Friday, February 03, 2006
The State of the Farm
When George Bush gives a speech it recalls that moment at the end of Orwell's Animal Farm when the animals are startled by an unfamiliar sight: "It was a pig walking on his hind legs." It is possible but wholly unnatural to the animal.
And the presentation of the President to the assembled Congress is also foreshadowed in that worthy book—
And finally there was a tremendous baying of dogs and a shrill crowing from the black cockerel, and out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gambolling round him.
Unfortunately I had a date at the Pink Snapper and missed the whole affair. It is just as well because I would've worn my "Simply Appalling" T-shirt and been yanked out by the ear.
Howard Kurtz, media critic for the Washington Post, surveyed the gamut of pundit opinion "from A to B" on the State of the Union address and found the speech so boring that neither Right nor Left could find anything interesting to say about it. Perhaps John Podhoretz of the New York Post, a sheeplike cheerleader and absolutely frothing right-winger, came the closest—
George W. Bush gave the least consequential major speech of his presidency — and it was a brilliant political stroke.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Erro ergo sum
In these surrealistic times it's hard to know what's real, oneself included. In moments of uncertainty I usually rely on the Pinch Test. The problem, though, is that the outcome may vary depending upon the part pinched.
Happily, just before the New Year a friend sent me a selection from St. Augustine that seems to settle the matter. I call it "Erro ergo sum" or in the vernacular, "I am mistaken therefore I am."
The certainty that I exist, that I know this and that I am glad of it is known independently of any imaginary fantasy or contradiction. With regard to these truths I’m not afraid of any arguments put forward by the academics. If they say, “What if you are mistaken?” I reply, “Even if I am mistaken I still exist.” A non-existent being cannot be mistaken. Therefore I must exist if I am mistaken. Since my being mistaken proves that I exist how could I be mistaken when I think that I exist if my mistake confirms my existence? Therefore I must exist in order to be mistaken. Then even if I am mistaken there is no denying that I am not mistaken in my knowledge that I exist. Therefore I am also not mistaken in knowing that I know. For in the same way that I know I exist I also know that I know. And when I am glad about these two facts I can add with equal certainty the fact of that gladness to the things that I know. For I am not mistaken about the fact of my gladness because I am not mistaken about the things which I love even if these things are illusory it would still be a fact that I love the illusions.
— The City of God, Book 11 Chapter 26
I hope that helps.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
The Palestinian election outcome: We are shocked, shocked
Like Captain Renault in Casablanca the Christian West — politicians, pundits and their media sycophants alike — were shocked, shocked that the Palestinians exercised their freedom of choice and voted for a group disapproved by Israel and the West. In going against the wishes of their keepers and handlers the Palestinian voters have mirrored the behavior of Iraqi voters and Egyptian voters.
The most remarkable aspect of the outcome is not its occurrence but the unanimity with which the media channels have treated us to the adjectives "shocking," "stunning" and "reeling." And why was this outcome so unexpected? If you believe what you're told, because the exit polls had it wrong!
Now the American Presidential election is said to be an historical precedent for this turn of events, but I don't remember the American press being shocked and stunned when George Bush "won" the election, do you?
This past Wednesday as results were coming in, Margaret Warner told Jim Lehrer of the PBS NewsHour,
There are exit polls that show Fatah winning from the low 40s to the mid 40s and Hamas, the radical group that's been branded a terrorist group, winning from the upper 30s to the mid 40s. But, as we know in the states, exit polls should only be trusted so far.
The following evening, when it was clear that Hamas had "swept the election," the NewsHour devoted almost the entire program to the outcome and has been beside itself ever since.
Margaret Warner had to explain the exit polling problem—
JIM LEHRER: Finally, Margaret, because we spent so much time on it last night, why were the exit polls so wrong?
MARGARET WARNER: Well Jim, I was very glad that I'd said to you, remember exit polls in the U.S.....
According to Warner, the way in which the Palestinians voted was just too complicated for the pollsters. And here she verges on comedy—
MARGARET WARNER: -- let's look the turnout.
Put briefly and not too complicated, they had this strange voting system where you go in and vote for the national list; that is easy for the pollsters to figure out.
But then you vote for local candidates....
So I don't see how any pollster could possibly track all that unless they had people in all, whatever it was, 66 districts. And that's why I think they were so badly off. They still missed who won, even just the national list Hamas won. But if the national list were the only thing, they wouldn't have had enough seats to be totally in charge.
Bush sounds off
Next we were edified by President Bush's explanation, which is that it was a protest vote—
Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo. The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find health care....
Which of course raises the question of why Bush is still in office. Are the Palestinians smarter voters than their American counterparts?
Never knowing when to shut up, Bush went on to say—
I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform. And I know you can't be a partner in peace if you have a -- if your party has got an armed wing.
With any luck these words will come back to haunt him at his trial.
What's behind the Hamas victory?
Of the pundits the NewsHour managed to interview, they could find only one to tell the truth—Robert Malley, a staff member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. He acknowledged the vote as a protest against Fatah's corruption of the Palestinian Authority but added,
It's also of the peace process as they've experienced it for the last ten years and that part of the Hamas ideology that says the international community has not helped us. And everything that has happened over the last ten years has not changed our lives.
Your vote is a protest against that as well. And that's the part that President Bush didn't insist on. Yes, it is a rejection of the PA; it is also a rejection of the way the peace process has been handled for the last decade.
Why the shock?
Anybody with a dab of sense knows that Arab, not to mention Islamic, voters are quite uniformly for anybody who rattles the saber most strongly toward Israel. And if, as was the case of the Palestinians, they can throw some corrupt bastards out in the process, so much the better.
Even poor old Mark Shields got the point Friday night—
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, you can't say I love the democratic process but I reject the product. I mean, this is the fifth instance now where democratic elections have not produced the desired result for the White House, perhaps even for the United States.
The Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, you had the election of the president of Iran. You had Shiites backed by militia winning in Iraq. You had Hezbollah winning in Syria. So I mean now you have five.
The Palestianian vote has revealed in a most unsettling way the injustice of the Western position toward the Palestinians vis-à-vis Israel; it has revealed it through the democratic process.
The U.S. is a satellite country of the Israelis, while the EU has concentrated on an attempt to buy off the Palestinians without bothering whether the Palestinian people were actually benefitting from the largesse. Since it was the U.S.'s desire to hold the election in the first place, obfuscation of the basic meaning of the outcome has become paramount.
The untoward outcome (from the Administration's point of view) has created another problem as well. It has brought into further question the Neocon vision of democratizing the Middle East, which is now the current fig leaf covering our shame over the invasion of Iraq.
As usual, what is truly shocking is the cooperation of the media. Presumably knowledgeable reporters should be asking the politicians not why they were "shocked" but why they weren't prepared for so obvious an outcome?