Victory Is Not a/the Goal

<>I have mentioned before that my name means “victory.” I have also put “victory” in quotes, when referring to the use of the word by President George W. Bush.Am I being sarcastic? Not exactly. What I want to express by putting “victory” in quotes is something different. The President’s use of the word is to say that somehow “victory” is our goal in Iraq. I want to correct him, schoolmarm-like, that victory is not a goal, victory is the state of achieving a specific goal.

Torture in the First Person

The following is a long excerpt from a guest contributor’s column on T r u t h o u t, a web site I would describe as an alternative news bureau.

The guest author is Phillip Butler, a former Navy pilot during the Viet Nam war. Here is the excerpt:

I spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, from 1965 to 1973. During that time, I and more than 90 percent of my fellow POWs were repeatedly tortured for the extortion of information to be used for political propaganda and sometimes just for retribution. We were not recognized by Vietnam as POWs, but as criminals, because the Vietnamese had not signed the 1949 “Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.”

Later, in 1975, the United Nations created the “Convention Against Torture.” Both conventions were ratified by Congress and became laws of our land. Unfortunately, Vietnam – along with numerous other countries who are still partially stuck in the 15th century – had institutionalized torture to punish and extract information from prisoners.

We received great moral and psychological strength during our incarceration from telling each other, “Our country is civilized and would never knowingly treat people like this.”

We felt we had the moral high ground and took great pride in being American, above such barbarity. Besides, we all knew from experience that torture is useless, because under torture we told our tormentors whatever we thought they wanted to hear. Whenever possible we slipped in ridiculous statements like one I used in a torture-extracted “confession,” that “only officers are allowed to use the swimming pool on the USS Midway.” Another friend wrote in a “confession” that “my commanding officer, Dick Tracy, ordered me to bomb schools and hospitals.” These are just two examples of the kind of culturally embedded nonsense people can expect to extract through torture.

I recommend reading the whole piece, which is about double the length quoted here.

Are we interested enough in reversing U.S. policy on torture to impeach George W. Bush? We would actually need to impeach Bush, Cheney, and Alberto Gonzales, the current Attorney General. In terms of salvaging the energy to govern the country in the next two years, it seems to me (reluctantly) that we will be better off riding out these rump years and prosecuting these men after they leave office.

Of course I am assuming a vigorous and successful election campaign by the Democrats, and an resulting executive branch that reverses existing policy. Is that a tenable assumption?

Baghdad – The Metaphor

Last week, there was the briefest of news clips on television, showing Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb, of the British Army in Iraq:

This is how he described the effort to secure Baghdad, section by section:

DoD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb from Iraq

It’s hard pounding.This is as complex as I’ve ever seen anything I’ve ever done.This is really difficult.This is three-dimensional chess in a dark room.

<>In the rest of his brief remarks, he expressed hope that it could be done. Is there a basis for hope? Two things are hopeful, perhaps, in a military sense: the accuracy of the metaphor, and the appropriateness of the goal, which is security rather than “victory.”

<><><>Politically, it is doubtful that there is the political will to back the President’s endorsement of what I think has been sold to him as a plan for “victory,” by military planners with consciences who want, somehow, to restore Baghdad.

I have more faith in military planners with consciences than I do with the policy wonks who seem to have gotten us into this mess. Whether the overall goal of this country is, or should be, to carry on with such a complex and difficult military plan, is a different question.

Is there a Marshall Plan for Iraq to be had?

Amazing! Bush Literary Likenesses

Definitely political, and definitely amazing.

There is a string of literary allusions that have been submitted by people who read Nicholas D. Kristof’s column in the New York Times about historical and literary descriptions that fit the administration of George W. Bush. At least that’s what I think the column was about. The outpouring of additional suggestions is wonderful to behold. It is hearwarming to know that so many literate people have been pricked in their well-educated consciences by George W. Bush. There are so many posts that one could make a book of days – one submitted literary or historical post per day for (so far) as many days as stretch from now until the first primaries next year. Please read as many as time allows at this link. It is a TimesSelect link; if you do not already belong to Times Select, you can join for a free 100 items per year.

Clinton and Pelosi, Power and “Perky”

“Perky” is the perennial word used to describe Katie Couric.

When I was thirty or so, I suppose I might have been described as “perky.” I was in training for a professional discipline, and “perky” and “unprofessional” seemed to correlate, so I gave up being “perky.”

It struck me, over this past weekend, as I watched Hillary Rodham Clinton’s announcement of her candidacy for the Democratic nomination, that there she was, hovering around the age of 60, being perky! On further thought, this observation, of a perkiness in presenting oneself and one’s material, seemed to apply also to Nancy Pelosi, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is older than Clinton. And yet I’ve seen Clinton in action in Senate committee hearings, and she is nothing if not relentless and very very smart. In her response to news programs presenting analyses of President Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address, she was quite analytic and simply smart, with little perkiness.

Pelosi’s perkiness surfaces–and gets her in trouble–when she wings it in a press conference that is somewhat about her. That is, when she needs to provide a fairly succinct response to a question about how she works as Speaker of the House to keep party members in line. To provide that succinct response, she talks about using her “mother of five” voice. That seems perfectly fine to me; I knew what she meant. But to many commentators Pelosi’s perky, even flippant, remark seemed to indicate that she was less than serious about being Speaker of the House, and third in line to the President. That is, she lacked suitable gravitas.

It seems to me that all three women become perky as a mode of self-presentation that suits particular circumstances. As women used to become coy, and Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer still do, “perky” is turning out to be a working mode of self-presentation for women of any age.

Consider:

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  • <><>”Perky” is not flirtatious, so both men and women listen with little threat.
  • <>The “perky” woman has a wide range of “adapted child” observations available that say smart things while at the same time disowning them or their full impact, which may be a good way to present some material. Think of the incredible number of interviews that Katie Couric did on the Today Show.
  • “Perky” projects energy and healthiness and a noncomplaining personality. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s complaint about a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was definitely not perky!<>
  • <>”Perky” projects denial of that one aches or hurts or fees “hormonal.” That is, one is female without being “a female.”
  • “Perky” is the next mode down from gravitas, a shift of tone from always being somber.

There are some other points: “Perky” works better for shorter women. Fortunately this applies to Clinton and Pelosi — and me. It did not apply to Geena Davis, the actor who portrayed the President in the short-lived TV show “Commander in Chief.” She is much taller than Clinton, Pelosi, and me.

I fear that “perky” will become identified with official falseness and political insincerity–I like you as long as you go along with me/vote my way, but if you don’t, remember the “hormonal” woman.

That is, because “perky” has built-in denial of realness and aches and pains, it has falseness written into it, which can backfire.

<>Couric began her Today Show hosting in 1990 at the age of 33; being perky in the morning worked for her for a very long time, until she needed the gravitas of a news anchor. As it turns out, she can do both. I mostly can’t, related to professional and academic training.

Press Freedom

In lieu of a year-end review, I want to call attention to two articles. The first is in Slate, not quite midyear, early May of 2006. The author, Jack Shafer, reviews the press-suppression tools used by the presidency of George W. Bush. He encourages reporters and editors to continue to seek out information from leakers inside and outside the administration.

Read Shafer’s article.

At a similar time, the Columbia Journalism Review published an examination of the military’s clash between the need to create disinformation, and the need to communicate a clear understanding of events on the ground. In both cases the press becomes an instrument.

Read Schulman’s CJR article, “Mind Games.”

This sentence in the CJR article tells me a lot about how to read the press on Iraq and Afghanistan:

Information warriors often formulate what they call “truth-based” messages — information that is often vague and one-dimensional, sometimes misleading, and frequently includes statements that are subtly derogatory.

So as soon as I notice that vague feeling that comes when reading a piece that is short on details, I should stop, and go find the details.

The relevant Year-End Review

My hat-tip goes to Dahlia Lithwick’s opinion piece, “The Bill of Wrongs,” for calling attention to Jack Shafer’s Slate article, which sent me on to the CJR article, and some musing about what is happening in the war.

Dealing with Managed Information

1. Too vague to verify.

2. Too specifically favorable to a country, an individual, an organization, to be credible.

3. Attempt to understand the sourcing.

4. Develop a sense of regional and global background, beyond Borat . . . Kazakhstan.