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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 17 June 2006
Sports: Harmless Theory
Topic: Oddities

Sports: Harmless Theory

Let's go to the odd sources. Saturday, June 17, 2006, the National Post up in Canada reprints an item from The New Republic the previous day, which in turn was adapted from an item in the anthology The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup. This is Franklin Foer asking the question that has probably occurred to more than a few people after seventeen World Cup football (soccer) extravaganzas, one every four years - what kind of governments produce winning soccer teams? Freedom and football victory? Juntas produced winners? Let's see.

The Czechs this time just embarrassed the United States in the opening round, and then they managed to lose 0-2 to Angola, a major upset. The heartened Americans then went out to face the Italian team - maybe it wasn't all over - and managed a 1-1 tie, with two players ejected and what would have been the winning goal disallowed. What does this mean about the governments? Who knows?

From Kafka through "The Good Solider Svejk" to the deeply ironic Havel Václav Havel (good friends with Frank Zappa) to the recent vote for the "greatest Czech of All Time" - the whole fictitious and absurd Jára Cimrman - the Czechs have looked upon the whole idea of government itself with some skepticism. It's not football. It's sillier. Who knows how things are run in Angola, other than badly? And how many governments has Italy had since WWII, with the most recent being that of the clownish Silvio Berlusconi?

Still, Franklin Foer wants to make a connection, as he explains here -
There have been revolutions to create socialism, democracy, and authoritarian dictatorship. But humankind has yet to fight a revolution to guarantee one of the most vital elements - if not the most vital element - of the good life. That is, a winning soccer team. If we were to take up arms for this reason, what kind of government would we want to install?

Political theory, for all its talk about equality and virtue, has strangely evaded this question.
Probably for good reason.

But here's the rundown, and it starts with communism -
Communism, despite its gulags and show trials, produced great players and rock-solid teams. The Hungarian squad of the early '50s has gone down in history as one of the best to never win a championship. A few decades later, in 1982, the Poles finished third in the tournament, drawing with Paolo Rossi's Italy and beating Michel Platini's France en route. These triumphs are reflected in the overall record. In World Cup matches against non-communist countries, the red hordes bested their capitalist foes more often than not - by my count, 46 wins, 32 draws, 40 losses.

But the fact remains that a communist country has never won the World Cup. After watching the communists perform efficiently in preliminary rounds of the tournament, you could usually count on them to collapse in the quarterfinals.
Yep, just like the whole system itself - sounds good, and doesn't work.

Foer implies the problem really was embedded in the political nature of the communist system - they weren't like us, the risk talking entrepreneurial loose and happy risk-takers of American capitalism, or something like that -
Valeri Lobanovsky, the great Soviet and Ukrainian coach of the 1970s and '80s, believed that science could provide underlying truths about the game. He would send technicians to games to evaluate players based on the number of "actions" - tackles, passes, shots - that they performed. These evaluations perversely favored frenetic tackling over the creative construction of an attack. Lobanovsky's method captures the pernicious way in which the rigidity of Marxism permeated the mentality of the Eastern bloc. Such rigidity might produce a great runner or gymnast, but it doesn't produce champions in a sport that requires regular flashes of individuality and risk-taking.
Yeah, right. The interesting thing is these guys lost the big ones because they trusted "science." One thinks of George Bush.

And what of fascism? There's evidence their teams are crap too -
Fascist governments can masterfully manufacture a sense of national purpose and, more than that, national superiority. This ethos, while not so appealing from the perspective of those who worry about individual rights, cultivates the perfect climate for a World Cup. Not only can it produce a healthy confidence, but it can also generate a powerful fear of losing. Who wants to disappoint a nation swept up in this kind of fervor? Or, more to the point, who wants to disappoint a leader who might break your legs and imprison your grandmother? What's more, fascist governments subscribe to a cult of fitness and hygiene that leads them to siphon considerable national resources into sports programs.

The fascist record speaks for itself. During the '30s, Il Duce's Italy claimed two trophies; Germany took third in 1934, as did Brazil in 1938. Overall, fascism compiled a record of 14-3-3 in that decade.
Okay, and since then Francisco Franco's Spain and Juan Peron's Argentina got nowhere. And Antonio de Oliveira Salazar's Portugal appeared in only one tournament in the thrity-six years he ruled there. Jingoism and personal fear only go so far, or not very far at all. Someone tell Karl Rove. Bad for soccer, bad for the country. It's a losing strategy. Hyper-patriotism mixed with telling everyone they should be very, very afraid is only good for winning elections. What happens after you win matters too.

And then there is this odd "fact" -
No country has ever won a World Cup while committing genocide or gearing up to commit genocide. Germany and Yugoslavia both faltered on the eve of their mass murders. In 1938, Germany didn't win a single game. The greatest Yugoslavian team of all time lost in the quarterfinals of the 1990 tournament. Apparently, lusting after the blood of Jews and Muslims distracts vital energy from the more pressing task of scoring.
Yeah that can be distraction, or it's a coincidence here.

But old-fashioned military juntas do win -
The Brazilian and Argentine juntas presided over the most glorious victories in the tournament's history in the '70s and early '80s. It makes sense that juntas would excel at this. They are collective efforts, where even the strongmen are part of a broader apparatus. A good soccer team is, in a sense, a junta.
It is? But then they've won three of the seventeen times.

But the good conservative Foer says nothing beats good old cut-throat western competative capitalism for turning out real winners, where everyone talks about teamwork but no one believes in it -
... even the worst social democratic teams - Belgium, Finland - win more consistently than their authoritarian peers. To understand this success, one must understand the essence of the social democratic economy. Social democracies take root in heavily industrialized societies, and this is a great blessing.

No country has won the World Cup without having a substantial industrial base. This base supplies a vast urban proletariat, which in turn supplies players for a team. Industrial economies also produce great wealth, which funds competitive domestic leagues that improve social democratic players by subjecting them to day-to-day competition of the highest quality. And, while the junta mindset nicely transposes itself to the pitch, the social democratic ethos is a far neater match. Social democracy celebrates individualism, while relentlessly patting itself on the back for its sense of solidarity - a coherent team with room for stars.
So that's six of the World Cups for the world of individualism and cull-out-the-losers competition - over cooperation, forced or not, and over or the "science" of the sport.

Foer contends "the outcome of each match in the World Cup can be forecast by analyzing the political and economic conditions of the countries represented on the pitch." Just what we need, another sort of neoconservative theory of how the world really works.

You'd think, after Iraq, they'd learn. But maybe there is a correlation, and maybe the Iraq war was a fine idea. At least this theory is harmless.

Posted by Alan at 17:30 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 17 June 2006 17:59 PDT home

Saturday, 8 October 2005

Topic: Oddities

Language Notes: Words That Cannot Be Translated

A bit back, on 26 September 2005 to be precise, John Walsh in The Independent (UK), reviewed a new book, The Meaning of Tingo, by one Adam Jacot de Boinod, published by Penguin Press. You can order it here - it's £10 - or you can order it from Independent Books Direct at a special price of £9 (with free shipping and handling) if you ring them up on 08700 798 897 - but Penguin Press doesn't seem to account for those of us on this side of the pond. One suspects they don't ship to Hollywood. Georgina Pattinson also reviewed the book in BBC Magazine the same day. The Walsh review is here and the Pattinson review here, and know that de Boinod's title is significant as "tingo" is an word from the Pascuense language of Easter Island meaning "to borrow objects from a friend's house, one by one, until there's nothing left."

What follows is a bit of that. And note that Walsh predicts this will be this year's Eats, Shoots & Leaves - a wildly popular book on grammar and punctuation (really) that has been discussed in these pages by our readers - see April 25, 2004, The Grammatical Panda

Pattinson opens noting that English is a rich and innovative language but says, "You can't help feeling we're missing out." Maybe so, and she notes the English language has borrowed words for centuries, with khaki and croissant her cases in point. Of course, and a good reference is The Growth and Structure of the English Language (1905) by Otto Jesperson, one of the few books still here, in Hollywood, from the old days back in graduate school. If you're at all interested in how language changes, this is good stuff, with curious political implications. What happens when one nation conquers another? Who uses what words? Jesperson covers such things in his notes on how the language changed after the Norman Conquest - 1066 and all that. William of Normandy - French dude - crosses the channel and runs the joint. When the beast is in the field it retains its Anglo-Saxon name - it's a cow - but when it reaches the table, all cooked up, the word used for it then is French in origin - beef. Most curious.

In any event, English is filled with words borrowed from the days of empire, when the sun never set on it all, and useful words were sucked into English, like ketchup, from Tagalog.

Adam Jacot de Boinod is interested in what hasn't yet been sucked into English. Walsh asks many questions: why does German have a word for 'a person who leaves without paying the bill' (Zechpreller) or that Albanians need twenty-seven words for moustache? He suggests that while learning a foreign language is, of course, the surest and fastest track to becoming familiar with another culture, the words themselves offer hundreds of revealing clues to the preoccupations of that culture. Who knows why Albanians are fascinated with moustaches?

Georgina Pattinson (BBC) notes this on those Albanians and the facial hair thing: "Madh means a bushy moustache, posht is a moustache hanging down at the ends and fshes is a long broom-like moustache with bristly hairs. Vetullkalem describes pencil-thin eyebrows, vetullperpjekur are joined together eyebrows and those arched like the crescent moon are vetullhen."


What the author says? "What I'm really trying to do is celebrate the joy of foreign words (in a totally unjudgmental way) and say that while English is a great language, one shouldn't be surprised there are many others having, as they do, words with no English equivalent," he says.

Okay, the guy plowed through 280 dictionaries and surfed 140 websites, and what did he find?

Hawaiians have 108 words for sweet potato, 65 for fishing nets, and 47 for banana.

And "Kummerspeck" is a German word that literally means "grief bacon" - used to describe the excess weight gained from emotion-related overeating - while a "Putzfimmel" is a mania for cleaning, and "Drachenfutter" (literally "dragon fodder") are the peace offerings made by guilty husbands to their wives - and, get this, "Backpfeifengesicht" - a face that cries out for a fist in it. That's SO German. On the other hand, the Dutch have "uitwaaien" - a word for walking in windy weather just for the fun of it. No wonder they didn't do so well in the two world wars. And in the Netherlands you have "plimpplampplettere" ? a word for skipping stones on water when you need to relax. These are not serious people.

The Walsh item is the more extensive of the two, and since the book is not yet available stateside, it is the best resource, and contains a long excerpt.

Some of us might be fond of the German term "Torschlusspanik" - "the fear of diminishing opportunities as one gets older."

Less useful is the Persian word "nakhur" - "a camel that won't give milk until her nostrils have been tickled" - but that might pass into English somehow. "You know, Jane, sometimes you're a real nukhur." It just sounds like a good insult.

Go read the Walsh item. Some of the better words-that-cannot-easily-be-translated:


PANA PO'O Hawaiian - To scratch your head in order to help you to remember something you've forgotten.
NGAOBERA Pascuense, Easter Island - A slight inflammation of the throat caused by screaming too much.
KARELU Tulu Indian - The mark left on the skin by wearing anything tight.


MAHJ Persian - Looking beautiful after having a disease.
BAKKU-SHAN Japanese - A girl who looks as though she might be pretty when seen from behind, but isn't when seen from the front.
ALGHUNJAR Persian - Feigned anger of a mistress.


KOSHATNIK Russian - A dealer in stolen cats.
BUZ-BAZ Ancient Persian - A showman who makes a goat and monkey dance together.
CAPOCLAQUE Italian - Someone who co-ordinates a group of clappers.
QIANG JINGTOU Chinese - The fight by a cameraman to get a better vantage point.
GRILAGEM Brazilian Portuguese - The practice of putting a live cricket into a box of newly faked documents, until the insect's excrement makes the paper look convincingly old.


LATAH Indonesian - Uncontrollable habit of saying embarrassing things.
YUYURUNGUL Yindiny, Australia - The noise of a snake sliding through grass.
DESUS Indonesia - The quiet, smooth sound of somebody farting but not very loudly.
FAAMITI Samoan - To make a squeaking noise by sucking air past the lips in order to gain the attention of a dog or a child.
YUYIN Chinese - The remnants of sound that stay in the ears of the hearer.

Ah, Umberto Eco says problem with translation is the conflict "between the purely theoretical argument that, since languages are differently structured, translation is impossible, and the commonsensical acknowledgement that people, after all, do translate and understand each other." (See his book Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation, reviewed in these pages here, November 16, 2003.)

Things can be translated, sometime you just have to use a lot of words when the original language is a bit more concise.

Posted by Alan at 14:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 8 October 2005 14:58 PDT home

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Topic: Oddities

Trends: Making a list and checking it twice…

As noted in the August 7 issue of Just Above Sunset - Jára Cimrman Finally Gets His Due? - in these pages we have covered the BBC and French polls and found the greatest Brit of all time was Winston Churchill, followed closely by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, then by Diana, Princess of Wales. The greatest Frenchman? Charles De Gaulle was first, of course, followed by Louis Pasteur, then Abbé Pierre, then Marie Curie. Canada chose Tommy Douglas, the former Saskatchewan premier, the man credited with being the founding father of Canada's health-care system, as the greatest Canadian of all time. In this summer's AOL poll, done along with a series of shows on the Discovery Channel, we voted Ronald Reagan the greatest American of all time. The idea failed in South Africa, where apartheid-era leaders cracked the top one hundred of the polling and the show was cancelled. In the Netherlands the contest got everyone grumbling about the citizenship of Anne Frank, who spoke and wrote in Dutch, but who officially was German. That got everyone all messed up. The August subject was the Czech poll, and how those folks just don't take anything seriously. Jára Cimrman wasn't even a real person.

But the Brits really started something. People are noticing the Brits are an odd lot.

That came up this week here:

Entr'acte: Best this, worst that - Britain loves its surveys
Alan Riding - International Herald Tribune - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Riding asks the key questions. "Can culture be taught by numbers? Is it enough to know the namedroppable Top Ten of universal culture? And to this end, is it useful to rank a nation's most popular movies, paintings, books? Or does it merely underline the gap between popular and high culture?"

He likes the last answer, although he floats some thoughts about Britain being a nation of gamblers, and just enjoying "the chase, the countdown, the winner." Or they love defining things. Or they're hung up on their identity or some such thing.

It's a good read. Recommended.

What you'll learn?

Britain's favorite hymn is William Blake's "Jerusalem," with its evocation of "England's green and pleasant land." Some us realize Tony Richardson was playing on that in his 1962 film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner - Tom Courteney and the other inmates of the reform school assembling gas masks in the school factory as that played in the background.

BBC Radio 4's "Today" program with the National Gallery worked out the "greatest painting" in Britain. Turner's "Fighting Temeraire." See it here. The runner-up was Constable's "Hay Wain." See that one here - and I do recall a copy on the wall in the farmhouse up in Hilton, New York. Not British but in British museums were numbers three and four: Manet's "Bar at the Folies-Bergère" and Jan van Eyck's "Arnolfini Portrait" (here and here). All safe choices.

Riding does mention that The Guardian offered an alternative: It invited ten experts to name the painting they most loathed.
William Blake, George Stubbs, John Everett Millais and Stanley Spencer were among targeted artists. Timothy Clifford, director general of the National Galleries of Scotland, named Adolphe-Joseph Monticelli's "Garden Fête," adding that he refuses to hang nine donated examples of Monticelli's "screamingly awful art."
See them all here at The Guardian site, and click on number four for Adolphe-Joseph Monticelli's "Garden Fête." It's rather awful.

Other matters? Britain's favorite novel - J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," with Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" second – with twenty-three percent of the vote for the first, and eighteen percent for the second. Random House's Vintage imprint invited forty-eight reader groups around Britain to name 20th-century "classics." Their choice was contemporary - Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan way ahead of Thomas Mann and Graham Greene. Riding notes Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" were the only prewar classics chosen. Britain's favorite crime writer? Agatha Christie, followed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Britain's favorite gay novel will be announced at the Queer Up North festival in May, in Scotland. Kilts?

What else?
A decade ago, Rudyard Kipling's inspirational poem "If" was named Britain's favorite poem in a BBC poll - and it would probably win again. But the BBC was not finished. In 2003, it set out to find a contemporary "Poem for Britain." From some 5,000 entries, the winner was "Harvest Time: A Needlework Map Commemorating the Millennium," an appropriately nostalgic poem about village life by Con Connell, a computer expert.

There have also been competitions for the best text-message poem as well as the nation's favorite sea poem, children's poem, nursery rhyme and tea-towel poem. Few titles, though, were more tightly contested than that of Britain's favorite love poem, with Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet "How do I love thee?" beating out poems by the likes of Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Robert Burns and even Shakespeare's sonnet "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
Oh yes - Britain's favorite movies, by box office ("Gone With the Wind") and by poll ("Brief Encounter") - the ten most downloaded creators of music, classical (Beethoven) and pop (Paul McCartney). And so on and so forth.

Durham Cathedral in northeast England was voted Britain's favorite building. (The official website is here.) And it seems Britain's Channel 4 will soon broadcast "Demolition," a four-part series in which viewers are invited to nominate their most hated building for demolition. Royal Albert Hall would get my vote. The curious thing is the Royal Institute of British Architects is involved with this - the "most hated" building will actually be demolished live on television next spring. Stay tuned.

It occurs to you that the folks in Baghdad didn't get a "demolition" vote, did they? Oh well.

Will this trend spread? "The Greatest [insert nationality here] of All Time" went around the world. People have far too much time on their hands.

Out here in California we vote on endless referendums for this or that - the governor and legislature are useless, give up and ask the voters to decide things - so democracy may actually be spreading around the world, in a very odd way. But not on important matters.

Posted by Alan at 20:16 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Topic: Oddities

Allegory: The Broadway Musical and Hollywood Film as Modern Christian History

Theo Hobson offers this fascinating off-topic item - Hegel With Songs - very amusing, but apparently not parody. It appeared in The Guardian (UK) on 7 September. For me - a former teacher and history buff, and atheist grandson of a Congregational minister with a burr-in-the-saddle about religion in general and what it has done to us all over all the long centuries - this is so fine. And who hasn't thought Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was full of crap? Well, perhaps there are a few folks who spend little time thinking about "German idealism" in the decades following Kant, and about dialectical reasoning (thesis - antithesis - synthesis) morphing into Marx mucking about with dialectical "materialism" as some way to think about progress - their loss.

This also caught my eye, perhaps, because in the seventies I played in the pit band for far too many performances of The Sound of Music - little did I know!

The core passage from Hobson:
... The Sound of Music offers us our religious inheritance in a form we can all accept. Its plot is a fairytale version of modern Christian history.

The Reformation began with someone leaving a monastery; so does this film. In both cases the motivation for leaving is a conviction that God's grace cannot be confined to a religious institution, but must be expressed in the midst of the world. Because Maria leaves her convent on good terms with her mother superior, we are apt to miss the radicalism of her departure. She is a fantasy-faith version of Martin Luther. The entire plot is a fantasy rewriting of the Reformation, in which the Catholic Church is glad to be supplemented by this alternative vision.

She becomes the governess to an aristocrat's children. This is a representative Protestant/secular identity: her role is now economic. And the nature of her work is characteristically modern: to educate and to discipline. Her employer, a widower, seeks order in rational certainty. He has introduced a cold, militaristic atmosphere into his bereaved home. He symbolises the Enlightenment.

Maria subverts all aspects of her new role. In place of discipline and rationality she offers love and music, even if this means defying her employer, and so jeopardising her new economic identity. She therefore redefines her role, from employee to friend, mother figure and (dare we hope?) lover.

The highlight of the film comes early: the graceful advent of healing song, in the midst of a storm. Maria is the healer, the dispeller of the dark shadows of grief. She is the vicar of Christ who says: "Fear not." When the children confess their fear and rush to her bed, she teaches them a new habit of hope, in the form of a new song. More widely, she teaches them that music has the power to dispel demons. When assailed by terrors ("when the dog bites, when the bee stings"), one has to call to mind one's favourite things, such as raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, and brown paper packages tied up with string. The element of chocolate-box kitsch should not distract us from the truly primitive drama of this song. It is exorcistic. Music has the power to expel evil forces.

So she is teaching them not just a new song but a repeatable liturgical practice, as we shall see. She is teaching them religious hope, but by means of art, self-expression. This form of religion is unregulated by the ecclesiastical institution; it is a synthesis of Christianity and Romanticism.

But Maria is not simply a Protestant-Romantic reformer; she remains in touch with her Catholic roots and in need of them. She cannot sustain her independence from the church. When her bosom flutters with love for her master she returns to the nunnery. She loses confidence in her new identity and returns to her Catholic identity of daughter of the church. Her progress is a retelling of Europe's spiritual history in which Catholicism is not left behind but continues to be needed as "base". In this version, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and Romanticism remain explicitly and consciously indebted to their ecclesiastical source.

The children are miserable without her, especially as their father plans to marry the scarlet woman from the city, Maria's antitype. One day, in the garden, the eldest girl suggests that they cheer themselves up by singing the song they learned on the night of the storm. As they sing, Maria suddenly returns, running through the garden, haloed by her hat, guitar case in one hand, suitcase in the other, joining in the chorus. This is a dramatisation of the sacramental force of song: it has the power to make present what it represents, to conjure up the inspiration and protection it seeks. The film is in effect over now, with the resurrection of the resurrected mother.

In the final part of the film the new family defy the Nazis, singing their way to freedom. Some think this intrusion of 20th-century history rather over the top. But the Nazis are a crucial foil. The tension between the church and the world, between Catholic and Protestant, between religion and Romanticism, is now resolved, for all are united against this extreme evil. And of course by this time Maria's own role has stabilised. Before she marries, her identity is split between her Catholic and Protestant selves: nun and single working woman. This painful split is resolved by the new role of "mother" and wife.

The film performs what Europe has always been pining for: the integration of its conflicting religious impulses. It is the fantasy unity of Catholicism, Protestantism and Romanticism. It is Hegel with songs. And what songs!
What songs? When playing in the pit band for The Sound of Music we dissolute and cynical musician types used to mutter alternative lyrics under our breath - "The hills are alive, and they're coming to get you…" and "High on a hill sits a lonely goat turd… " But the far-too-cute Sabrina Boyd played Maria. That helped. I did hear John Coltrane perform "My Favorite Things" live once - 1964, Pittsburgh Jazz Festival - soprano sax. Not much like the musical or film, of course. He stopped in the middle as the news broke and the kids came down the aisles with the "extra" edition of the Post-Gazette - the 1964 Civil Rights Act had just been passed. Music has the power to expel evil forces - it has the power to make present what it represents, to conjure up the inspiration and protection it seeks? Maybe so. "Fear not." John Coltrane knew.

Ah, memories. Hobson here now has me rethinking it all - not Sabrina or Coltrane's variations in Dorian mode. Martin Luther and Hegel. Whatever.

Posted by Alan at 22:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 6 September 2005 22:33 PDT home

Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Topic: Oddities

Interesting Commentary

In these pages we have covered the speech Karl Rove gave scorning "liberals" - see June 26: Effective Response to Disappointing Numbers. That speech was built around these words that caused all the controversy: "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."

You might want to check out P. M. Carpenter where he imagines what the speech might have been like if Rove had these words run through his mind: "Ah, that's not right. I feel odd. Gee, I almost feel … like … telling the … truth."

What would the speech then be like? This:
Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and promptly prepared to invade the wrong country. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and cowered themselves into permitting it.

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and prepared for reciprocal savagery - innocent men, women and children, made no difference to us, just like the 9/11 skunks. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare for a more intelligent "war on terrorism," starting with the understanding that the mobilization of men and hardware against a nebulous tactic, an amorphous concept, is a waste of men and hardware - and devastating to innocents and our national honor.

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and prepared for some badly needed image-polishing of the biggest loser ever to sit in the White House. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and had a helluva time trying to contain their laughter at photo-ops of our chief chickenhawk trying to look tough.

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and prepared to bribe global friends into supporting our Iraq scheme to give us political cover. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and saw that Iraq was already contained by the coalition of the willing, known as the United Nations.

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and then trashed the greatest supply of global good will this nation has ever witnessed. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and hoped to use this good will to the nation's advantage. …
And on it goes. Click on the link and check it out. Of course it is a bit depressing.

Well, Rove is in trouble, or he isn't. In these pages this started with Bush's Brain (Karl Rove) Suddenly Exposed on July 3rd and continued in subsequent items. The press has really lit into the president's press secretary, Scott McClelland (see this) - but Digby over at Hullabaloo reminds us the press had been cowed - and reminds us of events in France a few years back when David Gregory of NBC addressed a question to Jacques Chirac in French:
NBC's David Gregory, unwisely pushing Bush to explain "why it is you think there are such strong sentiments in Europe against you and your administration," had the bad taste to ask President Chirac - in French, of all languages - if he also wanted to comment.

"Very good," shot back a very petulant Bush, "The guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental."

When Gregory offered to go on in French, Bush was determined to squelch the bilingual upstart: "I'm impressed - que bueno. Now I'm literate in two languages." At the end of the press conference, the President of the United States called to Gregory: "As soon as you get in front of a camera, you start showing off."
And Richard Reeves reported -
It turned out that what set him off was Gregory's turning to the French leader. Later Bush told Chirac: "I'll call on the Americans."

What Gregory said later was: "Well, that's it for my career."
No. Gregory is still on NBC. He's their chief White House reporter.

But Digby maintains the press is still a joke -
Bush owns all the Americans, you see. It's the ownership society thing.

If these guys are turning on lil' Scotty McClellan now that Rove is injured and bleeding that's nice. But let's not kid ourselves that they haven't allowed themselves to be treated like freshmen frat pledges for the last four and half years. It hasn't been pretty to watch.
Maybe so. But you might want to check out this - Fox News anchor John Gibson saying on air that he thought Karl Rove deserves a medal if he revealed the identity of a covert CIA operative and her cover, which would be Valerie Plame. This is the other side of press responsibility. A link to the video clip is there, and the idea is that the press should report that Wilson's wife, and Wilson, were undermining our war effort by questioning the truth of what out leader was saying. The press should side with Rove and Bush. And Fox did, and does.

Oh well.

Over at SLATE.COM Tim Noah has started his Rove Death Watch - "Uh oh. Now the White House is saying Rove has Bush's 'full confidence'" - but admits he was off with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill by a full year. And he missed another -
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, I blush to admit, is still defense secretary nearly four years after I filed the last of three death-watch columns. I remain convinced that 9/11 saved Rumsfeld's job. (Why Rumsfeld remains in office today, when even the hawkish Weekly Standard wants him gone, is an enduring mystery.)

Obviously it's much harder than I thought to get President George W. Bush to fire you. Nevertheless, I am convinced not only that Karl Rove, the deputy chief of staff, ought to lose his job, but that the logic of political scandal dictates that he will lose his job. I therefore inaugurate the Karl Rove Death Watch.
No. That's not going to happen.

Noah's thought? "When McClellan says, 'The president is behind Karl Rove 100 percent,' start looking for the ax to fall."

That may be the logic of political scandal, but we shall see.

But let us move to the realm of the strictly logical and discuss religion. In specific, let's examine the Unitarian Jihad.

Say what?

In these pages we have touched on how odd the Unitarians are, and how, in Texas, the lost their tax exempt status for a time as they didn't have a "real' religion.

- May 23, 2004: Today In Religion - Texas Theology
- May 30, 2004: A Follow-Up on the Unitarians (Texas Theology Revisited)

It seems Jon Carroll over at the San Francisco Chronicle has received and odd communiqué from a group calling itself Unitarian Jihad.

Cool. And he presents it, and you have to know a bit about the Unitarians, or have gone to a service, to really appreciate this -
Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism - 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been buffeted by angry people who think that God talks to them. You have a right to your moderation! You have the power to be calm! We will use the IED of truth to explode the SUV of dogmatic expression!

People of the United States, why is everyone yelling at you? Whatever happened to ... you know, everything? Why is the news dominated by nutballs saying that the Ten Commandments have to be tattooed inside the eyelids of every American, or that Allah has told them to kill Americans in order to rid the world of Satan, or that Yahweh has instructed them to go live wherever they feel like, or that Shiva thinks bombing mosques is a great idea? Sister Immaculate Dagger of Peace notes for the record that we mean no disrespect to Jews, Muslims, Christians or Hindus. Referred back to the committee of the whole for further discussion.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We are everywhere. We have not been born again, nor have we sworn a blood oath. We do not think that God cares what we read, what we eat or whom we sleep with. Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person, and Unexalted Leader Garrote of Forgiveness stipulates that Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity is a good person, and this is to be reflected in the minutes.

Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance" by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen, and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.

We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: "Sincerity is not enough." We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it's true doesn't make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn't mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.

Brother Gatling Gun of Patience notes that he's pretty sure the world is out to get him because everyone laughs when he says he is a Unitarian. There were murmurs of assent around the room, and someone suggested that we buy some Congress members and really stick it to the Baptists. But this was deemed against Revolutionary Principles, and Brother Gatling Gun of Patience was remanded to the Sunday Flowers and Banners committee.

People of the United States! We are Unitarian Jihad! We can strike without warning. Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again! There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution.
Yes, what is in bold is what actually makes sense.

Of course this won't happen. But it would be nice.

Alternative headlines Carroll considered?
Startling new underground group spreads lack of panic!

Citizens declare themselves "relatively unafraid" of threats of undeclared rationality.

People can still go to France, terrorist leader says.
If only it were so.

Posted by Alan at 21:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 12 July 2005 21:19 PDT home

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