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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, 6 February 2006
Question Time: The Attorney General Smiles
Topic: The Law

Question Time: The Attorney General Smiles

Each week should start off with a dramatic political event that sweeps all the other news off the table. Monday, February 6, 2006, we got that - a Watergate-style senate hearing with big issues, angry words, evasions, posturing - and, after the hearings, more of the same as the participants popped up on all the cable new talks shows with refinements of the big issues, angry words, evasions and posturing. The New York Times summary opened with this - "Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told skeptical senators today that the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program is legal, constitutional and vital to national security in a time of terrorism."

They were skeptical (some of them, even some key Republicans). It didn't go that well, but it was a fine day for political junkies and folks who think about where this country is headed - full of heated exchanges about the constitution and the law and who has the power to decide what they mean, and who doesn't. These are core issues, and the event made up for the dreary big story from the previous evening, the Pittsburgh Steelers winning Super Bowl XL in Detroit. (Even those of us born and raised in Pittsburgh were forced to admit it was a sloppy game by two teams playing badly, with bad calls from the officials - not an XL game but more of a S.)

Of course there was other Monday news. The Cartoon Wars became even more intense and deadly, as the BBC reported Four Killed In Cartoon Protests. Yes, that's a terrible headline with a badly placed modifier, evoking the film "Who Framed Rodger Rabbit" and all that careening through Toontown - but this is serious stuff.

See Christopher Hitchens here and his "case for mocking religion" -
As it happens, the cartoons themselves are not very brilliant, or very mordant, either. But if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion. And here one runs up against a curious reluctance. ... In fact, Sunni Muslim leaders can't even seem to condemn the blowing-up of Shiite mosques and funeral processions, which even I would describe as sacrilege.

... The question of "offensiveness" is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it "pixilated" the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be "offended" will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.
Hitchens, addressing all the threats of violence for what was published, argues civil society means that "free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient," and says it's "depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts," and of our government's tut-tut reaction says it's "positively outrageous that the administration should have discarded them at the very first sign of a fight."

On the other hand, a long item from Tristero at Hullabaloo argues this about the cartoons as a "statement" about the absolute rightness of free speech -
The events of the cartoon riots, in all their mad senselessness and fatal tragedy, reflect - epitomize - some of the worst but most virulently widespread presumptions of our time: the arrogance and shallowness of white boy moralizing; the maniacal self-destructive sense of sheer helplessness that descends into pointless murder, destruction, and horror.

As I see it, both the decision to commission and publish the cartoons and the riots that followed simply defy comprehension not because one couldn't predict the consequences but because one could, with depressing ease. Unless they come to their senses, the white do-gooders are gonna get us all killed in their crusades. And the recipients of all this do-gooding are gonna do the exact same thing when their fury at the do-gooders is cynically stoked and channeled into senseless destructiveness and murder.

In short, no more cartoon riots. No more cartoon editors. No more cartoon evil cavemen. And no more cartoon American administrations. It's time not to listen to what our gut says, it's time to give it some Alka-Seltzer and get it to shut up so we can think.
And on and on it goes.

There was other news - Bush Proposes $2.77 Trillion Budget, with the subhead "More money sought for defense, cuts in most other areas..." That's the plan. Big boosts for defense spending - and cutbacks for education and Medicare and programs for the poor and for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and for all the other stuff for the unlucky and "irresponsible." And Bush insists that current and upcoming tax cuts for the very wealthy be made permanent. The consensus seems this one will be hard to get through congress. Some of the unlucky, and many who earn less than five hundred grand a year, actually vote - and this may look, to them, like a plan somewhere between mean-spirited wrong-headed nastiness and sheer madness. Congressmen and some Senators face the voters late in the year, and even with clever gerrymandering and electronic voting machines they sense potential trouble. Will this fly? In the House, Tom DeLay is no longer around to twist arms, and, in the Senate, Bill Frist lost his mojo a long time ago. It's a story in the making.

And Iran is still there, seemingly on its way to building nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) late the week before referred Iran to UN Security Commission for some sort of action. Iran tossed them out, shut off all monitoring, dropped out of the nonproliferation treaties, and threatened sanctions, and we said diplomacy was necessary but suggested military action was possible. (Sounds familiar.) Wesley Clark explains here what the military action would look like - over four thousand precision bombings as all the sites are so scattered, and, where the sites are co-located with hospitals and schools, the insertion of special-ops teams on the ground for even more precision. No invasion. Norman Solomon here explains what happens next - regional war or worse - and says, given who's in charge here, and there, that'll happen. It's another story in the making.

The immediate story was the Senate hearing.

Of course, to set the stage properly for that, one should note this from Newsweek hit the wires over the weekend before Monday's print distribution, just a little something from the administration, specifically the Justice Department -
Steven Bradbury, acting head of the department's Office of Legal Counsel, went to a closed-door Senate intelligence committee meeting last week to defend President George W. Bush's surveillance program. During the briefing, said administration and Capitol Hill officials (who declined to be identified because the session was private), California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Bradbury questions about the extent of presidential powers to fight Al Qaeda; could Bush, for instance, order the killing of a Qaeda suspect known to be on U.S. soil? Bradbury replied that he believed Bush could indeed do this, at least in certain circumstances.

... A Justice Department official, who asked not to be ID'd because of the sensitive subject, said Bradbury's remarks were made during an "academic discussion" of theoretical contingencies. In real life, the official said, the highest priority of those hunting a terrorist on U.S. soil would be to capture that person alive and interrogate him. At a public intel-committee hearing, Feinstein was told by intel czar John Negroponte and FBI chief Robert Mueller that they were unaware of any case in which a U.S. agency was authorized to kill a Qaeda-linked person on U.S. soil. Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told NEWSWEEK: "Mr. Bradbury's meeting was an informal, off-the-record briefing about the legal analysis behind the president's terrorist-surveillance program. He was not presenting the legal views of the Justice Department on hypothetical scenarios outside of the terrorist-surveillance program."
Ah, theoretical contingencies.

You see, the Justice Department and the administration claims the president has the authority to declare citizens "enemy combatants" with no appeal of that declaration (you can't claim a mistake has been made), to hold them without charges or council for as long as the Justice Department and the administration deem necessary, and to hold them with no communication with anyone, and never have a trial or hearing of any kind - and neither the courts or congress can object, as this in one of the plenary powers a president has in time of war, or in this case, in time of what everyone seems to think is pretty much the same as a war, given that "authorization of force" to deal with terrorism almost five years ago. Close enough. Now on the president's word alone, citizens can be selected and killed, as due process would not apply? So says the Justice Department's acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel. Theoretically.

See this - "...lettres de cachet were letters signed by the king of France, countersigned by one of his ministers, and closed with the royal seal, or cachet. They contained orders directly from the king, often to enforce arbitrary actions and judgments that could not be appealed." It's a fourteenth century French thing, but really made useful by Louis XVI - but then they had that revolution. But then Napoleon brought them back. Then on April 3, 1814, they were gone again. So was he.

They're back - and you didn't think these guys in Washington liked anything French.

Also to set the stage, the day before the Gonzales hearing on the NSA program, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, the Republican from Pennsylania set to run the hearing went wild (sort of), saying the administration's legal justifications for its warrantless spying program have been "strained and unrealistic" - so far. And he opened the hearing (see here) with the idea the administration may have violated federal law's "forceful and blanket prohibition against any electronic surveillance without a court order."

Well, CNN covered the hearing fairly - who said what - and Emily Bazelon offers Cowardly Lions: Congress talks tough to Gonzales - and then turns and runs.

The hearing was odd.

Gonzales said what everyone expected - congress cannot override a president's battlefield decisions, as the constitution says the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, so what he did was legal, as all the world is a battlefield now, even Akron and Tulsa one assumes, and anyway, congress told him to act as commander-in-chief of the armed forces when they overwhelmingly passed that "authorization of force" thing a few years back. So it's all "legal and reasonable." That was the whole of what Gonzales had to say - and no, congress could not have access to the administration's internal legal findings that this was how things were.

Case closed? Hardly.

Gonzales got hammered. No, the "authorization of force" in no way posited all the world is a battlefield now, including here at home - the administration asked for that and it was denied. Gonzales smiled. Everyone knows (he assumes) all the world is a battlefield now, including here at home.

Gonzales was asked why not use the existing law and get the warrants. He smiled - takes too much time, and not relevant anyway.

Why not ask for a change in the law if the NSA was using new techniques not covered in the 1978 law as amended so many times. He smiled. The law was not applicable here.

Why not inform congress of what was up, as required by law? He smiled. The law was not applicable here, and they really did inform a few people - not the ones listed in the law, but close enough.

Senator Leary - "No man is above the Law." Gonzales smiled - as that obviously depends on how you read the constitution.

Senator Kennedy said that Democrats and Republicans are "united in their desire to keep Americans safe" but suggested if it turns out that this warrantless spying program is ruled illegal - if a court is forced to throw out evidence against an accused terrorist because it was obtained unlawfully - then wouldn't we all be less safe? The question was blunt - "What if you're wrong?" Kennedy didn't mention it but two defendants actually charged with crimes last week filed motions for suppression of evidence based on the claim that the evidence was obtained illegally by the NSA sweeps. Gonzales smiled he said the administration wasn't wrong.

Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter - "There are a lot of people who think you're wrong. What do you have to lose if you're right?"

Gonzales - "Obviously we would consider and are always considering methods of fighting the war effectively against al Qaeda."

That's an answer?

Senator Russ Feingold had another axe to grind. Last year during Gonzales' confirmation hearing he asked Gonzales, directly, whether Gonzales believed that the president has the power "to authorize warrantless searches of Americans' homes and wiretaps of their conversations in violation of the criminal and foreign intelligence surveillance statutes of this country." Gonzales shrugged off the question then as "hypothetical" - but obviously Gonzales knew that was just what was going on at the time. Russ was not pleased - so he asked about that

Gonzales said, now, that of course the president had authorized "warrantless wiretaps" - but since he hadn't done anything "in violation of the criminal and foreign intelligence surveillance statutes of this country," asking about the power to engage in such a violation had been in fact a "hypothetical" question back then - and he told the truth then, and he was telling it now.

The guy is good.

Next was Lindsey Graham, Republican, South Carolina - if the administration thought congress somehow or other "implicitly" authorized warrantless intelligence work when it adopted that use-of-force authorization way back when, next time you guys ask for one you may not get it, as that was not what congress authorized - and anyway, where are the boundaries here - does the Constitution also allow the president to ignore that new McCain law that prohibits the United States from engaging in torture? Gonzales smiled - torture wasn't the topic, was it?

And on it went. The full transcript is at the Washington Post site, in two parts, here and here, if you really need more detail.

The best part needs to been seen, however. That would be here (Windows Media Player) and here (QuickTime). As things were getting underway, Senator Feingold said he wanted Gonzales be put under oath. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, good Arlen Specter, said it wan't necessary. You could trust the guy. Feingold insisted. Gonzales said he had no problem testifying under oath. Specter no oath, period - and it's not the decision of the witness - as HE was chairman. Feingold forced a vote, and lost - all Democrats voting for the testimony to be under oath, and all Republicans voting against that idea. The Democrats lost - they are the minority party, after all.

This was somewhat academic. False testimony to congress is against the law - very bad - but then, it's not the same as perjury (lying under oath) - which is really, really bad.

Specter - "This is really not a very good way to begin this hearing." No kidding.

The whole event might strike some, on one side of the national debate, as absurd, and on the other side, more than a tad ominous.

From that other side, note this from Digby at Hullabaloo (go there for links to all the supporting documentation) -
I'm beginning to wonder if the Democrats might not have some information that the administration has done domestic surveillance without a warrant. They keep asking. Pointedly. And Gonzales keeps saying that he isn't "comfortable" acknowledging the question.

It is indisputable that the administration has engaged in surveillance of political groups. We know this. It has been verified. We also know that they believe that political dissent gives aid and comfort to the enemy. The president says so himself.

Therefore, it is entirely reasonable to suspect that this administration would use this illegal surveillance program for purposes other than that to which they have admitted, particularly since they consider political dissent to be bordering on treason. This is, remember, an administration that has made a fetish of the politics of personal destruction. The gathering of "oppo research" is the life's blood of their political strategy and it goes all the way back to the Big Kahuna.

... Remember: Watergate was about bugging the Democratic National Committee. The "3rd rate burglary" was to replace an illegal bug that had been planted on the telephones of prominent Democrats.

The lesson of Watergate for the chagrined Republicans was that they needed to be more forceful in assuming executive power and they needed to be more sophisticated about their campaign espionage. This is what they've done.

Anybody who even dreams that these guys are not using all their government power to spy on political enemies is being willfully naive. It is what they do. It is the essence of their political style. This is Nixon's Republican party and they have finally achieved a perfect ability to carry out his vision of political governance: L'etat C'est Moi. If the president does it that means it's not illegal.
What's with the Louis XVI stuff? Is everyone seeing that now? But he has a point.

The there is this - you letthe firemen in when the house is burning but that's not what we have here now -
Taking the most extreme powers granted under emergency conditions - and interpreting even those powers as extremely as possible - the current administration has undertaken a vast backfill operation. On 9/11, they jumped to the very bottom of the civil liberties-limitation ravine and have systematically shored up, over the past four-and-a-half years what I'm now thinking of as Operation Backfill. For example, in the past few days I've run across repeated accounts of how they considered shooting down Flight 93 on the fateful day. Well, if we were willing to do that, the reasoning seems to go, what's wrong with torture, surveillance, killing without trial an individual suspected of plotting terror? Isn't granting the administration the right to shoot down a plane with a majority of innocent civilians aboard evidence enough that we can undertake namby-pamby warrantless surveillance? In other words, we already turned over, in our panic after 9/11, the right to do anything - anything - to protect us. Any objections we make now to lesser violations than loss of life (which we implicitly agreed to), the administration intimates, are silly.

Aside from continuing actions that are appropriate during an emergency - an attack happening this very minute - there's been a dilution and spreading of definitional terms on the proverbial slippery slope as well, making the slope not only steeper, but wider. Consider how we've gone from discussing a foreign terrorist piloting a plane to foreigners suspected of actively planning to pilot a plane to foreigners vaguely wishing they could pilot a plane into a landmark. And notice too the smudge between foreign and domestic, as well as the intentional blur from known terrorist to suspected terrorist to anyone who aids a terrorist to anyone who is "affiliated" with a terrorist (with "affiliation" totally defined by the executive branch), and from Al Qaeda to Al Qaeda enablers to Al Qaeda affiliates to people who mighta sorta kinda agree with Al Qaeda to American citizens who don't agree that the proper response to Al Qaeda's attack was invading Iraq (like Quakers).

What we are faced with is, as numerous observers have pointed out, is a perpetual, never-ending war, kind of a general war declared on "bad stuff" - bad people who think bad thoughts about America. This is declared to be an emergency situation, and one that will obviously never end because people will always resent and have bad feelings about the most powerful nation on earth, and thus the crisis is deemed - conveniently for the executive branch - eternal.

In short, this administration wants to argue that we will never, ever, ever be in a rational, analytical prevention phase, but more of one in which an arson unit is trying to come up with detection and preventive standards while the roof is raging on fire above their heads.

I'm not buying it.

Someone's got to tell Mr. Bush the fire's out and that what this country needs more than boogeyman visuals from its attorney general are firm, well-reasoned, coordinated, legal policies to ensure we don't catch fire again. Don't like the surveillance restrictions in FISA, Mr. Attorney General? Well, now's as good a time as any to offer calm rationalizations in front of the cameras of this country, using old, verifiable, truthful instances (the Brooklyn Bridge plot doesn't fly, Mr. Gonzales) or clear-cut, specific hypotheticals in which these "backfilled" rights violations should be legalized to spare us an attack. Then we can have a national conversation about what rights we're willing to give up in the trade-off for personal security. Simply relying on crisis-granted powers - and even those considered by most legal scholars as illegal - is not selling me.
This writer isn't buying it any longer. The question is, will more and more people not buy into the-sky-is-falling don't-think run presentation of the world right now? We'll see. There will be another day of hearings in a week or so. We'll see who's as unflappable as Gonzales.

As for Gonzales, he may be facing a post-post 9/11 world, not the world of 1784 in Versailles. This was a hard sell. If so, he should be glad he wasn't under oath.

Posted by Alan at 22:35 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006 22:44 PST home

Sunday, 5 February 2006
Documenting the Madness
Topic: Announcements

Documenting the Madness

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent to this daily web log, was posted online an hour or two before the sun came up here in Hollywood. This is Volume 4, Number 6 for the week of Sunday, February 5, 2006 - a balance of commentary and images - five detailed analyses of the major news events of week just gone by, and five pages of unusual images of Los Angeles and Hollywood.

The commentary covers the major events that swirled around the State of the Union speech, and the war of the t-shirts, and then there was the war of the cartoons, as Danish embassies around the world are now being torched. And there were a few other things where the inflexible meet the puzzled, and no one is happy. Dive in and you'll see.

The images? Old Hollywood in all its seedy glory, the secular oddball movie location next to the Catholic church where Bing Crosby got married, the park where Ricky Nelson wrote fifties rock songs under the bust of Rudolph Valentino, the giant factory built to look like a thirties ocean liner, and some startling botanical shots.

Bob Patterson is back, showing how the past informs the present in very odd ways, and, as the Book Wrangler, offering incredibly practical advice to writers who are serious about getting published.

There are three new photo albums on the Links and Recommendations page, supplementing this week's regular collection.

The quotes this week? What does keep us from thinking clearly?

Note: The International Desk is dark this week. Ric Erickson, Our Man is Paris, is deep in the rebuilding of his own website, MetropoleParis, and Our Man in London, Mike McCahill, is busy writing for The Scotsman. Our man in Tel-Aviv may check in one of these weeks.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Paying Attention: Thirteen Ways of Looking at the News (with apologies to Wallace Stevens)
On Consistency: Sometimes truculent rigidity masquerading as intellectual seriousness just gets you in trouble...
Light Fog: Making Much of Nothing (the State of the Union Speech)
Getting Serious: The War of the Shirts (and other matters)
Cartoon Wars: The Sacred and the Profane

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Those Who Forget The Past ... Might Overlook A Great Topic For Their Next Column
Book Wrangler: The Easiest Part Of Selling What You Write, Is Writing It!

Southern California Photography ______________________

Gritty Hollywood
Hollywood Landmarks: Worldly and Otherworldly
The Good Ship Coca-Cola
A Resting Place: De Longpre Park
Botanicals: Groundhog Day Blooms

Quotes of the week of February 5, 2006 - Let's think this through...

Links and Recommendations: Three New Photo Albums

One of the photographs - differing opinion on what's important, at the Corner of Selma and Cosmo in Hollywood, Thursday, February 2nd -

Posted by Alan at 13:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 4 February 2006
Hollywood Landmarks - Worldly and Otherworldly
Topic: Photos

Hollywood Landmarks - Worldly and Otherworldly

When the national and world news gets too burdensome it's always best to explore the neighborhood here and take some pictures. Here's an odd pairing, just down the street. Three shots below, and there are sixteen shots in this online album.

This is what you'll see.

As photographed Thursday, February 2, 2006, Crossroads of the World (6671 Sunset Boulevard - Robert V. Derrah) - built as "the world's first modern shopping center" in 1936 - Streamline Moderne, Spanish Colonial, Tudor, Moorish and French Provincial styles, all mixed together. It's listed on National Register of Historic Places. In the 1993 film "Indecent Proposal" Demi Moore worked in a real estate office here. It plays its part in the 1997 film noir "L.A. Confidential" - Danny DeVito worked for a tabloid in one of the offices. It's in many other films. It's very odd. It's kind of a cruise ship and kind of not.

Next door is The Church of the Blessed Sacrament (6657 Sunset Boulevard - Beezer Brothers, architects, 1928) - the first Catholic Church in the Hollywood area (1904), and the parish church for Irene Dunne and Loretta Young, where Bing Crosby married his first wife (Dixie Lee) in September 1930. The funeral of Carole Lombard's fiancé Russ Columbo was held here in 1934 - pallbearers Bing Crosby, Gilbert Roland and Zeppo Marx. A bit back an episode of the television series ER was filmed here, with guest star James Cromwell as a bishop.

This is an odd place.

The Jesuits were here first -

Crossroads of the World - Establishing Shot

Crossroads of the World - Nautical Detail

Posted by Alan at 16:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 4 February 2006 16:06 PST home

Friday, 3 February 2006
Cartoon Wars: The Sacred and the Profane
Topic: The Media

Cartoon Wars: The Sacred and the Profane

Obviously it is hard to write about "The Sacred and the Profane" (not the book) from Just Above Sunset in Hollywood, given local events like this - Lee Tamahori, the fellow from New Zealand who directed the James Bond movie "Die Another Day," was arrested on January 8th in a Hollywood prostitution sting while dressed in drag - but the news just hit the wires this week, as the charges came up in a criminal complaint filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court. (Reporters still scan those.) Tamahori approached an undercover policeman while wearing women's clothes and smiled broadly, as it were. The charges are agreeing to engage in an act of prostitution and unlawfully loitering on Hollywood's Santa Monica Boulevard.

What a world... and that's just down the hill, somewhere between the area the police used to call boy's town and the odd little theater district.

Of course, there are redeeming local stories of directors, as we see here - on January 26th, just up the hill, less that a mile from here, one of them did a good thing. That day, young Joaquin Phoenix, just after he got a best actor Oscar nomination for "Walk the Line" - in which he plays the late Johnny Cash, and even signs the songs himself - crashed his car on Lookout Mountain Road, just off Laurel Canyon. He says he lost his brakes, swerved to avoid another car, and well, his car went up the hillside and he ended up inside, a bit upside down. Oops.

Now Joaquin Phoenix is thirty-one, famous, rich and a big star - so you'd think he'd be able to afford a good car. Be that as it may, first on the scene, helping him from the car, was a local resident, Werner Herzog, the German director. The Los Angeles Times item quotes Joaquin Phoenix - "I remember this knocking on the passenger window. There was this German voice saying, 'Just relax.' I said to myself, 'That's Werner Herzog!' There's something so calming and beautiful about Werner Herzog's voice." Very odd. Herzog helped him out of the wreck and just faded away. The Times does not tell us if Herzog was in drag - but they do remind us Herzog just won Best Documentary down at the Directors Guild for his film "Grizzly Man." (The Directors Guild is a block away, and looks like this - and to the west is the Viper Room, Johnny Depp's club, where Joaquin's brother, River Phoenix, died of a drug overdose some years back - the chalk lines on the sidewalk are still there.)

This is a strange place, and far from the heartland, specifically far from Bennett, out in Colorado, where we get this - parents up in arms because of Gounod's "Faust."


It seems the new schoolmarm - actually an elementary school music teacher - showed the kids clips from a thirty-three-year-old PBS thing called "Who's Afraid of Opera" - specifically Dame Joan Sutherland and three puppet "friends" discussing Gounod's "Faust." Bad move - "Any adult with common sense would not think that video was appropriate for a young person to see. I'm not sure it's appropriate for a high school student." You see, Faust sells his soul to the devil, and as one parent says, "I think it glorifies Satan in some way."

So there. The new schoolmarm sent a letter of apology to all elementary school parents in Bennett. She tells the Denver Post - "I was definitely not sensitive to the conservative nature of the community, and I've learned that. However, from what has been said about me, that I'm a Satan worshipper, my character, I can't believe all of this. My intention was just to expose the kids to opera."

She's leaving town after the school year.

She might be comfortable out here - this community doesn't exactly have "a conservative nature," and has a pretty good opera company. But then again, out here we have this other German voice saying, "Just relax..." - and that'd be our governor, Arnold Shwarzenegger, not Werner Herzog.

So, just what should upset us, and what should we just let slide as not our business?

Well, what should upset us is cartoons. The Muslim world is up in arms at what the Danes published, and the Pentagon is outraged at what the Washington Post published. No one outside that tiny town in high plains of Colorado seems to be mad at the nineteenth-century French composer Charles Gounod, although much of his music is somewhere between pedestrian and silly. Everyone else is argry about cartoons.

Go figure.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has been sending items on the Danish mess, as the French became involved. And it's a very odd story - provocative cartoons in the Danish and Norwegian papers depicting the Prophet Muhammad provoking rage in the Muslim world. What's up with that?

Well, Islamic law, based on clerics' interpretation of the Koran and the sayings of the prophet, forbids any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, even positive ones, to prevent idolatry. We have this or that plaster Jesus, hyper-realistic with blood and all that (see Mel Gibson) or abstracted in some way, above the alter of every church. It's a reminder of Christ's suffering and all that, while these folks think such things are just plain wrong - it cheapens it all (see the plastic Jesus on the dashboard).

And too, Denmark, Holland and Netherlands are a hot spot, particularly after the murder of the Dutch documentary filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in 2004, and the subsequent trial and conviction with the defendant being quite blandly unrepentant - this particular Van Gogh insulted Islam and the Prophet, and he'd slit the guy's throat again gladly. There was much discussion of how we can get along with such people. (Full background here, and this Van Gogh, oddly enough, was a descendant of the brother of the famous painter.)

This controversy didn't just come out of the blue. Note here, the drawings were commissioned by the Jyllands-Posten (Jutland Post) to accompany an article on self-censorship and freedom - and a deliberate challenge to Muslim insistence that their religious feelings must be given special consideration. It seems Danish writer Kåre Bluitgen was unable failed to find any artists willing to illustrate his children's book about Mohammed - they all worried about violent attacks by extremist Muslims. Theo Van Gogh was on their minds. So the paper, on its own, commissioned some folks to do some drawings - forty artists were invited to give their interpretation on of how Mohammed may have looked. Twelve (brave, foolish, broke?) members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union responded. And the paper published the article and the commissioned drawings September 30th of last year. This may have been a bad move.

See this for a continually updated detailed account of the whole mess. The cartoons can been seen here - but they come down to this:
- The face of Muhammad as a part of the Islamic star and crescent symbol. His right eye the star, the crescent surrounds his beard and face.

- The most controversial drawing shows Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, with a lit fuse and the Islamic creed written on the bomb.

- Muhammad standing with a halo in the shape of a crescent moon.

- An abstract drawing of crescent moons and Stars of David, and a poem on oppression of women "Profet! Med kuk og knald i låget som holder kvinder under åget!". In English the poem could be read as: "Prophet! daft and dumb, keeping woman under thumb"

- Muhammad as a peaceful wanderer, in the desert, at sunset. There is a donkey in the background.

- One shows a nervous caricaturist, shakingly drawing Muhammad while looking over his shoulder.

- Two angry Muslims charge forward with sabres and bombs, while Muhammad addresses them with: "Rolig, venner, når alt kommer til alt er det jo bare en tegning lavet af en vantro sønderjyde" (loosely, "Relax guys, it's just a drawing made by some infidel South Jutlander". The reference is to a common Danish expression for a person from the middle of nowhere.)

- An Asian-looking boy in front of a blackboard, pointing to the Farsi chalkings, which translate into "the editorial team of Jyllands-Posten is a bunch of reactionary provocateurs". The boy is labelled "Mohammed, Valby school, 7.A", implying that this Muhammed is a second-generation immigrant to Denmark rather than the man Muslims believe was a prophet. On his shirt is written "Fremtiden" (the future). According to the editor of Jyllands Posten, he didn't know what was written on the blackboard before it was published.

- Another drawing shows an angry Muhammad with a short sabre and a black bar censoring his eyes. He is flanked by two women in niqaabs, having only their eyes visible.

- Muhammad standing on a cloud, greeting dead suicide bombers with "Stop Stop vi er løbet tør for Jomfruer!" ("Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins!"), an allusion to the promised reward to martyrs.

- Another shows Kåre Bluitgen, wearing a turban with the proverbial orange dropping into it, with the inscription "Publicity stunt". In his hand is a stick drawing of Muhammad. An "orange in the turban" is a Danish proverb meaning "a stroke of luck."
That's it.

See? That wasn't so bad. But it was bad enough.

The paper said this -
The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings.

It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule.

It is certainly not always equally attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is less important in this context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no one can tell how the self-censorship will end.
And it seems some folks across Europe agreed. As Ric reported from Paris, France Soir, published them, in a sort of free press solidarity move. The publisher fired the editor over that, but then the publisher is half-Egyptian, even if a good Catholic Frenchman. The always left Libération, founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, posted them as background information for a series of articles. It was the controversy of the week. Le Monde is here (in French), saying this is really about threatening those who want to discuss and debate the intersection of fundamentalism and politics, the clash between freedom and faith. (Has anyone ever mentioned the French love to debate big topics?)

In any event, Le Monde posted this cartoon, full of that trademark French ironic wit - the words say "I must not draw Muhammad."

But then by the end of the week, this had good global, as Associated Press reports here - "a swell of protests across the Muslim world" Friday - Britain, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Palestinian areas - demonstrators demanding revenge against Denmark and death for those they accuse of "defaming Islam's holiest figure." In Sudan, some demonstrators urged al Qaeda to target Denmark. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller called Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and said the Danish government "cannot accept an assault against Islam" - but that's according to Abbas' office. The Danes may not cave. And Abbas just lost that election to the Hamas folks and has to look good.

But in Palestinian you had your prayers for a boycott of Danish and European goods and for severing of diplomatic ties, with lots of burning the Danish flag and calling for vengeance - chants of "Bin Laden our beloved, Denmark must be blown up." So the foreign diplomats, aid workers and journalists began pulling out of Palestinian areas Thursday - kidnapping threats.

In Iraq demonstrators burned Danish journalists in effigy and set fire to boxes of Danish cheese. Mmmmm, toasted cheese... But get this - Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said the publication of the drawings was a "horrific action" - but then his website referred to "misguided and oppressive" segments of the Muslim community whose actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood." (We're not so bad?)

That might depend on your point of view. Go here for pictures of the demonstrations in London - the signs read "Butcher Those Who Mock Islam" and "Exterminate Those Who Mock Islam" and "Be Prepared for the Real Holocaust." So much for the faith of justice, love and brotherhood.

And Andrew Sullivan here points out the irony - "... these people have a right to say these things - the very right they are trying to deny others with the threat of violence." Yeah, well... they're angry.

Sullivan also says this -
European countries would be in a stronger position to defend press freedom if they practiced it more often. There's a bill in the British parliament right now to make offending people's religion a legal offense. Germany bans depictions of the swastika and makes Holocaust-denial a crime. One reason I love America is its First Amendment. I suspect it has something to do with the more moderate Muslim population in the United States, compared with Europe's. Once you start censoring people, you have to deal with the problem of double-standards. If you defend free speech in every case, you're on firmer ground.
But that's not the way it's going.

See this from Reuters - "Mona Omar Attia, Egypt's ambassador to Denmark, said after a meeting with Rasmussen that she was satisfied with the position of the Danish government but noted the prime minister had said he could not interfere with the press. 'This means the whole story will continue and that we are back to square one again. The government of Denmark has to do something to appease the Muslim world,' Attia said."

Egypt's ambassador to Denmark is saying the Danes just have to get their press under control. They should only write the right things, as defined by... the prophet?

Seems odd. The Danes are saying that's not how they see role of the press. The government doesn't tell the press what is proper to report. That's not how it's done.

Well, our government disagrees, as we see here -
The United States backed Muslims on Friday against European newspapers that printed caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in a move that could help America's battered image in the Islamic world.

Inserting itself into a dispute that has become a lightning rod for anti-European sentiment across the Muslim world, the United States sided with Muslims outraged that the publications put press freedom over respect for religion.

"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question.

"We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."
Okay then, you think you're reporting on an issue, and those you report on say that's not reporting on an issue at all - that's inciting hatred!

There's a problem here. Anyone who is subject to a press piece can use that dodge. You see it all the time played out on Fox News with O'Reilly and Hannity - the left suggests the president's war may have been a tactical and strategic blunder of the first order, for reasons X, Y and Z (with footnotes), and there may be some other alternatives, but then the left is told they are just seething with irrational hatred for George Bush and the probably hate America too, and they probably think al Qaeda should take over the world. Huh? The international issue right now is a page of cartoons, of all things. But like "the war on Christians and Christmas" asking that the giant Ten Commandments granite thing and the "Jesus Rules" stuff be removed from public courthouse, or saying Happy Holidays in December, what seems neutral or, in the case of the cartoons, analytical, becomes an attack on this religion or that. It's most curious.

One man's "incitement to hatred" in another man's discussion of pros and cons. Who gets to define which it is?

So US publications have not republished the cartoons. The European press has.

And the governments? "The US response contrasted with European governments, which have tended to acknowledge the tension between free speech and respect for religion but have generally accepted the newspapers' rights to print the cartoons."

There's load of irony here that hardly needs explaining. The rest of the world doesn't understand what a "free press" is all about, and we do, because we self-censor out of fear and government pressure? It seems odd to be shown up by the Europeans on this First Amendment stuff. That used to be our pride and joy. Oh well. Times change.

The State Department says its reaction "was a strong statement in support of Muslims around the world. It's a reflection of the concern felt by millions of Muslims and I think it will be appreciated." So they hope. "It is support for an understanding that with freedom comes responsibility." (We'll keep our press in line because we're really scared of you guys.)

Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, is saying the United States was responsible for creating far more anger in the Muslim world because of its invasion of Iraq - "The United States is the last nation that should caution against unnecessarily inflaming sentiments in the Muslim world."

It's a mess.

More detail?

There's this -
It's possible to regard the cartoon crisis as either a strategic disaster or boon for the War on Terror. The argument for it being a disaster is the assertion that in the war against extremists it is necessary to win over the moderates. And even if winning them over is impossible one may still be capable of keeping them neutral or indifferent; but at all events to avoid raising the Muslim masses in an emotional war against the West. The Danish cartoon crisis has managed to ignite what the Bush administration hoped to avoid from the beginning: turning the War on Terror into a War with Islam. Now an incident arising from a relatively obscure newspaper in Denmark has forced a choice between the most deeply held of all Western values, freedom of speech, with the cherished strategic goal of keeping the Muslim "street" aboard in the War on Terror.
And from Budapest, from Zsofia Szilagyi, political analyst and director of the Human Rights Film Foundation, Publishing Those Cartoons Was A Mistake -
In our networked world, existing societal and political tensions can be inflamed instantly through the transfer of messages from one cultural context to another. Media messages, films and art works cannot be addressed to a specific cultural group - traditional borders of culture and nation no longer exist.

Whether we like it or not, now we all effectively live next door to one another. This raises the stakes in the century-old debate on how to strike a balance between individual and collective press freedom rights.

The central question in this debate is as simple as it is difficult. What is more important for the democratic advancement of a society - to ensure the freedom of expression of all its citizens (within the limits marked by law) or to protect the collective interests of society?
We're so interconnected now we have to watch what we say very, very, very carefully now?

Also see this, a collection of what Arab journalists are saying - "If Denmark has tried to teach Arabs and Muslims a lesson in respect for the country's constitution and its laws, I believe it did not succeed in choosing the right issue. The justification that one must respect the constitution that guarantees freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to denigrate others, was not appropriate - this is the trap that Denmark fell into."

There's no understanding of the editorial cartoon here - the freedom to denigrate others is what that's all about. It may be the genre.

Then there's this -

That, from Tom Toles, ran in the Washington Post on 29 January and then this -
Military leaders angrily denounced as "beyond tasteless" a Washington Post editorial cartoon featuring a likeness of a severely wounded soldier and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as an attending doctor who says, "I'm listing your condition as 'battle hardened.'"

... It reflected the view of some that Bush administration officials do not recognize that U.S. forces are being worn out by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last month, in response to a Pentagon-commissioned report that said the Army was stretched so thin that it had become a "thin green line," Rumsfeld said the war-fighting experience had made U.S. troops "battle hardened" - stronger rather than weaker.

In a letter to the Post signed by Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., the vice chairman, as well as the chiefs of the four military services, they blasted the cartoon as "a callous depiction of those who have volunteered to defend this nation and as a result have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds."

"We believe you owe the men and women and their families who so selflessly serve our country the decency to not make light of their tremendous physical sacrifices," they wrote, while adding that the newspaper is "free to address any topic, including the state of readiness of today's armed forces."
Tome wasn't playing nice. But guys, that's not his job.

Even Rumsfeld got it right -
He recalled that editorial cartoonists had made "vicious" attacks on President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II and had published "perfectly terrible" cartoons about President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War.

"That's the way it is here," Rumsfeld said. "It comes with the territory, I guess is all I can say."
So lighten up. Rumsfeld himself famously said democracy can be messy.

Toles - "I certainly never intended it to be in any way a personal attack on, or a derogatory comment on, the service or sacrifice of American soldiers."

Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt - "While I certainly can understand the strong feelings, I took it to be a cartoon about the state of the Army and not one intended to demean wounded soldiers."

One man's "incitement to hatred" in another man's vivid discussion of pros and cons. Who gets to define which it is?

Tom Toles' editorial cartoons are here, with an archive. You decide if he should be reined in.

So we had the Cindy Sheehan t-shirt wars, and the war of the cartoons. Each may seem silly in some way, but somehow, people are touchy, and the issues are larger than the initial event.

And in the meantime, there was another memo - a two-hour pre-Iraq war meeting between President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair - two months before the war the two agree they'll invade no matter what the inspectors find or what the UN decides. You have to love the part where Bush considers painting some of our planes with UN markings and that nice robin's egg blue, and making sure Saddam's guys shoot them down, so the UN will want revenge and let us bomb the crap out of Baghdad.

And in the meantime, there was another poll - 53 percent of respondents to a new Gallup thing saying the Bush administration "deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction." Times change.

The editorial cartoonists are sharpening their pencils on these last two, unless they shouldn't.

Posted by Alan at 20:52 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 5 February 2006 07:07 PST home

Thursday, 2 February 2006
Eye on Hollywood - No Politics Today
Topic: Photos

Eye on Hollywood - No Politics Today

Thursday is photo shoot day, so no discussion of current events for the day.

Instead, two new photo albums -

Gritty Hollywood - a walk through the streets a block north and a bit west of the famous intersection of Sunset and Vine. The streets are Ivar and Cosmo, and Selma and Wilcox. Visually interesting. The glamour is elsewhere. But this is how Hollywood actually feels. Twenty-nine photos.

Groundhog Day Blooms - back east in northwestern Pennsylvania, in Punxsutawney, the groundhog saw his shadow. Six more weeks of winter. Here in Hollywood, these were in bloom, in the quiet residential streets just south of Sunset Boulevard, a few blocks west of Vine . This is the middle of winter here. A dozen blooms.

To be posted soon -

Crossroads of the World (6671 Sunset Boulevard) - historic landmark built as "the world's first modern shopping center" in 1936 - Streamline Moderne, Spanish Colonial, Tudor, Moorish and French Provincial styles, all mixed together. It's listed on National Register of Historic Places. In the 1993 film "Indecent Proposal" Demi Moore worked in a real estate office here. It plays its part in the 1997 film noir "L.A. Confidential" - Danny DeVito worked for a tabloid in one of the offices. It's in many other films. It's very odd.

De Longpre Park - a "pocket park" in Hollywood a block south of Crossroads of the World (De Longpre Avenue at June Street) where young Rick Nelson, on a break from nearby Hollywood High, wrote "Travelin' Man" on a tree-shaded bench, or so he said. The Nelson family lived nearby - for forty years at 1822 Camino Palermo. The odd thing in this park is the two sculptures honoring Rudolph Valentino. Go figure.

The Good Ship Coca-Cola - in the warehouse district of Los Angeles, east of the city, the old Coca-Cola bottling plant was designed to look just like an ocean liner. Major kitsch.

Politics resume here tomorrow.

From the albums -

Hollywood News on Wilcox (1930) - the building is for sale, and will probably become condominium for the trendy. The place is empty at the moment - no linotype machines or anything in there.

A bee gathering pollen on Groundhog Day in De Longpre Park, just to the left of the bust of Rudolph Valentino -

Posted by Alan at 22:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 2 February 2006 22:47 PST home

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