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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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Saturday, 30 July 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago…

As reported Tuesday, July 26, in the New York Times, on Monday last things changed - U.S. Officials Retool Slogan for Terror War. The Global War on Terror is over. Or it has been renamed.

Salient points:
The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the nation's senior military officer have spoken of "a global struggle against violent extremism" rather than "the global war on terror," which had been the catchphrase of choice. Administration officials say that phrase may have outlived its usefulness, because it focused attention solely, and incorrectly, on the military campaign.
Whatever. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, Monday was saying he had "objected to the use of the term 'war on terrorism' before, because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution."

They're not? Then what are we doing in Iraq? He clarifies and says future efforts require "all instruments of our national power, all instruments of the international communities' national power." The solution is "more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military."

Oh. But? Nevermind.

The Times reports this all grew out of meetings of President Bush's senior national security advisers that began in January - and it reflects "the evolution" in Mr. Bush's own thinking nearly four years after the September 11 attacks. But didn't Bush say the jury is still out on evolution?

The Times also snags an interview with Steven Hadley, the national security adviser to Bush.

His point? "It is more than just a military war on terror. It's broader than that. It's a global struggle against extremism. We need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative."

So this is the positive alternative.

Reactions? Fred Kaplan in SLATE.COM is skeptical
Are these guys really this clueless?

What else to make of the story's opening sentence:

"The Bush administration is retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, pushing the idea that the long-term struggle is as much an ideological battle as a military mission, senior administration and military officials said Monday."

Three subquestions arise just from the lead. First, this is the administration's solution to the spike in terrorist incidents, the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan, and the politico-military deterioration in Iraq - to retool the slogan?

Second, the White House and the Pentagon are just now coming around to the idea that the struggle is as much ideological as military? This wasn't obvious, say, three or four years ago?

Apparently not.

... It took four years for the president of the United States to realize that fighting terrorism has a political component? It took six months for his senior advisers to retool a slogan? We are witnessing that rare occasion when the phrase "I don't know whether to laugh or cry" can be uttered without lapsing into cliché.
But what really gets to Kaplan the comment from Steven Hadley that they were basically looking for an alternative to gloom - a positive alternative. In short? A happier acronym.

And they got it:
Look at the first letters of Global War on Terrorism. GWOT. What does that mean; how is it pronounced? Gwot? Too frivolously rowdy, like a fight scene in a Marvel comic book (Bam! Pfooff! Gwot!). Gee-wot? Sounds like a garbled question (Gee what?).

Then look at Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. Its acronym is GSAVE - i.e., gee-save. We're out to save the world, see, not wage war on it. Or, as national security adviser Stephen Hadley puts it in the Times piece, "We need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative."
Kaplan goes on to wonder whether Hadley and all the rest of our other top officials really believe this nonsense? The question he asks whether they so enraptured with PR that they think a slogan and a strategy are the same thing - and that retooling the one will transform the other?

It would seem so. Reality is what you make it, and these guys make it.

Remember these guys say things like this -
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
Got it? Change the words and you change the reality.

Sidney Blumenthal suggests all this renaming is how the Bush administration is silently signaling defeat - but I suspect they don't it see that way. Blumenthal is just the disgruntled left, after all - that other reality, that one doesn't count any longer.

I haven't found anyone saying it yet, but I'm sure it has been said - GSAVE is just a shorted form of "Jesus Saves." It's a crusade thing. (Our friend the high-powered Wall Street attorney also points out that GWOT was far too close to G-Spot.)

Paul Glastris, curiously, here asks us to consider this passage from Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War" -
The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man.
Yep, it's all how you look at things, and who controls the words used.

And who reads Thucydides these days?

People read John Hinderaker over at Powerline - and Time Magazine says Hinderaker with what he writes on his site is one of the most influential people in America. And Hinderaker says this:
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
It's all how you look at it. One man's reality is not another's.

So it's GSAVE now. And the guys in the military may have to turn in these and get the revised version.

Posted by Alan at 13:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 29 July 2005

Topic: Science

Basic Science: Counting the Seconds, or Not

Much has been said, again and again, about the "ugly American" trying to make the whole world over to be just like us, and offending others who don't much want to go along - but this?

Why the U.S. Wants To End the Link Between Time and Sun
Astronomers Say Wait a Sec, Sundials Would Be Passé; Mean Blow to Greenwich
Keith J. Winstein, The Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2005; Page A1

Okay, it was on the front page of the newspaper-of-record for the captains of industry here in America, but is it news or, perhaps, just a giggle?

What's the deal?

It seems the WSJ has a scoop here, that we made a secret proposal at the UN and the word is leaking out -
Time to change the way we measure time, according to a U.S. government proposal that businesses favor, astronomers abominate and Britain sees as a threat to its venerable standard, Greenwich Mean Time.

Word of the U.S. proposal, made secretly to a United Nations body, began leaking to scientists earlier this month. The plan would simplify the world's timekeeping by making each day last exactly 24 hours. Right now, that's not always the case.

Because the moon's gravity has been slowing down the Earth, it takes slightly longer than 24 hours for the world to rotate completely on its axis. The difference is tiny, but every few years a group that helps regulate global timekeeping, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, tells governments, telecom companies, satellite operators and others to add in an extra second to all clocks to keep them in sync. The adjustment is made on New Year's Eve or the last day of June.
Ah! It's these ad hoc "leap seconds" that are the problem. The last one was added in 1998 and we may be due again. And it seems this is going to create no end of problems for a subset of computers that cannot tolerate even one 61-second minute. And we are told of Symmetricom, an outfit out here in San Jose, that makes really, really, really precise clocks for telecommunications and the military – and for the space program. One of their executives is quoted as saying this is a "huge deal."

And it's not just the guys up north. It seems at the start of 1998, the last time an extra second was added, Associated Press Radio crashed - or at least started sending out the wrong tapes. The year before the Russian global positioning system (Glonass) was down for twenty hours when they uploaded an extra second and everything went bad. And we're told that in 2003 a leap-second bug made GPS receivers from Motorola briefly show customers the time as half past 62 o'clock - and no extra second was even added.

Well, it's not Y2K but it is a problem.
"A lot of people encounter problems with their software going over a leap second," said Dennis D. McCarthy, who drafted the U.S. leap-second proposal while serving as the Navy's "Director of Time." Because of these problems, the U.S. government last year quietly proposed abolishing leap seconds to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the U.N. body that tells the Earth Rotation Service how to keep time.

"Safety of life is an issue," said William Klepczynski, a senior analyst at the State Department in favor of the U.S. proposal, who asserts that programmers who ignore the need to add leap seconds present a "risk to air travel in the future" because a glitch might shut down traffic-control systems.

Eliminating leap seconds will make sextants and sundials slowly become inaccurate, but supporters say that's OK now that the satellite-supported GPS can give exact longitude and latitude bearings to anyone with a receiver. Sailors "don't navigate with the stars any longer," said Dr. McCarthy.
So what's the problem? (And our Navy has a "Director of Time?" Cool.)

One problem is the French, specifically the Earth Rotation Service's leap-second head, one Daniel Gambis, of the Paris Observatory. To wit: "As an astronomer, I think time should follow the Earth."

Don't we all?

He calls the American effort a "coup de force," and an "intrusion on the scientific dialogue." And he say ninety percent of the subscribers to his service are quite happy with the extra seconds now and then. And some of them?
"We should not so blithely discard the ties between our clocks and the rotation of the Earth," wrote Rob Seaman, a programmer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Tucson, Arizona. Jean Meeus, an influential Belgian astronomer, called the U.S. proposal "a disaster for classical astronomy" and a "dirty trick."
A dirty trick?

Well, ask the British about this. They want none of it. From 1884 to 1961 the world set its official clocks to Greenwich Mean Time, based on the actual rise and set of the stars as seen from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, just outside London. Well, now everyone uses Coordinated Universal Time - atomic clocks and all that - and everyone agreed to insert leap seconds in order to keep the official time within one second of the old Greenwich time.


It seems BBC and Big Ben now follow Coordinated Universal Time, but Parliament has just refused to change the country's official standard away from Greenwich time. It's a matter of national pride, after all. But if getting rid of the "leap seconds" may be necessary, so much for GMT - it slowly becomes just another quaint and utterly useless British custom.

But the WSJ reports that Britain's science minister, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, decided in April, during Tony Blair's re-election campaign, to oppose the U.S. proposal. "It could have been used to attack the government," said Peter Whibberley, a scientist who represents Britain to the ITU. "People regard GMT with some sensitivity," he said. "It gets tied up with the general anti-Europe feeling."

Many of us missed all that in the reports on the recent British elections.

But you see the real problem with dropping "leap seconds," don't you? Do that and the sun starts rising later and later by the clock - a few seconds later each decade.

But we have an answer! We're proposing adding a "leap hour" every five hundred years or so. After all, the Earth's rotation is expected to slow down further. You have to do something. It seems Ronald Beard of the Naval Research Laboratory - our man who chairs the ITU special committee on leap seconds (and favors their abolishment) - thinks this is no big deal. Think of the shift to Daylight Saving Time each year. "It's not like someone's going to be going to school at four in the afternoon or something."

But this whole "abolish leap seconds" proposal is, as noted, secret. The WSJ couldn't get any top US officials to comment. They called the head of our delegation - D. Wayne Hanson of the National Institute of Standards and Technology - but he won't talk. Through a spokeswoman, he said that our proposal "is a private matter internal to the ITU and not for public discussion."

Still the astronomers are ticked - do the extra seconds get dropped and do the upgrades to the telescopes have to be made - or not? They want some openness here.

Well, maybe it just has to be done, if only to coordinate air traffic control. That's what our State Department is saying (see above). It's a matter of safety. (But don't forget the military and space programs.)

The WSJ ends with this:
Deep down, though, the opposition is more about philosophy than cost. Should the convenience of lazy computer programmers triumph over the rising of the sun? To the government, which worries about safety more than astronomy, the answer is yes.
But then there's the one astronomer they quote: "Time has basically always really meant what you measure when you put a stick in the ground and look at its shadow."

Really? Not these days.

Posted by Alan at 20:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005 20:29 PDT home

Topic: Film Notes

Film Notes: Something for a Hot Day in Los Angeles

Friday morning in Los Angeles, already mercilessly sunny at seven and getting hotter by the minute, I notice in the Los Angeles Times that thumped on my doorstep before dawn that their film guy, Kenneth Turan, tells me I can go sit in the air-conditioned dark and spend ninety-one minutes on the cold, rainy streets of Paris in the 1950's - if I'm willing to struggle down Santa Monica Boulevard to the Laemmle Royal on the other side of UCLA, that movie house between Dolores - a real fifties greasy spoon, not something fake and trying to be retro - and the place that has some cool antique pianos. It's a thought. They're showing the restored print of Louis Malle's "Elevator to the Gallows" - a film discussed in these pages two years ago: August 17, 2003 Reviews. Back then, on a page formatted in three columns, the middle column was about the film and the right-hand column about the Miles Davis score for the film. (I had just purchased a used copy of the soundtrack at Amoeba Music on Sunset.)

The middle column ended with: "I'm not sure if the film is available - it is not listed on Amazon or sites like that. It's not showing anywhere I've seen. But were I running a film distribution company, I'd re-release it."

So it happened two years later.

Turan opens with this:
As beautifully fatalistic as its title, the classic thriller "Elevator to the Gallows" is a consummate entertainment rich with the romantic atmosphere of Paris in the 1950s. Coming at a turning point in French cinematic history, it drew upon several major talents - director Louis Malle, star Jeanne Moreau, cinematographer Henri Decaë, musician Miles Davis - and achieved near-legendary results with all of them.

Made in 1957, when first-time director Malle was only 24 years old, "Elevator" ("Ascenseur pour l'Echafaud") has the brisk craftsmanship and efficiency of classic French cinema and a breathless hint of the energy of the New Wave that was but a few years away.

It made a major film star of Moreau, whose work remains completely bewitching. It called forth from Davis an improvised jazz score that, anchored by his piercing work on the trumpet, has become iconic in its own right. And in a pristine restoration by Rialto Pictures, the gold standard of reissue distributors, it showcases Decaë's luminous, adventurous cinematography. It's not something you want to miss.
That'll do.

Turan gives a bit of the plot but concentrates mainly on the cinematography, and on Jeanne Moreau - how the performance works and what it did for her career.

I'm still interested in the plot, and its political resonances today - the good soldier and hero, trained by the powers that be to kill, gets fed up with the war profiteers, wants to take back his honor, so he kills one of them. That one happens to be his boss and his lover's husband. And things go sour of course. What happens after the war and the guys come home…

Anyway, while our flawed hero-murderer is stuck in the elevator, there's this problem with identity theft. His car is stolen by a young fellow who signs into a hotel with his girlfriend, under our hero's name. During the stay at the hotel the young dude shoots a German couple with a gun he found earlier in our hero's car, and the goes on the run. When our hero-murderer finally manages to escape from the elevator - he spends the weekend stuck - he is arrested by the police and charged with the murder of the German couple. His lover, Jeanne Moreau, manages to track down the real murders - rainy streets, very noir - and gets the evidence needed to clear him. But in so doing, well, she incriminates him in the murder of her husband. Oops. Black, French irony, of course.

What still strikes me is an odd undercurrent here. The guy caught in the elevator, who shot the husband of the woman he loves, is an ex-paratrooper, a war hero, reduced to working for a wealthy, fat war profiteer who may or may not have collaborated with the Germans in the big war, and who now is rich from what he made in arms sales during the French wars in Indo-China (Vietnam) and now in Algeria. He loves the guy's wife and seems to think the fat-cat doesn't deserve her. She agrees. And he shoots the fat-cat with the guy's own gun.

The dialog? "What is this, a joke? What do you want? Money? I'm not frightened of you, Tavernier. I'm too used to being unpopular to be frightened. Anyhow, you're not so foolish as to shoot. In war, yes, but not in more important things." A Halliburton moment? So the arms merchant is a bad guy - "Don't laugh at wars. You live off wars... Indo-China - now Algeria. Respect wars; they're your family heirlooms."

Ah, well. The more things change, the more they….

As for the Miles Davis score, you can click on the item from two years ago and read about how he recorded the whole thing in one evening. How it sounds?
The album is rather fine. Moody, "cool" and spare late fifties jazz. It holds up well. It's a lot freer and less mannered than the stuff on the Kind of Blue album that is so famous. It's better, and sounds just fine now. Odd that when I hear it I know this is what is known as the "West Coast Sound," born here in Los Angeles with The Birth of the Cool album. Recorded in Paris for a French film, this might just as well have been recorded at the old Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach.
And for reference here's a recent photograph of the old Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach.

For the Los Angeles readers:

Ascenseur pour l'échafaud ("Lift to the Scaffold" in the UK and here, "Elevator to the Gallows")
MPAA rating: Unrated

A Rialto Pictures release. Director Louis Malle. Producer Jean Thuillier. Screenplay Louis Malle, Roger Nimier, based on the novel by Noël Calef. Cinematography Henri Decaë. Editor Léonide Azar. Music Miles Davis. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 477-5581, and Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500.

Posted by Alan at 15:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005 15:17 PDT home

Thursday, 28 July 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Hints and Rumors: Judy's Secret and the JAG Protest

Arianna Huffington, that odd woman who lives a few miles away - in Brentwood, where OJ Simpson didn't commit murder (detailed comments on just who she is from March are here) - has a fairly new and fairly slick group blog, The Huffington Post. It went live in early May and has been wildly uneven, with posts from Hollywood folks and sportscasters and whatnot - and some solid political stuff. But Deepak Chopra? Please. But it has been settling down. The posts are getting longer and more substantial, and the news links are first-rate. One of the shorter but fine posts Thursday, July 28 was from Harry Shearer, providing a link to a video clip of George Bush walking away from a group of reporters, and with his back to them, flipping them off royally. The contempt shown is pretty amusing. (Snarky comments on this can be found at Wonkette.)

But Huffington's post of July 28 is the one raising eyebrows. She reports that inside the New York Times there's a lot of talk that places their jailed reporter, Judith Miller, at the center of the CIA leak scandal.

Assume Huffington knows folks who work there. Huffington says after Joe Wilson's op-ed appeared on July 6, Miller went ballistic, checked out Wilson with her CIA contacts, found out about his wife, and then passed along the information to Scooter Libby in the White House.

Wow. The Miller woman started it all? She obtained the information on Valerie Plame from one of her good friends in the intelligence community and then passed it on to Libby who then passed it on to Rove?

That's the contention:
Here it is: It's July 6, 2003, and Joe Wilson's now famous op-ed piece appears in the Times, raising the idea that the Bush administration has "manipulate[d]" and "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." Miller, who has been pushing this manipulated, twisted, and exaggerated intel in the Times for months, goes ballistic. Someone is using the pages of her own paper to call into question the justification for the war - and, indirectly, much of her reporting. The idea that intelligence was being fixed goes to the heart of Miller's credibility. So she calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, "Who is this guy?" She finds out he's married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby (Newsday has identified a meeting Miller had on July 8 in Washington with an "unnamed government official"). Maybe Miller tells Rove too - or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and Cooper. The story gets out.

This is why Miller doesn't want to reveal her "source" at the White House - because she was the source. Sure, she first got the info from someone else, and the odds are she wasn't the only one who clued in Libby and/or Rove (the State Dept. memo likely played a role too)… but, in this scenario, Miller certainly wasn't an innocent writer caught up in the whirl of history. She had a starring role in it. This also explains why Miller never wrote a story about Plame, because her goal wasn't to write a story, but to get out the story that cast doubts on Wilson's motives. Which Novak did.
So MILLER felt threatened and got the ball rolling! Cool. (Huffington doesn't mention the big man at State who was in charge of all the WMD investigation was John Bolton, who would have known Plame's work, and might have been the insider Miller called.)

Huffington really liked Frank Rich's July 17 column on these matters - he was on the right track - but he didn't go far enough.
But one thing is inescapable: Miller - intentionally or unintentionally - worked hand in glove in helping the White House propaganda machine (for a prime example, check out this Newsweek story on how the aluminum tubes tall tale went from a government source to Miller to page one of the New York Times to Cheney and Rice going on the Sunday shows to confirm the story to Bush pushing that same story at the UN).

So, once again, the question arises (and you can't have it both ways, Frank): when it comes to this scandal, do you want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth or do you want the truth - except for what Judy Miller wants to keep to herself?
The plot thickens. Or Huffington is way off base.

As for the plot thickening, well, in the Times of July 28 - the same day - Douglas Jehl is reporting there may be a third Bush administration official - in addition to Karl Rove and Scooter Libby - who was actively pushing the Plame story to reporters after Wilson's July 6 op-ed appeared. Lots of folks have now noted this idea, but no one knows who "the third man" could be. The deal here is that Walter Pincus of the Washington Post is the latest reporter to say that information about Valerie Plame's role at the CIA was volunteered to him by senior administration officials.

Geez. As Mark Kleiman comments:
This is going to make it extremely hard for the leakers to get out from under by pretending that the information was either given to them or wheedled out of them by reporters. And, of course, insofar as the officials' accounts of the interactions don't match the journalists, there's the issue of false statements and perjury to consider.

Second-weirdest item in the story: Pincus, who has testified to the grand jury about his conversation, after his source had testified about it, still refuses to make public the name of the source.
Weirdest item in the story, by a long shot: the editors of the New York Times are offering "no comment" to a reporter for the New York Times.

Jehl's story, which treats the press as part of the action in this case rather than as a neutral observer, is exactly the sort of story that should be written. Of course, it is also exactly the sort of story that should have been written two years ago. Just how Jehl, who was on the White House/Plame aspect of the affair early, backed off or was waved off from covering it this way back then would make an interesting tale.

Still, late is better than never, and both Jehl and his editors deserve kudos for writing and running the piece.
Wait. The Times refuses to talk to its own reporter? They give him a "no comment?"

Something is up. God know what it is.

Could it be the whole thing got stared because a reporter got ticked off and called on her buddies in the administration to go get the guy? Maybe.

Of course that doesn't change the fact someone did the dead - they gleefully blew the agent's cover to score political points, and to warn anyone else who might have any ideas about making the president, or Judith Miller, look bad.

A crime? At least didn't directly order the cold-blooded murder of up to fifty-six of their pesky opponents who knew too much, as Bill and Hilary Clinton did. (No, I don't believe that, but it has been asserted.) Will THAT be the final defense? At least we didn't murder anyone?


But the Times ran another Bush-bashing news item that opened with this: "Senior military lawyers lodged vigorous and detailed dissents in early 2003 as an administration legal task force concluded that President Bush had authority as commander in chief to order harsh interrogations of prisoners at Guant?namo Bay, Cuba, newly disclosed documents show."

They're reporting our own military was angry that they were being asked to participate in what amounted to torture, and didn't fell that was right? Seems so. (The actual JAG memos can be found here.) It seems these embarrassing memos were classified for a long time, for obvious reasons - and because folks like and respect military lawyers, given Tom Cruise in "A Few Good Men" and that JAG television show, the longest-running drama on CBS. Having real JAG lawyers say something stinks is not good at all.

Andrew Sullivan gets on his high horse about these newly-released memos -here -
... they're important to the debate on military interrogation, why these uniformed men and women are heroes for resisting the president's law-breaking, and why decent conservatives in the Senate understand that this administration's shameful record must be corrected by legislation. The administration is so desperate to retain complete control over detention policies, so as to pick and choose when to torture and abuse prisoners, that they have delayed the military authorization bill to the fall to prevent the McCain and Graham amendments. [Covered here.]

Deep down, this is a debate about whether the president, in a war with no defined end, can simply place himself above the law whenever he so desires, in order to reverse America's long-standing policy of treating prisoners humanely. It's about resisting praetorian government. It should be a matter of pride that the first people to resist this were not the ACLU, or anti-war campaigners, or prickly bloggers, but the men and women in our armed services who are proud of their traditions and horrified by what this administration has been perpetrating.
I'll buy that. Praetorian? Yep.

Curiously I just wrote this to someone I know real well, an officer now serving in Baghdad, who tells me we're doing the right thing over there, and making things better:
I won't argue politics with you. I know you hold the moral high ground, because of who you are, and I suspect I would admire those down the chain and those who command you. Our military is not just first-rate. It is comprised of men of honor. In 1990 I saw that at West Point. I never forgot that. In the eighties I remember chatting with senior commanders at the Pentagon - many stars - some of the most impressive people I ever met, and GOOD people. And then I had a short chat with Frank Carlucci - that little weasel who now runs the Carlyle Group. He was Secretary of Defense then. I remember turning and chatting with a guy who commanded the Atlantic submarine fleet - just to feel clean again.

My gripe is with the civilian leadership - with global strategy, not so much with tactics and implementation, although some of that has been a bit counterproductive at times, to say the least. But in the main, honor and decency is what makes you, and those you command, and those to whom you report, something like heroes.

The Rove-Cheney-Bush folks? No. They need to listen more carefully to the smart, honorable, good folks who have to do the work.

Yes, Bush is nominally your Commander in Chief. You deserve better. And no, Kerry was no better. I don't know who would be. Kerry was just an embarrassment. The fates will decide.
So maybe what I saw at this fellow's graduation at West Point was no fluke. These JAG officers are good men too, trying to do the right thing.

But thinking about this - how it plays out in the future - one has to concede that the fates won't decide. The voters will - and the likes of Rove and whoever is the equivalent on the left (if there is one) will work over the voters with this ploy or that, and the media will ride along for the most part, clueless, or stand up now and then and point out bullshit, and perhaps there'll will be another massive attack that will make everyone all fearful and angry (but at whom or what this time?) - and then... who knows?

Posted by Alan at 15:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 July 2005 16:24 PDT home

Wednesday, 27 July 2005

Topic: Iraq

Tipping Point: Something Becomes News?

Over the last two weeks in these pages there has been a bit of discussion of how the government we established in Iraq, to replace the one dangerous one we removed, has been aligning itself with the government next door, Iran - cross-training troops, the new Iraqi PM laying the wreath at the grave of Ayatollah Khomeini on a visit to Tehran and all that. (See One Man's News Is Another Man's Tedium from July 17, 2005 and Non-Stories from last week.)

As you recall, the original Axis of Evil was Iraq, North Korea and Iran. The obvious question that came to mind was did we fight this war to install a government in Iraq that will join up with Iran in all sorts of military agreements? We created, possibly, a new client state of the worst-of-the worst, Iran? It seemed curious that that the government we brought into existence - to replace that of the former guy now in jail and awaiting trial - is aligning itself with Iran, who we have been told since the days just after 9/11 is just as bad (same axis) - and this was not all over the news.

Even more curious is the Sunni government of Saddam Hussein was quite secular, until some opportunistic Koran-thumping in the last weeks before the war. Iraq had one of the most progressive sets of laws protecting women's rights, they fought a long and costly war with the Shiite theocracy of Iran, and al Qaeda denounced Saddam as an enemy for his refusal to join the religious fanatics. They saw him as corrupt and worldly.

But now the Shiite fundamentalists have the power, the Sunni Baathist folks are out of luck, and the guys running this new fun house, like their Shiite counterparts next door in Iran, take their religion very seriously. Iran and the new Iraq have a lot in common.

But all this wasn't yet news, per se. It was quite startling, and made the whole war seem a tad pointless in a deeply ironic way - but to make it "news" there needed to be a tipping point.

That happened this week.

Wednesday, July 27, the Los Angeles Times, among others, reported on the draft of the new Iraqi constitution now in circulation (they're supposed to have it complete by August 15).

As the Times reports, it seems there are a few issues -
… the provisions on Islam and on the powers of the newly created federal regions are potentially divisive within Iraq. The powers of the regions are a concern for U.S. officials, as are the diminished rights of women.

The draft text states that "Islam is the official religion of the state. It is the basic source for legislation. It is forbidden to pass a law that contradicts its fixed rulings." That language is considerably stronger than the model set down by U.S. authorities before the hand-over of sovereignty last year, which stated that Islam would be "a source" for legislation.
Did Iran win this war? We won't get a unified county, women's rights will take a bit hit, and we get strict theocracy?

As for what it all means, Alex over at Martini Republic ("Lead, follow, or have a drink") sums it up this way:
The Chalabian fantasy of a pluralistic, Western-style democracy which the fools and dupes at PNAC who infest the Bush administration bought hook, line and sinker, continues to swirl down the toilet. The reality - a fundamentalist-Islamic regime in Iraq - continues to emerge as details of its new draft constitution comes to light.

Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and the gang of bumbling neocon assholes who Bush brought into office believed that Iraq was ripe for a pro-Western democracy, that American troops would be greeted as liberators, and that there would be virtually no resistance to US occupation once the regime's forces were destroyed or disarmed.
What's the line? "Rats! Foiled again!"

The Times also runs an item on all this upsetting folks. The guy Cheney and Rimfeld and that crew hand-picked to run the news Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi, did promise the new Iraq would be friendly to Israel. That didn't work out, and he didn't work out (or hasn't yet) - "Chalabi also promised his neoconservative patrons that as leader of Iraq he would make peace with Israel, an issue of vital importance to them. A year ago, Chalabi was riding high, after Saddam Hussein fell with even less trouble than expected."

As this Alec fellow had pointed out before, the Iraq draft permits Iraqi-born exiles to regain their citizenship - unless they are Jews. He notes draft Iraqi Charter also contains the following provision: "Any individual with another nationality (except for Israel) may obtain Iraqi nationality after a period of residency inside the borders of Iraq of not less than ten years for an Arab or twenty years for any other nationality..."

Oh well. And you might want to go read what he has to say about how the new plan takes away the rights of women.

His summary?
Bush has just about run the gamut of rationales for his rushed and forced decision to invade Iraq. First it was dismantling Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, which didn't exist; then it was disrupting the close ties and cooperation with Islamic fundamentalist terror groups which were similarly non-existent; finally, it was to put "Democracy on the March" in the Middle East, to show the way for Arabs to form a secular democratic government, which now looks like a march towards theocracy and Islamist rule. He's spent thousands of American lives, tens of thousands of cruelly maimed and wounded American soldiers, and hundreds of billions of American dollars, and the most favorable outcome we can hope to achieve is an Islamic republic, not terribly different from the neighboring Iranian regime Bush has labeled an axis of evil.
That's about right.

And for a full, careful analysis of the document, you might want to read what the University of Michigan professor, the Middle East expert Juan Cole, has to say in Draft Constitution Enshrines Islamic Law - but be prepared for a bit about the ambiguities particular Arabic phrases. It's rather academic. (No pun?)

Moving away from the academic, our columnist Bob Patterson listens to right-wing talk radio regularly, so we don't have to, and comments on Michael Savage.
I flipped on Michael Savage tonight and he is really ripping into Bush.

He says that the Iraq constitutional congress (or whatever they are calling it) says that the new constitution will found an Islamic Republic.

Savage says that's about the worst possible outcome there could be. He basically says all conservatives should punish the Bush Junta by voting for every Democrat in sight in 2006 and 2008.

Savage says that a Shiite Islamic Republic in Iraq would team up with the Shiite Islamic Republic in Iran.

If both countries voted for an Islamic Shiite leadership isn't that a triumph for the democratic way of life?

Gees, you'd think that Savage would be falling all over himself with praise for Bush's plan working out like that.

As this is being written he now is lamenting how much money it is costing and saying that an article in today's Wall Street Journal says it is all going to graft for the Iraqi politicians.

Gees! It is very disconcerting to listen to Savage and not have him blame everything on Clinton and heaping praise on Bush.

What's up with this?
Savage is hard to get. When he goes off like this he says later that he's just mocking the left - it's parody - and to others he says he really means it. He's needs his medication.

The larger issue is cognitive dissonance. How will the Bush side assimilate all this?

We shall see.


Unfamiliar with Michael Savage? You might want to checkout this from Paul Mulshine from the Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ).

Al Franken and the other liberals are probably still wondering why they had such little luck in their efforts to start a talk-radio network to bash George Bush from the left. They didn't consider the obvious explanation. George Bush has his left flank nicely covered. It's on the right that he's weak.

That is the theory of Michael Savage. Savage is the most right- wing of the right-wing talkers on the national airwaves at the moment. He is based in San Francisco, but he can be heard in the New York area on WOR in the evenings. He is a welcome change from those Karl Rove clones Hush Bimbo and Sean Vanity.

"Hush Bimbo" and "Sean Vanity" are the names Savage has pinned on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity of WABC. In doing so, he has sparked a war between the members of his "Savage Nation" (slogan: "Borders, language, culture") and the so-called "Bushbots," that sizable number of gullible Americans who can be convinced that whatever policy Bush adopts is a conservative policy.

"What makes Bush a conservative?" Savage asked when I got him on the phone the other day. "On the economy, Bush has got more governmental workers than anybody before him. He's ballooned the government."

As regards the so-called "war on terror," Savage points out that you can't win a war when you're afraid even to name the enemy.

"He's never mentioned Islamofascism," said Savage.

No, he hasn't. Even the French have been more willing to defend their borders, language and culture than Bush. He's a multiculturalist and a mushy one at that. Instead of reducing the reach of Islamic fundamentalism, Bush has managed in Iraq to get 1,700 Americans killed in a war that will create yet another Islamic republic. Just yesterday we learned that the new constitution in Iraq will incorporate sharia, Islamic law.

That's why we right-wing commentators believe the Iraq war has been the biggest blunder in America military history. As for Bimbo and Vanity, if I may employ Savage's labels, they are simply too uneducated to realize that the Iraq war represents a failed liberal exercise in nation-building.

"There is no college in Rush. There is no college in Hannity," said Savage. "He's a high school dropout. It's like listening to an uneducated, unthinking man on the radio."

Savage has a Ph.D. from Berkeley in epidemiology, an extremely challenging field. That makes him a bit overqualified for the verbal pro- wrestling matches that make up talk radio. But it also makes him interesting.

... Savage hears a lot from people who say that any criticism of Bush is a mark of disloyalty to conservatism.
Yeah, but PhD or not, he's a mean-spirited, nasty piece of work. MSNBC gave him a show a year or two ago, and that lasted only a few weeks. The final straw was when one caller raised the issue of rights for gays and Savage told him to just get AIDS and die, and hung up. So I'll let Bob listen all he wants and report back to me. I'd rather not listen to the guy.

Posted by Alan at 23:30 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 27 July 2005 23:34 PDT home

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