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January 29, 2006 - Those Who Tell Us What It All Really Means

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Wednesday, January 25th, was a day for mulling things over - everyone was trying to put things in perspective. The news was thin.

Perspectives? Yeah, Gore Vidal lives up the hill here. He sold the villa on the Amalfi coast. So he's stuck here in the Hollywood Hills, and his latest "perspective" piece is here - text and audio. He's rather devastating.

He quotes from the British historian Charles Freeman - The Closing of the Western Mind - and Morris Berman, a professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington - Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire. Vidal comments - "Mr. Bush, God knows, is no Augustine; but Freeman points to the latter as the epitome of a more general process that was underway in the fourth century: namely, 'the gradual subjection of reason to faith and authority. This is what we are seeing today, and it is a process that no society can undergo and still remain free. Yet it is a process of which administration officials, along with much of the American population, are aggressively proud.'"

Vidal adds that "close observers of this odd presidency note that Bush, like his evangelical base, believes he is on a mission from God and that faith trumps empirical evidence."

Berman of course quotes a senior White House adviser who disdains what he calls the "reality-based" community (see this in these pages for details). Berman - "If a nation is unable to perceive reality correctly, and persists in operating on the basis of faith-based delusions, its ability to hold its own in the world is pretty much foreclosed."

Yeah, yeah - we know all this. We're in a cultural death valley, and it's not just all the fights over not teaching evolution.


As Freeman says –


Add to this the pervasive hostility toward science on the part of the current administration (e.g. stem-cell research) and we get a clear picture of the Enlightenment being steadily rolled back. Religion is used to explain terror attacks as part of a cosmic conflict between Good and Evil rather than in terms of political processes.... Manichaeanism rules across the United States. According to a poll taken by Time magazine fifty-nine percent of Americans believe that John's apocalyptic prophecies in the Book of Revelation will be fulfilled, and nearly all of these believe that the faithful will be taken up into heaven in the "Rapture."

Finally, we shouldn't be surprised at the antipathy toward democracy displayed by the Bush administration.... As already noted, fundamentalism and democracy are completely antithetical. The opposite of the Enlightenment, of course, is tribalism, groupthink; and more and more, this is the direction in which the United States is going.... Anthony Lewis who worked as a columnist for the New York Times for thirty-two years, observes that what has happened in the wake of 9/11 is not just the threatening of the rights of a few detainees, but the undermining of the very foundation of democracy. Detention without trial, denial of access to attorneys, years of interrogation in isolation - these are now standard American practice, and most Americans don't care. Nor did they care about the revelation in July 2004 (reported in Newsweek), that for several months the White House and the Department of Justice had been discussing the feasibility of canceling the upcoming presidential election in the event of a possible terrorist attack.


The times are bad indeed, and Vidal adds this –


We are assured daily by advertisers and/or politicians that we are the richest, most envied people on Earth and, apparently, that is why so many awful, ill-groomed people want to blow us up. We live in an impermeable bubble without the sort of information that people living in real countries have access to when it comes to their own reality. But we are not actually people in the eyes of the national ownership: we are simply unreliable consumers comprising an overworked, underpaid labor force not in the best of health. The World Health Organization rates our healthcare system (sic - or sick?) as 37th-best in the world, far behind even Saudi Arabia, role model for the Texans. Our infant mortality rate is satisfyingly high, precluding a First World educational system. Also, it has not gone unremarked even in our usually information-free media that despite the boost to the profits of such companies as Halliburton, Bush's wars of aggression against small countries of no danger to us have left us well and truly broke. Our annual trade deficit is a half-trillion dollars, which means that we don't produce much of anything the world wants except those wan reports on how popular our Entertainment is overseas. Unfortunately the foreign gross of "King Kong," the Edsel of that assembly line, is not yet known. It is rumored that Bollywood - the Indian film business - may soon surpass us! Berman writes, "We have lost our edge in science to Europe...The US economy is being kept afloat by huge foreign loans ($4 billion a day during 2003). What do you think will happen when America's creditors decide to pull the plug, or when OPEC members begin selling oil in euros instead of dollars?... An International Monetary Fund report of 2004 concluded that the United States was 'careening toward insolvency.' " Meanwhile, China, our favorite big-time future enemy, is the number one for worldwide foreign investments, with France, the bete noire of our apish neocons, in second place.

Well, we still have Kraft cheese and, of course, the death penalty.


Perhaps Vidal reads too much. But you might want to check out his central conceit - just how did Jonah end up in that whale? What happened after they tossed him overboard? Didn't the storm stop and the warms become calm? That's the thought here, Bush as Jonah.

It's not going happen. As one reader in Rochester (New York state, top left edge) said - "he is preaching to the choir, and he is too articulate for the people who should listen."

Well, it is long, with references like "the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture - a troika that was for Voltaire the central horror of the pre-Enlightenment world" and a bit about the Roman emperor Tiberius. Altogether too erudite. Our friend in Rochester suggests Vidal is now the William F. Buckley of the left.

Still, it pulls a lot together, and, for those with a taste for history and scholarly matters, it works.

Other perspectives?

People are still mulling over that audio tape from Osama bin Laden last week. Christopher Hitchens offered Al-Qaida Is Losing: There's desperation in Osama's voice. Maybe, but why does Hitchens continue to hold that bin Laden did the western world a "big favor" by attacking New York and Washington? Well, yes, this brought things to a head and started the war Hitchens thinks we should fight from now to forever. See also Al-Qaida: Weaker Or Stronger? - a review of those who disagree with Hitchens' assessment of what the tape means about just who is winning or losing, and strength or weakness, or agree, or just don't know. Hitchens is alone, of course, in being grateful to Osama bin Laden. If nothing else, the tape keeps columnists busy.

Other perspectives?

People are still trying the get their heads around this


A US officer who faced up to three years in jail for killing a captured Iraqi general has been punished with a reprimand and a $6,000 fine.

Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr was convicted last week of the negligent homicide of Maj Gen Abed Hamed Mowhoush in 2003.

Prosecutors said Gen Mowhoush was tied, placed headfirst in a sleeping bag and died with an officer sitting on him.

Welshofer has thanked his military "family" for supporting his defense.


Everyone in the courtroom cheered when the verdict was read. The fellow was ordered to be confined to his base and "place of worship" for sixty days. He had said he was sorry.

Marc Cooper's perspective, after reviewing all the details, is this


Let's make sure we get this story right. You take the captured, uniformed general of an enemy army - and in blatant violation of all notions of human decency and of the Geneva Conventions - you beat him with rubber hoses, pour water down his nose, then stuff him into a sleeping bag, tie him with electrical cord, and then sit your ass down on his chest until he suffocates and you are convicted of what? "Negligent homicide?"

... Remember that the victim in this case, Iraqi General Abed Hamel Mowhoush was a top, uniformed officer of a recognized state-sponsored enemy army and not some "illegal combatant." Worse, when Mowhoush was suffocated in November 2003, it was after he had voluntarily turned himself in to U.S. military authorities. At least, sort of voluntarily. Fact is, the General surrendered to American troops because they were holding his sons hostage - yet another stark violation of international law.


Well, that's one way of looking at it, but Welshofer said he was sorry.

In the local paper out here we get this - "The day after the general's death, prosecutors said, Welshofer asked for another sleeping bag so he could continue using the technique on others."


And in the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum tries to get some perspective on the defense used by Welshofer, asking this - "if the jury bought Welshofer's argument that he was just following orders, whose orders was he following?

Are you supposed to be asking those questions? And why do people refuse to see us as the good guys in all this?

Other perspectives?

Someone has it wrong. You just have to decide who.

You see, the Associated Press got its hands on a study the Pentagon commissioned - Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer wrote it under a Pentagon contract, and it concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to "break the back" of the insurgency. The AP story is here - "Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, has become a 'thin green line' that could snap unless relief comes soon." Part of the evidence is the Army's 2005 recruiting slump - they missed the recruiting goal for the first time since 1999 - and the decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives. And yes, they raised the enlistment age (from 35 to 42) and lowered the standards regarding education and literacy.

Then congressional Democrats released a report Wednesday - same sort of thing, from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Perry. Our ground forces are under "enormous strain" - and "This strain, if not soon relieved, will have highly corrosive and potentially long-term effects on the force." (But Madeleine Albright was born in what used to be Czechoslovakia and she dresses funny - and both these folks worked for Bill Clinton.)

Our current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, took umbrage with all this. He has plans to reduce forces and buy more high-tech gizmos, all part of his "transformation" of the military.

His views here - "the force is not broken" - such an implication was "almost backward."

- "This armed force is enormously capable. In addition, it's battle hardened. It's not a peacetime force that has been in barracks or garrisons."

- Any report that the military is close to the breaking point "is just not consistent with the facts."

- "It's clear that those comments do not reflect the current situation. They are either out of date or just misdirected."

And then he blamed Clinton for leaving a mess for him to clean up. (And you can be sure he's going to come down hard on whoever leaked the Krepinevich study to the Associated Press.)

Lou Dobbs opened his CNN show on the 25th with this story, and his first words were "somebody's lying."

You just have to decide who.

Berman - "If a nation is unable to perceive reality correctly, and persists in operating on the basis of faith-based delusions, its ability to hold its own in the world is pretty much foreclosed."

Other perspectives?

Cathy Young here noticed that the International Lesbian and Gay Association recently applied to join the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Yawn. This is a "niche" news story (here).

The giggle is this...

These countries voted to at least consider the application: Chile, France, Germany, Peru and Romania.

These countries voted to dismiss the application without allowing a hearing: Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe - and the United States.

Cathy Young doesn't like the company we keep.

As before, from as Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (aka "Kos," of the most widely-read site on the left), this


Let's not forget that ultimately, Osama's vision for the Arab world is far more akin to the Right's vision of America. ... On homosexuality, on militarism, on women's rights, on religion in school, on capital punishment, on free speech, on curtailment of civil liberties, and on a million different other issues Islamic fundamentalists don't share many disagreements with the ideologues running our country. The reason we hate Islamic fundamentalists is pretty much the same reason we're fighting to take back this country from the Republicans. They are two peas from the same pod, and diametrically opposed to everything we liberals stand for.


We just voted with Iran.

Vidal was onto something.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Paris readers add nine hours....