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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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Monday, 21 November 2005

Topic: God and US

Deep Thoughts: Mondays With Murrow

When one no longer commutes to work but leads the life of an obscure minor writer and professional photographer (actually sold a few) in Hollywood, one doesn't often listen to what made creeping along in Los Angeles morning traffic tolerable - National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." There's no way to listen to that in this old Hollywood apartment building, built in the late sixties - the floors and load-bearing walls are poured concrete with reinforcing bar. Only KUSC, the classical music station, seems to be able to push its FM signal through all that, and the oldies station - but how much of the Beach Boys and the Supremes can one take? I never "got" Diana Ross. So mornings are the cable news shows murmuring in the background, reading the paper, and checking the news services and blogs on the net - and lots of black coffee and smoking the pipe.

But it seems you can miss a lot by not driving off into the sunrise each weekday to face the next systems problem and the crew of eager computer folk, listening to NPR so you don't have to think about servers and code and all that stuff before you get there.

What I missed? On April 4th of this NPR started a new Monday series, "This I Believe," and say this is a national project "that invites you to write about the core beliefs that guide your daily life." (No one asked here.)

NPR airs these "personal statements" each Monday on "Morning Edition" and again on the afternoon commute-show, "All Things Considered." And I see by their promo that series producers Dan Gediman and Jay Allison "hope to create a picture of the American spirit in all its rich complexity." Good luck with that.

But the cool thing is "This I Believe" (current version) is based on a fifties radio program of the same name, hosted by Edward R. Murrow. Murrow said his program sought "to point to the common meeting grounds of beliefs, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization." And who spoke on that program? Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller and Harry Truman - and corporate executives, and cab drivers, and scientists, and secretaries.

Jay Allison today - "As in the 1950s, this is a time when belief is dividing the nation and the world. We are not listening well, not understanding each other - we are simply disagreeing, or worse. Working in broadcast communication, there's a responsibility to change that, to cross borders, to encourage some empathy. That possibility is what inspires me about this series."

And these radio essays are going to bring us together?

Well, we are divided. Edward R. Murrow had Joseph McCarthy and all that that fellow stood for - McCarthy was the "us versus them" guy of his day. We have Bill O'Reilly and his new enemies list of people who are bad for America (and don't like him either). O'Reilly says he'll publish that soon. Americans will KNOW who the bad guys are. Joseph McCarthy shouted out "I have a list!" - Bill's doing the same.

NPR has its work cut out here. We are divided. O'Reilly and the whole Fox News network have mounted a campaign to end the oppression of Christians in this country and save Christmas from the secular overloads. See this for a discussion, or check out the new book by another Fox News anchor - John Gibson's The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought (Sentinel, October 2005). Bill says we need to get back to what the Founder Fathers intended (but ignores that they worked on Christmas Day 1776 and Christmas wasn't a national holiday before 1870).

And then there's that new Harry Potter film -
… no matter how skillfully the story gets told or how selfless, ethical and heroic Harry may be, it's impossible for me to invest myself in a series that glamorizes witchcraft.

… Even those in the "go with it" camp may find their patience tested with Goblet of Fire, the first film to warrant a PG-13 rating. It's extremely grim at times and even features the death of a Hogwarts student. I was amazed at the number of small children seated around me in the theater. At what point will moms and dads who've been saying "yes" to voracious young Potter fans decide that things have gone too far?
Yep witchcraft is a serious problem - always has been.

It's not just the war that divides the country, or social policy (those folks died in New Orleans because they chose to be poor). It's the fundamental stuff, the God stuff, the science stuff, and the sense that there are those who want to understand things and those who have faith and think understanding how things work undermines their chance to meet their savior in the sweet beyond.

It's the big stuff, and this NPR show, independently produced by This I Believe, Inc. in Louisville (that's Gediman and Allison) and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and supported by the Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Righteous Persons Foundation (Santa Monica, of course), may make things worse.

They will make things worse airing this sort of thing - Monday, November 21, 2005, There is No God by Penn Jillette.

You might remember Penn Jillette from his HBO series Bullshit - documentaries on the odd things people believe. It wasn't very nice to Creationists or "life style coaches" and many other folks. But it was funny. He just let them all talk.

Well, his NPR contribution gets right to this point -
I believe that there is no God. I'm beyond Atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy - you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do. You can't prove that there isn't an elephant inside the trunk of my car. You sure? How about now? Maybe he was just hiding before. Check again. Did I mention that my personal heartfelt definition of the word "elephant" includes mystery, order, goodness, love and a spare tire?

So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power. All the people I write e-mails to often are still stuck at this searching stage. The Atheism part is easy.

But, this "This I Believe" thing seems to demand something more personal, some leap of faith that helps one see life's big picture, some rules to live by. So, I'm saying, "This I believe: I believe there is no God."
And it all flows from that -
Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.

Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.
Who said one cannot be ethical without being deeply religious - it's impossible as religion is the sole source of all concepts of write and wrong? Dennis Praeger? Jillette says that's bullshit. In fact, he says the opposite is true.

And then there's this -
Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don't travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith." That's just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something.
Yes, it is hard to agree on reality - just what is what - when you cannot talk, or more precisely, when it is a given that no matter what one party says the other cannot and will not consider anything about it. How did Swift put it? - "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into."

And Jillette then turns the "personal responsibility" mantra of the evangelical Christian right on its head. Not believing in God makes you more responsible and forces you to deal with things. As in this -
Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.
This man is dangerous. He thinks we mere mortals here on earth can fix things - it's not in God's hands.

On the other hand, what he says may be a reply to this NPR segment on "What I Believe" - William F. Buckley, Jr. on May 23, 2005, How Is It Possible to Believe in God?

Buckley doesn't exactly answer the question, but he doesn't answer the question quite elegantly -
I've always liked the exchange featuring the excited young Darwinian at the end of the 19th century. He said grandly to the elderly scholar, "How is it possible to believe in God?" The imperishable answer was, "I find it easier to believe in God than to believe that Hamlet was deduced from the molecular structure of a mutton chop."

That rhetorical bullet has everything - wit and profundity.
You can almost hear Penn Jillette mutter the name of Jillette's old HBO series. Search high and low in everything Darwin wrote and you won't find any reference to Hamlet being the result of some process of natural selection. Darwin does not address why people write really good literature (or bad literature either), nor does he discuss cheeses or glass blowing. The "elderly scholar" just missed the point. But it's good enough for Buckley.

Then there's this -
It has more than once reminded me that skepticism about life and nature is most often expressed by those who take it for granted that belief is an indulgence of the superstitious - indeed their opiate, to quote a historical cosmologist most profoundly dead. Granted, that to look up at the stars comes close to compelling disbelief - how can such a chance arrangement be other than an elaboration - near infinite - of natural impulses? Yes, on the other hand, who is to say that the arrangement of the stars is more easily traceable to nature, than to nature's molder?
Let's unpack that. That "historical cosmologist" (Marx) is dead, so what does he know? Look at all them stars up there! Could be just a natural phenomenon, or could be a big design by God. Assume the latter. Why? Because it feels good to assume the latter? No, just because it's easier.

As in this -
This I believe: that it is intellectually easier to credit a divine intelligence than to submit dumbly to felicitous congeries about nature.
He just doesn't want to "submit" to the other concept - "felicitous congeries" - the idea that you can examine natural phenomena and see how things thing developed - this happened which caused this which cause that and then we got a sky full of stars. Yep, they're pretty, and that is felicitous of course. But empirical science - figuring out what happened from the evidence - here is something he call mere congeries - magic tricks.

I guess we shouldn't have had that Enlightenment.

And maybe I should listen to the radio a bit more.


Penn Jillette (on the left) on display in the offices down at the Goodyear Blimp - he took a ride and left a photo -

Edward R. Murrow on Hollywood Boulevard

Posted by Alan at 18:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005 18:40 PST home

Sunday, 20 November 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Big Story Weekend, or the Sunday Funnies

Sunday, November 20, the newspaper of this odd town out here in the west, the Los Angeles Times, has the scoop of the week, if nothing else at all happens this week – and they ran it on the front page, upper right – dateline Berlin (see photo at end) -

How U.S. Fell Under the Spell of 'Curveball'
The Iraqi informant's German handlers say they had told U.S. officials that his information was 'not proven,' and were shocked when President Bush and Colin L. Powell used it in key prewar speeches.
Bob Drogin and John Goetz, Special to The Times

Ah yes, the Bush administration publicly repeated information from a source known as Curveball despite warnings from his German handlers that the information was unreliable, as in this:
Five senior officials from Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.

According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said.

... "This was not substantial evidence," said a senior German intelligence official. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said."

The German authorities, speaking about the case for the first time, also said that their informant suffered from emotional and mental problems. "He is not a stable, psychologically stable guy," said a BND official who supervised the case. "He is not a completely normal person," agreed a BND analyst.

... The senior BND officer who supervised Curveball's case said he was aghast when he watched Powell misstate Curveball's claims as a justification for war.

"We were shocked," the official said. "Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven... It was not hard intelligence."
There's a ton of detail in the item, but the whole thing is concrete evidence one key justification for the war, and one key section of what Colin Powell presented to the UN, was bogus, and key players were told it was bogus - and they used it anyway. And it worked. People bought it. Curveball was not first in his class at the technical school, he was last, and he didn't have a big job with the evil people making mobile chemical weapons laboratories on big trucks, but was a minor functionary in another area who heard someone might be thinking about that, and he was fired in 1995 anyway for being a flake, and on and on. He was glad-hander and an alcoholic and full of crap. Even Saddam's bad guys found him useless. We didn't.

There's a storm of controversy over this, beside the obvious comments that we used this useful idiot's yarns because they were useful when we knew they were not based in any kind of reality most people acknowledge. The secondary commentary is all the wonderment that the congress cannot get around to "Phase Two" of their investigation of whether or not intelligence was manipulated before the war, but the Times, out here in the land of movies, pneumatic starlets and smog, can get a small team together, talk to all the key people in various foreign intelligence services, do some digging of their own, and come up with this.

What can the administration say? Everyone thought this guy was giving us the truth? The Germans didn't think that. They told us. The CIA knew better. The DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) knew the guy was hopeless and the information just junk.

Well, this really isn't much of story. It'll sink. What else is new? This is no "smoking gun" or "nail in the coffin." It's supporting evidence for the disgruntled whose kids have died or come home limbless with brain damage. The administration will say was an honest mistake made because they were so worried about us all, or if you follow Jonah Goldberg's line of reasoning, a "noble lie" for a greater good - told on purpose, knowing it was a lie, but to achieve something really important. FDR did the same, saying we'd stay out of WWII when he was getting us in. It's the same thing, or so Jonah says.

It doesn't matter now.

Over at the Washington Post, former senator (and Florida governor) Bob Graham, and former Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, explains that, way back when, he was getting information that the intelligence was questionable - "I, too, presumed the president was being truthful - until a series of events undercut that confidence." So he was saying we were being conned, nicely, in debate after debate - and that this call for taking over Iraq would lead to a war that would undercut "the war against al Qaeda." He didn't do so well with that. The Democrats ran Kerry.

So you couldn't get away with that then. You'd appear some sort of unpatriotic tin-foil hat kind of guy. But you can say it now, in a major newspaper (if you're part of the Graham family that owns the newspaper). It's not news.

Over at Rolling Stone, James Bamford here says the same thing happened with an informant named Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri. This guy said he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam's merry madmen secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. But he failed the CIA polygraph test and that sort of thing. He was making it up. We knew it was bull. But what he said was carefully leaked to Judy Miller and the New York Times ran with it. She got her scoop. Hey, you market the product you have, not the product you want.

So? It doesn't matter now.

And the Christian evangelical party that runs the joint now is trying to be a little looser about things. Last week, one of their big thinkers, Charles Krauthammer, here addressed "intelligent design" and told the true believers that science and faith were not incompatible, and maybe this God-did-it stuff might best be left for philosophy classes, or comparative religion or that sort of thing. Newton was a believer, after all - science might be a good thing, and by the way, we could lose some voters if we keep up with this business about the earth being only six thousand years old and the Grand Canyon proof of the Noah flood and all that. The Vatican's astronomer too said last week Darwin was just fine - the Catholic Church had no problem with him at all. The pope hasn't weighed in yet.

Of course, out here a group of students from Christian academies are suing UCLA, actually the whole University of California system. The problem is bias, in particular anti-Christian bias. It's a problem with admissions criteria. The University of California schools won't give them credit for high science courses that say science is wrong - God did it all - so they cannot get in. And they haven't read "ungodly" books so they seem to be a bit short in history and literature. One assumes they're fine in mathematics.

We'll see how that one goes. These are pubic universities, and the argument is such public institutions cannot use a religious test to bar applicants for admission - it's a violation of the first amendment regarding the state not taking sides in religious matters. Interesting.

Anyway, even the president is lightening up. All that talk that anyone who said the pre-war intelligence was in intentionally manipulated would send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will" - it was unpatriotic and close to treason?

Just kidding, as in this -
People should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions about Iraq. I heard somebody say, well, maybe so-and-so is not patriotic because they disagree with my position. I totally reject that thought. This is not an issue of who's patriot [sic] and who's not patriotic. It's an issue of an honest, open debate about the way forward in Iraq.
What happened?

Steve Benen here -
At this risk of sounding ungracious, isn't it a little late in the game for Bush to express tolerance for dissent?

After all, only a week ago it was the president who said criticisms from Democrats "send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will." It was also his White House that issued a formal statement in response to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), comparing him to Michael Moore - for the Bush gang, a serious insult - and suggesting that Murtha's position purports to "surrender to the terrorists." And it was the Vice President who offered similar rhetoric, lashing out at "a few opportunists" he believes are undermining the troops.

Indeed, at a press conference in Korea last week, a reporter told Bush that Dick Cheney called it "reprehensible" for critics to question how the administration took the country to war, while Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said it's patriotic to ask those kinds of questions. Asked who he thinks is right, Bush said, "The Vice President."

But now the president wants everyone to know that we're having an "honest, open debate" and he "totally rejects" calling others' patriotism into question. Looks like he was for demagogic attacks before he was against them.
Well, perhaps he's been told that when just ordinary people, the bystanders watching all this, see him and Uncle Dick, again and again, say anyone asking questions is unpatriotic and aiding and abetting the enemy in time of war, they're getting the idea that something is wrong here - it looks someone you has something to hide. And bystanders vote. And the administration needs the house and senate in their party's hands after the 2006 mid-term elections, or they cannot get things done their way. There's three more years of ruling America at stake. Better play nice. Bush has got his core thirty-four percent. Time to be a good guy for the bystanders, those middle people.

And it's time to be nice on another front. With a close family member serving in Baghdad, I know the default position in that environment of hope and danger, intense idealism and boredom, wanting to be home and wanting to stay and do the job honorably and right, is pro-war and pro-administration. Of course.

But then there's this guy "Stryker," also over there in the thick of things, who on this blog Digital Warfighter says this of Bush and the Republicans -
I have never seen a Party so full of shit when it comes to supporting the military. They fight wars on the cheap and get people killed unnecessarily, instead of fighting with everything we've got under a coherent and cohesive strategy that ensures military victory. They let domestic politics trump military necessity, preferring to lie and shift the blame rather than address the problems and solve them like real men. They care about image rather than substance, empty rhetoric instead of courage, mediocrity instead of excellence, and Machiavellian maneuvering instead of strong moral character. They have demonstrated nothing but contempt for us and for those that have served honorably in the past. They play us for suckers and weep crocodile tears at our deaths as their stock values rise. They are strangers to integrity and completely bereft of the basic values that we hold dear. They are without honor. They can go to hell.

If this is what Republicans mean by 'supporting the troops,' then they can by all means support the insurgents. We'd have a free and democratic Iraq by the end of the year.
The man is pro-war, and he's there. And he's unhappy.

Is his position so far from those who are calling Bush out here?

Even those of the left know war is sometimes necessary, but you do your best to know when it is and when it is not. And you don't trick people into supporting it - you lay it all out, all of it, and discuss it. And if war, then, damn it, you do it right, and you don't screw the people who stand up and do the job for us all.

There's a big and odd middle here who are not happy - folks from left and right who just don't like being kept in the dark, and want some say in what happens and not be told to keep quiet. That was the whole idea back in the 1770's, wasn't it? Remember some folks met in Philadelphia, there was this war with the Brits, we put some basic rules and such on paper and agreed some things were fundamental to how we'd get along?

What happened? It doesn't matter now?



About the Los Angeles Times posting a feature story from Berlin - it's not so odd. On the long trail from the Griffith Park Observatory, high over Hollywood, across the hills to the Hollywood sign, this is just up the hill from the observatory.

Posted by Alan at 21:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 20 November 2005 21:10 PST home

Topic: Making Use of History

This Day in History

Sunday, November 20, 2005, would have been Bobby Kennedy's eightieth birthday, or so I see here - a discussion of who he was and what he was doing, and what it all meant. I remember the sixties.

What stuck me was this excerpt from a speech the younger Kennedy made in Cleveland -
For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions, indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor; this poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies - to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look on our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear - only a common desire to retreat from each other - only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers. Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what program to enact. The question is whether we can find in our midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled nor enriched by hatred or revenge. Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land.
Well, he got shot, but be that as it may, one wonders who in the political realm is saying such things today.

Heck, with the most important leader of the Christian evangelicals, Pat Robertson, last month calling for our government to assassinate the elected leader of Venezuela, we have the State Church, so to speak, arguing disagreement should be met with force. They call themselves soldiers for Christ - some of them bomb abortion clinics and assassinate doctors, to save the "lives" of the yet-to-be-born.

But Robertson was not elected to any office. So he doesn't count.

As for the meeting this difficult world "not with cooperation but with conquest," and seeing others as those "to be subjugated and mastered," those we have elected to office say we are not doing that sort of thing at all. We just occupy Iraq - going on two and a half years now - telling them their oppressor is gone and they should run their place the way we say, because it's the best way to run things - secular and free-market and privatized for the maximum influence of large corporations. Everyone knows that, right? How can they be so dumb? Why are they resisting?

As for how the administration gets its way, well, "when you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family," well, that works. You stay in power.

I posted this on 28 May 2003 - and stand by it -
Do you remember the clear-headed, no-bullshit, let's-be-fair liberals of yesterday? Bobby Kennedy in that last run just laying it all out - hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better? Well, Bobby got shot. Martin Luther King doing the same thing. Well, he got shot a few months earlier than Bobby. Of course, to be fair, George Wallace got shot too. Lots of people got shot.

But the point is that those optimistic "why don't we fix it and make things better" kinds of guys are nowhere to be found these days. What you'll see on Bush campaign stickers in the 2004 election? You know - variations on "Just Do It" or "Money Talks, Bullshit Walks" or "Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, And Hold On" - and of course that quote from Marge Simpson - "We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it." The other side, the Democrats, will have bumper stickers asking if we all can't just get along.

No Democrat will win anything by whining about the smirking frat boy or by fretting about some British essayist hating cheeseburgers and everything American. To win the Democrats would have to field an opponent with a sense of humor, some brains, and a lot of optimism, someone who listens to what is being said, and is willing to say - "Hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better?"

It does not seem like that is going to happen. And if it did, he or she would get shot.
How are things different now?

Well, on the Kennedy birthday you could see Senator Joseph Biden on Fox News, talking about a possible filibuster of the Alito nomination, and Fox anchor Chris Wallace, Mike Wallace's son, wishing Joe a happy birthday. Same day? Same party? Yep. But we're living in diminished times.

Also I see here, oddly enough, that Sunday, November 20, 2005, is the sixtieth anniversary of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) trials staring up in Nürnberg, Germany. There are a few links there to jog your memory, and the comment that, although we helped create the International Military Tribunal, we now don't want anything to do with the International Criminal Court.

All these decades later... the world has changed. So have we.

Posted by Alan at 16:43 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Announcements

Redirection - The Mother Ship Returns

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the magazine-style weekly that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 3, Number 47, for the week of Sunday, November 20, 2005.

What's there? This week, a review of one of the most extraordinary weeks in the last few years, as political discourse starts with discord and ends with shouting and insults. The national conversation turns nasty, here presented in detail, with commentary, in the order it happened. The dam broke. The six items are extended and updated versions of what first appeared on this daily site.

New material?

On the international scene, "Our Man in London," Mick McCahill has news from over there, but really asks for advice on his screenplay, while "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, let us know things are returning to normal, but not really as you will see in the details the wires services stateside just don't cover. Oh yes, there's also this note to London from Paris via Hollywood, with a long, thoughtful comment from Atlanta - a readers' discussion outside the usual borders.

Bob Patterson is back, wondering about his influence in an odd imaginary dialog, and on the book beat again, noting some odd titles you might want to find.

Photography? "Our Eye on Paris," Don Smith, is back with three shots of Paris that are deeply French, while locally those elsewhere get four pages of this beautiful and very odd place, where, for eighty or more years people have tried to find paradise. Sometimes we come close out here, and sometimes we don't.

The quotes this week match the national dialog - some unusual ones on anger and resolution.

Direct links to specific pages -

Current Events ______________________

Parting Shot: Did so! Did Not! Did So! Did Not!
Choose Your Poison: The Array from Tuesday, November 15
Paying Attention: The News is a Target-Rich Environment
Opportunists: Things Coming to a Head
Acrimony: More than a Nasty, Sometimes Personal Debate
Saturdays: Who's Listening?

The International Desk ______________________

Our Man in London: Cheap Shots and Ethical Dilemmas (or The Joke-teller's Responsibility in an Age of War)
Our Man in Paris: All's Quiet, But…
Follow-Up: A Note to London from Paris via Hollywood

Bob Patterson ______________________

WLJ Weekly: No One Died When the Dog Ate My Homework
Book Wrangler: Who Was Canada's Most Famous Outlaw?

Guest Photography ______________________

Our Eye on Paris: Magic Paris

Local Photography ______________________

Danger: Being Careful Out Here
The Season: Christmas on the Way
Botanicals: In Bloom, Los Angeles - Late November 2005
Vistas: Sea, Sky and Long Hills

Quotes for the week of November 20, 2005 - Anger and Resolution

And a small version of one of the photographs you'll find there -

Posted by Alan at 14:54 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 20 November 2005 14:55 PST home

Saturday, 19 November 2005

Topic: For policy wonks...

Saturdays: Who's Listening?

You have to be a real political junkie to listen, each Saturday morning, to the president's weekly radio address, and even more of one to list to the weekly response form whatever Democrat draws the short straw. News radio, out here in Los Angeles, is dead on Saturday. One all news station (KNX) drops the two addresses somewhere in the four-hour call-in food show, between recipes. The headline news station (KFWB) may give a one-sentence summary, and that's a short sentence. The progressive station (KTLK) runs infomercials for miracle cures, and gets to its regular programming later in the day. The many right-wing talk stations prefer their own rants. No one listens. Why either the White House or the opposition bothers at all is a question.

There are a lot of people dying in Iraq - bombs taking out ninety or a hundred Shiite folks Friday, and thirty or forty more Saturday. And Saturday we lost five more of our people. This is not going well. It'd be nice to know what each side says about this, in a concise weekly summary.

Well, someone listens. Apparently, the Saturday address from the president was a compressed version of the speech he gave the day before to our troops in Korea, where he happened to be at the time. The text is here - stay the course, we'll stand down when the Iraqis stand up, we will fight until we win. We will not "cut and run" as suggested by that nice but deluded old congressman from Pennsylvania.

We'll win this.

Josh Marshall here -
The real problem though - and this becomes clear listening to the president, and increasingly from his supporters - is that the president no longer has any coherent idea of what the war he's fighting amounts to or what victory would look like.

He says we'll fight it out to victory or that "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." But it's been a really long time since I've heard any coherent plan for what we're trying to do besides slogans like this.

If we're honest I think what the president is saying is this: We're going to stay in Iraq until the place calms down and we can leave with a sense that we've accomplished something.

Isn't that basically the idea?

We're not going to leave as long as the place is a slaughterhouse and a total mess because leaving then will look like we couldn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish and got run out and thus, in whatever sense, got beat.

I think perceptions of national power and 'credibility' actually mean something. But a sensible fear of losing either was a good reason not to get into this situation in the first place.

And I don't see where, at the moment, we have any real or coherent strategy for calming the place down - either a military strategy or a political one….

So at the moment, there's not even a reasoned fight between staying in and getting out. Getting out is the only coherent strategy or approach on the table. That doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. But it is clear and definable. On the other hand, there is the president, who hasn't put forward any concrete description of what our goals are or any coherent (let alone, a good plan) plan for accomplishing them. Under President Bush's leadership, in Iraq, we've become the national embodiment of the eternal Mr. Micawber, always waiting "for something to turn up."
Armando over at Daily Kos here -
What pretty words from a perfect fool.

First, he believes a Constitution overwhelmingly disapproved by the Sunni, the very group fueling the Iraqi insurgency, is the solution to the political problems in Iraq. If he truly believes this, what more can one say? There can be no hope until there is true sober judgment, not this nonsense offered by Bush.

Second, is he still clinging to this ridiculous idea that the United States is NOT the focus of hatred in the Arab world? Does he believe that he is democratizing the Middle East? Delusion. Sheer delusion. Again, this is simply not the view of a man who has a freaking clue.

… Does Bush even know what is going on? Who can have any confidence in this Administration on Iraq? It becomes virtually impossible to even discuss the relative merits of alternate strategies when the Bush Administration is involved.

This is the worst President and worst Administration in the history of the nation. The situation would be near impossible to manage for the best of Presidents and Administrations. When we are governed by the worst, it is little wonder that folks like John Murtha advocate withdrawal as soon as is practicable.
So these two listened. Maybe it was best to sleep in, then run errands. The divide is deep. Nothing is changing.

Posted by Alan at 17:20 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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