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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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Saturday, 15 October 2005

Topic: Announcements

Redirection: The Mother Ship Has Landed

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent site to this daily web log, has just gone on line. This is Volume 3, Number 42 - for the week of Sunday, October 16, 2005 - and contains a wealth of new material in magazine format. It's up a bit early, as other matters have come up which will mean light posting here for a day or two.

This week there's as much photography as prose. The four current events items, expanded from what first appeared here, offer in-depth discussions of the major issues of the last week - the disintegration of the administration on so many fronts and how much it feels like 1973 again, the issues raised as we once again face the tangle of religion and government and the law, the situation in Iraq as the new constitution comes to a vote, and a major shift in the national narrative - there's a new meme. Of course the quotes this week just had to be on chaos and madness.

From our international columnists, Mike McCahill in London offers what is seen from over there as quite good about America, to balance all the denigration going around offshore these days, Ric Erickson in Paris strolls the Champs Elysées the day of the big parade of all the wonderful cars, and Sylvain Ubersfeld explains Modern Hebrew, and for those of us with an interest in language and how it shapes thought, this is an eye-opener.

Special feature - Joy Childs attends the 2005 Black Movie Awards and reports what happened, so you'll know the winner before the telecast at the end of the coming week. Well, this is Hollywood, after all.

Bob Patterson is back, and in the guise of the World's Laziest Journalist explores the topic of madness, or demonstrates it. You decide. As the Book Wrangler we meet another local author, and then find out what books to buy to become a wildly successful and fabulously wealthy screenwriter. Yes, this is Hollywood.

"Our Eye on Paris," Don Smith, gives us two pages of stunning photographic detail of just what was in that parade last Sunday in Paris. The Citroën DS turned fifty and those amazing automobiles still look just right. So does Paris.

There are three pages of North America from other guest photographers. The wilds of Canada in high-resolution on a hunt for moose, and down here, from Atlantic to Pacific, dramatic shots from the edges, Manhattan to LA - and in the middle, the eerie desert of Monument Valley.

The local photography takes you to the heart of pop Hollywood, Guitar Row on Sunset Boulevard, the center of Rock 'n' Roll - and everything that followed it - in America. More than the best guitars and amps sold in America - a whole world in one long block. The real Hollywood.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ____________________

Zeitgeist Fatigue: The Thrill of the Chase Fades as it’s not 1973
Secular Government: Who Believes, and Why?
Gnawing Old Bones: Iraq War Notes (True Believers)
Meme Watch: Wrong Man, and No One Told Us

The International Desk ____________________

Our Man in London: In the Air Tonight
Our Man in Paris: Goddesses on Display (with photos)
Our Man in Tel-Aviv: Do You Speak Ivrit?

Features ____________________

It is I, Joy: The 2005 Black Movie Awards (BMAs) - A Celebration of Black Cinema: Past, Present and Future
Quotes for the week of October 16, 2005 - Chaos and Madness
Links and Recommendations: New Photo Album for Rock Fans

Bob Patterson ____________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - " …or run naked through the streets, screaming all the way…"
Book Wrangler: "Ready anytime you are, CB!"

Guest Photography - Europe ____________________

Our Eye on Paris (1): The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Citroën DS
Our Eye on Paris (2): The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Citroën DS (continued)

Guest Photography - North America ____________________

Canada: Hunting for Moose
Coast-to-Coast: Manhattan to Los Angeles
The Middle: Monument Valley, Utah

Local Photography ____________________

Guitar Row on Sunset Boulevard

Below - Sunset Boulevard oddity -

Posted by Alan at 20:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 15 October 2005 20:54 PDT home

Friday, 14 October 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Meme Watch: Wrong Man, and No One Told Us

The whole purpose of political analysis is to look at the policies and actions of those in power, and at the scattered news events that flow from those, and the explanations of those events - the spin to defend or attack what was done - and try to sense some sort of pattern to it all. What is the current way most people are thinking of things now - the meme, or pervasive narrative? This is what in these pages has been called chasing the zeitgeist.

A friend in New York, in Albany actually, pointed out an item from Howard Fineman, from October 12, that catches a new stream of political narrative, a new meme, that has become part of the "national narrative" about how we got into the fix we're in. Fineman's item is The Conservative Crack Up, and carries the subhead, "The neocons develop an exit strategy - a political one."

The notion is this: President Bush may have no military exit strategy for Iraq, but the "neocons" who convinced him to go to war there have developed one of their own - a political one: Blame the Administration.

What they're saying?
Their neo-Wilsonian theory is correct, they insist, but the execution was botched by a Bush team that has turned out to be incompetent, crony-filled, corrupt, unimaginative and weak over a wide range of issues.

The flight of the neocons - just read a recent Weekly Standard to see what I am talking about - is one of only many indications that the long-predicted "conservative crackup" is at hand.
Is this wishful thinking fro a moderate liberal? Maybe.

Fineman discusses the history of the "neoconservative movement" from the founding of William F. Buckley's National Review fifty years ago, to its "coming of age" in the Reagan administration, to its zenith with Bush the Younger becoming president five years ago. We finally had a leadership in place that would have nothing to do with traditional diplomacy, would use our newly unchallengeable military to change governments around the world, and bring the American way of doing everything to the whole globe. We'd spread democracy, and unregulated free-market capitalism, and transform the planet. It seems Woodrow Wilson at the time didn't have a world where the was no power on earth that could challenge the United States - but with the fall of the Soviet Union who was left to get in out way?

This is a curious form of hyper-idealism, of course, but Fineman argues these imperial idealists - not his term but perhaps as good as any description - had to make a pact with the devil to get things done. He also does not us the phrase "pact with the devil," but he does give us this:
In 1973, Karl Rove met George W. Bush, and became the R2D2 and Luke Skywalker of Republican politics. At first, neither was plugged into "The Force" - the conservative movement. But over the years they learned how to use its power.

By the time Bush was in his second term as governor, laying the groundwork for his presidential run, he and Rove had gathered all of the often competing and sometimes contradictory strains of conservatism into one light beam. You could tell by the people they brought to Austin.

To tie down the religious conservatives, they nudged John Ashcroft out of the race and conducted a literal laying on of hands at the governor's mansion with leaders such as James Dobson.

For the libertarian anti-tax crowd, they brought in certified supply-sider Larry Lindsey as the top economic advisor.

For the traditional war hawks they brought in Paul Wolfowitz, among others, to get Bush up to speed on the world.

For the traditional corporate types - well, Bush had that taken care of on his own.
The problem is obvious. How do you hold these groups together in a tight alliance?

Well, you have to be very careful. And that is what is going sour now.

Take the religious conservatives:
The Harriet Miers nomination was the final insult. Religious conservatives have an inferiority complex in the Republican Party. In an interesting way, it's the same attitude that many African-Americans have had toward the Democratic Party over the years. They think that the Big Boys want their votes but not their presence or their full participation.

And what really frosts the religious types is that Bush evidently feels that he can only satisfy them by stealth - by nominating someone with absolutely no paper trail. It's an affront. And even though Dr. Dobson is on board - having been cajoled aboard by Rove - I don't sense that there is much enthusiasm for the enterprise out in Colorado Springs.

I expect that any GOP 2008 hopeful who wants evangelical support - people like Sam Brownback, Rick Santorum - and maybe even George Allen - will vote against Miers' confirmation in the Senate.
Well, yes, they are unhappy.

Can the administration turn to the CEO crowd, big business, and the corporations, to take up the slack and stand behind the president? Fineman says probably not, not after those hurricanes:
For them, Bush's handling of Katrina was, and remains, a mortal embarrassment to their class, which Bush is supposed to have represented - at least to some extent.

These are people who believe in the Faith of Management - in anticipating problems and moving mass organizations. They also like to think of themselves as having a social conscience. And even if they don't, they are sensitive to world opinion.

The vivid images from the Superdome were just too much for these folks. Recently, a prominent Republican businessman, whom I saw in a typical CEO haunt, astonished me with the severity of his attacks on Bush's competence. And Bush had appointed this guy to a major position! Amazing.
Okay then, what about all those traditional conservatives, those who believe in the smallest possible effective government, no deficits and no pork? Will they take up the slack and support the president?

The answer here is obvious. Fineman doesn't mention the exact figures, but this has been going around, the increases in discretionary spending over five successive budgets, for each two-term president increased spending going back forty years, adjusted for inflation -
LBJ: 25.2%
Nixon: -16.5%
Reagan: 11.9%
Clinton: -8.2%
Bush: 35.2%
Some people notice such things.

And as for the isolationists - Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobson and that crowd - they are most unhappy with an administration that won't police the borders and then called armed white citizens out hunting down wetbacks, these Minutemen, vigilantes. They feel betrayed too.

And of course the core neoconservatives ? Kristol and the University of Chicago gang at the Project for the New American Century (Chairman William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and founding members in 1997 - Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, Richard Perle, Richard Armitage, Dick Cheney, Lewis Libby, William J. Bennett, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Ellen Bork, the wife of Robert Bork) are wondering who this guys is that they shoehorned into the presidency. The wanted the Middle East remade, and thus this country made safe, by forcing our flavor of democracy in Iraq, than that whole region, and then beyond. Their man is not doing the job, and Kristol often takes him to task for hinting at withdrawal in a few years. They are really unhappy.

Fineman says the only folks happy right now are the "supply-siders" - all those tax cuts for the rich and subsidies of major corporations are, to them, just fine. But that's small base, isn't it?

Look for this book next April: Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. The natives are restless.

Over at the New York Times Paul Krugman has a different spin on this. It wasn't just the conservatives who were fooled. We were all fooled. We didn't see what was right in front of our faces. (One is tempted to mutter, "Speak for yourself, White Man.") Here's the idea:
Right now, with the Bush administration in meltdown on multiple issues, we're hearing a lot about President Bush's personal failings. But what happened to the commanding figure of yore, the heroic leader in the war on terror? The answer, of course, is that the commanding figure never existed: Mr. Bush is the same man he always was. All the character flaws that are now fodder for late-night humor were fully visible, for those willing to see them, during the 2000 campaign.

And President Bush the great leader is far from the only fictional character, bearing no resemblance to the real man, created by media images.

Read the speeches Howard Dean gave before the Iraq war, and compare them with Colin Powell's pro-war presentation to the U.N. Knowing what we know now, it's clear that one man was judicious and realistic, while the other was spinning crazy conspiracy theories. But somehow their labels got switched in the way they were presented to the public by the news media.
Howard Dean was judicious and realistic? The world turned upside down, but that's how things worked out.

What about that "scream" that ended Dean's run for the presidency? That got all-to-wall coverage for a week or more. He was a madman. Bush was the calm and forceful leader at the eye of the storm, the man who would keep us safe.

That was the meme. And it changed.

But most people assumed that was the true picture then. That was the national narrative, "the real story." We were offered a snapshot of how things were. It was easy to understand. You didn't have to listen to what was actually being said and think about the issues. The "shorthand" worked better.

Krugman blames the press for the mistake, himself included -
Why does this happen? A large part of the answer is that the news business places great weight on "up close and personal" interviews with important people, largely because they're hard to get but also because they play well with the public. But such interviews are rarely revealing. The fact is that most people - myself included - are pretty bad at using personal impressions to judge character. Psychologists find, for example, that most people do little better than chance in distinguishing liars from truth-tellers.

More broadly, the big problem with political reporting based on character portraits is that there are no rules, no way for a reporter to be proved wrong. If a reporter tells you about the steely resolve of a politician who turns out to be ineffectual and unwilling to make hard choices, you've been misled, but not in a way that requires a formal correction.

And that makes it all too easy for coverage to be shaped by what reporters feel they can safely say, rather than what they actually think or know. Now that Mr. Bush's approval ratings are in the 30's, we're hearing about his coldness and bad temper, about how aides are afraid to tell him bad news. Does anyone think that journalists have only just discovered these personal characteristics?

Let's be frank: the Bush administration has made brilliant use of journalistic careerism. Those who wrote puff pieces about Mr. Bush and those around him have been rewarded with career-boosting access. Those who raised questions about his character found themselves under personal attack from the administration's proxies.
That about wraps it up. The journalism stank, with reporters playing it safe to get better access later. Krugman flat out says they all knew the guy was doofus, but they wouldn't report what they knew, or what they thought. Too scary. Not prudent. Bad for the career, and the Bush administration played them like a fiddle.

So NOW they tell us what they know? It's a little late.

But we have a new meme going forward.

Posted by Alan at 14:53 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005 14:56 PDT home

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

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