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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Topic: The Culture

Everyone piles on - as we move toward civil war, maybe...
Yes, as noted here, more and more web logs and commentary sites are now proclaiming to be a "Proud Members of the Reality-Based Community" - as the lines are more carefully drawn between those who want to deal with facts and actual events, and those of faith who think such things don't matter as long as you believe, truly and deeply, in what you want to happen. Is this the great divide in America? That idea is snowballing.

Now we have this in the British press.

Faith against reason
The US election has exposed a growing conflict between two world views. Can they co-exist in one country?
Jonathan Freedland in New Jersey, The Guardian (UK), Wednesday October 20, 2004

Freeland, after a long introduction detailing a Bush rally in New Jersey - and contracting it to an Edwards rally in Pennsylvania - comes to these conclusions (my emphases) -
... America's centre of gravity has moved rightward, creating a set of shibboleths that cannot be challenged. If liberals established a few forbidden zones in the last 20 years under the rubric of so-called political correctness - making it off-limits to demean women, gays and ethnic minorities - then the right has now erected some barriers of its own.

First among these taboos is the military. No politician can utter a word that seems to question the armed services: so Kerry does not mention the Abu Ghraib scandal. Next is 9/11, which has been all but sanctified in American discourse. Because of that event, the US has re-imagined itself as a victim nation: witness the yellow-ribbon bumperstickers, usually bearing the slogan "Support America". (Ribbons were previously reserved for the suffering: red for Aids, pink for breast cancer.)

As a result, any action taken in the name of 9/11 cannot be questioned. Oppose the Patriot Act, with its restrictions on civil liberties, and you are a friend of the terrorists - and, if you are a Democratic congressional candidate, Republicans will air TV ads against you placing your face alongside that of Osama bin Laden.

Show concern for international opinion, and you are some kind of traitor. Kerry spoke French to a Haitian audience in Florida on Monday, the first time he had done so in public for many months: even to appear to have links with the outside world is a negative in today's politics, which has become all about America first.

All this is partly caused by, and certainly reinforces, that gut feeling of certainty that animates today's American right. Bill Clinton used to joke that when Democrats are in the White House, they think they are renting it. Republicans believe they own the place.
And Freedland then spends some time discussing how the Republicans fundamentally did not accept the legitimacy of a Democratic president in the Clinton years - as with the impeachment for his private sexual misconduct.

But now he says there is a new edge. This is more than partisanship. This is a question of and odd sort of religious faith - an odd blend of the idea Bush was chosen by God at this moment, or at least he's doing God's work, and just as God can make no mistakes, by definition, neither can George Bush, as he is the chosen one.

Some things we have done - and this is we, as Bush is our nominal leader representing us all - may seem really dumb, or at least counterproductive. We have lost the respect of most of the world who see us a blustering bullies, invaded and occupied a country based on mistaken information about the threat that nation posed and its involvement with an attack on us. We have stirred up an ever-growing army of angry fanatics and made that sad business even worse. And somewhere in there we drove the economy into massive debt and paralyzed social programs for those in need, while rewarding those who decimate the environment, while at the same time rewarding the living rich and creatiing massive repayment burdens on generations to come, while beggaring the middle and lower classes, while increasingly limiting any chance of reasonable employment for millions. Some might call this all evil.

But so what? If Bush was a reader you might imagine him quoting Alexander Pope - "All nature is but art, unknown to thee; All chance, direction, which thou canst not see; All discord, harmony not understood; All partial evil, universal good; And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite, One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right"

Is it? That depends on your politics. And on your faith that what we have done is right.

After citing Ron Suskind (see the New York Times Sunday magazine item Without a Doubt from October 17, 2004), as we all do, Freedland adds more. He extends Suskind's observations about the inside history of this White House and its reliance on blind faith and scorn for real facts, to its current outward application - the ongoing election campaign and its implications -
Bush is a subtle enough politician not to make his campaign an overt religious crusade. But he communicates, through nods and winks, to his evangelical base: they know the mission he is on. He uses their language, answering a question on abortion by referring to a "culture of life", one of their favoured phrases, or nodding to a 19th-century supreme court ruling often cited in their own literature.

This is a revolutionary shift for a country that was founded on the separation of church and state. If Bush wins on November 2, the chances are strong that the shift will accelerate, perhaps even towards permanence.

Thanks to mortality, three or four spaces are likely to open up in the next four years on the nine-person Supreme Court. The next president will get to pick whether those judges are liberals or conservatives.

In 2000, Bush said his favourite supreme court justices were the ultraconservatives, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. If he named four more in their image, giving them a majority on the court, then the face of modern America could be changed within a few years.

Such a bench would no longer deem abortion a constitutional right; it would allow individual states to ban it, which they would do, across swathes of the country. If past Scalia-Thomas decisions are any guide, laws on everything from clean air to access for the disabled, affirmative action for ethnic minorities to gay rights would all be struck down. (When the supreme court last year heard the case of a gay man arrested for having sex in his own home, Scalia and Thomas sided against the man and with the police.) Crucially, Thomas has argued that the Constitution's ban on established religion might not apply to the individual states.
Well, that's cheery.

And the opposition can do little about it.
The campaign has hardly been fought on this ground. If anything, John Kerry has had to go along with the intrusion of religion into politics - insisting on his own Catholic credentials, telling audiences that he was once an altar boy. But the tension is there.

It has manifested itself in the issue of research using embryonic stem-cells. Kerry says it should continue, using new lines of cells if necessary; Bush wants no more lines to be created, no more of what he calls the destruction of life. Kerry says stem cell research might have found a cure for Ronald Reagan's Alzheimers or for Christopher Reeve's paralysis. Bush says the work will have to stop.
Yeah, we're messing with God's plan.

Freedland is there too when at the Edwards rally there was a sad message being blasted from the loudspeakers at the Bush folks making fun of the Democrats - "Don't be scared of science, guys. Please guys, we need science."

Why does that even need to be said?

Freedland suggests this -
... the clash under way now is about more than Bush v Kerry, right v left. It seems to be an emerging clash of tradition against modernity, faith against reason. The true believers pitted against the "reality-based community".

That leaves two questions, one for the future, one for November 2. For the future: how long can these two competing world views, so far apart from each other and so sharply divided, co-exist in the same country? For November 2: which of these two camps is going to be absolutely determined to win?
Both questions are important, but the first is most troubling. It implies a low level civil war, or a real one.

Posted by Alan at 23:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 19 October 2004 23:26 PDT home

Monday, 18 October 2004

Topic: Political Theory

Say what? Who are you going to believe - me or your own eyes?

Okay then - the week starts out with more and more web logs and commentary sites each now proclaiming to be a "Proud Member of the Reality-Based Community" - in reaction to the New York Times Sunday magazine item Without a Doubt by Ron Suskind (October 17, 2004) -a discussion of how George Bush makes decisions. (One such site is here.)

What's that about? Suskind gives us this -
... In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
And we're off to the races.

Examples of reality weenies of no faith misunderestimating the power of knowing what should be and isn't so but ought to be?

We are doing well in Iraq and our troops get just what they need and ask for. Bush says he has given his generals in Iraq just what they asked for. Remember what Bush said in the second debate -
I remember sitting in the White House looking at those generals, saying do you have what you need in this war? Do you have what it takes? I remember going down to the basement of the White House the day we committed our troops as last resort. Looking at Tommy Franks and the generals on the ground. Asking them do we have the right plan with the right troop level? And they looked me in the eye and said, yes, sir, Mr. President.

Of course, I listened to our generals. That's what a president does. A president tests the strategy and relies upon good military people to execute that strategy.

Note this:

General Reported Shortages In Iraq
Situation Is Improved, Top Army Officials Say
Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post, Monday, October 18, 2004; Page A01
The top U.S. commander in Iraq complained to the Pentagon last winter that his supply situation was so poor that it threatened Army troops' ability to fight, according to an official document that has surfaced only now.

The lack of key spare parts for gear vital to combat operations, such as tanks and helicopters, was causing problems so severe, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez wrote in a letter to top Army officials, that "I cannot continue to support sustained combat operations with rates this low." ...
Sanchez doesn't get it. The man is obviously far too reality-based.

Then the Associated Press reports this -
The militant group led by terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed to be behind many deadly attacks in Iraq, has declared its allegiance to Osama bin Laden, citing the need for unity against "the enemies of Islam."

The declaration, which appeared Sunday on a Web site used as a clearinghouse for statements by militant groups, said that al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group and al-Qaida had been in communication eight months ago and that "viewpoints were exchanged" before the dialogue was interrupted.

"God soon blessed us with a resumption in communication, and the dignified brothers in al-Qaida understood the strategy of Tawhid and Jihad," said the statement, whose authenticity could not be confirmed.

The statement said al-Zarqawi considered bin Laden "the best leader for Islam's armies against all infidels and apostates." ...
Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, comments - I've not yet heard the official administration response, but only imagine it will go something like this: "You see? We told you so!"

Yep - making our own reality by how we conduct our fight on terrorism - and we always said there really were ties between the two, really, there were. We made the reality happen. As our friend Joseph, the expatriate guy in Paris writes us -
If this isn't positive proof of the wrong-headedness of GWB's foreign policy, I don't know what is....

Who knew when Bush promised to be a "unifier" he was talking about unifying our enemies?
Ah well, the world became what we imagined it would become.

There are, of course, more reactions to the Suskind article on the Bush epistomology. Kevin Drum here dives deeper into what's up with this scorn for and contempt for reality.
[T]he record of the past four years doesn't leave much doubt that Bush has little use for inconvenient data and disdains anyone who fails to immediately see the things that seem so obvious to him -- often with disastrous results. More interesting, though, is why Bush acts this way, and to understand that you have to read Suskind's piece pretty carefully.

At first glance, Suskind seems to be saying that Bush's character is driven by an almost unnatural, faith-based confidence in his own instincts -- a sort of Mao-like faith, as Juan Cole puts it. But he's actually saying just the opposite: that Bush's actions over the past four years are those of a person with a startling lack of self confidence, someone who's afraid that even a fleeting contact with an opposing idea will deflate him completely. Deep down Bush knows perfectly well that the facts don't always back up his instincts, and that's why he avoids them. He's afraid he might change his mind.

Why is he afraid to change his mind? I don't know. But he sure does go to nearly neurotic lengths to avoid hearing anything that might cause him to doubt his own beliefs. That's hardly the sign of a man with genuine confidence in himself, is it?
Ah yes, reality is scary stuff. And Bush is scared, and we as a people are scared. So avoid it at all costs. You can win an election that way.

Joseph again points out where this is leading -
I saw an amusing thing on CNBC last week.

The reporters were set up at a local greasy spoon in Backwater, PA (pop 890) and getting the customers' takes on Bush, Kerry, and the debates. One man favored Bush because Kerry goes around getting other peoples opinions, getting a consensus. "And consensus," the fool went on, "is the absence of leadership".

Is this guy reading "Leadership secrets of Attila the Hun?"

What is wrong with US, as I've suggested before, is that it's been so long since we've seen real leadership we no longer know what it looks like.

This man's statement is at odds with 5000 years of management theory from Sun Tzu to Jack Welsh. What did Hitler do, if not build consensus? He certainly did not impose it. Doesn't work. Churchill, Ike, whomever else you want to name? Same answer.

And yet, this is how many people feel.

Once again, I invoke the evil gang leader in "The Magnificent Seven" explaining to the cornered seven why the townsfolk conspired to let the bad guys back into town.

"You give people too many choices. They don't like that. With me, it's simple."
Reality? Complexity? Who needs it? Leadership has nothing to do with that? That idea is in the air - Bush will make things simple and clear. And often wrong. And far from the reality of events. But simple and clear...

Is that enough?

Okay, to switch metaphors, another reaction to the Suskind item is to think in terms of simple management theory, as Mark Schmitt does here (my emphases) -
What interested me most about the article was that it resolved a puzzle about the administration that seems to have come up in a half-dozen conversations recently. I've tried to expand on the managerial argument for the profound domestic and international failures. Based on no knowledge at all except what I've read in Suskind, Woodward, etc, I have always imagined that the president is one of those bad managers who is so focused on making the decision ("I'm the one who decides") and on short, conclusive meetings that he doesn't allow a full airing of information to come out, or to hear disagreements. The meeting that in the Clinton White House would have stretched into two hours, blowing the entire day's schedule but ultimately leading to a smarter result, is in the Bush White House "resolved" when the CEO speaks, and everyone leaves the room, most of them a little doubtful about the choice but loyal to the commander-in-chief. A lot of people I've talked to think that managerial analysis is short-sighted: "It's religion. It's got something to do with religion and fundamentalism," they respond... Suskind's article largely confirms my speculation about Bush's managerial style: Doesn't ask many direct or penetrating questions. Limits sharply the number of people who have access to him. Reaches decisions abruptly, and then treats doubts or alternative views as disloyalty, etc. And as a result, he has wound up way, way over his head....

So that's the answer: It's the bad CEO, first, but his solution for the crisis he's created is a turn to an ever more absolutist religious certainty. Religious faith is not a constant anchor in his life, as it was for Jimmy Carter and to a lesser degree Clinton and I think also, based on his fascinating answer the other night, Kerry. Rather, it is a quick fix for an untenable situation, with one piece of religion -- Calvinist certainty -- pulled out of the whole and used to deal with a secular problem. I don't sleep better knowing that, but I'm a little less confused.
Yep - and then there's this -
Bush's belief that he is literally God's instrument is periodically denied yet far more often asserted, in ways subtle and not-so-subtle. In fact, Bush's approach to governance is virtually impossible without this belief. When you don't ask for facts, for understanding, for knowledge - indeed, when these things become your enemy - you can only proceed if you believe that your instincts are beyond questioning. If God is working through you, then your every whim is divinely sanctioned. In June 2003, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that Bush told then-Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, "God told me to strike at al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

In Suskind's article, we hear yet more quotes from Bush supporters who assert without embarrassment that God installed George W. Bush in the White House, and Bush is merely acting out God's will. There are doubtless many people, perhaps millions, who agree. So here's my challenge to them: If John Kerry wins this election, will you have the courage to proclaim that God now has decided that John Kerry should be president, and George W. Bush should not? Will you devote yourself to aiding Kerry in his work, since if he wins it is God's will? Or do you only believe God has intervened in American elections when you like the result?
Now THAT is an interesting question.

By the way, for a review of what top management folks think of "the Bush method" see May 9, 2004 - The CEO President (folks are getting nervous) in Just Above Sunset.

Other "Proud Members of the Reality-Based Community" are Mark Kleiman here and Matthew Yglesias with this - a growing movement that has found its motto.

And then there is just straight reporting.

Knight Ridder's Warren Strobel and John Walcott note this regarding the Bush administration's lack of planning for postwar rebuilding. Just before the war started...
Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material -- and for good reason.

The slide said: "To Be Provided."

... The U.S. intelligence community had been divided about the state of Saddam's weapons programs, but there was little disagreement among experts throughout the government that winning the peace in Iraq could be much harder than winning a war.

"The possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace in Iraq is real and serious," warned an Army War College report that was completed in February 2003, a month before the invasion. Without an "overwhelming" effort to prepare for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the report warned: "The United States may find itself in a radically different world over the next few years, a world in which the threat of Saddam Hussein seems like a pale shadow of new problems of America's own making."

A half-dozen intelligence reports also warned that American troops could face significant postwar resistance. This foot-high stack of material was distributed at White House meetings of Bush's top foreign policy advisers, but there's no evidence that anyone ever acted on it.

"It was disseminated. And ignored," said a former senior intelligence official.

The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency was particularly aggressive in its forecasts, officials said. One briefing occurred in January 2003. Another, in April 2003, weeks after the war began, discussed Saddam's plans for attacking U.S. forces after his troops had been defeated on the battlefield.

Similar warnings came from the Pentagon's Joint Staff, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and the CIA's National Intelligence Council. The council produced reports in January 2003 titled "Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq" and "Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq."

Unlike the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which Iraqi troops were trying to maintain their grip on Kuwait, "they are now defending their country," said a senior defense official, summarizing the Joint Staff's warnings. "You are going to get serious resistance. This idea that everyone will join you is baloney. But it was dismissed."
Think about it. As Kevin Drum puts it -
The Army War College. A half dozen intelligence reports. The DIA. The Pentagon. The State Department. There was plenty of warning. The Bushies just chose not to believe it because....why? Because they just didn't want to, apparently.

Reality based community indeed.
Or as our friend Joseph writes us -
This article details how the monster was made. As many of us noticed at the time, our CEO administration ignored the advice of the best minds at West Point, the Army and the DOD, and the last 90 years of our experience the governance of successful large-scale US military action abroad. They reached for the rulebook, and threw it away. All for a theory.

With leaders like this, who needs enemies?

What's going on? How about this Grand Unifying Theory from Matthew Yglesias:
... the creeping Putinization of American life (the Sinclair incident, the threatening letter to Rock The Vote, the specter of the top official in the House of Representatives making totally baseless charges of criminal conduct against a major financier of the political opposition [shades of Mikhail Khodorovsky], the increasing evidence that the 'terror alert' system is nothing more than a political prop, the 'torture memo' asserting that the president is above the law, the imposition of rigid discipline on the congress, the abuse of the conference committee procedure, the ability of the administration to lie to congress without penalty, the exclusion of non-supporters from Bush's public appearances, etc.)
Okay, you have to follow what's going on in Russia today to get what he means, and follow all the details of current domestic political events - like that cease and desist letter to Rock The Vote covered here - to see what he means. It fits. But it is a bit much for those who don't keep a close eye on the ebb and flow of all this craziness.

All of the loyal opposition proclaiming to be "Proud Members of the Reality-Based Community" is far easier to grasp, as a unifying concept.

And as mentioned in Just Above Sunset here on October 17th, it has come down to the question of faith versus analysis as a basic way of dealing with the world.

This election? This is a plebiscite on whether we choose a leader for this world - with uncomfortable events and facts that are equally uncomfortable - or a leader connected to the next world, the world of Jesus returning and The Rapture. Reality or faith - do we choose to become an Evangelical Christian Theocracy honoring God, or do we work on the problems in the here and now? Time to choose.

Cool. I see where this is heading. Time to leave.

Posted by Alan at 22:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Sunday, 17 October 2004

Topic: Photos

Perhaps blogging here will resume tomorrow...

The weekly magazine format parent site to this daily web log - Just Above Sunset - was just published. That would be Volume 2, Number 41 - Sunday, October 17, 2004

This week? Say, what do you make of the Republican National Committee's cease and desist order threatening legal action if certain groups do not stop talking about how reinstituting the draft may be necessary in these difficult times? See THE DRAFT below. Should the Republican Party cultivate thugs to counter newspapers that refuse to endorse Bush? See ENDORSEMENTS below. The mounting evidence that our leader is suffering from presenile dementia is reviewed in ODD DIAGNOSES - and in PRESS NOTES a comic lays into the mainstream press. Personal friends and big-gun pundits weigh in on the last presidential debate, and why women and housecats have turned on Bush in a FOLLOW-UP to the second debate... along with a pointer to the one key political document this week.

Bob Patterson returns in his role as The World's Laziest Journalist and returns to his other alias, The Book Wrangler, reviewing the new Kitty Kelley book. The usual odd quotes - Einstein on wearing plaid - and for the first time in 181 days it rains in Los Angeles, as you will see in the PHOTOGRAPHY section.

The Paris desk is silent this week. But there is a lot here.

Current Events ________

The Last Debate: Bush and Kerry in a last face-off ...

Endorsements: Those with little success and even less luck in life don't much care for disagreement about George Bush

The Draft: The issue that isn't an issue if the cease and desist order stands...

Odd Diagnoses: Bush's Brain and all that....

Press Notes: Roles and Responsibilities

Follow-Up: What changed after the second presidential debate? The folks from Venus bailed out.

Recommended This Week: Item of Note - the one key political document of the week...

Bob Patterson ________

WLJ Weekly: The World's Laziest Journalist - Does carpe diem mean the daily special at a rug store?

Book Wrangler: How can you tell when a politician is lying? (Their lips are moving.)

Features ________

Photography: It never rains in Southern California? Wet botanicals....

Quotes: Useful Pithy Observations... Albert Einstein gives fashion advice? Sure. Why not?

The neighborhood on the first rainy day in many months, between the squalls...

Posted by Alan at 20:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 12 October 2004

Topic: Photos


Blogging? Suspended for the moment. As some readers know, I have returned to the workforce full time, and am about to spend two days in Northern California at a management off-site. Entries will be posted as possible, but further commentary may have to wait until the weekend.

The future of this site is hazy....

Posted by Alan at 19:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Sunday, 10 October 2004

Topic: Photos


The new issue of Just Above Sunset is now on line, and there is much there I wasn't able to fit in here.

This is Volume 2, Number 40 - Sunday, October 10, 2004

This week? A shorter issue, as your editor has just completed his first week of fulltime real employment, and lost fifty hours of time he would usually spend scanning the news and comment from around the world, compiling what is of interest and commenting on it. Thus this short issue. But there is lots here.

The big event was the second presidential debate, and all the coverage is here, with comments from readers, and some issues regarding cheating, and men's suits. Of course that means there is coverage of the vice presidential debate too. And Ric in Paris sees we've ticked off the French again. Bob Patterson, The World's Laziest Journalist, returns with a mediation on con men. And the quotes are from long-dead Greek fellows. The photos? Deep in the Hollywood Hills.

Current Events

First Stringers: This Week's Presidential Debate

Irony:George Bush gets his suits from Georges de Paris... And is told what to say by whom?

The Draw: The Debate of the Proxies

Reactions: Honesty as the Best Policy? And why did God create conservatives?


Paris This Week: The French - Upset?

Quotes: Useful Pithy Observations... Old Greeks

Bob Patterson

WLJ Weekly: The World's Laziest Journalist - Have we got a deal for you?


In those high rolling hills... (Hollywood Hills like in the song...)

Posted by Alan at 19:52 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 10 October 2004 20:05 PDT home

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