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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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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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Wednesday, 23 November 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

It Really is Always About Sex

Just before everyone settled down for Thanksgiving to eat far too much and watch the usual Detroit Lions game (against the Falcons this year as the Cowboys had the late game against the Broncos), the national dialog was sputtering down. Wednesday there was that new poll - "A majority of US adults believe the Bush administration generally misleads the public on current issues, while fewer than a third of Americans believe the information provided by the administration is generally accurate, the latest Harris Interactive poll finds."

Yeah, so?

There's been a massive "public mood" change over the past several months, as the "fed up" quotient in the country rises. Perhaps this started with the Hurricane Katrina business - the president late to the game and looking childish, and Michael Brown's FEMA performing worse than the wildest conspiracy theorist could imagine - and this peaked with last week's silliness in the house with the name-calling and the Republicans forcing a vote one what they said that fellow from Pennsylvania really meant but clearly didn't. These folks who have control of the executive branch, both houses of congress, and seventy percent of federal judgeships, were looking just petty and bullheaded. The vice president was on stump saying, "We didn't lie" - and to think we did is reprehensible and near treason and makes our troops cry and is worse than drowning puppies in Drano and whatnot. This produced somewhat the opposite of the intended effect, as they say - as in, "What's his problem?"

The plan for these pages was to comment on this item - In Legal Shift, U.S. Charges Detainee in Terrorism Case - "The Bush administration brought terrorism charges on Tuesday against Jose Padilla in a criminal court after holding him for three and a half years in a military brig as an enemy combatant once accused in a 'dirty bomb' plot."

What's up with that?

As laid out here, Padilla was detained at Chicago's O'Hare airport on May 8, 2002, and held as a "material witness" in New York. Then, facing a legal deadline to defend its decision to hold him as a material witness indefinitely, the government quickly labeled this guy an "enemy combatant" and shipped him off to a military brig in Charleston - the Charleston in South Carolina, not the one in West Virginia - and the administration, claiming congress gave the president authority to do what was necessary to disarm Saddam and eliminate any threats associated with terrorism - determined this fellow had no legal rights at all - no right to counsel or to be charged with a crime. He was one of the bad guys - even if he was an American citizen (he is a Brooklyn-born, or Chicago-born, former gang member who converted to Islam).

They said he was plotting to set off a "dirty bomb" and irradiate who knows what, and who knows how many fine Americans. There was some legal maneuvering and in June 2004, as the courts considered the case - can you hold an American citizen and take away all his rights on the president's word? - the government released a surprise document saying, well, no, the dirty bomb thing may have been a mistake - he was really plotting to blow up a particular apartment building, so throw away the key. Now it seems they're actually allowing a trial and all the rest that all of us think we have a right to - charging him with being part of "a broad conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism and to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas."

So now he gets access to the rights Americans think they have? The silliness of all of this is covered by Dahlia Lithwick here, and she reminds us that when the Defense Department decided to release America's last "Public Enemy Number One" - Yaser Esam Hamdi - from his three years of in a military prison without charges, he was shipped off to Saudi Arabia, "with a firm handshake and commemorative US Navy mug." The terrorist too dangerous to be tried in open court was "sent home to his parents for a seriously enforced new bedtime." And she lists other "oops" cases.

Just what is going on?

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball at Newsweek do some digging. They get administration lawyers to explain that the Bush administration, determined not to yield any ground on the constitutional issues in the case, have indicated it may still hold this accused "enemy combatant" indefinitely - even if he is acquitted of these terrorist conspiracy charges he was indicted on.

As in -
Today's comments are significant because the Justice Department plans this week to file a motion with the Supreme Court urging that it not review an appellate court ruling affirming Padilla's status as an enemy combatant. The department plans to argue that the case is now moot because President Bush, in an order signed earlier this week, transferred Padilla from the custody of the Defense Department - which had been holding him in a military brig - to the custody of the Justice Department so he can stand trial in Miami.
In short, this indictment removes the question of whether he has rights - so there's nothing to argue. They're making a test case go away.

Isikoff and Hosenball offer a ton more detail that will make your head spin - but that's the idea.

Dahlia Lithwick offers lots of links to all sorts of legal folks commenting on this basic question - did the congress give the president the clear authority to suspend parts of the constitution regarding citizens' rights as he sees fit, until the war on terror is declared officially over? That's something the administration would like to keep off the Supreme Court docket, at least until O'Conner is home in Arizona sipping iced tea and Alito is on the bench, as he had already ruled, at a lower level, that the president has that authority, without question. The case of Jose Padilla had to "go away."

There's a lot more from the famous Denver criminal attorney, Jeralyn Merritt, here, with lots of links - even some conservatives (the traditional kind) are appalled. One old-line conservative here -
I have no brief for Padilla or any other al Qaeda mass-murderers. But he is an American citizen, presumed innocent, and it took the government three years even to charge him. Anyone who cares about liberty - which obviously does not include many members of the Bush administration, should be appalled by what has occurred and what it means for the future of freedom in this country.
But that's Andrew Sullivan, and he thinks Bush and that crew have distorted and just ruined the conservative movement - they've made a sick joke out of what is means to be a conservative. Last time out he was so angry he endorsed John Kerry.

Then again, no one - expect these folks above - thinks much about constitutional law and basic rights. You just assume you have those rights you vaguely remember from that eight-grade civics class. It's a yawn.

So the plan in these pages changed.

What isn't a yawn for some folks is when husband or wife, son or daughter, nephew or niece, gets to come home from that fifth or sixth tour in Iraq, where they could get killed. That's been the national topic since the pro-military ex-Marine friend-of-Cheney congressman from Pennsylvania stood up and said our military has done all it was supposed to do and it's time to redeploy them and work on the diplomatic stuff and "soft power" and all the rest. The shrew from Cincinnati called him a coward and not much of Marine (she apologized and said she was misinformed and all that), but the questions were the sitting out there. When will this Iraqi people be ready to take care of their own country? If we stay until we win, how will we know we've won - when everyone is nice and various "evildoers" undergo a massive personality change? Is working out a timetable for changing things a sign of weakness that will cause "the world of folks who hate us for our freedoms" to laugh at us as girly-men with tiny penises who "cut and run" when faced with real men - or it is a sign of intelligence and common sense and a sign we know reality from bullshit? Will it make things more stable, or insure a regional Sunni-Shiite war?

You couldn't raise the issues before. You'd be told you hate America and all the rest. Well, now you can.

And Wednesday, November 23rd you saw things like this:

Rice Seems to Nod to Calls to Reduce Troops in Iraq (New York Times) - "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has offered assurances that the United States may not need to maintain..."

US sends strong signals on Iraq troops pull-out (Financial Times, UK) - "The US administration this week sent its strongest signals yet that it intends to..."

Pentagon envisions pulling out 3 combat brigades in early '06 (Chicago Tribune) - "Barring major surprises in Iraq, the Pentagon tentatively plans to reduce the number..."

It seems the "we won't change a thing until we've won" idea doesn't poll well.

But there really is the psychosexual thing about how some insecure men react when anyone questions his "manliness." Makes them want to go beat up gays, or at least make sure they don't marry each other. And it means you cannot back down from anything, ever, no matter how logical it is to change tactics for the specific new circumstances.

On that issue, go read this from Digby over at Hullabaloo. He thinks this withdrawal plan is "the same phony drawdown" that they've been talking about for the last year. They will do it to show "progress" before the 2006 election - but he doesn't think there's "a chance in hell that George W. Cheney is going to allow himself to be portrayed 'cutting and running' by anyone. And if bombs are still going off in Iraq "that's exactly how it will look."

There's a fascinating discussion here to of how Princeton historian Bernard Lewis - someone Bush actually reads - has become the key prop in the argument for never backing down. The guy has written at least twenty books on Islam and the Middle East. He's eighty-seven but meets with Cheney and Rove all the time. It's all here -
After the terror attacks, White House staffers disagreed about how to frame the enemy, says David Frum, who was a speechwriter for President Bush. One group believed Muslim anger was all a misunderstanding - that Muslims misperceived America as decadent and godless. Their solution: Launch a vast campaign to educate Muslims about America's true virtue. Much of that effort, widely belittled in the press and overseas, was quietly abandoned.

A faction led by political strategist Karl Rove believed soul-searching over "why Muslims hate us" was misplaced, Mr. Frum says. Mr. Rove summoned Mr. Lewis to address some White House staffers, military aides and staff members of the National Security Council. The historian recited the modern failures of Arab and Muslim societies and argued that anti-Americanism stemmed from their own inadequacies, not America's. Mr. Lewis also met privately with Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Mr. Frum says he soon noticed Mr. Bush carrying a marked-up article by Mr. Lewis among his briefing papers. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Says Mr. Frum: "Bernard comes with a very powerful explanation for why 9/11 happened. Once you understand it, the policy presents itself afterward."
So what's the explanation? Instilling respect or at least fear through force is essential for America's security.
Eight days after the Sept. 11 attacks, with the Pentagon still smoldering, Mr. Lewis addressed the U.S. Defense Policy Board. Mr. Lewis and a friend, Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi - now a member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council - argued for a military takeover of Iraq to avert still-worse terrorism in the future, says Mr. Perle, who then headed the policy board.

A few months later, in a private dinner with Dick Cheney at the vice president's residence, Mr. Lewis explained why he was cautiously optimistic the U.S. could gradually build democracy in Iraq, say others who attended. Mr. Lewis also held forth on the dangers of appearing weak in the Muslim world, a lesson Mr. Cheney apparently took to heart. Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" just before the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Cheney said: "I firmly believe, along with men like Bernard Lewis, who is one of the great students of that part of the world, that strong, firm U.S. response to terror and to threats to the United States would go a long way, frankly, toward calming things in that part of the world."

The Lewis Doctrine, in effect, had become U.S. policy.
The policy? Do everything you can to not appear weak. What you do may be stupid or illegal, buy you cannot appear weak. Your safety, the safety of you friends and family, the safety of your country, depends on not appearing weak. Throw a punch. To do anything else is pointless.

Let's give them at least some credit for sincerity on one thing. They honestly believe that we have been perceived as weak by the rest of the world. They've always thought this. This isn't a political calculation - they really believe it. They went into Iraq with the idea that they had to show those hinky Arabs that we are not going to be pushed around. When they say that everyone from Nixon on down behaved like cowards, they really mean it. This is their worldview.

... It is a deep article of faith that the reason we were hit on 9/11 is because we failed to respond to the terrorists and others. Therefore, we must make them respect and fear us by being violent and dominating.

I am of the opinion that alienating our allies, exposing ourselves as having an intelligence community that can't find water if they fall out of a boat and then screwing up Iraq in spectacular fashion, we have destroyed our mystique and have made this country less safe. We were much better off speaking softly and carrying the big stick than flailing around like a wounded, impotent Giant.

I see no reason to believe that these people see that. They believe that to "cut and run" is the equivalent of emasculating this country and that is what puts us at risk.
This is just a summary with some excerpts, of course. Digby gives lots of detail.

Are the troops ever coming home? If those who lead us, and many of those who support them, feel our only safety comes from what we do to seeming sufficiently manly, one doubts it.

So it isn't Clinton who had the problem with sex. Given this, he actually seems well-adjusted.

Posted by Alan at 23:50 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005 00:02 PST home

Topic: Photos

On Location: Greystone Mansion

You've seen this place in the movies.

Greystone Mansion, 905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills - architect Gordon B. Kaufman - English Gothic Revival - 46,000 square feet of living space - completed in 1928 for the Doheny family - landscape architect, Paul G. Thiene - gardens surrounding the estate a mix of gothic and neoclassic -

A new album of twenty-six photos from Wednesday, November 23, 2005, late afternoon is here.

Oil baron Edward Doheny gave the property to his son Ned as a wedding gift. In 1928, Ned constructed this enormous, fifty-five-room Tudor-style mansion. Six months after Ned's family moved in, Ned was shot by his personal secretary (and, rumor has it, gay lover) in a murder-suicide. Ned's widow and children stayed on until the fifties, then the family gave the property to the city of Beverly Hills, and it and the grounds are now a public park.

It may look familiar. Many major Hollywood films were shot here (see this). Read this for a detailed social and political history of the place and the times.

Samples from the album -

Named for its roof - in the background Century City and MGM offices -

Spooky late afternoon sunlight -

In the gardens - aromatic antique roses -

Posted by Alan at 20:19 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 25 November 2005 07:32 PST home

Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Resolving Dissonance: Major and Minor Illustrations

Enough of the congressman from the squat mountains east of Pittsburgh (Johnstown and that area) saying it's time for an orderly but rather rapid withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, as they've done as much as they can do, and keeping them there is making many things worse. The firestorm raging from that proposal last week goes on and on, and sucks in other issues - whether we were conned into this war and all the rest. There's been a good deal of name-calling as to who's a coward and who's not, and who's delusional about what we have achieved, and can reasonably achieve, and who's not.

All that may settle down into an orderly discussion of what we should do now and why we should do this or that, carefully balancing risk and opportunity, considering our short-term and long-term strategic aims, considering what is likely to happen when we're gone from there, considering what staying indefinitely or leaving soon would mean in geopolitical terms about our influence in the world (our power to bring others into approving of or even joining in our actions), and what that would do to our military capabilities, now stretched thin - but you wouldn't bet the rent money on such a discussion developing.

Too many have too much emotionally invested in this, one way or the other, to step back and think about all the complex implications of what we do now, so dispassionate and detailed analysis is almost impossible - and politicians facing the 2006 mid-term elections know that the dramatic posturing they do now can make the difference between staying in office and going back to writing wills and reviewing minor business contracts at the local law office.

But Tuesday, November 22nd things got even more complicated with the results of that conference in Cairo - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers, as well as leading Sunni politicians, agreeing on a few things.

From the Associated Press account (Salah Nasrawi) here -
Leaders of Iraq's sharply divided Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis called Monday for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in the country and said Iraq's opposition had a "legitimate right'' of resistance.

The final communiqué, hammered out at the end of three days of negotiations at a preparatory reconciliation conference under the auspices of the Arab League, condemned terrorism, but was a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target innocent civilians or institutions designed to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens.

The participants in Cairo agreed on "calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable, through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces ... control the borders and the security situation'' and end terror attacks.
The Bush-Cheney admistration has argued with great energy that that last thing we should have is any kind of timetable for withdrawal. That would play into the hands of the bad guys - they'd just wait for us to leave and then do whatever bad guys do, and everything we've fought for would be lost. And here the three key groups we're doing all this for, say no, they do want a timetable.

Now much can be said about this, and much has, but the paternalistic and condescending " trust us, you don't really want that" messages no doubt burning up the diplomatic cable lines from DC to Baghdad after this Cairo pronouncement may make those we helped to power a bit angry. It appears we didn't ask them what they think, so we got blindsided.

The paternalism here is deciding what's best for your little kids - you don't ask them because they're too immature to know what's best for them. That's far beyond insulting when the other folks are just not kids, although fine for your five-year-olds. Oddly, this you-really-don't-know-what's-good-for-you paternalism is the defining characteristic of this administration. One suspects those who don't have much use for this gang, and haven't had since they came to power - a good chunk of the public here and around the world, and almost all other world leaders - are, underneath it all, seething a being told, implicitly, they're all little kids and really should let they grownups take care of things. Oddly, Tony Blair has no problem with it, and being told for years he's "Bush's poodle" seems to make him smile. Ah well.

They shouldn't have said "timetable."

Of course there will be the usual cover-up of the miscue - not everyone seems to be on the same page, as they say - with Washington saying everyone concerned really agrees, really, and this pronouncement is just what the president has been saying all along - "As the Iraqis stand up we stand down." No big deal.

But they had to go and use that word "timetable." One imagines our "from the gut" instinct-driven keep-it-simple my-way-or-the-highway president is well beyond miffed with these folks, but how does he lash out? What can he do?

Buried in the Cairo communiqué is, however, something even more problematic. You saw it. The leaders of the Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis said Iraq's opposition had a "legitimate right" of resistance - "a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target innocent civilians or institutions designed to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens."

Think about that. A "legitimate right" of resistance to what? Would that be to our guys on the ground, or are our guys there "to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens." The ambiguity is maddening. This can be interpreted as the combined factions saying, "Don't call us terrorists if we exercise our legitimate right to resist the foreign occupiers of our country." What else could it mean?

One view here - "In other words, Iraq's leaders just painted a bullseye on the backs of American soldiers and said they're fair game."

Are there other foreign occupiers? Who else is there to resist but us?

There's a lot of angry comment out there on this, and we'll see how the administration explains this one away. They don't really mean what they say about some "legitimate right of resistance" - it was just something they threw into the mix to mollify the Sunni folks and really shouldn't be taken seriously? That's probably the best approach. Someone will look thoughtful on Fox News and say just that, no doubt. But these guys in Cairo made things harder to explain.

And there was more to explain the same Tuesday. The White House dismissed claims George Bush was talked out of bombing Arab television station al-Jazeera by Tony Blair. What? According to this in the British tabloid Daily Mirror, that's what happened on April 16 last year. We were launching that all-out assault on Fallujah, and al-Jazeera had reporter in there showing the world civilian casualties and such. Bush was angry. Was he kidding about bombing al-Jazeera headquarters in Qatar, one of our close allies in the area and where we have major sating areas? Who knows? There seems to be a memo about this.

Reaction to the Mirror items was intense. It does put the previous "accidental" bombings of Al-Jazeera and the "inadvertent" death of this or that journalist in Iraq in a different light. Maybe Eason Jordon was right. As noted in these pages last February, Eason Jordan resigned his position as CNN's chief news executive - and he had led much of that network's war coverage. It seems that on January 27 in Davos, Switzerland, at The World Economic Forum, in an informal panel discussion, he suggested that US troops had targeted and killed journalists. He immediately back-peddled and said that was what was being said in much of the Arab media, and he didn't know that was so - but the damage was done. Word got around. The same right-wing blogs that claimed to have just brought down Dan Rather sensed blood in the water, Fox News picked it up, and the fellow threw in the towel. And now?

Oh, this is a minor thing. Even if Bush was serious, Blair talked him down. Sometimes the clever child can calm the angry parent before daddy does something bad.

But the major things keep percolating away.

No, not this:
Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.
There's lots of detail, and this information was withheld from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Is this a "smoking gun" of some sort?

Maybe. The administration was told, flat-out, that line of thinking was wrong - and decided they knew better than the spies in the field and the nerds who monitored satellite traffic and the political analysts and all the rest? This merely explains why Cheney and Rumsfeld set up Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans - to show that the CIA and Defense Intelligence and the National Reconnaissance Office and State were all wrong - and to have something BETTER for the congress. Some would call it ignoring the facts. Some would call it lying to congress and the public. Some would call it crass manipulation and maybe an impeachable offense. And some would call it patriotic enthusiasm for what had to be done. Take your pick.

The dispute continues.

All that is surface. What lies below is more troubling.

If you have wandered over to the Just Above Sunset page of links to the big-time political web logs, left and right (here - but in need of a few updates), you find a link to a satire site - Patriot Boy - where General JC Christian signs each item "Heterosexually Yours" - the manly man - and tries to rid himself of his "inner Frenchman" and wonders why his little general (and two grenades) won't stand up at attention when called upon. You get the idea. It's political satire at its snarkiest.

But Tuesday the 22nd something happened, as in this -
Forgive me for interrupting, but for the last few hours I've been struggling with a post juxtaposing the Christian right's obsession with sexual morality and theocracy with their lack of concern about torture and murder. I can't finish. It's too painful to address satirically.

I've been in a funk for the last few weeks. I'm absolutely horrified by what my country has become. Corruption has replaced the rule of law. The media has sold its watchdog role for a few pieces of silver and invitations to the ruling class' cocktail parties. The owners in our ownership society are rigging the system to enslave the rest of the population through debt.

Worst of all, where we were once a nation that at least pretended to value human rights, we now celebrate torture and eagerly commit murder in the name of promoting freedom.

America has lost its soul.
Sometimes you just cannot do satire. It's just wrong.

What bothers him is what lots of people have thought about - what Jason Vest reported in the National Journal here -
"If you talk to people who have been tortured, that gives you a pretty good idea not only as to what it does to them, but what it does to the people who do it," he said. "One of my main objections to torture is what it does to the guys who actually inflict the torture. It does bad things. I have talked to a bunch of people who had been tortured who, when they talked to me, would tell me things they had not told their torturers, and I would ask, 'Why didn't you tell that to the guys who were torturing you?' They said that their torturers got so involved that they didn't even bother to ask questions." Ultimately, he said - echoing Gerber's comments - "torture becomes an end unto itself."
That's where we are.

Digby at Hullabaloo adds this -
When Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" he couldn't ever have dreamed that we would in a few short decades be at a place where torture is no longer considered a taboo. It certainly makes all of his concerns about changes to the nuclear family (and oral sex) seem trivial by comparison. We are now a society that on some official levels has decided that torture is no longer a deviant, unspeakable behavior, but rather a useful tool. It's not hidden. People publicly discuss whether torture is really torture if it features less than "pain equivalent to organ failure." People no longer instinctively recoil at the word - it has become a launching pad for vigorous debate about whether people are deserving of certain universal human rights. It spirals down from there.

... At this rather late stage in life, I'm realizing that the solid America I thought I knew may never have existed. Running very close, under the surface, was a frightened, somewhat hysterical culture that could lose its civilized moorings all at once. I had naively thought that there were some things that Americans would find unthinkable - torture was one of them
And there's this from The Observer (UK) -
Baghdad's Medical Forensic Institute - the mortuary - is a low, modern building reached via a narrow street. Most days it is filled with families of the dead. They come here for two reasons. One group, animated and noisy in grief, comes to collect its dead. The other, however, returns day after day to poke through the new cargoes of corpses ferried in by ambulance, looking for a face or clothes they might recognise. They are the relatives and friends of the 'disappeared', searching for their men. And when the disappeared are finally found, on the streets or in the city's massive rubbish dumps, or in the river, their bodies bear the all-too-telling signs of a savage beating, often with electrical cables, followed by the inevitable bullet to the head.
And there's this from Seymour Hersh -
"Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?" the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. "We founded them and we financed them," he said. "The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren't going to tell Congress about it." A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon's commando capabilities, said, "We're going to be riding with the bad boys."
And this from Bill Montgomery -
It's apparent - both from this story and from reports by human rights groups (note the date on that one) -- that the U.S. and U.K. embassies have been aware for some time that Iraq's Ministry of the Interior has been turned into what the old National Guard used to be in El Salvador, or the Presidential Intelligence Unit in Guatemala, or the National Directorate of Investigation in Honduras, which is to say: death squad central.

Truly, to quote Leonard - the psychotic recruit in Full Metal Jacket - we are in a world of shit.
And so we are.

The General also links on the BBC item on just what white phosphorous does to folks, and adds a photo. He says, "Let's not forget to revel in our God-like power to destroy cities with storms of fire and brimstone."

He then says, "I can't bear the thought of my grandson living in the world these bastards are creating. We have to do all we can to defeat them."

Satire is not appropriate.

Yeah, but this has been going on a long time.

We've been here before, with the same cast of characters.

See this from Newsweek last January -
The Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration's battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. ? One military source involved in the Pentagon debate suggests that new offensive operations are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."
And so we have. The death squads are back.

That Newsweek item was mentioned in these pages last January here, with the note that this time around we have to make sure we don't end up raping and killing any nuns, as American Catholics do vote. (El Salvador - December 2, 1980 - four American nuns are killed by a death squad in El Salvador - financed and armed by the United States - our key guy for El Salvador at the time was John Negroponte - see CNN here.)

John Negroponte? Montgomery reminds us -
"I'm pleased to announce my decision to nominate Ambassador John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence ? John brings a unique set of skills to these challenges."

George W. Bush
Nomination Ceremony
February 17, 2005

Among his more recent assignments, Mr. Negroponte was Ambassador to Honduras (1981-85).

U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Biography of John D. Negroponte

The DNI [National Directorate of Investigation] maintained a secret unit - the Honduran Anti-Communist Liberation Army (ELACH), a rightist paramilitary organization which conducted operations against Honduran leftists. According to DELETED, during the period ELACH operated (1980-1984), ELACH's operations included surveillance, kidnappings, interrogation under duress, and execution of prisoners who were Honduran revolutionaries.

CIA Inspector General's Office
Selected Issues Relating to CIA Activities in Honduras in the 1980s
August 27, 1997
And so on and so forth. Same crew. Same results.

John D. Negroponte - US ambassador to the United Nations from September of 2001 until June 2004 and US ambassador to Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005, and now Director of National Intelligence.

Why is "Patriot Boy" surprised?

Posted by Alan at 21:39 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005 21:58 PST home

Topic: Photos

Markers: Signs of Victory

When will we know we've won this war against those who hate our values?

Snapped by someone I know, just a few weeks ago, in Casablanca, Morocco -

Too bad the text is in French.

Posted by Alan at 17:36 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Monday, 21 November 2005

Topic: God and US

Deep Thoughts: Mondays With Murrow

When one no longer commutes to work but leads the life of an obscure minor writer and professional photographer (actually sold a few) in Hollywood, one doesn't often listen to what made creeping along in Los Angeles morning traffic tolerable - National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." There's no way to listen to that in this old Hollywood apartment building, built in the late sixties - the floors and load-bearing walls are poured concrete with reinforcing bar. Only KUSC, the classical music station, seems to be able to push its FM signal through all that, and the oldies station - but how much of the Beach Boys and the Supremes can one take? I never "got" Diana Ross. So mornings are the cable news shows murmuring in the background, reading the paper, and checking the news services and blogs on the net - and lots of black coffee and smoking the pipe.

But it seems you can miss a lot by not driving off into the sunrise each weekday to face the next systems problem and the crew of eager computer folk, listening to NPR so you don't have to think about servers and code and all that stuff before you get there.

What I missed? On April 4th of this NPR started a new Monday series, "This I Believe," and say this is a national project "that invites you to write about the core beliefs that guide your daily life." (No one asked here.)

NPR airs these "personal statements" each Monday on "Morning Edition" and again on the afternoon commute-show, "All Things Considered." And I see by their promo that series producers Dan Gediman and Jay Allison "hope to create a picture of the American spirit in all its rich complexity." Good luck with that.

But the cool thing is "This I Believe" (current version) is based on a fifties radio program of the same name, hosted by Edward R. Murrow. Murrow said his program sought "to point to the common meeting grounds of beliefs, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization." And who spoke on that program? Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller and Harry Truman - and corporate executives, and cab drivers, and scientists, and secretaries.

Jay Allison today - "As in the 1950s, this is a time when belief is dividing the nation and the world. We are not listening well, not understanding each other - we are simply disagreeing, or worse. Working in broadcast communication, there's a responsibility to change that, to cross borders, to encourage some empathy. That possibility is what inspires me about this series."

And these radio essays are going to bring us together?

Well, we are divided. Edward R. Murrow had Joseph McCarthy and all that that fellow stood for - McCarthy was the "us versus them" guy of his day. We have Bill O'Reilly and his new enemies list of people who are bad for America (and don't like him either). O'Reilly says he'll publish that soon. Americans will KNOW who the bad guys are. Joseph McCarthy shouted out "I have a list!" - Bill's doing the same.

NPR has its work cut out here. We are divided. O'Reilly and the whole Fox News network have mounted a campaign to end the oppression of Christians in this country and save Christmas from the secular overloads. See this for a discussion, or check out the new book by another Fox News anchor - John Gibson's The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought (Sentinel, October 2005). Bill says we need to get back to what the Founder Fathers intended (but ignores that they worked on Christmas Day 1776 and Christmas wasn't a national holiday before 1870).

And then there's that new Harry Potter film -
… no matter how skillfully the story gets told or how selfless, ethical and heroic Harry may be, it's impossible for me to invest myself in a series that glamorizes witchcraft.

… Even those in the "go with it" camp may find their patience tested with Goblet of Fire, the first film to warrant a PG-13 rating. It's extremely grim at times and even features the death of a Hogwarts student. I was amazed at the number of small children seated around me in the theater. At what point will moms and dads who've been saying "yes" to voracious young Potter fans decide that things have gone too far?
Yep witchcraft is a serious problem - always has been.

It's not just the war that divides the country, or social policy (those folks died in New Orleans because they chose to be poor). It's the fundamental stuff, the God stuff, the science stuff, and the sense that there are those who want to understand things and those who have faith and think understanding how things work undermines their chance to meet their savior in the sweet beyond.

It's the big stuff, and this NPR show, independently produced by This I Believe, Inc. in Louisville (that's Gediman and Allison) and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and supported by the Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Righteous Persons Foundation (Santa Monica, of course), may make things worse.

They will make things worse airing this sort of thing - Monday, November 21, 2005, There is No God by Penn Jillette.

You might remember Penn Jillette from his HBO series Bullshit - documentaries on the odd things people believe. It wasn't very nice to Creationists or "life style coaches" and many other folks. But it was funny. He just let them all talk.

Well, his NPR contribution gets right to this point -
I believe that there is no God. I'm beyond Atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy - you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do. You can't prove that there isn't an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word "elephant" includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?

So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power. All the people I write e-mails to often are still stuck at this searching stage. The Atheism part is easy.

But, this "This I Believe" thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life's big picture, some rules to live by. So, I'm saying, "This I believe: I believe there is no God."
And it all flows from that -
Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.

Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.
Who said one cannot be ethical without being deeply religious - it's impossible as religion is the sole source of all concepts of write and wrong? Dennis Praeger? Jillette says that's bullshit. In fact, he says the opposite is true.

And then there's this -
Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don't travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith." That's just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something.
Yes, it is hard to agree on reality - just what is what - when you cannot talk, or more precisely, when it is a given that no matter what one party says the other cannot and will not consider anything about it. How did Swift put it? - "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into."

And Jillette then turns the "personal responsibility" mantra of the evangelical Christian right on its head. Not believing in God makes you more responsible and forces you to deal with things. As in this -
Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.
This man is dangerous. He thinks we mere mortals here on earth can fix things - it's not in God's hands.

On the other hand, what he says may be a reply to this NPR segment on "What I Believe" - William F. Buckley, Jr. on May 23, 2005, How Is It Possible to Believe in God?

Buckley doesn't exactly answer the question, but he doesn't answer the question quite elegantly -
I've always liked the exchange featuring the excited young Darwinian at the end of the 19th century. He said grandly to the elderly scholar, "How is it possible to believe in God?" The imperishable answer was, "I find it easier to believe in God than to believe that Hamlet was deduced from the molecular structure of a mutton chop."

That rhetorical bullet has everything - wit and profundity.
You can almost hear Penn Jillette mutter the name of Jillette's old HBO series. Search high and low in everything Darwin wrote and you won't find any reference to Hamlet being the result of some process of natural selection. Darwin does not address why people write really good literature (or bad literature either), nor does he discuss cheeses or glass blowing. The "elderly scholar" just missed the point. But it's good enough for Buckley.

Then there's this -
It has more than once reminded me that skepticism about life and nature is most often expressed by those who take it for granted that belief is an indulgence of the superstitious - indeed their opiate, to quote a historical cosmologist most profoundly dead. Granted, that to look up at the stars comes close to compelling disbelief - how can such a chance arrangement be other than an elaboration - near infinite - of natural impulses? Yes, on the other hand, who is to say that the arrangement of the stars is more easily traceable to nature, than to nature's molder?
Let's unpack that. That "historical cosmologist" (Marx) is dead, so what does he know? Look at all them stars up there! Could be just a natural phenomenon, or could be a big design by God. Assume the latter. Why? Because it feels good to assume the latter? No, just because it's easier.

As in this -
This I believe: that it is intellectually easier to credit a divine intelligence than to submit dumbly to felicitous congeries about nature.
He just doesn't want to "submit" to the other concept - "felicitous congeries" - the idea that you can examine natural phenomena and see how things thing developed - this happened which caused this which cause that and then we got a sky full of stars. Yep, they're pretty, and that is felicitous of course. But empirical science - figuring out what happened from the evidence - here is something he call mere congeries - magic tricks.

I guess we shouldn't have had that Enlightenment.

And maybe I should listen to the radio a bit more.


Penn Jillette (on the left) on display in the offices down at the Goodyear Blimp - he took a ride and left a photo -

Edward R. Murrow on Hollywood Boulevard

Posted by Alan at 18:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005 18:40 PST home

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