Fun with Sociopaths

Sometimes it’s hard to get a handle on what is going on in the world, or at least what makes a difference, when out here a day like Tuesday, June 26, was bracketed by odd events.  Just after midnight Stephen Elliot reported on what some considered significant news


“I hope she’s not crying,” Nick Ut says. “I want pictures of a happy lady. I feel very sorry for her.” It’s night and we’re waiting for Paris Hilton to get out of jail. The journalists are flanked along the walkway leading from the main entrance, kept back by yellow tape. Nick was 15 years old when he started taking pictures for the Associated Press. His brother had been killed in the Mekong Delta while shooting for the AP and Nick took his place.


In 1972 Nick took a picture of a 9-year-old girl named Kim. She was naked, running with her arms spread, 80 percent of her body burned by napalm. The picture won the Pulitzer Prize and hastened the end of an unnecessary war. Thirty-five years later to the day, he took a picture of Paris Hilton crying in a police car, returning to jail. “You look at the pictures,” he says, “they’re very similar. Her hair falls over her brow, both crying, open mouth. Also different. Kim was very poor, 80 percent of her body burned by napalm. Paris was in jail for three days.”


Nick speaks with Kim on the phone every week. Kim now works as a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations.


The first photo is here and the second here.  Perhaps this speaks volumes about the press, or more precisely, about what we expect the press to report to us as news.  Nick Ut just takes the pictures, and times change, thirty-five years to the day.


At least the Hilton woman didn’t return to her house near here.  Her departure for jail was bad enough, but upon release she ended up further down Sunset at the grandparents’ estate in Bel-Air.  The word is she’ll move out of the North Kings Road place, which is significant news only to those of us in the immediate vicinity.  Nine low-flying helicopters at once can scare the crap out of the cat.


But all this was news, as the news is a commercial venture and presents us with what we’re collectively willing to pay for, one way or another.  We know what we want, and the day ended with this


Equipped with folding chairs and sleeping bags, hundreds of Paul McCartney fans lined the street outside a funky Hollywood record store on Tuesday to secure a seat for a free show there by the ex-Beatle.


… McCartney will play an all-ages concert at Sunset Boulevard’s Amoeba Music at 7:30 p.m. PDT Wednesday, his spokesman Paul Freundlich confirmed.


Wristbands to gain entrance will be given out starting at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.


“This has not been finalized, but we’re likely looking at a minimum of 300 people inside,” Freundlich told The Associated Press.


And in-between, down on the corner here, there’s Hyde Lounge – an “invitation only” club where Paris Hilton and that crowd hang out.  There was a major shoot down there this particular Tuesday – studio trucks and cables and lights and surly grips everywhere.  Traffic was heavy from there down to Amoeba Music, with the campers gathering for Paul McCartney.


Of course the west wall of Sunset Boulevard’s Amoeba Music faces CNN’s west coast headquarters, and they still do what some of us bitterly call real news, although sometimes you wonder


Glenn Beck is getting his first gig on CNN next week – and it’s in Paula Zahn’s spot.  Zahn is off next week, so Beck is subbing at 8 pm the week of July 2.  It’ll be Beck’s first time hosting on the mothership. He’ll still tape his HLN show, which airs at 7 and 9 pm…


We all know the guy by now.  Beck admits to his ADHD and says all sort of things – the techniques used to promote the idea of global warming and those used by Hitler in promoting hatred against Jews in Nazi Germany are one in the same.  Of Hillary Clinton – “She is like the stereotypical – excuse the expression, but this is the way to – she’s the stereotypical bitch, you know what I mean?”  And there was the 2006 interview with Congressman-Elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim to be elected to the United States Congress – “No offense and I know Muslims and I like Muslims, but that being said, you are a Democrat, you are saying let’s cut and run and I have to tell you what I feel like saying to you is sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”  Oh my!   Beck later said this – “Quite possibly the poorest-worded question of all time. That might come from my lack of intelligence.”  What is CNN thinking?


Well, CNN has to do something about the ratings slide, and the idea seems to be to outfox Fox News, literally.  And the Paris Hilton exclusive interview with Larry King will help the ratings, although frequent contributor Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, who was one of the crew that started CNN back in 1980, commented – “Perhaps Paris granted Larry the interview because she thinks he owns the road she lives on.”  That actually could be.


In any event, while the world paid attention to odd events in these few blocks of Sunset Boulevard, Tuesday, June 26, also brought a new CNN poll – and this was news of the old-fashioned sort, the kind people followed thirty-five years ago when they saw the first Nick Ut photograph –


Public support for the war in Iraq has fallen to a new low and Republican support is beginning to waver, a poll published Tuesday found. In the latest CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll, 69 percent of those polled believe things are going badly in Iraq, and anti-war sentiment among Republican poll respondents has suddenly increased.


The trend was obvious.  In 1965, Michael Eisner, the man ran who Disney for so many years, graduated from Denison, a small liberal arts college in Ohio.  But ten years earlier Richard Lugar graduated from that school, and now, as a US Senator of many years, and ranking Republican on the senate foreign affairs committee, he very publicly pulled the plug on his support of the president’s Iraq policy.  He said it’s just not working.  Let’s try something else.  This is now something for which there is no military solution.


That’s news, and Josh Marshall has a few things to say about the poll


The number referenced toward the end is 38% – the number of self-identified Republicans who say they oppose the war. (I wasn’t able to find a partisan break-out of the numbers in the CNN data. So I’m not clear what the number jumped up from.)


This all puts in stark terms the intense anxiety now palpitating Republican hearts in Washington, DC. One number is 38%. Another number is 17, the number of months before the 2008 election.


President Bush gives every indication that he intends to keep troop deployments at their current level through January 2009. Sure, if everyone chills out in Iraq and finally throws him the parade the president is holding out for, he’ll begin bringing the troops home. But on planet Earth, it’s stay the course through 1/08.


Can he do that?  Here’s the calculation –


The president’s ability to pull that off – both in terms of raw votes and public sentiment– rests almost entirely on a solid phalanx of support among congressional Republicans and 2008 Republican presidential aspirants. They don’t have to be for the president’s war or his conduct of it. But they need to stay resolutely opposed to Democratic efforts to end it.


As long as that’s the case, as long as the vast majority of Republicans oppose Democratic attempts to end the war, that will keep Democrats (not saying it’s right, just observing the dynamics) from really going to the mat over it. And as long as Democrats don’t force a major confrontation that keeps it all sort of murky in the public mind who’s for or against. But eventually – maybe as soon as September – public opposition will become so overwhelming that the Democrats may be willing to really force the matter and not worry about lacking any bipartisan cover. Or maybe by September enough Republicans will see the numbers and give in and give the Democrats their veto-proof majorities.


Marshall is of the mind that the trend is unmistakable – even if the Republicans can maintain unity and “defy political gravity through 2008” they can see the writing on the wall.  Anyone who goes into the 2008 election with support on “the defining issue of the day” below thirty percent is dead.  And all we have now is some sort of safety in numbers for Republicans sticking with the president –


But no one wants to be the last one to the door. If you’re a Republican congressman and you’ve been carrying the president’s water on Iraq for years you don’t want to be on the losing side when the Congress finally ends the war in spite of the president. At that point, even if you flip flop and start saying we’ve got to change course and try to get on the right side of public opinion, then you’re probably just doubly screwed. And if it’s mid-2008 at that point you’re really not in a good place.


The poll shows people are getting nervous, as Marshall thinks they should –


The truth is that the president is playing a very high-stakes game of chicken with his fellow Republicans. He’s driving a hundred miles an hour toward the cliff, way too fast to jump out of the car without risking serious injury. But as the cliff gets closer, they’ll start to jump.


Now this is news, even if the image here might remind you of that scene from “Rebel Without a Cause,” when James Dean rolls out of the old ‘ 53 Mercury just before it flies of the cliff, but his challenger gets the sleeve of his tough-guy black leather jacket caught on the door handle and, unable to free himself, plunges to his death on the rocks below.  Maybe Marshall intended that.  He probably did.  Everything is Hollywood.


But there’s something more bubbling around here, as Eli over at Firedoglake explains in It’s Good to be a Sociopath

It comes in handy, it really does. When you just don’t give a shit about anyone but yourself, it’s very empowering. There’s almost nothing you can’t – won’t – do. I’m not speaking from experience, just from observation of Dubya and his inner circle for the past 6.5 years. I exaggerate a bit, but they have demonstrated time and again that they care nothing for the little people outside their cozy bubble, and that they are perfectly willing to sacrifice anyone and anything in their pursuit of power, money, and delusions of grandeurosity [sic].


This is all old news, of course. It’s why BushCo. had no interest in acting on the “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US” PDB; it’s why it never even occurred to them to do anything before or after New Orleans drowned; it’s why they’re dedicated to demolishing democracy; and it’s why they were perfectly willing to throw our troops into the flaming tarpit of Iraq even after UN inspectors confirmed that Saddam was not a threat.


But Eli sees a bigger worry –


We already know that our soldiers’ lives mean nothing to him, and that he’s perfectly willing to sacrifice them for political gain, or just to get a hard-on. We also know, as Atrios reminds us repeatedly, that in Dubya’s crazed, macho brain Leaving = Losing. So if the Democrats and perhaps some fed-up Republicans finally do manage to pull the plug on the war while he’s still in office, what’s his incentive not to botch the withdrawal and then blame the carnage on the congressional surrender-monkeys?


And any withdrawal won’t be easy.  Rear-guard fighting of the nastiest sort is most likely, and that may serve the president’s ends –


What if the withdrawal is as poorly planned and executed as the occupation? What if there’s a botched assassination attempt on Sadr just as we’re starting to withdraw? Sure, no sane president would endanger our troops so needlessly… but we don’t have a sane president.


Please tell me that Petraeus or whatever poor sap Dubya appoints as “Withdrawal Czar” will find some sneaky, back-channel way to ensure that the withdrawal doesn’t turn into a bloodbath.


Now that is a little paranoid.  No one would make sure the withdrawal is a bloody mess with lots of our guys dead and maimed, in anger, just to prove it is a terrible idea.


Dover Bitch (poor Matthew Arnold!) isn’t so sure


… I cannot deny that this administration and its mindless defenders scare the crap out of me. I truly believe they are pathological and have a disturbing lack of empathy. Consider how far removed from the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes you have to be to think Katrina survivors might think it’s “kind of fun” to lose their houses and be forced to live in shelters. Or that the victims might actually be better off since they were so poor. Or that Iraq is not in that bad shape since it looks peaceful from 30,000 feet above. I mean, imagine how much you would have to be disconnected from the suffering to say, “And are people being killed? Yes. And is it unfortunate? Yes.”


It’s just disgusting. There’s no way to account for the lack of compassion on behalf of the people running this country other than to say simply that they lack the fundamental ability to see things from other people’s perspectives.


Well, some people feel bad for Paris Hilton, and all the Republicans inside the beltway feel really, really bad for Scooter Libby.  But the writer here is depressed by what she reads from Dennis Milligan, Chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party –


At the end of the day, I believe fully the president is doing the right thing, and I think all we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on September 11, 2001, and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country.


She says –


Unlike this important Republican, I pray we never have another attack on American soil. Unlike another important Republican, I won’t even wish the next attack upon his family.


The modern GOP is the lowest assortment of cretins we’ve ever had at the helm of our nation.


Maybe so.  But there was Richard Lugar’s senate floor speech declaring that he now supports withdrawal from Iraq.  On the other hand, the next day his spokesman clarified that he didn’t really mean it – he’ll always vote with the president as he always has.  He’s loyal and all that.  When the Senate voted in April to tie funding for the war to a timeline for bringing the troops home, Lugar joined most Republicans in voting no. And when Bush demanded that the Senate go back and pass a war funding bill without any timetable for bringing the troops home, Lugar cast his vote in the way that Bush wanted.  CNN may characterize the new speech as a “significant crack” in Republican support for Bush’s war plan – he did say that “our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond,” and that it’s time to begin a “downsizing and redeployment of United States military forces to more sustainable positions.”


Tim Grieve notes here that this is nothing new –


On Jan. 24, 2007, Lugar said that he shared “many of the concerns” that were leading some of his colleagues to propose a resolution opposing Bush’s “surge.”


“Militarily, the plan may achieve initial successes,” Lugar said then. “But the premise that clearing and holding high-risk areas of Baghdad will create enough space for an effective political reconciliation is dubious. The plan is likely to be encumbered by the unwillingness of the Iraqi government to confront Shia militias, the questionable loyalty of many Iraqi army and police units, the resilience of the Sunni insurgency, the meddling of Iran, the ineffectual history of our economic aid, and the political and military limits of our ability to hold indefinitely large swaths of urban landscape in hostile circumstances … Even if the initial military operations go well, there is little reason to assume that this ‘breathing room’ will have any impact on the Sunnis plans to continue the fight or the Shias’ plans to dominate Iraq … If we undertake the tremendous investment that sending more American soldiers to Iraq represents, it should be in support of a clear strategy for achieving a negotiated reconciliation. We should not depend on theories or hopes that something good may happen if we dampen violence in Baghdad.”


He’s just being clearer this time, but it’s all talk –


As Lugar himself explained as he declined to vote for the anti-surge resolution in January, there’s a difference between talking tough on Iraq and actually doing something about it. “In an open democracy, we voice our agreements and disagreements in public, and we should not be reticent to do so,” he said. “But official roll-call votes carry a unique message.”


Grieve comments – “Call us when you’re ready to send one.”


In the meantime, the bailing out continues, that jumping from the car heading for the cliff.  It seems here we learn that things are so bad with White House officials leaving classified documents unattended and then shutting down security officers when they try to investigate, that according to Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA-Hollywood), that officers from the White House Security Office have told Waxman that over half of the staff from that office has resigned in the past year.  Oops.  That’s news.


See Josh Marshall on the somewhat related connected and mutually-reinforcing bonds of authoritarianism and incompetence


These really aren’t normal political times we’re living in.  … The president’s critics are always accusing him of law-breaking or unconstitutional acts and then also berating the incompetence of his governance. And it’s often treated as, well … he’s power-hungry and incompetent to boot! Imagine that! The point though is that they are directly connected. Authoritarianism and secrecy breed incompetence; the two feed on each other. It’s a vicious cycle. Governments with authoritarian tendencies point to what is in fact their own incompetence as the rationale for giving them yet more power. Katrina was a good example of this.


The basic structure of our Republic really is in danger from a president who militantly insists that he is above the law.

But Paris Hilton is free. 

Ah, what does it matter?  Via Jane Hamsher, an excerpt from the same Tuesday’s Washington Post online chat, and the day’s Post person on duty was the ever-affable columnist Eugene Robinson –


Silver Spring, Md.: I think Copernicus, Galileo and the modern astronomy community are all wrong about the sun-centered solar system. I don’t have any data, or any particular expertise in the field. All I know is that it bothers me to have people saying we orbit the sun, when I can clearly see it moving across the sky. Plus it is scaring the children to hear people talk about it. Could you tell me how to get an op-ed piece published at The Post? I hear they have no standards for this anymore. Thank you!


Eugene Robinson: I think there must be a Bush administration science panel that has a spot for you!


Robinson just didn’t get the sarcasm (or maybe he did and deflected it masterfully).  The “civilian” (the news consumer) is mocking the press – you have no standards any more, right?   Hey, you’ll print anything these days, even if it’s baseless nonsense, right?  Robinson says it isn’t us – it’s the White House.  He’s saying we at the Post know X, Y, or Z is a steaming load of crap, and you know that too, but when the White House says it’s not – that it’s really three scoops of ice cream and everyone else is quite mistaken – we have to report that.  No news there.


What the hell – you might as well follow the Paris Hilton story.  The “real news” will just upset you, if you can get it.



About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Cultural Notes, Life in Hollywood, Press Notes. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Fun with Sociopaths

  1. Pingback: Dialogs under the Full Moon « Just Above Sunset

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