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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 31 May 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Marketing 101: Containing Costs with a Finely Tuned Marketing Campaign

In the Memorial Day comment in these pages, among other things about how the left deals with the military, readers were pointed to Bob Herbert over at the New York Times who doesn’t like the current plan to make things all better.
President Bush's close confidante, Karen Hughes, has been chosen to lead a high-profile State Department effort to repair America's image. The Bush crowd apparently thinks this is a perception problem, as opposed to a potentially catastrophic crisis that will not be eased without substantive policy changes.

… In much of the world, the image of the U.S. under Mr. Bush has morphed from an idealized champion of liberty to a heavily armed thug in camouflage fatigues. America is increasingly being seen as a dangerously arrogant military power that is due for a comeuppance. It will take a lot more than Karen Hughes to turn that around.
One of our readers, who actually teaches marketing to would-be MBA’s at a top business school, thinks the marketing problem is bigger than the issue of how the left deals with the military -
Frankly guys I'm much more concerned about the Karen Hughes PR initiative than this "left versus right debate."

It's a trite cliche that "he who lives by the sword dies by it."

But despite the trust and respect that everyday Iraqi's bestow on American GI's (and evidently this is true, if I am to believe an acquaintance with close ties to key military folks in the field) – and despite the welcome from regular folks who find themselves in a war zone of broken infrastructure - any U.S. adversary can only be bolstered into returning violence double-fold upon the American infidels. Every step we take there only increases the high likelihood of further retaliation upon our soil, and still further harm to American civilians. By sitting around and condoning through our inaction... we have it coming.

At the same time, and here's where I think the White House crowd has truly misread the playbook, how can we expect Israel or Syria or Iran or Pakistan or India (or China?) - you name the protagonist - to carry out any form of diplomacy other than with weapons - when the ONLY model they see "working" is the Bush/Blair shock and awe policy. We train the world to shoot first and hire the Hugheses to rationalize with the public later...

I fear we will pay dearly for the indiscretions of this administration.
Well, my nephew in Mosul reports the same warm relations with a number of the locals, and it doesn’t hurt that’s he’s fluent in Turkish and working on a few things to say in Kurdish.

But there are the indiscretions.

A statement from U.S. central command says that Coalition forces "regret any inconvenience" caused by the catch-and-release of moderate Sunni leader Mohsen Abdul-Hamid, adding that the former president of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council was "detained by mistake."

Reuters quotes Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari as saying that although "this is the fourth time that a Sunni leader has been arrested," he "did not think the troops who arrested Abdul-Hamid knew his background."
Oops. This sort of thing doesn?t help, nor does roughing up and humiliating his family. Hey, read the items.

Sorry about that. But we do such things. As Molly Ivins says -
What I don't get is the disconnect in Bush's mind. One must assume he figures in Iraq, "You gotta break eggs to make an omelette," or something akin.
Well, something like that.

Besides, Vice President Cheney just told the world, and Larry King on CNN, that the Iraq insurgency to be "in the last throes." Really. See this and this. The same day the chief of police in Basra is quoted as saying that his city is 'out of control' and dominated by militia gangs. But what does he know? He?s not in Washington at the White House.

Over the weekend in the weekly, Just Above Sunset, we commented on the Amnesty International report criticizing conditions at Guantanamo Bay. (See Moral Nagging for that.) Cheney says he was really, really offended by that report - "For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously." (Ah, but they used to take them seriously when the shoe was on the other foot.) And by the way, where did all those Guantanamo photographs come from, some liberal journalist with Adobe Photoshop and too much time on his hands?

All this is not helping matters.

And General Richard Myers on the Sunday talk shows? He?s saying we have done a good job of humanely treating detainees. (See this discussion of the problems with that ? something about documented facts and reality and all that sort of thing.) On Fox News he says these evil folks at Guantanamo "are the people that took four airplanes and drove them into three buildings on September 11th." Hey, what do THEY deserve? But over at CNN his questioner reminds him that "those people are dead ... And the masterminds behind it are not the people we're keeping down at Guantanamo." (Transcript here.)

Oh, close enough!

But close enough isn?t cutting it in the Middle East, or much of the rest of the world.

The last PR gambit is summarized by Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post on Tuesday, May 31, 2005 on Page A17 -
It was a natural idea: Send first lady Laura Bush to the Middle East to put a kinder, gentler face on her husband's smash-the-china policies. After all, the tactic had been test-marketed to perfection a few weeks ago at the White House correspondents' dinner, the annual black-tie event where everyone pastes on a smile and pretends that Washington isn't riven into bitter factions, each convinced that all the other factions will someday burn in hell.

? As an extended photo op to show America as liberator rather than oppressor, the trip didn't deliver. In Jerusalem the photos were of tense scuffles as the first lady was heckled by angry Israelis, followed by angry Palestinians. She remained poised throughout, understandably slipping back into Stepford mode -- a pleasant smile, a few anodyne words. In Egypt she gave unqualified endorsement to President (or is it Pharaoh?) Hosni Mubarak's blueprint for upcoming elections, calling it "very bold and wise." She was slammed by opposition groups, which charge that Mubarak is just rigging the system so his son can eventually succeed him; one critic sniffed to Reuters that Laura Bush "seems not to know enough about Egypt."
Ah, but her heart was in the right place and it doesn?t look like Karen Hughes will start her PR job until late fall. What?s the hurry?

Fareed Zakaria suggests we should hurry.

Who? Fareed Zakaria, the international editor for Newsweek ? BA Yale, PhD in Political Science from Harvard, former managing editor at Foreign Affairs - taught international relations and political philosophy at Harvard ? many books. You just have to get over his name. He doesn?t try to light his sneakers on international flights; in fact, on the discussion shows he seems like a nice fellow, even if he is one of THEM.

In the June 6 issue of Newsweek you will find this ?

Uncle Sam: Jekyll or Hyde?
War is a hellish business, but when you release prisoners today, they don't just return quietly to their villages. They hire lawyers.

The opening -
I have resisted the temptation to write something on the Qur'an-abuse story. But since the controversy continues, here goes. I think that the Bush administration has a Jekyll-and-Hyde problem?a contradictory attitude toward the war on terror. On the one hand it has wholeheartedly embraced the view that America must change its image in the Muslim world. It wants to stop being seen as the supporter of Muslim tyrants and instead become the champion of Muslim freedoms. President Bush and his secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, are transforming American policy in this realm, and while some of the implementation has been spotty, the general thrust is clear and laudable. For this they deserve more credit than they have generally been given, perhaps because of the polarization of politics these days, perhaps because the topic inevitably gets mixed up with the botched occupation of Iraq.

But while Dr. Jekyll makes speeches by day on Arab liberty, some nights he turns into Mr. Hyde. There is within the Bush administration another impulse, a warrior ethos that believes in beating up bad guys without much regard for such niceties as international law. Excessive concern for such matters would be a sign of weakness, the kind of thing liberals do. Men like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld see themselves above all else as tough guys.

The historian Walter Russell Mead has argued that the Bush administration fits into the "Jacksonian tradition" in American politics. One of this tradition's core beliefs is that normal rules of warfare are suspended when dealing with "dishonorable enemies." Mead gives the example of the Indian wars in which American soldiers, enraged by Indian fighting tactics, waged battle ruthlessly and with no holds barred.

It is surely this sense of toughness that made Alberto Gonzales (then White House counsel) and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld assert in 2002 that the Geneva Conventions did not really apply, in Rumsfeld's phrase, to today's "set of facts." It is this sense of toughness that led Rumsfeld to authorize various forms of coercive interrogation that were designed to humiliate prisoners by offending their faith. These included shaving prisoners' beards, stripping and setting dogs on them?all religious and cultural taboos. The action memo on interrogation in Guantanamo authorized the removal of "comfort items (including religious items)." That procedure, as well as several others, was rescinded in a memo in January 2003. But in reading even subsequent memos on the treatment of prisoners, now declassified, it's often slightly unclear?at least to me?whether the Geneva Conventions were to be followed precisely.

I have some sympathy for the Jacksonian view. War is hell and Al Qaeda is as dishonorable an enemy as there has ever been. The trouble is, in today's world, militarily effective methods can generate huge political costs.
No kidding.

But can those costs be contained with a finely tuned public relations campaign? Invoking Andrew Jackson and how we treated the Native Americans seems a bit wrong-headed. But if American vacationers this summer lose enough money at Indian casinos perhaps there might be some limited use in the comparison. As a people we?re much better at getting angry with this group or that than ever before. It could work.

The rest of the item discusses how technology (digital cameras) has changed things ?
There was a moment in Rumsfeld's appearance at the Senate Armed Services Committee after Abu Ghraib that was utterly revealing. Rumsfeld explained that while he knew about the investigation, he was blindsided by the photographs and their impact. He simply couldn't get over the fact that the guards had been taking snapshots with their miniature digital cameras. With a mixture of amazement and frustration, he wondered how to fight a war in "the information age where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon."
Yeah, it?s just not fair. People find out what happened, and although how they find out may be against the law, they find out.

Yep. Exasperating. It screws up public perceptions. You have to mount a counter public relations campaign. That can be exasperating, madding and just plain irksome. You and you folks have to go on the Sunday talk shows and spin and spin ? when there are other and better ways to use your time.

But here?s an idea ? don?t give them anything to find out. Or let them find out you?ve treated people honorably, as emotionally difficult as that can be.

No. Not your style.

Zakaria says too, the problem is more than technology -
Today, when you release prisoners from Guantanamo, they don't return quietly to their villages in Waziristan. They hire lawyers, talk to human-rights organizations and organize public protests. And in a war for hearts and minds, the benefits of the intelligence gained might well be outweighed by the cost to America's image. Dr. Jekyll needs to explain this to Mr. Cheney, I mean Mr. Hyde. American soldiers operate with high moral standards, something often forgotten by the rest of the world because of the intense scrutiny they are subjected to by both domestic and foreign media. (How many front-page stories have there been on the Russian Army's behavior in Chechnya or the French Army's assistance to the Hutus in Rwanda?) Remember that it was the uniformed services and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell who argued against Gonzales's cavalier attitude toward the Geneva Conventions. But when there are lapses, the Pentagon needs to get much better at admitting them, investigating them and taking responsibility for them.
It doesn?t seem like that?s going to happen. This Memorial Day the administration ran out the big guns to tell everyone that we DO treat everyone really well, and we?re winning big time, which is why the bad guys are fighting so hard, our casualties are way up, civilian casualties are way up. That shows our success.

Just who is buying that? In marketing that is known as a hard sell. When someone tries to sell you something by opening with "Trust us ? this is not what it seems," one is naturally a bit skeptical. If that is followed with, "Have we ever lied to your before?" One steps back. If that is followed by, "I know you THINK we lied, but you weren?t listening carefully," then one steps back even more. These guys need some marketing advice.

Here?s some from Andy Borowitz (Tuesday, May 31, 2005) ?
Military Urges Use of Non-religious Insults

Addressing concerns about the treatment of detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today announced today that the U.S. was issuing a list of approved taunts for use on all detainees in U.S. custody.

Speaking at a press conference at the Pentagon, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said that the U.S. military would have ?zero tolerance? for religion-based taunting on detainees, adding, ?There are so many other things that you can taunt prisoners about.?

Gen. Myers said that any guard at Guantanamo who is using religion as the basis of taunts ?just isn?t using his or her imagination.?

The list of approved taunts, compiled by the U.S. military after searching the joke files of insult comics across the country as well as a database of inner-city ?snaps? or put-downs, will be issued to all military guards at Guantanamo, effective immediately, Gen. Myers said. ?
Note this is satire. We?re still doing the denial thing.

I wonder if my reader at that business school has any marketing advice he can forward to Karen Hughes. There?s plenty of time ? probably six months before she starts, if she ever does.

Everyone has their priorities.


From the halls of academia (graduate business school does count as academia), our marketing professor comments -
Thanks for a comprehensive run-down of recent commentary supporting my "PR's NOT the answer" alarm. All I can fall back on for deeper advice is implied already in your assembled thoughts, and I repeat myself from a comment on these pages a few weeks or months ago. [Editor?s Note: see March 20, 2005 - Just What Are We Selling? for that alarm.] Marketing includes more than just PR and advertising. Marketing IS the entire experience and it begins with THE PRODUCT. When the message isn't working, it's NOT the message stupid - it's THE PRODUCT!

A thought on the "product" in this case - modern warfare. The week following 9-11, I was struck with the insight that warfare was now changed forever. The Pentagon and our military (and civilian) strategists have no history or experience that applies to war scenarios with no rules of propriety. The people responsible for planning and executing are NOT in a mindset or position to succeed in a new paradigm!

Think of the American Revolution when WE broke all the rules of modern warfare and confounded European forces. We hid behind rocks in fields, for God's sake, and ambushed civilized regiments who were parading down the center of America's country roads in little Massachusetts towns. Talk about uncivilized. We even refused to line up in open fields around Bunker Hill and parade into bullet barrages - the only civilized way to kill one another. What was a Redcoat army to do if they couldn't conduct the full regiment equivalent of a civilized duel? In the end we Americans even committed midnight commando raids across the Delaware River on Christmas Eve. Sacrilege!

So are there ways to defeat terrorism? Ways to undermine an army that refuses to assemble behind fortified barricades, that believes individual jihad and suicide is acceptable as long as the kill ratio exceeds 1 to 1? (On the flip side of the coin, is it feasible to ask the Pentagon to think outside the box?)

Anyone out there ever studied "swarm intelligence?" There's a growing body of research that uses insect behavior as a new model for systems thinking, economic alternatives and general problem solving. Oxford Press and Santa Fe Institute published a compendium of research studies under that title in 1999. Great addition to a modern library aimed at new paradigms (e.g. WWW or wireless technology-based economy, or fighting terrorism). A swarm (of ants or bees, e.g.) achieves highly intelligent ends without any individual within the swarm possessing those high order characteristics. They live in small mobile cells and operate with a fixed set of precise behavioral rules. Acting in consistent lock-step they achieve together - as a swarm - what no individual insect could achieve alone. (Sound like al Qaeda?)

So how do we effectively destroy insect infestations? Well, you DON'T begin with the knee-jerk reaction you'd expect from the military - which would be to poison the entire environment. Is that the route we took in Iraq, I fear? When I hear today of forays of 1,000 soldiers into outlying towns that net six dead terrorists I feel like we're using nuclear bug spray on the entire population of Iraq.

One solution that has proven to work is to get individual soldiers to transport poisons back tot he central hive... AHA! Out of the box plan. I AM heartened to hear that Skunk Baxter - a personal hero of mine from his rock star guitar days with Steely Dan and the Doobies (I'm not so sure about his earlier Ultimate Spinach chops, I should revisit that work sometime) - that Skunk Baxter is now a highly paid advisor to the Pentagon and key military contractors. Perhaps someone is looking beyond their own Red-Coats.

I'm not sure WHERE the effective answer lies, but here are a couple more "business" text titles that I believe set the cornerstones in which we will ultimately find an anti-terrorism solution:

Kevin Kelly (founding editor of Wired magazine) wrote an earlier book of anecdotal concepts that bridged biological models for the new machine age - machines/social systems/economics entitled "Out of Control" (Addison Wesley, 1994). It includes, coincidentally, work from Santa Fe Institute among others. Excellent read. Many mind-bending, assumption wrenching excursions out of mainstream thinking.

Then there are marketing texts like "The Attention Economy" (Harvard Press/Accenture, 2001) which addresses the glut of messaging and unique ways to penetrate with ideas when people stop listening without incentive - or "Guerrilla Publicity" (Adams Media, 2002) which gets at "viral marketing" (we USED to call it Word-of-Mouth), among other low-cost means of messaging. I DO know that Seth Godin's politically correct "Permission Marketing" (Simon and Schuster, 1999) is NOT the way to go... (was overly "pop-ish" writing anyway.)

I have a feeling that somewhere in the intersection of behavioral Swarm and Attention and Viral, lies an antidote to terrorism... and I'm assuming and hoping that Baxter and other less notorious new-age military advisors are crafting paths to that new intersected thinking. I KNOW Karen Hughes with her (assumed) background as electronic ear-piece ventriloquist during the "dub-ya" presidential debates is less likely to be hiring a Skunk Baxter to play lead chops for her global campaign to come. But then again, who knows? Maybe someone gutsy enough to pull off reverse e-snooping (putting words INTO the wooden mouth) will be far enough outside to actually consider the real issues at hand, and willingly build an "integrated marketing campaign" that begins first with fixing the product.

In my lifetime?


If my ramble above has little impact on national policy, at best it may have put a new title or two in your hands that helps expand your library of thinking.
Yep, time to do some reading.

Bob Patterson, who appears in Just Above Sunset as both The World?s Laziest Journalist and The Book Wranger, just back from a cross-country trip, Los Angeles to New York City and back, by bus, adds this -
There is an old axiom in Hollywood that warns against believing your own PR.

Bush not only believes his own PR, but he lives his life by it. After two weeks of seeing that the "rust belt" seems to extend from Newark to Santa Monica, and that Americans love America and its president, I may clap my hands and click my heel together and start believing in Never-never land, myself.

Say it with me:

Bush was a Vietnam war hero.
Bush was a successful business executive.
Bush is a spellbinding public speaker.
Bush is helping liberate Iraq and Che would endorse Bush's efforts. (Che Bush?)
Bush believes in humane treatment of prisoners.
Bush will say "Mission Accomplished!" ten weeks after the start of the war with Iran.
Bush deserves a third term!

There that was easy, wasn't it?

Viva Che! Viva Bush. Viva all men of the common man!

Bush says "Support the Troops" but the song he sings is "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." (Google it.)

And the reaction from our business school guru?
Che Bush? I like it!

That should either be a new line for Victoria's Secret or the long awaited porn follow-on to Deep Throat.

Is America ready for another Deep Throat after all these years? Could the rust belt begin to swallow Che Bush? (This goes dangerous places!)

And yes, Bob, I'm afraid history does stay the same... all across America? over and over again.

I mean Nixon's self-righteousness was different from W's, how?

Political machinery wasn't neurally in control of all media back then, but the blind faith was the same at the source, now wasn't it?!?
Ah, we live in an age of ever more intense faith, don?t we?

Dick in Rochester adds only this - "Thanks, Bob, we all needed that little disconnect from reality!"

Posted by Alan at 20:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 1 June 2005 12:53 PDT home

Topic: World View

Geopolitics: Fallout from the French Kiss of Death

The news on the French rejecting the EU constitution was covered in Just Above Sunset in columns, with photos, from Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. You will find the pre-referendum column here and the post-referendum column here.

Late Monday night Ric sends this along from Paris -
In France - radio news says Dominique de Villepin is next prime minister. He's got to put a crew together; maybe to be announced tomorrow.

I half-heard that Sarkozy will be returning as Minister of Interior - that's what de Villepin was doing.

I don't know - Sarkozy had to leave Finance when he took over as UMP party leader. He was at his most successful at Interior. Seems odd that Chirac would want him back there. People voted against 'liberalism,' and Sarkozy is an extreme proponent - an ultra Thatcherite no less.

I see Sarkozy as another midget Napoleon, popular, clever but flawed. Sort of an ideal nobody really wants in reality. When his wife was around he called them the 'Dream Team.' I wonder where she is. Can he be a 'Dream Team' alone?

Will the French vote for a short president? Think De Gaulle, Pompidou, Giscard - all tall - and Mitterrand so mysterious his height didn't matter. Have you noticed that De Villepin is tall? Too bad he's too poetic for his own good. De Villepin makes peasants feel uncomfortable. Sarkozy probably makes them feel like being cunning.

At this point in time it looks like France needs a new idea. Where it will come from and who will have it is the big unknown today. All the 'elephants' have been exposed as shoeless.
And as I was scanning this note from Paris the news broke.

De Villepin appointed French PM
BBC News World Service - Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Dominique de Villepin has been named as France's new prime minister, following the country's rejection of the EU constitution in Sunday's referendum.

The former interior minister replaces Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who tendered his resignation following the vote.

President Jacques Chirac promised cabinet changes after the referendum, in which almost 55% voted "No".

Correspondents say the result reflects domestic discontent as well as wider anxiety about the European project.
Well, no kidding. Chirac had campaigned hard, sort of, for the "Yes" vote, along with government and main opposition parties. And it seems he will make a national address this evening, Tuesday, to present a policy for the new team that should be in place until the 2007 election – whoever that team may be. He hasn’t named anyone else yet. The BBC notes that reports say Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of the ruling UMP party, will return to the interior ministry, as Ric says, the post de Villepin had. Sarkozy may be the new president in 2008 – but as Ric says, de Villepin is taller. In any event, Opinion polls seem to show that Raffarin himself was one of France's most unpopular prime ministers, and the BBC notes, since the Fifth Republic was set up in 1958.

BBC’s analysis?
Mr de Villepin is best known abroad for expressing France's implacable opposition to the war in Iraq at the United Nations, and is likely to go down well with European allies.

He is also regarded as a consensual politician and is personally loyal to Mr Chirac.

But the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says that as a career diplomat never elected to public office, he of all candidates most typifies the French elite so roundly rejected by the French people on Sunday.
As Ric on the ground there notes, de Villepin makes peasants feel uncomfortable.

There’s an interesting dynamic here. This fellow makes the neoconservatives who run our government more than uncomfortable too. As noted in these pages in June 2003, we know this de Villepin guy writes a lot, a history of Napoleon here, poetry there, and he's a suave devil who dresses well, and he runs marathons and seems to have a sense of humor, and he's awfully articulate in English too. This really ticks off the folks here who argue fancy words don't matter, because the only thing that matters is what you do. Folks here don't cotton to glib, fast taking foreign folks.

Is Chirac trying to piss off George Bush? Is this the French answer to John Bolton? Talk about contrasts!

And here, in May of 2004, Thomas Frank suggests de Villepin is the perfect foil for Bush – the opposite of everything Bush stands for.

The Elitism Myth
Tom Paine, May 7, 2004

Frank recalls the UN disagreement -
Here he was, a well-dressed and accomplished man, soundly refuting the arguments of the Americans, speaking several different languages, even receiving open applause from the UN representatives of much of the world as he berated the US Secretary of State, who stoically endured the abuse of his social superior, for this obvious error or that.

What the brilliant De Villepin missed utterly was that American conservatives don’t care when their arguments are refuted. The United States is the land of militant symbolism, the nation of images, and in the battle of imagery Bush played De Villepin for a sucker. For Bush the task at hand was obviously not winning over the UN, but rallying domestic support for the war, and in doing so Bush couldn’t have asked for a more convincing populist drama. Saddam Hussein was a monster right out of central casting, and for opposing him the poor unassuming Americans were being castigated by this foppish, over-educated, hair-splitting, tendentious writer of poetry (De Villepin’s dabbling in verse was much reported in the American media). And a Frenchman to boot! The French are always characterized in American popular culture as a nation of snobs: they drink wine, they eat cheese, they’re polite. This man was the hated liberal elite in the flesh: all that was missing was the revelation that he wore perfume or carried a handbag.

In his erudite, principled opposition, De Villepin thus sold the war to Americans far more effectively than did Bush himself. Indeed, had the foreign secretary of any other nation led the fight against the United States, the war might not have happened. If Bush is really smart, he’ll engineer a repeat confrontation with De Villepin just before the elections.
Bush didn’t engineer a repeat confrontation with de Villepin, but that would have been classic.

The dynamic? Dominique de Villepin really is the hated liberal elite in the flesh – a living, breathing challenge to the inarticulate, anti-intellectual proud-of-just-scraping-by-with-a-low-C-average-in-college, I-don’t-read-nothin’ Bush crowd. That Bush stands behind the angry, abusive, simple-minded John Bolton as the best thing for the UN (he’ll slap them around) – and Chriac stands behind Dominique de Villepin – says it all.

As Ric implies, the French equivalent of our Bush-loving NASCAR fans feel the same way about this de Villepin fellow.

Maybe David Brooks was on to something with his column last weekend in the New York Times - Karl's New Manifesto (May 29, 2005) – a riff on what Karl Marx might write today -
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. Freeman and slave, lord and serf, capitalist and proletariat, in a word oppressor and oppressed, stand in opposition to each other and carry on a constant fight. In the information age, in which knowledge is power and money, the class struggle is fought between the educated elite and the undereducated masses.

… The educated class reaps the benefits of the modern economy - seizing for itself most of the income gains of the past decades - and then ruthlessly exploits its position to ensure the continued dominance of its class.

The educated class has torn away from the family its sentimental veil and reduced it to a mere factory for the production of little meritocrats. Members of the educated elites are more and more likely to marry each other, which the experts call assortative mating, but which is really a ceaseless effort to refortify class solidarity and magnify social isolation. Children are turned into workaholic knowledge workers - trained, tutored, tested and prepped to strengthen class dominance.

… Undereducated workers of the world, unite! Let the ruling educated class tremble! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win!
Amusing, but here we are today. Bush sends Bolton to the UN and Chirac elevates de Villepin to Prime Minister.

It begins. Or continues.


A late afternoon clarification from Ric in Paris ?
The French equivalent of our Bush-loving NASCAR fans feel the same way about this de Villepin fellow? Not exactly.

I have been sloppy. In France the term 'liberal' means, roughly, rabid capitalist, in a Thatcherite context. The French have just voted against the danger of 'liberal' capitalism that they think was posed by the European Constitution.

Both Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin are conservatives politically. So is Nicolas Sarkozy, but he preaches even more 'liberal' economics. It's astonishing how popular Sarkozy seems to be while he champions what so many French seem to be against - the dismantling of the socialist state.

As good conservatives Chirac and de Villepin are naturally at odds with socialism, but the reality of France dictates that they approach it with kid gloves. The last few years of conservative rule's 'reform' attempts has produced only shipwrecks, the greatest being on Monday night.

Sarkozy, the conservative, is the true 'liberal' Thatcherite.

How realistic Chirac can be, how realistic de Villepin wants to get, is unknown. By 'realistic,' read able to compromise with France's social reality. How or if capitalism fits into this is secondary.

None of these three are 'Liberal' in any philosophic sense. But all three are pragmatic. You have to be to get along with the French. If you listen to Sarkozy, if Sarkozy believes what he says; he will never be elected president of France. If he changes his spots, changes his tune... all should beware.

And Brooks - '... Undereducated workers of the world, unite! Let the ruling educated class tremble! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win!'

In France, in Europe, the under-educated are likely a minority. Not even peasant farmers are under-educated.

Instead of under-educated we have under-employed or unemployed. But for random chance it could happen to you.


A note on orthography as the BBC clarifies matters (Published: 2005/06/01 18:30:14 GMT)
What do you call him? His full name, Dominique Marie Francois Rene Galouzeau de Villepin, is out.

So which short version is correct: Mr Villepin or Mr de Villepin? Should the "De" be capitalised or not?

It is not just foreign media that seems confused. French newspapers are too.

Le Monde - often called the "newspaper of reference" - mostly refers to Mr de Villepin, but is not consistent.

The Communist L'Humanite - perhaps out of disdain for the aristocratic "de" - tends to plump for Mr Villepin.

Official fog

Can government websites help?

A May 2002 press release from the foreign ministry - which he headed at the time - proclaimed that "Mr de Villepin [had] reviewed bilateral relations" with Morocco.

But two months later, the ministry referred to a "working dinner between Mr Villepin and his German counterpart".

There is no point reaching for the Larousse encyclopaedia to shed light on the issue - three years in government have not been enough to give the man an entry.

Readers may be tempted to reach for a bottle of rouge instead. But help is at hand.

"It is Dominique de Villepin. And if you use an honorific, like Monsieur, you keep the particle," Blanche de Kersaint of the Bottin Mondain - France's high-society directory - told the BBC News website.

What if you lose the Monsieur? Did "de Villepin" shake the president's hand, or was it plain "Villepin"?

"Villepin did. In that case the particle goes."

The rule is this - a "de" attached to a single-syllable name stays no matter what. Anything longer, and removal of the honorific means removal of the "de".

So you read de Gaulle's books, but you peruse Tocqueville works - and Villepin's, as the minister is also an author.

And "de", by the way, is NEVER capitalised.
Can we all remember the rules?


Received from Ric in Paris, Wednesday, June 01, 2005, 3:45 PM Pacific Time -
PARIS - As I have already explained - more than once damn it - nobody in tomorrow's new government in France is a Liberal, but some government ministers may have 'liberal' tendencies, especially if they think like Mrs. Thatcher. Alles klaro?

Today's news concerns the top personalities of the new government.

Apparently there is no doubt that Dominique de Villepin will be Chirac's new prime minister. However a radio report did say that Nicolas Sarkozy will also be a top minister. To be perfectly exact the radio said he will be like a 'prime minister,' or perhaps a 'prime-minister-bis.'

If this seems a bit novel just remember that France is an exceptional country and if it wants to introduce the notion of semi-prime ministers or co-prime ministers, or - can I say it? - dual prime ministers! - well, France has a perfect right to lead the world with modern political concepts.

Even more amazing is that fact that the two co-prime ministers detest each other, almost with passion - especially on the part of de Villepin, who, although seemingly noble, is a passionate noble. Sarkozy, without any sign of any 'de,' is too short to be noble, so his hate is merely burning, like a Polish fire hydrant.

The question of the hour is why has Jacques done this to us?

Besides voting against his beloved Constitution, what have we ever done to deserve this?

Maybe I'm too hasty. Since little Nicolas got his wish, namely that after Monday, regardless, trotz nein - he is going to run for president of France for the next 22 months nonstop. A short guy on a long marathon like this could cause motion sickness.

There he'll be, visiting cop shops all over France, taking his bodyguards to Saint-Denis, showing up in Corsica the day after bombs go off - giving endless unasked-for advice to other ministers' customers - for 22 flaming months!

Little Nicolas has been taking speech lessons too. The closer he gets to the presidency the shorter his sentences get. These days he talks in bursts of seven words or less. Rata-tat-tat-tat-period. Rata-tat-tat tat-period. He can pause anywhere and often for the applause, and does. When there's only 10 months to go he'll be down to rata-tat-period.

Villepin is quick. He'll let Nicolas rattle on, rata-tat-tat-period-etc., until he's nearly out of breath and then he'll poke a stick into the spokes - Nicolas rides bikes if journalists are around - and suavely say something cunning, clever - oh - how the knife will ease in, how deftly he will slip it in, with a beat to spare before Nicolas can react.

And each time he does it to poor little Nicolas the hoi polli will put another black mark on the blackboard opposite de Villepin's name, this asparagus topped with wavy hair going silver over the forever tan. Maybe I was too hasty; maybe it'll be fun.

This morning while I was trying to restart my head after the weekend it occurred to me that the real story isn't going to be this sitcom with canned laughter featuring major actors like Chirac, de Villepin and Sarkozy. The real drama is going to be about the total destruction of the Socialist Party and its resurrection, its rise from the gray ashes of defeat and stupidity and aimless wandering in the lumpy swamps.

But as exciting as this epic will likely be, we have to wait until a new cast of characters steps on to the stage. The ones they have now need to sort themselves out and maybe look around in their closet and see if there's any spare overlooked talent available. Without fresh blood they aren't going anywhere.

I doubt if it matters. Nobody will notice the pain of the Socialists because we'll all be watching the center-stage Sarkozy-de Villepin show. Thrust, stab, trip, poke in the eye, let the air out of tires, nasty rhymes, lies, innuendo, all flavored French, all tastily nasty, nasty, nasty. It should be good. Maybe a bit overlong though.
Most curious.

Posted by Alan at 10:17 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 1 June 2005 15:50 PDT home

Monday, 30 May 2005

Topic: Oddities

Trends: Time to Change the Tune, or Change the Tone?

Last year I installed tracking software on the homepage of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log. It was free, and shows all sorts of things – the search terms folks use to reach the site (like entering "gay cars" led to this) - and the location of the server used to reach the site (we’re nearing twenty unique logons from Malta, there all always a few from Romania, and today a logon from Sri Lanka, although probably not Arthur C. Clark). There are lots of logons from Western Europe, particularly France – and that is no doubt due to the Our Man In Paris columns, with photos, from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. After the US, the largest numbers of unique visitors, in order, come from Canada, the UK, France and then Australia. Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Spain follow in the distance – then the Philippines and Japan.

The tracking software also shows the name of the server used to reach the site. There have been logons from the government – from the Department of Prisons to the Department of Justice to congress to FEMA (my second ex-wife?) – and from the military, and from a foreign government ( There are lots of logons from universities – Columbia, NYU, MIT and the Ivy League, along with many from small evangelical Christian colleges in the South and Mid-West. And today there was a logon from the Council on Foreign Relations of all things.

This is cool, but the odd thing is the number of unique logons is beginning to fall off – the daily numbers are down, staring to run below the average of 375 or so. Weekly? The week of April 24 there was a peak of 2,867 unique visitors, but last week only 2,537 – and although the weekly average since February is around 2,550 the trend is clear.

What to make of this? As summer arrives folks spend less time surfing the net? The limit of new visitors has been reached and only regular readers should be noted? The thrill is gone? The content is less appealing now?

Hard to tell.

But here is one explanation.

Why some people just don't get it
Brain damage may account for an inability to appreciate sarcasm.
Jamie Talan. Newsday (republished in the Los Angeles Times), May 30, 2005

What is this about?
Scientists have discovered comedy central in the brain — specific tissue regulating the ability to understand sarcasm.

People with damage to the right frontal lobe, right behind the eyes, are unable to appreciate this kind of humor.

In sarcasm, "the literal meaning is different from the true meaning, and some people just don't understand that difference," said Simone Shamay-Tsoory, a psychologist at the Rambam Medical Center and the University of Haifa in Israel. Her study is in the May issue of the journal Neuropsychology.
It seems these folks at this Rambam Medical Center, these curious Israelis, rounded up twenty-five people with damage to the frontal lobe and sixteen with damage in the region to the back of the brain – and a control group of normal-brained folks – hooked them all up to scanners and presented them all with a series of sarcastic comments.

The result?
For instance: Joe fell asleep at work. His boss walks by. "Don't work too hard, Joe," he says. Normal volunteers and people with damage to the back of the brain understood that the boss was being sarcastic. But Shamay-Tsoory said that people with damage to the right frontal lobe didn't get the irony of the comment and failed to understand that the boss was not happy with his lethargic employee.

Shamay-Tsoory says that apart from brain injury, perhaps even subtle differences in the "wiring" of this region can leave people unable to empathize, and it is this lack of ascertaining another's emotional state that may be responsible for the inability to understand sarcasm.

Sarcasm is used in social situations as an indirect way of expressing criticism, she said. The network that regulates one's ability to appreciate sarcasm begins with an understanding of the meaning of the sentence, which is carried out by the left frontal lobe. Then the right frontal lobe helps put it into a social context. Finally, the right frontal lobe must be able to differentiate between the literal meaning and what is really meant.

Dr. Antonio Damasio, head of the neurology department at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, said this finding made perfect sense. "People with damage on the right side of their brain … have major problems with social cognition, or thinking," he said.
Ah, my readership is falling off as the defective-right-side folks, seeing my left-leaning links, skip them and move on to matters more to their liking.

Posted by Alan at 12:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: In these times...

Memorial Day

The sun is out early in Los Angeles. There are Memorial Day events, followed by cook-outs and ball games and such. This is, informally, first day of summer, of course, and the traffic is light, or will be until the evening when everyone rushes home. But I’m thinking of my nephew in Mosul and his friends.

A quick review of today’s comment out there –

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in their editorial Praise Bravery, Seek Forgiveness:
Nothing young Americans can do in life is more honorable than offering themselves for the defense of their nation. It requires great selflessness and sacrifice, and quite possibly the forfeiture of life itself. On Memorial Day 2005, we gather to remember all those who gave us that ultimate gift. Because they are so fresh in our minds, those who have died in Iraq make a special claim on our thoughts and our prayers.

In exchange for our uniformed young people's willingness to offer the gift of their lives, civilian Americans owe them something important: It is our duty to ensure that they never are called to make that sacrifice unless it is truly necessary for the security of the country. In the case of Iraq, the American public has failed them; we did not prevent the Bush administration from spending their blood in an unnecessary war based on contrived concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. President Bush and those around him lied, and the rest of us let them. Harsh? Yes.

True? Also yes. Perhaps it happened because Americans, understandably, don't expect untruths from those in power. But that works better as an explanation than as an excuse.
That is followed by a discussion of the May 1 Downing Street Memo and other items, like how four days before the State of the Union address in January 2003, the National Security Council staff "put out a call for new intelligence to bolster claims" about Saddam Hussein's WMD programs. The call went out because the NSC staff believed the case was weak. No one in the administration would listen to them. And on the day before the speech, the CIA's Berlin station chief warned that the source for some of what Bush would say was untrustworthy. But he said it anyway. It was fabricated information from one source – that Curveball alcoholic and unstable cousin of Chalabi. Oh well.

The Star-Tribune editorial ends with this -
As this bloody month of car bombs and American deaths -- the most since January -- comes to a close, as we gather in groups small and large to honor our war dead, let us all sing of their bravery and sacrifice. But let us also ask their forgiveness for sending them to a war that should never have happened. In the 1960s it was Vietnam. Today it is Iraq. Let us resolve to never, ever make this mistake again. Our young people are simply too precious.
I suspect we’ll make the same mistake again and again.

On the left? Smugness, as in this -
… but it is also the destiny of we patriots, patriots of America the Ideal, as opposed to America the Ass-Kicker, to always be called unpatriotic when we oppose the unjustified use of power; and then be labeled the cause of defeat when we turn out to be correct.

Peace be with those who die in our name, and also to those who want them not to be sacrificed in vain.
Somehow, that is offensive. Grandstanding. Who was right? That hardly matters now.

The question is what to do now. Bob Herbert over at the New York Times doesn’t like the current plan -
President Bush's close confidante, Karen Hughes, has been chosen to lead a high-profile State Department effort to repair America's image. The Bush crowd apparently thinks this is a perception problem, as opposed to a potentially catastrophic crisis that will not be eased without substantive policy changes.

This is much more than an image problem. The very idea of what it means to be American is at stake. The United States is a country that as a matter of policy (and in the name of freedom) "renders" people to regimes that specialize in the art of torture.

"How," asked Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, "can our State Department denounce countries for engaging in torture while the C.I.A. secretly transfers detainees to the very same countries for interrogation?"

Ms. Hughes said in March that she would do her best "to stand for what President Bush called the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity." Someone should tell her that there's not a lot of human dignity in the venues where torture is inflicted.

The U.S. would regain some of its own lost dignity if a truly independent commission were established to thoroughly investigate the interrogation and detention operations associated with the war on terror and the war in Iraq. A real investigation would be traumatic because it would expose behavior most Americans would never want associated with their country. But in the long run it would be extremely beneficial.
There will be no trauma. There will be no commission.

The very idea of what it means to be American is at stake? Perhaps so. But there will be no commission.
In much of the world, the image of the U.S. under Mr. Bush has morphed from an idealized champion of liberty to a heavily armed thug in camouflage fatigues. America is increasingly being seen as a dangerously arrogant military power that is due for a comeuppance. It will take a lot more than Karen Hughes to turn that around.
And kicking more butt probably won’t do it either.

Nor will holier-than-thou statements from the left like this -
Deaths in war are about the honor and sacrifice of soldiers for their country, period. But there is no greater dishonor or cruelty than falsely leading these honorable troops into war. History will judge the people responsible for this manipulation and these lies very harshly, and I suspect God will, too.
Yeah, well, if there is a God, how did all this happen, unless He, She or It has a nasty sense of humor?

The Saturday before Memorial Day I visited the Los Angeles National Cemetery as the local Scouts were finishing up placing a small American flag on each grave - and Kevin Roderick, who for two decades was a staff writer and editor at the Los Angeles Times, explains the place -
Plain markers exist for more than 85,000 veterans and family members (plus two dogs and a smattering of widows, children and staff members buried when the cemetery served the National Soldiers Home for Disabled Soldiers and Sailors, which is a whole 'nother story.) Even so, the task of placing the flags goes fairly quickly. Starting Saturday at 7:30 a.m., Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from all over the L.A. area will converge on the Sepulveda Boulevard grounds. After an 8 a.m. ceremony, they will fan out with flags. By 11 a.m., all but the stragglers will have gone. It's an impressive sight, and a solemn and stirring one. The sweeping lawns and century-old trees have stood in for Arlington National Cemetery in numerous movies and TV episodes, but the LANC doesn't get half the tourists that find their way to Marilyn Monroe's crypt a few blocks away. It's too bad. Deep inside the grounds, the hill where Abner Prather, a Civil War blue from the Indiana infantry, became the first burial in 1889 is a great hidden spot to absorb a little history. In 2 Days in the Valley, a suicidal Paul Mazursky looks at all the markers and observes, "There are a lot of heroes buried in this place."
Yes. The photos are here without comment.


A reaction from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta ?
I'm not going to beat up on the so-called "smug" left here -- I'm way tired of liberals trashing liberals -- but I think the left does need to rethink the way it approaches soldiers who serve in war zones.

Liberals seem to see warriors as "victims" who deserve our sympathy every time we send them into an unnecessary war, when in fact soldiers are professionals who do what their country asks them to do, and tend to do it without asking too many questions. Just as it would be too much to suppose that doctors pray for diseases to cure, policemen for crime waves to fight, firemen for fires to fight, or journalists for disasters to cover, I'm pretty sure soldiers don't pray for wars to wage. But like the others on this list, I think they do want to do their job well when called upon to do it.

If, on the other hand, we encouraged our soldiers to pick and choose the fights they wanted to fight, then, for one thing, Clinton might not have been able to stabilize the Balkans, a war I think historians will agree had some actual useful purpose. Even worse, enough members of the military, having been coached as independent thinkers in political matters, might on some future day choose to ignore the civilian leadership and seriously consider taking over some place they might think really needs it -- some place like France, or maybe even, say, the United States of America?

Someday, after things have calmed down in Iraq (assuming they ever do) and this whole Iraq thing has faded into our collective memory (assuming it ever does), you may want to ask your nephew if he and his fellow soldiers think their country owes them an apology. I'm willing to bet he'll give you a strange look.
My nephew thinks he's doing what he should be doing. And he is.

In a few years he and I will sit down and discuss the whole business. We'll see then. I don't think apologies will come up - just geopolitics. I suspect he?ll end up back at West Point, where he started, teaching that.

Posted by Alan at 11:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 30 May 2005 14:35 PDT home

Sunday, 29 May 2005

Topic: World View

Breaking News

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this web log was posted early this morning - Volume 3, Number 22 - for the week of May 29, 2005. This is the Memorial Day issue - heavy on photography - not just Hollywood, but Paris and Washington, and some fine art.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has his Our Man in Paris column there, with photographs, on events leading up to today’s vote – the referendum on the EU Constitution. See Nicolas Sarkozy Suffers for that.

Here is the late update (revised May 30) –
French Vote 'NON'

Paris - Sunday, May 29, 2005: AFTER ONE of the hardest-fought campaigns anyone can remember in France, polling for acceptance or rejection of the European Constitution ended tonight at 20:00 throughout France and at 22:00 in Paris and Lyon. Voter turnout was high and the suspense stretched its tendons to the limit, to the very end.

With the closing of the polls, the 'winner' has turned out to be the partisans of the 'NON' vote, rejecting the European Constitution which would have formed the basis of law for 450 million Europeans, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, from the Atlantic to Russia.

Initial estimates have posted the results as 55% for the 'non' and 45% for the 'oui.' This is decisive, coupled with a national turnout estimated to be 70 percent of registered voters, both in France and in its overseas territories.

This is a bitter blow to all centrist leaders from right to left and is an electroshock for France's President, Jacques Chirac, who called for the vote in the first place. Tonight's vote comes as yet another in a string of electoral rejections of his presidency.

Aside from Spain which has already voted to accept the Constitution, there are eight other countries that have planned referendums. Holland, which has had a problem getting anyone interested in the campaign which winds up at the ballot boxes on Wednesday, will not be reassured by tonight's result in France.

Meanwhile there is gloom in the various headquarters of the mainstream parties here, while parties by opponents were already under way before the polls closed, with the Communists singing the Internationale.' A reporter stationed at the headquarters of the dissident Socialists said they were ready to 'faire la fete toute la nuit.'

Jacques Chirac, speaking from the Elysee Palace 30 minutes after polls closed said, "It's your decision," and went on to say that France will continue to respect its obligations vis-a-vis Europe. But in conclusion he added that the French can expect a 'nouvelle impulsion' from the government within a few days.

Leader of the president's party, the UMP, Nicolas Sarkozy, on television immediately afterwards, gave what sounded like a campaign speech, for president of France, as if 2007 isn't far off.

[Addition received Monday, May 30, 2005 ? 4:53 am Pacific Time]

What a hangover!

Not that it matters now, but Paris voted 66 percent for 'oui.' So did the Department Bas-Rhin, Strasbourg, and much of Brittany. Except for Reunion, all of the DOM-TOM areas gave a majority to the 'oui.' The rest of France and Corsica voted 'non.' Red for 'non,' all France is colored pink.

Much agitation around the Elysee and Matignon today. Liberation's headline - 'Le Jour le plus non'

There will be more in MetropoleParis?.
And here’s his visual (with cow) –

Now what?


Do visit Just Above Sunset for the other items - snowflakes and stem cells, compromise as defeat, nagging from Amnesty International, a smoking gun no one will notice, and a conservative jihad against the press - and that?s just current events. In columns from elsewhere, Bob Patterson is on the road back east - in what he calls ?Tensile Town? ? and in the non-political pages, everything you wanted to know about Michael Jackson and postmodernist theory, and a bit on Maltese and Greek pop music, along with the usual quotes about life and all that.

Photography? The real Memorial Day, and a visit to an internationally famous sculpture garden to shake up your ways of seeing things, or at least to amuse you, and the odd shot of the week. And there is special guest photography - Washington DC for this Memorial Day weekend.

Posted by Alan at 14:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 30 May 2005 08:36 PDT home

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