Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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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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Saturday, 14 May 2005

Topic: Photos

Who says there is no intellectual life in Southern California?

Saturday, May 14, 2005 – Hollywood about three in the afternoon, cloudless day, mid-eighties…

As seen from the front door…

Below my office window?.

Posted by Alan at 14:40 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 14 May 2005 14:41 PDT home

Friday, 13 May 2005

Topic: Photos

Cowboy Art: John Wayne and Larry Flint, and Harry Shapiro from Chicago, a good friend of Jackson Pollock, channeling Frederic Remington

Should you come to Los Angeles to visit the world headquarters of Just Above Sunset, you collect your rental car at the airport (LAX) - do get a convertible - and drive up La Cienega Boulevard. Where La Cienega ends at Sunset Boulevard turn right, and a few blocks down the Strip, beyond the Chateau Marmont, turn left at the Laugh Factory - we’re just up the street.

As you come up La Cienega, though, in the flats below Sunset, on your right you pass the "Flynt Tower" at Wilshire and La Cienega, now the headquarters of Great Western Savings, but formally the headquarters of Larry Flynt Enterprises - you know, Hustler magazine and all that. You probably saw the movie - a Czech director, Milos Forman, explaining America’s issues with pornography. Woody Harrelson played Larry Flynt. John Wayne had passed away and wasn’t available?

So why is there a statue of John Wayne – six tons, twenty-one feet high, bronze - outside the former Flynt headquarters? Wayne, that nice man from Glendale High School, was not what we thought?

The answer is pretty ordinary. The Duke was the company's spokesman in their television ads, so when Wayne died in 1979 Great Western installed a statue of the actor riding a horse on the Hamilton Drive side of the building. The statute is by Harry Andrew Jackson, whose real name is Harry Shapiro – born in 1924 on the South Side of Chicago. Nothing out here is ever what it seems.

The statue?

Who is this Harry Jackson? Some biographical information -
He was raised in a family where his mother ran a cafe near the Stockyards, and his father was a drunken, violent man. Jackson was often a truant from school and loved to wander around the Harding Museum looking at Frederic Remington bronzes or to hang out at his mother's cafe listening to stories from the cowboys who had brought their cattle by trains to the stockyards. A teacher noticed his art talent and got him a scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute's Saturday children's classes.

At age 14, he ran away from home to Wyoming where he worked at a lumber company and on a ranch. He regarded these experiences as his spiritual awakening, and his art talents were reinforced by praise from his cowboy peers.

In the late 1930s, he returned to Chicago and studied at the Frederick Mizen Academy, The Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and The Chicago Art Institute. In 1942, he entered the Marine Corps and became close to a man who introduced him to the classics of literature.

In 1943, at Tarawa, he had shrapnel head wounds that caused him epileptic seizures for most of the remainder of his life, and he also took two bullets to the leg at Saipan. He was then, at age 20, ordered back to the U.S. where he was appointed an Official Marine Corps Combat Artist, the youngest in Marine history.

Following discharge, he worked as a radio actor and went to New York with the idea of meeting his hero, Jackson Pollock, whom in 1948 he found to be "a beautiful fantastic man." The two formed a lasting friendship, and Pollock introduced Jackson to Abstract Expressionism, which helped Jackson express his troubled background. Jackson married artist Grace Hartigan, his first of six wives, at Pollock's home with Pollock serving as best man.

? The newlyweds went to Mexico and further explored abstraction, and a year later the couple divorced. Jackson did scenery painting for theatre and television, headed to Europe, and returned to New York where he did portrait painting and began to break away from Abstract Expressionism, something that met with disapproval from his peers. He had a Fulbright Travel Scholarship, did some heroic paintings in Denmark, and added sculpting to his repertoire, a medium inspired on March 4, 1958 when he arrived in Peitrasanta, Italy, where a new foundry gave him space. He remained in Italy for several years.

In 1966, his entire output of western art was given the first one-man show at the new National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. By 1970, he was spending most of his time in Wyoming, becoming a resident of Cody, and was elected to the Cowboy Artists of America, but got "thrown out" because of his refusal to choose allegiances between it and the Cowboy Hall of Fame--entities that had had a major falling out.

Jackson's work is widely held and includes collections of The Vatican? Queen Elizabeth, and the Smithsonian.
Frederic Remington touches?

The Duke rides off into the high-rise office buildings and palms.

Posted by Alan at 15:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 13 May 2005 15:21 PDT home

Thursday, 12 May 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Ambiguity: We don’t recommend him, so let’s vote!

John Bolton has come up in these pages on and off for the last several years – see My Favorite Diplomat, and his Shadow from March 13, 2005:
John Bolton was, last week, nominated as our new ambassador to the United Nations, and the Senate will probably confirm him.

In Just Above Sunset back in September of 2003 he was described as one of the "new school" of Bush diplomats. These are the "I don't care who I offend because you're all stupid anyway" school. Yes, they did have to call John Bolton off after all his announcements that Cuba was independently developing chemical and nuclear weapons to attack the United States and had to be stopped, now. The problem? No proof. The administration didn't think he ought to testify to congress. Too risky. And the folks at the White House have stopped sending him to the Hill to testify about much of anything, as he tended to say strange things. The North Koreans would not talk that year if he were involved. So we kept him home – a loose canon.

Hey, he's blunt. No spin. Folks like that. It's a Fox News Bill O'Reilly thing.
And it seems he probably will be our new ambassador to the United Nations.

Fred Kaplan in SLATE.COM, Thursday, May 12, 2005, summarizes -
This afternoon the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent Bolton's nomination to the floor "without recommendation"—an extremely unusual slight for an appointment of such stature. Bolton got a C-minus, but it was a pass-fail course.

The Republicans hold a 10-8 majority on the committee. It would have taken only one deserter to wreck the nomination. They enjoy a 55-45 margin on the Senate floor. It would take six dissidents to stop Bolton there, and that isn't likely.

Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio was the sole Republican today to resist the White House's demand for total loyalty—but even he didn't resist it enough. Voinovich held up the vote three weeks ago, surprising everyone by saying that he'd listened to the debate and concluded he couldn't support Bolton. His party mates scurried to postpone the vote, fearing they might lose it. Sen. Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat, agreed to the delay as long as the committee could interview more witnesses and request more documents in the interim.

This morning, as the committee resumed deliberations, the big question was whether Voinovich would cave or hold firm. As it turned out, he did both. He noted that he'd pored over all the documents, spoken to dozens of officials, met again with the nominee himself—and concluded that he was still the wrong man for the job, calling Bolton "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be."

But then came his punch line: "I am not so arrogant to think that I should impose my judgment and perspective…on the rest of my colleagues." He would oppose the nominee but vote for a resolution to send Bolton's name to the floor without endorsement.
I thought the voters of Ohio put Voinovich there to exercise his judgment and perspective on their behalf. Didn’t Voinovich ever read the book Arthur Schlesinger ghost-wrote for John Kennedy, “Profiles in Courage” - about politicians who stood up against the popular sentiments of the day, and often against their own political party, in order to do what they felt was right. He might have read about George Norris, that senator from Nebraska who ignored the will of the people he represented – just before WWI he refused to accept the idea that Congress should surrender its right to declare war by turning that right over to the president. Then this Norris fellow broke ranks with the Republican Party a few decades later and gave his support to Democrat Al Smith for President, instead of Herbert Hoover, a Republican. Something there about knowing your actions will cost you support – but acting out of principle regardless of the personal political cost.

Voinovich didn’t read that – or the other profiles. Or he did, but he knows times have changed and you don’t mess with Texas. You don’t go too far out on a limb and saw it off. Maybe he was thinking about Max Cleland, or about how the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth turned John Kerry from a war hero to a war criminal who couldn’t hold a candle to the sometimes-aviator, hard-drinking, coke-snorting, no-show Bush. Ah, one can understand the position of the man from Ohio. You could get hurt.

Now our friend the Australian headhunter (a management recruiter, not the other kind) in Paris asks – “By the way, is your Bolton guy really as dangerous as I am lead to believe?”

Well, if you get your news from Liberation on the left, Le Monde in the middle, and Figaro on what passes for the right in France, you might wonder.

… It takes enormous self-deception to believe that John Bolton is truly qualified—much less the "best man"—for this job. He has long held the United Nations in contempt. He has disparaged the legitimacy of international law (the basis for enforcing U.N. resolutions). As an undersecretary of state in Bush's first term, he repeatedly sought the removal of intelligence analysts who dared to disagree with him. He was such a loose cannon that Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, forbade him to say anything in public without prior approval. A half-dozen officials, most of them Republicans who served in this administration, say that Bolton would make—in the words of Colin Powell's chief of staff—"an abysmal ambassador."

Voinovich said today that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured him that Bolton would be firmly supervised in his new job. Voinovich wondered, "Why in the world would you want to send somebody up to the U.N. that has to be supervised?"
But Voinovich wouldn’t stop this one from going to a full-floor vote, where he says he WILL vote no on Bolton, when it doesn’t matter.

Rick, Just Above Sunset’s News Guy in Atlanta, answers our friend in Paris -
Yes, I think Democrats and Republicans both probably agree that Bolton's dangerous, but the question being batted around now is, dangerous to whom, us or the other side? There are those who think his "bad cop" approach just might come in handy.

There's also the question of how much he is a freelancing cowboy versus how much was he just doing the bidding of the president.

As we recently saw in the leaked UK memo [see this last weekend], whatever motivation Bush had back in 2002 for wanting to invade Iraq was apparently not the sort of thing he thought would motivate the American people, and there are suspicions that John Bolton helped Bush scrounge around in search of those other reasons.

Should that be enough to stop his appointment? Some say yes, since he didn't report to the president, he was working for the State Department. (After bad-mouthing North Korea just before a negotiating session, his bosses reportedly began monitoring him more closely in an attempt to keep him on the reservation.) Others say you shouldn't thwart a presidential appointment just because you think the guy is a jerk or that you don't agree with his politics.

But if anyone can find a smoking gun that proves all his "kicking down" was not just his "blunt" management style but was an attempt to "cook" intelligence, this could burn his nomination. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

(I heard just this moment that one Republican senator on the committee says he will vote against Bolton in the full Senate, so things may be looking up.)
That one vote against would be Voinovich, of course. Things are only looking a little up.

Our Paris friend is too young to remember Nikita Khrushchev at the UN banging his shoe on the desk in protest to folks not paying attention to him - October 11, 1960 - as he was ticked at something or other, and this was just after the U2 incident. But the current America rightwing conservatives remember, and, although they hated the commies with a cold fury, this is the one thing they liked about the fat guy from Moscow. As his own daughter said, this was "part of the democratic behavior" Khrushchev had seen in the pre-revolutionary duma where members "used fists to prove they were right." (See this for background.)

They are buying Bolton sturdy shoes right now. Expect the same. It's a matter of reviving an old tradition?

And too, American rightwing conservatives have a long memory - and do hold grudges. This last week in Europe your might have noted those odd comments from Bush, made in Riga, Latvia, that what was decided at the Yalta conference - how post-war Europe was to be divided amongst the victors - was a great evil. Bush apologized to the world for it. It was as bad as Neville Chamberlain selling out the Sudetenland to the Nazis in 1938 and all that. The idea is that FDR was an evil appeaser - he should have taken General Patton's advice and extended the war four or five more years, moving east against the Russian army and finally taking Moscow, freeing the world for the horrors of communism. (See this for background – one of hundreds of comments.) So FDR was not only evil for inventing the Social Security program - destroying Americans' sense of personal responsibility - he was just one more liberal wimp appeasing the bad guys instead of fighting them. He should have pissed on Stalin's shoes.

Never appease anyone. Bolton is the man.

It all fits into the new image we are constructing - a mythos or whatever (maybe a marketing thing). What we are trying to project? That we don't take crap from anyone, and we don't give a damn what anyone else thinks. This is the new "brand America" as it were. Bush's personality (or pathology) become policy.

Oh yeah - there is also this about John Bolton, but it kind of humanizes him -
Corroborated allegations that Mr. Bolton's first wife, Christina Bolton, was forced to engage in group sex have not been refuted by the State Department despite inquires posed by Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt concerning the allegations. Mr. Flynt has obtained information from numerous sources that Mr. Bolton participated in paid visits to Plato's Retreat, the popular swingers club that operated in New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Oh, no one listens to Larry Flynt anyway. (James Wolcott has some history and comments in this Plato's Retreat group sex thing here that is worth noting.)

Bolton? The man passed this particular pass-fail course. And this was the hard one to pass. It’s all downhill from here, in so many different ways.

Posted by Alan at 17:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 12 May 2005 18:15 PDT home

Wednesday, 11 May 2005

Topic: In these times...

Ethics in Three Parts: The State of Things

One - Be all that you can be…

From CNN, Wednesday, May 11, 2005 you will find this -
The U.S. Army plans to stop recruiting activities for one day this month to review procedures that its 7,500 recruiters use, an Army official said.

Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, head of the Army Recruiting Command, is expected to make the announcement, which could come as early as Thursday.

The move follows a CBS News report of least two allegations of recruiting abuse.

In one case, the network reported a recruiter suggesting how a potential volunteer might cheat to pass a drug test, and in another, a sergeant threatened a prospect with arrest if he didn't report to a recruiting station.

The Army said it is investigating the allegations. …
And from a Texas television station (KHOU, Houston) there is this -
Will Ammons, 20, signed up for delayed entry at the Lake Jackson Army recruiting station last year.

But soon afterwards, he fell in love and changed his mind before he ever shipped out.

That's when, he says, Army recruiters crossed the line and started harrassing him.

"He told me I pretty much had two options," Ammons said. "I'd go before a judge and get a sentence of 15 years but he had the option to double it. It was either that or they were going to put me in front of seven other people with rifles and shoot me."
For giggle look up J. R. Hutchinson, The Press-Gang Afloat and Ashore (1914); J. F. Zimmerman, Impressment of American Seamen (1926, repr. 1966).

A typical encyclopedia entry here
In England, impressment began as early as the Anglo-Saxon period and was used extensively under Elizabeth I, Charles I, and Oliver Cromwell. "Press gangs" forcibly seized and carried individuals into service; frequently subjects of foreign countries were taken. After 1800, England restricted impressment mostly to naval service. The Napoleonic Wars increased English need for sea power and led to the impressment of a large number of deserters, criminals, and British subjects who had become naturalized Americans. (Until 1850, England did not recognize the right of a man to renounce his nationality.) Frequent interception of American ships to impress American citizens was a major cause of the War of 1812. England generally abandoned such forcible measures after 1835. In Prussia, impressment was introduced by Frederick William I after 1713, laying the groundwork for Prussian military power in the 18th cent. It reached its height under Frederick II (Frederick the Great) who made forced recruitment on foreign soil an integral part of the Prussian military system. Impressment was used in many countries as a method of ridding society of undesirables. Persons of property, apprenticed youths, and other respectable citizens were often exempted by law. The system fostered gross abuses and was often a means of private vengeance. It filled the army and navy with a group ready for mutiny, desertion, or other disloyalty, and it adversely affected voluntary recruitment. After 1800 impressment tended to become a means of enforcing conscription, and it fell into disuse after 1850.
Here we go again.

But as of a method of ridding society of undesirables where persons of property, apprenticed youths, and other respectable citizens were often exempted by law. That works.

One thinks of kids like that Lynndie England lass who join up just to get away from a no-prospects, no-future, stuck-stocking-the-shelves-at-Wal-Mart-for-the-rest-of-my life existence. And then what happens?

Two ? George Bush and Sam Peckinpah

Probably no one remembers the movie Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) directed by Sam Peckinpah. Starring Warren Oates and Gig Young? Whatever. Warren Oates is out to collect the head of this Alfredo, in order to get the bounty money, and escape his low-paid job in a bar for a better life. And he takes his promiscuous girlfriend Isela Vega along for the ride. (Full plot summary here.) It?s your typical sadistic Peckinpah bloodbath, intended to shock and appall the audience and all that.

So what to make of this from the BBC on 4 May?
The CIA sent a team to Afghanistan days after 9/11 with orders to kill Osama Bin Laden and bring back his head, a former agent has revealed.

Gary Schroen flew out soon after the attacks on New York and Washington, helping to set up the 2001 invasion, he told US National Public Radio.

He recalled his orders from the CIA's counter-terrorism chief.

"Capture Bin Laden, kill him and bring his head back in a box on dry ice," he quoted Cofer Black as saying.

As for other leaders of Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan, Mr Black reportedly said: "I want their heads up on pikes."

Contacted by the radio network, Mr Black would not confirm that these were his exact words but he did not dispute Mr Schroen's account.

? Mr Schroen has released memoirs called First In, a reference to the fact that he and his team were the first US government personnel on the ground.

He says he is surprised that the CIA has still not managed to track down Bin Laden after nearly four years.
Well, if you want to see that on video, go here for the CIA agent who says he was asked to provide Osama's head on ice, dry ice specifically - as the president said he wanted that delivered to his office. Chris Matthews on his MSNBC Hardball show asked the CIA guy today the dumbest reporter-question of the year. Where do you get dry ice in Afghanistan? Yeah, we always wondered about that.

And from Sunday's Meet the Press Show (same link) ?

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Black gave you specific instructions on what he wanted you to bring home.

MR. SCHROEN: That's true. He did ask that once we got bin Laden and killed him, that we send his head back in a cardboard box on dry ice so that he could take it down and show the president.

Hell, you can't make up this stuff. It only gets better by the day.

The president has watched too many Sam Peckinpah movies. But we know now where he gets his ethical principles. Remember our gleeful display of the mutilated bodies of Saddam?s two sons? We have to show the world the kind of people we are?

Fine. We voted the man in for anther four years. That?s what we want.

But over at the Christian Science Monitor we get more detail. They report that when this guy spoke to Radio Free Europe he said it is unlikely we will ever get bin Laden, in a chilled cardboard box or not. He probably in Pakistan, and getting him might just bring down the Pakistani government ? and they seem to be our allies ? as in this -
[Schroen] says bin Laden is regarded almost as a "Robin Hood" figure among certain elements of the Islamic world. He says bin Laden's popularity is so great that Pakistan may not want to risk a potentially devastating political backlash by capturing him.
So no help there? And on last weekend?s Meet the Press there was this -
Q: "Is there a distinct possibility that [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf is afraid of capturing Osama bin Laden because he would fear that his government would be toppled?"

A: ?In my opinion, that's a real likelihood ... to take on bin Laden, there would be an uproar within that country and around the Islamic world that would really cause the foundations of the Pakistani government to be shaken. ... And if we were able to find bin Laden, and identify that to the Pakistanis, I would suspect that there would be a great reluctance and probably a refusal to move forward.?
So George will not get his iced human head in a box. This probably pisses him off no end.

There is no point in harping on what this all shows about our leader, or about us a people who want someone like this to lead us, or about what this would do to our already diminished reputation in what is called the civilized world. George Bush holding up the severed head on television, and smirking ? or more likely sneering ? would please the Christian evangelical right. Heck, they?d wet their pants in righteous delight and praise Jesus. But one wonders if most other nations would just sever diplomatic relations with the United States in disgust. Bush would love that. Sam Peckinpah would just smile.

Three ? The Press

In the Louisville Courier-Journal on Sunday, May 8, you will find an item by photojournalist Molly Bingham ? adapted from a speech she made at Western Kentucky University last month. According to the newspaper, Bingham, a Louisville native, was detained in 2003 by Iraqi security forces and held in Abu Ghraib prison from March 25 to April 2, 2003. Eighteen days after her release, she returned to Iraq to pursue stories for the New York Times, The Guardian and other papers. The idea here?
Taking a short break during the summer of 2003, Bingham had the idea of working on a story to explore who was involved in the nascent resistance that was becoming apparent throughout Iraq. She scanned the papers that summer, looking for an article that would show some journalist had reported the story, had gone deeper to find out the source of the new violence. No one had. So in August 2003, Bingham returned with British journalist Steve Connors and spent the next 10 months reporting the story of the Iraqi resistance. Her account was published in Vanity Fair magazine in July 2004; Connors shot a documentary film on the subject. This speech was a challenge to journalists, and Americans, to speak up and be sure their comments, questions and thoughts are heard, and that the First Amendment is celebrated in all its strengths. Bingham began her career as a photo intern for The Courier-Journal and Louisville Times.
Local girl makes the big time, of course.

You can find a commentary on the item here, but here are a few choice excerpts ?
?the basic point for this discussion is that we both thought it was really journalistically important to understand who it was who was resisting the presence of the foreign troops. If you didn't understand that, how could you report what was clearly becoming an "ongoing conflict?" And if you were reading the news in America, or Europe, how could you understand the full context of what was unfolding if what motivates the "other side" of the conflict is not understood, or even discussed?

? One of the hardest things about working on this story for me personally, and as a journalist, was to set my "American self" and perspective aside. It was an ongoing challenge to listen open-mindedly to a group of people whose foundation of belief is significantly different from mine, and one I found I often strongly disagreed with.

But going in to report a story with a pile of prejudices is no way to do a story justice, or to do it fairly, and that constant necessity to bite my tongue, wipe the smirk off my face or continue to listen through a racial or religious diatribe that I found appalling was a skill I had to practice. We would never walk in to cover a union problem or political event without seeking to understand the perspective from both, or the many sides of the story that exist. Why should we as journalists do it in Iraq?

? the other thing I found difficult was the realization that, while I was out doing what I believe is solid journalism, there were many (journalists and normal folks alike) who would question my patriotism, or wonder how I could even think hearing and relating the perspective "from the other side" was important.

?To seek to understand and represent to an American audience the reasons behind the Iraqi opposition is practically treasonous.

Every one of the people involved in the resistance that we spoke to held us individually responsible for their security. If something happened to them -- never mind that they were legitimate targets for the U.S. military -- they would blame us. And kill us. We soon learned that they had the U.S. bases so well watched that we had to abandon our idea of working on the U.S. side of the story -- that is, discovering what the soldiers really thought about who might be attacking them. There were so many journalists working with the American soldiers that we believed that that story would be well told. More practically, if we were seen by the Iraqis going in and out of the American bases, we would be tagged immediately as spies, informants and most likely be killed.

? I could go into a long litany of the ways in which the American military has treated journalists in Iraq. Recent actions indicate that the U.S. military will detain and/or kill any journalist who happens to be caught covering the Iraqi side of the militant resistance, and indeed a number of journalists have been killed by U.S. troops while working in Iraq. This behavior at the moment seems to be limited to journalists who also happen to be Arabs, or Arab-looking, but that is only a tangential story to what I'm telling you about here.

? The gatekeepers -- by which I mean the editors, publishers and business sides of the media -- don't want their paper or their outlet to reveal that compelling narrative of why anyone would oppose the presence of American troops on their soil. Why would anyone refuse democracy? Why would anyone not want the helping hand of America in overthrowing their terrible dictator? It's amazing to me how expeditiously we turn away from our own history. Think of our revolution. Think of our Founding Fathers. Think of what they stood for and hoped for. Think of how, over time, we have learned to improve on our own Constitution and governance. But think, mostly, about the words I just used: It was our decision and our determination that brought us where we are now.

? How many other American journalists, perhaps not as secure in their position as I, have thought to do a story and decided that it's too close to the bone, too questioning of the American government or its actions? How many times was the risk that our own government might come in and rifle through our apartment, our homes or take us away for questioning in front of our children a factor in our decision not to do a story? How many times did we as journalists decide not to do a story because we thought it might get us into trouble? Or, as likely, how often did the editor above us kill the story for the same reasons? Lots of column inches have been spent in the discussion of how our rights as Americans are being surreptitiously confiscated, but what about our complicity, as journalists, in that? It seems to me that the assault on free speech, while the fear and intimidation is in the air, comes as much from us -- as individuals and networks of journalists who censor ourselves -- as it does from any other source.
What's happened to the documentary that Bingham and Connors filmed last year in Iraq? From last month, this -
...Meanwhile, I'm told by another source that ?Dateline? executive producer David Corvo recently declined to pick up an hour-long documentary from photojournalist Molly Bingham, who spent four months filming with anti-American insurgents in and around Baghdad. ?Really interesting footage,? I'm told Corvo said. ?Not something my audience wants to see.?
Of course not.

Posted by Alan at 22:00 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 11 May 2005 22:04 PDT home

Topic: God and US

Fish Stories

For a discussion of evolution and the current hearings in on this matter in Kansas see Institutionalizing Magic Thinking: Late Comment on the New and Improved Scopes Trial in last weekend’s Just Above Sunset - a review of who is saying what and why. And for a discussion of a how one scientist, Richard Dawkins, sees the matter, see "Fossil Rabbits in the Precambrian" from May 1, 2005 – and at the bottom of the page note the fish. You see Christian fish symbols as magnets or plaques on the back of cars – proclaiming, or at least displaying, the driver’s deep faith. A skeptical friend of mine, and internist in Massachusetts, displays this – the Darwin fish.

Of course, that displays the opposite.

But there is something new on the market now. Since much political thinking on the right seems bound up in the idea that we should be, above all else, a Christian nation (discussed most recently here) this product was inevitable, linking the Christian fish image to our born-again president.

What is this about? Here is the promo ? and the link at the bottom is active should you wish to order one for your Hummer or pick-up?
If this country's legislature and judiciary are supposed to reflect the values and beliefs of The People, then send them a message that they are WAY off course!

If you are tired of secularists telling you that The Lord has no place in our government and our public institutions, then show them that you disagree.

This symbol, this site, and this car magnet have been created for the millions of Americans who support the President and his vision for a government that embraces religion, morality, and family values. It shows worship to the Lord, respect for the President, and hope for all.

Join the millions of Americans who believe that President Bush?s faith-based administration presents the best hope for America?s future. The future is in your hands. Stand up and be counted!

Order a BushFish for yourself or a loved one today.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
As far as I can tell, this is not a satire.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, isn?t so sure.
Maybe not satire, but maybe it is. Either that or it could be called "Bush Phish."

Did you see this part?

?A portion of every purchase goes to, a group dedicated to releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.?

Either these folks are really sincerely weird, or maybe scamming the true believers (couldn't happen to a nice bunch), or else this site is run by that same group who, back in the early sixties, claimed to be fighting for morality in the animal kingdom by demanding that farmers dress their cows and bulls in dresses and trousers.
Yeah, I saw that - and I had forgotten about the bovine dress code folks. And I like the "Bush Phish" idea. (Don?t know what phishing is? See this explanation.)

It all just makes me want to move to France - as I came across this from a site devoted to Understanding France -
Laicite (secularism) : in France, you do not mix religion and society: it is a private domain and no candidate for any public function would ever mention his religious belief, the name of God, etc ; it is absolutely unthinkable that a French president would express his religious beliefs the way US presidents do (particularly George W. Bush) ; at social occasions (dinner party, etc..), it would be considered very rude to start a discussion about God and religion, unless a very light and careful one ; the role of the church in social life is extremely limited compared to the U.S.A. Globally speaking, France is a country much less religious than the USA which does not mean that people have no religious beliefs, but they are a personal choice and not a social obligation. "Laicite" does not mean that the state is against religion, but it means that it must guarantee that all religious beliefs are treated equally, including having no religious belief. An illustration of that is the Sunday morning program on Antenne2 (state-owned TV channel, around 30% of total viewers) : between 8:30 am and 12h30, there is a mass and various programs by all religions and philosophical opinions (protestant, islam, jewish, free masons, atheist, you name it...). One can say that "laicite" is a value which shared by a huge majority of the French, whatever their religion. This is why the Islamic veil in school caused an almost unanimous scandal. The milestone is the 1905-law of separation of church and state : since that date, all religious buildings belong to the local authorities or to the state (which must maintain them), no member of the clergy can be appointed and paid by public funds (except in Alsace, where the system is the German system), etc...
DAMNED CHEESE-EATING HEATHENS! Do they have the right to be so sensible?

I asked Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, if he knew Philippe Rochefort, a Frenchman married to an American writer, Harriet Welty Rochefort, who were responsible for the site that gave us that comment on the French view of religion and government, their view of the secular versus the religious in public life - Laicite.

Here are Ric's comments from Paris ?
I met Harriet a few years ago, to talk about her book 'French Fried.' See: Harriet's Not Afraid - Of Cooking 21,173 Meals In France for that.

Philippe's explanation of 'Laicite' is correct. I do not understand what may be remarkable about it. Perhaps it is how I think it should be - religion is a private matter.

But 'having no belief' is not, as far as I know, treated equally.

It is not treated at all. But for those without belief this is probably fine, the absolute best way to treat it.

Laicite is, I think, a republican idea. No religion in state schools for example. No state prayer. If the president goes to a church on Sundays it is not advertised. He does go on ceremonial occasions, as do atheists.

If you do not loiter around churches you could wonder who uses them. There is always some crowd in front of Notre Dame, but it is an important monument as well as a church. People come from a long way to see it.

Times are changing. Catholics are now seen on the streets, gathered in small groups, singing songs and handing out leaflets. These aren't many, but are contrasted with none. Is the church on the move? Going on the offensive, trying to get converts?

The Muslim head scarf is becoming more common. These used to be rare and were usually worn only by older women. Now they are more likely to be young ones. After all the news and debate about this, one can't help thinking that these young girls and ladies are... Muslims. Nobody else, except a few orthodox Jews, is wearing religion on their heads, but they always did.

Last night, Tuesday, Arte-TV devoted the evening to documentaries about Muslims in Europe. Different countries deal with it in different ways. Some countries hope the situation will evaporate, but it's not going to happen.

It means that France is going to have to think about this seriously. The French imagine that the business is settled - the 1905 law - but the whole force of today's history is going to affect how things go here.

From the viewpoint of an atheist it looks like a return to the wars of religion. Everybody can get dragged into these things because they are not rational. We'll see how well the republic can resist.

And by the way, Antenne2 now called France-2
Okay, I?ll stay here. But that BUSH FISH still bothers me.

And Joseph, our expatriate friend who is moving from Paris to Belgium, adds this ?
Perhaps the fact that you are compelled to add the disclaimer "not a satire" speaks as much about how out of touch we are as how out of touch they are.

To me it is some relief that this merger between church and state, which is already a fait accompli, should assert itself in the open rather than in the nudge-nudge, wink-wink way in which it came to pass. Maybe we can argue it on the merits now. This is impossible when one side refuses to admit their true goals, non?
I suppose, but that it is all in the open now is cold comfort.


Our high-powered Wall Street attorney from his offices high above Battery Park in lower Manhattan ? ?Please tell me this is a satire!?

Our business school professor in upstate New York ? ?It's been my conclusion that people with fish tattoos don't practice satire.?

Our high-powered Wall Street attorney ? ?I was afraid of that.?

From our friend the Australian headhunter (a management recruiter, not the other kind) in Paris -
Well, it would seem that the religious nutters on the right in America have scaled new depths of selfish stupidity and that, in fact, for all we know, there could be something decidedly fishy going on at the White House. Thanks heavens though that Bush does not cast the net wider with his phony God-worshipers in tow and take a bite at the rest of the world for further blinkered support and enduring love.

Still, it may be prudence to clamp down the jaws behind such crap sites and look to hooking Bush up by his tentacles to dry out. .When is the next presidential election in the US?!

Excuse the puns - couldn?t resist it!
And from our high-powered Wall Street attorney from his offices high above Battery Park in lower Manhattan?
With all due respect, I believe you misspelled the word by which you wanted Mr. Bush hooked up, but then, I have been wrong before.

As for the next election, the answer is not soon enough!
Ah, but then the new president will be Bill Frist, as the Democrats will have run Hillary Clinton.

Oh well.

Oh yes, our Wall Street friend takes issue with Ric in Paris on this Laicite business ?
But 'having no belief' is not, as far as I know, treated equally.

Perhaps it is my philosophy degree that forces me to respond to this one. Having no belief is, in fact, having a belief; it is the belief not to believe.
What? As his former English teacher (far too may years ago) I beg to differ. Just how is he using the word "belief" here? It seems to me he is just distorting what the word means.

The reply from Wall Street?
The ability or right to choose to believe something or not to believe something results in having a belief, even if it is of something negative. For instance, at least for the moment in these United States, one has the choice to believe in Jesus or not. The fact that I do not believe in Jesus does not mean that I do not have a belief, but rather that I choose not to believe in Jesus. That being said one must ask, does an atheist have no belief or does she/he have a belief (in this case atheism)?
From that business school upstate?
From an innocent bystander... uh-oh... next comes epistemology!
Hey! When it comes to epistemology? well, there are no innocent bystanders.

Does an atheist have no belief or does she/he have a belief (in this case atheism)?

What the? ? Somehow this reminds me of our Wall Street friend asking why, whilst I was in lower Manhattan last month, I took no pictures of the World Trade Center site. Hey, there was nothing there. It is damned hard to take a picture of the absence of an object, or in this case, two very large ones. Pictures of a gap in the skyline or a large hole in the ground seemed pointless. Look, look ? there?s nothing there! For the last half-hour there has been an LAPD helicopter circling a fifty feet over the intersection down the block. When I finally dragged out the Nikon and snapped on the telephoto lens and fired up the camera? it had left. Do I take a picture of the empty sky? No.

Similarly, calling the decision (or inability) to believe in something a positive belief seems also to twist the word ?belief? away from its meaning. Maintaining a stable, agreed-upon meaning for words is the first task in philosophy, as I remember it from college days. This is why most on the political right have no use for philosophy, of course.

And from Phillip in Georgia ? the one down south, not the one where the president spoke this week ?
Maintaining a stable, agreed-upon meaning for words is the first task in philosophy?

It's all according to what is, is.

Enjoying some philosophy and ethics of religion, and not buying in to the hocus pocus, or the pageantry or Santa in the clouds - is that even atheism? An IT friend and I agreed to leave it at the compromise of not believing in a supreme being, but reserving the right to believe if we were in the metaphorical foxhole. It is a belief in something, but it's not aspiring to much.
Well, aspirations aside, and what is atheism and belief, and what depends on what the meaning of the word ?is? is (not only Republicans play language games) ? to make my Wall Street friend a bit more comfortable I found him some alternative magnet-plaques should he wish to display something other than the BUSH FISH on the back of his car. And the links are active if you want to order one or more.

Here is a Tyrannosaurus Rex making a nice snack of a certain well-known fish.

And here?s a dead fish with a comment at the site: The dead fish seemed the most appropriate fish for me because I am an ex-Christian. To me it means it is a dead issue, dead religion, something I already ate to its bare bones and found infilling. And it's damn funny.

And a Devil Fish and a Star of David Gefilte Fish.

But this one is just cool.

And speaking of cool graphics ? you may have missed this one earlier in the week.

The war on the secular to establish a Christian, evangelical theocracy rolls on.



Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sends along some final thoughts ?
Considering this - Does an atheist have no belief or does she/he have a belief (in this case atheism)?

Considering this - Hey, there was nothing there. It is damned hard to take a picture of the absence of an object, or in this case, two very large ones. Pictures of a gap in the skyline or a large hole in the ground seemed pointless.

Considering this - Similarly, calling the decision (or inability) to believe in something a positive belief seems also to twist the word "belief" away from its meaning.

Atheism (a'the-ist) n. Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God. 2. Godlessness. (from old French, Greek)

Disbelief is probably pretty close no belief. But I ask you, does one deny that there's a God, or merely disbelieve it? It seems there might be a difference between total skepticism, and outright denial. 'Denial' sounds militant, possibly defensive; and who knows? even doubtful. Disbelief takes care of it with a minimum of fuss.

Try it out.

'I disbelieve in God.'

It says it all. Well, nearly. Try, 'I disbelieve in Gods.'

Makes you sound like the opposite of a nut.

I used to get very nervous around religious people. If I was in a church, even for a wedding, I would wonder how many people in it believed in God. I used to think they were fanatics, crazy, but I didn't doubt that they believed. Ready to march to Palestine, hire somebody to fight the Turk, fry me at the stake for heresy, disbelief.

Now after all the time here, churches all over the place, cathedrals, mosques, whatnot, I think people who aren't faking about their belief are probably a bit afraid of being alive. It's not their fault if they get comfort by believing in hocus-pocus. In the US I think you're seeing that the more extreme of these so-called Christian believers can be pretty loony, just as far out as anybody's brand of fundamentalists. The more afraid they get the more dangerous they become.

You know, modern man's history on this planet is supposed to be about 50,000 years. On one hand this is a short span of time; on the other our own historical span is only about, what, 3000 years? Think back a mere 1000 years and where are you? Now add 500 years, and the Turks get beaten up in the Mediterranean.

From where we are, anno 2005, add 500 years - a piffle! - and we find that the Holy Mother of Mary Jesus God fans have blown the hell out of the earth and the whole thing is reduced to wreckage and rubble, and stinking swamps full of greasy garbage and plastic sacks. You know, another 1500 years pass and there we are, picking around in the ruins trying to piece our history together from industrial waste and fossils, and there are the God freaks again, dancing and singing in a converted supermarket.

Time never stops. Some animals get smarter; most don't.
I agree with Ric - the more afraid they get the more dangerous they become.

That?s the state of things now on this side of the big blue ocean - good number of people who aren't faking about their belief but probably a bit afraid of being alive. Ric says he used to get very nervous around religious people. But he got over it?

It?s a bit harder over here.

Is it harder? Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, jumps in -
Somehow this reminds me of our Wall Street friend asking why, whilst I was in lower Manhattan last month, I took no pictures of the World Trade Center site. Hey, there was nothing there.

Which, of course, explains why it's so hard to find actual photographic evidence of the existence of Oakland, California. (Reference? "There's no there there.")

But regarding belief in belief:

Oh, Geez Louise, here we go with the goddamn philosophy! And religion, to boot? Okay, bring it on.

As the OTHER philosophy major here, the one who's main attention as an undergraduate became more and more focused on A.W. Ayer and his "ordinary language approach" to philosophy, I'm afraid I must side with Alan on this.

(Sidebar: But also as someone who spent most of his life as an Agnostic when it comes to religion, ever since my brothers burned my butt to a crisp when, me having flunked fifth grade and being forced to repeat it at an Episcopal parochial -- in every sense of that word -- school away from the mocking mouths of my fellow students -- including, I think, my friend Randy Newman, if I recall correctly -- I became a devout super-believer who knew it to be a sin to carry a pile of books under your arm in which the Holy Bible was not the top book, and also a sin if one of your brothers skinned himself while falling off his bike and exclaimed "Goshdarn it!" My two brothers, with their combined physical strength, tag-teamed me into rethinking my faith, unintentionally causing me to become a follower of Rene Descartes and the "Cartesian Method" at the tender age of ten, although not with the same result. Descartes, I still contend, was guilty of intellectual dishonesty.)

I suppose you COULD say an Atheist "believes" in Atheism in the same way that a Christian "believes" in Theism, but to me, that seems to miss the point.

As I told my atheist Uncle Byron -- after he accused me of not having the guts to take a stand on this stuff -- you and your fellow Atheists have something in common with Christians and Theists that I don't, and that is that you have a "belief," one way or the other, concerning the existence of God. They say there is one, you said there isn't. But as an Agnostic, and unlike you and your "fellow believers," not only don't I know, I don't really care one way or the other.

Since that conversation, which was probably eight or nine years ago, I "found" religion of sorts. Well, okay, not "religion" so much that G.W. Bush would recognize, but whatever.

(By the way, I do credit Bush for backing away last week from the Frist approach to the Democrats filibustering "people of faith". Was this just a trick on Bush's part? Who really cares why he did it, he did the right thing.)

I started thinking about this God thing again a few years ago after all these Bozos started planting the Ten Commandments in courthouses, based on the argument that American law is based on them. (Forget the fact that it obviously is NOT, especially when it comes to worship of any other god but him, as well as coveting your neighbor's mule, or whatever; that's not really my point.)

In fact, I would argue (assuming my religious beliefs are of any interest to you anyway), religion is not the source of morality, morality is the source of religion.

In fact, nature demands that we behave ourselves; if we don't, we screw ourselves up big time, and we possibly even destroy ourselves.

I would bet that early community leaders realized this, and told the villagers there were gods who didn't like us trying to fool Mother Nature, so we had better behave ourselves if we want to ... um ... if we want to, uh, have eternal life! (Yeah, that's the ticket!) And so it was, I believe, that morality invented religion.

But if there is a God, I figure, God is nature, and God's laws are how nature works. Hold a pencil out and let it go? It drops to earth. Gravity is one of God's laws. Should we marry our siblings? Inbreeding will destroy the species, so we shouldn't do it. Should we murder everyone we feel like murdering? Then we will cease to exist as a people, another of God's no-no's.

In other words, God is everything! Looking for God? You're standing on him!

Looking for heaven? Once again, you're standing on it! Life on Earth is the kind of miracle that you could only appreciate in its fullest sense after you lose it.

Which, of course, is after you die! See a Catch-22 there? Bingo! After you die, you won't know dip, because you'll be dead! So enjoy heaven while you live here, because unfortunately, the place has term limits. Got to make room for your kids, after all.

This is not to say that if you do nice things during your lifetime, you won't be remembered fondly afterward -- something I think that is good. But if you're looking to meet up with all your deceased pets, my advice is to not get your hopes up too high. Then again, you also won't have to worry about once again facing your over-judgmental parents either!

If, on the other hand, what you are arguing, our Wall Street friend, is that freedom of "religious belief" includes the right to abstain from belief in God, I'm with you.

I have had friends -- although otherwise very nice and relatively intelligent people -- who have told me that the "freedom OF religion" guaranteed in our Constitution doesn't mean "freedom FROM religion."

Pretending astonishment, I would reply, "Does this mean 'freedom of the press' means we are all required to print newspapers? And does 'freedom of assembly' mean any one of us can be arrested if found not in a group? And does the Second Amendment mean we are all required to bear arms and join a well-regulated militia?" Etcetera.

My main point about the "Freedom of Religion" in this country which seems now to be threatened -- by people who THINK they know this country got its start, but don't -- is that this country belongs to ALL of us, not just those who profess a belief in God, but ALL of us, no matter what our belief, or lack thereof.

I loved that item about how the French see religious freedom differently than we do.

Although I mostly disagree with the rest of the world and feel that our "democratic revolution" in 1775 (yes, it was one, but maybe the subject for another posting) was somewhat more successful than the one in France in 1789 what with Robespierre and Napoleon and the guillotine and all that -- I still can't help but admire how the French, here and there, have taken basic democratic principles to heart in ways that slightly more than half of American presidential voters in 2004 couldn't even begin to understand.
Well, maybe one day we?ll get it right.


By the way, for a giggle do browse the quotations page in Just Above Sunset.

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. - Friedrich Nietzsche

When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that individual is crazy. - Dave Barry

Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so. - Bertrand Russell

Since we cannot hope for order, let us withdraw with style from chaos. - Lord Malquist in ?Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon? by Tom Stoppard

There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking. - Alfred Korzybski

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. - Philip K. Dick

Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong. - Thomas Jefferson

Posted by Alan at 15:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 11 May 2005 22:22 PDT home

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