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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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Thursday, 22 January 2004

Topic: Oddities

From the movies...

"That's all any of us are - amateurs. We don't live long enough to be anything else."

- Charlie Chaplin, screenplay for Limelight

DOC HOLLIDAY: What do you want, Wyatt?
WYATT EARP: Just to live a normal life.
DOC: There is no normal life, there's just life.

- Kevin Jarre, screenplay for Tombstone

Posted by Alan at 10:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Election Notes

Howard Dean was invented in Hollywood. He's really Michael Douglas.
Political Perspectives from out here in where I live.

Okay, there?s this Hoberman fellow who is the senior film critic for the Village Voice and author a recent book - The Dream Life: Movies, Media and the Mythology of the Sixties (The New Press, 2003). So finding an opinion piece by him is finding an advertisement, of course. But he says some interesting things.

See The Dream Machine Is Plugged Into Reality
J. Hoberman, The Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2004
[ extensive registration required for access ]

Here?s his thesis:
In the U.S., moviegoing has ceased to be a national habit for just about everyone but teenagers and film professionals. Still, the movies themselves remain a privileged instrument in the orchestra of American mass culture. They can function as social metaphors, showcase utopian possibilities and provide socially cohesive cocktail-party chatter. A nation expresses ? and defines ? itself as the audience for a particular motion picture at a particular time, and it can be analyzed accordingly.

Weimar-era film critic Siegfried Kracauer, best known as the author of From Caligari to Hitler, was the first to theorize that movies are zeitgeist made material. The fantasies or anxieties they articulate, he wrote, are evidence of a "collective mentality." His reasoning: Motion pictures are collaboratively made for a mass audience. Today, we might add that moviemakers also seek popular consensus; their business is producing fantasies that attract the largest possible audience.

The process, as Kracauer's book title makes clear, has inevitable political ramifications. Movies not only create (or implant) collective memories and realize group fantasies, they articulate a national narrative and can sometimes project a leading man.
Well, this is possible, I suppose. By where does it lead?

Hoberman claims that there are movies whose back stories as well as their plots reflect the political world: John Wayne's "The Alamo" and Kirk Douglas' "Spartacus," two Cold War allegories released in time for the 1960 election, are his examples. The first was "Wayne's long-germinating crusade to warn Americans of the Soviet military threat." Really? The second, "conceptualized primarily by blacklisted lefties, cast rebellious gladiators in terms of heroic entertainers and their revolution in terms of the aspirations of oppressed peoples everywhere." Hoberman then invokes Jean-Luc Godard saying something like the history of film is identical to the film of history.

Do you buy that?

But wait! There's more!

Hoberman claims such movies are, in effect, "produced by their audience, and they tend to be handy symbols of political and cultural polarization." He cites a fact, if it is a fact, that the first President Bush praised Reagan for transforming the U.S. into a nation that preferred "Dirty Harry" to "Easy Rider" - even though both movies appeared during Nixon's first term. And he says that ever since Nixon endorsed "Patton," politicians have sought to be identified with popular scenarios.

It's shorthand, see?

Of course Dennis Kucinich tries to associate his campaign with the recent "Seabiscuit" movie. Since that film kind of disappeared ? no legs (bad pun) ? Dennis has a problem.

Hoberman asserts that Bob Dole's presidential campaign "as the last World War II hero" would only have been helped if "Saving Private Ryan" had been released a year earlier. Maybe.

And Hoberman claims that neither "Black Hawk Down" nor "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" would have had nearly the same emotional impact or meaning had they not been released after September 11, 2002. I can see that. I'm not sure I believe it.

But when Hoberman claims "Thelma and Louise" took on additional resonance for appearing in the aftermath of Desert Storm, "when the angst-inducing issue of women combatants was still a subject of national debate" - well, no. No connection. Bullshit.

But try this.

"The American President" - a 1995 movie designed to showcase the man in the Oval Office as a sexy, heroic single dad (Michael Douglas), might have contributed to the mental state of an impressionable intern named Monica Lewinsky, or even the president himself.

Yep, and seeing Robert Redford in "All the President?s Men" made me write this very sentence. Or influenced me to write that last sentence. Subconsciously. It's the zeitgeist, dummy!

Lewinsky and Clinton. Did the Michael Douglas movie "articulate their fantasies ? and ours?"

That's a long shot.

But this fellow is right. "The American President" made the ongoing alternative reality known as "The West Wing" possible.

Hoberman then makes the big leap. The television show "The West Wing" - along with the Internet - called the feisty, liberal New England-based political character "Howard Dean" into existence.

Oh my.

And I did see a clip from Iowa last week ? Martin Sheen, who stars as the feisty, liberal hero-president on the television show "The West Wing" was standing with Howard Dean, endorsing him.

Hoberman may be onto something.

Of course, also standing next to Dean, endorsing him, was Rob Reiner. I believe a long time ago he played the character named "Meathead" on the television show "All in the Family." But then the television show "All in the Family" was created and produced by Norman Lear, founder and leader of the left-liberal political lobby group, People for the American Way.

It's all coming together for me now. Or not.

Posted by Alan at 09:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 21 January 2004

Topic: World View

Recommended Reading

This will not make you happy. It is a bit long, but good.

See Another Embittered Rant from a Former Soldier
State of the Union, MLK and 30mm DU
Stan Goff, Counterpunch, January 20, 2003

The core:
I invite readers to click onto this link where...

Enjoy this video, like good pornography. That's what it is... a snuff film. Now we can all have a titillating glimpse of the rarified world of systematic slaughter that some of us carry around in our heads, waiting to crawl out into our dreams.

Don't bother with outrage, because I'm told you will be ignored. No one cares. The news media won't cover it. Congress won't demand an investigation. People will make excuses for it. It is a total violation of the Law of Warfare and the Geneva Conventions, but America doesn't recognize international law any more, so fuck it, right?

Hell, Rusty Calley is healthy and happy selling cars in Georgia, I hear. He and his crew killed almost 400 unarmed civilians in My Lai.

This is our age. You can get away with anything, even filming murder. Last month, a video was released showing a Marine being cheered on by his comrades as he killed a wounded Iraqi. No outrage then either. No investigations. No nothin'.

So you might as well sit back and enjoy it.
I doubt you will.

And there?s this:
'Suffer the French schoolchildren: The hatred Bush hath wrought'
Ted Rall, Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Ted and three other political cartoonists visit a few schoolchildren in Carquefou, France.

It ends thus:
Children get their politics from their parents and teachers, who form their impressions from the media. The European media has covered a different war than the one you've seen on CNN and Fox News. A 14-year-old Iraqi boy, shot by U.S. troops in Baghdad, was interviewed for five minutes on the evening news. "They did it on purpose," he said. "They were laughing." The bloody corpses of Iraqi civilians are standard TV fare here. The Bush Administration is routinely portrayed as greedy, stupid and mean.

Americans can find the truth about our nasty, unwinnable oil war, but they have to dig a little deeper. "The United States is using excessive power," Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar, a moderate, pro-American member of the Iraqi Governing Council, told The New York Times Magazine on January 11. "They round up people in a very humiliating way, by putting bags over their faces in front of their families. In our society, this is like rape. The Americans are using collective punishment by jailing relatives. What is the difference from Saddam? They are demolishing houses [of insurgents' family members] now. They say they want to teach a lesson to the people. But when Timothy McVeigh was convicted in the bombing in Oklahoma City, was his family's home destroyed?"

It's striking that al-Yawar knows McVeigh's name. How many Americans can identify any Iraqi other than Saddam Hussein? Most foreigners know more about us than we know about them. Hell, they know more about what we're doing in Iraq than we do ourselves.

Of course, many of us don't give a damn whether French schoolchildren or anyone else think Bush's United States is a land of butchers and thugs. Whether or not we care, however, it matters.
The counterargument is clear. No it doesn?t. We need to be safe and secure no matter what others think.

Or try this:
Anti-Americanism: It isn't just a Middle Eastern thing
Sherri Muzher, Ramallah Online, Wednesday, January 21, 2004

A bit into it you find this:
Take my British friend Charlie. Like so many around the world, he still seethes about events most Americans probably think of as old news - if they think about them at all.

"I cringe when I see America cry to denounce terrorism when just 10 years ago the Americans were welcoming (the Irish Republican Army's) Jerry Adams and Martin McGuiness into their country like homecoming heroes," Charlie wrote me. "I have mourned the death of three male colleagues who died at the hands of the IRA during the early 80s. Why the hell should I want to support the U.S. on terrorism .... Why didn't the U.S. support the UK on her fight to beat terrorism?"
Yeah, well, there are a lot of Irish folks here, particularly in the Boston area.

This item is full of such details. But who cares?
On the one year-anniversary of 9/11, banners at so many public events read "We will not forget." Americans must keep in mind that others, while sympathetic to us, are not forgetting their own horrors, either.
Well, what's wrong with them?

Posted by Alan at 13:52 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Bush

On the right, some dissatisfaction with Bush.
Very odd.
"His insouciance is alarming."

Of all the writers who defend Bush the most curious is Andrew Sullivan, who has been behind Bush all the way ? even if Sullivan is a gay Catholic fellow. He?s hardly ever wavered, and now he seems to have hit a wall. It was that speech.

See Back Words
Andrew Sullivan, The National Review, Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The whole piece on last night?s State of the Union address is interesting, and ends with this:
What especially amazed me was the lack of any recognition that job growth is lagging economic growth. There was no statement of concern for those still struggling in the economy, no rhetoric of empathy. That surprised me. It leaves a huge opening to the Democrats, who will argue that the president is out of touch. Indeed, John Kerry immediately made that criticism in New Hampshire. Doesn't 43 remember 41? It's extraordinary he didn't make even a token statement of empathy with those whom the recovery has yet to carry along.

On the deficit, Bush proposed no real change. A continuation of the tax cuts, the creation of personal savings accounts within Social Security (with no attempt to explain how this will be paid for), and a vague pledge to restrain the increase in domestic discretionary spending to 4 percent over the next year. If you're a fiscal conservative, that's hardly reassuring. It suggests a president who believes the country faces no fiscal problems at all right now--or at least none that can't be solved by more tax cuts and more spending increases. His insouciance is alarming.

But, more profound, the president revealed his deep suspicion of human freedom. Yes, he says he supports it. But in every instance--even charitable and religious institutions--he believes that government needs to get involved. He wants to maintain the Patriot Act intact; he wants to extend the war on drugs to steroids; he wants to prevent gay couples from having the ability to form their own families and be treated equally under the law. He suggests not a single government program to be cut.

On social issues, he shifted to the hard right: abstinence programs rather than contraception; an assault on gay couples and families; and millions of dollars in order to subject children to mandatory drug testing in schools. This is not Reaganism. It isn't Gingrichism. It's Big Government Moral Conservatism: fiscally liberal and socially conservative. It will please the hard right and the base. And it will alienate libertarians and moderates.

It struck me as a speech that comes out of a political cocoon, from a president who doesn't grasp that he is in fact politically vulnerable, and who intends to run not on what he plans for the future but on what he has done in the past. That's a high-risk strategy. We won't know how high a risk until the Democrats produce a nominee.
Well, I?m not sure that extending the war on drugs to steroids sits very well with Bush?s new best buddy, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bad move. And the quarterback of the Patriots, on his way to the Super Bowl, was in the audience. What was Bush thinking?

And here?s Sullivan on his website:
I was also struck by how hard right the president was on social policy. $23 million for drug-testing children in schools? A tirade against steroids? (I'm sure Tom Brady was thrilled by that camera shot.) More public money for religious groups? Abstinence only for prevention of STDs? Whatever else this president is, he is no believer in individuals' running their own lives without government regulation, control or aid. If you're a fiscal conservative or a social liberal, this was a speech that succeeded in making you take a second look at the Democrats. I sure am.

It?s tough being a gay Republican Bush supporter.

And Bush did say this: ?Our Nation must defend the sanctity of marriage. The outcome of this debate is important - and so is the way we conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight.?

If gay people have dignity and value in God's sight, why are we unmentionable? Why are we talked about as if we are some kind of untouchable? Why in three years has this president not even been able to say the word 'gay' or 'homosexual'? The reason: because Bush will not confront bigotry outright. He wants to benefit from it while finding a formula to distance himself from it. That's not a moral stand. It's moral avoidance. Still, the good and important news is that the president hasn't endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment. The Family Research Council is mad as hell.
I'd say this Sullivan fellow is conflicted.

Posted by Alan at 11:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Bush

Bush last night. What he said. Reaction. And stuff found elsewhere?

So I watched the State of The Union Speech last night. It was the expected defense of the war on terror, saying the United States would "never seek a permission slip" to defend itself. Yep, preemptive, preventative war is our duty now. Anywhere, at anytime. Heck, after all the terrorists "declared war on the United States - and war is what they got.? And of course, the threat of another September 11-style attack has not gone away.

And by the way, we did the wimpy UN?s work, because, after all, we "enforced the demands of the United Nations, ended the rule of Saddam Hussein - and the people of Iraq are free." Man, those UN guys are useless fools - although they may be of help in the coming months if we have to set up actual elections in Iraq to form a government there ? so we can haul ass out of that sorry sand trap before the Republican Convention in Hew York City in September. (Those uppity Iraq folks don?t seem to like our inspired idea of the new government being established by local committees made up of people WE choose to be on those committees. Ingratitude!)

And if you think things are going badly in Iraq? Wrong. We?re just mopping up a bit - "Having broken the Ba?athist regime, we face a remnant of violent Saddam supporters. Men who ran away from our troops in battle are now dispersed and attack from the shadows. These killers, joined by foreign terrorists, are a serious continuing danger. Yet we are making progress against them. The once all-powerful ruler of Iraq was found in a hole, and now sits in a prison cell."

Yes he does. Fine.

And we had to have this war because of those nasty weapons of mass destruction. Bush has the real facts: "Already, the Kay report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations."

No real weapons, nor real programs - just ?activities? - but close enough. I guess. Why not?

Here?s a curious item that explains why not.

Threat Of Terrorism
Charley Reese, January 19, 2004

You know, I'm sure, that the Bush administration has greatly exaggerated the threat of terrorism. Those who employ the tactic of terrorism do so because they are weak. They have no army. They have no great popular following.

Osama bin Laden was a crank living in the mountains of Afghanistan with only a small following in the Islamic world ? until George W. Bush elevated him to world celebrity status.

It's true that bin Laden knocked down the World Trade Center towers and struck the Pentagon ? or at least we're pretty sure he was behind those attacks. He was able to do that because his 19 people were lucky and because our immigration screening, our intelligence, the FBI and the airport security system were all sloppy.

To the extent that these attacks roused the federal government from its previous apathy and sloppiness, he did us a favor, though at the terrible cost of about 3,000 lives. But that attack was not justification for a "war on terrorism." A war on bin Laden, yes; a war on terrorism in general, no.

In the first place, there aren't that many terrorists in the world. You can check with the State Department's annual report on terrorism if you doubt me. In the second place, most of the world's terrorists are local guys with local beefs against local folks. All the time the Irish terrorists were bombing and shooting the British, Great Britain never felt the necessity of declaring a worldwide war on terrorism. It went after the Irish terrorists.

When bombs were going off in Paris some years ago, the French didn't say everyone must fight terrorism. They went after the guys who were planting the bombs.
Yeah, but everyone knows the French are wimps. And maybe the Brits are too. Too damned timid to do the real job ? go after terrorists everywhere, on any issue? Maybe so.

Then this:
Our problem is with bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization. We should have concentrated on that instead of declaring a global jihad against terrorists everywhere in the world.

The problem with doing this is that it commits us to an unending war. It is a war in which there is no way to define victory. When you go to war against a country, when you occupy it and its government surrenders or collapses, you know you won the war. But terrorists don't have a country. They don't have a government. They don't have an infrastructure.

Terrorists, in fact, operate like criminal gangs. You kill some of their "soldiers," and they recruit more. You kill a gang leader, and another guy takes his place. Israelis, who are far more ruthless than we are, have been killing terrorists for more than 50 years. Have they solved their terrorism problem? No.
But wait! Isn?t Ariel Sharon a ?man of peace? (Bush) and Israel safe now, or will be safe when the finish the big wall to keep the evildoers out?

And as it seems Bush ?commits us to an unending war? then at least we have something to do. And folks will gladly join us.


"Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible - and no one can now doubt the word of America."

Of course. Well, we did find the ?activities.? Just like we said. Sort of.

And then there is this from an editorial in The Baltimore Sun
Mr. Bush boasted that he had made the world a safer place, cautioned that danger still lay in wait, and called on Americans to stay the course.

Maybe, instead, the president should level with the American people.

If it's not clear what, exactly, this war was about, how can anyone know when its goals have been achieved? Clearly, there is good reason for the United States to remain engaged in Iraq, now that the country is so much in danger of disintegration. But with what means? And toward what end?

Iraq is in a mess right now, with ethnic groups warily vying for power, thousands of people demonstrating against American policy, and attacks on U.S. soldiers continuing all the while. Washington has asked the United Nations for help in fixing Iraq, though no one listening to Mr. Bush last night would have guessed that.

The Army is stretched to the breaking point, but Mr. Bush talked about fighting terror by spreading democracy from Iraq throughout the Middle East. How many troops will that take? How much conflict lies ahead? And isn't it strange to wage war against terror by attacking a country that had no links to America's terrorist foes?

"The word of America." Mr. Bush put the credibility of his nation on the line; the price of deceit, if deceit there is, will be enormous.
People can be so negative.

Folks like us. They always will.

Posted by Alan at 10:25 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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