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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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Sunday, 7 August 2005

Topic: Iraq

Letter from Baghdad

July 31 in Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago… you would find a long discussion of how our government had decided to change how we discuss what we are doing around the world. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) was to become the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (GSAVE) - a change in terms to better capture what we were doing. Yes, it was awkward, but not a bad idea. Precision is nice.

But GSAVE has gone the way of the great auk. We're back to GWOT. Disregard GSAVE. It’s dead. It's extinct. How that came about was covered Sunday, August 7, here. Folks got a bit ahead of themselves.

Major Cook in Baghdad has some thoughts:
Hey everyone, just hopping around the Net and had to dig in a little. For those who don't know, I am Alan's nephew.

As a soldier and an officer I prefer GWOT. Not because, as some of you may think, I am a warmonger and like the word "war" - but, because it defines what we are doing. Really Total Wars (like WWI and WWII) are Global Struggles - so why try to define it by its title? If people are too naive or uneducated to think that what we are doing is "global" and stretches from offensive military action, to election support, to eroding the terrorist's support base, to handing out toothbrushes and soccer balls in Mosul Iraq - then they are short-sighted and short-minded.

My personal opinion is that we need the commitment associated with a Total War - and that is not what the American Public nor much of the rest of the International communities want to give to the GWOT. Without that commitment, we might as well send invitations to Al Qaeda and Ansar Al Sunna (or/and while you have your pen out maybe Hezbollah) to come to America and attack us there.

So, anyway, I like that GWOT thing as long as it comes with all the bells and whistles.

Major Brian Cook, US Army
Baghdad, Iraq
156 days to go.
My reply?
Thanks for the comment. Heck, they change the name and then change their minds. Geez. GWOT was fine with me, even if General Myers was uncomfortable with it. GSAVE just wasn't right, somehow.

As I used to teach general semantics the names folks choose for things always interest me. Yes, it's what you do, not so much what you call it. I guess we could call the whole business WWD - What We Do. But damn, that's just too vague.

I'll work on some alternatives.
Major Cook will be back here in Southern California on a fifteen-day leave starting around Labor Day. I'm not sure I'll have any ideas even by then.

As you recall, the idea is we're not fighting "terror" - as that's a tactic an enemy uses, and not the enemy itself. As General Myers himself pointed out, that's like saying WWII was "a war on submarines." No, we were fighting the fascist powers in Europe - Germany and Italy - and that Hitler fellow, and then fighting Japanese take-over-the-world imperialism. They used submarines, and so did we.

But whatever the name of the enemy is it has to be catchy, and sum everything up nicely. So drop this "terror" word? And use what?

We don't want to call it a war on Islam, and somehow a war on "Radical Islam" cuts too close too. Some have suggested a war on Islamacists (huh?) or a war Islamofascists (sounds too much like a carnival thing?) - but clearly "terror" and "terrorists" makes too vague an enemy - as some Irish fellows would fit here, and Basque folks, and folks in the new republics south of Russia, and the Tamil Tigers in Ceylon, and so on. We’re not fighting all of them. We need to be selective.

As is often said, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter - we ourselves didn't exactly play by the rules against the British in the 1770s after all. Dick Cheney himself, as a congressman way back when, famously held onto the position for years that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Now Mandela is a grandfatherly hero. Some say when we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, then another on Nagasaki, and wiped out hundred of thousands of civilians, that was terrorism. Curtis LeMay, the man who ordered the firebombing of Tokyo, wiping out a third of the city, said if we had lost the war he would probably be tried as a war criminal. A war on "terror" presents problems.

So let's be selective and precise.

Is this a war on backward states that are troublesome, and happen to have a lot of oil? Is it a war on states at all? Is this a war on a stateless movement that wants us out of the Middle East, along with any number of the governments in power there now? Is this a war not against one thing in particular but for a finite resource, oil? No, that's too crude. (Bad pun.)

No, we seem to be up against an angry international movement, not tied to any formal government in any particular country, with a list of grievances all tied up with getting the west out of the Middle East entirely, with anger at everything that has happened or been done to the Palestinians since 1947, and with a demand for the freedom to practice a strict and repressive form of Islam all over the Middle East, where they say the folks want just that. They're saying, "Just go away and let us be." We say no. Oil and Israel seem curiously bound up with all this. We cannot abandon an ally we pretty much created, and we need the oil. There's a lot over there, so they have us over a barrel. (Another bad pun.) We cannot walk away from Israel. But they want to force the issues, with terror as the most effective tool they can find.

How do you sum up all that? We are fighting a loose, stateless confederation very angry people who feel they have been wronged, and may have been, and also may be quite crazy and know nothing of how the world really works. And they're pretty good at acts of terrorism. And they don't use submarines.

How do we name our enemy? And if we cannot name our enemy with some precision, then how do we win, or know when we have won?

Note this from Associated Press, Sunday, August 7 -
The mother of a fallen U.S. soldier who is holding a roadside peace vigil near President Bush's ranch shares the same grief as relatives mourning the deaths of Ohio Marines, yet their views about the war differ.

"I'm angry. I want the troops home," Cindy Sheehan, 48, of Vacaville, Calif., who staged a protest that she vowed on Sunday to continue until she can personally ask Bush: "Why did you kill my son? What did my son die for?"
Well, he died in the Iraq subset of the larger war against a loose, stateless confederation very angry people who feel they have been wronged, and may have been, and also may be quite crazy and know nothing of how the world really works, and are pretty good at acts of terrorism, and don't use submarines. How Iraq is involved in this? Let's see - no trace of WMD like we thought and no real connection to or support for the loose confederation, al Qaeda or whomever, like we thought - but now we have this general idea that a democracy there would help things, even if it turns out to be run by a group of fundamentalist Shiite guys who are all cozy with the fundamentalist Shiite Iraq bad guys....

I'm not sure she'd be happy with that.

But Major Cook is right about the W in GWOT - you don't have to worry about calling it a war, or a struggle, as long as you understand it's more than battles or sniping, and includes everything from criminal gumshoe work to PR, and from forensic accounting to trace the flow of funds to being the good guys and winning some trust. But it isn't easy, whatever it is.

I guess we could call the whole business WWD - What We Do.

Posted by Alan at 22:19 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Announcements

Sunday Redirection

Today's commentary isn't here, but actually over at Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this daily web log. This issue is Volume 3, Number 32 for the week of Sunday, August 7, 2005 - in magazine format with a ton of photographs.

This week, Mike McCahill is back, and "Our Man in London" lets us know the mood there right now. It's not pretty. From Paris, three pages of photos from Don Smith of Left Bank Lens, including late breaking shots of that fire in the Metro. One of the quotes this week is from J. A. Wheeler - "If you haven't found something strange during the day, it hasn't been much of a day." Yep. So you will find two pages of photos from a ride on the Goodyear blimp, and a column on that from Bob Patterson. Of course the quotes this week are on flying.

Bob Patterson is back with his WLJ column, this time on lying, and also wrangling up recent books.

The eight items in current events cover the big stories of the week - Bolton to the UN and the strange happenings with the fellow nominated for the Supreme Court. Are we closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and are we changing our minds about what to call the war, again? Instead of bombings in London this time we get a videotaped message? Lots of troubling stories, including that sleeping bag technique where you die. And why did the conservative heavyweight on CNN storm off the set and get suspended?

Features? Something on Czech humor and something on global warming, and a short item on the results of a poll on which pop songs "changed the word."

Some of these are extended versions of what appeared here first in draft form.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ________________

Nominees: Bolton In and Roberts in the Wings (what about that Catholicism?)
The Nominee: Roberts Did What? (How's your "Gay-Dar" working?)
Fanning the Flames: An Official Endorsement of Magic Thinking
Propaganda: The Tale of the Tape
Midweek: Trouble Brewing (and the Sleeping Bag of Death)
Extralegal Detention: Gitmo, Gutmo
Follow Up: Back to the War on Terror (What's in a name?)
Walking Out: Novak Loses It

Features ________________

Our Man in London: Crashes and Bangs
Cancelled Czech: Cimrman Finally Gets His Due?
Cultural Notes: Changing the World, One Song at a Time
Global Warming: Is This Weep-Silently-Apologize-To-Your-Children-And-Throw-Yourself-Out-A-Window Depressing?

Bob Patterson ________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Is there a new national pastime?
Book Wrangler: Gleichschaltung
On the Scene: Up, Up and Away… [the ride in the Goodyear blimp explained]

Our Eye on Paris ________________

Our Eye on Paris (1): The Unusual
Our Eye on Paris (2): Candid
Our Eye on Paris (3): Breaking News

Local Photography ________________

Surreal Vehicle: The Goodyear Blimp
Aerial Photography: Long Beach and Los Angeles Harbor from a Blimp

The Usual ________________

Quotes for the week of August, 2005 - On Flying
Links and Recommendations: A New Photo Album, A Ride in the Goodyear Blimp (50 photos)

Production Notes:

1.) The masthead at Just Above Sunset has changed. It used to read "Just Above Sunset Magazine" but now the term "magazine" has been dropped. The masthead on each page now reads "Just Above Sunset" and no more. Of course it's not really a magazine in the traditional sense - but in a general way it sort of is one in format and intention. Why drop the term? The problem is that my tracking software, when showing me the search terms people use to find the site, tells me people find my site when looking for a hard copy magazine called Sunset - "Your guide to life in the West. Great ideas for home, travel, food, and garden in the thriteen western US states. Entertaining, outdoor living, gardening…" and so forth. (My mother and her brother used to read it all the time.) I wouldn't want to be accused of using the good name of that magazine to attract readers. And there is also Sunset Magazine, published from 1889 to 1998 by Stanford University Libraries. Having the word "sunset" and "magazine" together on each page made me feel guilty. I'm not trying to "use" the audience of either magazine.

2.) Just Above Sunset is hosted by Earthlink and built using their drag-and-drop site-building software called Trellix. Using Trellix I hit the "post to web" button Saturday night just before midnight and got some sleep. When I got up at five Sunday morning everything looked fine, but when I tested the site it was showing "access denied" to all users. Sometime in the middle of the night there was a hiccup and the index that controls all the internal linking just disappeared. At dawn I reposted and by seven Pacific Time it was working again. Sorry about the seven-hour gap in access. Don Smith in Paris was the first to notice this. Drat.

Posted by Alan at 18:59 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 7 August 2005 19:02 PDT home

Saturday, 6 August 2005

Topic: The Culture

Cultural Notes: Changing the World, One Song at a Time

Reuters reported from London on Friday, August 5, the results of the poll in the magazine Uncut. That poll was to find the one hundred songs, movies, television shows and books that "changed the world" in the opinion of musicians, actors and industry experts. (This was the magazine's one hundredth issue after all.) Readers in the UK can check out the results in detail in hard copy - the magazine doesn't provide the results online. Online there's only notes on what didn't make the cut, so to speak. So we here in the States must take Reuters' word for the winners.

Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" (1965) won - of all the songs and movies and books and whatnot, this most "changed the world," if one is to believe the likes of Paul McCartney, Noel Gallagher, Robert Downey Jr, Keith Richards and Lou Reed. Oh yeah, add Edward Norton and ex-Beach Boy Brian Wilson.

Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" was in second place.

Patti Smith on the Dylan song: "I absolutely remember where I was when I first heard it. It got me through adolescence." Really? She might have made it anyway, with or without Dylan.

Paul McCartney, who voted for "Heartbreak Hotel" explains why: "It's the way (Presley) sings it as if he is singing from the depths of hell. His phrasing, use of echo, it's all so beautiful. Musically, it's perfect." So Sir Paul is being technical, not personal.

Third place? The Beatles' "She Loves You."

Fourth place? The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."

Fifth? The highest-ranking film - Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange."

Sixth were "The Godfather" and "The Godfather II" films.

Television was not represented until you got to the tenth slot, and there you'd find "The Prisoner" (1967) - as close as television comes to Kafka, at least intentionally. If you don't know the show see this.

What about books? The first one shows up at number nineteen in the poll - Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."

Whatever. At the heart of this is the idea that songs, movies, television shows and books do, in fact, change the world. Perhaps they do, but asking musicians, actors and industry dudes may have not been the best idea. Should have asked George Bush, or the new pope, or Tony Blair, or Nelson Mandela.

Of course Uncut is not that sort of magazine, but it would have been interesting.

Posted by Alan at 12:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 5 August 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Extralegal Detention: Gitmo, Gutmo

Odd front-page news at the end of the week:

Afghanistan Agrees To Accept Detainees
U.S. Negotiating Guantanamo Transfers
Josh White and Robin Wright, Washington Post, Friday, August 5, 2005; A01
The Bush administration is negotiating the transfer of nearly 70 percent of the detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to three countries as part of a plan, officials said, to share the burden of keeping suspected terrorists behind bars.

U.S. officials announced yesterday that they have reached an agreement with the government of Afghanistan to transfer most of its nationals to Kabul's "exclusive" control and custody. There are 110 Afghan detainees at Guantanamo and 350 more at the Bagram airfield near Kabul. Their transfers could begin in the next six months.

Pierre-Richard Prosper, ambassador at large for war crimes, who led a U.S. delegation to the Middle East this week, said similar agreements are being pursued with Saudi Arabia and Yemen, whose nationals make up a significant percentage of the Guantanamo population. Prosper held talks in Saudi Arabia on Sunday and Monday, but negotiations were cut off after the announcement of King Fahd's death.

By the numbers: send 129 Saudis and 107 Yemenis from Guantanamo to the custody of their home countries. If the U.S. government is able to arrange the transfer of detainees who came from all three countries, the population at the facility will drop by 68 percent, from 510 to 164.
"This is not an effort to shut down Guantanamo. Rather, the arrangement we have reached with the government of Afghanistan is the latest step in what has long been our policy - that we need to keep dangerous enemy combatants off the battlefield," Matthew Waxman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said shortly after leaving Kabul with Prosper. "We, the U.S., don't want to be the world's jailer. We think a more prudent course is to shift that burden onto our coalition partners."
Something is up.

And Bill O'Reilly will be ticked. We have over five hundred folks there, and most of them have been there for nearly four years. No charges. A bit of rough treatment, maybe abuse, maybe torture. To be fair, four of the five hundred have actually been accused of crimes. (See this in the Post.) Four military prosecutors - not defense guys, but prosecutors - threatened to quit because the who tribunal thing is, they say, rigged and pointless. (See this in the Wall Street Journal.) And the whole business there may be playing into the hands of the terrorists, who now use GITMO as a recruiting tool. Still O'Reilly says he's just kill them all: "I don’t give them any protection. I don’t feel sorry for them. In fact, I probably would have ordered their execution if I had the power." (Audio here and video here .)

It seems the administration isn't listening to Bill.

Over at Media in Trouble, this -
… let's start with this grand article about the United States transferring the detainees from US custody to Afghanistan. this is obviously an attempt at some Copperfieldian (as in David) attempt at washing our hands of the whole torture ordeal without actually washing our hands of the whole torture ordeal. I never thought that the benefit of the Great War on Terror … would be that we could have surrogate prisons in which we can torture our uncharged prisoners of the aforementioned war with ever changing acronyms.

The georgiousity of the situation would make any neocon's lips wetter than a Burger King's mop at closing time. Let us jail folks without any kind of notice, charges, or legal basis, then once the press catches on (three years later) we can simply transfer them to our newly acquired country in the Middle East. So this was the point! The whole thing was not to democratize the middle east, not to eliminate a tyrant, not to find WMD's and not even to destroy terrorists wherever they may live. The point is now clear. In case Afghanistan didn't work out, we needed a plan B to put all our enemy combatants that though human the only right they deserve as a prisoner within our control is to not have their head chopped off. That would be barbaric.

So the article describes the wheeling and dealing going on to turn over as many unconstitutional torturees we can to the US's very own Australia.

… fear not people of the world. We shan't be soft on people whom we have tortured, secluded and even outright beat the living piss out of. We will just transfer them to another state that will do our bidding for us, thus making it legally impossible to connect our actions to those of our surrogates!
Buried somewhere in that awful prose is the idea that this is just a way to shift responsibility for all this to third parties we control - it's not just shifting prisoners. Whatever happened, or happens now, isn't our fault. We are just doing the right thing - a little late - but the right thing. O'Reilly can buy a ticket to Kabul and indulge is his "executioner fantasies" there - he can slit throats until he passes out giggling in glee. Those guys will help. We can't let him fly down to Cuba and do that. It would look bad.

Heck, he should be happy with this decision. We'll see what he says.

Posted by Alan at 19:09 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Selling the War

Follow Up: Back to the War on Terror

Last weekend in Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago... you would find a long discussion of how our government had decided to change how we discuss what we are doing around the world. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) was to become the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (GSAVE) - a change in terms to better capture what we were doing. Yes, it was awkward, but not a bad idea. Precision is nice.

But GSAVE has gone the way of the great auk. We're back to GWOT.

Why? The Washington Monthly provides the story of the rise and fall of this acronym.

1.) There was a story two months ago by Susan Glasser in the Washington Post that hinted something was happening. She reported that the Bush administration had "launched a high-level internal review of its efforts to battle international terrorism," and that the review was focused on moving policy away from merely killing al-Qaeda leaders and toward a broader "strategy against violent extremism." (That's here.)

2. ) Nothing official for two months - except Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Myers gave a few speeches in which they used the phrase "struggle against violent extremism," and Myers said he personally disliked the phrase "war on terrorism."

3. ) July 26 - the article in the New York Times (mentioned last week in these pages) that made the claim that these two months of changes in phrasing indicated the administration was "retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups." The article is here with this: "Administration and Pentagon officials say the revamped campaign has grown 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 Sept. 11 attacks."

4.) As the Washington Monthly notes, not a single person is directly quoted as saying that the phrase was officially being changed. Rumsfeld and Myers are quoted using the phrase and a few other people are quoted defending the phrase, but only anonymous "senior administration officials" are used to backstop the assertion that this was some kind of official policy decision. And over the next week, Nexis reported over a hundred mentions of the phrase "global struggle against violent extremism," but with no new reporting. "Every article, editorial, blog post, and late night comic routine is based on Schmitt and Shanker's New York Times piece."

Then it gets good.

5.) Monday, August 1 the president reportedly said at a Homeland Security Council meeting that "no one checked with me." Oops. (See this.)

6.) Tuesday, August 2, in a New York Times article by Richard Stevenson, Bush is directly quoted as saying, "Make no mistake about it, we are at war," and then using the phrase "war on terror" no less than five times. (See this.)

So much for that.

Speculation from the Washington Monthly:
So what the hell happened here? Did Rumsfeld and Myers go off the reservation? Did Schmitt and Shanker screw the pooch, inventing a major policy shift out of a few vaguely worded remarks from anonymous sources? Or was it a deliberate effort to run GSAVE up the flagpole, which was then hastily hauled back in when it became the butt of jokes?
Who knows. Perhaps it was a bit of all three.

But disregard GSAVE. It’s dead. It's extinct.

Posted by Alan at 19:04 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink

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