Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Good Cats

Cleaning up the back inventory...

Twenty years ago, Deng Xiaoping was asked whether he favored communism or capitalism. He replied that this was like asking whether he liked a black cat better than a white one.

"It does not matter if the cat is white or black," Deng said. "If it can catch a mouse, it is a good cat."

Where I Am, Air Will Be

I heard this phrase orginally read on the radio as a refrain in a poem. Many months later, unable to forget the image, I considered setting the poem to music. But I was also unable to remember the title or the author's name, I searched for the text, but could not locate the reading or the poem.

The words had disappeared into the ether, just as the author had imagined herself leaving behind an empty space after her death. And, I thought I could still recall, anticipating how that space might be filled up again.

So I wrote my own lyrics using her refrain. I can't claim my words are close to her intent, but I hope they respect it. The song is a round, built over a circular chord progression that rolls on like a meditation or recurring waves crashing on a beach, implying infinity.

Like all my MP3s, this is a demo to test an arrangement, warts and all. A

Where I Am

Where I am … air will be
The picture… pure mem’ry
And that’s the way the money goes and that’s the way the water flows
The Emperor puts on his clothes and after that nobody knows
Where I am

Where I am… air will be
Our shadows… are sunlight
Well, that’s the way they cross the buns and that’s the way the system runs
We take our spin around the sun and after that the show is done
Where I am

Where I am… air will be
The singing… is silence
From lullabye to Kyrie from molecule to Milky Way
Our every note will float away and after that, well, who can say
Where I am

Where I am… air will be
Where god is… god will be
Where I am… air will be
Where god is...

MP3 File

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Everyone Loves Peace

Or, in the overblown rhetoric of Pope Benedict:

Peace is an irrepressible yearning present in the heart of each person, regardless of his or her particular cultural identity.

Through a Motel Cave, Darkly

Plato had his cave. Apostle Paul had his glass, darkly. I had a motel in Elk Springs.

Elk Springs, Colorado, was nowhere in the summer of 1968, and it is nowhere now. All the Google hits for motels, flowers and escort services have nothing to offer. The nearest jobs listed are in oil and gas exploration based in Vernal, Utah, which if it isn't Mormon country's first meth town, it will be.

In '68, I was riding from the Elk Springs Motel two hours each way to my shift on one of those rigs, reached over the kind of rough roads we're trying to keep out of the Arctic Wildlife Reserve. The facilities consisted of a five gallon grease bucket — the bottom cut out and toilet seat formed by bending the lip back with vice grips — over a hole hand-dug, out of sight from the drilling platform.

We did not receive home delivery of the New York Times.

But I remember dragging in after dark one night, passing through the motel lobby, and seeing a broadcast from the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. A speaker was at the rostrum, and the snowy, backcountry reception made it look like confetti was swirling around him. Was it Humphrey? McCarthy?

Although I was a politically attuned college student in other months, I kept going. The image was too remote from my life at the moment. I was too cut off from context. I was tired.

Now here you are, peering at this post, and if you are like most blog readers, you have come from, or are heading to, more posts dissecting current events, obsessing over the latest nuance of the current non-development in the issue du jour. You feel responsibly aware, acutely informed and possibly pissed. You have a sense of knowing.

Yet all of us — commenters and readers — are no closer to the real events than that temporary roughneck in Elk Springs. And we are so much closer than most Americans — the Howards, Frogs, Texes and Wades who crewed with me.

It is so easy to forget, until I have a conversation with someone intelligent, educated, responsible... and find their awareness of this blog world we're poking around in is even less than what I pulled from that snowy three seconds 37 years ago. These issues are too remote from their lives. They are too cut off from context. They are tired.

I'm writing this because I couldn't sleep, and because real life — the stuff close enough to raise up and bite you, as we used to say — is shaking its rattles. I'm thinking about ANWR and secret courts and eavesdropping and creationism and Iraq and corruption and family in trouble, and right now, it isn't even close what matters.

I want to be a good citizen 24/7, but what's going on out there in the world will go on whether or not I'm paying attention. What I think about everything is less important than what I do about something.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mission Not Accomplished

As anniversaries go, the first has the most inverse proportion of sentiment to consequence. So I will try to be brief.

One year ago, I started Across the Great Divide with great idealism, some forethought but minimal research, and not a lot of planning for what would happen down the road. Sort of like going into Iraq.

I am still here, at a cost somewhat short of $277 billion. (Full disclosure: It's five bucks a month so I can post a music file once in awhile.)

The idea was to try to look above the partisan fray and find ways to talk to people I might otherwise argue with. To acknowledge differences without making them toxic. To look beyond pure politics to the personal decisions and responsibilities we might share as citizens and neighbors.

Okay, I tried.

This ambition was born in the aftermath of the 2004 Presidential election and the realization that rancor, villification, sarcasm and even facts were not going to bring us back together as a nation. We had to find something else, something deeper inside each of us.

We might have found it, but not through careful listening and accepting our differences.

A year later, the Democratic party is still floundering around — usually a sign of impending death that I choose to read as a sign of stirring life. And more of the Republicans, who I had hoped to engage in periodic bouts of reasonableness, seem to have been moved closer to the middle instead by rigidity and excesses afterall — from the people on their own side of the divide.

I don't take pleasure in that, and can't take any credit for it, but I'll take it.

And thrash around myself for another year.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Too Late to Be Candid

I'm no physiognomist, but this strikes me as the expression of a man who is striving mightily to be believed. It is also the expression of a man who could scrawl "REDRUM" on the mirror at any moment. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

I've been listening to the President struggle to explain himself and to contain his frustration that people are not buying his New Candid Self. I think he's trying, possibly as much as he ever has in his life, to be understood. Or at least, have his actions understood. I mean the actions as they are being rationalized after the fact, at this moment. Until of course, some new overreaching comes to light. But you see, it was justified by some other imperial interpretation of the law. It's not his fault we didn't understand it before. Because, of course, he is trying to keep America safe.

He is.

But it seems like he really thinks that "Congress had the same intelligence we had" means the same thing as "Congress had all the intelligence we had."

He seems to believe that if he said "Americans don't torture," it was okay to let other nations do it on our behalf.

Now we hear that the resolution authorizing force in Iraq meant he was authorized to do anything against a terrorist enemy, including allowing the NSA to eavesdrop in this country without going through established reviews. That's so obvious, why didn't we see that? And besides, he told a few Congressmen they were doing something, so Congress was informed.

Why wouldn't this man honestly think getting the first troops into Baghdad actually meant Mission Accomplished?

I personally get tired when people start rehashing all the missteps that got us into Iraq, even though I'm disgusted by the failures. Even one $260-billion mistake later, we still ought to behave with integrity, and that's what Bush seems to be saying. He's right also about the need to move quickly in response to information about terrorists. He may ultimately be right about Iraq becoming the beacon of democracy in the Middle East.

He's just not the man who should be saying these things any more. Unfortunately, he's still our president and that's his job. Bill Clinton, at least, was not called upon every day to talk to the nation about marital fidelity. The hole this president has dug by not being forthcoming is considerably deeper.

It's going to be a long three years for all of us.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Corporations Don't Contribute to Candidates, People Do

I ran into a middle of the road friend of mine who has a reasonably high-level position with a financial services company. He'd recently come from a meeting of the company's PAC, where he'd been told which candidates the PAC would be supporting. He was also told which ones he'd be making political contributions to.

And how much he should give.

The company was spreading its largesse on both parties. My friend's assignment was to write checks for Mark Kennedy's Senate campaign and Steve Kelley for governor. Perhaps other execs drew other names, so all bets are covered.

Kelley is someone he might've supported anyway, he says. But as for Mark Kennedy, "I can't stand the guy."

So what's he going to do?

In these days of campaign finance disclosure, my friend can't just pretend he wrote the check. His boss can look it up.

What would you do?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

New Candidates from Iraq

Our military presence in Iraq has contributed to more than a positive turnout for the latest elections in that country. It appears to be producing candidates for public office back home. And some of them are Democrats.

Today's New York Times reports that Maj. L. Tammy Duckworth, a helicopter pilot and double-amputee veteran of the Iraq war, will seek the Democratic nomination to run for the Congressional seat being vacated by Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde.

I was impressed by Duckworth when I encountered her and fellow vets back in April on C-Span's "American Perspectives: Conversations with Soldiers Wounded in Iraq." (The program linked to that post is no longer archived.)

Paul Hackett, who commanded a Marine unit in Iraq, earned 48 percent of the vote in his run for Congressional seat a heavily Republican Ohio district. He's now pursuing the Democratic nomination to challenge Senator Mike DeWine. Here is a transcript of Hackett's recent appearance on Meet the Bloggers.

If nothing else, these candidates will allow some Democrats to move from "supporting our troops" in the abstract to getting to know real, and real quality, people who have served in the military.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Would You Like to Slip into Something More Comfortable, Abdul?

I was just listening to a homicide detective describe the attributes that made an investigator successful at extracting useful crime information from interviews. Minutes before, the discussion had touched on how no one these days — witnesses or suspects — wanted to talk to the police.

He said, training helped, but experience and personality were also important. Personality, most of all.


You have to have a manner that makes the subject comfortable talking to you, he said. If they're uncomfortable, they won't tell you anything.

No mention of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment as a useful technique, but then, I was listening to public radio.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Odds on the Obvious

The Web has nothing over The New Yorker when it comes to serving up delicious, inadvertent connections.

The December 5th issue includes Margaret Talbot's "Darwin in the Dock: Intelligent design has its day in court," about the Pennsylvania court case "testing whether it is constitutional for public-school classes to present the argument of intelligent design." You can't get the article online, but you can read an interview with Talbot here.

Talbot provides a telling portrait of the single-minded creationism/ID adherents who penetrated the Dover, PA, School Board and the overmatched intellects who stump for ID. Near the end, she quotes one witness for the defense (i.e., the ID supporters) who opined: '[I]t might be interesting if science was 'reconfigured so that the notion of design would be taken as a kind of literal unifying concept.'"

It sounds a bit like a restatement of the Clockmaker Argument — the existence of a clock is evidence of the existence of a clockmaker. But it also seems to say, forget about the Old Testament God, let science do its thing, and look at design for what it is: a process that incorporates variation, accidents and incremental improvements in service of some purpose. Design, any designer will tell you, is highly evolutionary. A designer rarely starts with a creation. Instead, she creates and then kills off ideas along the path to solving a problem in the most elegant and true way.

Or maybe that's not what he meant at all....

In the same issue, a review of Philip Tetlock's Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know doesn't get into the science of evolution, but the book's findings do suggest some interesting parallels:

Most people tend to dismiss new information that doesn't fit with what they already believe. Tetlock found that his experts used a double standard: they were much tougher in assessing the validity of information that undercut their theory than they were in crediting information that supported it. The same deficiency leads liberals to read only The Nation and conservatives to read only National Review. We are natural falsificationists: we would rather find reasons for believing what we already believe than look for reasons that we might be wrong.

This trait cuts both ways. Though we are capable of blindness, we don't know it. We only think the others are blind.

Also, people tend to see the future as indeterminate and the past as inevitable. If you look backward, the dots that lead up to Hitler or the fall of the Soviet Union or the attacks on September 11th all connect. If you look forward, it's just a random scatter of dots, many potential chains of causation leading to many possible outcomes.

Hmm... What does that remind me of?

And, like most of us, experts violate a fundamental rule of probabilities by tending to find scenarios with more variables more likely.

In fact, the reviewer points out, when more events have to align, the scenario is less likely to result. So we are not greeted as liberators, and the troops don't go home in six months.

Although Tetlock's book is talking about political prognostication and why it's often incorrect, could these and other principles apply to other sorts of expertise? Could we be looking at the fossil record and other evidence slightly off because of these human flaws? Maybe not the way the creationists want us to, but closer to their appreciation of simplicity versus the expert's grasp of complexity.

After all, says reviewer Louis Menand, in explaining why specialists fail to outguess the average Joe, "The odds tend to be with the obvious."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bursting the Bubble

Echidne has a post about Bush's splendid isolation, based upon the recent Newsweek article, "Bush in the Bubble", which appears a full three months after Time's own, and similarly titled, "President Bush: Living Too Much in the Bubble?":

Bush’s bubble has grown more hermetic in the second term, they say, with fewer people willing or able to bring him bad news—or tell him when he’s wrong. A youngish aide who is a Bush favorite described the perils of correcting the boss. “The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me,” the aide recalled about a session during the first term. “Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, ‘All right. I understand. Good job.’ He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom.”

Oddly, in criticizing the Newsweek story, the Bush-friendly NewsBusters: Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias provides the most concise litany of examples that the President "blocks out thoughts, policy suggestions, and ideas that he is either unwilling or intellectually incapable of absorbing."

As I've written before, his behavior is all-too typical of certain executive types and the organizations they tolerate around them.

Given the new "I take responsibility" line the President is pursuing, I wonder if someone new managed to get through to him. It's unlikely to have been any of the old crew. And, sadly, unlikely to have been his own idea.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Shameful Bargain

As we slouch toward the Holiday Season, it's time to total up the various deductions and dodges available to those who make enough money to take advantage of them.

Meanwhile, Congress seems once again in a giving mood. Call it Christmas if you like.

A House tax bill is bent on extending capital gains and dividend tax cuts, which primarily benefit those who don't need to work for their living. The Senate is looking out for the middle-class taxpayers who are increasingly subject to a provision of the tax code designed to ensure the rich pay at least some income taxes. Its bill continues temporary relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

Neither bill includes the other's provision, but rather than a collision in conference, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich predicts a more likely outcome:

Here's betting the Senate and House will compromise by extending the dividend and capital gains tax cuts and cutting the AMT. It's an elegant compromise, of the sort Washington is skilled at making. There's only one problem. With it, the budget deficit will explode even more.

The underlying question is, who ends up paying for Iraq, the Katrina cleanup, the Medicare drug benefit, homeland security, everything else? If the House has its way, it won't be the super-rich, who will get their capital gains and dividend tax cuts extended. If the Senate gets its way, it won't be the middle class, who would otherwise be hit by the AMT. If the House and Senate compromise by giving both groups what they want, there's only one group left.

Yes, of course.

The only way to fight the deficit is to continue cutting programs, and it would be ideologically inconsistent to cut programs that benefit the rich and middle class.

This behavior is bipartisan, and it extends back to previous administrations. For example, over the past decade, the IRS has significantly shifted its audits away from those with the highest incomes. Given that a successful audit on a high earner is likely to recapture more tax dollars, this seems a curious redeployment of resources.

Unless your goal is to punish even further the people scraping to get by.

I'm one of those fortunate Americans who has benefitted most from America's prosperity — and who will benefit even more from the hands-off-the-better-off trend in government. I'm ashamed to be complicit in pushing the poor ever deeper in the hole and pushing the deficit off onto my grandchildren.

But not so ashamed that I refuse the tax breaks coming to me. I'd be a fool not to take what the law entitles me to, right?


Friday, December 09, 2005

Undisturbed Dreams of Freedom

I'm out here in Western Colorado, where all the vehicles I find myself in have radio buttons tuned to HannityLimbaughSavageIngrahamNorthFoxPatriot. The other night, returning from a niece's basketball game, I got to hear Right Radio obsess over John Kerry's description of home searches by U.S. troops in Iraq:

[T]here is no reason ... that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the — of — the historical customs, religious customs. ... Iraqis should be doing that."

Kerry admittedly made a poor choice of words. But he's not guilty of host Laura Ingraham's willful misinterpretation, equating "terrorizing kids" with calling U.S. soldiers terrorists. Hearing Ingraham carp about Kerry's clip made me wonder which is a worse way to spend your day — listening to smart people talk really stupid or listening to smart people talk as if everyone else is really stupid.

After belaboring her point for awhile, Ingraham brought in callers who affirmed that liberals hate our troops, who are just doing their job in the best way they can. How else, they asked, can you find weapons in houses unless you look in the houses? Right, and why would innocent people be afraid of foreign soldiers armed with assault rifles coming into their homes at night? (We will not go into those reasons right now, since no one on the show could think of any.)

Then came the most chilling call. Someone claiming to have a son in Iraq said her son told her their raids were so non-intrusive that they were able to sneak into peoples' homes when they were asleep, search for weapons, and leave without the residents even knowing they were there!

Since this was not "Talk of the Nation," no host happened to question whether terrorized women and children might lie quietly in bed rather than risk being manhandled or shot when they awakened to sounds of intrusion. No one raised the point that being able to conduct so many uneventful clandestine searches might indicate poor intelligence about the location of weapons. No one suggested that if they awoke to an uninvited visitor in their house — American or otherwise — they would feel mightily justified in offering them a Smith & Wesson sandwich.

No, instead we heard how great our troops were, and how considerate, to be providing such trouble-free service to those poor Iraqis, who were allowed to sleep undisturbed, dreaming about freedom.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Running While Latin

The similarity struck me between yesterday's shooting of a supposed bomber on a Miami airplane and the killing of a Brazilian electrician, who was belatedly revealed to have exhibited none of the suspicious behavior initially attributed to him. Both men may be proven guilty only of running while Latin in the vicinity of public transportation.

Sepia Mutiny saw it, too, and beat me to the post.

The official investigative report on the London shooting is due this month. I'll write more then. Meanwhile, here are two other posts.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

From One Terrible Swift Sword to Another

Carla at Preemptive Karma writes about The Rapture, and how it's not gonna be for you and me. Plus, it provides one more explanation for the enthusiastic support of the burning Bush policy in the Middle East.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Monster Book Rally

Last weekend, we went to the reading of Winter Book, There is No Other Way to Speak. The annual fine press book, produced by Minnesota Center for Book Arts and edited by Bill Holm, this year featured 12 Minnesota poets. Each writer read a piece; three were represented by the audio recording of the book.

It struck me how — despite our ubiquitous multi-media-iPod-cell-phone-Netflicks-Sirius-radio-plasma-TV-bar-band surround of sound — how seldom we just sit and listen. Truly listen. Respectfully listen.

We are sucking in information and sensations at a daily rate that would have staggered Leonardo. But adding up to what?

In that Saturday night stillness, 200 of us stopped coughing long enough to listen to a poem. And then another. We waited for the next words to come along to cock our perception or knock us entirely off our perch. At times, you could hear the collective breath go "iihiiih" in surprise or whoosh out in appreciation of a shared revelation.

Leo Dangel conjures up a farmer who watches young archeologists in halter tops patiently work an excavation, then imagines another one centuries hence gently brushing the dust from his bones.

John Rezmerski pits two canny country Lutherans against proselitizing evangelicals who can't see what pork chops have to do with Christianity.

Robert Bly tells of traveling to do a memorial reading for a poet friend at small college, then discovering that the ancient nun hosting his visit has forgotten to arrange a room or tell anyone he was coming. But a poem resulted, about doing the reading in a fitness center, surrounded by exercycles.

Later, as we walked to our car, we could hear the roaring engines from the Monster Truck Rally in the Metrodome three blocks away. We had arrived early and parked on a meter, but in a nearby lot, the event parking toll was $20. You could get a copy of the There is No Other Way to Speak CD for $3 less.

If that's too much trouble, then just try to listen to something today that nobody else is playing.

And if time is short, well then, read this, the only poem I have right at hand (not from the Winter Book).

After a war come the memorials —
tanks, cutlasses, men with cigars.
If women are there they adore
and are saved, shielding their children.

For a long time people rehearse
just how it happened, and you have to learn
how important all that armament was —
and it really could happen again.

So the women and children can wait, whatever
their importance might have been, and they
come to stand around the memorials
and listen some more and be grateful, and smell the cigars.

Then, if your side has won, they explain
how the system works and if you just let it
go on it will prevail everywhere.
And they establish foundations and give
some of the money back.

— "Men" by William Stafford in Every War Has Two Losers, William Stafford on Peace and War

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Writer's Job

A poet quoted someone about what the writer's job is.

It seemed about right to me. I wanted to give credit here, but I couldn't retrieve the quote or the source.

I need to write these things down.

Thank goodness I could google a "writer's job is".

No, that's not it. Nor that. Nor that...

If you don't find something in the first two pages or so, what's the point of digging into the other 700 citations? You're heading to the realm of "The writer's job is to write" and "A writer's job is to produce an engaging, strongly written manuscript and this requires drafting, editing, reviewing, revising and at least a couple more edits."

No poetry.

I think maybe it was "a writer's job is to speak the truth." Google that.

Your search - "a writer's job is to speak the truth" - did not match any documents.

Something Stinks, Mr. Smith

Instead of just listening to someone talk to you all the time... you have songs and cartoons and you get to watch movies and read things which makes it seem like I’m not learning but I really am!"
- 8th grade Social Studies student, praising Ignite!Learning's The COW

My theory is that few Texas pols are actual crooks, they just have an overdeveloped sense of the extenuating circumstance.
Molly Ivins

The same might be said of certain Texas businessmen.

Back in 1990, brother Neil and Silverado Savings and Loan were the first whiff of Bush family scandal that reached a wide general public. Since paying his fine and being banned from banking, Neil has been further off the radar than Roger Clinton.

Since then, it appears, Neil has more in common with Billy Carter, who went from managing the family peanut warehouse to engaging in international lobbying.

Of course, the Bush family business has long been a potent fusion of investment, oil dealing, weapons peddling and government access. What else is he supposed to do — get a job on his own?

Happening-Here? tipped me to the latest development:

I wasn't surprised to run across this Jefferson Morley item — apparently Neil is now a running buddy of Boris Berezovsky, post-Soviet Russia's first billionaire who used his access to the Chechen mafia and friendship with the ruler Boris Yeltsin to snap up state assets in the early 1990s. He later fell out with present Russian President Putin and had to decamp to Britain where he enjoys protection from extradition on fraud charges. A reporter for Forbes magazine who wrote that Berezovsky had rivals murdered turned up murdered himself in Moscow in 2004.

This lovely character apparently joined the less flamboyant Neil Bush on a visit to Latvia in September that caused an international incident. The Russian government still wanted Berezovsky turned over for prosecution; the Latvian government certainly wasn't going to yank the traveling chum of a brother of the U.S. President. In November, Latvia finally said they wouldn't let Berezovsky visit again freely, regardless of who he was traveling with.

Bush was supposedly traveling on behalf of his Ignite!Learning venture, which sells a product called The COW (Curriculum On Wheels), "a program designed to let you deliver lessons in the same way professional presenters do." Perhaps he's exhausted all the opportunity presented by No Child Left Behind and is now looking to develop curriculum for the huge Latvian K-12 market. This is only one of his interesting entanglements:

In 1993, Neil went to Kuwait and lobbied for business contracts, and after returning home evolved a set of lucrative relationships with Syrian-American businessman Jamal Daniel. One of their ventures, Ignite!, an educational software company, also included representatives of at least three ruling Persian Gulf families.

Neil Bush has had a $60,000-a-year employment contract with a top adviser to a Washington- based consulting firm set up in 2003 to help companies secure contracts in Iraq. New Bridge describes itself as being created to "take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the US-led war in Iraq".

Some years ago, according toNathaniel Blumberg, Neil applied a smell test to deals that might seek only to exploit his name:

"I would be naive if I were to sit here and deny that the Bush name didn't have something to do with it," he told Time magazine, explaining how at the age of 30 he was invited to join the board at a federally insured institution. (The average age of a thrift director was 57 and about 1 per cent of all S&L directors were under 35.) But earlier he had proclaimed that he always would pretend his name was Smith and he would employ the "Smith Smell Test." That, he explained, "was a test that I used where if someone were to approach me and I felt that there was a motive that was rather sinister in trying to get some kind of political benefit from being involved with me or engaged in a business transaction with me, then I would automatically reject it."

Turns out Neil's global connections don't stop there. He's been stumping for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and has lucrative deals with the offspring of other prominent leaders — one the son of a Taiwanese tycoon and the other, son of the former President of China, who has been a guest at brother George's Crawford ranch.

Hope Neil gets over that cold real soon.

Republican author and Bush family biographer Kevin Phillips has noted: "what you've got with Bush is absolutely the largest number of siblings and children involved in what looks like a never-ending hustle. There's never been anything like this. It strikes me this is likely to gather some significance as an issue."

If not by now, then when, dear Lord?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Death of Thinking

Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang and John Halliday, will be the subject of more than one post once I finish the book. But this excerpt bears quoting while we continue bandying about the effects of officially sanctioned torture. The authors describe how Yenan, Mao's and the Communist Party's headquarters during WWII, was the site of public indoctrination, interrogations, forced confessions and torture at mass rallies, as well as executions. All this hysteria was supposedly to ferret out spies, but the real intent was to control the population:

Through forcing people to report "small broadcasts," Mao succeeded to a very large extent in getting people to inform on each other. He thus broke the trust between people, and scared them off exchanging views not just at the time in Yenan, but in the future too. By suppressing "small broadcasts," he also plugged what was virtually the only unofficial source of information, in a context where he completely controlled all other channels.... Information starvation gradually induced brain death — assisted vastly by the absence of any outlet for thinking, since one could not communicate with anyone, or put one's thoughts on paper, even privately. During the campaign, people were put under pressure to hand in their dairies. In many a mind, there also lurked the fear of thinking, which appeared not only futile, but also dangerous. Independent thinking withered away.

Although the book has earned positive reviews, it's also received criticism for its unrelently negative and unnuanced view of Mao.

But this passage offers insights penetrating — and all too familiar.

Building Iraqi Security, Washington Style

In "Hope over History," Richard Cohen writes in the Washington Post about the disaster that began in 1989 and 1990 when the city of Washington D.C. was required by Congress to quickly hire 1,800 police officers:

The city did what it was told — and crime on the police force went way up.

Within four years, the police academy classes of 1989 and 1990 comprised about one-third of the police force. They also accounted for a disproportionate share of rotten, corrupt and downright criminal cops. Astoundingly, Washington had 185 police officers of such dubious character or outright criminality that prosecutors would not put them on the stand as witnesses. In Washington, for a time, the term "crooked cop" amounted to a redundancy.

Washington's lamentable experience may soon be duplicated in Iraq. The results might be better, but nothing about human nature suggests any cause for optimism. Just as Washington hurried to sign up new cops — cutting all sorts of corners (psychological testing, extensive background checks, etc.) — so is the United States creating an Iraqi security force, and doing so on the double. These are the troops that constitute the entire exit strategy for America in Iraq.

Maybe now's the time to just sign up for the WaPo online...