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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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Wednesday, 29 March 2006
A Triple Helping of Minor Unmitigated Gall
Topic: Couldn't be so...

A Triple Helping of Minor Unmitigated Gall

The Appetizer: Logic Soup

Start with an amazing radio interview, one party in New York, one in Baghdad - Wednesday, March 29, 2006. The party in New York is the host, one of the many conservative, pro-Bush, pro-war, commentators on AM radio, Hugh Hewitt, who is definitely of the Bush-can-do-no-wrong school. The party in Baghdad is Michael Ware, Time Magazine's bureau chief there.

Hugh Hewitt is a southern California phenomenon. Here's the bio from his site -
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show heard in more than 70 cities nationwide, and a Professor of Law at Chapman University Law School, where he teaches Constitutional Law. He is the author of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World as well as the New York Times best selling author of If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat. He has written 4 other books. Hewitt has received 3 Emmys during his decade of work as co-host of the PBS Los Angeles affiliate KCET's nightly news and public affairs show Life & Times. He is a weekly columnist for The Daily Standard, the online edition of The Weekly Standard.
Chapman University, by the way, is down in Orange County, in the City of Orange, near Disneyland and the famous Philip Johnson designed Crystal Cathedral (two photos here at the bottom of the page). At one point Chapman University was California Christian College, but it's all grown up now. Orange County is, of course, famously conservative - the John Birch Society was founded there, down in Newport Beach at the Balboa Bay Club, and the headquarters of the organization that says there was no Holocaust at all is in Costa Mesa, or was at one time. It's sort of the opposite of Hollywood.

Michael Ware, an Australian citizen, in the interview says this about himself -
I'm actually a lawyer or an attorney by training. But after graduating law school, I only stayed in practice for one year after working in our court of appeal, then fell into journalism, working for Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation newspapers in Australia, where I eventually covered the conflict in East Timor. After that, I took a job with Time Magazine in Australia, and then after September 11, I was sent to Afghanistan, where I stayed for over a year. And then as the war in Iraq approached, I entered Iraq through Iran, into the Kurdish North, where I hooked up with U.S. Special Forces, and the Peshmerga militia, and covered the Northern front line. Ever since then, I have essentially been living in Baghdad.
So they should get along, right? There's the law, and Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News and has turned it into the voice of the administration.

They didn't get along. Radio Blogger has the full text of the interview here, and it's rather extraordinary. Hewitt is essentially arguing with Ware, and to Ware, that because Ware has interviewed a number of people on the other side Ware cannot be a real reporter. By speaking with those who are pure evil, and reporting what they say are the reasons for what they're doing, he's essentially become their mouthpiece, and maybe he ought to quit right now, no matter how brave he's been in getting the inside story. The idea is everyone knows they're just evil, and Ware has given them one more forum. He needs to stop this reporting. It's morally wrong.

Using that Socratic method in the manner the law has been taught since Harvard Law decided that was the way it should be done, Hewitt sets the guy up.

"Michael, can you quantify for my audience the amount of time you've spent with the jihadis, and the amount of time you've spent with the insurgents?" So Ware explains.

Then there's the classic buddy-trap "Okay, indulge me, a lawyer, and you're a lawyer, so you know. I'm just trying to get a sense of it. Has it been five different times out with the jihadists and 20 different times with the insurgents? I'm not looking for minute counts here, but I am trying to get a sense of how often you'll cross over to the other side and spend time with them." So Ware explains a bit more.

Then the trap is sprung -
HH: All right. So we've got a good grounding here. Now this brings me to the interesting issue that we talked about on CNN, and that is the morality of doing that. Why do you do that?

MW: Well, there's a number of reasons. I mean, you can look at it very, very cynically. One is know thy enemy. Now I cannot begin to tell you how much the American people, not to mention the Brits and the Aussies back home, have been significantly misled about the nature of the enemy. I mean, I've been at press conferences under the CPA. I've been at press conferences under the interim Iraqi government. I've been to press conferences under the current regime. I've listened to all manifestation of U.S. military spokesmen, of diplomats, of ambassadors, discuss and describe the enemy. And so often, it has been wrong. And it's either because these people don't understand what they're up against, or more likely, it's that these people are not telling the public the truth about them, about the fact that they're not just one homogenous group, that there are many different motivations. And that was a very, very valuable thing to come to understand, because it's led to the point now, that we see, where we have this Bush administration opening dialogue and negotiations with the more nationalist, or Baathist elements of the insurgency. So learning that this was not one homogenous, scary boogeyman was vital to not just my and the public's understanding, but also to military intelligence and this administration's. Look what it's led to.
That's it. Hewitt is all over him. Ware says the good guys sometimes either lie or else just don't get what they're really facing. But Hewitt is smug - he has, with his impeccable logic, exposed someone who is undermining our war efforts.

Ware explains our military trusts him and uses his insights, and praises his efforts, and he's been in every major battle but two, and the bad guys have threatened to kills him any number of times, and once kidnapped him. Ware doesn't get the new discourse in America -
HH: Now that's very interesting, because that would indicate that... and I understand it, but that fear is affecting your reporting, or your candor level.

MW: ... I mean, one has to be careful about how you couch things, but it doesn't stop you reporting the facts.

HH: No, but it does, however, get to the question of whether or not media from the West should be... what's the right word, Michael Ware? It's not assisting, but providing information flow to the jihadis about whom I'm quite comfortable, and I think most Westerners are quite comfortable, just declaring to be evil, because they kill innocents, and that killing of innocents is evil, is it not, Michael?
Cool, Time Magazine's bureau chief in Baghdad has just been swift-boated live, on air, by the braver, more heroic man, who knows, like everyone the bad guys are just evil and the details beyond that don't matter, and in any event, shouldn't be discussed, as in this - "Michael Ware, what is the difference between what you've been doing, especially with the jihadists, though to a certain extent with the insurgents as well, and say a World War II-era reporter making numerous trips to the German side to talk with the Nazis, and then coming back and being ambivalent about reporting on the Nazis, or being candid about the Nazis.

Ah ha! The Nazi gambit. That always works in complex arguments. It simplifies matters. Ware must like Hitler, or something.

And as for relative risk and bravery, we get this -
HH: I'm really fascinated by the question of whether or not it's ever good journalism to consort with the enemy in search of interesting stories. And there's not denying, Michael, where you get scoops. It's fascinating to read. You've got a great deal of courage, of physical courage, in doing this. So no one's denying that. I'm just wondering whether or not there's a line that you have in your mind reconciled yourself to crossing not once, but scores and scores of times, to report on the enemy, and whether or not that's a good thing. And you think it is, I think I hear you saying, because the public will not otherwise know what it is that you're reporting. Is that a fair summary?

MW: That is fairly accurate, and let's look at it this way. I mean, you're sitting back in a comfortable radio studio, far from the realities of this war.

HH: Actually, Michael, let me interrupt you.

MW: If anyone has a right...

HH: Michael, one second.

MW: If anyone has a right to complain, that's what...

HH: I'm sitting in the Empire State Building. Michael, I'm sitting in the Empire State Building, which has been in the past, and could be again, a target. Because in downtown Manhattan, it's not comfortable, although it's a lot safer than where you are, people always are three miles away from where the jihadis last spoke in America. So that's...civilians have a stake in this. Although you are on the front line, this was the front line four and a half years ago.
What a hoot! Needless to say, Hewitt was ridiculed mercilessly by the folks on the web for a full day. But then, if George Bush, flying a bit for the Texas Air National Guard in the late sixties and mysteriously dropping out, is the more manly man than John Kerry, decorated combat veteran of the war on the ground in Vietnam, this makes sense. Grabbing a cab to get to midtown takes courage too, and Hewitt actually sat in the actual building as he interviewed Ware. He wants his due. (Some Californians, it seems, think Manhattan is really, really, really scary, but does this look scary?)

But Ware didn't hang up. He just remained calm and took a bit more abuse before he snapped (emphases added) -
HH: Now this raises a question of whether or not American journalists generally, and perhaps you specifically, Michael, have an investment in describing this as a genie out of the bottle, have an investment in ignoring, say, the benefits the Marsh Arabs have achieved, the benefits the stability, relative stability in Mosul... they just had an attack in Mosul, so it's relative stability, not great stability. What is it? Thirteen out of the provinces are generally sedate. It is Baghdad, Anbar, the Syrian Desert there, that are the terrible places of great conflict. And while 50 to 60 bodies a day is a horrible toll, Mark Steyn argues that on a net, there are 100,000 Iraqis more alive every year that Saddam is gone, than every year this insurgency goes on. Does that not make a difference in your understanding of the conflict?

MW: Well, I mean, like I said, it's very hard to compare. If 100,000 more people are alive, then clearly, that's a blessing. How we come to those numbers I wouldn't have a clue. But I mean, what I can say is that I, for one, certainly have no investment in beating one administration, or favoring one party over the other. I'm an Australian who reports for an American magazine. I have no stake in your political process whatsoever. I just call it as I see it. I mean, there's nothing to be gained for someone like me. And look, there's enough people here that I've certainly come across in the three years, and who have been writing or publishing or broadcasting, that would be more than happy to tout the successes. Yet those people either can no longer be here because of the security, or I found that a lot of them like some of the soldiers I know, are just being warn down by the horror and drudgery of this place, to the point where that perhaps their views have changed. So I mean, I can't speak for every journalist. All I can say is that I don't personally have a liberal, anti-administration bias. And I can't say that I say that many of my colleagues do.
Oh yeah? Go to Hugh Hewitt's site here for Hewitt's restrained but smug gloating. He seems to think he finally and definitively, or at least logically, exposed the anti-American bias of the press on the ground in Iraq, and their near treasonous reporting on what the enemy is thinking. And they think they're so brave.

Enroll in the law school at Chapman University for more. And visit nearby Disneyland, paying particular attention to Fantasyland.

The Entrée: Mystery Meat

Actually, in France the entrée is the appetizer, and the plat is the main course, but no matter. This was still a mystery.

Wednesday, March 29th, as the Democrats unveiled their new National Security Strategy, saying they had better ideas than the incompetents in the White House on how to keep the country safe and secure, the president held a news conference. Yep, bad timing there. But they're Democrats, after all.

Of course the situation in Iraq looks dismal, what with twenty or more headless bodies showing up every day, militias roaming around killing for one side or the other, no government being formed and everyone mad at us for this or that. And there are reports of twenty or thirty thousand civilians displaced, afraid to go home to where they used to live, but with no place to go. And we seem to have created a whole new generation of people who want us dead. And the world thinks we're bullies or fools, or both.

But the president calmly explained none of this was his fault. Oddly, he didn't blame Bill Clinton this time.

It all would have worked out fine. But now it's "tough." The problem was Saddam Hussein, not anything at all the Bush administration ever did - "President Bush said Wednesday that Saddam Hussein, not continued U.S. involvement in Iraq, is responsible for ongoing sectarian violence that is threatening the formation of a democratic government."

The logic here? Saddam Hussein was a tyrant. Got it?

And he used violence to aggravate all the sectarian divisions there, to keep himself in power. Got it?

So he started it, we didn't. All this tension between folks over there? "The enemies of a free Iraq are employing the same tactics Saddam used, killing and terrorizing the Iraqi people in an effort to foment sectarian division."

See? Not his fault. The Democrats can come up with whatever plan they want, but what can you do with these Iraqi folks? They had a bad role model.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid - "The president can give all the speeches he wants, but nothing will change the fact that his Iraq policy is wrong. Two weeks ago, he told the American people that Iraqis would control their country by the end of the year. But last week, he told us our troops would be there until at least 2009."

But the president is adamant. What does it matter what plans you make? Damn that Saddam guy. He messed everything up - "Iraq is a nation that is physically and emotionally scarred by three decades of Saddam's tyranny."

Say, about this scarring business, didn't we dismantle (as in "blow up") their infrastructure, and stand aside as the cities were looted, and manage to fail gloriously at putting things back together, like the electrical system, the oil industry, and most basic services?

Ah well, what can you do? Got to stay and see this though. These Iraqi folks have been abused. They need therapy? Something like that.

He did say the folks there really need to meet again, one day soon, let bygones be bygones, smoke a peace pipe or whatever they do in those parts, and form some sort of national government. What's the problem?

But all this bad stuff happening now? "It's not my fault." The weird guy with the moustache did it.

Add your own comment about the era of personal responsibility.

And how are things there as he gave this speech? See this, from the famous Riverbend, posting from Baghdad daily -
I was reading the little scrolling news headlines on the bottom of the page.... Suddenly, one of them caught my attention and I sat up straight on the sofa, wondering if I had read it correctly....

"The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area."

That's how messed up the country is at this point... The situation is so bad on the security front that the top two ministries in charge of protecting Iraqi civilians cannot trust each other. The Ministry of Defense can't even trust its own personnel, unless they are "accompanied by American coalition forces."
Some sort of national government may be a long way off. No one is in charge. Anyone in uniform could be, well, anyone. For your safety the government says don't trust the government - there really isn't one yet. You could get killed. If the Americans are tagging along with someone in uniform, maybe you could be okay. You're on your own. Do your best.

But it's Saddam's fault. What did we do? We freed them. What can you do?

Dessert: Mock Apple Pie in the Sky

Oh, the issue has come up before. May 1, 2005 - The Oppressed Minority - Christians in America and Conservative Republicans - one of many commentaries on the Christian right playing victim. Everyone is out to get them. The government won't allow them to require all school children in public schools, whatever the kids' religion at home, recite prayers to their God, which is, after all, the only true God, as everyone knows. They feel they've been denied their rights there. What's the problem? They want their kids to pray in public school. Why insult the religion of most real Americans and say they can't?

And the ACLU backed that atheist who didn't want his kid to be forced to say the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance - but what about their kids? Their kids wouldn't be allowed to say the words, and that's not fair. What's the harm? Why does his kid matter more than theirs? One guy messing everything up.

And the Ten Commandments statue thing had to be removed from that courthouse. That was an insult. Didn't Justice Scalia himself, of the Supreme Court, say it was "a fact" the this country was not really founded on people getting together to form a self-governing republic, but really as a something God directed? You just know "for the people, of the people and by the people" was in God's mind before Lincoln said it that way. Isn't that obvious?

Why is everyone picking on them?

And there was that insulting business when major retailers at Christmas had staff saying "Happy Holidays" and not "Merry Christmas" at the cash registers. That was just a slap in the face. Sure, the Jews have some sort of holiday around that time, and there are a few other holidays, but what about a little respect? It's not fair. The Jews wouldn't have minded.

And there was that business at the Air Force Academy - why couldn't officers there demand all cadets find Jesus or be harassed? If part of your religion is that everyone must agree with you and worship your God, with all the right details, isn't saying you can't demand they do a violation of the that particular officer's right to religious freedom? It's just not fair.

Well, another year has passed. Time to ramp up the victim thing again.

In the Washington Post, Wednesday, March 29, 2006 - 'War' on Christians Is Alleged. This is about the big conference and the subhead is "Conference Depicts a Culture Hostile to Evangelical Beliefs."

Here we go again -
This week, radio commentator Rick Scarborough convened a two-day conference in Washington on the "War on Christians and the Values Voters in 2006." The opening session was devoted to "reports from the frontlines" on "persecution" of Christians in the United States and Canada, including an artist whose paintings were barred from a municipal art show in Deltona, Fla., because they contained religious themes.

"It doesn't rise to the level of persecution that we would see in China or North Korea," said Tristan Emmanuel, a Canadian activist. "But let's not pretend that it's okay."
Oh, let's do. It might be fun.

Why? The keynote speaker was Tom DeLay, under felony indictment in Texas, and there were Senators John Cornyn and Sam Brownback - and Phyllis Schlafly, Rod Parsley, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes. It was a fun crowd. They were there for "a hard but necessary look at moral relativism, hedonism and Christophobia, or fear of Christ."

Oh my!

Tom DeLay in his keynote address - "Sides are being chosen, and the future of man hangs in the balance! The enemies of virtue may be on the march, but they have not won, and if we put our trust in Christ, they never will ... It is for us then to do as our heroes have always done and put our faith in the perfect redeeming love of Jesus Christ."

Out here in godless Hollywood Harriet-the-Cat watched the Chris Matthews political shouting show on MSNBC, Hardball, where one of the guys from the conference, Tony Perkins, faced off with Reverend Al Sharpton (video clip here at Crooks and Liars). It was amusing. Sharpton asked what DeLay had to do with Jesus, or Christianity, given he seems to be a crook and a bully. Perkins said he hadn't been convicted, just accused, and anyway, the whole thing was cooked up because he was a good Christian and people wanted to see him fall, because they hate good Christians. You figure that out. Matthews was bemused, but in closing said there really was a war on Christians. Odd. He's a Catholic, as he often reminds everyone, but half the evangelicals don't think much of that Cult of Mary. Maybe he was joking. Harriet-the-Cat tells me he was smiling when he said that.

One comment on the web here, at a website with a great name, "Bark Bark Woof Woof" -
There is no war on Christianity; there's just a resistance movement - an insurgency, if you will - against the brand of pompous, arrogant, self-pitying and homophobic brand of "christianity" that these people practice. Other denominations such as the Unitarians, the Quakers, and the more tolerant among the Episcopalians don't label other people who don't toe their line as heretics and blasphemers, and I would hazard a guess that they don't feel as if they're persecuted - except by the bullies of the Religious Reich.
But these other folks are persecuted too.

Who is catching crap? The United Church of Christ. And that has been covered here before, see this from January 30, 2005, explaining the business where James Dobson was all upset about the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. Dobson thought he was kind of gay. So the United Church of Christ adopted SpongeBob SquarePants as a mascot. They had a bunch of ads they couldn't get any television network to accept - "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." Too controversial. So they did the mascot thing for the fun of it. Meet absurdity with absurdity. There were follow-up items in these pages here and here.

And that was that. The issue went away.

But this week the United Church of Christ has more ads they just cannot get anyone to run on national television, no matter what they're willing to pay for airtime. This one is funny, and this one is devastating. Same message - "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."

No one will touch these. There is no war on Christianity - there's a war within Christianity. No national television network wants to get involved in that and be accused of taking sides. The avenging Jesus who turns his back on those who don't do the right thing and abandons them to the pain and death they deserve versus the loving, inclusive Jesus? Who would want to get into that fight? You'd lose viewers either way.

After Dinner: The Digestif

In France, that's what you have after dinner and dessert - cognac, Armagnac, brandy - that sort of thing. Pour a stiff one.

Posted by Alan at 23:12 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 29 March 2006 23:59 PST home

Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Some thoughts on spin and posturing...
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Some thoughts on spin and posturing...

Tuesday, March 28th, was a day of heavy rain in Los Angeles, blunting things. That's explained here, with photos - it's the dreaded Pineapple Express. There were fewer students in the street protesting the proposed changes in immigration law, not like the day before, and that was not just because of the lousy weather. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) just locked down the middle schools and high schools (local story here) - if you got to school and into a classroom you weren't going anywhere. They held discussions of the proposed legislation. What fun is that? Some kids got out anyway, and marched in the streets, down in Carson and a few other places, and the Vincent Thomas Bridge was closed for a time. Then it really started pouring. So much for that.

The media coverage? The same problems with "the other" - and outrage with the interlopers, the law-breakers. Lou Dobbs was on his CNN crusade. And we all know who the bad guys are.

But then, see this -
Open letter to CNN and other mainstream US media outlets:

1. The vast majority of Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S. (75 percent of us) were born and raised here, including many of us who have roots here that predate the arrival of the pilgrims.

2. "Immigrant" is not synonymous with "Latino" and the media should stop pretending they mean the same thing.

3. The CNN analyst who said today "Keep in mind, Latino voters are LEGAL immigrants, not illegal immigrants" should be FIRED for sloppy thinking. MOST LATINOS ARE NOT IMMIGRANTS AT ALL, PINCHE CABRON.

4. Immigrants to contemporary USA come from EVERYWHERE. There are, for instance, 100,000 Nigerians in Houston, and tens of thousands of ILLEGAL Irish in Boston. If this debate is truly about immigration, as opposed to racist portrayals of Latinos, please curb your coverage to be more responsible.

5. Just because someone waves a Mexican or Colombian flag at a peaceful demonstration does not mean the demonstration is a "riot" or the people un-American. Lou Dobbs should get his panties out of a knot and realize it is no different than someone waving an Irish flag in Southie or an Italian flag in Queens. These flags are not waved as proof of national allegiance; they are waved in solidarity with a person's cultural heritage.

6. You can be a Mexican American and never have had an ancestor come over the US border; vast portions of the United States of today USED TO BE MEXICO or SPAIN. If you failed to learn this in high school, your teachers should be fired.

7. The vast majority of Hispanics/Latinos in the US speak English as a first language. The Pew Center for Hispanic research shows that by the third generation, all Latin American immigrant descendents - 100 percent of them - are English-first, English dominant. Zero percent speak Spanish as a first or primary language by the third generation.

8. The US has TWO international borders, not ONE. To date, not a single terrorist has gotten to the US through Mexico; to date, at least two suspected terrorists have arrived here through Canada. In fact, I would not be surprised if, while the media and xenophobes are focused on the Mexican border, terrorists figure out that it might be a good idea to walk over from Vancouver to Seattle for a latte.

9. Not all Hispanics/Latinos are Mexican or of Mexican origin in the U.S., and most people of Mexican extraction in the US were born in the UNITED STATES. ...
It goes one for a quite a bit more, but you get the idea. Just what are we arguing about?

The author, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, ends with this -
Shut up about this non-issue and get back to BEING JOURNALISTS, covering the REAL issues, like the illegal war in Iraq and the lies that got us there; the record-setting trade deficit; Bush's bankrupting of America; NSA's illegal wiretapping of American citizens; the fact that our public schools are MORE segregated than they were before Brown vs. the Board of Education; the fact that we as a nation have now slipped to having only the 27th freest press in the world; the Plame leak and the consequences of it being that Americans are much less safe than we were before Cheney and his friends played "revenge"; the disappearance of the American middle class and unions; the sorry state of the FAA; the rapid devaluation of the American dollar on the world market thanks to idiot leaders; the dismantling of the endangered species act by our administration; the rapid and unprecedented rise of a white underclass (the fastest rise in poor whites in American history has occurred under Bush); the enormous and growing gap between rich and poor in America.
But the brown-skinned high-school kids in the streets! The five hundred thousand in the streets of Los Angeles the day before that, waving foreign flags! We'll have to speak Spanish and listen to banda music! The world is ending.

No, it isn't, at least not over this. People are in the streets because what is a an administrative issue was approached as a national crisis, the party in power needing a wedge issue for the upcoming election ("Look, BROWN PEOPLE, everywhere!") advancing legislation to "get them." They've been busting their butts trying top get a better life here, violating the administrative laws, and perhaps wonder why this and why now? What changed since last summer, since five years ago?

And the racial nastiness is rather ugly. Marching in the streets is what you would expect.

There's no doubt a sensible way out of this, but not this year. It's an election year. The ruling party, with other matters not going that well, needs someone to be the bad guy. Osama got away. The war is a mess. There's a need for a new focus, to show you're doing something, a new for new, fresh devils. The brown folk who clean the restrooms will do. They're not happy about that, nor are the people who kind of look like them.

Hey, sometimes enough is enough.

But some things are changing. The president is cleaning house, making the White House vastly more efficient and responsive. Not.

The media tried to play up the big change at the White House as the rains poured down out here in Hollywood. A big story! The Chief of Staff since the president took office was suddenly gone. It wasn't to be, as the hype fizzled.

A typical headline was Bush Replaces Card With Another Longtime Loyalist, with the opening words, "Republicans gave a collective shrug to President Bush's decision Tuesday to replace chief of staff Andrew Card with budget director Josh Bolten, another longtime loyalist..."

It was a non-story. Nothing will change (a good analysis here) - all that talk about bringing in a fresh views was for naught. Bolten had been second in command to Card, and has been working for the president since 1999, so this is like a pit stop in a long race. You change the tires, top off the tank, but you go out and then drive around in circles as fast as you can with no fixed destination as such, just trying to finish ahead of everyone else. The press covered the pit stop. Fine. But if Republicans gave a "collective shrug" to the whole business, then you know the item is up there with which tie the president wore Tuesday with the dark blue suit. Yawn.

What's the real news? The New York Times kind of did mention this - Shiite politicians in Iraq saying that our ambassador to Iraq had a message for them - George W. Bush wants Iraq's prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to go away, and it's their job to dump the guy.

The reaction? "How can they do this? An ambassador telling a sovereign country what to do is unacceptable."

They don't know George. They may have voting control of whatever government they ever get around to forming, but this Ibrahim al-Jaafari is a pain - big mouth, too angry, a loose cannon, and he sometimes says bad things about us. And he's stirring up trouble by not reining in the militias on the Shiite side. If they know what's good for them, they'll have to deep six him. We didn't toss out Saddam Hussein for this sort of crap.

Of course the claim may not be true at all, just posturing having to do with internal power struggles there. We deny our ambassador ever said such a thing, but if it is just posturing it is odd that they seem to have some sense that they can use the common view of our president's personality as a tool in whatever local maneuvering is going on. He has this reputation now - he does things the way he sees them and gets what he wants, no matter what the rules.

That we promote democracy and when people vote "the wrong way," as in the recent Palestinian elections brining Hamas to power, we do our best to undermine what "the people" have chosen is kind of helpful. So why not this ploy? It sounds just likely enough to be useful. Or maybe it's true. No one will ever really know.

Heck, all politicians do all sorts so maneuvering. It happens over here too, as the same day we see an interesting move from presidential hopeful John McCain, the senator from Arizona, who, the last time he ran for the nomination had that bus with "Straight Talk Express" on the side. They call him a maverick, because, they say, he always speaks his mind. And he has opposed his party on any number of issues.

And it's been rough. Way back when, after he won the presidential primary in New Hampshire, Bush's man Karl Rove destroyed him in the South Carolina primary with all those rumors about his love child with a crack-addict black prostitute and rumors that all his years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam had rendered him effectively insane and barely functional. That worked. It was over for McCain. And he was pissed, but just last year was hugging Bush on stage. Huh?

And now? He once called the evangelical Christian Republican leader Jerry Falwell an "agent of intolerance" for all the sort of things Falwell had been saying - Muhammad, the prophet is Islam, is a "terrorist" - "If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being" - Blacks, Hispanics, and women are "God-ordained minorities who do indeed deserve minority status" - "Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home" - if the Antichrist did exists and were alive today "of course he'll be Jewish" (Links to the Falwell statements can be found here.)

McCain was not having any of this, as in this - "Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right."

That was 2000. Now he supports the mandatory teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools and has just accepted an invitation to be a graduation speaker at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell's university for budding Christian "theocons," as it were. The story is here, where Falwell says that he and McCain have worked out their differences. There's still "a lot of fence mending to do" but Falwell says McCain is coming around.

Right. You do what you do. There's posturing. There's image.

But as E. J. Dionne in the Post suggests here - "Once lost, a maverick's image is hard to earn back."

Well, one has to be very careful.

But then there are those who aren't careful. The same rainy day here in Los Angeles the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Hamdan v. Rumsfeld with its big issues.

The Associated Press account is here, opening with this -
A lawyer for Osama bin Laden's former driver urged the Supreme Court today to curb President Bush's use of wartime powers to prosecute terror suspects held at a U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Attorney Neal Katyal, who represents Salim Ahmed Hamdan, told justices the military commissions established by the Pentagon on Bush's orders are flawed because they violate basic military justice protections.

"This is a military commission that is literally unburdened by the laws, Constitution and treaties of the United States," Katyal said.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, the newest member of the court, pressed Katyal to explain why a defendant before a military commission should be given something that defendants in civilian criminal trials normally don't get - the chance to challenge the case before a verdict is reached.

"If this were like a (civilian) criminal proceeding, we wouldn't be here," Katyal said.

Scalia's presence on the bench signaled his rejection of a request to recuse himself that was filed Monday by five retired generals who support Hamdan's arguments. In a letter to the court, the generals asked Scalia to withdraw from participating in the case because of remarks he made in a recent speech in Switzerland about "enemy combatants." Speaking at the University of Freiberg in Switzerland on March 8, Scalia said foreigners waging war against the United States have no rights under the Constitution...
Yep, Antonin Scalia had a position. He pretty much said how he'd vote long before the trail. No bullshit from Fat Tony. But to be fair he did recuse himself from the cases about the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, after all his speeches where he said the idea that the government was formed by the consent of the people was wrong-headed, as clearly our form of government was ordained by God, and that was a fact no one could dispute - that was just the way it obviously was. Here his has a son in the military. It's personal.

There's a narrative of what happened in session here from an expert in constitutional law, Dahlia Lithwick. The government's arguments got more and more absurd as the session when on. The justices got more and more angry in their probing, just amazed at the flaws in basic logic. The government's attorney was finally explaining that, yes, what he was saying made no logical sense, if you used logic, "but this was war." Antonin Scalia didn't say that very much. Maybe he was bored. So far it looks like the government will lose this one.

But still, at least with Scalia, you don't get any of this posturing or image stuff, as in this -
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia startled reporters in Boston just minutes after attending a mass, by making a hand gesture some consider obscene.

A Boston Herald reporter asked the 70-year-old conservative Roman Catholic if he faces much questioning over impartiality when it comes to issues separating church and state.

"You know what I say to those people?" Scalia replied, making the gesture and explaining "That's Sicilian."

The 20-year veteran of the high court was caught making the gesture by a photographer with The Pilot, the Archdiocese of Boston's newspaper.

"Don't publish that," Scalia told the photographer, the Herald said.

He was attending a special mass for lawyers and politicians at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and afterward was the keynote speaker at the Catholic Lawyers' Guild luncheon.
Ah, refreshing. You know where he stands. He's with God, and if you don't like it, he flips you off. Maybe he shouldn't be judge, what with the ideas he has about how this is really a theocracy of sorts, and with making up his mind before he hears a big case and refusing to recuse himself, but he is brilliant and glib, and you know what you're dealing with. It's endearing in a sort of "Sopranos" way - appalling yet compelling.

And judges can be blunt, not just this one. At the same time the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Arlen Specter, held hearings on the NSA spying business, asking the five FISA judges about oversight. All five said, yep, oversight has to be there, and the president was on shaky ground, and his claim of "inherent authority" to ignore the law was pure crap, although they said it more nicely than that. Well, one of them, Judge Allan Kornblum, was less kind with this - "I am very wary of inherent authority. It sounds very much like King George."

That's not nice. But it's not posturing or image building. Just colorful.

Well, everyone has their views, and sometimes they just say them, and let the chips fall where they may.

Last week in these pages here, the views are strong, as in that survey about religion or lack of it, which might be now called the Justice Antonin Scalia Was Right Poll -
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.
Yep. Bad people, except Andrew Sullivan, the conservative, catholic, gay, and ex-British commentator, who has been writing about such matters for some time now, got this letter from one of his readers -
I write this with a certain weariness, but nevertheless it is important. I can't help but read your blog because as an articulate gay, Catholic conservative you are inevitably conflicted and therefore rarely have uninteresting things to say!

In more hubristic moments I sometimes think of myself as something of a mirror image of you: I am an entirely monogamous heterosexual man (I have only ever had sex with one person in my life - my wife of 14 years). We have two thriving children. Put simply, my family is the almost perfectly nauseating embodiment of what the Dobsons of this world dream about, but with one caveat: none of us have the slightest interest in the idea of God in any of his incarnations.

I don't like the word "atheist" because it implies the absence of a God and this is not the way we live our lives. We live joyful, peaceful, happy, fulfilling lives - we take nothing for granted, but we have never experienced spiritual hunger or thirst, or whatever metaphor you want to use and yes, we have been through very difficult times, but the idea of a God has always been either meaningless or counter productive in our struggles through life.

I have the greatest respect for your sexuality, your religion, and your conservatism and would never presume for a second that somehow my sexual disposition and the choices I have made in my life represent anything more my sexual disposition or the choices I have made. This is America, and I am happy to be evangelized by any one who makes the effort, but the sooner the haters ... who want to legislate my sexual disposition, my morality, my family values, my absence of religion, and my ethical choices - get lives for themselves and leave the good people of this country alone, the happier we will all be.
Yep, posturing is a pain, and religious posturing is the worst kind. It leads to odd legislation. Let people be.

Sullivan finds a quote from John Adams - "Government has no Right to hurt a hair on the head of an Atheist for his Opinions. Let him have a care of his Practices." - and Sullivan adds this - "People have this strange idea that Americans are much more secular today than they once were. In fact, the kind of religious fundamentalism we see today, while always part of the American fabric, has rarely been as dominant. The faith of the founders' was a drier, more Enlightened type; and it's fair to wonder whether some of them were believers at all in the modern sense of the term. That's why a defense of secularism is by no means un-American. It is the essence of what made the United States such a radical experiment in its time: the separation of government from God. Just don't tell that to the theocons."

Ah well, they have their motives. (And now they have John McCain, and he, in turn, has his own motives.)

From last weekend's collection of quotes: "Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is." - Mohandas K. Gandhi

In any event, the I'm-right-and-you're-wrong-and-there's-no-compromise national conversation rumbles on. Religion, immigration, the president is a bully and a fool, the president is noble and not corrupted by all that effete book learning, we're winning the war, we're not - and all the rest - spins along. Everyone's got an angle.

Even here.

Posted by Alan at 22:45 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2006 22:50 PST home

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

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