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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"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, 9 October 2005

Topic: Announcements

Redirection: Commentary and Analysis, London, Paris, Language and Philosophy, Pages and Pages of Photography

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 3, Number 41 for the week of Sunday, October 9, 2005 - is now on line. This is the weekly online magazine that is parent to this web log. Unlike this site, Just Above Sunset offers additional material -pages of photography and exclusive columns from London and Paris, and often Tel-Aviv.

This Sunday, discussion and analysis of this past week's events are arranged in a sequential "week in review" - and what a week it was, as with the odd nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and the various scandals and assorted indictments, drawing in Margaret Thatcher of all people, and a major address on the war on terror that didn't go well, and with the late week warning about bombs in New York subways, and much else having to do with the endless conflict of faith and reason… well, let's just say it was an extraordinary week. The world is changing.

And "Our Man in London," Mike McCahill, presents an exclusive interview with journalist and travel writer Mark Avery, centering on whether we're seeing the end of America. The view from overseas is not what you would expect. Not that things are all that fine in France - Ric Erickson, "Our Man in Paris," reports on the nationwide strike there, with photos, including one showing a group from out here in California marching in solidarity. Of course he gives us a second column on how the French are dealing with the oil crisis - would you believe sunflower oil and Rhône wine in the gas tank?

In features, an item on language expended from what first appered here – on words that just cannot be translated - and quotes on the matter of race - and a link to a new photo album of a hidden place out here that is extraordinary, Topanga Canyon.

Guest photography - Don Smith offers two pages of large format shots of one of the great landmarks of Paris, the Grand Palais, along with more shots of Fuissé, that village in the Mâconnais, down in Burgundy.

Local photography - selected shots of the real heart of eccentric Los Angeles, Topanga Canyon, and instead of botanicals this week, a red tail hawk riding the thermals over the Valley.

(Note - being assembled for next week, guest photographs from two ends of North America, the wilds of the northern end of Canada and Monument Valley, Utah.)

Direct links to specific pages:

The Week in Review _________________________

Catching Up: Peculiar News on a Slow News Day
They Call It Stormy Monday - For Good Reason
Two Days Out: Wednesdays with the Church Lady
The Fire Below: Looking Behind the News
The Week Ends Oddly Enough
Assuming a Role: Bush on the Couch

The International Desk _________________________

Our Man in London: The End of America? A Conversation (an interview with journalist and travel writer Mark Avery)
Our Man in Paris: Strike of the Week (on the scene, with photos)
Our Man in Paris (2): Put Some Green Boom In Your Tank

Features _________________________

Language Notes: Words That Cannot Be Translated
Quotes for the week of October 9, 2001 - William Bennett Edition
Links and Recommendations: A New Photo Album (Topanga Canyon)

Bob Patterson _________________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
Book Wrangler: Nihilism Means "Nothing" To Me

Guest Photography _________________________

Our Eye on Paris (1): The Grand Palais
Our Eye on Paris (2): The Grand Palais, Details
Our Eye on Paris (3): Harvest in Fuissé

Local Photography _________________________

Topanga Canyon - Its Own Place
Topanga Canyon Hawk - A Red Tail

Also today:

BBC: Citroen 'goddess' feted in Paris (byline Hugh Schofield) -
France has marked the 50th anniversary of one of the great design icons of the last century - the Citroen DS, or Deesse, saloon car.

Hundreds of DS cars from around Europe drove in procession past the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris.

Known by its nickname, the Goddess - Deesse in French - the car was an instant sensation when it went on display at the Paris car show in 1955.

Nearly one-and-a-half million were made during its 20 years in production. ...
AFP: Paris Rally Marks Birthday Of The 'Goddess' - Design Icon On Wheels -
PARIS, Oct 9 (AFP) - Hundreds of "Goddesses" paraded through central Paris on Sunday morning - not a religious festival or a fashion show, but a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of one of the great design icons of the last century: the Citroen DS saloon car.

Crowds lined the route leading from the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower in order to cheer 1,600 enthusiasts from across Europe driving vehicles of varying colours and vintages, but all with the same curving splendour that made the DS a quintessential object of desire.

The "Goddess" - a play on DS or Deesse in French - was an overnight sensation when it went on display in October 1955 at the Paris motor show, with Citroen taking orders for 750 cars within 45 minutes of the opening and a total of 12,000 by the end of day one.

"It must have been like seeing a flying-saucer landing, when you think of the type of cars that were on the roads in post-war France," said Michel Weiss, secretary of France's leading DS appreciation society.

Conceived by the brilliant Italian designer Flaminio Bertoni, the Citroen DS was both a thing of original beauty and a technological marvel. The sensually curving bodywork was a million miles from the plodding utilitarianism of most mass-produced vehicles of the time.

... For many in France the "Goddess" conjures up nostalgic feelings from the "trente gloriouses" - the idealised post-war era when wealth and scientific progress marched hand-in-hand, Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot cavorted on still unspoilt Riviera beaches, and Charles de Gaulle ruled France with patriarchal benevolence.

Indeed it was de Gaulle who spotted the vehicle's propaganda potential and made it the staple of the presidential fleet - an inspired choice because in 1962 it was the DS's capacity to stay on the road at speed despite two shot-out tyres that arguably saved him in an assassination bid outside Paris.

Earlier it was the cultural philosopher Roland Barthes who elevated the DS to truly iconic status when he devoted an essay to the car in his groundbreaking "Mythologies."

"The DS - the 'Goddess' - has all the features of one of those objects from another universe which have supplied fuel for the neomania of the 18th century and that of our own science-fiction. The Deesse is first and foremost a new Nautilus," Barthes wrote. ...
Barthes aside, here is the only DS one can find out here, parked on Fountain Avenue, one block south of the Sunset Strip, where all the French expatriates live. In almost fifteen years here in Hollywood, I have never seen this DS in motion. It is an immobile goddess.




















Also of note, what we missed in Scotland recently - Citroen owners celebrate the 2CV - BBC NEWS, published: 2005/07/26 20:56:29 GMT (subhead: "Citroen 2CV owners have converged on the Scottish Borders for a festival featuring more than 3,000 of the quirky French automobiles.")

This was held at Floors Castle in Kelso. The photograph of the 2CV enthusiasts in kilts is good.


Posted by Alan at 18:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 9 October 2005 18:43 PDT home

Saturday, 8 October 2005

Topic: Oddities

Language Notes: Words That Cannot Be Translated

A bit back, on 26 September 2005 to be precise, John Walsh in The Independent (UK), reviewed a new book, The Meaning of Tingo, by one Adam Jacot de Boinod, published by Penguin Press. You can order it here - it's £10 - or you can order it from Independent Books Direct at a special price of £9 (with free shipping and handling) if you ring them up on 08700 798 897 - but Penguin Press doesn't seem to account for those of us on this side of the pond. One suspects they don't ship to Hollywood. Georgina Pattinson also reviewed the book in BBC Magazine the same day. The Walsh review is here and the Pattinson review here, and know that de Boinod's title is significant as "tingo" is an word from the Pascuense language of Easter Island meaning "to borrow objects from a friend's house, one by one, until there's nothing left."

What follows is a bit of that. And note that Walsh predicts this will be this year's Eats, Shoots & Leaves - a wildly popular book on grammar and punctuation (really) that has been discussed in these pages by our readers - see April 25, 2004, The Grammatical Panda

Pattinson opens noting that English is a rich and innovative language but says, "You can't help feeling we're missing out." Maybe so, and she notes the English language has borrowed words for centuries, with khaki and croissant her cases in point. Of course, and a good reference is The Growth and Structure of the English Language (1905) by Otto Jesperson, one of the few books still here, in Hollywood, from the old days back in graduate school. If you're at all interested in how language changes, this is good stuff, with curious political implications. What happens when one nation conquers another? Who uses what words? Jesperson covers such things in his notes on how the language changed after the Norman Conquest - 1066 and all that. William of Normandy - French dude - crosses the channel and runs the joint. When the beast is in the field it retains its Anglo-Saxon name - it's a cow - but when it reaches the table, all cooked up, the word used for it then is French in origin - beef. Most curious.

In any event, English is filled with words borrowed from the days of empire, when the sun never set on it all, and useful words were sucked into English, like ketchup, from Tagalog.

Adam Jacot de Boinod is interested in what hasn't yet been sucked into English. Walsh asks many questions: why does German have a word for 'a person who leaves without paying the bill' (Zechpreller) or that Albanians need twenty-seven words for moustache? He suggests that while learning a foreign language is, of course, the surest and fastest track to becoming familiar with another culture, the words themselves offer hundreds of revealing clues to the preoccupations of that culture. Who knows why Albanians are fascinated with moustaches?

Georgina Pattinson (BBC) notes this on those Albanians and the facial hair thing: "Madh means a bushy moustache, posht is a moustache hanging down at the ends and fshes is a long broom-like moustache with bristly hairs. Vetullkalem describes pencil-thin eyebrows, vetullperpjekur are joined together eyebrows and those arched like the crescent moon are vetullhen."

Whatever.

What the author says? "What I'm really trying to do is celebrate the joy of foreign words (in a totally unjudgmental way) and say that while English is a great language, one shouldn't be surprised there are many others having, as they do, words with no English equivalent," he says.

Okay, the guy plowed through 280 dictionaries and surfed 140 websites, and what did he find?

Hawaiians have 108 words for sweet potato, 65 for fishing nets, and 47 for banana.

And "Kummerspeck" is a German word that literally means "grief bacon" - used to describe the excess weight gained from emotion-related overeating - while a "Putzfimmel" is a mania for cleaning, and "Drachenfutter" (literally "dragon fodder") are the peace offerings made by guilty husbands to their wives - and, get this, "Backpfeifengesicht" - a face that cries out for a fist in it. That's SO German. On the other hand, the Dutch have "uitwaaien" - a word for walking in windy weather just for the fun of it. No wonder they didn't do so well in the two world wars. And in the Netherlands you have "plimpplampplettere" ? a word for skipping stones on water when you need to relax. These are not serious people.

The Walsh item is the more extensive of the two, and since the book is not yet available stateside, it is the best resource, and contains a long excerpt.

Some of us might be fond of the German term "Torschlusspanik" - "the fear of diminishing opportunities as one gets older."

Less useful is the Persian word "nakhur" - "a camel that won't give milk until her nostrils have been tickled" - but that might pass into English somehow. "You know, Jane, sometimes you're a real nukhur." It just sounds like a good insult.

Go read the Walsh item. Some of the better words-that-cannot-easily-be-translated:

THE BODY

PANA PO'O Hawaiian - To scratch your head in order to help you to remember something you've forgotten.
NGAOBERA Pascuense, Easter Island - A slight inflammation of the throat caused by screaming too much.
KARELU Tulu Indian - The mark left on the skin by wearing anything tight.

LOVE AND BEAUTY

MAHJ Persian - Looking beautiful after having a disease.
BAKKU-SHAN Japanese - A girl who looks as though she might be pretty when seen from behind, but isn't when seen from the front.
ALGHUNJAR Persian - Feigned anger of a mistress.

WORKING LIFE

KOSHATNIK Russian - A dealer in stolen cats.
BUZ-BAZ Ancient Persian - A showman who makes a goat and monkey dance together.
CAPOCLAQUE Italian - Someone who co-ordinates a group of clappers.
QIANG JINGTOU Chinese - The fight by a cameraman to get a better vantage point.
GRILAGEM Brazilian Portuguese - The practice of putting a live cricket into a box of newly faked documents, until the insect's excrement makes the paper look convincingly old.

OTHER

LATAH Indonesian - Uncontrollable habit of saying embarrassing things.
YUYURUNGUL Yindiny, Australia - The noise of a snake sliding through grass.
DESUS Indonesia - The quiet, smooth sound of somebody farting but not very loudly.
FAAMITI Samoan - To make a squeaking noise by sucking air past the lips in order to gain the attention of a dog or a child.
YUYIN Chinese - The remnants of sound that stay in the ears of the hearer.

Ah, Umberto Eco says problem with translation is the conflict "between the purely theoretical argument that, since languages are differently structured, translation is impossible, and the commonsensical acknowledgement that people, after all, do translate and understand each other." (See his book Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation, reviewed in these pages here, November 16, 2003.)

Things can be translated, sometime you just have to use a lot of words when the original language is a bit more concise.

Posted by Alan at 14:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 8 October 2005 14:58 PDT home

Friday, 7 October 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The Week Ends Oddly Enough

The point, perhaps not made well but attempted anyway, in The Fire Below, was that in looking behind the flow of news stories - a scandal here, a terror warning there, and way over there a speech of note - sometimes you could tease out something of a pattern that let you get a sense of the real cultural dynamics at play. The contention was that the scattered events all pointed to an underlying conflict, and one as old as we've had the ability to think, and then been told too much of thing "thinking" stuff is dangerous.

That conflict tied together the Bush speech and the issues folks had with the woman he nominated to the Supreme Court - he seemed to be saying we all are over-thinking this and we should just trust him. And as laid out with citation after citation, it seems a good number of people just couldn't help themselves. They wanted to think things through, and wanted someone deciding the scope and the limits of the laws of the land to do the same.

Friday Bush was asked about these people and said this: "When she's on the bench people will see a fantastic woman who is honest, open, humble and capable of being a great Supreme Court judge."

He seemed to think that was a fine answer.

The message? "Trust me, confirm and then see if you're surprised or not - and you folks of little faith will see you were right to blindly trust me." People are grumbling about that still.

Here's some representative grumbling from the pro-life (anti-abortion) side, from the Reverend Thomas J. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International -
Last year Bush asked faithful Catholics to fight for him, campaign for him and vote for him and they did in record numbers; now the President lacks the stomach to fight for the values of those who put him in office.

Bush 41 asked us to read his lips, with disastrous results. Now, Bush 43 is asking us to trust him in a gamble with the lives of millions of unborn babies, with the health and well being of mothers, with the fate of our nation. Pro-life Catholics gambled on Bush last November, the odds do not look in our favor.
It seems Catholic Church has its usual faith in the Holy Trinity, but is having a problem with its faith in George.

But here an odd thing, they don't seem to have the American-style faith in the Holy Bible. The Catholic bishops of England are pretty much telling the American fundamentalists not everything in the Bible is literally true: "We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision."

Okay. Now they've abandoned God.

From the Catholic, gay, conservative but anti-Bush Andrew Sullivan: "Anyone who believes that the world was literally created in six days a few thousand years ago is not expressing his or her 'religious beliefs.' Believing something that is demonstrably and empirically untrue is not religion. It is simply superstition or lunacy. It has nothing to do with faith in things we cannot know. The notion that it should actually be taught in public schools as science is beneath even debating."

Yeah, well Bush really is too a man of faith. Consider the man he appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior Paul Hoffman, who last year overruled geologists at the Grand Canyon National Park and instructed the park's visitor centers to stock a creationist book that explained how God made the canyon six thousand years ago, deciding a flood to wipe out "the wickedness of man" would be a fine idea. The Park Service says that it really could be so. So THERE!

And Sullivan calls this superstition or lunacy.

Why, in central Pennsylvania, in the Dover trial, they're still arguing the inadequacies of evolution and geology in science - arguing science itself, that stuff of the mind, is inadequate and dangerously subversive. Bush and Senator Frist and John McCain have all come out and said science classes in public school in the United States should teach both side of the controversy - science may explain a lot and be kind of cool, but it may be inadequate and dangerously subversive because some things show it's "scientifically plausible" that much of what science hasn't figured out yet was thought up and plopped down here by the old, bearded white man in the sky, or some intelligent designer.

As before - faith (and trust) versus reason (and inquiry), the apple that tasted so good and got us kicked out of Eden, Galileo and the Catholic Church, Voltaire mocking religion and being denounced, Darwin and Huxley all the way to the Scopes trial, to Dover in Pennsylvania this month - this all had not been resolved, and may never be resolved. It's just one long argument, over and over.

The argument escalated when, on Friday, October 7th, Sam Harris' item There is No God (And You Know It) was all over the place - The Huffington Post and Yahoo News and elsewhere. This is an excerpt from An Atheist Manifesto, a book due to be published in December, but somehow it appearing now is a shot across some bow or another.

Harris picks up on the bread- and-butter of cable news on television in America, the abducted cute kid or blond teenage girl of the week -
Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl's parents believe - at this very moment - that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?

No.
But they do believe it. If you can deal with being a voyeur who gets his or her jollies watching parents in agony claiming God will make it all better, over and over, you can watched the interviews. They're on the screen all the time. Yeah, this turning to the Devine protector is a "defense mechanism" of course, even if this entity (or whatever) is something that is neither demonstrably nor empirically present. It's a matter of faith.

And the kid is still dead. Then it becomes trying to understand God's will, and if that fails, accepting His "will" on faith. He knows best, after all.

The other staple of cable news? Disasters! Hurricanes bring good ratings. And what of science versus faith here?
Consider: the city of New Orleans was recently destroyed by hurricane Katrina. At least a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions, and over a million have been displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient, and compassionate God. But what was God doing while a hurricane laid waste to their city? Surely He heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: these poor people spent their lives in the company of an imaginary friend.

Of course, there had been ample warning that a storm "of biblical proportions" would strike New Orleans, and the human response to the ensuing disaster was tragically inept. But it was inept only by the light of science. Advance warning of Katrina's path was wrested from mute Nature by meteorological calculations and satellite imagery. God told no one of his plans. Had the residents of New Orleans been content to rely on the beneficence of the Lord, they wouldn't have known that a killer hurricane was bearing down upon them until they felt the first gusts of wind on their faces. And yet, a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that eighty percent of Katrina's survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God.
One wonders why. Perhaps one should ask Bush and Miers.

And this is works for those who have the "wrong" faith:
As hurricane Katrina was devouring New Orleans, nearly a thousand Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death on a bridge in Iraq. There can be no doubt that these pilgrims believed mightily in the God of the Koran. Indeed, their lives were organized around the indisputable fact of his existence: their women walked veiled before him; their men regularly murdered one another over rival interpretations of his word. It would be remarkable if a single survivor of this tragedy lost his faith. More likely, the survivors imagine that they were spared through God's grace.
Interesting, Allah is as useless as Jesus. And these disasters make folks believe even more fervently. Harris says, smugly, only the atheist recognizes "the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved."
Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God, while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world's suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is - and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.
Yeah, yeah, but people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. That's our fault, or no one's fault. And then they assure each other God is both omniscient and omnipotent? So what's up with that?

The problem:
If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. Pious readers will now execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by merely human standards of morality. But, of course, human standards of morality are precisely what the faithful use to establish God's goodness in the first place. And any God who could concern himself with something as trivial as gay marriage, or the name by which he is addressed in prayer, is not as inscrutable as all that. If He exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.

There is another possibility, of course, and it is both the most reasonable and least odious: the biblical God is a fiction. As Richard Dawkins has observed, we are all atheists with respect to Zeus and Thor. Only the atheist has realized that the biblical god is no different. Consequently, only the atheist is compassionate enough to take the profundity of the world's suffering at face value. It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion - to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions, and religious diversions of scarce resources - is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity. It is a necessity, however, that places the atheist at the margins of society. The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors.
As you see, Harris thinks too much, and he gets all logical. His position is that atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. The problem as he sees it? We live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle.

No Supreme Court nomination for him, or even a job with the Park Service.

But it's odd this hit the wires this week - or maybe not.

The Big Speech

Midmorning Thursday, in another "trust me" thing, the president gave his long-awaited speech in which he was going to explain everything about the war in Iraq. Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, tells me that in fairness I should note that when reporters asked about the speech ahead of time - if it was going to be about Iraq - the White House said no, it will be about the War on Terrorism, but will also cover Iraq. And so it did, but since they are one in the same to the White House, there seems little point in noting the distinction.

As before, the speech seemed to be a halftime pep talk, a "we can win this thing" exhortation - but the coach didn't diagram any new plays or suggest different coverage patterns on defense, and he certainly didn't change the lineup at all. He didn't mention the score. He may not know the score.

And by late Friday everyone had moved on. The most complete analysis of the speech, point by point, came from Juan Cole, the University of Michigan professor of Middle East studies there, who writes that "Bush's attempt to conflate the regimes he doesn't like with al-Qaeda makes nonsense of his whole vision." Knowing the area, the conflicts, the players and reading and speaking the languages, Cole ended with this: and "as for the rest of your speech, it is all made up as you go along, just like your whole administration."

He didn't like it. Something about the facts and logic.

Cole will never be appointed to anything in this administration.

Who will? Try a second-rate angry Hollywood actor, one of the few who defends Bush as a great man. See this White House Press Release, Friday, October 7, 2005, Nominations Sent to the Senate: "Ron Silver, of New York, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the United States Institute of Peace for a term expiring January 19, 2009."

Yep, peace is at hand. Add your own comments about meritocracy being an outmoded concept, like competence and any sort of background. Loyalty trumps that stuff. Silver's films are listed here. A long time ago he supported the New Jersey liberal Democrat, Bill Bradley. Ah well.

Terror in the Tubes

There was the terror alert concerning the New York Subways - trust us, this is serious, but ride them anyway. That was still being discussed Friday, along with the Friday bomb threat at Washington Monument (hoax) and the Friday bomb threat up in San Francisco on BART, their subway system (hoax). Folks are nervous.

Of course everyone Friday talked about how New York mayor Bloomberg and his men said the threat was specific and credible, and the Department of Fatherland Security (yeah, couldn't resist) said the threat wasn't credible at all, and the FBI disagreed. You heard that stuff all day. (See New Yorkers Baffled Over Differing Stances on Terrorist Threat.) Who do you trust? What do you take on faith, in this case, faith in the leaders you elected to assess these things?

It seems the threat had been out there for days. Why act now? Put on your tin-foil hat, but note these items:

TV news chief held terror threat story at request of officials (Newsday) -
WNBC-TV news veep Dan Forman says he held the report about a possible terrorist threat to New York City after hearing from two federal officials and one local official. "They stressed if we went ahead with the story, people could be placed in harm's way," he says. "We believe we served our viewers well [by not broadcasting the report on Tuesday]."
Craig Crawford here (CBS Public Eye) -
Even more disturbing to me in yesterday's subway warning was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's comment that a news outlet had gotten the story two days earlier but agreed to withhold releasing it until the government gave the green light. Perhaps Bloomberg's position on this will turn out to be credible, but his claim that the extra time was needed for law enforcement to handle this threat seems worth questioning.

The result was that a news media outlet was persuaded to join a conspiracy of silence until the government was ready to announce the news, which happened to coincide with White House strategy for Bush's speech and also just so happened to serve as a neat distraction from Rove's latest bad news.

Perhaps there was nothing nefarious going on in this case. But as things stand, it is very difficult for the media to initially explore these specific threats to make sure we are not being duped. I don't see how that makes us any safer.
Oh, ye of little faith! See also Whom Do You Trust? (CBS) for more on this matter.

Do you just trust the president in Harriet Miers?

See Gingrich: Conservatives can trust in Miers - or see this: "Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, yesterday [Monday, 10/3/05] held a conference call with conservative leaders to address their concerns about Miers. He stressed Bush's close relationship with Miers and the need to confirm a justice who will not interfere with the administration's management of the war on terrorism, according to a person who attended the teleconference."

So it's really about having someone on the Supreme Court, a swing vote, who won't rule against the president's right to imprison anyone he selects for as long as he likes, without charges, or who won't rule against the claim the administration has the right to approve torture and kidnapping (or as we call it, "extraordinary rendition")? Maybe she knows of some other things she can help him with, stuff he shouldn't have done, in a legal sense, as it were. Well that's possible.

One never knows. And knowing anything is getting harder.

Monday the 10th the BBC runs that documentary with this:
"President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq ..." And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it.'"
Did he really say that?

1.) White House Denies Claims of 'Divine Order' for Bush
2.) Abbas Says He Never Heard Bush Talking about Religious Reasons to ... (Palestine News Agency, Palestine)
3.) Yes, George Bush did tell me he was on a mission from God (Times Online, UK)

We know less and less every day. Maybe faith really is the answer.



Posted by Alan at 20:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 7 October 2005 20:52 PDT home

Thursday, 6 October 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The Fire Below: Looking Behind the News

Thursday, October 6th brought turmoil of course:

The Big Speech

Midmorning the president gave his long-awaited speech in which he was going to explain everything about the war in Iraq - Bush turns up rhetoric in the antiterror fight (International Herald Tribune / NY Times) - but everyone got to write their own headline:

- Bush lashes out at 'Islamo-fascism' (Daily Times, Pakistan)
- Bush begs for support to fight 'evil radicals' waging war on ... (Times Online, UK)
- A Mess of George Bush's Own Making (The Nation)
- Bush: Militants Seek to Establish Empire (Guardian Unlimited, UK)
- Bush rejects Iraq critics, sees more sacrifice (Washington Post)

… and this assessment - Say What? - Bush's speech was a sad, demoralizing spectacle (Fred Kaplan at SLATE.COM).

Take your pick. The speech seemed to be a halftime pep talk, a "we can win this thing" exhortation - but the coach didn't diagram any new plays or suggest different coverage patterns on defense, and he certainly didn't change the lineup at all. He didn't mention the score. He may not know the score. In fact, Kaplan tells us that military analyst William Arkin reports in his Washington Post blog, "Early Warning," that just last month the Defense Department issued an RFP to outside contractors to devise "a system of metrics to accurately assess US progress in the War on Terrorism, identify critical issues hindering progress, and develop and track action plans to resolve the issues identified." Yes, this far along it's odd that just now they're issuing a "request for proposal" for someone to come up with some kind of idea on how to keep score in this game.

You can say, "We're winning this thing - just hang on and try harder," but you just have to trust the coach on that. They're going to get some bids on a scoreboard and game clock and install it later? That seems to be the case. Oh well.

The central point of this address was that we can't give up now or swarthy madmen will take over the world and kill us all.

Bush: "We will never back down, never give in, and never accept anything less than complete victory." (One thinks of Tim Allen playing Jason Nesmith, who plays Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, in the 1999 film Galaxy Quest - an underrated and deeply ironic spoof on much of our culture - spouting the line "Never Give Up, Never Surrender!" - each time with more and more disconnect from any kind of reality. There it's comic.)

The speech got buried in other news. Just as well.

We're All Going to Die!

Late afternoon? The mayor of New York was on television telling everyone there were specific plans by someone or other to bomb the city subways and he was flooding the stations with cops and for the next few days please report anything suspicious, but ride the subways anyway as they were safe, really. (Bloomberg Cites 'Specific Threat' to NY Subways) He said the FBI had shared with city officials a "specific threat" to the New York subway system, and asked the public to be vigilant. No one could verify the source of the treat, and no one could corroborate the threat - but it was specific. Watch those suspicious briefcases and baby carriages.

Perhaps he could have done the jump in security without all the fanfare, and caught the bad guys off guard. Ah well. It's always good to scare people and let the bad guys know what you're up to. Sacred folks vote Republican. And of course the bad guys will now know to wait until things cool down. Like they have a timetable?

The Noose Tightens

Also late in the afternoon? That prosecutor investigating who in the White House had the bright idea of revealing the name of an undercover CIA agent to get back at her husband for embarrassing the president when he exposed a bit of fibbing about Saddam trying to build nuclear weapons, Patrick Fitzgerald, "invited" Karl Rove back to chat with the grand jury, although the New York Times uses a different verb - Rove Summoned to Testify Again in CIA Leak Investigation.

Something is up. Before accepting the "invitation," this Fitzgerald fellow sent some correspondence to Rove's legal team making clear that "there was no guarantee he wouldn't be indicted at a later point."

So? Note this from Lawrence O'Donnell, the idea Fitzgerald is trying to get a few witnesses to "flip" and become prosecution witnesses. He's going after bigger fish?
Prosecutors prefer pre-indictment plea-bargaining to post-indictment because they have more to offer you, like not being indicted at all or downgrading your status to unindicted co-conspirator. And pre-indictment plea-bargaining can greatly enrich the indictments that the prosecutor then obtains. If, for example, Fitzgerald has a weak case against, say, Scooter Libby, imagine how much Rove's cooperation might strengthen that case.

If no one RSVPs to Fitzgerald's invitations, look for indictments as early as next week. If anyone does sit down with Fitzgerald, he will probably have to move to extend the grand jury, which now has only thirteen working days left in its term.

Prediction: at least three high level Bush Administration personnel indicted and possibly one or more very high level unindicted co-conspirators.
Well, maybe. There are thousands of people speculating in the press and on the web, and on radio and television. No one knows. The testimony is Friday morning and that will be sealed. Criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt says this, but no one knows. She's best here, explaining everything you want to know about how grand juries work and what a "target letter" is - with samples and everything.

But as mentioned earlier, the news stories are about transitory events. There are issues that lie underneath. And even if my staff columnist detests the idea those be explored, here goes.

In Wednesdays with the Church Lady, about the nomination of Harriet Miers to the open Supreme Court seat, the idea was you see the opposing forces lining up - shall well have "a dispassionate rejection of the politicization of the law," or shall we embrace complete politicization of the law, to save America from the fags and sluts and the ungodly and all that?

This is pretty basic stuff having to do with, really, people's tolerance for others not accepting "the accepted" and looking at issues with an open mind - or really, an issue with whether having an "open mind" was of any intrinsic value at all, or it is just best to accept God's will. Which sort of person do you want sitting on the bench?

This is a conflict as old as the myth of "the fall" being caused by eating the fruit of "the Tree of Knowledge." (Yes, some say that is not "a myth" but literally happened.) The original sin though, was thinking itself. Bad stuff.

That played out in an odd way this week. The fight on the right, about Harriet going to the court, pitted the evangelicals against the "intellectuals." It was almost a faith versus reason drama, harking back to the Enlightenment. We're still arguing? Seems so, as in this:

Gods vs. Geeks
GOP evangelicals fight intellectuals over Harriet Miers.
John Dickerson - Posted Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005, at 4:49 PM PT - SLATE.COM

The conflict:
The debate within the Republican Party over Harriet Miers has quickly devolved into a simple question: Is the nominee qualified because of her religious faith, or unqualified by her lack of intellectual heft? On the one side, James Dobson, Miers' fellow parishioners at Valley View Christian Church, and President Bush speak for her heart. On the other, George Will and William Kristol and others who swooned for John Roberts decry her unimpressive legal mind.

In this battle, the White House has clearly sided with the churchgoing masses against the Republican Party's own whiny Beltway intellectuals. The Bushies have always mistrusted their own bow-tied secularists, but the rift has never before been so public. "This is classic elitism," says a senior administration official of the GOP opposition to the Miers nomination.
A classic faith versus reason problem. And Dickerson says there always been this split on the right - "an uncomfortable mix between, on the one hand, right-wing intellectuals, including the neoconservatives whose backing for the Iraq invasion has been so important, and, on the other, the evangelicals who turned out in such numbers to vote for a man who boasted that he was one of them."

But Dickerson reminds us that when Bush was a candidate in 1999, and asked who his favorite philosopher was, said "Christ, because he changed my heart. ... When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the Savior, it changes your heart and changes your life."

The Republican bow-tied secularists let that slide. Bad move. Now they know what it means. Harriet may no next to nothing of constitutional law, and never was a judge, but she has that faith.

And now these secular intellectuals are making trouble? Also a bad move -
... there's nothing that will make Bush fight harder for his nominee than an attack by the intellectuals - even if they are from his own party. Those who put others down as second-rate minds with weak credentials get relegated to that class of snobs he first learned to hate at Yale, when he walked through their Vietnam protests in his leather bomber jacket. Those who lack skill in what Will called "constitutional reasoning" are already pressing the president's anti-intellectual buttons. Bush loves the idea, say aides, that Miers strikes a blow for real-world simplicity.
Intellectuals, snobs, thinkers. Who needs them? The man in charge sees calling someone "simple minded" as a compliment.

And he sends his attack dog to take care of the problem, as in this from Tim Grieve, Thursday, October 6th -
Appearing on CNN today, White House advisor and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie tried to explain what he meant when he suggested yesterday that critics of the Harriet Miers nomination are elitists and sexists. But even for a master of spin like Gillespie, the triple reverse is tough move to execute.

Step one: Gillespie insists that, when he complained of a "whiff of elitism" in criticism of the Miers nomination, he wasn't referring to the concerns of "conservative allies" - despite the fact that conservatives ranging from George Will to Ann Coulter have, in fact, argued that Miers isn't qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.

Step two: Gillespie says that people who question Miers' qualifications for a seat on the court seem to believe that Supreme Court justices have to have attended "Harvard Law School or practiced law in Boston or New York." Add Yale and Washington to that list, and there's probably some truth to the charge: Some of us do have this crazy notion that a Supreme Court nominee should have a record of extraordinary academic achievement or at least a demonstrated history of grappling with the questions of federal and constitutional law that come before the court. Even George W. Bush, shares that view - or at least he used to. It was the president, after all, who not so long ago was said to be "particularly impressed" with John G. Roberts' "impeccable credentials" from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and the fact that he'd argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court.

Step three: Gillespie claims that, when he said there was a "whiff of sexism" about the early opposition to Miers' nomination, he didn't mean that people doubted Miers' abilities because she's a woman. No, what he meant was, people don't understand what the president's "staff secretary" does. "I saw an analysis that said, well, it's - it's - the president shouldn't elevate his former staff secretary to the Supreme Court, as though the staff secretary of the president of the United States is someone who goes and gets coffee," Gillespie explains. "The staff secretary of the president of the United States is someone who is responsible for the flow of information to the president as he makes decisions on the critical issues facing our country today. It is a critically important position. And I - I - I got the impression from reading these there was a sense that - that, because there was a woman in the staff secretary's job, it is - that - that, somehow, that meant she was responsible for getting coffee. And it was demeaning. I thought - I felt that was - there was some - that smacked of sexism to me. That's a different argument than - than - than the discussion I had with the conservative - our conservative allies yesterday."
Amusing. But what was that conversation? And Ann Coulter is unhappy with this?

Ann Coulter really is unhappy with this, as she says here - "Being on the Supreme Court isn't like winning a 'Best Employee of the Month' award. It's a real job."

Opening:
I eagerly await the announcement of President Bush's real nominee to the Supreme Court. If the president meant Harriet Miers seriously, I have to assume Bush wants to go back to Crawford and let Dick Cheney run the country.

Unfortunately for Bush, he could nominate his Scottish terrier Barney, and some conservatives would rush to defend him, claiming to be in possession of secret information convincing them that the pooch is a true conservative and listing Barney's many virtues - loyalty, courage, never jumps on the furniture ...
Snobbish elitism:
Harriet Miers went to Southern Methodist University Law School, which is not ranked at all by the serious law school reports and ranked No. 52 by US News and World Report. Her greatest legal accomplishment is being the first woman commissioner of the Texas Lottery.

I know conservatives have been trained to hate people who went to elite universities, and generally that's a good rule of thumb. But not when it comes to the Supreme Court.
Closing:
However nice, helpful, prompt and tidy she is, Harriet Miers isn't qualified to play a Supreme Court justice on "The West Wing," let alone to be a real one. Both Republicans and Democrats should be alarmed that Bush seems to believe his power to appoint judges is absolute. This is what "advice and consent" means.
You might click on the link and read all of it. The middle is brutal.

On the left, Duncan "Atrios" Black here -
Lots of discussion in wingnuttia about whether or not it's "elitist" to oppose Miers. These discussions seem to confuse different kinds of elitism. There's one kind of elitism which dares to suggest that smart qualified people should get the kinds of jobs that require smart qualified people. This seems to be perfectly reasonable.

The other type of elitism is the one which focuses on pedigrees and certificates. One must come from the right family and go to the right school. No less than Ann Coulter has been down on Brownie Miers for her lack of appropriate law school pedigree. This kind of elitism is incredibly rampant among the, you know, elites of all political persuasions - whether liberal academics or faux heartland populist conservatives - and goes way beyond the normal kind of network cronyism that elite institutions can help foster.

Having gone to a humble state school for my undergraduate degree and then to an Ivy League school for graduate school, I was continually surprised by the degree of snob elitism I confronted. I won't deny that going to a top school provides some signal of your abilities, but one certainly doesn't have to have gone to an Ivy League school or one of the "honorary Ivies" to be a smart, educated, qualified, capable person. And, having taught plenty of undergraduates at an Ivy League institution I can say that a degree from one is no guarantee of supergenius abilities either.

Even more so, I was shocked at how much having a graduate degree from an Ivy versus a non-Ivy seemed to impress even people who should know better. Especially at the advanced degree level the quality of any individual department within an institution is often entirely almost entirely uncorrelated with that institution's broader reputation as an undergraduate institution. Not all graduate departments in Ivy League schools are any good, let alone among the best.
And at the highest-traffic left side blog, Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (Kos), adds this -
People like Ann Coulter have bashed Miers on her academic credentials - her JD from the decidedly non-Ivy Southern Methodist University law school.

Like Duncan, I attended a "humble state school" for my undergraduate studies. And while I didn't go to an Ivy League law school, Boston University School of Law is a top-20 law school in the nation. Same concept. And a big "whoop de doo" to that shit.

Concerns about Miers' academic credentials should have nothing to do with the school she attended. I attended a better law school, but I have no doubt Miers has a better understanding of the law than I do (I skipped many a class for more interesting fare - like working as a legislative aide to a Massachusetts state senator and organizing in Latino communities). There is more to legal understanding than the school's name on your JD diploma.

I'd be more interested in whether she excelled as a student. Where did she fit in terms of class rank? Did she serve on law review? What kind of extracurricular activities did she engage in? Or was she an average "C" student and party animal in the mold of the target of her affections, Bush Jr.?

That, to me, is the salient academic question. Not anything to do with the school she attended. Because while Miers is without a doubt politically brilliant - breaking the law firm glass ceiling and weaseling inside the Bush inner circle are proof of that - the Supreme Court requires a somewhat different skill set. That is, the ability to critically ponder complex legal issues and concepts.
Interesting. The big political story of the week has, beneath it, the whole issue of the mind. Is using it, cultivating it, challenging it, cramming it full of complex ideas at a top university - is all of that a thing, or does that destroy your faith and make you somehow a bad person who has turned his or her back on God, not submitting to His will?

Funny, the same question is being asked in the Dover trial, arguing the inadequacies of evolution and geology in science - arguing science itself, that stuff of the mind, is inadequate and dangerously subversive.

Something is in the air. The end of the Enlightenment? Well, it had a good run since the eighteenth century.

But it's over. In these pages, way back on June 29, 2003, that was noted here in a discussion of this: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq ..." And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it.'"

No one noticed? The Brits finally did. "President George W. Bush told Palestinian ministers that God had told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq - and create a Palestinian State, a new BBC series reveals."

One of the many web comments here, Thursday, October 06, 2005 -
Imaginary Friends

Seriously, if you substituted the phrase "my next door neighbor's cat" for the word "God," in the following, the guy would be declared batshit and locked away:

"President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq ..." And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it.'"

The link to the complete article is here.

I mean, at some point things move from hyperbole to reality. My life and future, my wife's life and future, my daughter's life and future, lie in the hands of a unintelligent dry drunk (who is possibly drinking again) who has an inbred sense of feudal entitlement and the temperament of a petulant four year old AND who thinks a mythological bearded white man in the sky talks to him? Holy fucking fuck.
Indeed. No one noticed before? It takes this odd nomination to bring this all to the surface?

One really ought to think about the what's "under" the transitory news stories. Faith (and trust) versus reason (and inquiry), the apple that tasted so good and got us kicked out of Eden, Galileo and the Catholic Church, Voltaire mocking religion and being denounced, Darwin and Huxley all the way to the Scopes trial, to Dover in Pennsylvania this month, to the president listening to supernatural voices, to the defense of know-little want-to-know-less nominees for the Supreme Court. This all had not been resolved, and may never be resolved. It's just one long argument, over and over.

__

DISCLAIMER:

BA - Denison University, Granville, Ohio - a place with famous alumni like Senator Richard Lugar of Illinois, Michael Eisner who ran Disney for decades, the actor Hal Holbrook who was so good as Mark Twain, John Davidson (don't ask), and Steve Carell, star of a recent movie about a forty-year-old virgin and "The Daily Show." This is a mixed bag.

MA and PhD work - Duke University, Durham, North Carolina - "The Harvard of the South." Whatever.

Posted by Alan at 22:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 6 October 2005 22:12 PDT home

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Topic: The Law

Two Days Out: Wednesdays with the Church Lady

By midweek, Wednesday, October 5, you'd think things would have settled down about the nomination of Harriet Miers for the open seat on the Supreme Court. Conservatives would have realized what Karl Rove does to people who don't do the pope thing with President Bush - you know, agree on infallibility as a given. In two days they should have come around. But they didn't, and that ate up all the space in the news and commentary.

There was enough other news.

The Shiite dominated parliament in Iraq changed the rules for the upcoming referendum on the new constitution, cleverly assuring there was no way it would not be approved, then, after the Kurds and Sunnis cried foul, and even the UN weighed in saying that would kind of, sort of, make the whole thing a farce, they said that the old rules would do just fine. That's all explained in the Associated Press story here. Busted! Ramadan started Monday night and things should have settled down over there, but that's a Shiite thing and we got this: Ramadan bomber kills 26 at Shi'ite mosque in Iraq - and that was at a funeral thing for someone killed in an earlier bombing.

But things are going well, as the president said in his radio address just a few days earlier, that Saturday morning thing - Iraqi security forces had "more than 100 battalions operating throughout the country." Cool. But there was that Tuesday press conference, four days later where we got slightly different numbers, with "there are over 80 army battalions fighting alongside coalition troops… There are over 30 Iraqi battalions in the lead." Let's see, a full battalion is about six hundred folks. Twelve thousand disappeared? He's not good at math? Whatever. And after he met with the Generals the next day - Pace and Petraeus - we got this - "I was also pleased to hear there are 3,000 Iraqi forces [taking part in an offensive in western Iraq]. Over 30 percent of the Iraqi troops are in the lead on these offensive operations." What's going on here?

The week before, two other Generals - Abizaid and Casey - had told Congress that there was actually one Iraqi battalion able to take on the insurgents on its own, as an autonomous force. Yeah, they admitted they had said there were three, but it was just one. Sorry about that.

But you have to trust the president. There's been good progress. He says so, and just pulls numbers out of his ass and smiles. He knows no one will check. The press doesn't do that sort of thing. So we have 139,000 or 149,000 troop there? You see both. So far 1,942 of our people have been killed, and ten in the first five days of October. We're spending a little under six billion a month on the effort. But who is counting?

Other news? The Tom DeLay indictments and the story around it just get stranger, as the Associated Press reports:
Tom DeLay deliberately raised more money than he needed to throw parties at the 2000 presidential convention, then diverted some of the excess to longtime ally Roy Blunt through a series of donations that benefited both men's causes.

When the financial carousel stopped, DeLay's private charity, the consulting firm that employed DeLay's wife and the Missouri campaign of Blunt's son all ended up with money, according to campaign documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist recently charged in an ongoing federal corruption and fraud investigation, and Jim Ellis, the DeLay fundraiser indicted with his boss last week in Texas, also came into the picture.

The complicated transactions are drawing scrutiny in legal and political circles after a grand jury indicted DeLay on charges of violating Texas law with a scheme to launder illegal corporate donations to state candidates.

The government's former chief election enforcement lawyer said the Blunt and DeLay transactions are similar to the Texas case and raise questions that should be investigated regarding whether donors were deceived or the true destination of their money was concealed.
Yes, when Tom DeLay had to step down because he had been indicted, the house Republicans named Roy Blunt majority leader to take his place. Geez.

What else? There's Larry Franklin - Pentagon Analyst Pleads Guilty in Spy Case - and it seems he passed a whole lot of classified information to Israel, the Likud Party, and to pro-Israel lobbying groups here. He admitted it. Ah well, at least they caught the spy in Dick Cheney's office - Espionage Case Breaches the White House - the FBI and CIA calling it the first case of espionage in the White House in modern history, a Marine from New Jersey who had worked for years stealing anything top secret that might help overthrow the government in the Philippines. Yep, things are tough over there. You could look it up, but no one does, as there is more than enough bad news to go around.

Really, there is. See Hard-hit New Orleans will lay off 3,000 workers (no residents now, no businesses now, so no tax base and thus no money) or CIA Chief Refuses to Seek Discipline for 9/11 Officials (everyone makes mistakes and that's old history) or Lindsay Lohan in Car Crash (the paparazzi were chasing her just down the street from here and she ran her new, big black Mercedes convertible head-on into a van, but she's fine) or Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes Expecting Baby (some people shouldn't reproduce).

Good news? There's this:
The Republican-controlled Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to impose restrictions on the treatment of terrorism suspects, delivering a rare wartime rebuke to President Bush.

Defying the White House, senators voted 90-9 to approve an amendment that would prohibit the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held.
This is a rider to a spending bill on the war, sponsored by John McCain, who knows a bit about abuse of prisoners, from personal experience. But it won't survive in the House. Bush has his guys there, and the White House has said Bush advisers would recommend the president veto the entire bill over the legislation. He gets to do what he wants. But he has never vetoed anything, so one never knows.

Underlying all this is the Fitzgerald investigation of who in the White House had the bright idea of revealing the name of an undercover CIA agent to get back at her husband for embarrassing the president when he exposed a bit of fibbing about Saddam trying to build nuclear weapons. Late Wednesday, October 5, see US officials brace for decisions in CIA leak case, and set that against this bit of gossip:
I just talked to a source who told me that Karl Rove has been missing from a number of recent White House presidential events - events that he has ALWAYS attended in the past. For example, Rove was absent from yesterday's presidential press conference to promote Harriet Miers. These are the kind of events Rove ALWAYS attends, I'm told, yet of late he's been MIA each and every time.

My source tells me that the scuttlebutt around town is that the White House knows something bad is coming, in terms of Karl getting indicted, and they're already trying to distance him from the president.
Well, the man has kidney stones - so this may mean nothing.

Besides, all anyone is talking about is Harriet, making the rounds in the senate doing some chitchat with the folks before the confirmation hearings. The two major newspapers of record, the New York Times and Washington Post, the morning of Wednesday, October 5, front page how she's now "the church lady."

The Times tells us that when she was a partner in a Dallas law firm, she "felt a void in her life." After long conversations with a colleague and with her sort of boyfriend, Nathan Hecht, she decided to accept Jesus as her savior and be born again. She was baptized right away - and she became a Republican just about the same time. Of course. The Post tells it differently - this conversion came when she listened to a speech by a surgeon. Afterwards that, she told Hecht, "I'm convinced that life begins at conception." Hecht, now a Texas Supreme Court justice, said to the Times that she's still pro-life, but "You can be just as pro-life as the day is long and can decide the Constitution requires Roe." That's not helpful. The Post also tells us the folks at her evangelical church like her enthusiasm for all that born again stuff, but she can't sing a lick - "Let's just say she makes a joyful noise unto the Lord."

Don't know what she'd do on the bench, and she can't sing. But she was "born again" (something didn't take the first time?) - so now what?

The president said she'll be just fine, Tuesday, in that press conference. One: "I know her character, I know her strength, I know her talent, and I know she's going to be a fine judge." Two: "It's one thing to say a person can read the law - and that's important ... But what also matters is the intangibles. To me a person's strength of character counts a lot. And as a result of my friendship with Harriet, I know her strength of character."

He mentioned "character" at least eight times. One thinks of what he said about Vladimir Putin in June 2001 - "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul. He's a man deeply committed to his country?"

That worked out, didn't it? (Some folks don't think it did.)

Well, that how the man makes decisions.

But not to worry, James Dobson of Focus on the Family says Harriet Miers will make a great Supreme Court justice. He's been telling all his radio listeners, who want abortion banned and gays to go away and America to be solely Christian, that there's something else going on. Don't worry. She's with "us." But he won't say how he knows this. As he told the New York Times here, he's been to the White House and talked with Rove and the gang, and "some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about."

Colorado Senator Ken Salazar is oddly upset with that. He says if Dobson knows some secret about Miers, he should share it everyone, particularly the senate who has to advise and consent on this nomination, or perhaps reject it - especially if Dobson heard some super-dooper secrets straight from the White House. "It seems to me, all of the [information] the White House knows about Harriet Miers should be made available to the Senate and the American people. If they're making information available to Dr. Dobson - whom I respect and disagree with from time to time - I believe that information should be shared equally with a U.S. senator."

Ha, ha. You don't get to know! You'll find out everything once you confirm her.

But wait! There's more! Dobson, on his Wednesday, October 5th radio show, has a change of heart and says he's waiting for "a sign from God" as to whether he should endorse the woman. Apparently he just realized Karl Rove isn't God. -
He said "There is so much in the balance [with this nominee], there is no way to put it into words." Because of that, Dobson is begging the Lord: "If this is not the person you want on that Supreme Court, all you have to do is tell me so, and do it through any means you want to."

He finally then discussed why he is supporting Miers, saying "I can't reveal it all, because I do know things that I'm privy to that I can't describe, because of confidentiality." He then states that Miers "is a deeply committed Christian" and that people who know her have all told him that "she will not be a disappointment."

"I believe in trusting this president and this time because of the stand that he has taken and the way he has implemented it consistently for four and a half years. When you put that with all the other information that I have been able to gather - and you'll have to trust me on this one - when you know some of the things that I know, that I probably shouldn't know, that take me in this direction, you will understand why I have said, with fear and trepidation, why I have said why I believe that Harriet Miers will be a good justice."

He then states, "if I have made a mistake here ... the blood of those babies that will die will be on my hands, to some degree. And that's why is has weighed so heavily on me."
Poor guy! All these things he knows that he probably shouldn't know! All those dead almost-babies if he didn't fully understand all the super secret stuff Rove and the fellows told him about this woman!

Yeah, it's almost comical.

What's not comical was the seminal column in the Washington Post midweek from George Will, "the" conservative to a lot of people, even if his prose style is turgid and condescending and oh so "intellectual." The man is not happy.

That means he's operating from this thesis: The president "has forfeited his right to be trusted as a custodian of the Constitution."
It is not important that she be confirmed because there is no evidence that she is among the leading lights of American jurisprudence, or that she possesses talents commensurate with the Supreme Court's tasks. The president's "argument" for her amounts to: Trust me. There is no reason to, for several reasons.

He has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the course of their pre-presidential careers, and this president particularly is not disposed to such reflections.

Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Miers's nomination resulted from the president's careful consultation with people capable of such judgments. If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers's name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists.
George Will is cold. The leading Republican voice just called his president, who he has supported, lacking in the will or, even worse, the ability to make judgments of any consequence. He said the man just doesn't think.

On the other end of the conservative spectrum, the last person you'd call intellectual at all, the reactionary Phyllis Schlaffly, with a livelier prose style, is just blunt: "Bush is building his own empire without regard for the conservative movement or the party."

The man who was senate majority leader before he said those odd things about how he agreed with Strom Thurmond about "nigras," Trent Lott, on MSNBC is also unhappy - Miers is "clearly" not the most qualified person for the job, and there are "a lot more people - men, women and minorities - that are more qualified, in my opinion, by their experience than she is." On the far, far right, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback added something about how the president's promises about Miers' "heart" aren't enough to assure him that she's "sufficiently conservative" on social issues.

Brownback and Dobson, of course, want a "reliable vote." So do Phyllis Schlaffly and much of the right. They would support the confirmation of Harriet Miers if they got assurances, and maybe Dobson has, that no matter what the evidence and arguments presented before her in session, she will vote against abortion rights and gay rights and all the rest. They want nothing to do with someone who considers the merits of any given case.

So, is she the one? No one knows.

There's a lot of agony on the right here.

Over at the National Review, editor-at-large of the National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg, has this to say:
Conservatives, I thought, were supposed to believe ideas have consequences, that American institutions - chief among them the Supreme Court and the Constitution - have specific and organic roles to play in the culture which depend on intellectual honesty, opposition to cant, and a dispassionate rejection of the politicization of the law. The reliable vote argument - absent other rationales - runs counter to all of these. This becomes obvious when you imagine a Democratic President appointing a confidante with few obvious credentials for the Supreme Court. A president Kerry could hardly convince any of us that his pick should be confirmed because she's a reliable vote.
Wow. He said that? He wants someone who listens and thinks and considers the evidence and the statutes and the precedents and the constitution and THEN decides what's right? He is on the other side of the right, as is George Will.

You see the opposing forces here - shall well have "a dispassionate rejection of the politicization of the law," or shall we embrace complete politicization of the law, to save America from the fags and sluts and the ungodly?

The Democrats can sit back and watch the debate. But maybe they should join in.

__

Footnote on Jonah Goldberg:

What he says above is fine, but does one forgive him for this?


Posted by Alan at 21:23 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005 21:45 PDT home

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