Seymour Hersh, the fine reporter for the New Yorker, says that America is a great country because he knows of nowhere else that a person like himself, with no family or monetary advantages, could rise to the top of his profession and receive prestigious journalistic awards. I agree with him that this is a mark in America's favor, but does it, in itself, constitute greatness? I think not. We would be a truly great country if we were a population who insisted that our government behave decently and honorably and if we kept ourselves informed about what our government is doing. Hersh's career and success is testimony that we are not such a country. In fact, most of his journalistic triumphs come from reporting, in scathing detail, how we have fallen short of our democratic responsibilities. It's nice to be a society which maintains opportunity. But it's far more important to be a society that demands good behavior from the people who take our money in order to rule over our common efforts.  (Posted, 8/31/05)

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The term "national security" was first made popular by Franklin Roosevelt in the years leading up to the Second World War. Since then it has flourished as a major feature of the American lexicon. Yet, I don't think we've ever paid much attention to what it really means. Over the years it has come to indicate something quite different from the security of the people of the United States and rather to point towards an aggressive posture towards foreign threats, regardless of how substantial they are. For example, Al Qaeda is perceived as a national security issue, but adequate health care is not, nor is poverty, nor are the actions of a misguided government which sends people around the world to die for reasons that have very little to do with the ability of Americans to live safely in their homes. The citizens seem simply to have accepted the power of the term as a reason to place it in the first position of public concern. And that unthinking devotion to a locution has skewed budgets, elections, and our collective ability to keep one another alive and healthy. But now we have three things coming together that could cause us to reexamine our sense of what's most important. First is the widespread recognition that the reasons given by the government for launching the invasion of Iraq were false as hell. Second is the report recently released showing that poverty afflicts a growing percentage of our population and that for the first time in modern history the income of average Americans has been stagnant for five straight years. Third, the widespread devastation caused by the hurricane along the Gulf coast will surely raise questions about the effects of global warming and about the adequacy of national civil defense organizations. Perhaps the time has come to start asking: what really threatens us? And to wonder whether our most effective safety measure is a lot of guys with big guns.  (Posted, 8/31/05)

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The mantra that "training" is the answer to our problems in Iraq needs to be set alongside a report, published in the Boston Globe ( August 30, 2005), by an American army captain who earlier this year visited a police training facility in Jordan, which graduates upwards of 1500 Iraqis each month who are supposed to return home and provide security for the nation. Captain Paula Broadwell says the situation there is lamentable. The recruits themselves are, for the most part, lackadaisical and unmotivated. The training is perfunctory. And about half of the people who graduate never join the Iraqi police. But the most interesting thing Broadwell says is that "we aren't getting the highest quality 'volunteers' because many of those have already joined the insurgency." One thing you never hear stay-the-course politicians talk about is where the idealism in Iraq is concentrated. Is it with the people who are attempting to eject an occupying army or is it with those who wish to serve a structure set up by the occupiers? The American media seem so focused on cloudy notions of morality they can't grasp what actually wins men's' loyalties in life and death struggles. People fight when they feel they're being humiliated, no matter how high-minded the humiliators' motives supposedly are. And to be occupied by a foreign army is an humiliating experience. Yes, occupations sometimes turn out all right, as in Japan and Germany after World War II. But that's when the occupiers' motives are in line with the hopes and aspirations of the people. And, clearly, that is not the case in Iraq today. When an occupying army is up against the idealism of a people -- regardless of how mistaken that idealism may be -- the occupiers are in for baskets of grief.  (Posted, 8/30/05)

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The more I read about the buildup to the invasion of Iraq the more strongly convinced I become that lying among high-ranking government officials is not only common, it's the norm. To be a sub-cabinet officer, or to hold any position above that level, requires thinking every day about how to use lies to seduce someone to support your policies. What I don't understand is the degree to which the members of Congress are included in this network of lies. Do they know they're being lied to by administration officials and simply keep quiet about it because that's the way the game is played?  Or are they so gullible as to believe what they're told? Over and again, my mind runs back to October 11, 2002, when Congress voted to give President Bush authorization to launch an attack against Iraq, an act the whole world knew would result in tens of thousands of deaths. The vote in the Senate was 77-23 and in the House 296-133. It was clear at the time, to anyone who had been paying attention, that the evidence for Iraq's possession of dangerous stores of weapons had been, at the least, highly exaggerated and, probably, falsified by the Bush administration. And yet, as all the newspapers proclaimed, the vote was overwhelming. Why did the Congress vote that way? If I could understand that, I would know what the true nature of the American government is today. But, there is no one to explain it to me, and if anyone should step forward I would have to be suspicious that he was lying.  (Posted, 8/29/05)

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It's a relief to find that political leaders in other countries can be as foolish as our own. Hugo Chavez's recent remarks that Venezuela may seek to have legal action taken against Pat Robertson may not be quite as silly as Robertson's own blather. But, it gets close. The idea that governments ought to get in the business of prosecuting people for saying stupid things is as loopy as the comments it's supposed to suppress. Chavez should have stuck with his satiric statement that his country might consider offering Robertson psychiatric treatment. That was an appropriate response. But chasing Robertson through either American or Venezuelan courts would be the height of folly. I suspect that Chavez will shortly recognize the nonsense of his remarks, and drop them. And, certainly, no Americans should be egging him on, as Jesse Jackson is reputed to have done.  (Posted, 8/29/05)

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Historians will be debating for ages about where the screwup of the Iraq adventure came from. There are so many actors, who have pushed so many false positions, that sorting them all out could be the work of a lifetime. But, here, even before the real history gets underway, I'll offer a guess about where the scholars will finally come out. The invasion and its aftermath in Iraq arose from the toxic intermixture of three strains of thought. First, there was the overheated, romantic posturing of people we have come to call neo-conservatives, who are possessed by a childish religious faith that it is America's God-given destiny to rule the world. Owning Iraq, was for them, the first step in an ambitious strategy to control the globe's oil production and, therefore, its energy future. Second, there were the conventional militaristic thinkers in the Pentagon, who are all for extending the structure of American bases around the world, but aren't swift in thinking through the tactics that opposition to our expanding imperial network might require. Third, there were the White House people who care mainly for the immediate domestic political effects and the way skillful propaganda can manipulate them for the president's advantage. So far as actual foreign policy is involved, the White House has almost no thought at all. Put all these in a pot, stir them round, and then toss in the match of the September 2001 attacks, and you have the current noxious mess. This leaves out all the juicy detail but, still, I think it's fairly close to how the history books will read a half-century from now.  (Posted 8/29/05)

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Jay Bookman, editorial writer for the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, says that humans have a weakness for war. He comments that "we are easily seduced by war's pageantry and drama." (August 25, 2005). Reading him, one could get the impression that lust for war is a genetic disposition. I think that's too strong. There doubtless is something that can be called a public mindset which is drawn to war. And, it's a daunting thing. But it is not as durable as a genetic drive. Therefore, we can consider changing it. It needs to be done as quickly as possible. There is no other cause in the world as important as modifying the American public's belief that the use of military power is the primary way to solve international problems. We need a serious public debate about how military power can be used without causing greater difficulties than the ones it sets out to cure. The first chapter in that debate should address the question of whether it is ever effective to use a full-scale military assault simply to change the political leadership of the assaulted country. When you take into account the way the American military conducts war, its devotion to what used to be called "shock and awe," it's hard to see how the damage done by the operation will not outweigh its curative effect. That has been the case in Iraq and it's hard to think of a country in which it would be different. Just getting that single point across might be enough to disprove the thesis of genetic idiocy. And it would open many doors to other discoveries.  (Posted, 8/28/05)

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In 1933, the famed Kansas journalist William Allen White wrote this about the nature of American war making: "The boys who died just went out and died. To their own souls' glory of course -- but what else? ... Yet the next war will see the same hurrah and the same bowwow of the big dogs to get the little dogs to go out and follow the blood scent and get their entrails tangled in the barbed wire." I'm not sure how it glorifies a soul to be used by preening politicians, but, otherwise, Mr. White's analysis remains apt. The entrails don't get tangled on barbed wire any more but they still get scattered around pretty thoroughly. The American people require a long learning curve. Though we've had the bowwows pointed out to us for decades, we still have a president who will stand up and argue that we have to get more young people killed in order to make sure that the ones who have already been killed are honored appropriately. And some citizens sit and nod their heads solemnly. The idea of making war so that those who made earlier war didn't die in vain is one of the most vacuous arguments ever put forward. The reality about those who died is that they're dead. And nothing any big dog politician says is going to change that one whit.  (Posted, 8/28/05)

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A report from Doug Thompson of Capitol Hill Blue, which has been circulating widely on the internet, says that President Bush has been exhibiting such violent mood swings people around him are worried about his mental stability. A "high level aide" is quoted as saying, "There's real concern in the West Wing that the president is losing it." Is there any reason to believe such reports? One should keep in mind that Mr. Thompson has been pounding the president in fairly severe language for quite a while now. That alone has to raise suspicion. But, it seems to me, that most of us have to admit we have no way of knowing. Besides, I don't think it matters. The president's policy and pronouncements are his, whether they come from a man in steely control of himself or one on the verge of a breakdown. From my point of view, he has consistently done things that are bad for the nation, and they are the reasons I oppose him. To promote the notion that he has done them because he's crazy is not the point. And, all in all, I don't think it's helpful to our political debate.  (Posted, 8/27/05)

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Our Vermont cartoonist Jeff Danziger has a drawing this morning (August 26, 2005) showing Pat Robertson in clerical garb, holding a rifle, with the caption, "I'm not actually a Christian. I just play one on TV." It's an apt point, but it ought to be expanded. We have a screaming herd of right-wing politicians now who like to call themselves religious leaders. And the strange thing about it is that the media regularly go along with these false self-descriptions. Over and again, I've seen Jerry Falwell on television, supposedly representing the Christian point of view. What's Christian about Jerry Falwell? How can anyone, even in the depths of delusion, imagine that he can speak authoritatively about Christian theology? And, yet, the TV moguls keep trotting him out. One of the serious problems in America now is that few in the press or television know how to call things what they are. And so we go on, lacerating the language and screwing up our thinking.  (Posted, 8/26/05)

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As I started  out last night on a short car trip I switched on my radio to hear that incidents of sexual harassment remain high at the military academies despite "training" programs designed to reduce them. Think of it, training young men not to assault young women! What has happened to the use of this verb?  We're going to train cadets to behave themselves. We're going to train Iraqis to be loyal to the side we like. I guess we're going to train the world to line up with our policies. What happened to teaching, or persuading, or negotiating? The words that one chooses shows something about the cast of mind behind them. And when somebody thinks he can train other people to agree with him, it shows that in his mind, people are just objects to be manipulated, or, at best animals. But then, come to think of it, I guess that's what our political leaders really believe.  (Posted, 8/26/05)

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Melvin Small, a writer for the History News Network, is castigating liberal critics of the president's foreign policy for addressing too many topics. The focus should be on getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, he says. When other issues are brought up it causes the average citizen to see opponents of the war as kooks who are against everything.  He concludes his essay with the question, "When will they ever learn?" Mr. Small points to a genuine problem but he doesn't have a good solution. It's true that ordinary citizens are alienated by people regarded as eccentric and naive. And it's also true that those in that category tend to spew out criticism like an infant knocking food off his highchair tray. Yet the answer is not to limit their charges but rather to change the nature of their delivery. The officials they have been attacking are not mistaken just about Iraq. The Bush strategy is based on a vision of American military hegemony. What his administration wants is to rule the world, a desire affecting all our foreign policy. That point needs to be made.  Along with it should come a fact-based explanation of how such a policy will blow back on the American people in severely disagreeable ways. Critics of the Bush foreign policy need to stop screaming and stop assuming that one man thought it up all by himself. I've said elsewhere that Bush is a good instrument for these measures but he's not their originator. They have been building in the American government for decades. The American electorate needs to be brought to a debate about how we want our country to engage the rest of the world. Only then will we begin to grasp that our problems don't arise from a single man but derive, mainly, from widespread attitudes that affect  far too many of us.  (Posted, 8/25/05)

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The United States has proposed amendments to a draft agreement at the United Nations that would eliminate new pledges of foreign aid to poor nations, do away with a provision to halt climate change, and strike out efforts to hasten the reduction of nuclear weapons. There's a program for you. It surely must warm the cockles of John Bolton's heart. It's also a significant step in the Bush administration's continuing quest to persuade all the other nations of the world to consider us insane. Exactly why Mr. Bush and his advisors want the U.S. reputation to continue to plummet is hard to say. Maybe it's just playing to the base -- as they say -- a portion of America that's wildly xenophobic. American exceptionalism, the "city on a hill" phenomenon, once had an idealistic thrust. It urged us to direct our attention to our own reform, so that we could become attractive enough to serve as model for others. But now it seems to have transmogrified into a theory of American perfectionism based on American military power. It says to the world, if you don't like it, lump it, and keep in mind, we've got more A-bombs than you do. It's much like the message I used to hear from drunken teenagers behind the filling station in my neighborhood. Maybe it will work and keep us happy. But I wouldn't discount, completely, the ingenuity of non-Americans to prick at our bubbles.  (Posted, 8/25/05)

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A poll conducted by the McCormick Tribune Foundation and the Gallop organization indicates that Americans are suspicious of the information they get about the military, whether it comes from the government or news organizations. More than 75% say the armed forces sometimes put out false or inaccurate reports. Josh White, writing in the Washington Post (August 24, 2004) notes that "Americans are becoming more savy about the information they receive." It's about time. It's pretty clear that both the Bush administration and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have relied on the ignorance and gullibility of the public to carry out programs that could never win approval if a majority of the people knew about them. Top officials give the impression they believe they can say anything and have it accepted by a lazy-minded population. It's questionable whether the American people will stir themselves enough to discount government lies. But that's what's required if practical democracy is to have a chance to maintain itself in the United States.  (Posted, 8/24/05)

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One of our leading "Christians," Pat Robertson, wants the United States to adopt a policy of assassinating the leaders of nations with whom we disagree. He thinks we should start with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. "We have the ability to take him out and I think the time has come to exercise that ability," Robertson said on his program "The 700 Club." This, of course, must be a deeply Christian position since Mr. Robertson is a deeply Christian man. It might, however, not be quite as efficacious as Mr. Robertson supposes. A daydream that seems to be fairly widespread among Christians of Mr. Robertson's variety is that the world's problems are caused by a discrete number of evil people, and, therefore, the only sensible policy is to kill them all. After that, everything would be hunky-dory because there would be no more evil. In his world view, there are no such things as historical forces. But those who pay more careful attention to the past than Robertson does tend to disagree. If there are conditions in Venezuela which allowed Mr. Chavez to assume power, then those conditions will still exist when he's dead. And, then, Robertson, will have to find somebody else to assassinate. Conditions, of course, don't fit well with Robertson's perception of the world as a battle pit where good and evil struggle for supremacy. Still, they probably ought to be taken into consideration.  (Posted, 8/23/05)

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If I were to guess how historians a hundred years hence would summarize the nature of the United States from 1975 to 2005, it would be that Americans knew what their problems were and had the means to solve them but failed to do so because they were addicted to a craven political class who showered them in fulsome flattery. The biggest difficulty in the world now is that the United States consumes more than twenty million barrels of oil every day. This is a monstrously stupid practice which creates tensions all around the world and enables vicious political tyrannies. It would not be hard to cut that consumption by 25%. Nobody would starve. Nobody would be made homeless. We would simply stop heating and cooling houses of more than 5000 square feet and stop driving vehicles so big you can't see around them on the highway. An Escalade would become an object of contempt rather than one of prideful consumption. What would it take to do this? A message from our political leaders that the way we're living now is foolish and that it's leading towards immense suffering and loss of life. It's also destroying our country's ability to play a productive and cooperative role in helping the poverty stricken people of the world move toward a decent standard of living. Would the politicians who first delivered this message hurt their careers? Probably. But they would also be patriots. And since up till now they've boosted themselves by proclaiming patriotism where none existed, it would be an appropriate sacrifice.  (Posted, 8/23/05)

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Michael Graham, a talk show host at WMAL in Washington, has been fired for saying that Islam is a terrorist organization and then refusing to admit his remark was hyperbolic. He insists it was the simple truth. There is some reporting in the media of extreme statements of this kind made by right-wing broadcasters. But there's relatively little discussion about their audience. There wouldn't be radio personalities saying things like Graham said without lots of listeners who not only believe him but who are hungry for commentary of that sort. That tells us something about America that isn't generally acknowledged: we have a very large population of bigots. I don't know whether the portion of closed-minded, hate-filled people is larger in this country than elsewhere, but I suspect, based on personal experience. that it is greater than in Canada and Europe. And if it is, it presents us with a miserable political problem. It's not just that the positions taken by bigots are nasty. The most serious difficulty they pose is that they're astoundingly manipulable. All one has to do is feed them raw meat and they'll roar in unison. And we have a huge population of politicians who are more than happy to gain influence by playing to their vile attitudes. Bigotry feeds on itself. And unless we find a way to break that food chain, it will grow ever bigger and ever more ravenous.  (Posted, 8/23/05)

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It's hard to get the general public to pay attention to the arguments made by Bush administration lawyers when they appear in court defending the president's right to deprive anyone he wishes of freedom. But if those positions could be brought forcefully to the people's attention, we would see we have a president who is claiming the right to be a dictator. The reason given, of course, is that he has to wage a war on terror and that nothing should be allowed to get in his way. All he has to do is assert that someone is plotting terror and that person simply disappears into the U.S. detention system. No evidence is required. It seems pretty clear that if the right of habeas corpus is simply set aside, then citizens no longer have any rights at all. Conditions are not that bad, of course, because the president and his associates know that if he started exercising widely the powers he says in court that he has, there would be an instant political uprising against him, and his control would be threatened. Nonetheless, the claim of dictatorial power, even in the absence of its broad exercise, is a frightening thing. It tells us that the chief executive of our government has scant loyalty to what we have considered the basic principles of liberty. Is it alarmist to worry that acquiescence in these claims against a few people could gradually be expanded to a greater number and then to anyone criticizing the government? Those familiar with the history of governments would say that it's not.  (Posted, 8/22/05)

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Watching the Sunday morning talk shows (August 21, 2005) I was reminded of a comment from Montaigne's essay on presumption: "Those people who bestraddle the epicycle of Mercury and see so far into the heavens make me grind my teeth." We have a startling number of people who can look into the future and tell us what would happen if the United States decided to remove its benign military presence from Iraq. In most cases what they tell us is that the Iraqis would visit near total disaster on themselves without the benefit of our guiding presence. Senator George Allen of Virginia -- to cite just one example -- is so confident of this his prognostications appear to come from a tape playing inside his head. I wish someone would ask these seers how they know. Presumably, by destroying the former Iraqi government, we have opened the political playing field so that the Iraqis can decide for themselves how they wish to be governed. If we left, why would they not go ahead and decide? If I were betting on it, I'd say it's likely to be a messy process. But, I don't know. In any case, I have no confidence I can tell them what they want. I hope they won't kill one another in huge numbers. And, I would be happy to see some American tax dollars spent in easing their transition to self-rule. But, as far as I can make out, the presence of U.S. military forces is creating a war rather than making for a peaceful state. Consequently, proclamations that their departure would be sure to make things worse is not coming from knowledge. It's coming from some place else.  (Posted, 8/22/05)

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Now comes General Schoomaker, the army's chief of staff, to tell us that large numbers of U.S. soldiers may have to stay in Iraq until 1909. By the time they've been there that long, the government will figure they may as well stay forever. And if we have the same kind of electorate we do now, the people will go along -- that is, if not knowing or caring anything about it is going along. After all, what's a dozen or so permanent bases in Iraq compared to the more than 725 overseas military bases we now have spread around the world? They give employment to lots of people, and wonderful opportunities for profit. Money spent on overseas bases doesn't have to be accounted for as carefully as money spent on, say, cancer research at home. Under Paul Bremer's management of Iraq, hundreds of millions just went somewhere, and nobody quite knows where they are. But that's okay, because he was advancing the frontiers of freedom. The only hitch in this happy scenario is that most of this money is borrowed. And if human nature is any guide to our hegemonic future, the lenders might decide sometime to play a bigger role in shaping America than Mr. Bush has ever suggested they would.  (Posted, 8/21/05)

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There has been considerable commentary about snippets from the mass of John Roberts papers released recently. I haven't seen anything in them that tells us Judge Roberts is different from what we knew already. Twenty years ago he was a privileged, smart-aleck, right-wing prig. But I don't suppose that disqualifies him for the Supreme Court. The real question the papers from the Reagan era raise is whether Roberts has managed to grow up a bit since those days. But there's probably no way to answer that. He, at least, has learned to be more circumspect. There's little doubt that he will be confirmed. And there's no doubt that he is not the fountain of sagacity his supporters have touted him as being. Critics say he has no understanding of the problems many people in the country face. That's true. But it doesn't matter in any official way.  (Posted, 8/20/05)

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Christopher Hitchens in slamming Cindy Sheehan (Slate, August 19, 2005) makes the standard right-wing argument that if U.S. military forces left Iraq, the worst elements of Iraqi society would take over and slaughter the good people. Leaving aside the question of Mr. Hitchens's wisdom in defining good and bad, we can still ask, how does he know? One can grow weary of the argument that if you do something stupid, you have to keep on doing it because, even though it was stupid, to stop doing it will make things worse. If, after all the killing by U.S. soldiers of Mr. Hitchens's bad people, evil elements would still be victorious were we to pull our forces out of Iraq, then there's a curious dynamic to Iraqi democracy. And, yet, that's supposedly what we're trying to establish -- democracy.  I suspect that Christopher Hitchens knows that democracy has little to do with U.S, aims in Iraq. I'll agree with him that Cindy Sheehan may not have a steely-minded grasp of all the forces in the Middle East. But, at the least, she knows something is wrong in the way the United States is exercising it's military power there. And I have more faith in that instinct than I do in Hitchens's prognostications about what will happen if we decide not to swallow down everything that George Bush tells us.  (Posted, 8/20/05)

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The protest by Cindy Sheehan has sparked numerous comments from right-wingers about the supposed disloyalty of some American citizens. Bill O'Reilly, for example, has castigated people who are against victory and Michael Barone, senior writer for the U.S. News and World Report, says that many in the press don't want the U.S. to "win this war." You might say this is typical meaningless balderdash but it does raise the question of what the right-wing -- and President Bush for that matter -- means by "victory." I've not heard any of its spokesmen say precisely what victory would look like. The implication is that it will come about when the United States has killed everyone in the world who is willing to fight against its policies. The trouble is these victory mongers never say how many people that's likely to be. If wanting people to stop killing other people is disloyal, I guess I have to place myself in the perfidious ranks. But, on the other hand, one could reasonably venture the thought that wanting our country to turn itself into a killing machine is a blow at the very soul of America and the spirit of the Constitution. I have a hard time imagining that Washington, or Jefferson, or Lincoln would ever have been proud of body counts or have seen them as the principal mark of patriotism.  (Posted, 8/19/05)

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Joan Vennochi of the Boston Globe says she wishes Massachusetts  had a recall option so the voters could toss Mitt Romney out of office and let him concentrate on running for president, which is what he's going to do in any case. I'm not sure about the wisdom of that, but I am sure that our political system is being crippled by the allure of the presidency.  Once anyone achieves a national reputation, it seems that his mind begins to turn towards the White House, and concentration on his current position is shoved way down into second place. This is particularly harmful in the Congress, where presidential ambitions regularly thwart resolute leadership. Instead of taking positions that are good for the country, many Senators and Representatives regulate their behavior by their estimate of how it might affect a presidential campaign. The consequence is that Congress does not function as an equal branch of government with the executive. And nothing is more needed for the political health of the country than reestablishing the equivalency of Congress. What's wrong with going down in history as a great Senator or a great member of the House? It seems to be a near-monarchical lust for the presidency that diverts talent from where it's most needed.  (Posted, 8/18/05)

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"What is disturbing is that the national political discourse is increasingly detached from reality." So says Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post in a column about Cindy Sheehan's protest in Crawford. It may be disturbing but neither Mr. Hoagland nor anyone else I've read lately has a suggestion about how to return it to reality. In a way, his implied request is farcical. He's an influential member of a journalistic establishment that has, for a long time now, shied away from calling things what they are.  During the buildup to the invasion that has now produced the Cindy Sheehan phenomenon the Post took no lead in examining the reality of the administration's claims. Over and over, major political figures made ridiculous pronunciamentos and yet the Post didn't bother to suggest there was anything unrealistic about them. It's not surprising that the public turns to political theatre in the absence of straightforward reporting about the actions of the government. What else can people do?  If Mr. Hoagland wants realism in political discourse then, perhaps, he should begin to report what is really going on in the affairs of the nation. That would be more dramatic than anything Cindy Sheehan or her supporters can muster.  (Posted, 8/18/05)

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William Anderson, a writer for the Weekly Standard, suggests that we should change the name of the "War on Terror" to WAIF (War on Islamic Fascism). This, he says, would help us target who the real enemy is. It's hard to know what people mean by "fascism" any more. It has turned, pretty much, into a term of general denigration. Beyond that, it seems to have no meaning. That's too bad, because "fascism" was once a useful word for indicating a rabidly nationalistic and authoritarian political system. There's little that's nationalistic about the various Islamic political movements. In truth, most of them appear to be opponents of the nationalistic state. Rather, they are warriors of a militant religious stance, though it's true that they are focused on geography and are mightily offended by Western military incursion into lands they consider to be the realm of Islam. A segment of the American political spectrum is more fascistic than the Islamicists are -- that is if we use "fascism" in its dictionary definition. But, as I say, the word can't usefully be used that way nowadays. So it wouldn't be meaningful to associate the Weekly Standard with American fascism.  (Posted, 8/17/05)

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We have to face the truth that it will take years before an Iraqi army will be able to take over the tasks now performed by Americans. That's the message of an op/ed piece by Frederick Kagan in the Washington Post (August 17, 2005). It's time the journalistic community began to recognize the imperialist assumptions behind such warnings. They are designed to persuade us to maintain military command in Iraq indefinitely. The calls to stay the course -- one of the more obnoxious phrases in U.S. history -- are predicated on the notion that after a while, a long while, we'll get both an Iraqi government and army that will do our will. The U.S. government will continue to say it's the Iraqis' will, of course, but they will never be "capable" until they show they're going to do as we wish. The trouble with this scenario is that there's no reason why the Iraqis should ever want to do what we desire. From the start, the Bush administration has insisted that the great majority of Iraqis are lusting to become ersatz Americans and that if we kill the minority that persists in being stubborn the rest will fall in line. As the months of the occupation mount, the chance of this being true becomes ever more miniscule. And it was never great in the first place. When you set up conditions that are never going to come about as necessities for leaving, it raises the question whether you really want to go.  (Posted, 8/17/05)

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Two of our greatest military leaders, George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, after they became president, warned the nation against "overgrown military establishments" (Washington's term). They have both been quoted frequently in this period of military expansion. But their words seem to have little resonance with the people of the United States. I wonder why that is. I can think of only two possible reasons. Either the American population is unaware of the outreach of U.S. military force around the globe, with a thousand foreign outposts, or the people generally know about it and like it. From what I've read of history, I am always reluctant to bet against ignorance. I don't suppose we can be sure about the public's stance, but one thing we do know: military growth is pushed not by Congress and not by the courts but by the executive branch. Our government was established to maintain a balance among those three powers. That balance has now been destroyed, mainly by the craven behavior of Congress in the face of presidential declamation. Why the members of Congress have become such  fraidycats they won't challenge obviously false popping-off from the executive branch is hard to grasp. But unless they start, and pretty quickly, the prospects of  maintaining a democratic republic are remote. The mealy-mouthed language we get on Sunday morning talk shows will not redress the balance. It's going to take frankly expressed truth. And that's not an article we've seen much of from Congress over the past decades.  (Posted, 8/16/05)

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In an item titled "Lawsuit Frenzy," Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly (August 15, 2005) notes that when huge penalties are imposed on corporations, the trials are widely reported in the newspapers. But when, as is often the case, the penalties are overturned or reduced, almost nobody notices. This leaves the public with a false notion of litigation out of control. In fact, the average award in lawsuits has gone down over the past decade. It's a good point but it neglects the larger issue which is that newspapers seldom follow up on any their stories. In particular, when we read that an alleged abuse is going to be investigated, we seldom hear what the results of the investigation were. By the time it's completed, the original reporter is off on another case and seems uninterested. The result of this spotty concentration is that few stories are ever made whole and the original, often sensational, reports are taken by the public as the complete truth. William Randolph Hearst is reported to have said that what he wanted when a man walked out on his porch and picked up a Hearst paper was for the guy to clap his hand to his forehead and exclaim, "Oh, My God!" Hearst's principle seems to have spread to the entire journalistic community. The result is that newspapers skew the truth almost as much as they report it.  (Posted, 8/16/05)

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The mainstream media have not pressed the Bush administration as vigorously as they should on the question of whether there are plans for permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. An exception is Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, who has a good article on the issue in the August 15th edition. Bush officials have said there are no plans, at the moment, to set up permanent bases. Nonetheless, four big outposts which look pretty permanent are being constructed. Current Iraqi government officials seem to feel they need a U.S. presence to avoid being overthrown, which doesn't say much for their democratic standing. In any case, it seems fairly clear that as long as U.S. forces are in the country, the insurgency will persist. The Bush administration clearly wants to control Iraq in one way or another and the decision about the bases will probably turn on whether they are essential for effective control. No one will say the bases are intended to be permanent, but talk about staying until security has been established will support an indefinite U.S. presence, which is close enough to permanent for practical purposes. This is the way empires work in the public relations era.  (Posted, 8/15/05)

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Paul Krugman says that President Bush, when he introduces a new proposal, follows a three-part strategy (New York Times, August 15, 2005). He misrepresents the goals. He lies about the facts. He uses government offices as propaganda agencies. That fits pretty well with my observations, but the interesting thing to me is that when we consider the three big initiatives of Mr. Bush's time in office, we find that his tactics worked twice and failed once. They worked for the tax cuts. They worked for invading Iraq. They failed with changing Social Security. Does this history tell us anything about the nature of the American electorate? In the first two instances a majority of the voters didn't bother to think about what the changes would actually mean. They were content to be swayed by abstractions. But in the third case, they knew that Mr. Bush's "reform" would affect the checks they and their family members received from the government. And they wanted no part of that. It's a sad record but it appears to indicate that if a national politician can make something abstract, he has a pretty good chance of pushing it across. But when specifics are involved, then he has to start paying attention to the truth. What that says about us, I'm not exactly sure.  (Posted, 8/15/05)

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Harvard University has announced that it's starting a project to try to determine how life began on earth. It will employ scientists from a number of disciplines and attempt to break down the departmental barriers that often hamper large-scale efforts. It's a reasonable scientific enterprise, but one of the motives behind it bothers me a bit. It seems to be driven to some extent by a desire to refute the champions of intelligent design. And that reflects a mistaken notion of where intelligent design comes from. It has nothing to do with scientific hypothesis. It's a faith, and being such cannot be refuted by any discovery science might make. Let's say that ten years from now the Harvard scientists discover, conclusively, that life emerged out of a combination of certain minerals activated by the warmth of the sun. That would support the truth of evolution but it would have no serious effect on the intelligent design folk. They would simply have to shift their thesis a bit and say that the way it happened was the way the designer made it happen. The designer would still be there, outside any possibility of scientific investigation. And that's exactly where it, or he, is now. Scientists should direct their attention to helping greater portions of the public understand what science is. That would get the intelligent design people out of their hair faster than anything. And, besides, it would be educational.  (Posted, 8/14/05)

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Most Americans have probably forgotten C. Wright Mills -- if, indeed, they ever knew who he was. But during the 1950s, he was widely considered the most perceptive sociologist analyzing contemporary American tendencies. One of his best known books, The Power Elite, published in 1956, would be seen as almost a prophecy if anyone were reading it today. Mills discerned a development of mind, which he called "military metaphysics," that's more prevalent now than it was even at the height of the Cold War. It presaged the development of permanent war, that is, a type of war which by its very definition can never be ended. And that's the kind of war President Bush tells us, almost every day, that we're in now. What happens when war is permanent is that diplomatic activity becomes either meaningless or is seen as appeasement, and, therefore, a kind of treason. War is transformed into the only serious activity and every nation is viewed as either friend or foe. If you go through Mills's analysis in The Power Elite and then compare it with the announcements of George Bush over the past four years, you'll find a near perfect correspondence. Americans think of themselves as a peaceful people, but if that's true of them now, there's big disconnect between who they are and the rhetoric they have been accepting from their national leaders. We badly need someone like C. Wright Mills to point that truth out to us.  (Posted, 8/13/05)

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If you want to think of something really stomach churning -- and why wouldn't you? -- imagine the event that is taking place today at Broken Spoke Ranch, where President Bush is hosting a lunch for about 230 people, all of whom gave more than $25,000 to the Republican National Committee over the past year. I'll bet there's some whoopy-doo security for getting in there. Mr. Bush, if he's going directly to Broken Spoke will have to drive past Cindy Sheehan, who's camping out on the highway. I wonder if he'll wave.  No reporters are to be allowed at the event, so we may not get an exact report of what the president says to the faithful. But, we can imagine fairly well.  (Posted, 8/12/05)

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The mantra from Washington -- and now, Crawford -- continues to be that U.S. troops must stay in Iraq until the Iraqis are trained. No one asks the serious question: trained to do what? The argument that the problems in Iraq are technical may be the silliest of all the foolish pronouncements that have been pumped at us by the Bush administration. What portion of the Iraqi population wants to be trained to do what America wants them to do? And what is that anyway? I have a hard time imagining that there are many Iraqis who genuinely want to be American puppets and work to set up the sort of nation that the Bush administration has been trying to build since the troops were first sent into the country. What the Iraqis really want is diverse and combative. But very little of it comports with becoming an outpost for American power and American profit. And to be willing to risk one's life in order to carry out the directives of an occupier is not something that many people will do. So this mythical training that is supposedly necessary in order for the American forces to withdraw is exactly like Bush's definition of a victory over terrorism. It is a thing that can never be achieved. And anyone who thinks it was ever intended is pathetically naive.  (Posted, 8/12/05)

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At the time of his death three years ago my friend Dan Noel was working on a book --to be published by Indiana University Press -- on the nature of belief in America. Dan thought belief in this country was approaching a crisis. It was either going to descend into complete credulity, a state where people would believe anything, no matter how irrational. Or, it was going to disappear altogether, and people would discover that they believed nothing at all. These may seem disparate theses. Yet, they are similar in their desertion of the steady tension between doubt and hope that many people have designated faith. Dan held that what is called belief in America is the opposite of genuine faith. I regret Dan's loss in many ways, most of them personal. But my main public regret is that he didn't get a chance to sample the last three looney years. They would have provided great nourishment for his work. The recent hullabaloo over intelligent design would have sent him into alternate paroxysms of delight and despair. Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate on August 10th, takes the position that religion is pretty much credulity. He acknowledges that there is some religious thinking that escapes that reductionism. But what passes for religion in popular discourse is pretty much a greeting-card sentimentalism. Consequently, he says, acknowledging the claims of science will undermine religious belief. He's probably right as far as he goes. But he doesn't go very far in getting at the precise nature of belief. If Dan were still around, he would have done better. (Posted, 8/11/05)

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The vigil that Cindy Sheehan has taken up outside the presidential ranch in Crawford may be the straw that will tip public opinion against Mr. Bush. She has the authority of a grieving mother, and as Joan Vennochi said in the Boston Globe on August 9th, since she has lost her son she has nothing else to lose -- or at least nothing that counts. I think most people can understand a despair that would turn the disapproval of authority into dust. Her story is coupled with a report about Terry Rodgers, a severely wounded soldier back from Iraq, who refused to meet with the president when he came to the hospital. Rodgers says that keeping soldiers in Iraq to be shot at and bombed is senseless, since there is no chance of defeating the insurgency. These are both, in a sense, small stories. But they are accounts pregnant with meaning. And the basic meaning they convey is that we are now saddled with a president who is willing to see people die for no other purpose than salving his own ego. If that meaning spreads much beyond where it is now, we could begin to see an avalanche.  (Posted, 8/10/05)

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Despite numerous clichés about the importance of first impressions, it generally takes considerable contact with a person to know how he will strike you over the long run. I've known numerous people with a surface charm who over time became deadly companions. And I've know others who, because of small quirks, were initially off-putting but who after a while became fairly pleasant. Over the past months we've seen several explanations about why President Bush's poll numbers have declined. Discontent with the situation in Iraq usually leads the list. But I've seen no one venture the theory that points to the main factor. The American people are getting to know who George Bush is. Why it has taken this long is a mystery but, nevertheless, at long last, it's beginning to happen. Two personality traits account for most of the dislike in the world. One is puffy egotism. The other is dull-mindedness. If a person is possessed of only one of these, other features can make up for it. But the two in combination cannot be overcome. The George Bush who makes himself known on television has both in high degree. I can think of no one I have ever met, or have ever seen, I would less like to accompany me on a long automobile trip. I doubt if I could make it ten miles without beginning to beat my head on the steering wheel. And the American people have gone a good deal more than ten miles with George Bush.  (Posted, 8/9/05)

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I've often said that neither journalists nor most readers understand the influence of variables in the analysis of society. That's because they fail to grasp that a correlation is not the same thing as a cause. In most newspapers, if someone can show that x went up while y went down it will be accepted that x's increase was caused by y's decline. And, that, of course, is nonsense. These simple truths ought to be held in mind by readers of the popular book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. The book really comes from the brain of Levitt, a respected economist. Dubner just helped him write it. Levitt has unearthed some provocative correlations and then attached his own hypotheses to them. In most cases, the provocation is worth far more than the thesis. The most controversial has been that the decision in Roe v Wade led to a decline of crime in the United States. Crime rates did fall off fairly sharply about eighteen years after the decision. But it is now pretty clear that the decision can't be logically put forward as the cause of the falling rate. The problem with so-called social science is that, regardless of the issue being studied, nobody can list completely the influences that affect it. The most potent might well be the one the scholar has ignored. As a consequence, anyone who thinks that social scientists can predict the future doesn't comprehend the nature of science and, certainly, doesn't know anything about society. Mr. Levitt should be read for fun, and to stimulate thought. But to take him as a prophet is silly.  (Posted, 8/8/05)

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"Six decades after August 1945, it is clear: The bomb made the world a better place," announces Jeff Jacoby, writing in the Boston Globe (August 7, 2005). That, to say the least, is a tendentious statement. I'm always astounded by people who claim to know what would have happened if something else had not happened. It's like claiming to possess the mind of God, which is sometimes what I think these people believe about themselves. Perhaps I should say the obvious, just for the fun of it. Nobody knows what would have happened if the United States had not dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities in the late summer of 1945. Nobody! I understand the psychology of those who want to believe the bombs shortened the war to the extent that more lives were saved than lost. But they don't know any more than those who say Japan would have surrendered within a few weeks in any case. What is this claiming of omniscience? Where does it come from? Why does anybody wish to say he has it? Why not just say simply that the nuclear bombing of two Japanese cities were horrendous events carried out by men so concentrated on winning the war they didn't think seriously about much else? It doesn't make them monsters. It makes them wagers of war with pretty much the same mentality as other wagers of war.  (Posted, 8/7/05)

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I would guess that if you asked an average citizen in the Midwest or the South how many people will be murdered in New York City this year, you would get a fairly large number, well up in the thousands. The truth is that in 2005 in New York there will be about five hundred murders, less than a quarter of the number for 1990.  The fables about New York that circulate among most Americans are truly fantastic. Five hundred still puts the murder rate in New York at about six times what it is in European cities. But for New York, it's very good. A person is six times as likely to be murdered in Washington, D.C., which has the highest murder rate of any major American city, as he is in New York. Nobody can explain murder rates. There are almost as many theories for their rise and fall as there are large cities. But we do know the United States as a whole has had for a long time a much higher murder rate than Europe and quite a bit higher than Canada. Murder is one of the leading causes of death for young people, far higher than death in military action. But we're highly sentimental about military deaths whereas murder in the U.S. is a ho-hum thing. It evidently cannot penetrate the American brain that a young person murdered in Detroit is just as dead as a soldier killed in Iraq. Or, maybe it can, and the distinction in concern comes from something even nastier than indifference.  (Posted, 8/7/05)

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I'm not sure when it happened but some time over the past two decades America went apology happy. Almost always now when somebody says something stupid -- or not so stupid for that matter -- somebody else rises up and demands, indignantly, that he apologize for it. This indicates a lack of understanding about the nature of apology. A genuine apology doesn't come about because somebody has been bludgeoned into it. It happens only when there's been a change of mind and one sincerely regrets his previous actions. Expecting stupid people to apologize for being stupid makes no sense at all. The latest incident in this false apology cascade involves the Anti-Defamation League's demand that James Dobson apologize for likening stem cell research to medical experimentation by Nazi doctors. And to whom is the apology to be offered? Holocaust survivors. I can imagine that persons who were incarcerated by the Nazis might want to refute Dobson. But why they should wish for his apology is beyond me. James Dobson is a right-wing, fundamentalist extremist. Asking him to apologize for being one is misconstruing the problem. We don't counter error, or silly argumentation, by getting its proponents to apologize. We refute it by showing that it's nonsensical. I don't know why anyone should want James Dobson's apology.  (Posted, 8/6/05)

Fox News analyst Bill O'Reilly recently slammed the French and the Germans for not being willing to die for their country. In O'Reilly's world view this is a bad characteristic. It's a curious phrase, actually -- "die for your country." It's not well defined, especially not when it issues from the mouths of right-wing propagandists. Traditionally, it meant that one would be willing to serve in the armed forces, and thus run the risk of death, if his country were invaded by the armies of another country. But now it seems to have metastasized into a willingness to surrender life for anything a government declares to be necessary, regardless of how nonsensical the declaration is. And if the latter is what the French and Germans would refuse to do then they have my congratulations. Obviously, we can't look to O'Reilly, or others of his ilk, for careful definition. He brandishes words as though they were meat hooks, which to him is all words are. But the rest of us need to be careful that we don't let simplistic phrases, like "die for your country" enter our minds and shape our thoughts and sentiments. Doing that would be to enter a vacancy as devoid of meaning as O'Reilly's rhetoric. (Posted, 8/5/05)

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Prudence, the manners maven on Slate, recently received a letter from an irate person objecting to the response, "No problem," after she has thanked someone. Prudence answered that she too found it irritating, but that it has crept into the language and it's not likely to go away soon. She offered the palliative that people who use the term don't mean to be offensive. I think she's right about that but I wish she had made an effort to explain the social meaning of "no problem." My own sense is that it's an element in the youth culture -- which has now crept into the general culture -- of the belief that slovenliness is fashionable, or as people say nowadays, "cool." I suppose it rises from the notion that conventionally successful people are stuffed-shirt hypocrites and, therefore, the opposite of their manner is the best way to show that one is knowledgeable and sincere. Teenagers often believe they've solved a problem by turning it on its head. A great failure of our educational system is refusal to help young people learn how to be intelligent while avoiding pomposity. It could be because many of their teachers (and I'm not speaking only of the professional brand) are pompous themselves, and don't know it. But slovenliness is a problem for young people and it is gradually becoming a problem for the general population.  (Posted, 8/4/05)

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Richard Cohen, the Washington Post columnist, says that Mr. Bush's recent comment on intelligent design was "the single dopiest statement of his presidency" (August 4, 2005). That's rising up through some pretty tough competition. The president said that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution as a theory about how life evolved on earth. Sounds reasonable, I suppose, until you stop to reflect that evolution and intelligent design are entirely different kinds of theories. Evolution operates according to the dictates of science, which means that it rises out of evidence produced by nature. Intelligent design is an opinion which makes its argument through notions of causation. It has nothing to do, whatever, with science. Maybe both ought to be taught -- or at least mentioned -- in the schools. But they shouldn't be taught alongside each other as though each is a competing scientific hypothesis. Distinctions of that sort don't seem to appeal to the president's mind. In truth, they don't seem ever to occur to it. That may be a pretty good argument for keeping politics out of the school curriculum and letting the people who actually think hard about a subject be the people who bring that subject to the students' attention.  (Posted, 8/4/05)

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Dave Daubenmire, a former football coach, has turned from coaching boys to coaching the nation. He has established an organization called "Pass the Salt Ministries," and regularly goes about the country giving inspirational addresses. His basic point is that Christians are not called on to love as much as they are to purify, based on Jesus's message in the "Sermon on the Mount" that "you are the salt of the earth." Salt in ancient Palestine was viewed as a preserving and purifying agent. One of Mr. Daubenmire's teachings is that God allowed the attacks of September 2001 in order to call Americans back to virtue. That's pretty salty. Daubenmire presents to me the problem of what to do when people live in different intellectual universes. Is any conversation between them possible? The assertion that God allows attacks has no meaning for me, and I don't know how to make any meaning of it. As far as I can tell it seems to conceive God as a big guy who goes around kicking people in the rear end  when they don't do as he says. I confess I don't fully grasp how such a concept can operate in the mind of a person in the 21st Century. Yet, the evidence that it does is all around me. I guess I would like to talk with Daubenmire if I got the chance. But I don't know what would come of it. Maybe he would just beat me up.  (Posted, 8/3/05)

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In the summer of 1987, Ronald Dworkin, writing in the New York Review about the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork, said, "For these claims, as I have tried to show, are empty in themselves, and his attempt to make them more substantial show only that he uses original intention as alchemists once used phlogiston, to hide the fact that he has no theory at all, no conservative jurisprudence, but only right-wing dogma to guide his decisions." Eighteen years ago we had a prominent legal journalist pointing out that conservatism and right-wing dogma are not the same thing and yet, after all this time, the mainstream media haven't picked up on the distinction. Those who are constantly charging the media with being biased should stop and consider the possibility that the media's real problem is that they're intellectually challenged. To continue to call George Bush and his supporters "conservatives," as the media regularly do, is disastrously irresponsible. The right-wingers in America are not conservative. They are, in truth, the most radical force ever to play a major part in U.S. politics. And they operate according to a single principle: all power to them   and no power to anybody else. They're no longer content with taking over America; they now want to take over the whole world. There's nothing conservative about wanting to rule the world. We do not have a conservative party in America. I wish we did. We need one badly. But the right-wingers have killed it and there's no sign that any remnant of it has the health to resurrect itself. The first step in political reform in America is to recognize what the core of the Republican Party has become, and to call it what it is. As long as they're permitted usurp the title of conservatives, they'll continue to dupe a significant portion of the population in the interests of a power-drunk minority.  (Posted, 8/3/05)

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MSNBC has announced that it is moving Tucker Carlson's show, The Situation, to an eleven o'clock time slot. The reason is the program's low ratings. It draws only about 200,000 viewers per night. Cliff Kincaid, the editor of Accuracy in Media has explained why. The show features regular guest Rachel Maddow, "a lesbian with hair so short that she looks like a man." I've watched the program several times and I have to report that Rachel Maddow does not look like a man, at least not to sane human beings. Furthermore, she is by far the best thing on The Situation and gives the program whatever spark it has. The interaction between her and Carlson rises, at times, almost to mature discourse. The rest of the program is made up of dreary right-wing propaganda. Kincaid may be right that the kind of viewers drawn to a show that features a "conservative" host can't stand to hear actual give and take. But, if that's what he means he ought to say so and not attribute the low ratings to Ms. Maddow's hair. A feature of public life that becomes ever more odious is that self-styled "conservatives" have assumed the right to make their arguments through snide, snotty personal slurs thus avoiding genuine argumentation. That may well appeal to their fans, but it's craven for the rest of us to accept their juvenile talk as genuine conservatism. Why the mainstream media allow them to get away with such childishness is one of the mysteries of our age.  (Posted, 8/2/05)

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Richard A. Posner, a U.S. Circuit Court judge, is widely spoken of as one of America's powerhouse intellectuals. How does he do it? the New York Times asked recently, referring to Posner's nonstop publication of books and articles. I think I know but I was glad to see somebody else explain it. The answer, says Jack Shafer, in Slate (August 1, 2005) is sloppy writing and sloppy thinking. "What a relief!" I said to myself. Here I have for several years been thinking there may be something wrong with me because every article of Posner's I read struck me as seriously dumb. How can other's find him so brilliant? The article that Shafer uses to prove his point is Posner's piece in the New York Times Book Review about why the "old media," meaning newspapers and network news programs, are in crisis. It's mainly a collection of clichés, Shafer says, with no thought that goes beyond the headlines of the hour. And much of it is incorrect, as for example, Posner's claim that CNN has moved to the left in response to the competition from Fox. The truth, of course, is that the move has been just the opposite. For some reason a portion of the public loves the idea of intellectual paragons who are not limited by normal human confines. It's true that some people have quicker minds than others and that allows them to crank out more words per minute than average writers can  But that says little about the quality of thought the words express. Posner has managed to bedazzle people with volume, but I wish some of his admirers would explain why what he says is worthy of our attention.  (Posted, 8/2/05)

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Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly alerted me to an article in the New York Times (July 31, 2005) about a course on the Bible scheduled to be taught in the Odessa, Texas high schools. Drum's point was that the Times article is a hideous piece of journalism. It's filled with quotations about what various partisans think of the course but gives very little information about the course itself. It therefore joins the ranks of "he-said, she-said" journalism which leaves readers with little solid knowledge of the topic being discussed. I read the article and though I didn't find it as bad as Drum did, I did think it's less than an inquiring reader would desire. There's the implication that the course, which claims to reflect objective scholarship, is really slanted in favor of Christian fundamentalism. But one has to pick that up by reading between the lines. Nowhere do reporters Ralph Blumenthal and Barbara Novovitch tell us clearly what the character of the course is. Nor is there any analysis about whether the curriculum insists that teachers toe a party line. Anyone who's familiar with the teaching of literary courses in high school knows that the teacher's attitude is more important than anything else. A fair-minded teacher can use almost any curriculum productively whereas a teacher bent on indoctrination won't be hindered by the course guidelines. The real issue about Bible courses in public schools is whether honest and well-informed teachers can be found. I don't think they can be taken for granted. But, if effective teachers were chosen, it would be a fine thing for American students to become aware of the nature of Biblical literature. Still, the intensity of indoctrination we should risk to attain that goal is a very tricky question.. (Posted, 8/1/05)

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I don't know if one's own mood ever accurately reflects the mood of the nation, or, even, whether there is any such thing as a national mood. But my internal sensors tell me the country is in the doldrums. What are the causes? The first event that comes to mind is the invasion and occupation of Iraq. A majority of the people now realize that lies were used to justify its beginning and that after the taking of thousands of lives there can be no good outcome. A second reason is that we have no confidence in or respect for our political system. It is widely recognized, for example, that the spate of legislation pushed through last week by the Bush administration was designed mainly to enrich special interests. None of the bills were genuinely based on the public good. Lobbyists are in control and the government is always for sale. Yet, bad as these things are, the main cause of our  dejection is the character of the people. They don't have mind enough to pay attention to their own affairs. Nor do they, in the mass, appear to stand for anything that's honorable. They will, occasionally, wallow in sentimentalism. But  that has nothing to do with intelligent citizenship. Maybe these are thoughts sparked simply by a summer lull. But I doubt that even the freshness of autumn will carry them away.  (Posted 8/1/05)

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