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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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Sunday, 5 June 2005

Topic: The Culture

Mind Games: Dangerous Books and Mission Statements

Bob Patterson, columnist for our parent website Just Above Sunset said to me Friday, while we were on a photo shoot in Santa Monica, that JAS, as he likes to call it, should publish a mission statement. This was our Joseph Cotton - Orson Welles moment, if you remember that scene from Citizen Kane. Geez, we’ve been in Hollywood way too long.

A few weeks ago Bob was in the Big Apple – New York, or as he likes to call it, Tensile Town – and was noticing all the press about the Air Force Academy and its problem with the evangelicals who now run the place and the cadets who boldly tell fellow Jewish cadets that they will burn in hell because they killed Jesus, and that the Holocaust was God’s punishment for killing Jesus. They deserved it. Ah well. Bob pointed out we were on that story long ago with Who is Your Copilot? back on April 24 – and on the underlying trend long ago with references to General Jerry Boykin saying we're fighting the great Satan, because our God is the real God, from as long ago as October 2003 and this a month later. So we’re sometimes ahead of the curve.


Boykin is now about number three at the Pentagon - Undersecretary of Defense, heading up all our planning in Iraq. We’re not.

Ahead of the curve? On August 2004, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, and I had a pretty complete discussion of The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and their relation to the 2001 Patriot Act. Long. Detailed. And I see The New Republic five months later published Dismal Precedents (post date 02.20.05 - issue date 02.28.05), on the same topic, by Stephen Holmes.
To help us grope our way through the perilous present, Geoffrey R. Stone, a leading authority on the First Amendment, has produced a rich and readable overview of America's curtailment of civil liberties in wartime. He focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on restrictions of freedom of speech, examining in engrossing detail six historical episodes: the Sedition Act of 1798, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and Vietnam. He appends a brief discussion of civil liberties after September 11, but his real contribution to the study of the ongoing war on terror is this book as a whole. For each episode, as Stone retells it, speaks in one way or another to painful issues of the present day. His general conclusion is that "the United States has a long and unfortunate history of overreacting to the perceived dangers of wartime." He hopes that a bit of self-knowledge will inspire us to do better this time around....
Well, the rest is behind the subscription wall, but you get the idea. Steve and Geoffrey Stone were late ? it takes time to write a book, then time to read it any review it ? but the relationship is obvious. Rick and I used to hang around with Steve Holmes in undergraduate school ? coffee daily in The Pit in Slater Hall ? but The New Republic is a big-gun, influential magazine. Now more folks consider the connection. Fine ? more power to Steve. JAS is not The New Republic - we?re riding at about 12,000 unique logons a month. Small potatoes ? and an ephemeral web thing. And I suspect many, many logons are people looking for pretty pictures of Hollywood, not political discussion of historic precedent to current events.

Still Bob thinks we need to say that we?re ahead of the curve ? if you want to know what the hot stories will be, read JAS. Maybe. His idea for a motto ? Ahead of the Curve. I prefer this - Chasing the Zeitgeist. Why? Well, I recall the May 22 issue of JAS where it kept running away from me ? Monday morning I thought that week?s topic would be the New York Times stirring up issues of class, and Tuesday the Newsweek Koran story broke, and Wednesday everyone was talking about George Galloway blowing everyone away in the Senate hearing, Thursday the talk was all of the responsibilities of the press and possible censorship, and Friday Laura Bush landed in the Middle East as probably the only person we could send there now without too much problem, and even then she had some trouble. (All in the archives, of course.) You can chase the zeitgeist all you want. It?s a slippery devil.

All this is to say I overlooked a discussion last week ? all over the web and in some of the papers ? concerning what was published in the conservative magazine Human Events - Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Really. A list of their editors is here - and I see Ann Coulter listed as their legal affairs correspondent.

Want to know what is on the list? This panel of fifteen conservative scholars and public policy leaders (see the list at the link) selected these:

1. The Communist Manifesto

2. Mein Kampf

3. Quotations from Chairman Mao

4. The Kinsey Report

5. Democracy and Education (John Dewey)

6. Das Kapital

7. The Feminine Mystique (Betty Friedan)

8. The Course of Positive Philosophy (Auguste Comte)

9. Beyond Good and Evil (Nietzsche)

10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (John Maynard Keynes)

Honorable Mention? In descending order of danger to anyone who opens them ? The Population Bomb (Paul Ehrlich), What Is To Be Done (Lenin), Authoritarian Personality (Theodor Adorno), On Liberty (John Stuart Mill), Beyond Freedom and Dignity (B.F. Skinner), Reflections on Violence (Georges Sorel), The Promise of American Life (Herbert Croly), Origin of the Species (Darwin), Madness and Civilization (Michel Foucault), Soviet Communism: A New Civilization (Sidney and Beatrice Webb), Coming of Age in Samoa (Margaret Mead), Unsafe at Any Speed (Ralph Nader), Second Sex (Simone de Beauvoir), Prison Notebooks (Antonio Gramsci), Silent Spring (Rachel Carson), Wretched of the Earth (Frantz Fanon), Introduction to Psychoanalysis (Freud), The Greening of America (Charles Reich), The Limits to Growth (Club of Rome), Descent of Man (Darwin)

Darwin didn?t make the top ten. But then Nietzsche flat out said God is dead ? and Comte was no better. Chuck only implied it. As for the rest? You?d expect Marx and Mao ? and Hitler. Dewey is on there because he was a secular humanist and wanted kids to learn how to think, not just know hard facts. Keynes liked government and regulation too much. You can go read the panel?s reasoning.

As for the second list they offer no comment, just the list. Ralph Nader of course destroyed our domestic automakers, and forced everyone to wear seat belts when it should be a matter of personal responsibly or something. Rachel Carson did major harm to Dupont and the rest of the DDT makers who were just making an honest living. You can only guess at their reason for the rest. Did they know what Michel Foucault was even talking about?

These folks aren?t calling for book-burning or anything like that ? at least I don?t see that anywhere. They?re just kind of sad these things were ever published.

But of course such a public list gives ammunition to folks who will demand restrictions in public libraries and schools, or removal of the books. But the panel doesn?t really advocate for that.

That would be wrong.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum has asked his readers for a parallel list from the progressive-Democrat-leftie side ? and he reports it is not going well.

Some suggest Ayn Rand - Atlas Shrugged - but Drum says, "I agree that it's eminently mockable, but let's face it: has this book really had that much influence on anyone who doesn't still use Clearasil pads? I don't think so." Well, the newly appointed head of the SEC is a Rand fanatic - Christopher Cox - and we?ll see how that works out. Rand once said - "A government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims." And the new SEC chairman no doubt believes this from Rand - "Government 'help' to business is just as disastrous as government persecution... the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off." Oh yeah.

Drum points out too that Alan Greenspan is perhaps the best known Rand acolyte living today.

Some suggest Thomas Dixon - The Clansman - but really it is not that influential.

Drum thinks the only winner on the counter-list so far is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Agreed. You will find a good history of what that book is about here and all about Henry Ford?s love for it here. That one has legs, as we say out here in Hollywood.

But I suspect, in the end, there will be no good counter-list. The progressive-Democrat-leftie side just doesn?t get the idea books and ideas can be dangerous. They kind of like them. All of them.


Note: Late Sunday night - June 5, 2005 ? Kevin Drum does his best to compile a tentative counter-list of dangerous books from his readers' comments. But as you read his comments you see his heart really isn't in it.

Posted by Alan at 22:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 5 June 2005 23:24 PDT home

Topic: Announcements

Busy, busy, busy…

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, went on line late last night - Volume 3, Number 23 – for the week of June 5, 2005

This first issue of June brings the usual look back on the previous week and look forward to what seems to be barreling at us. Looking back, we wrap up Memorial Day, and Ric Erickson from Paris wraps us the recent French vote with international repercussions with extensive coverage, and reaction to American columnists scolding the French. But these items also look to the future as they are really about where things seem to be heading. Sometime before the end of the year we will have a new marketing director in Washington, Karen Hughes, who has been tasked with selling America to the rest of the world - and the issues with that are covered here in depth with comments from a friend who actually teaches marketing to would-be MBA students. Military stories break in the news daily, and here you will find a discussion of the problems that are bubbling up - or the opportunities if you are an optimist. And what with Michael Jackson and scandals in Aruba, it seems we are still deciding what the news is supposed to be about. And those of deep, unwavering faith are still telling us how we should live our lives. Oh my!

This week Bob Patterson is back with news of his bus trip across America, with a stop in Hershey, and with his on-the-road book column.

And you will find two pages of guest photography - Don Smith from Paris and Bill Hitzel from Hershey. Local photography? You will want to visit Santa Monica.

Oh yes - do check out new links to wonderful photography sites. And do skim the June quotes.

Current Events (extended versions of what first appeared here) ________________

Memorial Day: Final Thoughts
Marketing 101: Containing Costs with a Finely Tuned Marketing Campaign
Military Matters: Are Our Leaders Slyly Anti-War?
The Uses of The Past: Who Cares? Irony is all we have left these days.
Imposing One’s Values on Others: Does Teaching Science in Public Schools Violate the First Amendment?
Paying Attention: What’s News and What Isn’t
Press Notes: "Maybe a little less of the pervert of the day…"

World View ________________

Geopolitics: Fallout from the French Kiss of Death (with a new exclusive editorial cartoon)
Our Man in Paris: Urge To Be - Just What Were the French Voting Against?
Dateline Paris: Get A Job! (includes new photographs from Paris)

Bob Patterson ________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World’s Laziest Journalist - The Hershey (PA) Auto Museum is "Sweet"
Book Wrangler: Beatniks with laptops, Otto von Stroheim’s legendary parties, and the Elephant Museum

Guest Photography ________________

Symbolisme Aujourd'hui: More from Left Bank Lens
Automotive: Kisses from Hershey

Photography ________________

Not Barney: The Topiary Dinosaurs of Santa Monica
Quiet Neighborhood: The Opposite of California Glitz

Miscellaneous ________________

Quotes: June (and D-Day)
Links and Recommendations: Photography Sites

And one of those topiary dinosaurs of Santa Monica?

Posted by Alan at 13:20 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 5 June 2005 13:22 PDT home

Saturday, 4 June 2005

Our Man in Paris: Urge To Be
Just What Were the French Voting Against?

Note: Our Man in Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. His weekly columns appear in Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this web log, and often in a slightly different version the next day on his site from Paris, with photographs. This is the latest from Paris.
Sunday 29 May 2005 and received in Los Angeles on Friday, 3 June 2005 –

PARIS - There are problems with the European Constitution but they apply to all constitutions. In Europe's new one there are articles of a few simple words that should be easy to understand. For example, Article II-62.2 in the Fundamental Rights section says, "Nobody can be condemned to death or executed."

If ratified, this will apply to 450 million people living in the 25 member states of the European Union. I expect that clever legal minds will find ways to interpret the eight simple words above and convince a judge somewhere that the opposite is really meant, but until then I would vote for a constitution that bars the death penalty and hope for the best.

The most impassioned champions of the Constitution will freely admit that some of it is not perfect. Articles that may seem a bit vague are backed up with 'Declarations' that spell out the meaning more exactly, and past European Court decisions are added if they aid clarity.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech in Article II-71.1. It says, "Everyone has the right to free expression, including the exchange of opinions, without interference by the authorities and without consideration of frontiers." This is a long one and the subject is complicated so we can expect that this will see its day in courts to come.

The debate around the Constitution has been somewhat obscure because very few people have read it. The opposition has used this ignorance shamelessly by citing dubious practices that are happening today, saying they will be totally uncontrolled in the future.

In other words, if the Constitution consists of apples, they are saying it lacks oranges. Or they are saying that because it is so economically 'liberal,' we will all have to go to Poland to work for the wages there. Or just as bad, Poles will invade France and work for Polish wages here. Some very smart people will insist that the Constitution guarantees this.

The Constitution offers the very protections that the opposition says it lacks. Behavior that can't be governed by a Constitution is a used as an example for why the Constitution is bad. You are not going to get to bed this week if you want to argue about it. The arguments against the Constitution are complicated while its Articles are simple.

The official campaign to educate the voters has been a colossal flop. The opposition has used this fact for its advantage. They can say anything and this is what they have been doing.

For example, they say the 'liberal' aspects of the Constitution will cause massive unemployment. It is hard to understand how it could be made worse that it already is, under the 'old' rules. Voting against the Constitution is like voting for continued unemployment, rather than for the future.

The French government's 'reform' plans, delocalizations, unemployment, low wages, globalization, are all problems of right now, of the present right-wing 'liberal' government. Many voters have been conned into believing that their present problems will worsen if the Constitution is ratified.

Voters tend to recall the past somewhat more easily than the future so even if the Constitution is about Europe, they are probably going to vote against the government.

Well, life is a gamble. The French can vote to maintain their miserable present and what they know, or they can cast a ballot for the unknown future.

As far as Europe is concerned, it has always been a risky business. This European Union thing stumbles along from crises to crises, from boiling pot to frying pan, but it has always managed to step back from brinks in the nick of time. Against all odds, formidable odds, impossible odds, the European Union exists. It has an urge to be.

Posted by Alan at 08:30 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 4 June 2005 08:32 PDT home

Friday, 3 June 2005

Topic: Making Use of History

The Uses of The Past: Who Cares?

Wednesday in Paying Attention: What’s News and What Isn’t you would find this:

So now we know who Deep Throat was.



And nothing more was said. You can watch all the commentary on the cable news shows, and read the web logs and newspaper and magazine analyses, but really, does this matter?

Yes and no. You might drop by Whiskey Bar where Billmon offers us all this - Sore Throat - which is good.

Anonymous whistleblowers have become little more than curious anachronisms, as likely to turn out to be bumbling fools or cynical disinformation artists (paging Michael Isikoff) as dedicated civil servants wiling to risk their careers to save the Republic.

The Republic is rather obviously beyond saving now -- even George Lucas understands that. Which is why the self-outing of Mark Felt had about as much relevance to our current slow motion coup d'etat as a late-night cable rerun of All the President's Men.

But this cheered me up -
… reading all the liberal pundits and bloggers moaning and groaning about the death of investigative reporting, and the pusillanimity of the corporate media, and the pure Nixonian evil of the Bush administration, and the crying need for more hero-patriots like Mark Felt, made me feel like screaming Buster Keaton's anti-nostalgia line from Limelight: "If one more person tells me this is just like ol' times, I swear I'll jump out the window."

The truth is that we do have heroic whistleblowers such as Mark Felt today. Their names are Richard Clarke and Sibel Edmonds and Ray McGovern and Scott Ritter -- and even Paul O'Neill, the former Treasury Secretary.

You want well-placed anonymous sources? How about the military officers who fed CBS and Sy Hersh their Abu Ghraib scoops, or the lawyers in the Judge Advocate General's office who spilled the beans on the torture memos, or whoever leaked the Downing Street memo.

You want ordinary Joes and Janes willing to risk the wrath of the powers to do what's right? How about the enlisted man who walked into the Army IG's office in Baghdad and told them the Marquis de Sade was making house calls at Abu Ghraib prison, or the Pentagon auditors who refused to sign off on the Halliburton payola, or the former detainees and the families in Afghanistan who risked their lives -- not just their careers -- by talking to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

You say we need indefatigable investigators, willing to follow the truth no matter where it leads? How about General Taguba or the International Red Cross or the ACLU lawyers who've been using the Freedom of Information Act to pry out far more information than I thought we would ever know about the inner workings of the Guantanamo gulag. you could even throw in David Kay -- the WMD true believer who tried mightly to prove Bush's case, but finally accepted and admitted that the primary rationale for the Iraq invasion was completely false.
So, the age of heroes – or some people doing the right thing - is not over. It is nice to be reminded of that.

But Billmon – just to be clear - does say justice has not been done, and isn't likely to be done in our lifetimes. Why?
- Bush's crimes are more deeply embedded in his presidential war powers than Nixon's were (although heaven knows Nixon also tried to hide behind those same powers.)

-One party rule has choked off investigations armed with the subpoena power to go where journalists and the ACLU cannot tread.

- The administration's cunning use of extra-territoriality and military secrecy has made it vastly harder for any would-be Judge Siricas to pierce the veil of executive privilege.

- Last but hardly least, the weapons of information warfare in the Bush White House propaganda armory are infinitely more subtle, powerful and effective than the Nixon stonewall. Or, as Salon puts it: The Bush administration has developed so many ways of manipulating information that anonymous sourcing would now be of little use. Secret "military" tribunals, indefinite detention without charge, torture, kidnapping, dressing up official press releases as news stories for complicit publishers -- these all make the Watergate coverup seem quaint.
Well, all you can do is keep plugging away.

Go read the whole thing.

And consider this –

Federal Court Orders Government to Turn Over Videos and Photos Showing Detainee Abuse
ACLU Press Release, June 2, 2005
NEW YORK -- A federal judge has ordered the Defense Department to turn over dozens of photographs and four movies depicting detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq as part of an ongoing lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"These images may be ugly and shocking, but they depict how the torture was more than the actions of a few rogue soldiers," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "The American public deserves to know what is being done in our name. Perhaps after these and other photos are forced into the light of day, the government will at long last appoint an outside special counsel to investigate the torture and abuse of detainees."

The court order came in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights to obtain documents and materials pertaining to the treatment of detainees held by American forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

Attorneys for the government had argued that turning over visual evidence of abuse would violate the United States’ obligations under the Geneva Conventions, but the ACLU said that obscuring the faces and identifiable features of the detainees would erase any potential privacy concerns. The court agreed.

"It is indeed ironic that the government invoked the Geneva Conventions as a basis for withholding these photographs," said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney at the ACLU. "Had the government genuinely adhered to its obligations under these Conventions, it could have prevented the widespread abuse of detainees held in its custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay." …
It is indeed ironic?

Irony is all we have left these days.


Late comment ?

From Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
These times, I fear, will not be looked back upon as "the good old days."

What this country had going for it back in the Golden Age of Watergate was a pack of politicians inside the beltway who were -- probably through rampant naivete, I suspect -- afraid that if they got caught on the obviously wrong side of scandal, the public would "throw the bums out". Today, unfortunately for the rest of us, those who strut through those hallowed halls of power in Washington are much more sophisticated than that about what they can get away with.

Back then, if you had irony on your side, you also had hope. But nowadays, if all you got is irony, you ain't got jack.
Perhaps so.

Irony? a sense of the absurd?.

Note that Peggy Noonan here and Pat Buchanan here and Rush Limbaugh here and Ben Stein here each blame Mark Felt for the genocide in Cambodia - because he assisted those investigating Watergate.

Had Nixon remained president? No killing fields. That?s obvious, isn?t it?

I myself think if it were not for Mark Felt undermining Nixon, Roberto Clemente would still be alive today. Damn that "Deep Throat" guy!

The gods of irony are smiling.



Henry Porter is the London editor of Vanity Fair, the publication that revealed who this Deep Throat person actually was. In the June 4 issue of the Guardian (UK) you will find his comments on this business and on the press over here - A study in emasculation: In the US media, a mission to explain has been replaced by a mission to avoid. The title says it all.

? I visit the States three or four times a year, and watching the television news in hotel rooms in the last three years has been like witnessing a time-lapse study of emasculation. It's not just the unbearable lightness of purpose in most news shows; it's the sense that everyone is rather too mindful of the backstairs influence of the White House in companies such as Viacom and News Corporation that own the TV news. The anchorman Dan Rather, for example, was eased out by Viacom - CBS's owner - after he wrongly made allegations about the president's time in the Texas Air National Guard. It was not a mistake that required his head on a platter.

The result of this climate of fear and caution is that few Americans have any idea of the circumstances in which 1,600 of their countrymen have lost their lives in Iraq, the hideous injuries suffered by both Iraqi and American victims of suicide bombers, or even the profound responsibility that lies with Rumsfeld for mishandling practically every facet of the occupation. The mission to explain has been replaced by the mission to avoid. If today there was a whistleblower as well-placed, heroically brave and strategic as Mark Felt, one wonders whether he would now find the outlet that Felt did at the Washington Post between 1972 and 1974.
Of course, Porter is right, and the item contrasts what Felt and Woodward and Bernstein did with the new policy at Newsweek in the aftermath of the Koran-was-really-not-in-the-toilet scandal. Newsweek will now not use confidential sources - especially those "reliable" confidential sources that after you publish say that now they are no longer sure of the information they gave you ? except in extraordinary circumstances and with the approval of the managing editor and the corporation that owns the publication and is responsible for profit or loss - that is, responsible for shareholder value.

No more of this Deep Throat business.

Porter suggests no one now seems to possess "an elementary understanding of the sacred duty of the press, which, however dishonored and ignored, is to watch government and make it answerable when the processes of democracy are corrupted by politics and the self-interest of politicians."

Putting aside this "sacred duty" business ? the word "sacred" may be a stretch ? and whether or not Felt was "heroically brave and strategic" or merely ticked off at being passed over for promotion ? the point is investigative journalism has become bad business. It involves far too much risk to the shareholders.

So that?s where we are now.

Posted by Alan at 19:25 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 4 June 2005 08:00 PDT home

Topic: Announcements

National Hunger Awareness Day

The Laugh Factory in Hollywood will open its doors for 24 consecutive hours Tuesday, June 7th to collect canned foods and non-perishable foods for its National Hunger Awareness Day. The food collected will be distributed to various shelters. To find out more call (323) 656-1336 ext. 1.

Received from Vicky Hammond - Friday, June 03, 2005
We just wanted to let you know that this Tuesday, June 7, is National Hunger Awareness Day. We thought your blog readers would be interested in donating to the cause.

On Tuesday, The Laugh Factory is hosting a 24-hour food drive in Hollywood. The L.A. Regional Foodbank and UCLA Center for Health Policy Research will also be hosting a press conference at the Foodbank to discuss new statistics about hunger in Los Angeles.

Help us spread the word and let us know if you need any more details on the events.
More details will follow.

Any readers who want to contribute become among those who do – not those who just comment.

The Laugh Factory is short block down the street from what our columnist Bob Patterson calls The World Headquarters of Just Above Sunset.

See you there.

Posted by Alan at 18:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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