Friday, June 25, 2004

This week's etiquette lesson

Whatever you do, never ever say hi to Dick Cheney, and by all means do not have a serious disagreement with him as he may very well tell you to go "fuck yourself."

At least Bu$hCo has restored honor and dignity in the White House.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Congratulations, You are Visitor 7500

Or thereabouts. For those who stop by regularly, I thank you. And to those who have just surfed in, welcome to my world.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Abu Ghraib declared a crime scene

Judge: Abu Ghraib Prison May Not Be Destroyed:

Baghdad - Defense lawyers for soldiers on trial in the Iraqi prisoner abuse case won permission Monday to question two top U.S. generals, and the military judge ordered that the Abu Ghraib prison not be torn down because it is a crime scene.

The judge also refused to move the trials of Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., Sgt. Javal S. Davis and Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II outside Iraq.

The judge, Col. James Pohl, left open the possibility of calling other senior figures if the defense could show their testimony was relevant - which Guy Womack, the civilian lawyer for Graner, said the lawyers intended to do.

Womack said outside the pretrial hearing that there was "a good chance" he would seek to question Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He said he doubted he would try to depose President Bush, although "certainly we will be considering it."


Davis' civil lawyer, Paul Bergrin, has also said he wants to question Bush and Rumsfeld about the prisoner abuse, though he did not formally present a request in court.

"We would like to interview Bush because we know as a matter of fact that President Bush changed the rules of engagement for intelligence acquisition," Bergrin said Monday.


Pohl declared the Abu Ghraib prison a crime scene and said it could not be destroyed prior to a verdict. Bush had offered to dismantle Abu Ghraib to help remove the stain of torture and abuse from the new Iraq - an offer Iraqi officials had already dismissed, saying it would be a waste of the building. Saddam Hussein used Abu Ghraib to torture and murder his opponents.

Quick Update: I should also mention that fellow Okie blogger Molly Bloom (Neologic) has had some things to say about the unfolding Torturegate scandal, laying out for her readers the constitutional crisis that is now at hand.

Bu$hCo makes Tricky Dick Nixon and his cronies look like choir boys.

Rain, rain, don't go away?

The AssPress had this article, Western Drought Beats Dust Bowl, Could Be Worst in 500 Years, a few days ago. Thanks to some colleagues who brought this to my attention. I know it has been dry, but man I did not realize just how dry it's been through much of the western US. One thing I had noticed during my last few trips through northern New Mexico and northern Arizona was just how starved for water many of the trees looked at the higher elevations around Albuquerque and Flagstaff. Heck, it's been pretty dry in my little corner of the southwestern US as well, although the rains we've had this last week have surely helped the farmers and ranchers, and hopefully helped to replenish the supply of ground water upon which we rely.

Apparently, the Colorado River, which supplies much of the water to much of the western US is running low. Unfortunately, the exploitation of that resource is not sustainable under extended drought conditions, and the truth is that no one really knows how long those conditions will last. I've read before that it's conceivable that the last century or so on the region has been unusually wet, suggesting that what we think of as drought conditions could be more properly thought of as the norm. Not the greatest of news for those who live in areas that are inhabitable mainly thanks to irrigation.

As the article points out, the sky is not likely to fall any time too soon. However, the time is at hand to re-evaluate how best protect resources such as the Colorado River upon which so many lives depend.


Monday, June 21, 2004

American Fascist

Remember that famous painting "American Gothic" which depicts a farmer and his wife looking stoic amidst the backdrop of their farm? Well, let's replace that couple with George and Laura, and replace the backdrop with something more appropriately "presidential" and militaristic and we have "American Fascist."

Which brings me to Dr. S. Rowan Wolf's essay, Creeping Fascism, which does a nice job of not only outlining some parallels between the US of today and the waning days of the Weimar Republic, but captures the trends toward fascism that have continued unabated over the last couple decades. Plenty of links and food for thought.

More Stupid President Tricks

Thanks to Mary at Left Coaster, here's a fun George W. Bush quote at a fundraising event:

This is an impressive crowd. The haves and the have mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.

That's good ol' Junior Caligula for you, showing his capacity for relating to the "common man", assuming of course that by "common" we mean someone who is financially loaded.

Maybe it's time to dust off my old undergrad US Government book by Dye and Ziegler, The Irony of Democracy, which does an excellent job of disabusing its readers of certain politicians claims that they are just regular guys or gals. Rather it may be better to remember that on the level of politics, especially national politics, what we're seeing is a competition among various factions of elites. Some of those elites may have a bit more of a social conscience than some of the others, but make no mistake - they're not hanging out in the same circles as the rest of us and would likely feel lost if they tried.

Iraqi Civilian Casualties

The site Iraqi War Casualties will put names and (sometimes faces) to those who have been injured or killed during the Iraq invasion & occupation - covering the period from March 21 through July 31 of 2003.

The war perpetrators and their apologists & enablers have so much to be proud of.

Feeling the love? Or is it the hatred?

An issue that I've touched on a bit over the last few months, and which has been discussed much more ably by David Neiwert, is that of the mainstreaming of eliminationist rhetoric in right-wing circles. Whenever I encounter one of Junior Caligula's true believers, the conversation almost invariably shifts to how supposedly hate-filled so-called left-wing blogs, websites, and media figures are in their treatment of Dear Leader and Dear Leader's supporters, etc. When I offer a whole laundry list of examples of right-wingers engaging in hate speech as a rejoinder, the response is typically one of dismissal (e.g., "those are only isolated incidents."). If only I could be so sanguine. Ask cartoonist Ted Rall or comedian Margaret Cho their opinion: they've received countless such "isolated" incidents in the form of email insults, and threats of physical harm. Why? They've touched a nerve by taking the piss out of a few wingnut sacred cows (whether it's the canonization of the soon-to-be first Protestant saint, Ronald Reagan, or pointing out the rather obvious fact that Dear Leader is the emperor without any clothes). Add to that various and sundry reports of movie theatre owners receiving death threats right before Fahrenheit 9/11 hits the screens, the goons who assaulted an art gallery owner recently over a controversial painting depicting an Abu Ghraib style torture scene, the goons who physically threatened and in at least one case assaulted opponents of Arnold Schwartzenegger's candidacy for governor of California last year, any of a number of accounts of threats and assaults on anti-war demonstrators, etc., and one sees that rather than isolated incidents we have something of a pattern emerging.

Once again, David Neiwert takes a look at where the hatred really is coming from. Contrary to popular opinion, it sure isn't coming from Rather it is coming straight from not only the streets but also the mainstream where such enlightened pillars of society such as Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Linda Chavez, Grover Norquist, etc., have been more than happy to spew and transmit plenty of hate and violence-filled bile over the airwaves and in print. Why are these folks important? As it turns out, they are important in the influence they have on those right-wing authoritarians who look up to them for leadership. One thing that Bob Altemeyer noted so aptly in various books on right-wing authoritarianism is that among the facets of the authoritarian personality structure is something called "authoritarian aggression." That's not to say that right-wing authoritarians are dispositionally aggressive or violent. As an aside, the data that I've been collecting on right-wing authoritarians shows no link between scores on Altemeyer's RWA scale and standard measures of trait aggressiveness. Rather, people who are highly authoritarian tend to show a greater tendency to engage in aggressive or violent acts under a specific set of conditions: namely when such actions are perceived to be sanctioned by those authority figures whom they follow. If authoritarians' own leaders are stating that their political opponents or "enemies" are inhuman, pure evil, and need to be eliminated by any means necessary, that's a pretty strong signal to the average authoritarian that aggression against those particular targets is at least tacitly sanctioned. Such aggression is primarily viewed by authoritarians as punitive.

A quick note: keep in mind that when I discuss right-wing authoritarians that I am not in any way, shape, or form discussing conservatives. As I see it, much of what makes one a conservative is a tendency towards conventionalism: that is, a tendency to strongly conform to established customs or norms. Authoritarians too are very conventionalistic, but in addition are highly submissive (ordinary run of the mill conservatives tend to be a rather independent lot) and willing to engage in aggression if sanctioned by authorities (something that I really don't see much if at all among ordinary conservatives). Conservatism is a different vibe. One can hold reasoned and cordial discussions with conservatives (one won't likely change their minds, but they'll tend to hear you out), whereas with authoritarians such efforts at civil conversation are likely exercises in futility - unless of course your idea of a good time is shouting matches, shoving matches, and death threats.

In any event, I hope you'll take a few moments and check out some of Neiwert's work (see the link above to get started). There's some very rich material for understanding the psychology behind eliminationism.


Sunday, June 20, 2004

Dude, Where's My Movie Playing?

Michael Moore has an editorial on Alternet which comments on the right-wing tactics being used to keep the film Fahrenheit 9/11 out of theaters.

A clip:

We're a week away from the nationwide opening of Fahrenheit 9/11 and not a day goes by where we don't have some new battle to fight thanks to those who are still working overtime to keep people from seeing this film. What's their problem? Are they worried about something?

A Republican PR firm has formed a fake grassroots front group called "Move America Forward" to harass and intimidate theater owners into not showing Fahrenheit 9/11. These are the same people who successfully badgered CBS into canceling the Reagan mini-series a few months ago. And they are spending a ton of money this week to threaten movie theaters who even think about showing our movie.

As of this morning, a little over 500 theaters have agreed to show F9/11, opening next Friday, June 25. There are three national/regional theater chains who, as of today, have not booked the movie in their theaters. One theater owner in Illinois has reported receiving death threats.

The right wing usually wins these battles. Their basic belief system is built on censorship, repression, and keeping people ignorant. They want to limit or snuff out any debate or dissension.

What are these people afraid of? I bet I've got a good idea, and I'm equally confident you do too.

Bush, Cheney, and Cognitive Dissonance

I stumbled on this article in Newsday, written by a social psychologist (and a considerably more well-known one than your ever so humble host) Joel Cooper:

When the pieces don’t fit

Psychology helps explain how Bush and Cheney can see a link that the Sept. 11 commission can’t find


Joel Cooper is a professor and former chair of the psychology department at Princeton University. He is co-author of "Social Psychology."

June 20, 2004

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney seem to be men who do not change their minds easily.

Even after the 9/11 Commission announced last week that "no credible evidence exists" of "a collaborative relationship" between Saddam Hussein's government and al-Qaida, they continued to insist that "there were numerous contacts" between Hussein and al-Qaida (Bush) and that evidence of a relationship was "overwhelming" (Cheney).

The commission agreed that there were contacts, but has found no evidence that these meetings ever led to any activity. So were Bush and Cheney lying or distorting the facts to suggest in the buildup to the Iraq war that such a link existed? Are they lying about it now? Not necessarily.

As a behavioral psychologist, I have studied people's reactions to contradiction and inconsistency. We are capable of convincing ourselves of something, and the more evidence that builds up to contradict us the more we believe it.

For more than 40 years, social psychologists have studied the phenomenon of "cognitive dissonance" - what happens when people have pieces of information on the same subject that are inconsistent. The presence of contradictions is psychologically unpleasant, and people do whatever it takes to resolve the inconsistency.

Bush and Cheney's position resembles that of people who volunteered for some of our research on communication. We asked the volunteers to write a statement taking a position on a political issue with which they disagreed. As soon as they had written their essays, these volunteers were struck by the inconsistency of their position. There was a discrepancy between what they had written and what they truly believed. To reduce their discomfort, the volunteers changed their private opinions. They convinced themselves that they really did believe in the position they had taken in their essay.

In the case of the vice president, who has been the administration's most outspoken advocate of the Iraq-al-Qaida link, he may well be someone who has experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance. As the top sidekick for the president, he has steadfastly spoken the administration's position to justify the war in Iraq, which may have been wishful thinking since he presumably had access to the same classified reports from which the 9/11 Commission drew its conclusion.

When you say something that is discrepant from the facts and from the conclusion that rational men and women would make when examining the same evidence (in this case, the 9/11 Commission), there follows the psychologically unpleasant state of cognitive dissonance.

It makes sense, then, that Cheney would come to believe his own words. He would become increasingly convinced about the existence of a link that the intelligence community cannot find. Every time he repeats the dissonant statement, the more he moves his belief closer to that position.

As for the president, he told reporters on Thursday that he had never alleged that Hussein was connected to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, but that there had been "numerous contacts" between the Iraqi president and al-Qaida. "For example, Iraqi intelligence officers met with [Osama] bin Laden . . . in the Sudan." The commission cited this meeting, in which bin Laden apparently asked for space for training camps in Iraq, but concluded that the Iraqis had never responded.

It could be that the president deliberately left out that seemingly vital detail; but he could also be far down the slope of believing his own dissonant statements.

And that leaves the rest of us. How do we deal with the fact that the men holding the highest offices in the land draw one conclusion while the bipartisan commission charged with unpacking the evidence draws the opposite? We, too, will be in a state of dissonance and we, too, will feel pressure to reduce it.

The most benign way to reduce the dissonance is to make the two conclusions compatible. Perhaps there is a way to believe Cheney and the commission.

The door to that solution was opened briefly by Bush when he explained that there was a difference between acknowledging Iraq-al-Qaida contacts and the implication that the Iraqis were in some way responsible for 9/11. One could believe that there was no productive contact that led to the Sept. 11 event - this is what the commission meant - and also believe that there was contact - which is what Bush and Cheney are saying - and be satisfied.

However, that door was all but closed on Thursday by the president's statement that he supported Cheney's more extreme assertions because, well, they were true.

With a middle ground made less likely, it forces us as the recipients of both positions to make a choice. In a rational world, people can make an assessment about the motives of a member of the administration in a re-election year versus a bipartisan commission that is not involved in the election. In a rational world, the credibility of the commission on this point would be virtually unassailable.

As we know, though, people are not always rational. The need to reduce our dissonance is one of the forces that compromise our rationality. People who identify with Bush and Cheney for any number of reasons will have difficulty resolving dissonance by dismissing their position.

In research conducted in Australia and the United States, people watched a member of their group take an unpopular position on a political issue. Not only did the speaker experience dissonance, so did the audience. Being a member of the same group caused the audience to bond with the speaker.

The audience felt uncomfortable when the speaker took a position that was at variance with the facts and with his true attitude. The members of the audience changed their attitudes to make them consistent with the speaker's public statement. And the more the audience members identified with their group, the more they changed their attitude.

Many Republicans may well do the same. It is not that Republicans will change their opinions because they are convinced by the substance of the administration's argument; the substance of the argument is barely relevant. Seeing their leaders making statements that seem inconsistent with facts will cause group members to experience psychological discomfort, and they may resolve it by becoming adamant about supporting the Bush-Cheney position. The commission, they may conclude, is biased or ignorant, its report incorrect or flawed.

As time goes by, some Republicans may part company with the administration. They may take an alternate path to reduce dissonance by psychologically redefining their group and deciding that Bush and Cheney do not represent what it means to be a mainstream Republican. But for those voters who continue to identify with the administration, the result of the inconsistency between the president and vice president and the 9/11 Commission will lead to more polarization and hardening of attitudes.

In March of this year, polls showed that more than half of American voters thought that Hussein had given "substantial support" to al-Qaida. The 9/11 Commission's findings should lower that number considerably.

However, the psychology of everyday life warns us not to be surprised if some people become more, rather than less, convinced of Hussein's conspiracy with al-Qaida. The president and vice president are moving our dissonance to new heights.

In any case, I thought this was a nicely written thought piece designed for a lay audience that just coincidentally is pretty consistent with some thoughts that I've presented to you on this blog.