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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, 2 October 2005

Catching Up: Peculiar News on a Slow News Day

Sunday is a day to ignore the news. The new issue of Just Above Sunset was finally posted just after midnight, with its items from Hollywood, London, Paris, and Tel-Aviv (and the French village of Fuissé) - and what could happen on Sunday? The thirteen-year-old microwave oven had died late Saturday in its effort to warm up something or other, so it was off to the local Target - now part of a mega-complex at La Brea and Santa Monica Boulevard that in an all-American swallow-your-history move swallowed whole the famed Formosa Café. Get a new microwave oven. No problem. Is this the only part of the country where you have to pay to park at the local shopping mall?

Okay. The new microwave is fine, gleaming, powerful and efficient, and Just Above Sunset was republished late in the day to correct the errors on the home page, the plants were watered, and then, when it was time to scan the news in the evening, there was some very odd stuff there.

What with, last week, the head of the office of federal procurement resigning just before he was arrested, and the majority leader of the house, Tom DeLay, resigning after he was indicted for some sort of criminal conspiracy, and the majority leader of the senate, Bill Frist, being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for pump-and-dump insider trading, well, the administration, the House of Bush, having had a bad week, could always point Iraq - no matter how badly things were going on the ground the mid-October vote was going to give them a new constitution. Yeah, the Sunni folks were making a fuss, being effectively excluded - and they used to run the place - but heck, the Shiite and Kurd folks would at least have their new government, and we could worry about the Sunnis later. Progress. Yep, something of which to be proud.

Except for this:

Iraq's President Calls for PM to Step Down
Yahya Barzanji - Associated Press - Sunday, October 2, 2005, 8:38 PM ET

What? The President calls for the Prime Minister to take a hike? Seems so:
Iraq's Kurdish president called on the country's Shiite prime minister to step down, the spokesman for the president's party said Sunday, escalating a political split between the two factions that make up the government.

Sunni Arab leaders, meanwhile, were angered after the Shiite-dominated parliament passed a new ruling on the key Oct. 15 constitutional referendum making it more difficult for Sunnis to defeat the draft constitution that they oppose.

The political wrangling deepened the splits between Iraq's three main communities amid a constitutional process that was aimed at bringing them together to build a democratic nation. Kurds complained that Shiites were monopolizing the government, while Sunnis - who have made up the backbone of the violent insurgency - accused Shiites of stacking the deck against them in the political process.

The Kurdish-Shiite split hits the core of the coalition that has made up the transitional government. President Jalal Talabani has made veiled threats to pull the Kurds out of the coalition if their demands are not met, a step that could bring the government's collapse. ...
Okay, they changed the rules to make sure the constitution passes in this referendum - further neutering the Sunnis - but now the Kurds are saying this is all crap? Well, if you read the item you'll see the prime minister can be removed only by a vote of "no-confidence, requiring a simple majority vote in parliament - but the Shiites hold some 150 of the 275 seats. It's not going to happen.

The AP item has much more detail - everyone is angry - but what it comes down to is the idea that they'll soon have this fine, new constitution and have some sort of working government shortly after that and then we can reduce our presence there as we well have accomplished out mission (seventh version) - isn't actually a workable idea. It seems now, more than ever, like a "wouldn't it be nice" flight of fancy. We were told conventional thinking, and history, and what the French and all the others were saying, may be "reality" - but we could boldly change that. Oh well.

What about the Sunday talk shows? Never watch. Rather read the four-pound Sunday paper as best I can, sipping black coffee, with the cat periodically plopping herself down on whatever page I'm reading. Sunday morning in the Los Angeles Times? Did you know Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Renzo Piano, Steven Holl, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, Santiago Calatrava, Rafael Moneo, Glenn Murcutt, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster are among the "acclaimed architects" who have been commissioned to build new wineries or visitors' centers in California, Canada and Australia, as well as in the traditional wine-growing centers of Italy, Austria and Spain? That's here with cool pictures. Many pages of Just Above Sunset are devoted to architecture photos. Good stuff.

So I didn't watch ABC's "This Week" where the host, former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos, at end the roundtable discussion brought up Judy Miller getting out of jail and the CIA Plame scandal and causally dropped this bomb:
Definitely a political problem but I wonder, George Will, do you think it's a manageable one for the White House especially if we don't know whether Fitzgerald is going to write a report or have indictments but if he is able to show as a source close to this told me this week, that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were actually involved in some of these discussions.
What? A criminal conspiracy in the White House? Haven't had one of those since Nixon and Watergate. As you recall Bush did spend an hour answering question from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. All this to get back at a guy who showed them up by outing his wife at the CIA, thus discouraging anyone for saying reality didn't match what was being said? These guys go after your family, even if it means destroying a CIA operation and breaking the law. Heck, it's a pretty good warning to anyone who has these whistleblower yearnings.

This new "scoop" could change things. To whom was Stephanopoulos speaking, and was he being fed lies or wishful thinking? And why is he saying this sort of thing on national television?

Speculation here:
The public defense of both Karl Rove and Scooter Libby in the CIA leak scandal have focused on the specific claim they didn't know Valerie Plame's name. Even if that's true, it doesn't mean anyone is off the hook.

If Patrick Fitzgerald is unable to prove a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Rove, Libby and others could still be charged with perjury if they lied to investigators.
And that leads to this in the Washington Post:
But a new theory about Fitzgerald's aim has emerged in recent weeks from two lawyers who have had extensive conversations with the prosecutor while representing witnesses in the case. They surmise that Fitzgerald is considering whether he can bring charges of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by a group of senior Bush administration officials. Under this legal tactic, Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife. To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose.
Odd. You can sense the walls closing in, and the implication is that Bush and Cheney - much like Nixon setting up hush-money payoffs and ordering a few goons to break into a psychiatrist's office to dig up on the fellow who shopped the Pentagon Papers to the press - these two were approving ways to get Joe Wilson for what he similarly did, by ruining his wife's career. One suspects, however, there on no tapes this time around.

And what is the New York Times doing saying that Vice President Cheney may be directly involved in planning how to get back at Wilson?

A lawyer who knows Mr. Libby's account said the administration efforts to limit the damage from Mr. Wilson's criticism extended as high as Mr. Cheney. This lawyer and others who spoke about the case asked that they not be identified because of grand jury secrecy rules.

On July 12, 2003, four days after his initial conversation with Ms. Miller, Mr. Libby consulted with Mr. Cheney about how to handle inquiries from journalists about the vice president's role in sending Mr. Wilson to Africa in early 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq was trying acquire nuclear material there for its weapons program, the person said.
Too many leaks here. Someone is setting up the mainstream media to make them look foolish when Fitzgerald reveals what he found - it all turns out to have been planned by that that Lynndie England lass when she wasn't abusing and humiliating prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

No more. Just note this in the Sunday Mirror (UK) - 3 October 2005 -
A document linking Margaret Thatcher to a US corruption probe is so explosive civil servants have been asked to ensure it remains "sealed".

The 79-year-old former Premier is said to have met Congressman Tom DeLay in Britain while he was on a suspected favours-for-freebies scam.

In return for his free holiday, DeLay - who resigned as Republican leader of Congress last week after being accused of laundering political funds - allegedly backed legislation favourable to lobby groups.

Disclosing that US authorities were seeking aid from UK counterparts, a secret Home Office briefing says: "One visit to the UK involved a meeting with Mrs Margaret Thatcher.

"Evidence is sought from her about that meeting and her involvement in the alleged deception and violation of US criminal laws."

Police will "sensitively" investigate the meeting, which took place in May 2000.
Maggie and Tom? A very odd couple, that. What a world.

But you have to love this:
In the dossier headed "Secret... wider circulation strictly forbidden", civil servants then warn ministers: "There would be considerable press interest in this case if it were to become public knowledge.

"We have been asked by the US to keep this request 'sealed', which we take to mean as confidential as possible. This has been relayed to the Crown Office and Metropolitan Police.

... The document, leaked to the Mirror, informs ministers there has been an official request for "mutual legal assistance" from the US Department of Justice in Washington.

It said the request was part of a deception investigation "involving high-profile American and UK-based individuals, including a leading Congressman and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher". At the centre of the probe is high-profile lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is already under investigation in the US.
This is very odd. As Holmes would say, "The game is afoot." It seems members of the Scottish Parliament will be questioned concerning any contacts they may have had with Abramoff, or DeLay, or any other US Republicans. Scottish police will collect hotel record, bills, invoices, and statements.

This is getting juicy. It may all come to nothing - but many said that back in the early seventies when the news story of that minor break-in at the Watergate complex hit the wires.

One never knows.

Posted by Alan at 22:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 2 October 2005 23:01 PDT home

Topic: Announcements

Redirection: Hollywood, London, Paris, Tel-Aviv and the village of Fuissé

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 3, Number 40 for the week of Sunday, October 2, 2005 - is now on line. This is the weekly "magazine" that is the parent of this web log. Some of what is there first appeared here and has been expanded and enhanced, but most of it is fresh material - pages of high-resolution photographs and exclusive columns from three foreign capitals.

This week's review of how things are going covers a lot of ground, from scandals involving what we're becoming, to the Republican follies - almost too many to mention so a midweek scorecard is provided - to an eruption of racial name-calling, to our efforts to sell "Brand America" to the rest of the world. But don't worry - we have a new Chief Justice at the Supreme Court. Everything will be better.

Our international correspondents weigh in on any number of issues. Mike McCahill, from London, gives us the truth about national healthcare in Britain, Ric Erickson from Paris provides a three-part series on some real unrest there, and provides a page of photos of this year's Nuit Blanche, while Sylvain Ubersfeld sends two columns from Tel-Aviv, both with exclusive photographs, one on the famous security measures you'll find there, and one on the one day each week everything simply stops.

Bob Patterson this week tackles the logic of the political right, such as it is, as he sees it, and runs down some amazing books on automobiles. (Yes, that's a pun.)

Photography? After a week off "Our Eye on Paris," Don Smith, is back with two pages of extraordinary photos. Pouilly and Fuissé are two distinct villages in the Mâconnais, down in Burgundy. Pour yourself a glass of Pouilly Fuissé and check out the harvest in the village of Fuissé, or stay in Paris and check out the details there.

The local photography is really local. This block in Hollywood is a feast for the eyes, and the sunsets here, just above Sunset, this week in particular, were amazing.

The "correction" gives you all you need to know about a really local winery, and if Alain Ducasse serves this in Paris, it's rather good plonk. And the weekly quotes are here as usual, more snide than usual - on character, honesty, and motive and all that sort of thing.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events _________________________

What We're Doing: A Hard Look at the Psychopathic Side of the American Spirit
What Matters: Getting to the Core
Midweek Scandals: Handy Scorecard
Apocalypse: Local Version
Race: Moralists Say the Oddest Things
Marketing: New Problems with Brand America

The International Desk _________________________

Our Man in London: The Nation's Health
Our Man in Paris: Sailing Off with a Whole Ship, and the Question of Corsica
Our Man Sleepless in Paris: Another Nuit Blanche
Our Man in Tel-Aviv: Safe or Sorry?
Our Man in Tel-Aviv (2): The Seventh Day

Bob Patterson _________________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - "There you go again, thinking logically..."
Book Wrangler: The Formula One Sunday Formula

Our Eye on Paris _________________________

Harvest in Fuissé
Paris - City Details

Local Photography _________________________

Fire Sky
Neighborhood Architecture (Hollywood)

Of Interest _________________________

Correction: Good Stuff, Actually For Sale (Hollywood Wine)
Quotes for the week of October 2, 2005 - Character, Honesty, and Motive (and all that)

One of the photos - down the block, the local union hall -

Posted by Alan at 13:09 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 2 October 2005 13:11 PDT home

Saturday, 1 October 2005

Topic: World View

Marketing: New Problems with Brand America

Some months ago in these pages (see March 20, 2005 - Just What Are We Selling?) there was an extended discussion of the announcement that former Bush political advisor and communications director, and former Texas television newswoman, Karen Hughes, had been appointed to be our new Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, with the mandate to sell "Brand America" to the Muslim and Arab world. At the time, our friend Vince, who teaches marketing to MBA students in upstate New York at a prestigious business school, was skeptical. It seems his skepticism was not misplaced.

It took many months for this Hughes woman to assume her post, and now she has made her first trip to the region to pitch our brand. It didn't go well, and if this quote is correct, the Financial Times of London referred to her as "the new US minister of propaganda." That's cold.

So what happened?

Saudi Arabia

She told the government there to be more careful about what they allow to be published and distributed: "US envoy Karen Hughes said on Tuesday Washington had privately discussed the issue of hate literature in American mosques with the Saudi government and asked for their help in getting rid it." Freedom of expression has its limits, of course.

She told a group of Saudi women they could be just like her and have the right to drive and wear pretty clothes and all that, and they were offended -
US media are being disingenuous in portraying Arab women as unhappy and wronged, a close aide to President George W Bush on a PR visit to Saudi Arabia has been told. And it has come from the horse's mouth.

"We are happy. We want to show that image (but) the general image of the Arab woman in the American media is that she is not happy," a female student at Jeddah's private Dar al-Hekma University said during an encounter with US Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, drawing thunderous applause from colleagues.

"Your media is not really as fair as it used to be," came another voice from among the crowd of women clad in the black abaya who gathered in an amphitheatre on Tuesday to "exchange" views with the American visitor.

... "We can change, we are going to change, but not by force from outside," Leen Assassa, a 19-year-old student of interior design who holds dual Syrian and British nationality, later told AFP. She was covered from head to toe like her Saudi peers.

"America is trying to force its own opinion on us; the change will come from us," Assassa added.
Hughes backpedaled and called the exchange refreshing.


The "image marketing approach" – a luncheon to make clear that we're really good folks in America - fell flat -
Prominent Egyptians told the Bush administration's public relations guru yesterday that the United States can improve its image in the Middle East only by changing its policies.

The intellectuals and civil society leaders cited policies on Iraq, Iran, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what they said was inconsistent U.S. treatment of repressive Arab governments.

"You cannot separate them (image and policies). They have to go hand in hand ... You cannot sell an image while the policies are not there," said Mohamed Kamal, one of the guests at a lunch hosted by US Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes.

"If you really want to change the perception, you have to change the policies," added Lamees al-Hadidi, an independent journalist who also attended the meeting.

An Egyptian government newspaper also said that Hughes's mission to improve Washington's image abroad was bound to fail unless she could promise changes in US policy.
Well, Hughes doesn't have any authority to do that. She was treated with what might call "polite contempt" - she was of no significance.


She tried to be nice but they brought up the war -
Sent to improve America's image in the Muslim world, President Bush's public relations chief stressed the need for better dialogue in her brief address Wednesday to Turkish women activists. What Karen Hughes got back was a barrage of criticism about the U.S. war in Iraq.

There is "no chance for America to make its image better ... while the war in Iraq is still going on (and) people are dying every day,'' Turkish activist Hidayet Sefkatli Tuksal told journalists after meeting with Hughes at a museum in a medieval citadel looming over the modern city of Ankara.

Hughes - who concluded her Mideast tour Wednesday - admitted that "obviously we have a public relations challenge here in Turkey as we do in different places throughout the world.''
No kidding.

A public relations challenge?

Started in London in 1978 Asharq Al-Awsat is the world's most widely read Arab daily newspaper. It's printed simultaneously on four continents in twelve cities, and gives us this: The Karen Hughes Cleaning Service -
Even if the current US administration turned into to the world's largest cleaning company, it would still be unable to clean its reputation and improve its image in the Arab world. The mission is nearly impossible. I say this in light of the visit by Karen Hughes, the presidential adviser for public diplomacy and public affairs at the US State Department, or in clearer terms, George W. Bush's cleaner in the Arab region.

As a superpower, the United States has enough enemies and conflicts to keep it up at night. The minority, which believes that in politics no country can be totally good or wholly corrupt, finds itself unable to change reality.

... It might be that Hughes believes she will meet journalists and reveal to then what they do not know about her country, its policies, and its president. She might say he was the first to recognize a Palestinian state, strongly encourage democracy and push governments to grant opposition parties more freedom. Bush also insisted local Arab market reform.

The diplomat is deluding herself if she thinks anyone will believe her or show interest in the good deeds she will enumerate. All those she will meet are sure to repeat one word, "Occupation, occupation, occupation." Her planned meetings will end as they started. Hughes will face an important decision: repair the US's reputation, which is nearly impossible, or modify the country's policies, also almost unfeasible. …
Poor Karen, caught between the impossible and the unfeasible, with the only tool at her disposal being "image marketing."

Fred Kaplan over at SLATE.COM asks the obvious question - What on earth is she doing in the Middle East? -
Hughes is the third person that President Bush has appointed to this admittedly daunting position since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And she's the third piece of living evidence that he has no idea what "public diplomacy" requires. In a sense, this is par for the course when American officials meet with unofficial audiences abroad. Let us stipulate for a moment that Hughes is ideally suited for the job - that she can figure out how to spin sheiks, imams, and "the Arab street" as agilely as she spun the White House press corps in her days as Bush's communications director.

Even if that were so, why would anybody assume that she is the one to do the face-to-face spinning? Wouldn't it be better to find someone who - oh, I don't know - speaks the language, knows the culture, lived there for a while, was maybe born there?

Put the shoe on the other foot. Let's say some Muslim leader wanted to improve Americans' image of Islam. It's doubtful that he would send as his emissary a woman in a black chador who had spent no time in the United States, possessed no knowledge of our history or movies or pop music, and spoke no English beyond a heavily accented "Good morning."

Yet this would be the clueless counterpart to Karen Hughes, with her lame attempts at bonding ("I'm a working mom") and her tin-eared assurances that President Bush is a man of God (you can almost hear the Muslim women thinking, "Yes, we know, that's why he's relaunched the Crusades").

It's hard to say what kinds of programs - which cultural messengers or emblems of freedom - might effectively counter the hatred and suspicions of today's foes. But Karen Hughes would be spending her time more wisely trying to come up with some. To the extent that public diplomacy has worked at all, it has done so as a garnish.

The main course - a nation's ultimate image - is fashioned not by how it talks but by what it does.
Well, all she has is talk.

And then there's the damned French, as in this from Peter Ford in the September 30 edition of The Christian Science Monitor -
Karen Hughes should be French - it would make her job easier.

As the US undersecretary of State for public diplomacy returns home from her first foreign trip burnishing America's image in the world, she might feel a touch of envy at the glowing international reputation that France enjoys, highlighted in a recent study by the Project on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).

In the survey of people in 23 countries across the globe, a majority or plurality in 20 described France as exerting a positive influence on world affairs. The US, by comparison, is seen as having a negative impact by majorities in 15 countries.

"France is seen as a countervoice to the US," says Steven Kull, director of PIPA. "It becomes a rallying point for all those who don't want to follow America's lead." ...
There's great deal of detail at the link, but you get the idea. Some of this has to do with residual memories of seeing the suave and elegant Dominique de Villepin coolly oppose Powell at the UN a few years ago and suggest launching a preventative war in Iraq was not, at the time, a very reasonable idea - it was a bit gauche, if nothing else - one of those crude American solutions. And it didn't work out that well, did it? Part of this is style, which the French seems to have in most things. Part of it is attitude - the French may be haughty but they don't tell everyone to be just like them. They just assume that if you're intelligent, well-read, well-mannered, and at all sophisticated and carefully polite and formal, and enjoy the small pleasures of life more than power and wealth, well, you'll end up like them anyway. This of course, bugs the hell out of Americans.

Is it time for a makeover, as in "Extreme Makeover" and that sort of thing? On this side of the pond we're fond of quick slogans - you don't have to think or know much and you can repeat them over and over, put them on a bumper sticker, use them to slam discussion shut and all the rest. Last March Will Durst offered Thirty US Foreign Policy Extreme Makeover Slogans, which were an attempt at satire:
When Democracy Reigns, It Pours.
America: Just a Big Red White and Blue Teddy Bear With a Whole Lot of Guns.
Snap. Crackle. Pow. Thud.
Be All We Think You Should Be.
Tastes Great. Less Torture.
They Don't Call Us The GREAT Satan For Nothing.
America 2.0. Now With Improved Press Suppression.
What's So Bad About Bread And Circuses Anyway?
John Wayne: Not Just an Actor. A Way Of Life.
Don't Like Us? Get In Line.
I'd Walk A Mile For A Camel.
The US: The Ultimate Lying Machine.
Wouldn't You Really Rather Have A Republic?
Badges, We Don't Need No Stinking Badges.
Friendly Fire 'R Us.
Democracy: Just Do It.
You're In Good Hands With Our State.
You Keep the Sand, We'll Take the Oil.
Sometimes You Feel Like a Crazed Tyrannical Despot, Sometimes You Don't.
Freedom: Breakfast of Champions.
We're Everywhere You Want To Be. Deal With It.
The New Improved Low-Carb, Atkins-Friendly America.
Got Grenades?
Don't Leave Home Without It. No, Really. Stay in Your Homes.
I Can't Believe I Invaded The Whole Peninsula.
Autonomy: It's the Real Thing.
The Best Part Of Waking Up Is No Dead Bodies On Your Doorstep.
Aren't You Glad You Use a Free Market Economy? Don't You Wish Everybody Did?
Better Living Through Sovereignty.
Nobody Doesn't Like Britney Spears.
Too bad Karen Hughes didn't get the joke. It seems she's using some of them.

Posted by Alan at 14:07 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 1 October 2005 14:09 PDT home

Friday, 30 September 2005

Topic: Race

Race: Moralists Say the Oddest Things

Written Thursday evening here in Hollywood as night descended and the air was filled with smoke from the twenty-thousand acre fire to the west, the Burbank fire to the north and another far out east - in Apocalypse (Local Version) - there was some mention, in all the other madness, of what William Bennett said this week on Morning in America, his radio show. Perhaps that deserves its own item.

The suggestion was that there was something in the air, beside the smoke.

As brief recap - we're talking about William J. "Bill" Bennett, born in Brooklyn, BA in philosophy from Williams, PhD from the University of Texas, Harvard law degree - co-director of "Empower America," the "Washington Fellow" out here at the Claremont Institute - and chairman of "Americans for Victory over Terrorism." He was Reagan's chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1981-1985) and Secretary of Education (1985-1988), and our "drug czar" (1989-1990). He's written sixteen books, but is most famous for The Book of Virtues and The Children's Book of Virtues. His latest is called Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. He's a moral man. Yes, there was that scandal with his compulsive gambling, but the right forgave him.

A minor note, William J. "Bill" Bennett's brother is Robert Bennett, Judy Miller's lawyer - you know, Miller is the New York Times reporter who just spent eighty-five days in jail for something or other. Friday, September 30, on CNN's "Situation Room," he, Robert, was being interviewed about why Miller got out of jail now, and about her testimony to the grand jury that morning, and where it was all leading. Then the host, Wolf Blitzer, blindsided him by asking what he thought of his brother's statements about aborting black babies. He was ticked-off at the change of topic and laid into Blitzer. (Partial transcript here.) He didn't answer.

As for what Brother Bill said this week, that's given in full at Media Matters here (September 28) -
But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.
Thursday evening you could see him on Fox News telling Sean Hannity this was no big deal. It was sociology or something. Friday this was all over the news, except he didn't appear on CNN's "Situation Room" - Wolf explained that was a contractual matter. Bennett is a Fox News commentator. CNN doesn't get him. But everyone else has comments Friday. Michigan Democrat John Conyers wrote a letter to the Salem Radio Network that syndicates "Morning in America" and requested Bennett be suspended. A glance at television during the day would net Nancy Pelosi being outraged, the Congressional Black Caucus being outraged, and the NAACP likewise. Everyone was piling on. CNN on the "Situation Room" had Jack Cafferty reading viewers' letters.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sent along this:
Oh yeah? Just change one word, from black to white: "But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every WHITE baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

It would fall off the chart.
Let me see - no babies, white or black or brown or yellow or green - no crime. Makes sense.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta:
Excellent idea! Had Bill only thought of this himself, he might have gotten himself off the hook.

(And if someone could find the statistics that back up this contention either way, black or white, I'd be curious to hear the results. The whole thing is weird.)
Yes, it is.

Curiously, on the left, Brad DeLong, the economics professor up at Berkeley who was a key player in the Clinton administration, defends Bennett -
Bill Bennett is a hypocrite, a loathsome fungus on the tree of American politics, a man who has worked unceasingly to make America a worse place - when he's not publishing the work of others under his own name, or rolling the dice at Las Vegas while claiming that America's poor would be rich if only they had the righteousness and moral fiber than he does.

But Bill Bennett is not afflicted with genocidal fantasies about ethnically cleansing African-Americans. The claim that he is is completely, totally wrong.

... Addressing a caller's suggestion that the "lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30 years" would be enough to preserve Social Security's solvency, radio host and former Reagan administration Secretary of Education Bill Bennett dismissed such "far-reaching, extensive extrapolations" by declaring that if "you wanted to reduce crime... if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Bennett conceded that aborting all African-American babies "would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do," then added again, "but the crime rate would go down."

Bennett did not "concede" that "aborting all African-American babies 'would be... morally reprehensible.'" That was his point. His caller said: "Abortion is bad because it has worsened the financing of Social Security." Bennett says: "Stay focused. We're anti-abortion not because we think that abortion is a means that leads to bad ends like a higher Social Security deficit; we're anti-abortion because abortion is bad; make arguments like 'abortion is bad because it increases the Social Security deficit' and other people will make arguments like 'abortion is good because it lowers the crime rate' and we'll lose sight of the main point."

Bennett is attempting a reductio ad absurdum argument.

Never attempt a reductio ad absurdum argument on talk radio. You can't keep exact control over your phrasing in real time, and so somebody is bound to think you are endorsing the horrible absurdity that you are rejecting.

(And, while we're at it: never get involved in a land war in Asia; do not read My Pet Goat when death is on the line; never play poker with a man named 'Doc'; never accept a battle of wits where iocane powder is a factor; never blithely download and install a file from Microsoft without carefully, carefully researching what it will do beforehand; never get involved in an argument over Noam Chomsky; and never post about human genetics on your web log.)
Seeing this, our Wall Street attorney friend reminded me of something concerning this advice about never getting involved in an argument over Noam Chomsky - "Didn't we try this once in one of your classes?" Yes, our Wall Street attorney friend was in my Language and Linguistics class back in the seventies, but the issue there was not political but rather about Chomsky's theories of language acquisition. Noam Chomsky also does psycholinguistics, right? That's what MIT hired him to do for all these years. The other stuff is... other stuff.

Anyway, nothing is going to happen here. This Salem Radio Network is not going to do anything to Bennett, as Sarah Posner explains in this item. She does her research. Salem Radio Network's parent company is Salem Communications, a publicly traded media company which openly claims its programming is from a conservative Christian perspective. The company owns over one hundred radio stations in major metropolitan markets and syndicates its programming to almost two thousand stations around the country.

Posner profiles CEO Ed Atsinger and his brother-in-law and Board Chairman Stuart Epperson, two key players in an effort that started fifteen years ago out here to "turn" the California Republican Party, and make it "radical Christian right" - funded by Howard Ahmanson, the fellow who owns Dirt Bike and Motorcross magazines and a few others. Note to self: no more plays at the Ahmanson Theater, no off-road biking, and no Dominos Pizza. Who would want a pizza from an organization that uses its profits to end abortion rights, outlaw homosexuality and get rid of Darwin in the schools? Anyway, pizza is bad for you.

Salem Communications is headquartered, by the way, just up the coast in Camarillo, at the edge of this week's big fires. Is God trying to tell them something?

Note this, courtesy of BartCop:

That'll do.

Posted by Alan at 17:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005 19:34 PDT home

Thursday, 29 September 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Apocalypse: Local Version

Thursday was supposed to be a slow news day. After all, the day before, house majority leader Tome DeLay had been indicted for criminal conspiracy and had to step down and was all over the talk shows blustering and saying he'd be back because it was all nonsense and a plot by the Democrats to "get him" - he'd done nothing wrong at all. That was enough political turmoil for the week, and out here Thursday was a good day to relax and glance at what everyone was saying about what it all meant. What else could happen?

By early afternoon in was in the high nineties, the humidity was zero and the visibility, at least to the east outside the office window, unlimited. No smog. You need a temperature inversion for that - a pool of hot air way up, where it shouldn't be, as the higher you go the cooler it gets. When it doesn't? The "inversion" - hot air where it shouldn't be - traps the smog in our basin here. But it was way too hot for that. Clear as a bell - across the hills you could see every detail of the blindingly white Griffith Park Observatory, and behind it, Mount Baldy looming over Claremont and Upland, and behind that Mount Baldy, looming over San Bernardino, sixty miles away.

The only problem was the smell of smoke in the air. The fires out west, where Los Angeles County blends into Ventura County, had burned seventeen thousand acres and were nowhere near being stopped. As they grew, new fires broke out north of Burbank and out east in the Angeles National Forest. The whole of western Los Angeles was put on alert - dangerous air, close your windows, crank up the air-conditioning, lay low - that sort of thing. There was a line of smoke from the Burbank fire drifting over the observatory by six in the evening. Of course, this was all over the local news - continuous coverage with Lawrence Welk's son, Larry, yammering away, providing helicopter coverage. (Why didn't he follow in his father's footsteps and keep the band going?) Well, we had the second wettest winter in history last year and the brush grew very nicely. Now all the new chaparral - creosote plants and other scrub - gives us the fifty-foot flames in all the major canyons and minor arroyos. All of Los Angeles is filled with smoke.

There wasn't much on the political front.

Arnold Shwarzenegger, the governor out here, vetoed the bill the legislature passed legalizing gay marriage, just like he said he would. Whatever. He's in trouble, with approval numbers in the low thirties - far lower than the thirty-nine percent of the folks out here who still support Bush and each and every thing he does. Shwarzenegger needs to "feed his base some red meat" or something. But the argument is over, and has been for a long time. Anyone under forty just doesn't see what the problem is. Everyone has gay friends and doesn't get all riled up about allowing gay marriage. What's the problem? Shwarzenegger is riding the wave of the past. Everyone else has moved on.

Thursday Jon Roberts was confirmed as the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The vote in the senate was fifty-five Republicans voting yes, twenty-two Democrats voting no and twenty-two yes. So? Everyone knew he would be confirmed. He was sworn in and made a nice speech. This is not news. When I walked by the television mid-morning I noticed MSNBC was carrying the vote, senator by senator, live from the floor. The sound was off and I was watering the plants on the balcony, heavily of course, and there seemed no point in listening in.

What else? Late in the afternoon the New York Times reporter, Judy Miller, in jail for refusing to reveal her sources - this grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame wants to know who told her what, or what she told them, or something - was freed from that jail. Her source, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, that "Scooter" Libby fellow, spoke with her and, it seems, released her from any confidentiality agreement. She testifies to the grand jury Friday. She may be part of the crime, setting it all up - or not. As mentioned previously, John Bolton, a man who hated Valerie Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, had visited her in jail, taking time from his duties as our new insult-everyone ambassador to the UN. It's very, very confusing, and mysterious. Clarity by the weekend? Probably not.

What else? Something covered in the pages in late July here actually was resolved. From the Reuters wire this -
A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Defense Department to release 74 photos and three videos depicting prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, some of which may have already been published worldwide.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ordered the Defense Department to release photos provided by Sgt. Joseph Darby, some of which were leaked more than a year ago and set off the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

The Defense Department had sought to suppress their release, saying publication of new images could incite more violence in Iraq.

... The written ruling came in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit filed in 2003 by civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, over treatment of U.S.-held detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

The judge had ordered the release of the photos in June, but the Department of Defense appealed the decision, warning the judge in oral arguments that releasing the pictures could incite more violence among insurgents in Iraq.

But in a strongly worded ruling on Thursday, the judge noted that "the terrorists in Iraq do not need pretexts for their barbarism" and that America "does not surrender to blackmail and fear of blackmail is not a legally sufficient argument."
Blackmail? What?

Well, his idea was withholding the stuff would be wrong as we were over there fighting for freedom, even freedom of information and that sort of thing: "Indeed, the freedoms we champion are as important to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which out troops are armed. As President Bush said, we fight to spread freedom so the freedoms of Americans will be made more secure."

Yeah, throw the man's words back in his face. Use logic. Maybe this judge doesn't realize now he faces the wrath of Rove and O'Reilly. On the other hand he gave the government twenty days to appeal before releasing the material. Don't expect anyone will ever see the photos and videotape. The appeal process could take years.

Andrew Sullivan here provides a link to the ruling - Southern District of New York, before Judge Hellerstein, case number is 04 cv. 4151 - but you really have to dig to get there. Sullivan says the most interesting parts is the judge's decision to order the CIA to release documents from the Justice Department on how to interpret the traditional ban on torture. Expect resistance to that. We don't even tell our own soldiers how to interpret the so-called ban and whether or not the Geneva Conventions apply at any given time and place. That way we can have them do all sorts of things, and when something embarrassing comes out, we can slam them for not following the rules we didn't ever explain. Those of us who have worked in large corporations know that trick. It's called "effective management." Always the employee's fault.

By the way, here is Sullivan in his high horse:
I don't think most Americans are aware of what really went on at Abu Ghraib, and the depth and extent of the brutality. The reason is that the administration did everything it could to prevent the full record being made public; and its fawning acolytes in the right-wing media did all they could to portray what happened as "frat-house" hazing by "bad apples." That was patently untrue then; and is patently untrue now. Now, a judge, after months of government delays, has bravely upheld the release of the remainder. His argument? "My task is not to defer to our worst fears, but to interpret and apply the law, in this case, the Freedom of Information Act, which advances values important to our society, transparency and accountability in government." Maybe now, we will begin to get accountability for what has been done and is being done in our name in Iraq, with regard to abuse of detainees and violation of the Geneva Conventions. I repeat: Rumsfeld must resign.
Rumsfeld must resign? Or what - you'll hold your breath until you turn blue? Rumsfeld must resign? That's not the real world.

What's the real world? Hard to tell these days. We had all those stories from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, of the looting and rapes and murders, and all the shifty black folks bringing their shiftless ways to nice clean communities. Better they be in the Astrodome or tent cities. Think about what happened in New Orleans! These were NOT the kind of folks you'd want living next door. You've seen all the stories.

It seems they weren't true. Oops. No more murders than usual, no rapes anyone could document, and most folks were pretty civil. Or so says the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Los Angeles Times, and a little late to the game, the New York Times. (See here, here and here, respectively.) This looks more and more like latent paranoia about the savage black hoards coming to get us all - a Nat Turner kind of thing.

The Columbia Journalism Review disagrees -
Our suspicion is that something subtler than racism - but nearly as insidious - was at work. That would be the media's knee-jerk lunging for drama and sensation at the expense of more measured, and more verifiable, accounts.

To take just one example, consider Fox News, which declared an "alert" just before Alan Colmes' description of "robberies, rapes, carjackings, riots and murder. Violent gangs are roaming the streets at night, hidden by the cover of darkness."
Well, perhaps we're dealing with sensationalism and not racism, but one doubts that when you consider what William Bennett said this week on Morning in America, his radio show.

There's something in the air.

Bennett? That's William J. "Bill" Bennett, born in Brooklyn, BA in philosophy from Williams, PhD from the University of Texas, Harvard law degree - co-director of "Empower America," the "Washington Fellow" out here at the Claremont Institute - and chairman of "Americans for Victory over Terrorism." He was Reagan's chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1981-1985) and Secretary of Education (1985-1988), and our "drug czar" (1989-1990). He's written sixteen books, but is most famous for The Book of Virtues and The Children's Book of Virtues. His latest is called Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. He's a moral man. Yeah, there was that scandal with his compulsive gambling, but the right forgave him.

So what did he say this week? See this transcript (September 28) -
But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.
The next evening you could see him on Fox News telling Sean Hannity this was no big deal. It was sociology or something.

Here's Tim Grieve's summary:
A caller to Bennett's radio show suggested that the Social Security system would have money to spare if the nation hadn't aborted so many wage earners over the years. In the course of raising questions about that theory, Bennett said you can't make too many assumptions about the kind of adults aborted fetuses might grow up to be.

There is "just too much that you don't know," Bennett said. "But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose - you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."
Ah, maybe it would. Them black folk are like that.

Is this an isolated bit of nonsense? Maybe not.

There's this in the Wall Street Journal from Charles Murray.

Charles Murray? He was the fellow who published that 1994 book, The Bell Curve, demonstrating that black people just had lower IQ's than normal people. He said it was a statistical fact. Thursday, September 29, he says you see such things in New Orleans.

A summary from Ezra Klein, as this is behind the subscription wall and some of us don't pay big bucks to the Journal for access:
Penned by Charles Murray, he of The Bell Curve fame, it argues that what we're seeing post-Katrina isn't poverty but a once-again visible "underclass," a sort of shadow society of unsocialized black men with no appetite for work, no capacity to hold jobs, and no ability to be helped through conventional methods. They are, quite literally, savages, unable to function in the world the rest of us inhabit. They are, as he puts it, the "looters and the thugs," not to mention the "inert women doing nothing to help themselves or their children." And government attempts to craft helpful policy will fail because, after all, it doesn't matter if you give a gorilla a college loan, it's still a gorilla.

I've no idea where Murray got the idea that the New Orleans evacuees lacked jobs rather than cars and social skills rather than transportation - from deep within his own prejudices, I'd guess. And where he got the concept that these men and women are somehow incapable of holding jobs and unwilling to send their children to school - that's all similarly obscure. The absence of autos affects the social and the unsocialized alike; the folks you see on buses are often en route to jobs they hold, contra Murray, perfectly well.

But if his argument is flawed, its aim is clear. All those stories of urban anarchy were, to Murray, accurate, everyday manifestations of the Black people we'd hidden from sight. The normal explanation, that their assumed bad behavior was a reaction to extraordinary circumstance - that was the wrong part. This had nothing to do with Katrina; it was part and parcel of an inferior race, an incorrigible culture.
Maybe Klein misunderstood him. Probably not.

There's more than thick smoke in the air. This is getting ugly.

Well, Tom DeLay is out of the picture. That's something. The house Republicans, under Dennis Hastert, the former high-school boys' wresting coach, replaced him with Roy Blunt, a representative from Missouri, the "Show Me" state. Just some facts:
... according to the Associated Press, Rep. Roy Blunt's Political Action Committee (PAC), Rely on Your Beliefs Fund, has paid roughly $88,000 in fees since 2003 to J.W. Ellis Co., a consulting firm run by Jim Ellis. Mr. Ellis, a long time ally of Rep. DeLay, has been indicted along with Rep. DeLay for conspiracy to violate Texas campaign finance laws. It is unclear what services Mr. Ellis performed for Rep. Blunt, who listed Mr. Ellis as a "consultant."

... In 2003, Rep. Blunt divorced his wife of 31 years to marry Philip Morris (now Altria) lobbyist Abigail Perlman. Before it was known publicly that Rep. Blunt and Ms. Perlman were dating ? and only hours after Rep. Blunt assumed the role of Majority Whip ? he tried to secretly insert a provision into Homeland Security legislation that would have benefited Philip Morris, at the expense of competitors.

In addition, Rep. Blunt's son Andrew lobbies on behalf of Philip Morris, a major client he picked up only four years out of law school. Notably, Altria is Rep. Blunt's largest campaign contributor, having donated more than $270,000 to political committees tied to him.

... In 2003, Rep. Blunt helped his lobbyist son Andrew by inserting a provision into the $79 billion emergency appropriation for the war in Iraq to benefit U.S. shippers like United Parcel Service, Inc. and FedEx Corp. The provision required that military cargo be carried only by companies with no more than 25% foreign ownership. UPS and FedEx were seeking to block the expansion of a foreign-owned rival's U.S. operations. Andrew Blunt lobbies on behalf of UPS in Missouri, and UPS and FedEx have contributed at least $58,000 to Rep. Blunt since 2001.

... Rep. Blunt and his staff have close connections to uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is the subject of criminal and congressional probes. In June 2003, Mr. Abramoff persuaded then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay to organize a letter, co-signed by Speaker Hastert, then-Whip Roy Blunt, and Deputy Whip Eric Cantor, that endorsed a view of gambling law benefitting Mr. Abramoff's tribal client, the Louisiana Coushatta, by blocking gambling competition by another tribe. Mr. Abramoff has donated $8,500 to Rep. Blunt's leadership PAC, Rely on Your Beliefs.

... Rep. Blunt attended a luncheon in Seoul in January 2002, that was paid for by the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council (KORUSEC), a registered foreign agent. House Rules provide that a Member, officer or employee may not accept travel expenses from a foreign agent.
Well, better than Tom DeLay, right?

Apocalypse in Los Angeles, Thursday, September 29, at ten in the evening, the smoke so thick in Hollywood you can hardly breathe. As for the rest of the country? Same thing.


Old shot - previous apocalypse, 2001 -

Posted by Alan at 21:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005 22:03 PDT home

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