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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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Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Notes on the Transitory and the Big Stuff
Topic: Breaking News

Notes on the Transitory and the Big Stuff

Tuesday, June 13, 2006, big news, Bush's Brain (as in the book and the movie) won't be charged with anything at all. Karl Rove will not be indicted. Either he didn't do anything wrong in the matter of exposing the CIA secret agent to attack her husband, the ambassador who made the administration and particularly the vice president seem like manipulative liars, or there wasn't enough solid proof to prove it, or something else. Who knows? And then the same day the president pops up in Baghdad for a five-hour visit, surprising everyone, including the new Iraqi prime minister, who thought he was dropping by one of the old Saddam palaces in the Green Zone for a video conference with President Bush in Camp David. And there was George in the flesh. How odd.

As for the Rove matter, it seems Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, had written a letter to Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, informing him that Karl Rove would not be charged with any crime in the whole matter, as noted here -
In a statement, Mr. Luskin said, "On June 12, 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove."

... In his statement Mr. Luskin said he would not address other legal questions surrounding Mr. Fitzgerald's decision. He added, "In deference to the pending case, we will not make any further public statements about the subject matter of the investigation. We believe that the Special Counsel's decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove's conduct."
Yeah, good luck on that. The well-known defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt has much more here, saying the whole things is over. But Luskin refuses to release the whatever letter he got from Fitzgerald, which is curious, but also categorically denies any deal was cut to get Rove to rat out others, which means, if true, this Rove matter is dead.

The left is disappointed, and the right elated. What else would you expect? As for bitter left reactions, there's the sardonic, like this - "I find it amusing that the biggest story of the day is that a member of the Bush administration is NOT being indicted."

On the Republican right that's a good day.

But the speculation goes on, as it must, as here it's obvious to one person following the matter closely that Vice President Cheney "may" still be indicted as "the architect of this smear." You find the same sort of thing here, a "hope" that there really is some sort of deal involving turning over Cheney, or even Bush, to Fitzgerald. Hope seems silly here. One can hope for lots of things. Hope is cheap - actually free. And worthless. There seems to be no deal.

Jane Hamsher, who has been following this whole Rove business in excruciating detail - only really mad political junkies follow it all - falls back on her now vast pool of information and background fact and gives us this -
It's become ever more apparent as time goes on and Fitzgerald releases bits of information in his filings that this was a Dick Cheney operation. Rove may have gotten involved because smearing people is his idea of a good time, but the Cheney scrawlings on Joe Wilson's op-ed are the "blue dress" of this case. Look at Conrad Black. Look at George Ryan. I'm sorry, but Fitzgerald had Rove dead to rights if he wanted him, and anyone who thinks he got nothing for something has been following the story of a different prosecutor than I have been.
Well, Hamsher has studied Fitzgerald and how he works, in detail, and she may be onto something.

But maybe it is time to let it go. Posted on Flag Day, June 14, Walter Shapiro, argues the Democrats and the left might be looking a gift horse in the mouth, or something like that. As he notes here -
Fitzgerald, by not indicting Rove, may have saved the Democrats from getting too caught up in the politics of vengeance. There was always an analogy to Madame Defarge sitting by the guillotine knitting in the way that Bush haters reveled in every unreliable rumor about a Rove indictment.

Vendettas may be emotionally satisfying, but they rarely provide a formula for winning elections. In fact, the best way to get back at Rove is not through criminal prosecution but by forcing him to read an Election Night speech conceding that the Democrats have won back Congress.
Yeah, saved by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald from looking like foaming-at-the-mouth Bush-haters. It's a gift. But the hope is thin. The election will be close, the electronic voting machines everywhere easily hacked and closed to any kind of auditing at all, and the districts well gerrymandered. We'll see.

As for that trip to Baghdad, the CNN account is here, and an interesting assessment from Glenn Greenwald here -
George Bush paid a surprise visit this morning to Iraq and, according to the immediately solidified media consensus, this is but the latest step in the heroic political comeback of George W. Bush, and yet another sign that things are "turning around" in the war. It is always so striking how heavily this administration relies upon political theater, and how eagerly and giddily the national media consumes it. In just the first few minutes of coverage, scores of reporters pranced across the television set struggling to contain their excited admiration for the President's audacious survey of his conquered land.

No matter how many times one flips through news channels this morning, one hears the same thing. The new Iraqi government has been formed. We killed Zarqawi. Bush has a "new team" in place. Karl Rove has been "cleared" in the Plame matter. Polls after Zarqawi's death show an "uptick" in support for the war. And now the President plans a secret mission to visit Iraq in order to meet with the new Prime Minister. Happy days are here again.

The media is desperate to find "big stories" every day. As a result, events which are so plainly inconsequential from a perspective which spans more than the last ten minutes of world events - such as Bush's stunt this morning in secretly materializing in Baghdad - are endlessly seized upon as evidence of some grand world change. The president's approval rating has been humiliating low and collapsing for almost a full year now, but one new poll shows a two-point increase to still-embarrassing levels of unpopularity, and - presto! - the President is recovering and is becoming popular again. Every event is reported and analyzed based exclusively on what has happened in the last five seconds, with the events of the prior week, or month, or year, all but ignored.
That about sums it up, except two of the polls, CBS and Rasmussen, actually show no bounce.

But on Flag Day, June 14, the Wall Street Journal is on the good news bandwagon here, but cautiously.

Greenwald is just bitter, noting the fundamental, "deeply entrenched problems with our war effort" that even the conservative were admitting before this Baghdad jaunt -
But to the media, a photo op here, a cosmetic personnel change there, and the death of a single terrorist - and all of those problems magically vanish. In two short weeks filled with melodramatic, exaggerated media events, both the Iraq war and the president's deep political problems have fundamentally improved. Big news! The President has turned all of this around. He is now bold and successful again. And his oh-so-brave flight to Iraq symbolizes how strong and successful he is. How long before we hear from Brit Hume or Candy Crowley about some apocryphal anecdote about the covert Air Force One flight or the folksy but audacious comment made by the Commander-in-Chief when he came up with this idea and insisted that he go despite the urgent pleas from his aides that it wasn't safe enough?

The realities are ignored in favor of the breathless media events. The fact that Iraq is such a dangerous and anarchic place - a full three years after our invasion - that the President still can't visit except by unannounced theater demonstrates how disastrous the situation is there, not how successful our occupation is.

... Iraqi death squads? Iranian control of internal Iraqi affairs? Abu Ghraib and Haidatha and the invasion itself causing Middle Eastern Muslims to think even worse of the U.S.? The destruction of U.S. credibility? All of that was interesting for awhile, but now, none of it matters, because the President staged one of those exciting movie events again, Karl Rove isn't going to prison, and the USA Today poll shows a two-point increase in the President's approval rating after he bagged a bad guy. We are seeing a new and emboldened president and a new and successful war. The pictures have been so dramatic and this is all so very, very exciting indeed.
Well, that's the way things work. Maybe this will turn out better thah the "Mission Accomplished" aircraft carrier thing. While in Baghdad that same day thirty-six more died in car bombings, eighteen at one time up north in Kirkuk, the others here and there.

And this photo (Pablo Martinez Monsivais for AP), just about sums it all up, with the caption - "White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, left, and White House Counselor Dan Bartlett, ride in a military helicopter wearing helmets and flak jackets for a trip from Baghdad International Airport to U.S. Embassy in the Greenzone Tuesday, June 13, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq." They look grim and scared shitless, and the AP guy will now be shunned by the White House. But Pablo Martinez Monsivais had fun.

And all over the place there was this -
People in European and Muslim countries see US policy in Iraq as a bigger threat to world peace than Iran's nuclear programme [sic], a survey has shown.

The survey by the Pew Research Group also found support for US President George W Bush and his "war on terror" had dropped dramatically worldwide.

Goodwill created by US aid for nations hit by the 2004 tsunami had also faded since last year, the survey found.

The survey questioned 17,000 people in 15 countries, including the US.

The latest in a series of annual polls by the Pew Global Attitudes Project interviewed respondents between 31 March and 14 May 2006.
You can see some of the results in a table here. It's not pretty. But then we don't want to be liked, or admired, or respected - we just want to be feared, and right about everything. In every Muslim in the Muddle East is there really an American inside trying to get free? We'll see about that.

In short, the transitory events of one day are overwhelmed by the big stuff.

And the Republicans running for office in November are avoiding having the president come speak for them - his wife, Laura, would, they say, be better - and more and more of the commentators and cheerleaders in the media are bailing out on the whole enterprise (as here), with many saying with all the spending and social programs like Medicare Part D he's not really a conservative, leading to analyses like this from Jonathan Chait in The New Republic - Binge and Purge - The Right Expels Bush (subscription only). This is not about teenage girls and their eating disorders, but about the political problem -
In "The Man Who Would Be King," the late-nineteenth-century Rudyard Kipling story later turned into a movie, an English adventurer named Daniel Dravot becomes the regent of Kafiristan, a remote mountainous region north of India. Dravot leads the Kafiri people to a string of battlefield victories, and they receive him as a God, the son of Alexander the Great, and turn their treasure over to him. But then they see him bleed, and - discovering he is mortal after all - turn on him with unbridled rage. Mobs of tribesmen denounce him as a fraud, chase him out of the temple, and ultimately send him plummeting to his doom.
You remember that - Sean Connery and Michael Caine - but it may be apt here. Something is up.

Josh Marshall says here that something may be really big -
With all the efforts now to disassociate President Bush from conservatism, I am starting to believe that conservatism itself - not the political machine, mind you, but the ideology - is heading toward that misty land-over-the-ocean where ideologies go after they've shuffled off this mortal coil. Sort of like the way post-Stalinist lefties used to say, "You can't say Communism's failed. It's just never really been tried."

But as it was with Communism, so with conservatism. When all the people who call themselves conservatives get together and run the government, they're on the line for it. Conservative president. Conservative House. Conservative Senate.

What we appear to be in for now is the emergence of this phantom conservatism existing out in the ether, wholly cut loose from any connection to the actual people who are universally identified as the conservatives and who claim the label for themselves.

We can even go a bit beyond this though. The big claim now is that President Bush isn't a conservative because he hasn't shrunk the size of government and he's a reckless deficit spender.

But let's be honest: Balanced budgets and shrinking the size of government hasn't been part of conservatism - or to be more precise, Movement Conservatism - for going on thirty years. The conservative movement and the Republican Party are the movement and party of deficit spending. And neither has any claim to any real association with limited or small government. Just isn't borne out by any factual record or political agenda. Not in the Reagan presidency, the Bush presidency or the second Bush presidency. The intervening period of fiscal restraint comes under Clinton.

Take the movement on its own terms and even be generous about it. What's it about? And has it delivered?

Aggressive defense policy? Check.

Privatization of government services? Check.

Regulatory regimes favoring big business? Check.

Government support for traditional mores and values on sex and marriage? Check.

That about covers it. And Bush has delivered. The results just aren't good.
Yep, it doesn't work. But then, it's what we have, a fake conservative government concerned with appearing "muscular" (preemptive wars of choice defying the world), with making the rich richer and businesses free to do what they want, and obsessed with sex (no abortions as that's no woman's own decision, and make the gay folks just go away) and with death (the federal government should make sure the brain dead have their bodies kept functioning for as long as possible), and obsessed with a specific vision of a vengeful God as part of the government itself, keeping people in line - and a ruined economy with low wages and dead-end jobs for all. Huh?

Change coming? Had enough?

Samuel Johnson famously said, long ago, that for a man to marry a second time represents the triumph of hope over experience. But it's not just that second marriage. People are forever thinking the next time they'll get it right, or we'll all get it right, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, what Johnson called "experience." And we have these elections coming up.

Change? Hope is cheap - actually free. And worthless.

Posted by Alan at 22:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 14 June 2006 06:42 PDT home

Monday, 12 June 2006
Kafkaesque, in a Good Way

Kafkaesque, in a Good Way

Wheels are turning. The Just Above Sunset computer was just declared real dead, and the shop has just transferred the recoverable files from the carcass of that system to a new external hard drive to plug into the laptop, which now becomes the new Just Above Sunset server. Let's hope it's up to the task. Now it's getting things set up and settled down. This will take some time. Much must be reinstalled or reconfigured. Much will have to be reconstructed. This will take some time.

And while that work goes on, the far wider world, as far as any reasonable person can tell, has gone mad. This is not the usual madness, where you shrug and grin sardonically at the foolishness of those who run things, or think they run things. One expects much of life to be absurd, often in a deadly way, and the only reasonable response is a certain cynicism and determination to do one's best to do one's best, and fix what one can fix in one's own small sphere. But it's almost as if these guys in charge of things are actually trying to test us all. How much utter nonsense will we accept, nodding in reluctant agreement - this must be done, that must be done? They say some things are so, and those things just doesn't seem so, but the majority put them in their positions of power, so you attend to what's in the press and other media, and they aren't laughing scornfully, so what are you going to do? Black is white, up is down, and everyone has his or her own private troubles, so what does it matter?

Too abstract and generalized?

In lieu of more specific commentary this date, here's a bit of what other have been saying about the business down Guantánamo way.

Andrew Sullivan here -
Every time I have tried to write something about the cancer and shame of Guantanamo, and the thought that the United States has strapped dozens of randomly captured individuals in metal restraints in order to force-feed them, I find myself so flummoxed that I give up. It has come to this? Remember: scores of these inmates have almost no evidence against them or have been detained on evidence tainted by torture, and have no way out of an insane system. Remember also: it is perfectly obvious that whatever interrogation techniques we may have used against these people, we have completely failed to get their cooperation to an almost farcical degree. And when some then commit suicide, which is one rational response to the situation, a U.S. general describes their deaths as a form of "asymmetrical warfare?" Again, it is hard to know what to say. These defenseless suicidal inmates are a threat to the U.S. military? Some things are so absurd that they can only be addressed in fiction or satire or silence.

And then you try and use logic that might appeal to a caricature like Rumsfeld and you find yourself thinking: Since whatever intelligence we have procured from these prisoners must now be either moot or exhausted, since they will never be released, and since almost none have had or will have access to anything resembling a fair trial, isn't allowing them to commit suicide the first rational policy we have entertained yet? These prisoners cannot be a threat dead. They are no use alive any more. They clearly prefer paradise to the eternal Cuban limbo they are now enduring. So why keep them on earth? When they're all dead, you can shut the place down, whatever the Supreme Court says. Win-win, no?
And Sullivan points to someone using the pseudonym of "Jon Swift" saying, among other things, this, in "Guantánamo: Kafkaesque, in a Good Way" -
This week three prisoners at the Guantanamo prison camp committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells using bed sheets. "They have no regard for life, either ours or their own," said the commander of the base, Rear Admiral Harry Harris about men who killed themselves. It's easy to understand the frustration of Admiral Harris, who has cared for these prisoners for years only to be repaid with this kind of planned and coordinated attack. Indeed, American guards have already saved 23 inmates from 41 suicide attempts and force fed hundreds of inmates who have gone on hunger strikes while these terrorists continue to wage homicidal campaigns against themselves. One of the men was even set to be released, although no one had gotten around to telling him yet. If there is a better illustration of the different values our two cultures place on life, I don't know what is.

Critics claim that the inmates are in a state of despair and have a sense of hopelessness because officials continue to resist efforts to charge the prisoners and give them trials or release them. Already, nearly half of these dangerous men (and several children) have been released after spending years at the camp, meaning that the 460 who are left must really be bad. Many of these men have not been released for humanitarian reasons because of a very sincere concern that they will be tortured or killed if they are repatriated to governments that are not quite as civilized as our own. Senator Arlen Specter has accused the Bush Administration of "stonewalling" him on the fate of these prisoners and claims that the charges against them are based on "the flimsiest sort of hearsay." He has vowed to fight what he perceives to be this injustice by scheduling hearings that will be postponed indefinitely and writing very frank letters. Unfortunately, these men and their lawyers are not permitted to see the evidence against them because it is Top Secret, which has led Amnesty International to call the Guantanamo prison camp "Kafkaesque." But I think Guantanamo is Kafkaesque in a good way. By not forcing the detainees to contend with the stress of due process, they are being spared the negative outcome of a trial, since it would almost certainly end in a guilty verdict, although they seem to want to carry out the inevitable sentence prematurely.

Although the media has generally been good about not giving these detainees undeserved attention, the failure to prevent this incident, which brings the prison's survival rate from 100% down to a still commendable 99%, has regrettably played right into the terrorists' hands. State Department spokesperson Colleen Graffey called these suicides "a good PR move" and "a publicity stunt," by which I think she means these detainees are sort of like David Blaine, although more successful ultimately in achieving the intended outcome.

Admiral Harris contends ominously that the suicides are in fact an act of war against the United States. "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but rather an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us," Harris said. Asymmetrical warfare is a tactic used by a weaker enemy to surprise and disorient his opponent. In order to restore symmetry to the battle, our side will have to engage in increasingly self-destructive tactics of our own and abandon certain principles and ethical values that hold us back and hand our opponents weak points they can exploit to strike back at us, a strategy we are already using with some success in Iraq.

Coincidentally, Harris predicted that someone would die at Guantanamo in an interview last month and speculated on the aftermath. "We're going to be subjected to a lot of questions, and rightfully so. Legitimate questions. Why did this person die? Did you have something to do with it? Was it of natural causes? And I believe, if it is of natural causes, we're still going to be criticized," Harris said. Unfortunately, these kinds of attacks by the press and other members of the left on U.S. credibility will just turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy as Peter Ingemi explained: "The real danger is that we who support the war will reach the point that we say 'we might as well be taken as wolves then as sheep.' At that point the left can celebrate that they have made our military and those who support it the people they claim we are. Once that happens however any compunction about respecting them will be gone, and remember one side is armed and one is not." In other words, the more the press delves into stories like Haditha, Abu Ghraib and the conditions at Guantanamo, the more likely it is that regrettable incidents will occur. If people are just going to believe the worst mo matter what we do, why should we bother to behave honorably? On the bright side, this will free up our side from certain restraints that limit our ability to fight back.

It seems that any effort we make to appease critics of Guantanamo have only backfired anyway. Some of the men who were released have begun to wage a PR campaign against the United States, another insidious kind of asymmetric warfare. One of the men we released is now claiming that he was tortured at the prison, which, of course, the Bush Administration has repeatedly said in no uncertain terms that we don't do, although if we wanted to torture, we wouldn't be subject to the laws of the Geneva Convention (a treaty some other administration signed anyway) because these detainees aren't lawful combatants, so theoretically we could if we wanted to, but we don't because it is against our principles except in certain circumstances. In the end, however, we may discover that the only way to save the principles make our country great will be to sacrifice them.
Absurd, no? This Swift, not the one from the eighteenth century, says this about himself - "I am a reasonable conservative who likes to write about politics and culture. Since the media is biased I get all my news from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Jay Leno monologues."

It is madness. There was always a touch of the surreal in decisions of the administration, and a certain amount of dreamlike absurdity in the explanations of those decisions - Kafka meets Tom Stoppard, with a touch of the most sardonic of the French existentialists of the early fifties. This is beyond that. Out here in Hollywood this is called "jumping the shark" - and this a major case of that. We are victims here, of three guys who hanged themselves? Right.

And the guys in charge want us to take them seriously? For some, hearing all this must be like waking up inside the Dali painting, with all the clocks melting and the nightmare seascape. How'd we get here?

Minor note - see this from Daniel Engber -
Are Muslims allowed to kill themselves?

No. There's a clear prohibition on suicide in the collected sayings of the Prophet, known as the hadith. In particular, anyone who kills himself must spend an eternity repeating the act in the afterlife: "He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell Fire."

You won't find as clear a statement in the Quran. This passage provides the closest thing to a ban: "Do not consume your wealth in the wrong way - rather through trade mutually agreed to, and do not kill yourselves." But the word for "yourselves" could just as well be translated as "each other" - which would make this a ban on homicide, not suicide.

Muslim scholars throughout history have noted this ambiguity but have tended to support the prohibition nonetheless. Eight hundred years ago, Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi acknowledged that the passage could be interpreted either way but argued that it's better to assume that it's about suicide.

The long-standing prohibition - which had become entrenched by the ninth century - may have something to do with the low suicide rates in Muslim countries. On the other hand, not all suicides get reported as such. In some cases a family will deny that a suicide has occurred, or they'll keep the cause of death to themselves. Entire communities sometimes join in the denial.

? What about suicide bombers? There's no general agreement about how to distinguish between suicide (intihâr) and martyrdom (istisyhâd). Some argue that you're not committing a sin if you're trying to kill the enemies of God. It's only suicide if you're taking your life for your own benefit.
Oh. That's clear. Both sides are mad as hatters.

And who's in charge?

In the National Review (major conservative journal) John Derbyshire breaks ranks with his kill-them-all war buddies here -
We are not controlling events in Iraq. Events in Iraq are controlling us. We are the puppet; the street gangs of Baghdad and Basra are the puppet-masters, aided and abetted by an unsavory assortment of confidence men, bazaar traders, scheming clerics, ethnic front men, and Iranian agents. With all our wealth and power and idealism, we have submitted to become the plaything of a rabble, and a Middle Eastern rabble at that. Instead of rubbling, we have ourselves been rabbled. The lazy-minded evangelico-romanticism of George W. Bush, the bureaucratic will to power of Donald Rumsfeld, the avuncular condescension of Dick Cheney, and the reflexive military deference of Colin Powell combined to get us into a situation we never wanted to be in, a situation no self-respecting nation ought to be in, a situation we don't know how to get out of.
Ah, no one is in charge, and there's no way out. Absurd, and just like the play, No Exit -
The play begins with a valet leading a man named Garcin into a room that the audience soon realizes is in hell (many people believe that hell is portrayed as a gigantic hotel because of the "rooms and passages" mentioned in the play). The room has no windows, no mirrors, and only one door. Eventually Garcin is joined by a woman (Inès), and then another (Estelle). After their entry, the valet leaves and the door is shut and locked. All expect to be tortured, but no torturer arrives. Instead, they realize they are there to torture each other, which they do effectively, by probing each other's sins, desires, and unpleasant memories. At first, the three see events concerning them that are happening on earth, though they can only observe and listen, but eventually (as their connection to Earth dwindles and the living move on) they are left with only their own thoughts and the company of the other two. Near the end of the play, Garcin demands he be let out; at his words the door flies open, but he and the others refuse to leave.
Sartre, 1944 - just stuff on stage. Now in 2006 it makes perfect sense. We're here.

Posted by Alan at 21:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 13 June 2006 17:13 PDT home

Sunday, 11 June 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

The 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 23/24 - for the week of June 11, 2006.Click here to go there...

This week is a double issue. The computer used to build and maintain the site failed on May 31 and there was no issue last Sunday. That's still in the shop and this issue was built on a laptop purchased to fill the gap.

This week, there are seven extended commentaries on current events, an amazing photo essay from Ric Erickson, Our Man in Paris, and a photo essay from Our Man in Tel-Aviv - Sylvain Ubersfeld. And there are three photo pages on the Hollywood often missed, and seven pages of special Southern California shots, some quite amazing.

And more of the weird from our friend in Texas, and new quotes.

Direct links to specific pages...

Extended Observations on Current Events __________________

Changing the Subject
The Great Divide
The Dog That Didn't Bark
A Good Death Assessed
Assessments: Looking at Death at the End of the Week
Late News: Things Turn Sour

The International Desk __________________

Our Man in Paris: The Sundown Show
Our Man in Tel-Aviv: Moving South, Changing Culture

Hollywood Matters __________________

Architecture: Architectural Detail and Hollywood History
Oddities: Fooling the Eye in Hollywood
Landmarks: Things Not To Do In Los Angeles

Southern California Photography __________________

Trains: Mediations on the Past, in Color
Not Hollywood: Encinitas on a Quiet Afternoon
Long Light
Treacherous Unbrightness
Lens Work: New Eye on Hollywood
Botanicals: Details, details, details...
Odd Shot: The Pause That Refreshes

Quotes for the week of May 28, 2006 - Pertaining to Current Events

Posted by Alan at 17:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 10 June 2006
Late News: Things Turn Sour
Topic: Breaking News

Late News: Things Turn Sour

Well, it finally happened. It was inevitable. But luckily it happened on a weekend, not in the middle of the normal news cycles. The Monday morning issues of Time and Newsweek and the others have been put to bed, as they say, and the cable news networks are running their canned "backgrounders" - and the commentators, O'Reilly and Matthews and the rest, are off-air for the weekend. This will come up on Meet the Press and the other Sunday morning talk shows, but only political junkies watch those. And since the news takes the weekend off, the story gets buried. When the national dialog, or whatever you call it, starts up again Monday, this will be old news. Other events will come along and push it aside. And there are two days to work on spin if someone does want to discuss the matter.

The Associated Press account here gives the basics -
Three Guantanamo Bay detainees hanged themselves with nooses made of sheets and clothes, the commander of the detention center said Saturday.

They were the first reported deaths among the hundreds of men held at the base in Cuba - some of them for up to 4 1/2 years and without charge.

Two men from Saudi Arabia and one from Yemen were found "unresponsive and not breathing in their cells" early Saturday, according to a statement from the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, which has jurisdiction over the prison. Attempts were made to revive the prisoners, but they failed.

"They hung themselves with fabricated nooses made out of clothes and bed sheets," Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris told reporters in a conference call from the U.S. base in southeastern Cuba.

Pentagon officials said the three men were in Camp 1, the highest maximum security prison at Guantanamo, and that none of them had tried to commit suicide before.

That camp was also the location where two detainees tried to commit suicide in mid-May, when a riot broke out at the facility. The two men, who took overdoses of an anti-anxiety medication they hoarded, were found and received medical treatment and were recovering.
This just looks bad, and the president can't catch a break - we killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the nastiest guys in Iraq, and that was something to crow about, if you're into that sort of thing. Now these three guys do this and make us look bad. We were supposed to be treating everyone humanely and appropriately, and they get all uppity and hang themselves.

We are holding four hundred sixty folks down that way in Cuba, saying they have links to al Qaeda and the Taliban, although there's some proof many of them were nobodies sold to us as bad guys for the substantial cash we offered, and there have been no real hearings in the more than four years to straighten it all out. Some were captured thirteen and fourteen-year-old kids. We say they all have intelligence value and we will extract from them, one way or another, what they know about ongoing plots to attack America. That seems a bit silly as what they know is more than four years old - we've had them more than isolated. But there they stay.

Add to this the AP item reports that the Pentagon also postponed the military tribunal of one Binyam Muhammad, an Ethiopian detainee, originally scheduled for next week. He's charged with conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders to attack civilians and such. It seems like a bad time to start straightening things out, right now. The president was at Camp David and was told of what happened, and the State Department was immediately consulting with the governments of the home countries of the three prisoners. This needs to be handled carefully. The home governments might be a bit miffed.

But we did the right thing, after all -
The military said in its statement that "all lifesaving measures had been exhausted" in the attempt to revive the detainees. The remains were being treated "with the utmost respect," an issue important to Muslims. A cultural adviser was assisting the military.

Though the military termed the deaths suicides, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was investigating to establish the official cause and manner of death.
But this comes after the UN report in May - holding detainees indefinitely at Guantanamo violated the world's ban on torture. The UN said we should close the place. We disagree, even if German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and British Prime Minister Tony Blair say we should shut down the place. They may be allies, and pro-Bush, but this is our way of handling things, and we assert we know best, and it's really none of their business.

Well, actually it's more complicated -
On Friday, after the prison came up during a meeting with Fogh Rasmussen at Camp David, Bush said his goal is to do just that. A total of 759 detainees have been held there, with about 300 released or transferred.

"We would like to end the Guantanamo - we'd like it to be empty," Bush said. But he added: "There are some that, if put out on the streets, would create grave harm to American citizens and other citizens of the world. And, therefore, I believe they ought to be tried in courts here in the United States."

Bush said his administration was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule whether he overstepped his authority in ordering the detainees to be tried by U.S. military tribunals.
There are legal issues, you see, and four and half years of Cuba might make them dangerous if we let them go, even if they were or weren't dangerous before.

AP quote Josh Colangelo-Bryan of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who discovered one of his clients attempting to hang himself last year when he visited Guantanamo, saying there would be more suicides. One of the prisoners said this to him - "I would simply rather die than live here forever without rights."

But we say all these detainees pose a danger to the United States and our allies. What can we do? As the statement from the military put it - "They have expressed a commitment to kill Americans and our friends if released. These are not common criminals. They are enemy combatants being detained because they have waged war against our nation and they continue to pose a threat."

But they've proved none of that. No real hearings. You have to trust them on that. Why not?

One of those release last year, Moazzam Begg, says to the Associated Press - "We all expected something like this but were not prepared. It's just awful. I hope the Bush administration will finally see this is wrong."

Not likely. Now we can't be. We've cornered ourselves on that.

So, so far, forty-one suicide attempts by twenty-five prisoners, and three polled it off. The few lawyers we've let in say the number of attempts is far higher, but then, the military says otherwise.

Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights, representing three hundred of these folks, in telephone interview from New York, is reported to have said those held at Guantanamo "have this incredible level of despair that they will never get justice. And now they're gone. And they died without ever having seen a court."

But we said they were guilty. There were bad guys. Still Olshansky is calling for the Bush folks "for immediate action to do the right thing. They should be taken to court or released. I don't think this country wants the stain of injustice on it for many years to come."

She doesn't understand Dick Cheney, or the Texan president he manages. They've convinced most of the country that this is justice - you don't necessarily need things proved at all, or a trial or hearing or military tribunal to establish the facts. You just know some things are so.

Ah well. They'll be a bit more careful down there with the sheets now.

It hasn't been going that well -
On May 18, in one of the prison's most violent incidents, a detainee staged a suicide attempt to lure guards into a cellblock where they were attacked by prisoners armed with makeshift weapons, the military said. Earlier that day, two detainees overdosed on antidepressants they collected from other detainees and hoarded in their cells. The men have since recovered.

There also has been a hunger strike among detainees since August. The number of inmates refusing food dropped to 18 by last weekend from a high of 131. The military has at times used aggressive force-feeding methods, including a restraint chair.
Of course our "image" in the world is now going to be lower than ever. The administration's take on that - Who cares? - will be picked up by the pro-administration commentators, while the more diplomatically-minded, the dinosaurs, will wonder how much we can really do in this sorry world with no influence, no leverage, and just the biggest military on the planet. So we move further and further into becoming a pariah, and rouge state ourselves, but will the overwhelming military and the core economy.

These three sure messed things up, just when we assassinated a really awful man and everyone was supposed to admire us for that.

Now what? Let the spin begin.

First up is this -
The commander of the US Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris has described the overnight suicide of three inmates "as an act of war."

Three detainees at the US detention centre committed suicide by hanging themselves with clothing and bedsheets. Rear Admiral Harris, commander of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo, described the suicides as an act of creative and committed terrorists. "They are smart. They are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of ...warfare waged against us."
Ah, those clever devils.

Posted by Alan at 18:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 10 June 2006 18:11 PDT home

Friday, 9 June 2006
Assessments: Looking at Death at the End of the Week
Topic: Perspective

Assessments: Looking at Death at the End of the Week

At the end of the week, Friday, June 9, 2006, it was clear that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, much like Generalissimo Franco, was still dead, although much was happening, as noted here - a whole lot of intelligence was recovered in the operation and all day Friday our guys carried out some forty raid to keep the late man's network from regrouping in any way.

But the odd thing is that even after the two five-hundred pound bombs (actually one six-hundred and two pound bomb and one five-hundred fifty-tow pound thingm as noted here), Zarqawi initially survived the bombing and was alive when captured, although in bad shape, understandably -
A mortally wounded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was still alive and mumbling after American airstrikes on his hideout and tried to get off a stretcher when he became aware of U.S. troops at the scene, a top military official said Friday.

"He mumbled something, but it was indistinguishable and it was very short," U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said at a news conference.
The joke going around Friday was that he whispered one word - Rosebud. It's now an obscure joke, as no one remembers the movie. It's a Hollywood thing.

As for how this came about, there's more detail here with lots of links -
An Iraqi customs agent secretly working with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror cell spilled the beans on the group after he was arrested, Jordanian officials tell ABC News. Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly was arrested by Jordanian intelligence forces last spring.

Officials say Karbouly confessed to his role in the terror cell and provided crucial information on the names of Zarqawi commanders and locations of their safe houses. Karbouly also admitted to his role in the kidnappings of two Moroccan embassy employees, four Iraqi National Guards and an Iraqi finance ministry official.

In a videotaped confession, Karbouly said he acted on direct orders from Zarqawi.
And the comment added there -
The US does not approve of torture, claims President Bush. Does anyone have any doubt that Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly, the Iraqi customs inspector who turned on Zaqarwi after being arrested and held for months by the Jordanian police, talked as a result of being subjected to torture? Connect the dots.

So now we use information gained from torture to murder our target. What makes us different from them?
Good question. But for Americans, results matter, not principles. Or results matter more, even if we talk about principles endlessly, and somewhat vacantly.

But the results could be mixed. Consider what Senator John McCain said on CNN's Larry King Live (video here), concerning the successful targeted assassination of Zarqawi -
KING: What difference will it make?

MCCAIN: I think that it will remove a very important propaganda tool, a person who has probably served as a real effective recruiter. But, Larry, I want to caution if I were the al Qaeda people right now I would be planning a lot of attacks in the next few days and weeks to show that his removal really didn't affect them but it does affect them. It's very important. And, I think it can give us some hope for progress, which I think we have to make and are making.
Was he encouraging al Qaeda to begin killing more people. No, he wasn't. He was just being logical.

And as for being logical, Jonathan Schwartz here suggests reading this from Nir Rosen, one of the few western journalists who has direct contact people in the Iraqi insurgency.

The key passage from Rosen is this -
So time to dispel some myths. Zarqawi did not really belong to al Qaeda. He would have been more shocked than anybody when Colin Powel spoke before the United Nations in the propaganda build up to the war and mentioned Zarqawi publicly for the first time, accusing him of being the link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Zarqawi in fact did not get along with Bin Ladin when he met him years earlier. He found Bin Ladin and the Taliban insufficiently extreme and refused to join al Qaeda or ally himself with Bin Ladin, setting up his own base in western Afghanistan instead, from where he fled to the autonomous area of Kurdistan in Iraq, outside of Saddam's control, following the US attacks on Taliban controlled Afghanistan in late 2001. Zarqawi only went down into Iraq proper when the Americans liberated it for him. He had nothing to do with al Qaeda until December 2004, when he renamed his organization Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, or Al Qaeda in Iraq as it has become known.

Why did he do this? It was a great deal for him and Bin Ladin. Zarqawi needed the prestige associated with the Al Qaeda brand name in global jihadi circles... For Bin Ladin and his deputy Zawahiri it was also a great deal. Al Qaeda was defunct. Its leadership hiding in the Pakistani wilderness, completely cut off from the main front in today's jihad, Iraq. When Zarqawi assumed the al Qaeda brand name he gave a needed fillip to Bin Ladin who could now associate himself with the Iraqi jihad, where the enemy was being successfully killed every day, and where the eyes of the Arab and Muslim world were turned to, far more than Afghanistan.

Zarqawi was not very important in the first place, and hardly represented the majority of the resistance or insurgency... It took the United States to make Zarqawi who he became. Intent on denying that there was a popular Iraqi resistance to the American project in Iraq, the Americans blamed every attack on Zarqawi and his foreign fighters, and for a while it seemed every car accident in Baghdad was Zarqawi's fault. The truth was that much of Iraq's Sunni population, alienated by the Americans who removed them from power and targeted them en masse during raids, supported and participated in the anti American resistance. Even many Shias claimed resistance. Muqtada Sadr, the most powerful and popular single individual leader in Iraq, led two "intifadas" against the Americans in the spring and summer of 2004, and his men still rest on their laurels, claiming they too took part in the Mukawama, or resistance. But by blaming Zarqawi for everything the Americans created the myth of Zarqawi and aspiring Jihadis throughout the Arab world ate it up and flocked to join his ranks or at least send money. Zarqawi was the one defying the Americans, something their own weak leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and elsewhere, could not do, having sold out long ago. It was then comical when the Americans released the Zarqawi video out-takes and mocked him for fumbling with a machine gun. Having inflated his reputation they were now trying to deflate it. But it was too late.
This man, now dead, was an opportunist, and a master at marketing - in this case marketing of the nastiest sort. So was the tall Osama. And maybe so are we. Everyone gets spun, and many people die.

And the spin on whatever happened at Haditha continues. Twenty-four civilians dead, shot at close range, including women and very young children. But Clarice Feldman at The American Thinker (a somewhat pretentious name for an opinion site) offers Evidence Accumulates Of A Hoax In Haditha - people who don't like us just make things up. That got a lot of comment, as in this - the whole thing is just like the fake memos Dan Rather at CBS said were true, the ones that he said proved Bush wasn't really the heroic jet fighter pilot and war hero and all that. Whatever. The whole thing rests on the idea that you just cannot trust Iraqis, as they are unreasonably angry and wretchedly ungrateful and will say anything, even after all we did for them. You can't trust these people.

James Wolcott of Vanity Fair has a different odd take here -
Yesterday Bob Kerrey was on the Imus show, and in the midst of decrying the incident, he threw out a comment about how he wondered if we polled the people of Haditha, how many of them cheered the sight of the falling towers on 9/11. I'm not sure what that would accomplish or what it has to do with whatever happened vis a vis the Marines (I'm not even certain what the media penetration of Haditha was in 2001), but it seemed to be the sort of thinking-off-the-top-of-one's-head intended to put this incident back into a container.
Well, it is extraordinary spin. Can we go back in time and find out if on September 11, 2001, these people caught CNN or BBC World Service and were dancing in the dusty streets there in joy, and if they were, can we kill their children now? That's simultaneously wildly hypothetical and a bit cold. But Bob Kerrey was probably just trying to say the Marines of Kilo Company might have thought this could have been so, so you can understand them losing it. That's very weird, but it's one way out of the box.

There's a comprehensive review of the other current rationalizations here, even if so overwrought you have to wade through deep bogs of angry sarcasm to get to the main points - isolated incident, bad apples, lies by people who just don't like us and all the rest. The usual.

As for the "bad apple" theory, see Rosa Brooks in the Los Angeles Times here -
It's a tempting theory, and not just for the Bush administration. It suggests a vast and reassuring divide between "us" (the virtuous majority, who would never, under any circumstances, commit coldblooded murder) and "them" (the sociopathic, bad-apple minority). It allows us to hold on to our belief in our collective goodness. If we can just toss the few rotten Americans out of the barrel quickly enough, the rot won't spread.

The problem with this theory is that it rests on a false assumption about the relationship between character and deeds. Yes, sociopaths exist, but ordinary, "good" people are also perfectly capable of committing atrocities.
That's followed by the expected, a review of the 1961 experiments by that Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram - almost anyone will inflict severe pain on others if authorized by an authority of some sort and everyone else is doing the same. Yeah, yeah. But she adds this -
But let's not let the Bush administration off the hook. It's the duty of the government that sends troops to war to create a context that enables and rewards compassion and courage rather than callousness and cruelty. This administration has done just the opposite.

Our troops were sent to fight an unnecessary war, without adequate resources or training for the challenges they faced. At the same time, senior members of the administration made clear their disdain for the Geneva Convention's rules on war and for the principles and traditions of the military. Belated and halfhearted investigations into earlier abuses sent the message that brutality would be winked at - unless the media noticed, in which case a few bad apples would be ceremoniously ejected from the barrel, while higher-ups would go unpunished.
Yep, so it seems.

Wolcott recommends William S. Lind on the same matter here -
The investigations of Marines for possible murders of Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November and, more recently, in Hamdaniyah, seem set to follow the usual course. If anyone is found guilty, it will be privates and sergeants. The press will reassure us that the problem was just a few "bad apples," that higher-ups had no knowledge of what was going on, and that "99.9 percent" of our troops in Iraq are doing a splendid job of upholding, indeed enforcing, human rights. It's called the "Abu Ghraib precedent."
But there is a counterargument -
The fact that senior Marine and Army leaders don't seem to know what is going on in cases like this is a sad comment on them. Far from being exceptional incidents caused by a few bad soldiers or Marines, mistreatment of civilians by the forces of an occupying power are a central element of Fourth Generation war. They are one of the main reasons why occupiers tend to lose. Haditha, Hamdaniyah, and the uncountable number of incidents where U.S. troops abused Iraqi civilians less severely than by killing them are a direct product of war waged by the strong against the weak.

... Every firefight we win in Iraq or Afghanistan does little for our pride, because we are so much stronger than the people we are defeating. Every time we get hit successfully by a weaker enemy, we feel like chumps, and cannot look ourselves in the mirror (again, with IED attacks this happens quite often). Whenever we use our superior strength against Iraqi civilians, which is to say every time we drive down an Iraqi street, we diminish ourselves in our own eyes. Eventually, we come to look at ourselves with contempt and see ourselves as monsters. One way to justify being a monster is to behave like one, which makes the problem worse still. The resulting downward spiral, which every army in this kind of war has gotten caught in, leads to indiscipline, demoralization, and disintegration of larger units as fire teams and squads simply go feral.
That a quite different psychological view of things. What does happen to the strong around the weak? Strength doesn't ennoble anyone. It only diminishes them. Very Zen.

So what do we do here?

Well, we get rid of people like Abu al-Zarqawi, but see John Robb at Global Guerrillas here -
Zarqawi is best categorized as violence capitalist, very similar to bin Laden, that supported and incubated guerrilla entrepreneurs of the new open source warfare model. In this role he was instigator of violence and not the leader of a vast hierarchical insurgency.

... He expanded the target set for the insurgency, changed tactics when they proved disadvantageous (ie. beheadings were stopped and he ceded Iraqis control of the jihadi effort), and expanded the plausible promise of the insurgency to include sectarian war.

His main failure was that he didn't fully appreciate the value of systems disruption. His only attack on a systems target (the Basra terminal) was a failure. He also proved unable to give up operational roles in favor of becoming a strategic communicator (which ultimately led to his death).

... If we put Zarqawi within a historical context, he was able to do what Che hoped to do with a focused insurgency... In essence, he proved that within a modern context (open source warfare and systems disruption), it is possible to seed the collapse of a state.
We shall see if the seeds of this odd sort of capitalism grow. He's dead. Now we have to deal with the franchisees.

And still we apply maximum force. What else can we do? We are strong. We have the firepower. We do the John Wayne thing - few words, big gun, take no crap from anyone.

On the other hand, as the president patterns his own behavior on John Wayne, or so it has been said, it should be remembered the Duke once said this - "I've always followed my father's advice: he told me, first to always keep my word and, second, to never insult anybody unintentionally. If I insult you, you can be goddamn sure I intend to. And, third, he told me not to go around looking for trouble."

The third part is the problem, that "bring 'em on" stuff. Someone should have paid more attention at the movies.

But someone didn't pay enough attention to another famous line from Wayne - "Talk low, talk slow, and don't talk too much." Guys, it was advice on acting, not on conducting the nation's business here and abroad.

Posted by Alan at 22:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006 22:55 PDT home

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