Thursday, November 03, 2005

The latest news on the torture and interrogation front is that the CIA, subject to restrictions on what it can do to prisoners on American soil, is renting a former gulag from some unnamed Eastern European country, and using it for the original purpose:

CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning.

Of course, the administration claims that it is dishing this treatment out only to the worst of the worst of its captives. And of course they made the same claim about the torture victims at Abu Ghraib, many of whom turned out to have picked up in street sweeps. And of course, they won't say who they're holding in the once and future present gulag, so that anyone else can assess the claims.

And of course, they got the Washington Post to withhold the sensitive detail of which Eastern European country is renting out its old gulags. So that the citizens of that country can countinue to live with the illusion that democratic governments like their own are above this sort of thing.

Meanwhile, I have to wonder how much lower these guys can sink before the kind of folks here who used to preach about the evils of communism say in public that there's some kind of a problem here. Donning a rhetorical pickaxe and miner's lamp, Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings still finds room at the bottom. But not bloody much.

Behind the New York Times pay wall, Paul Krugman answers a reader's question:

Sharon Wichmann, Bremen Germany: ... Do you really think that the public thinks? I devour your columns and rarely disagree, but the general public has a two-minute thought span and seems to be swayed rather dramatically by the least little bit of news. ...

Paul Krugman: I generally don't like blaming the people. Let's bear in mind that most people aren't and can't be careful news analysts: there are jobs to be done and children to be raised. Mostly they get their political information on the fly — from page 1 stories above the fold, or quick summaries on the news.

That's why the media have a special responsibility not to let people in power control the imagery. If mythology dominates the TV news, a page 19 story that, to a very careful reader, questions the spin is pretty much useless.

So, what would the public glean from today's headlines in the actual paper? Well, there's a story on Judge Alito's record which, if you read all the way through it, says that he tends to be particularly deferential to prosecutors and police, and very reluctant to overturn convictions because of improper jury instructions, and the like. (He's also more conservative generally). That, at least, is what you get if you read the article. But most people would just skim the headline --- and on the web site, as I write, the headline reads "Alito's Dissents Show Deference to Lower Courts". Say what?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Off behind the New York Times pay wall, John Biguenet is writing about the other disaster that hit New Orleans:

The grandiose promises of reconstruction aid made by President Bush before St. Louis Basilica in a dramatically lit nighttime speech to the nation turn out to have been nothing more than lies by a weakened politician. It is now expected that what aid we get will be funds redirected from existing poverty programs, and unlike any other federal disaster aid in history, we will be made to pay it all back.

As after 9/11, Dubya did what he thought was required --- he stood in front of the cameras, and gave a sonorous speech, in suitably serious tones. (Give him credit --- that's more than he sometimes can manage. "Now watch this drive."). He's not so good on the follow-through, though. Not in New Orleans nor in New York, where promises of billions of dollars in aid also famously failed to come through.

But the speech is all he needs to get credit from his followers for "leadership".

It's the talk of Boston these days. You hear of nothing else. The calamity due to pig-headed, official decision making. The calamity brought on by the President's toxic spin --- channeled through a well-connected, out of control member of the press. A member of the press who lately has come up with a totally lame, fundamentally bogus apologia for the way he injected himself into the story, and caused the problem in the first place.

Himself, yes. Dan Shaughnessy. Who did you think I was talking about?

The calamity to which I refer is the sudden departure of Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who dealed the Red Sox to one World Series win, and might have had another this year if his erstwhile blue-chip closer, Keith Foulke, had been more than shadow of his former self. (Foulke just wasn't effective --- and to make a long story short, the ripple effects of his failure sunk the rest of the bullpen).

As of last Friday, everyone involved thought Theo and the rest of Red Sox management --- most notably Red Sox President Larry Lucchino --- were pretty close to a deal to renew his contract. Then, on Sunday, a Shaughnessy column appeared, loaded with Red Sox front-office gossip, thoroughly slanted against Theo. On Monday, he was cleaning out his office. And his public statements have made plain that money was no longer the issue (the Red Sox had nearly doubled their initial offer); he was just sick of the backstabbing around the office.

The problems seem to center around the relationship between Theo and Lucchino. Lucchino seems to be prone to problematic relationships. In part that's because of his habit of meddling with the work of subordinates, like his cancellation of a trade with the Rockies that Theo had already agreed to earlier this year, infuriating them. And in part it's because of his habit of sliming other people in the press. Earlier this year, he was complaining about the work habits of Manny Ramirez to the media. (Maybe it's something in the water here; there were similar complaints about Ted Williams, who was never traded --- and Babe Ruth, who, of course, was). Gee, do you think that helped Theo, who was actually trying to arrange a trade at the time that Lucchino was talking down the goods? In any case, this has been going on a good long time. The reason that the Red Sox wound up with Theo the Boy Wonder (he was not even 30) as GM was because at least two more experienced candidates didn't want to put up with Lucchino.

Which brings me to the column, and to Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy has built up his own career on tearing down the team. The "Curse of the Bambino" was, quite literally, something he made up --- and then dined out on for decades. But it's one thing to gloat at the team's public misfortunes. Now, by relaying skewed accounts of internal gossip, particularly concerning the Colorado trade (reporting as fact Lucchino's absurd claim that he was doing Theo's bidding in killing the deal), he's made himself part of the story --- and his subsequent, "what, me worry" denial of his own role is getting skewered all over town.

A few weeks ago, Matt Yglesias was attacked all over the liberal blogsphere for using sports metaphors in a post which argued that the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea to begin with. (Though strangely, a lot of the Matt's overly offensensitive attackers didn't seem to have read far enough into the thing to realize that on substantive points, he agreed with them). Well, I'll say this much for sports metaphors: if they can get Judith Miller roasted on a public spit, I'm all for it.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Bush has a new Supreme Court nominee: Sam Alito. An index of where he stands, relative to the judicial mainstream, is his opinion which would have overturned the Family Medical Leave Act --- if it were not overturned by a 6-3 Supreme Court Majority whose opinion was written by Rehnquist. In this case, Alito used a remarkably narrow view of the restrictions of the act, and his own gut feelings about what was a "proportional" response to the need for new mothers to care for their infants, to say that Congress had no right to pass laws about the subject.

But while he may have trampled all over the legislature in this case, he's very unlikely to overturn legislation favored by Republicans. So, you can expect lots of press over the next few weeks explaining that he's not a judicial activist.

via Angry Bear and Atrios...

I don't much like the current management at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Mostly for little things... like their apparent plan to trash their Japanese rock garden, designed by Kinsaku Nakane, one of the masters of the form of the last century, because it conflicts with the site master plan of the director's favorite architect, Norman Foster. (There's a glass wall which seems to go right through the middle of the site on the building models, and when I ask the staff, they say it'll just be gone). Gee, if you've got a world-class architect designing an art museum, couldn't he figure out how to design around a major pre-existing, site-specific installation in an important non-Western tradition?

It was in this frame of mind that I saw the Gamelan. It's a matched set of instruments for a whole percussion orchestra which was put on exhibit, a few months ago, in the Asian galleries upstairs. And in the manner of most musical instruments in museums, it was silent. Seeing things like this always brings to my mind an anthropologist's comment I remember from quite some time ago, about how the masks and sculptures he'd seen in Africa were living objects in the hands of the people that made them --- but that stuck behind glass in New York or Boston, they seemed dead and embalmed.

Naturally, I thought about blogging this, with some further notes on the unintentional grisliness of museum culture generally. And so I looked to the signage to collect notes.

There's been an ensemble doing open rehearsals on it on alternate Wednesday evenings throughout the fall, and that will continue until a concert next January.

Sometimes I may be a bit too much of a cynic.