Thursday, May 06, 2004



You may not have heard this story. The Bush Administration routinely wallows in its own mediocrity and arrogance and stupidity, and some weeks, only the most egregious and vilest of its atrocities get a lot of play in the news.

The Bush Administration has named a new archivist of the United States. It is a low profile job but it is a very important one. The archivist of the United States preserves the papers of the government, presidential papers, transcripts of hearings and things like that. The papers are then, in theory, available to scholars and the public to inspect and evaluate the performance of the government.

The Bush Administration has chosen Allen Weinstein, a Cold War scholar with questionable historical methods, to be archivist starting next year, just in time for the release of records of the presidency of the first George Bush.

For a 1999 book titled "The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America - The Stalin Era," Weinstein enjoyed exclusive access to documents said to come from KGB archives. Weinstein never actually saw the documents because he doesn't read Russian, so his co-author is the only one in America who ever had a chance to see the documents before they were hidden away by the Russian government.

Which means no one has been able to check the original documents to evaluate Weinstein's facts or interpretations. This creates an ethical problem for historians (if not for the Bush Administration, which never seems to have ethical problems) because other historians are prevented from checking the accuracy of the work.

Weinstein's other work, "Perjury," a book sometimes cited as proof that Alger Hiss was guilty of espionage, also has a few problems because Weinstein withheld some of his research from scholars, violating the standards of the American Historical Association. In addition, six of Weinstein's main sources said he or she had been misquoted or misrepresented in "Perjury." Weinsten said he would provide the tapes of the interviews to the Truman Library so scholars could scrutinize his work. A quarter of a century later, the tapes are still not at the Truman Library.

(I've read "Perjury" and I had a few problems with it, even if it might look impressive to the layman. Weinstein completely ignores some of the issues introduced in John Chabot Smith's "The Strange Case of Alger Hiss." And a later book, titled "A Tissue of Lies," does a pretty good job of trashing many of the conclusions in "Perjury." The tangled history of the historiography of the Hiss case is far too complicated to get into here but it is clear that "Perjury" had far too many problems to be held up as proof that Alger Hiss was guilty.)

So this is the best the Bush Administration could do in choosing an archivist? The subtleties of historical ethics may be kind of trivial to most Americans, but would it have been that difficult to find someone whose work and methods have not generated questions about ethics? Is this Bush Administration so dedicated to insulting the American people that it once again tries to foist off someone like this on the American people, as if it was too much trouble to find an honest historian? Or was it more important to find a safe conservative historian who would control the archives from the scrutiny of "liberal" historians - historians who might be critical of the current president's father?

At least he doesn't have a criminal record, like so many other Bush appointees - and Bush himself.


Tuesday, May 04, 2004



One of my friends asked me if I was going to write anything about the devastating reports of the rampant and routine torture inflicted by American soldiers on Iraqi detainees.

I wasn't planning on it. Everybody knows about it and I didn't think my particular style was suited to commenting on the subject of torture. It would be in very bad taste to make light of this subject.

And besides, I'd rather tackle any of a hundred stupid neoconservative tricks personally perpetuated by Bush and his increasingly desperate supporters.

But today's Los Angeles Times Op/Ed section published a couple of outrageous letters supporting the use of torture in Iraq. And one of them was so inane that I have jettisoned all my journalistic objectivity in the rush to expose the writer to well-deserved ridicule.


The first letter was pretty bad, reeking with that overpowering self-righteousness that makes neoconservative spin so tedious. It said that the torture was necessary because of its ultimately noble goal "to save the lives of citizens."

Typically for a neocon commentator, the correspondent neglects to provide any details on how rape and forcible sodomy of detainees could possibly save lives. I remain unenlightened of the life-saving potential of forcing a naked Iraqi prisoner to masturbate while being filmed.

But the details don't matter to these people. Being specific interferes with spin, so always be as vague as possible. Remember, they're right just because they're right.

The other letter, credited to Jack Feigin of Beverly Hills, should generate horror in all Americans, regardless of how they feel about the Bush Administration and its war. To be fair, here's the entire letter as published by the L.A. Times:

"What a bunch of baloney. So the U.S. soldiers abuse a bunch of Iraqis. Big deal. So they humiliated them. It beats killing them or stabbing a hundred times, the way the Arabs killed an Israeli soldier and threw his body out a window, one of the torturers showing the world his bloody hands. How about the U.S. reporter they tortured and beheaded? Think his family wasn't and still isn't tortured by the way he died? I had a college frat initiation that was a worse torture than the Iraqis received."

These atrocious sentiments require no comment. But I'm going to comment anyway because I am a bully and I can't restrain myself when it comes to stupid neocons who are intellectually defenseless.

I don't know why Mr. Tough Guy here is even wasting his time writing a letter to the Times. He should be in Iraq, in Falloujah or Najaf, fighting the good fight, striking a blow for the oil companies. The War in Iraq would be over if Mr. Tough Guy here was doing his part.

"I had a college frat initiation that was a worse torture." This says a lot more about college hazing than it does about Iraqi torture.

Let me get this straight, Mr. Tough Guy. For your college initiation, your country was attacked and many of your friends and family were killed. You joined rebel forces to fight off the invaders, then you were captured (presumably by your fraternity) then beaten, raped, forced to masturbate on camera, forced to lie naked in a pile of your fellow initiates and so on, over a period of weeks or months.

And worse, according to your letter to the Los Angeles Times.

Next time you write a letter to the Times, let your Mommy or Daddy look at it first. Remember, everyone in your family has to live with the embarrassment.


Some neoconservatives have a lot to say about decency and bad taste in political commentary. I can't help but notice that they are kind of selective. Ususally, if a "liberal" - anyone who wants to reveal uncomfortable truths about the war or the lies of the administration - says something they don't like, it's in bad taste.

Bill O'Reilly tackled this very issue in the same L.A. Times Op/Ed section that had Feigin's letter. O'Reilly magnanimously approved of Ted Koppel reading the names of America's war dead on 'Nightline." But he drew the line at a recent storyline in the comic strip "Doonesbury," in which a long-running regular character lost a leg in Iraq.

Just what is "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau doing to attract the displeasure of O'Reilly? Trudeau is portraying an American soldier who has lost a leg in Iraq. He has shown the family dealing with this new hardship. It is a tragedy that is happening to real people, real Americans, over and over again, in a war that was built on lies. And the mainstream media is largely ignoring the issue of Americans wounded, maimed and blinded in Iraq, and then tucked away and ignored in hospitals in Europe and America.

According to O'Reilly, Trudeau is "using someone's personal tragedy to advance a political agenda." But how can Trudeau be using a personal tragedy when the wounded character is his own fictional character? And how can O'Reilly find the gall to attack anyone for advancing a political agenda? "The O'Reilly Factor" is the most virulently and hatefully partisan program on a major network. He lies, he makes up statistics, he cuts off the microphone if he doesn't like what his guest is saying.

"I have received letters from wounded soldiers and their families who are outraged by Trudeau's methods, and I agree with them," O'Reilly has said.

Let's assume O'Reilly is telling the truth, which is assuming a lot, I know. If there are soldiers who are upset with Trudeau, there are also soldiers who support him. But finding out about that would be too difficult for O'Reilly. He knows how to spin but he doesn't know anything else.

Citing Trudeau for "bad taste" is nothing but a politically motivated attack. Providing information about the plight of wounded Americans may or may not help Trudeau's "political agenda." But it does raise awareness and encourage questions about the prosecution of the War in Iraq. And its cost in human lives and limbs. And there are some people who don't want Amercians to ask these questions or to know anything about this issue.

"Doonesbury" can't be called "bad taste," except as a blatant, and highly transparent, example of spin.

How about comparing the torture of Iraqis to a frat initiation? Bad taste? I bet we won't hear O'Reilly talking about that.

(Maybe the Los Angeles Times does have a liberal bias. If they had really wanted to be "Fair and Balanced," they would have chosen someone smarter than Bill O'Reilly to present the War on "Doonesbury." But I guess it's kind of hard to find smart, credible people to present neoconservative rationalizations.)


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