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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 25 October 2004

Topic: In these times...


When I got home from work this evening, October 25, I discovered my cable was out. No television - no big loss. But no cable modem connection to the internet. I am writing this to you all from an internet caf? on Sunset, and they are charging me many dollars an hour to connect.

Comcast, my cable company, cannot work the issue when I am not home - and things are hot at work so I just cannot stay home. The earliest Comcast can come here and try to figure out why all the lines into my Hollywood apartment are all quite dead is Saturday afternoon, October 30. I will be waiting here for them. Until then I will deal with the print media and NPR radio.

This means no blogging, and the next issue of Just Above Sunset will be the week after the election.

Needless to say, I will not be cruising the net and doing commentary. Such is life.

If I get the time I will look into ordering a satellite dish for television and the high-speed modem - as using landlines is, it seems, really, really unreliable. Comcast cannot at all guarantee any sort of reliable connection - this has happened before - and cannot fix problems easily.

So that's that. I should be back on line - unless the problem is unfixable - late Saturday afternoon, a bit more than five days from now.

Oh yes, readers with too much time on their hands can, of course, contact Comcast and tell them what a sorry service company they are, but I suspect they won't care much.

Posted by Alan at 20:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Sunday, 24 October 2004

Topic: Photos

New items now on line...

This week's issues of Just Above Sunset - parent site to this web log - is now on line. That would be Volume 2, Number 42 for Sunday, October 24, 2004.

This week? In the feature article there is a discussion of that Republican television ad with the hungry wolves, and the dialog gets hot - vastly expanded from what originally appeared on this site. The current events items center on political epistemology - what is true and how do we know it is true and all that. Again, these extend what originally appeared here. Friends in Cincinnati and Paris discuss religion and its uses in the now extended Dialogs Concerning Natural Religion - and you will be surprised. And, as appeared here first, there is a follow-up to the idea that Bush had a little radio into his ear during the first debate, and why there was no follow-up on that in the mainstream media, with some points further clarified.

Exclusive to the weekly, Ric Erickson returns with a report on the ongoing presidential straw poll for expatriate Americans in Paris, at the legendary Harry's New York Bar in the 2e arrondissement - and Ric sends photos. Kerry is leading over there. And Ric in a second item discusses the use of English in France, which kind of got hot again last week.

Exclusive to the weekly too are Bob Patterson's two columns. The World's Laziest Journalist column takes on the New York Times (well, they did print his letter) and most everyone else, and the Book Wrangler visits a famous Los Angeles mystery bookstore.

And a special feature of the weekly magazine format (separate pages for photography) - a guest photographer shows us Paris as you have not seen it elsewhere. Local Hollywood photography is Sunrise over Sunset - and the pithy quotes are about art. So enjoy.

Here are the direct links.

Current Events ________

Political Advertisements: Never Cry Wolf

The New Community: Say what? Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?

Faith in Action: Everyone piles on as we move toward civil war, maybe ...

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

Basic Facts: Here in the reality-based community ...

Follow-Up: The possibility that Bush was wired with a little radio into his ear during the first debate, and its implications ...

Our Man in Paris ________

Paris this Week: Kerry Gets the Edge At Harry's

Language: Le 'Must' Globish

Bob Patterson ________

WLJ Weekly: The World's Laziest Journalist - Alien Abduction or Breech of Security?

Book Wrangler: A book reviewer's Christmas season bonanza ...

Features ________

Guest Photography: C'est ? cause que tout doit finir que tout est si beau. (Paris candid shots)

Photography: Sunrise over Sunset Boulevard, October 24, 2004 (Hollywood)

Quotes: What is art?


And one of the arty photographs at the site....

Posted by Alan at 15:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 23 October 2004

Topic: Dissent

Follow-Up: The possibility that Bush was wired with a little radio into his ear during the first debate...

In the pages of Just Above Sunset the topic of whether Bush was wired with a little radio into his ear during the first debate was covered pretty thoroughly, with lots of quoted commentary and links, including a link to the Is Bush Wired website. For all that you can call up the item Irony from the 10 October issue to review the details

After that mid-month flurry of speculation - Was it true? - and commentary - If it was true what did it really mean about our leader? - the whole topic seemed to go away.

And Charlie Brooker wonders why.

See Dumb show
Charlie Brooker, The Guardian (UK), Saturday October 23, 2004

His opening reveals his leanings -
Heady times. The US election draws ever nearer, and while the rest of the world bangs its head against the floorboards screaming "Please God, not Bush!" the candidates clash head to head in a series of live televised debates. It's a bit like American Idol, but with terrifying global ramifications. You've got to laugh.

Or have you? Have you seen the debates? I urge you to do so.
Okay then, we see he's not a big Bush fan. Well, such fans are hard to come by outside the red states, and even harder to find in Western Europe, and even harder to find in the rest of the world.

So after some matters that only the UK folks care about Brooker comes to his main point - he was skeptical and then thought about it a bit more, and really does wonder. The emphases are mine.
... The internet's a-buzz with speculation that Bush has been wearing a wire, receiving help from some off-stage lackey. Screen grabs appearing to show a mysterious bulge in the centre of his back are being traded like Top Trumps. [That must be a British thing.] Prior to seeing the debate footage, I regarded this with healthy scepticism: the whole "wire" scandal was just wishful thinking on behalf of some amateur Michael Moores, I figured. And then I watched the footage.

Quite frankly, the man's either wired or mad. If it's the former, he should be flung out of office: tarred, feathered and kicked in the nuts. And if it's the latter, his behaviour goes beyond strange, and heads toward terrifying. He looks like he's listening to something we can't hear. He blinks, he mumbles, he lets a sentence trail off, starts a new one, then reverts back to whatever he was saying in the first place. Each time he recalls a statistic (either from memory or the voice in his head), he flashes us a dumb little smile, like a toddler proudly showing off its first bowel movement. Forgive me for employing the language of the playground, but the man's a tool.
A tool? Not a term much used on this side of the pond. But you get the idea.

But then Brooker turns on our fickle and feckless media. He's terrified, and puzzled.
So I sit there and I watch this and I start scratching my head, because I'm trying to work out why Bush is afforded any kind of credence or respect whatsoever in his native country. His performance is so transparently bizarre, so feeble and stumbling, it's a miracle he wasn't laughed off the stage. And then I start hunting around the internet, looking to see what the US media made of the whole "wire" debate. And they just let it die. They mentioned it in passing, called it a wacko conspiracy theory and moved on.

Yet whether it turns out to be true or not, right now it's certainly plausible - even if you discount the bulge photos and simply watch the president's ridiculous smirking face. Perhaps he isn't wired. Perhaps he's just gone gaga. If you don't ask the questions, you'll never know the truth.

The silence is all the more troubling since in the past the US news media has had no problem at all covering other wacko conspiracy theories, ones with far less evidence to support them. ...
Well, The Swift Boats Veteran for Truth had a lot of money and were well organized, and the press was impressed at having a narrative all set up for them and ready to go. The Is Bush Wired crowd presented some evidence, but no real narrative - no story - so given the press would have had to do some work at developing a story line that made this all hang together, nothing much came of it. That would be hard work. Hard work? You heard Bush whine about that in the first presidential debate. He doesn't like hard work. The press doesn't either. Present them with a fully formed story and they'll run with it. This? No, no digging. No investigative reporting. That's so Woodward and Bernstein - so last century. And investigative reporting isn't "fair and balanced" or something.

Oh well.

But Charlie Brooker isn't finished and moves on to larger issues... sort of. God and all that -
Throughout the debate, John Kerry, for his part, looks and sounds a bit like a haunted tree. But at least he's not a lying, sniggering, drink-driving, selfish, reckless, ignorant, dangerous, backward, drooling, twitching, blinking, mouse-faced little cheat. [Tell us what you really think, Charlie.] And besides, in a fight between a tree and a bush, I know who I'd favour.

On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod's law dictates he'll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr - where are you now that we need you?
Did Charlie just suggest assassination would be appropriate? It seems so. Over here, where John Ashcroft keeps us safe, such talk would land you in jail, probably without charges and for as long as the government wished. And maybe in far southeast Cuba at our facility there. You'd be disappeared. And most Americans, it seems now, would be just fine with that.

It also seems the British, or at least this one Brit, don't understand that free speech means you watch what you say in a public venue, in this case in a major newspaper - because Ashcroft and his minions are also watching what you say. One needs to be careful.

Ah, had I more readers I'd be worried at even pointing to this Guardian item. As it is now - with my sixty or so readers each day - no one cares what I point to and what I say. And too, we are all possessed of the freedom to click on opinion from the UK and elsewhere - so far - and that is a sort of freedom. Things aren't that bad.

But two things bother me about this Guardian piece.

First, I think this fellow is right about our media. Things fall away - as we have "readers" working radio and television, not reporters who do digging. Digging up "the story" is for the print media, when they get up the courage to do it, and when their editors allow it, bucking the corporate masters who expect profits.

And secondly, of course, one wonders what would happen if such an item appeared in a wide-circulation US newspaper - which, of course, would never happen. But say it did. There would be a firestorm, and possible arrests. You cannot say things like this. And that is most curious. We are the beacon of freedom in the world. We are. Here you can say anything you like - responsibly, of course.

Now I've got to think about the fine line between responsibility and timidity, or putting it another way, the line between lively, forceful writing and prose that don't offend or upset folks. Should one be allowed to shout "FIRE!" in a crowded theater? Is that what Brooker is doing? It doesn't seem so, but America has become a sort of crowded theater these days, full of edgy, frightened and angry people. Best not say what you think.

Why are things easier elsewhere? Here, this is a puzzlement.

Posted by Alan at 22:58 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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

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