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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 18 May 2005

Topic: The Media

Midweek Ennui: What to say…?

Max B. Sawicky over at Max Speak: You Listen sums up how many of the left feel given events so far this week -
Politics - more specifically, the things that come out of Republican pieholes - has degenerated to such a deep vat of bullshit that it seems a waste of time to react.

Iraq is still a mess, but on the strength of a few unrelated flurries of democratic expression in the Middle East, some suckers think there is an "Arab spring." After a cavalcade of lies from official sources and their toadies to justify an unnecessary, unjust war, the focus settles on a lightly-sourced but probably accurate report in a news magazine.

Nobody is paying any attention to the labor market, even though it sucks, and our economic overlord is treated as an indispensable hero.

The Federal budget outlook is still a mess, also relegated to inside pages.

We have to fight about the appointment of judges who are certifiable imbeciles, babbling like talk radio jingoists.

On the other hand, the Social Security issue goes well, as the Bushists' ongoing privatization campaign flops around like a mackeral on kitchen linoleum, L.A. has a new progressive mayor, and school will be out soon, relieving me of 6:36 a.m. drop-offs at the bus stop.

Got to roll with the punches.
Yeah, I suppose.

That business with the Koran and Newsweek and the riots and all - see Newsweek, Suckered, Sucks the Air Out of the Room - will not go away.

From Baghdad, the noted local blogger there - ?Riverbend? - says this -
We've seen enough blatant disregard and disrespect for Islam in Iraq the last two years to make this story sound very plausible.

... Detainees coming back after weeks or months in prison talk of being forced to eat pork, not being allowed to pray, being exposed to dogs, having Islam insulted and generally being treated like animals trapped in a small cage. At the end of the day, it's not about words or holy books or pork or dogs or any of that. It's about what these things symbolize on a personal level. It is infuriating to see objects that we hold sacred degraded and debased by foreigners who felt the need to travel thousands of kilometers to do this. That's not to say that all troops disrespect Islam - some of them seem to genuinely want to understand our beliefs. It does seem like the people in charge have decided to make degradation and humiliation a policy.

By doing such things, this war is taken to another level ? it is no longer a war against terror or terrorists ? it is, quite simply, a war against Islam and even secular Muslims are being forced to take sides.
Ah, but we say it?s not a war against Islam. And the administration says this unhappiness all the fault of that badly sourced item in Newsweek.


Kevin Drum, in the Washington Monthly has this to say about that: ?By the time this is all over, I suspect the Pentagon is going to be sorry it ever made a fuss over the Newsweek item in the first place. Every reporter in town is now going to start investigating this stuff, and the results are not likely to be pretty. Stay tuned for a fusillade of deeply researched stories about allegations of religious desecration by American troops starting in about a week.?

Oh, that should be fun.

Andrew Sullivan cites the White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, this week ?
[O]ur military goes out of their way to handle the Koran with care and respect. There are policies and practices that are in place. This report was wrong. Newsweek, itself, stated that it was wrong. And so now I think it's incumbent and -- incumbent upon Newsweek to do their part to help repair the damage. And they can do that through ways that they see best, but one way that would be good would be to point out what the policies and practices are in that part of the world, because it's in that region where this report has been exploited and used to cause lasting damage to the image of the United States of America. It has had serious consequences. And so that's all I'm saying, is that we would encourage them to take steps to help repair the damage. And I think that they recognize the importance of doing that. That's all I'm saying.
So the news magazine should print what the White House says they should print? Well, if they are patriotic and support our troops they will.

Some of us caught a bit of the reaction to that at the press briefing. Reporters asking if Scott thought he should be editor of Newsweek and decide what stories to run. No, he didn?t mean that! Then why the pressure? No guys ? it?s NOT pressure, just a suggestion. Scott, what?s the difference ? is the White House telling us what to say? No guys ? it was just a suggestion! And so on and so forth. It was amusing.

Sullivan adds this -
Does McClellan really want the press to report more widely on what has been going on at Guantanamo Bay? Does he really want more stories about forced nakedness, female interrogators using panties and fake menstrual blood, and many reports from former inmates about deliberate misuse of the Koran?

Well, let it rip, I say. The press's response should not be to whine about the Bush administration pestering them. It should be call McClellan's bluff. Demand far greater access to inmates at Gitmo. Demand that former interrogators be allowed to speak freely to the media. Ask for interviews with CIA interrogators at Gitmo and in Afghanistan. Get military permission to debrief Muslim military chaplain, James Yee. Run long, detailed stories debriefing released Gitmo detainees and try to confirm or debunk their allegations of abuse. Pull together all the reports of abuse of religion in U.S. facilities and explain the full context for readers. And when the administration and Pentagon resist such efforts for deeper exploration of "policies and practices," refer to McClellan's briefing. The administration has now opened the door for a fuller exploration of their policies and actual practices regarding detainees. Let's walk in and see what's in there, shall we?
This is getting good.

Jacob Weisberg over at SLATE.COM argues here that this whole business is just your run-of-the-mill attempt to shut down the free press ?
? the problem with the Bush administration excoriating Newsweek's insensitivity to Islam isn't just hypocrisy. There's a larger issue of bad faith and an underlying lack of appreciation for the necessary role of a free and independent press. With increasing forcefulness, Bush has tried to undermine the legitimacy of the media, or at least that subculture within it that shows any tendency to challenge him. When the Bushies say there ought to be more of a check on the Fourth Estate, they aren't really asking for more care and accuracy on the part of journalists. They're expressing frustration that they still have to put up with criticism at all.
Well, no one likes criticism, do they?

Weisberg also points to an interesting New York Times item containing this -
Republicans close to the White House said that although President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were genuinely angered by the Newsweek article, West Wing officials were also exploiting it in an effort to put a check on the press.

"There's no expectation that they're going to bring down Newsweek, but there is a feeling that there is no check on what you guys do," said one outside Bush adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified as talking about possible motives of the White House.

? "This is hardly the first time that the administration has sought to portray the American media as inadequately patriotic," said Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. "They are addressing the mistake, and not the essence of the story. The essence of the story is that the United States has been rather indelicate, to put it mildly, in the way that they have treated prisoners of war."
No kidding, Marvin!

So who are we to believe? We are told the press is the problem.

Fred Kaplan in Kaboom! How to enrage Iraq's Sunnis points to a front page story in the May 17 Philadelphia Inquirer, by staff reporters Hannah Allam and Mohammed al Dulaimy, headlined, "Iraqis Lament a Call for Help." The piece is about last week?s Operation Matador where we fought all those foreign jihadists in the desert villages of western Iraq. Our government says this was a great success, and for the first time since the Vietnam War, we were provided with body counts to prove it. The problem is Allam and Dulaimy say it was ?a grave disaster.? It seems that Iraqi tribal leaders in the area had formed a vigilante group called the Hamza Forces to stop all those Islamic extremists coming in across the Syrian border. They were outnumbered and at least three of the tribal chiefs asked the Iraqi defense ministry and the US Marines for help. We rolled in and flattened the place. But we weren?t exactly careful. We killed a lot of the Hamza guys too, and their families ? and their homes are gone. Now they?re pretty ticked at us. And obviously, they?re not too happy with the new Shiite government in Baghdad. The prospect for a unified Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish everyone-is-happy Iraq gets dimmer. But we did the body count.

We won - depending on who you believe.

Who are we to believe?

You might want to read - Afghan Poppycock - Hamid Karzai's halfhearted jihad by David Bosco ?
There's all sorts of good news coming out of the Afghan drug war. Hamid Karzai recently announced that opium cultivation might be down as much as 30 percent this year. In April, the United States nabbed alleged Afghan drug lord Haji Bashir Noorzai. U.S. and European money are helping Karzai's government build special drug courts and train paramilitary interdiction teams. One might almost be convinced that Afghanistan?site of an ongoing political renaissance?has pulled off another miracle.

Don't believe it. The truth is that the war against opium in Afghanistan is stumbling badly. A bureaucratic struggle on counternarcotics strategy inside the U.S. government produced an unhappy compromise. For its part, the fragile Afghan government is too timid to do serious crop eradication. There may be a drop in opium production this year, but it will be due primarily to recent flooding and to the huge stockpiles from last year's bumper crop. ?
And Bosco goes on to explain it all in detail.

No wonder the administration is frustrated. Some folks are calling them out. So they work to stop it.

And there was the Scottish MP - George Galloway ? doing the mother of all call-outs this week ? see The Scots are known for being blunt? from earlier in the week.

I found a good item on that, from Jeanne at Body and Soul of course. It?s also on rhetoric ? how one makes one?s points.

Usual domestic method: ?? if the facts aren't with you, and you can only win by scoring cheap points here and there. Pulling off a sharp insult. Twisting a fact to good effect. Bullying the messengers into parroting your message. Ha! We win!? (think Ann Coulter, Bill O?Reilly)

UK method: No cheap shots and bitch slaps. Tell the truth ? and, oh yeah, use anaphora.

She says this -
There's a wonderful sentence in one of the Guardian's pieces on George Galloway's Senate testimony yesterday: ?By condemning him in their report without interviewing him, the senators had already given Mr Galloway the upper hand.?

Wonderful, as in the sense of producing wonder. In this country, the common political wisdom is the exact opposite, that if your opposition gets to define you before you have a chance to defend yourself, you are doomed. Nothing you say afterwards will have much impact. I think it's fair to say Mr. Galloway ground that common wisdom into the dust yesterday (although I have no doubt the Democrats will dig it up, slap a few layers of pancake makeup on it, and send it out to campaign again.)

The New York Times, in its continuing effort to turn itself into a national joke, sent Judith Miller to cover the story, and to tell us that Galloway was not credible, without actually letting us in on much of what he said.

Judith Miller thinks George Galloway is not credible.

There isn't much more to say after that.

Common Dreams has the full transcript of Galloway's statement. Crooks and Liars has a piece of the video. Steve Soto had a delighted review of Galloway's performance yesterday, and, more importantly, a terrific post Monday on the Bush administration's own involvement in the oil-for-food scandal.

But I'd like to quibble a bit with Steve's review. I'm as delighted as Steve is with what Galloway said, but I have to disagree with the post title: George Galloway Bitch-Slaps Norm Coleman. No, I'm not diving back into that topic again, although I'm headed in the direction of one that will probably annoy just as many people.

I think Galloway's testimony was inspiring -- and, although it's not the whole thing, you really have to watch the video to get the full effect -- precisely because he didn't bitch-slap, knock down, bowl over, slay, or roll anyone. That kind of triumphalism - the "victory orgies," as Barbara O'Brien, who is so good at tracking these things, calls them - is essential if the facts aren't with you, and you can only win by scoring cheap points here and there. Pulling off a sharp insult.

Twisting a fact to good effect. Bullying the messengers into parroting your message. Ha! We win!

But what Galloway did was the exact opposite. The rhetoric was good; the anaphora compelling. It helped that he had an empty suit like Norm Coleman for a foil. But it all worked because of the shock of hearing a political figure sit there and tell truth after truth after truth. Not a small truth buried in a ton of lies. Truth upon truth.

If you want to disentangle yourself from the wrapping the opposition has put you in, that's how you do it. No cheap shots and bitch slaps. Just truth upon truth.
Well, our friend, the systems guy in London, Ontario ? a bilingual French-Canadian but born out here in Yorba Linda, Nixon?s hometown ? suggests telling the truth is, shall we say, something you don?t do down south here -
One important note about that - it also helps a great deal if you have nothing at stake to lose by telling the whole truth (and nothing but). Mr Galloway will never have to face the voters in the US, and considering that he ran in Britain on an anti-war platform squarely opposite Blair and Company, he will probably be given the keys to the city and carried around town on people's shoulders in a mass celebration of the opening of this big ol' can o' whoop-ass when he gets back.

If he were instead a Democratic congressman from, let's say, Indiana, and pulled this, he would be labeled an anti-America, anti-freedom-and-democracy pro-terrorist TRAITOR and could kiss his political ass goodbye. Period.

I seem to remember a fellow named Kerry who tried telling the truth (these same truths, actually) to the American electorate a while back, and what happened to him?

Swift Boat, a swift kick in the teeth, and a swift one-way ticket home.
Probably true. The administration has a problem with news that reports what is actually happening. We have a bigger problem with our leaders saying anything we don?t want to hear. And they know that.

Posted by Alan at 21:01 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 18 May 2005 21:11 PDT home

Topic: World View

Paris: Trademark Violation Gone Bad

As noted at the beginning of the month in Trademark and Public Domain Issues with the Eiffel Tower, if one takes a picture of the Eiffel Tower at night there now is a licensing fee to post it.

But some things can be done for free. The Associated Press reports this from the city of dreams, or lights, or whatever -
May 17, 2005, 11:59 AM EDT

PARIS - A Norwegian man who leaped off the Eiffel Tower in a publicity stunt was killed after his parachute got stuck on an upper deck of the monument and came off, officials said Tuesday.

The man was Norwegian, said Anne Lene Sandsten, a spokeswoman for Norway's Foreign Ministry.

Preliminary investigations indicate the man planned to film his jump as part of a publicity stunt for a Norwegian clothing brand, police said. The man, 31, entered the tower with a hidden parachute and a helmet that had a small video camera attached to it, an official at Paris' police headquarters said on condition of anonymity.

When the man reached the tower's second deck 380 feet up Monday evening, he jumped. Investigators believe his parachute got caught on the tower's structure and detached.

The man continued his fall, crashing onto the 182-foot-high first deck of the Paris landmark, according to police and an official for SNTE, the company that manages the tower. …
This was unauthorized, of course. One is not supposed to do any parachuting from the tower, and this Norwegian clothing company obviously didn’t ask permission, if that is what this was about. It was at night.

So what was this about?

Our Man in Paris lets us know. Received Wednesday 18 May at 5:52 am Pacific Time from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis -
The story of the man who had an unsuccessful descent from the Eiffel Tower on Monday night was too late for the evening's TV-news. Monday was the day when France was undecided about having a holiday, so this was the news along with the other usual twenty-five items. It was also the 'official' start of the campaign for the referendum vote. We barely get one thing finished before we're on to the next.

On Tuesday the prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told the French why they should vote 'oui' in the referendum. To fit this in the TV-news was shortened, so there was no time to mention the tower jumper. Those pushed or who jumped in front of Metro trains on Monday and Tuesday were not mentioned either. A bunch of people near Lyon are infected with Legionnaire's Disease and the authorities don't know what's causing it.

But Monday's news is still around if one digs deep enough.

Apparently the jumper was one of a small group who had tried to set up a take-off from the Tour Montparnasse around 15:00 in the afternoon on Monday. It is 210 metres high and there is not much grass around its base.

The Eiffel Tower was open on Monday night when the Norwegian, reported to be 31, leaped off wearing some sort of parachute. He went off the second stage, which is only 115 metres high. Something went wrong and he slammed into the first stage, 57 metres above the Champ de Mars.

The reports are conflicting. One says the jump was to be filmed as an Internet stunt and another says it was supposed to be filmed as some sort of ad for clothing. Apparently nothing was filmed. In 1912 another parachutist didn't make it down in one piece and the film of it was over in 5 seconds.

Statistics about the numbers of jumpers from the Eiffel Tower are not readily available. The management company thinks jumpers give the metal tower a bad image. There are a lot of controls on the tower to prevent jumpers but it is a very complex structure and it's impossible to watch it all.

Reports quoted a spokesman as saying that, 'in some years there can be two or three jumpers but there are also years when there are none.'

Requests for permission to climb on the Eiffel Tower are 'systematically refused.' Films and documentaries have permission, but are restricted to areas accessible to the general public. The only regular climbers, once a month, are members of a special Paris fire department unit, who use the tower for training.
Well, this is a mystery - and wouldn’t be in the news if the fatal jump had been the Tour Montparnasse – the only skyscraper in the city proper, a big black thud of a thing. No romance there.

Want to see a successful parachute jump from the Tower?

This week on cable here in Hollywood one could watch a rather tired old James Bond movie, A View to a Kill (1985) - the last one with Roger Moore as Bond – where Grace Jones (as the evil villainess May Day) parachutes from the Eiffel Tower and lands on one of those Bateaux-Mouche and an odd chase ensues involving a Citroen that Bond drives, losing more and more of the car in various crashes until it’s just the seats and the front end (kind of like the chopped-up knight in the Monty Python movie). But that really was the Eiffel Tower, and a real jump - but not Grace Jones. The parachutist was a stuntman named B. J. Worth. Ah well.

So catch it if you can...

From the Just Above Sunset archives. Those are not safety nets. They were painting the thing.

Posted by Alan at 18:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 18 May 2005 18:25 PDT home

Tuesday, 17 May 2005

Topic: World View

The Scots are known for being blunt…

Not everyone in the UK is like Tony Blair.

British MP George Galloway testified Tuesday to a senate committee in Washington about the oil-for-food business.

Best let the BBC, with their British spelling and punctuation, explain the event: Galloway takes on US oil accusers
Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK
British MP George Galloway has told US senators who accused him of profiting from Iraq oil dealings their claims were the "mother of all smokescreens".

In a combative performance before a Senate committee, the Respect Coalition MP accused the US lawmakers of being "cavalier" with justice.

He said: "I am not now nor have I ever been an oil trader and neither has anyone on my behalf."

The senators say he was given credits to buy Iraqi oil by Saddam Hussein.

Mr Galloway travelled to Washington to clear his name before the Senate sub-committee on investigations.

He claims the evidence against him is false. He says forged documents had been used to make claims about him before. ...
And Oliver Burkeman in the fully left-side UK Guardian the next morning gives us this: Galloway and the mother of all invective
Whatever else you made of him, when it came to delivering sustained barrages of political invective, you had to salute his indefatigability.

George Galloway stormed up to Capitol Hill yesterday morning for the confrontation of his career, firing scatter-shot insults at the senators who had accused him of profiting illegally from Iraqi oil sales.

… Before the hearing began, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow even had some scorn left over to bestow generously upon the pro-war writer Christopher Hitchens. "You're a drink-soaked former-Trotskyist popinjay," Mr Galloway informed him. "Your hands are shaking. You badly need another drink," he added later, ignoring Mr Hitchens's questions and staring intently ahead. Eventually Mr Hitchens gave up. "You're a real thug, aren't you?" he hissed, stalking away.

It was a hint of what was to come: not so much political theatre as political bloodsports - and with the senators, at least, it was Mr Galloway who emerged with the flesh between his teeth. ...
Ah, politics is often so dull. This was good.

As for Christopher Hitchens, he?s the hard-drinking acerbic defender of the war(s) and reluctant apologist for George Bush (we need to show that middle-easterners a thing or two and Bush is just the right guy to do that) ? who used to be of the left ? who could be called mordantly insightful in that British way, or maybe just grumpy. He has been mentioned in these pages before - here taking on the dead Pope and the then brain-dead and later completely-dead Terri Schiavo, and here fulminating about the Abu Ghraib photographs, and here ragging on Michael Moore and his film, and here dismayed about the new evangelical Christian Republican Party. You get the idea.

But what did George Galloway say? Check out this excerpt from the CNN transcript -
Now, senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted. I gave my political life's blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq, which killed a million Iraqis, most of them children. Most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis, With the misfortune to be born at that time. I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq.

And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies. I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11, 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong. And 100,000 people have paid with their lives, 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac, who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we're in today.

Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth. Have a look at the real oil-for-food scandal. Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months, when $8.8 billion of Iraq's wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Halliburton and the other American corporations that stole not only Iraq's money, but the money of the American taxpayer. Have a look at the oil that you didn't even meter that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where.

Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it. Have a look at the real scandal, breaking in the newspapers today. Revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee, that the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians; the real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own government.
I believe you might call that unloading with both barrels. The man is blunt ? but if you have watched the open question sessions from the British parliament on C-Span one or twice each week, you realize political discourse in the UK is a bit more direct than it is here. Blair goes before parliament each week and answers direct and often hostile questions directly, without notes. He has to think on his feet and say what he means. There?s no hiding, and it gets lively.

George Galloway comes from that tradition. One suspects our senators know that, but were still stunned, and looking for their own feet. Galloway wasn?t playing by our rules.

The Times of London reports Galloway saying this -
As a matter of fact, I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try and persuade him to let Dr Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country - a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of State for Defence made of his. ?

You quote Mr Dahar Yassein Ramadan. Well, you have something on me, I've never met Mr Dahar Yassein Ramadan. Your sub-committee apparently has. But I do know that he's your prisoner, I believe he's in Abu Ghraib prison. I believe he is facing war crimes charges, punishable by death. In these circumstances, knowing what the world knows about how you treat prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison, in Bagram Airbase, in Guantanamo Bay, including I may say, British citizens being held in those places.

I'm not sure how much credibility anyone would put on anything you manage to get from a prisoner in those circumstances.
Our senators looked bewildered.

George Galloway wasn?t bewildered at all. According to The Scotsman (UK) -
The Respect MP said he was ?absolutely? convinced he had been vindicated from allegations that he received vouchers for 20 million barrels of oil from Saddam Hussein?s regime.

?These people think they can smear people without them having the right to speak back and this time I got that right and I knocked them for six,? he said.

Making reference to a 1955 heavyweight boxing match in which the British champion lost to the US, he added: ?It was Rocky Marciano versus Don Cockell, but this time the British guy won.?

? ?They didn?t have a leg to stand on,? he said. ?All they had was my name on a bit of paper and that just isn?t good enough.?
He knocked them for six? Not a term much used on this side of the pond.

Well, this whole business was reported widely, but there hasn?t been much comment.

Our high-powered Wall Street attorney, from his office high above lower Manhattan, asks ? ?Where is the reaction? I want to know how the Senators responded.?

They didn?t respond much.

Our friend, the systems guy in London, Ontario, commented ? ?I'd be willing to bet it wasn't a standing ovation. But if they're towin? dubbya's line, they'll just throw out some standard catch phrases about freedom and democracy. And lots of ? em. If ya can't hit back with the truth? Bury ?em in BS. And while I'm in a wagering mood, I'd also be willing to bet that a few of those paragraphs ? two and three above especially - do not get any air time on your average TV news coverage. Blunt indeed!?

No, it was covered. It was just that no one knew what to say, and that could be because we are just not used to straight talk.

There was this -
Not since attorney Joseph Welch confronted the soon-to-fall Anti-Communist Crusader/Ideologue, Joseph McCarthy in 1954 with his now famous "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" testimony can we recall such a direct shaming of a Congressional Committee as that which took place earlier today in a Senate Subcommittee Hearing on the trumped-up U.N. Oil-for-Food "Scandal" which Bush Lackeys and Fox & Friends have been flogging ever since it became apparent that there were no WMD in Iraq, and thus, no justification for this trumped-up war.

Also mirroring McCarthy's shameless use of the Senate for his Anti-Communist witch hunts is the cavalier way by which the NeoCons and their sycophantic supporters are all-too-willing to destroy innocent lives with the stroke of an irresponsible pen or an out-and-out fallacious public statement in complete disregard for those whose lives and reputations they smearing and defaming under false pretenses.

The hearings today, by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs investigation subcommittee, shamefully led by Democrat-turned-Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, turned into a stunning embarrassment when British MP George Galloway gave his remarkable rebuttal to the unsubstantiated charges made against him by the Committee "investigating" the Oil-for-Food "scandal" which Galloway appropriately described as "the mother of all smoke-screens".
Well, I?m not sure stunning embarrassment is what I saw ? but that is pretty close to what any of us watching this business saw. Close enough.

Somehow this is bringing back old times. Remember this?
And you wonder why your American image abroad is so bankrupt.

Notice I said, "Your American image abroad is so bankrupt."

? This is true - everybody can see you today. You make yourself look sick in the sight of the world trying to fool people that you were at least once wise with your trickery. But today your bag of tricks has absolutely run out. The whole world can see what you're doing.
That was Malcolm X - "Not just an American problem, but a world problem" - February 16, 1965, Corn Hill Methodist Church, Rochester, NY ? from Malcom X: The Last Speeches, edited by Bruce Perry.

Here we go again. That Malcom X bit was pointed to by A. J. Benjamin over at Left End of the Dial who added this, given what is being exposed now, and with all the crap with the recent Newsweek scandal -
Yes, lives have been lost. Lives have also been lost in those American-run gulags. A number of people imprisoned in our gulags - and often imprisoned wrongfully in the first place - have been murdered by their captors. I'd say it's completely understandable that some folks would be a bit upset about some of our actions - or many of our actions. We as a people need to take a good hard look at ourselves and the actions that are taken by our government in our names. Until we do, and until we make a reasonable effort to right our wrongs, we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violent protests around the globe.
Protests around the world, and this MP from Scotland calling the pretentious, smug senators out? no one loves us.

Oh, and on that topic here?s another appropriate flash from the past.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, often cited in these pages, grew up out here in Pacific Palisades, a few miles west of Hollywood. His next door neighbor and playmate was Randy Newman. In the seventies, on Newman?s breakthrough album Sail Away, you?d find a song called ?Political Science? ? with these lyrics -
No one likes us
I don't know why.
We may not be perfect
But heaven knows we try.
But all around even our old friends put us down.
Let's drop the big one and see what happens.

We give them money
But are they grateful?
No they're spiteful
And they're hateful.
They don't respect us so let's surprise them;
We'll drop the big one and pulverize them.

Now Asia's crowded
And Europe's too old.
Africa's far too hot,
And Canada's too cold.
And South America stole our name.
Let's drop the big one; there'll be no one left to blame us.

We'll save Australia;
Don't wanna hurt no kangaroo.
We'll build an all-American amusement park there;
They've got surfing, too.

Well, boom goes London,
And boom Paris.
More room for you
And more room for me.
And every city the whole world round
Will just be another American town.
Oh, how peaceful it'll be;
We'll set everybody free;
You'll have Japanese kimonos, baby,
There'll be Italian shoes for me.
They all hate us anyhow,
So let's drop the big one now.
Let's drop the big one now.
Listen here if you have a high-speed connection - and the FLASH animation is cool ? Bush sings it.

We are living in interesting times, once again.

Posted by Alan at 22:19 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 17 May 2005 22:26 PDT home

Topic: Photos

Guest Photograph – and Today in Hollywood

Our columnist Phillip Raines – the musician and mason – cleaning glass blocks.

Phillip himself…

Phillip Raines in Just Above Sunset:

Music ?

The Boogie (Phillip Raines plays North Georgia)
Saint Simons Island - March 28, 2004
I Was Just This Close - November 9, 2003 on James Brown
Phillip's Tale - June 1, 2003

The Treehouse ? the summer of 2003

The Treehouse
Treehouse Chronicles
Phillip Raines Photographs

Masonry ?

Real Work - March 28, 2004


Hollywood this morning ?

Posted by Alan at 16:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 17 May 2005 16:15 PDT home

Monday, 16 May 2005

Topic: The Media

Meme Overwhelmed: Newsweek, Suckered, Sucks the Air Out of the Room

Late Sunday in Meme Watch: A Touch of Class it seemed to be a week when the national discussion turned to matters of class and class warfare.

Wrong. On Sunday the conversation shifted to whether we should muzzle the press before they do any more damage to America. Newsweek backed off from an item in their May 9 issue, reporting "that American guards at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had committed infractions in trying to get terror suspects to talk, including in one case flushing a Qur'an down a toilet." It seems their source at the Pentagon said he (or she) really didn’t know that for sure, even though he (or she) had said there were internal memos about it. Suckers. They believed their government source.

Late Monday Newsweek just completely retracted the story. Sorry about those anti-American riots and all the dead folks. Editor Mark Whitaker: "We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst."

Fine. And note this -
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the story as appalling, admitting it had created a major problem for Washington in the Muslim world.

The White House had said Newsweek's apology didn’t go far enough.

"There is a certain journalistic standard that should be met, and in this case it was not met," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

"People lost their lives. People are dead," said US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "People need to be very careful about what they say…."
And so it begins – or continues. Time to rein in the press.

Something smells here.

Dan Rather at CBS got set up with false information, let his reporter’s ego run with it, and he got smashed. Gone. One less pesky voice. Now Newsweek, owned by the Washington Post group and affiliated with MSNBC and SLATE.COM, gets set up with false information, gets repeated assurances from their Pentagon source that this is really so, and gets cut off at the knees - blindsided. More evidence that the press hates America and should be more like Fox News. This Karl Rove guy is damned good. Now Newsweek is crippled.

You want a compliant press under the thumb of the government? This works.

The commentators on the right are piling on.

The novelist and military columnist Austin Bay here: "History may see Newsweek's fatal 'Koran flushing' story as the US press' Abu Ghraib…. Here's the connection: globe-girdling technology has once again amplified foolish behavior, lack of professionalism, and disregard for consequences into a tragedy."

Ah, as for amplifying foolish behavior, lack of professionalism, and disregard for consequences leading to tragedy, look to the Bush administration. The war is going well?

Michelle Malkin, that oh-so-cute Filipino-American columnist who recently wrote a book to justify our World War II internment of Americans of Japanese heritage (discussed in these pages here last August), says this: "Not good enough, Newsweek. People have died because of your shoddy work."

We’re at 1,622 US servicemen dead in Iraq at the moment, with perhaps ten thousand maimed for life or mad, or both. No WMD and no link it al Qaeda – and clear evidence we went to war in Iraq because we wanted to, not because we were threatened in any way at all. Hey, shoddy work – and lies too!

Ed Morrissey over at Captain's Quarters has this: "Newsweek ran an explosive story based on a single, unnamed source that it knew would cause a huge effect on the Muslim world, at precisely the moment when we need to ensure that people understand that we're not at war with Islam."

After the prison photos – that cigarette-smoking Lynndie England lass and her leash, the adorable Sabrina Harmon grinning over the rotting corpse, the naked human pyramid, the iconic hooded electrode-man and the rest - Newsweek being sucker-punched and printing what the Pentagon initially approved and stood by for a week is not exactly the problem.

Andrew Sullivan here (my emphases) puts it nicely -
We have yet to see what's at the root, if anything, of the Newsweek story. But I think it's telling that some bloggers have devoted much, much more energy to covering the Newsweek error than they ever have to covering any sliver of the widespread evidence of detainee abuse that made the Newsweek piece credible in the first place. A simple question: after U.S. interrogators have tortured over two dozen detainees to death, after they have wrapped one in an Israeli flag, after they have smeared naked detainees with fake menstrual blood, after they have told one detainee to "Fuck Allah," after they have ordered detainees to pray to Allah in order to kick them from behind in the head, is it completely beyond credibility that they would also have desecrated the Koran? Yes, Newsweek bears complete responsibility for any errors it has made; and, depending on what we now find, should not be let off the hook. But the outrage from the White House is beyond belief.

It seems to me particularly worrying if this incident further intimidates the press from seeking the truth about what the government is doing in the war on terror. It is not being "basically, on the side of the enemy," as Glenn Reynolds calls it, to resist the notion of government-sanctioned torture and to report on it. It is patriotism and serving the cause that this war is about: religious pluralism and tolerance. The media's Abu Ghraib?? When Mike Isikoff is found guilty of committing murder, give me a call. Austin Bay still insists that Abu Ghraib did not constitute "deadly torture." The corpses found there (photographed by grinning U.S. soldiers) would probably disagree. (Will Bay correct?) Three factors interacted here: media error/bias, Islamist paranoia, and a past and possibly current policy of religiously-intolerant torture. No one comes out looking good. But it seems to me unquestionable that the documented abuse of religion in interrogation practices is by far the biggest scandal. Too bad the blogosphere is too media-obsessed and self-congratulatory to notice.
Yep, the media is the problem, or that?s what we are being told.

And Sullivan earlier said this -
"Our military authorities are investigating these allegations fully. If they are proven true, we will take appropriate action." - secretary of state Condi Rice. I feel the same way about this statement as I did about the president's recent reaffirmation that atheists are as patriotic as Christian citizens. To put it bluntly: has it come to this? It is perfectly conceivable, given the torture policies promoted and permitted by this president, that desecration of the Koran has taken place in Guantanamo. Many other insane and inhumane interrogation tactics have turned out to be true. Remember smearing fake menstrual blood? We are in a critical war for world opinion.

A critical part of our message is that this is not a war against Islam as such, but against Islamo-fascism and terror. And yet we see the religious right co-opting air force academies [see Who is YOUR Copilot? from April 24 here], and we hear of incidents like the alleged toilet-flush of the Koran. Since no one is ever held responsible for anything in the Bush administration, we can be sure this incident will be lied about, covered up or blamed on some poor military grunt who can be easily scapegoated. But at some point, we will have to confront the severe damage this administration has done to American prestige and credibility in a critical global battle of ideas because of its interrogation policies.

That is the shame - and the terrible gift from this administration to Osama bin Laden.
Newsweek, wrong though they may have been, is not the problem.

But Rumsfeld says the press should watch what its says. What a load of crap.

On the other hand, many on the right feel this way -
Let me clear up one thing. Whether Americans flushed the Koran down the toilet is irrelevant. Newsweek should not have reported it, even if true. It?s common sense, people. Those journalists knew how Muslims would react! Why would you hurt your own country and risk more deaths just to report this ?fact?? To what end???
Actually, that?s a pretty interesting question. What is, after all, the purpose of news? Do we really need to know what is happening all the time about everything ? when if what is uncovered makes us all look bad? Just why DO people want to know what is happening in the world, what they?re paying for with their taxes, what might get us all in trouble? Some facts are, indeed, dangerous.

I guess that comes down to a question of just trusting your government ? which is one definition of patriotism, but not the only one.

Maybe we shouldn?t know things.

Oh, and a note from Eric Alterman on such things here - "More PBS censorship on the way here. ? Now Republican CPB chairman Kenneth Tomlinson wants to monitor NPR for biased Middle East coverage. Why? CPB's own internal polls show Americans don't think NPR has any problem reporting from the region."

Damn. This is getting interesting.

Oh yes, the move toward an evangelical theocracy rolls on too. See Mark Lilla in the New York Times -
The leading thinkers of the British and American Enlightenments hoped that life in a modern democratic order would shift the focus of Christianity from a faith-based reality to a reality-based faith. American religion is moving in the opposite direction today, back toward the ecstatic, literalist and credulous spirit of the Great Awakenings. Its most disturbing manifestations are not political, at least not yet. They are cultural. The fascination with the 'end times,' the belief in personal (and self-serving) miracles, the ignorance of basic science and history, the demonization of popular culture, the censoring of textbooks, the separatist instincts of the home-schooling movement - all these developments are far more worrying in the long term than the loss of a few Congressional seats.

No one can know how long this dumbing-down of American religion will persist. But so long as it does, citizens should probably be more vigilant about policing the public square, not less so. If there is anything David Hume and John Adams understood, it is that you cannot sustain liberal democracy without cultivating liberal habits of mind among religious believers. That remains true today, both in Baghdad and in Baton Rouge.
Put away that newspaper; in fact, flush it down a toilet. Pick up a Bible.


Update - 9:15 in the evening, Monday, 16 May - Keith Olbermann also argues that something smells -
Last Thursday, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Donald Rumsfeld?s go-to guy whenever the situation calls for the kind of gravitas the Secretary himself can?t supply, told reporters at the Pentagon that rioting in Afghanistan was related more to the on-going political reconciliation process there, than it was to a controversial note buried in the pages of Newsweek claiming that the government was investigating whether or not some nitwit interrogator at Gitmo really had desecrated a Muslim holy book.

But Monday afternoon, while offering himself up to the networks for a series of rare, almost unprecedented sit-down interviews on the White House lawn, Press Secretary McClellan said, in effect, that General Myers, and the head of the after-action report following the disturbances in Jalalabad, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, were dead wrong. The Newsweek story, McClellan said, ?has done damage to our image abroad and it has done damage to the credibility of the media and Newsweek in particular. People have lost lives. This report has had serious consequences.?

Whenever I hear Scott McClellan talking about ?media credibility,? I strain to remember who it was who admitted Jeff Gannon to the White House press room and called on him all those times.

Whenever I hear this White House talking about ?doing to damage to our image abroad? and how ?people have lost lives,? I strain to remember who it was who went traipsing into Iraq looking for WMD that will apparently turn up just after the Holy Grail will - and at what human cost.
Olbermann has issues with Scott McClellan, of course. But now the press is so skittish over this all no reporter at the next pres briefing is going to ask him if he is calling General Richard Myers a liar and fool. The press has been neutered.

Olbermann also points out that the Newsweek story is pretty much the same thing that was covered in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, and British and Russian news organizations, except that Newsweek -
? quoted a government source who now says he didn?t have firsthand knowledge of whether or not the investigation took place (oops, sorry, shoulda mentioned that, buh-bye). All of its other government connections - the ones past which it ran the story - have gone from saying nothing like ?don?t print this, it ain?t true? or ?don?t print this, it may be true but it?ll start riots,? to looking slightly confused and symbolically saying ?Newsweek? Newsweek who??
Yep, hung out to dry.

And the argument here that this is a political set-up?
The real point, of course, is that you?d have to be pretty dumb to think that making a threat at Gitmo akin to ?Spill the beans or we?ll kill this Qu?ran? would have any effect on the prisoners, other than to eventually leak out and inflame anti-American feelings somewhere. Of course, everybody in the prosecution of the so-called ?war on terror? has done something dumb, dating back to the President?s worst-possible-word-selection (?crusade?) on September 16, 2001. So why wouldn?t some mid-level interrogator stuck in Cuba think it would be a good idea to desecrate a holy book? Jack Rice, the former CIA special agent and now radio host, said on Countdown that it would be a ?knuckleheaded? thing to do, but ?plausible.?

One of the most under-publicized analyses of 9/11 concludes that Osama Bin Laden assumed that the attacks on the U.S. would galvanize Islamic anger towards this country, and they'd overthrow their secular governments and woo-hoo we've got an international religious war.

Obviously it didn't happen. It didn't even happen when the West went into Iraq. But if stuff like the Newsweek version of a now two-year old tale about toilets and Qu?rans is enough to set off rioting in the streets of countries whose nationals were not even the supposed recipients of the ?abuse?, then weren?t those members of the military or the government with whom Newsweek vetted the plausibility of its item, honor-bound to say ?you can?t print this??

Or would somebody rather play politics with this?

? this one went similarly to the way the Killian Memos story evolved at the White House. The news organization turns to the administration for a denial. The administration says nothing. The news organization runs the story. The administration jumps on the necks of the news organization with both feet - or has its proxies do it for them.

That?s beyond shameful. It?s treasonous.
Treasonous? No, it?s Karl Rove.

And Olbermann argues the administration now has it both ways ? sort of -
I mean Conservatives might parrot McClellan and say ?Newsweek put this country in a bad light.? But they could just as easily thump their chests and say ?See, this is what we do to those prisoners at Gitmo! You guys better watch your asses!?

Ultimately, though, the administration may have effected its biggest mistake over this saga, in making the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs look like a liar or naif, just to draw a little blood out of Newsweek?s hide.
Ah, a small price to pay for castrating the press.


Oh, and we have a new diplomatic tool ? as explained here by someone who chooses the moniker ?Liberal Avenger? -
Can you imagine how they are laughing at us in diplomatic circles around the world? European diplomats contacting the State Department expressing concern about Afghanistan's descent into anarchy and the official response is a shrugging of the shoulders followed by "don't blame us - blame Newsweek."
That seems to be our posture now ? a variation on these -

"The Devil made me do it!" - Flip Wilson (1933-1998)

"I didn't do it, nobody saw me do it, there's no way you can prove anything!" ? Bart Simpson (forever, it seems).

Posted by Alan at 21:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 17 May 2005 15:04 PDT home

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