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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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Friday, 17 June 2005

Topic: Dissent

Dissent: Conversations About Odd News Items

On Flag Day, June 14, this item by Mark Follman appeared in the "War Room" column over at SALON.COM – and it is interesting -
Back in April, two U.S. Secret Service agents paid a visit to a controversial art exhibit in Chicago, which included an image of President Bush with a revolver pointed at his head. No evidence was reported of any threat to the president emanating from the mock 37-cent stamp on display, titled "Patriot Act." But there was considerable public outcry about the chilling effect the visit could have on artistic expression -- especially after the agents pursued not only the exhibit's curator, but also asked the museum director for the names and phone numbers of all 47 artists whose work was on display.
Well, such things happen these days. It is what to expect.

But then we get this -
Meanwhile, Jeremy Lassen, the publisher of a small book imprint in Portland, Oregon, responded to the news of the Chicago incident by creating a series of photo collages entitled "Bush and Guns," and posted them to the photo-sharing site, Flikr.

Last week, he says, he himself was paid a visit by the Secret Service. "On June 7th, two Secret Service agents showed up at my place of employment and asked to speak with me," Lassen wrote on his blog on Sunday. "One agent said they wanted to talk about something I posted online. I asked what, [and] one responded 'You post a lot of stuff online, don’t you?' and then showed me some color printouts of my 'Bush and Guns' pictures. I was as helpful as possible, and explained to them the about the incident in Chicago, and the context of those pictures."
That should do it, right? Artistic expression. Freedom to make political comment, even about our guns laws.

Not exactly…
Lassen says the agents started out friendly enough, listening to his explanation that the work was political commentary, but that they soon made him feel "cold as ice." He says they asked him about his psychological history, and for permission to access his medical records. He says they also suggested that he "retract" the pictures.

"After speaking to me," Lassen wrote, "they asked to interview my boss. They also asked me to help put them in touch with my wife, who was out of town - they would need to interview her also. They also mentioned the possibility of interviewing members of my family... my mother in particular. I’ll admit it. I was very freaked out. The first thing I did when I got back to my desk was delete the pictures from Flikr. Then I deleted my LiveJournal account, because in it, I talk a lot about politics, and how unhappy I am with the Bush regime."
Perhaps rather than folding he might have called the ACLU or something?

Some columns here evince a bit of dissatisfaction with the current crew in power. Time to worry? No. This site is "under the radar" with only 12,000 readers each month, and much of the content is pretty pictures. Small potatoes. And my two ex-wives are long gone, and my mother passed away years ago, and I'm retired so there's no boss to call. What are they going to do, harass my surly housecat, Harriet? And there's nothing on guns and Bush, so far.

Not to worry.

Who should worry?

There's the woman mentioned mid-week in the CURSOR.ORG roundup of news stories:
A Kentucky newspaper reports on a speech by a mother who lost a son in Iraq, in which she "ridiculed Bush for saying that it's 'hard work' comforting the widow of a soldier who's been killed in Iraq," and read from a letter she sent to Bush that said, "Beating a political stake in your black heart will be the fulfillment of my life ..."
That snippet isn't the half of it. She said more -
"Hard work is seeing your son's murder on CNN one Sunday evening while you're enjoying the last supper you'll ever truly enjoy again. Hard work is having three military officers come to your house a few hours later to confirm the aforementioned murder of your son, your first-born, your kind and gentle sweet baby. Hard work is burying your child 46 days before his 25th birthday. Hard work is holding your other three children as they lower the body of their big (brother) into the ground. Hard work is not jumping in the grave with him and having the earth cover you both."

"We're watching you very carefully and we're going to do everything in our power to have you impeached for misleading the American people."
Not nice, but she's from Vacaville, out here in California. We all know about California. And she is president of Gold Star Families for Peace, and any organization whose name ends in "for Peace" is kind of hippy-sixties, right?

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, wonders what the chances are that she gets a visit tomorrow from two secret service agents.

Pretty slim. That would look real bad, harassing a grieving mom, and there are enough other ways to marginalize her.

My friend the business school guru, suggests I not worry about what is on my site, but what he sees in emails I send my friends. I do have contacts in the aerospace industry, as I worked in the world for decades, and contacts in the military at fairly high rank, and, yes, I was once related by marriage to someone near the top of the Defense Department and have done the Pentagon thing. One hears things.

But I don't publish those things. And I won't.

Still, the Patriot Act has not been much changed yet, nor most provisions allowed to expire, so all email from anyone to anyone can be monitored by the government without any warrant at any time for any reason, or no particular reason. Luckily, the data mining software they designed, or commissioned really, to track everyone's email coast to coast, and internationally, is crap - it just doesn't work. Yet. I forget who has the contract.

And last week, Monday, the Supreme Court refused to take up the matter of the president claiming the right to declare any US citizen an "enemy combatant" - even one born here and living here - and to arrest that person even on US soil, jail that person without charges, for as long as he wants, incommunicado, without legal recourse at all. The court is not going to touch that. There's a war on, remember?

But I'm not worried. Worse case? I could be a test case - the one "enemy combatant" case that does get taken up by these SCOTUS folks. It'd be fun. And my Wall Street attorney friend could try out his fourth amendment chops - and do some barrister work, not this solicitor crap. Ah, but he's not my other friend has been admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court. My Wall Street attorney friend would have to fill out lots of paperwork.

And curiously enough, something for a later issue, I came across some right-side stuff about original intent and the constitution. The new idea? We need to follow what the framers intended - and since the Bill of Rights consists of "amendments" one to ten, that stuff is not actually part of the document. This press freedom stuff and establishing no state religion are NOT part of the constitution, really. They are an "add on" so to speak. It's an interesting argument. How would the late Peter Rodino respond?

My business school guru responds:
"Luckily, the data mining software they designed, or commissioned really, to track everyone's email coast to coast, and internationally, is crap - it just doesn't work."

Without knowing the contractor, smart money says any corporate entity capable of winning the bid would fail at the design stage because the work typically starts at the end-point and works back to the data, instead of starting at the point of fine granularity and working outwards. You see, the latter requires hard manual work and automates only what's proven to work in manual beta testing; the former begins with automation and trusts programming to create solutions.

So yes, the results don't work time and again.

"The court is not going to touch that. There's a war on, remember?"

Yeah - the war between the Republican Party and the constitution!

"The new idea? We need to follow what the framers intended - and since the Bill of Rights consists of "amendments" one to ten, that stuff is not actually part of the document."

Interesting? OK - literal interpretations of the bible set the stage for literal translation of 18th century political context, for Americans deserve the PURE-itan life of our forefathers. Back to the days before Crapper set the stage for indoor plumbing or Ford created a life for a "middle" folks in America via automation. These are evils we need to erase (hey, they demonstrate potential for a concept called evolution, we can't have that in our children's heads). We must devolve all the evils brought about over the centuries where we allowed science to define our state of progress. Change doesn't happen? Not here. Why the wording of the Patriot Act shows that we always get everything right the very first time we draft it. Nothing need change (China and Arab nations will surely stand still while we do!)

OK America, swallow this... along with 2 aspirin... and see what the world looks like when you wake tomorrow...

Sucker! Goodbye American Pie!
I think I upset him.

Now on this software thing - "…the bid would fail at the design stage because the work typically starts at the end-point and works back to the data, instead of starting at the point of fine granularity and working outwards."

Been there, done that. When I worked at Computer Science Corporation (CSC) - and I still have friend who work for them - the whole problem was always what my business school friend says. Some sales slime had sold a systems solution and turned to the programmers to save his ass - but he had no clue what could be done, or needed to be done, only his hazy "vision" of what the ideal end-state would be. At CSC I used to teach business process reengineering - and that had nothing to do with programming. You sat down with those who did the work and charted out just what the job was - tasks and what came in and what when out, and for whom and for what reason. You built a representation - usually a big flow chart - of what the hell you were actually doing and why - and all the systems crap came later. Lots of stuff didn't need automated, just rationalized. Programming code was not needed. But few folks do that. Mostly - particularly up in Canada at a locomotive plant where I managed a systems shop - you got line guys saying, "Wouldn't it be neat if we had a system that did X, or Y, or Z?" Yeah, but why? My friends and I remember a warehouse pick-list system we were working on - melding a vendor Visual Basic warehouse system to the in-house mainframe MRP system with the idea somehow the right parts would get to the shop floor like magic. I remember presenting the prototype, and head of production saying, well, it does what we asked, but it's really not what we wanted. Huh?

Well, I've left that world. I don't miss it.

As for the constitution business – my friend touches on something interesting. Is the key conflict today between literalists and those more flexible and, perhaps, metaphoric? Is a conservative always attempting "fix in time" a truth, and a liberal bent on "dislocation" and flux to see what can be done?

From the business school fellow -
The software design dilemma we both recognize is one reason I find value in teaching info-driven marketing to smart people who someday may control tons of assets - the notion of implanting (or at best exposing) rational solutions thinking BEFORE they become entrapped in the mind-think of their professional cultures!

On the constitutional topic - I'm glad you saw through my tirade to the fundamental issues of fundamentalism versus relativism. Now here's an ironic thought for you: Here we have neo-cons who don't want to recognize evolution, yet Darwin would predict that if we're patient, that in time (like the Shakers) neo-cons themselves will die out! (Of course Shakers die out for a much more simplistic biologic truth than evolution, even. But you get the gist of my parallel thinking.)
I get the gist, but I'm not that patient.

And from one of my CSC friends at the locomotive plant?
Not much has changed since you left. Actually what you just described is summed up in the one Dilbert cartoon hanging in my cube...

Dilbert: "I'll design the system as soon as you give me the user requirements."
Project requestor: "Better yet... you could build the system, then I'll tell your boss that it doesn't meet my needs."
Dilbert: "I don't mean to frighten you, but you'll have to do some actual work."
Project requestor: "That's crazy talk."
As my business school friend says, "Dilbert wouldn't be in business if it weren't so!"

To sum up?

Dissent is becoming dangerous. Fundamentalists are everywhere. And they cannot track us all because they cannot build the tools to do it.

Freedom is sometimes not won, but inadvertently handed to you by the general incompetence of those who would limit you.

Posted by Alan at 17:16 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Culture of Life

Case Closed: Dead, Autopsy, Enough Said

Wednesday brought the results of the autopsy of Terri Schiavo. As you recall, Schiavo, 41, died March 31 at a Florida hospice thirteen days after her feeding tube was removed by a judge's order. This was at the end of a seven-year legal battle between her husband and her parents – and that had turned into a big national controversy, and prompted action by Congress and the White House. Much has been said of this, even in these pages, so there is not point in running it all down now.

Basic questions? Was she really in a "persistent vegetative state" now, and maybe since she fell into a coma in 1990 – or could she recover? (Husband said yes, parents said no, doctors all said yes, Senator Frist, also an MD, said no.) Did she say she wanted an end to extraordinary measures to keep her body alive if such a thing were to happen to her? (Husband said yes, parents said no, courts said the husband has the call, Republicans said the courts were, while following the law regarding the husband's claim, doing something very wrong that was very much like murdering the merely helpless or unlucky.)

Secondary question raised by conspiracy theorists? Did her husband beat her into a coma so he could get all the money and run off with another woman, thus making this really a murder in progress that he was asking the government to take part in by using the courts in this manner? Why did he want the rest of her body dead, not just her brain? What was this evil man up to?

Regarding the basic questions, the autopsy settled matters. Regarding the secondary question – the murder plot – the autopsy showed no evidence of any beating, but on Friday, June 17, Florida governor Jeb Bush, the President's brother, set in motion the legal arm of the state government to go after the husband. He's not satisfied.

What did the medial examiner find in the autopsy? Basically this -
... his examination turned up no sign of abuse or trauma - allegations leveled by Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, against her husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo.

A report from a neuropathologist who served as a consultant to the autopsy said Schiavo's brain was "grossly abnormal and weighed only 615 grams (1.35 pounds)." That weight is less than half of that expected for a woman of her age, said the report written by Dr. Stephen J. Nelson. "By way of comparison, the brain of Karen Ann Quinlan weighed 835 grams at the time of her death, after 10 years in a similar persistent vegetative state."

… Schiavo's brain damage "was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons," Thogmartin said.

He said, the vision centers of her brain were dead, meaning she was blind. And his examination showed she would have been unable to take nourishment by mouth because of the danger she might aspirate the food."
So what was the big deal? Why was the whole nation up in arms?

And why do the parents now say the autopsy proves nothing?

Over at Corrente see this -
Ever since the Rodney King video made self-delusion a national past-time, more and more people have been navigating by the comfortable worldmaps inside their own heads, rather than seeing what's right in front of their eyes. Now Schiavo's parents, confronted by information on their daughter's condition that fails to support their own beliefs, simply choose to ignore it, and are joined and even encouraged in this sad shadow play by the vultures of life.

But why not? Hasn't the political and public reaction to the revelations of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Bagram Air Base demonstrated that Americans have a talent for this that is nearly phenomenal? Eventually respect for the truth and the desire to seek it out must begin to wear thin, when you live in a world where no evidence is ever enough. You start to suspect that, ultimately, finding out what's real and sharing that with others is not only a waste of time, it could even get you hurt. You stop trying.

And maybe that is the point.
Too cynical.

And what of Senator Frist, the former doctor who said he watched selected video clips of the still functioning body and said this was a woman who had been misdiagnosed.

The problem is here -
Frist: "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."

Autopsy report: "The vision centers of her brain were dead."
Majority Leader Frist being interview by Matt Lauer on "The Today Show" here -
LAUER: But when you stood on the floor and you said, "She does respond," are you at all worried that you led some senators...

FRIST: I never said, "She responded." I said I reviewed the court videotapes - the same ones the other doctors reviewed - and I questioned, Is her diagnosis correct?

What he said on the senate floor, Feburary 17, 2005 - "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli"

What he said on the senate floor, March 17, 2005 - "I have looked at the video footage. Based on the footage provided to me, which was part of the facts of the case, she does respond."

The MSNBC story from two days later -
Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a renowned heart surgeon before becoming Senate majority leader, went to the floor late Thursday night for the second time in 12 hours to argue that Florida doctors had erred in saying Terri Schiavo is in a "persistent vegetative state."

"I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office," he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards.

"She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."
Oh, it doesn't matter.

Something else that doesn't matter? He said he reviewed the court videotapes. Not exactly. See this - he only saw edited outtakes. What did he miss?
The judge in the Schiavo case notes that elsewhere on the hours of videotape her father "tried several more times to have her eyes follow the Mickey Mouse balloon but without success." The Times reports that at one point
... her father gets gruff while trying unsuccessfully to get her to follow [the] balloon. "Come here, Terri, no more fooling around. No more fooling around with your dad." He pokes her in the forehead to make sure she's awake. "No more fooling around with your dad. Listen to me. You see the balloon? You see Mickey?" Later, he apologizes, telling her others have admonished him for his tone.
This is what happens when you deny reality. First you lose your senses, then your mind, then your soul. It isn't Terri Schiavo who's refusing to see what's happening in that awful scene. It's her dad.
Doctor Bill, our Senator Frist, wasn't given that segment.

Frist has ambitions to run for president in 2008, and perhaps he now will not use his fantastic medical skills - he can make the diagnosis everyone else missed, remote, by watching selected bits of video - to convince folks of his superiority over other mortals. He'll have to be known as the man who, in God's name, got rid of the filibuster as a traditional senate procedure, although that didn't go so well and most people don't give a hoot. Maybe he has another trick up his sleeve.

And Frist just wants to move on.

But this whole business may create problems for Mark Fuhrman. Remember him - the LAPD detective from the OJ Simpson trial? Screwed up the evidence and seems to have lied on the stand and left town with his tail between his legs? He's now a conservative radio talk show host in Idaho and writes books.

Fuhrman has a blockbuster coming out on June 28 - Silent Witness : The Untold Story of Terri Schiavo's Death:
We all watched Terri Schiavo die. The controversy around her case dominated the headlines and talk shows, going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House, and the Vatican.

And it's not over yet. Despite her death, the controversy lingers. In Silent Witness, former LAPD detective and New York Times bestselling author Mark Fuhrman applies his highly respected investigative skills to examine the medical evidence, legal case files, and police records. With the complete cooperation of Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings, as well as their medical and legal advisers, he conducts exclusive interviews with forensics experts and crucial witnesses, including friends, family members, and caregivers.

Fuhrman's findings will answer these questions:

- What was Terri and Michael Schiavo's marriage really like?

- What happened the day Terri collapsed?

-What did Michael Schiavo do when he discovered Terri unconscious?

- How long did he wait before calling 911?

- What do medical records show about her condition when she was first admitted to the hospital?

- What will the autopsy say?

The legal issues and ethical questions provoked by Terri Schiavo's extraordinary case may never be resolved. But the facts about her marriage, her condition when she collapsed, and her eventual death fifteen years later can be determined.

With Silent Witness, Fuhrman goes beyond the legal aspects of the case and delves into the broader, human background of Terri Schiavo's short, sad life.
It's hard to predict how this book will do now. Pre-publication orders at Amazon show it is already moving, as it is at eight-eight on their list of most popular books, and rising.

We could just move on, as Senator (Doctor) Frist suggests, but over at the Washington Post E. J. Dionne is wanting an apology -
We are entitled to our moral, ethical and philosophical commitments. We are not entitled to our own facts.

So why is this basic rule of argument often ignored by politicians whose certainty about their righteousness convinces them that they can say absolutely anything to further their causes?

The autopsy in the Terri Schiavo case provides a rare moment of political accountability. We should not "move on," as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist suggested. No, we cannot move on until those politicians who felt entitled to make up facts and toss around unwarranted conclusions about Schiavo's condition take responsibility for what they said - and apologize.

Nothing in the autopsy report prevents those who opposed removing Schiavo's feeding tube from continuing to insist they were right. It's legitimate and honorable to argue on philosophical grounds that every medical decision in a tragic circumstance such as Schiavo's should be made on the side of keeping the sick person alive.

But those who supported an extraordinary use of federal power to force their own conclusion against the judgment of state courts knew that philosophical arguments would not be enough. Most Americans were uneasy about compelling Schiavo's husband, Michael, to keep his wife alive if - as the state courts had concluded and as the autopsy confirmed on Wednesday - she had suffered irreversible brain damage and was incapable of recovering.

So the big-government conservatives had to invent a story. They had to insist that they knew, just knew, more about Terri Schiavo's condition than the doctors on the scene. They had to question Michael Schiavo's motives and imply that he wanted to, well, get rid of her.
So? That's politics.

But the real gripe here?
Right-to-life politicians have done terrible damage to a serious cause. They claimed to know what they did not, and could not, know. They were willing to imply, without proof, terrible things about a husband who was getting in their way. Instead of making the hard and morally challenging case for keeping Terri Schiavo on life support, they spun an emotional narrative that they thought would play well on cable TV and talk radio.
Let's see, politicians making a hard and morally challenging case for something.

No. Not likely to happen. Not prudent.

But this could have been predicted -

Probe Sought in Terri Schiavo 911 Call
Friday, June 17, 2005 10:11 PDT Tallahassee, Fla. (AP)
Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday that a prosecutor has agreed to investigate why Terri Schiavo collapsed 15 years ago, citing an alleged time gap between when her husband found her and when he called 911.

Bush said his request for the probe was not meant to suggest wrongdoing by Michael Schiavo.

"It's a significant question that during this ordeal was never brought up," Bush told reporters.

Michael Schiavo's attorney has said his client called for help right away.

... Bobby Schindler, Schiavo's brother, said Friday his family believes more questions were raised than answered by the autopsy report and that a new legal review is appropriate.

"Anything that can shed some light on the cause of Terri's collapse is going to be welcomed by our family," he said from Bloomington, Minn., where the family is speaking at an anti-abortion convention.

But the request was immediately criticized by some lawmakers.

"Enough is enough," said Democratic Sen. Ron Klein. "I don't want to see it on TV any more, I don't want to hear politicians talk about it. Let her be at peace."

Bush acknowledged in his letter that an investigation may be difficult.

"I understand that these events took place many years ago, and that you may not be able to collect all the relevant records and physical evidence. However, Mrs. Schiavo's family deserves to know anything that can be done to determine the cause and circumstances of her collapse 15 years ago," Bush wrote. "The unanswered questions may be unanswerable, but the attempt should be made."
To what end?

Frist may not run for president in 2008, but Jeb certainly will.

Posted by Alan at 14:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 17 June 2005 18:17 PDT home

Topic: Breaking News

BREAKING NEWS: Cruise, Holmes, Dump Cruz and Klein, Climb Eiffel

This just in from Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis:

Special to Just Above Sunset

PARIS: Friday, June 17, 2005 - A RARE pre-dawn event took place Friday morning at the top of the Tour Eiffel when short screen actor Tom Cruise, 42, proposed to marry Katie Holmes, 26, because it was his first visit to the world famous French landmark.

Later, without sleeping, Mr. Cruise held an early-morning press conference in the company of Ms. Holmes, to announce the stupendous news to Associated Press and other news organizations anxious for an early-morning trivia scoop. "Yes, I did it," he said. Then Ms. Holmes showed reporters a blindingly huge diamond engagement ring as big as the Ritz.

Mr. Cruise, slightly giddy with over-emotion, said it was a 'magnificent day' for him, repeating that he's engaged, and when asked why he picked the Tour Eiffel to pop the question he replied, 'because it's there.' He added that the wedding date hadn't been arranged with the press yet.

The two actors were in Paris promoting their respective new movies.

Mr. Cruise is flogging Spielberg's 'The War of the Worlds' while Ms. Holmes is at bat for 'Batman Begins,' which opens next Wednesday in Paris and throughout France. Author H.G. Wells could not be reached for comment.

After the dawn press meeting the two beautiful actors dived into a limo and raced off to promote the two movies in Marseille, which is close to the Riviera. Earlier, in Berlin, Mr. Cruise denied that the romance which has been bubbling along since April, was a publicity stunt designed to get free space in tasteless tabloids with big circulations.

Ms. Holmes apparently denied this too, but apparently said that she intended to embrace Scientology, which is classed as an oddball sect in France and is not a recognized religion. Despite this some American actors closely identified with the group show no hesitation about promoting their movies here because they make a lot of money.


Editor's Note: This item will be published with additional commentary in the weekend edition of Just Above Sunset - Volume 3, Number 25 for the week of Sunday, June 19, 2005

Posted by Alan at 07:38 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 16 June 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Why Thursday? After all this time it's now time to talk about the war?

So why now? Thursday, June 16, late in the afternoon, Jennifer Loven of Associated Press proves a summary of the situation – "Facing growing pressure to bring troops home from Iraq, President Bush is launching a public relations campaign to try to calm anxieties about the war."

Is this a problem public relations can fix? Sometimes PR isn't the answer – but who knows? Maybe that'll do. In any event it seems we're going to get a major address on June 28, and that's symbolic, of course. That's the one-year anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty from our coalition - such as it is now (or was) - to the Iraqis. Four days before that it seems Bush is scheduled to will meet at the White House with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the fellow who heads the transitional government over there. Oh yeah, we are told Bush also plans a series of radio addresses and appearances outside Washington, one assumes with those trademark carefully-vetted audiences so there's no trouble. And the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, says Bush "will emphasize the importance of democracy in Iraq and elsewhere" when he meets with selected world leaders in Gleneagles, Scotland.

That will turn things around?

Our fatalities so far? Over 1,700 now – and rising. Don't ask about how many Iraqis, soldiers and civilians, have died in all the recent bombings. It seems an average of thirty or so a day,

Scott McClellan: "The president recognizes that this is a concern that's on the minds of the American people. That's why he's going to sharpen his focus, spending more time talking about the progress that's being made on the ground - there's significant progress that has been made in a short period of time - the dangers that remain and that lie ahead, as well as our strategy for victory in Iraq."

Focus is good. And a strategy would be nice. Up until now out leaders were doing what, exactly? Well, there was the body of the one brain-dead woman that had to be kept functioning – and that moral, ethical and metaphysical battle had to be fought, as a matter of principal and religious faith. There was rescuing our stem-cell citizens - those little lumps of cells who were really people just like you and me - from the evil scientists. There was getting judges who favor the Bible over the constitution appointed – and that damned filibuster. And there was so much more. So the war got short shrift – but, reluctantly, it seems the guy has to deal with it.

Why? Because even the "freedom fries" guy has turned to the dark side. Representative Walter Jones, Republican of North Carolina – the guy who won the battle to have the House cafeteria rename those greasy potato sticks something other than "French" fries – is supporting the new bipartisan resolution to start withdrawing our troops from Iraq by October 1, 2006. He voted for the war and now says - "After 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded and $200 billion spent, we believe it is time to have this debate and discussion." Dang.

And Loven of AP notes this -
Foreign policy has typically given Bush his highest scores with the public, but that has changed. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll this month found just 41 percent of adults supported his handling of the Iraq war - an all-time low. In addition, a Gallup poll released Monday found that six in 10 Americans say they think the United States should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq.
That'll grab your attention.

So the PR task now is to explain there was be no change in any policy - that's the official line - we'll just be told we're doing the right thing, and we should trust them on that.

Loven does add a comment that this new focus, and some revelation of some sort of clear strategy, may be a momentary thing. There could be the first Supreme Court vacancy in more than ten year, and by the end of this month. If so, the war stuff goes to the back burner again?

But can it go back into the "we'll worry about it later" bin?

Even the Thursday edition of the pro-Bush conservative Wall Street Journal explains the grim situation -
As bad news continues to emerge from Iraq and the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, some Republicans are starting to edge away from the White House on its policies in the war on terror. The strains were on display yesterday, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Guantanamo Bay to address what Chairman Arlen Specter called the 'crazy quilt' system that governs the treatment of about 520 suspected enemy combatants being held there. Mr. Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, called on Congress to set out rules.

"More pointedly, Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, warned that if the administration and Congress and the courts can't come up with an effective policy for Guantanamo Bay, 'we're going to lose this war if we don't watch it.'"

President Bush is starting to get peppered by his own side on Iraq, too. Over the weekend, Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina - once a co-promoter of "freedom fries" - called for the U.S. to set a date to withdraw troops from Iraq. And last week, Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, a former Bush cabinet member who strongly supported the Iraq war in its earlier days, said he was "discouraged" by the lack of progress and the inability of the Pentagon to draw down U.S. forces.
Look like it really is time to roll out the public relations heavy armor. A former cabinet member? The Freedom Fries guy?

And Thursday on Capitol Hill, in a basement room because the Republican house leadership said no conference rooms were available, Democratic representatives Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and John Conyers of Michigan led a hearing on the Downing Street Memo - those minutes from a British leadership meeting that suggest the Bush first decided to go to war in Iraq and then built a case for it later. No wonder there were no rooms available.

Note this: "In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Jackson Lee said the public needs to understand what happened. 'This is just the beginning. I look to 2002 and the names many of us were called for opposing the war in Iraq, and then I look at where we are today,' she said. 'If this is to meet the test of history, we have to have a comprehensive answer to what happened.'"

Things are getting hot.

On Flag Day, Tuesday, June 14 - Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat, read this statement (links to a PDF document) -
When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here [at Guantanamo Bay]--I almost hesitate to put them in the [Congressional] Record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:
On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime--Pol Pot or others--that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.
Oh, that's just not nice.

Over at Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas Ziniga (Kos) describes the reaction to what Durbin said. This has become "the latest cause celebre of the Right Wing Media Borg." (Borg? See this.)
To the pea brains on the Right, incapable of reading the English language in its most basic, unuanced form, they claim Durbin is calling our troops Nazis. The Wingnutosphere is making that claim. Rush is making that claim. Hannity is making that claim. Drudge is making that claim. Look to Fox News to jump on the bandwagon tomorrow.
Fox News? Late Thursday they headlined the administration saying Durbin's comments were "reprehensible." As expected.

Kos suggests all the critics of what Durbin said missed the point -
Of course, what Durbin is saying is that such torture - undisputed, by the way, and read from an FBI report - is more at home in a place like Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany than in a modern Democracy.

And that's the truth. Plain and simple.

Remember when torture was bad? And getting rid of it was good?
Yep, Durbin was saying we're better than this. The response? You're calling us Nazis!

I'm not sure that's a counterargument. Why are we doing this stuff?

Of course, the Nazi reference, and the Gulag and Pol Pot stuff, was meant as a reminder we're NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THOSE GUYS.

Perhaps it would have been better if Durbin had done what Jon Stewart did on the Wednesday night "Daily Show" - discuss the torture business under a beach graphic with the logo "Guantanamo Baywatch." No one is offended by David Hasselhoff. (Well, that's not exactly true.)

Kos does offer some reminders that we say we don't like torture much -

President Bush, Oct. 8 2003: "Iraq is free of rape rooms and torture chambers."

Scott McClellan, Dec. 10, 2003: "There was an announcement by the Iraqi Governing Council earlier this week about the tribunal that they have set up to hold accountable members of the former regime who were responsible for three decades of brutality and atrocities. ... We know about the mass graves and the rape rooms and the torture chambers of Saddam Hussein's regime. ... We welcome their decision to move forward on a tribunal to hold people accountable for those atrocities."

President Bush, Jan. 12, 2004: "One thing is for certain: There won't be any more mass graves and torture rooms and rape rooms."

Well, there won't be any over there. And those quotes are links from the actual White House website.
And let's not forget, "torture" was used as a rationale for this war - as in, we'll invade and end the torture.

Of course, none of that has happened. The torture that was so bad under Saddam is equally bad under U.S. command. And Dick Durbin had the balls to say it so on the Senate floor.

And these cowards - these people who will neither serve the cause they claim is so vital, nor urge others to serve it - now rush to defend behavior that is indefensible?
Ah, seems so.

More of the same sort of thing from others here, here and here.

Kos wraps up with this -
Really, what is the Right trying to accomplish here? Inflict so much pain on Durbin that others will think twice before they levy legitimate criticisms of the war? Are they so hell-bent on their political correctness that any criticisms of the war effort is considered treasonous?

Last time I checked, the American people were giving up on Bush's folly. Last time I checked, most people still think torture is wrong, worthy of condemnation. Last time I checked, the War Pundits, War Politicians, War Preachers, and 101st Fighting Keyboarders still refused to personally sacrifice for the war effort. Last time I checked, that sad lot still refused to call on their own supporters to sacrifice for the war effort.

At a time when REAL support for the troops means providing them with the equipment and manpower necessary to fight the war effectively, they agitate for neither.

Instead, they try to shut down a US senator reading from an FBI report. From Bush's FBI. Because the truth hurts. So we must suppress it. And we'll do it by shedding crocodile tears for the troops. Because who gives a shit about them, so long as our heroic, do-no-wrong President looks good on the evening news.

Well, I stand with Durbin. Proudly. Because opposing torture is the Right Thing, despite violating the wingnut manual of political correct speech. And the rest of the Senate Democratic caucus better be standing with him as well.

You are either for torture, or against it. Let the chips fall where they may.
Yeah, well, if he's angry, turn to the other side.

J. Mendez posts an open letter -
Senator Durbin,

The word traitorous does not begin to capture your heinous remarks in the Senate regarding our treatment of war prisoners. You, Sir, are a political abomination and if I had my way senator you would be impeached and arrested for sedition.

For you to compare the treatment these Islamic dogs have received as our prisoners to Nazi concentration camps, to the Soviet gulags or to murderous regime of Pol Pot is not only a disservice to the victims of those horrible crimes, it is nothing less than siding with our enemy and emboldening them to continue their terrorist assault on our country.

You, sir, have demonstrated clearly where your loyalties lie and they lie squarely with our nation's enemies. You have inexcusably indicted our men and woman in uniform, you have dragged our good name through the mud and you have enraged a huge segment of this nation's citizenry in ways you cannot begin to fully grasp.

Do you forget senator the vermin we are holding in places like Guantanamo are of the same ilk as those who killed close to 3,000 Americans on 911 and who ruthlessly and cowardly beheaded Americans like Nick Burg in a crazed blood bath? You traitorous slim you!

You are not worthy to be called an American senator you are barely worthy to be called an American at all. You, Sir, are a quisling, not to mention a real and present danger to this country's safety and well-being.

To call you a horse's ass senator would be to insult the horse!

With any luck we, the people of Illinois, will give you what is coming to you in your next election and vote you clear out of office. The Senate is no place for seditious slim like you senator.

Gloat all you want for now in your unabashed anti-Americanism. We, the American people, will not forget what you have said and, if it is all I do, I will do all I can to send you back to whatever spider whole crawled out came from.

God help us all from you and your entire kind, senator.
Things really are getting hot.

Over at Blogs for Bush you'll find a more reasoned voice here -
As a general rule, I don't wish to see these men treated brutally because I believe that we can get more useful information out of them by treating them humanely - but make no mistake about it, if harsh measures are ever required to get the necessary information, then we must do it. Their lives are forfeit, and only necessity and our innate humanity keeps them alive for any given length of time.
The tone is calmer - the contention that these lives are forfeit does raise the issue of whether we need to determine if we got the right folks - that has been a bit of a problem in the past - and whether they deserve to have the chance to explain there may have been some mistake.

On the right side - the Bush side - there is no dispute, it seems.

And as one middle-of-the road television analyst, Chris Matthews suggests to America on MSNBC, there is the a practical consideration about the folks we hold at Guantanamo -
My big concern is, the longer you keep them, the angrier they get. Eventually, you are going to send them home. Maybe the smarter thing is to execute everyone down there, because if you're going to send them back to the Arab world or the Islamic world angry as hell at us, they're going to be doing dirty stuff against us, right?
Ah, the famous kill-'em-all-and-let-God-sort-it-out argument. Elegantly simple.

But folks are angry - as in the Pentagon now threatening members of congress. Chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita -
The Pentagon on Thursday invited more members of Congress to visit the Guantanamo jail for foreign terrorism suspects, saying criticism by some U.S. lawmakers showed "a real ignorance of what's really going on...."

"And the way they are describing it is unfortunate, and in some places I believe those people will regret having made those kind of comments."
Whatever does that mean? Better not visit a NASCAR race? Don't walk down dark alleys? Expect a horse's head in your bed?

Whatever. Warning noted.

You know, of course, that Navy general counsel Alberto Mora could be sleeping with the fishes if he's not more careful. From CURSOR.COM we see ABC News reports that a Pentagon memo reveals that Alberto Mora warned that "top officials could go to prison" over interrogation techniques used on Guantanamo Bay detainees. Mora was previously reported to have called the techniques " unlawful and unworthy of the military services."

Hey, no one is going to prison. Mora needs to shut up, or watch his back.

These guys have the mojo here.

As in this - just Reuters reporting on a Senate hearing this week -
Delaware Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden asked Deputy Associate Attorney General J. Michael Wiggins whether the Justice Department had "defined when there is the end of conflict."

"No, sir," Wiggins responded.

"If there is no definition as to when the conflict ends, that means forever, forever, forever these folks get held at Guantanamo Bay," Biden said.

"It's our position that, legally, they can be held in perpetuity," Wiggins said.

Earlier, the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said the United States may face terrorism "as long as you and I live." He asked Brig. Gen. Thomas Hemingway, who oversees military trials of Guantanamo prisoners, if that means America can hold prisoners that long without charges.

"I think that we can hold them as long as the conflict endures," Hemingway responded."
At Corrente there is this comment -
"In perpetuity." "As long as the conflict endures."

Without charges.

Forget that many of these people were handed over to US troops because we paid the locals money to bring in warm bodies, and some of their only crimes were that they had gotten on the bad side of one of the warlords or their buddies.

Forget that the lack of parameters around the concept of "war on terror" is an expedient method of initiating and extending conflicts all over the world against whomever we may find convenient, without ever having to be made accountable for our actions, a new permutation of the cold war as the-paranoia-that-never-ends.

Forget that all Bushco's squirming under the charge of running a "gulag" hides the fact that this is how gulags begin, and that once this kind of power is exercised against a foe, it becomes that much more inevitable that it will one day be exercised against those identified as foes internally.

How does the concept of clapping a human being into a cell without charges, with no recourse to communication with the outside world and no one to speak for him, and no hope of ever being free again, how does this square with your concept of right and wrong, and what you may have been taught by the decent people in your life?

Now which side of the equation is our nation on? Will our representatives take back our power to do right?
Ah, that sort of depends on how you define "doing right."

And the definition has changed - as the new Bush PR campaign will let us know.

We will see just who is buying the new shtick.

Posted by Alan at 18:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 16 June 2005 19:31 PDT home

Wednesday, 15 June 2005

Topic: Dissent

Book Notes: Hedging Your Bets

As readers here may know, I have a close relative in the Army, now in Iraq. This week he was transferred from Mosul to Baghdad. (His photos from Mosul can be found here - and the last one on the page shows where he's working right now, one of the palaces in the Green Zone.) A graduate of West Point, he an avid reader. A year or more ago his Christmas list included a book by Christopher Hedges – "War is the Force that Gives Us Meaning" – so I found that, gift-wrapped it, and gave it to him. The book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

He was surprised by it. Hedges has been a war reporter for fifteen years and doesn't much like what he saw – or he liked it too much, as he explains.

The book puzzled my Army relative.

Then there's this other Hedges book - "What Every Person Should Know About War" (2003) – and I don't think I'll send him that now.

Here's Hedges this month - "We are losing the war in Iraq. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are pitiless to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals."

That's from this:

War: Realities and Myths
June 11, 2005,

Key points (with my emphases) -
There is no more candor in Iraq or Afghanistan than there was in Vietnam, but in the age of live satellite feeds the military has perfected the appearance of candor. What we are fed is the myth of war. For the myth of war, the myth of glory and honor sells newspapers and boosts ratings, real war reporting does not. Ask the grieving parents of Pat Tillman. Nearly every embedded war correspondent sees his or her mission as sustaining civilian and army morale. This is what passes for coverage on FOX, MSNBC or CNN.

… This myth, the lie, about war, about ourselves, is imploding our democracy. We shun introspection and self-criticism. We ignore truth, to embrace the strange, disquieting certitude and hubris offered by the radical Christian Right. These radical Christians draw almost exclusively from the book of Revelations, the only time in the Gospels where Jesus sanctions violence, peddling a vision of Christ as the head of a great and murderous army of heavenly avengers. They rarely speak about Christ's message of love, forgiveness and compassion. They relish the cataclysmic destruction that will befall unbelievers, including those such as myself, who they dismiss as 'nominal Christians.' They divide the world between good and evil, between those anointed to act as agents of God and those who act as agents of Satan.

As the war grinds forward, as we sink into a morass of our own creation, as our press and political opposition, and yes even our great research universities, remain complacent and passive, as we refuse to confront the forces that have crippled us outside our gates and are working to cripple us within, the ideology of the Christian Right, so intertwined with intolerance and force, will become the way we speak not only to others but among ourselves.

In war, we always deform ourselves, our essence. We give up individual conscience – maybe even consciousness – for contagion of the crowd, the rush of patriotism, the belief that we must stand together as a nation in moments of extremity. To make a moral choice, to defy war's enticement, to find moral courage, can be self-destructive.

The attacks on the World Trade Center illustrate that those who oppose us, rather than coming from another moral universe, have been schooled well in modern warfare. The dramatic explosions, the fireballs, the victims plummeting to their deaths, the collapse of the towers in Manhattan, were straight out of Hollywood. Where else, but from the industrialized world, did the suicide bombers learn that huge explosions and death above a city skyline are a peculiar and effective form of communication? They have mastered the language we have taught them.

… War is always about... betrayal. It is about the betrayal of the young by the old, idealists by cynics and finally soldiers by politicians. Those who pay the price, those who are maimed forever by war, however, are crumpled up and thrown away. We do not see them. We do not hear them. They are doomed, like wandering spirits, to float around the edges of our consciousness, ignored, even reviled. The message they bring is too painful for us to hear. We prefer the myth of war, the myth of glory, honor, patriotism and heroism, words that in the terror and brutality of combat are empty, meaningless and obscene.

We are losing the war in Iraq. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are pitiless to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals. Thucydides wrote of Athens' expanding empire and how this empire led it to become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home. The tyranny Athens imposed on others, it finally imposed on itself. If we do not confront the lies and hubris told to justify the killing and mask the destruction carried out in our name in Iraq, if we do not grasp the moral corrosiveness of empire and occupation, if we continue to allow force and violence to be our primary form of communication, if we do not remove from power our flag-waving, cross-bearing versions of the Taliban, we will not so much defeat dictators such as Saddam Hussein as become them.
My relative serving in Baghdad, has, of course, read Thucydides. But I don't think I’ll send him this.

From our Australian friend in Paris –
Spot on. This kind of thing should be spammed across the American nation for as long as it takes Jesus to return to us.
Ah, yes, and the meek shall inherit the earth? Or carry the day? The next task for the evangelical pro-war Christian right? Proof that Jesus may have SAID that, but he didn't MEAN that. He was a kick-ass kind of guy.

Making this implicitly a holy war may have been a bad idea, and my relative isn't buying into that part of it, as far as I know. Still, he believes in what he is doing, and that what he is doing is good. And maybe it is.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, asks a logical question – where did my relative hear about this first Hedges book, and what did I think he expected it to be?

What did I think he had expected the book to be? Well, when I did some net surfing to see who had it in stock - it was sold out at a lot of stores - I read the reviews. (Actually I had known what the book was about - a war reporter confessing he liked war too much.) I really did wonder why he wanted this one. Frankly, I think he liked the title. He has a habit of skimming lists of new military books. And I figured it would be good for him to read this.

His only comment a few weeks later - "That wasn't what I thought it was."

No kidding.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta – "No kidding, indeed, you tricky SOB!"

Who, me?

Hey, no one was ever harmed by reading a book, as they say. Folks should read everything on all sides. And too, when possible, you should get your relatives what they ask for on their Christmas lists.

Posted by Alan at 17:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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