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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, 27 March 2006
Strange doings out here on the far edge of the continent...
Topic: Breaking News

Strange doings out here on the far edge of the continent...

Los Angeles, Monday, March 27, 2006, Air America was here - the Al Franken Show got real local, this one broadcast from the Catalina Bar and Grill, the jazz club down on Sunset Boulevard (at 9725, between Hollywood High and Crossroads of the World). Among the guests were Cindy Sheehan, Meg Ryan and Lawrence O'Donnell, the writer/producer for NBC's "The West Wing." The show started at nine in the morning, but the line formed at seven. Too early, even if free. And who wants to sit in a dark room for three hours watching these people say what you expect them to say? And anyway, the new place is too slick - the Catalina was better when it was up on Cahuenga, right off Hollywood Boulevard. Ah well, things change. And fresh coffee here, and the Danish pipe tobacco, and the Times spread out on the table, seemed better that a jazz club in the morning with the humorous left.

But what was this outside the window, over the Catalina? LAPD helicopters? What did Cindy Sheehan do now? And they were loud, as the Catalina is just ten blocks away.

Nothing on the national news burbling away on the television in the far room. That was filled with this - "Laying out a stunning new version of his terrorist mission, al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui testified Monday that he was supposed to hijack a fifth jetliner on Sept. 11, 2001, with would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid and fly it into the White House."

Richard Reid? That fellow who tried to blow up his sneakers a few years ago on an Air France flight out of Paris to Miami? Very odd. That weekend is easy to remember - had the non-stop Air France for Paris to Los Angeles the very next morning. CDG was a mess, high-security and long, long lines. That Richard Reid?

It's all very strange, and Moussaoui, in the death penalty phase of the trial, seemed to be attempting legal suicide. He's a strange man. But then, some people, unable to do the deed themselves, commit suicide by provoking a confrontation with the police and pulling what looks like a real gun. It gets them dead. Suicide by cop. Why not suicide by jury? No wonder his defense team didn't want him to testify.

But what about those LAPD helicopters outside the window? It was state holiday. What was going on?

Monday was Cesar Chavez Day, honoring the founder of the United Farm Workers union. City offices were closed - but schools were open, the buses and trains on their regular schedules. Cesar Chavez Day - we've had that in California since 2000, recognizing his efforts to gain recognition for that union for farm workers, and yes, many of them were illegal immigrants. There was that consumer boycott of grapes. Bobby Kenney said Chavez was "one of the heroic figures of our time." Cesar Chavez got the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award a "civilian" can get.

Illegal immigrants. That was it.

Cesar Chavez - "Society is made up of groups, and as long as the smaller groups do not have the same rights and the same protection as others - I don't care whether you call it capitalism or communism - it is not going to work. Somehow, the guys in power have to be reached by counterpower, or through a change in their hearts and minds, or change will not come."

Onto the net. One site had this, an email from a teacher in Hollywood High -
We have been sitting in class for the last hour and a half in full lockdown. I was able to go to the restroom and heard the thousands of marching teens from LA High converging on Hollywood and Highland. The din was unbelievable! The walkouts are spreading throughout all of Los Angeles, including the valley. We are fine here, but this is expected to go on for several more days. It is all unorganized, impromptu and is getting a life of it's own. Absolutely amazing!
A din from down the street? Well, yes. Thousands marching on Hollywood and Highland? Cool. That'll give the tourists something to write home about.

Of course it wasn't just a local story - CNN here - "Tens of thousands of students walked out of school in California and other states Monday, waving flags and chanting slogans in a second week of protests against legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants."

It's just that out here it was Cesar Chavez Day. And earlier in the morning there was this - the president at the Daughters of the American Revolution headquarters, "urging the nation to embrace its immigrant history even as many Republicans on Capitol Hill fought his plan to expand legal avenues for immigration."

That was the other lead story in the news, all three cable news channels carrying it. These immigrant folks "renew to our national character" - they "add vitality to our culture."

He sounds like a liberal. And his party isn't with him on this. It's all about HR 4437 (text here in PDF format), what the House passed to reform the Immigration and Nationalization Act and the Senate must pass before it goes for the president's desk to be signed into law. This is the one that would make being here illegally an aggravated felony, make assisting someone who is here illegally a crime (even providing a meal or a band-aid or a place in the alley to sleep wopuld be a serious crime), and mandate we build a giant wall on our side of the Mexican border to keep these folks out.

The Senate? The majority leader, Frist, is fine with it. He wants to be president. If Frist tries to ram it through - he had been talking about bypassing the committee Senate Judiciary Committee - the Democrats say they'll filibuster anything he tries. Others have things they want to modify, like this business about criminalizing "good Samaritans" who provide "humanitarian assistance" to illegal aliens And should there be some sort of path for the illegally here folks to become legal in some way, or even eventually become citizens - some of the eleven or twelve million, and around five percent of the workforce? McCain and Teddy Kennedy say yes. Others say send them all back to wherever - no guest worker crap, like the president has proposed, and certainly no amnesty. The president has said these folks are vital to the economy. His opponents in his own party say that doesn't matter - they broke the law and they have to go away. Of course they face reelection at the end of this year, and the president cannot run for a third term. This plays well at home, as once you have a population fine-tuned into a state of resentment about everything in the world, this is a natural.

But something is happening, or is out here, as the Los Angeles Times reported here -
Thousands of students walked out of high schools in Los Angeles and across Southern California this morning as protests against restrictions on immigration spread across the city for a fourth day.

School walkouts were reported at schools in San Diego and Orange counties, and in the Santa Clarita Valley in northern Los Angeles County. There were also immigrant rights marches nationwide.

In Los Angeles, dozens of schools experienced walkouts, with the major events downtown, where several thousand students converged on City Hall, and on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley.
For those of you who have spent time out here they were on 101 Freeway near downtown mid-afternoon, northbound was down to one lane, but the police got them to get off at the Echo Park off-ramp. They were all over downtown.

The big deals were these -
Kennedy High School in the San Fernando Valley, where 1,000 students marched toward San Fernando High School, at about 9:35 a.m.

At about 9:00 a.m., 1,000 students at Los Angeles High School at 4650 West Olympic Boulevard walked to Fairfax and Hollywood high schools, which were both locked down.

School police patrol cars stopped traffic as students walked down the streets, causing traffic jams along La Brea and Melrose avenues.
Yep, Melrose Avenue. One kid from Los Angeles High (near downtown) - "If this law passes, what will happen? There would be no more Los Angeles High School. Nearly all of us are immigrants." The Times notes that out here seventy-three percent of 877,010 Los Angeles Unified School District students this year are Latino.

Where else? Southgate Middle School, Huntington Park High School, Bell High School; Marshall High School, Birmingham High School, Gardena High School, and, oddly, Palisades High School out in Pacific Palisades, wit its multi-million dollar homes. One of the contributors to these pages grew up out there, next door to Randy Newman, playing baseball with Jerry Lewis' sons. That's very odd.

The president did say in the morning that changing the immigration laws "is not going to be easy." He also said "No one should play on people's fears or try to pit neighbors against each other." He also said "No one should pretend that immigrants are threats to America's identity because immigrants have shaped America's identity." He also said "No one should claim that immigrants are a burden on our economy because the work and enterprise of immigrants helps sustain our economy."

Of course his motives may simply be to protect business interests - contributors whose companies run on ultra-cheap labor willing to work without protections, and certainly without any benefits, in awful conditions. But he sure sounded like a liberal. He should have been out here, marching in the streets with the kids, or down at the Catalina with Al Franken. Very odd.

By the way, if you want images of the doings out here, our local NBC affiliate has a gallery of thirty screen captures from their coverage here. The city, particularly Hollywood, was a mess. And staying home was the best option.

At the end of the day the Senate Judiciary Committee had a vote, millions of undocumented workers would be able to apply for citizenship, with conditions, and without having to first leave the country. And here you see they carved out an exemption for churches - they can still run soup kitchens and shelters without being charged with a federal crime for offering help to others, if the others are illegal immigrants and they knew, or should have known, that they were.

It means little. Now it goes to the full Senate. Everyone gets to posture and huff and puff. This will take a week or two.

There were five hundred thousand in the streets the day before the high school kids (see the Los Angeles Times here, with an accompanying photo gallery).

This is hot. And it's really hot out here, as in this - "If this weekend's organizers could get 500,000 people to turn out on Saturday for their march, imagine a one-day work stoppage. If all of my Hispanic employees and the Hispanics who make deliveries to us or provide other services didn't come into work for a day, I'd be screwed. Now imagine if they all stayed home and didn't buy anything for a day. They could bring California to its knees and you'd have business owners and factory owners and large contractors and the entire service industry screaming bloody murder."

Yep, there's kindness, decency, and all that, and there's business.

And of course the left is split too, as in this, Oliver Willis, son of Jamaican immigrants, a solid anti-administration voice on the left saying these folks just "cut in line" and they should all be sent back to wherever, so they can do it the right way, apply for a visa or whatever.

Ezra Klein says here that's "intuitively appealing" but not very realistic -
The question isn't whether we should reward bad behavior - though I've trouble defining bad behavior as a life-threatening trek across the desert in order to do backbreaking, essential labor for appallingly low wages - but how we deal with a policy problem.

Illegal immigrants are here. Deportation would be impossible, both logistically and, assuming you could surmount those obstacles, economically. Enforcement is a sham. Since 1986, we've increased border funding by a tenfold. We have built walls stretching into the desert. We have fined employers. And the flow of immigrants hasn't stopped, or slowed; it's accelerated. Worse yet, there's been a set of perverse consequences: not only do more come, but more succeed. We used to stop around 40 percent; now we halt 10 percent. Where immigrants used to use the main roads, now they slip into the deep reaches of the desert. Coyotes (smuggling operations) have increased the sophistication of cross-border migration. And because the coyotes have grown more necessary, and because their fees have expanded as their utility has increased, those who arrive are more in debt than ever, leading them to stay longer and return home less frequently. Illegal immigrants are becoming permanent residents, and if you don't want the undocumented here temporarily, you really don't want them hanging out indefinitely.

So enforcement doesn't work. Deportation doesn't work. Fining businesses - which we did try, to some degree, for awhile - is totally unworkable. (In 1999 we fined 417, in 2004, it was three.) The question, then, isn't how we feel about illegal immigration, but how we handle it in order to ensure the most desirable policy outcomes. And while I'm not precisely sure what the answer is, I'm fairly certain what it's not: the failed, moralistic, xenophobic policies of the past.

... As someone at a panel I attended recently pointed out, a few decades ago, Ronald Reagan excited the country by demanding that xenophobes and tyrants tear a wall down. Now, contemporary Republicans are exciting the base by promising to put one up. The Party of Lincoln must be so proud.
Klein is not the only on point out the irony with the Berlin Wall here. Imagine the hard-liners get their way, and a giant wall does go up, and the Los Angeles Five Hundred Thousand march on the wall, and somewhere near Tijuana a leader grabs a microphone, stands on some makeshift stage and says, "Mr. Bush, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!" Pat Buchanan's head explodes.

But this is the culmination of forces unleashed with how we responded to the events of September 2001, where we decided to wallow in resentment and anger, decided we were all on our own in a miserable world with everyone against us, where we said we are free of all the laws and treaties of uppity people who think they knew so much and read books and think about details - we were VICTIMS, damn it. We had the right to do what we damn well pleased, and other could go stuff it (or something else, Cheney's words to that senator on the floor of the Senate).

This is what you get. Be reasonable? Why? We don't have to be.

It's just something dark, as you see in this interview with one Eric Haney, a retired Army command sergeant major, founding member of Delta Force -
Q: What do you make of the torture debate? Cheney ...

A: (Interrupting) That's Cheney's pursuit. The only reason anyone tortures is because they like to do it. It's about vengeance, it's about revenge, or it's about cover-up. You don't gain intelligence that way. Everyone in the world knows that. It's worse than small-minded, and look what it does.

I've argued this on Bill O'Reilly and other Fox News shows. I ask, who would you want to pay to be a torturer? Do you want someone that the American public pays to torture? He's an employee of yours. It's worse than ridiculous. It's criminal; it's utterly criminal. This administration has been masters of diverting attention away from real issues and debating the silly. Debating what constitutes torture: Mistreatment of helpless people in your power is torture, period. And (I'm saying this as) a man who has been involved in the most pointed of our activities. I know it, and all of my mates know it. You don't do it. It's an act of cowardice. I hear apologists for torture say, "Well, they do it to us." Which is a ludicrous argument. ... The Saddam Husseins of the world are not our teachers. Christ almighty, we wrote a Constitution saying what's legal and what we believed in. Now we're going to throw it away.

Q: As someone who repeatedly put your life on the line, did some of the most hair-raising things to protect your country, and to see your country behave this way, that must be ...

A: It's pretty galling. But ultimately I believe in the good and the decency of the American people, and they're starting to see what's happening and the lies that have been told. We're seeing this current house of cards start to flutter away. The American people come around. They always do.
They do? The good and the decency of the American people is not what politicians appeal to these days. It's somewhat the opposite. (By the way, Andrew Sullivan found that, and although he can be infuriating, it's a good catch.)

Even religion these days has little to do with good and the decency. Now it's about fighting pure evil by any means, invoking the avenging Jesus who kills his enemies. The United Church of Christ may be teaming up with Media Matters to take back the church back from the holy warriors willing to kill for Jesus, but this effort is a tough one. We've been conditioned - the world is out to get us, and everyone wants to screw us over. You have to hit back or they'll think you're weak. If you seem weak they'll take everything from you. So hit back.

The Hispanic fellow unloading crates of vegetables at the restaurant where you're having your seared Ahi or steak, or both, is just caught in the middle. It may be one of his three jobs to get by, but he's evil. But then, remind him of that enough times and his kids are in the streets of Los Angeles, and maybe he is too.

Now what?

Of course this may all be a diversion. The president gives his speech on decency and common sense while the same day by a suicide bomber at a security force recruitment center in Northern Iraq kills forty new Iraqi recruits and injures many more (story here), and Baghdad provincial governor Hussein al-Tahan, in response to a weekend clash at a Shiite mosque believed to be targeting al-Sadr and his followers, says he's no longer going to cooperate with us: "Today we decided to stop all political and service cooperation with the U.S. forces until a legal committee is formed to investigate this incident." He just won't deal with our military (story here). And they've postponed meeting on forming a new government. More bodies in the streets each day, twenty here, thirty there, shot in the head, or beheaded.

And this -
Iraq ruling Shi'ites demand control over security

BAGHDAD, March 27 (Reuters) - Iraq's ruling Shi'ite Islamist Alliance bloc demanded on Monday that U.S. forces return control of security to the Iraqi government after what it called "cold-blooded" killings by troops of unarmed people in a mosque.

"The Alliance calls for a rapid restoration of (control of) security matters to the Iraqi government," Jawad al-Maliki, a senior Alliance spokesman and ally of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, told a news conference...
And this -
U.S. troops defend raid, say Iraqis faked "massacre"

BAGHDAD, March 27 (Reuters) - U.S. commanders in Iraq on Monday accused powerful Shi'ite groups of moving the corpses of gunmen killed in battle to encourage accusations that U.S.-led troops massacred unarmed worshippers in a mosque.

"After the fact, someone went in and made the scene look different from what it was. There's been huge misinformation," Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, said.
And this assessment -
Unfortunately, the US didn't take advantage of the opportunity to withdraw during 2005. Decision makers mistook the controlled chaos enabled by the use of militias for progress towards their maximal goals in the country. That illusion officially ended with the attack on the Samara shrine (a form of social system disruption, likely a coup de grace by Zarqawi). After that event, the fragile structure of the system flew out of control as Shiite militias began to ethnically cleanse Sunnis.

The US is now caught between the militias and the guerrillas and the situation will deteriorate quickly.

Here's a likely scenario for how this will play out: deeper entrenchment within US bases (to limit casualties) and pledges of neutrality (Rumsfeld) will prove hollow. Ongoing ethnic slaughter will force US intervention to curtail the militias. Inevitably, this will increase tensions with the militias and quickly spin out of control. Military and police units sent to confront the militias will melt down (again), due to conflicting loyalties. Several large battles with militias will drive up US casualties sharply. Supply lines to US bases from Kuwait will be cut. Protesters will march on US bases to demand a withdrawal. Oil production via the south will be cut (again), bringing Iraqi oil exports to a halt. Meanwhile, the government will continue its ineffectual debate within the green zone, as irrelevant to the reality on the ground in the country as ever. Unable to function in the mounting chaos and facing a collapse in public support for the war, the US military will be forced to withdraw in haste. It will be ugly.
So let's get rid of the illegal worker doing the grunt work in Van Nuys.

Oh, maybe it's not that bad. The press just reports the bad stuff.

You could look at this way -
Imagine if 30 people were killed every day by car bombs in US cities. Monday, 30 dead in Denver. Tuesday, 30 dead in San Francisco. Wednesday, 30 dead in Philadelphia. You get the idea.

Now scale that roughly relative to population size. Make that 300 dead per day. Every day. Would the lead story on the evening news be about all the people who weren't blown up that day? No. The country would be completely hysterical.
But they are hysterical. About those who snuck in here to do the crap jobs. We for this war to bring peace, stability and all that to the region, and it made us safer.

Think about the illegal workers. That gives folks little time to think about this - "Undercover investigators slipped radioactive material - enough to make two small "dirty bombs" - across U.S. borders in Texas and Washington state in a test last year of security at American points of entry." Just a test. It was easy.

People could be in the streets over lots of things.

Like this - The Guardian (UK) in early February here ran the story of another secret memo - the Oval Office in January 2003, six weeks before the war started, and before Colin Powell spoke to the UN about our proof, Bush and Blair meet and agree there seem to be no WMD and the UN will vote against a war, but decide to have one anyway. Monday, March 27th, the days of the high school kids in the streets here, the president giving his "let them be" speech, the Senate in turmoil over those without papers, the New York Times get hold of the memo and publishes excerpts. That cannot be done in the UK, ad they have that Official Secrets Act. Details. All over the news - talk of how to start a war - the United States could paint one of our spy planes in the colors of the United Nations and maybe Saddam Hussein would fire on it, or, as Bush suggested to Blair perhaps the United States could simply assassinate the guy. And they agreed there was no reason to believe there'd be any "internecine" fighting after the war. Wouldn't happen.

Last week in his press conference the president slammed the eighty-five-year-old reporter Helen Thomas - no president wants war, and he never "wanted" to go to war with Iraq. The British press says there's memo that says he's lying. They can't publish it. The Times can. Old news. New documentation.

Late in the day, no denials. Just "lots of things were said" and that was a long time ago. Move on folks. Nothing to see here.

One senses the wheels are coming off.

"We're seeing this current house of cards start to flutter away. The American people come around. They always do."

Could that be?


The LAPD helicopter from the window, using the telephoto and a fast shutter speed -

LAPD helicopter over Hollywood

Posted by Alan at 23:11 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2006 07:19 PST home

Sunday, 26 March 2006
Hot Off The Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot Off The Virtual Press

Just Above Sunset logoThe new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 13 for the week of March 26, 2006.

This week, five extended commentaries on current events, opening with the implications of that longitudinal study of childhood personality, showing what sort of folks grow up to be conservative and which liberal - the implications are wide. Then there was that shift from the administration this week with a press conference that puzzled everyone, followed by events in Wheeling, which led everyone to think about the relationship of competence to credibility. And there's the constant buzz - the Feingold censure business and some odd alternatives from New York, peak oil and the end of the world, some infighting at the Supreme Court about your privacy rights, and, by the way, everyone hates atheists. And at the end of the week, a real good press scandal - the Washington Post gets burned bad and the conservative community mightily embarrassed (a two-fer) - with its implications regarding just what the press is actually supposed to do these days (suggestions are offered, of course).

In a separate column a famous scientist says some cold things about religion, and looks at this heaven business and decides it sounds perfectly awful. Actually he says much more than that.

The photography is deep and mixed - an architectural study with amazing colors, two extended visits to Hollywood landmarks, an homage to Georgia O'Keeffe and two pages of special botanicals, close-up and detailed, perhaps even suitable for framing.

And there's a new feature starting this week, the WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL, in special arrangement with a site for such.

And there are the usual quotes. With that fellow in Afghanistan sentenced to death for converting to Christianity from Islam sixteen years ago, and with the world-renowned scientist from Harvard suggesting religion is simply an evolutionary adaptation, you'll find new quotes on religion, even one from Joan Rivers.

Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, isn't. He's on his way to New York for a visit there. His column will return later.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

Personal Politics: The game is winding down, the one started on the nursery school playground...
Defiance: The Press Conference From Another Planet
The Buzz: Issues on the Table, and Odd Ideas
Irreconcilable Differences

Ideas ______________________

Troublemaker: The Ant Man Speaks

Southern California Photography ______________________

Color: The Pacific Design Center
Old Hollywood: Raymond Chandler Square
Frank's Place: The Capitol Records Building
Georgia O'Keeffe
Unknown Botanicals
Known Botanicals


Quotes for the week of March 26, 2006 - Religion in the News


Posted by Alan at 16:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 26 March 2006 16:19 PST home

Saturday, 25 March 2006
Troublemaker: The Ant Man Speaks
Topic: God and US

Troublemaker: The Ant Man Speaks

The Man
E. O. Wilson, or Edward Osborne Wilson, (born June 10, 1929) is an American entomologist and biologist known for his work on ecology, evolution, and sociobiology. He currently is the Pellegrino Research Professor in Entomology, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, at Harvard University.

Wilson's specialty is ants. He is famous for starting the sociobiology debate, one of the greatest scientific controversies of the late 20th century, when he suggested in his Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) that animal (and by extension human) behavior can be studied using an evolutionary framework. He is also credited with bringing the term biodiversity to the public.

Wilson's many scientific and conservation honors include the 1990 Crafoord Prize, a 1976 U.S. National Medal of Science, and two Pulitzer Prizes. In 1995 he was named by Time Magazine as one of the 25 most influential people in America.
There's much more at the link. This is the fellow who argued that the preservation of the gene, rather than the individual, is the focus of evolution. Richard Dawkins did a riff on that in The Selfish Gene (1989), a book that caused some stir arguing that all human behavior, even altruism, is a non-conscious attempt to forward our own particular genes on in time, or some such thing - we're all puppets but we really should know about the strings.

Dawkins is a "popularizer" explaining things in simple terms. Wilson is the real deal, as you see it what he's written -
Nature Revealed: Selected Writings 1949-2006, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. ISBN 0801883296
The Theory of Island Biogeography, 1967, Princeton University Press (2001 reprint), ISBN 0691088365 - with Robert H. MacArthur
Insect Societies, 1971, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674454901
Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, 1975, Belknap Press, ISBN 0674816218
Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition, 2000, Belknap Press, ISBN 0674000897
On Human Nature, 1978, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674634411 - Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Genes, Mind and Culture: The coevolutionary process, 1981, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-34475-8
Promethean fire: reflections on the origin of mind, 1983, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-71445-8
Biophilia, 1984, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674074416
Success and Dominance in Ecosystems: The Case of the Social Insects, 1990, Inter-Research, ISSN 0932-2205
The Ants, 1990, Belknap Press, ISBN 0674040759 - Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, with Bert Holldobler
The Diversity of Life, 1992, Belknap Press, ISBN 0674212983
The Biophilia Hypothesis, 1993, Shearwater Books, ISBN 1559631481 - with Stephen R. Kellert
Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration, 1994, Belknap Press, ISBN 0674485254 - with Bert Holldobler
Naturalist, 1994, Shearwater Books, ISBN 1559632887
In Search of Nature, 1996, Shearwater Books, ISBN 1559632151 - with Laura Simonds Southworth
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1998, Knopf, ISBN 0679450777
The Future of Life, 2002, Knopf, ISBN 0679450785
Pheidole in the New World: A Dominant, Hyperdiverse Ant Genus, 2003, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674002938
From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin's Four Great Books 2005, W. W. Norton
Of course in this day and age Wilson is something like the antichrist to the Intelligent Design crowd. That last title is his annotated complication of Darwin's works, or four of them. With recently polling show more than half of all Americans believing that the biblical account is creation is literally true, it's a wonder Norton published it. Why bother? But he has argued, again and again, with evidence, that what we do, and what we call aggression, altruism and hypocrisy, are just adaptations. They can be explained mechanistically. This put him at the center of one of the greatest scientific controversies of the last fifty years. He pretty much started it.

This God stuff, even this free-will stuff, may be nonsense.

What He's Saying Now

Wilson now is being a bit more blunt, if possible, and that came up this week here -

Religious Belief Itself is an Adaptation
Sociobiology founder Edward O. Wilson explains why we're hard-wired to form tribalistic religions, denies that "evolutionism" is a faith, and says that heaven, if it existed, would be hell.
Steve Paulson, SALON.COM, March 21, 2006

That's a hoot.

This is an interview Wilson gave Paulson before Wilson gave a sold-out lecture at the University of Wisconsin, and it's full of starting comments. It's a fascinating read, if you're willing to watch a brief ad to get to it (it's worth it).

What follows are some highlights with comment, only a sample.

Paulson does note that sociobiology, that once got everyone so upset, is now pretty much mainstream. Universities have departments for it now. The good old days are gone as when -
Fellow Harvard biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin denounced sociobiology, saying it provided a genetic justification for racism and Nazi ideology. Wilson's classes were picketed. In one famous incident, demonstrators at a scientific meeting stormed the stage where he was speaking and dumped a pitcher of water over his head, chanting, "Wilson, you're all wet!"
Wilson does upset people. And that book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge does have "the effect of elevating science at the expense of religion and the arts. In his view, knowledge of the world ultimately comes down to chemistry, biology and - above all - physics; people are just extremely complicated machines. Paulson also notes that Wendell Berry called this scientific reductionism, and a "modern superstition."

Anyway, the two of them talked "about Darwin and the growing rift between science and religion, as well as Wilson's own take on religion - his 'provisional deism' and his personal horror of an eternal afterlife in heaven.

Cool. Provisional deism? Thomas Jefferson and his fellow deist might have been onto something.

There's much here on the new Darwin editions, and on Darwin's being deeply religious, then shifting - "But what really turned him against religion was the doctrine of damnation. He said if the Bible is true, you must be redeemed in Christ and be a believer in order to go to heaven. And others will be condemned. And that includes my brothers and all my best friends. And he said that is a damnable doctrine. Those are his words."

Darwin would have little use for Pat Robertson, who called for Disneyworld to be destroyed by God (a hurricane would be handy) when they hosted a gay event, for something the same for Dover in Pennsylvania when they voted out the school board after his side lost the Intelligent Design case, who saw Ariel Sharon's stroke as God's punishment for the Gaza real estate deal, who called for the assassination of the president of Venezuela. Pat Robertson has little sue for Darwin of course. Maybe the whole thing does revolve around damnation. Pat's in favor.

As for Intelligent Design itself, there's that recent statement from Vatican's scientific spokesmen - the Church has no problem with Darwin and evolution. It's perfectly acceptable - evolution is just God's way of "creating the diversity of life." But you can still be religious - the human soul was injected by God, as they would have it, and that's just another matter entirely. So we're just talking two different things. They do the soul stuff. Darwin and Wilson can do the evolution stuff. Peaceful coexistence.

Maybe. Is there such a thing as a soul? What is it? What about neuroscience and all the discoveries of how the brain works and center for cognition and emotion and all the rest?

Wilson - "Yeah, that's the dilemma. Of course, there is no reconciliation between the theory of evolution by natural selection and the traditional religious view of the origin of the human mind."

Oh. This brain and soul stuff is a problem - "Well, you have to choose between the scientific materialist view of the origin of the mind on the one side, and the traditional religious view that the spirit and the mind are independent of the process of evolution and eventually non-corporeal, capable of leaving the body and going elsewhere."

It seems you have to just believe in that soul. The evidence points the other way.

Note this exchange -
Paulson: This is not a view that all scientists subscribe to. Stephen Jay Gould famously talked about how science and religion are two entirely separate spheres. And they really didn't have anything to do with each other.

Wilson: Yeah, he threw in the towel.

Paulson: He dodged the question.

He dodged the question, famously. That's no answer at all. That's evasion. I think most scientists who give thought to this with any depth - who understand evolution - take pretty much the position that I've taken. For example, in the National Academy of Sciences, which presumably includes many of the elite scientists in this country, a very large number would fully accept the scientific view. I know it's 80 percent or more who said, on the issue of the immortality of the soul, they don't care.
They don't care? No, they don't. They're on the trail of what can be figured out.

But is there common ground? Wilson is having none of it - "The only common ground that I see is the one that was approached by Darwin himself. Religious belief itself is an adaptation that has evolved because we're hard-wired to form tribalistic religions. Religion is intensely tribalistic. A devout Christian or Muslim doesn't say one religion is as good as another. It gives them faith in the particular group to which they belong and that set of beliefs and moral views."

So we're hard-wired for religion. It's just another evolutionary adaptation. This guy will be shot sooner or later.

What went wrong here (or right, depending on your point of view)-

This -
Paulson: You grew up in a religious family?

Wilson: Oh yes, I grew up fundamentalist. I grew up as a Southern Baptist with strict adherence to the Bible, which I read as a youngster. As a child, I was warned by counselors and routine religious training that the truth was in the Bible. Redemption was only in Christ and the world is full of Satanic force. Satan himself perhaps - but certainly his agents, witting and unwitting - would try to make me drop my belief. I had that instilled in me. You have to understand how powerful the religious drive is - the instinct which I consider tribalist but probably necessary - in most societies for continuing day-to-day business.

Paulson: That's an interesting perspective. Basically, you're saying it's necessary but it's wrong.

Wilson: Well, you see, that's the dilemma of the 21st century. Possibly the greatest philosophical question of the 21st century is the resolution of religious faith with the growing realization of the very different nature of the material world. You could say that we evolved to accept one truth - the religious instinct - but then discovered another. And having discovered another, what are we to do? You might say it's just best to go ahead and accept the two worldviews and let them live side by side. I see no other solution. I believe they can use their different worldviews to solve some of the great problems - for example, the environment. But generally speaking, the difficulty in saying they can live side by side is a sectarianism in the world today, and traditional religions can be exclusionary and used to justify violence and war. You just can't deny that this is a major problem.
Gee, and he doesn't even mention the war in Iraq and the business with the man in Afghanistan sentenced to death by the new government we installed for converting to Christianity sixteen years ago. He doesn't need to.

So what does he believe? He says he's a provisional deist - "Yeah, I don't want to be called an atheist."

He doesn't want "to exclude the possibility of a creative force or deity." But then this - "I do feel confident that there is no intervention of a deity in the origin of life and humanity." If there is or ever was such a creative force or deity it's long gone, and seems to have nothing to do with who we are and what it all means. Those who created us? "Well, they are now either lurking on the outer reaches of the universe, watching with some amusement as the eons passed, to see how the experiment worked out, or they moved on. Who can say?"

The guy deals in reality. Others don't. And you cannot get around it -
Paulson: Would you like there to be evidence of God? Forget about this as a great scientific discovery. Just personally, given your background, would that be thrilling? Would that be comforting?

Wilson: Well, it would certainly give you a lot of material to study and think about the rest of your time. But you didn't ask me the right question.

Paulson: What's the right question?

Wilson: Would I be happy if I discovered that I could go to heaven forever? And the answer is no. Consider this argument. Think about what is forever. And think about the fact that the human mind, the entire human being, is built to last a certain period of time. Our programmed hormonal systems, the way we learn, the way we settle upon beliefs, and the way we love are all temporary. Because we go through a life's cycle. Now, if we were to be plucked out at the age of 12 or 56 or whenever, and taken up and told, now you will continue your existence as you are. We're not going to blot out your memories. We're not going to diminish your desires. You will exist in a state of bliss - whatever that is - forever. And those who didn't make it are going to be consigned to darkness or hell. Now think, a trillion times a trillion years. Enough time for universes like this one to be born, explode, form countless star systems and planets, then fade away to entropy. You will sit there watching this happen millions and millions of times and that will just be the beginning of the eternity that you've been consigned to bliss in this existence.

Paulson: This heaven would be your hell.

Wilson: Yes. If we were able to evolve into something else, then maybe not. But we are not something else.
We're not something else? Some would disagree, but then Wilson would ask why they think so, as the evidence keeps mounting we're just what we are, thinking and temporary mechanisms, trying to live long and be happy.

And that's not so bad. Wilson thought through the heaven thing. We want that? Best settle for happiness here.

Posted by Alan at 16:23 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006 16:25 PST home

Friday, 24 March 2006
Irreconcilable Differences
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Irreconcilable Differences

Inside Baseball

A week-long drama of interest to political junkies and no one else came to its absurd climax and tacky denouement on Friday, March 24th with this -
In the past 24 hours, we learned of allegations that Ben Domenech plagiarized material that appeared under his byline in various publications prior to contracting with him to write a blog that launched Tuesday.

An investigation into these allegations was ongoing, and in the interim, Domenech has resigned, effective immediately.

When we hired Domenech, we were not aware of any allegations that he had plagiarized any of his past writings. In any cases where allegations such as these are made, we will continue to investigate those charges thoroughly in order to maintain our journalistic integrity.

Plagiarism is perhaps the most serious offense that a writer can commit or be accused of. will do everything in its power to verify that its news and opinion content is sourced completely and accurately at all times.

We appreciate the speed and thoroughness with which our readers and media outlets surfaced these allegations. Despite the turn this has taken, we believe this event, among other things, testifies to the positive and powerful role that the Internet can play in the practice of journalism.

We also remain committed to representing a broad spectrum of ideas and ideologies in our Opinions area.

Jim Brady
Executive Editor,
What? The sad story is that the Post for some reason decided that they needed a daily web log on their website from a wild-ass conservative. They said it wasn't a matter of seeking "balance" - that would be an admission they were lefties or that they thought they were being seen as such. They said there had been no pressure from the administration to be nicer to the administration. Of course, Dan Froomkin has his "White House Briefing" column weekdays (see Thursday's) that runs on for many pages detailing who said what about events and policy, and many on the right think it's far too breezy, irreverent, and brings up embarrassing absurd things those in power sometimes find themselves saying. And it had become the go-to reference for the political buzz. Was the Domenech web log (blog), "Red America," a way to placate the embarrassed? No, the post said they just thought it would be interesting to give Domenech space and a salary. One suspects they thought, too, that they might grab new readers who had previously been angry at them for that Nixon Watergate stuff that took out an icon on the right, and had been recently angry at them for the stories on our secret worldwide prison system where people we think may know something disappear forever, without a trace. The new guy might help.

Domenech is twenty-four and best known as founder of, daily rants from the right, and he's the fellow who edits the books published by the likes of Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt. He's a rising star in the world of conservative chatter. What else? He never went to public school - he was home-schooled by his parents to keep him pure (his father is a White House liaison to the Interior Department and may be involved in helping Jack Abramoff rip off the Indian tribes to fund the Republican Party). He did attend William and Mary, a pretty good college, but he didn't earn a degree. He dropped out, but then became a speechwriter for Tommy Thompson, the former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The rest is history.

The Post decided this would be good, but then, as Editor and Publisher notes -
Ben Domenech's conservative blog Red America lasted all of three days at the Washington Post. He quit today after numerous examples of alleged plagiarism in his work surfaced. Yesterday, in a separate matter, he had apologized for calling Coretta Scott King a "Communist" the day after her recent funeral.

The highly embarrassing episode for the Post culminated Friday afternoon when executive editor Jim Brady published a notice on the Web site announcing that Domenech had "resigned." However, Domenech was then quoted in Human Events, the conservative magazine, as admitting he had been pushed out.
Oh well, the web can be a bitch, and billions of words are indexed. Lift a phrase and Google will find where you stole it in seconds. Those who teach know this - any professor who suspects something is amiss can check in out quickly, and now they do.

Joe Conason here runs down the major items that he just lifted from others, and notes he also just made up a few quotes here and there to prove his points. He stole from many sources - the Post itself, conservative commentary, film reviews - whole paragraphs at a time. The left side of the Internet found it all. The right side, after a flurry of the-hate-America-crowd-is-picking-on-our-prodigy and a lot of huffing and puffing about how the elites didn't understand the heart of America, gave it up. Even Malkin turned on him and said it the evidence was obvious. The guy was a serial plagiarist, claiming he wrote stuff that other people clearly wrote. So the Post caved. They forced him out, and one can only imagine what the real reporters and opinion writers there now think of their bosses.

One of the most influential websites on the left Hullabaloo, has Digby saying this -
The Washington Post hears that Dan Froomkin, White House critic, is disliked by Republicans. Writers themselves feel uncomfortable with (and jealous of) the free-wheeling, critical tone of his online White House column, an irreverent style that is common in modern online journalism (see sister site Slate). They solve the "problem" by hiring the rabidly partisan twenty-four-year-old son of a Bush administration official.

This goes beyond bending over backwards. It's gymnastic contortionism. They are as bewildered by the grassroots fervor of this modern polarized culture...
And Digby explains what's been going on for decades, a growing meme that the elite journalists from the coasts just don't understand the "middle America," but the Republicans do. (Domenech himself started off by saying he spoke for most of America and was saying what everyone really thought - "Red America's citizens are the political majority.")

So what was the Post to do?

Well -
Those journalists who haven't taken the easy way out and simply adopted the GOP worldview (and there are many of them) are so paranoid that they can't trust their own eyes and ears. They are perpetually vulnerable to the manipulations of a cynical Republican establishment that has been pounding the trope for forty years that if a journalist tells a story that is critical of conservatives, he or she is a liberal who is out of touch with the people.

The country is in the middle of several "wars" in both the literal and metaphorical sense. If it was ever called for, the time to "exercise a certain caution, a prudent restraint, in pressing a claim for a plenary indulgence to be in all places at all times the agent of the sovereign public" is long past. The public isn't crying out for "balance," particularly when those who claim to provide it have no earthly idea even how to define it. They are looking for truth. Plain, simple truth.

If the mainstream media hope to even be relevant, much less pressing a claim of plenary indulgence to be agents of the sovereign republic, they must wise up quickly and stop being agents of the right wing propaganda mills. If they don't, they will finally lose the patience of their readers who will turn to the many alternative means of finding information.

I have very mixed feelings about how our country will fare with such a system. I think a thriving democracy needs a vital mainstream press. But since the mainstream press keeps getting punked over and over again by the right wing machine, you have to wonder if it really makes any difference anymore.
Was the Post punked? Maybe so.

But then, there's something implied here that's interesting.

Okay. Fox News makes much of their slogan, "Fair and Balanced." That's code to their savvy viewers - wink, wink, nudge, nudge, we'll tell you how the elitists with their fancy degrees and fancy words are making fun of you and your values, and tell you all your resentments at your constricted and difficult lives are, really, justified. The smart people are making fun of you.

That resentment fuels the Republican Party of course, but Fox is probably more interested in making money than politics per se. Should voters turn the Republicans out of office Fox News could turn on a dime and go the other way.

In any event, for those who are not perpetually resentful about life, that Fox News claims to be "fair and balanced" (subset "no spin") raises a red flag. If you have to insist you are something, it probably isn't so. Heck, all of us figured that our in junior high. The kid who says he's really brave, who says he's really smart, who says he had sex with that cheerleader? Yeah, right. If you have to say it... Bragging carries its own proof of the opposite. Everyone knows that.

CNN and the others do the "report both sides" routine in response to the success of Fox News in the ratings, giving equal time to positions that are based on actual facts and experience, and positions based on outright lies, things that just aren't so in the physical world, and things no one has experienced. This is "not taking sides." Show both sides of everything. Objectivity. What's based on what's observably true is given equal time with what's based on bullshit, however refined. Fair is fair, as with the coverage of whether John Kerry really fought in that war and George Bush was an Air force hero-pilot. You never know. Could be so. Anyone with a conspiracy theory, who thinks God is really a large hyper-intelligent gerbil or whatever, gets serious attention. We're just reporting here.

Time to start a new news network, with Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta. He has the experience. He was one of the key people back in 1980 who created the old Turner CNN. But this network would have a new, complex slogan - "We don't really care much about being fair and balanced, just in reporting the simple, plain truth about what's happening, and if you don't like what you see, don't blame us, as we just told you what's happening, so deal with it and go whine somewhere else."

Not much of slogan. But some might appreciate it.

NASCAR and the grassroots fervor of this modern polarized culture...

In the April 3rd issue of The New Republic you'll find an interesting item from Jonathan Chait, Blue State Blues. It went up on their website Friday, March 24th - a bit early.

The tale here? This -
I blame George W. Bush's election for many ills, and, to that list, I can now add the fact that I have been publicly shamed for not owning a gun. My unwilling confession took place a month ago, while I was being interviewed by the right-wing radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt. He asked me whether I owned a gun and whether I had ever owned a gun (in what seemed to be consciously McCarthyite language). Later, he proceeded with a lengthier inquisition into whether I had friends or relatives in the military. He asked a version of this question some half-dozen times. ("Is there anyone that you want to bring up, like your aunt or your uncle, or the guy down the street?") I volunteered that my next-door neighbor and friend is a naval reservist, but this failed to mollify him. "Do you know anyone who's been back and forth to Iraq and been deployed there?" he asked. Sadly, I was unable to produce any evidence for my defense. In the court of right-wing talk radio, I was convicted of being a blue-state elitist.

This is a very odd cultural moment we find ourselves in, where there is a stigma attached to not owning a gun or not having friends shipped out to Iraq. This isn't a moral question; military service is obviously admirable, but knowing people who serve is no more admirable than knowing people who donate to charity. It's a cultural question. Since Bush's election, and especially since his reelection, liberals have grown painfully aware of the cultural gap with the white working class. The approved liberal posture is cringing self-flagellation. We brought the catastrophe of the Bush administration upon ourselves with our latte-sipping ways, and we must repent. Conservatives are gleefully pressing their advantage. Did you mourn Dale Earnhardt? Do you sport a mullet? Well, why not?
And of course he quotes the New York Times David Brooks in Brooks' book On Paradise Drive where he talks about the people on the coast who think they're so smart because they finished school and can speak and write coherently - "They can't name five NASCAR drivers, though stock-car races are the best-attended sporting events in the country. They can't tell a military officer's rank by looking at his insignia. They may not know what soybeans look like growing in the field."

Chait? -
You don't see liberals taunting NASCAR fans who can't name the host of "Masterpiece Theatre" or conservatives agonizing over their hemorrhaging support among intellectuals. Instead, conservatives have indulged in an orgy of reverse snobbery. Victor Davis Hanson, writing in National Review in the summer of 2004, asserted, with his usual insight, that liberals hate Bush because "he is an unapologetic twanger who likes guns, barbeques, NASCAR, 'the ranch,' and pick-up trucks." Actually, the pickups don't bother us, because we realize that Bush primarily rides in armor-plated limousines like most of us Democrats. But the barbequing is indeed a real sore point. Damn that barbeque-eating president!
Then he says more than a few things about the aborted Domenech web log in the Post, noting the first post there was about how the elitists at the Post never "got" one of the best movies of all time Red Dawn (1984) - "At the outbreak of World War III, Midwestern high school students turned refugees slowly organized themselves into an effective guerilla force to turn back the tide of Soviet invaders." Patrick Swayze leads them. It's pretty awful, but those words were just typed by someone with degrees sitting in Hollywood, just a few miles from the Pacific. The movie is on cable out here now and then, but one must assume it's still playing somewhere in Iowa to cheering crowds, or so Domenech implies.

Irreconcilable differences. Out here, down on the Sunset Strip, another Ferrari passes by. Three of the apartments in the building here are now the home of people from France, and they speak French of all things. The manger speaks Russian, actually Ukrainian. The old woman across the courtyard chats with everyone in mixed Yiddish and English. The retired MGM staff historian here, Austrian, speaks German at times and plays scrabble by the pool with Claudine in French (odd to watch). It's not Iowa here.

What's the plain simple truth about who we are? Are "Red America's citizens are the political majority?"

The "blue states" account for half the population, according to the last census, but Chait notes that "Conservatives cope with this inconvenient fact by redefining blue states as a few urban enclaves and making a fetish of the political map, with its misleadingly large, depopulated red states." And "this is a persuasive point if you believe in the principle of one acre, one vote.

Who knows?

Over at Smirking Chimp there's a pointer to this - "Terri [Schiavo] - MURDERED BY THOSE WHO LOVE COMMUNISM."

That was a long time ago. The fellow must have been watching that Patrick Swayze movie again.

Elitist View

What do we "get" out here on the Blue Left Coast? Friday, March 24th in Los Angeles Times they run something from the Financial Times (UK) on the op-ed page, Madeleine Albright with this -

Good Versus Evil Isn't A Strategy
Bush's worldview fails to see that in the Middle East, power politics is the key.

Oh my. She was Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001, and our UN ambassador for a time. And she's not from Iowa. She was born in what used to be Czechoslovakia, and she speaks fluent Czech and Russian. And she dresses funny.

And she's unhappy with what was released a few day earlier, the Bush administration's new National Security Strategy. You could look it up. It's "More of the Same." She says just call it "The Irony of Iran" and more tragedy than strategy. She says it's Manichean - one of those words Patrick Swayze would never use and makes young Domenech seethe with resentment he'd like to share.

Her points are clear -
It is sometimes convenient, for purposes of rhetorical effect, for national leaders to talk of a globe neatly divided into good and bad. It is quite another, however, to base the policies of the world's most powerful nation upon that fiction. The administration's penchant for painting its perceived adversaries with the same sweeping brush has led to a series of unintended consequences.

For years, the president has acted as if Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein's followers and Iran's mullahs were parts of the same problem. Yet, in the 1980s, Hussein's Iraq and Iran fought a brutal war. In the 1990s, Al Qaeda's allies murdered a group of Iranian diplomats. For years, Osama bin Laden ridiculed Hussein, who persecuted Sunni and Shiite religious leaders alike. When Al Qaeda struck the U.S. on 9/11, Iran condemned the attacks and later participated constructively in talks on Afghanistan. The top leaders in the new Iraq - chosen in elections that George W. Bush called "a magic moment in the history of liberty" - are friends of Iran. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, Bush may have thought he was striking a blow for good over evil, but the forces unleashed were considerably more complex.
More damned facts. She's one of the "facts" people.

And she's worried the administration is split between the facts people, who see what they actually are, and know this is a complex problem, and, on the other sides, the "ideologues, such as the vice president, who apparently see Iraq as a useful precedent for Iran."

She has some suggestions, "although this is not an administration known for taking advice."

The first is to drop the "our job is to end tyranny in this world" crap and fact the fact we cannot control events in Iraq - the best case is we can referee. Second, drop the call for "regime change" in Iran - just saying such things makes it less likely to happen as positions harden, and anyway, if you want someone to cooperate with you that kind of talk is not exactly useful. It might cause a bit of resentment? You think?

The third is hard, because it call for dealing with reality -
... the administration must stop playing solitaire while Middle East and Persian Gulf leaders play poker. Bush's "march of freedom" is not the big story in the Muslim world, where Shiite Muslims suddenly have more power than they have had in 1,000 years; it is not the big story in Lebanon, where Iran is filling the vacuum left by Syria; it is not the story among Palestinians, who voted - in Western eyes - freely, and wrongly; it is not even the big story in Iraq, where the top three factions in the recent elections were all supported by decidedly undemocratic militias.
That does seem to be what's happening. Put her on the new, hypothetical news network - "We don't really care much about being fair and balanced, just in reporting the simple, plain truth about what's happening, and if you don't like what you see, don't blame us, as we just told you what's happening, so deal with it and go whine somewhere else."

Expect more whining. "Being president, your see, is hard work." Some of us remember the debates with Kerry.

It's even harder if you don't deal with the facts of the situation.

It's okay. Here a conservative commentator calls her a pathetic idiot. The Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq aren't really that far apart these days on all matters. Christopher Hitchens told him so and he knows more than she does. (The glib Brit sot knows more than a Secretary of State?) Mosques blowing up? Reprisal killings? Minor stuff. And everyone knows the way to deal with the fools in Iran is slap them around. They'll respect that. Everyone knows that.

Irreconcilable Differences.

Posted by Alan at 21:24 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006 07:32 PST home

Thursday, 23 March 2006
The Buzz, and the Issues on the Table, and Odd Ideas
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The Buzz, and the Issues on the Table, and Odd Ideas

The Local News Becomes National

"The founding fathers didn't trust George Washington with unlimited power. Why should we trust George Bush?"

Now there's a slogan.

That came up in an item, Thursday, March 23rd, in the New York Times, about doings in that state -
Sean P. Maloney, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, will begin broadcasting campaign television commercials today that take on the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program.

With the advertisements, Mr. Maloney, a lawyer who was an aide to President Bill Clinton, becomes the first of the candidates for attorney general to broadcast a television commercial. The 30-second ad will begin running this evening on stations in New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and Buffalo, campaign officials said. It will begin in other areas of the state tomorrow.

"Hey, let's talk about what's happening in America," Mr. Maloney says in the ad. "George Bush is secretly tapping American phones without a court order. Under New York law, that's illegal and wrong."

Mr. Maloney then says that if elected, he will file a complaint in federal court demanding that the eavesdropping program be stopped. The ad concludes with Mr. Maloney stating: "The founding fathers didn't trust George Washington with unlimited power. Why should we trust George Bush?"

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Maloney said that filing such a complaint might force the Bush administration to disclose some details of the surveillance program. The administration has strongly resisted calls for a full review, saying such inquiries could disclose national security information that could help Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
What? Use New York State law to counter the president?

That seems to be the idea, in another news item noted here (emphases added) -
March, 23rd. New York City - Today Sean Patrick Maloney, former senior Clinton White House official and investigative attorney running for the Democratic nomination for New York Attorney General, revealed a fresh idea to "legalize" the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program using a complaint that can be filed in federal court.

The complaint would seek a federal court order requiring the Bush Administration to comply with the law. The plan does not stop, compromise or hamper ongoing operations but instead compels the Bush Administration to appear in federal court, in secret session, to show cause for wiretapping any citizens of New York.

It is against New York state law to monitor communications over the phone without consent of the parties or without a court order. The benefit to New Yorkers, who cannot sue on their own behalf because the wiretapping is secret, is to initiate judicial oversight of the Bush Administration's program.

Maloney said, "As a New Yorker, I am committed to stopping, capturing, punishing or killing the terrorists who target America for attack, but I am also committed to the rule of law in this country, or at least this state. George Bush is not above the law.

"My plan both fights terrorism and protects New Yorkers' privacy from unauthorized or unconstitutional government intrusion. It does not compromise or halt ongoing anti-terror operations. It legalizes them. It's clear the Bush Administration is operating outside of New York law without legal federal authority."

There is recent case law and precedent for state attorneys general to act against federal actors who break state law and are acting outside of congressional authority. The Oregon Attorney General successfully sued then-United States Attorney General John Ashcroft, stopping him from undermining that state's assisted suicide law (analogous to New York's wiretapping law) without Congressional authorization to do so (as with the NSA's actions here).

The Maloney campaign is supporting this idea with the first paid television ads of the campaign for Attorney General. Entitled "Good Question" the 30-second spot, which airs statewide starting today, makes the charge that the President is outside his authority in using warrantless wiretaps and is violating New York state law. ...
The ad can be seen here, surrounded by stuff that only applies to those who live in New York, the state.

But if the argument of Senator Feingold, that the president needs to be reminded he is breaking a very specific law and really should follow the law, has any merit, then censure, symbolic and without any penalty, may not be the only approach. This is better - explain why you're breaking New York state law.

No censure motion would ever pass anyway - the president's party controls both houses of congress, and all but two or three other senators from the minority party are also against the idea, fearing if they oppose anything the president does they'll be called sympathizers with al Qaeda, haters of America, torturers of puppies and never get another vote.

They would? Well, you could check out this, the video of Senator Feingold explaining what he's up to to Jon Stewart. Stewart runs a clip of the man who replaced Tom Delay as House majority leader, John Boehner, saying just that - Feingold doesn't want America to be safe, and he's somehow on the side of the enemy. Feingold says the President needs to get the bad guys, and he needs to be responsible for his actions and has to follow the law. Both.

Can he make that argument? Maybe, but there's the new radio ad from the Republicans (go here to listen) - "Democrats want to censure President Bush for fighting the war on terror." Not what Feingold said, but they are assuming people are too dumb to know that. Heck, it's worked before. Will it work again. "When you ordered that salad at lunch it meant you hate the beef industry and probably all big business and probably America values in general, and you probably want al Qaeda to run Disneyland." Whatever.

We shall see how that works out. The polling is showing more than forty percent of the public agrees with Feingold. Even one big Republican Senator agrees with him, Specter of Pennsylvania saying things like this "They want to do just as they please, for as long as they can get away with it. I think what is going on now without congressional intervention or judicial intervention is just plain wrong." The majority of senate Democrats are bit too frightened to agree with the growing tide of anger. Not safe yet.

The New York complaint may help them decide popular opinion, the overwhelming majority of Democratic voters, and the law are all things that matter, along with doing the right thing. But then they're politicians. Doing the right thing needs to be considered very carefully. It's tricky. Do the right thing and people might not like you. Scary, scary, scary...

And as Tim Grieve notes here, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman made this statement at a fundraising solicitation sent to GOP supporters - "Democrat leaders' talk of censure and impeachment isn't about the law or the president doing anything wrong. It's about the fact that Democrat leaders don't want America to fight the War on Terror with every tool in our arsenal."

What? Impeachment? The Democrat leaders never proposed that, but then, they might have - "When you ordered that salad at lunch it meant you hate the beef industry and probably all big business and probably America values in general, and you probably want al Qaeda to run Disneyland." Whatever. John Conyers of Michigan had floated the idea. The whole of the Democratic Party ran for cover. Impeaching Clinton was one thing - who could be in favor of an older powerful man seducing an innocent sweet young thing, however giggly and willing she was, and then trying to pretend it was nothing? Nothing scary there. But this?

Grieve, dealing with reality, notes virtually every Democrat he's heard has said, "Keep spying on suspected terrorists - just follow the law when you do."

Mehlman says he knows what they really meant. And he says the American people know the same. We'll see. Depends on your news source, one supposes.

But then there is Howard Fineman in Newsweek with this - the polls are miserable and the current run of I'm-not-really-incompetent speeches to explain why not are going nowhere, so "at some point, even Bush's advisors have to realize that the problem with Iraq isn't that the president hasn't explained it enough - the White House is making a pivot to Plan B: Forget the Global War on Terror; now it's time for the War Against Terrorists Inside the Homeland. And as part of the usual "with us or with the terrorists" theme, the War Against Terrorists Inside the Homeland also means the War Against the Traitor Media and those Spineless, Security-Hating Democrats too."

The idea now is to present the president as some sort of tough-guy cop, as Fineman puts it, battling the "wussie lovers of legalistic niceties that get in the way of investigations and MSM news organizations that focus obsessively on explosions and mayhem in Iraq, even as they print or broadcast classified information and ask nasty, argumentative questions at hastily called press conferences."

Will this Gary Cooper in High Noon surrounded by cowards thing work? We'll see. It has its appeal. We've all seen the movie. Real heroes don't play by the rules. Traitors and cowards do.

That may be a winner. The problem is the sixty percent of the public who think the war was a mistake may not like being lumped in with the traitors and cowards. And there's the forty-plus percent who think Feingold's censure is a good thing, and that has some momentum. When the majority thinks you're on the wrong side of things, the argument that anyone who thinks that is at best a nitpicker, and at worst a coward who hates America, has its risks. If we're all going to be in the cast of High Noon who wants to be playing the part of the sniveling guy in the crowd scene? Maybe that's not the movie anyway. Seems more like Doctor Strangeglove these days, where the second characters in the bit parts were the sane ones.

It doesn't matter. We're all doomed anyway.

The End of the World

The end of the world? So it would seem, as many are now talking about this, an item that appeared in Fortune, December 26, 2005. It's about "peak oil" - we're at the point supplies will be decreasing and there's no way, as it becomes scarcer and more expensive, and it gets ridiculously more difficult to extract the last bits of it, the world we know is done. Economies just collapse, the dark ages return - all of that.

Why now? There have been scattered articles about this here and there.

Now because Fortune is profiling a personal friend of the president -
Richard Rainwater doesn't want to sound like a kook. But he's about as worried as a happily married guy with more than $2 billion and a home in Pebble Beach can get. Americans are "in the kind of trouble people shouldn't find themselves in," he says. He's just wary about being the one to sound the alarm.

Rainwater is something of a behind-the-scenes type - at least as far as alpha-male billionaires go. He counts President Bush as a personal friend but dislikes politics, and frankly, when he gets worked up, he says some pretty far-out things that could easily be taken out of context. Such as: An economic tsunami is about to hit the global economy as the world runs out of oil. Or a coalition of communist and Islamic states may decide to stop selling their precious crude to Americans any day now. Or food shortages may soon hit the U.S. Or he read on a blog last night that there's this one gargantuan chunk of ice sitting on a precipice in Antarctica that, if it falls off, will raise sea levels worldwide by two feet - and it's getting closer to the edge.... And then he'll interrupt himself: "Look, I'm not predicting anything," he'll say. "That's when you get a little kooky-sounding."

Rainwater is no crackpot. But you don't get to be a multibillionaire investor - one who's more than doubled his net worth in a decade - through incremental gains on little stock trades. You have to push way past conventional thinking, test the boundaries of chaos, see events in a bigger context. You have to look at all the scenarios, from "A to friggin' Z," as he says, and not be afraid to focus on Z. Only when you've vacuumed up as much information as possible and you know the world is at a major inflection point do you put a hell of a lot of money behind your conviction.

Such insights have allowed Rainwater to turn moments of cataclysm into gigantic paydays before. In the mid-1990s he saw panic selling in Houston real estate and bought some 15 million square feet; now the properties are selling for three times his purchase price. In the late '90s, when oil seemed plentiful and its price had fallen to the low teens, he bet hundreds of millions - by investing in oil stocks and futures - that it would rise. A billion dollars later, that move is still paying off. "Most people invest and then sit around worrying what the next blowup will be," he says. "I do the opposite. I wait for the blowup, then invest."

The next blowup, however, looms so large that it scares and confuses him. For the past few months he's been holed up in hard-core research mode - reading books, academic studies, and, yes, blogs. Every morning he rises before dawn at one of his houses in Texas or South Carolina or California (he actually owns a piece of Pebble Beach Resorts) and spends four or five hours reading sites like or, obsessively following links and sifting through data. How worried is he? He has some $500 million of his $2.5 billion fortune in cash, more than ever before. "I'm long oil and I'm liquid," he says. "I've put myself in a position that if the end of the world came tomorrow I'd kind of be prepared." He's also ready to move fast if he spots an opening.

His instincts tell him that another enormous moneymaking opportunity is about to present itself, what he calls a "slow pitch down the middle." But, at 61, wealthier and happier than ever before, Rainwater finds himself reacting differently this time. He's focused more on staying rich than on getting richer. But there's something else too: a sort of billionaire-style civic duty he feels to get a conversation started. Why couldn't energy prices skyrocket, with grave repercussions, not just economic but political? As industry analysts debate whether the world's oil production is destined to decline, the prospect makes him itchy.

"This is a nonrecurring event," he says. "The 100-year flood in Houston real estate was one, the ability to buy oil and gas really cheap was another, and now there's the opportunity to do something based on a shortage of natural resources. Can you make money? Well, yeah. One way is to just stay long domestic oil. But there may be something more important than making money. This is the first scenario I've seen where I question the survivability of mankind. I don't want the world to wake up one day and say, 'How come some doofus billionaire in Texas made all this money by being aware of this, and why didn't someone tell us?'" ...
This guy questions the survivability of mankind? He and others have briefed the president?

James Wolcott here suggests we have a bigger reason to impeach the president than anything that has to do with wiretapping. The president knows what's coming.

And why is he doing and saying nothing?
The only explanation, apart from Bush's cognitive disability in facing reality, is that he sociopathically doesn't care about the coming calamity endangering the planet because he and his cronies will be financially prepared even as most Americans lose their standard of living.

There are so many reasons that Bush's name should be dragged through the dust of his post-presidency for the harm and disgrace his administration has inflicted, and so impeachable offenses for which he would prosecuted today if we had a Congress worthy of the Founders. His malign indifference to Peak Oil and global warming may be the greatest of his crimes, because it will lead to the misery and deaths of untold millions of people, animals, and natural resources.

... It is part of the job of leaders to foresee problems and either steer around them or prepare for them. A head of state is analogous to the captain of a ship, who is responsible not only for keeping his vessel on course but also for avoiding hazards such as storms and icebergs. Some problems are not foreseeable; others are. A ship's captain who loses his vessel to a freak 'perfect storm' may be blameless, but one who steers his passenger liner directly into a foggy ice field, having no sonar or radar, is worse than a fool: he is criminally negligent.
So the idea is Feingold and Conyers are on the wrong track. There's something bigger.

Some are jumping on the idea, here and here.

But then this is a long-term threat. It won't happen next week. No one much is going to pay attention, and anyway here another reaction is there really is no need to worry, there's plenty of coal around.

We'll worry about it later. There are personal matters.

The Legal Stuff

There's a knock on your door. The police are there, asking if they can come in and search. They don't have a warrant. They're asking for your cooperation. What if you and your wife answer the door. Your wife says yes, you say no. Can the police come in and search? Who gets to say it's okay and you waive your Fourth Amendment rights and any right to protect yourself from self-incrimination?

That was what the Supreme Court decided. They said no, if one party objects then the police cannot come in. In this case the state of Georgia and the federal Justice Department got slapped down hard.

And the justices got all testy and said some pretty nasty things in the ruling and the dissents. The new Chief Justice, that nice Roberts man, may be a problem.

A friend sent along the New York Times account, calling it "a most disturbing assessment of Chief Justice Roberts' first dissenting opinion on the high court -
While the thrust of the report focuses on broad philosophical "alignments" on the court, when you read below, you'll see this guy - in his infinite legal wisdom - jumps from a case of POLICE searching a home - with permission of one inhabitant - to the logic of guests traveling miles to a birthday party to BE INVITED into a home?

The Times, as is often the case, presents this specific quote without subjective comment, but I can only ask in horror, who is this guy?

What monster has been unleashed in and on our highest court?
What is our friend tiling about?

From the Times' "Roberts Dissent Reveals Strain Beneath Court's Placid Surface" -
A Supreme Court decision on Wednesday in an uncelebrated criminal case did more than resolve a dispute over whether the police can search a home without a warrant when one occupant gives consent but another objects.

... Writing for the majority, Justice David H. Souter said the search was unreasonable, given the vocal objection of the husband, Scott Randolph. True, Justice Souter said, the court had long permitted one party to give consent to a search of shared premises under what is known as the "co-occupant consent rule." But he said that rule should be limited to the context in which it was first applied, the absence of the person who later objected.

The presence of the objecting person changed everything, Justice Souter said, noting that it defied "widely shared social expectations" for someone to come to the door of a dwelling and to cross the threshold at one occupant's invitation if another objected.

"Without some very good reason, no sensible person would go inside under those conditions," he said.

"We have, after all, lived our whole national history with an understanding of the ancient adage that a man's home is his castle," Justice Souter said. "Disputed permission is thus no match for this central value of the Fourth Amendment."

Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the majority opinion, as did Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who explained himself in a concurring opinion notable for its ambivalent tone. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. did not vote, as he was not a member of the court when the case was argued.

The dissenters, in addition to Chief Justice Roberts, were Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. In his opinion, the chief justice took aim at the majority's description of social custom, as well as its reliance on that description to reshape "a great deal of established Fourth Amendment law."

Every lower federal court to have considered the issue, as well as most state courts, had concluded that one party's consent was sufficient. The Georgia Supreme Court, in its 2004 decision that the justices affirmed, was in the minority, ruling in this case that the evidence of Mr. Randolph's cocaine use was inadmissible.

"The fact is that a wide variety of differing social situations can readily be imagined, giving rise to quite different social expectations," Chief Justice Roberts said. For example, he continued, "a guest who came to celebrate an occupant's birthday, or one who had traveled some distance for a particular reason, might not readily turn away simply because of a roommate's objection."

Noting that "the possible scenarios are limitless," he said, "Such shifting expectations are not a promising foundation on which to ground a constitutional rule, particularly because the majority has no support for its basic assumption - that an invited guest encountering two disagreeing co-occupants would flee - beyond a hunch about how people would typically act in an atypical situation."
Souter, who wrote the majority opinion, criticized Roberts' dissent. And he wasn't nice. Under the dissent's view, he wrote, "The centuries of special protection for the privacy of the home are over."

Welcome to the new world. This was a close one but you see where things are going.

Curiously there was this reaction from a staunch Republican -
The right wing of the Republican Party has sold the libertarian/centrist wing of the party a bill of goods, and the modern 'conservatives' are clearly nothing more than statists who, rather than redistributing wealth like their brethern on the left, instead have decided that the state must have excessive rights in order to 'protect' us all from whatever the imagined fear du jour might be. Meanwhile, no one is left protecting us from the religionists and the state itself.

In the new Republican era, only fetuses, tax shelters, and 'traditional' marriage deserve protection. According to the actions of the current Republican Party, the rest of us need to be wiretapped, monitored, have our homes inspected for whatever reason without warrants, and are incapable of making decisions on our own. My 20 year affair with the Republican Party is coming to an end. I am not voting for any Republican in 2006 at any level, and I will be hard pressed to vote for this party in 2008 - unless, of course, Cindy Sheehan is the Democratic candidate. These 'conservatives' need about 10-15 years in the wilderness.
Okay, that's from the right. From the left there's this - "Just wait till Alito gets to vote. Fourth Amendment rights won't just be over - they'll be a relic."

So who is with the administration these days in its effort to change how things are done and, in this case, reinterpret the Bill of Rights?

Well, a theocratic police state is a safe state. Want one?


The same day, this -
American's increasing acceptance of religious diversity doesn't extend to those who don't believe in a god, according to a national survey by researchers in the University of Minnesota's department of sociology.

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society." Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. "Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years," says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study's lead researcher.

Edgell also argues that today's atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past-they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. "It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common 'core' of values that make them trustworthy-and in America, that 'core' has historically been religious," says Edgell. Many of the study's respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.
Got it.

As Andrew Sullivan says - "If you were to listen to O'Reilly, you'd think atheists run this country and Christians are persecuted. The opposite is closer to the truth. Religious freedom must emphatically include the right to believe in nothing at all. I wish our president said that more often."

The president's father - August 27 1987 - "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God. Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists." (See this for the whole thing.)

The son is actually more moderate. You don't want to cut out Mark Twain, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank, and James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian Institute.


None. Things are very strange. And that's a warp on the buzz, and the issues on the table, and odd ideas. Make of it what you will.

Posted by Alan at 22:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006 06:52 PST home

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