Just Another Day

"Any idiot can handle a crisis, it's day to day living that wears you out." - Chekhov

Saturday, November 13, 2004


Commander? No, child.

So much for that special relationship, eh? Paving the way for the future, possibly, Howard refused to call Bush and congratulate his victory. Why? Because the White House has refused to speak to Howard for pissing them off when he criticized Blair's use of intelligence prior to the Iraq stupidity. Since Bush is so overwhelmingly unpopular in the UK (where more people dislike Americans now than they do in France who generally hold Bush reponsible and not the people, according to a poll last week), Howard could possibly be setting himself up for the elections in the UK in a few months.

And, how's this for a toys-from-the-pram tantrum?

Bush is a pissant who does not deserve to lead a nation as strong, influential and in the spotlight as America. We're supposed to be a responsible, pragmatic country, instead we are seen increasingly as a people held responsible for so much that is wrong with the world. We have the Crybaby from Crawford to thank for all this.


Friday, November 12, 2004

Rambling Thoughts

With all the talk of how to move the Democratic Party forward there seems to be a lot of talk about using the Republican Party method of how to go about it. I agree with building the foundations and think tanks to push ideas ahead but all this talk seems to be about how to boost the Democratic Party forward instead of America. This makes me a bit itchy. I am not a party man and never have been. Yes, now, there is very little, if anything at all, redeeming about the republicans. However, if we turn it into a party battle instead of a battle of ideas then America has lost. I reserve the right to vote for my candidate of choice and I will do that conscientiously without necessarily going party line. I want the right ideas in office not the right party. If one party has a monopoly on the right ideas, okay, I vote party line. And, right now it looks increasingly like this. However, let’s not forget that we are supposed to be moving America forward, all of America, not just the blue states, not just the liberal voters, not just those who believe in justice. Again, the republicans represent little to none of this but we have to keep in mind that it is the ideas that work not the party. If we turn towards party machines then we are no better than a banana republic and the country will sink deeper into vitriol.

True, I believe that the GOP has turned into a representation of everything of the way a democracy is not supposed to work. However, I was a republican at one time. After Iran Contra I thought again; after the religious right’s ascension I turned; and, after the years of scurrilous attacks on Clinton, I completely turned on the GOP. I can call myself a Democrat now, and have almost always been a liberal on social policy, because my ideas fall more into line with that party but will always reserve my independence in who I choose to elect. We need to spend the next years pushing our agendas, note the plural, and trying our damnedest to get the truth out there. That latter aspect is the most important part and the one thing that will be most devastating to the GOP. However, we need to make sure that the ideas we push, if indeed it is a unified Democratic Party, will indeed do the most benefit for the most people and not exclude people who disagree with us.

I think that last part is vital. We will always have disagreements about issues of personal morality and that is the very reason why we need to keep things like religion out of the party platform. If that means we keep losing, I prefer to stand on principle. If things keep moving towards failure without actually falling apart, though, then we can move into the lying to get ourselves in and then act on our true principles. However, I think if we get the truth out there a/o wait long enough, it will all fall apart for the GOP and the nation will turn on them for their abject selfishness in policy in order to maintain power.

As I said in an earlier post, be nice until it’s time to not be nice.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Little Pearls

The Rev. James Forbes, on Morning Sedition at Air America Radio, had a few good points today.
  • Progressives need to stop trying to appeal to the mind and try to appeal more to the heart. That doesn't mean we need start spouting lies and sounding simple about being compassionate like the Republicans monopolize. Let them have their monopoly. We need to do a better job of simplifying our message because it is a good message and is a hell of a lot more honest and compassionate than anything the republicans even pretend to. As Adlai Stevenson said, thanks Attaturk, "You will find that the truth is often unpopular and the contest between agreeable fancy and disagreeable fact is unequal. For, in the vernacular, we Americans are suckers for good news."
  • Why do the messages of gays and abortion play so well with the public? The Republicans have managed to blind people to the fact that there are many more instructions in Christian teaching than just those about sex but that those are the most powerful. So, we need to do a better job of reminding people that when someone is focussed on just those to the detriment of so many others, like caring for the poor, helping those in need, idolatry (like the veneration of their leaders by so many on the right), demonization of those who oppose them, etc., etc.

He seems to agree with my father, a Presbyterian minister for almost 50 years (with 25 as a Navy chaplain), that those who shout the most about morals, Christianity, and doing the right thing, are those that practice it the least. Of course, I don't agree at all with bringing personal morals into the public sphere, e.g., abortion and attitudes towards homosexuality, but if we have to then lets put it all on the table and see who comes out on top.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The People May Disagree

Eric Boehlert points out today in Salon that the press is deciding once again to not do its job as an objective observer and is falling into line behind the Bush spin offering nice, collective fellatio to this faux-bravado regime (a cowboy who's terrified of the equine, I don't think so). Way to go liberal media...what a crock of shit the right wing has pushed onto the people.

With a dead-even race that featured nearly endless possible Electoral College configurations, Election Day promised to bring a certain number of surprises. But perhaps none was as unexpected as the notion that President Bush, the most conservative and polarizing president of his generation, would come through the other side of the campaign as a moderate with a mandate. Yet in the days immediately following the historically close vote, that's how the political press corps often portrayed the president.


But as Al Hunt noted in the Wall Street Journal, Bush's victory was "the narrowest win for a sitting president since Woodrow Wilson in 1916." (Presidential reelections in recent decades have all come with comfortable margins of victory attached.) In fact, Bush's final margin was almost identical to Jimmy Carter's win over Gerald Ford in 1976, when there was very little discussion of a mandate for the Democrat. And it's hard to imagine that if Kerry had bested Bush 51 percent to 48 percent and collected just 15 more electoral votes than needed to win, the press would be so liberal with talk of a mandate.

Some journalists, dwelling too much on 2000's unprecedented election model, seemed to confuse winning an uncontested election with receiving a mandate. "In capturing both an electoral majority and the popular vote, Mr. Bush lays claim to another four years in the White House with a newly minted mandate," the Dallas Morning News wrote, as if winning both the popular and Electoral College vote were somehow unusual in American politics.


In its Nov. 4 editorial, the Columbus Dispatch stated that "President Bush won reelection decisively in the Electoral College tally." Decisively? In the past 80 years, only three times have presidents been elected with fewer than 300 electoral votes. Bush accounts for two of the three anomalies; in 2000 he won 271 electoral votes, and in 2004 he captured 286. (Carter is the third example, with 297.)


Meanwhile, press accounts subsequent to the election have been filled with reports about Bush's second term and his "very ambitious agenda," as the Associated Press described it. However, during the campaign very few journalists pressed Bush on his unusual decision as a sitting president not to articulate his vision for the future, beyond stump speech lines about lower taxes and less government. As NBC's David Gregory noted, after the election, "It's the agenda that Bush rarely if ever laid out in detail during the campaign."


The administration obviously "held back" in blatant ways on other contentious initiatives, and met little or no questioning from the press. Few journalists addressed head-on the decision by Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist -- a political ally of Bush's -- to issue what now appears to be a deliberately misleading statement about his health, just one week before the election. More important, the all-out assault on Fallujah in Iraq, which some experts believe will include the heaviest fighting U.S. soldiers have faced since Vietnam, was finally launched, less than a week after the election. On the same day, the Iraqi government declared a 60-day state of emergency for most of the country. The two long-pending moves were likely put off until after the election for the simple reason that they could have potentially hurt Bush at the polls.

In fact, since Election Day some journalists have acknowledged that certain sensitive topics were deemed off-limits by the White House, or taken off the table for purely political reasons. "In Iraq, the American forces have been poised to make a major assault on Fallujah. We all anticipate that that could happen at any moment," said NBC's Tom Brokaw on Nov. 4. Addressing Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski, Brokaw asked, "What about other strategic and tactical changes in Iraq now that the election is over?" (emphasis added). Miklaszewski confirmed the obvious: "U.S. military officials have said for some time that they were putting off any kind of major offensive operation in [Fallujah] until after the U.S. elections, for obvious political reasons."

That's nice. Don't want to carry out military operations before the potential of insurgents hardening their positions or escaping because it might reflect poorly on Dear Leader. Conservatives are really pansy-assed hypocrites that they can't call the White House on this, as well as too many other things to mention in one post, but can blame everything somehow on Democrats who have been out of power for four years (for the most part) and have no branch of government in their domain.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Putting the Pieces Together

Yesterday, I noted a Guardian piece on the Bush administration's desire to cast off the old treaty regarding space-based weapons systems (as opposed to ground- or air-based with which we have experimented for 30 years or more). This would allow the US to take out other countries' spy satellites if needed. Now, how many countries actually have spy satellites? My quick research suggests about 5 that could be considered less than friendly, but not necessarily enemies. I believe the UAE is one of those and it could be argued that their government may be interested in suplying surveillance data to organizations such as Al Qaeda or insurgent groups in Afghanistan or Iraq. This is not a dubious assertion given internal struggles in UAE and sympathies with AQ among many in the population, if not the government. However, there is a larger potential devil out there: China.

Yesterday, I said this activity makes one wonder where the Bush administration could be going with it. Looking at other actions and words of this administration could possibly pinpoint the target.

When the administration came into power in 2001, it stated that China should be perceived as a strategic competitor on the world stage. Not a bad supposition given: its authoritarian tendencies; its lackadaisical approach to human rights; its desire to expand its influence worldwide; its use of its most abundant resource, people, to economically compete (unfairly?) with other countries and drive all industrial production to its soil; its lack of concern for the environment; its desire to rule the South China Sea for potential oil resources despite clearly extending its territorial claims on debious grounds; and, an old roommate who said that wherever the Chinese have been throughout history should be considered part of China (yes, she was serious, and included places like Japan, Korea, SE Asia, Central Asia, etc. - who knows maybe even Ukraine since the Mongols were here at one point).

Consider other factors.
  • Could we have gone into Iraq to secure the supply away from the Chinese, i.e., might Hussein's regime have been interested in sending its supplies there? Or, could a deal have been/be in the making betwen Iran and China and this administration wanted to make sure if Iran went that way that Iraq did not?
  • With India closely tied to us, its enmity with Pakistan which China had used successfully to pull Pakistan closer, perhaps the war in Afghanistan served to help us gain more influence in Pakistan and pull them out of China's sphere. This would explain why we did not accept the Taliban's offer to hand over OBL and his henchmen and why Bush so quickly went back on his 2000 campaign word about nation building. It would explain our interet in befriending less than democratic allies in Central Asia.
  • In 2001, a US spy plane was brought down near China's coast and the crew was held prisoner at a Chinese military base while Bush had to apologize profusely and the Chinese spent the time scouring the technology on board.
  • There is a massive US budget deficit that has been assisted by China's purchase of debt from the US. While China is interested in this as a way to ensure a market for the production it currently has or is currently building, they could easily use this to influence US policy in places like Taiwan and North Korea by threatening a sell off if we don't play ball their way.
  • W's administration is interested in busting treaties and pushing ahead with new nuclear military technology.

All of this seems to point things toward China. At the very least, it indicates that thes people cannot think about a fight against someone like AQ but only nation states, as I pointed out yesterday. But, who are those nation states that could pose such a military a/o economic a/o geopolitical threat in the future that we need to risk breaking nuclear proliferation and space-based weapons programs, and bring horrid dictatorships into our circle of 'friends?' China might also provide a reason for the war in Iraq given that all other excuses for this seeming stupidity have fallen apart.


A War on Words

I've had the window open for several days but only now got around to reading the piece from Philip Pullman in The Guardian on the sedition called reading. As many of you know, I have a background in literature, prior to my MBA studies. Add to that my intense interest in politics and distaste for the intrusion of religion into politics as anathema to American democracy and you'll understand my interest in writing such as this. Pullman here doesn't limit theocracies to the nominally religious kind but broadens it to include any cultish political system which certainly explains America under Bush.

I start from the position that theocracy is one of the least desirable of all forms of political organisation, and that democracy is a good deal better. But the real division is not between those states that are secular, and therefore democratic, and those that are religious, and therefore totalitarian. I think there is another fault line that is more fundamental and more important than religion. You don't need a belief in God to have a theocracy.


In fact, the Soviet Union was one of the most thoroughgoing theocracies the world has ever seen, and it was atheist to its marrow. In this respect, the most dogmatic materialist is functionally equivalent to the most fanatical believer, Stalin's Russia exactly the same as Khomeini's Iran. It isn't belief in God that causes the problem.


The root of the matter is quite different. It is that theocracies don't know how to read, and democracies do.


"Unable to decipher or understand complications or irregularities, angered by what they considered betrayals in their own ranks, the officials were forced to impose their simple formulas on fiction as they did on life. Just as they censored the colours and tones of reality to suit their black-and-white world, they censored any form of interiority in fiction; ironically, for them as for their ideological opponents, works of imagination that did not carry a political message were deemed dangerous. Thus, in a writer such as Austen, for example, whether they knew it or not, they found a natural adversary."


So the trouble with the way theocracies read is that they have a narrow idea of what literature is: they think it only contains one kind of thing, and has only one purpose, which is a narrowly political one.


The second charge against the theocracies is that they only know one mode of reading. Because they think there is only one way that books can work, they have only one way of responding to them, and when they try to apply the one way they know to a text that doesn't respond to that reading, trouble follows. There is a good description of two different modes of reading in Karen Armstrong's The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2001). Armstrong is eloquent on the difference between mythos and logos, fundamentally different ways of apprehending the reality of the world. Mythos deals with meaning, with the timeless and constant, with the intuitive, with what can only be fully expressed in art or music or ritual. Logos, by contrast, is the rational, the scientific, the practical; that which can be taken apart and put together again; that which is susceptible to logical explanation.

Both are necessary, both are to be cherished. However, they engage with different aspects of the world, and these days, says Armstrong, they are not equally valued. Her argument is that in modern times, because of the astonishing progress of science and technology, people in the western world "began to think that logos was the only means to truth, and began to discount mythos as false and superstitious". This resulted in the phenomenon of fundamentalism, which, despite its own claims to be a return to the old true ways of understanding the holy book, is not a return of any kind, but something entirely new: "Protestant fundamentalists read the Bible in a literal, rational way that is quite different from the more mystical, allegorical approach of pre-modern spirituality."


My third and final charge against the theocracies, atheist or religious, and their failure to read properly is this: that the act of true reading is in its very essence democratic.

Consider the nature of what happens when we read a book - and I mean, of course, a work of literature, not an instruction manual or a textbook - in private, unsupervised, un-spied-on, alone. It isn't like a lecture: it's like a conversation. There's a back-and-forthness about it. The book proposes, the reader questions, the book responds, the reader considers. We bring our own preconceptions and expectations, our own intellectual qualities, and our limitations, too, our own previous experiences of reading, our own temperament, our own hopes and fears, our own personality to the encounter.

And we are active about the process. We are in charge of the time, for example. We can choose when to read; we don't have to wait for a timetabled opportunity to open the covers; we can read in the middle of the night, or over breakfast, or during a long summer's evening. And we're in charge of the place where the reading happens; we're not anchored to a piece of unwieldy technology, or required to be present in a particular building along with several hundred other people. We can read in bed, or at the bus stop, or (as I used to do when I was younger and more agile) up a tree.

Nor do we have to read it in a way determined by someone else. We can skim, or we can read it slowly; we can read every word, or we can skip long passages; we can read it in the order in which it presents itself, or we can read it in any order we please; we can look at the last page first, or decide to wait for it; we can put the book down and reflect, or we can go to the library and check what it claims to be fact against another authority; we can assent, or we can disagree.

So our relationship with books is a profoundly, intensely, essentially democratic one. It places demands on the reader, because that is the nature of a democracy: citizens have to play their part. If we don't bring our own best qualities to the encounter, we will bring little away. Furthermore, it isn't static: there is no final, unquestionable, unchanging authority. It's dynamic. It changes and develops as our understanding grows, as our experience of reading - and of life itself -increases. Books we once thought great come to seem shallow and meretricious; books we once thought boring reveal their subtle treasures of wit, their unsuspected shafts of wisdom.
And we become better readers: we learn different ways to read. We learn to distinguish degrees of irony or implication; we pick up references and allusions we might have missed before; we learn to judge the most fruitful way to read this text (as myth, perhaps) or that (as factual record); we become familiar with the strengths and duplicities of metaphor, we know a joke when we see one, we can tell poetry from political history, we can suspend our certainties and learn to tolerate the vertigo of difference.

Of course, democracies don't guarantee that real reading will happen. They just make it possible. Whether it happens or not depends on schools, among other things. And schools are vulnerable to all kinds of pressure, not least that exerted by governments eager to impose "targets", and cut costs, and teach only those things that can be tested. One of the most extraordinary scenes I've ever watched, and one which brings everything I've said in this piece into sharp focus, occurs in the famous videotape of George W Bush receiving the news of the second strike on the World Trade Centre on 9/11. As the enemies of democracy hurl their aviation-fuel-laden thunderbolt at the second tower, their minds intoxicated by a fundamentalist reading of a religious text, the leader of the free world sits in a classroom reading a story with children. If only he'd been reading Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, or Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad, or a genuine fairy tale! That would have been a scene to cheer. It would have illustrated values truly worth fighting to preserve. It would have embodied all the difference between democratic reading and totalitarian reading, between reading that nourishes the heart and the imagination and reading that starves them.

But no. Thanks among other things to his own government's educational policy, the book Bush was reading was one of the most stupefyingly banal and witless things I've ever had the misfortune to see. My Pet Goat (you can find the text easily enough on the internet, and I can't bring myself to quote it) is a drearily functional piece of rubbish designed only to teach phonics. You couldn't read it for pleasure, or for consolation, or for joy, or for wisdom, or for wonder, or for any other human feeling; it is empty, vapid, sterile.

But that was what the president of the United States, and his advisers, thought was worth offering to children. Young people brought up to think that that sort of thing is a real book, and that that sort of activity is what reading is like, will be in no position to see that, for example, it might be worth questioning the US National Park Service's decision to sell in their bookstores a work called Grand Canyon: A Different View, which claims that the canyon was created, like everything else, in six days. But then it may be that the US is already part way to being a theocracy in the sense I mean, one in which the meaning of reading, and of reality itself, is being redefined. In a recent profile of Bush in the New York Times, Ron Suskind recalls: "In the summer of 2002, a senior adviser to Bush told me that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community', which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality'. I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works any more,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.'"

The democracy of reading exists in the to-and-fro between reader and text, when each is free to engage honestly with the other. The democracy of politics needs the same freedom and honesty in the public realm: freedom from lies and distortions about other candidates, honesty about one's own actions and programmes and sources of information. It's difficult. It's strenuous. The sort of effort it takes was never very common, but it seems to be rarer now than it was. It is quite easy for democracies to forget how to read.

I highly recommend reading anything from Karen Armstrong, by the way, if you are interested in religious matters, how they affect us today, and the historical background of that influence. The Suskind article is an eye opener and heart stopper for people who believe in logical thought process and reality.


Monday, November 08, 2004

Space Race, Act 2

In their infinite wisdom, the current war planners think we need to prepare for war in space. The Guardian today highlights the prospects. Now, doesn't this go back to how failed the thinking is in the current administration that they are interested in this stupidity? As many have pointed out before, the people planning in this administration cannot get past the idea that nation states are enemies and that terrorists, by themselves, are not because they must have a state sponsor somewhere and therefore going after some sovereign is the only way to root out terrorism. So, who might we go to war with that would necessitate our having to take out a spy sattelite? Makes one wonder...


Which Wife?

I heard a lot about how much an asset W's wife was on the campaign trail. I wonder which one they were talking about: Laura, who once commented that she doesn't get involved in W's work, or Condi, who should have been manning the NSA when she decided to out politicking instead.

The Carpetbagger today has
an interesting find about what Condi was up to 4 days after the release of the latest OBL video and less than a week before a major assault on Fallujah. She was a little too busy with politics to do her job. Sounds like almost everyone in this administration of Mayberry Machiavellis.

As The Carpetager points out, "No wonder the Bush White House is so inept when it comes to national security -- the president's NSA wants to be Karl Rove's sidekick."


Not All Conservatives Are Idiots, Just Those That Vote For People Like Bush

From the eminently conservative VDare:

November 05, 2004

An Election That Will Live In Infamy
By Paul Craig Roberts

On November 2 Americans blew their only chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of the world.

The entire world is stunned by the Bush administration’s abandonment of a half century of US diplomacy in favor of misguided, unilateralist, "preemptive" naked aggression on totally false pretenses against Iraq. America’s allies are amazed at the ignorance manifested by the Bush administration. They are resentful of Bush’s "in-your-eye" attitude toward friends who warned Bush against leading America into a quagmire and giving Osama bin Laden the war he wanted.

The world was waiting hopefully for the sensible American people to rectify the ill-advised actions of a rogue neoconservative administration. Instead, Americans placed the stamp of approval on the least justifiable military action since Hitler invaded Poland.

In the eyes of the world, Bush’s reelection is proof that Ariel Sharon’s neoconservative allies in the Bush administration speak for America after all.

The world’s sympathy for America that followed the September 11 attacks has been squandered. If the US suffers terrorist attacks in the future, the world will say that America invited the attacks and got what it asked for.

Europeans and Asians will never be able to comprehend that Bush was reelected because Americans were voting against homosexual marriage and abortion.

The world is simply unable to believe that Americans, so enamored of family values, would vote to send their sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers to unprovoked war unless Americans valued empire and control over oil as more important than their family members.

The crude propagandistic Republican campaign against John Kerry is shocking to Europeans. The childishness of American conservatives scares them.

America’s French friends, seeking to save America from making the same mistakes that France made in the past, advised Bush not to rush into an Iraqi invasion. American conservatives instantly and blindly perceived French words of wisdom as proof that France was in the "against us" camp. Conservatives announced a boycott of French fries. Everything French was denigrated for no other reason than the French tried to warn us.

Conservatives quickly produced a "revisionist" book, "Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France," "proving" that France has always been America’s worst enemy.

America’s European allies cannot differentiate the immaturity of American conservatives from the ignorance of the National Socialists.

As hearts harden and minds close against America, Americans will have to go it alone.

The US invasion of Iraq has proved to be a disaster—exactly as the French and everyone with a mere modicum of sense said in advance. Eight of ten US divisions are tied down by a few thousand insurgents.

US troops do not control towns, cities, roads, or even the fortified Green Zone.

The American impulse is to smash cities, thus killing women and children and destroying the homes and livelihoods of noncombatants, while the insurgents regroup elsewhere. The top American generals, who were ridiculed by the Secretary of Defense and his deluded neoconservative deputy for forthrightly stating that occupation of Iraq would require a larger army than was available, stand vindicated.

The price of the Bush administration’s delusion is 10,000 dead and maimed American troops—more than three times the casualties caused by the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Bush’s declared policy of "continuing to the end" will swell this number and bring back the draft.

The world is amazed that Americans do not care that they have been deceived, lied to, and incompetently led and that Americans have chosen to continue along this path.

Bush’s reelection has ended forever respect for America.

New and unflattering sobriquets for Americans are emerging.

The American century is over.


Paul Craig Roberts is the author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice


Rove is a Seer, Not a Genius

I wonder if McCain's soul knows a good jig to keep the guy in the picture company. See, in 2000, Rove's push polling, people were asked if they would vote for McCain if they knew he was a traitor to the US. Of course, this was a reference to McCain's signing a letter after being tortured in the Hanoi Hilton denouncing the US actions in Vietnam. This was a ridiculous charge as torture rarely produces the desired results and you can get someone to say anything with enough duress. Rove was making a prediction, obviously, as the Dick W. Rove administration wouldn't possibly have had the chutzpah to attack someone who actually served, would they?