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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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Monday, 16 January 2006
King Day: 'His voice was like a furnace of optimism, trying to triumph over despair.'
Topic: Race

King Day: 'His voice was like a furnace of optimism, trying to triumph over despair.'

Some thoughts, as this odd holiday draws to a close... Martin Luther King Day, Monday, January 16, 2006, was, as usual, low-key. Government offices, schools and the markets were closed, but most everyone was at work, and as with all holidays, there were the sales at the malls. There aren't many American holidays where folks attend to just what is being noted. Actually there are none, save, perhaps, Christmas Day. Easter is a Sunday so that is a different thing. The Fourth of July brings fireworks, so that's special. Thanksgiving is overeating and watching the Detroit Lions lose another game. All the others are just a day off, for some.

Here in Los Angeles we did have the King Day Parade in the Crenshaw District, kicking off the month-long celebration, in February, of African-American heritage, Black History Month. And our conspicuously Hispanic new mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, said this, "I have said that if it were not for Tom Bradley, Martin Luther King and the civil-rights movement, I would not be standing here today. A good number of us sitting here - women and people of color - every one of us were blessed by the sacrifices and courage and the indomitable spirit of Rosa Parks and the courage of Martin Luther King."

Something did change in the sixties, and change again on April 4, 1968, when King was assassinated, and the riots followed. Something was getting fixed and then something was broken.

With this Martin Luther King Day we got, from Taylor Branch, his third and final volume of the King years, At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68. This was the lead review in the Los Angeles Times Sunday book review. Anne-Marie O'Connor not only comments on the book, but got Taylor Branch on the phone.

Taylor Branch writes in this new book that at the time the war in Vietnam "was foundering" and antiwar sentiment was spreading, and the civil-rights struggle "was taking aim at the last vestiges of American feudalism, challenging segregation and the kind of institutionalized racism that fueled an FBI smear campaign against King." Yep, the FBI was all over him. And Taylor Branch says by phone -
Race was, and is, still scary to a lot of people. King's enemies knew that he spoke to a lot of people, and a lot of people agreed with him. He was mesmerizing, because of the timbre of his voice and his words. His voice was like a furnace of optimism, trying to triumph over despair. He defined something that was strong enough to offer hope in the face of suffering.

He was living in a time when people got lynched for almost nothing, and there was no expectation there was going to be justice. Black people were largely invisible. To be a symbol of that hope over despair is an amazing thing.
Yes. Some of us remember that, even those of us who were white kids in junior high at the time. And O'Connor quotes Clarence Jones, King's onetime attorney - "Taylor wasn't there. He was an outsider, a white Southerner. He never spoke to Mr. King. Here's this white Southern man gathering this meticulous scholarship, and you know what? He got it right."

Well, you look at things long and hard enough, and think about them, and sometimes you see what's really going on.

Branch began of course with Parting the Waters (1988) - a bestseller that won him a Pulitzer Prize. Ten years later was Pillar of Fire, and this new book warps it up. (In his spare time Branch ghost-wrote John Dean's autobiography, and co-wrote that basketball memoir with Bill Russell, the legendary and outspoken basketball star.)

Branch sees what's going on, as O'Connor notes -
The America that emerges from Branch's pages is on the razor's edge of history, and it could be cutting and ugly. King's demands for racial equality were met in Southern newspapers with grotesque cartoons whose smiling minstrels were the face of virulent hatred.

FBI agents slink around "At Canaan's Edge" like goons in a noir novel, spreading lies in a relentlessly hostile campaign to discredit him on every conceivable level, a far cry from the frequent Hollywood portrayals of civil-rights-era agents as white knights doing battle against an anonymous black backdrop.

One of the more dubious FBI smears was an attempt to portray him as an associate of Muhammad Ali. An FBI agent timidly pointed out the obvious: The plan might backfire because many people regarded the boxer as a folk hero. But his supervisors went ahead with the plan.

FBI agents wiretapped King's hotel room and phone conversations for years to record information about his infidelities, which they unsuccessfully tried to disseminate in the press. Branch says the FBI even tried to dissuade King from traveling to Oslo, Norway, to accept the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize by blackmailing him for his personal life. In Branch's eyes, the FBI was "blackmailing him toward suicide."
Well. James Earl Ray took care of things so it didn't come to that.

But the damage was done. King had started something.

Branch credits the King-led civil rights movement with "deepening democratization, providing momentum for the budding antiwar and women's movements," and "making gay rights imaginable."
King was writ large. He's echoing Jefferson and Lincoln as well as Isaiah and Jeremiah. He speaks on the shoulders of the prophets and the patriots alike. We don't hear that kind of language now, and if we did I think it would make us all better citizens.
Maybe so. But as for the civil rights movement with "deepening democratization, providing momentum for the budding antiwar and women's movements," and "making gay rights imaginable," is that a stretch?

Well, Taylor Branch says no, and argues that in his long assessment of King and his legacy, Globalizing King's Legacy, published in the New York Times on the holiday, and the following day in the Times' Paris newspaper, the International Herald Tribune.

Everyone has honed in on what comes near the end of the piece -
We could also restore Dr. King's role in the continuing story of freedom to its rightful prominence, emphasizing that the best way to safeguard democracy is to practice it. And we must recognize that the accepted tradeoff between freedom and security is misguided, because our values are the essence of our strength. If dungeons, brute force and arbitrary rule were the keys to real power, Saudi Arabia would be a model for the future instead of the past.
But there's more, and he uses the twentieth of these "official celebrations" to explain.

He quotes King after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, claiming the movement had revived nothing less than the visionary heritage of the American Revolution. -"The stirring lesson of this age is that mass nonviolent direct action is not a peculiar device for Negro agitation. "Rather it is a historically validated method for defending freedom and democracy, and for enlarging these values for the benefit of the whole society."

King makes that extraordinary claim, but Branch notes what followed -
Parallel tides opened doors for the first female students at some universities and most private colleges, then the military academies. In 1972, civil rights agitation over doctrines of equal souls produced the first public ordination of a female rabbi in the United States, and the Episcopal Church soon introduced female clergy members in spite of schismatic revolts to preserve religious authority for men. Pauli Murray, a lawyer who was one of the pioneer priests, had pursued a legal appeal that in 1966 overturned several state laws flatly prohibiting jury service by women. "The principle announced seems so obvious today," Dr. Murray would write in a memoir, "that it is difficult to remember the dramatic break the court was making."

Overseas, as an amalgam of forces suddenly dissolved the Soviet empire atop its mountain of nuclear weapons, Dr. King's message echoed in the strains of "We Shall Overcome" heard along the Berlin Wall and the streets of Prague. Likewise, South African apartheid melted without the long-dreaded racial Armageddon, on miraculous healing words from a former prisoner, Nelson Mandela. Students shocked the world from Tiananmen Square with nonviolent demonstrations modeled on American sit-ins, planting seeds of democracy within the authoritarian shell of Chinese Communism.

These and other sweeping trends from the civil rights era have transformed daily life in many countries, and now their benefit is scarcely contested.
Yes, all that followed, and what King did started something, or at least made something possible.

And now? Branch says "the political discourse behind them is atrophied."
Public service has fallen into sad disrepute. Spitballs pass for debate. Comedians write the best-selling books on civics. Dr. King's ideas are not so much rebutted as cordoned off or begrudged, and for two generations his voice of anguished hope has given way to a dominant slogan that government itself is bad.

Above all, no one speaks for nonviolence. Indeed, the most powerful discipline from the freedom movement was the first to be ridiculed across the political spectrum. "A hundred political commentators have interred nonviolence into a premature grave," Dr. King complained after Selma. The concept seemed alien and unmanly.
Yep, we live in an age where violence is not only praised, but all else is considered foolishness. Branch is, with King, saying that "every ballot - the most basic element of free government - is by definition a piece of nonviolence, symbolizing hard-won or hopeful consent to raise politics above anarchy and war."

Of course we have to have a war to set up those elections in Iraq. Very odd. What would King think of that? Branch says that a few hours before King stepped out on the Memphis balcony and was gunned down he said, "In our next campaign we have to institutionalize nonviolence and take it international." A preemptive war may not have been what he had in mind. Still, the president on the holiday visited the Library of Congress and did a photo-op where he peered that the Emancipation Proclamation under glass, and later said King was "one of the greatest Americans who ever lived." But he did not urge that we institutionalize nonviolence. That's not his style.

On the King holiday the president had to deal with the fallout from his style of making the world better - As Pakistanis Protest, Questions Remain - Four Days After The Deadly Airstrikes, Answers Prove Elusive.

That item, from Jim Maceda of NBC, is one of many summaries of the situation - we tried to take out Osama bin Laden's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, with a precision airstrike in the wilds of Pakistan, but didn't seem to get him. We got eighteen civilians, including women and children, and over the weekend, "tens of thousands of angry Pakistanis took to the streets." This is not good.

The president's father, now a UN special envoy, met with Pakistan President Pervez Musharra, and got an earful. The elder Bush wanted to talk about earthquake relief, but Pervez Musharra is catching crap from his own people over this. We're supposed to be allies. One supposes folks are asking Musharra just why being with the Americans in all this is such a good thing. Maceda says this mistake "squandered all goodwill toward America and damaged Musharraf's credibility." No kidding.

But is it their fault? What did Pakistanis really know about the attack? -
Very little. It seemed to take the country by surprise. Government officials claim they had no warning. Even former intelligence chief Gen. Hameed Gul, who worked closely with the CIA for years, said he was shocked.

"The CIA, they are responsible for the action and then Pakistan is not taken into confidence," he says.

But other counterterrorism sources tell NBC News that, with 50,000 security forces along the Afghan border, Pakistani agents must have been in the know.

Could the intelligence have been phony?

Pakistan's five intelligence agencies - with different agendas - compete with each other. Intelligence is often sold to the highest bidder and corruption runs deep.
This, lying and death from the sky, is not with King would have envisioned as bringing democracy to the world.

Jim Miklaszewski provides more detail here - we're talking not one Predator drone, but three, simultaneously firing hellfire missiles at three separate targets. The CIA drones monitored the movements of al Qaeda suspects at the village for two weeks before the attack - and this was CIA and not the military, who are saying nothing. "Live Predator video is fed real-time from Pakistan to the Global Response Center on the sixth floor of the CIA outside Washington. From there, CIA Director Porter Goss himself would give the order. But if he's not available, the deputy or assistant CIA directors five levels down can also order the strike." Fine. That's what we do.

But it may turn out all fine. It seems we're testing bits and pieces, and the DNA from some small chunk of flesh from the scene may match the DNA of Ayman al-Zawahiri, and everyone will calm down and we'll look real good after all, because now, unlike the days of Martin Luther King, the ends really do justify the means.

That may be what has really changed. King, in inspired by Gandhi, held that the means by which you achieve your goal were, well, part of the goal - don't sink to violence, keep your dignity, and your honor, and as Taylor Branch says, understand "the best way to safeguard democracy is to practice it." Now? We'll bomb and kill to force you accept democracy.

King saw the same problem with Vietnam -
And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.
The president may say nice things about him on the holiday, but King would not be amused.

These days are like those days. The New York Times here quotes unnamed "American counterterrorism" officials about this business in Pakistan -
They offered a defense of the attack, saying they did not believe that innocent bystanders in Pakistan had been killed. One counterterrorism official said that even if Mr. Zawahiri was not killed in the attacks, "Some very senior Al Qaeda types might have been." The official declined to identify other Qaeda members thought to have been at the scene.
Well, you never know.

And then have your politicians -
"Now, it's a regrettable situation, but what else are we supposed to do?" Sen. Evan Bayh, asked rhetorically. "It's like the wild, wild west out there. The Pakistani border's a real problem."

Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, said the "real problem" lay with the Pakistani government's inability to control that part of the country, where sympathetic residents were believed to be harboring al Qaeda leaders.

"So, regrettably, this kind of thing is what we're left with," Bayh told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

... And Sen. Trent Lott added, "I would have a problem if we didn't do it."

"There's no question that they're still causing the death of millions of - or thousands of - innocent people and directing operations in Iraq," said Lott, a Mississippi Republican. "Absolutely, we should do it."

Bayh expressed similar sentiments, and cited the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington of September 11, 2001, as justification. "These people killed 3,000 Americans. They have to be brought to justice."

Senator John McCain, also concurred. "It's terrible when innocent people are killed; we regret that," he told CBS' "Face the Nation."

"But we have to do what we think is necessary to take out al Qaeda, particularly the top operatives. This guy has been more visible than Osama bin Laden lately.

"We regret it. We understand the anger that people feel, but the United States' priorities are to get rid of al Qaeda, and this was an effort to do so."

He added, "We apologize, but I can't tell you that we wouldn't do the same thing again."
The end justifies the means, and sorry about the dead kids.

All that is discussed by "Jeanne" here at Body and Soul -
We don't believe we killed innocent people. And even if we did, it doesn't matter because we might have killed some bad people at the same time and that would be good. And even if we didn't get any bad people, some of the "innocent" people may be sympathetic to the bad people. After all, these people killed three thousand Americans. Well, maybe not "these people" precisely, but some people who kind of looked like them, and came from roughly the same part of the world, give or take a thousand miles.

At least 18 people dead, and the senators are most anxious to assure us that it will happen again - just in case anyone was worried that we might display some signs of humanity.

So what else are we supposed to do? I know that's a rhetorical question, but let's treat it as an honest one nonetheless.

What else are we supposed to do?

... Awhile back, I said that I thought the Christian Peacemaker Teams were doing the most essential work in the world today - serving as models of what can be done with love, without violence. This is what I was talking about. Violence has not only produced nothing but more violence - blowback, if you will - but it's lead far too many of us to a soul-numbing state where we learn that we have murdered children and can convince ourselves there's no other way.

... Imagine what might happen if, today, in Pakistan, in Dr. King's honor, we took those words to heart, and heard the cries, and vowed to do everything we could to repair the damage, acknowledging that we could never entirely do so?
That'll be the day. We don't have leaders like that these days.

We don't, even on domestic issues.

Back in November, on the occasion of what would have been Bobby Kennedy's eightieth birthday, in these pages, here, you find what he had to say -
... there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions, indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor; this poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies - to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look on our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear - only a common desire to retreat from each other - only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers. Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what program to enact. The question is whether we can find in our midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled nor enriched by hatred or revenge. Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land.
Well, he got shot too, just down the hill at the old Ambassador Hotel (now almost gone as they're tearing it down to build a new high school complex there).

Can the Democrats find another like him?

Consider this -
Let's review. Bush steals one, probably both elections through vote fraud, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because that would undermine faith in the democratic process. Bush fails to react to copious pre-9/11 warnings, before the attack, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because that would undermine national unity at a time when we need to pull together. Bush makes a decision to go to war, then lies repeatedly to fool the country into supporting it, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because that would undermine our troops and war effort. Secret Bush policies condone and cover-up prisoner torture, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because they suspect that people basically don't mind torture (really) as long as the victims "deserve it" and it is in the service of "protecting" us. The Bush gang hands them the biggest gift imaginable in the Plame scandal, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because they don't want the investigation to appear "partisan." Bush breaks the law, illegally eavesdrops on innocent Americans, then says openly that he thinks its just fine and plans to keep doing it, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because they are afraid of appearing "soft" on national security. Bush appoints a Supreme Court nominee who is openly supportive of the worst of these Executive policies, and who is explicitly committed to overturning abortion rights, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because they are afraid of a fight over the filibuster. Congressional Republicans have created the biggest corruption scandal in decades, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because a couple of them might be caught up in the net. Do these people WANT to win?
Maybe not.

Posted in these pages here on 28 May 2003, in the first year on line -
Do you remember the clear-headed, no-bullshit, let's-be-fair liberals of yesterday? Bobby Kennedy in that last run just laying it all out - hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better? Well, Bobby got shot. Martin Luther King doing the same thing. Well, he got shot a few months earlier than Bobby. Of course, to be fair, George Wallace got shot too. Lots of people got shot.

But the point is that those optimistic "why don't we fix it and make things better" kinds of guys are nowhere to be found these days.

... No Democrat will win anything by whining about the smirking frat boy or by fretting about some British essayist hating cheeseburgers and everything American. To win the Democrats would have to field an opponent with a sense of humor, some brains, and a lot of optimism, someone who listens to what is being said, and is willing to say - "Hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better?"

It does not seem like that is going to happen. And if it did, he or she would get shot.
So on and on we go.

The best we can do now is Al Gore?

In Martin Luther King Day Address, Gore Compares Wiretapping Of Americans To Surveillance Of King and this: "Al Gore has become the conscience of the Democratic Party."

It sort of makes you miss Martin and Bobby.

Posted by Alan at 20:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006 21:07 PST home

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

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