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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, 21 June 2005

Topic: World View

The man who thought he was being chased by a lobster through the nightmare streets full of loud music...
Notes for Tuesday, June 21, 2005: the moon is just about full (actual full moon June 22), they've got that music thing going in Paris, and Jean-Paul-Sartre would be one hundred years old on this date, but he's dead.

This "Fete de la Musique" thing? No doubt Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, and Our Man in Paris, will cover it in next Monday's issue of Metropole.

Here are the basics -
PARIS, France (UPI) -- France kicked off summer Tuesday with musical festivities now being replicated worldwide.

Musicians and wannabe musicians were out serenading audiences across the country, marking the 24th annual "Fete de la Musique."

Founded in the early 1980s in France, the "fete" - or celebration - is being replicated in some 100 cities scattered across five continents.

Some 5 million French are musicians, Le Figaro reports, although many are amateurs….
As noted last year about this time in these pages -
This is madness in Paris, where the longest day of the year gives everyone reasonable natural light until well after ten in the evening. (Paris in on the far western edge of its fifteen-degree time zone so the sun sets very, very late.) In 1997 up in Montmartre, strolling rue des Abbesses, you would have heard a lot of Brazilian bands, as I recall, and then, further east down the street, one could walk into an ancient stone church where one could sit and listen to some ancient looking nuns doing plainchant sorts of things. In June of 2000, on a long walk from rue Daguerre down rue des Rennes and ending up at the Buci market area (a long slog), the city seemed filled with over amplified seventh-rate amateur rock bands, crappy novelty New Orleans groups doing "Hold That Tiger" (Tenez ce tigre?) and such things – and a heavy mental band outside the hotel window that played (quite badly) until four in the morning. Awful stuff. I missed Patricia Kaas across the river on the right bank.
Hollywood has nothing like thing, or is like this all the time.

But all of this year's music will no doubt drown out whatever Sartre stuff is going on, and the BBC reports that officials at France's National Library are quite disappointed by the poor visitor figures for a current anniversary exhibition of his work. Ah well.

Mixed feelings?
"France hated him when he was alive and shuns him in death," French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy said.

But in his heyday, his radical ideas earned him a following that has been compared to that of a pop star.

There was a time when Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) could not move without being mobbed in the street.

His existentialist ideas made him an icon for a whole generation of intellectuals.

According to the British philosopher Julian Baggini, Sartre's "point is that freedom is something we're kind of afraid of, and we always want to deny we have, so we always try and make excuses for our behaviour, and say it's not our responsibility".

"And his real point was, no, we do have to choose. And not just about what we do, but what we believe, and the values we hold."
Yep, and Sartre supported the Soviet regime in the fifties and then the Maoists, then he defended the killing of those Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, and he turned down the Nobel prize for literature – it was just too bourgeois, of course. So there have been a series of tributes and events, but he does have this reputation as an apologist for totalitarianism. It's not all just "holding forth in a smoky cafe on the Left Bank with his partner, the French feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir."

Lately those Left Bank Cafes - the Flore and Les Deux Magots – are filled with American tourists who hate the smoke and want smoking banned throughout Paris, just as we have done here (we got rid of philosophy discussions early in the nineteenth century, of course). Adam Gopnik explains what two those places are now all about here in his book "Paris to the Moon." Those days are gone.

For a fine assessment of Sartre for us - we, the Americans - you might check out this:

Exit, Pursued by a Lobster
Jean-Paul Sartre: Brilliant philosopher, or totalitarian apologist?
Jim Holt - Posted Monday, Sept. 22, 2003, at 8:28 AM PT - SLATE.COM

Holt writes for The New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine and the title has to do with Sartre's experiments with mescaline, which left him with the recurrent fear that he was being pursued by a lobster. Who knows? Perhaps he was so pursued.

A bit of what Holt has to say -
As an intellectual superstar and monstre sacre, Sartre has no equal in the English-speaking world. Even in France you would have to go back to Voltaire to find a figure of comparable stature. At his funeral in 1980, a crowd of 50,000 people followed the cortege through the streets of Paris to the Montparnasse cemetery. This ugly little wall-eyed scribbler had done it all. He created existentialism, a philosophy that could be lived. His treatises and novels sold in the millions; his plays were boffo successes; his public lectures were mobbed. He founded Liberation, which was to become France's most powerful left-wing newspaper, and Les Temps Modernes, for years its premier intellectual journal.

By dint of sheer intellectual authority, Sartre could engage his bitter adversary Charles de Gaulle as an equal, even though de Gaulle was head of state. ("One does not imprison a Voltaire," the general said of him.) …
Yep, a big gun. And Hold suggests that if you combined aspects of Bertrand Russell, Arthur Miller, Noam Chomsky, Saul Bellow, Leonard Cohen, and Mick Jagger you might have a pretty good idea of how big a gun he was.

But how good was Sartre as a philosopher?
Some critics say that in creating existentialism he simply took the ideas of Heidegger and give them a Gallic gloss. Sartre's Being and Nothingness, they complain, is just Heidegger's Being and Time with some racy passages thrown in about the anus and Italian love-making. That is unfair. It is certainly true that Sartre, who grew up in a bilingual Alsatian household, owed a great debt to German thought. But the starting point for his philosophy, as he always insisted, was the Cartesian formula "I think, therefore I am." Consciousness, the core of our being, is an emptiness or "negativity" that must fill out its nature through arbitrary choices - that is the idea behind Sartre's celebrated aphorism "We are condemned to be free."

Despite the phenomenological complexities of his philosophy, Sartre managed to make it exciting. Anybody could become an existentialist, especially the young. The teutonic dread of Kierkegaard and angst of Heidegger gave way to Sartrean fun.
Ah, screw Kierkegaard and Heidegger, and let's have some Sartrean fun!
In the underground caves of St. Germain-des-Pres, jazz dancing was deemed the highest expression of existentialism. Never has a serious philosopher had such an impact on nightlife. Sartre even wrote a rather beautiful song for the great chanteuse Juliette Greco to sing at the Rose Rouge.
I guess you had to be there. And it is hard to determine what Sartre made of Juliette Greco's hot affair with Miles Davis.

As for the negative stuff? In the fifties align himself with the Communist Party – "this at a time when the crimes of Stalin were being documented and other intellectuals were abandoning the party."
He broke with Camus because the latter denounced totalitarianism. He was silent on the gulag ("It was not our duty to write about the Soviet labor camps"), and he excused the purges of Stalin and later Mao. When the defector Victor Kravchenko published I Chose Freedom, the first inside account of the horrors of Stalinism, Sartre wrote a play implying that Kravchenko was a creation of the CIA. Even when Sartre was on the right side, he could be morally tone-deaf. In opposing the war in Vietnam, he urged the Soviet Union to take on the Americans, even at the risk of nuclear war. And in championing Algerian independence, he wrote (in his preface to Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth) that for an African "to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time."
Yipes - read Holt for all the details.

But in the end Holt is kind. Sartre was the Last Intellectual.
True, France still has writers on philosophical questions who also march in demonstrations. (One of them, Luc Ferry, has even been made the nation's minister for education.) But there will never again be a combination of totalizing theoretician, literary colossus, and political engage like Sartre. Today's French intellectuals look like puny technocrats by comparison. Luckily, they proved to be on the winning side of history, so they can afford to be gracious to him, to say, along with de Gaulle, Sartre, c'est aussi la France.
So full moon, music in the streets, and it's Sartre's birthday. Here in Hollywood not much is happening.


Additional Notes:

Sartre ? excerpts from the AFP wire Tuesday, 21 June 2005 18:32:00 GMT -
[1] In fact, says historian Annie Cohen-Solal writing in Le Monde newspaper, the French have largely turned their backs on Sartre, while his philosophy goes from strength to strength in other parts of the world.

There is "a strange divide between the way Sartre is viewed in France and in the rest of the world," she wrote in Le Monde Monday.

[2] Sartre's legacy will also be dissected and debated in several major symposia this summer, including one in southwestern France's Salies-de-Bearn, from June 29 to July 1, and another in Cerisy-la-Salle, on the Channel, from July 20-30.

[3] The last traces of the Renault automobile factory in Boulogne-Billancourt, where an iconic photograph showed the pro-Marxist philosopher haranguing the workers, disappeared under the wreckers' ball a few weeks ago, and is rapidly being replaced by apartments and offices for the bourgeoisie.

[4] One of the foreign countries that did remember Sartre on the day of his birth was Austria, where the cultural channel of the ORF public radio has dedicated a series of broadcasts to the theme Sarte and freedom.

A major article in the weekly Profil magazine describes Sartre as "a great intellectual, humanist and activist."

It said his reputation has been dusted off, so that one now "rediscovers a pop-star of philosophy" who helps people find their authentic selves.
Ah, more of that "pop star" business.

And Tuesday night's music program?

AFP Wednesday, 22 June 2005 01:40:00 GMT -
[1] A bevy of popular French singers performed before more than 70,000 people, according to the police, in the grounds of the Versailles palace.

French Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres hailed the success of the four-hour concert, where performers included Bryan Adams, Yannick Noah and Shakira. A firework display lit up the skies over the chateau.

[2] This year's theme took the fete back to its beginning: amateurism. And even if there were fewer headline acts that in previous years, there were still plenty of marquee names on stage.

French actress Sandrine Kiberlain, who has just released an album, was one, along with electronics music wizard Emilie Simon and rock band Deportivo.

The French Senate celebrated in its private backyard -- otherwise known as the Jardin de Luxembourg -- with a display of Brazilian rhythms featuring 150 percussionists.
So the Brazilian music up on rue des Abbessess up in Montmartre in 1997 has gone upscale. The Jardin de Luxembourg no less. Cool.

Posted by Alan at 17:09 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 22 June 2005 08:02 PDT home

Monday, 20 June 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Last week's topics bleed into this week, so to speak…
Billmon over at Whiskey Bar is fond of digging up old quotes, like this one -
Acheson and the other wise men advised [President Johnson] to launch a public relations campaign. They felt that if he could impart to the public the progress they had learned of in the secret briefings, he would be able to slow down the erosion of support. The president's appointments secretary, who kept a record of the Wise Men's meeting, summed up the advice of McGeorge Bundy, currently president of the Ford Foundation and a member of the group: "Emphasize the 'light at the end of the tunnel' instead of battles, deaths and danger." - Neil Sheehan, A Bright and Shining Lie, 1989
Ah, those were the days.

Here we go again. As mentioned previously, on Thursday, June 16, late in the afternoon, Jennifer Loven of Associated Press sounds the alert - "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? Well, as the New York Times explains in a long article on Monday, June 20, Bush's Road Gets Rougher – "… barring some crisis that creates another rally-round-the-president effect, analysts said, Mr. Bush's best opportunity to drive the agenda may be past."

Some would disagree – and argue Bush is wildly popular (the polls ask the wrong questions of the wrong people) and the best president America has ever had – but nonetheless, this "public relations campaign to try to calm anxieties" began on June 20, with a press conference at the White House. As the Associated Press reports -
WASHINGTON - Under fire at home and abroad, President Bush on Monday defended his polices on Iraq and the war on terrorism, saying the Iraqi conflict will be won despite attempts by "cold-hearted killers" to derail the U.S.

"I think about Iraq every day. Every single day, because I understand we have troops in harm's way," the president said at a White House news conference. "We will complete the mission and the world will be better off for it."

With more than 1,700 U.S. troops dead in Iraq, voters in the U.S. have grown uneasy with Bush's policies, according to public polls. Some in Congress are pushing for a date certain when troops would begin withdrawing.

… Overseas, the U.S. image has been tarnished by allegations of prisoner abuse in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where suspected terrorists are being detained. Bush challenged critics, even invited journalists to the detention facilities.

"Look at all the facts. That's all I ask people to do," the president said at a news conference with European Union leaders. Bush noted that many of the suspects at Guantanamo are not traditional war prisoners.
No, they're not. Assume then, for the sake of argument, that those Geneva Conventions may not apply. Do any rules apply?

Bush is facing, as documented over at the Daily Kos with links to all the items, a group of Republicans who oppose torture -
Want to know what's interesting about that list of Republicans above? Colin Powell, Army general. Chuck Hagel, two purple hearts and a bronze star in Vietnam. Lindsey Graham, US National Guard Judge Advocacy Group. Arlen Specter, US Air Force. Of the conservative bloggers, the one that seems to get this is John Cole, also a veteran.
Kos himself, as left as he is, is also a veteran.

There are more and more Downing Street memos, more daily suicide bombings in Iraq as things seem to many to grow worse by the day, Senator Richard Durbin noted on the Senate floor that torturing prisoners was the sort of thing Nazis or Communists would do, and that the United States, trying to be on the side of doing what's right, should hold itself to a higher standard of conduct, and the man who made the congressional cafeteria rename those hot grease-coated, salted potato sticks "freedom fries" - Representative Walter B. Jones Jr., Republican from North Carolina - last week introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for Bush to come up with a plan by the end of this year to withdraw the troops from Iraq, and for the withdrawal to start no later than October of 2006. Yeah, right. Former Republican Senator John Danforth ? who Bush had as our UN ambassador for a time - denounced the whole new Republican evangelical party as being just about the opposite of what anyone would consider Christian (see this for the particulars) ? but that may be a theological dispute as Danforth is also an ordained Episcopalian minister, and the religious right suspects that's a fake religion anyway. And recruiting numbers are way down as it is getting harder and harder to staff our professional (voluntary) military. (How hard? Just Above Sunset on Monday had a logon from this server - - the headquarters of the United States Army Recruiting Command.)

Bob Patterson, known to readers of the weekly Just Above Sunset as either The Book Wrangler or The World's Laziest Journalist, or both, is having none of this "dissention in the ranks" business -
Due to the delicate nature of the questions about WMD and such, it may be necessary for some Republicans to say some things which don't conform to policy. This extraordinary dispensation will only apply until after the 2006 election. In the meantime, it's not what the Republicans say that matters; it will be what they do. If they vote as Bush decrees, well then they can say all these nasty things because Dubya knows that's what they have to do to get reelected.

Don't watch what the Republicans say; judge them by what they do.

On the noon radio news on CBS, they were talking about what Chuck Hagel said about losing the war in Iraq. Did he have his fingers crossed when he said it? You know: It's not a lie if you cross your fingers when you say it.

Plus, it helps put the Democrats off balance. It makes them see "the light at the end of the tunnel."
So it's a plot to make it seem as if a few folks disagree with Bush. Just to fake them out.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Do know that Bob has a real-money bet going with a few readers that Bush will be sworn in for a third term in 2008 ? either the twenty-second amendment will be repealed or elections cancelled due to some emergency, or something. He is certain.

But still the national conversation is hot. What Richard Durbin of Illinois said on Flag Day, Tuesday, June 14, on the floor of the senate (the PDF document is here and our first round-up on it here) is still being discussed. For example Hugh Hewiit and William Kristol over at the neoconservative Weekly Standard want his hide. And over at Powerline you can read the letter former Speaker, Newt Gingrich, sent to every sitting senator, calling for formal censure of Durbin.
By his statements equating American treatment of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay with the behavior of the evil regimes of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Pol Pot's Cambodia, Senator Richard Durbin has dishonored the United States and the entire U.S. Senate. Only by a vote to censure Senator Durbin for his conduct can the U.S. Senate restore its dignity and defend American honor.

Senator Durbin's comparison, sadly, is despicable.

U.S. Senators should be clear about the gravity of Senator Durbin's comparison. Nine million innocent human beings were murdered in Hitler's death camps, nearly three million perished in the gulags under Stalin, and more than one and a half million were slaughtered in the killing fields of Cambodia at the hand of Pol Pot. And while not a single terrorist has died in detention at Guantanamo, Senator Durbin sees fit to liken our American service men and women to the terrifying murderers of three evil despotic regimes.

Moreover, Senator Durbin equates the terrorist detainees at Guantanamo with the millions of innocent men, women, and children exterminated by the order of evil dictators. The fact that he did so as a high ranking member of the Senate on the Senate floor makes his comparison all the more shocking.

This moral equivalence isn't just utterly false; it endangers the lives of our young men and women in the military because it arms every radical Islamist with the official-record words of a Senate leader to justify their war of terror against civilized people everywhere.

Senator Durbin's statement of "regret" on Friday has only compounded the need for the Senate to act. In it, Senator Durbin said that "I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings?" Incredibly, Senator Durbin is sticking to his original assertion that there is indeed, in his own words, an "historic parallel" between U.S. soldiers at Guantanamo Bay and the killers under Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. In other words, his only regret is that Americans don't understand his misreading of history and that he has caused us to misunderstand him. Offering no apology for the original slanderous statement itself, Senator Durbin has chosen instead to actually defend his comparisons. This defense makes his original speech all the more revolting.

It's one thing for one Senator to endanger young Americans and defame America; it would be the shame of the Senate if the other 99 senators did not stand up to defend America and to defend the reputation of our young men and women in uniform.

A Senate censure of Senator Durbin is justified and would reaffirm a standard for healthy, rational debate. By voting for or against the censure, the rest of the members of the U.S. Senate can go on record and make clear how they judge Senator Durbin's characterization of American soldiers. It will also send a clear message to terrorists who will use the words of a Senate leader against us that the Senate stands in support of America and our military and against those who seek to destroy the free people of the United States.

There is historic precedent for censuring Senators whose words bring dishonor and disrepute on the Senate and impair its dignity; Senator Durbin's words fit that precedent.

In this case, expressing outrage is not enough. It is time for the Senate to act. Senator Durbin must be censured now.
Well, we shall see what happens. John at Powerline adds this is a good way to see who loves America and who hates America. Count the votes.
? the American people deserve to know who, if anyone, agrees with Durbin's slander of our armed forces, so that when those Senators run for re-election, they can be defeated. Senators should not be able to hide behind a discreet "no comment," as Hillary Clinton has done. This is not a time for our elected officials to be neutral as between the terrorists and the armed forces of the United States.
For us - and for each and every thing we do or say - or against us - wanting to murder Americans and on the side of the terrorists and, in fact, aiding and abetting the enemies of the nation, as in "treason." Choose now. Be quick.

Yeah, yeah.

Andrew Sullivan, who calls himself conservative, offers this view -
I've now read and re-read Senator Dick Durbin's comments on interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay. They are completely, perfectly respectable. The rank hysteria being perpetrated by some on the right is what is shameful. Hugh Hewitt should answer one single question: does he doubt the FBI interrogator who witnessed the appalling treatment of some detainees at Guantanamo? Here's the 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."

Is Hewitt arguing that the interrogator was lying?

Does he believe that the kind of tactics used against this prisoner are worthy of the United States?

Does he believe that this happened without authorization?

If he were told this story and informed that it occurred in, say, Serbia under Milosevic, would he be surprised?

Hewitt should then answer the same question about the five detainees which the U.S. government itself has acknowledged were tortured to death by U.S. interrogators, and the scores of others who died in detention during or after "interrogation".

Does he deny that this happened?

Does he honestly believe that removing the legal restrictions on cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees by our current president had nothing to do with this?

Maybe he needs a little refresher on the extraordinary range and scale of the record of abuse that is still accumulating. I'm just amazed that some can view what has happened and their first instinct is to attack those who have criticized it, rather than those who have perpetrated it. It is this administration that has brought indelible shame on America, and it's people like Dick Durbin who prove that some can actually stand up against this stain on American honor and call it what it is. Good for him. Thank God for him.
Yeah, well Sullivan is gay so he doesn't count.

And as Chris Wallace of Fox News said on the June 17 Hugh Hewitt radio show - "I think they would have been very happy to be allowed to defecate on themselves." The idea is that's a whole lot better than what we could do, and often do. Like, who cares?

Yep, there is a discussion out there that is bringing things to a point.

Even the soldiers join in. As in this in Eric Alterman's column in MSNBC -
Name: Justin LeBlanc
Hometown: Seoul, Korea

That's it, I've had it. I'm tired of going on line and reading about all these people who attack Bush and his administration's policies for going to war with Iraq. I'm a soldier and I think that we did the right thing and still think we are. I challenge you (Dr. Alterman) and any other liberal who cares more about Europe's opinion than our own country's safety to reply to this email. Yes, we are in a war and people die. I'll certainly be heading over to fight in the sandbox soon enough when I complete my tour here in Korea. We took out one of the most hostile individuals of my generation. We took out a ruthless dictator who got his kicks off raping his neighbors and killing his own citizens. People want to characterize Gitmo as the "gulag" of our times; well, Hussein was the "Stalin" of our times. I really don't care whether we found weapons of mass destruction. Whether he had them or not is no concern of mine. What's of more concern to me is my family's safety years from now. What's of more concern to me is the shape of the Middle East decades from now. Iraq is a democracy and lets begin to celebrate that. I'm certain we'll be seeing sweeping changes, all for the better, in that region over the next 20 years that we previously thought we wouldn't see in our lifetime. I hope, when it is all said and done, you congratulate the President on taking measures he thought were necessary to keep our country and our planet safe. One day, a few decades from now, you and your "progressives" (if you can honestly call yourselves that) are going to have to own up to the fact that what the President did, however difficult, was good for Iraq, good for the Middle East, good for us, and good for the planet. Oh, answer me this Dr. Alterman, how many people did Saddam kill? Oh, that's right, you can't answer that - THEY'RE STILL COUNTING!
Replies? There are a whole bunch of them here -
Name: Mike Wright
Hometown: Nellis AFB, NV

Dr. Alterman,
In response to the e-mail you published from Mr. LeBlanc, I would like to offer the following response: Mr. LeBlanc, you may be a soldier in the U.S. military; I am glad that you are not a disgrace to my own branch of the service. My experiences since I have worn the uniform have led me to believe that we are the best and most professional military force in the world, however your apparent doctrine of the ends justifying the means is doing as much to challenge my beliefs as the idiots at Abu Ghraib. We are supposed to hold ourselves to the highest standards. We receive annual training in military standards, the Law of Armed Conflict amongst others, and at all times are supposed to live up to the core values of our profession. We are not supposed to use the moral character of our opponents as an excuse for behavior that falls outside of those standards. Your statement trivializing the comments on Guantanamo Bay simply because "Hussein was the 'Stalin' of our times" shows that you have paid little attention to the training and the core values of the U.S. Army. There is no honor in mistreating prisoners. There is no integrity in breaking the law, simply because you want information or rationalize it as applying the enemies' rules against them. There is no courage or selfless service displayed, no duty or loyalty to anything other than the egos of those doing wrong. Any respect that we might have had in the areas surrounding the prison has been severely, if not irreparably, damaged. The same flaw runs through the rest of your argument. If you truly believe that the ends justify the means, then you yourself are no better than Stalin or any other despot that figures he can do no wrong. I have served in Iraq. I know the good that we can and have done in the lives of the Iraqi population. I also know that any good that we do is enhanced or ruined by HOW we accomplish that good.
You might go read the whole exchange.

From others?

- "I am a veteran and I understand your dismay at the criticisms leveled at your Commander In Chief. However, please remember that your oath was not to a man but to an ideal established by our Forefathers and embodied in our Constitution. Lies and manipulation that result in thousands upon thousands of dead Americans and Iraqis is neither in keeping with your oath nor that of the office of the President."

- "First, thank you for your service to our country. Secondly, a fundamental problem with the war in Iraq is that it has not made the U.S. any safer (Osama's still at large, the country's nuclear facilities are still unprotected, DPRK, Iran, etc.). It has only drawn troops and resources away from places that actually do have (or will soon have) nuclear weapons and the capability to launch them against us or our allies. Further, it has diminished our moral authority to lead. We say, "X has nuclear we mean it this time." They say, "Are you going to fall for *that* one from the Americans again?" We are not in a position to act effectively unilaterally again."

- "Hussein was a bad man and it's good that he cannot continue to harm people. He got what he deserved and I enjoyed seeing him get it. But, that doesn't mean we were right to trump up bogus charges to do it. If we wanted to go to war because he brutally tortured and killed his own citizens, we should have just said so up front. It may not matter to you that we did not find the stockpiles of weapons, but it drastically affects our ability to act in the world: instead of talking about the DPRK and its ability to launch the nuclear warheads it has onto Japan and the west coast, we are arguing about Iraq. Instead of focusing on Pakistan's AQ Khan and his 'helpfulness' or the stability of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal, the President and company are busy trying to cover their asses and justify their actions."

- "Hi, Just read the letter from Justin LeBlanc, and I have to admit to being baffled. He doesn't care if there were WMDs or not. Well, if there weren't, in what way, exactly, did invading Iraq impact his family's future safety? Iraq was not a threat to the U.S., even our closest allies agree with that. On the other hand, we have assuredly made generational enemies of thousands of Iraqi citizens, and thousands more Muslims around the world, through our extra-legal torture activities in Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. And the families of the tens of thousands of innocent civilian casualties in Iraq will certainly never be our friends, either. And the assertion that we're better than Stalin? Better than Saddam? Is that the best we as a country can aspire to be? Please."

What's all this conversation about? Lots of people, starting over the last few weeks, are suddenly all worked up. Well, Bob says it means nothing as Bush will be president for a third term, or more, and what folks say is just insignificant, and those of us who sense a widening rift here in America, and sense the president is losing traction (or whatever), are just stupid and unenlightened.

Ah, maybe so. But it's an interesting show.

Posted by Alan at 16:53 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 20 June 2005 17:15 PDT home

Sunday, 19 June 2005

Topic: Photos

Check it out!

In addition to spending two hours this morning at the eight annual Rodeo Drive Annual Concours - the amazing cars on display in the middle of Beverly Hills – late this afternoon I posted the new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this daily web log. That would be Volume 3, Number 25 - for the week of June 19, 2005 - posted at 4:21 PM Pacific Time.

This may be the first travel and celebrity issue - Tom and Katie and Paris - and an exclusive letter for Tel Aviv, an intimate view of life there today. That, and three pages of photos from Paris this week. The local photography is full of celebrities too. Real ones. Here in Hollywood. And the quotes this week pertain to that.

But there are big doings in current events too - many people now are asking some basic questions about what we are doing, a famous dispute is settled, perhaps, the US Senate offers a rare and useless apology, and various people rethink what we should think about. That would include the wrap of the Michael Jackson business, and what we missed because of the attention we paid to it. Much of those are extended versions of what first appeared here.

And of course Bob Patterson is back with something on what the American Trucking Association can teach us, and with his book notes on the basics, and more. None of that appeared on the web log.

As for the automobiles on display on the swankiest shopping street in the world, well, I took 235 pictures and it will take some time to edit them into a photo album.

What was there?

- Nicolas Cage's 1954 Bentley Fastback
- The Hearst Family's 1960 Jaguar Mark 2 Fastback
- A 1959 Corvette formerly owned by televison's Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore
- Wayne Gretzky's 1989 Porsche Speedster Fastback
- Laurence Fishburne's Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle from the Biker Boyz Fastback (huh?)
- The 1932 Howard Hughes Duesenberg featured in the film The Aviator
- Jean Harlow's 1932 Packard Sport Phaeton

There was much more - old Ferraris from ages ago, Cords, rare one-of-a-kind Bentleys, two old gull-wing Mercedes, a Minerva, a Cadillac V16 monster from the thirties and so on and so forth.

Just to give you a flavor, some close-ups (in 1919 the Hispano-Suiza company decided to use a stork as its symbol, the emblem used by French ace Georges Guynemer, who flew an Hispano-Suiza-powered Spad VIII):

Jean Harlow's 1932 Packard

Quick access to pages in the new Just Above Sunset:

Current Events _________

Why Thursday?: After all this time it's now time to talk about the war?
Case Closed: Dead, Autopsy, Enough Said
Race: "Never apologize, son. It's a sign of weakness."
Dissent: Conversations About Odd News Items
Book Notes: Hedging Your Bets
News Notes: What to cover is the question?

News and Fame _________

Enough Already: Michael Jackson So Over
France Turns a Bit American: What's Up with That?
Other News: While Fox, CNN, MSNBC and the networks deal with Michael
Paris News: Cruise, Holmes, Dump Cruz and Klein, Climb Eiffel
Quotes regarding Michael Jackson in Santa Maria and Tom Cruise on the Eiffel Tower

Bob Patterson _________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Online Magazines Should Learn from the American Trucking Association: There's Strength in Numbers
Book Wrangler: Barmecide Banquets - and other imaginary items from Baghdad

Features _________

Our Man in Tel-Aviv: Israeli Contrasts

Guest Photography _________

Vrai Paris: More from Left Bank Lens
Etonnant par Paris: Unusual shots from Left Bank Lens (held over)
Our Man in Paris: Summer in the City

Local Photography _________

West Hollywood Parade: Where was Paris Hilton?
Somehow Unsettling: Odd LA

Posted by Alan at 20:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 19 June 2005 20:24 PDT home

Saturday, 18 June 2005

Topic: Photos

A pause…

Out of town today. Commentary will resume tomorrow.

Late afternoon tomorrow, west coast time, watch for the new issue of the parent site to this web log - Just Above Sunset - with new items. You might be interested in what Our Man in Tel-Aviv has to say – an intimate view of life there today. And there will be lots of photography, including great new shots from Don Smith in Paris.

Until then, keep your eyes open.

Posted by Alan at 08:36 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 18 June 2005 08:37 PDT home

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

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