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Saturday, July 09, 2005
FREAKY FRIDAY AND THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

Yesterday, the Christian Science Monitor ran an editorial that dovetails neatly with my Thursday blog on delinquents with spray cans. Nice to see them get it right.

London's Calling
The Monitor's View

Osama bin Laden is watching. Yes, he like other terrorists who aim to kill and maim the innocent, always watch how people react each time they succeed in an attack.

They'll be watching now to see how Britain reacts to Thursday's multiple bombings on London trains and buses.

They've already seen how Americans reacted after Sept. 11, 2001, how Indonesians reacted after the 2002 Bali bombings, and how Spaniards reacted after the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

Global terrorists need a particular kind of audience reaction more than they need to destroy a place or kill people. They need a reaction of either fear and submission, or one of vengeful, unrestrained lashing out. The first one erodes a society from within. The second creates an overreach that incapacitates a society...
Read the rest by clicking on the link from the July 08, 2005 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0708/p08s02-comv.html

Courage.
.
Friday, July 08, 2005
ONCE UPON A TIME ...

Things have been a little heavy lately. What you need is a little story about cute little unicorns and stuff to calm you down for the weekend. So, here's a story from 1988, written at the Bluebird Motel, in Santa Ana, California. It's called ...

THE UNICORN'S TEARS

It was in a faraway place, and another time, but then, aren't they always? Still it might have been next door to your house, or even in your house, because people don't really change that much, after all. The stage dressing might be a little different, or the tinsel cut from a different mold, but people are people, wherever you go, and think that people who aren't like them aren't really people at all.

***

Her name was Lilah, and from her birth she was different. Something about the color of her hair, which was a shade different, and the texture of her skin, which wasn't quite the same. Her parents had come from the wrong place -- a place not too far distant from that far hill there -- and everyone knew they'd left for the wrong reasons (though no one could say what those reasons were -- still, they must have, mustn't they?).

They kept to themselves pretty much -- which is always suspicious -- and her father, Drax, was skilled in an art no one knew much about (which was suspicious), and which everyone needed just the same (which was even more so).

So it was no surprise that, when Lilah was a little girl, and her parents were killed in the fire, the Villagers were inclined to take her in, but no one was particularly inclined to accept her. As the years passed, and the fire faded to embers, then to ash, then to wash away with the spring rains, the memory faded, and Lilah was different, but no one could really say why, or how.

She was beautiful, though no one said that she was, publicly or privately (because she was different, and there was no basis for comparison), and while the boys of the Village secretly dreamed of Lilah, they made certain that they were seen with proper girls (which was well and good), or improper girls (which their fathers secretly admitted was better, though they cautioned their sons not to marry such women).

The Women of the Village were another matter.

Women are always, in such villages, the keepers of the traditions, and the bad-rememberers of things they feel should not be forgotten, and Lilah was definitely different -- though the women could no longer really say how -- and thus was an object of a certain affection, but a sterner code of tolerance. It had always been thus, and thus it would (or should) always be.

It was not reasonable, but small villages are rarely reasonable, and cherish and harbor their ancient prejudices, as much because they have always been there as because they immediately and positively identify villagers as villagers and not outsiders (who aren't really human after all, and no one wishes to be inhuman).

So Lilah was definitely an outsider (for reasons not quite remembered), who had been taken in by the village and raised and reared by the village (for reasons not quite forgotten) and was thus in the awkward position of being a villager and NOT a villager at the same time.

The women of the village (had they thought about it, which they didn't) would have admitted that Lilah was both and neither, and that, while they loved her as a foster-daughter (which is to say: they loved themselves for being so kind to her), no one would have allowed her son to marry Lilah.

Lilah took to wandering through the glens and valleys outside the village early, which made everyone feel much more at ease. It proved that Lilah was different (which assuaged a certain guilt, since people are people, and know right from wrong, especially when they won't admit it), and at the same time allowed the village to cede her a certain special right because of her difference.

No one, not man, woman, child, or criminal would violate the unspoken law that Lilah had the special right to wander the outskirts of the village, and the wilds just beyond, though it was tacitly forbidden for villagers to do so.

The villagers held the houses and Lilah was supreme in the forest, and that was as it should be, and everyone knew it without ever quite putting it into words. It was a sop thrown to one who could never truly "belong."

***

It was on that day that Lucas, the carpenter's son, saw Lilah in the meadow near the abandoned water-wheel that the unicorn first made its appearance. Lucas did not see the unicorn. Only Lilah did. What Lucas saw was this:

He was making his way through the ancient ash-grove, seeking a certain type of tree for the lintel of the mayor's new house, which his father was building.

It had to be of a precise nature, for to season it, and mold it, and then to carve it required a tightness of grain, and a certain youth, neither too young nor too old, and above all, it must not contain knot-holes in the wrong places, else it would be impossible to carve in the elaborate manner required.

Lucas' father, Garth, had rejected the first tree Lucas came back with, and boxed the boy's ears for making such a ridiculous error. Right in the middle, where the most important carving --the sacred stag -- was to go, there was a wide grain, and a knothole.

Garth admitted that Lucas showed no real talent for carpentry, but born of a carpenter, and an only son, Lucas would become a carpenter, for that was the way of things in the village for as long as anyone cared to remember.

So Lucas walked through the thick, brown grasses, wary of snakes and scorpions, cursing his father, and rubbing the hot, tingling skin of his ears.

If he hadn't had nearly eighteen seasons behind him, he certainly would have cried, but now that he was a man, even in solitude, Lucas would not cry. Instead, he kicked at the thin roots, and at clods of dirt or clumps of grass. And then he saw Lilah, in the pool in the meadow, completing her bath.

He knew enough to stop, and crouch down quickly, for it appeared that she hadn't heard his heavy approach, and he stared at her long, black hair, and the beads of spring water glittering on her breasts in the afternoon sunlight. He felt a constriction in his chest, and it seemed as though he could hardly breathe. Yet, to Lucas, his breathing seemed as loud as the bellows of the blacksmith's forge.

She was perfectly formed, and Lucas felt the sharp tang of desire, making his knees tremble, and his throat thick and tight. He could not take his eyes off Lilah -- though she was not the first woman he had seen thus. Still, she was the first he'd seen in daylight, and Lucas knelt in the deep grass, afraid to move.

And so, he did not see the unicorn. But Lilah did.

With a whicker as soft as the brush of a cloud against the full moon, and a grace that made the hind look clumsy, he stepped into the far end of the meadow.

Lilah did not see him for a moment, so sudden was his appearance, and so still his halting. For a half-second, he regarded her, then shook his head to straighten a mane that seemed smithed by elves in gold -- and was gone.

"Oh!" breathed Lilah, for he was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She stood stock-still for a long time, as if to move would ripple the vision she had seen.

And then, for the first time, tears came. Not the tears she was used to -- bitter and hot -- but tears of magic. Tears of springtime, and green leaves, and newborn fawns and joy. Tears as quiet and gentle as the whicker of a unicorn.

She finished her bathing in daze, taking long, dreamy moments for the simplest motion, and then she pulled her clothes from the rock she'd laid them on, and began to dress.

That was not what Lucas saw. He saw only that Lilah had been startled, and then had moved with a deliberateness, and a sensuality that set his ears burning, and his throat swallowing. "She knows that I am watching her," he thought. And then: "She wants me to."

***

And somewhere a girl was raped; a village shamed, a boy outcast, an outcast taken in. The village blacksmith wed the girl accepting her shame. The boy was killed by beasts in his flight from the villagers, and all said that this was the justice of their gods.

But in the glen, far from prying eyes, a Unicorn observed all that transpired, and sometimes, when he eats the delicate flowers that are his food, accepting the offerings laid out for it by the hummingbird and by the bees, Sometimes -- for that is the Unicorn's name -- thinks of the folly of human beings, and sheds a magic tear.

When men find them, they call them jewels.

Courage.
.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
A DELINQUENT WITH A SPRAY CAN
or, OSAMA'S STRATEGY BECOMES APPARENT


I don't have to tell you what happened in London today. The 24-hour cable channels once more have a raison d'etre. Within hours of the tragedy, the talking heads have moved in, vulture-like, to dispense their "wisdom" to a weary nation exhausted by Aruba and missing white blondes.

But here is the flavor from a reporter in London:

July 7, 2005
In London, a Typical Day Turns Into Chaos

By ERIC PFANNER
International Herald Tribune

LONDON, July 7 - A typically drizzly London commute turned into chaos today as Londoners still basking in the euphoria of the city's surprise choice as the site of the 2012 Olympics were forced onto the streets by a series of explosions that shut down the public transportation system.

Shortly before 9 a.m. travelers waiting for trains at the Chancery Lane station on the London Underground's Central Line were informed of delays and station closures on other lines because of "power failures." No trains appeared, and soon the announcement message changed to a "security alert."

There was little reaction at that point as Londoners over the last four years have become used to service disruptions because of suspect packages and other reasons. But shortly after 9 a.m. it became clear that this was no ordinary security alert.
It was a tough twenty-four hours for Londoners. First they get the Olympics; then they get bombed.

Reuters reports that OUR Guardians of Freedom, USA moved with great rapidity to trivialize a human tragedy through the deft use of comic antics. See whether they have succeeded:

London-like attack not expected in U.S.- Officials Say

Thursday, July 07, 2005 12:21 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government raised the terrorism alert level for buses, subways and trains across the United States on Thursday in the wake of deadly bombings in London but said it expected no similar attack in the United States.

(...)

President Bush was in Scotland for the G8 session and said he directed homeland security officials to be extra vigilant as Americans headed to work. Vice President Dick Cheney was at his ranch in Wyoming and was to return to Washington, as planned, on Thursday afternoon.

"The war on terror goes on," Bush said.

But initial reaction in U.S. cities had been muted.

After first issuing a statement that U.S. officials had no indication of a similar attack in the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff hours later announced a hike in the terror alert level to high, or orange, for the railway and subway systems. The alert level was also raised for intra-city bus lines....
Thank Ghod. Our buses are safe. After four years of inactivity in the United States, Al Qaeda are now undoubtedly targeting our buses. What other conclusion could the steely-eyed Direktor of Fatherland Sekurity come to? Then again, suppose the attacks had been directed towards zoos or pony rides in London? I wonder what Chertoff would have raised the "terror alert" level to?

Increasingly, this looks like an exceptionally cheesy z-grade horror movie. I leave it to the perceptive reader to choose whom the brain-eating zombies might be.

I would beg you to remember the outpourings of good will towards the United States on September 12, 2001, and contrast it with Bush's niggardly response. (Contrast it with OUR media's response to London.)

But that's not really my point here. I am not here to marvel at the incredible callousness, insensitivity and idiocy of Bush's sound bite. His lack of compassion for humanity is already well-established.

Nor am I here to refute the nonsensical notion that Dick Cheney has a "ranch" -- even though I, having been raised in Wyoming among actual cowboys, know that Dick Cheney is only a "Wyoming Cowboy" because he flunked out of two other schools before returning to the UW in Laramie. I will not mention how he grew up in Casper, Wyo., the largest "city" in Wyoming, and is as much a "cowboy" and a "rancher" as I am the Easter Bunny.

What color would you like your eggs?

No, I am here to tell you what any juvenile delinquent with a spray can knows: that by painting a swastika on a synagogue, you can drive an entire city into a paroxysm of recrimination, self-flagellation, paranoia and other hilarious responses.

Hilarious, that is, to a juvenile delinquent.

Or, you could spray paint the "N" word on a black church. The result will be the same.

The community will dissolve into a sort of moral chaos, and absurdities will be floated by any number of "concerned" citizens: there may be marches, editorials, rallies. There will be speeches, sermons and even heated debates in the City Council. Laws will be considered, some even passed. The police will issue statements about "zero tolerance," etcetera.

None of which will have anything to do with a clever juvenile delinquent with a two-dollar can of spray paint, who will, in all probability, howl with laughter and derisive glee until the goody-two-shoes in his bragging circle turns him in.

Or not.

Why do I bring this up in the case of such a human tragedy?

Well, first, let's ASSUME that it was Al Qaeda (which hasn't been established, but for the sake of argument, let's say it is).

Now: Let's assume that Osama bin Laden is a sort of "super-delinquent."

Look at their recent history in the West: A massive attack on the World Trade Center, and an idiotic attack on the Pentagon (a building so large that a 747 hitting it would be like using a bb-gun on a hippopotamus).

The attack in Madrid, Spain.

Now, London.

And, if I'm correct, then he lets US make fools of ourselves. Face it, Osama wanted to destroy the United States. After 9/11, without his doing another thing, we have spent the last four years doing his dirty work for him, as our phony drug store "cowboys" shuttle between Washington, D.C. and their bogus "ranches."

Spain pulled out of Iraq, changed governments, and now views the USA with a suspicion that wasn't there before.

What will happen after London, this morning, remains to be seen.

But Osama has to be laughing himself silly, watching our pencil-necked-geek of a "Security" chief issuing "orange" warnings for buses and subways. And he must thank merciful Allah for the huge recruiting festival we've provided him in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I think, now, that I see the strategy: it's a variant of the juvenile delinquent with the spray can.

He hits us, and runs away. And then WE DO HIS JOB FOR HIM.

It is despicable, but let's face it, he is hitting us just where we're the weakest: in our narcissism, our smugness, and our self-importance.

It is no accident that New York and Washington were chosen (though they must have learned from the news reports that ONLY New York City matters, as Washington was all but forgotten in the self-congratulatory weeping afterward). It was no accident that Madrid and London were chosen.

Note that Al Qaeda did NOT hit Chicago, Los Angeles, Seville, Manchester or Liverpool. And that's the tipoff: he wants maximum exposure for his deadly graffiti. (So you can rest easy there in Kankakee: they don't give a DAMN about you as a terrorist target.)

I remember a story my wife tells me of the "Hillside Strangler" murders in Los Angeles. They were something like this, on a smaller scale. An orgasmic claque of TeeVee news heads, radio hystererers (sic), and print yellow journalists gleefully broadcast the details of every crime, beside themselves with a strange reverse satisfaction at every brutal slaying. It was the orgy of Puritanism, as they pored, lustily, over every juicy morsel of information.

My wife remembers that 60-year-old women (who were utterly outside the profile of the Strangler) were terrified, proclaiming, with a sort of perverse delight of horror, that they wouldn't walk on the streets at night -- even though there was virtually no possibility whatsoever that they would be raped by a predator specializing in young, attractive women.

And I think of the frightened citizens of Terra Haute, Indiana. Of McMinnville, Oregon, and of Hutchison, Kansas. Is there any chance that Osama will target them? If a tree is blown up in the forest and no TV cameras are present, does it make a headline?

Of course it doesn't.

But Osama knows exactly where to use his two dollar spray can: He is hitting us right smack-dab squarely in our egotism.

But knowing that, can we fashion a defense?

Try as I might, I can think of no way that our conceited, self-righteous, hysteria-prone society might be made immune to bin Laden's tactic, other than to exercise the sort of maturity, restraint and wisdom that is to be expected of the most powerful (and potentially most dangerous) nation on Earth.

And, sad to say, I don't think there's a whole hell of a lot of a chance of THAT happening anytime soon.

Courage.
.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
A HIGHER DUTY
or, PROTECTING WHOM?

The subject of the ongoing investigation of the leak of Joseph Wilson's wife's CIA identity came up in conversation today.

Naturally, the question was asked that virtually every sane person in America is asking, which is: WHY are they threatening two reporters with jail time for not revealing their source, when Robert Novak -- he of the evil eyebrows -- published the initial story?

Why isn't NOVAK facing jail time?

No explanation.

But then, came the whole philosophical question as to WHY must reporters protect the confidentiality of their sources?

Well, I have been in this position for a long time. Once upon a time, in context that I will not reveal here, a certain fellow who betrayed confidences about sources found himself with his legs broken. I kept my confidences, but was close enough to what happened to recognize that certain things can't be said. And certain confidences can't be divulged.

The great irony of journalism is this: to be a good journalist, you have to have a keen sense of the truth, and you have to be able to keep certain truths secret, even though as a good journalist you know that the public has a right to know. So, you censor the "real story" constantly.

[The best stories I ever ran across could NOT be printed, nor can I discuss them -- to this very day. But no heinous crimes were committed, please note.]

It is NOT a black and white situation, and there is no clear cut line of demarcation. In fact, I have observed over the past three decades that the "ethics" of journalists are rarely carefully followed, nor are journalists the reputable pillars of the community that they flatter themselves they are.

I've been -- as a book critic -- a fly on the wall at major newspapers all over the USA, and I have never been particularly impressed at the ethos of the profession. Indeed, I find the vast majority of journalists to be shallow, vapid, ADD-afflicted persons of questionable education and often non-existent integrity.

Worse: the only times that I have ever heard the terms "journalistic ethics" or "journalistic integrity" was when somebody had royally screwed up. Generally, it was offered as a defensive rationalization of egregious journalistic practice.

This is anecdotal, of course, but it is my experience in a wide variety of venues. My own integrity and ethics comes not from some B.S. J-school class, nor from the AP Stylebook, but from hard-won experience, and from a little exercise I engaged in at college called "philosophy." I consider it a fairly well thought out position, in contradistinction to that of the profession generally.

Here's an example: I always consider that what I write can harm REAL people, cause them pain, and open them to ridicule. Even those things that clearly fall within libel limitations. Therefore, I do my best NOT to use my writing to harm people, but not to shirk my responsibility to shine the light of investigation on miscreants, malfeasants, and mere ants.

Is there a formula for determining this? No. You have to gauge it case by case, and do your best. There are no hard and fasts in journalism. You don't have to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt. You can enter hearsay in the mix. Etcetera. But you really OUGHT to have clear evidence and a fair-minded inquiry before reporting your conclusions.

And I DO believe that a journalist (at least a periodical journalist, and not a daily reporter) has a duty to HAVE conclusions. Just doing "he said she said" doesn't cut it.

I can safely state that I have never revealed a confidential source, although there is a reporter in Seattle who believes that she told me I couldn't use his statements at all, and I believe that I had the right to quote her as an anonymous source. Either way, I protected his identity, and while she believes that he was "revealed" to the subject of the story, I don't buy it. Worse, her umbrage represented something that I have a problem with:

He was perfectly well aware that the subject of the story was a skunk, a louse, and up to no good. I am not entirely convinced that ANY of us have an absolute duty to protect or shield evil-doers.

Which only points out that there ARE no black and white issues in matters of journalistic integrity.

And that brings us to Valerie Plame and the refusal of NEW YORK TIMES reporter Judith Miller. (Fellow TIME MAGAZINE reporter Matthew Cooper was "released" by his source, and testified.)

Miller (and most of the clueless press) contend that reporters have an absolute right to confidentiality of sources.

That's fair. But let's look at WHY.

WHY do journalists keep sources confidential?

Let's face it: it is for a self-serving reason. If you have a reputation for keeping sources secret, then sources will talk to you. If you have a reputation for being a snitch, or get one of your sources in trouble through loose talk (and most reporters will tell 'war stories' to other reporters in bars, say) then people won't talk to you.

Ergo, your effectiveness as a reporter will cease.

This "commandment" of journalism -- let's be fair -- is not as much about "Truth, Justice and the American Way," but is a practical tool for carrying out the ideals of journalism. And, in a sense, no matter how you rationalize it, it IS unquestionably self-serving.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that. It serves the reporter and the source, and that serves the public. Witness the thirty-year silence of Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, and their editor Ben Bradlee.

But, shades of gray inhabit the question.

If a source admits to having kidnapped a child, and is holding that child in a dungeon, are you required to maintain confidentiality?

Most reporters have no problem with this one.

So, if a source commits a felony, an act of treason by "outing" an undercover operative whose compatriots could well face assassination as a result of their association, and whose career of service to this nation is destroyed as a result of that clearly criminal action, do you maintain confidentiality?

Do you aid and abet the commission of a crime? (And this is a crime against society itself, not just an individual.)

Judith Miller thinks that you should.

She will go to jail to protect a traitor, and that's her idea of "journalistic integrity."

It is NOT mine.

I believe that journalism serves a vital social function. I refer you to Jefferson for the elucidation, but I am not alone in this. The Founding Fathers felt that a free press was so important (remember that it was a free press that engendered, nurtured, and ultimately saved the Revolution that created our country in the first place) that they enshrined freedom of the press in the very first amendment, along with speech and religion.

But there is a higher duty.

When I was writing for adult magazines, we found out that an employee who had served time for child pornography -- and been given a job again on his release by a compassionate employer -- had returned to smuggling kiddie porn. My employer promptly turned him in, and everyone I knew, in a business FILLED with secrets, said they'd do the same in a New York Minute.

The selfish understanding that keeping illegal porn away from "legitimate" and legal adult entertainment was NOT ever mentioned, ironically. Those pornographers thought it was wrong, and that was the reason they said, universally -- for I never met anyone, even with the wildest Libertarian philosophy, who disagreed -- was because IT WAS WRONG.

Period.

Well, I believe that treason is wrong. I believe that jeopardizing the lives of overseas undercover operatives and informants in the war on terror for WHATEVER reason is a crime against the very society that journalism purports to serve.

And yet, Judith Miller insists that she is serving some "higher purpose" in journalism.

I beg to disagree. She is, perhaps, ensuring her future personal professional reputation. She is ensuring the unthinking adulation of her peers. She is claiming a right to privacy that is nowhere guaranteed in Federal law (although some states allow it). But what is she actually doing with her "integrity"?

She is shielding a criminal, and aiding and abetting a crime.

No one can dispute that incontrovertible fact (no one, that is, who is not a lawyer.) Or, should I say that no HONEST person can dispute that Judith Miller is shielding a criminal, and aiding and abetting a crime.

So, there is a higher duty.

There is a clear, black and white societal duty that trumps the murkier morality play of "journalistic ethics."

And I cannot understand the tortured reasoning (other than an 'us versus them' mentality that too often infects the self-appointed 'elite' of journalism) that can rationalize this collusion in criminality.

And so I say: she must go to jail.

But still, WHY is it Judith Miller, and not Robert Novak facing jail time? Given his abundantly evident self-love, I cannot imagine that he would prefer his own incarceration to that of the criminal him or herself.

Even more astonishing is the sentimental, unreasoned, unarticulated huzzah of most mainstream reporters, proclaiming that Miller is some great martyr to the Canons of Journalism.

Pity they can't spell "cannons."

Protecting a criminal engaged in treasonous behavior is noble? Give me a break. And read some books that you don't have to color in, fellow journalists. This is one of those times when we DO have a duty. A HIGHER duty than aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime. We have a duty as citizens to eschew "confidentiality" in favor of truth.

But Miller need not worry. She will be lionized and the case will be solved without her. But she'll receive no kudos from me. (I'll cross the other side of the street just to avoid her and her ilk.)

And here's a little datum to chew on in the mean time:

Watched "Bush's Brain" on Sundance Sunday.

An interesting fact came to light during the "background" portion.

In 1980, Karl Rove was fired from the Reagan/Bush campaign for leaking information to a journalist.

The journalist?

Robert Novak.

Courage.
.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
THE FOUR FREEDOMS REVISITED
or, VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW

(illustration)

Don't Tread on Me!



Courage.
.
Monday, July 04, 2005
NASA SPACE PROBE SMASHES INTO COMET
or, WE ARE A SPECIES SLOW TO ANGER


Today, the Deep Impact space probe was purposely crashed into Comet Tempel 1, to understand the makeup of comets.

I was clicking around, reading the stories via GOOGLE NEWS, and came upon the BBC report. At the end, they asked:
What is your reaction to the Deep Impact comet mission? Send us your comments.
Who could pass up such an opportunity? I sent the following:
For five billion years, comets have been smashing into Earth. This year, on July the Fourth, 2005, Earth finally struck back.
Courage.
.
.
A LITTLE STORY OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
or HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY

Behind Mr. Bush on the podium Tuesday night was a strange insignia: it wasn't the flag of the United States Army, which is blue on a white field, with the number "1775" below. No: it is the "new" seal of the Army, which has been altered recently. It used to have "1778" in roman numerals at the bottom.

The original War Office seal was authorized by the Continental Congress on May 8, 1779. The Army flag was given to the Secretary of the Army by Vice President Nixon on June 13, 1956.

But you probably didn't notice on that Seal a sword upraised in the center, on top of which is something that looks like a red stocking cap or a red Smurf cap.

Don't Tread on Me!

What, you might ask, the heck is THAT thing?

So glad you asked: This is a very ancient symbol of Freedom. It is called the "Phrygian Cap" or a "Liberty Cap." You might recognize it from the French Revolution.

But, for the United States, it is very special part of our heritage. Originally, it was worn by the Goddess of Liberty, and she wears the Liberty Cap on our first national coin, the "Liberty Cap Penny."

The Sons of Liberty in Boston popularized the Liberty Cap: It was a symbol of Freedom that a "Classical" culture could understand. The metaphor, and the importation of the Roman Goddess of Liberty were important symbols during the Revolution. Why? The Phrygian cap was worn during Roman Empire by former slaves who had been emancipated by their master and whose descendants were therefore considered citizens of the Empire.

Libertas was a goddess whose image was on the denarius coin -- which was a day's wages for a laborer. She was symbolized by a broken jug -- to show she shattered confinement -- with an independent cat at her feet, and she wore the Phrygian Cap. It is a very old association.

By 1855, combined with several parallel images, the Goddess Libertas would morph into "Lady Freedom" whose statue would top the U.S. Capital dome -- but not before her Liberty Cap was removed and replaced by a helmet at the demand of Secretary of War (and future President of the Confederacy) Jefferson Davis.

Until that day, and until the Statue of Liberty was erected, Lady Liberty always wore the Phrygian cap. For some reason, we have forgotten it -- the French Revolution was so impressed that they borrowed it from OURs!* So maybe this is a good Fourth of July to remember the Liberty Cap and the Goddess of Liberty, and what they actually mean.

Or, you could just drink a lot of beer.

Courage.
.
* NOTE: Virtually all French websites have conveniently forgotten the American connection of the Liberty Cap to the French Revolution, a salutary example of the manner in which history is rewritten according to the emotional needs of the audience. France, as the last "classical" culture in Europe is very proud of their connection to Rome. The American connection is, in this case, a national inconvenience. Still, it is NOT worth boycotting French goods or eating "liberty fries." The land of Phrygia, by the by, lies on the northern, Black Sea coast of modern Turkey, and from it we derive the story of the "Gordian Knot" and the tale of an early king of Phrygia, King Midas. There is an implication that the Phrygian cap was created to hide Midas' donkey ears (from the last part of the legend).
.
Sunday, July 03, 2005
WAR & SPEECH
or, THE DUBYA Rx FOR DISASTER


There has been tremendous heaviosity over the past four daze (sic). I most humbly apologize for that. This happy little blog is merely the frothy head on a pint of dark pretensions; lint in the dryer-trap of the Zeitgeist.

But every now and again, it's nice to engage the brain and do some actual analysis and critical review of some of the most egregious stuff poisoning the well of human kindness.

So, if you'll indulge me, a few thoughts about what we've read from the collective brain trust (if that's not an oxymoron) of Mad King George's Funhouse, a/k/a "The White House."

The overarching overview is this: straining so hard for justification, there can be no doubt that they are straining just as hard to justify every action, every step and misstep, every miscue and boondoggle as "noble" and "successful" as well.

And that's the greatest danger.

The speech itself with its circus-like atmosphere, and snazzy props probably didn't convince anyone one way or another. TIME and polling will tell.

But history is rife with disasters that came about through willful blindness caused by a desperate adherence to an ideological (or just a policy) position that must defended at all costs -- even if those costs are totaled in human lives lost.

A good local example is that of George Armstrong Custer, who, hearing news that he didn't want to hear from his Crow scouts, dismissed their intelligence reports of a large multi-tribe indian camp on the Little Bighorn, and spawned an American publishing and filmmaking genre that continues to feed media families and their forlorn little tykes to this very day.

That was not, however, his intention. He was unwilling to admit that the "indians" he needed to defeat (to secure the Presidential Nomination at the national convention being held) had changed tactics, or were capable of adapting their battle strategies in any wise. Custer should have known that something was brewing from the disaster at the Battle of the Rosebud just a week or so earlier, but he was locked in -- both to his preconception of what HAD to be true, and to his personal timetable, which forbade prudence -- and the rest, as they say is history. And so was Custer.

One of the ways you can gauge what a disaster it was is in the fact that nineteen Medals of Honor (often misidentified as "Congressional Medals of Honor") were awarded, as a way of showing what a "tough" fight it had been, against "impossible" odds. This allowed the government to save face.

So: what is the Custer factor here?

Well, first, the Administration increasingly wants to cast this as an all Al Qaeda affair. The propaganda was good enough to convince weak-minded morning radio show hosts hereabouts, and is no doubt gulling dittoheads everywhere. But, as noted yesterday, there is at least a three-way struggle for post-Saddam power going on in Iraq, and I might add that none of these factions share the US goal of controlling the oilfields, and of having a "footprint" in the Middle East to "stabilize" the "volatile" region.

Some kind of "stabilization," right?

A few more "stabilizations" like this one, and we'll start referring to pyrrhic victories as bushic victories.

The problem is that the Administration is so wedded to its views -- whether they conform to reality or not -- that those who dispute agreed on pre-conclusions based on differing evidence are summarily dismissed. This drumbeat has run throughout this administration. The evidence from those drummed out of service is overwhelming.

Here's another example of what that thinking can get you. Hitler remained convinced, throughout the Normandy Invasion, Operation Overlord, that the REAL invasion was going to take place at Calais, and he kept one of his armies uselessly there -- pinned down only by his own prejudgements -- until it was too late. The invasion might have been repelled, had the Germans been flexible enough to adapt to the "reality" and not the "idea" of what was taking place.

The difference between what we know and what we THINK we know is a vast and fundamental difference, and one of my standard tricks in writing mysteries (I've written two such novels) is by exploiting that difference. The reader thinks that he/she knows one thing, perhaps because it's assumed, but, really, he/she doesn't know that at all, and when I pull the rug out from under them, they are shocked, surprised, delighted and I get compliments for my "amazing" denouement.

But, really, it is noting a fundamental flaw in human thinking: the tendency to lie to ourselves that we know more than what we actually do. And, we have a disquieting tendency to condemn in others what we justify in ourselves. Witness the contention that Saddam killed "thousands" of his own people. That's bad and we all know it. But when we kill thousands (hundreds of thousands, actually) it suddenly ceases to be bad. We're saving them from tyranny.

Well, whether you're killed by Saddam or the Liberators, you're just as dead and just as lacking in basic human rights. But, since you have liberty and the pursuit of happiness under the occupation, it seems that our Administration adjudges this superior, even though without "life" none of the rest of it matters. Or, our torture is OK: theirs is not.

Unfortunately, the consolidation of intelligence agencies under a heavy ideological boot is only going to increase this tendency towards ignoring inconvenient facts, as is the rapidly growing monolith of secrecy and classification.

Wasn't it supposed to be BAD intelligence that caused all our 9/11 and Iraq woes? So decreasing the spectrum of analysis, and doing the "creationist" gerrymandering of facts to fit the policy is supposed to HELP? Not bloody likely.

Regular readers might recall that I've been warning steadily that Afghanistan is going to heat up. Ignoring the Soviet experience by thinking that we are "superior" in some manner is an ideological -- and not a factual -- bias.

Here's a letter from a faithful reader who finishes today's blog eloquently. And thanks Mr. "C" for the kind words:
Enjoyed your extended series, just completed.

Bush's ability to stand in front of the American People and lie as unflinchingly as he did beggars the higher functions of the mind; it also buggers just about everything the ideal of America stands for, if I may be so crude. But why not? Our Prez and his many minions seem to be engaging in a giant circle-jerk whose climax appears to be the destruction of Liberty in the name of ... security? morality? justice? democracy? freedom? Take your pick ... we have gone so far through the looking glass that Orwellianisms no longer shock ... a most "interesting time", indeed.

Now the fight for the supreme Judiciary is at hand (over before it begins, I sadly suspect). Once they fill that spot I suspect the buggering of our Constitution will continue at flank speed without the consideration of a condom, or a reach-around.

In 1972 I voluntarily entered the Armed Services (specific unit has been CLASSIFIED by this blog). When I did so I distinctly remember taking a sacred oath to "defend the Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic."

I wonder what that means now-a-days?

Definitely in a foul mood this evening; nonetheless, I remain:

Your Humble Servant, etc., etc.,

"C"

PS: If the ongoing search for our missing soldiers in eastern Afghanistan turns out badly, I fear the American Public is going to get a lesson in Why You Don't Mistreat Prisoners...barring the purely humanitarian aspects of the issue, it also has its pragmatic side.

My mood is not improved.

"RESPONSIBILITY, n. A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one's neighbor. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star." (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary).
And that's as good a place as any to leave today's happy, inconsequential, harmless blog entry.

Courage.
.
hart williams
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