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January 27, 2006

Prints not dead!

[Sic] Here now we sail forth into the next 1,000 PuddingTime entries. This one's #1,001, plus 1,250 in the LinkLog. (Give it up for the LinkLog! Where the real pudding lifting goes on, day and night!)

It seems fitting to counter any fool's-gold triumphalism (to which I'd only be about one-third entitled, anyway) with a couple excerpts from useful stories that you can't get on the Net. It is for you, our readers, that I type these in myself. (Emphases mine--why else would I have gone to the trouble?)

"The Murrow Doctrine," Nicholas Lehman, The New Yorker, Jan. 23 & 30, 2006:

During the nineteen-forties, the networks, under an agreement they'd made with the F.C.C. called the Mayflower Doctrine, were prohibited from editorializing on the air. Murrow was always an opponent of that policy. During his time as an executive, he drafted and presented [...] an alternative, in which broadcasters could express opinions and those who disagreed would be given the opportunity to respond on the air. In 1949, the F.C.C. rescinded the Mayflower Doctrine and replaced it with the Fairness Doctrine, which was similar to Murrow's suggestion. It made more explicit the requirement that broadcasters air public affairs programming, and lifted the ban on editorializing in exchange for a requirement to provide equal time to opposing views. (Just a few years earlier, the federal government had forced the breakup of NBC--that's where ABC came from--so broadcasters had reason to take Washington's wishes very seriously.) When, eventually, Murrow did take on McCarthy, it was the Fairness Doctrine that made it possible, and that mandated McCarthy's disastrous reply.


The better way to insure good results, in any realm of society, is to set up a structure that encourages them; we can't rely on heroes coming along to rescue journalism. The structure that encouraged Murrow, uncomfortable as it may be to admit, was federal regulation of broadcasting. CBS, in Murrow's heyday, felt that its prosperity, even its survival, depended on demonstrating to Washington its deep commitment to public affairs. The price of not doing so could be regulation, breakup, the loss of a part of the spectrum, or license revocation. Those dire possibilities would cause a corporation to err on the side of too much "See It Now" and "CBS Reports." In parts of the speech that aren't in [Clooney's] movie, Murrow made it clear that the main pressure on broadcasting to do what he considered the right thing came from the F.C.C. The idea that, in standing up to the government, Murrow was "standing up to the government" greatly oversimplifies the issue. He was able to stand up to a Senate committee chairman because a federal regulatory agency had pushed CBS and other broadcasters to organize themselves so that Murrow's doing so was possible.

It isn't possible anymore--not because timid people have risen to power in journalism but becasue the government, in steady increments over the past generation, has deregulated broadcasting. The Fairness Doctrine no longer exists. Regulation, license revocation, or reallocation of the spectrum are no longer meaningful possibilities. The advent of cable television brought a new round of debates over government-mandated public-affairs programming, with the result that private companies were granted valuable monopoly franchises in local markets; in return, they were required only to provide channels for public affiars, not to create programming. That's why cable is home to super-low-cost varieties of broadcast news, such as C-SPAN, local public-access channels, and national cable-news shout-fests, rather than to reincarnations of the elaborately reported Murrow shows from the fifties. The rise of public broadcasting has freed the networks to be even more commercial.


News that makes money is alive and well; the incentive to present news that doesn't, like all of Murrow's great work, is gone. It is difficult for journalists to grapple with the idea that outside pressure--from government officials!--could have been responsible for the creation of the superior and memorable journalism whose passing we all mourn. But look what has happened since it went away.

"Crap Shoot: Everyone loses when politics is a game," Garret Keizer, Harper's, February 2006:

In his 1938 classic, Homo Ludens, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga explored the primal need to play, an impetus "older than culture" and the human species itself, as the basis of the civilized arts: of poetry, jurisprudence, and chivalric war. But the denotation of player as someone with a piece of the action or a larger-than-average piece of the pie appears not to have existed for Huizinga, Holland, or in 1938. [...] Huizinga hardly uses the word at all, but he provides a parallel point of reference when he says that play is characterized by "the consciousness that it is 'different' from 'ordinary life.'" A player, as we speak of him now, is characterized by the consciousness that he is different from ordinary people. That difference is key to his self-understanding.

And from whence does it derive? Not so much from his being richer or more powerful than his neighbors, though often he is and always he would prefer to be, but rather from the sense that he moves at a faster pace, on a different plane, and according to a different set of rules than those that govern an ordinary human being. In popular American folklore, the player par excellence is the gangster, the wise guy. Speculations as to origin always border on the mythological, but if pressed to speculate, I would portray the first true player as the first person to successfully ride a horse. He or she entered a zone of being almost instantly faster, higher, and stronger than anyone on foot. The Roman plutocratic class was known as "the equestrian order." [We still call it "the horsey set." -pk] A player is not ever, if he can help it, a pedestrian. [...]

We will get our best defining antonym by reducing the word to its root: "play." Ask any kid, "What's the opposite of play?" and you will have the word you seek: "work." The opposite of the player is the worker. So said John Ruskin, who saw humanity divided into "two races, one of workers, and the other of players: one tilling the ground, manufacturing, building, and otherwise providing for the necessities of life; the other part proudly idle, and continually therefore needing recreation, in which they use the productive and laborious orders partly as their cattle, and partly as their puppets or pieces in the game of death."


For all his apparent panache, the player is not so versatile as his name suggests. He only knows how to be a player. He can exchange one game for another, but he rarely knows how to change himself. Were he ever permitted to fall that far, the corporate cheat would become a welfare cheat. Admittedly, he would not have much to learn. [...] The has-been boxer or movie star who opens a casino or night club, hoping his name can do most of the work, hoping he can still rub elbows with players and thereby remain one, is a cliche that typifies the player's basic inability to imagine himself in different terms.

The worker, on the other hand, has a second incarnation, and this is what makes him more interesting. When the opportunity to work is denied to him, or too many of the fruits of his labor are withheld from him, the worker becomes a fighter. He and she have done this many times: in 1381 and 1848 and 1917, at Matewan and the Mesabi iron mines, as followers of Spartacus, Nat Turner, Emma Goldman. You may say that players fight, too, but that is a comparatively shallow statement. What players do is use weapons for toys--and workers. Jousting, counting coup, reciting one's deeds and lineage in an epic poem--that is all player stuff, and the worker hasn't got time for it. The worker's approach to fighting is, like his approach to everything else, decidedly workmanlike. The worker's way of war is to bust heads and get back to work.


Meaningful change in America will not come from "progressive" conferences and op-ed hand-wringing and better target-marketing to the coyer identity groups. [...] Not to put too fine a point on it, change will not come from deciding which former member of Skull and Bones will get to drape the coffin of American labor with the Stars and Stripes. Change will only come when the people who work, who love work, whose conception of the world is of a work in progress, come to realize they have no choice but to fight. Fight, or accept a world in which a shrinking pool of players lords it over a multiplying pool of slaves.

No one is hastening us to that conclusion faster than the players themselves. This is as "sweet" as it gets. The player, the wise guy, prides himself on his cleverness, but he always perishes from being less clever than he thinks. [...]

[...] The Republican Party as it now exists is the most progressive of all American political parties in the sense that it is hastening the inevitable showdown that was predestined the moment workers and players first glimpsed the shores of this country and conceived their separate versions of its promise. You can see that division running like a fault line through four centuries of our politics and poetry. People who say, "America is now a deeply divided country" are either facetious or naive. It has always been a deeply divided country. Plantations and factories and every town and city that ever boasted a railroad track have always been deeply divided places. People who ask, "How can we defeat the Republicans in 2008?" are asking a secondary question. The primary question is whether we ought to try. That is the question that must be answered first, and the answer that seems the more hopeless may in fact be the answer based on the higher hope.

Visit your local newsstand. Support those who still live by ink and paper and filthy lucre. There's more to both these articles, and more worthy articles in each magazine, besides.

I've been thinking on it, and although I can be kind of a flake, a shirk, and a sharpy, I'm still pretty sure I'm a worker. I think it's got to do with knowing you're full of shit, and aren't any more deserving of the fine gold leaf than the next guy. It's like John Lennon said (paraphrasing): "I really think the Queen believes it all. I don't believe in John Lennon, Beatle, being any different from anyone else. I'm just a feller. But I'm sure the Queen must think she's different."

I'm sure George W. Bush does, too.

Posted by pk at 6:43 PM

January 24, 2006

Chicken Charge

I took Max and Tommy to Chick-fil-A for dinner last night so Cindy could do some work. Chick-fil-A has a playland, which is why we go there. I'm not really a fan of the chicken.

We didn't used to have Chick-fil-A in this area. I started noticing it when we moved to New York, and I guess it had the exotic aura of fast-food chains you don't have at home--like Roy Rogers, or Jack-In-The-Box. I probably only went there once, though, and when we moved back I didn't much care that it was here (except this one used to be a Boston Market, which I like better) until Max and I were out last month and it finally registered that they have a playland. In the winter, fast-food playlands are like an oasis sighted across burning sands, and the McDonald's ones are too far away.

Anyway, apparently Chick-fil-A is, like, very Christian. I never picked up on it the one or two times I got a sandwich there in New York (which makes sense, being it was New York). This one, though, has big signs stating, half defensively, half proudly, that they're CLOSED SUNDAYS, because you know where you're supposed to be on Sundays, and it's not at Chick-fil-A. Even the Chairman of Chick-fil-A knows that!

Everybody's very scrubbed and nice, and they give away Veggie Tales CDs with their kids meals, which two years ago I wouldn't have thought was any different from Spongebob Squarepants, but now I know differently. ("Sunday morning VALUES, Saturday morning FUN.") The printed matter on the sacks and table cards is heavy on the themes of family and learning and parenting. The most pervasive thing is that they play Contemporary Christian music in the dining area. It dawns on you slowly, because you can't hear the words, and it has the same aural presence as regular pop music--hippity beats, kooshy guitars, melodramatic singing with lots of that vocal effect that sounds like gargling--but after awhile you realize you haven't heard a single song you know, and every now and then words like "glory" and "praise" and "mountain" bubble up. It cloaks the air like a sweet, heavy fog.

The clientele, too, seems self-selected, different from McDonald's or Burger King. For one thing, the other families all seem to have, like, two or three more kids than you're used to seeing. Five kids--what is the deal? Did they just have the extras because they could? They don't need 'em to work the farm! A couple of the families had the woolly, insular look of home-schoolers. At first I thought they were Europeans, or maybe just deep-rural types, their hair and clothes a half-step off what you're used to in style and fit. They communicate with each other in a clipped, efficient shorthand, yet the children are strangely slow with social cues from outsiders. They're clearly intelligent, but the behavior and body carriage of apparent 10- or 12-year-olds seems stuck at about age 6, and you get delayed reactions and probing, discomfiting looks negotiating the door to the playland, the queue in the bathroom, or throwing trash away. "In or out, kid, for crying out loud." There's always a babe-in-arms and a toddler whom nobody's ever watching as closely as it seems like they should, because between Mom, Dad, and the two or three older kids, they all think someone else is watching--and it's a good thing I was, or little Jonah would've gotten his fingers pinched in the playland door at least twice.

Anyway, these people obviously know what Chick-fil-A "is," and that is why they're here. Me, I had no idea. It's weird to go to a place for sandwiches and a playland, and realize you've stumbled into some sort of sanctum. There's a sense that they are at ease here--welcomed, and comfortable in a way that they are not in other places. They're glad to know that, come Sunday, employees of Chick-fil-A will be home with their own families (or working second jobs to support them). There are friendly glances among the parents, delighted and exasperated by their children. The children, the children--it is so clearly all about the children.

I am welcome, too, with my adorable blue-eyed boys and my wedding-ringed finger. And it's nice--safe and clean. I don't have to worry about mean kids who smell like cigarettes teaching my son cusswords and homophobic slurs. No--now I have to worry about my kid infecting playland with the viral bacilli of movie or superhero talk, or blurting out one of the more scarlet euphemisms we toss around at our house.

So I'm alternately tense, amused, and creeped out. I know I'm not one of them here at Chick-fil-A. But, other than the fact that the corporation probably donates to Republicans (which is surely bad enough), what exactly is my problem with these people? American culture is coarse and cruel. I've got an open mind in terms of lifestyle and behavior, but I understand and share the impulse to keep my kids safe and sheltered and "nice." It's nice that Chick-fil-A and the people in it are spreading niceness.

I don't know what level of Christian fundamentalism Chick-fil-A rises to, and maybe I wouldn't have a problem with the messages, programs, and politicians they support. But whether or not these other customers actually are exemplars of the Christian home-schooling movement, there is something that they've reminded me to be bothered by. Quite apart from notions of religious bigotry or what I think they think God thinks about what I think, I can't relate to this growing trend towards self-stratification: breeding closed-circuit clans to be educated and isolated away from the rest of us.

All families have their own weird language, and I want our family to be my boys' most important social unit for years to come, but I also want them to be able to move and converse in the culture at large. I'd like to be surrounded by persons with minds like my own (unfortunately, we don't have the numbers, especially not here in the heartland), but such isolation only dooms your worldview to invalidity and oblivion. (Unless you think like this guy. When did Saruman the Wise abandon reason for madness?)

Growing up is hard, and kids are mean, and growing up without becoming mean yourself is probably the primary challenge of being human. If their kids can't manage it out here with the rest of us, then they have failed them as parents in a fundamental way. And they're no help to us, either.

Chick-fil-A makes a pretty mediocre chicken sandwich, although I kind of like those waffle fries, and their fruit cup is pretty good. We go there because they have a playland, and because those people need to hear Max sing his song about how if your butt was in the front, it'd be easier to see.

Posted by pk at 8:39 AM

January 10, 2006

"It was like that when I got here!"

Tom Watson:

There is no idealist center to the Republican Party any more--it's been sold for power: for votes, for junkets, for golf, for bribes, for contributions. The GOP is best described these days as its most pathetic pork project, the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in the Alaska of Ted Stephens. These Republicans have not built a bridge to a finer, prosperous, free American future. Their bridge leads nowhere, will transport only the privileged few, and it costs us billions in treasure and hard-won freedom in principle.

It's a smooth con that can run both sides of the table: blame the very concept of "government" for corruption and incompetence, then say your corruption and incompetence in running it just proves your point. Good night, New Orleans!

The Republicans have predicated their claim to power on people's distaste for paying taxes, carefully stoked with the idea that regulations cripple the hawk-eyed and industrious; that social programs coddle...let's say "lazy people"; and that, by implication, such a government also goes easy on the other deadly sins and lifestyle choices.

But the righteous and wealthy can afford to be cavalier about government; after all, it's not for them, but for the helpless, luckless, and inept--which the rest of us usually are, at some point, to some degree. (Yes, some lazy gay junky immigrants might get a "free ride," but we all gonna pay for our sins one day.)

Eventually people are going to miss things the government used to do for them. Government used to give us some dignity and support at those times when something worse than a bad sandwich but not as bad as a mine explosion befell us. Now we just have to hope Anderson Cooper notices.

What I don't understand is how anyone makes or buys the argument that government is flawed because people are flawed, yet fails to believe the same of big business and the free market. Are we to believe that God runs the free market?

If so--and so it would seem--then what a curious inversion of Christian values. God helps the moneychangers, and leaves the moneychangers to help the poor. Or not, you know--as long as the megachurch has an updated look to make mall-goers feel comfortable. Christians are consumers, consumers are Christian, and the Market helps them that help themselves.

Every conversation I have about people eventually ends up on government, and every conversation I have about government eventually ends up on religion. I often wish it weren't so; you who suffer me here do so at your option--my wife isn't so fortunate.

But people who lack details must leap to generalities. If our words be pretty, we may call it "philosophizing." Though he was talking about something else (guess what!), the long lost (to me) Glenn McDonald offers this:

[T]herein lies the soul of our greatest impasses: some of us are trying to account for thermodynamics and live better before we die, and some of us are crossing our fingers and counting on the Rapture.


Posted by pk at 11:01 AM

January 6, 2006

Happy new year

By a strange convergence of personal fate and human history, I managed to be on the verge of becoming a father just as 9/11 happened and the planet was on the verge of overheating and the country was on the verge of whatever the fuck it is that the country is on the verge of. How very odd it continues to seem that I was on my roof in Brooklyn with binoculars and a microscopic view of the second plane hitting the South Tower, knowing immediately that the world had changed even as pedestrian commuters on the sidewalk below were still heading for a subway that would soon stop running. I wanted to shout out to them--but what I wanted to say would have taken paragraphs, and who would have understood?

September 11 was a Tuesday. The Sunday prior, I had taken an out-of-town friend to the train, pausing on our way out to trade wiscracks with my neighbor and landlord, Scott, who was painting the wrought-iron fence and stair-rail (the parking rules on our street had suddenly, miraculously, changed--just a month before we were moving!), then spent the rest of that beautiful afternoon drinking tall glasses of weisse beer with lemon wedges on the deck of a local pub. A curious, elderly Hispanic gentleman in short pants and high socks had ridden by on his ridiculously tricked-out bicycle--streamers, bike flag, boom-box, god-knows-what-all--and paused to doff his fedora(!) and bid us young, middle-class drinkers, "Enjoy the rest of your day." Just after I saw the second plane hit and then paced in a panic around my rooftop, I looked down on Carroll Street and saw this same bicyclist pumping up the hill--still in his ridiculous get-up, boom-box blaring salsa. It was the most enragingly poignant thing I think I'll ever see.

I never went to work. My wife was 8 months pregnant and already at work way uptown. She walked downtown with a friend until they could catch a Brooklyn-bound train in Chinatown. She was fine. We were fine. My landlord, Scott, by a fluke, was at a meeting at the World Trade Center that morning and never came home to his wife and two kids.

I don't know how much of what I'm feeling is the fragile, sympathetic mortality one gets when one has children (I'm 39; they're 1 and almost 4; I have T-SHIRTS older than them; their presence here feels entirely unestablished), and how much of it is an honest reaction to a unique state of affairs. This week's New Yorker prints a fairly low-key piece on how global warming is already affecting the evolution and range of various species of insects. The article includes a conservative estimate that extinction awaits between 15 and 37 percent of a sample of 1,100 plant and animal species over the next 100 years.

I don't know if I have all those numbers right, but I'm in the ballpark, and what's the fucking difference? We and our natural world are clearly at some sort of crossroads--have been for some time, perhaps since the early 19th century--and yet a sizable portion of smart, powerful people are still lying and denying that this is even the case. But there's really no denying it anymore, and the whole idea is becoming so casually mainstream that the only question (which no one will ask) will be how it went from crackpot's nightmare to "just the way it is" without so much as a blink of the collective eye.

Here's where I'm inclined to lurch into sloppy condemnations of the unholy union of shortsighted corporate greed and end-times religiosity.

And, indeed, that's what's fucking got us here.

But what's the use?

I'm disgusted by the death-cult Christianity that Pat-Robertson-until-they-give-us-someone-else represents--this whole criminal notion that we're pawns in a game that some Higher Being is conducting--a Test to see if the Holy We can withhold Our contempt for the Jews long enough for them to hold onto a scrap of barren moonscape in the Earth's ass-crack until Final Jeopardy. A Test in which the Grand Inquisitor only intervenes to strike down those fools who would seek a compromise that does not satisfy His lust for Blood and Dominion. How, in this belief of a wrathful and bloodthirsty God, does Pat Robertson or anyone who listens to him differ from Osama Bin Boogerman?

And, for all its Apocalyptic portents, even That is but a distraction from the steady erosion of Power from the People here in the shining city, the Great Republic, the Last Hope for the World. Oh, I know--the hippies ruined it for all of us, freaking out about the collapse of the good old Apple Pie Chevrolet. Those weirdos! Obviously the broad plain of the '70s only beckoned us towards a dream-come-true of fast foods and hilarious sitcoms! How Chicken Little of me, to believe the goddamn Sky might be falling--"the Man, the System, the whole Plastic Fantastic Nightmare!"

What a cliche to believe that the thing that's been threatening to happen and in the process of happening and HAPPENING for the duration of human history might be HAPPENING right now, again, in our time. You know--the thing that happens--the powerful pulling a con on the weak until the weak cobble together first the hopelessness then the awareness then the fearlessness then the numbers then the power to wrench the machinery back their way, in the bloody and raw-knuckled fashion that is all that's left open when Revolution is the only possibility--and don't doubt for a second that that's what it would take to lever Goddamn Dick Cheney off his hard-won seat of power, and if saying so makes me Jose Padilla then that's even funnier than Jose Padilla being Jose Padilla, because all I want is a salary, benefits, and decent public schools.

Anyway, how uncool and how cliche. Me, sitting here with my fine stereo blaring away overhead, and my computer readily responding to every keystroke, and my wife and my children each sleeping in their own rooms. Little old petite-bourgeouis me.

My point is, I feel weird and pessimistic in a way I never have before. I feel like the cards are stacked against everyone from my level on down, and the dealers are flipping us off and saying, "What're you gonna DO about it?" There are more liars than ever before, up and down the media chain, denying that things are as bad as they seem, let alone that anyone they support is responsible. Moments of Truth arise every day, and the truth is made to bend the knee of fealty to Mammon again and again.

I don't think it's just because I'm paranoid for my kids' future. I think things are really bad. With each downturn, of course, there is hope that people will finally stand up on their hind legs and say, "What the fuck?" But there have been many betrayals, and we still seem to be headed down. And those who would betray us must do so ever more fervently, for their shamelessness conspires with our trust and fear to cloak them.

I read, this week, the piss-shivering excuses some middle-aged blonde columnist from Florida offered for our President's trampling of our Liberties in the name of Security. It was classic "I've got nothing to hide, so let 'em snoop" horseshit. And that works, if you think They are interested in protecting Us from some other Them. But, in fact, They already ready see Us as Them. They aren't on the same team as Us, and we're fools if we think that because we share zip codes and a taste for khakis and NASCAR that they wouldn't cut us loose--haven't already cut us loose--if we dare to question their Right to govern these United States, or demand that they cut us more of a share in the massive spoils of their perfidy.

Somewhere else I read someone saying that they were seriously wondering whether this administration would peacefully hand over power in 2008. I'm not saying they won't. They probably will. I believe there will be enough persons of influence and good conscience willing to walk up Pennsylvania Avenue and tell them they better had do so that they will. But this is the first time I've come this close to wondering if that's what it will take. And I wish I was more confident that it won't.

And even if it doesn't--my God, we have sure fucked up the planet for my kids.

I was going to sit down and write some kind of summary of 2005 tonight, but I guess it was such an awfully bad year that all I can do is wave my arms in front of my face to ward off whatever fresh hell 2006 promises.

Posted by pk at 8:35 PM

January 5, 2006

Two sides to every history

Sidney Blumenthal, "Bush's war on professionals," Salon.com, 1/5/06:

"State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," by James Risen, the New York Times reporter who broke the NSA story, offers further evidence of Bush's war on professionals in the intelligence community than has already been reported in newspapers.

Then-director of the CIA George Tenet appears as an incorrigible courtier, trying to ingratiate himself with anecdotes of derring-do from the clandestine services. Rumsfeld, seeking to concentrate intelligence within the Pentagon, which controls 80 percent of its budget, was not amused. [...]

While Rumsfeld was trampling Tenet, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy Undersecretary Douglas Feith, the Laurel and Hardy of neoconservatism, set up the Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group, "to sift through raw intelligence reports, searching for ties between Iraq and al Qaeda." CIA analysts were under unrelenting pressure to accept Chalabi's disinformation at face value. "They sent us that message a thousand times, in a thousand different ways," said one former senior CIA official. Tenet did nothing to halt the stream of pollution.


Startlingly, Risen reports that on the eve of war, the CIA knew the U.S. had no proof of weapons of mass destruction, the casus belli, the justification for preemptive attack. The agency had recruited an Arab-American woman living in Cleveland, Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad, as a secret agent to travel to Baghdad to spy on her brother, Saad Tawfiq, an electrical engineer supposedly at the center of Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program. Once there, she won his trust and he confided there was no program. He urged her to carry the message back to the CIA. Upon her return, she was debriefed and the CIA filed the report in a black hole.

It turned out that she was one of some 30 Iraqis who had been recruited to travel to Iraq to contact weapons experts there. Risen writes, "All of them … had said the same thing. They all reported to the CIA that the scientists had said that Iraq's programs to develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons had long since been abandoned."

Not willing to contradict the administration line, CIA officials withheld this information from the National Intelligence Estimate issued a month after Alhaddad's visit to Baghdad. The NIE stated conclusively that Iraq "is reconstituting its nuclear program."

Risen writes: "From his home in Baghdad in February 2003, Saad Tawfiq watched Secretary of State Colin Powell's televised presentation to the United Nations about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. As Powell dramatically built the American case for war, Saad sank further and further into frustration and despair. They didn't listen. I told them there were no weapons."


After the war, efforts within the CIA to dispel illusion and acknowledge reality in Iraq met with punishment. In November 2003, the CIA station chief in Baghdad submitted what is internally called an "aardwolf," a formal report on country conditions. "It pulled no punches in detailing how the new insurgency was gaining strength from the political and economic vacuum that the United States had allowed to develop in Baghdad," writes Risen. For his honesty, the station chief was subjected to "inflammatory accusations about his personal behavior, all of which he flatly denied," and "quit the CIA in disgust."

The destruction of his career led other CIA officers to hedge their reports, especially on Chalabi. The new station chief, in an "aardwolf" in late 2004, described the lethal conditions on the ground, and as a reward "his political allegiances were quickly questioned by the White House." Reality remained unwelcome.

Risen's book is one of a small and growing library that contains the strangulated, usually anonymous cries of professionals. No doubt there will be other volumes to fill in more spaces and reveal yet new stories of the mangling of policy in the interest of ideology.

By counterattacking against whistle-blowers and the press, Bush is rushing to protect the edifice he has created. He acts as if the exposure of one part threatens the whole. His frantic defense suggests that very little of it can bear scrutiny.

The question is, how much scrutiny, let alone angry opposition, will it get?

Posted by pk at 7:53 AM