a hundred a month, even though it is framed with 2x2's with a micron thick membrane of sheet metal as cladding. A lack of structural insight, no doubt. Now let's talk about the guys in Canada who go ice fishing in March and stutter with dee-yas and ehs. Why would anyone live somewhere with a six month winter? No point in even bringing up God. Surely He doesn't even listen to people who lack the brains to migrate to warmer climes. Come on Joe, have a heart. I mean where on this continent would Jesus live?
Then Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, adds something more to the dialog...
Ironically, as I read these words, I am hearing NPR in the background running a news story about the family of an Oregon national guardsman who was killed driving his Humvee over a homemade bomb in Iraq.

His mom was stoical about it, saying she trusted in God to take care of her son, and although she had thought God would bring her son back to her, she said she knows God's plans are not her plans, and she's okay with that. She is also comforted by the fact that her son was a devout Christian who was upset with all our naysaying back home about Iraq, because he understood this war to be a spiritual war, one being waged by a devoutly Christian president who understands spiritual matters.

So does this or does this not point to the crux of our problem, not only in Iraq but also in record budget deficits back home designed to shrink the size of government small enough for some right-wing fanatic to drown it in a bathtub? [That would be Grover Norquist quoted here. -AP]

Let me come at this from another angle: If God really speaks to George W. Bush, as George W. Bush claims God does, wouldn't you think God could have clued him in ahead of time about those WMD's?

PS: Phillip, re Canada and moving south: I don't care what you say about people with brains moving here, I will argue that nobody with real brains DID move here before God invented air conditioning!
Joseph the shot back from Paris...
I mean where on this continent would Jesus live? Jesus? I picture him in Sedona. ;)

Christians use that quote [there are no atheists in foxholes] to imply that atheists are detached from reality and that a good dose of it would make believers out of them, but they are missing the point: fear and desperation are a formula for faith. That inclination to reach out for God when one is being shot at is the philosophical equivalent of the involuntary "pucker" instinct, and ought to pass just as quickly.

Just as one wouldn't go "puckered" for the rest of one's days, that you called for God in your moment of desperation doesn't mean he's there.
And Phillip, master mason and ace jazz musician near Atlanta, had to comment on the whole concept of this God person...
Where is the quote from, oh, what movie? - "When I talk to God I find that I am talking to myself." - played by Peter Sellers. Oh, whatever... The point is religion is comfort, possibly when intellect just isn't enough. My intellect can't really handle this unnecessary war, and so I look to the sky and say - "God, what are they doing?"

Recently God manifested to me as Charles Bukowski sitting beside me in a bar. A cigarette was smoking in the ashtray between us. His hand was on the side of his face and his elbow pivoted on the bar. "Fuck if I know," he said, "and if I did know I wouldn't tell you."

And so I'm left to figure out the madness, or not, on my own by what I observe and piece together. And I think there is a skewed madness to saying it's okay my son got killed like this because of God and Dubya talking to God and it's in book of Revelations somewhere. An understandable madness because the mother so beside herself with grief. It was surely as close as her intellect could get to figuring it out.

Intellect could be used to end the problem. A conservative drummer [remember, Phillip is a professional musician] said the WMDs are in Syria and we should go get 'em. Well the Republican domino theory to the Middle East doesn't much appeal to me. I think we win in Iraq when we leave, but our leader wants to kick sand in faces.

And the only thing I can figure out to do is vote.

PS Rick - And absolutely about the air conditioning. The heat and humidity will, in fact, make you dumber.
I have nothing to add to this exchange. I simply report it.

When I think about awful things happening in this world, to others, to me, or about good things, I shrug. Most of it all, good and bad, can be attributed to people with power, lots of it or a little, who do important, pivotal things without much thought. It - the surprising good or bad out of the blue - is what one comes to expect. As for natural disasters? Chaos theory works for me. The bad times that result from such things just happen. If there is a God directing the path of each hurricane for arcane punitive reasons, She probably has reasons only She knows, if She has any reasons at all. It could be just sadistic fun. But I doubt that. Why bother with us? It's more likely there are no punitive reasons and no sadism - She is just bored and messing around, and idly curious to see what happens. You know, like a dim kid with an anthill and a stick and too much time on his or her hands. She'll get bored and move on - and hurricane season will end.

As for the postscripts, I have lived both in the South - few years in Durham, North Carolina - and in Canada - a few years in London, Ontario. Even as far north as Durham, the oppressive long, deadly hot humid days, and the vacant locals with their menacing grins and slightly sinister good manners (every Southerner's weapon), could drive one to madness, and one could find oneself alone, wandering deep in the shadowy loblolly pine forest thinking murderous thoughts about Yankees, if one wasn't careful, or one didn't have sufficient air-conditioning. London was fine - full of kind, polite and rather quiet good people. But the weather after early October was brutal, and who can explain the sport of curling, or the appeal of long hours of ice fishing? Now here in Hollywood....

Posted by Alan at 18:17 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 27 September 2004 18:23 PDT home

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