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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, 24 June 2005

Topic: The Media

Guest Column: Rick Brown on News That Doesn't Fit the Narrative

There has been a great deal of discussion in these pages on the roll of the press – on just what is news and what is fluff. Last weekend there were three comments, this on the Michael Jackson trial, and this and this. June 5th there was What's News and What Isn't and on June 12th A Shift in the Wind on the issue.

In the guest column below, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, writing to the Just Above Sunset discussion group, raises the issue of another story that seems to be getting short shrift.

Atlanta, Friday, June 24, 2005 -

Just to follow up on our recent discussion concerning what some folks consider important news in this country, and what others (in this case, apparently, most) don't:

I was initially surprised about what little stir was caused by Thursday's Supreme Court decision on Eminent Domain, but now I think I understand why. The ruling actually fudges the lines between liberal and conservative, and almost all of us interested in that "great divide" (myself prominently so) tend to seek definition, not confusion. As a story, it's hard to tell because it seems to defy our innate sense of up and down - or more to the point, right and left.

I realize some folks to my left barely notice the "progressive" part of me, but I always figured it would be a cold day in hell when I would find myself siding with William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas on anything whatsoever. Thursday was that day.

Thomas, in filing his own dissent, said it best: "The court has erased the Public Use Clause from our Constitution."

In essence, if you get on the wrong side of your local government, they can force you to sell them your house, at just about whatever price they decide, to do with (and the land beneath it) whatever they choose, and there is no court in the land that can stop them.

As someone left-of-center, even if mostly only slightly so, I see the stricter (but in this court case, the minority) interpretation of what the founders meant in the fifth amendment when they said "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation," as the liberal point of view, and am shocked that the liberals on the court would see it otherwise. Having cut my political teeth during the 1960s, I've never bought into the distorted conservative image of those "socialistic" liberals always siding with government thinking it has the right to tap-dance all over the rights of you or me.

Even on the federalism issue, this ruling seems to have it backwards, with the usual states-rights folks arguing that state and local governments should not have the power to trample on individual rights, and with the usual central-government gang saying that, at least in this case, it's okay.

The only real alignment that might have been predicted here is that conservatives - represented in this decision by those mentioned, along with Sandra Day O'Connor - so often seem to equate "property" rights right up there with "personal" rights. Still, what strikes me as odd is that this is usually only a problem when the two rights are in conflict, which in this case, they are not.

First of all, we should note that the first ten amendments (or at least the first nine of them) are called the "Bill of Rights" for a good reason, in that they enumerate things that governments will not be allowed to do to individuals; they were not meant to reaffirm the right of government to do to people whatever the hell it wants to do to them!

This court's ruling is one that favors society's powerful over society's weak. When it comes to eminent domain, governments don't condemn mansions of the well-connected in order to build public housing or highways, they tear down what the powers-that-be consider "blighted" neighborhoods, killing two birds with one stone by getting rid of ugly buildings and the ugly people who live there, and replacing them with a much-needed school or municipal building - or now, with this ruling, a Toyota factory or upscale shopping Mall.

But what happens when, for example, the newly-elected (and, coincidentally, now Christian) city council decides that that Westside neighborhood, where most of the town's homosexuals live and have their bars and hangouts (and, coincidentally, largely voted in the recent election for the "secular humanist" candidates), would better serve the community if it were replaced by a huge church and revival campground that would draw "more respectable" God-fearing citizens from all over the county? You might say that this example is extreme, but there are lots of people in this country who would see nothing wrong with it.

Still, the displaced citizens could always sue, saying it goes over the line, but over what line, and based on what law? They could try to take this all the way to the Supreme Court, but there's nothing in the Constitution that will support their case anymore; the Supreme Court has just ruled that there's nothing wrong with governments crossing over any and all lines they feel like crossing.

In fact, it's hard to imagine what grounds there would be to dispute anyone's land being taken away from them, since any government can counter by saying that "we, and nobody else, have the right to decide what constitutes 'public use' under the Constitution."

Yes, the New York Times technically "led" with this story with its upper-right-hand placement on Friday morning's front page, but only under a one-column headline, without the pizzazz. Then again, it's not been a topic of ongoing discussion, which I think is a shame. Maybe we do need to find a way to make ourselves understand what topics are important enough to take public notice of.

I know saying this makes me sound like one of those old fuddy-duddies who we all used to affectionately mock, but more and more I'm beginning to realize that the country I leave behind when I die will, in about 250 short years of its existence, have already abandoned many of those rights I was brought up to believe were inalienable - a departure which, unless something terrible happens first, I am genetically scheduled to take sometime in the fall of the year 2028, at which point I will reluctantly have to drop out of this discussion group.

I'm sorry to have to bring that up, but I just wanted you to give you plenty of advance notice so you will have time to prepare yourself for that eventuality.

Copyright © 2005 – Rick Brown


Editor's Notes:

The basic story as reported by Associated Press:
Jun 23, 7:13 PM (ET) - Hope Yen

WASHINGTON (AP) - Cities may bulldoze people's homes to make way for shopping malls or other private development, a divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday, giving local governments broad power to seize private property to generate tax revenue.

In a scathing dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the decision bowed to the rich and powerful at the expense of middle-class Americans.

The 5-4 decision means that homeowners will have more limited rights. Still, legal experts said they didn't expect a rush to claim homes.

"The message of the case to cities is yes, you can use eminent domain, but you better be careful and conduct hearings," said Thomas Merrill, a Columbia law professor specializing in property rights.

The closely watched case involving New London, Conn., homeowners was one of six decisions issued Thursday as the court neared the end of its term. The justices are scheduled to release their final six rulings, including one on the constitutionality of Ten Commandments displays on public property, on Monday. ...
Click on the link for full detail.

Click here for a full text of the ruling.

Glenn Reynolds:
For Bush and the Republicans it's a big vulnerability - if they don't do anything about it, many conservatives will stay home in disgust at the next election. On the other hand, if they do something - like, say, backing Congressional action to limit takings for private use - they'll offend wealthy real estate developers, merchants, and influential local populations. They'll be squeezed, and I don't think that "help us confirm our judges to reverse this" will be a sufficient answer, though they'll try to make it one.

On the left, it's seen (rightly) as a victory for the hated Wal-Mart, and as a rule whose burden is sure to fall mostly on the poor. (When did a city ever level a rich neighborhood for this sort of thing?) On the other hand, the left isn't big on limits to government power, especially in the economic sphere.
Excerpts from a long comment from Neal Boortz, who maintains he is a libertarian more than he is a conservative -
I cannot remember being more dismayed at a court ruling, and this includes the occasional ruling against me when I was practicing law.

... The Fifth Amendment to our Constitution restricts the government's right of eminent domain. It does not, as I heard so many commentators say yesterday, grant a right of eminent domain, it restricts it. The right of eminent domain was assumed as a basic part of English Common Law. The Fifth Amendment merely said that government could not exercise this right for a public use without paying for it. The exact working is "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."

... The new theory is that increasing the property taxes paid on a parcel of property is a public use. Increasing the number of people who can be employed by a business located on a particular piece of property can also be a public use.

... Bottom line: If you own property, and the government wants that property - you're screwed.

... I believe this Supreme Court decision to be a victory for the dark side in the war against individualism. Sadly, sometimes I think that I'm the only one out there who realizes that this war is being fought ... the only one on the side of individuality, that is.

... The Supreme Court decision is a horrible blow to private property rights.
Andrew Sullivan makes a comparison to the recent decision on medical marijuana Gonzales v. Raich that goes like this:
If you grow pot in your attic solely to help you survive chemotherapy, you can be prosecuted by the feds under the "inter-state commerce" rationale. Now you can have your property stolen by Wal-Mart and be unable to get any recompense either, as long as your local representatives, financed by the real estate lobby, go along. Is this an unfree country or what? And, of course, none of this breaks new ground. That's the really depressing part. It seems to me that the most inspired pick for the Supreme Court would be a thoroughgoing economic and social libertarian. The freedom-loving part of the Republican coalition has already been alienated in so many ways by this administration. A libertarian SCOTUS pick would go some way to winning them back.

UPDATE: I'm also guilty of hyperbole. As one reader reminds me: "I'm with the dissent. Nevertheless, 'unable to get any recompense' is flat out wrong. They still have to compensate the owners for their property." Point taken. It's just a lot easier for the government now than it was.
But perhaps Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, is onto something. The story doesn't fit the normal right-left narrative the press uses.

Posted by Alan at 15:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 24 June 2005 15:49 PDT home

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Spin City: Temporarily Moved from DC to Manhattan

It all started with the Master of Spin visiting Manhattan.

Rove Criticizes Liberals on 9/11
Patrick D. Healy, The New York Times, June 23, 2005
Karl Rove came to the heart of Manhattan last night to rhapsodize about the decline of liberalism in politics, saying Democrats responded weakly to Sept. 11 and had placed American troops in greater danger by criticizing their actions.

"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," Mr. Rove, the senior political adviser to President Bush, said at a fund-raiser in Midtown for the Conservative Party of New York State.

Citing calls by progressive groups to respond carefully to the attacks, Mr. Rove said to the applause of several hundred audience members, "I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt when I watched the twin towers crumble to the ground, a side of the Pentagon destroyed, and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble."

Told of Mr. Rove's remarks, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, replied: "In New York, where everyone unified after 9/11, the last thing we need is somebody who seeks to divide us for political purposes."

Mr. Rove also said American armed forces overseas were in more jeopardy as a result of remarks last week by Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who compared American mistreatment of detainees to the acts of "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others."

"Has there ever been a more revealing moment this year?" Mr. Rove asked. "Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals." ...
But what everyone honed in on was two key remarks -
1.) Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.

2.) Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.
Okay then. This is going to be good.

And along with that, see Dems Allegedly 'Conducting Guerrilla Warfare on Troops' back in DC -
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who joined Pryce at the press conference, told Cybercast News Service that it "is just inconceivable and truly incorrigible that in the midst of the war, that the Democratic leaders would be conducting guerrilla warfare on American troops..."
Yeah, Howard Dean has a bomb in his briefcase and he's off to Baghdad to kill our guys. Or is that Dick Durbin flying out tonight?

And all this stuff about torture at our cushy resort down in Cuba?
"The American taxpayer is already providing accommodations for detainees, who are currently more comfortable than most of our men and women in uniform..."
Most of our men and women are chained to the floor for days at time and defecating themselves? Perhaps he didn't mean that.

Back to Rove: "Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war. Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said we must understand our enemies."

Over at Daily Kos there's this:
He's right. We want to understand.

We want to understand why Osama Bin Laden hasn't been captured? Why did the administration take its eyes off Al Qaida to invade Iraq? I mean, Al Qaida is the enemy Rove himself said we had to defeat. But we haven't.

Instead of defeating our enemies, we went to war against an impotent enemy - Saddam. And yes, we want to understand. Like, why did they lie to go to war in Iraq? Why is that war still going, unabated? Why are we no closer to victory now, than we were in when Bush declared, "Mission Accomplished"? Why don't our troops have proper ammo? Why aren't there enough boots on the ground in Iraq? Why are we still dying in Afghanistan?

He's right. I want to understand. I don't understand why the administration hasn't called for sacrifice. Why won't war supporters enlist? Why won't they encourage their circle of influence to enlist? Why won't they level with the American people, and give an honest assessment of what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan?

I don't understand how our nation, always the good guys, is now perceived as the "bad guy" the world over. I don't understand how torture has become a commonplace occurrence inside facilities that bear the stars and stripes.
Oh my, it is getting hot. This Rove guy is good. Why?
Rove is trying to divide Americans, using the tired canard of the fringe Right that "liberals hate America."

Fact is, we demand results. And Republicans are showing, again, that they can't govern.

So as their fortunes circle the drain, they resort to outrageous attacks in an attempt to distract from their own incompetence. And their sycophants in their media machine will dutifully salute their superiors and parrot the charges.

And they will cross their fingers and hope that dragging the political discourse even deeper into the mud will distract people from their own incompetence. Standard operating procedure for these guys.
Hey, it works.

Well, if Dick Durbin is forced to apologize for his remarks, what about Rove? The opposition leader in the senate, Harry Reid, says this:
I am deeply disturbed and disappointed that the Bush White House would continue to use the national tragedy of September 11th to try and divide the country. The lesson our country learned on that terrible morning is that we are strongest when we unite together, that America's power is in its common spirit of democracy and freedom.

Karl Rove should immediately and fully apologize for his remarks or he should resign. The lesson of September 11th is not different for conservatives, liberals or moderates. It is equally shared and was repeatedly demonstrated in the weeks and months following this tragedy as Americans of all backgrounds and their elected representatives rallied behind the victims and their families, united in our common determination to bring to justice those responsible for these terrible attacks.

It is time to stop using September 11th as a political wedge issue. Dividing our country for political gain is an insult to all Americans and to the common memory we all carry with us from that day. When it comes to standing up to terrorists, there are no Republicans or Democrats, only Americans. The Administration should be focused on uniting Americans behind our troops and providing them a strategy for success in the war on terror and the conflict in Iraq. I hope the president will join me in repudiating these remarks and urge Mr. Rove to take appropriate action to right this terrible wrong.
No, Harry, no one is going to resign or apologize for anything. He just called you, and everyone who questions things and wants to know more, ineffectual wimps, if not fools. No big deal.

Some people are smart, strong warriors, and don't ask "why" about things. They get smacked? They smack back. That's what real men do.

And note this: "The White House defended Rove's remarks and accused Democrats of engaging in partisan attacks. Rove, said spokesman Scott McClellan, 'was talking about the different philosophies and our different approaches when it comes to winning the war on terrorism.'"

You see, Harry, you're being partisan. It is just a difference in philosophy. Or a difference between men and woman. Or between thinkers and doers. Or something.

Kevin Drum explains how it works:
That's how the Republican party plays the game these days: accuse Democrats of being traitors and poltroons, and then, when they're called on it, turn up the volume even higher while simultaneously pretending that they're just talking about "different philosophies." This is McCarthy level thuggery, and one can only hope that Karl Rove meets the same bad end as the junior senator from Wisconsin.
Poltroons? Spiritless cowards? No one uses that word anymore. (Etymology: Middle French poultron, from Old Italian poltrone, probably akin to poltro colt, ultimately from Latin pullus - young of an animal) And what's this about Joe McCarthy?

In any event, Harry, you lose.

Of course, an organization called "The Families of September 11" have to have their say:
As families whose relatives were victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, we believe it is an outrage that any Democrat, any Republican, any conservative or any liberal, stakes a "high ground" position based upon the September 11th death and destruction. Doing so assumes that all those who died and their loved ones would agree. In truth, some would and some would not. By definition the conduct is divisive and, because it is intended to be self-serving and politicizes 9/11, it is offensive.

We are calling on Karl Rove to resist his temptations and stop trying to reap political gain in the tragic misfortune of others. His comments are not welcome.
Obviously these folks have no shame. A bunch of guys from Saudi Arabia on orders from a tall, strange man in Afghanistan flew those planes into those buildings and killed their family members, so the Bush administration invaded and took over Iraq (close enough) and they don't appreciate it. At least the Bush administration DID something everyone in the world noticed. It may have been the wrong country and for the wrong reasons, but the Bush administration did something. So the Bush administration is claiming the high ground, as they did the wrong thing in the wrong place and at the wrong time, but they did something. And these families are ticked off?

Well, this is all madness. But Karl Rove has stirred things up. But why now?

Something is afoot (not "a foot") as David Shuster at MSNBC points out:
I don't know if things are getting better or worse in Iraq. But I do know the Bush administration is now in total panic mode over the erosion of public support for the occupation. How else could one explain the President's bizarre radio address this past Saturday or the even more surreal comments recently from other administration officials?

First, the president's radio address: On Saturday President Bush defended the war in Iraq saying, "We went to war because we were attacked." Huh? In September 2003, the President himself stated, "We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th attacks." (For the record, the 9/11 Commission is on the side of the Sept. 2003 President Bush - The commission found there was "no collaborative relationship between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.")

On Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said criticism of the handling of the war isn't justified because "The administration, I think, has said to the American people that it is a generational commitment to Iraq." What? That was said... but it came from Senators pouring cold water on the administration's optimistic pre-war predictions. What were those predictions? Vice President Cheney (March 16, 2003) said, "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators... I think it will go relatively quickly... in weeks rather than months." Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld on Feb. 7, 2003 said, "It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." Former Budget director Mitch Daniels (March 28, 2003) stated, "The United States is committed to helping Iraq recover from the conflict, but Iraq will not require sustained aid."

Iraq will not require sustained aid? Hmmm. Today, Congress voted to send the Pentagon another $45 billion for operations in Iraq. That brings the total amount appropriated so far, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to $322.40 billion.

The administration seems to think that by shifting the justification for the war or changing what administration officials said 3 years ago, the president's poll numbers will magically turn around. The pretzel shaped logic of this strategy is mind-boggling. And one begins to wonder if the gang that helped President Bush win a 2nd term has been stuffed into a closet.

The math on this is simple. If the war was going well, the public would support the occupation of Iraq, regardless of whatever reasons the administration gave for the invasion. The problem is, according to republican Senator Chuck Hagel, "The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along."

And now, the public is tired of this deadly trip through fantasyland - a place where White House P.R. strategies seem to matter more than holding anybody accountable for the war's mistakes and mismanagement.
Panic mode? Maybe. But the spin is increasing.

This is going to be interesting.


Just after midnight, Friday morning, June 24, Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly has an interesting question:

I'm a little curious about something related to yesterday's Karl Rove affair. Most of the attention seems to have focused on his "liberals offered therapy and understanding" sentence, but isn't the following passage really the more serious one?

"Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals."

It's one thing to make belligerent pronouncements that contrast conservative toughness with liberal wimpiness. It's nasty and demeaning, but hardly something we haven't heard before. The Al Jazeera passage, on the other hand, goes considerably further: it says specifically that the motive of Dick Durbin and others who criticize prisoner abuse is to put our troops in danger. He didn't say Durbin was merely careless, he said Durbin wanted to put our troops in greater danger. That's treason.

Generally speaking, I tend not to get too bent out of shape by occasional rhetorical howlers. It's just part of the game. But calling Durbin and his fellow liberals traitors - which is clearly what that passage suggests - really is beyond the pale coming from a highly placed political official, isn't it? Or am I missing something here?

UPDATE: RNC chair Ken Mehlman offered the bizarrely feeble excuse that "Karl didn't say the Democratic Party. He said liberals." What's up with that? Isn't Dick Durbin a Democrat?
Is calling those who criticize what we do traitors beyond the pale? Don't know.

Bill O'Reilly on the June 20 broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly had this to say (audio clip here): " must know the difference between dissent from the Iraq war and the war on terror and undermining it. And any American that undermines that war, with our soldiers in the field, or undermines the war on terror, with 3,000 dead on 9-11, is a traitor."

Lots of people say such things, and never make clear what they see as the difference between what is "dissent" and what is this "undermining" stuff. If they are not terribly offended by what you say it's dissent. If it makes them uncomfortable you are "undermining" our country; and that is, in fact, treason. They get to choose. Not a good situation. You have to be very careful.

And there may be a difference when such things are said by a talk show blowhard and when such things are said by an official of the White House.

And see this on the House this week backing an amendment to forbid desecrating the American flag. Aaron at Tacitus on the state attempting "to sanctify its symbol" -
That is, in effect, what this amendment would do. The language even implies holiness - to forbid the desecration of an object suggests that the object is consecrated in the first place. Now if this passes as a constitutional amendment then critics can hardly say it's unconstitional, but it does seem contrary to the spirit of our Bill of Rights. I am loathe to invoke the founding fathers and "original intent", as such maneuvering is always vague and really just political posturing, but I do honestly feel that any amendment which restricts our rights, rather than enhances them, is a bad idea. The other big example (prohibition) didn't exactly turn out too well - it is not the purpose of the constitution to restrict individual behavior but rather restrict governmental behavior.

Now there is much debate about what sort of precedent this would establish, whether it is a slippery slope to restricting more political speech.

... These critiques are pertinent, but I feel they distract from the core issue, and that is that, slippery slope or no, using the constitution to restrict freedom is wrong. Using the constitution to enforce this kind of nationalistic loyalty is also wrong, and particularly creepy with the religious "consecration" flavor. I do not think that this is necessarily the first step to further free speech restriction, but I do think it could be yet another step in the theocratization of America. This scares me far more than the issue of free speech. Consecrating and enshrining a nationalistic symbol is something done by a theocracy, not a democracy. We respect and love our symbols, but recognize that that is what they are - symbols.

... I have no interest in burning the flag. ... But if this amendment passes, I will find myself sorely tempted to join those who will no doubt protest, and perhaps even burn a flag myself. It may seem childish, but it is perhaps the only act that will be recognized by the government and by the media and the people. If enough stand up, then they will have to be listened to.
And this is from a conservative.

Things really are coming to a head, as you can see in this comment from Eric Alterman's column at MSNBC. A New Yorker from Manhattan, Siva Vaidhyanathan, says this -
All we asked for was our country's support. All we got was a president who lied about everything, including the dangers we all shared from breathing in the charred dust and smoke of the smoldering wreckage of Ground Zero. He promised us justice. Instead we got shame.

New York still stands tall, liberals and conservatives together. We still talk about those days when we weren't sure everyone we loved had lived through it, when we weren't sure if there would be more coming soon. All we could be sure of is that we were going to persevere and triumph, that we would stand united and strong. Today, despite Karl Rove's best efforts, we still stand united and strong.

And we still wonder when we will see justice.

Karl Rove should hang out here long enough to see that.

But, as Rick told Major Strasser in Casablanca, "There are some parts of New York where I wouldn't suggest you go."
And our high-powered Wall Street attorney, and sometimes contributor to Just Above Sunset, from his office high over the big hole where the World Trade Center towers stood, adds more, as he was there, and is still there -
The strange thing is that I still remember the smell that day from midtown as well as the smell downtown forty-eight hours later. It was the smell of burned building, burned electronics, and a smell one couldn't or wouldn't quite place. As I recall, there was a fair amount of ash on my shoes that day, and I wondered for a moment if it was all just concrete and plaster or something else.

Regarding the dangers we shared - we still share them, which is why the EPA has not blessed the demolition of the Deutsche Bank building next door to my office. The DB building is shrouded in a black canvas of sorts. Also, as Alan can tell you all, ground zero is the absent building next door to the office in which I am writing this email.

Unfortunately, there will always be the Karl Roves among us. The question is how to collectively move past them and move the United States back into the international community where, with a bit of cooperation (not bluster) a great deal can be accomplished.

Perhaps not, but looking out on New York Harbor, it could happen.
Yes, I have been to his office, and from the thirty-second floor you can look out and down on the Statue of Liberty in the harbor below (this is the view as darkness closes in). My grandparents saw it long ago as they arrived. The French gave it to us on the centennial of our starting this experiment. And now?

Perhaps we should not let Rove and his boss mess this up any more than they have already.


Minor note on minor spin:

Above there is the idea that the administration sees itself as a brotherhood of smart, strong warriors, who don't ask "why" about things. They get smacked? They smack back. That's what real men do. Folks who think about things - liberals, Democrats - are the fools.

An example?

On June 22 Bush made an official visit the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant near Washington. In addition to stressing how much we need to move to nuclear power (like the French?) he really put energy secretary Samuel Bodman in his place. This is exactly why people voted for him, or he thinks people will continue to support him. This speaks to core of the "values" issues here.

From the White House transcript:
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate the Secretary of Energy joining me today. He's a good man, he knows a lot about the subject, you'll be pleased to hear. I was teasing him - he taught at MIT, and - do you have a PhD?


THE PRESIDENT: Yes, a PhD. (Laughter.) Now I want you to pay careful attention to this - he's the PhD, and I'm the C student, but notice who is the advisor and who is the President.
Fred Becker at -
Yipee! Take a field trip and have your ego smashed. Ain?t it great fun? The Army should try this to get its recruitment numbers up: "Now I want you to pay careful attention to this - he's the soldier, I'm the one who avoided active service, but look who's sending people to die?"
Is this a slip-up, or part of the values initiative, to keep in touch with real Americans, who really do despise people who think too much?

Last February, with Andrew Biggs, one of his Social Security officials, this:
THE PRESIDENT: Tell them whether or not we got a problem or not, from your perspective.

DR. BIGGS: Put simply, we do, in fact, have a problem.

THE PRESIDENT: By the way, this guy -- PhD. See, I was a C student. (Laughter.) He's a PhD, so he's probably got a little more credibility. I do think it's interesting and should be heartening for all C students out there, notice who's the President and who's the advisor. (Laughter and applause.) All right, Andrew, get going. (Applause.) Andrew's got a good sense of humor.
In March, at Auburn University, to one of the professors, one Mark Brown, this:
THE PRESIDENT: I've asked Jeff Brown to join me. He is a professor. He can tell you where - where do you profess? (Laughter.)

DR. BROWN: I have a PhD in economics, and I teach at a business school.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. It's an interesting lesson here, by the way. He's an advisor. Now, he is the PhD, and I am a C-student - or was a C-student. Now, what's that tell you? (Laughter and applause.) All you C-students at Auburn, don't give up. (Laughter and applause.)
You get the idea. And Brendan Nyhan at Duke University was the one who found these last two. And he adds this comment: "Given Bush's frequent need to mock experts with graduate degrees, it's no wonder his administration has a pathological aversion to expert advice. After all, who's the president?"

Ah well, the lines have been drawn.

Posted by Alan at 17:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 24 June 2005 16:36 PDT home

Topic: Backgrounder

Dead Guys: Another Birthday This Week

Tuesday would have been Jean-Paul Sartre's one-hundredth birthday, as mentioned here - and Thursday, June 23, 2005, would have been the ninety-third birthday of Alan Turing.


Turning was the famous mathematician who was born June 23, 1912 in London, in Paddington actually. Think of him as the fellow who thought up the modern computer, unless you think the first one was Charles Babbage's "Differential Machine" back in 1822. In any event, Turing was the bloke who led the "Enigma" team that broke the German codes in World War II. That team used the machine he invented, the Colossus, which was the first really practical programmed computer. It was back in 1937 that Turing suggested a theoretical machine, what has come to be called the Turing Machine - the basis of modern computing, and in 1950 he suggested what has become known as a "Turing's Test" - the criterion for recognizing intelligence in a machine. Yes, that led to a whole lot of bad science fiction.

Of course Turing was, along with being a fine competitive runner, a homosexual, a crime in England back in those days - and in 1952 he was tried, convicted and sentenced to estrogen treatments. In 1954 he died of cyanide poisoning, an apparent suicide. Now the computer room at King's College, Cambridge, is named after Turing, who became a student there in 1931 and a Fellow in 1935.

You can find a whole bunch of biographical information about him here.

Andrew Sullivan, the gay conservative political writer, has this to say about Turing on his birthday -
Today is the late math genius's birthday. Turing was a brilliant Englishman, one of the founding fathers of computer science, and a patriot whose cracking of the Nazis' Enigma Code was critical to winning the war against Hitler. His amazing work was rewarded by being offered the choice in 1952 of choosing chemical castration or imprisonment for being gay. Two years later, a broken man, he killed himself. Today is a day for honoring him and the countless men and women over the centuries whose gifts and dignity were obliterated by ignorance, oppression and hate, hate that is still being excused and perpetrated today. May those of us lucky enough to have been born in their wake never forget what they went through, never forget the cruelty and evil they had to confront, and do everything we can to prevent these wounds being passed to the next generation.
It seems Sullivan is angry. Hey, it's an Oscar Wilde thing. Get over it.

But Sullivan also posts an email he received:
Turing might be known primarily as a mathematician and the founder of computer science, but he was truly a full-fledged scientist of incredible insight. A decade ago, as an undergraduate student, I stumbled across some articles on "Turing structures," which were Turing's theory as to how certain complex biological patterns (zebra stripes, cow spots, etc) could arise from relatively simple (and well-understood) chemical equations. Some 40 years after his theory, scientists discovered that his hypothesis had real-world application. Looking at his original paper, I was amazed at how clearly and concisely he wrote, with an obvious concern for the lay reader who lacked his mathematical brilliance.

For a long but entertaining read, I recommend Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon," which includes some highly enjoyable historical speculations on the breaking of Enigma.
Well, "Cryptonomicon" is a fine read, and was discussed in these pages two years ago here.

But let's think about what is being said here. Sullivan calls Turing a patriot, and Turing was one of the very few key men who helped defeat Hitler. But Turing was gay and his own government gave him the choice of imprisonment or castration, and he, finally, took a third out, suicide. No matter what he did, or invented, the evangelical right in power these days would hold him in contempt. We're talking sin here. We're the folks who dismiss people who can translate Arabic and other important languages, and discharge decorated soldiers willing to fight on, because they are gay (see this) - as there are more important things than winning.

And then what's this about how certain complex biological patterns could arise from relatively simple and well-understood chemical equations? Our president tells us that "the jury is still out" on that wacky evolution theory, and more and more public, taxpayer-funded public schools are teaching "intelligent design" as a view of equal validity in all biology classes. Complex patterns are quite logical proof of the existence of God, or if not that, at least proof of an intelligent designer, although post-nasal drip and cancer might prove an intelligent but malevolent designer. And this gay Brit who finally committed suicide can prove otherwise? Who are you going to believe?

Were Turing still around he'd be one grumpy old man.

Posted by Alan at 15:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 23 June 2005 15:48 PDT home

Wednesday, 22 June 2005

Topic: World View

Our Man in Paris: Europe Votes for Swing

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, reports on the 2005 Fête de la Musique in Paris, mentioned previously here. Scroll down for the photos.
This, and even more photos from Don Smith of Left Bank Lens will appear in next Sunday's issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log.

PARIS, Tuesday, 21 June - Give Parisians five days of summer weather with the last day of spring tapping out at 35 degrees (92 F) and then lay the Fête de la Musique on them after a relatively cool day with azure skies and 28 degrees (82 F), and you'll get what we got - grandmas and grandads, babies in strollers, pregnant ladies and their husbands in wide shorts, aunts and bald uncles, teenagers on rollers, pouring out of the Métro exit in hundreds, clogging all of Daguerre for the music and thousands bopping at Denfert's live concert stage, hey! Fête de la Musique - it's the first day of summer, shortest night of the year, and let's roll for party time in France again.

My guess is that half of the past twenty-three editions of this annual musical day have been rained out, or were greeted with towering indifference by skeptical Parisians. For my plan of the evening I even considered hiking down to Saint-Sulpice, to the fire station there. Luckily I remembered this is a party address for Bastille Day on 14 July, but my local place Denfert-Rochereau always has a bandstand on 21 June.

Out I go to Daguerre, around the corner. At first I don't hear anything except TV audio coming out of all the open windows. It probably is from the big stage set up in Louis' front yard out at Versailles, the show that France-2 TV was plugging at the end of the news. I am missing Zazie at the palace.

At Daguerre I hear accordions. Is it from the Bistro 48, the Penguins or mostly likely, from Paris Accordéon? Motto: 'since 1948.' There are eight people standing in the street listening to the accordion players inside the shop. Next, there is a musical pause happening at the café Naguère, but all its terraces are full. At this time it's normally been closed an hour.

Then I see a musician I know hauling down the street, not carrying his drum kit. As I'm catching up he loops back to the Zango and takes a quick peep inside at the band. Zango has set up a street-sales counter, mostly inside the café because the sidewalk is so narrow.

Daguerre hasn't been closed to traffic but between Gassendi and Boulard there are a lot of people walking in the street. The setting sun is blazing down it, perfectly lined up this one day a year. My musician takes off south on Boulard and I see the lady accordionist doing the standards in the Bouquet. Almost the entire audience is outside.

It sounds a bit like a crazy midway. The fast food place half a block away has a short-circuit stereo cranked to max, there's another band over by Vin des Rues, and the electric guitars in the café d'Enfer are… forceful.

Cars hesitate and sift through carefully along Boulard, while hundreds of sunset and music fans stroll in both directions. Several hundred are grouped around the restaurant, leaning over diners exiled to the sidewalk who are trying to fill up. Further along a Joe is running hip-hop off two turntables by the fancy cheese boutique, and there is a choral group singing in front of the bookshop.

Fruit and veg is closed, fish is finished, the other cheese is closed and there's another dual turntable Joe in the butcher's between the terraces of Caves Perez and the Café Daguerre, and there's all these folks in the air with sundown red faces, ignoring TV's show in Versailles.

On the Avenue Leclerc there are two cops at the intersection, not doing much. Cars are coming around the corner but are having a hard time turning into the wide avenue because teenagers have decided it's a pedestrian zone. There's nothing coming up from Alésia except more teenagers and red lights.

The other way, beyond the intersection, the place Denfert is full of trucks and barriers, hiding the lion statue. I can't get around by the Métro exit - there are too many coming out of it and jammed there in a narrow space because of the snack caravan, so I go back over by way of the RER station.

Riot cops are standing well back in groups of six. The space between them and the Ricard 'Live' stage is filling up, being fed from the five streets leading in. This year the stage has turned 90 degrees so that its back is to the west, facing a vaster area.

The other big French rock show is in the 13th arrondissement, up on the platform of the Bibliothèque Nationale, with a program called 'Playground, Extra, Extra.' In the 14th we've got French rock too, with Deportivo, trying to take over from Noir Désir. For crowd size, the 14th has the lion's share. And for once the sound isn't badly distorted, just loud.

I shouldn't say I'm too old to be standing around on cobbles after sundown with thousands of teenagers and the golden youth of Paris getting my ears battered, so I won't. Going around to the left I see the Lion of Belfort poking up in the midst of the crew trucks and buses, and the jam by the Métro exit hasn't diminished.

The cops are still not doing much to help bewildered drivers get where they want to go and there are even more teenagers all over the avenue, in front of their McDo shrine, and there's another gang of them in front of the Monoprix which has used the opportunity to peddle drinks and cookies. Streetlights haven't come on, the cafés have open doors and their terraces are full of blue smoke and smell of yellow pastis.

Guitars are still driving at the Enfer, still with a big audience in front. Further up Daguerre the mystery band at the Naguère seems to be having another pause, but the accordions are more visible at the shop, with a small audience in the near dark. Open doors at the Bistro 48 but the sign isn't illuminated. Ink sky in the dark over the cemetery, but I hear a live broadcast from a bandstand on Radio FIP. Later on TV, tennisman Yannick Noah on stage at Versailles, rocking at three in the morning. Louis would have had more sopranos.

Blame all of this on Jack Lang, France's onetime minister of culture. This year he was in London to help Les Anglais get in tune with the Continent, where several cities held their versions. Prague said its musicians were too poor to play for free.

According to the story there was a gang of Brazilian musicians rolling around in an antique RATP bus with an open rear platform, that there are five million amateur musicians in France and this was their day to play, that in the Senat's courtyard of honor there were 100 drummers with a samba school from north Rio, and that 'French rock' has been a joke since Johnny Hallyday.

Yeah, and Paddy Sherlock and his franco-anglo big band, Les Swing Lovers, was a hit at the Irish Cultural Centre in the 5th.

Europeans will always vote for swing if nothing else.



At Daguerre I hear accordions. Is it from the Bistro 48, the Penguins or mostly likely, from Paris Accordéon? Motto: 'since 1948.'

... there's another band over by Vin des Rues, and the electric guitars in the café d'Enfer are? forceful.

...grandmas and grandads, babies in strollers, pregnant ladies and their husbands in wide shorts, aunts and bald uncles, teenagers on rollers, pouring out of the Métro exit in hundreds, clogging all of Daguerre for the music and thousands bopping at Denfert's live concert stage, hey!

On the Avenue Leclerc there are two cops at the intersection, not doing much. Cars are coming around the corner but are having a hard time turning into the wide avenue because teenagers have decided it's a pedestrian zone. There's nothing coming up from Alésia except more teenagers and red lights.

... there are even more teenagers all over the avenue, in front of their McDo shrine, and there's another gang of them in front of the Monoprix which has used the opportunity to peddle drinks and cookies. Streetlights haven't come on, the cafés have open doors and their terraces are full of blue smoke and smell of yellow pastis.

Posted by Alan at 18:25 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 22 June 2005 18:49 PDT home

Topic: Couldn't be so...

What's Up? Much is happening, and keeping on top of things is hard…

One: Ah, Texas!

In Houston, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay compared the "constant barrage" of bad news from Iraq to "all this reporting" in the local press about "violence, murders, robberies, deaths on the highways," adding that "if Houston, Texas, was held to the same standard as Iraq is held to, nobody'd go to Houston."

The Houston Chronicle item is here and this is too easy. Insert variations on Yogi Berra saying, "No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

Does anyone go to Houston? If they go, why do they go?

Tom might be getting a call from the Houston Chamber of Commerce, but probably not.

Can Houston make Baghdad its sister city?

Two: The Freedom Fries Man

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 – who 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 – is profiled in AlterNet by Jan Frel here (June 22) and we find that it wasn't local political pressure that led to this change on Iraq, even if his constituents think his new stance makes him "look 'weak' on the military." Frel says it's simply that "Walter Jones can't lie about Iraq anymore."

One asks, why not? Does Jones hate America? Is he a traitor putting our troops in danger? Things ARE going fine, we HAVE enough troops on the ground, they ARE wonderfully equipped, that insurgency IS in its last throes, and so on and so forth.

Should Jones apologize like Dick Durbin did? (Fox News explains here.)

Or has Jones joined the Air America radio folks, saying the opposite about the war - citing facts and statistics and quoting people and all that sort of thing? See this from the June 20 broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly (audio clip here):
O'REILLY: And when he [Durbin] went out there, his intent was to whip up the American public against the Bush detainee policy. That's what his intent was. His intent wasn't to undermine the war effort, because he never even thought about it. He never even thought about it. But by not thinking about it, he made an egregious mistake because you must know the difference between dissent from the Iraq war and the war on terror and undermining it. And any American that undermines that war, with our soldiers in the field, or undermines the war on terror, with 3,000 dead on 9-11, is a traitor.

Everybody got it? Dissent, fine; undermining, you're a traitor. Got it? So, all those clowns over at the liberal radio network, we could incarcerate them immediately. Will you have that done, please? Send over the FBI and just put them in chains, because they, you know, they're undermining everything and they don't care, couldn't care less.
If you're in Los Angeles tune into 1150 AM and be a traitor too. Of course, as long as you know the precise line between dissent and "undermining" you'll be just fine. Bill will no doubt explain just where that line is at some point in the future. He knows. He's sure. Are you? Best be careful. Ask Bill.

Three: "Now" is no longer on the air, but Bill Moyers is, here and there.

June 21, Bill Moyers, who had that show on PBS that so irked the administration that they now want to change PBS to make it more balanced and not so left wing – that's what Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, wants – was on CNN's Lou Dobbs show. Whether or not PBS carries too many children's shows that advocate tolerance of others, or too many science shows that undermine Christianity by claiming there actually is geological evidence the earth is more than six thousand years old and that evolution isn't just a crackpot theory, Bill Moyers' "Now" really did tick them off. As Kenneth Tomlinson has said, Public Broadcasting should represent the views of the vast majority of Americans, who are, as shown in Bush's election mandate of 2004, firmly conservative and completely Christian.

As you can see from the transcript, not only is Moyers still being an elitist minority pain-in-the-ass, Dobbs is buying into this stuff, and what Dobbs says is even more amazing. Some excerpts:
MOYERS: … the American dream is flat on its back.

The inequality in this country is greater than it's been since 1929. The gap between -- when I went to Washington in 1960, the gap between the highest paid and the lowest paid was 20-fold. Now it's 75-fold. "The Wall Street Journal" reported two weeks ago that if you were a child born in poverty in Europe or Canada, you have a better chance at prosperity than a child born in America today. "New York Times," "Wall Street Journal" have also reported that the upward mobility of people at the bottom has stalled. And no Marxist rag, "The Economist," one of the best friends business and capitalism have, reported just the weekend before George W. Bush's second inauguration, that the inequality that is growing in this country means America's on the way to becoming a European style class-based society. I didn't make that up. That's not my term. That's "The Economist."

When hope and opportunity close down, democracy is in trouble. That's why I'm concerned.

DOBBS: … I find it mind-boggling the number of people who seem inured to an educational system that is failing, a public education system that is the bedrock to me of what has been the American dream, offering poor boys like Bill Moyers and Lou Dobbs and millions and millions of other folks an opportunity to move from the so-called working class into the middle class and beyond, that -- to lose that is -- to meet such indifference on the part of so many people is mind-boggling to me.

DOBBS: Warren Buffett was sitting here one night a few weeks ago. We were talking about class warfare, and he said, and I know we're not supposed to talk about class warfare in this country, but the fact is, that's what's going on politically. And he says, well, I don't know if it's class warfare or not, but I can tell you, my class is winning. … And he said it with great - with anguish, not with any sense of pride in it at all, rather concern and disappointment.

DOBBS: … there was a time you could turn to the Democratic Party and expect to see the working men and women of the country represented. You could pretty much expect Republicans to represent business interests. For the life of me, Bill, I can't discern the difference between the two parties. They both, it seems to me, owned lock, stock and barrel by corporate interests.
Okay, this is what you expect from Moyers, but from Lou Dobbs? Now Dobbs has no reason to fear Kenneth Tomlinson, as Lou works for Jonathan Klein. But when CNN starts bashing America, what are things coming to? And what would Bill O'Reilly say?

Four: Porn in High Places

The National Republican Congressional Committee has a dinner last week for the president. That got considerable coverage, like this item from CBS, because one guest, Mark Kulkis of Kick Ass Pictures out here in California, brought along his hard-core porn star Mary Carey, of porn film fame. Well, she ran for governor of California two years ago (see this in these pages from August, 2003) and she says she plans to run for lieutenant governor out here in 2006. What was she doing there? From CBS: "I've been a Republican now for, ummm, a couple of days."

That'll do. But note this:

Right-wing media not happy that Mary Carey wants to have sex with the Bush twins
Now that the presidential fund-raiser is over, hard-core porn star Mary Carey doesn't mind the public knowing about one of her secret desires – having sex with the twin daughters of the president.

Carey was the guest of her boss, pornographer Mark Kulkis of Kick A– Pictures, at the National Republican Congressional Committee's multimillion-dollar dinner with the president here last week.

She made no secret prior to the event of wanting to have sex with Karl Rove, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan and Alan Colmes - in addition to at least one player from every team in the NBA. But she asked blogger John Aravosis to hold back reporting her feelings about the Bush twins until after she cleared out of town.

"Oh my God, his daughters!" she said. "I'd love to party with his daughters. I'd love to meet them. I totally want to have sex with them. You can write it the day after I leave here."
Oh my! Some of us caught her interview with Keith Olbermann on "Countdown" on MSNBC late last week. (Video clip here - go to the bottom of the column for the link.)

She's having fun with the Republicans. She's toying with them and causing no end of trouble. I suspect she is, in fact, a smart and savvy left-wing subversive with a wonderful sense of humor. There's something Swift-like about all this. It seems an odd update of the tactic Swift used in "A Modest Proposal" long, long ago.

The White House and the National Republican Congressional Committee are all embarrassed and upset. I think that was her idea. Ha!

Five: A "What did you expect?" item from CURSOR.ORG

New topic summary: "The wages of fundamentalism" are said to include signs that "American science is losing its edge, and may even have peaked." Earlier: "the U.S. is no longer a friendly destination for foreign students."

What did you expect?

The cartoonist Kirk Anderson offers this cartoon that sums it up. I came across this at SLATE.COM and if I had more than a handful of readers I'd have to pay Artizans syndicate to post this image. They own the rights to the image. But under Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, Limitations on exclusive rights (fair use), and since it is part of the commentary, this may be okay.

It almost has come to this:

Posted by Alan at 15:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 22 June 2005 15:23 PDT home

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