Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Gosh, look at all the Negroes

Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

As a video editor, let me let you in on a little secret (if you don't know it already). The best way to watch tv - most especially commercials (or RNC conventions) - is to watch with the sound off. Whether it's live tv or a post-production-type item, watching with the sound off lets you understand the real, underlying logic and narrative of the piece (in other words, the visual logic), whatever it is (try it! Mute a commercial break and watch carefully; you will discover a much more focused storyline. It's how editors usually work: sound off or sound-ignored). Every shot is a choice - and, as I say, this can be true even with live tv, if it's elaborately staged.

Now that overt racism is only marginally useful to the modern Republican party, they have enlisted every black person they could find: to be in crowd shots; to be creepy pseudo-reporters; of course to be at the dais - you name it. EVERY OTHER SHOT TONIGHT - on average - has been a black face. It's official! Black folks are now officially welcome to disdain poor or semi-poor people (including themselves, if applicable), and are further welcomed - by the GOP itself - to be bamboozled by the razor-thin hope of getting rich, just like everybody else. From the 'B roll' of tonight's convention, the message clear: we're all equal in the ability to get screwed the same. No more pitting poor white or brown folks against poor black folks (unless it's momentarily 'handy' later). What a long way we've come!

[UPDATE: Obviously, my pointing out the GOP's cheap spotlighting of the few people of color at their convention is hardly a novel insight (and, as I hope I made clear, race itself is not the issue; nauseating as the metaphor is, race has always indeed been a mere 'card' for most politicians, Republicans most recently). However, it's precisely because their presentation is so obviously shallow again this time that I felt compelled to comment. Even notwithstanding the moronically slow pace of our country's political development - literally 'retarded', and totally on-purpose - this is 2004 after all. You'd think they could come up with something better. I guess the vaunted racial and ethnic 'outreach' program hasn't worked out all that well....]

The Gender Gap Isn't About Gender

(Just in case it's not obvious enough, the person on the left has a..er...large adam's apple...)

Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

Why has the US - salient among democracies - never had a female president or other major elected political leader? There must be many reasons, some of which may have to do with choices of American women themselves (and it begs the question, 'Why, particularly in today's degraded national politics, would anyone want to volunteer for such a terrible life?' The quality of ALL candidates for national office has been on a clear downward path anyway for decades). But I think the correct answer is that women only really started to go - en masse - for elective office in the last 25 years or so, and it takes some time to build up to the higher levels. We will have a female president, VP, Speaker, Majority Leader, etc. one of these days. And unlike some, I don't think gender will matter very much. It depends on who it is, the times she's in, etc. The idea some women (and probably some men) half-harbor that electing women to high office will greatly improve or even 'save' the country is really kind of silly - to re-title a recent movie: 'Chauvinism, Actually'. President Schlafly, anyone? Or how about that other pro wrestler...what's her name? 'Chynna'?

But the more interesting question is: what is the cause of some men's (and plenty of women's) abiding, visceral negative reaction to the very idea of being led by a woman? I'm going to try to leave aside all of the 'personal is political' stuff for now and just focus on politics per se - I don't have the time for a huge essay on 'local' sexual politics, ie relationships, marriage, etc. It's too easy to be reductive when you're dealing with so basic a thing as sex. So let's stick with things which are observable.

So, what is the reason for this resistance? I was never a fan of Hillary Clinton, but also have never found her to be viscerally threatening, a la the fierce reaction against her from conservative circles (baking cookies, etc). The reasons women sometimes mistrust other women are also beyond the scope of this post; the reasons men do is what interests me here. Why is it? You know the answer. 'Women are 'emotional' and 'romantic'. You can't have a woman who is at 'that time of the month' with her finger on the Big Red Button' etc. That's what guys said during the Cold War, anyway. But is that really right? The fact is, men - particularly middle-aged men - are subject to physiological vagaries, too; and at least with women, those vagaries are predictable, or at least acknowledged; whereas many men - particularly men with inflated egos - are loath to admit any physiologically-based error at all, even if it's obvious to everyone outside of their own heads ('oh honey, you always get this way when you're tired').

It bears repeating periodically that it is and has always been men who are the true romantics. Men invented Romance. Of course, like so much else, romance is a great gift as well as a great curse. Romance is pure creativity and imagination. But it's also self-absorbtion and cruelty (love is about the person loved; romantic love is about the romancer himself). Any fool can tell you that women tend to be much more practical and detail-oriented about love - and about many other, non-abstract things - than men. Biology really is destiny, like it or not.

Listening to as much of the speechifying at last night's GOP convention as I could bear - particularly that of the shameless and deeply mediocre little prick Giuliani - I was struck by the fact that the modern Republican Party is now the party of emotionalism and wild romanticism (name me someone of either sex more romantic than Paul Wolfowitz). It seduces people to the idea that details don't matter, that all you need is the right heart, the right Big Idea, and the details about how it's affected will take care of themselves - always 'eventually' or 'in the long run'. Thank god there is a plurality of women out there who are a little more clear-headed. They may make the difference in this election.

But of course, everyone who keeps their nerve will, I hope, make the difference in this election. As the Bush administration (among many others) have shown, imagination, daring-do and 'gut' instinct aren't sufficient. But on the other hand a strictly technocratic, humorless, unimaginative culture is not only extremely boring, it probably leads to one kind of gulag or another (or at the very least, utter stagnation). Men and women both have both instincts! I always thought that was the original point of Feminism ('Equity Feminism', anyway). Whether in an Arab country or in this one, deny - in some fundamental way - a basic part of your humanity, and you are asking for big trouble.

This national decision really isn't about left vs right, women vs men or any other simplistic binary choice. As I and others have pointed out, there is no real, singular polarization in this country. Polarization is a fiction stumbled into by both our decadent political parties - but relentlessly stoked by the mainstream right wing for 35+ years. National identity, like sexual identity, is only worried over, fretted over, when that identity is in question or doubt. Insecurity always plays a defense which pretends to be offense. For god's sake, let's keep our heads here. Overheated jingoism is the worst kind of pie-in-the-sky, idiotic, emotionalist romanticism. Like the aforementioned egoist man who can't see what is obvious to everyone outside his own head, Madison Square Garden is, this week, the hard bone isolating and protecting a squirming, deluded, vaporously romantic mind - willfully oblivious to the messy reality without.


Friday, August 27, 2004


It's The Ineptitude, Stupid

It really is and always was.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Unser Kampf

The idea of the 'False Moral Equivalence' really got into the pedestrian world of political 'talking points' when Noam Chomsky equated the bombing of the chemical plant in Sudan to the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. While that was indeed a perfect example of a FME, the charge (along with 'moral relativism') has since been leveled more or less reflexively; compare in any way the tactics of the Mayberry Machiavellis to any other winning-is-everything politician (including Hitler or Lenin), and you are facilely accused of one of the two things almost instantaneously - as if you were a dog getting its nose spanked. Hence, we learn caution: positing a False Moral Equivalence is repugnant and dangerous because a.) it trivializes the worse of the two things, and b.) it effectively dismisses what is, in absolute terms, a lesser evil, but an evil nontheless. But old Trotskyites/New Neocons have not stayed so attuned to the Dialectic as they flatter themselves. They offer, rather, a glittering, multi-faceted, closed-system: a sophistry.

The vulgar, reductive, 'talking points' version of the dialectic (including the 'materialist' kind) is really only an aspect, extrapolated onto the entire way of thinking, viz: a single murder and a genocide are both killing, but the genocide is killing on such a scale that it becomes something quite different qualitatively. But real dialectical thinking is not only about the transformations between quantity and quality: it's also about eternal motion, eternal mutability - in other words, context, with a capital 'C' (well, alright: 'Context').

The political techniques of Karl Rove, his Master Lee Atwater, and both George Bushes are indeed often similar to some of those used by Hitler and Lenin. Does that mean that Bush = Hitler? Of course it doesn't. But that doesn't make the qualitative similarities meaningless, nor do the differences in context disappear. A good Trotksyite Neocon might argue that a little misleading and demagoguery here and there are OK if they are in the service of a 'larger truth'. (Moral relativism, anyone?) But when does routine lying (clearly, all politicians must - strictly speaking - lie at times) become qualitatively different? The short answer is: when it becomes a value in itself. The longer answer lies in the consideration of political context.

Germany in the 20s and 30s was, politically, nothing like the USA of 2004. Germany had its very first democratic government after the first world war. The United States in the 21st century has over 200 years of a political system based frankly on rationality, openness and what you might call a kind of 'materialism' - or at least practicality. Whether you think it's viable or not (and clearly, some of our Neocon friends don't), our system is based on open debate using agreed-on facts. In a word, liberalism.

In her recent 3-hour appearance on C-SPAN, the historian and author of Paris 1919 Margaret McMillan, was asked if she thought the Second World War could be thought of as a continuation of the First. In replying that it might be thought of that way, she set part of the scene for nacent National Socialism:

Germany surrendered in November 1918 and it signed an armistice; I mean if you look at the terms of the armistice...it is a surrender... But what happened between November 1918 and the end of June of 1919 when Germany signed its treaty, many Germans convinced themselves that they hadn't really lost...most Germans hadn't really seen allied occupation; the German army marched home and was greeted by the president, saying 'I greet you undefeated'...and The German high command, who had begged - absolutely begged - for an armistice in the fall of 1918, forgot that, conveniently, and began going around saying 'Well, we never lost; it was the weak-kneed civilians who had asked for an armistice, it was the traitors at home, you know the socialists, the left wingers of all sorts, the liberals...AND the Jews who stabbed us in the back..' And so you began to get the belief growing in Germany that Germany really hadn't lost....

Sound familiar? The subtext of the current Swift Boat controversy is that it was the anti-war people - like John Kerry - who were responsible for the failure of that war, rather than the realities of the war itself. Obviously, there is a big difference between Germany in 'Great' War and the US in Vietnam, but the disgusting reality is that the US finally withdrew from Vietnam in 1973 on virtually the same terms it could've done in 1968. American generals weren't pleading for a peace agreement, but five (5!) extra years of involvement didn't change much on the ground. Richard Nixon (Swiftie John O'Neill's patron) 'asked' thousands and thousands of people 'to die for a mistake'.

SO, does that mean the current Republican slime machine and the Freikorp/Hitler are the same? Again, of course not. But the pure lies, character assassination, amorality and winking hostility to empiricism of the New Right are, in a way, just as egregious in the American context: we have so much further to fall, have so many more political treasures to lose. Does that mean that a country like Germany 'deserved' Hitler because they had no liberal tradition? No. It means America deserves so much better because we do.

Monday, August 23, 2004


This Is Not a Buck

President Bush made a certian kind of history today in his press conference down at the Ranch, when he said:

"I'm denouncing all the stuff being on TV of the 527s......I, frankly, thought we'd gotten rid of that when I signed the McCain-Feingold bill. ....... I don't think we ought to have 527s.....That's why I signed the bill, McCain/Feingold."

In other words:

[in that annoyed-peevish voice of his] It's not my fault I didn't know what was in that bill nobody TOLD me what was in it THEY told me to sign it it's not MY fault I thought..etc. etc. etc.

The President of the United States is, evidently, a 9 year old boy.


Sunday, August 22, 2004


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Friday, August 20, 2004


The Modern GOP: Traitors?!?!?!?!

Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

There are many concrete ways the current Bush Administration and this truly awful Congress have made the country weaker: the utter botch in Iraq and its implications for the entire Arab world; the incredible fumbling of the North Korea situation; the inaction (and worse) on other nuclear proliferation/'loose nukes' (you know, 'WMDs', 'mushroom clouds'); our continued mulish bone-head-ism vis a vis Central Asia; the fiscal incontinence; and many others you could think of without trying very hard. But I think there's a more fundamental way the entire modern, mindlessly partisan GOP - of which W. Bush is merely the acme - has weakened the country, a way more like termite infestation or dry-rot than overt calamity.

After we watched a TV re-cap of various recent domestic events, including the Clinton impeachment and the 2k Florida/US Supreme Court election disaster, a particularly laconic Japanese friend of mine on a visit to the 'States, turned, gave me a significant look and asked, using - for her - very strong language: 'What the hell is going on over here?!'. I could only shake my head and sigh, also significantly.

Obviously, it would be reductive, hysterical and libelous to say - a la Ann Coulter - that the never-ending shenanigans of the insurgent, radical, myopic, power-grubbing modern GOP caused the terror attacks of 9/11 and before (although hysteria does raise unavoidable psychological questions about the hysterians themselves. Gee Ann, do you really mean 'treason'?). But cheap hyperbole aside, I don't think there's any doubt that, time and again, the degradation by the modern GOP of the American political system to an anachronistic, paralyzed, creaky laughingstock in the eyes of the world has made us weaker in very real and consequential ways. Consider how these particulars might look to non-Americans: eight years of an 'acting' president; Iran/Contra; arming the proto-Taliban; the government shutdowns of the 90s; the overstuffed prison system; the relentless hounding of and eventual blowjob coup d'tat attempt on a sitting president; the banana-republic denouement of the 2000 election and the elevation of another, even more ridiculously unqualified man to the presidency; the constant accusations of traitorousness hurled at what is really only fairly mild political opposition....a partial list. How does all this look to the rest of the world, including of course radical Islamists and the people they're trying to sway? 'Pile-on' anyone?

I submit that this ongoing self-assault makes ALL of us, the entire country, look feckless, weak, incoherent, silly, vulnerable and just plain weird - in short, a country in decline. The entire country pays - and dearly - for cheap, transitory Republican domestic political victories. Terrorism is a tactic in a war between pluralism, cosmopolitanism, democratic rule, rationality and religious tolerance on the one hand, and authoritarianism, religious superstition, a glorification and fetishing of death, and soul-crushing intolerance on the other. This war is no less about rhetoric and 'psy-ops' than literal battle. 'United We Stand' has to mean something. There is a difference between domestic political contest - even 'hardball' - and Machiavellian userpation. When you attempt to destroy ALL common ground between you and your domestic political opponent, you of course are destroying the ground your own side is standing on, too, AKA, crapping in your own kitchen (perhaps it's an updated version of the old Vietnam War idea of destroying a village in order to 'save' it). Pretending that America's petty - and not so petty - political hypocrisies, foolishness and stupidity are invisible to the 'outside' world is not just dumb, but insane. We behave as if in front of a two-way mirror: we mostly see our own reflection, but most people on the other side of the glass can see in perfectly well. It's not a pretty sight: there we are, obliviously primping away, believing con men who assure us that our solipsism is really some sort of unique virtue.

The enemies of small 'l' liberalism understand, if we don't, that the 'helpless giant' metaphor has to do with more than strictly military strength and efficacy. The recent crop of ideologue-Republicans is selling the very idea of the country out for pennies on the political dollar.


Thursday, August 19, 2004


He Lives

Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

Just when you think the lining of the national esophagus has finally healed and the Nixon-reflux, at least, has fluxed its last...damned if there isn't that familiar twinge again! John E. O'Neill, Nixon's shifty-eyed point man for Vietnam resentment and grudgery is suddenly everywhere again, lying - about John Kerry and himself - with a shamelessness worthy of the 'old man' himself, if not beyond. Will we ever not 'have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore'?

We owe thanks and huzzahs to President Bush for keeping the dream of a blackhearted, cynical, resentful, cowering America alive.


Tuesday, August 10, 2004


Hugging The Vital Center

Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

In a recent interesting post and discussion over at Legal Fiction, the question 'What's up with McCain?' was more or less boiled down to one of two possibilities: either he's positioning himself for another run for president in '08 or '12, or he might not be because he is (or will be) too old and his health may not be very good. I think he's preparing for either eventuality. Despite the Kerry/McCain pipe dreams of a few months ago, if you look at it from McCain's point of view, he has no real choice but to offer ostensibly vigorous support for Bush in '04. Anything less than seeming-vigorous support would be a news story in itself, and he knows it.

The best of all possible worlds for McCain, politically, would be for his buddy Kerry to win the coming election. If Bush were to squeak through to another term, the odds are heavily in favor of a Democrat winning the White House in '08. If Kerry wins, on the other hand, he actually has to be president. Who knows what will happen in the next four years? Anything could. And a president Kerry would have a lot of Bush messes to deal with/clean up in addition to everything else. I fervently hope for one, but a successful Kerry presidency is hardly a fait accompli.

Both Kerry and McCain know what Clinton knew - and what the Bush-backers in the Republican Party have forgotten in the rush of events: political power is to be found in the vital center - center-Right for McCain, center-Left for Kerry. McCain is what he's always been: a loyal, and pretty conservative Republican. He's out to save his party. If the presidency doesn't happen for him, then it doesn't. But breaking with the GOP now would ensure that it wouldn't.

How do politicians live with having to pay so much (by all means, click on the photo for a closer look) for such appallingly meagre returns - and often no returns at all? Beats me. But they do volunteer for this kind of duty.....


Wednesday, August 04, 2004



war and piece catches this story from the Sydney Morning Herald:

In a significant shift of US policy, the Bush Administration has announced that it will oppose provisions for inspections and verification as part of an international treaty to ban production of nuclear weapons materials.

For several years the US and others have been pursuing the treaty, which would ban new production by any state of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons.

At an arms control meeting in Geneva last week the US told other countries it supported a treaty, but not verification.

US officials, who have demonstrated scepticism in the past about the effectiveness of international weapons inspections, said they made the decision after concluding such a system would cost too much, require overly intrusive inspections and would not guarantee compliance with the treaty.

However, they declined to explain in detail how they believed US security would be undermined by creating a plan to monitor the treaty.

Arms control specialists said the change in the US position would greatly weaken any treaty and make it harder to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. They said the US move virtually killed a 10-year international effort to persuade countries such as India, Israel and Pakistan to accept some oversight of their nuclear production programs.

The announcement at the United Nations-sponsored Conference on Disarmament comes several months after President George Bush declared it a top priority to prevent the production and trafficking in nuclear materials, and as his Administration works to blunt criticism by Democrats and others that it has failed to work effectively with the UN and other international bodies on such vital matters.

Daryl Kimball, director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said it was "surprising and baffling that the Administration is not supporting a meaningful treaty".

Can ANYONE 'splain this to me?! Does it have to do with Pentagon plans to build a new class of 'nukyaler' weapons?

I really don't have a comment on this, except 'WHAT?!'

Monday, August 02, 2004


Strong Leadership. Leadership. Strong.

President Bush's news conference today was notable for its especial brittleness, shakiness. I defy any honest conservative to watch the tape and assert with a straight face that this is a strong leader. And it's not just a matter of style, although that helps.

Highlights include:

- at least one VERY long pause before Bush could think of a word to say in answer to a fair and not terribly aggressive question;

- nice example of Bush's signature annoyed peevish BS-artist stammer;

- a pointed refusal to call on Helen Thomas (opting instead for that hot young stenographer from MSNBC);

- Bush's pronouncing mullahs as 'MOOOLAHS'. (let's talk about 'moolah', shall we?)

We swim in a sea of Dada....

Behold, the lilies of the field...

Originally uploaded by jonnybutter.

It's a common refrain: 'How can there be so many undecideds at this stage of the presidential campaign? How can they possibly have avoided making up their minds by now?' How indeed? Is this a demonstration of the vaunted native sagacity of the American people, or just indolence? Well, both.

The fact is, it's incredibly easy to seal yourself off completely, have absolutely no contact, even peripherally, with current events and politics if that's what you want. You can easily choose to live in an America which is timeless as memory - sports being the only current events kept up with. You can make it all go completely away. True, if you live in a swing state, you have to have a well-trained finger on the remote for a while, but this too shall pass. There's always a Seinfeld or Law and Order rerun on. These politicians in DC or the Statehouse aren't the real America. If we ignore them, perhaps they'll just go away....

Is the ability to be oblivious a right, an entitlement? Is it a right - perhaps a commercial right - to be able to live on your own little cloud? ('My life, my world! It all begins with a dream' goes the jingle for the Financial Advice company). I would say it is, but not the overarching right.

We take the 'pursuit of happiness' VERY seriously in this country, and well we should. It is one of the most beautiful things about America. Politics is not life; life is life. We ALL, no matter how obsessed, need breaks from the gigantic, unsightly kludge which is politics. But there is a difference between being a citizen and being a 'consumer' (after 9/11, Bush told us that our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to get out there and spend money). To those who say, 'I'm not really into politics', as if it were a hobby or entertainment, I would assert that life and liberty are prerequisites for the third item in that phrase. Beautiful as the idea of Political Lilies of the Field is - and it's as old as Jefferson - it simply can't work in a democracy. Like cancer or car troubles, completely ignore politics and it will get worse and worse.


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