Friday, August 20, 2004

Joe Scarborough, Michael Moore, and the Taliban

Here is the second segment of an occasional series comparing what Michael Moore presented in the movie “Fahrenheit 9/11” versus what critics said he said, or what people might have actually said. It's my particular way of yelling at the heedless talking heads on television.

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough launched a withering attack on Michael Moore, starting on June 22nd, and lasting for two weeks solid. I caught a portion of the attack on June 28th, just minutes after having watched “Fahrenheit 9/11”, and I thought Scarborough's remarks were at sharp odds with what I had just seen. Here I compare portions of MSNBC transcripts of "Scarborough Country" (an example), together with Moore's narration, plus my own comments, to try to understand just where the Truth might lie.

The focus in this post will be on some of Moore's most controversial comments, regarding the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the origins of the war against the Taliban. Where I'm unable to understand my tape recording of the movie's soundtrack, I place dots (...).

Moore's Narration

(Moore) The United States began bombing Afghanistan just 4 weeks after 911. Mr. Bush said he was doing so because the Taliban government of Afghanistan, had been harboring bin Laden.

(George W. Bush) We will smoke them out of their holes. We’re going smoke him out. Smoke ‘em out. Smoke him out of his cave.

(old Western outtake) Let’s rush him and smoke ‘em out!

(Moore) All this tough talk, Bush, really, didn’t do much.

(Richard Clarke) But what they did was slow, and small. We put only 11,000 troops into Afghanistan. There are more police here in Manhattan, more police here in Manhattan, than there are U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Basically the President botched the response to 911. We should have gone right after bin Laden. The U.S. Special Forces didn’t get into the area where bin Laden was for two months.

(Moore) Two months? A mass murderer who attacked the United States was given a two month head start? Who in their right mind would do that?

(George W. Bush on a golf course) Anybody say nice shot?
(Responses from companions) Nice shot! Helluva shot!

(Moore) But was the war in Afghanistan really about something else? Perhaps the answer, was in Houston, Texas.

In 1997, while George W. Bush was Governor of Texas, a delegation of Taliban leaders from Afghanistan, flew to Houston, to meet with UNOCAL executives, to discuss the building of a pipeline through Afghanistan, bringing natural gas from the Caspian Sea.

Who got a Caspian Sea drilling contract the same day UNOCAL signed the pipeline deal? A company headed by a man named, Dick Cheney: Halliburton.

(woman commentator) From the point of the U.S. government, this was kind of a magic, pipeline, um, because it could serve so many purposes.

(Moore) And who else stood to benefit from the pipeline? Bush’s number one campaign contributor, Kenneth Lay, and the good people of Enron.

Only the British press covered this trip.

Then, in 2001, just 5 ½ months before 911, the Bush Administration welcomed a special Taliban envoy, to tour the United States, to help improve the image of the Taliban government.

(woman reporter fussing with a burqa: sounds like Helen Thomas) You have imprisoned the women. It’s a horror, let me tell you!

(Taliban envoy) I’m really sorry to your husband. He must have a very difficult time with you.

(Moore) Here is the Taliban delegation visiting our State Department, to meet with U.S. officials.
Why on Earth did the Bush Administration allow a Taliban leader to visit the United States, knowing that the Taliban were harboring the man who bombed the USS Cole, and our African embassies? Well, I guess 911 put a stop to that.

When the invasion of Afghanistan was complete, we installed its new president, Hamid Karzai. Who was Hamid Karzai? He was a former advisor, to UNOCAL.

Bush also appointed, as our envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who was also a former Unocal advisor. I think you can probably see where this is leading. Faster than you can say black gold, Texas Tea, Afghanistan signed an agreement with their neighboring countries to build a pipeline through Afghanistan, carrying natural gas from the Caspian Sea.

Oh, and the Taliban? Uh, they mostly got away. As did Osama bin Laden and most of Al Qaeda.

(George W. Bush) Terror…. And, uh, he’s, he’s, he’s just a person who’s now been marginalized, so I don’t know where he is. Nor, I don’t spend much time on him, really, to be honest with you.

(Moore) Didn’t spend much time on him? What kind of president was he?

(George W. Bush) I’m a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office, uh, in foreign policy matters, with war on my mind.

(Moore) With the war on Afghanistan over, and bin Laden forgotten, the war president had a new target: the American people.

Scarborough Country - June 29th

(Scarborough's guest was Democratic pollster Margie Omero, President of Momentum Analysis.)

SCARBOROUGH: I called you on here because I have got great respect for you. And I just want Democrats to come out and start saying, you know what, this is entertainment, but it‘s not the facts.

Here‘s the third claim. He claims that America went to war in Afghanistan not to get rid of the Taliban, which, of course, supported Osama bin Laden, but he is claiming we actually went to war in Afghanistan so an oil company could build a pipeline under Afghanistan. It didn‘t have anything to do with capturing the Taliban or al Qaeda. Is that true?

OMERO: I don‘t think he said that we went to war for this reason. He pointed out this connection that people may not have known about.

He did not say—I just saw the movie today. He did not say, this is why we went to war, and it‘s the only reason we went to war. We went to war for no other reason aside from this. He did not say that.

SCARBOROUGH: Once again, he is leaving an impression in viewers‘ minds. That‘s exactly the impression he was leaving in viewers‘ minds, just like he was leaving the impression in viewers‘ minds that George Bush let Osama bin Laden‘s family get out of the country, while others, including Ricky Martin, were grounded.

They come back, say, well, no, no, we didn‘t say that. Yes, but they‘re certainly leaving these impressions in people‘s minds.

(Marc: Well, what do you think? My impression is Omero is exactly correct, that Moore is pointing out connections the viewers might not have suspected, and leaving the cynical judgment whether we went to war over the pipeline up to the viewer. Myself, I don't believe it, but remember, a staunch Republican Congressman like California's Dana Rohrabacher went to great lengths to curry favor with the Taliban. Moore does a great public service highlighting these awkward connections.)

Scarborough Country - June 30th

(Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens was Scarborough's guest. Hitchens is a well-known writer, a former Socialist, and wrote a recent biography of George Orwell, among other things.)

[Marc - Hitchens is in a very anomalous position in the intellectual world, rather like that of the neo-conservative: former leftist, now waging battles with Islamic jihadists, and a staunch defender of Ahmad Chalabi. Recent events in Iraq have not been kind to him.]

SCARBOROUGH: What was the most fraudulent claim that Michael Moore made in this movie?

HITCHENS: Well, that‘s a very tough question, but I think I would phrase it like this.

He says, if you think Americans are fighting in Afghanistan to protect Afghanistan and America from the Taliban and al Qaeda and hold an election in Afghanistan, the first one in its history, and to defend it from barbarism, Moore says, you are totally wrong. The whole war is about Bush family private business and a pipeline, a natural gas pipeline. I think he suggested an oil pipeline, built by Unocal.

Now, I know and anyone who knows anything about it knows, that deal was canceled in 1998, when Bush was still governor of Texas, as a result of Mr. Clinton bombing the al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. The theory isn‘t even worth arguing about. It‘s a whole-cloth fabrication, as well as a terrifying insult to Americans in Afghanistan who are fighting on the front line against barbarism. So that‘s one enormously important lie.

[Marc: The UNOCAL pipeline was cancelled in 1998, but the recent 911 Commission Report states that the pipeline idea was used afterwards as a carrot by the U.S. State Department to encourage the Taliban and other warring groups in Afghanistan to sit down and negotiate their differences in a non-judgmental way.

In the State Department, concerns about India-Pakistan tensions often crowded out attention to Afghanistan or Bin Ladin. Aware of instability and growing Islamic extremism in Pakistan, State Department officials worried most about an arms race and possible war between Pakistan and India. After May 1998, when both countries surprised the United States by testing nuclear weapons, these dangers became daily first-order concerns of the State Department.

In Afghanistan, the State Department tried to end the civil war that had continued since the Soviets’ withdrawal. The South Asia bureau believed it might have a carrot for Afghanistan’s warring factions in a project by the Union Oil Company of California (UNOCAL) to build a pipeline across the country. While there was probably never much chance of the pipeline actually being built, the Afghan desk hoped that the prospect of shared pipeline profits might lure faction leaders to a conference table. U.S. diplomats did not favor the Taliban over the rival factions. Despite growing concerns, U.S. diplomats were willing at the time, as one official said, to “give the Taliban a chance.”

Though Secretary Albright made no secret of thinking the Taliban “despicable,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, led a delegation to South Asia—including Afghanistan—in April 1998. No U.S. official of such rank had been to Kabul in decades. Ambassador Richardson went primarily to urge negotiations to end the civil war. In view of Bin Ladin’s recent public call for all Muslims to kill Americans, Richardson asked the Taliban to expel Bin Ladin. They answered that they did not know his whereabouts. In any case, the Taliban said, Bin Ladin was not a threat to the United States.

Big infrastructure project ideas like pipelines have a way of lingering for decades, and pass through the hands of several prime contractors, even before construction starts. State Department concerns likely affected the Taliban's 2001 visit as well, despite the 2001 change of Administration.

Mr. Moore's theory regarding the role of the pipeline is tenuous, given the chaos in the region, but can't be rejected out of hand, like Mr. Hitchens does. Condemning Moore, rather than debating him, seems to be Hitchen's preference. Hitchens seems to feel that Moore is a slimy trogolodyte of some sort, and argument with him his pointless. This is arrogance on Hitchen's part.]

HITCHENS: And then he says the Saudi Arabia control all of American foreign policy through private interests. And then you wonder, well, why does President Bush, who is their puppet, continue to knock over regimes that Saudis are in favor of, like the Saddam Hussein regime or the Taliban one? The Saudis so much hated regime change in Iraq, they made American bases move to Qatar, out of Saudi territory.

You could go on and on. He says that the White House at high level let the bin Laden family fly out of the country in a secret, surreptitious, sinister manner. And he had interviewed Richard Clarke months before. And Clarke says straight out, I made that call. Richard Clarke is the moral hero of the film. Michael Moore had the chance to ask the man who knew. Either he didn‘t ask Clarke, who authorized those flights, or Clarke told him it was me and only me, and he didn‘t think it was good enough to use.

SCARBOROUGH: Now, Christopher, you...

HITCHENS: Either way, that‘s below the level of trash TV, trash journalism.

SCARBOROUGH: You brought a tape of yourself debating Michael Moore in September 2002 at the Telluride Film Festival. And here‘s what he said about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Let‘s take a listen.


MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER/AUTHOR: It seems as if he and his group were the ones who did this, then they should be tracked down, captured, and brought to justice.

HITCHENS: Do you mind if I break in and say...


HITCHENS: Ask you, what is the “if” doing in that last sentence?

MOORE: What is the who?

HITCHENS: What is the “if” doing in that last sentence of yours?

MOORE: Well, all people are innocent until proven guilty in this country.

HITCHENS: So you have no...



MOORE: Even the worst piece of scum.

HITCHENS: I feel I have to press you on that. You regard it as an open question, the responsibility of Osama bin Laden?

MOORE: Until anyone is convicted of any crime, no matter how horrific the crime, they are innocent until proven guilty. And as Americans...


HITCHENS: No, that‘s all I asked you.

MOORE: Never leave that position.

HITCHENS: I‘m sorry. So bin Laden‘s claims of responsibility strike you as the ravings of a clowns, say?




SCARBOROUGH: Unbelievable.


HITCHENS: And doesn‘t he look gorgeous?

SCARBOROUGH: He does. This is a year after 9/11.


HITCHENS: And so smart and so clever at catching people saying something dumb in the street. Can you imagine what he would have said or Terry McAuliffe, this fatuous chairman of the DNC, would have said if President Bush a year after 9/11 had said, well, I think the jury is still out on Osama bin Laden, we can‘t do a thing, and also referred to him as if he was a well placed citizen of Rapid City or somewhere, an American citizen with all the protections of the Constitution? It‘s beyond farce.

SCARBOROUGH: You know, Christopher, though, let me expand on this tape a little bit, though, because, as you know, you have seen the movie. I have seen the movie. Here you have Michael Moore saying a year after 3,000 Americans are killed...

HITCHENS: Murdered. Murdered. Murdered.

SCARBOROUGH: Murdered, murdered—that Osama bin Laden is innocent until proven guilty, and yet, in this movie, at the very beginning, he criticizes George Bush for not assuming the bin Laden family is somehow guilty, then letting them out of the country. Complete hypocrisy.


[Marc: And yet Moore DID say that IF Osama bin Laden "and his group were the ones who did this, then they should be tracked down, captured, and brought to justice." That hardly excuses Osama bin Laden. But Hitchens is too impatient to debate.]

HITCHENS: That‘s why I looked to see if I still had the tape, because I thought, now, a guy who was 100 percent opposed to the war in Afghanistan at the time—that‘s Michael Moore—he thought it was a war for oil, a war for pipelines, an unjust war—why is he suddenly saying he is against the Iraq war because it‘s the distraction from the hunt for Osama bin Laden? You follow my point here?


[Marc: I wonder if the transcript is quite correct in the next paragraph, because the nature of the Hitchen's bait-and-switch is somewhat unclear. What seems to aggravate Hitchens is that Moore has shifted position since 2002, and what is more despicable, after all, than a moving target? Moore's concerns regarding oil money seem rather feeble in a wilderness like Afghanistan, but they are quite pertinent in Iraq, which possesses some of the greatest oil reserves on Earth.

In 2001, the empty-headed response of the American Left to September 11th nearly drove me crazy: the Left had trouble getting past no-longer-relevant Vietnam experiences, like anger at use of patriotic symbols, but, boy, times have changed! Moore's bait-and-switch, or evolution, is a prime example of the Left's increasing pertinence in today's world.]

HITCHENS: Why does someone who thought that Osama was innocent and Afghanistan was no problem suddenly switch in this way? Because unless he says that he was dead wrong all along and Osama Laden was innocent and wronged, he can‘t say that everything else is a distraction from the hunt for Osama.

So it‘s bait and switch. It‘s the work of a moral cretin and a political idiot. And it‘s up to the Democratic National Committee to say, do they want to continue being photographed with this man as we go into a very important election, not just in the United States, I might add, but first Democratic elections to be held in Iraq and in Afghanistan?

[Marc: Well, Moore didn't actually say he thought Osama was innocent, just that Osama should be considered innocent until proven guilty, which as Moore says, can be accorded even to scum. Moore is trying to look at some of the politico/economic factors that may be at work in the recent war, an understanding of which, as a former leftist, Hitchens can well appreciate.]

HITCHENS: In a few months, we will know the outcome of all these. In all three cases, Michael Moore says that the enemy is George Bush and Saddam Hussein and Mr. Zarqawi and Mr. Bin Laden are no problem. Indeed, they are—what a wonderful way to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend, by the way. Indeed, they are the Minutemen. They‘re the staunch American revolutionaries.

Does he tell this to the widows that he goes and exploits?

[Marc: Presumably Hitchens is referring to Lila Lipscomb in "Fahrenheit 911." As Lila Lipscomb said in an MSNBC interview with Deborah Norville, she doesn't feel she is being exploited by Moore:

NORVILLE: Given that you are going through such a difficult personal time, is there any concern that you might be being used as a pawn...

LIPSCOMB: Not at all.

NORVILLE: ... in this story?

LIPSCOMB: Not at all.

NORVILLE: You can see where people would be concerned for you in that way.

LIPSCOMB: They have a right to feel that. That‘s OK. But I also have a right to believe what I believe, and I don‘t feel like a pawn or manipulated in any way.]

SCARBOROUGH: Well, Christopher....


HITCHENS: Does he say to them, I love the people who killed your son or your husband or your father?

SCARBOROUGH: They are the Minutemen.

HITCHENS: Does he dare do that? If he does do that once and film himself, I will say he is courageous.



Let me read you a couple of quotes here. And I put these quotes in here because I wanted you to respond and actually tell me what it meant about the Democratic Party that you have got Terry McAuliffe and other people embracing this man.

Here‘s what Michael Moore had to say on the people killing America‘s troops in Iraq, and it‘s a follow-up on what you are saying: “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not insurgents or terrorists or the enemy. They are the revolution, the Minutemen. And their numbers will grow. And they will win.”

And here‘s more, Christopher. He said on the same day: “The majority of Americans supported this war once it began. And, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe—just maybe—God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.”
And, of course, there, Michael Moore is saying he doesn‘t want the United Nations or other countries‘ troops to go into Iraq because he believes more Americans need to die there, or, as he says, their blood needs to be let.

HITCHENS: Congressman.

SCARBOROUGH: So, correspondent for “Vanity Fair.”


HITCHENS: Don‘t step over where he says, God and Iraqi people won‘t forgive.

You are effectively, with the Michael Moore presentation, you are looking straight down the gun barrel of an al Qaeda video. God and the Iraqi people won‘t forgive? He is talking the language of jihad. This guy is on the other side in the most essential war that this country or society or culture has fought in a generation.


HITCHENS: Against Islamic totalitarianism.

Why is he against it? If you want my personal opinion, as someone who has observed Mr. Moore down the years, I don‘t think he has any principles at all. He will do anything to get applause, as you can see from the little clip you just showed. He likes applause from stupid crowds and he punches the applause button.

I would like to know, and I wish you would ask—and perhaps Mr. Lehane could be made to answer this question—who is distributing this film in the Middle East? I would like to know that now. How much money does Mr. Moore expect to make, since he is so interested in money making from Middle Eastern sources? How much does he expect to make when the film is shown in Beirut and Algeria and Cairo?

He must already know who his distributors are and how much he expects from the revenue. He is going to show this film that applauds the murder of Americans, Iraqis, British and Kurdish people all over the Middle East. He expects to do very well out of it. Well, I would like to know where he thinks the money is coming from and if he thinks it‘s worth it.

And I hope he can relax and enjoy that money.

SCARBOROUGH: All right, well, we are going to look into that, Christopher. Thank you for being with us.

[Marc: Mr Hitchen's bile, character assassination, and innuendo disturb me. He reads Orwell, and writes about him, but I wonder if he understands Orwell's dedication to accuracy?]

[Marc: There are some interesting questions that arise about the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. First, why did the U.S. take two months to get over there? I accept the standard argument that the delay was caused by the sheer logistical difficulty of waging war in remote Central Asia, in hostile country. The U.S. is not as much of a superpower as it sometimes pretends. It's a wonder that our defense doctrine still relies on being able to wage two wars at once.

Still, why weren't we able to get Osama bin Laden? Despite the delay in reaching the battlefield, we were still too hasty, relying on unreliable Afghan allies to close battlefield exits. Why still don't we have bin Laden? Because we are relying on Pakistan to do the hard work, and their interest is not in provoking a showdown with Al Qaeda, at least at this time. Al Qaeda has too many allies for comfort in Pakistan.]

Scarborough Country - July 2nd

(Patrick Buchanan, sitting in for Joe Scarborough, uses Michael Isikoff from Newsweek to hammer away at the cancelled pipeline theme again.)

ISIKOFF: Well, I don‘t know. People have to judge for themselves.

All I‘m trying to do—and what I‘ve tried to do in two pieces now—is just say, look. There are some claims in there where some things are thrown together and, you know, in some perhaps disingenuous way. As I gave you one example before about this 1.4 billion.

There‘s another suggestion in the movie at one point that early Bush administration policy towards the Taliban was influenced by its interest in promoting a pipeline deal for an American oil company.

BUCHANAN: The Unocal ...

ISIKOFF: The problem with that is that Unocal, the Unocal pipeline deal essentially collapsed in 1998, ...

BUCHANAN: All right, all right ...

ISIKOFF: ... when Unocal pulled out of the project. And it wasn‘t on the cards when the Bush administration took office.

BUCHANAN: All right. Before I go to Flavia—all right, before I go to Flavia, let me—or let me go to Flavia with this.

Look. What Michael Isikoff is saying is, that charge is flat out false. The Bush administration had nothing to do with the Unocal pipeline that the previous administration was looking at for legitimate reasons, moving through Afghanistan.

So this is untrue.

[Marc: As I pointed out above, in 2001, the U.S. State Department did not consider UNOCAL's 1998 pipeline cancellation to mean the pipeline project was dead, just that someone else would eventually do it. So, what is the current status of the proposed natural gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea, through Afghanistan, to the Indian Ocean? The governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan signed a protocol on the pipeline on December 9, 2003, but no Western backers have yet appeared. Still, the idea is still very much alive.]

[Marc: Once again, Michael Moore, to me, seems to be a great simplifier and propagandist, but the simplifications can reach the level where real content gets lost. Still, I disagree with Christopher Hitchen's characterization of Moore as a 'moral cretin'.]

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Michael Moore on George Orwell in "Fahrenheit 911"

Here is the first segment of an occasional series comparing what Michael Moore presented in the movie “Fahrenheit 9/11” versus what critics said he said, or what people might have actually said. On Friday August 13th, I saw “Fahrenheit 9/11” for a second time, and this time I followed Andrew Sullivan’s recommendation that a blogger should tape record what Michael Moore was saying in the movie. Sullivan’s intent was to criticize Moore: my intent is to defend Moore, where possible, and put his critics on the defensive.

I start from the very end of the movie. Moore signs off, quoting from George Orwell’s novel “1984”. Moore, characteristically, drastically simplifies what Orwell actually wrote. I want to restore much of the original context, to allow a better understanding of both Moore’s narration and Orwell’s writing. Moore’s simplification seems to be a more or less faithful rendering of Orwell, but the contexts are different, of course. Below, I’ve highlighted what Moore apparently used. Judge for yourself. Myself, I think Moore lands a blow on the Bush Administration.

In “Fahrenheit 9/11”, Michael Moore narrates:

George Orwell once wrote:

It’s not a matter of whether the war is not real, or if it is. Victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous. A hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version IS the past, and no different past can ever have existed. In principle, the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects. And its object is not a victory, for either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.

Moore’s quotations come from Chapter 9 of “1984”. Winston Smith reads from Chapter III (entitled War is Peace) of “THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVISM” by Emmanuel Goldstein:

The splitting up of the world into three great super-states was an event which could be and indeed was foreseen before the middle of the twentieth century. With the absorption of Europe by Russia and of the British Empire by the United States, two of the three existing powers, Eurasia and Oceania, were already effectively in being. The third, Eastasia, only emerged as a distinct unit after another decade of confused fighting. The frontiers between the three super-states are in some places arbitrary, and in others they fluctuate according to the fortunes of war, but in general they follow geographical lines.

(text removed)

In one combination or another, these three super-states are permanently at war, and have been so for the past twenty-five years. War, however, is no longer the desperate, annihilating struggle that it was in the early decades of the twentieth century. It is a warfare of limited aims between combatants who are unable to destroy one another, have no material cause for fighting and are not divided by any genuine ideological difference. This is not to say that either the conduct of war, or the prevailing attitude towards it, has become less bloodthirsty or more chivalrous. On the contrary, war hysteria is continuous and universal in all countries, and such acts as raping, looting, the slaughter of children, the reduction of whole populations to slavery, and reprisals against prisoners which extend even to boiling and burying alive, are looked upon as normal, and, when they are committed by one's own side and not by the enemy, meritorious. But in a physical sense war involves very small numbers of people, mostly highly-trained specialists, and causes comparatively few casualties. The fighting, when there is any, takes place on the vague frontiers whose whereabouts the average man can only guess at, or round the Floating Fortresses which guard strategic spots on the sea lanes. In the centres of civilization war means no more than a continuous shortage of consumption goods, and the occasional crash of a rocket bomb which may cause a few scores of deaths. War has in fact changed its character. More exactly, the reasons for which war is waged have changed in their order of importance. Motives which were already present to some small extent in the great wars of the early twentieth century have now become dominant and are consciously recognized and acted upon.

To understand the nature of the present war -- for in spite of the regrouping which occurs every few years, it is always the same war -- one must realize in the first place that it is impossible for it to be decisive. None of the three super-states could be definitively conquered even by the other two in combination. They are too evenly matched, and their natural defences are too formidable. Eurasia is protected by its vast land spaces. Oceania by the width of the Atlantic and the Pacific, Eastasia by the fecundity and industriousness of its inhabitants. Secondly, there is no longer, in a material sense, anything to fight about. With the establishment of self-contained economies, in which production and consumption are geared to one another, the scramble for markets which was a main cause of previous wars has come to an end, while the competition for raw materials is no longer a matter of life and death. In any case each of the three super-states is so vast that it can obtain almost all the materials that it needs within its own boundaries. In so far as the war has a direct economic purpose, it is a war for labour power. Between the frontiers of the super-states, and not permanently in the possession of any of them, there lies a rough quadrilateral with its corners at Tangier, Brazzaville, Darwin, and Hong Kong, containing within it about a fifth of the population of the earth. It is for the possession of these thickly-populated regions, and of the northern ice-cap, that the three powers are constantly struggling. In practice no one power ever controls the whole of the disputed area. Portions of it are constantly changing hands, and it is the chance of seizing this or that fragment by a sudden stroke of treachery that dictates the endless changes of alignment.

(text removed)

Moreover, the labour of the exploited peoples round the Equator is not really necessary to the world's economy. They add nothing to the wealth of the world, since whatever they produce is used for purposes of war, and the object of waging a war is always to be in a better position in which to wage another war. By their labour the slave populations allow the tempo of continuous warfare to be speeded up. But if they did not exist, the structure of world society, and the process by which it maintains itself, would not be essentially different.

The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of what to do with the surplus of consumption goods has been latent in industrial society. At present, when few human beings even have enough to eat, this problem is obviously not urgent, and it might not have become so, even if no artificial processes of destruction had been at work. The world of today is a bare, hungry, dilapidated place compared with the world that existed before 1914, and still more so if compared with the imaginary future to which the people of that period looked forward. In the early twentieth century, the vision of a future society unbelievably rich, leisured, orderly, and efficient -- a glittering antiseptic world of glass and steel and snow-white concrete -- was part of the consciousness of nearly every literate person. Science and technology were developing at a prodigious speed, and it seemed natural to assume that they would go on developing. This failed to happen, partly because of the impoverishment caused by a long series of wars and revolutions, partly because scientific and technical progress depended on the empirical habit of thought, which could not survive in a strictly regimented society. As a whole the world is more primitive today than it was fifty years ago. Certain backward areas have advanced, and various devices, always in some way connected with warfare and police espionage, have been developed, but experiment and invention have largely stopped, and the ravages of the atomic war of the nineteen-fifties have never been fully repaired. Nevertheless the dangers inherent in the machine are still there. From the moment when the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy, and disease could be eliminated within a few generations. And in fact, without being used for any such purpose, but by a sort of automatic process -- by producing wealth which it was sometimes impossible not to distribute -- the machine did raise the living standards of the average human being very greatly over a period of about fifty years at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries.

But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction -- indeed, in some sense was the destruction -- of a hierarchical society. In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motor-car or even an aeroplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance. To return to the agricultural past, as some thinkers about the beginning of the twentieth century dreamed of doing, was not a practicable solution. It conflicted with the tendency towards mechanization which had become quasi-instinctive throughout almost the whole world, and moreover, any country which remained industrially backward was helpless in a military sense and was bound to be dominated, directly or indirectly, by its more advanced rivals.

Nor was it a satisfactory solution to keep the masses in poverty by restricting the output of goods. This happened to a great extent during the final phase of capitalism, roughly between 1920 and 1940. The economy of many countries was allowed to stagnate, land went out of cultivation, capital equipment was not added to, great blocks of the population were prevented from working and kept half alive by State charity. But this, too, entailed military weakness, and since the privations it inflicted were obviously unnecessary, it made opposition inevitable. The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare.

The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed. A Floating Fortress, for example, has locked up in it the labour that would build several hundred cargo-ships. Ultimately it is scrapped as obsolete, never having brought any material benefit to anybody, and with further enormous labours another Floating Fortress is built. In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population. In practice the needs of the population are always underestimated, with the result that there is a chronic shortage of half the necessities of life; but this is looked on as an advantage. It is deliberate policy to keep even the favoured groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another. By the standards of the early twentieth century, even a member of the Inner Party lives an austere, laborious kind of life. Nevertheless, the few luxuries that he does enjoy his large, well-appointed flat, the better texture of his clothes, the better quality of his food and drink and tobacco, his two or three servants, his private motor-car or helicopter -- set him in a different world from a member of the Outer Party, and the members of the Outer Party have a similar advantage in comparison with the submerged masses whom we call 'the proles'. The social atmosphere is that of a besieged city, where the possession of a lump of horseflesh makes the difference between wealth and poverty. And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.

War, it will be seen, accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way. In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. What is concerned here is not the morale of masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist. The splitting of the intelligence which the Party requires of its members, and which is more easily achieved in an atmosphere of war, is now almost universal, but the higher up the ranks one goes, the more marked it becomes. It is precisely in the Inner Party that war hysteria and hatred of the enemy are strongest. In his capacity as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of doublethink. Meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real, and that it is bound to end victoriously, with Oceania the undisputed master of the entire world.

All members of the Inner Party believe in this coming conquest as an article of faith. It is to be achieved either by gradually acquiring more and more territory and so building up an overwhelming preponderance of power, or by the discovery of some new and unanswerable weapon. The search for new weapons continues unceasingly, and is one of the very few remaining activities in which the inventive or speculative type of mind can find any outlet. In Oceania at the present day, Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for 'Science'. The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc. And even technological progress only happens when its products can in some way be used for the diminution of human liberty. In all the useful arts the world is either standing still or going backwards. The fields are cultivated with horse-ploughs while books are written by machinery. But in matters of vital importance -- meaning, in effect, war and police espionage -- the empirical approach is still encouraged, or at least tolerated. The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought. There are therefore two great problems which the Party is concerned to solve. One is how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking, and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few seconds without giving warning beforehand. In so far as scientific research still continues, this is its subject matter. The scientist of today is either a mixture of psychologist and inquisitor, studying with real ordinary minuteness the meaning of facial expressions, gestures, and tones of voice, and testing the truth-producing effects of drugs, shock therapy, hypnosis, and physical torture; or he is chemist, physicist, or biologist concerned only with such branches of his special subject as are relevant to the taking of life. In the vast laboratories of the Ministry of Peace, and in the experimental stations hidden in the Brazilian forests, or in the Australian desert, or on lost islands of the Antarctic, the teams of experts are indefatigably at work. Some are concerned simply with planning the logistics of future wars; others devise larger and larger rocket bombs, more and more powerful explosives, and more and more impenetrable armour-plating; others search for new and deadlier gases, or for soluble poisons capable of being produced in such quantities as to destroy the vegetation of whole continents, or for breeds of disease germs immunized against all possible antibodies; others strive to produce a vehicle that shall bore its way under the soil like a submarine under the water, or an aeroplane as independent of its base as a sailing-ship; others explore even remoter possibilities such as focusing the sun's rays through lenses suspended thousands of kilometres away in space, or producing artificial earthquakes and tidal waves by tapping the heat at the earth's centre.

But none of these projects ever comes anywhere near realization, and none of the three super-states ever gains a significant lead on the others. What is more remarkable is that all three powers already possess, in the atomic bomb, a weapon far more powerful than any that their present researches are likely to discover. Although the Party, according to its habit, claims the invention for itself, atomic bombs first appeared as early as the nineteen-forties, and were first used on a large scale about ten years later. At that time some hundreds of bombs were dropped on industrial centres, chiefly in European Russia, Western Europe, and North America. The effect was to convince the ruling groups of all countries that a few more atomic bombs would mean the end of organized society, and hence of their own power. Thereafter, although no formal agreement was ever made or hinted at, no more bombs were dropped. All three powers merely continue to produce atomic bombs and store them up against the decisive opportunity which they all believe will come sooner or later. And meanwhile the art of war has remained almost stationary for thirty or forty years. Helicopters are more used than they were formerly, bombing planes have been largely superseded by self-propelled projectiles, and the fragile movable battleship has given way to the almost unsinkable Floating Fortress; but otherwise there has been little development. The tank, the submarine, the torpedo, the machine gun, even the rifle and the hand grenade are still in use. And in spite of the endless slaughters reported in the Press and on the telescreens, the desperate battles of earlier wars, in which hundreds of thousands or even millions of men were often killed in a few weeks, have never been repeated.

None of the three super-states ever attempts any manoeuvre which involves the risk of serious defeat. When any large operation is undertaken, it is usually a surprise attack against an ally. The strategy that all three powers are following, or pretend to themselves that they are following, is the same. The plan is, by a combination of fighting, bargaining, and well-timed strokes of treachery, to acquire a ring of bases completely encircling one or other of the rival states, and then to sign a pact of friendship with that rival and remain on peaceful terms for so many years as to lull suspicion to sleep.

(text removed)

Under this lies a fact never mentioned aloud, but tacitly understood and acted upon: namely, that the conditions of life in all three super-states are very much the same. In Oceania the prevailing philosophy is called Ingsoc, in Eurasia it is called Neo-Bolshevism, and in Eastasia it is called by a Chinese name usually translated as Death-Worship, but perhaps better rendered as Obliteration of the Self. The citizen of Oceania is not allowed to know anything of the tenets of the other two philosophies, but he is taught to execrate them as barbarous outrages upon morality and common sense. Actually the three philosophies are barely distinguishable, and the social systems which they support are not distinguishable at all. Everywhere there is the same pyramidal structure, the same worship of semi-divine leader, the same economy existing by and for continuous warfare. It follows that the three super-states not only cannot conquer one another, but would gain no advantage by doing so. On the contrary, so long as they remain in conflict they prop one another up, like three sheaves of corn. And, as usual, the ruling groups of all three powers are simultaneously aware and unaware of what they are doing. Their lives are dedicated to world conquest, but they also know that it is necessary that the war should continue everlastingly and without victory. Meanwhile the fact that there is no danger of conquest makes possible the denial of reality which is the special feature of Ingsoc and its rival systems of thought. Here it is necessary to repeat what has been said earlier, that by becoming continuous war has fundamentally changed its character.

In past ages, a war, almost by definition, was something that sooner or later came to an end, usually in unmistakable victory or defeat. In the past, also, war was one of the main instruments by which human societies were kept in touch with physical reality. All rulers in all ages have tried to impose a false view of the world upon their followers, but they could not afford to encourage any illusion that tended to impair military efficiency. So long as defeat meant the loss of independence, or some other result generally held to be undesirable, the precautions against defeat had to be serious. Physical facts could not be ignored. In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four. Inefficient nations were always conquered sooner or later, and the struggle for efficiency was inimical to illusions. Moreover, to be efficient it was necessary to be able to learn from the past, which meant having a fairly accurate idea of what had happened in the past. Newspapers and history books were, of course, always coloured and biased, but falsification of the kind that is practised today would have been impossible. War was a sure safeguard of sanity, and so far as the ruling classes were concerned it was probably the most important of all safeguards. While wars could be won or lost, no ruling class could be completely irresponsible.

But when war becomes literally continuous, it also ceases to be dangerous. When war is continuous there is no such thing as military necessity. Technical progress can cease and the most palpable facts can be denied or disregarded. As we have seen, researches that could be called scientific are still carried out for the purposes of war, but they are essentially a kind of daydreaming, and their failure to show results is not important. Efficiency, even military efficiency, is no longer needed. Nothing is efficient in Oceania except the Thought Police. Since each of the three super-states is unconquerable, each is in effect a separate universe within which almost any perversion of thought can be safely practised. Reality only exerts its pressure through the needs of everyday life -- the need to eat and drink, to get shelter and clothing, to avoid swallowing poison or stepping out of top-storey windows, and the like. Between life and death, and between physical pleasure and physical pain, there is still a distinction, but that is all. Cut off from contact with the outer world, and with the past, the citizen of Oceania is like a man in interstellar space, who has no way of knowing which direction is up and which is down. The rulers of such a state are absolute, as the Pharaohs or the Caesars could not be. They are obliged to prevent their followers from starving to death in numbers large enough to be inconvenient, and they are obliged to remain at the same low level of military technique as their rivals; but once that minimum is achieved, they can twist reality into whatever shape they choose.

The war, therefore, if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are set at such an angle that they are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word 'war', therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist. The peculiar pressure that it exerted on human beings between the Neolithic Age and the early twentieth century has disappeared and been replaced by something quite different. The effect would be much the same if the three super-states, instead of fighting one another, should agree to live in perpetual peace, each inviolate within its own boundaries. For in that case each would still be a self-contained universe, freed for ever from the sobering influence of external danger. A peace that was truly permanent would be the same as a permanent war. This -- although the vast majority of Party members understand it only in a shallower sense -- is the inner meaning of the Party slogan: War is Peace.

(text removed. Winston starts reading again at Chapter 1)

Chapter I - Ignorance is Strength:

(text removed)

But stupidity is not enough. On the contrary, orthodoxy in the full sense demands a control over one's own mental processes as complete as that of a contortionist over his body. Oceanic society rests ultimately on the belief that Big Brother is omnipotent and that the Party is infallible. But since in reality Big Brother is not omnipotent and the party is not infallible, there is need for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts. The keyword here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink.

The alteration of the past is necessary for two reasons, one of which is subsidiary and, so to speak, precautionary. The subsidiary reason is that the Party member, like the proletarian, tolerates present-day conditions partly because he has no standards of comparison. He must be cut off from the past, just as he must be cut off from foreign countries, because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off than his ancestors and that the average level of material comfort is constantly rising. But by far the more important reason for the readjustment of the past is the need to safeguard the infallibility of the Party. It is not merely that speeches, statistics, and records of every kind must be constantly brought up to date in order to show that the predictions of the Party were in all cases right. It is also that no change in doctrine or in political alignment can ever be admitted. For to change one's mind, or even one's policy, is a confession of weakness. If, for example, Eurasia or Eastasia (whichever it may be) is the enemy today, then that country must always have been the enemy. And if the facts say otherwise then the facts must be altered. Thus history is continuously rewritten. This day-to-day falsification of the past, carried out by the Ministry of Truth, is as necessary to the stability of the regime as the work of repression and espionage carried out by the Ministry of Love.

The mutability of the past is the central tenet of Ingsoc. Past events, it is argued, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memories. The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. And since the Party is in full control of all records and in equally full control of the minds of its members, it follows that the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it. It also follows that though the past is alterable, it never has been altered in any specific instance. For when it has been recreated in whatever shape is needed at the moment, then this new version is the past, and no different past can ever have existed. This holds good even when, as often happens, the same event has to be altered out of recognition several times in the course of a year. At all times the Party is in possession of absolute truth, and clearly the absolute can never have been different from what it is now. It will be seen that the control of the past depends above all on the training of memory. To make sure that all written records agree with the orthodoxy of the moment is merely a mechanical act. But it is also necessary to remember that events happened in the desired manner. And if it is necessary to rearrange one's memories or to tamper with written records, then it is necessary to forget that one has done so. The trick of doing this can be learned like any other mental technique. It is learned by the majority of Party members, and certainly by all who are intelligent as well as orthodox. In Oldspeak it is called, quite frankly, 'reality control'. In Newspeak it is called doublethink, though doublethink comprises much else as well.

(text removed)

Which reminds me, on Saturday, I went to Luna's Cafe to see Diluvio, which features my next door neighbor, Gil Rodriguez. Quite a good time, dancing away with his wife Sherry, to an eclectic musical offerring: American jazz, Australian aboriginal, Chilean lamentation. I'll have to do it again!
Thinking About "A Chorus Line"

In comments on a previous post, Jennifer Marks, who played “Bebe Benzenheimer” in Runaway Stage’s “A Chorus Line,” asked that dangerous question whose answer every actor and actress is secretly dying to know: “i was in rsp's a chorus line. i was curious what u thought of it?" It’s a hazardous question because it puts the audience member on-the-spot. A less-confrontational question is: “so, did you enjoy the show?” Then the audience member is free to elaborate as they please: “you were great,” “the script sucked,” “I thought this show was supposed to be for kids,” or whatever, without necessarily revealing one’s true thoughts.

Nevertheless, I’m not the typical audience member, since I played (however badly) a “Cut Dancer” in Woodland Opera House’s show in 1999, and actually got to play “Bobby (aka Joseph Henry Mills III)” in DMTC’s show in 2003. So, given that background, my opinion might actually carry a little more weight than most audience members.

One thing the Sacramento area actors need is someone who can intelligently review local amateur musical shows: someone who is both part of the community, yet distant enough to offer an objective opinion. The local newspapers generally do a poor job at this function, if they do it at all. I once suggested using my blog to perform that function, but all my DMTC friends thought it was a horrible idea, because:
  • I’m not really an objective observer;
  • I will thoroughly alienate all my musical theater friends and acquaintances with tactless opinions;
  • What the hell does an air-quality meteorologist know about musical theater anyway?

Nevertheless, the need lingers. So I’m going to offer a few (hopefully) humble opinions about the two recent productions of “A Chorus Line,” produced by Runaway Stage Productions (RSP) and Vallejo Music Theater. I saw the Sunday, July 25th RSP show, at Sacramento’s 24th Street Theater, and the Saturday, July 31st Vallejo Music Theater (VMT) show, at the Fetterly Playhouse for the Arts. My ballet instructor, Pam Kay Lourentzos, directed the VMT show: Bob Baxter directed the RSP show, with Gino Platina as choreographer.

I had quite a few acquaintances in the Runaway Stage show (indeed, I just got a wedding invitation to Laurent and Amber’s forthcoming wedding, which really surprises me, given their large and dense web of friends and acquaintances – I’m pretty far out in the cheap seats), but I knew just a few people in the Vallejo show.

The big standout in the Runaway show, for me, was “Val” (Becky Snow). Of the four recent productions I've seen or been involved with since 1999 (Woodland, DMTC, Vallejo, RSP) Becky (not an acquaintance) was the best "Val" (stiff competition too: Woodland’s Julie Peak and DMTC’s Wendy Young Carey were excellent Vals, and Vallejo’s Sylvia Keuter wasn’t bad either). Like I told RSP’s Ray Fisher at the Vallejo show, Becky Snow was "Head and shoulders - no, tits and ass" above everyone else. And it's a difficult role to get right too.

The big standout in the Vallejo show was Regina Mancha as “Cassie”. Very professional! Even though she was playing a supposedly bad actress, her acting was excellent, her dancing was superb, and she sang pretty well too: a 2 ¾ threat! The second big standout at Vallejo was Jimmy Robertson, who played “Mike”. What a phenomenal dancer!

Vallejo’s casting was generally good: most of the people looked like they were from the right ethnic groups, etc. RSP’s casting was more problematic. One notorious problem all local musical theater groups have with casting dance roles is that the talent pool is not deep enough. Thus non-dancers, and dancers who don’t look like dancers, get major roles. As a chunky veteran Bobby, I sympathize with the dilemma. RSP had several players who, while otherwise excellent, jarred the eye. Vallejo had some of the same problems, but the resolution seemed to be better there, maybe because the dancers there were shorter.

At RSP, there were some solid performances: "Judy" (Blair Jimison) and "Kristine" (Katrina Bushnell) come first to mind: "Paul" (Jacob Montoya) too. Kris Knipp as “Maggie” was an excellent dancer, good actress and pretty good singer. I thought "Bobby" (Robert Campbell) rushed just a bit, and Colby Salmon was miscast as "Greg": wonderful dancer, but Colby can't quite do 'snob': Vallejo’s Matt Larson was a better snob, but not as good a dancer. Laurent Lazard was a fine “Mike”, but I worried about those grandmothers of Quebec leaning out their windows into the sleet, on their cold and icy little pillows.

The biggest problems at RSP were choreographic - maybe insufficient drilling. The impact of the opening number depends a lot on unison dancing, and the crowded stage worked against the dancers. Vallejo did a better job with more dancers on a stage of about the same size, but Vallejo had what might be called an advantage over RSP - totally dependable canned music - music I otherwise disliked (I prefer live music). In addition "Cassie's" dancing was too timid (I wondered if that was Amber's health, Gino's planning, or just lack of time).

At Vallejo, I liked "Sheila" (Linda Crebbin-Coates) and "Bobby" (John Greer) and "Bebe" (Amber Mohney) and "Paul" (Ted Bigornia). It was great to see Monica Parisi and Michael Miiller on-stage again. Michael is really nailing down the “Zach” role these days – he just gets better and better. Monica is pretty in pink.The weak point of Vallejo’s production was the music (not live). Also, because of the design of the Vallejo theater, it was vaguely unsettling to see the audience reflected in the mirrors during "Music in the Mirror": Cassie, the mirrors, plus all the rest of us too!

Two performances illustrated unsuspected aspects of the shows – it was like reaching a hilltop and seeing entirely new acting terrain in the distance.

Linnea von Ahn, who played “Larry” at Vallejo, did something quite striking: she breathed life into a quite minor role. “Larry” is supposed to be technically exact - an adult among overgrown kids – but certainly not a standout. Linnea was not a trained dancer, but she had a nice smile. Her voice was loud, but flat. The effect she created, when she bossed the dancers around in the Tap Sequence, was of a friendly but pompous blowhard – a novel characterization (I wonder how many other blowhards there are on Broadway?) It worked! Made me smile! Excellent work!

“Kristine” and “Al” at RSP (Katrina Bushnell and Spencer Tregilgas) were an interesting couple: Al’s slight rhythm problem (he’s supposed to be the better-singing half of the couple) led me to wonder whether the character “Kristine” can actually sing quite well and maybe all she lacks is self-confidence. I contemplated their rather two-dimensional relationship expanding, allowing for a much more interesting and tortured future together: “Al” suffocates his wife’s budding ambitions, she rebels against his tyranny, then: a terrible breakup, accidents, travails, addictions – what a mess!

Looking at Vallejo's show, I reflected on just how hard a show "A Chorus Line" is to do well. Casting is crucial, but the limited pool of available talent (particularly male) often forces compromises. Pam Kay Lourentzos has practically made it a specialty to do the show well, and she still got a mediocre review from a Bay Area paper. That fellow didn’t understand: doing “A Chorus Line” is a privilege, a rite-of-passage, and Vallejo produced quite a good show. The RSP show was more problematic, but featured strong performances.

Puzzling Statements by Puzzling Conservatives

Having read George Will's column, 'Ignoring History in Iraq', I found myself more intrigued by the lacunae in his arguments than in the arguments themselves. Will recounted various American adventures overseas as part of his discussion of John Judis' new book, "The Folly of Empire." Regarding democracy, Will stated:

"A government that is all sail and no anchor might produce popular choices that lead through anarchy to civil war (American democracy led there), or national fragmentation, or fragmentation forestalled by Bonapartism, Francoism or some other variant of authoritarianism."

The parenthetical statement in bold was in the column as printed in the Sacramento Bee today, August 18th (not yet on the Web), but not in the Washington Post's Web version. The parenthetical statement is strange, because even though America went through the War Between the States, usually called the Civil War (a misnomer, actually, since the war was mostly sectional in nature), America never went through an anarchic stage beforehand. Was the parenthetical statement Will's own, or an editor's? I suppose what Will had in mind were efforts by "all-sail" Stephen Douglas, among others, to compromise between North and South on the issue of slavery and thus avoid bloodshed: God forbid that Iyad Allawi should try to compromise with Muqtada Al-Sadr to avoid bloodshed, even if a compromise is possible. I suppose it's easy to advise "no compromise," sitting here in the Western Hemisphere, but really, it's rather arrogant to counsel Allawi on such a path when Allawi might fail.

In addition, the totalitarian impulse is still a possibility in Iraq: our intervention hasn't closed the door on a new and better Saddam. A new dictator may emerge, or, growing tired of the mess, we might always kiss and make up with Saddam Hussein and unleash him on new Iraqi adventures. Stranger things have happened in world history. There is no magic division between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes: just different places on the same spectrum.

George Will pointed out the sham nature of the new Iraqi sovereignty, given the large number of American troops in the country. Then, apropos of little, Will ventured on a striking prediction: "Untenable even before what may be coming before November: an Iraqi version of the North Vietnamese Tet offensive of 1968. To say that the coming offensive will be by "Baathists" is, according to one administration official, akin to saying "Nazis" when you mean "the SS" -- the most fearsome of the Nazis. Such an offensive could make Sadr's insurgency seem a minor irritant. And it could unmake a presidency, as Tet did."

So, are there super-Baathists out there? Scary to contemplate! Will is almost surely wrong, however, since most credible observers believe the majority of combatants (see 'Beyond Fallujah' in Harper's print version) in Iraq are cells of young salafists working under loose religious direction. The closest equivalent in American terms might be young, gun-nut volunteer warriors, who like to tend to their families on weekdays and blow up convoys on weekends. There are some noisy Al Qaeda wannabes (Zarqawi) and quite a few veteran Baathists, of course, but they likely aren't the majority. Large arms stockpiles went unguarded after the U.S. victory in 2003, allowing just about anyone who wants weapons to have them, so any special access to the tools of war provided by Baathist Party or Al Qaeda membership was considerably devalued. It's a come-as-you-are resistance movement!

Has there ever been such a large war where one of the combatants (the U.S.) can't even get a fix on who their opponents are, or who leads them (for example, various imams, practicing unafraid in plain sight)? President Bush and others have repeatedly referred to their enemies as Baathist dead-enders and Al Qaeda terrorists, leaving out numerous volunteerist semi-militias. George Will just compounded this error. Wishful thinking may explain why we have such a problem dealing with the violence in Iraq.

Another strange, yet revealing, comment was made by William Buckley in a brief interview in the New York Times magazine on July 11th. Referring to the neoconservatives, the interviewer, Deborah Solomon, goaded Buckley: "Yes, their ambition in Iraq seems to be leading to their self-destruction," to which Buckley replied: "Neocons would suffer a great blow, conceivably mortal, if Bush were defeated because of Iraq."

The statement seemed odd: Buckley, and probably other conservatives as well (Pat Buchanan comes to mind since he never joined the Iraqi parade), are now trying to distance themselves from the Iraqi debacle. Blame rests with those foolish, wooly-headed neo-conservatives, and not with righteous conservatives in general. Failure dies an orphan, as we all know, but neocons alone aren't to blame: support for the Iraq adventure was used as a cudgel in the 2002 off-year elections by all national Republican candidates. Still, it's interesting to think of American foreign policy being screwed up by some carpetbagging, think-tank, neocon scalawags who no real conservative ever respected anyway, and no one else had anything to do with it.