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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, 2 January 2007
Stopping the Madness
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Stopping the Madness

An idea whose time had come - "The world will come to understand that it stop this mad course towards the future and we demand the governments of the world and the United Nations declare a moratorium to stop, this December 31, the future."

Stop the future? You can read all about it here -
Taking the French love to say "non" to a new extreme, some 600 people gathered in the western city of Nantes not to ring in the New Year, but to protest its arrival on Monday.

Lashed by rain, the organizers joked even the weather was against 2007, as they milled about under banners reading "No to 2007!" and "Now is better!"
We are told too that "the tension mounted as the minutes ticked away." But midnight, and 2007, came anyway. Of course these folks had an answer - they immediately began to chant "No to 2008!" And they plan to hold the event for a third time on December 31, 2007 - on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

Good for them - we all need an active and lively absurdist movement to laugh at this sorry world. Not all of us read the Absurdist Monthly Review, the magazine of the New Absurdist Movement.

And what happened in Nantes was so very French - it was Camus, after all, who introduced the idea of acceptance without resignation and asked if man can "live without appeal" - defining a "conscious revolt" against the absurdity of the world. Thus we have the "conscious revolt" of folks in Nantes. Absurd, yes, but why not? After all, in an absurd world devoid of higher meaning or judicial afterlife, man becomes absolutely free, right? Camus held that it is through this freedom that man can act either as a mystic - through appeal to some supernatural force - or an absurd hero - through a revolt against such hope. It's all about the heroic refusal to hope, and about living in the present with passion, and humor of course. You cannot do a thing about the damned new year, so see you all next New Years Eve on the Champs-Elysees, nor not.

Frequent contributor to these pages Phillip Raines could be there - "I know I'm French somewhere, somehow, because I so get this."

But there still are the mystics - appealing to some supernatural force or other. They're also in France, in Lourdes -
Piousness and partying came together for New Year's celebrations overnight as Christian pilgrims visiting France's famous miracle town of Lourdes got down and boogied in "God's disco."

Around 1,000 faithful kicked up their heels in the unusual nightclub as Exo, a Christian pop group created in 1991 by a couple of US missionaries, blasted out their tunes from an outdoors stage.
That's not absurd? God's Disco? So much for The Song of Bernadette (1943) - we get second-rate mid-seventies disco covers, with the lyrics no doubt sanitized, performed some evangelicals from Iowa. That may not be worth a pilgrimage to the town of miracles. Many of us would have made the pilgrimage to Nantes, not Lourdes.

It should be noted that there were, simultaneously, some serious things happing in France -
Homeless families and their supporters have taken over an upscale office building in Paris and set up a mock housing ministry in a bid to keep housing rights on politicians' agendas before spring presidential elections.

The plight of France's homeless and others living in poor conditions becomes a hot-button issue each winter. But with presidential elections on the horizon this year, it has taken on real political meaning and encouraged groups to take action.

A group calling itself the Children of Don Quixote recently set up tents for the homeless in the French capital - and invited Parisians to spend the night in them. Associations made a push to register the homeless for the April and May two-round vote before last week's deadline.

The enthusiasm on behalf of the homeless, and those housed in cheap hotels, appears to be spreading.
Chirac spoke out on the matter in his annual New Year's Eve address (video here) - he pledged to work to "make the right to housing a reality." On Tuesday, the government studied a first draft of a bill that would allow the homeless appeal to the courts. Two leading presidential candidates, "Bush-lite" Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and the winsome Socialist Segolene Royal (think Hillary Clinton, but with actual charm), each did what anyone would expect - Sarkozy designated a famous lawyer to follow the issue, and Royal spoke by telephone with the Children of Don Quixote. The Lyonnaise de Banque group, which owns the building in question, a vacant place across the street from the old Bourse, was not impressed.

There are sixty-three million people in France, and some 86,500 homeless people - about as many as we have here in Los Angeles. But we get this Children of Don Quixote thing - Don Quixote, the symbol of noble and somewhat absurd lost causes, and this mock housing ministry. The French know absurd when they see it. It's all about the symbols - the little camp tents that appeared during the holiday along the Canal Saint Martin and the Parisians who joined the homeless there in solidarity. Such things don't happen in Santa Monica.

And there seems to be a war of symbols, as Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, notes. He forwards a communication from the mayor's office (he seems to be on distribution). The mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, is a bit unhappy with the action of some right-wing group to distribute free soup to the needy. Specifically the mayor objects to "pig soup" on the grounds that it of course will be unacceptable to Muslims and Jews. He says he is going to ask the Prefect of Police to take appropriate measures.

That goes like this -
02/01/2007 - Communiqué du maire relatif à la distribution de soupe au cochon

Par M. Bertrand DELANOË

Je prends acte, en la regrettant, de l'ordonnance du juge des référés au tribunal administratif de Paris, qui a autorisé le 22 décembre l'association d'extrême droite « Solidarité des Français » à reprendre sa distribution de « soupe au cochon ».

Cette décision est d'autant plus étonnante qu'elle reconnaît que cette action - je cite - « poursuit un but clairement discriminatoire ».

Je souhaite donc vivement que le Préfet de Police fasse appel de cette ordonnance, espérant que le Conseil d'Etat aura, comme d'autres tribunaux administratifs dans un passé récent, une interprétation différente des principes républicains.

Je rappelle que dès juin 2004, le Conseil de Paris avait voté un vœu demandant l'interdiction de cette distribution qui exclut sciemment les personnes de confession juive et musulmane.

Face à cette initiative aux relents xénophobes, je veux exprimer à nouveau la volonté de la municipalité de dénoncer et de combattre toute forme de discrimination, de racisme et d'antisémitisme.

En cette période hivernale où les besoins de solidarité sont toujours plus criants, je veux également rendre hommage aux milliers de Parisiens qui, sans « faire le tri » entre nos concitoyens dans le besoin, consacrent leur temps et leur énergie à les aider.

Ce faisant, ce sont aussi les valeurs et l'identité de notre ville qu'ils honorent.

Avant même que le Conseil d'Etat se soit prononcé, je demande bien entendu à Monsieur le Préfet de Police de tout mettre en œuvre afin que ces agissements indignes ne puissent provoquer de troubles à l'ordre public.
You hardly need much French to see what he's saying.

The parallel here is the Texas pig races -
A Texas man protested the proposed building of a mosque next to his property by holding pig races and selling sausages. About 100 people showed up to catch the races.

Muslims are forbidden to eat pork. Craig Baker, 46, said he was defending his rights and his property.

Baker has been at odds with the Katy Islamic Association who plans to build a mosque, community center and school near his property.
Is this absurd? You can see what the people in Nantes were up to. This madness has to stop.

How mad has it been here in the United States? Dave Barry has an answer in his annual Year in Review. He knows absurd when he sees it - "It was a momentous year, a year of events that will echo in the annals of history the way a dropped plate of calamari echoes in an Italian restaurant with a tile floor."

He suggests that 2006 will be a year that we will not want to remember -
This was the year in which the members of the United States Congress, who do not bother to read the actual bills they pass, spent weeks poring over instant messages sent by a pervert. This was the year in which the vice president of the United States shot a lawyer, which turned out to be totally legal in Texas. This was the year in which there came to be essentially no difference between the treatment of maximum-security-prison inmates and the treatment of commercial-airline passengers.

This was the year in which - as clearly foretold in the Bible as a sign of the Apocalypse - Howie Mandel got a hit TV show.

Also there were many pesky problems left over from 2005 that refused to go away in 2006, including Iraq, immigration, high gas prices, terrorism, global warming, and avian flu, Iran, North Korea and Paris Hilton. Future generations are going to look back at this era and ask us how we could have allowed Paris Hilton to happen, and we are not going to have a good answer.
Then follows his month by month assessment.

… a month that dawns with petty partisan bickering in Washington, D.C., a place where many people view petty partisan bickering as honest, productive work, like making furniture. The immediate cause of the bickering is the Republican ethics scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, both of whom you can tell, just by looking at them, are guilty of something. The Democrats charge that the Republicans have created a Culture of Corruption and should be thrown out of office so the Democrats can return to power and run the scandal-free style of government for which they are so famous. The Republicans respond that the Democrats are soft on terrorism soft on terrorism soft on terrorism softonterrorism. Both sides issue press releases far into the night.

The other big focus of the bickering is the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. As always, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings provide high-quality TV entertainment as the nation tunes in to see if Sen. Edward M. Kennedy will be able to successfully remember the nominee's name. The bulk of the hearings are spent in the traditional manner, with Democrats trying to trick the nominee into revealing his views on abortion, and Republicans reminding the nominee that he does not have to reveal his views on abortion. The subsequent exchange of press releases is so intense that several government photocopiers burst into flames.

In the War on Terror, Osama bin Laden, who may or may not be dead, nevertheless releases another audio tape, for the first time making it downloadable from iTunes. Bin Laden also starts a blog, in which he calls upon his followers to destroy the corrupt infidels and also try to find out how a person, hypothetically, can get Chinese food delivered to a cave.

In the Middle East, Palestinian voters elect the militant Hamas party, which assumes control of government functions such as street repair, which Hamas decides to handle by firing rockets at potholes. Canada also holds elections, which are won by some Canadian, we assume.

In economic news, the big story is the retirement of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, who, after 19 years as the person most responsible for guiding the American economy, steps down, taking with him the thanks of a grateful nation and a suitcase containing $11 billion.
In goes on in this manner. February brought the president's address on energy policy'' - the nation has an ''addiction'' to ''foreign oil'' and we should do something, one day or another. And there was the administration's decision to allow a company owned by the United Arab Emirates to operate six US seaports - absurdly defended, then abandoned. And that was the month Vice President Dick Cheney shot attorney Harry Whittington in the face. Oops. That had its own absurdity, followed immediately by the business with the cartoons published the previous year in a Danish newspaper, depicting the Prophet Mohammed. How do you explain all that? You didn't - you watched the Steelers win the Super Bowl or the Winter Olympics. They made more sense, or didn't.

March - gas hits two-fifty a gallon, and the Israeli government changes. Sharon is out with a massive stroke and Israeli voters give a parliamentary majority to acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but it's a quiet month. But then there's April -
Tom DeLay decides not to seek re-election to Congress, making the announcement via audio tape from a cave somewhere in Pakistan. Republican leaders express relief over DeLay's decision and issue a statement pledging that there will be "no more Republican scandals, unless somebody finds out about Mark Foley.''

Meanwhile in the Middle East, tension mounts still higher when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announces that Iran has successfully produced enriched uranium, although he claims that his nation plans to use it only for peaceful purposes ''such as cooking.'' In Iraq, there is good news and bad news for the Bush administration: The good news is that rival Iraqi leaders have finally agreed on a new prime minister. The bad news is that it is Nancy Pelosi.

Domestically, the national debate over illegal immigration heats up as thousands of demonstrators take to the streets of major U.S. cities, thus causing a total shutdown of Paris. Meanwhile the Mexican government, in what is widely viewed as a deliberate provocation, convenes in Milwaukee. But the big story is the price of gasoline, which continues its relentless climb toward an unprecedented $3 a gallon. Responding quickly, Congress, in a rare display of decisive bipartisan action, takes a recess, with both sides promising to resume bickering the instant they get back.
Yeah, a little glib, but so what? That's approximately what happened.

May? The Bush administration comes under heavy criticism following press reports that the National Security Agency has been collecting telephone records of millions of Americans. Responding to the outcry, President Bush assures the nation that ''the government is not collecting personal information on any individual citizen.'' And the president announces that he will use National Guard troops to stop illegal immigration. And there was Enron - "In Houston, former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling are convicted of fraud by a federal jury, which apparently is not persuaded by the defense's claim that Skilling and Lay could not have been responsible for the collapse of the $100 billion corporation because they were, quote, 'both getting haircuts.''" That wasn't what they said, but it was close - after the verdict, Lay actually said, "We believe that God in fact is in control.'' Some worry about that - it could be true. And less than two months later, Lay dies of heart failure. Spooky.

June? That's easy -
In politics, the debate over Iraq continues to heat up, with President Bush insisting that ''we must stay the course, whatever it may or may not be,'' while the Democrats claim that they would bring the troops home ''immediately,'' or ''in about six months,'' or ''maybe not for a long time,'' depending on which particular Democrat is speaking and what time of day it is. On a more positive note, US troops kill Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who is identified by intelligence experts as ''a person with a really terrorist-sounding name.'' In another hopeful development in Iraq, the Sunnis and the Shiites agree to try to come up with a simple way for Americans to remember which one is which.

On the legal front, the Supreme Court rules that the Bush administration cannot try suspected terrorists in ad hoc military tribunals, after the court learns that the administration is interpreting ''ad hoc'' to mean "under water.''

Dan Rather, who stopped anchoring the evening news in 2005, announces his retirement from CBS after a career spanning 44 years and several galaxies. Explaining his decision, Rather cites a desire to ''explore other options'' and "not keep getting maced by the CBS security guard.''

On a happier note, the United States marks the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System - an engineering marvel consisting of 47,000 miles of high-speed roads connecting 157,000 Waffle Houses. A formal ceremony is planned, but has to be canceled when Dad refuses to stop.
July, along with the Floyd Landis and the Tour de France win that wasn't, and the famous head-butt at the World Cup final, the Israel-Hezbollah war starts and North Korea tests a bunch of ballistic missiles on the four of July - "including two believed to be potentially capable of reaching US soil. World tension goes back down when the missiles, upon reaching an altitude of 200 feet, explode and spell HAPPY BIRTHDAY." No, they didn't

August brings the big terror scare, and more -
… commercial air travel turns into a total nightmare. No, wait, it was already a total nightmare. But it turns into an even worse total nightmare after Britain uncovers a terrorist plot targeting international flights, which results in a whole new set of security rules, including a total ban on all gels and liquids, including spit, urine, heavy perspirers and lactating women. After days of chaos at the airports, the TSA issues a new directive stating that ''passengers may carry small quantities of liquids on board, but only if they are inside clear, one-quart, sealable plastic bags.'' This leads to still more chaos, as many TSA employees interpret this to mean that the passengers must be inside the bags. Eventually the TSA issues a clarification stating that "if necessary, the bags can have air holes.''

… In crime news, a man in Thailand claims that he had something to do with the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey. It quickly becomes clear that the man is an unstable creep whose story is totally unbelievable, so the cable-TV shows drop it.

Ha ha! Just kidding! The cable-TV shows go into days of round-the-clock All-JonBenet-All-The-Time Wallow Mode. Battalions of legal experts are brought in, some of them so excited at the opportunity to revisit the JonBenet tragedy that additional janitors have to be brought into the studios to mop up puddles of expert weewee.
At this point you see what he's up to. Click on the link for comments on September - Steve ''Crocodile Hunter'' Irwin and Congressman Mark Foley of Florida and Pope Benedict XVI giving a speech suggesting that the Muslim religion has historically been linked to violence, and then apologizing. It's like shooting fish in a barrel - an absurd image in itself. October - North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test, Congress authorizes the construction of a seven hundred mile fence on the Mexican border, sort of, Cheney on the radio defends the interrogation technique known as ''water-boarding'' and John Kerry screws up a joke and the political world explodes.

November brings the elections -
As the campaign lumbers to the finish line, the Republicans desperately hope that the voters will not notice that they - once the party of small government - have turned into the party of war-bungling, corruption-tolerating, pork-spewing power-lusting toads, while the Democrats desperately hope that the voters will not notice that they are still, basically, the Democrats. The actual voters, of course, are paying no attention, having given up on politics months ago because every time they turn on the TV all they see are political ads accusing pretty much every candidate on either side of being, at minimum, a child molester.

Thus nobody really knows what will happen as the voters go to the polls. In Florida, nobody knows anything even after the voting is over, because - prepare to be shocked - many electronic balloting machines malfunction. Voters in one district report that their machines, instead of displaying the candidates for Congress, showed Star Wars Episode IV. (By an overwhelming margin, this district elects Jabba the Hutt.)

Nationwide, however, it eventually becomes clear that the Democrats have gained control of both houses of Congress. President Bush handles the defeat with surprisingly good humor, possibly because his staff has not told him about it. For their part, future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and future Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issue a joint statement promising to ''make every effort to find common ground with the president,'' adding, ''we are clearly lying.'' Pelosi sets about the difficult task of trying to fill leadership posts with Democrats who have not been videotaped discussing bribes with federal undercover agents.

The first major casualty of the GOP defeat is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who, the day after the election, is invited to go quail-hunting with the vice president. He is never seen again.
It's almost too easy. As is December's Iraq Study Group report -
In accordance with longstanding Washington tradition, the panel first formally leaks its report to The New York Times, then delivers it to the president, who turns it over to White House personnel specially trained in reading things.

In essence, the study group recommends a three-pronged approach, consisting of: (1) a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops, but not on a fixed timetable; (2) intensified training of Iraqi troops; and (3) the physical relocation of Iraq, including buildings, to Greenland. Republican and Democratic leaders, after considering the report for the better part of a nanosecond, commence what is expected to be a minimum of two more years of bickering.

… But despite the well-founded fear of terrorism, the seemingly unbreakable and escalating cycle of violence in the Middle East, the uncertain world economic future, the menace of global warming, the near-certainty that rogue states run by lunatics will soon have nuclear weapons, and the fact that America is confronting these dangers with a federal government sharply divided into two hostile parties unable to agree on anything except that the other side is scum, Americans face the new year with a remarkable lack of worry, and for a very good reason: They are busy drinking beer and watching football.
Heck, at least the folks in Nantes were doing something.

So we do need to stop the future, if it's anything like the past.

As for the new year we have, it's not starting well. Tuesday, January 2, 2007 - the New York Times details how 'Chaos Overran Iraq Plan in '06,' (here and here), while President Bush is said to be getting ready to escalate, and to expand the mission, in 2007 (see this, this and this). All they need to do is figure out what the mission of the new troops will be. They're working on that.

The hanging of Saddam Hussein is still an issue. After reporting that US officials were "privately incensed at the dead-of-night rush to the gallows," John Burns said that he "could hardly imagine an event more emblematic, of what America has accomplished or failed to accomplish here than the final chapter of Saddam Hussein." With Iraq's prime minister now reportedly ordering a probe into how the execution of a 'model prisoner' (see this) became "a televised spectacle," some people recalled that 'Saddam Was Right and Bush Was Wrong' about WMD (see here). Yeah, but who's dead?

The final word may be Christopher Hitchens on what he calls The Shameful Hanging -
The disgusting video of Saddam Hussein's last moments on the planet is more than a reminder of the inescapable barbarity of capital punishment and of the intelligible and conventional reasons why it should always be opposed. The zoolike scenes in that dank, filthy shed (it seems that those attending were not even asked to turn off their cell phones or forbidden to use them to record souvenir film) were more like a lynching than an execution. At one point, one of the attending magistrates can be heard appealing for decency and calm, but otherwise the fact must be faced: In spite of his mad invective against "the Persians" and other traitors, the only character with a rag of dignity in the whole scene is the father of all hangmen, Saddam Hussein himself.

How could it have come to this? Did U.S. officials know that the designated "executioners" would be the unwashed goons of Muqtada Sadr's "Mahdi Army" - the same sort of thugs who killed Abdul Majid al-Khoei in Najaf just after the liberation and who indulge in extra-judicial murder of Iraqis every night and day? Did our envoys and representatives ask for any sort of assurances before turning over a prisoner who was being held under the Geneva Conventions? According to the New York Times, there do seem to have been a few insipid misgivings about the timing and the haste, but these appear to have been dissolved soon enough and replaced by a fatalistic passivity that amounts, in theory and practice, to acquiescence in a crude Shiite coup d'état. Thus, far from bringing anything like "closure," the hanging ensures that the poison of Saddamism will stay in the Iraqi bloodstream, mingling with other related infections such as confessional fanaticism and the sort of video sadism that has until now been the prerogative of al-Qaida's dehumanized ghouls. We have helped to officiate at a human sacrifice. For shame.

… Reporting from defeated Germany in 1945, and noticing some brutal treatment of captured SS men, George Orwell wrote a brilliant essay called "Revenge Is Sour." I hadn't thought of it for a while but pulled it down from the shelf when I returned from Iraq. Here is the key passage:

"Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also.

"Who would not have jumped for joy, in 1940, at the thought of seeing S.S. officers kicked and humiliated? But when the thing becomes possible, it is merely pathetic and disgusting. It is said that when Mussolini's corpse was exhibited in public, an old woman drew a revolver and fired five shots into it, exclaiming, 'Those are for my five sons!' It is the kind of story that the newspapers make up, but it might be true. I wonder how much satisfaction she got out of those five shots, which, doubtless, she had dreamed years earlier of firing. The condition of her being able to get near enough to Mussolini to shoot at him was that he should be a corpse."

The shabby, tawdry scene of Muqtada Sadr's riffraff taunting their defenseless former tyrant evokes exactly this quality of hysterical falsity and bravado. While Saddam Hussein was alive, they cringed. Now, they find their lost courage, and meanwhile take the drill and the razor blade and the blowtorch to their fellow Iraqis. To watch this abysmal spectacle as a neutral would be bad enough. To know that the US government had even a silent, shamefaced part in it is to feel something well beyond embarrassment.
Well, we gave Gerald Ford a great funeral.

On the other hand there's this -
In what has become an annual tradition of prognostications, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson said Tuesday God has told him that a terrorist attack on the United States would result in "mass killing" late in 2007.

"I'm not necessarily saying it's going to be nuclear," he said during his news-and-talk television show "The 700 Club" on the Christian Broadcasting Network. "The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that."

Robertson said God told him during a recent prayer retreat that major cities and possibly millions of people will be affected by the attack, which should take place sometime after September.

Robertson said God also told him that the U.S. only feigns friendship with Israel and that U.S. policies are pushing Israel toward "national suicide."
Where to start? Ah, it's off to Nantes. Maybe we can stop this New Year yet.

Posted by Alan at 21:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 3 January 2007 07:11 PST home

Sunday, 31 December 2006
Happy New Year and All That
Topic: Announcements

Happy New Year and All That

Light posting, if at all - New Years Eve - got to get out of Hollywood. On the other hand, the new issue of Just Above Sunset is now online, with new material, and ten pages of photographs, from the Catskills to Santa Monica. Take a look.

New Years Eve won't be like this -

Manikin, Neiman-Marcus window, Beverly Hills, Christmas week, 2006

Posted by Alan at 10:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 30 December 2006
For the New Year
Topic: Perspective

For the New Year

"An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves." - Bill Vaughan

"New Year's Day is every man's birthday. - Charles Lamb"

"New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions." - Mark Twain

"New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual." - Mark Twain

"The new year begins in a snow-storm of white vows." - George William Curtis

"Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. So overweight people are now average… which means, you have met your New Year's resolution." - Jay Leno

"Happiness is too many things these days for anyone to wish it on anyone lightly. So let's just wish each other a bileless New Year and leave it at that" - Judith Crist

"New Year's Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time." - James Agate

"It wouldn't be New Year's if I didn't have regrets." - William Thomas

"The only way to spend New Year's Eve is either quietly with friends or in a brothel. Otherwise when the evening ends and people pair off, someone is bound to be left in tears." - W.H. Auden

The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year's Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you're married to. - P.J. O'Rourke

"We did not change as we grew older; we just became more clearly ourselves." - Lynn Hall, Where Have All the Tigers Gone?, 1989

EXPERIENCE, n. The wisdom that enables us to recognize as an undesirable old acquaintance the folly that we have already embraced. - Ambrose Bierce

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so." - Douglas Adams

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." - Oscar Wilde

"Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want." - Dan Stanford

"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn." - C. S. Lewis

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." - Alan Watts

"Arrange whatever pieces come your way." - Virginia Woolf

"All human wisdom is summed up in two words - wait and hope." - Alexandre Dumas

"Be infinitely flexible and constantly amazed." - Jason Kravitz

Posted by Alan at 17:45 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 29 December 2006
Notes on the Farce - The Man Who Hardly Matters Now is Gone
Topic: Breaking News

Notes on the Farce - The Man Who Hardly Matters Now is Gone

Friday, December 29, at seven in the evening here in Los Angeles, but six the morning Saturday the 30th in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein was executed, for one of his lesser crimes - the killing of one hundred twenty-eight men and boys he said had plotted to overthrow his government. All the trails on even more gruesome matters are now beside the point - the one hundred thousand Kurds gassed with what might have been our tacit approval, as at the time Saddam Hussein was also fighting the theocratic madmen in Iran who had held our citizens hostage at the embassy in Tehran and we thought needed taken out. What was Rumsfeld doing over there at the time, shaking his hand and smiling? We'll never know, and perhaps that's best. We dodged a bullet there.

The execution may make the next several months in Iraq dicey - but perhaps not much different. Saddam Hussein had been in our custody for the last several years, and no one was any longer fighting for him or his party. As he was a Sunni, the majority Shi'a had always considered him an apostate, as did the extreme Shiite al Qaeda. But that wasn't because he was a devout Sunni - it was because he wasn't much more than a brutal thug from Tikrit who ran a secular government, ruling by intimidation and torture and murder and all the rest, and making his family and friends rich in the process. He got religion in the last few years - it was useful to claim he was a martyr of Islam. He had never claimed that before, but times change. It was just another lever of power - something you grab when you're falling. The Sunnis now, it seems, consider him irrelevant, and do remember his apostasy - letting women go to school and have "western" rights, and his not shutting down all cultural stuff from the west, the music and the movies and all.

No one is fighting for him now, or against him. They've moved on to other matters. The Shi'a are clearing the south of Baghdad of all Sunnis to have an open line to the heavily Shi'a south. The neighborhoods everywhere are being cleansed. The Sunnis, now out of power, are doing everything they can not to be overwhelmed and rendered totally powerless - and the "everything they can" is pretty nasty, with a lot of car bombs. And they've got the west, Anbar Province, where any number of our troops are killed each week, trying to keep things there under control. The Kurds in the north - Sunni but not Arab - are watching it all warily, dreaming of a separate nation, or at least a separate peace. And anyone with a degree or set of useful skills is leaving - they are now in Amman or Cairo, or soon will be.

So the execution will please the Shi'a, in an offhand kind of way. The dead man is so last decade after all. Those who lost all to his vicious rule are no doubt glad to see him gone, of course. The Sunnis are rid of an embarrassment. The whole world is rid this really nasty piece of work. Fine, but the whole business looks like a show of some sort - a bit of proving something or other, and not the least what our administration would like to prove to us here, and to the rest of the world, that we finally got something right. It's too late for that, but could be worth a try. The approval ratings here, and certainly around the globe, could use a bump.

But this isn't it -
Rosemary Hollis, director of research at Chatham House, London -

It's tawdry. It's not going to achieve anything because of the way the trial was conducted and the way the occupation was conducted. Life in Iraq has become so precarious that many people are saying it was safer under Saddam Hussein - it makes the whole thing look like a poke in the eye as opposed to closure or some kind of contribution to the future of Iraq. The purpose should have been to see justice done in a transparent manner ... the trial was gruesome, occasionally farcical, and failed to fulfill its promise of giving satisfaction.

Kamil Mahdi, Iraqi expatriate, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University -

Quite honestly, I don't think much of it any more, given what's happening in Iraq. It will be taken as an American decision. The worst thing is that it's an issue which, in an ideal situation, should have unified Iraq but the Americans have succeeded in dividing the Iraqis.

Toby Dodge, expert on Iraq at Queen Mary College, London University -

The new elite were bound to go ahead with the execution because they suffered at his hands. In the long term, though, this means very little in terms of drawing a line under the last four years of occupation or creating a new Iraq. In choosing to kill him, the current government of Iraq have simply reproduced Iraqi history instead of stepping away from the past ... it completes the Islamicisation of the insurgency.

Chris Doyle, director, Council for Arab-British Understanding -

For Bush, Blair and their diminishing brotherhood of diehard supporters, Saddam's demise is their sole concrete victory in Iraq in almost four years. This should have been the crowning glory of their efforts, but instead it may pose yet another risk to their demoralized troops. For Iraqis, some will see it as a symbol of the death of the ancien regime. For some Sunnis, Saddam's death represents the final nail in the coffin of their fall from power. But Iraqis may also see this as the humiliation of Iraq as a whole, that their president, however odious, was toppled by outside powers, and is executed effectively at others' instigation.
Yeah we kind of stage-managed the thing - from advising the new Iraqi government on how to set up a court system to American legal experts training the judges and all. And we nixed the idea of this going to that international tribunal in The Hague. This was a demonstration to show everyone that the locals could handle this just fine - no need for an international war crimes extravaganza in Western Europe. It was a "look at the wonderful new government acting all grown up" showpiece. Everyone was to be quite impressed. No one was.

Josh Marshall nails it -
Convention dictates that we precede any discussion of this execution with the obligatory nod to Saddam's treachery, bloodthirsty rule and tyranny. But enough of the cowardly chatter. This thing is a sham, of a piece with the whole corrupt, disastrous sham that the war and occupation have been. Bush administration officials are the ones who leak the news about the time of the execution. One key reason we know Saddam's about to be executed is that he's about to be transferred from US to Iraqi custody, which tells you a lot. And, of course, the verdict in his trial gets timed to coincide with the US elections.

This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur - phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us.

Try to dress this up as an Iraqi trial and it doesn't come close to cutting it - the Iraqis only take possession of him for the final act, sort of like the Church always left execution itself to the "secular arm." Try pretending it's a war crimes trial but it's just more of the pretend mumbo-jumbo that makes this out to be World War IX or whatever number it is they're up to now.

The Iraq War has been many things, but for its prime promoters and cheerleaders and now-dwindling body of defenders, the war and all its ideological and literary trappings have always been an exercise in moral-historical dress-up for a crew of folks whose times aren't grand enough to live up to their own self-regard and whose imaginations are great enough to make up the difference. This is just more play-acting.

These jokers are being dragged kicking and screaming to the realization that the whole thing's a mess and that they're going to be remembered for it - defined by it - for decades and centuries. But before we go, we can hang Saddam. Quite a bit of this was about the president's issues with his dad and the hang-ups he had about finishing Saddam off - so before we go, we can hang the guy as some big cosmic "So There!"

Marx might say that this was not tragedy but farce. But I think we need to get way beyond options one and two even to get close to this one - claptrap justice meted out to the former dictator in some puffed-up act of self-justification as the country itself collapses in the hands of the occupying army.

Marty Peretz, with some sort of projection, calls any attempt to rain on this parade "prissy and finicky." [See Peretz in the National Review here.] Myself, I just find it embarrassing. This is what we're reduced to, what the president has reduced us to. This is the best we can do. Hang Saddam Hussein because there's nothing else this president can get right.
Well, something is better than nothing.

And we did try to do it right -
The physical transfer of Saddam from U.S. to Iraqi authorities was believed to be one of the last steps before he was to be hanged.

"We have agreed with the Americans that the handover will take place only a few minutes before he is executed," a senior Iraqi government official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

…"The Americans want him to be hanged respectfully," [Najeeb al-Nueimi, a member of Saddam's legal team] said. If Saddam is humiliated publicly or his corpse ill-treated "that could cause an uprising and the Americans would be blamed," he said.
And to that Ezra Klein adds -
And the last thing we'd want is to be blamed for causing trouble in the Middle East.

The Odd Quote Award goes to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: "Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him, and there will be no review or delay in carrying out the sentence."

Technically, one might argue that a respect for human rights requires only preventing him from perpetrating further human rights abuses, and that executing him is only the most drastic way of doing so. I get what he's saying, obviously, but it's still, well, odd, in a making-fun-of-a-mullet-while-wearing-a-Members-Only-jacket kind of way.

Meanwhile, American television networks are planning "tasteful coverage" of the execution, which has made me realize that the only thing more worrying than everything George Orwell said coming true is when everything George Carlin said starts coming true.
Yep, George Carlin could spin "the Americans want him to be hanged respectfully" into a fine four minutes of whatever it is he does.

But it was a good day for a hanging. We like those - this one made Jesus smile.

And anyway, Fred Hiatt, who writes the editorials for the Washington Post, said the trial that ended in the "hang him high" verdict, while not very impressive, was fair enough -
… his trial was in no sense the model of civilized justice that would have showcased a new, democratic Iraq - in large measure because that new Iraq has yet to materialize. Several defense lawyers were murdered; judges had to be replaced. Political interference was evident. Even this week, the appeals tribunal sent back one life sentence as insufficiently tough, in effect demanding death for one of the co-defendants. Still, there is something unreal about the cries of foul from human rights groups demanding perfect procedural justice from a country struggling with civil war, daily bombings and death-squad killings. The reality is that by the trial's end, there was no significant factual dispute between prosecution and defense: Saddam Hussein acknowledged on national television that he had signed the death warrants after only the most cursory look at the evidence against his victims. That, he testified proudly, "is the right of the head of state." Exactly what would a perfect trial be capable of discovering?
Due process thus is a sham, or a luxury and quite unnecessary. Of course we have due process rules in part because there are things that we might not know without those rules. But this is Saddam Hussein, so they don't matter.

Matthew Yglesias responds -
The Washington Post editorial page is mad at human rights groups for complaining about procedural flaws in Saddam Hussein's trial since, after all, we all know Saddam is guilty. Martin Peretz is upset that death penalty opponents oppose executing Saddam Hussein since, after all, we all know Saddam's a really bad guy.

Do these guys not understand the concept of principles? The point of the belief that all people are entitled to fair trials before receiving criminal sentences is that all people are entitled to fair trials. The point of the belief that capital punishment is immoral (not a belief I share, incidentally) is that it's always immoral. It's not as if Amnesty International is confused and doesn't understand that Saddam isn't a very sympathetic case. Rather, the point is that organizations committed to principles of human rights - fair trials, no executions - need to uphold those principles even when violating them sounds appealing. If they didn't, the groups wouldn't be standing for anything.
Do these guys not understand the concept of principles? That's easy. No.

Even the new German pope gets it - a "top Vatican official condemned the death sentence against Saddam Hussein in a newspaper interview published Thursday, saying capital punishment goes against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church." Cardinal Renato Martino reportedly said in reference to Saddam's pending execution that "no one can give death, not even the State." It's just the principle of the thing.

That's all just western reaction anyway. What about on the ground in Iraq? Try the famous Iraqi blogger Riverbend -
A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted.

… Why make things worse by insisting on Saddam's execution now? Who gains if they hang Saddam? Iran, naturally, but who else? There is a real fear that this execution will be the final blow that will shatter Iraq. Some Sunni and Shi'a tribes have threatened to arm their members against the Americans if Saddam is executed. Iraqis in general are watching closely to see what happens next, and quietly preparing for the worst.

This is because now, Saddam no longer represents himself or his regime. Through the constant insistence of American war propaganda, Saddam is now representative of all Sunni Arabs (never mind most of his government were Shi'a). The Americans, through their speeches and news articles and Iraqi Puppets, have made it very clear that they consider him to personify Sunni Arab resistance to the occupation. Basically, with this execution, what the Americans are saying is "Look - Sunni Arabs - this is your man, we all know this. We're hanging him - he symbolizes you." And make no mistake about it, this trial and verdict and execution are 100% American. Some of the actors were Iraqi enough, but the production, direction and montage was pure Hollywood (though low-budget, if you ask me).

That is, of course, why Talbani doesn't want to sign his death penalty - not because the mob man suddenly grew a conscience, but because he doesn't want to be the one who does the hanging - he won't be able to travel far away enough if he does that.
Does that mean trouble is on the way? Heck, it was on the way no matter what. This just makes things a bit worse. Dick Cheney, speaking in 1992, put it well, asking a simple question in defense of not rolling on into Baghdad at the time and toppling Saddam Hussein - "And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?"

Darn! The question has come up again. But it's too late now. Here we go. We can only hope all sides in conflict note the guy is dead and shrug.

Posted by Alan at 21:56 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 30 December 2006 05:21 PST home

Thursday, 28 December 2006
From Beyond the Grave - No More Mister Nice Guy
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

From Beyond the Grave - No More Mister Nice Guy

Bob Woodward is a wonder - the ultimate insider journalist, keeping secrets, even from his bosses at the Washington Post where he is one of the assistant managing editors. And he knows how to promote himself - holding the identity of his famous Watergate source, Deep Throat, close all those years, creating a minor "guessing" industry that kept his own name out there. And he was the first to know who spilled the beans in the CIA leak case - it was Richard Armitage who spoke to him first, and Woodward knew it all along. And he breaks stories in the Post not when they have news value, but only as his latest book is about to be released. That has, reportedly, irritated the top folks at the Post, but what can you do with the ultimate insider? You really wouldn't fire him. He's the franchise, as they say in the sports world. You don't dump Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle - you just get a new manager.

And the Wednesday after Christmas, Woodward was at it again - being the star. Just a few days after the death of Gerald Ford, in the midst of all the nice things people were saying about the former president, Woodward dropped the bomb. He had interviewed Ford in 2004 and has that on tape, and has notes from the subsequent long one-on-one discussion with Ford that followed the interview - notes for his new book. His write-up of all that is here, and you can listen to the key parts of the interview here.

The bomb, so to speak, is that Ford disagreed with the Iraq War thing entirely - he would have never gone to war but done what the French had suggested, continued inspections, revamped the sanctions and just contained that Saddam guy, as that was working just fine - and Ford thought the "WMD justification" used to make the case for war was just a dumb idea. And even worse was the fall-back "spreading democracy through military action" justification. The guys who worked for him - Cheney and Rumsfeld - had somehow gone off some deep end or other.

Of course the deal was that Woodward had to promise not to release any of this until Ford had died, and you also have to understand Ford never did the retired and wise politician thing, never offering any opinions on much of anything at all. He did the retired Republican nobody-special golfer thing instead. He had walked away from all that political stuff, unlike Nixon and Carter and Clinton. He had nothing to say.

But it seems he did think about things, and Woodward got him to open up -
"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

… "Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people," Ford said, referring to Bush's assertion that the United States has a "duty to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest." He added: "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."
Ah, sensible to the last… but of course that drew the wrath of the defenders of the current president. They had said all these nice things about the now quite dead Gerald Ford, and Ford stabbed them all in the back from beyond the grave. No fair! Just as you should never get involved with a widow - there's no competing with the dead husband who is progressively more of a prince and hunk and the years go by - how do you attack a dead president, especially one who most everyone saw as a sensible nice guy who calmed things down and made things better?

William "Bill" Bennett, the man who says his massive gambling habit is none your business and you have to read his Book of Virtues and shape up yourself, gives it a try -
Since "decency" seems to be the watchword of the day and the consensus modifier for Jerry Ford (a view with which I generally concur), may I nevertheless be permitted to ask this: just how decent, how courageous, is what Jerry Ford did with Bob Woodward? He slams Bush and Cheney to Woodward in 2004, but asks Woodward not to print the interview until he's dead. If he felt so strongly about his words having a derogatory affect, how about telling Woodward not to run the interview until after Bush and Cheney are out of office?

The effect of what Ford did is to protect himself, ensuring he can't be asked by others about his critiques, ensuring that there can be no dialogue. The way Ford does it with Woodward, he doesn't have to defend himself... he simply drops it into Bob Woodward's tape recorder and let's the bomb go off when fully out of range, himself. This is not courage, this is not decent.
So in the end, Ford was just a coward. He wasn't a real man, a manly man.

But here's another view -
I have a problem with an embargo of this type, but I don't think this is an issue of Ford's cowardice. Rather, this simply raises once again the question of Bob Woodward's ethics. While listed in the byline of the piece Bennett describes as a "Washington Post Staff Writer," Woodward is, in fact, an assistant managing editor at the newspaper. If Woodward agreed to keep something from his paper for the purposes of a future book, then what good is he to the Post any longer? Shouldn't the paper use his salary to hire three young go-getters to find the next Watergate scandal and let Woodward write his books full time?
But at Daily Kos you'll find the real issue -
Here's the thing: Bennett's beef is that Ford's embargo means there can now be no "dialogue" regarding his views on the war.

I beg your pardon, but I think that was a problem long before Ford's comments became known. In fact, Ford's comments were embargoed precisely because it was already impossible to have an honest dialogue about opposition to the war in this country before he ever made them.

What does it say about the American political climate when a Republican ex-president - a 90+ year old man, by the way, who hasn't been moving in DC circles for years - feels intimidated in expressing his views on the biggest and most important issue of the day?

Yes, there's a tradition of ex-presidents holding their tongues. And yes, Bennett is astute enough to recognize that the terms of Ford's embargo are very pointedly not aimed at preserving that tradition. But if that wasn't the point of the embargo, then what was it? Clearly if it wasn't just outright fear, it was at least Ford's anticipation - and one that's obviously quite correct given this "administration's" track record - of the headache of harassment and smearing he'd be in for, for daring to express his doubts and opposition.

Besides, when has the lack of genuine dialogue ever stopped Gamblin' Bill (or any of the rest of his gang of bullies) from simply putting words in the mouths of their opposition - living or dead - and then stomping on that strawman?

So please, let's not bemoan the lack of dialogue now that you've beaten even our leading citizens into submission.

Have you no decency?
Some questions just answer themselves, don't they? And sometimes it is better to just play another eighteen holes of golf, rather than have the Swift Boat guys, on instructions from Karl Rove, go after you and your family. Ford wasn't "beaten into submission" as much as he was just being realistic. Who needs that grief? There's more to life than smash-mouth politics. It's too bad that Max Cleland can't play golf, for obvious reasons.

Former arch-conservative John Cole sums it up - "The reason Ford did not speak out is because all of the aforementioned blowhards would have savaged him for not keeping his opinions to himself, as former President's are 'supposed to do.' I think we can all agree that had Ford come out against the war, these same knuckleheads would have called him Jimmy Carter Ford or the like."

The best way to deal with knuckleheads is to ignore them - then get them good when their fighting back just makes them look like whining idiots.

But the knuckleheads were not that concerned with the words of the dead man. Thursday, December 28, the president - the "decider" as his calls himself - met with all sorts of folks down at the Crawford ranch for a "non-decisional" meeting on this "new way forward" in Iraq. "Non-decisional" meetings may be a Texas thing, but the nature of the meeting was given us all in the previous day's press briefing -
In terms of the decision-making process, as we've indicated before, this is a time for the President to be talking with his advisors about all the potential options, making sure that due consideration is given to the next steps, making sure that we're thinking through the new way forward in Iraq, to take into account all of the differing views.
Oh. It's not exactly fiddling while Rome burns. It's just being very, very careful - but isn't that an implicit admission not much of this was done before we invaded Iraq? Are they telling us better late than never? The adage for carpenters and woodworkers is measure twice, cut once - otherwise you mess up and waste your resources. They never heard of that old saying? Everyone has heard that. But then that's not a "bold" way of building anything.

But now we have these "non-decisional" meetings - measuring things that should have been measured four years ago - pretending that we haven't already decided to escalate this war. What other option is there?

Matthew Yglesias puts it nicely -
Roughly speaking, the fixed point of the president's thinking is an unwillingness to admit that the venture has failed. For a long time the best way to do that was to simply deny that there was a problem. Political strategy for the midterms, however, dictated that the president had to acknowledge the public's concerns about the war and concede that things weren't going well. At that point, simply staying the course doesn't work anymore. But de-escalating would be an admission of failure, so the only option is to choose escalation. Thus, the idea of an escalation starts getting pushed and we start reading things in the paper like "Top military officials have said that they are open to sending more U.S. troops to Iraq if there is a specific strategic mission for them." Consider the process here. It's not that the president has some policy initiative in mind whose operational requirements dictate a surge in force levels. Rather, locked in the prison of his own denial he came to the conclusion that he should back an escalation, prompting the current search for a mission.
So we can expect a "new mission" - as if we want to hear a new justification for it all. We're preventing gay marriages in Iraq? Who knows what it will be?

Josh Marshall adds this -
This is also a good example of how paradoxical or even bizarre "answers" often emerge from political problems. No actual policy or strategic imperative is driving the move to escalate the conflict in Iraq. The real causes are political and psychological.

To put it simply, the presidential is neither psychologically nor politically capable of leaving Iraq. The 2006 election made it clear the current course can't be sustained politically. Even his own party won't back it. That leaves escalation as the only alternative. All that's left is a rationale for doing so. And that's what the president is now working on.

That doesn't mean that in theory there couldn't be a good argument for escalation, only that whatever it is, it has nothing to do with why the president is in favor of escalation. Because if it did he would have called for it at some point over the last three years. And he didn't. All that's changed is that option two of three - stasis - was removed from the list of options. End of story.
So that's the big question. Why now? You escalate now because you don't want to look like a loser - better late than never. It's a legacy thing, and a matter of personal pride, or at least a matter of avoiding crushing shame. Others will simply have to die to avoid that. That may trouble the president deeply, actually, but he no doubt sees no other option.

But who really opposes adding fifty to a hundred thousand more troops for two years or more, as the current thinking seems to be running, as half-measures do more harm than good? Well, there's the public, and there's the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and reports the new Defense Secretary Robert Gates has real concerns about the idea. Gates did go to Iraq and find soldiers on the ground who said they'd like reinforcements. That might mean something. On the other hand, the Associated Press kind of called Gates on that and did their own interviews -
Many of the American soldiers trying to quell sectarian killings in Baghdad don't appear to be looking for reinforcements. They say the temporary surge in troop levels some people are calling for is a bad idea.

President Bush is considering increasing the number of troops in Iraq and embedding more U.S. advisers in Iraqi units. White House advisers have indicated Bush will announce his new plan for the war before his State of the Union address Jan. 23.

In dozens of interviews with soldiers of the Army's 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment as they patrolled the streets of eastern Baghdad, many said the Iraqi capital is embroiled in civil warfare between majority Shiite Muslims and Sunni Arabs that no number of American troops can stop.
Spc. Don Roberts told AP, "I don't know what could help at this point. ... What would more guys do? We can't pick sides. It's almost like we have to watch them kill each other, then ask questions."

Sgt. Josh Keim, who is on his second tour in Iraq, said, "Nothing's going to help. It's a religious war, and we're caught in the middle of it. It's hard to be somewhere where there's no mission and we just drive around."

Sgt. Justin Thompson added that a troop surge is "not going to stop the hatred between Shia and Sunni." Thompson, whose four-year contract was involuntarily extended in June, added, "This is a civil war, and we're just making things worse. We're losing. I'm not afraid to say it."

Steve Benen puts this in perspective -
Now, these are comments from one battalion, not a poll with a random sample, so it's difficult to say with any certainty that "the troops are against escalation plans."

That said, two quick points. One, kudos to the AP for going straight to the source and getting so many soldiers' perspective. Two, how, exactly, do supporters of the war dismiss the opinions of the Army's 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, patrolling the streets of Baghdad? Cut-and-runners? Defeatocrats? Surrender monkeys?
Just call them tired. Gates and the Associated Press should leave them be. They've got work to do. There may be no clear mission and they're just driving around, but they do their job. And soon we'll have double the numbers, with no clear mission, just driving around.

And Gerald Ford is on the big golf course in the sky, working out the next wedge shot to the green, a little sad, but finally away from it all.

Posted by Alan at 21:29 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 December 2006 21:41 PST home

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