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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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Thursday, 15 September 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The South: It's Everywhere

I'm hardly an expert on "The South" - living for four years in and around Durham, North Carolina in the early seventies hardly counts. Yes, there was Jesse Helms, before he became a senator, on the television from Raleigh doing his commentary, two or three times a week, ranting about the federal government out to destroy "or way of life" - but that was not the life we knew at Duke University, called by some, perhaps ironically, "the Harvard of the South." While on campus we might as well have been in Cambridge, the one on the north end of Boston, but for the sticky hot weather and the mixed smell of magnolia and fresh-cut tobacco in the air (American Tobacco had a plant near campus churning our Winstons). Off campus it was odd to hear the Civil War referred to as "The Late Unpleasantness Between the States" and sometimes "War of Northern Aggression," and that sort of thing. But one developed a fondness for grits and red-eye gravy after a time, and Smithfield Ham (Virginia's answer to prosciutto) is pretty nice - even if I never got the thing with collard greens. But is North Carolina really The South? It's not The Deep South. My only taste of that was attending a wedding a few years back in Houma, Louisiana - a full Catholic high mass with, count 'em, two monsignors at the local cathedral in the swamp. What can I say? The band at the reception placed "Dixie" and everyone stood and put a hand over his or her heart. Not a Black or Asian or Hispanic within miles. But I liked the crayfish pie, gumbo and crab cakes. The following day was New Orleans - the French Quarter, and walking Bourbon Street in the evening - an odd, dark place. And then there were the two marching bands at midnight and floats and more craziness. Then I assumed no one really lived there - it was a tourist place - and now, no one does. Earlier in the day, mid-afternoon, I had found the Faulkner Bookstore in the place where he once lived and wrote his first novel. Well, he lived there for a time. But to someone born and raised in Pittsburgh, who has worked for stretches of years in upstate New York, rural Canada, and finally out here in Los Angeles, The South is still a mystery - as dense as Faulkner's enigmatic prose.

Sites like Save the South, with its ninety-seven links to web sites like Confederate Pride, The South Will Rise Again!, League of the South National Homepage and Never Give Up, just puzzle me. What's the big deal?

Denver-based criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt tries to help folks like me with a pointer to an item just published in Znet, September 14th by Douglas Dowd, that explains, in rather unflattering terms, what The South is all about, and it seems what it's about is the whole country now. We are them. The item is titled The United States Becomes Its Own Worst Enemy.

This is the introduction:
Since the 1970s the United States has become increasingly captive to consumeristic frenzy and religious zeal at home and to an arrogant and bloody militarism abroad. As we do so, has not the following description come to fit us as a people?

"Violence, intolerance, aversion and suspicion toward new ideas, an incapacity for analysis, an inclination to act from feeling rather than from thought, an exaggerated individualism and a too narrow concept of social responsibility, attachment to fictions and false values..., too great an attachment to racial values and a tendency to justify cruelty and injustice in the name of those values, sentimentality and a lack of realism... ."

Not all of us, just yet; but those words were written to describe the people of the eleven states of the "New South" that evolved after 1877. The quotation is from The Mind of the South (1940); its author was the Carolinian journalist W.J. Cash.

The New South was a toxic brew of institutionalized cruelty and systemic irrationalities, fueled by fear, greed, and hatred; only the worst of its social crimes was the encouragement and immunity given to the lynching of thousands of blacks after 1877.

That the New South's characteristics were embraced with fervor by virtually all of its whites is well-known; almost entirely forgotten or generally unknown is that in significant degree its roots were in our national history and its values shared to one degree or another throughout the nation - as noted by the historian Howard Zinn, after his many years of teaching and working in the South:

"It is everything its revilers have charged, and more than its defenders have claimed. It is racist, violent, hypocritically pious, xenophobic, false in its elevation of women, nationalistic, conservative, and it harbors extreme poverty in the midst of ostentatious wealth. The only point I have to add is that the United States as a civilization embodies all of those same qualities. That the South possesses them with more intensity simply makes it easier for the nation to pass off its characteristics to the South, leaving itself innocent and righteous."
And that is the thesis here. Zinn nailed it, according to Dowd. We've all become "The South" now. Dowd says, "our nation as a whole is well on its way to having a functional resemblance to that South" - or worse. "That South" that Cash, from sweet Carolina, described? That's the idea.

Dowd of course provides a discussion of "The Southern Mystique." He does a number on slavery and says it was never in "another country" - the Confederacy. Of course Article II, Section 9 of the constitution permitted slavery to continue for years, until the 14th Amendment was passed in 1866, and four of our first five presidents were slave owners. And this: "southern slavery could not have flourished without the spirited slave traders of the North; nor could the North's economy have gained its economic strength as quickly or substantially as it did without slavery." He cites Veblen on that (Veblen, Thorstein. 1923, Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times. New York: Huebsch). Everyone was playing in that game.

But ending slavery fixed all that, right? Not exactly -
Though blacks were formally free after 1877 their lives may be seen as having become more miserable: black slaves had one protection freed blacks did not have: they were property and, as such, treated with at least some care. Also needing explanation is the descent into misery of most whites.

The basis for the explanation lies in an 1877 congressional act put together "at night and by cloud." (Veblen) Then as now, Congress was very much bought and paid for; its "buyers" were conservative northern Republicans and their counterpart southern Democrats; the sellers were congressmen of both parties. The deal came to be called "the Compromise of 1877." How did it happen?
What was that deal? See this - Hayes got become president, not Tilden, and that brought an end to the period of Reconstruction following the war. In effect, an end to military occupation and any enforcement of the Reconstruction policies allowing blacks the rights of citizens. Dowd: "In practice that meant a free hand to mistreat, oppress and murder blacks as, meanwhile, both northern and southern business prospered at the expense of 'poor whites.'"

And its consequences? The symbol of what ensued in the South became the hooded Klansman at a riotous lynching party; for the North, its easy access to the South's cheap natural and human resources served both to strengthen and greatly to speed up overall industrialization. Over the next several decades, the South's economy became "modernized," with what were almost entirely northern-owned - with "whites only" workers - textile factories, mines, railroads, steel mills and banks. However, in that "modernization" the overwhelming majority of both its white and its black population sank into deep poverty. ...
Workers lose, owners win. That sort of thing. And it took years for things to change - by WWII southern white workers finally began to make reasonable wages, and full citizenship for "the others" had to wait until the Civil Rights stuff in the sixties. These "others" got to vote, and ride in any seat on the bus they wanted, and eat where they wanted, and all the rest.

Is this good history? Dowd concedes his view is unusual:
The foregoing history could reasonably be seen as absurdly inaccurate by most, including - perhaps especially - students of U.S. history. My own graduate work was divided between economics and history at a leading university, and I knew nothing of this until after my student years. That my experience was not unique may be at verified by an examination of almost any accepted U.S. history text. Representative of that deficiency is what may be found in a widely-used "dictionary" of American history. Although there is an entry for "The New South" there is no mention of "the compromise" that created that South or of its foul underside; what is discussed are its economic "triumphs."
Okay, he may make too much of "the Compromise of 1877" - but he moves on to where we are today.

That's this:
Setting aside the 2000 election, there has been no simple "compromise" greasing the skids for today's reincarnation of the New South. Instead, the ominous directions in which the U.S. now moves are a product of a grotesque meeting of minds - those of big and small business and the otherwise wealthy plus militarists and pro-gun individuals and groups, fundamentalist Christians, anti-abortionists. anti-gays and a modern variation of the "Know-Nothings." Taken together, both the powerful few and the passionate many provide extraordinary amounts of political purchasing power and political strength - both absolutely and relative to those of us who oppose current trends.

Those millions who feverishly egg on or acquiesce in this rightward shift are all too reminiscent of the majority "poor whites" of the New South who unwittingly brought economic, political, and social damage upon themselves.
So we're there again. And he lists eight "destructive interactions" that define what this new but familiar "there" is, among which are "an increasing concentration of already excessive economic and political power and pervasive corruption, guided by a White House whose arrogance, heedlessness, ignorance and seeming indifference to realities at home and abroad go well beyond anything earlier" (check), and "a notable arousal of U.S. militarism, accompanied and supported by intensifying racism and fundamentalist religion" (check), and "the weakening of already inadequate educational, health care, and housing policies" (check). The whole list is quite detailed and heavily footnoted, and quite depressing.

So where are we as a nation? It looks like post-Reconstruction Alabama, circa 1877, everywhere.

I'm not sure this is what was meant with the vow 'The South Will Rise Again." It has, and it's not pretty.

Let's see, it's 1972 on we're at the little house out towards Hillsboro, sitting around watching Channel Five from Raleigh, and Jesse Helms is ranting about the welfare moms and other assorted black riff-raff not taking "personal responsibility." Any evening here in Hollywood, in 2005, I can watch Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity do pretty much the same on Fox News. And that's national.

Maybe the South won the Civil War after all. Or if it was "The War of Northern Aggression" they staged a guerrilla war against the occupiers and, like the Vietnamese and soon the Iraqis, got just what they wanted.

Posted by Alan at 12:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 15 September 2005 12:58 PDT home

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Topic: Oddities

Trends: Making a list and checking it twice…

As noted in the August 7 issue of Just Above Sunset - Jára Cimrman Finally Gets His Due? - in these pages we have covered the BBC and French polls and found the greatest Brit of all time was Winston Churchill, followed closely by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, then by Diana, Princess of Wales. The greatest Frenchman? Charles De Gaulle was first, of course, followed by Louis Pasteur, then Abbé Pierre, then Marie Curie. Canada chose Tommy Douglas, the former Saskatchewan premier, the man credited with being the founding father of Canada's health-care system, as the greatest Canadian of all time. In this summer's AOL poll, done along with a series of shows on the Discovery Channel, we voted Ronald Reagan the greatest American of all time. The idea failed in South Africa, where apartheid-era leaders cracked the top one hundred of the polling and the show was cancelled. In the Netherlands the contest got everyone grumbling about the citizenship of Anne Frank, who spoke and wrote in Dutch, but who officially was German. That got everyone all messed up. The August subject was the Czech poll, and how those folks just don't take anything seriously. Jára Cimrman wasn't even a real person.

But the Brits really started something. People are noticing the Brits are an odd lot.

That came up this week here:

Entr'acte: Best this, worst that - Britain loves its surveys
Alan Riding - International Herald Tribune - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Riding asks the key questions. "Can culture be taught by numbers? Is it enough to know the namedroppable Top Ten of universal culture? And to this end, is it useful to rank a nation's most popular movies, paintings, books? Or does it merely underline the gap between popular and high culture?"

He likes the last answer, although he floats some thoughts about Britain being a nation of gamblers, and just enjoying "the chase, the countdown, the winner." Or they love defining things. Or they're hung up on their identity or some such thing.

It's a good read. Recommended.

What you'll learn?

Britain's favorite hymn is William Blake's "Jerusalem," with its evocation of "England's green and pleasant land." Some us realize Tony Richardson was playing on that in his 1962 film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner - Tom Courteney and the other inmates of the reform school assembling gas masks in the school factory as that played in the background.

BBC Radio 4's "Today" program with the National Gallery worked out the "greatest painting" in Britain. Turner's "Fighting Temeraire." See it here. The runner-up was Constable's "Hay Wain." See that one here - and I do recall a copy on the wall in the farmhouse up in Hilton, New York. Not British but in British museums were numbers three and four: Manet's "Bar at the Folies-Bergère" and Jan van Eyck's "Arnolfini Portrait" (here and here). All safe choices.

Riding does mention that The Guardian offered an alternative: It invited ten experts to name the painting they most loathed.
William Blake, George Stubbs, John Everett Millais and Stanley Spencer were among targeted artists. Timothy Clifford, director general of the National Galleries of Scotland, named Adolphe-Joseph Monticelli's "Garden Fête," adding that he refuses to hang nine donated examples of Monticelli's "screamingly awful art."
See them all here at The Guardian site, and click on number four for Adolphe-Joseph Monticelli's "Garden Fête." It's rather awful.

Other matters? Britain's favorite novel - J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," with Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" second – with twenty-three percent of the vote for the first, and eighteen percent for the second. Random House's Vintage imprint invited forty-eight reader groups around Britain to name 20th-century "classics." Their choice was contemporary - Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan way ahead of Thomas Mann and Graham Greene. Riding notes Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" were the only prewar classics chosen. Britain's favorite crime writer? Agatha Christie, followed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Britain's favorite gay novel will be announced at the Queer Up North festival in May, in Scotland. Kilts?

What else?
A decade ago, Rudyard Kipling's inspirational poem "If" was named Britain's favorite poem in a BBC poll - and it would probably win again. But the BBC was not finished. In 2003, it set out to find a contemporary "Poem for Britain." From some 5,000 entries, the winner was "Harvest Time: A Needlework Map Commemorating the Millennium," an appropriately nostalgic poem about village life by Con Connell, a computer expert.

There have also been competitions for the best text-message poem as well as the nation's favorite sea poem, children's poem, nursery rhyme and tea-towel poem. Few titles, though, were more tightly contested than that of Britain's favorite love poem, with Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet "How do I love thee?" beating out poems by the likes of Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Robert Burns and even Shakespeare's sonnet "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
Oh yes - Britain's favorite movies, by box office ("Gone With the Wind") and by poll ("Brief Encounter") - the ten most downloaded creators of music, classical (Beethoven) and pop (Paul McCartney). And so on and so forth.

Durham Cathedral in northeast England was voted Britain's favorite building. (The official website is here.) And it seems Britain's Channel 4 will soon broadcast "Demolition," a four-part series in which viewers are invited to nominate their most hated building for demolition. Royal Albert Hall would get my vote. The curious thing is the Royal Institute of British Architects is involved with this - the "most hated" building will actually be demolished live on television next spring. Stay tuned.

It occurs to you that the folks in Baghdad didn't get a "demolition" vote, did they? Oh well.

Will this trend spread? "The Greatest [insert nationality here] of All Time" went around the world. People have far too much time on their hands.

Out here in California we vote on endless referendums for this or that - the governor and legislature are useless, give up and ask the voters to decide things - so democracy may actually be spreading around the world, in a very odd way. But not on important matters.

Posted by Alan at 20:16 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: World View

Our Man in Paris: Hard Day Night

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, offers us this. Wednesday night in Paris - a jazz club in Montparnasse - and a Beatles revival band - and being there -

Hard Day Night

PARIS - Wednesday, September 14, 2005: Yoko Ono urged me to go to the 'Beatles Story' in Montparnasse last spring but it was cold out so I didn't go and, when she asked why not, I said I had to have breakfast with an aunt visiting from Arizona. It's my all-purpose excuse and it doesn't fit some circumstances.

Last week Yoko gave me a DVD of the 'Beatles Story' while telling me they would be at the Petit Journal Montparnasse Wednesday, which is tonight. And the TV-weather news said it s going to be 26 degrees tomorrow, so it must be warm tonight, and to hell with the aunt. Besides, I don't have a DVD player.

The Petit Journal Montparnasse is beside the train station, down the Avenue du Maine, a little more than a five-minute walk away. It isn't a place that looks like anything more than a café on the street beneath a modern building. I went in there and when I doorguy showed up to take the money I said I had been invited by Yoko Ono. He said, d'accord, turn right and up the stairs.

Yoko waved. I went to the booth, blew on her cheeks, and took a seat. It was in a big, low room, in a booth a bit above the main floor. The lower area, the major part, was filled with booths surrounding tables and they were all full. Waitresses pranced around delivering drinks and food, while folks looked at the blue lights on their phones. A few looked like firemen in town for a convention but most looked like the neighbors, if they happened live in the 6th or more likely, the 15th arrondissement.

The booth behind had party-looking girls. They were joined by guys with ponytails. Jacques was sitting with them and then joined me and Yoko. He said he'd written six books about the Beatles, and he's writing the seventh. He said he used to be an agent, but gave it up when TV began using amateurs. We were joined by a guy who used to be the producer of the 'Beatles Story.'
They go off, telling us to save their seats. Yoko orders an orange juice for me and when it comes it's got a bent straw and melting ice cubes. The replica Beatles come on stage and without much ado launch into a couple of hours of replica Beatles' songbook.

Takes me back. To 'Hard Day's Night' playing in the tiny cinema on Occamstra?e in Schwabing in 1964. The word on the street was that the Beatles were finished but I thought the film was fine. Sissy's, across the street, had their stuff on the jukebox, along with the Stones' 'Brown Sugar.' Opened at five and closed at eight; all you could drink in three hours. Beer in bottles and schnapps by the shot. Beyond Sissy's, about 50 other handy joints, from the big gastatten on Leopoldstraße to cellar dives like the Schabinger 7 or jazz in the Domicil. It was before the Drugstore was on the little Wedekindplatz, before it was ruined.

'Beatles Story' is run by Renaud Siry. He's the drummer so I guess he is Ringo. Hell, I know he is Ringo because he's a Café Metropole Club member. He must be Ringo because he's got a château up north. There's Paul, George and John on guitars, and another joker with keyboards. The first set sounds a bit listless. It's the first time I've heard the Beatles live - who knows what they're supposed to sound like? I don't think they're going to do 'Brown Sugar.' Orange juice doesn't remind me of Sissy's anyway.

They take a short pause and some of the audience light cigarettes, but not that many. Yoko goes off to put on her wig, and Jacques hasn't come back, so I sit and twiddle my thoughts.

They must have got pepped up in the back room because they come back plugged in and forceful. They just - they play the songs - they don't add frills or inventions. They are loud. The sound system seems built to handle it. They play what everybody knows, a good deal of it older than many in the room. A calculation tells me, 42 years ago, they were has-beens. The good-time girls in the booth behind sing along, but the mass clapping never takes hold.

Yoko appears onstage and says her seven lines. I saw them, written in pencil, but it was too dark to read. Folks clap for Yoko. Renaud and his crew do all the Beatles' songs everybody knows. Everybody is happy. Without overdoing it they close down and then come back and do their finale, and get a good hand.

It's not like an audience on a cruise ship. This is Montparnasse, in an up place that mostly features alive jazz names, like Manu Dibango, on a street that looks like a business park in Hartford. This Beatles stuff is just for fun. The guys work hard at it and give it a good hit. Putting in Yoko is showing that they care to add something extra. I'm glad Yoko is in it. She puts on a wig but doesn't sing. It's not that Beatles Story.


Renaud Siry

Petit Journal Montparnasse

Photos: What you expect with 1.4 Megapix, no light, across a smoky room?



Photos and Text Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Editor's Note: This will appear in the Sunday, September 18 issue of Just Above Sunset - in a slightly different format with the photographs in higher resolution.

Posted by Alan at 18:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 16 September 2005 10:28 PDT home

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

Topic: Photos

Something Different
A new photo album has been posted: Sports Photography - NHL Hockey in Los Angeles . Regular readers know I spent two years in Canada, running the systems shop at a locomotive plant about halfway between Detroit and Toronto - and this is not the London Knights, but as close as we can come out here. The Los Angeles Kings NHL Training Camp - first full on-ice session, Tuesday, September 13, 2005 - free and open to the public – with some amusing shots from the press area.

One of the shots:

Posted by Alan at 21:19 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Meme Watch: Chasing the Zeitgeist

As noted a few months ago here, sometimes the weekly issue of Just Above Sunset is hard to assemble. The zeitgeist ("the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate" or, if you will, the spirit or "ghost" of the times, if that's what the German means) kept running away. A topic on Monday of the week that you'd think would be discussed everywhere can be swamped by something breaking on Tuesday, and then by hot items later in the week. The national conversation shifts. You can chase the zeitgeist all you want. It's a slippery devil. But one aim here is to get a sense of what has people talking and thinking - to get a sense of what people think is important, what is shifting, how things are changing.

If fact, should some restaurant one day open a block or two from here, call itself "Just Above Sunset" and want to buy that domain name, I'd sell it to them and rename the weekly site "Meme Watch: Chasing the Zeitgeist." The daily web log could be renamed too, although nothing comes to mind, although I see has not been taken, so far. ( has been taken, but not

So what's the meme of the week? It seems to be this:

End of the Bush Era
E. J. Dionne Jr. - The Washington Post - Tuesday, September 13, 2005; page A27

Here's the argument:
Recent months, and especially the past two weeks, have brought home to a steadily growing majority of Americans the truth that President Bush's government doesn't work. His policies are failing, his approach to leadership is detached and self-indulgent, his way of politics has produced a divided, angry and dysfunctional public square. We dare not go on like this.
Well, that's an interesting use of the word "we" - better not tell the guys at Fox News, or Karl Rove. But the idea is somehow something has changed. The Bush era, with its worship of the sneering frat-boy approach to all problems, has run up against its natural limitations. That would be reality.

Dionne does a little history. This whole Bush era didn't begin with two planes smashing into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and a fourth dropping out of the sky east of Pittsburgh, or even when Bush took office:
It began on Sept. 14, 2001, when Bush declared at the World Trade Center site: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon." Bush was, indeed, skilled in identifying enemies and rallying a nation already disposed to action. He failed to realize after Sept. 11 that it was not we who were lucky to have him as a leader, but he who was lucky to be president of a great country that understood the importance of standing together in the face of a grave foreign threat. Very nearly all of us rallied behind him.

If Bush had understood that his central task was to forge national unity, as he seemed to shortly after Sept. 11, the country would never have become so polarized. Instead, Bush put patriotism to the service of narrowly ideological policies and an extreme partisanship. He pushed for more tax cuts for his wealthiest supporters and shamelessly used relatively modest details in the bill creating a Department of Homeland Security as partisan cudgels in the 2002 elections.

He invoked our national anger over terrorism to win support for a war in Iraq. But he failed to pay heed to those who warned that the United States would need many more troops and careful planning to see the job through. The president assumed things would turn out fine, on the basis of wildly optimistic assumptions. Careful policymaking and thinking through potential flaws in your approach are not his administration's strong suits.
As a summary of the last four years, that's nicely concise. Of course it doesn't address why most Americans bought into it all and thought this fellow in the White House would save us all from all the bad things, no matter how rich he made his friends and supporters and no matter how many of our son and daughters died in the middle-east or came home maimed for life. Maybe believing this one guy would keep us safe trumped everything else - in spite of his lack of knowledge of detail of much of anything and his refusal to consider it, and his inflexibility and chip-on-the-shoulder scorn of anyone who disagreed with him. Hope too, has its limits.

When did hope turn to dust, as they put it? Dionne suggests the day Bush first toured the Gulf Coast States after Hurricane Katrina, September 2nd -
There was no magic moment with a bullhorn. The utter failure of federal relief efforts had by then penetrated the country's consciousness. Yesterday's resignation of FEMA Director Michael Brown [see the date on the item] put an exclamation point on the failure.
The idea here is that the source of the political success was "his claim that he could protect Americans. Leadership, strength and security were Bush's calling cards."

Two weeks of a major disaster handled casually at the federal level for far too long - the Gulf Coast leveled and New Orleans pretty much destroyed - and that's gone. But Dionne says that was just a climax to something that had been going on for months:
The president's post-election fixation on privatizing part of Social Security showed how out of touch he was. The more Bush discussed this boutique idea cooked up in conservative think tanks and Wall Street imaginations, the less the public liked it. The situation in Iraq deteriorated. The glorious economy Bush kept touting turned out not to be glorious for many Americans. The Census Bureau's annual economic report, released in the midst of the Gulf disaster, found that an additional 4.1 million Americans had slipped into poverty between 2001 and 2004.
Yes, what was that all about?

Anyway, here's the new landscape, as Dionne sees it:
• The way is now open for leaders of both parties "to declare their independence from the recent past."
• Now forces outside the White House have the opportunity to shape a more appropriate national agenda - for competence and innovation.
• "The federal budget, already a mess before Katrina, is now a laughable document. Those who call for yet more tax cuts risk sounding like robots droning automated talking points programmed inside them long ago. Katrina has forced the issue of deep poverty back onto the national agenda after a long absence."
• We can now actually talk about options in Iraq and not be called traitors. (Not how Dionne puts it, but close enough.)
• We'll have fewer hacks in key positions. (Not how Dionne puts it, but close enough.)
That is, of course, a big shift. But is it wishful thinking?

Time will tell. It's all at least possible now.

Dionne ends with this:
And what of Bush, who has more than three years left in his term? Paradoxically, his best hope lies in recognizing that the Bush Era, as he and we have known it, really is gone. He can decide to help us in the transition to what comes next. Or he can cling stubbornly to his past and thereby doom himself to frustrating irrelevance.
Anyone taking bets which it will be?

Note this from Josh Marshall, Tuesday, September 13:
Someone alert the Secret Service! Has the real President Bush been abducted and replaced by a stand-in?

President Bush: "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government ... To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."

I guess this is an example of that old saw, "If at first your efforts to blame everybody else don't succeed, take responsibility yourself."
Hey, it is the first time he has ever taken responsibility for something that didn't work out. There is a change in the air. Blaming Michael Brown, the man who resigned as head of FEMA, for everything that went wrong on the federal level may have been tempting, but his handlers knew how that would play.

Bill Montgomery, Billmon over at Whiskey Bar, looks at this shift in the Zeitgeist using a different German word:
The image of the leader is in essence a gestalt - a picture that can be seen in two entirely different ways, depending on the viewer's mental inclination. The role of propaganda is to reinforce and defend the desired image, while encouraging the audience to unconsciously suppress the other.

Once the gestalt flips, it can take enormous doses of propaganda to flip it back, especially if the audience is simultaneously being exposed to images or ideas that clash with the desired picture of the leader. In that sense, Katrina and its aftermath amounted to an enormous eruption of raw reality into the increasingly hermetic media world of babbling heads and cable spin jockeys - the big bubble that surrounds Bush's little one. And the time is long past when the Rovians could brag about creating their own reality for the media to study. [See Without a Doubt by Ron Suskind (October 17, 2004), and discussed here.] We're talking about real reality now, not the cheap imitation stuff. And for the Rovians, real reality has (to paraphrase Col. Kurtz) become an enemy to be feared.

It's not surprising, then, that the gang is frantically trying to squeeze the last few drops of charisma out of the nearly dry sponge of Shrub's post 9/11 performance - the trigger for the last major gestalt shift in his image. Bush's Saturday radio address was a crude attempt to splice the two disasters together using the same faux Churchillian rhetoric that David Frum used to whip up. But it only sounds maudlin and incoherent the second time around: "Even the most destructive storm cannot weaken the heart and soul of our nation. America will overcome this ordeal, and we will be stronger for it. Even in the deepest darkness, we can see the light of hope, and the light shows us the way forward."

His speechwriters would have done better by sticking to straight Irving Berlin: "Through the night with a light from above."
Well, Bush is scheduled to give a major address to the nation on the 15th in prime time, and it may be like address at the Washington National Cathedral on September 14, 2001 - as you recall he asked "almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come."

Will that work? Will more visits to New Orleans help?

Probably not as well as the White House hopes, although it may at least stem the bleeding - especially if gas prices keep coming back down and Shrub doesn't mind doing a couple hundred more photo ops with Katrina victims and relief workers who don't mind being used as stage props. The mindless repetition of talking points is still a powerful weapon, and the Rovians are as good at that as they are bad at anything else that requires more than trace amounts of managerial competence.

But even a partial recovery will take time - too much time, probably, for a president already on the verge of lame duckhood. And there's always the risk that a fresh eruption of reality - in Iraq, the financial markets, or maybe some other patronage infested federal agency - will spray more mud in Shrub's face. Damage control, in other words, could become a full-time job for the Mayberry Machiavellis, and political survival a full-time obsession for a large number of GOP senators and congressmen. ...
There's much more and you could read the whole thing.

But the key here is these fresh eruptions of reality. That is a problem.

Last May on the Daily Show, this sums up where we've been:
Rob Corddry: How does one report the facts in an unbiased way when the facts themselves are biased?

Jon Stewart: I?m sorry, Rob, did you say the facts are biased?

Corddry: That?s right Jon. From the names of our fallen soldiers to the gradual withdrawal of our allies to the growing insurgency, it?s become all too clear that facts in Iraq have an anti-Bush agenda.
It's not just the facts in Iraq now.

So, the candidate for meme of the week is it's over. Or reality matters. It's time to deal with real life, not neoconservative fantasies. Too bad so many had to die to get back to real life, but here we are.



Bill Maher had a column in the Los Angeles Times September 9 that was not available on the web, probably because it contained material that he would use on his HBO discussion show "Real Time" that evening. It is now available on his HBO website here and it continue the meme in his own idiosyncratic way:
New Rule: America must recall the president. That's what this country needs. A good, old-fashioned, California-style recall election! Complete with Gary Coleman, porno actresses and action film stars. And just like Schwarzenegger's predecessor here in California, George Bush is now so unpopular, he must defend his jog against... Russell Crowe. Because at this point, I want a leader who will throw a phone at somebody. In fact, let's have only phone throwers. Naomi Campbell can be the vice-president!

Now, I kid, but seriously, Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you anymore. There's no more money to spend. You used up all of that. You can't start another war because you also used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people.

Yeah, listen to your mom. The cupboard's bare, the credit card's maxed out, and no one is speaking to you: mission accomplished! Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service. And the oil company. And the baseball team. It's time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or spaceman?

Now, I know what you're saying. You're saying that there's so many other things that you, as president, could involve yourself in... Please don't. I know, I know, there's a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela, and eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote. But, sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You've performed so poorly I'm surprised you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man.

Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire metropolis to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two Trade Centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans... Maybe you're just not lucky!

I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side. So, yes, God does speak to you, and what he's saying is, "Take a hint."
The man doesn't take hints.

Posted by Alan at 20:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 14 September 2005 10:51 PDT home

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