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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 13 October 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Gnawing Old Bones: Iraq War Notes (True Believers)

This week a key item that got play was a brief article in USA Today by John Diamond - CIA Review Faults Prewar Plans. That was Tuesday the 11th and is a backgrounder - a review of a new CIA report which finds it "ironic" that policymakers were "receptive to technical intelligence (the weapons program), where the analysis was wrong, but apparently paid little attention to intelligence on cultural and political issues (post-Saddam Iraq), where the analysis was right."

Yeah, so what else in new?

Key passages:
A newly released report published by the CIA rebukes the Bush administration for not paying enough attention to prewar intelligence that predicted the factional rivalries now threatening to split Iraq.

Policymakers worried more about making the case for the war, particularly the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, than planning for the aftermath, the report says. The report was written by a team of four former CIA analysts led by former deputy CIA director Richard Kerr.

... The intelligence "also provided perceptive analysis on Iraq's links to al-Qaeda; calculated the impact of the war on oil markets; and accurately forecast the reactions of ethnic and tribal factions in Iraq."

... "In an ironic twist, the policy community was receptive to technical intelligence (the weapons program), where the analysis was wrong, but apparently paid little attention to intelligence on cultural and political issues (post-Saddam Iraq), where the analysis was right," they write.
The most clear-headed response to this comes from Eric Alterman here:
How many times am I going to have to read about this kind of "irony" before they come to take me away? In the first place it's a misuse of the word. But really, that's not the point. The point is the fact that hello, this is what they did! They used (and demanded) the intelligence that allowed them to justify the war as a "cakewalk" and purposely ignored everything that implied that it might not be as easy as say, insider trading on your phony blind trust. In other words, all of the effort that went into the State Department's post-invasion project was thrown away. The Council on Foreign Relations - which was so eager to play that they offered to partner with the Heritage Foundation -or AEI - when instructed to do so -was turned away when Rove told AEI to foggettaboutit. They literally sold their fans on the Chalabist notion that it would be the easiest thing in the world to transform a 1000-year-old autocracy into a democracy overnight. The "Liberal Hawks," including the whole crew at Slate and TNR, bought this bill of goods and peddled their own versions of it, and here, years later, the same crap is being shoveled out of the CIA. Enough already. These people are dishonest, OK? Ignore what they say. Watch what they do.
Always good advice, but all of this hardly matters now. So we were snookered, and all the planning for what happened after we took over another country was not just ignored, it was sneered at. Some folks knew what was going to happen, and explained it all in, one supposes, nicely bound volumes with PowerPoint presentations ready to roll, but such stuff from the CIA and the State Department and the thinks tanks was too negative. The administration went in with the right "positive" attitude. Cultural and political issues? Piffle.

Why is USA Today covering this report now, other than it was just released? It seems to be two years old.

And what's the point?

This is just piling on with the administration and the Republican Party under fire - the hurricane response generated a brief blip in the poll numbers but now this - the president's approval rating drops to thirty-nine percent and all of twenty-eight percent of us believe "the country is headed in the right direction" - and all of two percent of African-Americans give him a positive rating. That two percent item makes the front page of the Washington Post. Eight visits to the Gulf and having to hug black kids gets him this? House leader Tom DeLay is "off duty" because of those indictments for money laundering and criminal conspiracy, and has had his phone records subpoenaed, while senate leader Frist has his issues as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued subpoenas for his records regarding possible insider trading of stock in his "blind" trust. The Republican Party is a war with itself over the Harriet Miers nomination and the CIA leak investigate is coming to a head, and everyone is wondering which key players in the White House will be indicted. Karl "Bush's Brain" Rove? The Vice President's chief of staff - the Scooter? The Vice President himself? No one knows.

This USA Today item is just another nail in the coffin, or a small tack.

But the voting on the new constitution in Iraq is underway. This is a big victory for the administration.

And that has its own drama as, as the week began, Shiite and Kurd leaders pretty much got a group of influential Sunnis to drop their opposition to it, by essentially saying it was not really a constitution like they thought, but really just a kind of rough draft. A newly created panel in the next parliament can propose amendments to the constitution and change it almost entirely. As the New York Times reports - "In effect, it could give the Sunnis - who were largely shut out of the constitution-writing process - a new chance to help redraft the document after elections in December." But the daily attacks continue.

Well, it was a try.

Comment varied.

On the right, Robert Mayer sees a trend - "the constant dropping of opposition to the constitution is actually becoming a trend. Shia groups like Muqtada al-Sadr's militia and? the largest Sunni group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, have dropped their campaign to defeat the constitution and will instead be focusing completely on the December elections. As will everybody else. The Iraqis have come up with a good constitution that, despite some disagreements, can certainly be fixed up once all groups are fully represented in parliament."

It seems to some of us the motto of the whole war effort, from the first days after the World Trade Center has fallen, was "Do It Now." The whole idea of "do it right" could come later. One wonders whether the Democrats, as they try to take back the house and senate, and maybe even the White House one day, would be wise to adopt the line, "You guys say do it now, and we say do it right." That would apply to almost everything in the world of public policy and diplomacy and all the rest. It would be something you could hammer home, again and again.

Ah well. That may be too simple-minded for the multifaceted Democrats. And of course you would have to spell out what "doing it right" entails, on each issue we face. But just "doing something" hasn't gotten us that far, has it?

And there is this from Tina Brown in the Washington Post, Thursday, October 13, 2005, writing about getting it right, and strong women -
It's easy to forget that Margaret Thatcher - whose "Don't go wobbly on me, George" famously stiffened the spine of Bush One before the Persian Gulf War in 1990 - was there first, even down to a husband who was not so much invisible as comical.

England's Iron Lady celebrates her 80th birthday tonight with a guest list dominated by the adoring circle of powerful male admirers whose loyalty she rewarded with seats in the House of Lords when she was prime minister.

The former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, Lord Palumbo, who lunched with Mrs. T six months ago, told me recently what she said when he asked her if, given the intelligence at the time, she would have made the decision to invade Iraq. "I was a scientist before I was a politician, Peter," she told him carefully. "And as a scientist I know you need facts, evidence and proof - and then you check, recheck and check again. The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof. As a politician the most serious decision you can take is to commit your armed services to war from which they may not return."
What? The idol of the right said THAT?

Facts? Evidence? What about positive attitude and affirmative thinking? She too seems to be of the "do it right" not "do it now" school.

Maybe she didn't really say that. Maybe she's just getting old. Maybe she's a closet realist.

As for this "great compromise" in Iraq, well, the often-quoted-here Kevin Drum says this: "Somebody really needs to explain what the Sunnis think they're getting here. It sounds like nothing more than a vague brush off to me. Just vote for the constitution now and we promise to seriously consider your objections at a later day. I'm all in favor of anything that makes a peaceful transition in Iraq more likely, but I've read half a dozen stories about this agreement and every one of them makes it sound like at least some Sunnis are ecstatic over this deal. Conversely, none of them mention that it's essentially meaningless. What am I missing?"

What he's missing is in the lyrics to that old Doobie Brothers song What a Fool Believes - "What a fool believes he sees? No wise man has the power to reason away what seems to be." Folks want to believe this is progress, and what you believe you see.

"What you believe you see" should be over the front door the White House - better that than "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here." Google Dante, of course.

And the often-quoted-here Juan Cole, the University of Michigan Middle East expert, has a bit on this "wishing makes it so" approach to the compromise here: "This whole episode strikes me as bizarre, since Iraqis are now voting on a constitution that may be subsequently changed at will! As with the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, in which they had no idea for whom they were voting for the most part, so in the referendum they will have no idea for what they are voting. ? If the constitution is not ready to be voted on, they should have taken the 6-month extension and worked on it some more."

What's this? He's saying it - "You guys say do it now, and we say do it right."

Cue up the old joke about the motto of the dysfunctional manager - "Ready, Fire, Aim - Ready, Fire, Aim? Repeat until you hit something." Yeah, and think of those companies who have in their mission statement, "We have a bias for action." So? Many others have a bias for thinking things through, for testing, for carefulness.

Oh well, it doesn't matter. The voting continues, on whatever it is they're voting on, that has cost us so much.

Something is always better than nothing, as the saying goes. Too bad that is not always true. We'll see in a month or two how things are on the ground there. There's always a chance things will work out. That's why some of us buy lottery tickets now and then. You never know.

On the other hand, think of it in business terms. On a cost-benefit basis, tossing in a dollar for lottery ticket makes some sense. You may have only a one in fifty-three million chance of winning, but what's a dollar these days? The cost is negligible - try getting a cup of coffee for a dollar.

Now the chances of Iraq turning out to be a Jeffersonian democracy and all three sides living in harmony in a prosperous, secular, unregulated free-market, flat-tax capitalist Starbucks and Wal-Mart paradise, that transforms the whole Middle East, seems more and more remote every day. It may have never been possible. But if there's a chance, even a slim chance, why not try for that? Hell, one could spend a dollar and actually win the lottery. It's quite possible, though not probable.

The problem is the cost. It's a cost-benefit thing. Is three hundred billion dollars, and two thousand dead soldiers, and ten thousand maimed for life, just a dollar to these guys? It's not their money, nor their kids' lives. And this could work out fine. The odd are against us. But why not try? Because others don't see these costs as appropriate for the actual chances of success?

It's a matter a values, isn't it?

Well, we were told in the president's address on October 6th - where he explained what the war on terror was all about, this time, really - that the bad guys wanted to take over the world and set up an Islamic theocracy to rule us all, so we'd better keep fighting. And this week we find out he knew this was so because of a letter we intercepted, dated 9 July, that said so. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, wrote it. Conveniently, it sets out a detailed list of four sequential goals - expel the Americans from Iraq, set up an Islamic emirate in Iraq, extend the jihad "to the secular countries neighboring Iraq," then start the real stuff - "the clash with Israel" and the west. (By the by, it also says blowing up other Iraqis may be becoming a bit counterproductive, and more money is needed.)

Well, that changes the cost-benefit equation, doesn't it?

From the BBC:
US intelligence published the letter in full, saying it was intended for the alleged head of the movement in Iraq.

... According to US intelligence officials, the letter offers a remarkable insight into al-Qaeda thinking.

After leaking a short extract, the new director of US intelligence has now published it in full on his website in English and Arabic.

The Americans will not say exactly when or how they intercepted it, except that it was during operations in Iraq.
Of course the BBC item, Thursday, October 13, has this headline: Al-Qaeda disowns 'fake letter'.

They're saying, in essence, we've been punked - the administration needed a new case for the war. The WMD thing didn't work out. The Saddam-was-in-on-9/11 thing didn't work out. The "Saddam supported al-Qaeda" thing didn't work out (they hated the guy). The plans for a secular western-style democracy there that will change the world are more of joke with each passing day.

So what did they do? They pulled a rabbit out of the hat. "Look, look - these guys have plans to take over the world! We found a letter! It explains it all! Don't back down now!"

Okay, now whom do you believe?

Even if the letter is real, the bad guys saying it isn't real works just fine. The implicit questions are clear. Have these guys earned your trust? Isn't this a little too convenient?

Even if it is real, the damage is done.

The news here? Al-Qaeda sings an old Doobie Brothers song to the American public, and grins, slyly.



Who are you going to believe?

See Juan Cole here:
The Arabic text of the recently released letter alleged to be by Zawahiri (al-Qaeda's number two man) to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq raises questions for me as to its authenticity.

The very first element of the letter is the blessing on the Prophet. It says:

al-salah wa al-salam 'ala rasuli'llahi wa a-lihi wa suhubihi . . . (peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of God and his family and his companions . . .)

The phrase "salla Allahu 'alayhi wa alihi wa sallam" (the blessings and peace of God be upon him and his family) is a Shiite form of the salutation, because of the emphasis of the Shiites on the House or descendants of the Prophet. Because of the cultural influence of Shiism in South Asia, one does find that form of the salutation in Pakistan and India among Sunni Muslims.

But before I went to Pakistan I had never, ever heard a Sunni Muslim add "wa alihi" (and his family) to the salutation. I associated it strongly with Iran and Shiism, and was taken aback to hear Sunnis say it on Pakistani television. Certainly, I never heard that form of it all the time I lived in Egypt.

... I do not believe that an Egyptian like al-Zawahiri would use this phraseology at all. But he certainly would not use it to open a letter to a Salafi. Sunni hardliners deeply object to what they see as Shiite idolatry of the imams or descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, for whom they made shrines such as Ali's at Najaf and Husayn's at Karbala. In fact, hard line Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia attacked and sacked Karbala in 1803.

Adding to the salutation "the peace and blessings of God be upon him [Muhammad]" the phrase "and his family" would be an insult to Zarqawi and to the hardline Sunnis in Iraq.

Later he refers to Husain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, as al-Imam al-sibt, "the Imam, the grandson". I do not believe that a hard line Sunni such as Zawahiri would call Husain an Imam. That is Shiite terminology.

The letter then says how much Zawahiri misses meeting with Zarqawi. Zarqawi was not part of al-Qaeda when he was in Afghanistan. He had a rivalry with it. And when he went back to Jordan he did not allow the Jordanian and German chapters of his Tawhid wa Jihad group to send money to Bin Laden. If Zawahiri was going to bring up old times, he would have had to find a way to get past this troubled history, not just pretend that the two used to pal around.

My gut tells me that the letter is a forgery. Most likely it is a black psy-ops operation of the US. But it could also come from Iran, since the mistakes are those a Shiite might make when pretending to be a Sunni. Or it could come from an Iraqi Shiite group attempting to manipulate the United States. Hmmm.
Should one mess around with the details of language and history, or just trust the administration?

Posted by Alan at 21:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005 09:24 PDT home

Wednesday, 12 October 2005

Topic: Photos

It's Only Rock 'n' Roll: "Guitar Row" on Sunset Boulevard

The basics about Sunset Boulevard are pretty well known, and the link here has them for you.

In reference to my neighborhood, the eight thousand block, nothing much is mentioned. But just east is the seven thousand block, and we get this:
Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood has also gained notoriety as a red-light district for its large amount of prostitution, drag queens and other unusual activity, especially at night. Though this type of activity went on for many years, especially around Western Avenue, in the 1970s the area between Gardner Street and La Brea Avenue became seedy and afflicted with street prostitution that continues to a lesser extent to the present day. It was at the corner of Sunset and Courtney Avenue that actor Hugh Grant pulled over and picked up prostitute Divine Brown in the early morning of June 27, 1995. He then drove a few blocks east and parked at the corner of Curson and Hawthorn Avenues. Police arrested him and the prostitute for lewd conduct in a public place and he was later fined $1,200.
Whatever. There is also a link to this:
The Rock 'n' Roll Ralphs is located in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles, California, at 7257 Sunset Boulevard. Part of the Ralphs chain of supermarkets, it is so-named because of its proximity to the sheet music and instrument stores that line the boulevard and because rock and movie stars are known to frequent it late nights between club gigs and party hopping. The supermarket featured in the film Go by Doug Liman is reportedly based on the Rock 'n' Roll Ralphs. It's a good place for celebrity spotting.
No, it isn't. I'm in there at least once a week. That's where I shop. But maybe I'm just not paying attention.

And I had to look up that film.

And the Ralphs chain is owned by the Kroger folks out of Cincinnati.

Hollywood indeed.

But the cool thing is this:
That same area of Sunset in Hollywood is sometimes called "Guitar Row" due to the large number of guitar stores and music industry related businesses. Also, many young, struggling actors, musicians, and the like continue to live in the area.
Late morning, Wednesday, October 12th, parked the car at Gardner and Sunset, fed a few quarters to the meter, and checked out "Guitar Row" - an amazing place.

You will find an album of thirty-four photos of the place here. More will follow this weekend in Just Above Sunset.

Here are some shots from the album.

The Guitar Center -

Mister Music Head has a gallery!

Anna Nicole Smith looks down on the Mesa/Boogie factory store -

Posted by Alan at 21:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005 21:37 PDT home

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist Fatigue: The Thrill of the Chase Fades at it’s not 1973

In any analysis of the current political and cultural situation in the United States, at any given time, one is always faced with too much partial information. Does anyone remember 1973?

Things were clear:
January 8: Five defendants plead guilty as the burglary trial begins. Liddy and McCort - security Director for the Committee for the Re-election of the president - are convicted following the trial.

February 7: The Senate Watergate Committee is established.

March 19: McCord writes a letter to Judge John J. Sirica saying the defendants had pleaded guilty under pressure. McCord also writes that perjury was committed, and that others are involved in the Watergate break-in.

April 6: White House counsel John Dean begins cooperating with federal Watergate prosecutors.

April 30: The resignations of Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and Nixon aides John Ehrlichman and H.R.Haldeman are announced by the White House. John Dean is fired. The new Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, appointed a special prosecutor, Harvard Law School professor Archibald Cox, to conduct a full-scale investigation of the Watergate break-in.

June 25: In testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee, Dean outlines a political espionage program conducted by the White House, and says Nixon was participating in the Watergate cover-up within a few days of the burglary.

July 16: The tape recording system in Nixon's office is revealed by former White House aide Alexander P. Butterfield.

July 26: Following Nixon's refusal to turn over the White House tapes, the Senate Watergate Committee subpoenas several of them.

August 29: Sirica orders Nixon to give up nine taps for the judge's private review. It is the first loss in Nixon's fight to maintain control of the tapes.

October 20: The "Saturday Night Massacre." Cox is fired as special Watergate prosecutor. For their refusal to dismiss Cox, Elliot Richardson resigns as Attorney General and William Ruckelshaus is fired as deputy Attorney General.

November 1: Nixon appoints Leon Jaworski as the new special prosecutor.
Ah, those were the days. I recall that October 20th my first wife and I were driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, somewhere north of Asheville, listening to the news of this "Saturday Night Massacre." Momentous events, at least politically, and as our rural Hillsboro friends used to say back in those days, "We just about fell out." That was metaphorical. We continued just fine in the car.

Elliot Richardson, the Attorney General, and William Ruckelshaus, his second in command, refused to fire Cox. They quit on the spot. Nixon found the third in command, Robert Bork, the Solicitor General, more amenable, and, as Bork rationalized, someone had to stick around and run the Justice Department. He did the deed - and in 1987 Ronald Reagan nominated Bork for a seat on the Supreme Court, and the senate rejected him, 58-42, and his last name became a verb, and now he is not supporting Harriet Miers in her confirmation difficulties. Like many people born in Pittsburgh - Gene Kelly, Oscar Levant, Gertrude Stein, Andy Warhol - Bork is a strange fellow.

Are those days returning?

Tuesday, October 11th, From Arianna Huffington, late in the day, this: "The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg are working on stories that point to Vice President Dick Cheney as the target of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name."

This couldn't be true. Fitzgerald's a bit of a bulldog, and whoever recommended him as special prosecutor - what harm could he do? - is probably long gone from the White House. But the rules have changed. He cannot be fired like Cox was - he is "not serving as an 'outside Special Counsel' pursuant to 28 USA § 600, so the provisions of that code are not applicable in this matter nor do they have any legal effect over Fitzgerald's investigation and/or prosecution."

Too bad. That would have been cool.

As for Cheney's chief of staff, from Bloomberg, earlier, this -
Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, didn't disclose to a grand jury a key conversation he had with New York Times reporter Judith Miller in June 2003, the National Journal reported, citing unidentified people with firsthand knowledge of his testimony.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may have learned about the June 23 conversation for the first time days ago, after attorneys for Miller and the Times told prosecutors that Miller discovered notes on the conversation, the magazine said.

Libby is one of the Bush administration officials who have been questioned in the investigation into who leaked Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame's identity to reporters in 2003. Her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly accused President George W. Bush's aides of twisting intelligence reports to justify the war in Iraq.

During two interviews with FBI agents and in two subsequent grand jury appearances, Libby discussed a July 8, 2003, conversation about Plame that he and Miller had at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, as well a July 12 telephone conversation on the same subject, the National Journal reported. He never disclosed the June 23 conversation with Miller, the magazine said.

Libby's lawyer Joseph Tate and representatives of Cheney's office didn't respond to a request for comment.
Oops. As partial information goes, this is interesting. Libby has been called back to chat with the grand jury, as has Karl Rove, as has Judy Miller of the New York Times.

And that puts the Times in a tough spot. From Editor and Publisher, this -
After meeting again with the federal prosecutor in the Plame leak case, New York Times reporter Judith Miller must testify again before the grand jury on Wednesday.

The prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, had summoned her for the meeting today after she reportedly remembered her previously unknown June 23, 2003, meeting with I. Lewis Libby, and sent the prosecutor the notes of the meeting. But it was not known if he would actually ask her to testify again.

The news emerged in an e-mail sent by the Times' executive editor, Bill Keller, to staff this afternoon, which was obtained by E&P. Keller hit back at "armchair critics" in the memo.
How does one "hit back at armchair critics?" Whatever does that mean? The Times is reporting nothing. How does Miller fit in?

And how does the male prostitute, the ex-marine from Talon News who was planted in the White House press corps to lob softball questions, fit in? Does he have something nasty going with Scooter and Dick? Is it more than sexual?

Joe Conason in SALON.COM gives us more to consider:
Another intriguing possibility in the leaks case brings back the baroque personality of right-wing pressroom denizen Jeff Gannon, born James Guckert.

The New York Times reported Friday that in addition to possible charges directly involving the revelation of Valerie Wilson's identity and related perjury or conspiracy charges, Fitzgerald is exploring other possible crimes. Specifically, according to the Times, the special counsel is seeking to determine whether anyone transmitted classified material or information to persons who were not cleared to receive it - which could be a felony under the 1917 Espionage Act.

One such classified item might be the still-classified State Department document, written by an official of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, concerning the CIA's decision to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to look into allegations that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger. Someone leaked that INR document - which inaccurately indicated that Wilson's assignment was the result of lobbying within CIA by his wife, Valerie - to right-wing media outlets, notably including Gannon's former employers at Talon News. On Oct. 28, 2003, Gannon posted an interview with Joseph Wilson on the Talon Web site, in which he posed the following question: "An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?"

Gannon later hinted, rather coyly, that he had learned about the INR memo from an article in the Wall Street Journal. He also told reporters last February that FBI agents working for Fitzgerald had questioned him about where he got the memo.
The problem is he interviewed Wilson before the Wall Street Journal article was published.

This isn't baroque. This is Byzantine.

But note this - Poll: Karl Rove Leak Story 'Boring,' 'Hard to Follow' -
A recent poll reveals that most Americans aren't paying attention to 'Rove-gate' because the story is boring and hard to follow, and say that they would be more interested in the CIA leak probe if it involved celebrities. As to the relationship between Karl Rove and President Bush, a majority of Americans says that the long-time companions should not be allowed to marry but should enjoy many of the rights afforded to married couples.
Yes, that's satire.

Monday, on MSNBC's "Hardball" discussion, Howard Fineman of the Washington Post suggested that there's a war taking place inside the White House. On one side are all the folks who are about to be indicted for one thing or another, and on the other side are the folks who aren't. (Noted both in AmericaBlog and in the Washington Monthly.)

A war in the White House? Maybe the Watergate days are back.

But this time around we get more than White House stuff. Over in the senate, thing are getting even more dicey for the majority leader. From Associated Press, this -
Outside the blind trusts he created to avoid a conflict of interest, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist earned tens of thousands of dollars from stock in a family-founded hospital chain largely controlled by his brother, documents show.

The Tennessee Republican, whose sale this summer of HCA Inc. stock is under federal investigation, has long maintained he could own HCA shares and still vote on health care legislation without a conflict because he had placed the stock in blind trusts approved by the Senate.

However, ethics experts say a partnership arrangement shown in documents obtained by The Associated Press raises serious doubts about whether the senator truly avoided a conflict.
What's this? Insider pump-and-dump trading? A misunderstanding of what conflict of interest means? The man is unclear of the concept of just what a blind trust is?

Well, he's a heart surgeon with a degree from Harvard Medical School, not a securities attorney, after all.

Is the man dumb, or careless, or clueless, or what?

Maybe he's just like Dick Cheney.

Note this: "A year ago Halliburton stock was trading at about $35. Today it's trading at about $60. If you're the vice president of the United States, this means your stock options have increased in value by about $8 million. Sweet!"

Some people know how to run their lives.

And over in the house the majority leader already has been indicted, several times, for money laundering and criminal conspiracy. But this is a Texas matter. We get a shoot-out. As in DeLay's Lawyer Tries To Turn Tables; Subpoenas Prosecutors and DeLay's lawyers subpoena Texas prosecutor - not an Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton duel in New Jersey, but it will do for these times.

And note this. Someone ("Think Progress") has been watching "Fox News Sunday" so you don't have to, and notes William Kristol, editor of the definitive neoconservative Weekly Standard, saying this:
Criminal defense lawyers I've spoken to who are friendly to the administration are very worried that there will be one or more indictments in the next three weeks of senior administration officials, just looking at what Fitzgerald is doing and taking him at his word, you know, being a serious prosecutor here. And I think it's going to be bad for the Bush administration.
No kidding. And it seems Kristol ended with - "I hate the criminalization of politics."

Don't we all. Whitewater. Travelgate. The Clinton impeachment over that woman and everything else Kenneth Star was up to. (Local Note: "Kenneth Starr Named Dean Of Pepperdine Law School. April 6, 2004" - PU is up the road, overlooking Malibu. Some people know how to run their lives.)

It seem Kristol doesn't like it when his side is the target. Nothing came of what his side tried on Clinton.

This time?

Ah well, there's plenty else in the news. Odd things out this way, in Montclair, out east just over the Los Angeles County line - Man With Bow & Arrow Takes Over Train. What was he thinking? Was he going to crash the train into a skyscraper? The police shot him, but not fatally, so maybe in court he will explain what he intended.

April 24, 2005 in these pages - Who is YOUR Copilot? - regarding complaints by Air Force cadets of religious intolerance at our Air Force Academy out in Colorado. Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, October 11, 2005, Documents Show Air Force May Have Pushed Christianity. It seems a Jewish cadet there, now graduated, resented being told he had to accept Jesus as his personal savior, and sued. The Air Force just changed its guideline for chaplains. Oops.

But some news is good, or bad, or just in the "oops" category - NY Threat May Have Been a Hoax. Just kidding. Sorry about the disruption.

Posted by Alan at 22:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005 22:41 PDT home

Monday, 10 October 2005

Topic: God and US

Secular Government: Who Believes, and Why?

Much of last weekend's edition of Just Above Sunset seemed to center on the very odd nomination of Harriet Miers, the president's personal attorney, to the Supreme Court. And it seems the controversy will not trail off - it only get more intense.

There seem to be three issues in play.

The first is her competence and ability. She has never been a judge, but others who have not been judges have been confirmed and served, like the last Chief Justice, William Rehnquist. But these others were scholars of the law and had some history of writing and thinking about, and arguing cases about, constitutional law. There's none of that in this woman's background. There's just no record of Miers having ever thought about such things very much. As noted last week, this has conservative opinion leaders upset, and has forced the argument in some pretty basic matters. As noted, shall the senate consider whether she has "the ability to critically ponder complex legal issues and concepts," or is that somehow elitist and should be taken off the table, as the president has said - "I know her character, I know her strength, I know her talent, and I know she's going to be a fine judge." - "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."

She has a good heart. Isn't that enough? Of course this is part and parcel of the nature of the most anti-intellectual leader we have ever had - a man who doesn't know much, wants to know even less, and trusts his instincts rather than thinking things through. If fact, he seems contemptuous of people who think things through. And he likes simplicity - and folks who are loyal and not too smart, or at least don't show it.

All this may get him in trouble - and all of us in trouble - but only now are his supporters realizing this is a serious problem. In the popular culture you have Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" saying things like this: "She's never been a judge before. Never served on the bench. This is part of President Bush's strategy of only surrounding himself with people who also in over their heads." And even Fox News, one week out, is forced to report what must be said: Conservative Critics Question Miers' Abilities.

Well, she's a blank slate. Leno again: "Bush's number one choice, Harriet Miers issued a statement today saying that she is getting closer and closer to having an opinion on something."

The second issue is one of cronyism. The man is comfortable with what he knows, and doesn't want to know more. In a parallel way, he is comfortable with the small circle of people he knows, and sees no reason to deal with "new people." Some critics, on the right, see this as arrogance, as in this: "I think this was a pick made out of droit de seigneur - an 'I am the president and this is what I want' arrogance." And there's this: "What people see in this is the Bush of the first debate, the Bad Bush, the peevish rich boy who expects to get his way because it's his way." But those comments seem off the mark.

Choosing to know little, and to know few people, is a kind of willful narrowness. It speaks to what makes you uncomfortable. He's comfortable with the known. And he trusts that attitude resonates with almost all Americans, as we are an insular, xenophobic lot. There is a reason fewer than one in five Americans holds a passport, much less uses it. We don't get around much. We understand. Who would blame him?

The third issue, floating around, is religion. Last week, James Dobson, of Focus on the Family reluctantly said 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'd been to the White House and talked with Karl Rove and the gang, and "some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about."

The implication was that even though Miers was once a Catholic, she had found Jesus and left "the cult of Mary" at the age of forty. She joined a large evangelical church in Texas, had the full-immersion baptism thing (not a measly few drops of water on the forehead), and Rove told Dobson she would vote the way Dobson and his follows wanted. (Yes, forty was the age at witch George Bush gave up Jim Beam for Jesus.)

That business with Dobson and Rove seemed some sort of secret, backdoor deal - give us your support and we'll guarantee how she votes on your issues.

That just made things worse. As in Senators want to probe possible 'deals' on Miers and White House Denies 'Deal' for Miers - and from the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Specter May Subpoena Dobson on Miers 'Assurances'.

A subpoena? Yipes.

The White House line is that the conservatives should relax. Leno again: "Today President Bush tried to assure conservatives that Harriet Miers was the best choice for the Supreme Court. Bush said 'Twenty years from now she'll be the same person she is today.' Really? Twenty years ago she was a Democrat and Catholic."

When the mainstream comics turn against you, there's trouble. And over at National Review Online, reading "The Corner" - the running commentary of thought on the right - dialogs hosted by Jonah Goldberg where all the big-name pundits have their say in quick snippets - you get John Podhoretz, one of their main guys, saying this: "The White House needs to know this. Really. It's getting worse. Trust me."

The problem seems to be that the Republicans made a commitment to the religious right, the evangelical born-again crowd, that for their support they would throw them a bone now and then. And the religious right felt - after all the years of being mocked and having to endure people arguing "under God" had no place in the Pledge of Allegiance, and being told officers at the Air Force Academy couldn't demand all cadets find Jesus, and they couldn't force all children in public school to mouth their approved prayers every day, and they couldn't have cities and states finance religious displays, and so on - well, this was pay-back time. They'd get this born again church lady or someone like her.

Dobson was telling them he'd gotten the guarantee. And now that isn't working out.

The problem is the Republicans are dealing with a whole bunch of folks who are claiming victim status, and demanding relief. (In these pages see, from May, The Oppressed Minority - Christians in America and Conservative Republicans - one of the few posts here cited in many places, oddly enough.)

As they drive their SUV's to their massive suburban churches every Sunday, with their party controlling the executive, both houses of congress and most of the judiciary, the folks feel aggrieved and resentful. Really. Then they go home and watch Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, with a far larger audience than CNN and all the rest. Go figure.

They're powerless victims? They've been working on it, as explained by David John Marley here:
Pat Robertson was the most visible leader of this new "Christians as a minority" argument. After his campaign for president ended in 1988, he increasingly used the rhetoric of oppression to gain sympathy for his cause. Robertson compared Christians in America to Jewish Holocaust victims during a discussion of the film The Last Temptation of Christ. He claimed, "once you assault what people believe, like Hitler did the Jews in Germany, the next thing you do is go after them. ... that's the first opening shot, if you will, in the war to destroy the Christian population in America and the world."

While Ralph Reed, now a campaign strategist for President George W. Bush, ran the Christian Coalition he explicitly compared the Christian Right to the civil rights movement. Reed's 1994 book Politically Incorrect contained chapter titles like "To The Back of the Bus" and "The New Amos and Andy." He claimed that Christians were constantly "under attack whenever they enter the public arena." While he did not believe, as Robertson did, that Christians were being systematically persecuted, Reed claimed that conservative Christians had been "viewed as less than full citizens."
And now?

Kaye Grogan at Renew America says this:
The liberals want justices legislating from the bench, who will make their own laws favoring their way-out agenda, while the conservatives want justices who will interpret the laws correctly and rule accordingly. And betwixt the two common ground will never be reached. Not only do I find it appalling that Harriet Miers has been attacked by the anti-Christian folks - I take it as a personal attack on all Christians. The anti-Christian groups are "infringing" upon the rights of Christians to worship freely. This is a "blatant" disregard of Amendment I of the "Bill of Rights" where it states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. It is also up to congress to protect the religious rights of Americans - but the silence is deafening in the "halls of Congress" as they avoid confronting the abuse of Christians at the hands of the "godless" folks.
Michael J. Gaynor at The Conservative Voice says this:
Would United States Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers have been better received as a nominee if she were a "progressive" Jewish man instead of a conservative evangelical Christian woman?

Is one evangelical Christian Supreme Court nominee since the Herbert Hoover administration (1929-1933) one too many?

... Justice Brandeis was 60 years old when he joined the Supremes. Ms. Miers is 60 years old.

Justice Brandeis had no prior judicial experience. Neither does Ms. Miers.

As a Jew, Justice Brandeis overcame discrimination and stereotypes. As a woman, so did Ms. Miers. The first woman hired by her law firm, she became the head of the firm, the head of the Dallas Bar Association and the head of the Texas Bar Association.

Justice Brandeis went to law school and practiced law privately in Massachusetts. Ms. Miers went to law school and practiced law privately in Texas.

As a American, Justice Brandeis had strong progressive beliefs that appealed to the President who nominated him, Woodrow Wilson, who often consulted him before nominating him. Ms. Miers has strong conservative beliefs that appeal to the President who nominated her, George W. Bush, who regularly consulted with her during his Presidency.

Justice Brandeis was a leader of the American Zionist movement. His political and religious views were not disqualifying. Neither should Ms. Miers' views be disqualifying.
Ah, evangelical Christians - the new Jews.

The always acerbic and perpetually grumpy Christopher Hitchens has a few things to say about all this.

Miers and Brimstone
Let's stop pretending there's no religious test for nominees.
Christopher Hitchens - Posted Monday, Oct. 10, 2005, at 9:21 AM PT SLATE.COM

It's hard to like this guy, but sometimes he's spot-on:
What in God's name - you should forgive the expression - is all this about there being "no religious test" for appointments to high public office? Most particularly in the case of the U.S. Supreme Court, there is the most blatant religious test imaginable. You may not even be considered for the bench unless you have a religion of some kind. Surely no adherent of any version of "originalism" can possibly argue that the Framers of the Constitution intended a spoils system to be awarded among competing clerical sects.
On the previous nominee:
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the man who is now our chief justice. I pointed to unrebutted evidence that, in answer to a direct question from a fellow Catholic (Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.), Roberts had replied that in the case of a conflict between the law and the teaching of the Vatican, he would recuse himself. Since obviously it is impossible to nominate, let alone confirm, anyone who does not answer that the law and the Constitution should control in all cases, I proposed that Roberts ought to be asked the question again and in public. For this, I got exactly what I expected: allegations of anti-Catholic bigotry from the fideists at National Review and then (not just for my benefit) a full-page ad or two in the press, saying that anyone who dared raise such a question would be accused of applying ? "a religious test." Roberts got suavely through his hearings without the inconvenience of the question, had a large Bible with illuminated crucifix in the family photo-op with the president, and now joins his three fellow Catholics on the court.
On the current nominee:
Of the nomination of Harriet Miers, by contrast, it can be said that only her religion has been considered by her conservative fans to be worth mentioning. What else is there to say, in any case, about a middling bureaucrat and yes-woman than that she attends some mediocre place of worship? One could happily make a case that more random civilians, and fewer fucking lawyers, should be on the court. But the only other thing to say about Miers is that she is a fucking lawyer. Her own opinion of herself is somewhat higher: She does not attribute her presence among us to the laws of biology but chooses to regard herself as having a personal and unmediated relationship with the alleged Jesus of Nazareth, who is further alleged to be the son of God. Such modesty! On this basis, the president and his people have felt able to issue assurances of her OK-ness. So, as far as I can determine, she was set, and has passed, a religious test: that of being an "Evangelical" Christian.
Well, that seems good enough for the masses (queue Marx here regarding opiates). And then he lays into the Democrats for putting up with this nonsense. But hey too know where the votes are.

Well, having just published a book on Thomas Jefferson, Hitchens seems to be caught in an earlier version of America. He seems to think we're a secular nation, or at least a nation that leaves matters of religion to the individual, as government is hard enough as it is.

Yeah, the key document, the constitution mentions that, but we have become post-secular. Times change.

But what of this woman? This:
Either Miers takes her faith seriously, in which case it must be her life's mission to redeem those who have not accepted Jesus as their savior, or she does not, in which case she is a vapid and posturing hypocrite. And either she is nominated in order to gratify a political constituency, whose leaders such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family seem to have had advance notice, or she is not, in which case the president could see no further than his own kitchen Cabinet in searching for merit. So, the whole exercise is a disgusting insult.
She cannot be a good Christian and a dispassionate judge at the same time? Perhaps the two are antithetical. Not that is matters. The political constituency she must gratify hardly expects her to check her religious fervor at the door of the court each morning. They rather expect the opposite.

We have not only become post-secular, we have become post-logical, and as "instinctive" and anti-intellectual as the man we finally and clearly chose to lead us. We hate that stuff. As Hitchens puts it -
But what is honest skepticism - and a regard for evidence and logic - when set against the profession of a mere "faith" that neither demands nor offers any evidence of any kind? And this latter "qualification" is now urged upon us with special fervor in the selection of - a judge.
Well, she may soon sit on the bench with this fellow (from January 24, 2005) -
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday that people of faith should not fear being viewed by "educated circles" as "fools for Christ."

The justice - in Baton Rouge to address the Knights of Columbus Council 969 centennial celebration without charging a fee - told a largely Roman Catholic crowd of 350 at the Holiday Inn Select that there's nothing wrong with "traditional Christianity."

"To believe in traditional Christianity is something else," Scalia said. "For the son of God to be born of a virgin? I mean, really. To believe that he rose from the dead and bodily ascended into heaven? How utterly ridiculous. To believe in miracles? Or that those who obey God will rise from the dead and those who do not will burn in hell?

"God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools ... and he has not been disappointed."

... "If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."
This is our Supreme Court. Dare to be all you can be - be stupid.

Okay. Fine.

Well people need religion, as seen in this email over at Andrew Sullivan's' site, commenting on what Sullivan said on television last week:
As a recovering alcoholic and survivor of rape and childhood sexual abuse, there has been nothing but faith at times that has allowed me to continue living (sober!) in a world I have frequently wished to desert. I discovered a higher power through the 12 steps and continue to know that power in my life; I often come across people who misunderstand, who consider reliance on a higher power to be weak and cowardly, or even stupid...

One thing I have learned through all of my experiences in dealing with matters of the spirit is that the word "God" has meanings attached to it that have undermined it and spoiled it, and that when people use that word, they have one concept in mind, which of course is very limited. One other thing I have learned is that people who have never found themselves in a situation that they could not possibly comprehend or conquer through their own wills and resources (or resources they've been given by others) are the quickest to say that there is no God. Not that I wish them to experience that - okay, maybe sometimes. Anyway, your comments about learning to love and be in this world were so very important for me to hear and truly validated my personal work and the message I carry to other women and those who may be suffering.
A second letter Sullivan received:
After years of being told by people of faith (almost exclusively Christians) that my lack of same must be due to some horrible event in my life, some trauma that convinced me there couldn't possible be a benevolent controlling intelligence behind the universe, I now read from your e-mail correspondent that "people who have never found themselves in a situation that they could not possibly comprehend or conquer through their own wills and resources (or resources they've been given by others) are the quickest to say that there is no God."

So now my lack of faith is apparently down to the absence of trauma, rather than an over-abundance of it. (Could it possibly be that faith or the lack of it is more about the individual and how he or she deals with trauma than it is about traumatic events themselves? Perhaps different people just deal differently.)

I'm not sure why people feel the need to come up with some aberrational explanation for my failure to share their beliefs, but this gratuitous insult - supplemented by the expressed (and rather un-Christian) wish that I one day experience such horror - spoiled what would otherwise have been an affecting account of one person finding a way to deal with the trouble in her life.
Ah, people always spoil things, as in this -
After news broke that local law enforcement officials were investigating complaints that Louis Beres, longtime chairman of the Christian Coalition of Oregon, had molested three female family members when they were pre-teens, The Oregonian in Portland went out and interviewed Beres' family members.

Two told reporters that Beres, indeed, had molested them. All three said they have been interviewed for several hours by detectives.

"I was molested," said one of the women, now in her early 50s. "I was victimized, and I've suffered all my life for it. I'm still afraid to be in the same room with [Beres]."

The coalition led by Beres, 70, champions socially conservative candidates and causes. Its Web site describes the group as "Oregon's leading grassroots organization defending our Godly heritage." The group opposes abortion, gay rights, and stem cell research. It is affiliated with the national Christian Coalition, which was founded in 1989 by television evangelist Pat Robertson.
"How can one better magnify the Almighty than by sniggering with him at his little jokes, particularly the poorer ones." - Samuel Beckett: Winnie, in Happy Days, Act 1 (1961)

Posted by Alan at 23:59 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005 00:12 PDT home

Topic: Photos

Our Man in Paris: Goddesses on Display (with photos)
As mentioned previously, from the 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. …
From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, and on-the-scene report, with photos -
Sunday Goddess

PARIS, Monday, October 10: - I should have gone to see the DS parade even if it was so early in the morning. The weather was clear; it was warm and still. I thought, oh, another big event on the Champs-Elysées. It is two-thirds as wide as a football field is long and it's very long. Put in 1600 DS' sliding down it and what have you got? The Champs Elysées part of their parade wasn't even shown on the TV-news. I can't trust them with anything.

So I was finally up there, probably about three hours later, figuring that some of these DS crazies would be taking Sunday drives. A lot of people do - come in at Concorde and sweep around the Obelisque and hit the avenue with its super long view up to the Arc, and roll up there and twirl around the Etoile in the sunshine - you can go around as often as you want - it's free. And then peel off into the top of the avenue and nearly coast all the way back to Concorde, using the Obelisque as the gunsight blade behind the doodad on the hood.

Meanwhile, a quarter-million folks are on the sidewalks, one on the sunny side and the other in the shade. Most of the shops are closed but all the cinemas, restaurants and cafés are open and many have terraces even on the shady side. Plus Louis Vuitton is having a gala opening at George V - Sharon Stone, Uma Thurman, Winona Ryder among the VIPs and 2000 other glitzer volk, not forgetting Catherine Deneuve of course. In the evening only the newly renovated Petit Palais is good enough for the ball, possibly because the newly renovated Grand Palais across the street is full of some other grand promo.

When you get to the Rond-Point you leave the 'famous' Champs Elysées for the rest, which is equally long and wide, but is flanked by wide paths and lines of trees. In these are ritzy pavilions, parks, theatres and the palaces, the Petit and Grand. The used stamp market is in here [as in the movie - editor] and there are rustic snack kiosks, toilets, and it is a long park on either side of the avenue, with the leaves going brown at the moment.

The avenue ends, or begins, at the Place de la Concorde. This is a big stone place with an island in the middle with the Obelisque sticking up and two fountains, one of the seas and the other of rivers. Folks making the trek from the Tuileries on the other side stop to inspect the gilt diagrams on the Obelisque and wonder about the sexual aspects of the fountain figures. You could say that Concorde with its Obelisque and Etoile with its Arc form a unit joined by the Champs-Elys?es and the whole otto is a singularly rich and unique experience several kilometres long and very wide.

Others might say that it extends through the garden of the Tuileries to the east wing of the Louvre in the Cour Napoléeacute;on. If you stand by this wing you can see the close-up Pyramid, slightly off the axis, the Obelisque and the Arc way off in the distance. It is in fact a geographical unit, actually extending beyond the Arc, but the Champs Elysées part is a piece of its own. For a straight-line walk it has to be one of the best and it's hard to think of anywhere else that matches it. Of course, a sunny Sunday makes it better.

And I was right. Swimming along with the Sunday drivers were these shark-like cars, the Citroën DS. Fifty years later, coming into the avenue at Clemenceau past the Grand Palais where they were first shown to an astonished driving public. Now doing the rounds of the Champs-Elysées in the October sunshine with the windows open, like God in France.

The Photos

A classic:

The setting:

"Come in at Concorde and sweep around the Obelisque and hit the avenue with its super long view up to the Arc, and roll up there and twirl around the Etoile in the sunshine - you can go around as often as you want - it's free."

At speed:

Yes, Planet Hollywood on the Champs Elysées -

Photos and Text, Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Editor's Note:

This grand promo at the Grand Palais? See Paris fashion week turns heads - "About 100 ready-to-wear shows are scheduled at various venues until October 10, including at some of Paris' architectural jewels such as the Grand Palais, reopened just last month after a 12-year renovation." Recent photos in Just Above Sunset here and here - and the official site of Les Galeries nationales du Grand Palais.

That opening? Louis Vuitton to Inaugurate Largest Store on Champs Elysees.

Orientation - from Google Earth -

... the Grand Palais

The Champs Elysées

Posted by Alan at 11:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005 23:57 PDT home

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