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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, 8 April 2006
Necessity: Sometimes You Have To Do What You Have To Do
Topic: Local Issues

Necessity: Sometimes You Have To Do What You Have To Do

"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. In the fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there. In her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits, aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." - Alexis de Tocqueville

"Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks." - General "Buck" Turgidson (George C. Scott) in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)


Saturday, April 8th, after the week's news cycle closed and the cable news networks went into "features" mode - Whatever will we do about our children and the perverts prowling MySpace?) - and as congress had gone home for two weeks of rest after doing not much of anything - no immigration reform bill in the Senate and no budget approved in the House - and as political junkies and policy wonks had settled down to watch a little baseball, or the Masters golf thing, or just decided to wash the car - a few things were being posted on the net by major publications, prior to their distribution on actual paper early Monday, for those who get their information the quaint way, by reading it on the printed page. The next week's news cycle begins sometime after midnight Monday, as everyone gets to play.

But times change and sometimes what will appear in print later raises some eyebrows as it hits the web.

There was a little item on the AFP wire that was one of those things that had some, those not following baseball or golf or washing the car, think something was up -
The administration of President George W. Bush is planning a massive bombing campaign against Iran, including use of bunker-buster nuclear bombs to destroy a key Iranian suspected nuclear weapons facility, The New Yorker magazine has reported in its April 17 issue.

The article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said that Bush and others in the White House have come to view Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a potential Adolf Hitler.

"That's the name they're using," the report quoted a former senior intelligence official as saying.

A senior unnamed Pentagon adviser is quoted in the article as saying that "this White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war."

... The former intelligence officials depict planning as "enormous," "hectic" and "operational," Hersh writes.

... In recent weeks, the president has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of the House of Representatives, including at least one Democrat, the report said.
Say what? You had to be paying attention. Wayne White, the former deputy director at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, had, a few days earlier, mentioned something - "In recent months I have grown increasingly concerned that the administration has been giving thought to a heavy dose of air strikes against Iran's nuclear sector without giving enough weight to the possible ramifications of such action."

But he didn't mention nukes. And there was, as noted elsewhere in the pages, Joseph Cirincione in Foreign Policy saying a whole bunch senior administration officials had made up their minds - we were going to war again, at least if you call bombing without the massive invasion part going to war.

But he didn't mention nukes either. That's what Seymour Hersh does here in the as yet to be distributed new issue of the New Yorker - we will bomb Iran, and we will use nukes. Maybe. It could be a disinformation plan - get a whole bunch of top guys to tell Hersh, off the record, that we're going to do this, and Iran will back down. Hersh does dig up the dirt and get things right. It'll scare them. They'll back down. So maybe Hersh is being used.

Or maybe not.

But there is an operational theory behind just doing it. It seems the military planning "was premised" on a belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government."

As theories go, that one is might seem to some to be a tad optimistic - humiliate their leaders with big explosions and nuclear fallout and the grateful masses will take over the joint and thank us. That might be a possible outcome. You never know. The people of Iraq don't seem particularly grateful at the moment, but then this could be different.

As for the details of the scheme, AFP reports this -
One of the options under consideration involves the possible use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, to insure the destruction of Iran's main centrifuge plant at Natanz, Hersh writes.

But the former senior intelligence official said the attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the military, and some officers have talked about resigning after an attempt to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans in Iran failed, according to the report.

"There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries," the magazine quotes the Pentagon adviser as saying.

The adviser warned that bombing Iran could provoke "a chain reaction" of attacks on American facilities and citizens throughout the world and might also reignite Hezbollah.

"If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle," the adviser is quoted as telling The New Yorker.
Let's see, top military dudes argue that if we bomb we don't use nukes, they are told they're wrong, the decision has been made, and some are ready to resign as this seems beyond stupid. Someone says there could be a "a chain reaction" of terrorist attacks worldwide against anything American, and the south of Iraq will be a flooded with the Iranian Army and more newly enraged Shiites out to kills our guys. But that's shot down. That's negative thinking?

Digby at Hullabaloo here comments that this was pretty much inevitable -
It's hard to believe they think that they have the political latitude to do this. But then it was hard to believe they thought they had the political latitude to govern as if they had won landslide elections or that they could survive the 2004 election if no WMD were found in Iraq. But they did. In fact, they've had their biggest successes by pushing the envelope beyond the point anyone would have imagined. I do not put it past them to believe that they can do this and somehow revive their flagging popularity.
That's a little cynical. Maybe this has nothing to do with popularity and the upcoming mid-term elections where prospects for the Republicans look more dismal by the moment. Maybe it's just removing a threat.

How serious are they about making sure Iran does not get nuclear weapons.

Very, or not, as you see here, something from February 13, 2006 -
The unmasking of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson by White House officials in 2003 caused significant damage to U.S. national security and its ability to counter nuclear proliferation abroad, RAW STORY has learned.

According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran.
Iran? Oops. But her husband had been a bother.

John Cole, the disgruntled conservative, formerly a Bush supporter goes to the long Seymour Hersh article itself and offers this, a bit of commentary on the Hersh text -
Cole: People who already worry about the president's growing messiah complex won't get much encouragement:

Hersh: A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was "absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb" if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do "what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do," and "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy."

Cole: We've heard this song before, too many times to count. Bush supporters love to use terms like 'steadfast' and 'resolve' when they talk about their favorite president but they would fall over dead before admitting that those characteristics might have a downside. Gosh, ya think? A guy who famously doesn't study issues very deeply will inevitably make some boneheaded and even dangerous decisions. If 'resolve' keeps him from ever revisiting his boneheaded decisions then you end up with a net loss for everybody.

You might have wondered what happened to the neocons:

Hersh "This is much more than a nuclear issue," one high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna. "That's just a rallying point, and there is still time to fix it. But the Administration believes it cannot be fixed unless they control the hearts and minds of Iran. The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years."

A senior Pentagon adviser on the war on terror expressed a similar view. "This White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war."

Cole: Yep, still around. I don't give a shit what connotational baggage the term neocon has picked up over the years, this is their signature: spin stories about an imminent threat (paging Laurie Mylroie) to sell a war whose real goal is to strengthen America's global standing. Call it oil or geopolitical influence-building or whatever you want, these guys played the same song once already.

No-shit moments come up frequently:

Hersh: In recent weeks, the President has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of Congress, including at least one Democrat [named Lieberman - ed. Just a guess.].

...The House member said that no one in the meetings "is really objecting" to the talk of war. "The people they're briefing are the same ones who led the charge on Iraq.

Cole: They consulted the same Congressmen who led the charge on Iraq, and nobody objected. No shit?

Hersh: Speaking of President Bush, the House member said, "The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision."

Cole: If you're not worried about a nuclear-armed president with a messiah complex, a medieval concept of metaphysics and an insatiable war itch then you have to be kind of slow.

Speaking of nuclear:

Hersh: One of the military's initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites.

... The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. "Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap.

... Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran?without success, the former intelligence official said. "The White House said, 'Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.'"

... The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it "a juggernaut that has to be stopped."

Cole: Anybody who toys with using offensive nuclear weapons, unprovoked, has simply taken leave of his senses. If we can 'preempt' an attack with nuclear weapons, then by what logic can we criticize North Korea for doing the same to us? Because in some metaphysical sense America is 'good' and North Korea is 'evil?' Baloney. Any leadership willing to inflict collateral nuclear damages on a population that hasn't attacked them first has an extremely weak claim on metaphysical goodness. The only 'good' that a leader like that can claim harkens back to medieval nations of the living saint, the incorruptible figure whose beatitude makes any action good just by virtue of them doing it. When you think about it, for a president who paints the world in medieval tones of 'good' and 'evil' and allegedly takes commands from God the concept may not be that much of a stretch.

We have a bipartisan bunch here, so let's hear what people think about two basic questions. First, do you buy these revelations? Bear in mind that the people who pushed back against Hersh's Abu Ghraib reporting were forced to retreat from one trench (nothing bad happened) to the next (if anything bad happened it was only a few bad apples) to the next (Rumsfeld didn't personally order prisoner) until they had to contort themselves into ridiculous positions in order to avoid giving up entirely (e.g., it isn't really torture until an organ fails). Seymour Hersh has credibility that his closest parallels on the pro-war side, e.g. Judith Miller or Bob Woodward, don't.

Second, assume for now that the reporting is accurate and answer whether you're comfortable to have your major policymakers set themselves on a "crusade" for violent regime change in Iran, most likely employing tactical nuclear weapons. It might sound like a ridiculous question to most, but I expect at least a few to answer in the affirmative.
Ah well, this all could be a really highly coordinated press plant. Make the Iranians worry. Use Hersh. If so, it's masterful. And unlikely.

Will there be denials? Or a useful "no comment" to keep the Iranians worried?

But the idea? "Any leadership willing to inflict collateral nuclear damages on a population that hasn't attacked them first has an extremely weak claim on metaphysical goodness."

Howard Zinn, here, writing long before this story broke -
What is the idea of our moral superiority based on? Surely not on our behavior toward people in other parts of the world. Is it based on how well people in the United States live? The World Health Organization in 2000 ranked countries in terms of overall health performance, and the United States was thirty-seventh on the list, though it spends more per capita for health care than any other nation. One of five children in this, the richest country in the world, is born in poverty. There are more than forty countries that have better records on infant mortality. Cuba does better. And there is a sure sign of sickness in society when we lead the world in the number of people in prison - more than two million.

A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world. It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars and killers who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join the rest of the human race in the common cause of peace and justice.
Not likely. When Fox News picks up the Hersh item and tells us he's an alarmist but, then, we do have the right to defend ourselves and this is a pretty good idea, and CNN waffles and says it may or may not be true so let's not get all excited, but all the rest of the news and opinion media, in fear of appearing unpatriotic, agrees with Fox, and the Christian right welcomes the end days, it's off we go.

Ah, we'd never do such at thing.

Posted by Alan at 18:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 9 April 2006 07:52 PDT home

Saturday, 11 March 2006
LA Revisited: Back to the Obscure Thirties
Topic: Local Issues

LA Revisited: Back to the Obscure Thirties

What this about? Nostalgia? For the middle of the Depression? For the middle of the Depression here in Los Angeles when the major studios were pumping out those white-telephone fantasies, the streets were filled with the homeless and hopeless, and the "Grapes of Wrath" dustbowl refugees were rolling in from Oklahoma only to find not much here? There's something in the air that fuels a return to those days?

The new film "Ask the Dust" opened in limited release March 10th (basics here) - Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland, written and directed by Robert Towne. "An ambitious young man (Farrell), sick of his intolerant Colorado hometown, moves to Los Angeles to become a novelist. As his writing career takes off, he becomes obsessed with a Mexican barmaid (Hayek). It's based on a cult-classic book by noir great John Fante."

John Fante? Well, he was born in Colorado in 1909 and began writing out here in 1929 - a few decades of short stories, novels and screenplays. But he's not a household name.

On the other hand, Ask the Dust is his semi-autobiographical coming of age novel set here and does have a noir following. It was first published in 1939 and you might think of it as an anti-Gatsby, written while the man who wrote The Great Gatsby more than a decade earlier, with all its sad glitter, was drinking himself to death right here on Laurel Avenue, a few doors down the street, sickened of many things, including Hollywood. Ask the Dust is about the other side of this town - the grit.

Amazon is offering the June 1980 paperback edition (and offers a link to the front cover, the back cover, and an excerpt). And they quote from the preface by Charles Bukowski - "Then one day I pulled a book down and opened it, and there it was. I stood for a moment, reading. Then like a man who had found gold in the city dump, I carried the book to a table. The lines rolled easily across the page, there was a flow. Each line had its own energy and was followed by another like it. The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it. And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion. The humor and the pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity ... that book was a wild and enormous miracle to me."

John Fante died in 1983. Bukowski loved the book. But who else was reading it?

Robert Towne was. As in this - "In the Robert Towne-directed adaptation of John Fante's Depression Era novel, Hayek will play the fiery Mexican beauty Camilla who hopes to rise above her station by marrying a wealthy American. That is complicated by meeting Arturo Bandini (Farrell), a first-generation Italian hoping to land a writing career and a blue-eyed blonde on his arm." (A trailer for the movie is here.) That link, at the Internet Movie Database leads to only one comment, which offers this - " Relying on the powerful performances of his cast, the film depends mostly on the background of Los Angeles as the magnificent city of dreams and ambition where lonely souls collide day after day."

Yeah, yeah. Everyone says that. "Crash" won best picture this year.

But what about the book? How did this one become a movie?

In this industry town, the Los Angeles Times explains, but the item was not in the entertainment or business pages. David L. Ulin, book editor of the Times covered it this week in the Friday book column.

See An L.A. Story, And Its Author's Too - John Fante's 1939 novel revealed a city in survival mode, a fertile setting for a writer of a similar mind. - Los Angeles Times - March 10, 2006

There he calls the book one of the "ur-texts of Los Angeles literature" - after almost seventy years still offering "a vivid portrait of the city's life." He says it's seminal, framing a new sensibility, "by turns cynical and innocent, full of rage and hope and desperation, much like Los Angeles."

Of course it was published in 1939, the same year as Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust. It was a big year for cynicism.

Ulin quotes the opening line - "One night I was sitting on my bed in my hotel room on Bunker Hill down in the very middle of Los Angeles. It was an important night in my life, because I had to make a decision about the hotel. Either I paid up or I got out: that was what the note said, the note the landlady had put under my door. A great problem, deserving acute attention. I solved it by turning out the lights and going to bed."

Yep, this is a Los Angeles "in which glam and glitter are not just distant but nonexistent, and it is enough merely to survive."

It now an old theme. And here the hero "falls in love with a Mexican waitress, whom he can't have and (perhaps) doesn't really want. He is casually brutal, to her and to others, and yet his redemption lies in his ability to recognize - if not mitigate - this propensity within himself."

He's conflicted - he sees the 1933 Long Beach earthquake as divine retribution for his sins -
There is, of course, something solipsistic about reading a natural disaster through a personal filter, as if the Earth itself were little more than a megaphone for God. Yet paradoxically, this becomes one of the novel's charms, the unrelenting way Fante reveals Bandini, and, by extension, himself.

Whatever else "Ask the Dust" is, it is a piece of autobiographical fiction, the author's life transformed into myth. It is acri de Coeur, an expression of self in the face of indifference, the indifference of the world. For all Bandini's crowing ("Here I am, folks. Take a look at a great writer! Notice my eyes, folks. The eyes of a great writer. Notice my jaw, folks. The jaw of a great writer. Look at those hands, folks. The hands that created 'The Little Dog Laughed' and 'The Long Lost Hills' "), he is adrift in the universe, just like everyone.

"It crept upon me," Fante writes, "the restlessness, the loneliness ... the world seemed a myth, a transparent plane, and all things upon it were here for only a little while; all of us, Bandini, and Hackmuth and Camilla and Vera, all of us were here for a little while, and then we were somewhere else; we were not alive at all; we approached living, but we never achieved it. We were going to die. Everybody was going to die. Even you, Arturo, even you must die."

This is a universal moment in which the physical yields to the metaphysical and we stare down mortality as if it were the barrel of a gun.
My, it does sound like the flip side of Gatsby. But not on the north coast of Long Island with the mansions. And here we have a profoundly unsympathetic and self-absorbed hero, brutal and full of bluster. No Gatsby charm here. It's an LA thing.

Ulin doesn't think much of the film, as Fante, "is presenting us with a three-dimensional portrait, made all the more profound by his willingness to portray Bandini as unsympathetic and self-absorbed. Regrettably, it is precisely this quality that is missing from the film adaptation of the novel, in which writer-director Robert Towne backs away from Bandini's complex mix of arrogance and insecurity in favor of a lukewarm love story that sentimentalizes the character and his relationship with the waitress Camilla, one of the most scabrous affairs in literature."

Well, Hollywood is like that.

But what's with romanticizing the back end of town during the Great Depression? This film based on a minor novel was green-lighted by any number of marketing people, and funds were released for its production. These things cost real money. Someone decided people would pay to see a tale of someone self-absorbed and confused, with a pumped-up but shaky ego, trying to make sense of a world in economic ruin. And there's even a major earthquake. The marketing people must know something about the current zeitgeist. This is not a good sign.

Posted by Alan at 16:22 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 11 March 2006 16:31 PST home

Wednesday, 27 July 2005

Topic: Local Issues

Cincinnati to the Moon

When events in Cincinnati are reported in the newspapers of Paris, then the world must be coming to an end. Those people can't even pronounce Ohio.

But such is the case. It seems the Paris-based International Herald Tribune (sort of the shorthand European edition of its parent publication, the New York Times) on 28 July ran the James Dao item from the Times - Iraq duty helps Democrat's election odds.

This is a review of the Jean Schmidt, Paul Hackett race for the open seat in the 2nd Congressional District of Ohio. That's Cincinnati. And the seat is open because the fellow who held it for twelve years, Rob Portman, resigned to become George Bush's new super-duper trade representative. So it's vacant now. The Republicans have held the seat for thirty years, all told.

Jean Schmidt, the Republican lady, should be a shoe-in. She's the daughter of a well-known local banker we're told, a guy who owned Indianapolis racecar teams on the side. She's married to an investment counselor. She has a twenty-seven-year-old daughter. She's a leader of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. So what's the problem?

The problem is that her opponent, Paul Hackett, the Democrat, was, until four month ago, serving as a marine, commanding a unit in Iraq - and he's been going around calling President Bush a "chicken hawk" for not serving in Vietnam and saying the decision to invade Iraq was a big mistake.

When Michael Moore does that, well, that's one thing. What does he know? But this guy has been there. And he's not a flake. He's forty-three, a lawyer, and has those populist credentials - he's the son of a traveling salesman, and he joined the Marine Corps in college. He was honorably discharged in 1999 but joined again in 2004, to command a civil affairs unit in Ramadi and Fallujah. And he's got the appropriate kids - three children, ages eight, four and one. And he says that if he loses he will probably return to Iraq next year.

Oh my - the guy could be trouble.

How did this happen? Hackett, we are told, entered the race the day he returned from Iraq in March when a friend told him about Portman's nomination to the trade post. Schmidt, who is a former state representative, said she formed an exploratory committee, studied a straw poll and thought about the race for a about a week before she ran in the Republican primary.

And it's turning into a referendum on Bush. Schmidt argues that people in the district, which voted sixty-four percent for Bush last year, "adore the president." It seems Hackett thinks Bush is kind of a jerk (not his term, but close enough), saying we should have focused on capturing Osama bin Laden instead of invading Iraq so quickly.

Cool. But there are other differences:

Schmidt supports making all those Bush's tax cuts for the rich folks permanent, and offers no plans for closing the federal deficit other than trimming "unnecessary pork" and bureaucratic inefficiency. Bush. Hackett opposes making those cuts permanent, and he harps on the idea that our troops in Iraq are not receiving adequate supplies or benefits.

Schmidt wants abortion outlawed. No exceptions. Hackett says he opposes abortion but says the government has no business dictating "a woman's healthcare decisions."

It's a classic match-up, with the twist being this guy's military background. And now it's news, and getting national.

Schmidt is getting tons of cash from national Republican committees, and, of course, Bush himself has agreed to record a telephone message that will be delivered the weekend before the special election. On the other side the Democrats are sending in the staffers, and their big-gun, odd, bald-as-a-cue-ball strategist, James Carville. He was the keynote speaker at an event in Cincinnati on the 26th that raised almost a hundred grand for Hackett. Last week, Max Cleland, the former Democratic senator from Georgia and mutilated Vietnam veteran - the one Karl Rove destroyed by saying he was on the side of the terrorists - campaigned with Hackett, calling his decision to volunteer for Iraq "an act of conscience." Still, Schmidt raises three dollars for every one Hackett brings in. And she threw in two hundred thousand of her own dollars. (Hey, her daddy was big time banker, and his daddy a traveling salesman - so you now who knows how things work in the real word.)

This is hot. Hackett would become the first member of Congress to have served in the Iraq war. And he's ticked at Bush. You have to love the irony.

But he won't win. Not there. At a rally is Blue Ash, Ohio, Cleland said, "Someone who has led on the battlefield, that's the kind of person you want to see in the United States Congress." No, you want the rich girl.

And she's no dummy. Her campaign advisor, Eric Minamyer, is going on local talk shows and saying things like this -
I understand that Hackett did not participate in combat at all. It is still dangerous over there as I can personally attest. Let's just not act as though we led marines in combat if we did not, okay…

I have asked the question time and again, what role did he actually play?

Given all the opportunities he has had to say "I served in combat" one fair conclusion is that he did not.
Yep, he's a faker, just like Kerry, and not like that real combat veteran-hero, George Bush. Trust the rich girl.

Tim Tagaris over at Swing State Project covers how this is continuing -
1.)A local conservative radio host started by questioning Paul Hackett's service to country. Scott Sloan of WLW 700 AM in Cincinnati went off on some insane rant about the real level Paul's patriotism regarding the war in Iraq and claimed Hackett was using his service for "political purposes." Over the past two days, Republicans have been calling into talk radio across the district saying things like, "Paul wasn't really a Marine Corps Major in Iraq." It's a coordinated effort, as I am hearing from people that similar lines are being repeated and repeated by radio callers in and out of the district.
2.) The "swift boating" is picking up steam, and we have to fight back. I sat no less than five feet away from a reporter from a cable news outlet that asked, "Some say that this was all a plan on your part. To go to Iraq and come back with this great story while running for congress." Less than 30 minutes ago, a reporter from CBS asked about Eric Minameyer's question, and yes, questioned Paul's service to his country.
3.) A few days ago, an Army Private First Class was buried in Fairfield, Ohio. Within 24 hours, a number of flags were burned and tossed into a pile in front of his mother and father-in law's home. As you can imagine, this incident has led to a lot of press and sadness for the family. The same host above, Scott Sloan, attempted to tie Paul Hackett to the flag burning incident. He said that it was people like Paul Hackett that allow things like this to happen.
3.) Last night, a number of people in the district began receiving robo-calls talking shit (for lack of a better word) about Paul Hackett. Of course, they hit on the standard themes, choice, equal rights, and yes, Iraq.
4.) Earlier today, the police had to be called at campaign HQ as a strange individual pulled up to the office, kept the car in park, and started plugging away at a lap-top. When people walked out of HQ to investigate, the car pulled off quickly. The police have been notified.

One local said, "This really reminds me of what was happening last October. It got real ugly down here before the election. Sounds familiar...
Yes, it does. A preview of 2006 and 2008, of course.

One wonders what readers in Paris make of all this.

Posted by Alan at 20:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 27 July 2005 20:40 PDT home

Wednesday, 20 July 2005

Topic: Local Issues

Big Doings in Los Angeles: Hip is Out, Atheism In, and the Media is in Turmoil

Catapultam habeo. Isi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane.
(I have a catapult. Give me all the money, or I will fling an enormous rock at your head.)

Ah, it always about the money. The editor of the Los Angeles Times resigned today. The Times' own coverage opens with this: "Editor John S. Carroll, who led the Los Angeles Times to thirteen Pulitzer Prizes in five years as the newspaper struggled with declining circulation, announced his retirement today and will be succeeded by Managing Editor Dean P. Baquet."
Things haven't been the same since the Tribune group - the Chicago Tribune and the Cubs - bought the paper.

The city is changing. Baquet is an African-American who grew up in New Orleans. Our new mayor, Antonia Villaraigosa, is Hispanic - his folks came from Mexico in the days before we had the current armed citizen vigilantes (the Minutemen) watching the border. It's back to the good old days of our mayor back in the 1860s - Joseph Mascrael (Don Jose), born in Marseille in 1816 and fluent in French and Spanish but unable to manage English at all. See this about him from the Consulat Général de France à Los Angeles - "… capitaine de navire, immigré en 1844, maraîcher installé au nord de l'actuel Gower Street à Hollywood, ouvre un grand magasin en 1849, maire de Los Angeles de 1865 à 1866." (See this - in English - about how French Los Angeles really was in the old days.) The city is back to its multicultural roots.

But back to the Times. Over at Editor and Publisher we get some inside information about the problems:
The Times has cut positions and delayed editorial initiatives because of revenue shortfalls. In May, the paper reported that average daily circulation for the six-month period ending March 31 declined 6.5 percent, compared with the previous year.

... in recent years, the paper has taken a financial drubbing. Even when it won five Pulitzer Prizes in 2004, the second-most ever for a single paper in one year, the accolades were somewhat overshadowed. Two months after the Pulitzer sweep, Tribune Co. announced mandated layoffs of 200 employees, with the Times bearing the brunt. One hundred and sixty jobs were eliminated at the paper, including 60 editorial positions. Two-thirds of the departing journalists took voluntary buyouts.

In addition, two Times-owned newspapers in the nearby Inland Empire were shut down, while the Times national edition folded on Dec. 31, 2004.

The paper also took huge hits in circulation over the past two reporting periods. For the six months ending September 2004, daily circ slid 5.5% and Sunday dropped 6.3%. For the latest period, ending March 2005, daily copies decreased 6.4% and Sunday fell 7.9%. Total advertising revenue for the paper rose less than 1% in the second quarter of 2005.
Of course it didn't help that since April you would find not one advertisement for any General Motors product, or any display ad for any GM dealership, anywhere in the Times. The Pulitzer Prize winning car columnist Dan Neil on April 6 reviewed the new Pontiac G6 and said it was crap, and GM was producing crap, and said it colorfully. Oops. GM spent twenty million in the Times in 2004 and now....

But see this - "To my editors' everlasting credit, there hasn't been even a hint of reproval. As a public relations move, I think it's fair to say GM's ad-pulling did them more harm than good. My estimate is that perhaps two million or so people read the article than would have otherwise and the debate on GM's woes has been given another good public chewing. And I have been transformed from cranky columnist to St. George slaying the dragon." (The orginal G6 review is here and Neil is often mentioned in these pages as in this item and this item.)

His editor, John Carroll, may have paid the price for those dead dragons.

In any event, Kevin Roderick at LA Observed is covering the Times story - he used to work there - and he lists some first reactions.

Of course this is a local story of limited interest, but it is about the press and money and editorial decisions. What you cover and how you cover it can cost you. It's a mini-version of what was covered here earlier in News Notes: Non-Stories. Same thing.

Of course, the Times writers can be contrarians, as in this:

If it's hip and trendy, they're not interested
In an age saturated with microtrends, some people are turning their backs on cool.
Christian M. Chensvold, July 20, 2005

This may be more subversive than attacking General Motors, as after the requisite human interest anecdotal introduction (meet Melinda Wilferd), you get this:
The hypnosis of hipsterism is entrenched among many of L.A.'s urban sophisticates, especially those who work in the trend-driven industries of media, music and fashion. But for many twenty-, thirty- and fortysomethings, the appeal of being cool and edgy is rapidly deteriorating. "The last identity you would want to claim now is a hipster," says John Leland, author of "Hip: The History." "It's the worst of insults."

Just what is hip has become nebulous in a digital age of microtrends, when a cultural blip goes from underground to overexposed in one season. Likewise, the original concept of hip as something outside the purview of the mainstream has been replaced by the hipstream: mainstream cool packaged by corporate marketing departments.

The inevitable backlash - not against the bohemian veritas but the sycophantic consumer of cool - is well underway.

"The whole point of being hip in the pure sense of the word is to essentially be oblivious to it," says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "Now the only thing you can describe a hipster as being is a 'hipster' in quotation marks. Almost by definition a hipster is a wannabe."
This backlash could destroy my neighborhood!

Chensvold too goes on to detail how hard it is to keep up with what's in and what not - and how people are just walking away from the whole concept of being on top of things. "So if everybody's hip, then let's be unhip, and indeed, what a very hip idea. Some people are just fed up with the whole enterprise."

The end of Los Angeles as we know it!

And note this from the world of New York hip:
Any hip community eventually becomes a parody of itself, says Robert Lanham, author of "The Hipster Handbook" (2002), which many perceived as a marketing gimmick put out by corporate media but which was, in fact, a skewering of Williamsburg hipsters by the 34-year-old humorist and co-founder of, a neighborhood blog and culture guide.

Lanham's follow-up, last year's "Food Court Druids, Cherohonkees, and Other Creatures Unique to the Republic," takes the parody a step further and includes a chapter on "cryptsters," or aging hipsters. "There's also this new breed of pseudo-bohemians or fauxhemians," says the author, "a facade of hipsters trying to play the bohemian role, but their parents are paying their rent."

Dropping out of the hipster scene has made Bernbaum use his time in more personally fulfilling ways, he says. "And it's a lot cheaper." The downside is that he's floating in social limbo. "The youth of New York is geared toward hipster things. I've just withdrawn from the people I didn't feel it was worth my time hanging out with. But I haven't really found an alternate world of people."
Well, Hollywood has always a parody of itself. In fact, the Just Above Sunset staff car for five years - the black Mercedes SLK convertible - was officially known as The Ironymobile. Its replacement, the Mini Cooper, has its own irony built in too. (Watch this movie and you'll see.)

What's the alternative to the useless hip (or would that be Tragically Hip) here in Los Angeles? The Times recommends Adrienne Crew's LA Brain Terrain with its calendars of literary, cultural, scientific and political events around town. And this:
In hipster and media-driven Los Angeles, it's easy to forget that most Angelenos ages 25 to 40 don't wear checkered Vans with distressed blazers or go to downtown gallery openings or Echo Park dive bars., once an underground website for hipsters seeking jobs and apartments, now boasts an activities section packed with people seeking irony-free social connections in such humdrum activities as chess, badminton, lacrosse, foreign language study, outrigger canoeing and the Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club.

Best get involved now, before they become hip.
Well, that posits the idea that there is such a thing as an irony-free social connection. In Los Angeles? Really? And wouldn't lawn bowling down in Hermosa Beach be rife with irony, layers and layers of it?

Oh well.

But the Times is not just subversive on social matters - the requisite level of hip posturing needed to thrive here. They are on the story of atheists uniting to mount some kind of resistance to the evangelical, fundamentalist Christian fervor sweeping America. They actually write about such people!

A Time of Doubt for Atheists
With the religious making inroads in popular culture and politics, nonbelievers yearn for higher power in Washington.
Gina Piccalo, July 18, 2005

The set-up:
It's been years, decades even, since the Almighty was so hot.

The evidence is everywhere. President Bush rallied the faithful to hold on to the White House. A book by an Orange County preacher extolling God's purpose in our lives stays a bestseller for more than two years. And Hollywood, frequently seen as a den of iniquity, is courting a more spiritual audience in movies and TV.

Faith is the new must-have, evident when a major leaguer points skyward after his base hit, when a movie star credits the Big Guy for his Oscar, when the Justice Department backs the display of the Ten Commandments at two state capitols, and when it defends the Salvation Army's requirement that employees embrace Jesus Christ.

So where does that leave the fraction of Americans who define themselves as godless? Although the percentage of Americans who claim no religion is about 14%, less than a quarter of them identify themselves as atheists, according to recent polls.
Yes, indeed. Where does all this leave this tiny minority?

The item spends some time with Stuart Bechman, co-president of Atheists United, a local affiliate of Atheist Alliance International who compares things now to the McCarthy era and is calling for unity. And that's hard!
Atheists aren't by nature of one mind. There's a godless organization for every wrinkle of nonbelief - the prayer-never-hurt-anyone, live-and-let-live atheists; the prove-the-God-fearing-world-wrong, keep-America-secular atheists; and the contrarian I-don't-believe-in-God-but-don't-call-me-an-atheist atheists.

Fear, however, is a great motivator, and politically active atheists know that they need an advocate in government to be heard. Unfortunately, as one activist noted, most politicians are as eager to align with the godless ranks as they are to lobby for pedophiles. Hence the need for an image makeover.
Ah, it comes down to PR of course - stress integrity, patriotism and respect for the faithful while staying true to a commitment to the separation of church and state.

We also learn that the first godless march on Washington drew thousands in fall 2002, and a few months later the Godless Americans Political Action Committee was formed. And this Veterans Day, so-called foxhole atheists (servicemen and women who are nonbelievers) will be honored in the capital.

And there is this:
Mynga Futrell and Paul Geisert of Sacramento hope to change that with a new name and an online community. They founded the Brights' Net ( in 2003 to create a place for people who share "a worldview free from supernatural and mystical elements." They chose the term "brights" because, unlike "godless," "atheist" and "nonbeliever," it did not define them in religious terms. By creating this label, Futrell and Geisert hope to "level the playing field" and recast members of their community as independent thinkers who celebrate knowledge without identifying themselves as vociferous anti-theists.

They want to build a large, influential community, similar to, to sway public opinion. So far, they say, there are Brights in more than 115 countries.

"There's this tremendous feeling of being a second-class citizen when you know you're patriotic and working for all kinds of good things for the country, and yet you're ranked with the pedophiles," Futrell says. "You have to have political influence in order to get cultural change of any kind."
Works for me.

But what is the Times up to, offending General Motors, telling people in Hollywood they don't need to be hip, and explaining that there are still, in our midst, atheists, whoa aren't evil and may not even be pedophiles?

Circulation is down, advertising is down, and the do these sorts of things? The new editor, Dean Baquet, had his work cut out for him.

Posted by Alan at 19:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 20 July 2005 20:01 PDT home

Thursday, 29 April 2004

Topic: Local Issues

Nathaniel West, cellos and mountain lions... Strange Times in Los Angeles

Readers of this site will note I have not posted much over the last several days. This is partly the heat (see below) - the first two days of the week were hot, record-breaking hot. As I wrote to my friends - this was two days of well over a hundred degrees in the shade. Of course there was no humidity, and we had that interesting light breeze blowing the alkali-laden dust in from the Mojave, across the city and then out to sea. Look up and the sky is cloudless steel blue - but look out to the horizon and the air is brown in all directions. Thirty-miles east in Riverside County the brush fires were running through the low hills. The usual end of the world stuff here at the edge of the world.... We call this earthquake weather. It does give one apocalyptic, murderous thoughts.

I didn't like the idea of sitting at the computer and reading, and writing? But finally the weather broke - and it has been in the low-eighties in the afternoons. The breeze has shifted around so it comes in off the Pacific - and this comes with a slight white haze (the marine layer) instead of chunky brown crap off the desert. In the evenings now the fog slides in, working its way up Sunset Boulevard from the cold Pacific.

As for current events - well, Tuesday afternoon I listened to and read about the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) sessions on this business of detaining folks incommunicado with no council or redress, forever, for the good of the country - achieving public safety through executive fiats that pay no heed to the niceties of habeas corpus or due process or any of that sissy stuff - and I got depressed. Did the congress really authorize that? I don't think so - but those congress folks are idiots too. Monday at SCOTUS it was the energy advisors to Cheney - do we have the right to know who they were? Folks out here in California who got screwed big time by the energy companies two years ago do have a bit of a beef with whoever it was that came up with the overall policy. We'd like to know who's running the show, if anyone. But I suppose that's none of our business. Those arguments weren't really centered on Executive Privilege, but I still liked the comment from Scalia - "I think executive privilege means whenever the president feels that he is threatened, he can simply refuse to comply with a court order." Right, Tony. (What - Fat Tony is channeling Marlon Brando in the Godfather movies?)

But I don't know much about the law - and when my attorney friend on Wall Street explains to me his afternoons spent arguing what Sarbanes-Oxley really implies about IPO issuance, well, I'm kind of glad I never went down that road. When I was in graduate school at Duke I looked up famous folks who went to Duke Law School. Try Angela Davis AND Richard Nixon. Ha!

The law is a puzzle. So the Supreme Court will do what they do. These days I suspect that means they will rule the president can do what he wants, whenever he wants, to anyone he wants, and tell no one anything about anything if he so chooses. This is all allowed, and implicit, in his role as Commander-in-Chief? Guess so. The arguments presenting the issues were made this week, and the rulings are due in late June. What will they rule? These SCOTUS folks - as least those with key votes - were appointed by his father, and in turn these guys appointed the somewhat feckless son president, so the June rulings on these matters are unlikely to surprise anyone.

And after June it will be an even better time to keep your head down and make no waves... or leave.

As you can tell, this seems to me to be all too much of, as they coined the phrase out here in Southern California goes, a bummer.

Hey, even the minor news is odd out here, as anyone who follows the hot items knows. The FBI told the LAPD that they received a threat that some terrorist group intended an attack at one of the shopping malls here on the west side of the city. One call. No specifics. No actual mall named. But the city was on edge today, and I suspect business was off at the big malls. By late afternoon everyone is pretty much in agreement that this was a prank call - perhaps some thirteen-year-old fooling around. Another day in paradise?

And note too that Mother Nature is trying to weird us out too.

This hit the local paper this morning:

A Mountain Lion Far From Home
Griffith Park officials won't kill animal unless it attacks
Steve Hymon and Christiana Sciaudone, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2004
A mountain lion has taken up residence in Griffith Park, one of the nation's biggest and busiest urban parks eight miles from downtown Los Angeles, park officials said Wednesday, prompting them to begin posting signs that warn visitors of dangerous animals living in the area.

After receiving several reports of lion sightings by hikers and horseback riders in the last month, rangers say they found evidence of a lion bedding down in the higher reaches of the park. They said they also found the partially eaten leg of a deer nearby.
And it goes on and on in great detail. You will also discover that mountain lions in this state have attacked fourteen people, killing six of them, since 1890, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.

Obviously this is a dangerous place. From my office window I have a view of the park - I can see Griffith Park Observatory a few hills over to the east - think Sal Mineo (Plato!), James Dean and Natalie Wood in that "Rebel Without a Cause" movie. Now the beast is roaming there.

Between here and there is the neighborhood of Los Feliz. And a different sort of bad stuff happens there.

Consider this:

Stradivarius cello owned by L.A. Phil is stolen
Diane Haithman, Los Angeles Times, April 28 2004
A $3.5-million Stradivarius cello owned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been stolen from a home in Los Feliz. No other items were taken.

The instrument, played by Philharmonic principal cellist Peter Stumpf, was last seen Saturday and was stolen either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, said Deborah Borda, president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn.

The cello, built in 1684, is known as the "General Kyd," after the man who brought it to England at the end of the 18th century.

"I loved playing on this cello," Stumpf said Tuesday. "It was a sheer joy, it has seemingly unlimited expressive range. It opens up all kinds of doors artistically to someone who plays it.

"I've had a pretty long career, and I never expected to play on an instrument of this level
," added the cellist, who has borrowed another instrument from a colleague for the time being. "I was on a high for the past two years, playing this cello. I feel kind of desperate about being able to play it again."

"It is very emotional for Peter, but it is also emotional for the association," Borda said of the cello, which the orchestra purchased in the early 1970s. "The premiere of the Dvor?k Cello Concerto in England was performed on this piece in 1896." She said that musical dealers worldwide have been notified, meaning that it would be virtually impossible to sell.

Anyone with information on the missing cello may call Los Angeles Police Department Detective Donald Hrycyk at (213) 485-2524. Anonymous tips can be directed to a hotline, (213) 972-3500. The cello may also be returned, no questions asked, at the artists' entrance of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 North Grand Avenue.
No one has returned it yet. Perhaps the mountain lion ate it.

Odd stuff. The end of the world is near?

Of course with the Dvor?k connection one does wonder about this particular LAPD Detective, Donald Hrycyk, and this famous cello. Hrycyk is a Czech name - and I should know given my mother's family was Czech and my father's Slovak. Could it be that Don is in on this? No - conspiracy theories are just the product of oppressively hot weather.

So commentary has resumed at this site, and know Los Angeles still here - with the usual fires, earthquakes, and drive-by shootings - and the Tongan gangs are still fighting the Samoan gangs down in Long Beach - the smog is thick. Compton and South Central are still mean places. The Lakers, led by an inspired accused rapist, are winning games in the NBA playoffs, and terrorists may blow our malls. And now we a have a new city-dwelling mountain lion who may be pinching cellos.

And here on the 1600 block of North Laurel Avenue? As I mentioned in the magazine, F. Scott Fitzgerald was living at 1403 North Laurel Avenue when he died in 1940, while working on The Last Tycoon. Ah, an end-of-all-things depressing book. And in case you're wondering, that's the corner of Laurel and Sunset - and 1403 was torn down and replaced by a giant Virgin Megastore. Ironic? I suppose. Nathaniel West - who wrote Days of the Locust and Miss Lonelyhearts - lived a few blocks east, on North Ivar Street and was a friend of Fitzgerald.

West's 1939 novel Days of the Locust is about the bitter and sensation-seeking lower-middle class out here. As in this- "Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize they've been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and watched the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. This daily diet made sophisticates of them."

The novel ends with an apocalyptic riot at a Hollywood premiere (this fictional riot takes place a mile east of where I sit now) - but there is no mountain lion involved, as far as I recall.

But Nathaniel West was onto something. These are strange times.

Posted by Alan at 17:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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