Singing the Bite Me Song


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September 24, 2006

A thing of beauty: Former President Clinton gives Chris Wallace a smackdown

I've been around and watched Bill Clinton work since he was governor in Arkansas. One of the oddest things about him was how he never let the nastiness (and in Arkansas, you would not believe the nastiness) get to him. His supporters would get riled up at some outrage, but he'd just blythely say, "Well, it's just politics."

Which makes the transcript below (and hit the link to get the video off the Crooks and Liars site) so wonderfully delicious, because when he lets loose, he lets loose with both barrels. I'm not sure what he's thinking about it now, but many of us are rejoicing. It is one thing never to let anyone see that they've pushed your buttons, but it's quite another to give someone a verbal smackdown they so richly deserve, and to do it well. Makes you long for the old days when oratorical skills actually meant winning arguments.

I think I have to nominate Clinton for the first-ever Bite Me award. Let's all give him a rousing chorus of the Bite Me Song! (sung to the tune of Yale's "Boola Boola" song)

Bite me bite me! Bite me bite me!
Bite me bite me. Bite me bite me!

Again, with feeling!

Link: Crooks and Liars | Fox Clinton Interview - Part 1 - Osama bin Laden.

Thanks to Crooks and Liars, for the transcription. This must be preserved for posterity.

Fox_fns_clinton_part1_060924a1 Here’s the transcript of the Wallace/Clinton interview below the fold:

CW:    When we announced that you were going to be on FOX News Sunday, I got a lot of email from viewers, and I’ve got to say, I was surprised most of them wanted me to ask you this question: Why didn’t you do more to put Bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were President? There’s a new book out which I suspect you’ve read called The Looming Tower. And it talks about how the fact that when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, Bin Laden said, "I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of US troops." Then there was the bombing of the embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole

WJC:   Okay…

CW:     …May I just finish the question, sir? And after the attack, the book says Bin Laden separated his leaders because he expected an attack and there was no response. I understand that hindsight is 20/20…

WJC:  No, let’s talk about…

CW:     …but the question is why didn’t you do more? Connect the dots and put them out of business?

WJC:  Okay, let’s talk about it. I will answer all of those things on the merits, but I want to talk about the context (in) which this…arises. I’m being asked this on the FOX network…ABC just had a right-wing conservative on "The Path to 9/11" falsely claim that it was falsely based on the 911 Commission Report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission Report. I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn’t do enough claimed (then) that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush’s neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn’t have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right-wingers who now say that I didn’t do enough said (then) that I did too much. Same people.

They were all trying to get me to withdraw from Somalia in 1993, the next day after we were involved in Black Hawk Down.  And I refused to do it and stayed
six months and had an orderly transfer to the UN. Okay, now let’s look at all the criticisms: Black Hawk Down, Somalia. There is not a living soul in the world who thought that Bin Laden had anything to do with Black Hawk Down or was paying any attention to it or even knew al Qaeda was a growing concern in October of 1993.

CW:    I understand…

WJC: No wait…no wait…don’t tell me. You asked me why I didn’t do more to Bin Laden. There was not a living soul…all the people who criticized me wanted to leave the next day. You brought this up, so you get an answer.

CW:    I’m perfectly happy to. Bin Laden says…

WJC:   And secondly…

CW:     Bin Laden says…

WJC:   Bin Laden may have said that…

CW:     Bin Laden says it showed the weakness of the U.S. …

WJC:   It would have shown the weakness if we left right away, but he wasn’t involved in that. That’s just a bunch of bull. That was about Mohammed Adid, a Muslim warlord murdering…thousand Pakistani Muslim troops. We were all there on a humanitarian mission. We had not one mission - none - to establish a certain kind of Somali government or to keep anybody out. He was not a religious fanatic.

CW:     But Mr. President…

WJC:   There was no al Qaeda…

CW:     …with respect, if I may, instead of going through ‘93…

WJC:   You asked, you. It (was) you (who) brought it up.

CW:     May I ask a general question that you can answer? The 9/11 Commission, which you talk about–and this is what they did say–not what ABC pretended they said…

WJC:   Wait, wait…

CW:     …They said about you and 43 and I quote, "The U.S. government took the threat seriously, not in the sense of mustering anything like that would be….to confront an enemy of the first, second or third rank"…

WJC:   That’s not true with us and Bin Laden…

CW:     …the 9/11 Commission says…

WJC:   Let’s look at what Richard Clarke says. You think Richard Clarke had a vigorous attitude about Bin Laden?

CW:     Yes, I do.

WJC:   You do?

CW:     I think he has a variety of opinions and loyalties, but yes.

WJC:   He has a variety of opinion and loyalties now but let’s look at the facts. He worked for Ronald Reagan; he was loyal to him. He worked for George H.W. Bush and he was loyal to him. He worked for me and he was loyal to me. He worked for President Bush; he was loyal to him. They downgraded him and the terrorist operation. Now, look what he said. Read his book and read his factual assertions - not opinions–assertions. He said we took "vigorous action" after the African embassies. We probably nearly got Bin Laden.

CW:     [..]

WJC:   Now, wait a minute…

CW:     …cruise missiles…

WJC:   I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill him. The CIA was run by George Tenet, who President Bush gave the Medal of Freedom to and said he did a good job. The country never had a comprehensive anti-terror operation until I came to office. If you can criticize me for one thing, you can criticize me for this: after the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full scale attack/search for Bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan, which we got (only) after 9/11. The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that Bin Laden was responsible while I was there. They refused to certify. So that meant I would have had to send a few hundred Special Forces in helicopters and refuel at night. Even the 9/11 Commission didn’t do (think we should have done) that. Now the 9/11 Commission was a political document, too? All I’m asking is if anybody wants to say I didn’t do enough, you read Richard Clarke’s book.

CW:     Do you think you did enough, sir?

WJC:   No, because I didn’t get him.

CW:     Right…

WJC:   But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including
all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for
trying. They had eight months to try and they didn’t.  I tried. So I tried
and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and
the best guy in the country: Dick Clarke.

            So you did FOX’s bidding on this show. You did you nice little conservative hit job on me. But what I want to know..

CW:     Now wait a minute, sir…

WJC:   [..]

CW:     I asked a question. You don’t think that’s a legitimate question?

WJC:   It was a perfectly legitimate question. But I want to know how many
people in the Bush administration you’ve asked this question of. I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked ‘Why didn’t you do anything about the Cole?’  I want to know how many you asked ‘Why did you fire Dick Clarke?’ I want to know…

CW:     We asked…

WJC:   [..]

CW:     Do you ever watch FOX News Sunday, sir?

WJC:   I don’t believe you ask them that.

CW:     We ask plenty of questions of…

WJC:   You didn’t ask that, did you? Tell the truth.

CW:     About the USS Cole?

WJC:   Tell the truth…

CW:     I…with Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s plenty of stuff to ask.

WJC:   Did you ever ask that? You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch is going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers for supporting my work on Climate Change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you’d spend half the time talking about…

CW:     [laughs]

WJC:   You said you’d spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion plus over three days from 215 different commitments. And you don’t care.

CW:     But, President Clinton…

WJC:   [..]

CW:     We were going to ask half the [interview time] about it. I didn’t think this was going to set you off on such a tear.

WJC:   It set me off on such a tear because you didn’t formulate it in an honest way and you people ask me questions you don’t ask the other side.

CW:     Sir, that is not true…

WJC:   …and Richard Clarke…

CW:     That is not true…

WJC:   Richard Clarke made it clear in his testimony…

CW:    Would you like to talk about the Clinton Global Initiative?

WJC:   No, I want to finish this.

CW:     All right…

WJC:   All I’m saying is you falsely accuse me of giving aid and comfort to Bin Laden because of what happened in Somalia. No one knew al Qaeda existed then…

CW:     Did they know in 1996, when he declared war on the U.S.? Did no one know in 1998…

WJC:    Absolutely, they did.

CW:     …when they bombed the two embassies?

WJC:   [..]

CW:     Or in 2000, when they hit the Cole?

WJC:   What did I do?  I worked hard to try and kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still President, we’d have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him. Now I never criticized President Bush, and I don’t think this is useful. But you know we do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is 1/7 as important as Iraq. And you ask me about terror and Al Qaeda with that sort of dismissive theme when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke’s book to look at what we did in a comprehensive, systematic way to try to protect the country against terror. And you’ve got that little smirk on your face. It looks like you’re so clever…

CW:    [Laughs]

WJC:   I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get Bin Laden. I regret it, but I did try. And I did everything I thought I responsibly could. The entire military was against sending Special Forces into Afghanistan and refueling by helicopter and no one thought we could do it otherwise. We could not get the CIA and the FBI to certify that al Qaeda was responsible while I was President. [Not] until I left office.  And yet I get asked about this all the time and they had three times as much time to get him as I did and no one ever asks them about this. I think that’s strange.

CW:    Can I ask you about the Clinton Global Initiative?

WJC:   You can.

CW:     I always intended to, sir.

WJC:   No, you intended to move your bones by doing this first. But I don’t mind people asking me. I actually talked to the 9/11 Commission for four hours and I told them the mistakes I thought I made. And I urged them to make those mistakes public because I thought none of us had been perfect.  But instead of anybody talking about those things. I always get these clever little political…where they ask me one-sided question. It always comes from one source. And so…

CW:     [..]

WJC:   And so…

CW:     I just want to ask you about the Clinton Global Initiative, but what’s
the source? You seem upset…

WJC:   I am upset because…

CW:     …and all I can say is, I’m asking you in good faith because it’s on people’s minds, sir. And I wasn’t…

WJC:   There’s a reason it’s on people’s minds. That’s the point I’m trying to make. There’s a reason it’s on people’s minds because they’ve done a serious disinformation campaign to create that impression. This country only has one person who has worked against terror…[since] under Reagan. Only one: Richard Clarke.  And all I’d say [to] anybody who wonders whether we did wrong or right; anybody who wants to see what everybody else did, read his book. The people on my political right who say I didn’t do enough, spent the whole time I was president saying ‘Why is he so obsessed with Bin Laden?’ And that was ‘Wag the Dog’ when he tried to kill him. My Republican Secretary of Defense, - and I think I’m the only person since WWII to have a Secretary of Defense from the opposition party - Richard Clarke, and all the intelligence people said that I ordered a vigorous attempt to get Osama Bin Laden and came closer apparently than anybody has since.

CW:     All right…

WJC:   And you guys try to create the opposite impression when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke’s findings and you know it’s not true. It’s just not true. And all this business about Somalia  – the same people who criticized me about Somalia were demanding I leave the next day. Same exact crowd.

CW:     One of the…

WJC:   So if you’re going to do this, for God’s sake, follow the same standards for everybody.

CW:     I think we do, sir.

WJC:   Be fair.

CW:     I think we do. One of the main parts of the Global Initiative this year is religious reconciliation. President Bush says that the fight against Islamic extremism is the central conflict of the century and his answer is promoting democracy and reform. Do you think he has that right?

WJC:   Sure. To advocate democracy and reform in the Muslim world? Absolutely. I think the question is: What’s the best way to do it? I think also the question is how do you educate people about democracy? Democracy is about way more than majority rule. Democracy is about minority rights, individual rights, restraints on power. And there’s more than one way to advance democracy. But do I think on balance, that in the end, after several bouts of instability, do I think it would be better if we had more freedom and democracy? Sure, I do. …[Do I think] the president has a right to do it? Sure, I do. But I don’t think that’s all we can do in the Muslim world. I think they have to see us try to get a just and righteous peace in the Middle East. They have to see us as willing to talk to people who see the world differently than we do.

CW:    Last year at this conference you got $2.5 billion in commitments, pledges.  How did you do this year?

WJC:   Well, this year we had $7.3 billion, as of this morning.

CW:     7…Excuse me…

WJC:   $7.3 billion, as of this morning. $3 billion of that is…that’s over a multi-year [commitment]. These are at most 10-year commitments. That came from Richard Branson’s commitment to give all his transportation profits to clean energy investments. But still that’s over $4 billion [raised excluding Branson’s donation]. And we will have another 100 commitments and probably raise another billion dollars. We have a lot of commitments still in process.

CW:    When you look at the $3 billion from Branson, plus billions that Gates is giving and Warren Buffet, what do you make of this age of philanthropy?

WJC:   I think that for one thing, really rich people have always given money away. They’ve endowed libraries and things like that. The unique thing about this age is first of all, you have a lot of people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who are interested in issues around the world that grow out of the nature of the 21st century and its inequalities - the income inequalities, the education inequalities, the health care inequalities. You get a guy like Gates who built Microsoft and he actually believes that he can help overcome all of the health disparities in the world. That’s the first thing. Second thing, there are a lot of people with average incomes who are joining me because of the Internet. Take the tsunami, for example. We had $1.3 billion given….by [average income] households. The third things you have all these NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that you can partner with along with the government. So all these things together mean that people with real money [can contribute] in ways that help people that before would have been only the object of government grants and loans.

CW:     I know we’re over, but can I ask you two political questions? Let’s talk
some politics. In that same New Yorker article, you say you’re tired of Karl
Rove’s BS.  I’m cleaning up what you said.

WJC:    I also say I’m not tired of Karl Rove. I don’t blame Karl Rove. If you’ve got a deal that works, you just keep on doing it.

CW:     So what is the BS?

WJC:   Well, every even number year–right before an election–they come up with some security issue. In 2000, right before the election. In 2002, our party supported them in undertaking weapon inspections in Iraq and were 100% behind them in Afghanistan and they didn’t have any way to make us look like we didn’t care about terror. And so they decided they would [push] the Homeland Security bill that they opposed and they put some pill in it that we wouldn’t pass–like taking the job rights away from 170,000 people–and then [they could] say that we were weak on terror if we weren’t for it. This year I think they wanted to make the question of prisoner treatment and intercepted communications the same sort of issue until John Warner came and Lindsey Graham got in there and it turns out there were some Republicans who believe in the Constitution and their convictions…some ideas about how best to fight terror.

            As long as the American people believe that we take this seriously and we may have our differences over Iraq, but I think we’ll do fine this election.

            Even if they agree with us about the Iraq war, we could be hurt by Karl Rove’s new foray if we don’t make it clear that we care about the security of this country. We want to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations, which they haven’t [done] in four years. We want to [..] Afghanistan against Bin Laden. We want to make America more energy-independent. If they want to talk about Iraq, say what they really want about Iraq.

            But Rove is good and [that is] why I honor him.  I’ve always been amused by how good he is. But on the other hand, this is perfectly predictable. We’re going to win a lot of seats if the American people aren’t afraid. If they’re afraid and we get divided again, then we’ll only win a few seats.

CW:     Do you think the White House and the Republicans want to make the American people afraid?

WJC:   Of course they do. They want another Homeland Security bill and they want to make it not about Iraq but some other security issue, where if we disagree with them, we are by definition endangering the security of the country. And it’s a big load of hooey. We’ve got nine Iraq war veterans running for House seats. President Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy is the Democratic candidate for Senate in Virginia. A three-star admiral who was on my NSC staff - who also fought terror, by the way - is running for the seat of Curt Weldon in Pennsylvania. We’ve got a huge military presence in this campaign and you can’t let them have some rhetorical device that puts us in a box that we don’t belong in.

          That’s their job. Their job is to beat us. But our job is to not let them get away with it and if we don’t, we’ll be fine.

CW:     Mr. President, thank you for one of the more unusual interviews.

WJC:   I promise you, I was not trying to [..].

 

September 24, 2006 at 02:04 PM in Best Essays, Favorite Links, Media & Journalism, News to Note, Politics, Rhetoric, Singing the Bite Me Song, Television, War/Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 11, 2006

Response to Part 1 of the ABC fictionalized "docu-drama" "The Path to 9/11"

I wrote this yesterday, and just now, on listening to the President's speech tonight, I decided to post my thoughts from last night here as well. I have to think and process more on Part 2 and the president's speech, but my immediate thought, upon listening to the ridiculous editorializing of the ABC program, is that the president's handlers coordinated and scripted his address, probably from an advance DVD of the film, or visa versa. But I'll talk more about the ham-handedness of it all in another post. Dear lord, I just watched the film gloss over the delivery of the NIE warning to the president on August 6. And there was just some odd editing with garbled audio over a discussion about how the press disclosed a surveillance system and that has hurt the terrorism fight. (I mean, can you get more ham-handed?)

But first, I need to post this essay below.

I started writing this on an impulse to send it as a tip for media accuracy, at the site MediaMatters. But after I got sorta long-winded, I realized it really isn't the type of thing MediaMatters can pin down and expose.

What this really needs, what I really need it to be, is a visual and aural rhetorical study, a scholarly approach that can reach and persuade a lay audience while holding to the standards of proof and reasoning that good scholarship demands. It shouldn't just be an academic article that rots in an exclusive and unread academic journal.

In other words, I think a grad student somewhere should do this study I propose in general terms below as a seminar paper in a Rhetorical Criticism course or a Visual Rhetoric course, and then, of course, she should post it to her blog, where it can find a real audience.

I dunno. Maybe at some point in the future, I'll have more time to devote to the ideas below. But right now, I offer it here as a heuristic, a rambling starting point of sorts. You go gettum!

Miasma

An Open Letter to Media Matters (mediamatters.org):

Story TIP: The REAL dangers and inaccuracies in ABC's "Path to 9/11"

I had to watch it this evening, to see what made it in the final edit, what was toned down (very little was toned down, that I can see). Good god, this film is awful.

So you MediaMatters guys will run down the inaccuracies, and I count on you for that. But I wanted to alert you to the greater damage this film is doing, very subtle stuff.

I am deeply concerned over a kind of unthinking racism that this film not only reinforces, it also FEEDS it.

I'm referring specifically to the depictions of Muslims and terrorists outside the U.S., what ABC would probably call "cultural depictions," or "realism." It is the deepest propaganda of this film, because it flattens out Muslim cultures, makes them so "other" that the most important audience for this film, the racists and borderline racist people IN the U.S. could even be motivated to commit violences like those shown in the global hunt for terrorists in their extreme fervor and anger and quest for vengeance.

I would not be surprised to see events similar to lynchings, to what happened to Matthew Shepherd, in response to this film, if we were closer to the events of 9/11. Six years of Republicans in power have emboldened the closet racists in our culture to claim hegemony and to thump their chests more openly, by wearing their cultural prejudices and bigotry in public, by preaching them as cultural norms to increase the greater unthinking cultural bigotry in our society with a kind of critical mass (I get the same freaky feeling watching this film as I get from looking at old TV cigarette commercials where doctors tout their favorite ciggies).

I have not traveled much, but I've been to a mixed Muslim/Hindu nation, and around many scenes similar to those setting portrayed in the film in Muslim cultures. I am also an avid watcher of all types of news channels.

I understand that shooting guns in the air is a documented part of of many Middle East and Asian cultures, even at weddings.

I understand there's a different kind of background noise in markets, in cultures where people move around on foot and actually interact with each other outside of the exoskeletons Americans call cars.

But listen to the SOUNDTRACK of this film. Listen to where the background noise loops.

Yes, drumbeats and such are used to dramatic effects in the more even-handed film, "United 93." Calls to prayer are part of the sounds of the culture. Women singing, someone patting hypnotically on small skin drums. Yet ALWAYS, ABC depicts these terrorist camps and bases as utterly chaotic, noisy, almost incomprehensible, sort of like that choreographed "golden calf" idolatry orgy scene in DeMille's "Ten Commandments."

I'm struck in some ways by the caricatures of US military bases in "boot camp/drill sergeant" movies. The bases always have a busy background on camera, with a group doing calisthenics at all times, or jogging and chanting military chants.

And here, "terrorist training camps" always have to have chaotic scenes where Toyota trucks full of turbaned people careen around wildly while the turbaned people yell at the top of their lungs constantly and shoot guns in the air. Activity must always be at a constant fevered pitch. I'm amazed ABC left out a "mad gleam" in every terrorists' eyes, or why they didn't add flecks of spittle at the corners of their mouths, the Muslim equivalent of U.S. early media "black face" films, or perhaps even "Reefer Madness."

Against this backdrop, Americans' racist buttons are being pushed. The Muslims portrayed are consistently shown as "Other." We rarely see scenes from any other point of view than the US soldiers or intelligence operative's POV (apart from the occasional informants' POV, or that of the Northern Alliance leader Massoud).

It's sort of like how stories of British colonial arrogance appear to us now, as in Kipling, Burroughs, or even in Orwell (Shooting an Elephant, a masterpiece): unthinking, unconscious. Not deliberate racism so much as the unthinking arrogance of power and white ascendancy as an unquestioned entitlement.

This is a military recruitment film. It is designed to whip up unthinking gut-level anti-Muslim, anti-brown people racism (see also Macaca incident in VA), and make people who already have those inclinations desire to go overseas and take out their rage on some brown people who chant incomprehensible things in loud and chaotic, incomprehensible cultural spaces.

Yes, it is also designed to whip up fear, make you wonder what bomb-making equipment the brown person in the next apartment is keeping behind drawn shades. But I think anger and violence with racist triggers are an even bigger boogie man in this film than simple fear-mongering.

And I believe the most insidious effect of the film can be found in the background soundtrack in overseas Muslim cultural scenes. The "noise" loop.

I'm reminded of how the Valkyrie scene of the anti-war film "Apocalypse Now" is played to whip up soldier rage before shipping out in the movie "Jarhead." I believe many scenes from this film will have similar motivational uses within the US military as well.

We never see what triggers the Muslim anti-American rage. American soldiers just walk into it and can't comprehend why they are so hated and spit upon.

The answer the film provides is that Muslim rage is incomprehensible and can only be met by trying to humiliate and beat down Muslims.

Instead of fighting terrorism, what we are getting is a religious/cultural race war, with a demonized enemy created by a propaganda machine.

Leni Riefenstahl knew that it was the cultural depictions that mattered most, not just the content of Hitler's rousing speeches. This film does what WWII propaganda did to the depiction of "Japs" as evil, more so than Germans, which were more widely sympathetic in US culture, as was that unthinking gut-level right-wing fascist tilt at that time, in ordinary folks, not just Ford and IBM.

The racism of the film also reminds me of conversations I've had with my neighbors, a family who moved here from an Israeli kibbutz, very nice people. Like many Israelis in the US, they are left speechless at what they call the incomprehensible anti-Israel bias in US media. From talking with them, I can tell their objections exist because the Palestinian (and now, Lebanese) POV is presented AT ALL. They can't figure it out. According to them, the media must be anti-Israeli, because it is such a sharp contrast to the myopic groupthink of Israeli media.

I like and respect my neighbors, and have eaten at their home for Sabbath. But on this issue, there is simply NO other viewpoint that they can hold.

Journalists often say that if two polarized groups complain that you're biased to the other side, then you must be doing something right, as an equal opportunity offender.

But the US media is SO embarrassingly pro-Israel that I've watched repeatedly and counted casualties from news stories on both sides. Yet I've watched television coverage report ONLY the casualties on one side, Israeli casualties, and if reporting Arab casualties, downplaying them heavily in comparison.

Palestinian deaths are as invisible in US media as Iraqi casualties before the Iraqis started killing each other, back when most of the Iraqi civilian deaths were caused by U.S. acts of aggression and war.

So it appears many of the Israeli people, good people, are so steeped in their deep cultural racism against their hostile neighbors, can't even see that what they call bias in the U.S. media doesn't even come close to being bias.

People steeped in Israeli-style racism see their Arab neighbors as subhuman, perhaps made subhuman by their anti-Semitism, but subhuman nonetheless. Any depiction of Arabs as anything but hate-filled and incomprehensibly subhuman is a bias against Israel.

And this film also applies the beginnings of that same subhuman bias to the Muslims in the story. They are portrayed as incomprehensibly evil, incomprehensibly violent.

(Oh, except ABC's ubiquitous heroic correspondent (is John Miller a composite or a real person? Oh, he's on ABC right now, works PR for the FBI. Go figure.), who almost speaks admiringly from his visit with bin Laden, of his religious purity and his charismatic hold over his followers.)

The result seems to virtually guarantee that we will never understand the cultures that spawn Muslim jihad terrorism, and it essentially sets up fascist-style ethnic cleansing (crushing the culture totally, as if that could be done) or some other "final solution" as the only option in a FALSE DILEMMA FALLACY.

Appeasement or violent annihilation are NOT the only two options. In the black and white world of this film, that is the way they're presented.

just something to think about.

Sincerely,

Miasma

p.s. you wanna know how crazy/paranoid the repression inside this country has gotten? I'm actually apprehensive about posting this publicly without some kind of disclaimer, noting that I'm NOT a sympathizer to ANY violent terrorist causes.

WHY? Because so few of the people in power right now, people who make blacklists, budding fascists that they are, actually UNDERSTAND reasoning and rhetoric enough to know what a False Dilemma Fallacy IS, at least enough to actually be able to literally read and understand the point I'm trying to make above.

The biggest problem is that logic and reasoning, uniquely Western cultural constructs, are amazingly absent (or deliberately absent) in the education of the class of people who currently hold (and grab) so much power for themselves and over others. They just aren't very well-read, even of the dead white men conservative literary critics tout as cultural literacy. They seem badly unable to understand any form of thought that doesn't involve blind-trust authoritarianism or fear-driven bigotry.

September 11, 2006 at 10:31 PM in Best Essays, Media & Journalism, News to Note, Orwell, Politics, Religion, Rhetoric, Television, War/Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Shooting an Elephant," by George Orwell

Shooting An Elephant

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people, the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.

All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically, and secretly, of course, I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos � all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism � the real motives for which despotic governments act. Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took my rifle, an old 44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought the noise might be useful in terrorem. Various Burmans stopped me on the way and told me about the elephant's doings. It was not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone "must." It had been chained up, as tame elephants always are when their attack of "must" is due, but on the previous night it had broken its chain and escaped. Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve hours' journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no weapons and were quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed somebody's bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.

The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palmleaf, winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of "Go away, child! Go away this instant!" and an old woman with a switch in her hand came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd of naked children. Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen. I rounded the hut and saw a man's dead body sprawling in the mud. He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he could not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.) The friction of the great beast's foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man I sent an orderly to a friend's house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. I had already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright and throw me if it smelt the elephant.

The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant � I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary � and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you. I marched down the hill, looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over my shoulder and an ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass. The elephant was standing eight yards from the road, his left side towards us. He took not the slightest notice of the crowd's approach. He was tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them into his mouth.

I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant � it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery � and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of "must" was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd � seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing � no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal.) Besides, there was the beast's owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him.

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn't be frightened in front of "natives"; and so, in general, he isn't frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable throats. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights. I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward.

When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick � one never does when a shot goes home � but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time � it might have been five seconds, I dare say � he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.

I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open � I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.

In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dash and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

Autumn, 1936

September 11, 2006 at 09:49 PM in Best Essays, Books, Favorite Links, Orwell | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 29, 2006

The old "Wonkette" as Time.com Washington Editor?

Link: COX IN THE HEN HOUSE.

OK, what's wrong with this picture? I get that Ana Marie Cox was a serious journalist before becoming Wonkette, as the article says below, working at Mother Jones and the Chronicle of Higher Ed. Fine. But Washington Editor?! Replacing Matt Cooper? WTF?

And I'm all for bloggers making an end run around the traditional journalistic pecking order gauntlet, where usually it means you came from a prep school and went to Harvard or a famous journalism program, then bought your famous media internship. Generally, the idea that the only way to the top in the Washington press corp was through an impossible labyrinth of trenches and who-you-know (right up there with K-Street? Do you get hired for your Rollodex? That reinforces the prep-school feeling about it all.) galls me greatly.

But a thousand political blogs are blooming in a reborn social commons, and there are some REALLY FINE voices out there, WOMEN, people I can respect a hell of a lot more than "Wonkette." You gotta be kidding me if you think she's the cream of the crop with all the heavy snark and sex talk. Time.com should be at Blogher Conference right now, like I wish I were.

And I LOVE that they picked a woman, but good god, why THAT woman? Please note, I don't know Ana Marie Cox from Eve, and while I'd probably immensely enjoy going out for beers with her, I take my opinion only from the tone and scope of the old "Wonkette" blog, which I'd call fun, but not exactly Washington editor material.

If they wanted someone who has taken a blog leadership role and rejuvinated a sense of holding government accountable, why not go after Arianna Huffington? (she probably wouldn't take it anyway, heh) She has accomplished something substantial in the blogosphere, creating a powerful stable of bloggers who are actively holding government far more accountable than Time.com is. (Maybe Time.com accurately realizes that Huffington Post is becoming its competition, something Wonkette NEVER was.)

I dunno, maybe Time.com was doing one of those GOP-token women things, where the women Republicans put in prominent positions are PR flash, fake placeholder fronts for the MEN who get the real responsibility (like Christine Todd Whitman, who didn't like being a fake woman figurehead all that much, or like our current president, who doesn't seem to mind being a fake figurehead leader at all), just so they can be seen to be publicly promoting women for the PR value of it, even though the good ol' boys in the smoke-filled rooms are deeply loathe to share any REAL power.

I sure would hope Cox would take 'em on, if that is the case, and I'm betting if they expect her to act properly de-fanged, she'd tell them precisely where they could stick it. I mean, of course I'd take the offer if I were in her shoes, but damn if I wouldn't be on the lookout for some other shoe to drop.

I'm just projecting, making all that up, but this just chaps my hide. Does Time.com expect to hold any crediblity with this? Or is that somehow the point? Perhaps Time is just delightedly certain that Cox will never be subpoenaed for her sources by the government, the way Cooper was.

I mean, would Time pick someone from a supermarket gossip tabloid to run other major coverage efforts?

Ana_marie_cox Is it a bald-faced play for that coveted youth-babe-loving male demographic with advertising buying power? Strictly a PR hire to "buy cred" in the blogosphere?

Does it reflect the male assumption that mature, experienced, competent women have no place in this newly-reborn out-of-the-closet 2000s sexism, where women are tolerated so long as they don't look like they know what they're doing or threaten the male power establishment? In other words, mouthy Ann Coulter clones, of any political stripe?

Would they have given this same job to Cox if she had the same writing "voice" and looked like, say, Madeline Albright or Donna Shalala or even Arianna Huffington?

Or is the Washington editor just a nothing job? (I bet there's a fair number of folks inside Time.com who'd been bucking for the job, working their way up, who just got leap-frogged.)

Maybe government sources are rejoicing at the potentially free-er ride they'll get from at least one major newsweekly, so long as they obfuscate with juicy sex and gossip bits to hide pork, kickbacks, incompetence, or other corruptions.

Or maybe Time.com actually strategized that the Ann Coulter-loving GOP power-brokers who don't take women seriously will let their guard down more with the likes of Cox. You know, the kind who let the "girls" froth and foam, take a puff from a stinky cigar, pat them on the head, and say, "There there, honey. You tell 'em, all right. Are you sure you won't fuck me now? I just love it when you get all worked up."

Cox in the Henhouse?

Former Wonkette Ana Maria Cox's transformation from blogger cover girl to Old Media's new hope is almost complete. Cox on Thursday was named Washington editor of Time.com, where she will coordinate political coverage and continue to contribute articles. "I've been trying to sell out for a very long time," Cox wrote in an e-mail to WWD. "I'm proud to say I finally have."

Cox will succeed Matt Cooper, who jumped ship for Condé Nast's upcoming business magazine Portfolio, and who often served as blog fodder in Cox's Wonkette days. Said Cox, "Matt asked me to inscribe his copy of my book with, ‘Thanks for all the material.'" She expects to write more often than Cooper did in the role, as well as amp up the magazine's quotient of "satirical, biting D.C. commentary."

Time, suffering like all newsweeklies to maintain its relevance in a 24-hour news cycle, is evidently pinning its hopes on Cox to bring buzz to its Web site. For those who remember her mostly for her bawdiness and outing of Capitol Hill indiscretions and who doubt her prowess on subjects such as the midterm elections, Cox cited her years as a serious journalist for publications like Mother Jones and The Chronicle of Higher Education. But that doesn't mean the new gig signals a new, soberer Cox. "I won't change much about what I write about or the way I write it," she said, "because that's how I got here." — Irin Carmon

July 29, 2006 at 11:35 AM in Best Essays, Cyberculture, Democracy, Favorite Links, Media & Journalism, News to Note, Politics, Rhetoric, Satire, Singing the Bite Me Song, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 16, 2006

Speaking of the brilliance of The Onion...

I've been thinking furiously lately about the growing pandemic of righteous relativism, not even trendy po-mo relativism. This is that odd concoction, AUTHORITARIAN RELATIVISM.

Quick! Go find the ghost of Harvard's William Perry Jr.! Let's do a study! My idea of what he might find with this new category of anti-intellectual development, after this brief word from Holy Writ, The Onion. (can you tell I'm sporting for a fight?)

Link: Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory | The Onion - America's Finest News Source.

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory

August 17, 2005   | Issue 41•33          

KANSAS CITY, KS—As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

"Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

Burdett added: "Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power."

[...]

According to the ECFR paper published simultaneously this week in the International Journal Of Science and the adolescent magazine God's Word For Teens!, there are many phenomena that cannot be explained by secular gravity alone, including such mysteries as how angels fly, how Jesus ascended into Heaven, and how Satan fell when cast out of Paradise.

The ECFR, in conjunction with the Christian Coalition and other Christian conservative action groups, is calling for public-school curriculums to give equal time to the Intelligent Falling theory. They insist they are not asking that the theory of gravity be banned from schools, but only that students be offered both sides of the issue "so they can make an informed decision."

[...]

Proponents of Intelligent Falling assert that the different theories used by secular physicists to explain gravity are not internally consistent. Even critics of Intelligent Falling admit that Einstein's ideas about gravity are mathematically irreconcilable with quantum mechanics. This fact, Intelligent Falling proponents say, proves that gravity is a theory in crisis.

[...]

Some evangelical physicists propose that Intelligent Falling provides an elegant solution to the central problem of modern physics.

"Anti-falling physicists have been theorizing for decades about the 'electromagnetic force,' the 'weak nuclear force,' the 'strong nuclear force,' and so-called 'force of gravity,'" Burdett said. "And they tilt their findings toward trying to unite them into one force. But readers of the Bible have already known for millennia what this one, unified force is: His name is Jesus."        

I just love physics humor. Beware of Quantum ducks! Quark! Quark!

Oh, for those who, for no fault of their own, don't know who William Perry Jr. was (no, not the oversized football player), above, here's a link.

Here's a bit from his New York Times obituary (why did the venerable Mr Perry have to have a PAID obituary?) about his famous book:

..."Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years'' (1970) described nine developmental stages. His framework started with a freshman's simplistic adherence to notions of absolute truth and morality, traced the discovery of multiple frames of reference regarding data, and the upperclassman's subsequent growth and eventual achievement of personal and ethical commitment in a relative world. This developmental framework has had nation-wide impact on the theories of the psychological development of late adolescence. ...

Another book that turns Perry's descriptive theories on their ear somewhat is:

WOMEN'S WAYS OF KNOWING The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. By Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger and Jill Mattuck Tarule. 256 pp. New York: Basic Books. $19.95.

Otherwise known to those of us who use it as Belenky et. al. [grin]

So anyway, Belenky et. al. got to expand on Perry's descriptions of Harvard (male) undergraduate intellectual development in the 1950s, and if they get to do it, I wanna do it too! The Onion is inspiring me!

OK, here's Perry shorthand, for your crib sheet:

You show up in college (if you are male and it's the 1950s) and your world is divided into Right and Wrong. In other words, you are an authoritarian thinker. Authorities tell you what is right and wrong, frequently using the "Because I said so" argument. You get to college expecting more of the same, but if your college is worth squat, they won't let you get away with that, no sir. They actually want you to THINK FOR YOURSELF!

Radical idea, I know. Some people become authorities unto themselves, Egoistic Authoritarians, I guess. Most go the way of Perry. (Oh, btw, Belenky et. al. found that while Harvard men in the 1950s were doing this, many women in the same boat didn't have a voice, and so their intellectual position was SILENCE. As in, they were silenced. They had to break through that before they could gain their authoritarian righteousness swagger).

Now I know Perry breaks it down more finely than I'm going to do here, for the sake of my own silliness, but the thing that comes after Right and Wrong Authoritarian Dualism is a kind of defeat for overwhelmed young intellectuals. They throw up their hands in exasperation and sing (to the tune of "Everything is Beautiful") "Ooooh, Everything is Relative... in its own wa-aa-ay." Simple Relativism, otherwise known as oatmeal mush.

Simple Relativists might say:

We all have opinions, everyone is entitled to their opinions, and would you just shut up and stop making me discuss and argue every single point? THERE IS NO WAY TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN MUSHY OPINIONS ANYWAY, so let's all just go home and eat worms.

Bully for them. Future situation ethicists in the making, all of them. All opinions are interchangeable, one is as good as any other, so if someone says the world is flat, that's just as worthy a thought as if the world were round. Same if the moon is made out of green cheese. What difference does it make?

Overwhelmed people like this haven't learned that there are very good methods for weighing one viewpoint against another, of evaluating points of view and opinions, so for them, the world is simply two monster-shouters in little boxes on the screen on Fox News, each trying to out-holler the other with no way to tell if one argument is superior to another. Fox News wants us all to believe that is true, but then I'm getting ahead of myself.

To succeed in college, you are supposed to eventually think for yourself, and with luck, some professors give you intellectual tools to do things like evaluate arguments. That way you don't have to go around throwing up your hands at a world of oatmeal mush like those poor folks who watch Fox News who secretly want the ones who shout the loudest to be the winners.

So you have to think your way out of Silence, Authoritarianism, Simple Relativistic Mush, and then what happens? You learn to play sneaky little games.

Like what? Brown-Nose Games! College 101, everyone knows, is Brown-Nosing. Listen to what the teacher says and parrot it. I know, that's not sneaky, but it gets better. Brown-Nose games are a variation of Lawyer Games. That's where you learn to argue any side in an argument, and win! There were some Greek guys who perfected this to a fine art, got so good at it, some lawyers were named after them, the Sophists.

Perry would call this sophistry sophomoric, I guess, and instead see how it becomes more Complex Relativism. See, a simple relativist who believes that everything is oatmeal mush wouldn't be able to function in a Brown-Nose Universe. Brown-nosers have to be discerning, intellectual even, to be able to tell apple-cinnamon oatmeal mush from peaches and cream oatmeal mush, in order to use it to their advantage.

Brown-nosers learn the rules of the game in order to play it well. They figure, one set of rules is just as good as another set of rules, so long as they can figure out the rules. With one teacher you flatter shamelessly, another you have to sleep with, another you just learn to parrot. Like a good lawyer who can argue either side of a case, game-players of any stripe don't stop to reflect on whether the game is worthy of them, or if the game is utterly stupid, or even if the game is immoral. They just play. Complex Relativism.

Our friends Belenky et. al diverge a bit here, go off into ways of knowing things, Committed Knowing, Constructed Knowing, Collaborative Knowing (I made up that last one, I think, because I like it).

What Perry's undergrads were supposed to figure out, as their intellectual toolboxes expanded (you know, if all you have is a hammer, suddenly everything needs pounding), is that all games are not created equal, just as all opinions are not created equal. Some are better than others for reasons that we can work out through logic, support, proof, and so on. There are CRITERIA with which we can formally evaluate things and dredge our way out of the mush.

And with such evaluative power, we can argue on behalf of the superiority of certain positions, argumentative stances. We become committed to particular ways of reasoning through an issue, not because a position is RIGHT and another position is WRONG, like those Harvard freshmen, but because we can back up our thinking from a position of considering multiple viewpoints and weighing them against each other.

Of course, around about that time, some postmodernists will show up and call you a "dirty rotten foundationalist" and rant about the "tyranny of the Enlightenment" and all that. That might confuse you for a bit, thinking you had actually wandered back into that oatmeal mush, until you stop for a second and look at your own intellectual processes.

The only reason postmodernists like to call you those names is that they think anyone who jumps up and down on the lumps in their oatmeal is ready to rebuild the rigid edifices of the Inquisition, that vast enforcer of Right/Wrong authoritarianism. Postmodernists think you're the bad guy. They think you are ready to make an authoritarian religion of the ladders of thought you've built into your Committed Relativism. But your mind is more open than that, if you've come this far.

And besides, if you leave structureless, foundation-less postmodernist oatmeal out in the pan too long, it will harden into a big gray rock too, a big gray authoritarian rock of po-mo oatmeal. There are some seriously rock-hard chunks of that floating around in this world too.

But my NEW boogeyman! I want to build on Perry and Belenky et. al. for this NEW intellectual development, Authoritarian Relativism, or RIGHTEOUS RELATIVISM, oppressive relativism, preached by the true believers.

Oatmeal is simply expedient for postmodernists, who are not true believers in anything, on principle, not even in themselves. It's their anti-principle principle, their anti-foundationalist foundation. They get off on watching dogs chase their tails too.

But these new converts to the cause of relativism, they are an odd lot, as exemplified and parodied in the Onion article above.

Ron Suskind knows of these folks, one of whom admitted to him that they controlled the world because they control reality. The people who are confused, this man said, are those who are still living in the "reality-based universe."

Think of it. Conservative Authoritarian Relativists. John Dean has a book out on this topic right now too, but I haven't read it yet. Conservatives Without Conscience. I won't speak to the book much, since I haven't read it, and instead riff off the idea.

I'm not talking about conscience, though. More like I'm talking of the level of discourse that Fox News is norming out into the media landscape, overpowering the intellectual tools we hope people find in college (it's a Hail Mary pass to even dream they'll find it in high school).

The idea? Not just that all arguments about things that can't be measured, counted, or attached to a dollar value are subjective shouting matches where the loudest talker wins, but instead, a RIGHTEOUS DEVOTION to and STRIDENT ENFORCEMENT of the idea that ALL OPINIONS ARE INTERCHANGEABLE.

It's like conflating the Authoritarianism of Perry's first stage, with the Simple Relativism of the next stage, and then instead of learning criteria or ways of evaluating arguments, support, and proof, it instead requires that we must COMMIT ourselves to the idea that NO ARGUMENTS, SUPPORT, or PROOF are sufficient, and if one can do that thoroughly enough, one would have made a case for faith, for God, for the Unknown, the big Out-There. (that last step is a big leap, so I best return to it in a bit)

That's a lot to wrap my head around, so let's try to come at that again from another angle. Look at The Onion parody above. Brilliant, isn't it? Such a finessed spin on Intelligent Design. In doing so, I think it holds this kind of thinking up to the light, by virtue of the apt analogy.

Can this intellectual somersault I'm proposing actually be done? Is it being done? Sure, like John Dean says, there are Crass, Sophistic Conservatives, what we might call the "Lee Atwater School," of which Karl Rove is clearly a graduate. They probably aren't the people I'm talking about, though.

This instead is more akin to an average person, not even an avid watcher of Fox News shoutfests. People could be affected by this changing intellectual climate and not know it, until they try to have a rational discussion with someone they respect intellectually, and that person not only refuses to engage or understand actual proofs or conclusive reasoning and rebuttals, but instead righteously makes a claim that there are NO SUCH THINGS as proofs, conclusive reasoning, or rebuttals, AND that anyone who would claim such a thing is deluded (that last step is important, because folks in this camp put a lot of energy into finding people to exclude so they can deny them the keys to the kingdom).

Disenfranchising the Enlightenment, in other words. Postmodernists would counteract and rebut the Enlightenment, but would they choose to wipe the Enlightenment out of history, out of our memory? Would they long for the "good old days" of the Inquisition, of Church and State and might making right? When authorities told you what to do and think and you obeyed them, not because you thought what they said was necessarily true, but because it was better than the information glut of oatmeal mush inside your own head?

Disenfranchising human intellectual activity, in other words. That would be the overt goal, from the "Lee Atwater School" standpoint. There is nothing in "reality" that is not baldly deniable (see also the Monty Python Argument Sketch), on a national political scale, but here's where it gets scary. This is also happening around the watercooler, over beers, in college coffeehouses. Ordinary interactions are becoming less rational, less thoughtful, less carefully reasoned and weighed.

It is as if the MEDIA AUDIENCE is being deliberately turned into those overwhelmed Harvard freshmen venturing out of authoritarianism, but with the tools to deal with the flood of ideas deliberately withheld from them, so that intellectual retreat is the only response.

I do know that this particular kind of media anti-intellectualism is being manipulated by some to create that overwhelmed retreat (perhaps in the name of sixth grade reading/comprehension levels in mass media), but how does that lead to greater faith in some Supreme Deity? That last step I threw in there above was a bit of a stretch.

It would appear on the surface that righteously-enforced sophism would lead to widespread cynicism, not growing faith. That's why my bullshit detector was going off on my own line of reasoning. Maybe I got it wrong.

Would those of a certain religious persuasion (belief) hold it as a truism that driving people to extreme cynicism will lead them to god? That hardly seems like a reasonable way to go about it, when I suppose there are other ways to induce duress, that "hitting bottom" moment addicts speak of, that foxhole/hurricane need to pray (no atheists in foxholes, or, we would assume, under the screaming winds of a hurricane). Would evangelicals willingly try to fill their pews by deliberately inducing duress? (That's ruling out Charles Colson, of course, who was probably recruiting evangelical Plumbers-for-Jesus in prison and giving them their own brown shirts when they got out)

See, it just doesn't make any sense to me. Not buying it. Maybe Lee Atwaters think that, but preachers in pulpits can't all be that crass.

So that leaves what? How does Authoritarian Relativism (note to self, copyright that phrase) fill up churches? How does it lead to a world that re-creates Inquisition authoritarian castes with no cultural memory that there ever was an Enlightenment?

Maybe I answered my own question. Maybe the goal isn't to create true believers at all. In true Orwellian Doublethink (or a McLuhan-style media reversal), perhaps the goal is to fill the churches up with game-players, sophists adrift in ennui and mush, but not really committed to anything enough to object if they're asked to do any particular thing.

Authoritarian Relativists are far more malleable, I think, even than inclusive, "big tent" ecumenical types so decried by fundamentalists as a sign of the coming of the AntiChrist.

Malleable in the consumerist sense, in that they've been ultra-conditioned to blindly accept marketing messages with righteous fervor and fannish devotion (and fascist violence?) yet the marketing messages are still interchangable and can be substituted one for another at any time. The xenophobic group hate switches from illegal aliens to gays and lesbians, until the next switch. We are at war with Eurasia; we have always been at war with Eurasia.

Authoritarian Relativists are simply buttons to be pushed, in other words. Tools to be manipulated by Sophistic Conservative Authorities.

Maybe that's what's filling up those 20,000-seat mega-churches. They really don't seem to get as nutty as the 1970's charismatics did. They're pretty people who want to sing and wave their hands in a big auditorium and maybe get on TV in their nice clothes (at least that's what we see in the carefully selected video clips), ready to vote the way they're told, believe what they're told, shop in the mini-mall in the church "basement", but not to believe in anything so much that they'd ever cling to the idea of the belief in their own heads all by their own selves, without guidance from those who create and craft their fluid "un-reality-based universe."

July 16, 2006 at 08:01 PM in Best Essays, Privacy & Free Speech, Religion, Rhetoric, Satire, Singing the Bite Me Song, Television, Theory | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 03, 2005

John at AMERICAblog wants to see Ann Coulter's penis

Link: AMERICAblog: Ann Coulter's penis, not that she has one, but I've never seen evidence to the contrary .

Noting that Coulter is busy insinuating that Representative John Murtha may not have really earned the Purple Hearts he got in Vietnam, because she's never seen the physical evidence of them, John starts wondering what Coulter may be hiding that we've never seen evidence of either...

It is a stunning bit of logic that Coulter (and John at AMERICAblog) both apply, but they are not the first to use it.

You may have to tax your memory, but think back to when Iraq was forced to account for the WMDs the U.S. was accusing it of having, back when Saddam's Iraq sent over that 1,200 (or was it 12,000?) page report to the U.N., the one that the U.S. waylaid on the way to the U.N. and managed to excise a few hundred pages or so.

Well, within one day, hell, maybe hours, of that report's reception at the U.N., the U.S. was blanketing the world with statements of stunning logic and reasoning, saying to the effect that Saddam's government had NOT PROVEN that they DIDN'T have the weapons they said they didn't have.

Right up there with Ann Coulter's invisible penis, isn't it? If we can't see the evidence that it's not there, then that surely must be lockdown logic that it's there.

So step right up, Anny-Girl, let's see the proof that you don't have a penis.

And remember, just like with Iraq, a bunch of photographs with stunning evidence of ABSENCE simply is not sufficient. Because, as the Bush administration so aptly pointed out, just because we can't see them doesn't mean they aren't there (and Donald Rumsfeld knows all about those known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns).

For those who are fond of Aristotilian Venn diagrams, you can make a fun game of this to play over the holidays! It's called "Prove Ann Coulter Has a Penis!" or "Find the Missing WMDs in Iraq," your pick.

First draw a big circle. Label it as the set of all things Ann Coulter. Now draw another circle inside that circle, and label it a set called "empty space where a penis might be if there were one."

Outside the big circle, draw another big circle and label it a set of ALL the penises in the world (has to be a big circle, because they wave them around so often, build monuments to them with obelisks, rockets, guns, etc.).

Now the real trick of this game is to show that the apparent empty space circle inside Ann Coulter's circle PROVES that the big penis circle should overlap with Ann Coulter's circle.

If you can do this, YOU WIN the Miasma Bite Me Song special prize! And for extra credit, you can also prove Iraq has WMDs the same way, and get the Senate to give you war powers to go find them. Don't worry. It should be as easy as looking for Ann Coulter's penis!

Miasma

December 3, 2005 at 01:11 AM in Best Essays, Favorite Links, Rhetoric, Singing the Bite Me Song | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 04, 2005

As DeLay goes down, don't forget about K Street

This Observer column is a good reminder of the House Delay Built in the odious world of DC Lobby firms, a plot not only to deliberately subvert democracy and the democratic processes, but also an overt attempt to insure that one party would remain in power in perpetuity, through corruption and cronyism, and with K Street and beyond (and it wasn't going to stop at K Street) BLACKLISTING.

Here's the part that boggles one's mind, however. The K Street Project wasn't blacklisting some minority in need of protection against lynch mobs and discrimination. IT WAS BLACKLISTING DEMOCRATS FROM THE INSIDER NEO-GILDED AGE BEING BUILT EXCLUSIVELY FOR THE SUPER-RICH.

What I'm saying is, in some ways, the K Street Project wasn't as much political as it was a form of social engineering for a particular class, the money class. It was an attempt to bully and coerce those of the moneyed class to goosestep, or else.

How peculiar, eh? Hitler's unique brand of fascism was populist. DeLay's fascism looks like it only applies to some faint "aristocratic" genetic remnant of Hitler's elite SS breeding program. A "Red Scare" for the rich, only the epithet isn't "Commie," it's "Democrat."

Link: The Observer | Comment | Something stinks in America.

Comment

Something stinks in America

As a leading Republican prepares to face corruption charges, the fallout will be felt as far afield as Westminster

Will Hutton
Sunday October 2, 2005
The Observer

The most important political event last week for Britain did not take place at the Labour party conference in Brighton, but in Travis County, Texas. District Attorney Ronnie Earle charged the second most powerful man in the United States, Tom DeLay, with criminal conspiracy. DeLay resigned as the majority leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives while he fights the case, a stunning political setback.

[...]

The story begins in the murky world of campaign finance and the grey area of quasi-corruption, kickbacks and personal favours that now define the American political system. American politicians need ever more cash to fight their political campaigns and gerrymander their constituencies, so creating the political truth that incumbents rarely lose. US corporations are the consistent suppliers of the necessary dollars and Republican politicians increasingly are the principal beneficiaries. Complicated rules exist to try to ensure the relationship between companies and politicians is as much at arm's length as possible; the charge against DeLay is that he drove a coach and horses through the rules.

If DeLay were another Republican politician or even a typical majority leader of the House, the political world could shrug its shoulders. Somebody got caught, but little will change. But DeLay is very different. He is the Republican paymaster, one of the authors of the K Street Project and the driving force behind a vicious, organised demonisation and attempted marginalisation of Democrats that for sheer, unabashed political animus is unlike anything else witnessed in an advanced democracy. Politicians fight their political foes by fair means or foul, but trying to exterminate them is new territory. [emphasis mine]

The K Street Project is little known outside the Washington beltway and its effectiveness as a political stratagem is only possible because of the unique importance of campaign finance to American politics. DeLay, together with Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and some conservative activists, notably the ubiquitous Grover Norquist who runs the anti-state, anti-tax lobby group 'Americans for Tax Reform', conceived the notion 10 years ago that they should use the Republican majority in the House as a lever to ensure that the lobbyists, law firms and trade associations that inhabit Washington's K Street, heart of the industry, should only employ Republicans or sympathisers. To be a Democrat was to bear the mark of Cain; K Street was to be a Democrat-free zone.

This, if it could be pulled off, would have multiple pay-backs. Special-interest groups and companies have always greased the palms of American law-makers and because of lack of party discipline, they have had to grease Democrat and Republican palms alike to get the legislation they wanted. DeLay's ambition was to construct such a disciplined Republican party that lobbyists would not need Democrats, and so create an inside track in which the only greased palms from legislators to lobbyists would be Republican.

Lobbyists, law firms and trade associations should be told not to employ Democrats, so progressively excluding them from access to the lucrative channels of campaign finance. Democrats would become both poorer and politically diminished at a stroke and the Republicans would become richer and politically hegemonic.

Key vocabulary word there, hegemonic. Where's Fighting Bob LaFollette when you need him? Where's Paul Wellstone?

It has worked. The most influential Washington lobbyist is Barbour, Griffiths and Rogers; it employs not a single Democrat. Last year, in a classic operation, House Republicans let the Motion Picture Association of America (the film industry lobby group) know that appointing a Democrat, Dan Glickman, as its head would mean $1.5 billion of tax relief for the film industry was now in peril. Glickman staffed up the MPAA with Republicans, but the threat remains. In 2003, the Republican National Committee could claim that 33 of the top 36 top-level K Street positions were in Republican hands. Today, it's even closer to a clean sweep.

Corporations get their rewards. The oil and gas industry now gives 80 per cent of its campaign cash to Republicans (20 years ago, the split was roughly 50-50), and influence on this year's energy bill was a classic sting. American petrol can now contain a suspected carcinogen; operators of US natural-gas wells can contaminate water aquifers to improve the yields from the wells; the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is open to oil exploration - concessions all created by DeLay's inside track. And to provide ideological juice, there's a bevy of think-tanks, paid for from the same web of contributions, cranking out the justification that the 'state' and 'regulation' are everywhere and always wrong.

[...]

In Congress, moderate Republicans don't want guilt by association and companies value their reputation. The K Street Project stinks, along with all those associated with it. So far, the US media have been supine. DeLay's tentacles, and those of Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser, have cowed media owners into the same compliance; if they want favours, best advance the Republican cause like Murdoch's Fox News. American newsrooms are fearful places.

But DeLay's indictment breaks back the dam. US politics moves in cycles. Once it was Republicans who were going to clean up corrupt Democrat Washington; now Democrats can champion the same cause. Nor can the media afford to be on the side of the Old Corruption; it's bad for business. The wheel is turning, an important moment both sides of the Atlantic.

October 4, 2005 at 11:24 PM in Best Essays, Current Affairs, Democracy, Favorite Links, News to Note, Politics, Rhetoric, Singing the Bite Me Song | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2005

I'm not allowed to read this, but I think "Find the Brownie" is a great game

The New York Times has seen fit to take its own columnists out of circulation, a move of such peculiar logic that the columnists themselves must be dumbstruck at the 16 people each day who are actually paying just to read their words.

My bet is that they will become virtually invisible in the link-currency of the Internet within two weeks, and [PREDICTION ALERT] the Times will suspend the ridiculous policy due to its utter stupidity by Halloween. I pick Halloween not because I really think it will take that long for the company to realize the depths of its blunder, but because I think pride on business/shareholder/management side will force the editorial folks to suffer the humiliation long enough for some bean-counters to make doubly sure they won't be vindicated on a cold day in hell. As if anyone else has any doubt.

Meanwhile, I have no intention of paying retail. Nor will I ever give those bogus newspaper personal info-harvesting machines masquerading as "free registration" ANY honest personal information. I just LOVE messing with data, and those papers are selling that aggregate bogus info to spam marketers and making probably five whole cents on each registration. I hope that helps them sleep better.

So do I even want to give Paul Krugman credit for the "Find the Brownie" meme? To be more accurate, it appears he cribbed it from Monty Python's "Spot the Loony."

Still, as a viral idea, unbound from the absurdities of TimesSelect firewalls, the enterprise has legs. I can see some future web site, totally devoted to an expanding roll call of embedded "Brownies" unearthed in Bush administration political appointments.

No offense to the Girl Scouts of America, but a "Brownie" is named for Michael Brown, the criminally incompetent director of FEMA who clearly owes his appointment, along with those in several of the positions under him, to political patronage.

Krugman and many others believe that the ranks of the Bush administration are filled with many "Brownies." It remains to be seen if the actual "Brownie Count" approximates the notorious Chicago machine politics under the first Mayor Daley, or other exemplars from the era known for its "boss politics." Or perhaps the count will reach the levels of the righteous "fascists" as the movement was taking off in Europe, the people like Franco and Mussolini who had the gall to champion the corruption of crony capitalism. Now that would be something to be proud of, eh?

I must be feeling my oats today because Tom DeLay was indicted today. Ooh, I was doing the Snoopy dance, yes indeedy.

Krugman, this will probably be the last time I quote you, until after Halloween or so. Don't get too cold in that icebox, OK? Watch the DVD of "The Invisible Man" over and over again, if it makes you feel better.

Link: Star-Telegram | 09/28/2005 | Folks, we've got games for the whole family.

Posted on Wed, Sep. 28, 2005

Folks, we've got games for the whole family

By Paul Krugman
The New York UN-Timely Times

For the politically curious seeking entertainment, I'd like to propose two new trivia games: "Find the Brownie" and "Two Degrees of Jack Abramoff."

The objective in Find the Brownie is to find an obscure but important government job held by someone whose only apparent qualifications for that job are political loyalty and personal connections. It's inspired by President Bush's praise, four days after Katrina hit, for the hapless Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." I guess it depends on the meaning of the word heck.

There are a lot of Brownies. As Time magazine puts it in its latest issue, "Bush has gone further than most presidents to put political stalwarts in some of the most important government jobs you've never heard of." Time offers a couple of fresh examples, such as the former editor of a Wall Street medical-industry newsletter who now holds a crucial position at the Food and Drug Administration.

[...]

OK, enough joking.

The point of my games -- which are actually research programs for enterprising journalists -- is that all the scandals now surfacing are linked. Something is rotten in the state of the U.S. government. And the lesson of Hurricane Katrina is that a culture of cronyism and corruption can have lethal consequences.

September 29, 2005 at 02:02 AM in Best Essays, Current Affairs, Democracy, Favorite Links, Games, Intellectual Property, Media & Journalism, News to Note, Politics, Singing the Bite Me Song | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 14, 2005

How Bush Blew It: Don't let this Newsweek story slip under the radar

How the Katrina "timeline" looked from inside the West Wing, from the anonymous aides' points of view.

Some great lines in here. I'm loathe to take anything out, but the best bits are in bold.

Link: How Bush Blew It   - Newsweek: International Editions - MSNBC.com.

How Bush Blew It

After-Action Report: Bureaucratic timidity. Bad phone lines. And a failure of imagination. Why the government was so slow to respond to catastrophe.

By Evan Thomas
Newsweek

Sept. 19, 2005 issue - It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president's early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed.

In other words, he drew the short stick.

The president did not growl this time. He had already decided to return to Washington and hold a meeting of his top advisers on the following day, Wednesday. This would give them a day to get back from their vacations and their staffs to work up some ideas about what to do in the aftermath of the storm. President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad.

In my book, that kind of ignorance when you hold the kind of responsibility that comes with his office, is simply criminal. It seems clear that when Bush goes on vacation, he doesn't read briefings about "Bin Laden Determined to Strike the U.S." or even eyeball the Weather Channel as if he were a true steward of his nation. "Steward" would be the one word that, as president, will never be applied to George W. Bush. It would mean care-taking and watchfulness, the watchfulness of an earnest baby-sitter, if not a parent, not just a petulant bureaucrat who is mostly wholely concerned, when concerns are allowed to penetrate the indifferent sons of the rich and powerful, with covering his own ass. This kind of unconcern in a president should be an impeachable offense, if utter incompetence counts as such a thing.

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[...]

But it is not clear what President Bush does read or watch, aside from the occasional biography and an hour or two of ESPN here and there.

Where I come from that would be called having your head permanently stuck up your ass. Of course, many of us have been suspecting Bush was this out of it for many years now. What a contrast to the high-level policy wonk hyper-awareness of President Clinton, eh?

Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street.

[...]

When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.

[...]

The failure of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina worked like a power blackout. Problems cascaded and compounded; each mistake made the next mistake worse. The foe in this battle was a monster; Katrina flattened the Gulf Coast with the strength of a vengeful god. But human beings, beginning with the elected officials of the City of New Orleans, failed to anticipate and react in time.

Congressional investigations will take months to sort out who is to blame. A NEWSWEEK reconstruction of the government's response to the storm shows how Bush's leadership style and the bureaucratic culture combined to produce a disaster within a disaster.

Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, didn't want to evacuate. New Orleanians have a fatalistic streak; their joyful, jazz-blowing street funeral processions are legendary. After many near misses over the years since Hurricane Betsy flooded 20 percent of the city in 1965, longtime residents prefer to stay put. Nagin's eye had long been on commerce, not catastrophe. A former executive at Cox Communications, he had come to office in 2002 to clear out the allegedly corrupt old guard and bring new business to the city, which has not prospered with New South metropolises like Atlanta. During Nagin's mayoral campaign, the promises were about jobs, not stronger floodwalls and levees.

But on Saturday night, as Katrina bore down on New Orleans, Nagin talked to Max Mayfield, head of the National Hurricane Center. "Max Mayfield has scared me to death," Nagin told City Councilwoman Cynthia Morrell early Sunday morning. "If you're scared, I'm scared," responded Morrell, and the mandatory order went out to evacuate the city—about a day later than for most other cities and counties along the Gulf Coast.

As Katrina howled outside Monday morning and the windows of the Hyatt Hotel, where the mayor had set up his command post, began popping out, Nagin and his staff lay on the floor. Then came eerie silence. Morrell decided to go look at her district, including nearby Gentilly. Outside, Canal Street was dry. "Phew," Morrell told her driver, "that was close." But then, from the elevated highway, she began seeing neighborhoods under eight to 15 feet of water. "Holy God," she thought to herself. Then she spotted her first dead body.

At dusk, on the ninth floor of city hall, the mayor and the city council had their first encounter with the federal government. A man in a blue FEMA windbreaker arrived to brief them on his helicopter flyover of the city. He seemed unfamiliar with the city's geography, but he did have a sense of urgency. "Water as far as the eye can see," he said. It was worse than Hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Camille in 1969. "I need to call Washington," he said. "Do you have a conference-call line?" According to an aide to the mayor, he seemed a little taken aback when the answer was no. Long neglected in the city budget, communications within the New Orleans city government were poor, and eventually almost nonexistent when the batteries on the few old satellite phones died. The FEMA man found a phone, but he had trouble reaching senior officials in Washington. When he finally got someone on the line, the city officials kept hearing him say, "You don't understand, you don't understand."

Around New Orleans, three levees had overtopped or were broken. The city was doomed. There was no way the water could be stopped. But, incredibly, the seriousness of the situation did not really register, not only in Washington, but at the state emergency command post upriver in Baton Rouge.

This part strains my credulity, since most of these people had direct contact with the drill on the fake "Hurricane Pam" the year before. From the hurricane experts I've seen on TV, the most standout issue that surely made even the top paragraph of the executive summary of that report would be "devasting flooding in New Orleans once levees are breached, with massive loss of life." That much seems abundantly clear.

[...]

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a motherly but steely figure known by the nickname Queen Bee, knew that she needed help. But she wasn't quite sure what. At about 8 p.m., she spoke to Bush. "Mr. President," she said, "we need your help. We need everything you've got."

Bush, the governor later recalled, was reassuring. But the conversation was all a little vague. Blanco did not specifically ask for a massive intervention by the active-duty military. "She wouldn't know the 82nd Airborne from the Harlem Boys' Choir," said an official in the governor's office, who did not wish to be identified talking about his boss's conversations with the president. There are a number of steps Bush could have taken, short of a full-scale federal takeover, like ordering the military to take over the pitiful and (by now) largely broken emergency communications system throughout the region. But the president, who was in San Diego preparing to give a speech the next day on the war in Iraq, went to bed.

Mind the president's uncomplicated beauty rest now. The blissful sleep of the criminally clueless.

By the predawn hours, most state and federal officials finally realized that the 17th Street Canal levee had been breached, and that the city was in serious trouble. Bush was told at 5 a.m. Pacific Coast time and immediately decided to cut his vacation short. To his senior advisers, living in the insular presidential bubble, the mere act of lopping off a couple of presidential vacation days counts as a major event. They could see pitfalls in sending Bush to New Orleans immediately. His presence would create a security nightmare and get in the way of the relief effort. Bush blithely proceeded with the rest of his schedule for the day, accepting a gift guitar at one event and pretending to riff like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business."

That didn't stop them from sending the president into an active disaster zone in Florida last year. I heard plenty of complaints then about the presidential entourage disrupting relief efforts, making it harder for folks to get bottled water, having to route all the way around the security zone. And, my memory is bad, but I think that happened within TWO DAYS of the big hurricane hitting last year near Punta Gorda. But then, in that part of Florida, there were votes on the line.

Bush might not have appeared so carefree if he had been able to see the fearful faces on some young police officers—the ones who actually showed up for roll call at the New Orleans Second District police headquarters that morning. The radio was reporting water nine feet deep at the corner of Napoleon and St. Charles streets. The looting and occasional shooting had begun. At 2 o'clock on the morning of the storm, only 82 of 120 cops had obeyed a summons to report for duty. Now the numbers were dwindling; within a day, only 28 or 30 officers would be left to save the stranded and fight the looters, recalled a sad and exhausted Capt. Eddie Hosli, speaking to a NEWSWEEK reporter last week.

[...]

At emergency headquarters in Baton Rouge, confusion raged. Though more than 100,000 of its residents had no way to get out of the city on their own, New Orleans had no real evacuation plan, save to tell people to go to the Superdome and wait for buses. On Tuesday, the state was rounding up buses; no, FEMA was; no, FEMA's buses would take too long to get there... and so on. On Tuesday afternoon, Governor Blanco took her second trip to the Superdome and was shocked by the rising tide of desperation there. There didn't seem to be nearly enough buses, boats or helicopters.

Early Wednesday morning, Blanco tried to call Bush. She was transferred around the White House for a while until she ended up on the phone with Fran Townsend, the president's Homeland Security adviser, who tried to reassure her but did not have many specifics.

What, did she interrupt a game of presidential shuffleboard? What big "situation" in the White House was upstaging a desperate phone call from the region of the country that should have been Priority One? We know the Iraq War has never been Priority One, because the people supposedly running it blythely took a five-week vacation and couldn't really be interupted to have their head in anything else. I mean, he interrupted his vacation for the disaster, so wouldn't the folks in the White House, um, you know, been giving full attention to the disaster?

Hours later, Blanco called back and insisted on speaking to the president. When he came on the line, the governor recalled, "I just asked him for help, 'whatever you have'." She asked for 40,000 troops. "I just pulled a number out of the sky," she later told NEWSWEEK.

The Pentagon was not sitting idly. By Tuesday morning (and even before the storm) the military was moving supplies, ships, boats, helicopters and troops toward the Gulf Coast. But, ironically, the scale of the effort slowed it. TV viewers had difficulty understanding why TV crews seemed to move in and out of New Orleans while the military was nowhere to be seen. But a TV crew is five people in an RV. Before the military can send in convoys of trucks, it has to clear broken and flooded highways. The military took over the shattered New Orleans airport for emergency airlifts, but special teams of Air Force operators had to be sent in to make it ready. By the week after the storm, the military had mobilized some 70,000 troops and hundreds of helicopters—but it took at least two days and usually four and five to get them into the disaster area. Looters and well-armed gangs, like TV crews, moved faster.

Funny thing about Chinooks and Blackhawks and such, choppers that just fly up and then they show up. Mobilization? People were dying and someone was worried about whether they all took off at the same time?! Whether the boots were shined? Hell, dribble the Chinooks and Hueys out, if it gets the fucking job done. The National Guard, if it were actually present and equipped in Louisiana and Mississippi would surely have done that, since they were only missing a "third" of their people who were in Iraq. If that was the case, however, why were ANY numbers of National Guard so MIA all week, until that Friday? My guess is that the third of them that were in Iraq had all the transport equipment there with them. I'm wondering if every state's equipment stores are similarly non-existent.

I am also concerned that for all the media sites publishing "timelines," there aren't any researching side-by-side timelines with Hurricane Ivan, not because they were comparable storms, but didn't that FEMA response occur AFTER FEMA was absorbed into Homeland Security? I want to see an Ivan timeline, and a Charley timeline, and a Frances timeline...

In the inner councils of the Bush administration, there was some talk of gingerly pushing aside the overwhelmed "first responders," the state and local emergency forces, and sending in active-duty troops. But under an 1868 law, federal troops are not allowed to get involved in local law enforcement. The president, it's true, could have invoked the Insurrections Act, the so-called Riot Act. But Rumsfeld's aides say the secretary of Defense was leery of sending in 19-year-old soldiers trained to shoot people in combat to play policemen in an American city, and he believed that National Guardsmen trained as MPs were on the way.

Hmmm, I wonder where they were, and why Rummy didn't know where they were. And why would the federal troops have to "push aside" the state and local relief efforts? In a disaster with all hands on deck, wouldn't more hands be better? What's with all this "we're helping now so you aren't allowed to help" bullshit? The people who snuck in with aid and the firefighters who found a way around the FEMA assholes who were turning back truckloads and aid offers from other states were the folks who actually saved lives. Can we charge those FEMA assholes with murder like they did the nursing home administrators who didn't evacuate and forced those infirm people to die horrible deaths? Why the hell were minor FEMA bureaucrats turning aid back, anyway? It seems so absurd, but it's well-documented. Were the offers coming from people who for some reason didn't have embedded chips under their skin saying they'd already been to the Homeland Security proctologist and were certified not to be harboring terrorist implements up their asses?

If you ask me, those FEMA bureaucrats turning back the aid trucks and rejecting offers from others states WERE TERRORISTS. They were terrorizing the people of New Orleans.

If I were being a real paranoiac, I might say that it appears that FEMA was blockading the city from anything getting in, what in military terms would be called a "siege," in order to manipulate a response from either the governor or the mayor in some kind of extended "turf war." I mean, sure, everyone is crying "incompetence" when it comes to FEMA's non-response, but I seriously wonder if we aren't seeing more method in the FEMA madness that suggests competence, but with goals at cross-purposes with the relief efforts. Was New Orleans being held hostage by a federal agency trying to establish a jurisdictional precedent that would normally be unheard of? Is there any reason why FEMA can't support overwhelmed state and local disaster coordinators who actually know the maps and such, KNOW where the shelters ARE, without having to utterly take over and fuck up royally? When did the disaster response become more about a FEMA power grab and less about helping people?

The one federal agency that is supposed to handle disasters—FEMA—was dysfunctional. On Wednesday morning, Senator Landrieu was standing outside the chaotic Superdome and asked to borrow a FEMA official's phone to call her office in Washington. "It didn't work," she told Newsweek. "I thought to myself, 'This isn't going to be pretty'." Once a kind of petty-cash drawer for congressmen to quickly hand out aid after floods and storms, FEMA had improved in the 1990s in the Clinton administration. But it became a victim of the Iron Law of Unintended Consequences. After 9/11 raised the profile of disaster response, FEMA was folded into the sprawling Department of Homeland Security and effectively weakened. FEMA's boss, Bush's close friend Joe Allbaugh, quit when he lost his cabinet seat. (Now a consultant, Allbaugh was down on the Gulf Coast last week looking for contracts for his private clients.) Allbaugh replaced himself with his college buddy Mike Brown, whose last private-sector job (omitted from his official resume) had been supervising horse-show judges for the International Arabian Horse Association. After praising Brown ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of job"), Bush last week removed him from honchoing the Katrina relief operation. He was replaced by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen. The Coast Guard was one agency that performed well, rescuing thousands.

I'm glad to hear that the facts about the Coast Guard back up my perceptions as an observer. In all the awfulness, the Coast Guard was, in my mind, both tireless and heroic, and they impressed the hell out of me even without the media telling me what johnny-on-the-spots they were.

Bad news rarely flows up in bureaucracies. For most of those first few days, Bush was hearing what a good job the Feds were doing. Bush likes "metrics," numbers to measure performance, so the bureaucrats gave him reassuring statistics. At a press availability on Wednesday, Bush duly rattled them off: there were 400 trucks transporting 5.4 million meals and 13.4 million liters of water along with 3.4 million pounds of ice. Yet it was obvious to anyone watching TV that New Orleans had turned into a Third World hellhole.

I can't remember where I heard it, but the rumor running around is that some FEMA people are complaining that they were forced to stop doing important things, urgent things, in order to drop everything and run down those fucking statistics for the clueless president to spout off at a press conference.

The denial and the frustration finally collided aboard Air Force One on Friday. As the president's plane sat on the tarmac at New Orleans airport, a confrontation occurred that was described by one participant as "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved."

I think this means folks got all up in each other's faces with hard words, nearly coming to blows. Is that how you read it?

Governor Blanco was there, along with various congressmen and senators and Mayor Nagin (who took advantage of the opportunity to take a shower aboard the plane). One by one, the lawmakers listed their grievances as Bush listened. Rep. Bobby Jindal, whose district encompasses New Orleans, told of a sheriff who had called FEMA for assistance. According to Jindal, the sheriff was told to e-mail his request, "and the guy was sitting in a district underwater and with no electricity," Jindal said, incredulously. "How does that make any sense?" Jindal later told NEWSWEEK that "almost everybody" around the conference table had a similar story about how the federal response "just wasn't working." With each tale, "the president just shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing," says Jindal, a conservative Republican and Bush appointee who lost a close race to Blanco. Repeatedly, the president turned to his aides and said, "Fix it."

Wow, what a take-charge guy. He has no connection with what must be done TO "fix it," but he can strut around demanding results all day long like a detached banty rooster. Generally, I thought the qualifications of a leader meant seeing that stuff got done when the folks further down the chain of command needed more help or intervention, rather than barking the command back DOWN the faltering chain of command. People went up the org chart to try to find where the buck stopped, where they could get some real help, and when they got to Bush, he just turned around and passed the buck right back down.

According to Sen. David Vitter, a Republican ally of Bush's, the meeting came to a head when Mayor Nagin blew up during a fraught discussion of "who's in charge?" Nagin slammed his hand down on the table and told Bush, "We just need to cut through this and do what it takes to have a more-controlled command structure. If that means federalizing it, let's do it."

A debate over "federalizing" the National Guard had been rattling in Washington for the previous three days. Normally, the Guard is under the control of the state governor, but the Feds can take over—if the governor asks them to. Nagin suggested that Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, the Pentagon's on-scene commander, be put in charge. According to Senator Vitter, Bush turned to Governor Blanco and said, "Well, what do you think of that, Governor?" Blanco told Bush, "I'd rather talk to you about that privately." To which Nagin responded, "Well, why don't you do that now?"

The meeting broke up. Bush and Blanco disappeared to talk. More than a week later, there was still no agreement. Blanco didn't want to give up her authority, and Bush didn't press. Jindal suggested that Bush appoint Colin Powell as a kind of relief czar, and Bush replied, "I'll take that into consideration." Bush does not like to fire people. He told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to go down to Louisiana and sort out the various problems. A day later FEMA's Brown was on his way back to Washington.

Another day of people dying because "Bush doesn't like to fire people"? The governor had asked the feds to step in the Saturday before the hurricane hit, but it isn't like they pre-deployed more than seven FEMA teams, and a small number of National Guard troops that were never visible on any video reports I saw. I saw Coast Guard, city police, and lots of people all by themselves, while firefighters were sitting in Atlanta getting sexual harrassment training because they had advance homeland security background checks. See, because its more important to have a background check than to get help for people who are dying.

Late last week, Bush was, by some accounts, down and angry. But another Bush aide described the atmosphere inside the White House as "strangely surreal and almost detached."

What happened, did the "reality-based universe" trump the spinners? Oh, that must have been a sad day at the White House, the utter failure to control spin and manufacture reality into some constructed image. I doubt anyone was sad at the tragedy in New Orleans. They could have been sad about that days earlier, and actually done something about it.

At one meeting described by this insider, officials were oddly self-congratulatory, perhaps in an effort to buck each other up. Life inside a bunker can be strange, especially in defeat.

Sorry Newsweek, but I'm not buying your bizarre ending to this story. Yes, it most certainly was a defeat. And maybe they still aren't monitoring the nation as real stewards in there, and instead sit in silence in the bunker. But I'm more inclined to believe if there were any self-congratulations to be had, any high-fives to be given out (I'm thinking of those goofy scenes in the TV show "The West Wing") it would be because they actually were looking forward to some future scheme or planned victory, perhaps knowing something about Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee John Roberts we don't. I don't know why else there could be glee at this time on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Unless they are so cold toward the tragedy, they don't feel it, and instead just feel happy they survived it. But then you must compare what the White House handlers survived to what the people of New Orleans survived. I don't see the surviors of New Orleans being self congratulatory that they made it.

September 14, 2005 at 01:54 AM in Best Essays, Current Affairs, Favorite Links, Media & Journalism, News to Note, Politics, Rhetoric, Singing the Bite Me Song, Television, War/Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 10, 2005

Maureen Dowd helps eviscerate "Brownie"

Not that help was needed, but it's always fun to pile on the incompetent boob, especially when the White House spinners still refuse to acknowledge what an incompetent boob he is, just like the fellow who appointed him.

One of the great joys in my life is hearing that Bush sound bite "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job" getting as much repetitive airplay as the Dean scream.

I do wish more people had enough historical context to draw the direct link between political cronyism and power-brokering with corporations and the stated philosophies of fascism back in its day. It's like deja vu all over again, you know?

Link: Neigh to Cronies - New York Times.

Here are some choice bits:

Op-Ed Columnist

Neigh to Cronies

By MAUREEN DOWD Published: September 10, 2005 WASHINGTON

I understand that politicians are wont to put cronies and cupcakes on the payroll.

I just wish they'd stop putting them on the Homeland Security payroll.

[...]

At least Bill Clinton knew not to stash his sweeties in jobs concerned with keeping the nation safe. Gennifer Flowers said that Mr. Clinton got her a $17,500 job in Arkansas in the state unemployment agency, though she was ranked ninth out of 11 applicants tested. And Monica Lewinsky's thong expertise led her to a job as an assistant to the Pentagon press officer.

Gov. James McGreevey of New Jersey had to resign last year after acknowledging that he had elevated his patronage peccadillo, an Israeli poet named Golan Cipel, to be his special assistant on homeland security without even a background check or American citizenship. Mr. Cipel, however, was vastly qualified for his job compared with Michael Brown, who didn't know the difference between a tropical depression and an anxiety attack when President Bush charged him with life-and-death decisions.

W. trusted Brownie simply because he was a friend of a friend. He was a college buddy of Joe Allbaugh, who worked as W.'s chief of staff when he was Texas governor and as his 2000 presidential campaign manager.

It sounds more like a Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson flick than the story of a man who was to be responsible for the fate of the Republic during the biggest natural disaster in our history. Brownie was a failed former lawyer with a degree from a semiaccredited law school, as The New Republic put it, when he moved to Colorado in 1991 to judge horse judges for the Arabian Horse Association.

He was put out to pasture under pressure in 2001, leaving him free to join his pal Mr. Allbaugh at an eviscerated FEMA. Mr. Allbaugh decided to leave the top job at FEMA and become a lobbyist with clients like Halliburton when the agency was reorganized under Homeland Security, stripping it of authority. Why not, Mr. Allbaugh thought, just pass this obscure sinecure to his homeboy?

Time magazine reported that Brownie's official bio described his only stint in emergency management as "assistant city manager" in Edmond, Okla. But a city official told Time that the FEMA chief had been "an assistant to the city manager," which was "more like an intern."

[...]

The breakdown in management and communications was so execrable that the president learned about the 25,000 desperate, trapped people at the New Orleans convention center not from Brownie, who didn't know himself, but from a wire story carried into the Oval Office by an aide on Thursday, 24 hours after the victims had been pleading and crying for help on every channel. (Maybe tomorrow the aide will come in with a wire story, "No W.M.D. in Iraq.")

"Getting truth on the ground in New Orleans was very difficult," a White House aide told The Times's Elisabeth Bumiller. Not if you had a TV.

[...]

FEMA was a disaster waiting to happen, the minute a disaster struck. As The Washington Post reported Friday, five of the eight top FEMA officials were simply Bush loyalists and political operatives who "came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters."

While many see the hideous rescue failures as disaster apartheid, Barbara Bush and other Republicans have tried to look on the bright side for the victims. The Wall Street Journal reported that Representative Richard Baker of Baton Rouge was overheard telling lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

[...]

September 10, 2005 at 12:51 PM in Best Essays, Current Affairs, Democracy, Favorite Links, News to Note, Politics, Singing the Bite Me Song, Television | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack