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

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Sunday, 15 January 2006
Lots of Questions
Topic: Announcements

Lots of Questions

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 4, Number 3 for the week of Sunday, January 15, 2006 - is now available. This is weekly magazine-format site (an e-zine as they say) that is parent to this daily web log. What was first appeared here is there extended and corrected, and there are fresh columns and pages of high-resolution photographs.

This week, how is it we cannot agree on what we're disagreeing on? That's a matter of who gets to define terms. Just what is the subject? And just how does the media select which stories come first, and which get buried in the back pages, and which we shouldn't heard about - and what does the government do, or should it do, to keep a lid on things? And what is permissible discussion these days - what's playing fair and what isn't? And while we were all (or some of us) checking out what Judge Alito had to say, what about Iran, and Israel giving Pat Roberson the bum's rush, and a host of other matters elsewhere? And in the middle of all the week's events (don't use your cell phone) - just what is going on with the military, and what was that British fellow saying about our methods? It's all here, and so are some notes on a very odd science book, having nothing to do with currents events, but having everything to do with what happens every day.

The International Desk is dark this week. "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, is busy - deep in rebuilding his own website. But late Sunday afternoon he sent along a photo essay - about his annual visit to "The Old Iron Lady On The Champ De Mars." That will be added overnight.

Bob Patterson, as the World's Laziest Journalist, in this issue, wonders about fact checking, but there's no Book Wrangler this week. Bob is in Texas, sort of on assignment, and some of that Texas talk will appear in upcoming issues.

The photography pages this week explore the theater scene in Hollywood - where actual people appear in person on stage and you don't watch forty foot faces projected on a giant screen in large dark room smelling of popcorn. See where Marilyn Monroe performed, and more. And there's a page of some odd architectural details of Hollywood too - Art Deco meets Gothic, and more.

The quotes this week have to do with getting one's facts straight.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Defining Terms: He Who Defines the Terms Controls the Argument
Press Notes: Hazards Regarding Selecting What to Report
Playing Fair: Knowing the Rules and What's Permissible
Foreign Affairs: Idling at Home and Full Throttle Elsewhere
Editor's Choice: Hot News versus Military Matters

Book Notes ______________________

Books: The Velocity of Everydayness

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Picking The "What?" Out Of The Salad?

Southern California Photography ______________________

Working Hollywood: Little Theaters with Real People

Quotes for the week of January 15, 2006 – "Just the facts, ma'am..."

More to follow...

Posted by Alan at 16:10 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 15 January 2006 16:27 PST home

Saturday, 14 January 2006
Hollywood is Closed Today
Topic: Photos

Hollywood is Closed Today

No blog entries today - those will resume late Sunday. Today is a drive south, just ahead of the rain, to San Diego, for a party to welcome home our Major after his long tour of duty in Iraq. He missed Christmas so it's sort of a Christmas dinner too. So this is it for today.

The weekly parent site to this web log, the magazine-format Just Above Sunset, will also be posted around noon, Pacific Time, tomorrow. Along with a collection of photos of "working Hollywood" - the alternative small-stage theater scene here - there will be a page on Hollywood architectural details.

Here's a preview - the Hollywood First National Bank (6777 Hollywood Boulevard, at Highland), which shows up in the background of many photos in these pages, and in countless movies. It went up in 1927 - Meyer and Holler, the architects, also designed the famous Chinese Theater one block west. This thing, an odd combination of Gothic and Art Deco, was, at the time, the tallest building in Los Angeles (thirteen stories) - until the Los Angeles City Hall was built in 1932. It's a landmark, but as you see here, it's just so damned Hollywood. This was snapped at noon, Thursday, January 12th - before the rain.

Posted by Alan at 07:34 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 13 January 2006
Books: The Velocity of Everydayness
Topic: Science

Books: The Velocity of Everydayness

There is no Book Wrangler column in this weekend's issue of Just Above Sunset as that particular wrangler, columnist Bob Patterson, has left his Los Angeles haunts for a long weekend in Texas. He has one of the organization's digital cameras with him, so who knows what we'll see in the January 22nd issue? He mentioned nothing about dropping by Crawford to capture the presidential brush-clearing. Perhaps we'll get long vistas with cows. Perhaps not.

Wait! There's "an organization" here? Not really. We pretend there is.

In any event, in his absence it just seems wrong not to have a book column. So here it is, and it concerns The Velocity of Honey and More Science of Everyday Life, first published by Viking Canada in 2003, but being published down here by Thunder's Mouth Press. The official publication date is February 9, but the early reviews are trickling in. The author, Jay Ingram, is host of the Canadian Discovery Channel's Daily Planet, and given the word "more" in the book title, you need to know this is a sequel to his earlier How to Dunk a Doughnut: The Science of Everyday Life.

Ingram, although he has a master's degree in microbiology from the University of Toronto, also has a sly sense of humor. So we've moved from the science how to dunk a doughnut - too many hours at Tim Horton's, no doubt - to calculating the velocity of honey. This is odd stuff.

So what is the science behind the theory of "six degrees of separation" and how do stones "skip" - and why does toast fall butter side down, and why does time seem to speed up as one grows older? And too, when visiting a new place, why does getting there always seem to take so much longer than returning home? There are twenty-four chapters, or "short meditations" if you will, on such things in this second book.

As Diana Lutz notes in her review in American Scientist, you might call the book "crossword puzzles for the scientifically minded - they offer a mental workout for its own sake but also soothe and amuse." In fact, Ingram calls this volume "a self-help book " -essays to "reduce stress" and offer "a brief interruption in the ridiculous rush of life."

Given the news of the week covered elsewhere in the pages, that's a good thing. If he's going to explain the physics of the way paper crumples and crackles when it is squeezed, then this makes sense. That's just what happens with the Los Angeles Times here some mornings.

But he's Canadian, so we do get a bit on the sport of curling. He wonders about those twenty-kilo "rocks" they use. As Lutz summarizes -
An upside-down drinking glass, rotating clockwise as it slides down a bar, begins to curve left. Why, then, does the curling rock curve right under similar circumstances? This question is harder to answer than you might think. The mechanism might have to do with the build-up of ice chips under the rock as it plows across the ice, which could conceivably also be what makes it growl (yes, rocks growl), but nobody knows for sure.
It's not the Molson's? Fascinating.

Other issues? Can you make yourself wake up at a predetermined time? (Seems so here.) Do you have a sixth sense that allows you to perceive objects in your path even in total darkness? (That's easy. No, you use one of the five, your sense of hearing, and he suggests hissing while you move your hand slowly closer to your face. You'll get the idea.)

But the scary part concerns why, as we get older, the years seem to go by faster and faster. There are real experiments that suggest an explanation for this - as we age, our biological clocks run slower and, since our clocks are running slower, the world seems to speed up. Lutz says Ingram describes a man with a brain tumor that affected his biological clock - and the fellow quit driving and watching television because traffic seemed to be rushing at him at an incomprehensible speed and television screeched on faster than he could follow. When I get a copy of the book I'll skip that chapter, as that may be happening here now. The bottom line is that when you're twenty, your life is half over, given how your "biological clock" works. Somehow that feels right.

Until you get you copy of the book, you might want to check out this radio interview (audio link and transcript) with Ingram from Living on Earth, November 18, 2005. The host is Steve Curwood.

Here's a bit -
CURWOOD: Okay, how fast is honey?

INGRAM: Well, it depends on the height you're dropping it onto your toes. The higher it is, the faster it's going to fall. It also coils up in a really interesting way on your toes, too. You know, honey dripping on toes is just one of the many everyday experiences that has really interesting science in it.
Yeah, but he doesn't explain it.

He does explain toast always hitting the floor butter-side down -
It's actually a very simple answer and that is - it really has to do with the height of the table above the floor.

Most kitchen tables where you're eating you're eating your toast are about the same height. And here's the thing: if the toast tips off the edge of the table, then it starts to rotate, so when it's rotating, if you gave it enough time, it could rotate a full 360 and land butter-side up and you'd be okay.

Or, if the kitchen table were just inches above the floor, the toast could tilt but not quite fall over. It will rotate less than 90 degrees and settle back so that it was still butter-side up. And it turns out that toast falling off the edge of a table and rotating, if it's a typical table, doesn't have enough time to do a full 360 and will land butter-side down.
Oh. The intelligent design people would say it was God determining this all - the toast always landing upside down is a mini-Job trial for us all. Science it seems, can explain lots of things. Even the most mundane.

And there's this -
CURWOOD: (LAUGHS) But wait a second, you're saying scientists sit around studying which side toast is going to land on when it goes off the table?

INGRAM: Yeah, so there's two ways of reacting to this. One, I detect in your voice, a kind of arching of the eyebrows. "What? Scientists do this?" But you know, scientists have senses of humor too, and I'm quite sure that those scientists who've investigated this are doing it partly to collect the data because it's kind of interesting; partly just to amuse themselves and, hopefully, others.
Science is fun? Well it can be. Except for the "Are You Staring At Me?" chapter. Check that out in the interview. If somebody's stares at you, do you generally interpret it as a threatening gesture? The experiment is strange, and disturbing.

And there's this on the time passing business -
Well, we all know, if we've been living long enough, as you get older time seems to move more quickly. And, you know, I think this is pretty common. You remember summer vacation when you were in grade 6 or grade 5? It seemed to take forever. Well, summer vacations now you barely catch your breath before you have start work again in the fall.

One of the questions is why does this happen? And it seems that one of our biological clocks in our brain slows down with age, just as many things slow down. And with a slower clock, more events seem to happen in a given time, so it feels like time is moving faster. The more interesting aspect, though, to me, is just how much faster is it?

And a guy named Robert Lemlich came up with an equation in the mid-70s or so, and he argued that... here's the really depressing part of this: Let's say that you're 40 right now, and you're going to live to 80. So you feel like, "hey, I've got half my life ahead of me." Lemlich says, well, you may have literally another 40 years, half your life, but it's not going to feel like that. And he did some calculations and showed that when you're 40 time is probably seeming to pass by, subjective time is going twice as fast as it did when you were ten. On that basis, you've really actually already lived more than 70 percent of your subjective life. So, you think you have half your life left; it's only going to feel like 30 percent of your life. And by the time you're 60, that 20 years is only going to feel like 13 percent of your life.
Yipes! And the he quotes the nineteenth century British poet Robert Southey - "Live as long as you may, the first twenty years are the longest half of your life. They appear so while they're passing, they seem to have been when we look back on them, and they take up more room in our memory than all the years that succeed them."

Damn, that's cold. Time doesn't really fly when you're having fun. It just flies, faster and faster and faster. Not fair!

Ah well. Time to hunt down this book.


Note: This is the age of the internet. Jay Ingram's blog is here.

Posted by Alan at 20:08 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 12 January 2006
Editor's Choice: Hot News versus Military Matters
Topic: The Media

Editor's Choice: Hot News versus Military Matters

Thursday, January 12th, being a Thursday, was set aside for the usual - a photo shoot for the weekend edition of Just Above Sunset, the weekly parent to this daily web log. Driving around Hollywood, camera at the ready, seeking the unusual - and the last day of the Alito hearings burbled way on the car radio, or at least the last day of questioning. There will be one more day for "witnesses," who will say he's a fine fellow, or not. The Democrats have some grumpy people lined up. Alito won't be there. But the general consensus is the man will take his seat on the Supreme Court (one of the many "consensus" stories here, as if it matters). He revealed little, and nothing dramatic happened - his wife didn't leave in tears and no senators shouted at each other, as they did the previous day. Ah well, the questions were good, and the answers extraordinarily careful and masterfully non-committal.

But there was much talk, in the breaks, of this - "Supreme Court nominees are so mum about the major legal issues at their Senate confirmation hearings that the hearings serve little purpose and should probably be abandoned, Democratic Senator Joe Biden said Thursday."

So the Senator from Delaware, with that goofy smile and the too-perfect teeth, just up and said it. This was all a waste of time. Good for him. It's often said that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, and this did seem to be a lot of strutting and striking valiant poses, and making what passes for splendid speeches these days, in one of these few times the members of this judiciary committee ever get a national television audience. They played it for all it was worth. Alito just seemed glum. It wasn't his show.

So those of us who follow politics and policy didn't really have to listen. Joe said so. Good. The jazz station from Long Beach was doing a lot of old Horace Silver stuff. Much better.

There was other news. There was what had been knocking around the bottom of many a news page for days, first flagged by the Chicago Police. Did you know that for between ninety and a hundred dollars you can get the cell phone records for any cell phone in America? If you have the name, and the number (or sometimes just the name), you can get a list of all outgoing and incoming calls for anyone at all.

No. That couldn't be true. But it is, as here this fellow plunked down 89.95 and purchased the cell phone records of General Wesley Clark, who was one of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination last time around. The fellow called the general and confirmed that the records were just what they seemed. The calls placed are all there, with area codes and location and duration. And the incoming calls are all there. The fellow is now working on buying the cell phone records of George Stephanopoulos, the former Clinton aide who hosts the ABC "This Week" show, and those of the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, and the New York Time's Adam Nagourney. Investigative journalism just got baroque - everyone will know who is talking to whom, and the date, and the length of the call.

Who needs the NSA? Well, unlike the case with the NSA, those who buy these records won't know just what was said.

The other implications? There may be a few more divorces. Suspicious spouses won't even need to hire a private investigator. And will folks use their cell phones less? Will we see a return of pay phones, and phone booths? Who knows? Expect legislation. The cell phone is too much a part of everyone's life these days.

Still, this is curious. Privacy is for those who are very careful.

But putting all that aside, the most interesting stories of the day, other than those hearings and this cell phone business, were military.

There was this - one of our generals invoked his right not to incriminate himself in a court-martial of two soldiers who maintain that they were ordered to use dogs on prisoners at Abu Ghraib. There is, of course, the military, JAG equivalent of "taking the Fifth." You cannot be expected to testify to something that may implicate you in a crime -
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, a central figure in the U.S. detainee-abuse scandal, this week invoked his right not to incriminate himself in court-martial proceedings against two soldiers accused of using dogs to intimidate captives at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, according to lawyers involved in the case.

The move by Miller - who once supervised the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and helped set up operations at Abu Ghraib - is the first time the general has given an indication that he might have information that could implicate him in wrongdoing, according to military lawyers.

Harvey Volzer, an attorney for one of the dog handlers, has been seeking to question Miller to determine whether Miller ordered the use of military working dogs to frighten detainees during interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Volzer has argued that the dog handlers were following orders when the animals were used against detainees.

Miller's decision came shortly after Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the commanding officer at Abu Ghraib, accepted immunity from prosecution this week and was ordered to testify at upcoming courts-martial. Pappas, a military intelligence officer, could be asked to detail high-level policies relating to the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib.
The implications are obvious. Someone is not buying the "few bad apples" theory of how all this happened. We've moved into the realm of policy, and the higher-ups are covering their asses, and Pappas may sing so he doesn't face charges. How high will this go? The torture and abuse policy came from the top down, from Rumsfeld himself?

That would be interesting. This doesn't bode well for the administration.

From the Post article - "'It would seem in light of General Miller's invocation that there's more fire than smoke in terms of whether or not there was an authorized use of unlawful force,' said David P. Sheldon, an expert on military law."

More fire than smoke is not good for the administration, at least for Rumsfeld.

Here's some perspective -
The notion that torture and detainee abuse would appear spontaneously at various locations around Iraq and Afghanistan, with common methods used throughout, always defied common sense. And yet it worked. If you wanted to list the people with real responsibility for what happened, for example Donald Rumsfeld, who by definition holds ultimate responsibility for the conduct of US armed forces, you'll find a complete vacuum of accountability. Like a mafia family, it seemed like once you're 'made' nothing but death or betrayal can bring you down. On top of the list of folks whose resignations seem long overdue is Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who oversaw prison operations in Iraq during the worst of the abuse. Especially damning is the possibility that Miller was brought to Iraq specifically to promote this kind of behavior at US detention facilities.
Yeah, he was an artillery officer with no experience in running detention centers, but he got lots of information from the folks we held. It was all crap, but the volume of information was amazing. It looked good. And now he's shut up. He's not talking, for good reason.

More perspective on Miller here from Andrew Sullivan
He's the key figure in the decision to introduce torture and abuse of detainees in the U.S. military. He's the one who set up the abuse program at Guantanamo Bay and was then sent by Rumsfeld to "Gitmoize" Abu Ghraib. He's the one who told General Karpinski to treat detainees "like dogs." He's the one who organized the framing of Muslim chaplain James Yee, after once confiding in Yee that he had problems with Muslims in general. As usual, the Bush administration has done all it can to protect Miller, because he could explain who, higher up in the administration, sanctioned torture and abuse. Secure that no one in the real chain of command would contradict him, Miller has, in the past, cooperated with Pentagon investigations. Even so, the Fay report concluded that he had recommended policies that contravened the Geneva Conventions, which were supposed to apply in Iraq.
And he's not talking.

From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis - "He isn't? Why not, then, torture him? If he's got a good reason not to talk he must know something interesting. Toss him in Leavenworth until he spills! Pull out his fingernails."

Leavenworth (Kansas) is home to both the famous prison and the US Army General Staff College. Make up you own comment on that.

As for Pappas, the commanding officer at Abu Ghraib, accepting immunity from prosecution this week, Jeralyn Merritt here digs up this from June 2004 in USA Today. This concerns Army Lieutenant Coronal Steven Jordan, the top military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib who oversaw interrogations, and summarizes what he said a sworn statement regarding one of our "ghost detainees" who had died while being interrogated -
One of these detainees died under questioning, a death that has become subject of an internal CIA investigation. Jordan said Pappas was concerned about such a development and demanded a memorandum of understanding with the agency. Jordan quoted Pappas as saying, "Well, if I go down, I'm not going down alone. The guys from Langley are going with me."
This should be interesting.

But this was minor story. If it eventually brings down Rumsfeld and Cheney, and exposes the real guidelines - the "bad apples" were ordered to do what they did as a matter of secret prohibited-by-treaty-and-law policy - then the media will fit it in somewhere. Fox News will cover the missing white woman in Aruba. She's still missing.

But the oddest story to get play, against all this, is rather old. Perhaps this is because of a new poll - it seems only about nineteen percent of Americans think Iraqis can assemble a sound, democratic government in the next twelve months - one that is able to maintain order without our help. Seventy-five percent said they didn't believe that would ever happen. Bummer.

So when a senior British officer calls the US Army "its own worst enemy," people sit up and take notice. Maybe there's another way to get this whole thing back on track.

This first got press notice in The Guardian (UK) and the Sidney Morning Herald, and the story was picked up by the Washington Post (here, here and here , respectively).

The Guardian said "what is startling is the severity of his comments - and the decision by Military Review, a US army magazine, to publish them." Well, Military Review is printed bi-monthly in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and quarterly in Arabic. Only twelve thousand copies are distributed. This is an obscure publication, or was until now.

You can read the whole thing here - item 2 - Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency Operations (.PDF format and fourteen dense pages). It has two editorial disclaimers up top -
- A virtue of having coalition partners with a legacy of shared sacrifice during difficult military campaigns is that they can also share candid observations. Such observations are understood to be professional exchanges among friends to promote constructive discussion that can improve the prospects of the coalition successes for which all strive. It was in a constructive spirit, then, that this article was made available to Military Review. The article is a professional commentary by an experienced officer based on his experiences and background. It should also be understood that publishing this article does not imply endorsement of or agreement with its observations by the Combined Arms Center leadership or Military Review. Indeed, some comments are already dated and no longer valid. Nonetheless, this article does provide Military Review readers the thought-provoking assessments of a senior officer with significant experience in counterterrorism operations. And it is offered in that vein - to stimulate discussion.

- This is a reprint of an article originally published in the "Seaford House Papers" and retains its original punctuation, spelling, grammar, and paragraphing. The views herein do not reflect those of the United Kingdom, the US Army, or Military Review.
That's a warning about more than the spelling, grammar, and paragraphing. The magazine, the Army, and the British government are washing their hands of this, although the magazine prints it. It's something to talk about.

The Guardian says what this Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster says reflects criticism and frustration voiced by British commanders of American military tactics. And he was the second most senior officer responsible for training Iraqi security forces. A Brigadier, by the way, is the equivalent of a one-star here.

What the verdict?

Plus: American soldiers were "almost unfailingly courteous and considerate."

Minus: At times "their cultural insensitivity, almost certainly inadvertent, arguably amounted to institutional racism."

Plus: The US army is imbued with an unparalleled sense of patriotism, duty, passion and talent.

Minus: "Yet it seemed weighed down by bureaucracy, a stiflingly hierarchical outlook, a predisposition to offensive operations and a sense that duty required all issues to be confronted head-on."

And he says our Army has a wonderful "can-do" approach - but that leads directly to another trait, "damaging optimism."

Optimism isn't always realistic or good? Phone George and tell him.

The idea is all this "is unhelpful if it discourages junior commanders from reporting unwelcome news up the chain of command."

The idea here is what the Brits have long said - US military commanders have failed to train and educate their soldiers in the art of counter-insurgency operations and the need to cultivate the "hearts and minds" of the local population.

Yeah, yeah. The Brits did well is Basra because they knew this stuff from dealing with Northern Ireland and all that. But Basra went sour too.

Our officers rag on the Brits for being too reluctant to use force - and their officers say all we want to do is "to kill or capture all terrorists and insurgents: they saw military destruction of the enemy as a strategic goal in its own right." Yeah, all we know how to do is that - "the US army has developed over time a singular focus on conventional warfare, of a particularly swift and violent kind."

But we think it works. This guy says "such an unsophisticated approach, ingrained in American military doctrine, is counter-productive, exacerbating the task the US faced by alienating significant sections of the population."

From The Guardian -
What he calls a sense of "moral righteousness" contributed to the US response to the killing of four American contractors in Fallujah in the spring of 2004. As a "come-on" tactic by insurgents, designed to provoke a disproportionate response, it succeeded, says the brigadier, as US commanders were "set on the total destruction of the enemy".

He notes that the firing on one night of more than 40 155mm artillery rounds on a small part of the city was considered by the local US commander as a "minor application of combat power". Such tactics are not the answer, he says, to remove Iraq from the grip of what he calls a "vicious and tenacious insurgency".
So what is the answer?

Colonel Kevin Benson, director of the US Army's School Of Advanced Military Studies, told the Post the brigadier was an "insufferable British snob." But he took that back. He said he was just upset. He's going to write a response.

The Post notes that Lieutenant General David Petraeus - the man who "runs much of the Army's educational establishment, and also oversees Military Review" - said he doesn't agree with many of this guy's assertions, but "he is a very good officer, and therefore his viewpoint has some importance, as we do not think it is his alone."

Nope it isn't his alone. The Guardian notes that General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of their army, told their MPs in April 2004 just as our forces attacked Fallujah - "We must be able to fight with the Americans. That does not mean we must be able to fight as the Americans."

Is this all "inside baseball" - and not really news?

Not when General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Thursday, January 12th, issues a public statement, as reported here. He calls the critique "very helpful" "in opening debate but "off the mark" because we're not too centralized. And as for the rest - "If only one percent of what he said turned out to be something that needs to be adjusted to, then we are all better off for it."

Rumsfeld said he had not read the article, but he said - "Broad sweeping generalizations of that type need to be supported by information." He doesn't believe any of it?

Okay, time to reread the Graham Greene novel about Vietnam - all about "damaging optimism." That's what made The Quiet American so dangerous, after all.

Well, optimistically, this Alito fellow will be just fine on the Supreme Court, and listen and think things through and be fair. And the cell phone thing will be straightened out, as more and more folks buy the detailed phone records of their congressmen and senators. And in Iraq we'll move from playing "whack-a-mole" and figure out how to get that place up and running so we can move on.

Or maybe not.


By the way, from the photo shoot mentioned up top, a narrative photo (every picture tells a story?) - the Stella Adler Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, Thursday, January 12, 2006, about noon. Note the lower left.

Posted by Alan at 21:35 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 13 January 2006 13:04 PST home

Wednesday, 11 January 2006
Idling at Home and Full Throttle Elsewhere
Topic: Breaking News

Idling at Home and Full Throttle Elsewhere

As of Wednesday, January 11th, news on the domestic front was all rehash, or is that variations on a theme? There was no big news on the congressional scandals, and the media was full of "backgrounders" on Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay. Arial Sharon was not dead, nor was the surviving miner, and there were a few SNL-like "Generalissimo France is Not Dead" stories running here and there. The Alito hearings were in their third day (a reasonable summary here) - Senators Spector and Kennedy got is a shouting match of sorts, the nominee's wife rushed out in tears, but this was a dodgeball game and the nominee dodged most of what was thrown at him. There was lots of posturing and not much substance. There was, really, no substance. The headline of the day was above the Elisabeth Bumiller New York Times item - But Enough About You, Judge; Let's Hear What I Have to Say. It was a day of the expected.

The action was on the international stage, as the day here in Hollywood opened with an email from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, with startling news -
Radio FIP just announced (14h50) that Johnny Hallyday, monumental 'National Rocker' of France, has applied for Belgian citizenship. Born as Jean-Philippe Smet, possibly in Belgium, Johnny became French in 1961. Johnny is 63 years old and is expected to grow up any day now.

But then, Hallyday has been in a bad mood, given this -
PARIS, Jan 4 (AFP) - France's best-loved veteran rock and roll star Johnny Hallyday has quit Universal records after 43 years to join rival Warner Music, the company announced Wednesday.

Hallyday, who at 62 still dons his trademark leather and performs with the vitality of someone half his age, left Universal after a bitter battle to win possession of some 1,000 master copies of his popular songs dating back to 1961.

The best-selling artist, once dubbed the French Elvis Presley, now plans to release his first album on the Warner label in the autumn, the head of Warner Music France, Thierry Chassagne, told AFP.

... In April, the Paris appeals court threw out Hallyday's bid to gain possession of 1,000 valuable master copies of his songs from Universal, overturning an earlier court decision and angering the French rocker.
So he's taking his black leather jacket and leaving. That Paris appeals court decision was the last straw?

And now France has lost Johnny Hallyday. One imagines a bit of a collective "Gallic shrug."

The other international news was not so fluffy, as John O'Neil reported in the New York Times - Leading Shiite Says He Will Oppose Changes to Iraqi Charter.

Here's the deal
Iraq's most powerful Shiite leader today rejected making major changes to the new constitution, dealing a blow to Sunni Arab hopes of amending the charter to avoid being shut out of the nation's vast oil wealth.

Sunni Arabs were reluctant to sign on to the constitution last fall, fearing that provisions granting wide powers to autonomous regions would leave oil in the hands of Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south. The Sunnis dominate in western and much of northwestern and north-central Iraq, but the oil lies beneath Kurdistan and portions of southern Iraq that one day may be subsumed in a similar semi-independent region controlled by Shiites.

As a carrot for the Sunni Arabs, the constitution was amended before its successful October referendum so legislators elected in the national ballot last month could alter it with a two-thirds vote. Some Shiites also voiced a willingness to negotiate with Sunnis on amendments to the charter.

But today Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, vowed to give no ground on crucial portions of the constitution.
The whole idea was that the post-election Iraqi government would agree to constitutional amendments that would address Sunni Arab frustration with Iraq's political structure. The Bush speech the day before (here) had a section on how disagreement is really, really bad and the Shiites and Sunni has better stop fighting with each other about all the small stuff. Our position is we're going to get a unified national government over there, an inclusive one - and we've been applying pressure for that. We were just told, by the guys who won, to butt out.

Matthew Yglesias points out here that the SCIRI leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is basically saying no deal - "the constitution as written passed fair and square in a referendum and he likes the status quo just fine."

Yglesias - "And it seems to me that he's entitled to do so. But if the Iraqi government doesn't want to implement the Bush administration's political strategy in Iraq, then what's the point in extending an open-ended military commitment to that government? If American leaders and Iraqi leaders disagree as to what should be done, as seems to be the case, why not go our separate ways?"

Not likely.

Another view? Ron Beasley - And Let The Civil War Begin.

They're setting up the battle lines -
Mr. Hakim appeared to rule out in particular any change in the constitution's provisions allowing the creation of strong regional provinces, a point that had angered many Sunnis.

"It is our responsibility to form Baghdad provinces and southern Iraq provinces," Mr. Hakim said.
And the north (Kurds) and west (Sunnis) can go pound sand. There's lots of it there.

So let's see here. One side wins an election filled with questions about the vote count and election fraud of various sorts, and the losing side, formerly in power, is really unhappy. Rather than trying to draw them into a cooperative government where everyone gets at least a little say, and some respect, the winners just cut them out of everything and do what they want, twisting the knife and reminding them of what losers they are. And they do this gerrymandering thing - the real power is in selected regions.

Who do these SCIRI guys think they are, Republicans? Bush, as Rove's man, is surprised by this? They are simply replicating the Republican playbook. They learned from the masters.

Of course, over there, there may be a civil war. As least there will be suicide bombings and other mayhem. Here, the "losers," when they cannot get even thirty seconds on Fox News, will accept the idea they really are losers - or run John Kerry again and prove it. We had our civil war back in the nineteenth century. No more of that.

Ah well, and the there's this -
Western powers have stepped up their warnings that Iran's resumption of nuclear research will probably result in referral to the UN Security Council.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said European ministers meeting on Thursday would decide how to proceed, but taking the matter to the UN looks "likely".

A US State Department spokesman agreed it was now "more likely than ever".

But Iran's leader dismissed the threat. He said the research would go on despite the Western "fuss".

Tehran says it broke the UN seals on the Natanz nuclear research facility on Tuesday because it wants to produce electricity, not because it is pursuing nuclear weapons.
Right. And the BBC here also provides this timeline -
Sept 2002: Work begins on Iran's first reactor at Bushehr
Dec 2002: Satellites reveal Arak and Natanz sites triggering IAEA inspections
Nov 2003: Iran suspends uranium enrichment and allows tougher inspections
June 2004: IAEA rebukes Iran for not fully co-operating
Nov 2004: Iran suspends enrichment under deal with EU
Aug 2005: Iran rejects EU plan and re-opens Isfahan plant
Jan 2006: Iran re-opens Natanz facility
This was coming.

So there will be lots of turmoil at the UN, and maybe sanctions. There were ten years of sanction on Iraq, and estimates that millions died for lack of medicine and clean drinking water and all the rest, and Saddam Hussein didn't give a hoot, and in fact got rich gaming the sanctions. So this will work?

We may have hoped Israel would take out the Iranian reactors and centrifuges - Cheney hinted again and again, with a sly smile, that might happen - but with Sharon in hospital and not a factor any longer, and the Israeli government in some sort of holding pattern, we may have to do this ourselves. We don't do sanctions happily, and treat the UN as a snake pit of useless, corrupt fools, as everyone saw with this current war against their advice, and with our sending John Bolton there to piss on everyone's shoes. Will we bypass the UN again, after a show of "international cooperation" - and send in the precision bombs?

Our columnist Bob Patterson sent along this item - Der Spiegel and the German news agency DDP reporting CIA Director Porter Goss asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide "full intelligence cooperation" for a possible air strike on Iran's nuclear and military facilities.

They say Goss, at a meeting December 12th, provided Turkey with three dossiers containing "evidence" Tehran is cooperating with al Qaeda, and information on what "we knew" of the current status of Iran's weapons programs. Maybe we got it right this time.

German security sources, it seems, say Goss assured Erdogan that Turkey would be alerted to any air strikes a few hours before they were launched. And as a carrot, Goss also gave the Turkish government the "green light" to strike the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iran - which would please them.

One never knows. This would not be a move that would raise our standing in the Middle East from its nadir now. (Note: Nadir: c.1391, in astronomical sense, from Middle Latin nadir, from Arabic nazir "opposite to," in nazir as-samt, lit. "opposite of the zenith," from nazir "opposite" + as-samt "zenith". Use as the "lowest point (of anything)" first recorded in 1793.) We're already seen as bullies who smash other people's things to get what we want, or smash other people's things when we feel threatened. And the SCIRI guys, who won the elections in Iraq, friendly with Iran now, would be ticked. We've given new meaning to the word "nadir." Expect a Holy War.

Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz clearly had the idea we'd have our short Iraq war, turn the place over the Ahmed Chalabi and his merry band of Americanized exiles, and be out in six months - and then be able to turn to Iran. That didn't work out.

Now we do something about this Iran problem and tick off the guys we helped to power and who we expect to get Iraq organized, and piss off most of the Shiite nations in the region, and appall the rest of the world - or we don't, and Iran has the bomb.

This is a mess. It's a puzzle with no good solution, and maybe without any solution at all.


On a lighter note, last weekend in Changes (Just when you thought you knew the players and the rules...) you'd find a discussion of this - everyone's favorite born-again, end-times-are-coming, evangelical hyper-Christian, Pat Robertson, and the Israeli government, were developing a Jesus theme park in Israel.

Yes, he said Ariel Sharon has the massive stroke because God was punishing him for the Gaza pullout. Sharon was giving God's land to those Palestinians, and they we're God's people - and God was obviously pissed off. He has some curious ideas about God and Israel. But the theme park was going to happen.

But then, is Pat Robertson's world view really mainstream?

Consider this from Pew Research -
Fully 44% of Americans believe that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people while a substantial minority (36%) thinks that "the state of Israel is a fulfillment of the biblical prophecy about the second coming of Jesus." White evangelical Protestants and, to a lesser degree, African-Americans accept both of these propositions. Significantly fewer white Catholics and mainline Protestants believe Israel was granted to the Jews by God or think that Israel represents a fulfillment of the Bible's prophecy of a second coming.
Andrew Sullivan, deep in writing a book on such matters, adds this -
When a poll of all adults finds over a third holding the view that the state of Israel is fulfilling the prophecy of the imminent Second Coming, you can see that pre-millenarianism is not some fringe idea, touted by Robertson. It's fundamentalist orthodoxy. Robertson is cruel and tactless, and many evangelicals would agree. Their compassion forbids them from making personal attacks as Robertson does. But he didn't make up his theology. And it's mainstream.
It may be mainstream, but the folks in Israel aren't happy about it, as your see here (AP - 8:14 a.m. ET January 11, 2006) -
Israel won't do business with Pat Robertson after the evangelical leader suggested Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's massive stroke was divine punishment, a tourism official said Wednesday, putting into doubt plans to develop a large Christian tourism center in northern Israel.

Avi Hartuv, spokesman for Israel's tourism minister, said officials are furious with Robertson's suggestion that the stroke was retribution for Sharon's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer. "We can't accept this kind of statement," Hartuv said.

... "We will not do business with him, only with other evangelicals who don't back these comments," Hartuv said. "We will do business with other evangelical leaders, friends of Israel, but not with him."
But the same day the Rapture Index was up three points, to 154 - the end is near, or nearer, and the Jews who haven't converted are likely to die in great torment! These folks should watch it. Don't mess with Pat.

Readers react...

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
Israel won't do business with Pat Robertson?

Hey, did I say it here and it came out there, or what?

The fact that Robertson, who we hear is so famously tight with the whole situation, didn't see this coming makes me think he, for some reason, set himself up for this fall.

"Fully 44% of Americans believe that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people ... you can see that pre-millenarianism is not some fringe idea, touted by Robertson."

Maybe so, but that is not what Robertson said.

Instead of implying that God gave the land to the Jewish people, Robertson said God didn't like it when folks started giving away HIS land - the implication being that the land still belongs to God.
This all makes God sound like some (pardon the politically incorrectness of this term) "Indian Giver!"

Seems to me if God didn't like the plan as outlined by Sharon, he should've hired a lawyer to search the deeds in the county courthouse, rather than just smiting the guy and doing him bodily harm.

"... while a substantial minority (36%) thinks that 'the state of Israel is a fulfillment of the biblical prophecy about the second coming of Jesus.'"

I may be wrong but I think this substantial minority is confused about the theology.

It seems to me all those "End-Timers" who take this crap seriously do NOT believe modern Israel is the fulfillment of the prophecy - one reason why they distinguish between the "Israelis" of modern times and the "Israelites" of the bible - but that the fulfillment will have to wait until something else or other (I forget what) happens first.

Anybody? Any evangelicals who can straighten me out on this?
Well, yes, sort of. Andrews Sullivan researching his book on these things offers this -
Here's a document from some evangelical leaders specifically attacking the notion that the current state of Israel is Biblically mandated. These leaders differ from the increasingly popular and now mainstream fundamentalist notion of the End-Time, the Rapture, and the role that a unified and expansionary Israel will play in such a moment. Evangelical Protestantism is not monolithic, but the dispensationalists are clearly gaining ground, as the astonishing success of the "Left Behind" books shows. I should add that dispensationalism is a relatively recent development. Like much that now passes for ancient truth (like the Catholic church's insistence on the human person present in the zygote), its origins are actually very modern. In this new and modern brand of absolutist faith, the more extreme Christian fundamentalists are similar to many Islamic fundamentalists.
Maybe that helps. Crazy folks on both sides.

In any event, our high-powered Wall Street attorney notes Rick in Atlanta saying, "Seems to me if God didn't like the plan as outlined by Sharon, he should've hired a lawyer to search the deeds in the county courthouse, rather than just smiting the guy and doing him bodily harm."

He says - "But smiting is such good sport these days!"

Rick in Atlanta -
Not only that, it's quicker and simpler than going through the legal system. And when you consider all those billable hours you don't have to pay for, it's also much cheaper - which is one reason it's the path so often taken by drug dealers and jealous husbands. But still, this doesn't make it right!

We should heed the recent wisdom of Sam Alito here when he opined that nobody but nobody is above the law!
From Wall Street - "I like billable hours, but then I'm on the other side of the equation! God bless America!"

From Atlanta - "Yeah, I had you in mind when I wrote that. I hope I didn't queer the deal; I think you and God probably had a pretty strong case."

Okay. Enough. The Rapture Index just jumped six points. We're supposed to take this seriously.

In any event, while the news in the United States was essentially static, the international news was, shall we say, dynamic.

When Bush and his team came to power five years ago it seems their way of dealing with the difficulties in this sorry world was to shake things up real good and see what happened. So we're finding out what happens. Never a dull moment these days.

Posted by Alan at 21:40 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 12 January 2006 06:43 PST home

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