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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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Wednesday, 6 July 2005

Topic: NOW WHAT?

Politics: If I want a farce I'll read Feydeau.

Maybe it was the Fourth of July thing, but, after Just Above Sunset was put to bed July 3rd, commenting on current events seemed somehow pointless. Not that raising questions and commenting on what is happening in the world of national and international politics is unpatriotic or anything - although some see questioning what's going on as giving aid and comfort to our enemies. The right to do that is what we're fight for, isn't it? Democracy and all that? But nothing seemed to be changing.

Of course the heat of what was being said left and right continued rise, but nothing much new was being added. But perhaps it is time to return to see what's up, as that New York Times reporter, that Judith Miller woman, is off to jail and that group of right-side radio and television hosts is off to Iraq soon to bring back the truth about how well things are going there (one of them said he's "a patriot before he's a reporter"). I'd feel bad for Miller but she was the one who convinced the New York Times to run all of what Chalabi was saying to her about how there really were WMD over there - and she convinced the Times that she, and they, didn't need any second sources as it just had to be true. The Times apologized publicly, but kept her on.

That's a mixed bag. And it is a continuation of a story that broke last Friday noted in these pages here Busted: Bush's Brain (Karl Rove) Suddenly Exposed - the direct allegation by Lawrence O'Donnell that Rove is the man who leaked the name of the CIA agent for purposes of revenge. But nothing much has come of that.

Our friend Dick in Rochester wondered what happened. – "I have not seen any follow up on this in local rag or evening news. Did I miss something or are they just ignoring it?"

Well, I have no brief for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - the decade I lived in Rochester it seemed barely adequate for local news and everyone read the New York Times for real news (and the crossword). The mainstream national television and radio news? Miller gets a lot of play. Rove doesn't.

The direct allegation by Lawrence O'Donnell that Rove is the man who leaked the name of the CIA agent for purposes of revenge is mentioned in passing now and then in some news stories, but Judith Miller going to jail makes it seem a minor point. Commentary I read says O'Donnell may be right, or may be wrong, but no one knows, so there isn't a news story here. No one seems to know what the heck is going on. One theory is the press told Rove, not the other way around - mentioned here - and of course, it might have been Bill Clinton's fault somehow. No one knows just who the prosecutor (en français, le procureur) is going after or why.

If ever Rove is charged with this, or with only perjury or obstruction of justice, or let off the hook, then you might see a news story here and there. News is events - not allegations, as I think Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, would agree. For example, the news didn't say one single thing about the allegations of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth about John Kerry - alleging Kerry was a coward, a liar, and perhaps a war criminal - until the Swift Boat guys proved it was so - just like they said. Then it was a story. No, wait...

I think we have to understand that anyone running a news operation must account for the idea - that the president's top advisor and life-long friend perhaps committed a felony close to treason - is too hot to mess with casually. Best to wait. Too, most viewers are solidly conservative and pro-Bush, as seen in his overwhelming landslide presidential victory for this second term, and running with this story will have your audience running for Fox News, and your advertising revenue going along with them. Know your audience and what they will tolerate, and what they want to hear (missing attractive white women and abducted and abused children). Reporting this story, if it turns out to be true, and especially of it turns out to be untrue, is bad for business. Then too there are those - most patriotic Americas - who think that if Rove did this then Wilson and his wife probably deserved to be destroyed because they embarrassed the man we chose to lead us, no matter how it hurt out intelligence efforts and even if Wilson was right. It's a tribal thing.

But perhaps I'm too cynical.

And everyone hates the news folks anyway. That group of right-side radio and television hosts off to Iraq soon to bring back the truth, about how well things are going there, provides an example of that. As Fox News summarizes the effort -
A contingent of conservatives talk radio hosts is headed to Iraq this month on a mission to report "the truth" about the war: American troops are winning, despite headlines to the contrary.

The "Truth Tour" has been pulled together by the conservative Web cast radio group and Move America Forward, a non-profit conservative group backed by a Republican-linked public relations firm in California.

"The reason why we are doing it is we are sick and tired of seeing and hearing headlines by the mainstream media about our defeat in Iraq," Melanie Morgan, a talk radio host for KSFO Radio in San Francisco and co-chair of Move America Forward, said.

Morgan said the media is "imposing a Vietnam template on this war."

"This is not Vietnam," she said. "War is war, and it's dangerous, and the killing is taking place all of the time. At the same time, where there is danger, there is success and there is a mainstream media that is determined to shut out that success."
Whatever. As noted in Daily Kos -
Awesome for them. Let them see the truth.

But, for the record, the truth includes traveling out of the Green Zone.

And it includes foregoing armed bodyguards and security escorts.

If they want the truth, let them see it the way the average Iraqi sees it.
But that's not the point, is it?

Each side is saying "WE HAVE THE TRUTH!" The idea is you don't know you're being deceived. What's a reporter to do?

Let's take the Karl Rove story. Is it complicated? Maybe, but Kevin Drum two years ago suggested the simple narrative -
Top White officials blew the identity of an undercover CIA agent, potentially endangering both lives and intelligence operations, solely to gain political payback against a guy who had risen to the top of their enemies list.

That's not so complicated, is it?
Maybe not, but Digby over at Hullabaloo suggests things have changed since then -
... there is more to it now. It has become obvious to a majority of Americans that the Bush administration was lying when it made its case for war. The public is much more likely to see this Plame leak for what it was. A cover-up by smear and intimidation. And it looks much more serious in this new light.

Here's how I would update it:

The Bush administration lied about its reasons for the war in Iraq. When a critic stepped up to expose one of the lies the Whitehouse blew his wife's identity as an undercover CIA agent. They did this to exact revenge against what they saw as a political enemy and to intimidate those who would further expose the administration, potentially endangering both lives and intelligence operations around the world.

That's the story. And regardless of what comes out about who leaked what to whom first, the sick fucking thing is Rove has actually already admitted to being the biggest asshole on the planet regardless of his legal culpability. When they are apprised of this, in the context of the Iraq lies, people may not be as amenable to forgive or write off as some think. Even if Karl Rove didn't break the law, here is what we already know he did do:
President Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, told the FBI in an interview last October that he circulated and discussed damaging information regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame with others in the White House, outside political consultants, and journalists, according to a government official and an attorney familiar with the ongoing special counsel's investigation of the matter.

But Rove also adamantly insisted to the FBI that he was not the administration official who leaked the information that Plame was a covert CIA operative to conservative columnist Robert Novak last July. Rather, Rove insisted, he had only circulated information about Plame after it had appeared in Novak's column. He also told the FBI, the same sources said, that circulating the information was a legitimate means to counter what he claimed was politically motivated criticism of the Bush administration by Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Rove and other White House officials described to the FBI what sources characterized as an aggressive campaign to discredit Wilson through the leaking and disseminating of derogatory information regarding him and his wife to the press, utilizing proxies such as conservative interest groups and the Republican National Committee to achieve those ends, and distributing talking points to allies of the administration on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Rove is said to have named at least six other administration officials who were involved in the effort to discredit Wilson.
Here's the thing, though. Let's not forget that Wilson was right. There was no yellowcake. Rove and his minions discredited Wilson and destroyed his wife's cover because he was telling the truth.

If Democrats start going on Matthews to talk about this, they need to hammer this point home over and over again. They can debate the Barbizon school of blond former prosecutors all they want, but every single time, their point must be that this was a very serious matter of national security, weapons of mass destruction, lying about war - life and death. There was no yellow cake and there were no WMD and Bush and Rove and the rest have been lying their asses off from the beginning. And when anyone in a position to know spoke up, they were subjected to what Karl Rove openly admits to believing is a "legitimate means to counter criticism" - leaking and disseminating derogatory information about Bush's critics. In common parlance that's called character assassination. And when you do it to discredit someone who is telling the truth it's a cover-up.

Democrats really need to rise to the occasion this time. There remains a serious danger of the whole thing getting purposefully muddied by GOP spin artists as it usually is and there is just no excuse for it. As David Corn said back in 2003:

The strategic point here - and there is one - is for the GOP'ers to make this scandal look like another one of those nasty partisan mud-wrestles that the public never likes. Turn it into a political controversy, not a criminal one. Then it all comes out blurry and muddy in the wash. (Bad metaphor, I know.) But that is the intent: to fuzzy up the picture and cause people to shrug their shoulders and say, "it's just politics."

That's why we have to be prepared with a story people can understand and be prepared to tie it in to what they are beginning to see happened with the Iraq war. In Hollywood, screewriters and readers are asked to distill the plot into a single sentence called a logline. Here's the logline for the Plame Scandal: Karl Rove and others in the White House exposed an undercover CIA agent in order to cover up their lies about Iraq.
Well, that's one way to tell the story.

Here's another way -
Could Judy Miller have been enough of a "true believer" in the cause of the administration's WMD scare campaign that she passed along Plame's name to one of her Bushite contacts, where it then was funneled along to Rove and others? Anyone who has read Miller's angry defense of her WMD propaganda journalism ("I was proved fucking right") might be inclined to say yes.
Wow. She isn't saying anything because she set it all up? Why? Because her whole reputation is based on being right about Chalabi and the WMD and all the rest an Wilson came back from Africa and published, in her own paper, that the whole thing about nuclear weapons was a crock? Yeah, maybe. But maybe not.

Wednesday the 6th Rosa Brooks in the Los Angeles Times leads the anti-Miller charge with a long item that gives us this -
In the midst of the media's love-fest for Judith Miller, 1st Amendment Martyr, it's easy to forget that Miller's questionable journalistic ethics left her in the doghouse only a year ago. Indeed, when it came to leaks, the only people busier than White House staffers last year were the denizens of the New York Times' newsroom, who fell all over themselves to excoriate Miller to competing publications.

... It was Miller, more than any other reporter, who helped the White House sell its WMD-in-Iraq hokum to the American public. Relying on the repeatedly discredited Ahmad Chalabi and her carefully cultivated administration contacts, Miller wrote story after story on the supposedly imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

... I'm as big of fan of the 1st Amendment as anybody, but I don't buy the new Miller-as-heroine story. When Judge David Tatel concurred in the D.C. Circuit's refusal to find any absolute journalist privilege shielding Miller from testifying, he noted, sensibly, that "just as attorney-client communications 'made for the purpose of getting advice for the commission of a fraud or crime' serve no public interest and receive no privilege ? neither should courts protect sources whose leaks harm national security while providing minimal benefit to public debate." Few legal privileges are absolute, and it's appropriate for the courts to decide in cases such as this whether the harm of requiring a journalist to divulge confidential information is outweighed by the public interest in prosecuting a crime.

Reasonable people can disagree on the appropriate scope of journalistic privilege. But we should keep the legal question - when should journalists be compelled by law to divulge their sources? - distinct from the ethical question: Is a journalist ever ethically permitted to break a promise and divulge a source? However we answer the first question, the answer to the second must be a resounding yes.

Should Miller have refused to offer anonymity to all those "high-level" sources who sold us a bill of goods on Iraq? Yes.

If it becomes apparent to a journalist that a source lied to him on a matter crucial to the public good, should he be ethically permitted to expose the lie and the liar, despite any prior promises of confidentiality? Yes.

If a source with a clear political motivation passes along classified information that has no value for public debate but would endanger the career, and possibly the life, of a covert agent, is a journalist ethically permitted to "out" the no-good sneak? You bet. And if the knowledge that they can't always hide behind anonymity has a "chilling effect" on political hacks who are eager to manipulate the media in furtherance of their vested interests, that's OK with me.

But Miller still won't testify. Even though, ethically, there should be no obligation to go to jail to cover for a sleazeball.

It's possible (though not likely) that Miller is covering for a genuine whistle-blower who fears retaliation for fingering, gee, Karl Rove, for instance, as the real source of the leak.

But I have another theory. Miller's no fool; she understood the lesson of the Martha Stewart case: When you find yourself covered with mud, there's nothing like a brief stint in a minimum-security prison to restore your old luster.

And Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Daily News piles on. -
We don't know what it's all about, except we do know that this isn't really journalism. It's about whether she continued her longtime pattern of aiding those in power and spreading their propaganda. What ever it is, we don't think it's protected by the shield laws that are on the books.

Nor do we think her jailing is the end of the world for a truly free press.
So much for a clear story about the press. As Cary Grant would say, shaking his head, "Judy, Judy, Judy..."

The bigger issues? That policy professor at UCLA, Mark Kleiman, comments, first quoting a letter from Steven Teles of Brandeis -
Re: the Plame affair and journalist-source privilege.

The legal basis of the journalists' claim is flimsy. The federal government doesn't have a shield for this, and the states that do require journalists to hand over information when all other approaches have been exhausted. All the courts that have looked at this have required them to hand the information over. End of story.

But more important is the fact that, in not handing over the information earlier, these journalists have, arguably, done a grave injury to the political process.

Had it been known during the campaign that the president's most important political advisor, the designer of this political strategy, had committed a felony and jeopardized the national security of the United States, this would have been a very significant issue in the campaign. It is, arguably, something the public really needed to know to make an intelligent decision about whom to vote for.

There is now NO real political consequence to the actions that administration officials engaged in (there is a legal consequence, perhaps, but no electoral consequence). So in that sense, these journalists not only flouted the law, they caused an election to occur without the full information the citizenry needed.

As such, in punishing them, the courts should come down as hard as possible.
The idea is you don't know you're being deceived. And Kleiman add this -
Note that it isn't just Cooper and Miller who withheld information the public ought to have known. Much of the Washington press corps apparently knew what the rest of us are just now learning, and kept their peace out of some sort of twisted professional courtesy, like the "blue wall of silence" that still protects brutal and crooked cops.

I can't agree with Steve on the question of political consequences, though. GWB won't run again, but there's always another election coming along, not just for the GOP but for the Bush clan.

Still, the journalists' decision to keep silent - backed with the full corporate resources of two of the biggest outlets in what the right wing still calls the "liberal media" - did lock us in to four more years of what Jefferson called "the reign of witches," and probably to twenty-five years of Mr. Justice Gonzales, or Mr. (or Ms.) Justice Somebody-even-worse.
Well, well, well - here we have the argument that if Rove did what Rove seems to have done, and we had known that before the election, we'd have thrown the bums out.

Doubtful. One could easily maintain the majority of citizens now want folks in our seat of power who destroy those who give them trouble - it provides a vicarious thrill to a citizenry feeling everyone hates us anyway and it's time to kick some ass. That too is a tribal thing - the powerless grooving on their proxy bully.

As for the vacancy on the Supreme Court covered last weekend in O'Connor Retires: The Game is Afoot? That's still playing out. It's a bit of a farce.

Bruce Reed was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser and is president of the Democratic Leadership Council, and he nails that here -
Conservatives don't know what's good for them, either. For the last four days, key Republicans have been insisting that nominees shouldn't have to reveal their views on divisive issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Republicans think a nominee who keeps quiet stands a better chance of confirmation than a Bork-like nominee with clearly articulated conservative views. Will they never learn? The right's greatest disappointments have been Republican nominees who failed to define their views up front: Warren, Souter, O'Connor, Kennedy. Conservatives, not Democrats, ought to be the ones demanding that nominees put their cards on the table. Remember Grover Norquist's rule: Always get it in writing.

... Another pillar of the Democrats' strategy is to make it harder for Bush to appoint an ultra-conservative by extolling O'Connor as an ultra-centrist. O'Connor has earned an important place in history as the first woman on the Supreme Court, and paved the way for more women on the bench. But let's not get carried away with her jurisprudence. Being a swing vote on this Court does not make her a principled centrist. Even her admirers concede that she was a high-class hack, joining conservatives when she thought the Court could get away with it, ducking when her political antennae sensed a losing issue.

Glowing tributes to O'Connor's sense of judicial restraint conveniently underplay her decisive role in perhaps the greatest judicial overreach of recent times: Bush v. Gore. If Bush is able to shift the balance of the Court enough to overturn Roe v. Wade, O'Connor's vote on the most important decision of her tenure will be the reason. My off-the-cuff declaration: Stop saying she was "not so bad."
Yep, it's all farce. There was a reason I took a break for a few days. If I want a farce I'll read Feydeau.

Posted by Alan at 22:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 6 July 2005 22:21 PDT home

Topic: World View

Our Man in Paris: Paris battu par Londres

This just in from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis -
PARIS, Wednesday, July 6, 2005

RADIO France-Info carried the ceremony live from Singapore, somewhat like the final shoot-out of the last match of the World Cup. With Moscow, New York and Madrid eliminated, Paris was facing London at showdown time. The president of the CIO was handed the envelope and you heard the paper ripping. He said, after a preamble lasting several seconds, "The 2012 games are awarded to... London." The crowd gathered at Trafalgar Square flipped out with joy. The crowd, in the place before the Hotel de Ville in Paris, cried. Tony Blair wins. Just reelected for the third time, just beginning a term as European president, just about to host the G8 meeting, what worlds left to conquer? And Jacques - where does this leave Jacques? Is France finished?
Related items from l'Agence France-Presse (AFP):


... There is a problem. For the third time... it is a bit hard to swallow," said Henri Serandour, president of the French National Olympic Committee. "We have to find the explanation, and it will not be easy."

French Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour was equally upset.

"It is too soon to analyse this defeat in detail," he said. "It is a big disapointment."

The defeat was a bitter blow for French President Jacques Chirac, who has been personally involved in all three Paris bids - once as mayor of Paris and twice as president.

The 72-year-old Chirac had flown into Singapore on Tuesday afternoon so he could address the IOC Session during Paris' final presentation.

The French team were hoping that the presence of Chirac would clinch victory for a bid that has been the front-runner since the campaign began.
Chirac should have stayed in Paris? Perhaps. His diplomatic skills seem to have left him.


The issue was Chirac's reported comments on the British - at a French-German-Russian summit Sunday in Russia - that "one cannot trust people who have such bad cuisine." And "the only thing they have done for European agriculture is 'mad cow.'" And that only Finland had worse food than Britain. Two of the committee voting on the committee were from Finland.

Perhaps his words were unwise. He has to eat them now.

It seems Ric and I agree -

Received from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, Wednesday, July 6, 2005 at 3:30 PM Pacific Time, which is of course thirty minutes past midnight on the 7th in Paris -
Another Day that Wasn't Jacques'

PARIS, Wednesday, July 6 - Continentals are suckers for offshore propaganda. Both the Germans and the French believe in the British notion of 'fair play,' as if games are somehow morally superior to war, and the way the British play games is the most superior of all. But, sometimes, the Germans and the French suspect that the British may play a bit too hard, may be a bit ruthless, and that the game is not quite 'the thing' but winning is.

Of course thinking something like this after the British have won a decisive round may appear to be sour vin rouge, so the French would rather not say it. Today in Singapore some were instead hinting that continentals should begin taking lobbying lessons from the British. There were rumors of British lobbying continuing in Singapore after it was thought the deadline was passed, as if there are Olympic rules for these things, as there apparently are.

Many of the French who spoke on TV-news today remarked on the lobbying skills of British spokesman and former athlete Sebastian Coe, in particular. If anything Mr. Coe was given most of the credit for pulling the British bid together and getting it concentrated at the finish in Singapore. Much of the rest of the credit went to prime minister Tony Blair, who awed witnesses with his persuasive efforts.

According to reports the team leading the bid for Paris woke up Wednesday morning in Singapore firmly convinced that if butterflies prevented them from enjoying breakfast and lunch, they would have a fine celebration at dinner as the winners.

How wrong they were! From beginning to end there were four votes by the IOC selection committee, resulting in the successive eliminations of Moscow, Madrid and New York. On every vote Paris was second to London, especially the last. From being perceived favorite, Paris was in perpetual second place, from beginning to end.

It is just as well so many French have already gone on holidays, where I hope many were sitting down in comfort when they heard the news. Since the beginning of the year they voted against the European constitution, against the invasion of the Polish plumber, which unexpectedly returned Nicolas Sarkozy as dynamic minister of the interior. The French voted against various government 'reforms' with strikes and other demonstrations, with mixed success. That the Pentecôte holiday will be reinstated was one tiny win.

Having voted solidly against the EU's excessive 'liberalism,' it was just as well to get out of town as Tony Blair took over the EU presidency, while pushing the policy notion that Europe can't afford its farmers and should do something else positive with the agricultural subsidy.

Tony Blair seems to be as unaware as Jacques Chirac that there are farmers in Britain too, getting the subsidies. Last Friday, as a joke to Gerhard Schröder and Vladimir Putin, overheard by a nosy reporter for Libération, Jacques Chirac said that Britain's only contribution to European food was 'mad cow disease.'

For some unknown reason Chirac added that the only country where food was worse is Finland. None of this was supposed to be heard, but of course there it was - making the rounds in Singapore, with Finland having two voting members on the IOC selection committee.

Jacques Chirac was up in the air flying towards the G8 meeting in Scotland when the result of the IOC's vote became known. From the jet he congratulated London for capturing the honor of staging the games.

When he arrives at Gleneagles in Scotland he can expect to receive a surprise hamper from Percy's Country Hotel & Restaurant based in Devon, containing a copious sampling of 'home reared, organic lamb and pork, delicious gold award winning tarts and fantastic Westcountry cheddar cheese' - as described in the email jointly sent by Percy's and the Western Morning News to MetropoleParis.

Bon appétit, Jacques!

Footnote: The Revenge of the Finns

Wednesday, 6 July 2005 10:18:00 GMT
BRUSSELS, July 6 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac's reported criticism of cooking in Finland and Britain has earned a dinner invitation from a European parliamentarian, but the president has to bring the wine.

In an open letter on Wednesday, lawmaker Alexander Stubb, from Finland, said he had noted "colourful versions" of statements attributed to Chirac in the press and that they had also caught the eye of his British wife.

The French newspaper Liberation reported on Monday that Chirac had commented about Britain's cuisine by saying that "after Finland, that is the country where you eat the worst."

"In order to revise your unfortunate impression of Finno-British cuisine my wife and I would like to invite you to join us for dinner at our home in Genval, Belgium at your convenience," Stubb wrote.

"We will endeavour to obtain authentic Finnish and British ingredients in order to avoid disappointment," he went on.

He said the menu, planned by Finnish celebrity chef Jyrki Sukula, would include: fish and chips - roe of vendace with Lapland potato chips, cep broth with turnip rye pie, rack of baby lamb from Aaland with nettle mash, and Finnish berries marinated in Arctic brambleberry wine with beestings pudding.

"We hope that, as the president of an esteemed wine-producing country, you could provide the wines for the dinner," Stubb wrote. ...
But what wine goes with roe of vendace with Lapland potato chips, and cep broth with turnip rye pie, not to mention nettle mash?


One of Ric's recent photos (June 23) from MetropoleParis – which might capture the mood -

Posted by Alan at 10:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 6 July 2005 18:35 PDT home

Tuesday, 5 July 2005

Topic: Photos

No Politics Today - The La Brea Tar Pits Instead

One of the more curious sites out here, just down the hill, is not what you expect when you think of Southern California and surfers and movie stars and all that. In the middle of all that we have a place for those into natural history. That would be the La Brea Tar Pits, right down on Wilshire Boulevard. They're famous. Really.

This is how Fodor's describes them -
About 40,000 years ago, deposits of oil rose to the Earth's surface, collected in shallow pools, and coagulated into sticky asphalt. In the early 20th century, geologists discovered that the sticky goo contained the largest collection of Pleistocene, or Ice Age, fossils ever found at one location: more than 600 species of birds, mammals, plants, reptiles, and insects. More than 100 tons of fossil bones have been removed in excavations over the last seven decades, making this one of the world's most famous fossil sites. You can see most of the pits through chain-link fences. Pit 91 is the site of ongoing excavation; tours are available and you can volunteer to help with the excavations in summer. Statues of a family of mammoths in the big pit near the corner of Wilshire and Curson suggest how many of them were entombed: edging down to a pond of water to drink, animals were caught in the tar and unable to extricate themselves. There are several pits scattered around Hancock Park and the surrounding neighborhood; construction in the area has often had to accommodate them and, in nearby streets and along sidewalks, little bits of tar occasionally and unstoppably ooze up. The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits (PHONE: 323/934-7243) displays fossils from the tar pits. ...
Well, the place is know for lots of mammal fossils from the last ice age, that glacial age, when Los Angeles was a bit cooler and moister, and there were no freeways and Tom Cruise wasn't in town.

The tar pits were described by the early settlers out here in the mid-eighteenth century - "La Brea" is Spanish for "the tar" - and seemed be used as a source of asphalt, used for insulation and this and that. The assumption was the bones they found were from pronghorn deer or local cattle that got stuck in the goop.

What was really there? You've got your mammoths, your dire wolves, your cave bears, your giant ground sloths, and, of course, the State Fossil of California, the saber-toothed tiger - Smilodon Californicus. Does your state have a state fossil? (If you're from North Carolina you can't count Jesse Helms.)

Anyway, the place is cool - even if smells awful (try high-sulfur raw petroleum) as the big black pond still bubbles up methane and tar.

And there is a connection to the movies. Really. In the 1997 movie Volcano from Fox 2000 (a division of Twentieth Century Fox) the black pond is where the magma bursts up and Tommy Lee Jones has to save the city. (Read a review and synopsis here - the budget was seventy million, the screenplay was by Jerome D. Armstrong, the director was Mick Jackson, and it's pretty silly.) The last scene in the movie Miracle Mile (1988) is set here - no volcano in that. Then there is Last Action Hero (1993) where Arnold Schwarzenegger falls into the tar pit pond and easily wipes himself clean, prompting the kid in the film to point out that he (Arnold) is a character in a movie and not in the "real" world. It seems Schwarzenegger is now our governor out here, and he still hasn't figured it out.

But my favorite reference to the La Brea Tar Pits is in The Simpsons' episode "Bart Gets an Elephant" (writer John Swartzwelder, director Jim Reardon, first aired Thursday, March 31, 1994) which goes like this -
Marge has the family clean the house. Bart listens to the radio and wins his choice of a prize in a radio contest, $10,000 or an elephant. He chooses the elephant. He names the elephant Stampy and falls in love with him. The family neglects the other pets because Stampy demands so much time and money. Homer tries to make money off the elephant, but cannot pay Stampy's food bill. He lets slack-jawed yokels gawk at Stampy. (This is the debut of Cletus.) Homer tries to sell him. Mr. Blackheart, an ivory dealer, gives the best deal. Homer and Marge wake in the middle of the night to find Bart and Stampy missing. Bart runs away with Stampy to save his pet. Homer and the family go to find them at a museum exhibit, and Homer falls into a tar pit. Stampy saves Homer, so Homer decides to give him to an animal refuge. Once there, Stampy reveals himself to be a jerk to the other elephants and Homer reveals himself to be a jerk to the refuge supervisor.
The tar pits are kind of a running joke out here.

But they are interesting as you can see below (or in the twenty-one shot photo album listed in the left column)-




A real Saber Tooth in the Page Museum

A stylized Saber Tooth as you enter the grounds...

Posted by Alan at 20:18 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 6 July 2005 11:58 PDT home

Monday, 4 July 2005

Topic: Announcements

Still flying…

Posted by Alan at 11:19 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Sunday, 3 July 2005

Topic: The Economy

The Buzz: Picking on France One More Time

Some topics never seem to die. And how strange the French are is one of them.

In a column in late April in the pages you would find an extended discussion of Thomas Friedman's new book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2005, ISBN: 0374292884) and its implications. The world economy is being "flattened" and the nature of who works on what, and for what wages, is radically changing. Any job can be done anywhere. We all have to work vastly harder, and here in the west, for far less, if there are jobs we can do at all, given what cheap high-speed communications has done to the workplace (which seems to be everywhere and nowhere now - even Bangladesh and all that).

The book states the obvious, but Friedman is still flogging his simple thesis - he's become kind of a one-trick pony - and Friday, July 1 in the New York Times he basically railed on the French and said that if they cannot turn themselves into career-driven hard-working Americans doing seventy-hour workweeks and forgoing all vacations, at least the could try to be more like the Irish. That would be in Follow the Leapin' Leprechaun, as he seems fond of cute titles.
There is a huge debate roiling in Europe today over which economic model to follow: the Franco-German shorter-workweek-six-weeks'-vacation-never-fire-anyone-but-high-unemployment social model or the less protected but more innovative, high-employment Anglo-Saxon model preferred by Britain, Ireland and Eastern Europe. It is obvious to me that the Irish-British model is the way of the future, and the only question is when Germany and France will face reality: either they become Ireland or they become museums. That is their real choice over the next few years - it's either the leprechaun way or the Louvre.
Say what? His contention is that the German and French political systems will experience massive shocks soon as both these nations are asked to work harder and embrace either more outsourcing, or more young Muslim and Eastern European immigrants, to remain competitive. He says the "French may want to take a few tips from the Celtic Tiger." Ireland, it seems, instituted new laws that make it easier to fire people, and without having to pay any severance. He likes that. Why? Because "the easier it is to fire people, the more willing companies are to hire people."

Is that so? That's what he says explains job growth there. And heck, it is hard to fire anyone in France. And if you do, you pay severance. How... stupid?

He does note Ireland invests a lot in education and such. But he likes the "brutal" offense they have mounted against worker privileges. And he says he'll bet on the offense. That's how France can become rich, like us. And like Ireland.

And France is so damned poor. We all know that. And Freidman is writing from Europe where is now on assignment, looking around. It seems he feels sorry for the unmotivated French folk.

Of course this generated a lot of reaction - which will help Freidman sell his new book no doubt.

Matthew Yglesias here -
The key trope of Tom Friedman's columns throughout his European vacation has been that France is poor, and we need to ask why France is so poor, and draw important policy conclusions from this. But is France poor?

In one sense, clearly, yes. If you look at per capita GDP around the world, you'll see that the USA is at $41,557 per person and France is only at $29,203. So something's gone badly wrong in France, right? Well, it's not so clear. Check out table one in "Work and Leisure in the U.S. and Europe" and you'll see that in the US we do 25.13 hours of work per week per working age (i.e. 15-64 year-old) person. The French only do 17.95 hours per working age person. Do a little division, and you'll see that the French are only working 71 percent as long as we are. In return, they're getting a per capita GDP that's 70 percent of ours. In other words, about what you'd expect.
No difference? It would seem for the work done, the results are the same.

But the kicker is in these figures Yglesias trots out - weeks worked per year:

US: 46.16
France: 40.54

And sixty-seven percent of Americans are working age, and only sixty-five percent of French people are.

What does that prove?
... France has fewer workers, working shorter weeks, and taking longer vacations - that is why they make less money. Per hour of output, France is generating much more value than America is. If your buddy made 50 percent more than you because he was working 50 percent longer and had four weeks less vacation than you did, it certainly wouldn't be obvious that your buddy had a better job than you do. Similarly, while it's clear that the French have less stuff than we do, they have more leisure time, and it's not obvious that our situation is better. Indeed, it's not clear what "better" would even mean in this context.

... it doesn't seem to be the case that France's preference for leisure over stuff is an unintended consequence of high levels of taxation designed to fund high levels of social services. Instead, it's the result of labor market conditions that were ? designed to have people work less. France could, were it so inclined, instead adopt rules designed to make people work more. Then they would have American-style quantities of stuff, plus French-style levels of public provision, but they would have less time off.

Personally, I have no desire to adopt the French set of social priorities. I like my stuff, and I like working hard. That said, I see no particular reason to condemn France's decision to adopt a different set of priorities. Working less and earning less seems like a perfectly defensible thing to do.

If they choose to do otherwise, great. If they don't, also great. Live and let live.

But whatever you think about this, it's a separate issue from the question of tax-and-spending levels, and it's totally not the case that France is some kind of impoverished basketcase. It's a nation of slackers.
Yep, slackers. (Note that if you go to the Yglesias he links to the source of all his data - so he's not making stuff up.)

Over at Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum chimes in -
Matt Yglesias points out today that although French GDP per capita is considerably lower than America's, it's mostly because they have "fewer workers, working shorter weeks, and taking longer vacations." Higher unemployment is also a factor, but basically Matt is right: the French have simply chosen to work less and have more leisure than Americans do.

I wonder how many Americans would make that choice if they could? I used to hang out with a bunch of Swiss guys (who eventually bought the company I worked for), and although the Swiss have a reputation for being pretty industrious, they basically thought we were insane for taking only two weeks of vacation a year.

I pretty much agreed with them - although more in theory than in practice. Like a lot of people, I never even used up my two weeks of vacation a year, and when I left the company I got a big check for unused vacation pay. And I was far from the worst. I had people working for me that I literally had to force out the door because they had accrued 300 hours of unused vacation time and would start losing it unless they took some time off.

Still, I wonder: If you had the option of taking an 8% pay cut in return for getting six weeks of vacation per year instead of two, would you do it? I'll bet a lot of people would.
Maybe so. But it's a question of values.

And the question comes up again and again, as in did in these pages last September in The Work Ethic: Is the route to sanity to do as little as possible in your job while saving yourself for your real life outside the workplace? There we note, or at least imply, that there are people who would go insane - they would lose their grasp of who they are at the core - if they had do define themselves by something other than the work they do and their career. And there are a few Americans who often think their jobs will drive them insane, because that's is not who there are - there's more to life, and to who they are. Yes, these are the cheese-eating surrender-monkeys who walk amongst us, even now.

Digby over at Hullabaloo, amused that Richard Perle, one of the key architects of this Iraq war and late of the Defense Policy Board that advises Rumsfeld, own a home in the south of France and can often be found there, adds Everyone Should Hate France -
Tom Friedman is right. France is a real hellhole. Ask anyone who spends any time there. Like Richard Perle, neocon France-hater.

I can't understand those fools who think that France has the best definition of the good life. Who would ever think that great food, great weather, great wine, interesting political conversation, great museums, great writers - long vacations, long meals, light religion, universal health care, laid back sexual attitudes, and beautiful countryside are worth giving up shopping for? They trade money for time to read, think, rest, talk and all those other useless wastes of time.

That's unacceptable. Nobody should go there. Especially workaholic Americans. Not that there's anything wrong with workaholism. I realize it's the highest state of Randian being. Especially if you are working a couple of low-paying, low-satisfaction jobs. God wants you to work hard and buy a lot of shit at Wal-Mart for Jesus. So don't go to France. They don't have anything good to buy.
Digby seems to be one of those cheese-eating surrender-monkeys who walk amongst us.

Ah, France may not have Wal-Mart, but they do have Monoprix - but really not the same thing.

By the way, if you go to Digby or Drum or Yglesias with these links shown you can read many hundreds of comments to each of their posts - as this topic really seems to get to many Americans. There's a whole lot of resentment out there. French dudes are getting long vacations and those who post comments are working seventy hours a week or more with none. Damned French! And for some comments in these pages on Richard Perle, see this, just one of a dozen or more times he has come up.

And on it goes, as in the International Herald Tribune (the Paris-based publication owned by the New York Times) Charles McGrath, the former editor of The New York Times Book Review, on Monday, July 4th gives us Letter from America: Now it's work and work, and grow with the grind, carrying things forward.

His take?
The citizens of France are once again taking a pasting on the op-ed pages. Their failing this time is not that they are cheese-eating surrender monkeys, as they were thought to be during the invasion of Iraq, but rather that they voted to reject the new European Union constitution. According to the pundits, this was the timid, shortsighted choice of a backward-looking people afraid to face the globalized future. But another way of looking at it is that the French were simply trying to hold on to their perks - their cradle-to-grave welfare state and, above all, their cherished 35-hour workweek.

What's so bad about that? There was a time when the 35-hour workweek was the envy of the world, and especially of Americans, who used to travel to France just so they could watch the French relax. Some people even moved to France, bought farmhouses, adjusted their own internal clocks and wrote admiring, best-selling books about the leisurely and sensual French lifestyle.

But no more. The future, we are told, belongs to the modern-day Stakhanovites, who, like the famous Stalinist-era coal miner, are eager to exceed their quotas: to the people in India, say, who according to Thomas L. Friedman are eager to work a 35-hour day, not a 35-hour week. Even the Japanese, once thought to be workaholics, are mere sluggards compared with people in Hong Kong, where 70 percent of the work force now puts in more than 50 hours a week. In Japan the percentage is just 63 percent, though the Japanese have started what may become the next big global trend by putting the elderly to work.
Now there's an idea!

Of course McGrath runs the numbers too - 71 percent of Japanese men between the ages of 60 and 64 still work, compared with 57 percent of American men the same age. In France, on the other hand, by the time they reach 60, only 17 percent of Frenchmen, fewer than one in five, are still working.

What's up what that?
The rest are presumably sitting in the café, fretting over the Turks, Bulgarians and Romanians, who, if they were admitted to the European Union, would come flooding over the French border and work day and night for next to nothing.

How could the futurologists be so wrong? George Jetson, we should recall - the person many of us cartoon-watchers assumed we would someday become - worked a three-hour day, standard in the interplanetary era. Back in 1970, Alvin Toffler predicted that by 2000 we would have so much free time that we wouldn't know how to spend it.
Well, that didn't work out, and McGrath concedes economic globalization obviously has a great deal to do with the change. Yeah, the world got flat.

But you might want to read his history of work hours down through the ages. As in this -
The notion of a regular workweek was a late-18th-century invention, a product of the vastly speeded-up pace of the Industrial Revolution, which instead of liberating workers, virtually enslaved them, dooming entire families to numbing stretches in what Blake called the "dark, Satanic mills." The Mills and Factories Act, passed in England in 1833 to curb the worst labor abuses of the time, limited children 9 and older to 48 hours of work a week and teenagers to 69 hours. Adults worked even longer, and they did so in part simply because they could.
The rat-race is nothing new.

And when we get grumpy about it we can rant about the French, as usual.


For the academically minded, Brad DeLong, that economics professor at UC Berkeley finds this in Dissertation Abstracts -
Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote (2005), "Work and Leisure in the U.S. and Europe: Why So Different?" (Cambridge: Harvard University).

Abstract: Americans average 25.1 working hours per person in working age per week, but the Germans average 18.6 hours. The average American works 46.2 weeks per year, while the French average 40 weeks per year. Why do western Europeans work so much less than Americans? Recent work argues that these differences result from higher European tax rates, but the vast empirical labor supply literature suggests that tax rates can explain only a small amount of the differences in hours between the U.S. and Europe. Another popular view is that these differences are explained by long-standing European "culture," but Europeans worked more than Americans as late as the 1960s.

In this paper, we argue that European labor market regulations, advocated by unions in declining European industries who argued "work less, work all" explain the bulk of the difference between the U.S. and Europe. These policies do not seem to have increased employment, but they may have had a more society-wide influence on leisure patterns because of a social multiplier where the returns to leisure increase as more people are taking longer vacations.
There you go. Someone suggested "work less, work all" and the fools adopted the suggestion, and people got free time and long vacations. We didn't go that way.


A number of commentators also point to this post from Germany - The Gloriously Relaxed European Work Ethic - by one Andrew Hammel in a blog called German Joys. Hammel seems to be an expatriate American living there, and it also seems the name of his blog is not ironic.

He responds to Kevin Drum's comment (above) - "If you had the option of taking an eight percent pay cut in return for getting six weeks of vacation per year instead of two, would you do it? I'll bet a lot of people would."

Hammel points out the problem -
As I'm sure my dear fellow-countryman Drum realizes, the vast majority of Americans don't have this choice. We educated professionals have a lot of freedom to structure our time how we wish. But how many American Wal-Mart employees could go to their boss and say: "Jeez, I'd like to spend more time with my kids. Can I take all of August off and give up the wage?" The answer is: "Sure, in some other job. I'll give you a friendly incentive to find one in two words: you're fired!"

No, my friend, you'll need to move to another country, one like Germany, to overcome your workaholism.
It seems this guy was never a real workaholic American, though he claims he once worked for four years in American without ever taking a substantial vacation. Well, as most employers here might say, that's a start.

But he moved to Europe, and fell in with habits there. And he has some advice for fellow Americans who consider moving to Europe:
Don't brag to other people about how hard you work. If you go up to someone in Europe and say "I work 10 hours a day, six days a week, 51 weeks a year. Look how much I achieve!" you'll get the same reaction you would in America if you said "I wash my hands exactly 169 times a day. Look how clean they are! Look! Look!!!"
Ah yes, there is a gap in what is understood to be of real worth in this world. Obsessive work. Obsessive cleanliness. Whatever.

Back in May of 2003 in the very first post in these pages the discussion was about a friend's concerns just before his first trip to Paris. He is a very conservative fellow, and the founder and CEO of a successful software firm out here. He's more aligned with the "work" obsession. He was afraid no one in Paris would show him what he called "the proper respect" he deserved, as an American (we saved their cowardly asses in two world wars), and as a successful businessman. As I said back then -
I've had more than a few years of lectures on how the French know absolutely nothing about business and even less about personal responsibility, on how there are really no successful French businesses except by accident, how the French don't know how to really work, how they don't take work and career and career advancement seriously. Those long lunches, four-week vacations and the thirty-five hour workweek amaze him. And there's usually a bit on how the socialized medical system over there is evil and destroys initiative and so on and so forth.
More than three years later there's an answer to that from this fellow in Germany - about how to get with the sense of what is important over there -
... enjoy your free time! Pay attention to the people you are with, and you'll notice that they do things with their free time. They spend lots of time with their friends and family, they pursue hobbies much more complex than catching up on all the episodes of Sex & the City, they visit museums, read complex books, drink a whole lot, go to parties, fairs, and circuses, and take lots of vacations. Imitate them. And then decide whether you'd really give that all up to make $5,000 more a year. If the answer is still "gimme the $5,000," move back to the U.S.
Well, my friend enjoyed himself, but came back. Everyone has his or her priorities.

He still calls the French losers and slackers. And I'm sure they would call him a fool who doesn't know how to live.

One makes one's choices.


For the last five years Pascal Riché has been Washington bureau chief of the French daily Libération. He was previously their economic and business editor in Paris and is the author of L'union monétaire de l'Europe, with Pr. Charles Wyplosz, and la Guerre de Sept ans, histoire secrète du franc fort 1989-1996 with Eric Aeschimann - and that earned the IFG Prize of the best economic book of the year.

And he has a web log - A 'heure Américaine - that explains America to the French (and yes, it is in French).

It seems he's about to go on vacation, as he explains here -
I'm leaving Washington tomorrow evening, for a five-week vacation across the Atlantic.

Did you just read "five-week vacation"?

Yes, you did.

And I'm talking about 100% real vacation. No middle-of-the-night work from my laptop. Zero contact with my employer.

In the French daily press, every journalist can enjoy at least ten weeks of vacation per year. How is that possible?
And he explains. Click on the link for that.

As for America and its workaholic nature?
Do the American people really want this situation? Do they really believe that overworking is a good way to achieve the highest "standard of living" in the world? Do they really think that GDP per capita is the best measure of well-being? I'm not sure. But it would be difficult to even get a debate over the question started in this country. The ethic of work seems too strong, too rooted in American culture to be publicly challenged. And the globalization of economy is not helping: Americans today feel that they have to work "35 hours per day" for remaining the leading country in the world.
Yeah, but what if we suddenly decided we don't want to be the leading country in the world and just want to live better?

No, that'd never happen.

Posted by Alan at 20:47 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 6 July 2005 17:56 PDT home

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