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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

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

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

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Sunday, 19 February 2006
Quotes for The Week of the Gun
Topic: In these times...

Quotes for The Week of the Gun

For your amusement, useful and pithy observations -
Sometimes accidents happen in life from which we have need of a little madness to extricate ourselves successfully. - François de la Rochefoucauld

There are no accidents without intentions. - Alex Miller

The Act of God designation on all insurance policies; which means, roughly, that you cannot be insured for the accidents that are most likely to happen to you. - Alan Coren

EEYORE: I'm not saying there won't be an Accident now, mind you. They're funny things, Accidents. You never have them till you're having them. - Alan Alexander Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Accidents will occur in the best-regulated families. - Charles Dickens

I don't believe in accidents. There are only encounters in history. There are no accidents. - Pablo Picasso

It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them. - Samuel Johnson

When you have shot one bird flying you have shot all birds flying. They are all different and they fly in different ways but the sensation is the same and the last one is as good as the first. - Ernest Hemingway

One knows so well the popular idea of health. The English country gentleman galloping after a fox - the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable. - Oscar Wilde

Whenever I see a photograph of some sportsman grinning over his kill, I am always impressed by the striking moral and esthetic superiority of the dead animal to the live one. - Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

One of my favorite clothing patterns is camouflage. Because when you're in the woods it makes you blend in. But when you're not it does just the opposite. It's like "Hey, there's an asshole." - Beefullo Demetri Martin

Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace. - Albert Schweitzer, The Philosophy of Civilization

As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together. - Isaac Bashevis Singer

The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of man. - Emile Zola

America... just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. - Hunter S. Thompson

The world may be divided into people that read, people that write, people that think, and fox-hunters. - William Shenstone
Enough said.

Posted by Alan at 08:24 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 18 February 2006
No Posting: Technical Issues
Topic: Photos

No Posting: Technical Issues

I am attempting to publish the weekly edition of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent to this daily web log. The seventeen new pages and all the photographs are ready to upload and index, but the hosting service, Earthlink, is having some major difficulties. Politics? Social commentary? Not today. Today is hours on the phone with the Earthlink help desk, but mostly on hold as they've been flooded with calls. Soon or later I'll reach a technical wizard and work this out. For now? Every computer trick I can think of.

In the meanwhile, stare at this. It says a lot about Los Angeles, a pretty cool place.

Posted by Alan at 19:59 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 17 February 2006
Wrapping Up: The Week Ends With Irony
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Wrapping Up: The Week Ends With Irony

Late Friday afternoon in Hollywood - 16 February - and a light rain falls, the first rain in more than six weeks. In the other room the television is glowering with the cable news shows, without sound. There's no point in turning off the mute. The news is all the same. The graphic on MSNBC Countdown is "The Week of the Gun." Well, it was more than that, but that's what all the talk is about, six days after the vice president shot a friend in the face in a hunting accident. Wednesday he explained himself on Fox News - he had only one beer and it was really his own fault and he feels bad. The president says he's satisfied with that and we call should be. There are niggling details - the twelve to fourteen hours that elapsed before the police spoke to him, the distances and wounds, the local police clearing anyone of anything without doing much of anything at all. But what does it matter? He may have been loopy drunk and done something stupid, but the victim recovered, even after a mild heart attack from a bit of birdshot lodged against his heart wall. Somehow a loopy, irresponsible drunk seems better than a self-righteous twit and second-rate bully who says he gave up Jack Daniels for Jesus and, cold sober, and because he says he's doing God's business, starts a war of choice for reasons that don't pan out and produce worldwide chaos - and then gives us childish platitudes that don't make sense and smirks. You want the simple-minded puritan who doesn't understand a whole lot of things and can't explain himself, but is dead sure of himself and expects our trust, or do you want the snarling, hyper-clever mean guy with the bad heart who says nothing, explains nothing, and pulls the strings of government from his "undisclosed location" with anger? That's the dynamic duo in charge. They "won" the first election and won the second. That's it. Deal with it.

But Friday, the shooting victim, Austin attorney Harry Whittington, released from the hospital in Corpus Christi (see CNN here) with one of the great ironic moments in recent American history - "My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this week." Josh Marshall here has a screen-capture of the CNN news page, with the big headline - "Shooting Victim Apologies to Vice President." One doubts CNN meant to be ironic, but Marshall says, "Let's put this headline in amber and pack it into the time capsule. Let folks know what it was like." Duncan Black here says this "will be the Rosetta stone for future historians to make sense of it all."

The dynamic duo and do no wrong. Perhaps the people of Iraq will apologize for our invasion and occupation. One never knows.

But Harry Whittington was gracious and gentlemanly. He even said some nice things about the press and joshed about the coverage a little. You have to like the guy. It was more a touch of classiness than a political thing, although the unintentional irony was thick in the air. It was one of the great "Say WHAT?" moments.

What happens with Cheney now? Friday he flew home to Wyoming where he started out in politics, as a congressman, a few years after he dropped out of Yale when his drinking got him in trouble (noted here). He addressed the state legislature on budget matters and mention it had been a long week.

It has been. Reagan speechwriter - and Republican Party "nurturing mother" - Peggy Noonan, in the Wall Street Journal had this - "Why Bush may be thinking about replacing Cheney." Seems she thinks he's become a "hate magnet" and hurts things more than helps. George doesn't need the training wheels any more? Maybe. Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean had, of course, already said Cheney should resign. Even Fox News ran some speculation on the idea.

Who'd get the job? Condoleezza Rice? Rick Santorum?

It's not going to happen. Some editorials here and there have called for it. No way. Spiro Agnew resigned because he was indicted for a few low-level felonies and pled no contest. We got clam, clumsy, well-intentioned Gerald Ford. There are no criminal charges here. It's not a parallel. The president's father was pressured to dump his vice president, Dan Quayle, but wouldn't, even after Quayle at a fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund commented on their motto "A mind is a terrible thing to waste..." with "What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is."

He stays. And Matthew Yglesias here notes another reason - YOU COULD FIRE ME, BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU. "Bush would need to think this over, and then he'd need to realize that Cheney knows too much. Post-administration books by Paul O'Neal and Richard Clarke were bad enough; Bush couldn't possibly survive antagonizing Cheney or Don Rumsfeld and witnessing the publication of their 'insider' accounts."

Maybe, but in any event the story has run its course.

Other stories haven't - the Cartoon Wars rage on, heading into the fourth week.

Okay - you've got your right wing Dutch paper deciding to play agent-provocateur and stir the pot, to get the Muslim world to show how awful they are so the Orangemen Rush Limbaugh clones can say, "See, these folks are really awful and we're really not." True to some extent, perhaps, but the whole set-up leads to worldwide chaos, and to all sorts of free-speech types up in arms even as they too are being jerked around. Fun and games.

You've got more of the Abu Ghraib torture photographs and videos trickling out - full details here with a follow-up here - because the Cheney administration (not a typo) doesn't like releasing information unless forced to, and there are things - done in your name that you paid for with your tax dollars - you just shouldn't know. Hell, they could have released it all three years ago, taken the hit and moved on. But no, that would look bad. Keep it close to the vest. Remember it was Cheney, who, in 1974, when he was chief-of-staff to President Ford (not Agnew), persuaded Ford to veto the Freedom of Information Act. Congress overrode the veto and Crazy Dick has been pissed ever since. It doesn't take an Einstein to see how that played out this week in a micro version - like the Abu Ghraib "hold the really bad stuff back" stance, hold the details of shooting your hunting buddy back for four or five days until you have to say something. How does this seem to everyone?

These guys are nutty - they couldn't make things worse if they tried. This is a strategy that results in keeping the world outside the borders of America perpetually pissed off as details dribble out over the years, and the "true believers" inside our borders perpetually self-righteous and angry. That seems to be the idea.

You want the next piss-off-the-world thing, after the cartoons and the new release of old photos?

Try this from Thursday morning's Los Angeles Times (registration required, but free).

The short version -

In downtown Jerusalem the new Museum of Tolerance is going up on the edge of Independence Park - as the Times puts it, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center's expansive new monument to "human dignity." They just discovered they're building this on a significant Muslim cemetery - not just the bones of the grandparents of the locals, but "associates of the prophet Muhammad" - the graves go back to the seventh century.

Issue - "Lawyers for two Muslim and human rights organizations Wednesday asked Israel's Supreme Court to block the project, which they said displays a disrespect at odds with the planned museum's mission to promote coexistence of ethnicities and religions."

The LA folks and the Israeli government are just boxing up the old bones and shoving the boxes in sheds. No big deal. No response.

A minor things of course, but it could blow up, in all sorts of ways.

Local connection - this "Center for Human Dignity, Museum of Tolerance" was designed by our own Frank Gehry (Disney Hall and the Guggenheim in Bilbao) - two museums, a library and education center, an international conference center and a performing arts theater - blue and silver titanium, steel, glass and "golden Jerusalem stone." Gehry is "the" LA architect these days, world-famous. And our governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, gave a ton of money to get this built, and was at the groundbreaking two years ago, saying the place would begin "a time when people can live together in peace and coexistence."

Anyway, some response would be nice. "We're looking into this and let's work something out." Nope. Move on. Box the bones and build the thing on schedule - we're talking tolerance here, and you're messing that up. Don't ask questions.

Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride.

On the other hand, there was some funny irony this week, as Matthew Yglesias notes here -
FREEDOM DANISH. I've seen plenty of links to this story about Iranian bakeries ditching the "danish" in favor of "Roses of the Prophet Mohammed" complete with the obligatory reference to America's own "freedom fries" incident. What I'm not sure people realize is that, in the House of Representatives at least, those fried potato thingies are still being called freedom fries. France, meanwhile, is pissed about Iran's nuclear program, so perhaps it's time to cut them a break.
Yep, France said let's cut the bullshit - Iran is working on nuclear weapons, no matter what they say, and everyone knows it. What's up with that? Well, things with Iran just get more and more tense. And the French want to deal with reality. That can be seen as role reversal, with them sounding like Bush more than three years ago. Actually, it isn't. Then and now they prefer working with reality. Very odd.

Now what?

But the Vice President did shoot that guy.

In the meantime the world as we know it is ending. Sort of. At the end of the week there was this in the Washington Post, and all over - the glaciers in Greenland are "melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed." Big deal? Well, lots of flooding, severe storms, low-lying countries underwater, a new ice age in Europe and all the rest. We thought we had many decades before anything really bad happened. Probably not. And it may be too late to do much of anything. See this, and this study - "the kind of study that should make people stay awake at night."

Remember James Hansen, the guy from NASA that the college dropout the administration appointed tried to silence - discussed last week in these pages, "Dateline NASA" here and "Keeping Us Safe" here?
On CNN here he tells Lou Dobbs all the scientists know things are really bad, the climate changing much faster than anyone imagined, but the administration is keeping them quiet at NASA, and it's even worse at NOAA and still worse at the EPA. Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride. And remember this - Karl Rove set up a secret science advisory session for the president with the novelist who wrote the potboiler about how global warming was a hoax cooked up by the liberals. You get your science where your get your science. The president prefers the guy who wrote Jurassic Park. The scientists who don't write bestselling fiction are so boring.

But the Vice President did shoot that guy.

And now we have big-gun neoconservatives turning on the administrations, as in this preview of a Sunday blockbuster -
New York Times Magazine, February 19 -

Francis Fukuyama renounces neoconservatism in an essay on post-Iraq U.S. foreign policy and labels the contemporary core of the movement - William Kristol and Robert Kagan, et al. - as Leninist: "They believed" he writes, "that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will." Fukuyama worries that our failures in Iraq will lead to a new American isolationism and argues that in rethinking our relationship to the world, we need "ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about." ...
Our failures in Iraq? Well, it has been difficult. But the idea was Leninist?

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, adds this -
You could see that Francis Fukuyama thing coming from way back - even before he came out as an opponent of the Iraqi war, but as far back as his "End of History" thing. You cannot, even ironically, find yourself singing the praises of "liberal democracy" over and over, as he did in that original article, and stay a conservative forever.
Yep, "liberal democracy" has its problems, as explained Friday, February 17th in this, what many call the "must read" item of the day. Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institute tells us in the Washington Post that in a democratic Middle East, extreme Islamist parties are going to win power whether we like it or not, and nobody in the Middle East actually believes we're serious about democracy anyway, so Hamas wins in Palestine. We need to get used to that sort of thing happening and work with the bad guys winning -
Given this, skepticism about the real aims of these groups should be balanced by openness to the possibility that their aims once they are in power could differ from their aims as opposition groups. This requires partial engagement, patience, and a willingness to allow such new governments space and time to put their goals to the test of reality. Hamas, in fact, could provide a place for testing whether careful engagement leads to moderation.

If we are not willing to engage, there is only one alternative: to rethink the policy of accelerated electoral democracy and focus on a more incremental approach of institutional and economic reform of existing governments. There is no realistic third party that's likely to emerge anytime soon.
The idea is careful engagement. But we don't do that. We talk of cutting off all aid to the new government there - to piss them off more? That will make them recognize Israel and stop all the bombings? A long shot. And there was this - all our talking about how we were planning to work with Israel to undermine the new Hamas government and force new elections, until they elected folks we like and who like us. Then we had to deny were really planning that. Yep, "liberal democracy" has its problems.

At the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum adds this -
Saudi Arabia's theocracy is treated with kid gloves because they have lots of oil, and Pakistan's military dictatorship is left alone because they (sort of) help us out against al-Qaeda. Egypt holds a pretend election and gets nothing more than a mild verbal rebuke. The Kurds in Iraq would like nothing more than a chance at self-determination, but that's a little too much democracy for our taste.

All of this is excusable. The Middle East is not a place that lends itself to simplistic solutions. But "democracy is on the march" is not the only way to promote democracy, especially in a region where US support is almost a sure fire way to lose an election. Telhami's "careful engagement" may not be a very punchy slogan, but in the long run, it's more likely to work.
This is not a careful administration. The Vice President did shoot that guy. And the neoconservative crusade to being Jeffersonian democracy to the region, and unregulated free-market capitalism and Wal-Mart and whatnot, in one fell swoop, and by force if necessary, seems more and more like madness. Francis Fukuyama is not alone. Just what are we doing? Drum also points to this in these Palestinian Authority elections we openly supported Fatah not Hamas. That was the kiss of death. That endorsement lost them the election.

Bring democracy in one fell swoop? Fell: FIERCE, CRUEL, TERRIBLE or SINISTER, MALEVOLENT (a fell purpose) or very destructive, DEADLY (a fell disease).

Cheney and his shotgun...

And simmering in the background, the NSA spying thing - can the president ignore the law the require warrants, based on a very loose definition probable cause, the FISA law passed by congress? Or can he ignore laws as he has this new interpretation his in-house attorneys have provided him of what the constitution really means? The House Intelligence Committee just agreed they'd better hold hearings (story here), and some of them say it's a "serious probe" and the chairman says, no, "the inquiry would be much more limited in scope, focusing on whether federal surveillance laws needed to be changed and not on the eavesdropping program itself." Which is it?

The Senate Intelligence Committee was going to hold hearings too, but that got stopped (story here) - the chairman there, Bush ally Pat Roberts of Kansas, bypassed the committee and reached a private agreement with the White House - they'd provide more information when they could. No committee vote, as in this -
After a two-hour closed-door session, Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the committee adjourned without voting on whether to open an investigation. Instead, he and the White House confirmed that they had an agreement to give lawmakers more information on the nature of the program. The White House also has committed to make changes to the current law, according to Roberts and White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino.
Ah, a gentlemen's agreement, or as the New York Times put it - "Is there any aspect of President Bush's miserable record on intelligence that Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is not willing to excuse and help to cover up?" (Late Friday, Roberts seemed to change is mind a bit - the committee may ask some questions about all this. Maybe.)

The Senate Judiciary Committee is already holding hearings, but the White House is working to slow them down. (Story here.) When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the committee on the program, covered last week in The Attorney General Smiles, he said that he was willing to have former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testify before the committee as well. Now he's not so sure. They have raised questions. This may not be allowed.

Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride.

Really? There's the back story of a federal personnel action last week -
CIA Chief Sacked For Opposing Torture

The CIA's top counter-terrorism official was fired last week because he opposed detaining Al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons abroad, sending them to other countries for interrogation and using forms of torture such as "water boarding", intelligence sources have claimed. ...
You kind fins a whole lot of "minor" stories about the old hand at the CIA retiring early and quitting. Sometimes the angle is the new head, Peter Goss, wants only Bush loyalists. Some of them quit, we're told, because they know torture doesn't work and secret prisons make the spy work harder - no one wants to cooperate. But you don't stay on and actually say the whole new way of doing business is wrong and counterproductive. You don't tell your boss that he and his superiors are going down the wrong path. Get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride. Or get out.

Then, at the end of the week, there was the UN call to shut down Guantánamo. (Story here - "United Nations human rights investigators called on the United States today to shut down the Guantanamo Bay camp and give detainees quick trials or release them..."

Fat chance. Friday you could see Donald Rumsfeld ripping the UN in a press briefing - they hadn't been there, they knew nothing, these are really bad people we've got there, and it's not anybody else's business. Even the CNN commentator pointed out the UN didn't visit because we said they absolutely could not talk to any prisoners at all. You're allowed to say the Secretary of Defense is being a tad "disingenuous" on air? Odd. Well, it's CNN not Fox.

The full report is here (PDF format) and has a bit to say about the force-feeding of these folk on hunger strikes, calling it a violation of human rights and of medical ethics, and "the use of interrogation techniques that go beyond what international law permits" as in The confusion with regard to authorized and unauthorized interrogation techniques is particularly alarming." Picky, picky...

At least the Brits and the Blair government will stand against us against this UN slander. Nope. Check out this - "America's idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilized nations." Oops. That's British High Court Judge, Justice Collins. The British High Court is highest legal authority in America's closest ally.

We're becoming a rogue nation?

So what's the problem? As the UN sees it -
- the inability of suspects to challenge their captivity before a judicial body that meets international standards, which "amounts to arbitrary detention."

- a hearing system in which the executive branch of the United States government acts as judge, prosecutor and defense counsel for detainees, which constitutes "serious violations of the right to a fair trial."

- Attempts by the United States administration to redefine torture to allow interrogation techniques "that would not be permitted under the internationally accepted definition of torture."

- Authorized interrogation techniques, particularly if used together, that "amount to degrading treatment" in violation of an international treaty banning torture.

- "The general conditions of detention, in particular the uncertainty about the length of detention and prolonged solitary confinement, amount to inhuman treatment."

- "The excessive violence used in many cases during transportation," and "force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike must be assessed as amounting to torture."
Otherwise we're quite civilized and great defenders of human rights.

You might recall Donald Rumsfeld sent Major General Geoffrey Miller to Abu Ghraib to run that place like her ran Guantánamo - to make Abu Ghraib more efficient and effective. As Miller said - "You have to treat the prisoners like dogs. If you treat them, or if they believe that they're any different than dogs, you have effectively lost control of your interrogation from the very start. So they have to earn everything they get. And it works."

There are laws that protect dogs. Do this stuff to dogs and you get arrested.

As mentioned elsewhere in these pages too, most of these folks at Guantánamo seem to not be the bad guys we're told. There's more here at the Washington Monthy - the Seton Hall study and others, with pie chart - only eleven percent of those held were capture on the battlefield, and two-thirds of them were rounded up in Pakistan and turned over to the United States, possibly in response to flyers like this distributed by the United States -
Get wealth and power beyond your dreams....You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taliban forces catch al-Qaida and Taliban murders. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life. Pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all your people.
Great. But we can't back down now. That would look like we're fools. We're trapped.

Actually, if we said we were wrong and fixed this we might look pretty good. Admit we made mistakes and fix them. (Stop laughing.)

And Dahlia Lithwick, the legal writer, here runs down the issues of the legal status of these folks we're holding. They're not citizens (well, maybe a few) and we say they are not prisoners of war but "enemy combatants" (there's a difference?) and the place is not in America, or in a foreign country either -
Guantánamo is a not-place. It's neither America nor Cuba. It is peopled by people without names who face no charges. Non-people facing non-trials to defend non-charges are not a story. They are a headache. No wonder the prisoners went on hunger strikes. Not-eating, ironically enough, is the only way they could try to become real to us.
Now what?

Andrew Sullivan reprints this letter from a veteran -
When I saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib (and Gitmo?) my eyes filled up and I began to weep slowly. For my country. Americans don't do things like this! (Yes, I remember My Lai but when it was revealed, the country was shocked and outraged.) I was born in the presidency of FDR and my uncles and cousins fought in the European and Pacific theaters. Enemy soldiers, when they surrendered, wanted to surrender to the Americans because Americans didn't mistreat prisoners. The Japanese were particularly hated because of their well-known ill-treatment of prisoners.

I grew to manhood during the height of the Cold War and the doctrine of MAD. I never saw combat (too young for Korea, too old for Vietnam) but I did serve for 3 years as an Intelligence officer in a strategic airborne unit. America was widely respected, with all our faults and stumbling steps, as "a shining city on a hill". When we betray our national ideals for the stated purpose of defending them, we lose the moral high ground.

I remember when Bill Buckley started National Review and when Barry Goldwater, an intelligent, thoughtful man, ran for the Presidency. Ronald Reagan, (whom, I confess, I consider a so-so President) was a decent, honorable man who understood that bullets and bombs are not enough to "win" a war.

Question for you, Andrew: when did intellectual conservatism morph into an apologia for trickery, torture, and theocracy?
That would be January 2000.

Try this -
So here's how the world works. The US media keeps the country in the dark about things everybody else in the world knows, then Americans, in their ignorance, vote for people who promise to do things that make no sense whatever, except in the context of their own (understandably) confused notions about what might make sense. Take for instance, this invasion of Iraq, which to be fair, was never really that popular, but was always far more popular than it should have been. Because people were deliberately misinformed on its relative level of popularity by the Bush administration and by Fox News (See the survey by the Program on Policy Attitudes if you doubt this.), they have a hard time understanding why in the world everybody hates us, and think it's because of "our freedoms" rather than because, say, we pretend to liberate people but we actually torture them.
Ah, another bitter liberal. Bush won the election, at least the second one.

What about deeply conservative George F. Will in the Washington Post, not on the UN issue but herecalling out the administration for saying the FISA law doesn't apply to them, nor any law they think cramps their style when fighting the war on terror. He pretty much says this is nonsense. He likes the constitution. And the Friday commentary on the right says he's not really a conservative. So much for his thirty-year career. It's beyond irony.

As they say, get in, sit down, shut up - enjoy the ride. Or get out.

The opposition party, the Democrats, will do next to nothing. The economics are against a third party, and things have been redistricted anyway, and there are those "no paper trail" voting machines made by just two companies run by Bush fundraisers.

Now what? Just words.

Posted by Alan at 23:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 17 February 2006 23:18 PST home

Thursday, 16 February 2006
A Taste of Hollywood at Oscar Time
Topic: Photos

At Taste of Hollywood at Oscar Time

Not politics today.

The seventy-eighth Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, March 5, 2006 - at the Kodak Theatre at the Hollywood and Highland Center. That's just a mile or two east, so for those of you who follow such things, here's the scene there Thursday, February 16th, sixteen days before the event, as preparations begin, and the tourists mill about. You'll also find photos from a side trip a few miles west to a fine old movie palace in Westwood Village, just south of the UCLA campus.

The album of fifty shots is here - A Taste of Hollywood at Oscar Time


Big Fake Oscar in the Courtyard next to the Kodak Theater, Hollywood and Highland

A few steps away, history - the Hollywood Museum in the old Max Factor Building -

The best old movie theater - Fox, Westwood Village

Posted by Alan at 23:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 19 February 2006 08:13 PST home

Wednesday, 15 February 2006
What's Important: You Don't Know Dick
Topic: The Media

What's Important: You Don't Know Dick

The intention of these "current events" reviews, trying to sift the real news from the sham news - stuff that doesn't matter much to anyone (news for the nosy and easily amused) - with commentary. It's an attempt to find out what's going on that may make a difference in this sorry world. Of course, secondarily it's always amazing to see what matters to people - last year the Michael Jackson trial and the missing girl in Aruba, this year the gay cowboys and, at present, the fellow who seems to have murdered his wife and child and fled to England (he's on his way back to face charges). Thus it's a sort of anti-journalism, as mainstream American corporate journalism has settled into a joust for market share and a guessing game - what will keep the "news consumer reading, listening or watching long enough for them to tolerate the advertising that pays for it all? There is a niche market for "serious news" - those big stories about who we are and where the country is heading. But it really is a niche market. For the most part those who market the news know what big swaths of the public what to know, and the sensational is not "sham" to that massive demographic. One big story Wednesday, February 15, was this - Willie Nelson Releases A Song About Gay Cowboys. It's what people want to know. That's the service they provide. This is a service to the elitist niche market.

Of sometimes the "serious" melds with the mainstream news. Constitution law and international law, the issues underlying the NSA spying business and most everything to do with the war and how we conduct it - torture or enhanced interrogation for example - may be arcane and dreary to "big target" demographic, and New Orleans wiped out and the Muslim furor over the Dutch cartoons maybe be just old news now. But when perhaps the prime architect of the Iraq war, and the driving force behind all administration policy, the Vice President, shoots a man with a shotgun, the two join in an odd way.

Mid-week, Wednesday, February 15th, that was the news, most all of it, in the domestic media. That was the day, four full days after the hunting accident, the Vice President broke his silence and decided to explain himself, to one reporter, Brit Hume, on one network, Fox. Otherwise he's saying nothing.

That's juicy - the man is strange in so many ways - but not exactly "serious" policy stuff that will get us in or out of this war or those to come in Iran and Syria and wherever else, and it doesn't have a whit to do with the current claim the administration has the inherent right to ignore quite explicit laws and disregard court decisions, and can conduct warrantless wire taps on citizens, ignore treaties and recent statutes regarding torture and that sort of thing, and disregard court decisions about arresting citizen without charges and holding them incommunicado for years on end without any right to challenge the arrest in any way. But for the nosy and easily amused the man had a beer (just one he says) and shot an old guy, then said nothing for four days. Good stuff. Great story.

Important? The Just Above Sunset email group wrestled with that.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, from Paris, said this -
If you ask me I would say the United States has gotten hysterical.

Guy out hunting shoots another hunter. It's a really stupid thing to do, either shoot or get shot, but it happens all the time. Ask the NRA.

So the shooter is the Vice President of the United States, Nothing sinister in it.

If there was they could have said the other guy got shot cleaning his gun. If Cheney wanted the guy offed he could have made a phone call.

This is another Michael Jackson story. It is part of the 'stuff' of the United States; the 'stuff' that doesn't mean much, except to the 'news' industry and all of its satellites. It's this week's missing bride story.

Isn't there some other more serious, urgent business? Lies, robbery, bribes, corruption, deception, torture, kidnapping, war, death.

What's a cure for hysteria?
Well, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, disagrees, and he was one of the folks who started CNN twenty-five years ago - back when CNN did news and didn't dump "news guys" for "warm personalities: like Anderson Cooper. Rick sees this as "serious" news -
Okay, yeah, it's hysteria, just like all the other "stuff" in this country - American "stuff" like leftist hysteria about the Iraqi war, and right-wing hysteria about 9/11, loud complaints about huge budget deficits fueled by huge tax cuts that benefit rich Republicans and the cutting of Democratic programs most Americans think we need, public hysteria about the government acting like a hurricane that wipes out New Orleans is just a local problem, state and local school boards chipping away at the wall between church and state, conservatives railroading justices onto the highest court in hopes they will eventually do what most Americans want them not to do, and worries from both sides of the aisle that our president truly believes he can ignore the Constitution he swore an oath to uphold and defend.

So other than the obligatory jokes, why does anyone have reason to care about this veep shooting thing?

First of all, it does say something about the way these people mishandle our public business. Rather than feeling a responsibility to keep the American public informed, they had meetings and decided to leave getting the word out up to the property owner (a lobbyist, by the way - isn't it always the case that these people turn over their responsibilities to lobbyists?) - so if this Armstrong woman had decided to keep this whole thing to herself, would any of us ever even have heard about it? And doesn't that matter?

Maybe in Europe, this is played as Americans thinking Cheney might really have been trying to off the guy, but that's not what people here think. In this country, a large number of citizens think they have a right to know what the political leadership is up to, and right now, they're wondering why the leadership seems to think it's none of our business.

Second of all, imagine if Al Gore had done this ten years ago, and the White House trying to keep it quiet. With the Republicans holding Congress? No question about it, he would have been impeached! Not that that matters so much, but it does help put this all in perspective.

This whole thing is about feeling helpless within a democracy. The group in power is so arrogant that it doesn't care what the opposition thinks, knowing full well that the people who voted them into power are too stupid to care about anything other than Michael Jackson and runaway brides.

Although folks living in Europe never can be convinced of this, their perspective about what goes on over here is always a bit out of kilter. I remember vacationing in the UK during the early days of Watergate and reading in the tabloids that it was just a matter of days before mobs would be invading White House grounds to eject Nixon from office, something that dismayed them because they couldn't understand what all that anti-Nixon hysteria was about, especially since it appeared to be a totally sexless scandal, unlike their scandals usually involving photos of some Chancellor of the Exchequer patronizing the same call girl that once had relations with a Soviet Ambassador, prompting the whole cabinet to resign and the queen to ask someone or other to form a new government. Now THAT'S a proper scandal, to be sure!

So you think this whole thing is just a concern of the "news business and its satellites"? Then so be it. Somebody's got to give a shit about what goes on in the halls of power, even if American voters don't.
Then Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, sent a second email to the group -
Having just re-read this after having sent it, it certainly sounds much harsher than I meant it to sound. I'm not really that angry at all.

I was just expressing a difference of opinion with you, Ric, so please, don't come gunning for me. Thanks.
The reply from Paris? This -
But wait! You do sound angry with these louts. Let it out.

Everybody except the crazies is too polite. Besides, I haven't any BB's.

Compared to the United States' other problems a couple of Repubs shooting each other is pretty small spuds. But you are right - they can't even get this straight. So Cheney was bombed with a loaded gun - let a lobbyist take care of it! It's how all business in the United States is handled these days. It's not something new, like a runaway bride.

Here, in Froglando, the incident got its 30 seconds' worth on TV Tuesday. That's it, no more, all done. There was the New York snow pile to report. And fires - isn't LA burning again? [Editor's Note: No, not today.]

The French were sending an old aircraft carrier to India to get rid of it. Before, they were supposed to take all the asbestos out of it. But there's lots left in, says Greenpeace, and now the Indian Supreme Court says, hmmmm? Today France decides to give up and recall the wretched thing, but it's got to go by way of Good Hope because the Egyptians don't want it going through Suez again. Anybody could see this coming, but it'll take the navy three months to drag the thing back - and then? And then there'll be a big fight about it being too dangerous to take apart in France, in Europe, in the whole world. You know what TV-news showed us? The Americans took their aircraft carrier, USS America, out to some nice deep place lost in the middle of the ocean owned by the whole world, and pulled its plug. Glug, glug, no more 80,000-ton carrier full of asbestos. Can do!

European perspective about what is going on in America is slightly out-of-kilter because the United States is slightly out-of-kilter. French hunters shoot each other all the time. An unwritten rule here is, don't go in the woods from September until February unless you are crazy. It's too dangerous. Worse - 'they' won't even tell us how many hunters get bumped off every year. Statistics, if any, about innocent dead civilians are just thrown away.

So, you see, getting shot while hunting is as easy as breathing.

That the Vice President does it too just proves that it's a popular pastime on both sides of the Atlantic.
Well, you can read about that old French aircraft carrier full of asbestos here - Chirac Orders Return of Ship Over Asbestos Concerns (New York Times) but the conflict is clear. It the "Vice President Cheney Shoots Man and Says Nothing for Four Days" an important story? And, if it is, why is it important?

Out here in Hollywood late in the afternoon you could watch Tony Blankley, the pleasant fellow in charge of the Op-Ed page of Reverend Moon's hyper-Republican Washington Times and a Fox News mainstay. He had the new line - this is a non-story, it's no big deal. He was on a panel on Chris Matthews' Hardball on MSNBC with Byron York of the conservative National Review, who was actually amazed at that idea. Blankley trotted out the concept that the whole thing was in the news because the Washington reporters, the White House press contingent, got scooped by a tiny Texas paper, felt the White House was mocking them, and they were angry and jealous, so they were making a big deal about what was really nothing. That concept (would-be meme) has been bouncing around on the right side of the web for a few days. Right now it's just a talking point, and hasn't snowballed into a meme. In any event, York and Matthews looked dumfounded. They may not agree with all that
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, said above, but they seemed to agree with a large part of it.

How about a counter-meme, one from the land of tin-foil hats? There's this - something about the big confession (or whatever it was) about the shooting, this hunting accident, is too convenient. The administration knew this bad week was coming - the nasty hearings on this and that that would make them look very bad, the cartoon wars raging, Iraq still and mess and the Iran bomb thing getting even more tense - and the Abu Ghraib torture photos. Good day for Cheney to drop by Fox News and chat with Brit. Keep the rubes for attending to the other stuff. (Not advanced - was the shooting itself planned as a distraction for all the hits the administration was taking and those that might come? That's too far out.)

But what got short shrift was this - Senate Republicans Criticize Rice on Iraq. Yes, while the nation wanted to know if Vice President Cheney would say, yes, he shot the guy while buzzed on Jack Daniels and his heart medications (he did have two drunken driving arrests many years ago, here), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was facing a bunch of Republican Senators asking here what was going on, as Iraq was is chaos and thing were getting worse and not better. Photos show her looking angry and defensive.

This would have been big news on another day. Not this day. Cheney looked a tad sad and thoughtful on Fox News, mellow and contemplative.

The very same day Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff faced another group of senators, who wanted to go over the just-released nearly six hundred page report on how the response to Hurricane Katrina was so messed up. The report explicitly said he and the president were "disengaged" (putting it kindly), and pretty much asleep at the switch and ignoring the incoming facts on the ground, and people dies because of their incompetence. They weren't prepared, and then reacted stupidly. Reuters covered the report itself here. ABC covered the basics of the hearing here - it was nasty. Chertoff said they did do some good things but yes, they messed up badly, and said he takes responsibility, and he will fix things.

This would have been big news on another day. Not this day. Cheney looked a tad sad and thoughtful on Fox News, mellow and contemplative. (And Fox News covered the hearing with this - Everybody and Kitchen Sink Faulted for Katrina Response - as they thought everyone misinterpreted what was in the report and said in the hearing - both really showed everyone messed up and the feds did fine, considering.)

Would this be news on another day? UN Urges Haiti Poll 'Fraud' Probe - we arranged that the previously elected ruler there was removed, and urged elections to bring "democracy" (better outcome), and that's falling apart. Not news this day.

Go southeast a few hundred miles. Iran Open To Helping Venezuela Nuclear Program. What? The game Iran is playing these days just got local. This is a major in-your-face challenge. How will we react? Would this be news on another day?

ABC chose the day for this - airing tapes of Saddam Hussein himself back in the mid-nineties saying some terrorists were sure to attack America but they'd obviously not be associated with any state. It was inevitable. Interesting. Would this be news on another day?

Would this - Vice President Cheney won't say a word about the CIA leak scandal because now it seems he will actually be called as a witness in the trial of Scooter Libby? The VP will take the stand? My, my. At least the trial has been postponed until after the fall elections. This will be hot, but not cost seats in the senate or house.

What about this? Congress back in 1978 passed the FISA law to specify the precise conditions under which the executive branch could secretly wiretap and generally spy on American citizen in America, and amended it in 1995 or so, and again with the first version of the Patriot Act. You can do that. Just get a warrant. We'll make it easy. The president ignores the law and says no law congress applies to him if he thinks what's he's doing is in any way related to terrorism. They can pass anything they'd like. He can decide to ignore it. And even the Republicans in the senate call him out - the Senate Intelligence Committee calls for hearings on the whole NSA business. Explain yourself, sir! While Dick is chatting with Brit in the shadows on Fox News, the American Bar Association, across party lines, announces that, damn it, you have to get warrants - that's the law. (See this.) And the Washington Post reports this - the White House, led by Rove and Cheney, will soon get the Senate to cancel the hearings and effectively admit the president has the authority to ignore whatever laws they pass he judges tiresome and inappropriate. That changes the nature of our government. After two hundred and thirty years things change suddenly. But the story is a sidebar.

Is this news? No one was shot. 325,000 Names on Terrorism List - "The National Counterterrorism Center maintains a central repository of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects or people who allegedly aid them, a number that has more than quadrupled since the fall of 2003, according to counterterrorism officials." That's a lot of names, and a four-fold increase means what? The war has created four times the number of terrorists in the last three years? Things are worse? Or are they better - our intelligence efforts are finally paying off and we know more? Or did they just add Americans who don't care much for what the president has down in the last three years? Hard to tell.

Oh well, while the Vice President was reliving his personal agony on Fox News the world was attending to this -
New images showing Iraqis abused by U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib prison three years ago threatened Wednesday to enflame public anger already running high over footage of British soldiers beating youths in southern Iraq.

Images of naked prisoners, some bloodied and lying on the floor, were taken about the same time as earlier photos that triggered a worldwide scandal and led to military trials and prison sentences for several lower-ranking American soldiers.

Many of the pictures broadcast Wednesday by Australia's Special Broadcasting Service, including some that appear to show corpses, were more graphic than those previously published. One of the video clips depicted a group of naked men with bags over their heads standing together and masturbating. The network said they were forced to participate.
This is trouble, and our reaction is to say someone should do something about all these leaks, as reported here - these could "further inflame and cause unnecessary violence" and we already took care of the low-level people who did this stuff, so everything is fine now. Excpet the rest of the would snickers when we say such things. This would be a big story another day.

There's complete review of the situation here with links to all the photos. They aren't new. They're part of the original batch but withheld as they were too rough. The ACLU has been fighting to get them released, with the idea we should know what really happened. That's still in litigation. The world gets more dangerous.

And the Cartoon Wars rage on, the third week - Three Killed in Massive Cartoon Protests.

The odd thing is that whole matter has been discussed in these pages, but Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, where nothing has been said, has received these two messages -
It is a very sorrowful and painful incident that cartoon has been published in the western newspapers without caring the dignity of holy prophet of God. This is a serious matter. Such bad and criminal act cannot be tolerated. Such a criminal and vulgar act can destroy the harmony and peace of world. Those who dared to draw and publish such cartoons must be punished. Doing such will not only satisfy the Muslims but the criminals will also be taught a lesson. No law of the world allows doing such. The holy prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) was a man who led his life very cleanly. He is a true prophet of God who preached to worship only one God. His attitudes are exemplary for the mankind in every field of life. He gave the mankind the lessons of justice, respect, tolerance, peace and human dignity. During his life he conveyed the message of God and never harmed any one. Then why European newspapers tried to publish such cartoons. If the criminals were not punished it will only show that Europeans does not have any rule of human dignity and going to put an end the harmony and peace of world.

Islamabad, PAKISTAN February 15, 2006
Note: Convey my aspirations to your public and government

Mr. Editor,

Important Matter Of Respect For Holy Prophets

Yes making cartoon is not a crime but making such like insulting cartoons about holy prophet is a crime and vulgar action. The editors of Jyllans Posten have committed a crime. So the must be punished. They have hurt millions of Muslims of the world. Will they like to make such like insulting cartoon about their beloved leader? I want to ask you what will be your feelings and expressions if some one may dare to draw and publish such like cartoon about Holy Jesus or Holy Christ. Will not you denounce it? We being Muslims strongly condemn such like vulgar and criminal action. Being Muslim we believe that all the prophets of God are most respectable and sacred personalities. It is the part of our faith.

There must be a respect for these holy and sacred personalities such as prophets.

Islamabad, PAKISTAN February 15, 2006

Note: Convey my and Muslims' aspirations to your public and government by publishing my mail. Thanks
Done, for what it's worth.

On the other hand, considering the real news today - "Look! Something bright and sparkly! - if you want to deal with the hunting accident,
this is good, Bruce Reed at SLATE.COM

He gets off some good lines -
Even in his darkest hour, Vice President Cheney must have taken some perverse pleasure in watching the press corps whine for two days that the White House withheld information. The more reporters complain about secrecy, the more Cheney must be thinking, "Stop Me Before I Shoot Again."

But after Republican leaders put a gun to his head, the vice president couldn't hide out any longer, and agreed to be interviewed by Brit Hume for this evening. Tonight on Fox: "I Shot the Lawyer, But I Did Not Shoot the Deputy."
The main idea is Cheney is just following the crisis management guidelines the president established during Katrina: Blame everyone else for three days, and if that doesn't work, agree to take the fall. "Bush and Cheney have kept that campaign promise about ushering in 'the responsibility era'; they just forgot to mention the tape delay."

Sigh. Well, it is the news story of the day, and somehow emblematic.



The rivalry between the networks for what is the news story of the day produces some neat stuff, like this exchange on the CNN Crossfire show - Wolf Blitzer host, Jack Cafferty commentator and resident curmudgeon. From Media Matters, what was said -
BLITZER: First of all, Jack, what did you make of Dick Cheney's interview today?

CAFFERTY: Well, I obviously didn't see it 'cause it hasn't been released in its entirety yet, but I - I would guess it didn't exactly represent a profile in courage for the vice president to wander over there to the F-word network for a sit down with Brit Hume. I mean, that's a little like Bonnie interviewing Clyde, ain't it? I mean, where was the news conference? Where was the - where was the access to all of the members of the media? I don't know. You know? Whatever.

BLITZER: You still think he needs to do a full-scale news conference in front of all of the cameras, all of the reporters, and ask whatever they want?

CAFFERTY: That's never going to happen. But, I mean, running over there to the Fox network to - I mean that's - talk about seeking a safe haven. He's not going to get any high, hard ones from anybody at the F-word network. I think we know that.
Jack Cafferty is onto something here. It was carefully managed.

And this has been cited in the pages before -
Vice President Cheney endorsed the Fox News Channel during a conference call last night with tens of thousands of Republicans who were gathered across the country to celebrate a National Party for the President Day organized by the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Fox News styles its coverage as "fair and balanced," but it has a heavy stable of conservative commentators that makes it a favorite around the White House. It is unusual for a president or vice president to single out a commercial enterprise for public praise.

The comment came as Cheney took questions from supporters at 5,245 parties that were held in 50 states to energize grass-roots volunteers building a precinct-by-precinct army for President Bush's campaign.

"It's easy to complain about the press - I've been doing it for a good part of my career," Cheney said. "It's part of what goes with a free society. What I do is try to focus upon those elements of the press that I think do an effective job and try to be accurate in their portrayal of events. For example, I end up spending a lot of time watching Fox News, because they're more accurate in my experience, in those events that I'm personally involved in, than many of the other outlets."
Where do you go for news?

Posted by Alan at 22:34 PST | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2006 22:36 PST home

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