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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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Saturday, 26 August 2006
Weekend Notes: Odd Insights, Old and New
Topic: Perspective
Weekend Notes: Odd Insights, Old and New
One of the writers at Hullabaloo here takes us back to December 2002, of all times. But it's not so odd.

That's where you will find this, a conversation with Norman Mailer "about Iraq, Israel, the perils of technology" and why he is a "Left-Conservative." One wonders just what that is. But he's an old man now and can come up whatever labels he'd like. And the extended interview appears in The America Conservative, which is an odd venue for an old lefty. But at the time he'd pretty much had it with where we were going. You get what he's up to we the title - "I Am Not for World Empire."

Who is? Well, maybe we all are. Four years have passed and he seems to have gotten some things right.

The whole idea here is that he wants to make some differentiations among conservatives, and in the sixth year of Republican control of the White House, both houses of congress and much of the judiciary, many are looking for answers. Two endless major wars and a third on the way, massive debt when there had been a surplus, government that just doesn't work - from the Hurricane Katrina business to the Medicare drug plan that no one understands and will get much worse when "the doughnut hole" arrives soon - record gasoline prices, record healthcare costs and the end of housing bubble when the refinance engine that fueled the economy just stops… how did we get here? Who are these people we decided are the ones who should run things?

So you go back and look under any rock to see if someone has or had any insight into the motivations of these folks. And under one rock is an old interview with Mailer. And it offers some help.

He knows the old-fashioned kind of conservatives -what he calls the "value conservatives" because they believe in what most people think of as the standard conservative values - family, home, faith, hard work, duty, allegiance - dependable human virtues. And then there are those he calls "flag conservatives." We're in the sixth year of the latter. They've been running things, and on this premise, that they assume we all share -
There is just this kind of mad-eyed mystique in Americans: the idea that we Americans can do anything. So, say flag conservatives, we will be able to handle what comes. Our know-how, our can-do, will dominate all obstacles. They truly believe America is not only fit to run the world but that it must run the world. Otherwise, we will lose ourselves. If there is not a new seriousness in American affairs, the country is going to go down the drain.
And he explains this summer's defection from the cult of Bush by the old-line conservatives rather well, just four years early -
I don't think flag conservatives give a real damn about conservative values. They use the words. They certainly use the flag. They love words like "evil." One of Bush's worst faults in rhetoric (to dip into that cornucopia) is to use the word "evil" as if it were a button he can touch to increase his power. When people are sick and have an IV tube put in them to feed a narcotic painkiller on demand, a few keep pressing that button. Bush uses evil as his hot button for the American public. Any man who can employ that word 15 times in five minutes is not a conservative. Not a value conservative. A flag conservative is another matter. They rely on manipulation. What they want is power. They believe in America. That they do. They believe this country is the only hope of the world and they feel that this country is becoming more and more powerful on the one hand, but on the other, is rapidly growing more dissolute. And so the only solution for it is empire, World Empire. Behind the whole thing in Iraq is the desire to have a huge military presence in the near-East as a stepping stone for eventually taking over the world. Once we become a twenty-first century version of the old Roman Empire, then moral reform will come into the picture. The military is obviously more puritanical than the entertainment media. Soldiers can, of course, be wilder than anyone, but the overhead command is a major pressure on soldiers, and it is not permissive.
Mailer certainly packs a lot in there, but the themes are clear - amass power and change the world and get everyone in line. It's all about control and a sense that we have to be saved from our lower, baser selves.

Could this be so? They're not just keeping us safe and otherwise staying out of everyone's way?

Here's the argument that is not so -
You see, behind flag conservatism is not madness but logic. I'm not in accord with the logic. But it is powerful. From their point of view, America is getting rotten. The entertainment media are loose. They are licentious. The kids are getting to the point where they can't read, but they sure can screw. Morals are vanishing. The real subtext may be that if America becomes again a military machine that is huge in order to oversee all its new commitments, then American sexual freedom, willy-nilly, will have to go on the back burner. Commitment and dedication will become necessary national values (with all the hypocrisy attendant on that.) Flag conservatives may see all this as absolutely necessary.

… The point I want to make is that - let me do it in two parts: First, there was a fierce point of view back when the Soviet Union fell. Flag conservatives felt that was their opportunity to take over the world because we were the only people who knew how to run the world. And they were furious when Clinton got in. One of the reasons he was so hated was because he was frustrating what they wanted. That world takeover, so open, so possible from their point of view in 1992, was missed. How that contributed to intense hatred of Clinton! This attitude, I think, grew and deepened and festered through the eight years of the Clinton administration. I don't know if White House principals talk to one another in private about this, but the key element in their present thought, I suspect, is that if America becomes an empire, then of necessity, everything here that needs to be strengthened will be affected positively. By their lights! If America grows into the modern equivalent of the Roman Empire, then it will be necessary to rear whole generations who can serve in the military in all parts of the world. It will put a new emphasis again upon education. Americans, who are famous for their inability to speak foreign languages, will suddenly be encouraged and over-encouraged to become linguists in order to handle the overseas tasks of empire. The seriousness of purpose will be back in American life. These are, I suspect, their arguments. They are not mine. I am not for World Empire. I can foresee endless disasters coming out of that.
But it worked so well for the British, didn't it? Maybe he's just being paranoid. But in some odd ways it sound just about right.

And then there's this on the now almost official state religion, evangelical Christianity -
Flag conservatives are not Christians. They are, at best, militant Christians, which is, of course, a fatal contradiction in terms. They are a very special piece of work, but they are not Christians. The fundament of Christianity is compassion, and it is usually observed by the silence attendant on its absence. Well, the same anomaly is true of the Muslims. Islam, in theory, is an immensely egalitarian religion. It believes everyone is absolutely equal before God. But the reality, no surprise, is something else. A host of Arab leaders, who do not look upon their poor people in any way as equals, make up a perfect counterpart to the way we live with Christianity. We violate Christianity with every breath we take. So do the Muslims violate Islam. Your question, is it a war to the end? I expect it is. We are speaking of war between two essentially unbalanced inauthentic theologies. So, it may prove to be an immense war. A vast conflict of powers is at the core and the motives of both sides are inauthentic which, I expect, makes it worse. The large and unanchored uneasiness I feel about it is that we may not get through this century. We could come apart - piece by piece, disaster after disaster, small and large.
They are "evil" and we are "good" - we have the flags and yellow ribbons to prove it.

So it's an old item. And he's a strange man. But then, he may have called this one right, not that is does any good now. We have what we have.

As for new items, Friday, August 25th, Bill Maher launched the new season of his political show "Real Time" on HBO - some of it flat and some of it pointed. The issues were the same ones Mailer covered years before, just with contemporary details. What Mailer didn't address was another component of "flag conservatism" - the whole idea that science has led us astray and faith tells us more than science ever will. His "new rule" (one of his satiric routines) started off with him talking about how awful it was that those uppity scientists decided Pluto wasn't a planet at all, after all - they "cut and run" on Pluto! - and then he veered into gay marriage and abortion and global warming and intelligent design and all sorts of areas where the government is telling us the science is wrong, and the evangelicals are right. You can watch it here, with the key line - "I say it's time for the United States to sever its ties with science all together and withdraw from the solar system!"

To be fair to Norman Mailer, most of the administration's war on science was waged after the interview in the conservative magazine, but it is another issue that has come up.

See this -
Recently there was some controversy when the Bush Administration accidentally left off evolution from a list of subjects eligible for government grants - whoops! But Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush has an even better suggestion: That we just leave off science altogether. The debate between Evolution and Intelligent Design, he says, "got me thinking, and today ii [sic] occured [sic] to me: science is dead. We have reached the end of the Age of Science." I must say I haven't been so happy since we reached the End of History. What is especially great about Noonan's theory that science is dead is that he doesn't have to conduct any experiments or present any evidence to prove science is dead because science would actually have to be alive to do that.
Okay. Fine. So one has to read Mark Noonan here.

That's what the man says. No one believes science any more. There were just too many hoaxes, from the Piltdown Man to Darwin. How can you trust these people? And now we find Pluto was never a planet.

Noonan maintains, curiously, that taking religion out of the schools may have been what caused the downfall of science -
Why did science stray from the path of truth? I think it is because we ceased educating the men of science with a knowledge of religion.
We should have taught them about religion. You see, all they wanted was facts about how things worked and to do practical things, and this "search for something immediately practical" led to Marxism and the Holocaust and all.

His conclusion -
The truth will out - and that means that the quest for the truth will continue, and that will mean that efforts in science will continue to yield results... but the Age of Science is over, killed off by lies. I don't regret its passing - hopefully we will soon start to really educate people, so that even as they pursue science, they keep it in perspective, and in relation to the real human condition.
He doesn't define "the real human condition" of course. But he's sure science has little to do with it.

You can't make this stuff up. Mailer may have been onto something, but he gave the interview far too early. Bill Maher will have to do.

Posted by Alan at 19:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 28 August 2006 07:15 PDT home

Friday, 25 August 2006
Little Tokyo
Topic: Photos
Little Tokyo
Junichiro Hannya, Monument to Sontuko (Kinjiro) Ninomiya, 1983 - a bronze sculpture of the No political commentary today. This was a photography day, devoted to the Japanese American district in downtown Los Angeles known as Little Tokyo. You will find a history of the place and five photographs here, and there will be a full array of more than thirty photographs of Little Tokyo, with more background and detail, in this weekend's Just Above Sunset, to be posted early Sunday morning, August 27th.

To the right - Junichiro Hannya, Monument to Sontuko (Kinjiro) Ninomiya, 1983 - a bronze sculpture of the "Peasant Sage of Japan," 1787-1856 (200 South San Pedro Street)

That would be this fellow -

Part farmer, part philosopher and part government administrator, Ninomiya Sontoku (1787-1856) advocated diligence, cooperation, deference to authority and thrift as ways of improving Japan's rural economy at the end of the feudal Tokugawa era. He revitalized agriculture by establishing credit associations to finance roads, aqueducts and housing, and he taught farmers to apply new methods of irrigation and to use better fertilizers. Between 1830 and 1843, Ninomiya and his disciples established the hotoku movement to promote morality, industry and economy.

The government attempted to maintain a rural social structure by encouraging hotoku after the 1905 Russo-Japanese war. During the 1930s, Ninomiya's teachings were reinterpreted as supportive of Japan's aggressive military expansion. Small statues, based on an iconographic portrayal of Ninomiya at about age 14 learning to read while carrying a load of firewood on his back, were placed in elementary schools throughout Japan. Though initially installed as reminders to children of the ideal of combining work with study, these statues became associated with the pre-war period and many were destroyed by the American Occupational forces after World War II. Located in front of the Mitsui Manufacturers Bank, the bronze memorial to Ninomiya (which should be titled Ninomiya Sontuko in recognition of the sage's official name, rather than Kinjiro, which was both his boyhood and his popular name) replicates the design but greatly enlarges the size of the pre-World War II statues. Albert Taira, the Nisei developer of the bank building, proposed the statue to Obayashi, the contractor for the project, to symbolize the Issei's hard work and self-sacrifice when establishing roots in America. Obayashi commissioned the work from a Japanese foundry that in turn hired the artist to increase the size of the monument.
All we came up with over here was Johnny Appleseed.

Posted by Alan at 21:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 24 August 2006
Iran Next - Building the Case
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Iran Next - Building the Case
Thursday, August 24, you had your choice of what major news item you'd decide to follow. Out here there was a flight from the Long Beach Airport to Bolder in Colorado - a charter, two-engine prop thing, carrying that odd little man who claims that ten years ago he murdered the six-year-old beauty queen. He may have. It's hard to tell. Perhaps had her late mother not dressed her up as a little tart and had her do the suggestive song and dance routines on stage he'd have found her too dull to think about. Or maybe he made it all up. But that was the news.

The other story that seemed to get some play was the big decision in the taxonomy of celestial objects - astronomers decided Pluto really isn't a planet. Leading astronomers just up and declared that Pluto is no longer a planet under new guidelines, and that downsizes the solar system from nine planets to eight. Note here that it's now a "dwarf planet" - whatever that is. Suzanne Nossel here argues only old farts care about such things, those who grew up in the fifties, sixties and seventies - "Maybe the thrill of outer space was bound to be fleeting. But the downgrading of Pluto is a reminder of how long gone it is." But it did get international coverage - Pluton n'est plus une planète - Les astronomes ont rétrogradé la boule de glace dans la nouvelle catégorie des «planètes naines». Le système solaire ne compte donc plus officiellement que huit planètes. Whatever.

For those fond of "big news" the item of the day was the drums of war starting up again.

Wednesday there had been the new congressional report on Iran, released the day before (here in PDF format), saying Iran might be deadly dangerous but the intelligence was rather thin, so it was hard to tell much of anything. This may have been a slam at the CIA and all the other spy folks the Cheney crowd thinks are totally useless (you remember they set up their own special office at the Pentagon so they got the real truth about Iraq's nukes and mobile chemical labs and all the rest, and about that meeting in Prague - the Atta fellow and the Iraqis - that the CIA and the Brits and everyone else said never happened). In short, it may have been a demonstration that you just cannot trust the folks who gather the information.

And that's what Mark Mazzetti was reporting the following day here in the New York Times -
Some senior Bush administration officials and top Republican lawmakers are voicing anger that American spy agencies have not issued more ominous warnings about the threats that they say Iran presents to the United States.

… The complaints, expressed privately in recent weeks, surfaced in a Congressional report about Iran released Wednesday. They echo the tensions that divided the administration and the Central Intelligence Agency during the prelude to the war in Iraq.

The criticisms reflect the views of some officials inside the White House and the Pentagon who advocated going to war with Iraq and now are pressing for confronting Iran directly over its nuclear program and ties to terrorism, say officials with knowledge of the debate.
We don't have the intelligence, the spy agencies are useless, so we'd better be safe than sorry and start bombing now? Something like that, but not exactly. It was a call to stop saying "we don't know much" and say flat-out that even if we don't know much it's obvious that these guys in Iran must be stopped now, so say so. It was almost a call to make up stuff.

The Times item also notes "privately some Democrats criticized the report for using innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions to inflate the threat that Iran posed to the United States." That's to say even what's there, thin as it is, is pretty crappy - it just assumes a lot of danger. And there's this - "Some veterans of the intelligence battles that preceded the Iraq war see the debate as familiar and are critical of efforts to create hard links based on murky intelligence."

Well, that's what we do, and what the administration assumes the public still wants - assume the worst is absolutely true and send in our boys, or in this case, with not many boys still available, send in the tactical nuclear weapons. It's a political winner - keeping people safe. Wimpy Democrats never assume the hypothetical worst case is true and launch wars. That's why they never win elections. It would seem the fact we were wrong about Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction is here almost a badge of distinction - the real patriots just don't take the chance they're flat-out wrong, they do things. It's a curious argument - what if we had been right? They erred on the side of keeping us safe. (That the war has had the opposite effect is not the point, of course.)

The Times quotes Paul R. Pillar, who until last October was the man who oversaw American intelligence assessments about the Middle East, saying this - "It reflects a certain way of looking at the world - that all evil is traceable to the capitals of certain states, and that, in my view, is a very incorrect way of interpreting the security challenges we face." But he's not trying to hold onto the House and Senate.

Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post sees it this way -
There is a popular sentiment among the Washington elite that what went wrong in the run-up to the war in Iraq has been sufficiently examined, and that it's all water under the bridge anyway.

It's popular in the White House and among Republicans for obvious reasons. But it's also remarkably popular among top Democrats and the establishment media, because they aren't all that eager to call any more attention to the fact that they were played for suckers.

There are, however, some people who believe that what led this country to launch a war of choice under false pretenses must be examined in detail - over and over again if necessary - until the appropriate lessons have been learned.

Otherwise, one might argue, history is doomed to repeat itself.

Enter history, stage right.

Once again, powerful neoconservative politicians who just know in their hearts that there is a terrible threat posed by a Middle Eastern country they have identified as part of the axis of evil are frustrated by the lack of conclusive evidence that would support a bellicose approach. So they are pressuring the nation's intelligence community to find facts that will support their argument.

This time, that scenario is being played out right in front of our eyes. Maybe that will make a difference?

Probably not. Americans have come to think of themselves as victims - everyone wants to kill us - and seem to revel in the fear and low-level hysteria of the "big threat." That's how we define ourselves now. It's sort of the national myth of who we really are. We're fed that, and we eat it up.

Who feeds us such stuff?

Froomkin points to this item from Dafna Linzer also in the Post noting that the report was "principally written by a Republican staff member on the House intelligence committee who holds a hard-line view on Iran." So of course the report "fully backs the White House position that the Islamic republic is moving forward with a nuclear weapons program and that it poses a significant danger to the United States [and] chides the intelligence community for not providing enough direct evidence to support that assertion." And the author? It seems "the principal author was Frederick Fleitz, a former CIA officer who had been a special assistant to John R. Bolton, the administration's former point man on Iran at the State Department." He's one of Cheney's guys. It's the same gang at it again.

Don't believe it? Read this from May 2005 - when the senate was trying to decide whether to conform Bolton to the post as UN Ambassador (which they didn't). Everyone was upset that Bolton had written a memo to the CIA telling them they were full of shit about Iraq - they knew nothing and there were nukes and chemicals and biological weapons. Frederick Fleitz settled the matter, saying he had written the memo for Bolton and the CIA was useless, and Iraq did have all those things. It seems he's at it again.

So it's war. Or it's sanctions, as at the same time Iran said let's talk, but not on the condition we stop our research. We say that's unacceptable. And in the deepest of ironies, the president had said this at his August 21st press conference - "In order for the UN to be effective, there must be consequences if people thumb their nose at the United Nations Security Council."

Yeah, except when we do it and launch a preemptive war against their advice. Not one reporter pointed that out, and surprisingly no one laughed out loud.

And we're not getting any help, as noted here -

US officials tell ABC News the White House had intended to issue a stronger statement rejecting Iran's response and calling for talks on sanctions against Iran to begin quickly, but pressure mounted from European countries overnight to hold off on the strong language and to allow time for countries to carefully consider Iran's response.

Ultimately, US officials say, the United States yielded to pressure from the European countries, namely Britain and France, to issue the milder statement that was released today.

No one wants to play with us, it would seem.

Well, we do make adjustments, as noted here - the president has apparently dropped his attempts to reassure us all that more progress is being made in Iraq than we all realize, "in favor of the contention that things could be even worse."

He was a cheerleader at Andover, but now it's yeah, team, it's awful, but really it could be much worse if we're not careful. That's some cheer -

The shifting rhetoric reflected a broader pessimism that has reached into even some of the most optimistic corners of the administration - a sense that the Iraq venture has taken a dark turn and will not be resolved anytime soon.

… While still committed to the venture, officials have privately told friends and associates outside government that they have grown discouraged in recent months.

… But with crucial midterm elections just 2 1/2 months away, Bush and his team are trying to turn the public debate away from whether the Iraq invasion has worked out to what would happen if US troops were withdrawn, as some Democrats advocate. The necessity of not failing, Bush advisers believe, is now a more compelling argument than the likelihood of success.
The item also quotes Christopher F. Gelpi of Duke University - one of the two guys who advised the White House on public opinion in wartime (always say we're winning or really have already won) - "If the only thing you can say is 'Yes, it's bad, but it could be worse,' that really is a last-ditch argument."

Well, maybe a new war will help. The argument seems to be that even if we're wrong about why we must have a war, again, this time we'll win this one, for sure - trust us.

A cynical view here -
Basically, the report appears to be the first salvo in a fall campaign to justify a war against Iran (with Andy Card gone, they've perhaps forgotten that you don't introduce a new "product" in August). Only this time, they're not just presenting us with shitty intelligence and telling us we have to go to war (though the report does serve that purpose too). They're also saying, "the intelligence is shitty, so we cannot negotiate and therefore have to go to war."
And Christy Hardin Smith is even more cynical here - "Is it me, or did Bill Kristol just get all tingly with excitement?"

Oh yeah, and one more detail on the Iran report from the Post item - the authors of the report "did not interview intelligence officials."


So it's "we don't know much, and we didn't ask, so things must be bad." It's a clown show. And we'll have another war.

But wait! There's more!

There's the deputy director of operations for the joint chief of staffs at the Pentagon (note - the room in which the joint chiefs meet is very classy and serious - got a peak once). In any event, he's saying this -
The Iranian government is training and equipping much of the Shiite insurgency in Iraq, a senior US general said Wednesday, drawing one of the most direct links by the Pentagon.

... Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero said it is a "policy of the central government in Iran" to destabilize Iraq and increase the violence there.

"I think it's irrefutable that Iran is responsible for training, funding and equipping some of these (Shiite) extremist groups and also providing advanced IED technology to them," Barbero said. "IED" refers to the improvised explosive devices - roadside bombs - that have caused much death and destruction in Iraq.
It's not just the nukes they're maybe working on - they're behind the mess in Iraq too.

As Laura Rosen asks here - "Is the marketing campaign against Iran begun?"

The grammar may be shaky, but she does note the main points from this House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence report, Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat -
• Iran has conducted a clandestine uranium enrichment program for nearly two decades in violation of its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement, and despite its claims to the contrary, Iran is seeking nuclear weapons...

• Iran likely has an offensive chemical weapons research and development capability.

• Iran probably has an offensive biological weapons program.

• Iran has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. The U.S. Intelligence Community has raised the concern that Tehran may integrate nuclear weapons into its ballistic missiles.

• Iran provides funding, training, weapons, rockets, and other material support to terrorist groups in Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, and elsewhere.

• Elements of the Iranian national security apparatus are actively supporting the insurgency in Iraq.
But they "did not interview intelligence officials." Maybe they read the newspapers or something.

See this, if you like details - Columbia University's Gary Sick, formerly an official in the National Security Councils of presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan, takes the report apart a paragraph at a time. They just made up a lot of stuff.

And we're to buy it, as Matthew Yglesias, notes here -
… this is part of the meaning of the President's embrace of the "Islamic fascism" locution. If the United States is at war with al-Qaeda, then a big confrontation with Iran is psychotic. But if the United States is at war with Islamic fascism, then the term fits the Iranian regime about as well (or as poorly) as it fits al-Qaeda, so we may as well start a war with Iran. Note that although the administration itself didn't play this particular card in selling the Iraq War the basic structure of how the sales pitch goes was previewed in Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism. He argued that al-Qaeda should be seen as a species of "Muslim totalitarianism" and that Baathist Iraq was also a species of Muslim totalitarianism, and that, therefore since we were at war with the one we should also be at war with the other.

Bush and Cheney, of course, preferred the more straightforward gambit of simply implying that Saddam was behind 9/11 but the blueprint for the semantic switcheroo is already out there. And now we have the demands for the intelligence to be cooked up to order.

So we will have another war. There's no way to stop this. Everything has been lined up. So say "no" and you want us all to die. You hate America. And that's that.

Of course we may not have a war if someone takes care of things for us.

Thursday, August 24, Jeralyn Merritt reports this -

I'm just tuning into today's news, and Wolf Blitzer on CNN reported that Israel has nuclear weapons and may decide to try and take Iran out even if it has to go it alone.

A reporter from the Jerusalem Post said he has heard this too but that there has been no official confirmation from Israeli officials.

The reasoning seems to be that Israel wants to stop Iran's nuclear weapon development plans which it thinks will reach the R&D stage within six to 12 months. The US may not have the military capability to fight Iran, given how stretched it has become in Iraq.

So, we lost more than 2,000 precious U.S. lives to take out a despot who had nothing to do with 9/11 or the war on terror, only to be impotent at taking out what could be a real threat not just to hundreds of millions of Americans but the whole world?

I realize there is a big issue as to whether Iran is 5 to 10 years away from having a viable nuclear weapons program or 6 to 12 months away from entering R&D, but either way, it just shows what a waste this war in Iraq has been.
The Jerusalem Post item that started all this is here -
There is growing consensus within the defense establishment that the United States will not attack Iran, and that Israel might be forced to act independently to stop the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons, a high-ranking defense official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

According to sources within the defense establishment, the Bush administration does not have political support for launching a strike against Iran's nuclear sites. "America is stuck in Iraq and cannot go after Iran militarily right now," the official said.

The defense official blasted the US for "not doing enough" to stop Teheran's race to the bomb. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he said, was leading the State Department in the direction of "appeasement."
And it goes on in some detail, but it may just be more marketing - the "shame gambit." Rather than facing the shame of having dinky little Israel take care of the world's problem, we'll do it ourselves as we should as the top dog, or something like that.

And there's the escalation, as a few hours after that there was this -
With the purchase of two more German-made Dolphin submarines capable of carrying nuclear warheads, military experts say Israel is sending a clear message to Iran that it can strike back if attacked by nuclear weapons.

The purchases come at a time when Iran is refusing to bow to growing Western demands to halt its nuclear program, and after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

The new submarines, built at a cost of $1.3 billion with Germany footing one-third of the bill, have diesel-electric propulsion systems that allow them to remain submerged for longer periods of time than the three nuclear arms-capable submarines already in Israel's fleet, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The latest submarines not only would be able to carry out a first strike should Israel choose to do so, but they also would provide Israel with crucial second-strike capabilities, said Paul Beaver, a London-based independent defense analyst.

Israel is already believed to have that ability in the form of the Jericho-1 and Jericho-2 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, which are buried so far underground they would survive a nuclear strike, he said.

Like our first-strike multi-billion-dollar submarines aren't good enough? We're too scared to use them?

It's more pressure.

Again there's no way to stop this. Everything has been lined up. So say "no" and you want us all to die. You hate America. And that's that.

The irony of course is that our two wars - Afghanistan and Iraq - have inflamed the world against us and not produced the results we claimed would follow, liberal democracies that would transform the region, and subsequently bring an end to all terrorism. More and more terrorists are popping out all over the world as we do the best we can to kill all we can in those two nations. Israel had a parallel experience with Hezbollah. If war - no diplomacy, no talking and no listening (and don't treat terrorism like it is just some dinky little law enforcement issue either) - is the answer to keeping us safe, then the demonstration of that theory is not going well. It's rather the opposite - the concept was just wrong. No one feels any safer. Everyone knows things are getting worse. So we have another war to keep us safe? You'd think that would be a hard sell, but it isn't. We see no alternatives, or are told the alternatives are just stupid.

And off we go.



Some related thoughts…

This -

I'd like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute. The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act. And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.
And this -
Why do we need terrorists to destroy the cornerstones of democracy with bombs when governments are willing to do it themselves out of fear? Isn't that a sign that the terrorists have won? First the US with its Patriot Act and warrantless NSA surveillance and now Britain, which is considering a new racial profiling program aimed at Muslims based on behavior, ethnicity, and religion.

Who needs the terrorists to take down America when the government is doing such a better job of it by eradicating the civil liberties that are the hallmark of this great nation? At one time we were the beacon of liberty in the free world. That light has been dimming since September 11, and unless we clap three times for Tinkerbelle, it's about to go out.

The next question is who will it be after the Muslims? My answer: no one important, just you and me.
And so it goes.

Posted by Alan at 21:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 25 August 2006 06:50 PDT home

Wednesday, 23 August 2006
Waking Up
Topic: Reality-Based Woes
Waking Up
You read it here first, from infrequent contributor Rick the "News Guy in Atlanta" (he's called that because he's one of the guys who got CNN up and running back in the early eighties, knows all the key players there, and his wife is still there, a key executive). See November 7, 2004 - Listen up! There IS no War on Terror! - where after some prefatory matters and before reactions from others, he says this (and remember it was election time) -
Okay, I'm confused and need some help. Is it just me, or has anyone else in this country noticed that there is no "War on Terror"?

Polls show Americans trust Bush more than Kerry on the issue of protecting the country from terrorism. Really! (They obviously ignore the fact that Kerry has actually killed someone face-to-face, while the closest Bush got to doing that was when he giggled it up as some born-again Christian woman was on the way to one of his Texas execution chambers.)

But other than that, when you think about it, what has Bush done in this so-called "War on Terror"?

He attacked Afghanistan? Big deal! Hell, if 9/11 had happened on Calvin Coolidge's watch, he'd have invaded Afghanistan during a break in one of his famous afternoon naps!

Bush invaded Iraq? Okay, if you insist on considering Iraq part of the "War on Terror," then you must admit to it being one hugely-botched battle at best, with terrorists now operating out of that country and doing things Saddam Hussein would never have allowed them to do. But in fact, Iraq, as has now been demonstrated, originally had nothing to do with the war on terror anyway, although probably now it does. Which leaves us with Afghanistan, where the Taliban still lives, and as Osama bin Laden possibly does, too.

(Okay, looking on the bright side, isn't it nice that Saddam was removed from power? Yes, but considering the subsequent blowback, celebrating Saddam's being gone is like calling the glass ten-percent full instead of ninety-percent empty. One can understand some Iraqis being happy about this, but it has certainly not made the world safer.)

Is this war just a metaphor, like the "War on Poverty"? Apparently Bush doesn't think so, charging that anyone (i.e., Kerry) who thinks this war is just a metaphor is not fit to be president. (Lots of Bush's fellow Republicans have called it a metaphor, but that's okay, they're not candidates for the job.)

Can this war be won? Apparently Bush doesn't think it can be, not in the classic sense (although he had to later clarify that argument by inserting some flip-floppy ambiguity into it.)

Is it a law-enforcement matter? Bush says no, that's just "September 10th thinking," the sort of thing his opponent is guilty of. (You know, it seems this business of hunting down this war is like Twenty Questions, with no end in sight.)

But in truth, if it's not a metaphor; and it can't really be won in the usual sense; and it's not a law-enforcement thing; and if even Tommy Franks has told people Afghanistan is really more of a man-hunt than a war - and as has been pointed out before, shortly after our invading Afghanistan, there were more American soldiers in Salt Lake City, protecting the Winter Olympics, than there were fighting our so-called war in Afghanistan - then where is this war everyone's talking about?

Even Bush and his people admit that this "war" has produced absolutely no actual "war prisoners" as such that fall under Geneva Convention protections. Shouldn't that alone tell us something?

Look, I have ideas of war in my head. Take WWII; now that was a proper war! So was WWI and the Civil War and the War of 1812 and the War for Independence! Real wars you can see and smell, and run to join up with, or maybe run away from. Korea and Vietnam were called "police actions," but whatever you called them, they walked and talked like wars to me.

So if anyone tries to tell you that this is a war unlike others and it isn't between nations and that it doesn't take place in any one chunk of geography, but is in fact taking place in the slums of Hamburg and the jungles of Indonesia, and hundreds of other secret places where these vermin try to hide, and that it won't end with someone signing a peace treaty, and may not /ever/ end in the conventional sense, and is not fought only by soldiers with guns but also by prosecutors with subpoenas ... you see where this is going?

Tell them what they're describing is only "metaphorically" a war, but is really mostly just a law-enforcement issue that, like crime itself, will probably never end -- and certainly not the sort of thing to allow a president to lay claim to being a "wartime president". I'm sure future historians will someday compare the mass hysteria rampant in early 21st century America, as it fought its imaginary war, to the Salem witch burnings and communist-hunts during the McCarthy era.

It seems like such a classic case of emperor-wearing-no-clothes, and it seems that nobody wants to bring this up, so let me do it now:

I need everyone's undivided attention! Listen up! There IS no War on Terror!

I repeat: There IS no War on Terror! None! We have all been conned!

Anyone? Please feel free to convince me otherwise.
Well, it took two years, but the London "liquid bomb" plot that was foiled - as in "Rats! Foiled again!" - seems to be not a victory in the war on terror by the only means we say works (send in the smart bombs), but a matter of law enforcement. Kerry was right. Even hyper-conservative George Will says so here - he notes in a candidates' debate in South Carolina (January 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world," and so it seems to be so. Oops. We must have misjudged the man. Will is miffed with Bush these days.

It took enough time for people to start coming around, didn't it?

And now people are saying all sorts of things, like John Mueller in the oh-so-serious journal Foreign Affairs (published by The Council on Foreign Relations) with this -
Summary: Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable - but rarely heard - explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.
He's not exactly saying the whole thing is a hoax, but wonders how much we should worry about it. Is the threat posed by al Qaeda terrorists equivalent to that of fascists back in the thirties? Well, no -
Although it remains heretical to say so, the evidence so far suggests that fears of the omnipotent terrorist - reminiscent of those inspired by images of the 20-foot-tall Japanese after Pearl Harbor or the 20-foot-tall Communists at various points in the Cold War (particularly after Sputnik) - may have been overblown, the threat presented within the United States by al Qaeda greatly exaggerated. The massive and expensive homeland security apparatus erected since 9/11 may be persecuting some, spying on many, inconveniencing most, and taxing all to defend the United States against an enemy that scarcely exists.
And he has evidence, and reasons from it. But it is quite long and no one will have the patience to read it. And it is heretical to say such things - everyone knows the bad guys want to kill us all, and are working on that tirelessly. They don't actually seem to be, but never mind.

In lieu of that some might want to read Ronald Bailey's Don't Be Terrorized, where there's a statistical look at things - you're more likely to die of a car accident, drowning, fire, or murder, than be a victim of terrorism. But of course it doesn't feel that way. Terrorism hysteria is the order of the day, even if you read careful analysis like this from David Weigel, about the triumph of us busting up the terror plot in Miami in June, which wasn't much of a plot, and the forces in play to make us believe it was something, when the guys were pretty much hapless jerks.

Something is up. As Rick said, it seems like such a classic case of emperor-wearing-no-clothes, and nobody wanted to bring it up - but the war on terror is a farce, and the threat hardly existential. It's a problem. You solve it.

But now that Iran wants to discuss its nuclear program, but won't stop research as a precondition to the talks, we all no war is coming. The Chinese and Russians say cool, let's have the talks. We say no. No talks unless and until they stop all research and promise not resume it, ever - then we'll talk about things. We have to stop them, and the sole condition for talking is clear. So if the world won't agree to sanctions, you know what's coming next. We know what will happen if they continue.

But a House committee on Wednesday, August 23, said we don't -
Noting "significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the various areas of concern about Iran," the House Intelligence Committee staff report questioned whether the United States could even effectively engage in talks with Tehran on ways to diffuse tensions.
In the Republican-controlled House we have a Republican-controlled committee saying it's not just that we don't really know anything about their nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons programs, we don't even know enough to talk to them intelligently.

It may be safe to assume even the pro-Bush folks are wising up. No one wants to get hung out to dry again. The White House, in response, says that they are "taking steps" to do better. Somehow that's not reassuring.

But there are the bad guys, now being called the "Islamofascists" in the pro-Bush media - which Matthew Yglesias here says he can "only understand as a sign of increasing desperation" - and the president himself has adopted the "slightly-less-absurd" formulation "Islamic fascists." It just isn't helpful.

There's a lot of talk about Spencer Ackerman here making a basic pragmatic argument - Muslims everywhere really don't appreciate this terminology at all. Not even in Detroit, or especially in Detroit, with its large Muslim, and pro-American, population. It just pisses them off.

Yglesias notes too it's worth calling attention to the function of this rhetoric -
"Fascist," in this context, just roughly means "bad." Add in the "Islamic" and what you come to is the conclusion that we're in a war and that the enemy in this war is Muslims who subscribe to bad ideologies. This has the consequence of taking a set of institutionally and ideologically distinct actors - Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, Iraq, Iran, Syria, al-Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, Iraqi insurgents, etc. - and treating them as a single phenomenon. To do so would be a serious mistake. And to call it a mistake is not to deny the obvious fact that these are groups that are to some degree interrelated. There's some ideological overlap. Some of these groups are allied with each other at the moment. Some have been allied in the past. Some might ally in the future.

Nevertheless, they are different things. And the essence of sound strategy has long been to look at potentially hostile actors and try to divide them. To decide what your top priority is and focus on it. The "Islamofascism" rhetoric is part of a continuing campaign to do the reverse.
But it does keep the hysteria up. They're all alike. They all want to kill us. And we have to stay in Iraq because there sure are a lot of them there, and if we leave they'll just come here, or whatever.

That may be nonsense, but it is important nonsense. See the Washington Post here interviewing an anonymous "top GOP strategist" - most likely Karl Rove -
The strategist, who is involved in GOP efforts to capitalize on the issue of national security, said one of the big challenges in the months ahead will be "making sure the terrorism issue sticks to Iraq." With some GOP candidates distancing themselves from Bush's Iraq policy, the strategist said, it has been difficult marrying the issues of terrorism and Iraq. This is disturbing to top GOP officials because support for the war is low, and dropping, and Iraq is a bigger issue in many of the campaigns than the less-defined effort against terrorism, the strategist said.
But it's just not sticking, as shown in the New York Times poll here -
Americans increasingly see the war in Iraq as distinct from the fight against terrorism, and nearly half believe President Bush has focused too much on Iraq to the exclusion of other threats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. The poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed saw no link between the war in Iraq and the broader anti-terror effort, a jump of 10 percentage points since June.
And there's the CNN USA Today poll here -
Most Americans, according to the poll, seem to have separate opinions about the war in Iraq and terrorism, with more than half (52 percent) saying the war in Iraq is a distraction from the U.S. efforts against terrorists who want to attack targets inside the United States.

A smaller percentage, 44 percent, said the war in Iraq "is an essential part" of U.S. efforts against terrorists who want to attack targets inside the United States.
People are catching up to Rick in Atlanta, even the "security moms" as the Post noted here, providing much fodder for the political talk shows -
Married mothers said in interviews here that they remain concerned about national security and the ability of Democrats to keep them safe from terrorist strikes. But surveys indicate Republicans are not benefiting from this phenomenon as they have before.

... Jean Thomas, a married mother of one, said she still feels a pang of fear every time she boards an airplane for work travel around the Midwest. "Terrorism," she said, "is the biggest concern on a daily basis." But she said she is "pretty frustrated with politics driving decisions" in Washington. That is why she said she is strongly considering abandoning her support of Republicans to vote for the Democrats challenging Rep. Deborah Pryce and Sen. Mike DeWine on Nov. 7.

… Jo Ann Smith, a divorced mother in Upper Arlington, said she voted for Pryce last time but certainly will not this fall because of the war issue alone. "I am just totally disgusted with this war," Smith said. "I understand terrorism and the threat, but I am sick of hearing about it." Smith said she will vote for Democrats across the board, mostly because she considers Republicans the "worst of two evils."

… Marylee McCallister, a mother of three who was a Republican for 42 years until this April …. voted for Bush because she believed his warnings that the Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), would weaken the nation. "I was dumb," she said. "Now, granted, they came here and rammed bombs into us, but I am afraid we have gotten into something full scale which perhaps did not have to be."
This comment at Firedoglake sums it up nicely -
The themes are clear - like the rest of us, these Bush voters feel like terrorism has been used as a political sledgehammer, and they know that Dubya is in way over his head in Iraq. But they also know that September 11th wasn't just a movie, and they're personally frightened of it happening again.

They should have listened to Rick in Atlanta. The policy was wrong say what you will about specific tactics, or on a larger scale, general strategies - some have been boneheaded and some have been fine - at the highest level is policy. That was the problem. The policy - we will fight terror with war, regime change and occupation - made things worse.

And the fourth part of that policy was disdain for diplomacy and alliances (listening to advice).

See John Judis here on the history and track record of "conservatives' odd aversion to diplomacy and liberals' tragic failure to adequately resist it."

As Matthew Yglesias, again, notes here -

The upshot is that, specific issues and countries aside, the whole assumption that there's anything to be gained by either de facto or de jure denying diplomatic recognition to other countries is wrong. Having ambassadors in each others' countries and regular talks between officials about matters of common concern is just what countries that aren't actively at war with each other do. The idea that talking to Syria - not necessarily agreeing with Syria about anything, but just talking so as to explore the possibility of agreement or at least understand what we're disagreeing about - would meaningfully set back the cause of Middle Eastern democracy is daft.
Daft? No one uses that word much these days. But it fits.

Ah, they called Howard Dean daft. When he said, more than a year ago, that the war is Iraq was worse than pointless, it was counterproductive, even most Democrats ran away from him. You just don’t say things like that. And now more than half the country agrees with him. That's very odd.

Watch him on MSNBC and CNN here (full video clips) wher he comments on what he sees now, and most folks agree.

On George Allen - "I served with George Allen when he was Governor. I don't think he belongs in public service. There are Republicans who are capable and smart, thoughtful people, and he's not one of them. "

On Joe Lieberman - "Ned Lamont is a Democrat. But Joe is the past and I think we need a new direction in this country and it's not just the Lieberman Lamont race. It's all over the country. People are looking for a new direction for the country. "

On John McCain - "You know how everybody leaves the ship once it heads in the wrong direction. McCain was a huge booster of the war until now I guess things are getting hot in the kitchen, so he decided to get out. "

On the Bush press conference August 21 - "You don't make a permanent commitment to a failed policy."

On Hurricane Katrina -
I think Katrina - the response to Katrina was effectively the end to the President's presidency in the sense that people all of a sudden saw the small man behind the curtain.

People in America and throughout the rest of the world for a long time have believed that Americans can fix anything - that we're better organized and better managed - managed better than anybody, and that if something really awful happens, call on the Americans.

And for the first time in our lifetime and in the world's lifetime, since World War II - since before World War II - we suddenly saw an American president just descend into failure.

And I don't think he's ever recovered from that.
On Iraq and Vietnam and Bush and Nixon (CNN with Wolf Blitzer) -
DEAN: This is exactly what was going on in Vietnam. And the president and the vice president are saying exactly what Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew said again and again and again. It resulted in 25,000 more Americans being killed in Vietnam, and the result was the same as it would have been had we left earlier.

This is wishful thinking on the part of the president. They never thought this out.

I can remember the secretary of defense saying the whole world would be paid for by Iraqi oil. The vice president was saying we'd be greeted as liberators.

These folks are fundamentally out of touch with what's going on in Iraq and they're fundamentally out of touch with the needs of the American people. And we need a new direction in this country, Wolf, and we're going to have a new direction after November.

BLITZER: But as you know, a lot of Democrats, especially Democratic senators, are also saying the U.S. should try to finish the job and not set an artificial deadline for getting out.

DEAN: Finishing the job? The job was finished. We went in there to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We got rid of him. Then we decided we were going to occupy the country, and then we decided that we would try to mitigate a civil war, which we're now in.

The problem is the job, as far as the president keeps defining it, is a moving target. He doesn't know what the job is. He doesn't know what the end point is.

The idea that we're going to have a democracy that looks like America was a ridiculous right wing neo-con idea from the beginning.

They're out of touch.

Most of them have never served in the army and the ones that have rarely served abroad defending the country.
On where this leads -
The country fundamentally wants a different direction. The Republicans are just going to give us more of the same.

We want a new direction in the economy, we want a new direction in health care, we want a new direction in foreign policy, we want a new direction in Iraq, we want a new direction for gas prices. We need a new direction. You can't get that by voting for Republicans.
So now he's become mainstream? Who'd have guessed? Well, Rick in Atlanta might have guessed.

On the other hand, counterbalancing this is an analysis by Scott Winship here on the data that show substantial numbers of people in America basically have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to politics, and that the deeply ignorant are also much more persuadable than the well-informed.

There are further comments here on The Mushy Middle -
My favorite term for undecided voters often gets a lot of complaints. But I think it's important to understand that "centrist voters" - which conform to some Beltway Pundit view of centrism - and "swing voters" are almost entirely different animals. Centrist voters who conform to the rough Washington Post editorial board center-right position do exist, but most of what we think of as "swing voters" are either completely clueless or they're more in the Ross Perot/Pat Buchanan/Reform Party mold (not mutually exclusive categories) for which there is no clear party.

You reach clueless voters by leading, not pandering, because their cluelessness makes them somewhat difficult to pander to.

And, no, saying people are clueless about politics is not necessarily insulting them. I pay attention to politics. A lot of people don't. They may be smart about many things but not so smart about politics.
And there's an extended discussion here -
Certainly, the Republicans, for whatever reason, seem to better understand heuristics and are willing to demagogue wherever necessary. These last few years have taught us nothing if they haven't taught us how far you can go even when you make no sense whatsoever.

But the fact remains that this is not good for the country. We simply cannot adequately govern ourselves if a large number of us are dumb as posts and vote for reasons that make no sense.
Ah but things are changing. To modify Abraham Lincoln's famous dictum - you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can only fool thirty-eight percent of the people all that time. And you can't fool Rick in Atlanta.

Posted by Alan at 22:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 24 August 2006 07:17 PDT home

Tuesday, 22 August 2006
Impulse, Intuition and Maturity
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Impulse, Intuition and Maturity
Something is up when the Associated Press, on Tuesday, August 22, runs something like this - a discussion of how "informality" is a reflection of President Bush's "style."

Maybe it was a slow news day, but it opens with this -
Stepping outside the boundaries of strict political and diplomatic protocol gets no more attention than when the president of the United States does it. And President Bush has been doing a lot of it recently.

He called Canada's prime minister by his first name, massaged German Chancellor Angela Merkel's shoulders and played tour guide to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at Graceland, the Memphis home of Elvis Presley.

His biggest gaffe was that caught-on-tape moment at the G-8 Summit last month with British Prime Minister Tony Blair - the one that featured Bush cursing and talking with his mouth full before a microphone that was supposed to be off. That set off tut-tuts around the globe.
Indeed it did.

But a good guess at what got the ball rolling on the whole issue was this single paragraph in US News and World Reports' "Washington Whispers" column -
Animal House in the West Wing

He loves to cuss, gets a jolly when a mountain biker wipes out trying to keep up with him, and now we're learning that the first frat boy loves flatulence jokes. A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior. But he's still a funny, earthy guy who, for example, can't get enough of fart jokes. He's also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides, but forget about getting people to gas about that.
There certainly was a lot of comment on that - the president cutting farts in formal settings to shock people. And he likes to see others wipe out when they try too keep up with him on his bicycle - he laughs when they get hurt. So he's informal and competitive, if you're a forgiving sort looking at all this. If you're not the forgiving sort, it's somewhere between embarrassing and alarming.

Digby over at Hullabaloo is not the forgiving sort, one wanting to let this pass (sorry for the pun), as he says this -
The president who claimed he would bring honor and dignity to the White House is apparently known for puerile fart jokes - and even emits them in the office to play jokes on his aides. Me, I much prefer a grown up president who privately has sex in the oval office than one who farts publicly. But that's just me.

But this is the part I find interesting and the little blurb doesn't elaborate at all: "A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior."

Forget the farting. What's with the paranoia around women? (There is apparently a clinical term for it called "gynophobia" which I've never heard of until today.) It's quite clear that he doesn't know how to behave around powerful women he doesn't control, judging from his inappropriate groping of the prime minister of Germany. And I've often wondered about his relationship to Rice, Hughes and Mieres - the office wives. Is he afraid that he's going to accidentally pass gas or use a bad word in front of these women or does he let fly with women he knows and is just paranoid around strange women? I'm genuinely curious. This is very weird for any sixty year old man, much less a highly successful politician.

He is such an immature person that I think it's entirely possible that he's still stuck in that pre-pubescent little boy state where girls are just "yucky." That's how his behavior comes off anyway. There's some frat boy stuff, to be sure, especially in his behavior with other men. But I'm thinking that when it comes to women, he's stuck even further back than that - cub scouts, maybe. Did mommy lock him in the closet or something?
Who knows? But the immaturity seems to have come up as an issue now, when it hasn't been noticed before.

As for the business with German Chancellor Angela Merkel a month ago - sneaking up behind her and giving her a quick shoulder rub - that was just spooky. She practically jumped out of skin - you can watch the video of that here. She tried to be a good sport but this was way out of bounds.

That mid-July trip was disaster in some ways. The president tried to keep things light - Israel has just bombed the Beirut airport and things were looking grim, so he kept talking about how his was looking forward the pig roast that evening. Folks take things so seriously.

Jon Stewart at the time had the key clip and made a comment (video here) -
REPORTER: "Does it concern you that the Beirut airport has been bombed, and do you see a risk of triggering a wider war? And on Iran, they have so far refused to respond. Is it now past the deadline, or do they still have more time to respond?"

PRESIDENT BUSH: "I thought you'd ask about the pig."

JON STEWART: "There you have it. Comedy stylings from President George W. Bush. He'll be playing at the White House in Washington DC for the next two and a half years. I'm sure it's a 200-drink minimum."
And the Merkel massage elicited comments like this -
Well, Dear Leader really showed his true colors at this year's G8 summit. He's like your drunk uncle at the family barbecue; insulting the neighbors, interrupting conversations, tripping over the pets, until finally he's puking loudly and violently in the yucca plant and calling his new wife a stupid bitch for letting him get too wasted.

First came the roast pig. And no, unfortunately, that doesn't mean that John Bolton got a sunburn or set himself on fire with his own overheated rhetoric. It just means that early in the conference, when confronted with a non-softball question about the situation in Israel and Lebanon, Uncle Dubya declared that he'd rather talk about the fact that he gets to carve up the roast pig they're having for dinner.

Watch the video … and pay special attention to the look on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's face. That's what, in my family, we call "smiling through your teeth", also known as "smiling to keep from screaming". Oh, Angela! It's going to get worse for you before it gets, well, even worse.

Then came a little tragedy that I call "Open Mic Night at the Summit", in which Uncle Fucker, not having learned his lesson from that incident where he called New York Times reporter a "major league asshole" while sitting at a live mic, sat chawing away (with his mouth open!) on a buttered roll, talking arrogant smack for ALL THE WORLD TO HEAR while Tony Blair tried in vain to discuss the looming crisis in the ME.

… The thing that strikes me the most about that clip is not the s-word, not his cavalier attitude toward a crisis where hundreds if not thousands of people are suffering and dying, and not his disgusting table manners, but rather his completely fatuous and dismissive body language when speaking to the leader of the only country of import who supported his now-failed invasion of Iraq. He won't even turn and look at Blair. If that was your coworker or business partner acting that way at a conference, wouldn't you seriously start thinking about finding another job? 'Course, that might be just what Tony Blair needs to be doing.

… The piece de la resistance came, however, when Chimpy interrupted a conversation between Chancellor Merkel and Romano Prodi, the new Italian Prime Minister, to give Merkel a rather ham-fisted impromptu shoulder rub, which clearly not only squicked her out, but also managed to piss her off … in which she seems to be giving vent to the same frustration that all Reality-Based Americans currently feel toward this shrugging, mugging, bumbling dickhead we call "Mr. President", i.e., "BACK THE FUCK OFF, YOU FUCKING IDIOT!"

… And of course, just like your shit-heel uncle waking up the day after the barbecue and declaring that it was a GREAT party, you know Resident Bush went back to Washington thinking he really showed those mealy-mouthed furriners who's The Boss, dammit. Who needs them and their stupid summits anyway? They can't even speak English, fer god's sake!

Gawd. Wake me in 2009, somebody. I don't know how much more of this kind of embarrassment and disgust I can take. No wonder our image is plummeting all over the globe! We're being represented and (supposedly) governed by a guy that can't not be a spoiled, childish rube long enough to effectively participate in a meeting of, oh, only the most powerful nations on the planet. That's just great. I am SOOOOO proud to be an American that I could just puke on my shoes. Whooo-hoooo.
And there was this -
Every woman will recognize the guy who sidles up and starts "casually" giving you a backrub without even looking at you, because he wants to preserve deniability in case you freak out. Like any practiced groper, Bush stares right past Merkel as she recoils from his touch.
People were not impressed. And now we have the story of the farting to embarrass people. Oh my.

Still the AP item was very kind, noting that while "four-letter expletives" or a shoulder massage of a co-worker of the opposite sex "could raise eyebrows in many office settings" (in many states you could lose your job, as those of us who have worked in corporate human resources know quite well), the president gets a pass from the big-time etiquette experts.

One is of course, Letitia Baldrige, President Kennedy's social secretary and now the expert on what's proper - "Part of it is he comes from Texas, and they don't stand on a lot of formality in that state - I think you get the Eastern kind of aristocrats, like the old days, they're always going to be more formal, they're always going to have a jacket on." She says it's not much different than Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson - both informal fellows.

Somehow it seems different.

And AP tracks down Paul Frazer, the former Canadian ambassador to the Czech and Slovak Republics, now a consultant in Washington. He's telling Canadians not to make too much of Bush addressing Prime Minister Stephen Harper as "Steve" earlier this summer. But he does say getting too "chummy" can confuse people - Canadians could get the wrong impression and think there's a special relationship. They might think Bush thinks Canada matters in some way. International politics isn't like that. There's the personal stuff. And then there's policy.

AP also talks with P.M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of "Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct." He has a simple explanation - Bush is a baby boomer who "came of age when respect for authority was plummeting" and that explains it all. And Baldrige agrees, saying Bush is not so much breaking new ground as "echoing the casual mood of the times."

It's not what people expect, the both say, and it jars people.

Okay, maybe it's not a big deal. Maybe it's just a Texas thing - Lyndon Johnson showing reporters his surgery scar, or lifting the beagle up by the ears. The man could be crude. On the other hand he seemed an adult - and mean and ruthless one at time, and crude. But there wasn't the sniggering, nasty kid about him. He was "adult nasty." He twisted arms and made deals and got things done.

Well, we live in a different age and the baby boomers - Clinton and Bush - are sixty or thereabouts. The whole idea of "the gentleman" - quiet dignity and consideration of others, even if calculated - is so thirties and forties. Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo in Casablanca and all that.

Or maybe that's eighteenth-century, Lord Chesterfield stuff - "Good breeding is the result of good sense, some good nature, and a little self-denial for the sake of others."

Or this - "Horse-play, romping, frequent and loud fits of laughter, jokes, and indiscriminate familiarity, will sink both merit and knowledge into a degree of contempt. They compose at most a merry fellow; and a merry fellow was never yet a respectable man."

Or this - "There is nothing that people bear more impatiently, or forgive less, than contempt: and an injury is much sooner forgotten than an insult."

Ah, those days are gone.

As for Jimmy Carter, he could be informal, but the also had that "Southern Gentleman" thing going for him - and he was no dummy, with his PhD and having commanded a nuclear submarine. He could be gracious and thoughtful, and kind. He just had a problem with being effective.

As for the current "farts are funny" occupant of the White House, none of that applies. Some find all this above funny, some alarming, but it's what we have.

For a deeper analysis of the actual issues that may be at play here, David G. Myers, a social psychologist at Hope College in Michigan, and author of Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, sees what happening as the result of a man who exclusively relies on his intuition, his hunches, his "gut" - and that's the root of all this.

He laid that out in the August 22nd Los Angeles Times here -
Say this much for President Bush: He is not deaf to the inner whispers of his intuition.

"I know there's no evidence that shows the death penalty has a deterrent effect," he reportedly said as Texas governor, "but I just feel in my gut it must be true."

Six years and two wars into his presidency, the president still relies on his gut instincts. His recent fly-in to Baghdad was, he explained to U.S. troops, "to look Prime Minister [Nouri] Maliki in the eyes - to determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are." The president's snap assessment? "I believe he is." He told Larry King in an interview last month: "If you make decisions based upon what you believe in your heart of hearts, you stay resolved."
Yep, you stay resolved, even if you're dead wrong.

But here's the deal -
For those disposed to follow their inner guide, today's pop psychology offers books on "intuitive healing," "intuitive learning," "intuitive managing," "intuitive trading" and much more.

So, when hiring and firing, fearing and risking, investing and gambling, should we follow Bush's example and tune down that analytical, linear, left-brained mind? Should we stop obsessing over logic and data and trust the force within?

Today's psychological science documents a vast intuitive mind. More than we realize, our thinking, memory and attitudes operate on two levels - conscious and unconscious - with the larger part operating automatically. We know more than we know we know.

Studies show that as we gain expertise, even reasoned judgments can become automatic. Rather than wend their way through a decision tree, experienced car mechanics and physicians will often, after a quick listen and look, diagnose problems. Chess masters intuitively know the right move. And Japanese chicken sexers use complex pattern recognition to separate newborn pullets and cockerels with near perfect accuracy.

Moreover, we're all experts when it comes to reading people's emotions.

… So, is our president smart to harness the powers of his intuition? Or should he, and we, be subjecting our hunches to scrutiny?
Well, no he's not smart to do that. Scrutiny is rather helpful, really.

Examples offered -
My geographical intuition tells me that Reno is east of Los Angeles and that Rome is south of New York. But I am wrong. "The first principle," said Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, "is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." In hundreds of experiments, people have greatly overestimated their eyewitness recollections, their interviewee assessments and their stock-picking talents. It's humbling to realize how often we misjudge and mispredict reality and then display "belief perseverance" when facing disconfirming information.

… Smoking kills 400,000 Americans a year, and carbon dioxide looks to be the biggest weapon of mass destruction, but terrorists frighten us more. We are told, but are unmoved by, statistics showing that the most dangerous part of air travel is the drive to the airport.
And to get to the Pacific you head southeast through the Panama Canal - look at a map. So intuition - automatic, effortless, unreasoned thinking - is more than overrated.

Note also - after meeting Vladimir Putin, Bush felt that he had him sized up - "I looked the man in the eye [and] I was able to get a sense of his soul." Oops. That didn't work out. Bush also told Bob Woodward that intuition was a real key to his decision to launch the Iraq thing - "I'm a gut player. I rely on my instincts."

Right, and now Iraq a mess and his intuition is silent - so we must keep doing what we're doing, or it'd be a bigger mess. And thus each presidential press conference seems to be a textbook display "belief perseverance" when facing disconfirming information. It seems we're all supposed to wait until his gut speaks again, if it will.

Myers' conclusion -
The president, like all of us, should check his intuitions against the facts. He can welcome the creative whispers of the unseen mind, but only as the beginning of inquiry. Smart thinking often begins with hunches but continues as one examines assumptions, evaluates evidence, invites critique and tests conclusions. As Proverbs says: "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool."

Now that wasn't a nice thing to say.

And I'm not sure any of that explains the public farting and the sneak-attack massage.

Well, you do what seems like a good idea at the time, and leave thinking of the actual consequences for the stuffy people who think too much. It's a hell of a way to run things, and now people are noting the damage it has done.

But there's no fixing it, for now.

Bush massages German Chancellor Angela Merkel's shoulders -



Mary Worth reacts -








Additional note from Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, now in America - in Queens actually -

I am doubtful. Bush farts and suddenly everybody remembers that he was a boobie in Europe - a month ago? He fondled Angela and now the media remembers?

He can fart all he wants but he gets no respect here. He gives, if I may be blunt, nobel farters a bad name. If he keeps doing it we may be forced to stop. It would be a terrible thing but if it annoyed Bush in any way I would try to quit farting and ask everybody I know to quit too. If you want peace quit farting!

Well, we live in a different age and the baby boomers - Clinton and Bush - are sixty or thereabouts. The whole idea of "the gentleman" - quiet dignity and consideration of others, even if calculated - is so thirties and forties. Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo in Casablanca and all that.

Quiet Dignity

You probably won't believe that I was 'on the spot' again last night in the right place at the right time, but I was. Just thinking of what I did yesterday nearly makes me blush, but about 21:00 I was being 'gentlemanly' for a few minutes in this Latino bar-restaurant in Queens having an outrageously delicious dessert when I noticed the Mets were playing - against the Saint Louis Cardinals? - in Shea Stadium, on a big, wide-screen TV hanging over the bar. It looked bad for the home team. Near the end with the Cards leading and pitchers and batters having ho-hum innings. Yeah, well, there was this little suspense, over just when or who would snap the world's turn out of the routine. Close-up on the pitch, fastball on express, drilling past the batter into the catcher's mitt, the umpire throws out the out fingers. While the telephoto lens is focused there, we see behind home plate, Bill Clinton - this is a true story, exclusive to JAS! - yawning, eyelids at half-mast. Another pitch, another unswung strike, and Bill is sinking deeper into his seat, eyes glazed. Then there is a brief flurry, Mets get a runner on first, bottom of the ninth, one run behind the Cards. Bill Clinton is passed out! Delgado steps up with his moustache and big hard bat, just a little harder than the Card's pitcher and blasts a fast one - that Delgado socks fair and square, right out to some fence - I saw it the other night - some 400 yards from home plate - yeah, so, it knocks the two runs in, Mets win, everybody up leaping, cheering, Bill Clinton completely forgotten - gawd, maybe he's slumped on the floor, covered in peanut shells, hot dog wrappers... in quiet dignity, tuckered out from his busy day as ex-president.

The is exclusive to JAS because Bill snoozing was clipped from the Channel 11 sports news report, shown later on TV-news about 22:50 last night. They showed Bill awake and alert, enjoying the football game.

- Ric
Received in Hollywood Wednesday, August 23, 8:00 am Pacific Time -

Posted by Alan at 20:55 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006 09:17 PDT home

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