Just Above Sunset
February 5, 2006 - Making Much of Nothing

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Tuesday, January 31st - the president delivers the State of the Union address. Does anyone watch this? Our here in Los Angeles it started at six in the evening, as a light fog started to slide in off the Pacific. Those of us who once taught "creative writing" know the dangers of employing the sympathetic fallacy - we warn our students. In real life it seldom rains when the noble hero tragically dies.

This was just fog. The Pacific is damned cold this time of year, and the off-shore Santa Ana winds of the previous week are long gone. It's not a symbol. It's just fog. And this was just a political speech.

This is a telling admission, from Josh Marshall, a major political analyst –


I have a confession: I'm not sure when the last time was when I watched the State of the Union address. I think I may have watched it in 2003. But I'm not even certain of that. Perhaps a glance through the archives would show that I watched a bit of it last year, I don't know.

The truth is, I find it unwatchable.

Now, I read the transcript later. I'll often go back and watch key sections so I can get the flavor of a particular passage in the speech or of a debate it has spawned.

But the thing itself (watching the actual production in real time) and then the imbecile chatter afterwards - I just can't deal. I just find it unbearable.

Are there others out there like me? I know that a great portion of the country never watches the thing and can't be bothered with politics in any case. But are there others out there who are genuine political junkies - downright incurables - and yet can't bear to watch this thing?


Yes, there are. Right here.

Of course the White House released the full text to the press a few hours early, so they could do their reporting. And if you found it you didn't have to watch.

The text came with this tag - "Embargoed Until Delivery of the State of the Union Address at 9:01 PM EST January 31, 2006." Right. It was posted, in full, hours before the speech, here, with this tag - "We'll start respecting White House embargoes when they start telling the truth."

Marshall says the speech is "unwatchable" - it's also unreadable. Nothing new. Same defense of the wiretapping - constitutional by the new theory the White House uses, and authorized by congress, even if they think they didn't authorized any such thing. Same platitudes about everything else. There was the "addicted to oil" line - we need to kick that habit. Yeah, like what does that mean? That's not policy. What's our methadone? Ethanol? Hardly. The economic stuff was just nonsense - make tax cuts for the rich permanent and cut a hundred and twenty social programs. And the deficit isn't getting as big quite as fast as it was before, so things are looking good. And we're really the good guys in this world, really, we are. We bring democracy. The bad guys die. Everyone will cheer, eventually - not the subtlest thinking. But then, what do you expect in this venue?


The arrest of Cindy Sheehan was amusing. No, you're not allowed to unfurl banners in there (initial false report) or wear anti-war t-shirts (but you are allowed).  Whatever.  Grandstanding. Give it a rest.

Many in the opposition think it's time for substance, not drama. Harry Reid, minority leader of the Senate, does a point-by-point refutation here - facts and reality to counter every platitude and claim. The message? Most all of us live in the real world and need a government that has a clue about what happens here on earth.

Note here, an alternative State of the Union address from Gore Vidal –


This is an unpatriotic government. This is a government that deals openly in illegalities, whether it is attacking a country which has done us no harm, two countries - Iraq and Afghanistan - because we now believe, not in declaring war through Congress as the Constitution requires, but through the President. "Well, I think there are some terrorists over there, and I think we got to bomb them, huh? We'll bomb them." Now, we've had idiots as presidents before. He's not unique. But he's certainly the most active idiot that we have ever had.


There's much more. It's snide. But then...                                                                    

It's just a speech. It's just evening fog.

But the world progresses apace, as in this


San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T Tuesday, accusing the telecom giant of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its massive and illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications.

The NSA program came to light in December, when the New York Times reported that the president had authorized the agency to intercept telephone and Internet communications inside the United States without the authorization of any court. Over the ensuing weeks, it became clear that the NSA program has been intercepting and analyzing millions of Americans' communications, with the help of the country's largest phone and Internet companies.

Reporting has also indicated that those same companies - and AT&T specifically - have given the NSA direct access to their vast databases of communications records, including information about whom their customers have phoned or emailed with in the past. And yet little has been accomplished by this illegal spying: recent reports have shown that the data from this wholesale surveillance has done little more than waste FBI resources on dead leads.

"The NSA program is apparently the biggest fishing expedition ever devised, scanning millions of ordinary Americans' phone calls and emails for 'suspicious' patterns, and it's the collaboration of US telecom companies like AT&T that makes it possible," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "When the government defends spying on Americans by saying, 'If you're talking to terrorists we want to know about it,' that's not even close to the whole story."

In the lawsuit, EFF alleges that AT&T, in addition to allowing the NSA direct access to the phone and Internet communications passing over its network, has given the government unfettered access to its over 300 terabyte "Daytona" database of caller information - one of the largest databases in the world...


Hey! Someone is actually doing something. Cindy could have unfurled any funky banner at all, and get that shot of being dragged out of the House chambers, and Gore Vidal can be snarky, but these guys are doing useful work.

Someone has to.

Ah, for an alternative speech, on doing something, the right thing, even if you lose 58-42 in the Senate on the judge, Digby, over at Hullabaloo here reminds us of what Bobby Kennedy one said - this -


Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the thirty-two-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal.

These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe.

For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves, on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that effort.

The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.

Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.


Fight the good fight. It really is the only way we can live.

And he's dead.

So let's turn to other matters. Here, as the president was delivering the big speech, with no sound to Harriet-the-Cat in the far room, KUSC was still broadcasting Mozart.

January 27th was Mozart's birthday - he's two hundred and fifty this year. There was no mention in these pages. Sorry.

The Wall Street Journal arts critic, Terry Teachout, here found some odd things.

First he quotes himself from long ago –


In 1945, Arturo Toscanini told the music critic B.H. Haggin that he preferred Haydn to Mozart. "I will tell you frankly: sometimes I find Mozart boring," he said to his astonished interviewer. "Not G-minor [the G Minor Symphony, K. 550]: that is great tragedy; and not concerti; but other music. Is always beautiful - but is always the same."


Maybe so.

But then he quotes others -

"We all drew on the comfort which is given out by the major works of Mozart, which is as real and material as the warmth given up by a glass of brandy." - Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

"The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, and Balanchine ballets don't redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history." - Susan Sontag, Styles of Radical Will

"There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper." - Camille Paglia, interview, International Herald Tribune (April 26, 1991)

And that covers Mozart and his birthday. Harriet-the-Cat sort of watched George Bush speak, but heard Mozart. The whole thing was better that way.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....