Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Press, Mythologizing Itself.

Powerline links to an amazingly prescient article by Edward Jay Epstein, originally published in Commentary, speculating about the identity of Deep Throat in 1974.

He was able to surmise from the chain of evidence leading to the prosecutions of Liddy, Hunt, and the five burglars led back to the FBI. What Epstein complains about, however, is the cloud of obscurantism surrounding the mythologization of the breaking of Watergate as broken by the Press, in the corporeal form of Woodward and Bernstein.

The natural tendency of journalists to magnify the role of the press in great scandals is perhaps best illustrated by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's autobiographical account of how they "revealed" the Watergate scandals. The dust jacket and national advertisements, very much in the bravado spirit of the book itself, declare: "All America knows about Watergate. Here, for the first time, is the story of how we know.... In what must be the most devastating political detective story of the century, the two young Washington Post reporters whose brilliant investigative journalism smashed the Watergate scandal wide open tell the whole behind-the-scenes drama the way it happened." In keeping with the mythic view of journalism, however, the book never describes the "behind-the-scenes" investigations which actually "smashed the Watergate scandal wide open"-namely the investigations conducted by the FBI, the federal prosecutors, the grand jury, and the Congressional committees. The work of almost all those institutions, which unearthed and developed all the actual evidence and disclosures of Watergate, is systematically ignored or minimized by Bernstein and Woodward. Instead, they simply focus on those parts of the prosecutors' case, the grand-jury investigation, and the FBI reports that were leaked to them.

...Perhaps the most perplexing mystery in Bernstein and Woodward's book is why they fail to understand the role of the institutions and investigators who were supplying them and other reporters with leaks. This blind spot, endemic to journalists, proceeds from an unwillingness to see the complexity of bureaucratic in-fighting and of politics within the government itself. If the government is considered monolithic, journalists can report its activities, in simply comprehended and coherent terms, as an adversary out of touch with popular sentiments. On the other hand, if governmental activity is viewed as the product of diverse and competing agencies, all with different bases of power and interests, journalism becomes a much more difficult affair.

In am event. the fact remains that it was not the press, which exposed Watergate; it was agencies of government itself. So long as journalists maintain their blind spot toward the inner conflicts and workings of the institution, of government, they will no doubt continue to peak of Watergate in terms of the David and Goliath myth, with Bernstein and Woodward as David and the government as Goliath.

Now we saw just this sort of blindness to the inner conflicts of bureaucrats and journalists last year during the Presidential election, when the Press were assiduous in refusing to cover these conflicts whenever a former member of the FBI or the CIA broke cover in order to indict the President. In point of fact, most of these conflicts had to do diverse and competing agencies and agendas. But the Press refused to deal with those aspects of the story, because it would have complicated its simplistic narrative, indicting George W. Bush's so-called errors in handling the War on Terrorism.

As we recently learned, Watergate was the decisive moment in the affirmation of anonymous sourcing in the modern journalistic approach. It's interesting as well, because the approach tends to glorify the Press. As well as granting them even more power of narrative framing.

Moreover, isn't it interesting that The Washington Post reports:

Felt himself had hopes that he would be the next FBI director, but Nixon instead appointed an administration insider, assistant attorney general L. Patrick Gray, to the post.

It's written neutrally, but considering that Bernstein is the source, it makes you wonder game he was playing, and whether he felt annoyed at Felt, for revealing this little factoid. It certainly isn't very complimentary to Felt.

George R. R. Martin – sorta done

So, the next volume of George R. R. Martin's fantasy saga, The Clash of Kings, is finally finished...

Sorta finished, that is...

Well that's one way to assure the next book comes out twice as quickly. And, moreover, you get twice the revenue for the work you already did.

Due out July 26th, just 10 days after the next Harry Potter, at least according to Amazon.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Considering Torture

Here's a sober account of prisoner torture and homicides from Jon Henke of the QandO Blog.

I'm not sure I agree that this is all a chain of command issue, however, since I think Jon Ronson made a good case as to why many middle ranking officers might be applying some half baked ideas, garnered on their own, over the past few decades and mis-applied in this situation.

I also think the statement, "there are no bad troops, only bad only bad leadership," to be incorrect. Clearly the army is always going to attract some small percent of sociopaths who view it as a practical and legal outlet for their perverse behavior. Lynndie England's boyfriend, Charles Graner, is an excellent example of the type. He was responsible for multiple abuses of prisoners before he got anywhere near Iraq, in a civilian capacity.

In this case, the problem then is that the leadership gave them more than enough leeway to go ahead.

I do agree with William Buckley's point, however, quoted by Henke in the article, which cites an excellent reason to be vexed with Rumsfeld.

If there is reason to be vexed by Secretary Rumsfeld, it is surely that he has not encouraged a Table of Organization that deals with that phenomenon other than simply by sticking him in a corner of Cuba without any avenue of hope or resolution. If it was decided that he should face the firing squad, then at least there would be judicial proceedings to contend with, successfully or unsuccessfully.

And as Buckley wrote that a year ago, there's been plenty of time to follow through.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Dead or Injured?

So is Zarqawi merely injured and now safely in Iran, as The Times of Londonsuggests?

Or is he in a worse state – mostly dead as well as King Fahd? And all this is a smoke screen?

I guess we won't know for a while.

And as the Times suggests, if he is in Iran, he'll likely be there for quite some time.

It's too bad the US Military can't innovate something to trade in exchange for Zarqawi, however. There must be something they want beside their atom bomb.

OTOH, they probably deeply relish the havoc Zarqawi is wreaking in Iraq, so probably not.

Walking Through Walls and Other Feats of the US Military

Just heard the most fascinating book talk on C-SPAN on a book called The Men Who Stare At Goats, by Jon Ronson. It's a book about the evolution of a bunch of quasi nutty ideas in the US Military: spiritual healing, development of psychic powers and similar stuff. Apparently the genesis for all this was in the First Earth Battalion, begun in 1979

to create "Warrior Monks," soldiers capable of walking through walls, becoming invisible, reading minds and even killing a goat simply by staring at it.
He did offer the most intelligent explanation – original in the sense that it actually accounts for what happened there, as opposed to just condemning it or explaining it away – for Abu Ghraib that I've yet heard.

His explanation is that many of the people there, especially those in military intelligence, once spent some time at these seminars developed from the First Earth Battalion. So when they got to Abu Ghraib, these middle ranking types had these half remembered ideas about how to go about obtaining military intelligence from the prisoners. And set about doing so, treating their subjects to some extent experimentally. And then this accorded with the information he received from some of the prisoners released from Guantanamo, who told them they felt like they were subjects of an experimental lab.

Ronson was quite insistent that the originators of these ideas and particularly the person who first developed the idea of the First Earth Battalion was benign. But afterwards, in the heads of less benign people, the ideas were twisted from healing ideas – the warrior monks – to ideas whose power should be used to harm others. Which is how we ended up in Abu Ghraib.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Mostly Dead is a Stable State

And now about King Fahd.

When they say his condition is *stable,* I'm just wondering whether that means his condition
is stable just like Arafat's currently is?

Or, uh, is it stable in a more traditional sense?

Is he all dead or mostly dead?

This seems to be the new linguo for "I'm not telling you, oh ignorant masses."

Makes you wonder how often this happened in previous times.

Probably quite, quite frequently.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Anglican Angels

Oh this is lovely. On the same day that the British AUT boycott on two Israeli Universities is overturned, we learn this, from the Times of London, that the Anglican Church is considering divestment from Israel:

THE Anglican Church is to consider a report calling for it to dispose of its holdings in companies doing business with Israelis who “support the occupation of Palestinian lands”.

The report calling for disinvestment is to be debated by the worldwide Anglican Church in Nottingham on June 22. It mirrors a programme already begun by the Presbyterian Church in the US.

It would be unprecedented for the Anglican Consultative Council to reject the report.Once it has been accepted, the Church’s 38 provinces worldwide will be asked to implement it.

It's like they're daring themselves, in their erase the boundaries against Israel. And one of these days, of course, they are going to fall right back into the abyss of anti-semitism.

The report was condemned by Britain’s Jewish community last night. Irene Lancaster, a research fellow at the Centre for Jewish Studies at Manchester University and the author of Deconstructing the Bible, described it as “crass, one-sided and anti-Semitic”. She said: “The document is full of innuendo and supercessionist language and aims to separate Jew from Jew in Israel, which is a very common phenomenon in Jewish history.”

Of course, this differs very little from the approach of Engage during the boycott – to distinguish between the good Jews, who by the way are leftists, and the bad Jews, who are not and don't agree with British and European attitudes.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Adderall Love

Wow, I think I need me some adderall. Too bad I'm not ADHD.
As an experiment, I decided to take Adderall for a week. The results were miraculous. On a recent Tuesday, after whipping my brother in two out of three games of pingpong—a triumph that has occurred exactly once before in the history of our rivalry—I proceeded to best my previous high score by almost 10 percent in the online anagrams game that has been my recent procrastination tool of choice. Then I sat down and read 175 pages of Stephen Jay Gould's impenetrably dense book The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. It was like I'd been bitten by a radioactive spider.

Thinking hard about how to acquire some!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Birmingham University, home of the AUT, speaks...

And there is good news. It looks like Birmingham University is not in favor of what the AUT has wrought:

The University of Birmingham is aware of the AUT vote to boycott two Israeli universities. The AUT is an independent trade union with its own views. These views are entirely independent of the University. The University is committed to the principles of academic freedom and the support of educational collaboration in the pursuit of knowledge through teaching and research. In pursuit of these principles, the University will not tolerate discrimination of any kind.

Hat tip normblog. Although I disagree severely with his concluding statement that this shows that Birmingham University is outflanking Sue Blackwell on the left.

This insinuates that "the principles of academic freedom and the support of educational collaboration in the pursuit of knowledge through teaching and research" are leftist virtues, solely. In my experience, that is not true at all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Writing with discipline

I just went to hear William F. Buckley give a talk at my local Barnes and Noble's on his most recent spy novel, which I can't say I have read. Blackforth's something or other. Ah, here it is, Last Call for Blackford Oakes.

Some nice irony in the passages he selected.

The thing that impressed me the most: his writing schedule for his novels. He always writes them - the first draft - during 6 weeks in Switzerland. He spends the morning on his regular business, takes lunch and skiis for an hour and a half, and then devotes his afternoon to his novel writing. 1500 words a day on the novel.

Can I just say, Wow!

I'm inspired. He mentioned that Nabokov, a friend of his, always wrote 170 words a day and Georges Simenon considered himself a slacker if he ever spent more than 12 days on a novel. Which is how he wrote several hundred in his life time.

From tomorrow on, I'm working harder.

Finally, Good News from Israel on that absurd AUT Boycott

So,Haifa University is finally taking steps to redeem its reputation and fight back against that ridiculous boycott. It's threatening legal action against the AUT [Association of University Teachers] in Britain, which a few weeks ago, boycotted it and Bar Ilan University for discrimination, or crimes against humanity, or being Jewish Zionist or for daring to still exist or reviving the apartheid state, or whatever precise, whimsical charge it was.

by M.A. student Teddy Katz concerning an alleged 1948 massacre in the village of Tantura.

The university also denies any recriminations against Pappe due to his support for Katz and to his calls to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

Haifa University, the letter concludes, "is entitled to seek damages, a retraction, and an undertaking against further publication of the defamations."

The university will await the outcome of a special meeting to be held on May 26, in the hope that the delegates will vote to overturn the boycott.

"We reserve the right to take further legal action as we see fit," Haifa University President Aaron Ben Zeev told The Jerusalem Post.

"The university considers the AUT boycott vote a violation of ethical norms which constitutes slander, and we don not think we should stand still."

"This time," Ben Zeev said, "I hope that contrary to previous times, the AUT will pay attention to the facts."

Let's hope that they sue those bastards asses off. Couldn't happen to a more dogmatic nicer group of people.

I particularly love the part, in this whole imbroglio, where the "liberal" demogogues refuse to allow anyone at the meeting to offer a rebuttal opinion before the vote.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Maurice Saatchi deplores the Burkean strain of pure pragmatism and anti-idealism in British conservatism today, claiming a negative effect on the current British election:

Like Burke, we saw "what is" in modern Britain clearly enough, and like the public we did not like a great deal of what we saw: the thwarted talent, the deplorable failure of Blair's public service reforms, the waste of taxpayers' money, the obscenity of poverty compounded by taxation. But we did not raise the horizons of the British and tell them with sufficient optimism, excitement, and passion, what "should be". This was a tragedy of failed communication and false perception because no Tory politician cares more about "what should be" than Michael Howard.

That may well be true about Michael Howard. Saatchi would obviously know better than I do, but I can't say that impression ever came across in the media. Particularly in the US, where of course our impression is even more filtered than that received in Britain.

About the larger point, though, the dearth of optimism or idealism in British conversatism, Saatchi is simply suggesting, by way of a fix, something similar to what neo-conservatism brought to American conservatism – a strain of idealism that moves the party beyond pure pragmatism. And allows its ideas – however controversial in some circles – to catch fire. It very clearly leaves the reference out to neo-conservatism, however, since neo-conservatives have been stereotyped in The Power of Nightmares and elsewhere in the British press as a "kabal" of scary Jews seeking world domination.

This lack of idealism was obvious in Howard's critique of Blair's Iraq effort as all lies and spin, despite Tory support for the war itself under the previous party leader. The problem with it is that it failed to credit the war, itself, with being an absolute turning point in the modern Middle East and for the best. So it makes the critique of Blair also look like hollow spin. But, then, British conservatism is a very strange bird from an American POV. A little idealism would have helped.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Spinning For Reality

So it turns out my earlier speculation about the derivation of Peter Oborne's description of Blair as "someone who can define our reality by controlling our senses," was entirely correct. He was indeed basing his argumentation on the Democrat's mantra, shouted out monotonously during the election, that they are the reality based party.

In this week UK Spectator, Oborne write that Blair shares *this view of truth* with the Bushites in the White House. There he cites Ron Suskind, who pioneered this critique in the US:

The same special attitude to truth is to be found in the United States. In the summer of 2002 the New York Times writer, Ron Suskind, met a senior adviser at the Bush White House. He was surprised to find that the aide dismissed his remarks:

The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community’, which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality’. I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works any more,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.

There are a couple of interesting things going on here:

The marriage between Blair and Bush over Iraq is now mirrored in the marriage between the Tory party and the American Left in the critiques of these two administrations over Iraq.

OTOH, the critique is just as infiltrated by spin as Oborne and Suskind claim the Bush/Blair supporters are. As British progressive Alan Johnson writes, you have to do the STAI test: write your critique about Iraq in such a way that it only mentions everything wrong, and never, ever the things that have gone right and the forward pull in the tide of freedom.

There are three simple steps to writing the STAI. Step 1: bracket out every single positive development in Iraq. That's right, just ignore every one. Pretend they have not happened. Close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears and hum loudly. After all it's not your job to set out a real-world policy for Iraq. Step 2: play up every single error, set-back, crime, and cock-up you can find. Step 3: treat every set-back as the fault of Bush and Blair and 'the war' [admitting you are inwardly glad when an outrage occurs in Iraq because you think it is a poke in the eye for Bush is optional: only Yasmin has taken that option so far].

The STAI reduces the political complexity of Iraq to a simple story of cowboys, poodles and freedom fighters. Mood music for your real interest: the attack on Bush-Blair. [Definition of irony: columnistas who daily 'sex up' Iraq in this way complaining about spin! In truth they have been the most disciplined on-message spinners, dicing and slicing Iraq to fit their 'project'].

The right wing version of the STAI differs from the left-wing version only in the conclusion (Vote Tory!) and the literary register.

While I disagree with Johnson's analysis of the shortcomings of Neo-Cons – I think he doesn't understand them very well, they are obviously too alien [ed. heh! or too insidious! ] for him to have a handle on and he's probably never met one in real life and only read about them in the press – but the STAI descriptor is, nevertheless, spot on.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The neo-British are coming, the neo-British are coming. Sinister, ain't it?

How I love thee, Mark Steyn
Imagine it's 1943, you're at a Warner Bros script meeting about Casablanca, and Jack Warner says: "I like it. But do the bad guys have to be Germans? How about if we re-set it in Massachusetts and make them sinister British neo-Redcoats?"

'Nuff said.


I just spent way too many hours fooling around with my Template, hoping I wasn't inflicting real damage as I experimented with some color changes, not altogether successfully I must report; and then playing with Mudville Gazette's suggestions on getting up and running as a blogger, sticking in trackback pings and such.

It's been a fun learning curve of late; but my, just as advertized, this thing eats time. It does make you want to compose, though, not just comment. So that is good.

And heh, all those people I used to know in grad school with the computer savvy, including a few ex-boyfriends...

Gee, if only I had known then how I would come to love my computer...I might have asked a whole lot more questions, or even once, looked interested when they were talking about it.

And now I'm trying out Wizbang's Standalone Trackback Pinger.

Stay tuned.

Update: Hmm. Not surprisingly. It hasn't been successful yet. I wonder what is happening on his end. Think of the horror!!

Update 2:

Nothing. There is no horror.
Okay, that's either better or more boring.

I wonder if the Haloscan will work and if I did that correctly.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Look who is reality based now

Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP for South-East England, writing in the Telegraph, cites Peter Oborne's description of Tony Blair in The Rise of Political Lying:

As Peter Oborne explains in a devastating new book, Mr Blair does not simply tell the occasional fib. He has an eerie belief in his ability to posit a "narrative" and make it true - as though, like Descartes' malicious demon, he can define our reality by controlling our senses.

Hmm. Isn't this more or less what the Democrats contend about the current American administration: that their foreign policy is based on their willingness to posit a narrative and make it true. And why they gleefully refer to themselves, in contrast, as "the reality based" party.

So where did Peter Oborne's generate this idea? Is it truly an accurate reading of Tony Blair's eerie powers? Or did he transmute it from the Democrat's (mis)characterization of American conservative foreign policy.

The Inimitable Mark Steyn being Inimitable

In his inimitable way, Mark Steyn sums up the situation of Tony Blair:

At one level, Tony Blair is an absurd figure: In the jurisdiction he's supposed to be governing, the hospitals are decrepit and disease-ridden, crime is rampant in the leafiest loveliest villages, in the urban areas politics is fragmenting along racial and religious lines, and the IRA have been transformed with the blessing of Blair's ministers into the British Isles' homegrown Russian Mafia. But, in the jurisdictions for which he has no responsibility, Blair flies in and promises to cure all. He's particularly keen on Africa: Genocide? AIDS? Poverty? Don't worry, Tony's got the answer. He can't make the British trains run on time, but he can save the world.

By the time this election was called, the British had fallen out of love with Tony Blair. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, they haven't fallen in love with anybody else. But, in the artful way of highly evolved political systems, the electorate are doing their best to signal to the prime minister that this Thursday's "five-year mandate" is in fact one year's notice. As a matter of practical politics, the French referendum on the European Constitution later this month will be much more decisive than the UK's own general election when it comes to determining how Britain is governed. If the French reject the ludicrous Euro-constitution, they'll be rejecting it for Britain too. If they sign up for it, it will probably be a fait accompli for the British -- and the final stage of the submersion of America's closest ally in a European superstate increasingly hostile to Washington will be under way.

Unfortunately for the situation in Britain, he hits the nail on the head. And the dearth of leadership talent on both sides, Labour and Tory, is as bad as the dearth here. Which will be staring us in the face during our next election cycle.

The Beast, redux

The Beast
Originally uploaded by alcibiades.
Okay, I don't think I knew this.

It turns out that the number of the Beast, 666, is the Gematria -- that is the numerical value of the Hebrew letters of the name "Neron Caesar," that is, Nero.

As Bruce Metzger points out in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1971), the numerical value of "666" is derived from the Hebrew/Aramaic values for the letters comprising the name נרון קסר, "Neron Caesar" (in Greek Νέρων Καῖσαρ) The variant "616" results from the alternate spelling נרו קסר. = Nero Caesar.

For those of you unfamiliar with the numerical values of the Hebrew alphabet, the values in the above name are nun = 50, resh = 200, waw = 6, nun = 50, quph = 100, samekh = 60, resh = 200. Add 'em up!

Hee, I guess I never translated that page, which makes sense, since I translated parts of various Gospels, but never Revelation. So I must have missed that explanation. And no one, as far as I can remember, ever whispered it in my ear.

Note that he gives the variant as 616, not as 636, which is mentioned in the NYSun article, cited below. Bad journalist from the NYSun. I cited the number 636 in a post below.

So, too, Irenaeus refutes the notion that 616 is the name of the beast.

Apparently Revelations was written in 68-69.

It's interesting, too, because Nero ended up being so disastrous for Judaism; the revolt against his tyranny and persecutions led to the destruction of the Second Temple.

I've wondered for quite a while what would have happened if the Jews had simply committed themselves to outlasting Nero and his persecutions. Tragic really. The whole fate of Judaism hinged on this revolt. Everything would have been different, as the Temple would not have been destroyed at that time. Without the Second Revolt as a justification for the iron fist, the relationship between Rome and Judea would have been altogether different as soon as a new Emperor replaced Nero. And no Hadrian to build Aelia Capitolina to replace Jerusalem during his reign. So no failed Bar Kochba revolt, with its myriads of ten thousands killed and the ground sown with salt, and the failed economy of a once wealthy land.