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Wednesday, June 30, 2004  

Reading: Asimov's Foundation fumbles

The science fiction writer of the last generation who has been in the public eye lately is Ray Bradbury. His rather silly complaint about Michael Moore's use of 'Fahrenheit' in the name of his movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, has gotten more ink than it deserves. I don't believe there is a copyright violation issue. Furthermore, the nod to Bradbury's novel, Fahrenheit 451, can be perceived as a compliment. But, the sci-fi writer who has had my attention for the the last two weeks is Isaac Asimov. Though I have read some Asimov over the years, I did not approach the Foundation cycle until now. I may have picked up the first book because I was stymied by Ursula Le Guin's Hain cycle. However, Asimov's Foundation books have their frustrations, too.

Asimov began the cycle in the early 1950s, when he was in his early twenties.

The time is millenia into the future. Humans have colonized the galaxy and reached an inventive zenith in which technology is well-dispersed, and mainly nuclear. Technological civilization is in decline, though few realize it because the process of decay is so slow. At the edges of the Empire, worlds have drifted back to using fossil fuels and wood as energy sources. The royalty of the Empire is not interested in seeing, hearing or saying any evil, that is, any acknowledgement that all is not well. Enter one Hari Seldon, the superhero of the Foundation series. He is a psychohistorian, a psychologist who can foresee the future by studying aggregates of people and determining their likely responses to stimuli. His goal is to soften the decline of the Empire into barbarism for 30,000 years he believes is inevitable. He plans a recovery that will take only 1,000 years. Seldon manipulates the emperor into setting up his dream laboratory -- a planet where he can develop his theory to his heart's content.

Seldon and his followers are exiled to Terminus, a planet at the far reaches of the galaxy that they develop from scratch. The exile serves the government's purpose by eliminating dissenters who might disrupt the status quo. It serves Seldon's purpose by giving him free reign over a population that, at first, is fully dedicated to his ideas. The initial rationale given for the existence of the Foundation is that it will research and publish an encylopedia containing all of the knowledge of mankind. But, by the end of Foundation, the first book of the series, that rationale is revealed as a pretext. The Foundation exists to keep technology alive and innovative. While the Empire loses its technological sophistication, the Foundation will gradually spread its technology to surrounding planets. The initial method for spreading technology is religion. In return for inventions of the Foundation, other planets agree to allowing 'priests' from the Foundation to 'minister' medicine and other science.

It isn't long before some rulers of barbarous planets reject Foundation technology rather than have their power threatened by Foundation priests. The method for transferring technology shifts to traders. The traders engage in mercantile capitalism, without the threatening trappings of religion. However, they will become a threat -- to the Foundation because of their independence. Another threat precedes them. Seldon can only predict matters involving large groups of people. Psychohistory does not apply to individuals. Therefore, he misses the emergence of a mutant leader 300 years into the Seldon Plan. The Mule grasps power over much of the Foundation's reach by controlling the minds of leaders of various governments and factions. Foundation and Empire chronicles the Mule's impact on the Foundation and the inevitable clash of what remains of the Empire and the Foundation.

Another set of protagonists in the Foundation series is a secret second Foundation that considers itself the ally of the first. Seldon's plan has been for the Second Foundation, consisting of the mentally powerful, to be the leaders of the technologically superior Second Empire. Leaders of the original Foundation rebel against the notion. They consider themselves the true heirs to Seldon's vision. In Second Foundation, the two groups finally meet. The result is a resolution that appears to consolidate the power of the first Foundation, while eliminating the second.

Though the plots of the three novels may sound complicated in description, they are not when actually reading the books. There is a group of leaders who are either on the wrong track or despotic. A single man rebels against them, and orthodoxy, and gets the next step of the Seldon Plan right. The first of the righteous renegades is of course, Hari Seldon. He reappears in holographic form time and again to confirm that events are proceeding as he predicted.

Some aspects of Asimov's futurism are puzzling. Despite the passage of time, human life expectancy hasn't increased. People still get the same diseases and there no are cures or even restoration of missing limbs. Smoking, likely one of the habits any advance society will find a less harmful substitute for, is prevalent. Nor is there is any caution about the dangers of nuclear power. Women get little attention in the novels, and then stereotypically. Bayta, the heroine of Foundation and Empire, achieves the distinction because of the Mule's romantic attraction to her. In Second Foundation, her teenaged granddaughter is a kind of good luck charm for the male characters. The sexual stereotyping is particularly noticeable if one has been reading Le Guin. Her early books, written during the same period, explore the role of gender in future societies. Asimov seems to believe sex roles are fixed. There are also no nonwhite characters in the three Foundation novels I read.

The frustration I am experiencing with Le Guin's Hain cycle is the opacity of the Hain themselves. The Hain influence other planets by introducing superior technology to them, but it is not clear what their own planet is like. The frustration I've experienced with Asimov's Foundation cycle is the lack of growth in human capacities he envisions for the future in these books. Asimov places all his faith in a single sort of human, the vigorous male leader who sets less vigorous male leaders straight, achieving power for himself. Asimov's ideal is not mine.

Reasonably related

•The official Isaac Asimov Homepage.

•There are three additional Foundation cycle novels written in the 1980s and 1990s.

3:16 PM

Tuesday, June 29, 2004  

Film: A cool look at Fahrenheit 9/11

Ms. Lauren at Feministe has seen Michael Moore's controversial movie. Her review is one of the most unbiased I've read in the blogosphere. Though she is on the Left, she has brought an objectivity to the topic not in keeping with the usual biases of Bloggersville. She resists the temptation to dehumanize people whose politics she disagrees with. Nor does she ignore the flaws in Moore's outlook. The result is a review I suspect any reader will find thoughtful.

Spoilers ahead.

I saw the movie tonight, and as much as I would like to give a raving review, I cannot. While I agree with the basic premise of the movie, much of Michael Moore's argument is based on an emotional appeal that I inherently resist.

Unlike others who have criticized the movie, I didn't think Moore's scope was too wide. Overall, Moore's threefold thesis was clear:

1) The Bush administration is a parade of assholes.

2) Like in Bowling for Columbine, a fear-based spin on the news will make us agree to just about anything - even war.

3) War is bad.

Oddly, much of the footage of the administrative rockstars readying themselves for the camera on September 11th made Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice appear more human than appear as members of the Evil Empire. The infamous seven minutes of Bush in his photo op at the Florida elementary school recorded a reaction much like my own -- his presidency doesn't make him less human for his stunned reaction.

Unlike Moore's analysis of Bush's paralysis due to lack of informed action by his cronies, I perceived his reaction of that day as much like mine.

I am impressed with Lauren's analysis of the use of the word 'conspiracy' to refer to the relationship among Bush administration members, cronies and corporations benefitting from the invasion of Iraq. In America, the interlocking aspects of power are often out in the open. For example, evidence of Vice President Dick Cheney's profitable relationship with Halliburton is available to see for anyone willing to do minimal research. As nefarious as the interlocking relationships may be, they lack the cloak and dagger qualities of what most people consider conspiracies.

As much as I disagree with the current administration, I cannot peg them as a part of a wide conspiracy to profit from the war. A conspiracy is not a conspiracy if it is in the open. This administration is heavily tied with business interests and has acted accordingly. This administration is heavily concerned with moral comeuppance and has acted accordingly. This is no conspiracy - no conspiracy about oil, no conspiracy about millions of dollars of profit.

Let me say it again: A conspiracy is not a conspiracy if it occurs in wide open spaces.

What of my own attitude toward Michael Moore? I am neither a partisan nor a critic. I consider his films to be good food for thought, but not sacrosanct. But, I reject the Right's claim that Moore's movies are 'just lies.' The blending of fact and techniques of fiction to make a point has a long history in the arts. I believe what is being called lying is actually a form of literary license.

Read the entire review of Fahrenheit 9/11 at Feministe.

11:55 PM

Friday, June 25, 2004  

News and analysis: Jack hits the road

Jack Ryan has officially withdrawn as the Republican nominee to the Senate from Illinois. Ryan, who sought to conceal seamy allegations about his sex life, blamed his inability to remain in the race on the media. His opponent, Democrat Barack Obama, has chosen not to comment on the scandal. USA Today has Ryan's parting remarks.

"The media has gotten out of control. The fact that the Chicago Tribune sues for access to sealed custody documents and then takes unto itself the right to publish details of a custody dispute over the objections of two parents who agree that the re-airing of their arguments will hurt their ability to co-parent their child and will hurt their child is truly outrageous.

"The debate between competing visions and philosophies is a vital one one the voters of Illinois absolutely deserve. Elections, after all, are about choices. But it's clear to me that a vigorous debate on the issues most likely could not take place if I remain in the race.

"What would take place, rather, is a brutal, scorched-earth campaign — the kind of campaign that has turned off so many voters, the kind of politics I refuse to play.

Accordingly, I am today withdrawing from the race."

Ryan has claimed he wanted his divorce records sealed, a very unusual step, because his son has 'special needs.' However, the material a California judge allowed to be released, a small part of the record, revealed intriguing information about Ryan himself, not the boy. Actress Jeri Ryan, his ex, alleges Jack Ryan took her to sex clubs on four occasions and asked that she engage in sexual activity while other people watched. Ryan disavows the allegations.

Party leaders were angered by Ryan's denial, up until the divorce files were opened, that the material contained any embarrassing revelations. They believe he knowingly misled them.

Despite a thorough reading of news and opinion about Ryan's predicament, I found few people who accepted his alibi for attempting to block the release of the material. Instead, the effort to shield himself with his son backfired, leading to negative assessments of Ryan's character.

Ryan's withdrawal statement also is an exercise in blame shifting, in my opinion. He takes no responsibility for having created the circumstances he finds himself in. Such an admission could attach to the unseemly behavior alleged by Jeri Ryan, his efforts to prevent the release of the material in the court files or his failure to be candid with party officials. All three opportunities to atone were ignored. Instead, Ryan attempts to shift the blame to the media. It has been clear since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), that a higher standard of conduct is expected of public officials than of ordinary citizens. The consideration they pay for receiving privileges not offered to the average Joe or Jane is having less privacy and being subject to more public criticism without grounds for complaint. Ryan, a Harvard Law School graduate, should have been well aware that as as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, he was a public figure. He should have known that being a public figure means having his behavior scrutinized by the media. I doubt he is ignorant of his legal status, so I must assume he is dissembling.

Jack Ryan left investment banking after becoming a multimillionaire. He taught at a Catholic school for boys for three years. During his campaign, youths from the all-black school were used as props in Ryan's public appearances and a television ad. I am curious to see whether Ryan returns to teaching or returns to accumulating wealth. The imbroglio over his divorce records appears to have been an effort of damage control he began years ago when his marriage was on the rocks. He knew then that he wanted a career in politics and planned accordingly -- getting his divorce records sealed. Is Ryan's supposed altruism another maneuver meant to profit his hoped for political career? Time will tell.

5:10 PM

Thursday, June 24, 2004  

Blogospherics: New blogs should be better blogs

Blogger Simon at Simon's World is making an effort to revive The Truth Laid Bear's New Weblog Showcase. The contest provided exposure for new blogs. Bloggers submitted an entry and voters, from other blogs, decided which of the entries they considered evidence of the most promising weblog. Ideally, the best entry -- well thought out, researched, and capably written -- won. The ideal result occurred at least once. Mac-a-ro-nies won the contest.

Simon has described his plans for the new version of the competition.

Welcome to the New Blog Showcase Blog. After NZ Bear put his New Blog Showcase on hiatus I thought it was a shame that such a good idea go to waste. So I humbly present this New Blog Showcase blog, with the explicit aim of giving exposure to newer members of the blogosphere.

This will work a little differently to the Bear's old system. The qualification criteria remains simple: your blog must be less than 3 months old. Submit your post to me at simon@showcase.mu.nu and I will put it up. Each post will remain for 7 days from the day I post it. At this stage I will leave the comments open for now. Comments are NOT moderated but I will exercise my discretion to delete and ban anyone who doesn't follow the simple rules of common courtesy. I also reserve the right to close comments on particular posts or all posts at my sole discretion.

I strongly encourage people with blogs to link to those posts they enjoy. Or if you have something more you want to add, or disagree with, or whatever. Bloggers live for linkage and giving newer members of the blogosphere a taste of that is the aim of this site. All I ask is you also link back to the post here at this site as well as at the original.

I have mixed feelings about blog contests, probably because I have mixed feelings about blogs. I'm the person who will come on to a thread where bloggers are engaging in an orgy of self-congratulation and douse them will a ice cold bucket of virtual water. That H2O is called reality. The truth is most bloggers do not rock. And, the public is largely unaware of blogs. Only about 11 percent of Internet users have read weblogs, and those sporadically or only at the behest of friends or family. Researchers for the Pew Foundation have studied the authors and the audience.

A mere 2% of Adult Internet users maintain Web diaries or Web blogs, according to respondents to this phone survey. In other phone surveys prior to this one, and one more recently fielded in early 2004, we have heard that between 2% and 7% of adult Internet users have created diaries or blogs. In this survey we found that 11% of Internet users have read the blogs or diaries of other Internet users. About a third of these blog visitors have posted material to the blog. Most of those who do contribute material are not constantly updating or freshening content. Rather, they occasionally add to the material they have posted, created, or shared.

Furthermore, most blog entries are poorly written, completely unresearched, confuse fact and opinion and are bastions of copyright violation. But, what of claims blogs are better sources of news than print or broadcast media one hears bandied about? Pure malarkey. As imperfect as the media is, it is leagues ahead of blogs in providing reliable information. Even the best blogs provide very little information, relying on being conduits of opinion, instead. With the exception of a few bloggers who do some reporting, most notably Josh Marshall, of Talking Points Memo, little development of news occurs in the blogosphere.

My experience as a journalist has doubtlessly biased me. However, I believe it has biased me in the right direction. I believe quality matters.

My reservations about a revived New Weblog Showcase are based on what blogs really are, instead of unrealistic bloggers' delusions. The blogosphere has developed into a place where a few people with grandiose, often bullying personalities, have gathered sycophants to them. The networks of sycophants trade links back and forth among themselves. Based on this totally artificial construct, bloggers in the networks develop a sense of importance completely out of touch with their actual status in society. The members of a given network also regurgitate the brain droppings of their 'great leader' on demand. As a result, the blogosphere is an echo chamber of the know-nothings much of the time. Not long ago, I was engaged in a conversation with a blogger who was a part of a group that had spread a lie. He kept insisting that since X number of bloggers had linked to the falsehood and helped circulate it, that meant the lie was true. Stupid, you say. If the thing said is false, a million bloggers linking to it can't make it true. Absolutely. But, that is the kind of sophistry the organization of the blogosphere lends itself to. Information too often takes a back seat to misinformation and disinformation, and too many bloggers fail to grasp the difference. Instead, they rely on networks that reinforce their mistakes.

The risk with this contest is that it will become another way for the networks to support their participant, regardless of the quality of entries submitted. Awful entries will win votes because they have been smiled on by one of the larger networks. Excellent entries will fall by the wayside because the independent bloggers lack cheering sections. The results will say everything about the organization of the blogosphere, and nothing about thinking and writing well.

So, it is with ambivalence that I link to Simon's New Weblog Showcase and urge people who qualify to consider participating. There are independent bloggers who post entries that are well-researched and ably written. But, based on what I've observed in the blogosphere, we are a minority. If new bloggers adhere to basic standards of journalism, I welcome them. However, there are more than enough bad bloggers already.

To learn the qualifications for the new contest, visit Simon's blog.

10:45 PM

Wednesday, June 23, 2004  

Politics: We do know Jack. . .Ryan

The other shoe has dropped for Jack Ryan, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois. It is a brogan. The material Ryan (pictured) fought to keep sealed in his divorce records is salacious and smells of spousal abuse.

The Sun-Times reported the court's decision last week.

A Los Angeles judge on Thursday ordered some of the sealed records from the 1999 divorce of Republican U.S. Senate nominee Jack Ryan and Hollywood actress Jeri Ryan opened for public scrutiny -- even though they "may be embarrassing" and "damaging."

. . .The papers in question were filed in 2000 and 2001 during custody hearings following the Ryans' 1999 divorce. Lawyers for Jeri Ryan, star of TV's "Boston Public," initially opposed closing the records, arguing that Jack Ryan was only worried about political embarrassment, but she later joined her ex-husband in calling for some of the documents to be removed from public view.

At the time, Ryan tried to brazen the situation out, claiming there was nothing embarrassing in the files. However, that claim has quickly eroded, as sleuths unearthed damaging allegations about the candidate's behavior. During the custody proceedings, Jeri Ryan described Jack Ryan's interesting inclinations.

I made clear to Respondent that our marriage was over for me in the spring of 1998. On three trips, one to New Orleans, one to New York, and one to Paris, Respondent insisted that I go to sex clubs with him. They were long weekends, supposed 'romantic' getaways. . . .

"The clubs in New York and Paris were explicit sex clubs. Respondent had done research. Respondent took me to two clubs in New York during the day. One club I refused to go in. It had mattresses in cubicles. The other club he insisted I go to. . . It was a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling. Respondent wanted me to have sex with him there, with another couple watching. I refused. Respondent asked me to perform a sexual activity upon him, and he specifically asked other people to watch. I was very upset. We left the club, and Respondent apologized, said that I was right and that he would never insist I go to a club again. He promised it was out of his system.

"Then during a trip to Paris, he took me to a sex club in Paris, without telling me where we were going. I told him I thought it was out of his system. I told him he had promised me would never go. People were having sex everywhere. I cried, I was physically ill. Respondent became very upset with me, and said it was not a 'turn on' for me to cry.

"In September 1998, I told Respondent it was not just Paris, I had been unhappy for years. We briefly tried counseling, but it did not work. . . I told him I was in love with another man, whom I fell in love with after our relationship had fallen apart that spring.

She says the continual pressure from her husband to participate in public sex resulted in emotional turmoil.

Ryan is the Great Republican Hope for the Senate, needed to retain control. Party leaders are attempting to shrug off the allegations of shady sexual behavior and psychological abuse of his former spouse. It has been falsely claimed the judge in the case, Robert A. Schnider was appointed by former California Gov. Jerry Brown, a liberal. Though Ryan is running as a pro-life and pro-family candidate, the implications of his abuse of his spouse are being ignored. Some people are even casting aspersions on Jeri Ryan's credibility. William Saletan, writing at Slate, isn't drinking the Kool-Aid.

Six years ago, Republicans demanded that Bill Clinton be investigated and impeached for having sex with an intern and covering it up. Now their nominee for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, Jack Ryan, is brushing off his then-wife's allegations that he repeatedly pressured her, despite her protestations, to have sex with him in front of other people. Instead of denouncing Ryan, many Republicans are defending him.

Like me, Saletan is particularly skeptical of Ryan's effort to hide behind his now nine-year-old son. Ryan claims that the very unusual effort to keep the divorce records sealed is all about Alex. But, it is doubtful that the topic will be news by the time the boy is old enough to understand it. Furthermore, the information is not about Alex in any way. There are situations that might embarrass a minor child. For example, if the boy had been fathered by someone else, or has a hidden medical condition, that might qualify as information that he should be shielded from until the right time. But, a father's penchant for going to sex clubs is all about Jack, not Alex. Saletan tracks Ryan's plan to hide behind a child's rompers back several years.

At a press conference Monday, Jack Ryan said he had fought to keep the divorce records sealed in order to "keep information about [my] child … private." He ducked most questions, claiming, "It's not helpful to our son." According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Ryan mentioned that his son had "special needs." Ryan didn't mention the "political aspirations" he had raised in his 2000 filing when he complained about Jeri Ryan making their marital troubles public. And according to the Chicago Tribune, "in September 2000, Anne Kiley, an attorney for Jeri Ryan, said in a court filing that one of Jack Ryan's attorneys had told her a few months earlier that Jack Ryan wanted parts of the file blacked out, removed, or sealed because he was 'concerned [it] would negatively impact his political aspirations.'

I don't believe Ryan is concerned about the impact on his son at all. He looked about for a pretext for keeping the divorce records sealed. The best gambit available was to imply that material in them is damaging to the boy. It is not. Ryan lied.

Jack Ryan has what the late writer and secret homosexual John Cheever referred to as 'difficult proclivities.' Instead of exercising control of his desire for public sex, Ryan attempted to bully a wife who did not share his interest into participating in it. Once he realized that his marriage was ending, he put a plan to hide the allegations into action. Not only is Ryan's current behavior continuing abuse of Jeri Ryan, it is abuse of the public trust. Ryan has revealed himself as lacking basic decency. Not because of his 'difficult proclivities,' per se, but because of his refusal to acknowledge them and take responsibility for the embarrassing situation he is in because of a lack of self-control.

I have considered only one aspect of Saletan's fine dissassembly of Ryan's 'defense' in Slate. Read the entire article.

Reasonably related

We last discussed Jack Ryan in regard to his race against Barack Obama. Read "Politics: Obama's campaign tense, touching."

9:20 PM

Monday, June 21, 2004  

News and analysis: Downfall of a governor

Connecticut's chief executive may soon be trading Brooks Brothers suits for stripes and his name for a number. He will be resigning from office under an ominous cloud today. The man some people thought might someday become president of the United States will be lucky if he avoids prosecution. Rowland's closest associate pled guilty to federal charges in regard to trading state contracts for profit in March. The governor's house of cards tumbled fast.

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland will announce his resignation Monday night, amid a federal corruption investigation and a growing move to impeach him, two sources told The Associated Press.

. . .Rowland, 47, a Republican easily re-elected to a third term in 2002, admitted late last year that he lied about accepting gifts and favors from friends, state contractors and state employees.

State and federal authorities have been investigating those allegations, and a special House committee also has been considering whether to recommend Rowland's impeachment. The committee was scheduled to begin its third week of hearings later Monday.

The announcement comes several days after the state Supreme Court ruled that the legislative panel could compel the governor to testify.

Rowland was once the nation's youngest governor - he was 37 when first elected in 1994 - and considered a rising star in the GOP. He is a former chairman of the Republican Governors Association and was rumored to be considered for several positions in the Bush administration.

Rowland's situation interests me partly because of his use of executive privilege to try to hide his malfeasance. On the national level, we are seeing corrupt Pres. Richard M. Nixon's supposed trump card reemerge as a barrier to the release of information the public has a right to know. The chief executive, George W. Bush, and his staff, including a national security advisor, cite it as grounds for not revealing information that would confirm events preceding and during the invasion of Iraq. Rowland is somewhat novel in attempting to apply the same evasion to unseemly decisions at the state level. His bad decisonmaking was quite personal, despite its political implications. Free lodgings here, there and everywhere. Unpaid work done on a vacation home, including installation of a hot tub. Gratuitous boxes of boxes of Cuban cigars. Rowland would have been the eighth governor ever impeached and removed from office if he had not caved in to pressure. Considering the paucity of similar cases, I don't believe we can call the use of executive privilege to hide malfeasance by governors a slippery slope initiated in national politics, but the issue is worth considering.

The blogosphere being the partisan place it is, some people will wonder if I am writing about Rowland because he has been considered a Great Republican Hope. I am not. I have also expressed concern about the activities of Oregon's favorite son, Neil Goldschmidt, while he was in various offices. Goldschmidt carried on a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl while he was in his thirties and mayor of Portland. With the help of well-placed friends, he was able to keep the rape of a child secret for nearly 30 years. Continuing investigations reveal the man Goldschmidt used as the victim's handler was compensated by the then governor intervening in regulatory affairs on his behalf. Goldschmidt is a Democrat.

The commonality between a Rowland and a Goldschmidt is hubris. Both are men who were told they were special and always given their way from a young age. The plums of society and approval of millions were conferred on them. Along the way, they began to have such a strong sense of entitlement that any 'good fortune' they could avail themselves of struck them as their just due.

3:10 PM

Friday, June 18, 2004  

Freeway Blogger strikes again

Yes, the blogger who really is different has a put up a new sign reflecting his views about the 'conquest' of Iraq by the United States. The Scarlet Pimpernel places personal billboards with short, pithy statements alongside highways and over overpasses. Thousands of drivers see them.

Here's a billboard I made yesterday to protest the use of torture as U.S. policy. The text, shown with the hooded figure from Abu-Gharaib, reads, "If this was our policy. . . We're losing a hell of a lot more than just a war."

Visit the Scarlet Pimpernel at his site. And, tell him to be careful erecting those signs. He is taking much greater risks than folks do posing those feckless felines for cat blogging.

11:30 PM

Thursday, June 17, 2004  

Around the blogosphere

Bush, Iraq and kid gloves

Blogger and composer Richard Einhorn at Tristero is surprised that editorial writers at the New York Times used mild language when saying George W. Bush dissembled about the invasion of Iraq. Understandably, Einhorn would have preferred those nice middle-class men and women at the top of their field be forceful, even bold. He would probably settle for honest.

The New York Times: Bizarro World Edition

Man oh man, the New York Times has truly outdone itself. It seems the editorial staff has decided to go out on a real limb and opine that Bush may have been. . .dishonest about the war rationale. No, he's not a liar. Just, you know. . .dishonest:

Of all the ways Mr. Bush persuaded Americans to back the invasion of Iraq last year, the most plainly dishonest was his effort to link his war of choice with the battle against terrorists worldwide.

No shit, Sherlock.

And what does the Times suggest? Now that countless thousands of Iraqis have died, well over 800 Americans too, and terrorism has increased mightily? Read it and weep, my friends: President Bush should apologize to the American people. . . .

I am not surprised. For all the talk one hears about the liberal media, the media isn't. I don't believe most newspapers have editorialists who are as far to the Right as most of the blogosphere is either. Instead, there is a tendency to hew to a middle-of-the road policy that leans more to the Right than to the Left. Furthermore, this is a situation involving people of power. People who can strike back if displeased with coverage of them. The writers at the NYT slipped on their kid gloves and made sure they fit before they penned the piece. In addition, be prepared for a 'but it doesn't matter' follow-up by at least some of the editorialists now that the admission Bush lied about why Iraq was invaded has been made. After the heeing and hawing, the status quo will be declared not all that wrong.

I speak from experience. My first job out of college was as an editorial writer for a large newspaper. Looking back on the time, I believe I was unqualified for the job. Youth, naivete and opinion writing should not be allowed to mix. But, at least I had a backbone. The editorial writers at the NYT probably lost theirs on the way to success. It is enough to lead a person to re-read Babbitt.

Visit Einhorn's blog to read the rest of that entry.

Outsourcing and 'inherent' abilities

If any of the journalism reviews have analyzed something that has caught my eye, I am not aware of it. It seems to me that there is less international news about other countries in major newspapers now that Iraq dominates foreign news. Though news from Iraq is foreign news, it is focused on the occupation by the U.S. Filling the foreign news hole with articles about the war may have squeezed out pieces about other foreign countries. Domestic news gets first priority at all newspapers. So, if there is limited space, I think non-war related foreign news likely gets left out. Could just be a personal impression. I wonder.

The Wily Filipino, Benito Vergara publishes a blog that chronicles news in Asia, especially in the Philippines, as well as in the U.S. He has been thinking about outsourcing.

We Internalize Storylines

While doing some surfing for yet another long-simmering project completely unrelated to the St. Louis one, I came across this report on outsourcing labor to the Philippines. The customer service / call center business is already well-known; the projection that the "aggregate growth rate" for this particular niche would grow by 50 percent to $864 (million?) doesn't look too farfetched at all.

The description of the Philippines' advantages over other Asian countries is rather interesting, though, as it could be read in funny ways:

In Asia, the country is in the best position to gain a large share of e-services contracts in view of the following reasons: affordable quality human resource; affinity to Western culture; strategic location; hospitable lifestyle and expanding infrastructure.

Or, if you will: low salaries, hostility to labor unions, a legacy of colonialism, and the desperation to do anything for cash

But there I am grousing needlessly about what is apparently a genuine economic boom that actually doesn't stink of sweatshop-style exploitation, so I should be a little more positive. I do like the way the dry and rigorous economist language gives way to culturalist explanations of Filipinos' seemingly natural affinity for, in this case, the animation industry:

Demand for Filipino e-services in this area is also enormous in view of the inherent ingenuity, creativity and artistry of the Filipinos. Aside from their artistry, Filipino animators stand out from the rest of the world for their multi-cultural orientation that enables them to internalize storylines and concepts for better artwork and faster execution.

This isn't unfamiliar either: "inherent" cultural traits are also retroactively employed to "explain" Filipinos' supposed "aptitude" for nursing, housecleaning, singing, and so on -- only a shade removed, really, from physical, i.e., racist, characteristics employed in similar fashion, such as small hands (the better to assemble tiny computer chips with) or more flexible backs (the better to pick asparagus with).

Still, there's something quite resonant about that "multi-cultural orientation," one that could be construed a kind of strategic rag-picking engendered by the colonial experience. And that part about internalizing storylines! It's almost... poetic.

One of the aspects of so-called diversity training that makes me wary of it is that it often relies on the kind of reductive stereotyping Vergara is referring to. That occurs when people are listing the 'strengths' of various cultures, ethnicities and races. The supposedly natural ease (subservience?) of Asians. The alleged superior physical strength (brutishness?) of blacks. The presumed guile (sneakiness?) of Jews. Claims like these are packaged as compliments in that situation, sometimes by not being explicit about precisely what is being praised. But, they rely on reclaiming outdated notions about being able to look at a person, group or country and know what the abilities of the individual or individuals are. Meant to be complimentary or not, that is stereoytyping.

Really related

Richard Einhorn and Benny Vergara are energetic people who maintain fine blogs and careers in interesting and stimulating fields. You can buy Einhorn's recording, Voices Of Light, at Amazon. You can order Vergara's book, Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th Century Philippines through links on his blog.

5:54 PM

Wednesday, June 16, 2004  

Fiction bonus: "The Depressed Person"

My memories of short fiction are usually of outstanding collections. But, occassionally, a specific story will lodge itself in my brain for years to come. That occurred with a short story called "The Depressed Person," by David Foster Wallace, in Harper's a few years ago. The story is well-written and entertaining. But, those were not the reasons it became a cause celebre at Harper's. Wallace caught considerable flack from some readers because he portrayed the depressed person as a sniveling, shallow woman oblivious to everyone else's problems. That was in 1998, and the story is still with me. I'm sure many of the other original readers recall it, too.

I've been reading Harper's forever. That controversy was one of the top five or so over the years. Ironically, many of the letters from depressed persons were so abusive they added support to the alleged 'unfair portrayal,' instead of mitigating it. Wallace was accused of insensitivity toward people having emotional problems. Most people have experienced short bouts of situational depression at one time or the other, so I don't believe those of us who defended Wallace are cold-hearted. We just found the story to be both accurate and funny, though perhaps a bit over the top.

You must read this story. It is hilarious. I've located a full reprint online. I'll start you off.

The Depressed Person

The depressed person was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating this pain was itself a component of the pain and a contributing factor in its essential horror.

Despairing, then, of describing the emotional pain itself, the depressed person hoped at least to be able to express something of its context -- its shape and texture, as it were -- by recounting circumstances related to its etiology. The depressed person's parents, for example, who had divorced when she was a child, had used her as a pawn in the sick games they played, as in when the depressed person had required orthodonture and each parent had claimed -- not without some cause, the depressed person always inserted, given the Medicean legal ambiguities of the divorce settlement -- that the other should pay for it. Both parents were well-off, and each had privately expressed to the depressed person a willingness, if push came to shove, to bite the bullet and pay, explaining that it was a matter not of money or dentition but of "principle." And the depressed person always took care, when as an adult she attempted to describe to a supportive friend the venomous struggle over the cost of her orthodonture and that struggle's legacy of emotional pain for her, to concede that it may well truly have appeared to each parent to have been, in fact, a matter of "principle," though unfortunately not a "principle" that took into account their daughter's feelings at receiving the emotional message that scoring petty points off each other was more important to her parents than her own maxillofacial health and thus constituted, if considered from a certain perspective, a form of neglect or abandonment or even outright abuse, an abuse clearly connected -- here she nearly always inserted that her therapist concurred with this assessment -- to the bottomless, chronic adult despair she suffered every day and felt hopelessly trapped in.

Reasonably related

Harper's Magazine online.

•An unofficial David Foster Wallace fan site.

10:10 PM

Tuesday, June 15, 2004  

Blogger of the day: David Anderson

David Anderson, at In Search of Utopia, has quite a few entries that may interest you up presently. Like this weblog, Anderson's blog is general assignment. He writes about whatever is on his mind. That can be his business, domestic politics, high tech news, the war in Iraq or anything else. So, be prepared for an eclectic mixture of opinion and reportage.

Time does blogging

Anderson brought my attention to an article about blogging in the current issue of Time. Balanced and long, the piece reminds us when blogs began to matter.

Most of America couldn't have cared less. Until December 2002, that is, when bloggers staged a dramatic show of force. The occasion was Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, during which Trent Lott made what sounded like a nostalgic reference to Thurmond's past segregationist leanings. The mainstream press largely glossed over the incident, but when regular journalists bury the lead, bloggers dig it right back up. "That story got ignored for three, four, five days by big papers and the TV networks while blogs kept it alive," says Joshua Micah Marshall, creator of talkingpointsmemo.com, one of a handful of blogs that stuck with the Lott story.

Mainstream America wasn't listening, but Washington insiders and media honchos read blogs. Three days after the party, the story was on Meet the Press. Four days afterward, Lott made an official apology. After two weeks, Lott was out as Senate majority leader, and blogs had drawn their first blood. Web journalists like Matt Drudge (drudgereport.com) had already demonstrated a certain crude effectiveness — witness l'affaire Lewinsky — but this was something different: bloggers were offering reasoned, forceful arguments that carried weight with the powers that be.

The full five-page article is worth reading,

Feds probe Islamic law confab

Anderson is also interested in how easy it is to get in trouble with the law these days. Turns out that a conference on Islamic law was seen as suspicious by secret agent men. (Who just might give you a number and take away a your name.) He read about it in Newsweek.

Last February, two Army counterintelligence agents showed up at the University of Texas law school and demanded to see the roster from a conference on Islamic law held a few days earlier. Their reason: they were trying to track down students who the agents claimed had been asking "suspicious" questions. "I felt like I was in 'Law & Order'," said one student after being grilled by one of the agents. The incident provoked a brief campus uproar, and the Army later admitted the agents had exceeded their authority. But if the Pentagon has its way, the Army may not have to make such amends in the future. Without any public hearing or debate, Newsweekhas learned, Defense officials recently slipped a provision into a bill before Congress that could vastly expand the Pentagon's ability to gather intelligence inside the United States, including recruiting citizens as informants."

Living in the Pacific Northwest, which is often the locus of anti-terrorism activity, has made me certain that the investigations and arrests arereal. First there were the imams and mosques allegedly linked to funding terrorism in Seattle and Portland. Then, the Portland Seven, who eventually pleaded guilty to charges they traveled to China in an effort to reach Afghanistan, where they holded to join al Qaida. A supposed terrorist training camp is said to be located in Oregon. More recently, Brandon Mayfield, a Portland lawyer, was in custody for two weeks. It was falsely claimed that his fingerprint was found at the site of the terrorist bombing that killed more than 200 people in of a train ins Spain. He says he was targeted because he is a Muslim. So, the reality of the times we live may be more vivid to us here. If I still lived in Des Moines, Iowa, these events probably would not resonate with me as much.

Anderson is wary, too, all the way from Costa Rico.

It gets more and more scary folks. What I cant figure out is how some of the more intelligent conservatives I talk with, cant figure this out. . . We have the Justice Department giving the President Legal Advice on how he can authorize torture. We have CIA agents being outed for revenge. We have FREE SPEECH zones, and people being locked up without access to legal representation. We have civil rights being selectively ignored... The Republicans got upset not long ago about a MoveOn.org add comparing Bush with the Nazis. But it may not take a Right Wing organization to draw parallels if these trends continue.

Viable cases have been made against some terrorism suspects. But, that doesn't make the abuses of investigative powers by federal agents more acceptable.

Ugly American, send me money

Blog readers aren't Anderson's only stubborn correspondents. He recently heard twice from an email scam. Not Nigerian, but Liberian.

Date: Sunday, June 13, 2004 6:48 AM
From: JOHNSON TAYLOR <johnsontaylor54001@yahoo.co.uk>
Reply-To: johnsontaylor540@yahoo.co.uk
To: <dsanderson11@mac.com>

Dear Sir/madam,

This request may seem strange, but if I may crave your indulgence and hope that you view this proposal very seriously. My name is MR..JOHNSON TAYLOR, the junior brother to Mr. Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia. Due to the current situations in our country (Liberia) we where forced to leave the country for Nigeria where we are currently on political asylum. My brother Ex. President Taylor on getting to Nigeria.

. . .Based on these developments, the various foreign Banks Account of my Uncle is already being investigated and that of Switzerland has already been frozen.

In view of this very unpleasant development the sum of £16.5Million pounds has been Secretly moved to a private security vault for safekeeping.

My Uncle Mr Charles Taylor is Presently in Nigeria for asylum, he has confided in me With this task of seeking a very reliable and honest person that Will receive this Fund into his/her account for the future Survival of him and his family since he cannot presently deposit Or transfer the fund on his name or that of his family members Name due to the present situation in our country. He may likely Face war crime charges as declared by the United Nations in Respect of his alleged involvement in civil war in Sierra-Leone

It is in light of this present situation that made me to come over to Europe on a different identity in search of a reliable, trustworthy individual who would be able to assist us by providing us with an account (A Fresh account just for the purpose of this transaction), so as to enable us transfer the sum of (£16.5million pounds) into that said account. You would also be required to buy properties, stocks I multinational companies and also engage in other safe non-speculative investments. In appreciation of your assistance, we have worked out the sharing ratio for mutually beneficial transaction as follows. 75% for us would further be best wishes from our corporation on your professed endeavors.

I said a Liberian scam, but who really knows? The culprit could be anyone anywhere.

Something I notice about these emails when I get them is that there is an automatic assumption that I will be sympathetic to the plight of a despot, usually one of the Right Wing sort. Is that because people in Second and Third World countries think all Americans have conservative or reactionary political values? I don't recall encountering such a perspective when I was in Africa years ago, but maybe I was talking to the wrong people. I've never gotten an email soliciting funds from someone claiming to be the second cousin twice removed of Allende or the granddaugher of Lumumba. I wonder why.

These entries are just a sample of material available at In Search of Utopia. Visit David Anderson.

9:15 PM

Wednesday, June 09, 2004  

Politics: Obama's campaign tense, touching

I am following the Senate campaign of a Chicago politician pretty closely. Barack Obama took his primary by storm and is the favorite to go all the way. Young looking, very, very smart, and half-African and half-American, he is far from ordinary fare for either state or national politics. Though I have never met Obama (pictured), I'm acquainted with him through the network of African-Americans, Hispanics, Indians and Asians who have moved in circles traditionally peopled by the white elite. Many of us know of each other. The reason I am interested in Obama is that I hope to see a person of color I can respect become the third elected to the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, that may not happen. There is a tendency for white voters to say they will support African-American politicians in polls and then switch to the white candidate when they are in the voting booth with the curtain drawn. Andrew Young, Tom Bradley and others hoping to bridge the racial gap have been defeated by the jinx. Obama will make history if he becomes a senator from Illinois.

Columnist Bob Herbert is also heartened by Obama's candidacy.

In a political era saturated with cynicism and deceit, Mr. Obama is asking voters to believe him when he talks about the values and verities that so many politicians have lied about for so long. He's asking, in effect, for a leap of political faith.

So far, at least, the voters of Illinois seem to be responding. A Chicago Tribune poll released this week showed Mr. Obama with a huge lead, 52 percent to 30 percent, over his Republican rival, Jack Ryan.

Mr. Obama has not ducked the issues. He has opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, and he delivered a stirring antiwar speech at a rally in October 2002. He supports the war in Afghanistan . He believes the Bush tax cuts went too far, and he makes that clear even in appearances before wealthy audiences. He said: "I tell them, `Look, I think we need to roll back those tax cuts that benefited you. You don't need them. Let's talk about what we could do with that money.' "

Obama is used to excelling. He became the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review and was elected to state office at an age when most people are still using milk crates as bookcases. His life has been a complicated one. At forty-two, he has made peace wihth the memory of the Kenyan father who he saw little of growing up. He believes being reared by white grandparents from the Midwest helps him understand the rural voters he will need to combine with his urban constituency to win this election. He is satisfied with having rejected a career at a silk stocking law firm for public service.

Obama's foe is not so much a person as a huge heap of money. Republican Jack Ryan, a multimillionaire, is being backed by the big guns of the Republican Party. Vice President Dick Cheney, said to spend more than three-fourths of his time fundraising, recently helped Ryan raise $500,000. Ryan is also supported by the ultraconservative Club for Growth. We last discussed the Club in regard to its efforts to defeat moderate Republican Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania. The far Right pulled out all the stops against Spector, painting the more conservative than not veteran pol as a quiche eating liberal. The campaign against Obama threatens to be equally nasty. Ryan has assigned a shadower to follow Obama wherever he goes and film his every move. The cameraman is said to stand so close to the candidate that he probably gets sprayed whenever Obama sneezes.

SPRINGFIELD -- For the past 10 days, U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama hasn't been able to go to the bathroom or talk to his wife on his cell phone without having a camera-toting political gofer from his Republican rival filming a few feet away.

In what has to be a first in Illinois politics, Republican Jack Ryan has assigned one of his campaign workers to record every movement and every word of the state senator while he is in public.

Warfel interrupted Obama several times with heckling questions, but wouldn't respond when reporters asked him about who he was and why he was filming Obama's every move.

Fortunately, there does not seem to be any dirt to be dug up in regard to Obama. He has bared his life thoroughly in an autobiography to be released this fall. Ryan, on the other hand, is not so fortunate. He is fighting to keep records of his divorce from actress Jeri Ryan secret. (She is best known for the role of 7 of 9 on Startrek: Voyager.) I believe that if the records are opened or leaked, there is significant danger of harm to his campaign.

L.A. Superior Court Judge Robert A. Schnider has tentatively scheduled a "final hearing" on the question for June 18.

Ryan declined to answer any questions at a fund-raiser Friday night, but his spokesman dismissed persistent speculation among GOP insiders that the contents of the file are so explosive that the former investment banker from Wilmette will wind up folding his candidacy.

Most incumbent senators are in safe seats, as usual. However, a pair of neophytes is battling in Illinois. If you are looking for a real contest and a candidate who inspires, Obama's campaign is the one to watch.

Reasonably related

Barack Obama's autobiography, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, will be published in August. You can preorder if from Amazon.

•Visit Obama's blog.

Read about his accomplishments.

1:14 PM

Monday, June 07, 2004  

Reading: Le Guin creates a hero

I've been thinking about heroism. That is partly because of the brouhaha over the death of former President of the United States Ronald Reagan. The obsession the Right has about creating military heroes in the amorphous war against terrorism also has something to do with it. Last year, I was one of the first bloggers to be very skeptical about the elevation of Pfc. Jesssica Lynch to heroine. Just last month, I reprised the role in regard to the deification of Spec. Pat Tillman. Another reason is literary. I have been an admirer of speculative fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin since childhood and have the good fortune of knowing her. However, I had not read the Earthsea series until recently. All of the books, five writtten over three decades, deserve reviews. But, for now, let's consider the first of them, A Wizard of Earthsea.

Though a winner of prizes for young adult literature, Wizard is a profoundly adult novel in my opinion. To paraphrase the wonderful singer and songwriter, Phoebe Snow, being an adult means learning to bear your life in pain. The moral of the novel is ultimately that.

We are entering Earthsea, a land where magic is as common as cattle. Suspend your disbelief.

Anyone who was a precocious, but not confident, child, will recognize the personality of the hero of the book. The boy, Duny, goes through a catch as catch can childhood after his mother dies during his infancy. His father is a hard-bitten craftsman who has already reared several other sons. He pays little attention to his youngest, except to smack him around from time to time. The aunt who cared for Duny as a baby is just as indifferent until she discovers the boy has a gift. A witch herself, she decides to train her nephew in the art of magic. When he is about 12, the boy comes to the attention of the local wizard. The warlike Kargs invade Gont. Duny defeats them with a distraction spell that masks the town in mist and confuses the invaders. They kill each other in the confusion and make a bumbling retreat. As a result of his obvious power despite rudimentary training, the boy is eventually sent to the academy for wizards on the isolated isle of Roke.

The fifteen-year-old, true name Ged, use name Sparrowhawk, has the most potential of all the students at the academy. However, he comes from one of the least comfortable backgrounds among them. The manners, money and self-confidence of the older boys is a constant reminder that he is considered to be of inferior stock. The matter comes to a climax when Sparrowhawk allows himself to be goaded into invoking a forbidden spell to try to impress a wealthy, sophisticated schoolmate. The effect of the spell is to bring an evil into the world that will follow him, intent on taking control, for years to come. It is the pain of that encounter, which will humble and scar Ged for the rest of his life, that makes it possible for him to become a hero. Without that self-knowledge, the feats that will be the content of the Deed of Ged, the song the denizens of Earthsea will commit to memory for life, would not occur. Those acts rely on self-sacrifice. The experience that alters the eventual mage's life is the catalyst that makes his capacity for self-sacrifice possible.

The reason I do not agree with claims that people such as Lynch and Tillman are heroes is that their stories lack the elements of self-knowledge and self-sacrifice that define heroism. A Wizard of Earthsea, a work of fantasy that some folks may think is for children, gets heroism right.

Reasonably related

Wikipedia has collected information about the Earthsea series.

•Visit Ursula K. Le Guin's home on the Web.

•The lyrics to Phoebe Snow's "Harpo's Blues."

11:45 PM

Wednesday, June 02, 2004  

People are saying

Judge rules agains abortion ban

Mac, who is filling in for Ms. Lauren, along with with several other bloggers, at Feministe, has an opinion about the most recent ruling in the late-term abortion controversy. First, the news.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - In a ruling with coast-to-coast effect, a federal judge declared the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act unconstitutional Tuesday, saying it infringes on a woman's right to choose.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton's ruling came in one of three lawsuits challenging the legislation President Bush signed last year.

She agreed with abortion rights activists that a woman's right to choose is paramount, and that is therefore "irrelevant" whether a fetus suffers pain, as abortion foes contend.

I don't much care for the phrasing in that last graf. What the judge has done is follow the reasoning in Roe v. Wade, which does extend some protection to fetuses. Society has an interest in protecting fetuses because it needs citizens. Fetuses are potential citizens. However, there is no question that the scales are weighted toward actual citizens -- women. Hamilton's focus on the impact on pregnant women is appropriate. To recast the issue in terms of whether fetuses feel pain would ignore the presumption in favor of abortion embodied in Roe.

Mac says the matter seems to be one of common sense.

I occasionally have one of those days when I want to point to the current administration and yell "Ha ha!" in the style of Nelson Muntz. Today is one of those days.

So there's some good news for women.

I'm not excited by the idea of late term abortions [I refuse to use the term "partial birth abortion" since it's a misleading phrase created by abortion foes], but if it's my health or the health of the fetus [or both], well, I want late term abortions to be an option for me. For Congress to declare that a late term abortion is "never medically necessary" demonstrates just how far up their collective butts their heads are.

Sadly, George W. Bush and John Ashcroft don't credit women with having common sense. That is proven by their false claim that pregnant women will eagerly embrace late-term abortion if the option is available. In reality, there are few late-term abortions and the women who have them agonize over the decision.

Blog readers have balls

What is the unpredictable Brian Flemming up to now? I wondered, so I visited his weblog. The blogger and filmmaker is channeling Al Gore. He also has some interesting information about blog readers.

About you

The results of the Blogads survey of readers are in. In case you didn't know, here is the likelihood that you:

  • Donate online to causes or candidates: 50%

  • Are over 30: 61%

  • Earn more than $45K/year: 75%

  • Have a penis: 79%

  • Disdain television: 82%
  • It's my impression that BFW readers have fewer penises than the general blog readership, but maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.

    Eighty-two percent of blog readers don't watch television? Some folks are pulling our legs. So, why would they lie about it? Image, perhaps? It sounds cool to be above the boob tube. I would be more willing to believe that blog readers, and people who read period, watch less television. Say, one or two hours per day instead of the national habit of having the damn thing on most of the time. If I were writing that survey question, I would ask how many hours of TV are watched per day or per week, giving ranges. The more open-ended the question, the more people are likely to give an all or nothing answer. That is probably why we see so many in denial.

    In regard to penises, I believe men generally tell the truth about having them, but not about their size.

    And, yes, both Brian and I know a survey by Blogads is not scientific.

    Heller has had enough

    When I last heard from Rick Heller, he was ambivalent about the publication of prisoner abuse photographs from Abu Ghraib. He appears to have accepted the necessity of looking the scandal in the face, and, that the revelations about the abuse are the straw that broke the camel's back. Rick tells us what he thinks now at the Swing Voter Weblog.

    Lift My Spirits, JFK

    The latest developments from Iraq are, frankly, depressing. With these photos of prisoner abuse circulating, I don't know how we're going to be able to leave a non-hostile Iraq behind when we eventually withdraw our troops. Even President Bush seems shaken.

    There's an expression, "When you're opponent is commiting suicide, don't get in the way." It's obvious to most Americans that the country is on the wrong track. What we need from John Kerry is a way forward.

    Jimmy Carter won in 1976 in part because of him famous smile, which faded after taking office. Reagan managed to keep his optimism throughout his term. Kerry's demeanor is funereal. I don't know if he can do it, but if someone could lift the nation's spirits at this distressing time, he would earn our gratitude. God knows President Bush can't do it.

    Rick started out as a true centrist about the presidential election. In my opinion, he was leaning toward Bush as recently as a couple months ago. Now that an honest to goodness centrist like Rick has left the GOP's 'big tent,' others are sure to follow.

    1:37 PM

    Tuesday, June 01, 2004  

    Analysis: Fate and the female general

    The question: Is Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski getting screwed? Since we are not discussing Pfc. Lynndie England, I am not using the term sexually. Is Karpinski being taken advantage of by her superiors? The issue arises because some folks wonder if the tenuously situated female officer may have been made a scapegoat because of her gender and inadmissability to the good old boys' club. Karpinski was relieved of her stewardship of Abu Ghraib prison, the most notorious site of abuses of Iraqi detainees by American troops, in November of 2003. Her fortunes have declined further since. Mark Rothschild, writing at Antiwar.com, believes the general is getting screwed.

    Karpinski Was 'Set Up,' but Sanchez Takes the Fall

    Less than two weeks after Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez abruptly removed Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski from her command of Abu Ghraib prison, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski , Sanchez's chief deputy, convened a meeting at which certain legal issues emerging at the prison were discussed.

    . . .Now, six months after that November meeting, it seems that nothing has changed in the way the Army treats Janis Karpinski .  She complained on Monday that she had just received a terse email notifying her that she has now been officially suspended from her command. 

    . . .It is now clear that the Pentagon's wagons are circling and that Karpinski is on the outside.  However, back in November of 2003 it was not so clear to Karpinski that she was being set up to take a fall.  

    At that meeting in the fall of 2003, Karpinski (pictured) agreed to be the one to sign a letter which which denies that there is is anything wrong with the way most Iraqi prioners were being treated at Abu Ghraib. The pretext for the denial is that the inmates are 'security detainees' under the Geneva Conventions, and, therefore, subject to torture. However, the Geneva Conventions define security detainees as persons likely to have useful information that could prevent future harm or shed light on past atrocities. Very few detainees in Iraq fall into that category. Most inmates are civilians rather arbitrarily plucked from the population. The letter was written in response to confidential findings of the Red Cross that detainess at Abu Ghraib were being mistreated. Karpinski signed it on Dec. 23, 2003, though she denies having read the Red Cross' full report. The report was leaked to the public on May 7th.

    The chain of command has denied knowledge of the abuses, though the participants in the November meeting, which included Karpinski's successor, Colonel Thomas Pappas, and her superior, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, seemed aware of the abuses by then. Rothschild believes Karpinski's claims that she was left out of the discussions prior to the meeting, did not see evidence of abuses and did not know she was lying when she signed the letter to the Red Cross. He thinks she was set up, apparently because of her outsider status.

    Greg Fischer, who wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper, believes that there has been discrimination in Karpinski's favor because she is a woman.

    Karpinski has not been formally relieved of command nor charged in connection with a prisoner-abuse scandal that has tarnished the military's image in Iraq and hindered the U.S.-led occupation.

    Why is there a double standard, one for men, and then one for women in the armed forces? Why hasn't she been relieved of her command? Why is she not censured?

    Is it not politically correct to hold women to the same standards of conduct as men? Are people afraid of what the feminists may say or do? Punishment must be consistent, for women and for men.

    Fischer is in error in regard to Karpinski being disciplined. She has been suspended and sent back to the U.S. She also has been officially admonished. He compares the situation to the Tailhook scandal, in which male Air Force personnel sexually abused their female peers, saying that accountability was swift for the male brass in that episode. Karpinski has mounted a tour of the media, telling her side of the story, from her current assignment to Fort Jackson, S.C. She obviously fears that she may be subjected to stronger disciplinary measures. It is premature to say her fears are unfounded.

    Karpinski's alibi is that she was not really in charge of Abu Ghraib. Her words to CNN's Soledad O'Brien are typical.

    KARPINSKI: The accusations were without foundation that this was not a military police leadership issue, specifically.

    This was a much broader responsibility, and that particular cellblock was under the control of the military intelligence command at the time and, in fact, from November on Abu Ghraib Prison was under the control of the military intelligence command.

    O'BRIEN: You had no control over this facility after a certain point?

    KARPINSKI: I can't say no control at a certain point, but it was certainly far less control. And the reason I retained any control is because I had MPs that were still working out there and they remained under the 800th MP Brigade.

    Some of those MPs have been charged in the abuse scandal, but the general denies knowledge of their activities. Karpinski says military intelligence placed barriers in parts of the prison that she never went past. My response to that is a question: Why? As the commander of the prison, I believe she had the authority to visit any part of it. Even if discouraged, a person of integrity would have insisted on knowing what was going on at his or her site. Karpinski's choice to be ignorant of the truth about Abu Ghraib is negligence. Her claim to have heard no evil before November also lack credibility. If lowly enlisted persons knew what was going on with their limited access to parts of the prison, surely a high ranking officer could have garnered the same information. The letter? It is elementary that one does not sign documents that profess knowledge one doesn't have. If Karpinski did not know whether the abuses had occurred, she should have refused to sign the letter. If she knew that the inmates did not fall under the designation, 'security detainees,' she should have refused to sign the letter. Karpinski's willingness to go along with the others reveals her to have been a member in good standing of the Iraqi occupation family. I cannot in good faith endorse her divorce from that family now.

    Is sexual discrimination in the military real? Yes. From what I've read and been told, it is endemic. Women are tolerated within rather narrow boundaries. Those who get out of their place pay the price in abuse or demotion. Getting out of one's place can be doing something as right as reporting having been raped. Writer Debra Dickerson was ostracized and targeted by her commanding officer in the Army for doing just that. But, in this situation, I am not at all sure that the woman has been singled out because of her gender. Her superiors have passed the buck to males as well as to Karpinski. Sanchez, her former boss, is now an officer without an assignment, sharing her disgrace.

    12:30 PM