Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
Click here to go there... Click here to go there...

Here you will find a few things you might want to investigate.

Support the Just Above Sunset websites...


Click here to go there...

« October 2004 »
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
Contact the Editor


"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"

Site Meter
Technorati Profile

Friday, 22 October 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Advertisements: Never Cry Wolf

Disclaimer: my first wife and I once had a pet rabbit, a Dutch Blue, we named Farley, after Farley Mowat. Who? That's the Canadian biologist who wrote Never Cry Wolf, a 1963 book about Mowat's adventures chronicling his investigation of a wolf pack for the Canadian government - which showed wolves were quite social animals and not much threat to anyone. No need to wipe them all out. The book was adapted into a moderately successful Disney movie of the same name in 1983, directed by Carroll Ballard and starring Charles Martin Smith, Brian Dennehy, and Zachary Ittimangnaq - an engaging Inuit fellow. The book was better than the film. And when I taught English back in the seventies I used the book as a primary text with younger students as it was quite well written, and had a bit to do about thinking carefully, observing and not jumping to conclusions.

But Mowat himself was, to some folks, a pain - one of those angry environmentalists. On April 24, 1985, United States immigration officials denied him entry into the United States. Up to that day Mowat had been blissfully unaware that he appeared as a suspected Communist or anarchist on the so-called Red Scare list, which dated back to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 - and you remember those days of the McCarthy hearings and the red scare. Mowat missed his speaking engagement at a biology conference at some American university or other. Of course outrage over Mowat's case in both the United States and Canada contributed to a major revision of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 - in 1990. Most curious. Naturalist? Communist? Whatever. Think of Mowat as a beta version of Jos? Bov? - and Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has a photo of that Bov? fellow and some comments on that fellow here.

Mowat and Bov? aside, wolves are interesting critters. And now they have entered the last days of the political campaign. The Bush campaign has a a new television ad running in fourteen swing states, featuring wolves. Mowat wouldn't recognize these.

This television spot is an arty hand-held camera thing - dusk in a deep green forest. A wolf darts across your line of vision, then another, and then we see the whole pack on a grassy knoll, so to speak, and they rise and amble toward the camera. Leave rustle. The minor-key music swells, and a female voice intones these words -
In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America's intelligence operations. By six billion dollars. Cuts so deep, they would have weakened America's defenses. And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.
Yeah, yeah. They is a coming for us all if we vote for Kerry.

Matthew Yglesias comments -
I like Kerry's health plan, his education plan, and his orientation on tax policy. I'm not so hot on his trade rhetoric, but Bush's policies on this score haven't been any better. The president's certainly mismanaged foreign policy a great deal and seems unwilling to learn from his mistakes. But when you get down to it, the fact is that if Kerry wins you're probably going to be... EATEN BY WOLVES!
And Brad DeLong adds this -
The real problem with this ad, I think, is that the real wolves shown are just not that scary. They look too much like German Shepherds, and each wolf by itself is too small to be convincing as a serious threat. Moreover, the wolves in the video shot at the end aren't hunting: they're hanging out in the meadow, and then being roused by the dinner bell...
In fact, they are kind of appealing, and most everyone likes big dogs. When I saw the ad I didn't think about the mortal danger we face if we elect John Kerry. I thought of my big, gawky, goofy dog from way back when, Lamar, who always looked sad when he finally figured out Farley-the-Rabbit really didn't want to play with him. Lamar didn't get it.

Do the Bush folks get it? These wolves in the ad look like they need a little love and acceptance, and a good meal followed by a long nap. Snakes would have been better, or a mean-looking overweight housecat like my Harriet. They could have used snakes or cats. No one much likes snakes, and most of my friends out here really don't like sly, sneaky, uncooperative, haughty housecats. Bad choice.

But I hear on the news the Bush ad folks test-marketed this spot and it polled well, so they went with it. I guess no one in the focus groups read Mowat's Never Cry Wolf - or saw the movie. And surely no one in the focus groups read Mowat's A Whale for the Killing. No doubt they were all Republicans - and not "save the whales" liberals.

Perhaps the ad will be effective. But I doubt it. The metaphor must have seemed apt, but the visuals are all wrong - the critters just look too much like the family beast snoozing in the next room. And too, there is a misunderstanding of wolves here, a misunderstanding of animal behaviors and basic the biological science - evidence of many decades.

A misunderstanding of basic science? The Bush folks are famous for that - global warming is not caused by anything we do and no one has really, really proved it's happening, and Bush publicly saying the jury is still out on that there evolution theory. He doesn't buy it.

And now his team gets it wrong about wolves.

It figures. And what does the "W" really stand for?



Note: Fred Kaplan here gives a more conventional analysis of the ad's argument - Kerry really didn't call for the massive cuts the ad says he called for. In fact, at the time, the Republican congressman hack that was just appointed to run the CIA, Porter Goss, called for similar cuts. But no one cares about all that.


Be very afraid...

Posted by Alan at 22:22 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 22 October 2004 22:43 PDT home

Thursday, 21 October 2004

Topic: The Culture

Here in the reality-based community...

Earlier this month in an item called "The Annuls of Cognitive Dissonance" - on the web log here and in Just Above Sunset here - you will find a discussion of a study done by researchers from PIPA, 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.

And what did that study show? 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."

As was said then, at some visceral level about 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, and what he says - 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.

And perhaps one can forgive these people supporting Bush for assuming the best about him in spite of the facts. That is natural, and understandable. And earlier I suggested you look up the term cognitive dissonance.

But facts are facts.

Well the PIPA folks are at it again this week with a new study.

Percentage of Bush supporters who recognize that a majority of the world's countries opposed the war in Iraq: 31.0% ...

Percentage of Bush supporters who believe a majority of the world's citizens favor Bush's reelection: 57.0% ...

Percentage of Bush supporters who believe a majority of the world's citizens favor Kerry: 9.0% ...

Is everything we all read in the news just wrong, and are these people right? And how did these Bush supporters come to this unusual grasp of the real truth no one is reporting - that the majority of the world's countries supported us in the war, and a majority people around the world really do want Bush reelected, and hardly anyone anywhere in the world likes the idea of Kerry or anyone else replacing Bush?

Who knew?

Quite curious.

And James Bartlett wonders -
Here in the reality-based community, it's our tendency (perhaps our curse) to figure that there's a rational explanation for everything. And so, many of us look at the poll data every day, scratch our heads, and wonder why the hell Bush is doing so well, when he's so manifestly wrong on so much stuff. We already know that Bush supporters don't think he's wrong. We also know they continue to believe what he says even when you confront them with the truth about the stuff he says. So some of it is self-delusion. But [the PIPA study] indicates the level of the delusion is even worse than we thought.
And Bartlett points to Michelle Goldberg in SALON.COM asking the key question - "How can arguments based on fact prevail in a nation where so many people know so little?"

The answer? Such arguments cannot prevail, or can prevail only with great difficulty. And if arguments based on fact do prevail, a lot of folks are going to be very angry on November 3rd - and these are the folks with guns.

Okay. That is a very snobbish, elitist thing to say.

Pointing out how "the other side" has got the facts wrong rightly offends the other side - as getting on one's high horse and sneering that these folks are all delusional fools and dumb-as-a-post dupes is counterproductive. That just creates more conflict, and God knows we have enough of that.

And a response from that other side might be that the press, and the whole of the liberal media, and the Pew international pollsters, have always had it in for humble Christian conservative leaders like George Bush - and have just reported the facts wrong. On purpose. All that stuff - the reports and film of people protesting in the streets around the world, and those many surveys - all that was a pack of lies the elitist news and fancy-pants research firms made up to bring down the president, a regular guy, a man of the people, and a man of God. Never happened.

No, that won't fly. It did happen. It is happening.

Another response from that other side might be that this disconnect regarding "the facts" is just be a matter of attitude and emphasis. Pessimistic, defeatist people (the Kerry supporters) see the massive worldwide demonstrations against us, the insurgency in Iraq and day after day our guys getting killed in the streets, the incredibly negative polling data, and foreign leaders turning their backs on us, as only a small part of the part of the bigger picture. The UK is with us - well, Tony Blair is, even of the people over there are not. And the Australians have their eight hundred troops with us in Iraq. And Poland hasn't pulled out just yet, even if Spain did, along with six or seven other nations. Fiji and Tonga are still with us. It's all how you look at it - a matter of attitude. And the press, reporting the negative, just stirs up lots of bad attitude. (Well, Fox News doesn't - see this from a year ago.)

So those who attend to only the bad news don't support Bush - but there are always two sides to every story. One should have a positive attitude.

The problem is the facts. Maybe the facts don't tell the whole story?

But if not, what good are facts? Some of us think they're useful. And the true right, the Bush supporters PIPA surveys this week, say it's all how you look at the facts.

Isn't that what they themselves used to say was the problem with those on the left - all the fulminating about moral relativism and how we need clarity about right and wrong, good and evil, the truth and fiction? There's no small irony in this. It's big time irony.

Can this disagreement - about what is actually happening - be resolved? That's going to be hard work. Hard work? You heard Bush whine about that in the first presidential debate. He doesn't like it.

So this disagreement about the facts is not going to be resolved. We just will not agree about what is happening. One side will continue to shout, "Look at what is really happening! Man, it looks bad!" The other side will say, "You just see it that way because you have a bad attitude. Geez, why not look at the good side?"

Facts used to be a common ground. No more.

Posted by Alan at 21:41 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 21 October 2004 21:47 PDT home

Wednesday, 20 October 2004

Topic: Bush

Dialogs Concerning Natural Religion - not David Hume in the late eighteenth century, but Paris and Cincinnati this week...

In Say what? Who are you going to believe - me or your own eyes? you will find an extended analysis of the New York Times Sunday magazine item Without a Doubt by Ron Suskind (October 17, 2004) -a discussion of how George Bush makes decisions. Suskind says a lot of this is driven by Bush's heart-on-his-sleeve faith and not on any assessment of the realities of a given situation.

Suskind's article has been the key discussion item the week in American politics. It was first mentioned here and also discussed here.

As mentioned, Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian (UK), on Wednesday, October 20, discussed what this means in terms of the current election -
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?
As mentioned before, now THAT is an interesting question.

Joseph, our expatriate friend in Paris, argues this:
He shoots... HE SCORES!!!

Damn. Hit it right on the head. This is precisely what I was feebly alluding to a few weeks ago when faith reared its ugly head in the context of hurricane-battered Florida. This is exactly the question:

Do you only believe God has intervened... when you like the result?

I suspect that should Kerry win, the line will be that God's will "has been thwarted" by the faithless.

Isn't that clever? They don't have to accept Kerry as God's new chosen, nor do they have to admit that God isn't playing a role. He just suffered a setback at the hands of godless democrats. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Well, one of Joseph's old friends in Cincinnati had a riposte to that -
As I am sure you are aware I am an active Christian. But, in my opinion, God doesn't work that way. I am always amazed at how, in many areas, Christians don't really understand their religion. Most Christians have a good handle on the basics but those Christians somehow manage not to get asked their opinion. It seems that the ones whose mouths are bigger than their knowledge always show up on the news. Their lack of knowledge shows when they claim "hand of God" when good things happen to them. It is easy to laugh at the "dumb" Christians, but I have discovered that the people I have run into making sport of the Christians know even less about the role of God than those "dumb" Christians. This is no place for a lesson in Theology so I am not going to give one ... [But] it all reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"Talking about music (or arguing about religion in this case) is like whistling about chickens".
Whistling about chickens? I do it all the time.

Joseph, our expatriate friend in Paris, clarifies -
Love the quote!

Now, to the point. I'm not making sport of Christians, nor do I think they're all dumb. Pascal, the mathematician and father of decision theory, thought it eminently logical to believe in God. Einstein, Werner Von Braun, the list goes on.

And as you have suggested, a television camera is an "idiot magnet". Every time crews cover a WHO protest, who do they put on TV? The guy who looks like me and can tell you in great detail that while globalization is a wonderful thing and a net gain to mankind, it has just taken a huge lunge forward and therefore perhaps we should ride the brakes for a while until certain structural imbalances correct themselves, this curve, that coefficient, and so on?

No. You get to see the seventeen-year-old with the bone in his nose and dreadlocks who just dropped ecstasy. Yep, that's how it is.

However, as I'm sure you are aware, I was forced to misspend a fair chunk of my misspent youth at Bible Study. ... And I do recall a great many biblical tales in which God was none to pleased with those who claimed to have his mandate, or otherwise threw themselves at the mercy of His wisdom and his plan when they should have instead exercised some good judgment. I agree, it is only certain people that give religion a bad name. But in my view, the president is one of those people.

I agree with you, that if one knows one's Bible one should know that God doesn't work that way. Be that as it may, many disagree, and have faith. The point that I was trying to make is the following: If one believes that something desirable was "the will of God", but one cannot truly accept an undesirable outcome as "the will of God", then it wasn't really "faith" at all which led you to conclude the former. Rather it was an attempt to color one's personally preferred outcome as divine and thereby beyond reproach or need of explanation or justification.

I suspect that many who now see Bush as "God's choice", will, should Kerry win, decline to see Kerry as "God's NEW choice." Therefore I think that what a great many people are calling "faith" in this context is mere rationalization.

I think that were I a religious person, I would be deeply offended by how often God's name is cheaply invoked in tawdry politics. But as I am, I am merely disappointed at how often this invocation ends the debate.

This, I believe, is one of the many reasons the founding fathers believed what by now should be painfully obvious: religion has no place in politics because it cheapens both religion and politics.
Well, that is where we are now.

And long ago Theodore Roosevelt disapproved of the motto "In God We Trust" on our coins, for religious reasons, not aesthetic ones. Roosevelt thought that having the "In God We Trust" motto on common coins that were abused in all sorts of manner was close to sacrilege. (For a complete discussion by many of our readers of that business with the motto, and of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, see this from September 16, 2003 in Just Above Sunset.)

The separation is over.

But as Ayelish McGarvey points out this week in The American Prospect, Suskind and all the critics of Bush, and Joseph, make the same mistake - they take Bush's faith seriously.

Amy Sullivan here says McGarvey presents some compelling good arguments that Bush's mantle, "man of faith," is based on flimsy evidence of his true convictions.

McGarvey -
Though these accounts ramble on for hundreds of pages about his steadfast leadership and prayerfulness, they all curiously rely on one single event to confirm that Bush is a man transformed by a deep Christian faith: He quit drinking and took up running instead.

... But Christianity is more than teetotalism and physical fitness. Conservative believers liken a Christian conversion to a spiritual heart transplant - one that completely transfigures a person's motivations, sensibilities, relationships, and actions.

... Judging him on his record, George W. Bush's spiritual transformation seems to have consisted of little more than staying on the wagon, with Jesus as a sort of talismanic Alcoholics Anonymous counselor.
So where is this religious stuff coming from? From a key speechwriter - Wheaton College graduate Mike Gerson.

Do you know the evangelical Christian college, Wheaton, near Chicago? I knew someone who went there. You could look at their mission statement for a sense of the place.

McGarvey again -
Far too often, though, the press confuses Gerson's words with Bush's beliefs. The distinction is critical, as the press, as well as many of Bush's most ardent supporters, curiously points to the president's words, not his deeds, as evidence of his deep Christian faith. In Alan Cooperman's recent Washington Post article, David Frum, a (Jewish) former Bush speechwriter, said of the president's religious beliefs, "If you want to know what George Bush really thinks, look at what he says."
To which Sullivan adds -
That religious standard turns two thousand years of Christianity on its head. Every young Sunday School student knows it's not what you say, it's what you do. And on that score, George W. Bush has failed to act according to Christian principles and values. That shouldn't necessarily matter - that shouldn't be a requirement for our country's leader. But it's simply a fact that many voters cast their lot with the guy they believe is led by a moral power greater than himself. I've heard countless voters say they disagree with Bush on the war, the economy, his environmental record, his education agenda, you name it - but they're voting for him "because he's a good Christian man." The press has accepted uncritically that this is so. Maybe that was a mistake.
Yep, there are words, and then there are deeds.

So why are good Christians ignoring the deeds?

Now THAT is an interesting question.

Posted by Alan at 22:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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

Newer | Latest | Older