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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, 22 July 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

The Week Ends in Turmoil

Whist taking the day off Friday to do a photo shoot in Malibu - the annual "Call to the Wall" surfing competition (first photos posted here) - it seems current events swirl on. The four who botched the second series of bombings in London have been identified and their photos posted for anyone who might have seen them, and there have been two arrests. And a fellow was shot dead in one of the tube stations - perhaps a bomber or perhaps a frightened fool in a large overcoat. The London undercover police were not taking any chances. Strange doings. As Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis and "Our Man in Paris" emailed me at dawn here - "Somebody must be putting bad stuff in the curry."

How to make sense of all this? Polly Toynbee in The Guardian (UK) argues that this all has something to do with absolutists and their view of truth, based on their sense that their religion is the only true one. It really is a form of insanity. Think of it this way:
"How could those who preach the absolute revealed truth of every word of a primitive book not be prone to insanity? Extreme superstition breeds extreme action. Those who believe they alone know the only way, truth and life will always feel justified in doing anything in its name."
Yes, Toynbee is including the "one way" Christians here. It is a war of religions.

On in this side of the pond, in the New York Times Olivier Roy says no, it's something else entirely, and not even the nasty young fellows being mad about our little war. He argues that Britain is not being "punished" for fighting alongside us in Iraq. Global jihadists in their "preferred battlegrounds outside the Middle East" are fighting against "a global phenomenon of cultural domination."

Well, what is going on? Christopher Dickey in a commentary in Newsweek on fanaticism in general says just who is a fanatic and who isn't depends on where you stand, as "it has come to be portrayed as fundamentally different if they are Muslims than it is if they are Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Aryan or animal-rights zealots willing to kill innocents to defend their beliefs."

Monday our friend the high-powered Wall Street attorney, from his office next door to and thirty-two floors above the hole in lower Manhattan that used to be the World Trade Center, where a good number of his friends died, comments - "Some would say that this is the problem with organized religion; it has everyone killing everyone in the name of god or the generic equivalent."

Yeah, and Monday this hit the wires:
A Colorado congressman told a radio show host that the U.S. could "take out" Islamic holy sites if Muslim fundamentalist terrorists attacked the country with nuclear weapons.

Rep. Tom Tancredo made his remarks Friday on WFLA-AM in Orlando, Florida. His spokesman stressed he was only speaking hypothetically.

Talk show host Pat Campbell asked the Littleton Republican how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons.

"Well, what if you said something like - if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites," Tancredo answered.

"You're talking about bombing Mecca," Campbell said.

"Yeah," Tancredo responded. ?

Is he a fanatic? He's defending his remarks now - "Yes, I'm a fanatic."

Oh well. Our fanatics versus their fanatics. We have the big military and the smart bombs, and the nukes, and they're sneaky and very resourceful.

But we're more sensible and humane and all that. Tancredo is the exception. Except that Justin Logan finds this in the print edition of the new issue of The American Conservative:
The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States. Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing - that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack - but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections.
No need to prove Iran had anything to do with it, should it happen. It would be a gesture, demonstrating our resolve. Or of our position that we have no need for evidence or that sort of thing - never have had and never will have - or of something. Will the world admire us for our blind display of power? (For the literary-minded think of Milton describing the powerless strongman, Samson - "Eyeless in Gaza.") Most curious. Well, we elected these guys because we wanted the grownups to be calling the shots.

It is also curious that these "senior Air Force officers involved in the planning" are appalled, but know well what happens to those who disagree with Dick or Rummy. Generals have lost their careers for saying this war would take more than just a few troops and cost lots of money. What do generals know?

As for putting the hurt on those who raise questions and bring inconvenient facts to the table, the week ended with the who-finked-out-the-CIA-agent thing getting even more Byzantine. Wilson and his wife got screwed, and what's up with that?

Hunter over at Daily Kos has a useful end-of-week summary:
It's only been a few days since the Supreme Court nominee was hurriedly announced in an attempt to get Karl Rove off the front pages. Since then, all hell has broken loose.

Bloomberg is reporting that Rove and Libby both gave testimony to the grand jury that flatly conflicts with the testimony given by those they said they talked to.

We now know that the Top Secret memo most consistent with the talking points that Rove and Libby told reporters was seen in the hands of Press Secretary Ari Fleischer in the days before the leak occurred. And that Fleischer told the grand jury he never saw it.

And Steve Clemons has verified that John Bolton was one of Judith Miller's regular sources on WMD issues, and that MSNBC stands by its story that Bolton gave testimony to the grand jury about the State Department memo in question. Bolton, you may recall, has previously been identified to have been involved in the Niger uranium claims that Wilson's trip helped disprove - just to add even more gunpowder to this mix.
Damn, that's a lot of stuff, and the Hunter item contains links to all the sources. He's not making it up.

Yep, looks bad for the administration. Hunter says it shows the broad outlines not just of multiple perjury charges, but of linked conspiracy charges against a number of administration officials.
We know that there are members of the administration familiar with the attack against Plame/Wilson who have been talking to prosecutors. At least, we can assume they've been telling prosecutors at least as much as they've been telling the press, or we'd have a whole passel of reporters likely joining Judith Miller in her Fortress of Suddenly Discovered Integrity. The fact that other administration officials have been giving their side of the story perhaps poses the most serious risk of all for Rove and others - because it wouldn't be very difficult, for people in the right places, to shatter what little plausible deniability Rove, Libby, Fleischer, and others have been clinging to.

That branch may already be broken, in fact. I don't think it's possible to exaggerate the amount of legal danger here for Rove in particular, and Fleischer and Libby as well. The special counsel is likely trying to solidify how, exactly, Rove learned the information in the memo, since it's looking increasingly implausible that reporters told him, and looking more probable that Rove and Novak "agreed" on a storyline after the fact (reports are now saying that Rove's and Novak's stories don't quite match, too, further raising the stakes.) Note, however, that it may not matter whether the grand jury can fully identify how he came by the information. Rove has now been identified as confirming the classified info to both Novak and Cooper; that in and of itself represents a likely crime under the Espionage Act.
Hunter has much more to say, but how much can you stand?

He does make the point that what poses the greatest threat for the Bush administration is that, as each news agency puts the story in the hands of some of the best investigative reporters, the various threads of the story are being woven into a compelling - and disastrous - storyline. The White House is losing control of the narrative.
A Bush administration crime, carried out by Watergate-era and Iran-Contra figures that this administration has embraced wholeheartedly, done in the service of shoring up "fixed" evidence used to justify a preemptive war. And news services are tying the Plame outing to the "fixed" nuclear intelligence cited by Bush in his pre-war declarations to the nation. Those links are, finally, being made, and it's beginning to make the Nixon White House look like a Norman Rockwell painting in comparison.
Oh my! Poor Norman Rockwell.

So what happens when you lose control of the narrative? Digby over at Hullabaloo says what seems to be happening is the general population - or at least those who follow this stuff even vaguely - is latching onto a new narrative, one that taps into their "highly developed instinctive understanding of human character." In short, the story develops its own theme -
Just as a third rate burglary was a perfect window into an abusive and paranoid Nixon administration, Rovegate is a perfect illustration of the intimidation and arrogance that characterizes Bush. The Lewinsky matter could be said to show the indiscipline that characterized Bill Clinton; Iran-Contra the disconnectedness of an aging, disengaged president.

I'm not saying all those things are the only lessons to be taken from these scandals; far from it. But they engaged the public and the press because they spoke to bigger issues by using people's highly developed instinctive understanding of human character. I don't necessarily think it has to be this way, but it usually is. People seem to need to see and feel the human dimension in order to understand the big picture.

Rovegate is quite interesting in this way, not because it centers around the president but because it centers around the one person who most personifies the modern conservative movement's strategy. And he is the one person who is feared and respected for his effectiveness by people on both sides - almost to the point of being gifted with magical abilities to tell the future and shape events.

He serves a purpose for both sides in this way, explaining for Democrats their sense of impotence and justifying for Republicans their excesses. None of this is really their doing, you see, and there is nothing they can do to change it; it the product of a brilliant political alchemist who is beyond the scope of normal human behavior or understanding. Fear him or follow him but do not question him.

So, Rove being exposed in a petty, unnecessary act of revenge and overreach, pathetically reaching for Clintonian legalisms and falling back on infantile excuses is a bit of a jolt. Whether by hubris or error, Rove's naked vulnerability is a very useful parable with which to explode the myth of Republican omniscience and explain something that is vastly complex and difficult for average people, much less the compromised kewl kidz, to get their arms around.

Bush's Brain is not omnipotent. The administration that sold itself on simple homespun values and manly virtues has been caught in an act of waspish backstabbing to cover its dishonesty. The war was based on lies and now we are losing it. How could this masterful White House screw this up so badly? These questions can now be asked outside the context of the simple narrative that's been constructed about Bush's honor and Rove's supernatural talents. The scandal opens it up. What has, up to now, been hailed by both sides and in the press as unassailable political mastery is exposed as gross arrogance combined with gross incompetence. That's the story?.
Works for me. Once it becomes a narrative - a "story" - then it seems all bets are off. The Wizard of Oz was just an arrogant old blowhard behind a curtain trying to scare people - even the wide-eyed innocent Dorothy and even her cute little dog, Toto. If that becomes the narrative structure folks find comfortable, this will go south real fast for the White House. Dorothy got mad and told the wizard he was a bad man for trying to frighten her hapless friends (no brain, no heart, no courage), and Toto took the curtain in his teeth and pulled it back to reveal the sham.

If that's the shape of the narrative at work now, well, things will get real interesting, real fast.

Posted by Alan at 21:36 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 22 July 2005 21:41 PDT home

Topic: Photos

A Lapse in Current Events Commentary: Malibu Calling

Events in the "real world" went on as usual today but Just Above Sunset spent the day in Malibu. Late Friday morning seemed to be a good time to beat the weekend crowds and cover a local event - one of the largest invitational longboard surfing contests in the world, the annual "Call to the Wall" in Malibu. We got there as they were setting up.

The event?

Call to the Wall: a Rich Tradition for Community
In early 1992 a group of Malibu surfers founded a surf club. The impetus for the formation of the MalibuBoardriders Club was to provide an energetic vehicle to mesh the surf-culture with other community elements. Early on the Club "spread the stoke" associated with surfing through promotion of community events, stewardship of the local environment and mentoring kids in a sports setting.
Early on (1993) this became associated with Camp Ronald McDonald and it got big -
To fund the beach day for the kid campers the Club started an annual surf contest to raise funds and awareness. The inaugural event was held at Malibu's famous Surfrider Beach in 1993. The contest steadily grew in stature and was dubbed The Call to the Wall in 1997. This contest has become one of the largest invitational longboard surfing contests in the world. A two-day event, over 300 top competitors from the West Coast and Hawaii gather to put on a radical show of cutting-edge and old-school longboard skill. Teams of surfers from up to twenty Coalition of Surf Club member Clubs vie for top honors and bragging rights. The Call to Wall is an all-volunteer event, which provides a true surf vibe, the essence of tradition and surf-culture.
It's very California. A photo spread will appear in this weekend's edition of Just Above Sunset - and a photo album will follow (forty-eight of the nearly two hundred photos came out nicely).

Until then here's a preview, starting with the wall -

Up on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) some guys get ready -

Little Surfer Girl:

Posted by Alan at 19:41 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 22 July 2005 19:51 PDT home

Thursday, 21 July 2005

Topic: Breaking News

London Again: The Second-String Executes Badly

Small explosions Thursday morning in London hit three subway trains and a bus. There was one injury and no fatalities. NBC offers this summary:
Small explosions struck London's subway system and a bus at midday Thursday in a chilling but bloodless replay of the suicide bombings that killed 56 people two weeks ago.

NBC News has learned that British authorities told their U.S. counterparts that the backpacks used in Thursday's planned attacks and the explosives found in the backpacks are identical to those used in the July 7 attacks - evidence that strongly suggests the two sets of attacks were connected.

In Thursday's attack at lunch hour, Londoners were shocked and the capital disrupted, but no one was hurt.

However, information derived from police sources who have collected eyewitness accounts suggests that the attackers, who once again targeted three subway stations and a bus, intended to carry out suicide bombings and cause the kind of mayhem seen two weeks earlier, but failed because their detonators failed, NBC News has learned.

Earlier, Police Commissioner Ian Blair said forensic evidence collected from the crime scenes could provide a "significant break" in solving the case, and hours later police announced two arrests in connection with the latest attacks.
Late reports indicate those arrested were from Pakistan, or British citizens of Pakistani descent. Early reports were playing with the idea this may have been a "copycat" amateur thing, but it has become clear now that the original group is still active. The first-string players did the deed two weeks ago, and the second-string tried to replicate the original event - with a "we're still here and can do the same exact thing any time we want" message. Something went wrong. Whoever assembled the backpack bombs, with, it seems, a somewhat more powerful explosive this time, didn't read the instructions carefully enough, or perhaps the instructions were badly written. One assumes, if the British authorities don't break up the group with careful questioning and lots of probing investigation, there's probably the third, fourth, fifth and sixth layer of players. As they say in sports, one assumes these guys have a deep bench.

There was massive coverage on the news, but a bit less than on the 7th with the first bombs. Less surprise, fewer bleeding bodies, no death. It led all the newscasts, but there was room in the twenty-two minutes for other stories.

SLATE.COM runs a daily review of blog reaction - not very extensive but something - and has these notes:
Health care director David Kitchenham of Duenna Care Ltd. approves of the sparse media coverage. "Terrorism is a media fed fire, if it was not for the countless television channels then such actions would be futile," he writes. "Media may well be the capitalist's tool, but it is the terrorist's proffered weapon and they know how to use it." Christian blogger J. Marcus Xavier of Very Small Doses, on the other hand, is incensed by the mild response: "Has it totally escaped the notice of everyone that the only reason that there isn't another field of dead in London right now is that the people who orchestrated this thing screwed up? ... The prospect of having to live in a situation like Israel - where massive random orgies of death are a common occurrence - does not sit well with me at all."

Australian artist Toxicpurity of One Dog Said to the Other sneers, "Bloody amateurs. They not only deserve contempt for their sheer callousness, but also for being both inept and unimaginative." ThinkingMountain's John Pilger, an environmental management consultant, directs his contempt elsewhere: "Blair brought home to this country his and Bush's illegal, unprovoked and blood-soaked adventure in the Middle East. Were it not for his epic irresponsibility, the Londoners who died in the Tube and on the No 30 bus almost certainly would be alive today."
Yeah, well, regarding the point about media coverage, the day after the earlier London bombings Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit (very influential on the right) said this:
I bet if the media voluntarily stopped showing any pictures of all terror attacks, that the terror would stop. Thus ending the GWOT without a shot. This policy would be NO DIFFERENT than how they cover folks who run on to baseball fields: they do NOT show them on TV; they ignore them. Would the media ever put peace above their ratings/profits? Never.
Huh? Well, that's one idea, and the best response I saw was from Andrew Sullivan, who called it idiocy:
? I suppose I see the underlying point: that terror needs media oxygen to survive. But the notion that we should somehow not cover mass murder, or that it's equivalent to misbehavior at sporting events, or that the only reason for covering it is "ratings/profits" is nutty. People have a right to know what's going on in their own countries and around the world. If the mainstream media decided to stop reporting terror attacks, bloggers would fill the gap. Yesterday, for example, was remarkable for the first-hand accounts of terror we were able to read - within hours of the massacres - by citizen journalists. Would Glenn like to see them silenced? Yes, these events shouldn't be hyped; yes, they should be put in context. But this out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality is a form of denial. The same goes for abuse and torture accusations. Instapundit won't actually link to credible accounts. By ignoring them, he somehow thinks they don't exist or will go away. They won't. Similarly, exposing the violence perpetrated by the Islamists is simply what the media does. Moreover, it doesn't always help the terrorists; it also hurts them. We need to see the atrocities these fanatics commit, however appalling, however vile. The job of the media, even in wartime, is to relay facts, not to skew coverage for purposes of morale.
Is the Bush administration listening? No?

As for who is to blame for what, after the first London bombings, Ken Livingston, the left-wing mayor of London ("Red Ken") surprised everyone with this:
This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful; it is not aimed at presidents or prime ministers; it was aimed at ordinary working class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christians, Hindu and Jew, young and old, indiscriminate attempt at slaughter irrespective of any considerations, of age, of class, of religion, whatever, that isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith, it's just indiscriminate attempt at mass murder, and we know what the objective is, they seek to divide London. They seek to turn Londoners against each other and Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack... I wish to speak through you directly, to those who came to London to claim lives, nothing you do, how many of us you kill will stop that flight to our cities where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another, whatever you do, how many you kill, you will fail.
And everyone cheered.

Ah well, two weeks later he is now saying this (interview on UK Channel 4 reported in The Scotsman) about what's going on -
You've just had eighty years of western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of the western need for oil. We've propped up unsavory governments, we've overthrown ones we didn't consider sympathetic.
And he goes on to suggest the bombers just might have been motivated by concrete grievances, rather than free-floating homicidal rage.

Tresy over at Corrente comments -
? Really? Ya think? Four Arab youths with apparently no history of even political involvement, let alone radical activities, happily strap on backpacks full of explosives to kill as many innocent civilians as they can, and you think there might be an articulable motive (however morally unjustified)?

Certainly Tony Blair wants such DoublePlus Ungood thinking rubbished out, and the sooner the better. Doing what struck me as an uncannily creepy impersonation of President Pinocchio on CBC Television, Blair blathered on about the bombers' unappeasable armageddonite fantasies while familiar spasmodic smirks flickered across his face, his jaw periodically jutting forward like a barroom drunk trying to pick a fight. Is this tic diagnostic of the compulsive liar generally, I wonder?

Somewhere I read that one sign of the delusional mind is the conviction that the laws of the universe don't apply. And what else is this dogged belief that Western actions have no negative reactions, than a denial of Newtonian physics? On Riggsveda's recommendation last week, I went out and bought a copy of Paul Williams Roberts' A War Against Truth. Among its many virtues (controlled outrage, verbal dexterity, caustic irony) one that I did not expect was its merciless recounting of the cynical betrayal of the Arab world by the Western powers after World War I (and one that continues to this day) - a story I, at least, knew only in general, if also unflattering terms. It was only then that I realized the larger actual scope of the book's title. Betrayed people have long memories.

A Canadian neighbor remarked to us the other night that during her years living in San Francisco in the late 80s, she was struck by how, even then, Americans still couldn't talk honestly to one another about Vietnam. I remarked that it looked like our collective neurosis was on its way to siring an offspring in Iraq. "Oh, but Iraq is even worse, because you have no idea how to get out."

As long as politicians can't even state the most elementary truths about the course they've set us on, that's not going to change.
And the bombing will continue. (And more of the same argument here from Patrick Cockburn.)

The counterargument is here:

The Neoconservative Convergence
Charles Krauthammer, The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, July 21, 2005

A few hours before the second set of London bombings he says this:
In Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world, the forces of democratic liberalization have emerged on the political stage in a way that was unimaginable just two years ago. They have been energized and emboldened by the Iraqi example and by American resolve.

? The Iraqi elections vindicated the two central propositions of the Bush doctrine. First, that the desire for freedom is indeed universal and not the private preserve of Westerners.

Second, that America is genuinely committed to democracy in and of itself. Contrary to the cynics, whether Arab, European or American, the U.S. did not go into Iraq for oil or hegemony but for liberation - a truth that on Jan. 30 even al-Jazeera had to televise.
And few hours later the bombers tried London again. They just don't see the truth? Guess not.

Posted by Alan at 19:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 21 July 2005 19:26 PDT home

Wednesday, 20 July 2005

Topic: Local Issues

Big Doings in Los Angeles: Hip is Out, Atheism In, and the Media is in Turmoil

Catapultam habeo. Isi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane.
(I have a catapult. Give me all the money, or I will fling an enormous rock at your head.)

Ah, it always about the money. The editor of the Los Angeles Times resigned today. The Times' own coverage opens with this: "Editor John S. Carroll, who led the Los Angeles Times to thirteen Pulitzer Prizes in five years as the newspaper struggled with declining circulation, announced his retirement today and will be succeeded by Managing Editor Dean P. Baquet."
Things haven't been the same since the Tribune group - the Chicago Tribune and the Cubs - bought the paper.

The city is changing. Baquet is an African-American who grew up in New Orleans. Our new mayor, Antonia Villaraigosa, is Hispanic - his folks came from Mexico in the days before we had the current armed citizen vigilantes (the Minutemen) watching the border. It's back to the good old days of our mayor back in the 1860s - Joseph Mascrael (Don Jose), born in Marseille in 1816 and fluent in French and Spanish but unable to manage English at all. See this about him from the Consulat Général de France à Los Angeles - "… capitaine de navire, immigré en 1844, maraîcher installé au nord de l'actuel Gower Street à Hollywood, ouvre un grand magasin en 1849, maire de Los Angeles de 1865 à 1866." (See this - in English - about how French Los Angeles really was in the old days.) The city is back to its multicultural roots.

But back to the Times. Over at Editor and Publisher we get some inside information about the problems:
The Times has cut positions and delayed editorial initiatives because of revenue shortfalls. In May, the paper reported that average daily circulation for the six-month period ending March 31 declined 6.5 percent, compared with the previous year.

... in recent years, the paper has taken a financial drubbing. Even when it won five Pulitzer Prizes in 2004, the second-most ever for a single paper in one year, the accolades were somewhat overshadowed. Two months after the Pulitzer sweep, Tribune Co. announced mandated layoffs of 200 employees, with the Times bearing the brunt. One hundred and sixty jobs were eliminated at the paper, including 60 editorial positions. Two-thirds of the departing journalists took voluntary buyouts.

In addition, two Times-owned newspapers in the nearby Inland Empire were shut down, while the Times national edition folded on Dec. 31, 2004.

The paper also took huge hits in circulation over the past two reporting periods. For the six months ending September 2004, daily circ slid 5.5% and Sunday dropped 6.3%. For the latest period, ending March 2005, daily copies decreased 6.4% and Sunday fell 7.9%. Total advertising revenue for the paper rose less than 1% in the second quarter of 2005.
Of course it didn't help that since April you would find not one advertisement for any General Motors product, or any display ad for any GM dealership, anywhere in the Times. The Pulitzer Prize winning car columnist Dan Neil on April 6 reviewed the new Pontiac G6 and said it was crap, and GM was producing crap, and said it colorfully. Oops. GM spent twenty million in the Times in 2004 and now....

But see this - "To my editors' everlasting credit, there hasn't been even a hint of reproval. As a public relations move, I think it's fair to say GM's ad-pulling did them more harm than good. My estimate is that perhaps two million or so people read the article than would have otherwise and the debate on GM's woes has been given another good public chewing. And I have been transformed from cranky columnist to St. George slaying the dragon." (The orginal G6 review is here and Neil is often mentioned in these pages as in this item and this item.)

His editor, John Carroll, may have paid the price for those dead dragons.

In any event, Kevin Roderick at LA Observed is covering the Times story - he used to work there - and he lists some first reactions.

Of course this is a local story of limited interest, but it is about the press and money and editorial decisions. What you cover and how you cover it can cost you. It's a mini-version of what was covered here earlier in News Notes: Non-Stories. Same thing.

Of course, the Times writers can be contrarians, as in this:

If it's hip and trendy, they're not interested
In an age saturated with microtrends, some people are turning their backs on cool.
Christian M. Chensvold, July 20, 2005

This may be more subversive than attacking General Motors, as after the requisite human interest anecdotal introduction (meet Melinda Wilferd), you get this:
The hypnosis of hipsterism is entrenched among many of L.A.'s urban sophisticates, especially those who work in the trend-driven industries of media, music and fashion. But for many twenty-, thirty- and fortysomethings, the appeal of being cool and edgy is rapidly deteriorating. "The last identity you would want to claim now is a hipster," says John Leland, author of "Hip: The History." "It's the worst of insults."

Just what is hip has become nebulous in a digital age of microtrends, when a cultural blip goes from underground to overexposed in one season. Likewise, the original concept of hip as something outside the purview of the mainstream has been replaced by the hipstream: mainstream cool packaged by corporate marketing departments.

The inevitable backlash - not against the bohemian veritas but the sycophantic consumer of cool - is well underway.

"The whole point of being hip in the pure sense of the word is to essentially be oblivious to it," says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "Now the only thing you can describe a hipster as being is a 'hipster' in quotation marks. Almost by definition a hipster is a wannabe."
This backlash could destroy my neighborhood!

Chensvold too goes on to detail how hard it is to keep up with what's in and what not - and how people are just walking away from the whole concept of being on top of things. "So if everybody's hip, then let's be unhip, and indeed, what a very hip idea. Some people are just fed up with the whole enterprise."

The end of Los Angeles as we know it!

And note this from the world of New York hip:
Any hip community eventually becomes a parody of itself, says Robert Lanham, author of "The Hipster Handbook" (2002), which many perceived as a marketing gimmick put out by corporate media but which was, in fact, a skewering of Williamsburg hipsters by the 34-year-old humorist and co-founder of, a neighborhood blog and culture guide.

Lanham's follow-up, last year's "Food Court Druids, Cherohonkees, and Other Creatures Unique to the Republic," takes the parody a step further and includes a chapter on "cryptsters," or aging hipsters. "There's also this new breed of pseudo-bohemians or fauxhemians," says the author, "a facade of hipsters trying to play the bohemian role, but their parents are paying their rent."

Dropping out of the hipster scene has made Bernbaum use his time in more personally fulfilling ways, he says. "And it's a lot cheaper." The downside is that he's floating in social limbo. "The youth of New York is geared toward hipster things. I've just withdrawn from the people I didn't feel it was worth my time hanging out with. But I haven't really found an alternate world of people."
Well, Hollywood has always a parody of itself. In fact, the Just Above Sunset staff car for five years - the black Mercedes SLK convertible - was officially known as The Ironymobile. Its replacement, the Mini Cooper, has its own irony built in too. (Watch this movie and you'll see.)

What's the alternative to the useless hip (or would that be Tragically Hip) here in Los Angeles? The Times recommends Adrienne Crew's LA Brain Terrain with its calendars of literary, cultural, scientific and political events around town. And this:
In hipster and media-driven Los Angeles, it's easy to forget that most Angelenos ages 25 to 40 don't wear checkered Vans with distressed blazers or go to downtown gallery openings or Echo Park dive bars., once an underground website for hipsters seeking jobs and apartments, now boasts an activities section packed with people seeking irony-free social connections in such humdrum activities as chess, badminton, lacrosse, foreign language study, outrigger canoeing and the Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club.

Best get involved now, before they become hip.
Well, that posits the idea that there is such a thing as an irony-free social connection. In Los Angeles? Really? And wouldn't lawn bowling down in Hermosa Beach be rife with irony, layers and layers of it?

Oh well.

But the Times is not just subversive on social matters - the requisite level of hip posturing needed to thrive here. They are on the story of atheists uniting to mount some kind of resistance to the evangelical, fundamentalist Christian fervor sweeping America. They actually write about such people!

A Time of Doubt for Atheists
With the religious making inroads in popular culture and politics, nonbelievers yearn for higher power in Washington.
Gina Piccalo, July 18, 2005

The set-up:
It's been years, decades even, since the Almighty was so hot.

The evidence is everywhere. President Bush rallied the faithful to hold on to the White House. A book by an Orange County preacher extolling God's purpose in our lives stays a bestseller for more than two years. And Hollywood, frequently seen as a den of iniquity, is courting a more spiritual audience in movies and TV.

Faith is the new must-have, evident when a major leaguer points skyward after his base hit, when a movie star credits the Big Guy for his Oscar, when the Justice Department backs the display of the Ten Commandments at two state capitols, and when it defends the Salvation Army's requirement that employees embrace Jesus Christ.

So where does that leave the fraction of Americans who define themselves as godless? Although the percentage of Americans who claim no religion is about 14%, less than a quarter of them identify themselves as atheists, according to recent polls.
Yes, indeed. Where does all this leave this tiny minority?

The item spends some time with Stuart Bechman, co-president of Atheists United, a local affiliate of Atheist Alliance International who compares things now to the McCarthy era and is calling for unity. And that's hard!
Atheists aren't by nature of one mind. There's a godless organization for every wrinkle of nonbelief - the prayer-never-hurt-anyone, live-and-let-live atheists; the prove-the-God-fearing-world-wrong, keep-America-secular atheists; and the contrarian I-don't-believe-in-God-but-don't-call-me-an-atheist atheists.

Fear, however, is a great motivator, and politically active atheists know that they need an advocate in government to be heard. Unfortunately, as one activist noted, most politicians are as eager to align with the godless ranks as they are to lobby for pedophiles. Hence the need for an image makeover.
Ah, it comes down to PR of course - stress integrity, patriotism and respect for the faithful while staying true to a commitment to the separation of church and state.

We also learn that the first godless march on Washington drew thousands in fall 2002, and a few months later the Godless Americans Political Action Committee was formed. And this Veterans Day, so-called foxhole atheists (servicemen and women who are nonbelievers) will be honored in the capital.

And there is this:
Mynga Futrell and Paul Geisert of Sacramento hope to change that with a new name and an online community. They founded the Brights' Net ( in 2003 to create a place for people who share "a worldview free from supernatural and mystical elements." They chose the term "brights" because, unlike "godless," "atheist" and "nonbeliever," it did not define them in religious terms. By creating this label, Futrell and Geisert hope to "level the playing field" and recast members of their community as independent thinkers who celebrate knowledge without identifying themselves as vociferous anti-theists.

They want to build a large, influential community, similar to, to sway public opinion. So far, they say, there are Brights in more than 115 countries.

"There's this tremendous feeling of being a second-class citizen when you know you're patriotic and working for all kinds of good things for the country, and yet you're ranked with the pedophiles," Futrell says. "You have to have political influence in order to get cultural change of any kind."
Works for me.

But what is the Times up to, offending General Motors, telling people in Hollywood they don't need to be hip, and explaining that there are still, in our midst, atheists, whoa aren't evil and may not even be pedophiles?

Circulation is down, advertising is down, and the do these sorts of things? The new editor, Dean Baquet, had his work cut out for him.

Posted by Alan at 19:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 20 July 2005 20:01 PDT home

Topic: World View

Rush to Judge: Reactions to the US Issues from Our Man in Paris

In reaction to what we posted on the news of Bush nominating Roberts to the open Supreme Court seat, and how that news pushed all the "leak" scandal news, and news of Iraq, out of the media, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sends along a post:

From dirty old Europe, filthy Paris, on Wednesday, 20 July:

Editor of Just Above Sunset: I'm with the editors of the legal site Talk Left in deciding to hold off - "I'd like to know more about him before I make up my mind. I don't think it helps that liberal groups are coming out swinging so soon. It has the appearance that they would oppose anyone Bush would nominate."

Editor of MetropoleParis: What can be so wrong about opposing anybody Bush nominates? It's what the rubes do to dems. Bush isn't going to nominate a civil rights liberal, is he? "It's obvious we're going to get a conservative Supreme Court nominee. Bush is President and the Senate is Republican-dominated."

Christopher Hitchens in Rove Rage: "Joseph Wilson comes before us as a man whose word is effectively worthless."

Editor of MetropoleParis: Was Hitchens in Africa? He's as good as calling Wilson a liar. Then he goes on to say that the law Rove may have broken is stupid and silly. Is he an anarchist? Is he a Godless Un-American?

Hitchens: "In the same way, the carefully phrased yet indistinct statement of the 9/11 Commission that Saddam had no proven 'operational' relationship with al-Qaida has mutated lazily into the belief that there were no contacts or exchanges at all, which the commission by no means asserts and which in any case by no means possesses the merit of being true."

Editor of MetropoleParis: All the words following 'al-Qaida' above are Hitchens' personal fantasy. He is 'energetically mutating' the facts. The whole Wilson affair is a load of 'shoot-the-messanger' disinformation. It's in the same toilet with 'John Kerry is a coward.'

Editor of Just Above Sunset: The real mess, as Frank Rich argued over the weekend in the New York Times, is that "This case is about Iraq, not Niger."

Frank Rich: "The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit - [...] - is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped-up grounds and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from fighting the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11."

Editor of MetropoleParis: The nutshell. Not Wilson and not Rove, but the 'GANG' who cooked up the phony war. Still, Rove is still a member of this gang. (The list of CIA operatives - all 'former?' All fired or retired?)

Editor of MetropoleParis regarding London:
Meanwhile, across the pond - is anybody following the Brit story about the identification of the London bombers? Isn't it kind of odd how the bombers left enough traces to be able to track them back to Leeds fairly quickly? Is this how a mysteriously masterminded operation happens? These clowns, like four boy scouts, simply arrive in London together - with return tickets! - with bombs in backpacks. Then set three off simultaneously, practically on-camera?

It'll all a bit too pat, too tidy, except for the bus bomb. Also, there's too many wits around who don't think these guys were like that. What's happened to the so-called chemist who was bounced in Cairo? Can't the Brit cops afford to pay the ransom? Maybe they don't want to because the guy is clean.

The bad news is that we are supposed to believe a band of yahoos in Leeds just got together with some fertilizer and happened to decide to bomb London's public transport one fine morning. It could have been any group of disaffected suburban youths according to the theory. London's 25,000 video cameras were no dissuasion nor were all the transport police, all the spooks and all the cops. Public transport is an indefensible target.

But compared to repetitive suicide truck bombers in Baghdad, the score was low. I mean, they could have hit some place where there was a big concentration of people - like the WTC - but they settled for the relatively small number in a subway wagon. Minimum training, minimum bombs, minimum objective? Was it a test?

If so, they could start a radical transport union and hold random strikes to hang up even more people more often.

But this isn't how Britain runs these days. One of my correspondents wrote to say that there are no longer any unemployed in the UK. They are all 'job-seekers' now, and they are far from few.
Ah, to clarify one matter, see this: "CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Egypt said Tuesday that a detained chemist wanted by Britain for questioning about the London bombings had no links to the July 7 attacks or to al-Qaida. …"

But as for the rest? It is a mystery. Were these London bombings a training run, or some sort of amateur operation? Just what is going on?

As for unemployment, here we're doing something like the Brits. Our unemployment rate is down to five percent - but that counts only those who have filed for unemployment benefits. It doesn't count those who never filed, or those for whom the benefits have expired, or those who just gave up looking for work. The homeless sleeping in the vacant buildings or under the freeway ramps are not unemployed, per se. They're homeless. Different thing. Those with no more benefits, living on savings or family funds or whatever, are also not unemployed – they've "left the workforce." (When you give up you don't count - and that helps the statistics.) What's called "workforce participation" - the percent of those who could be working and actually are working - is at a record low of sixty-six percent. Real wages, adjusted for inflation, have been flat or declining for four or more years. But the unemployment rate is just fine.

Everything is just fine.

Posted by Alan at 14:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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