Pretentious people like to talk about entropy – the idea that all things at all times are naturally resolving to their most random state and lowest energy level. It’s just a basic concept in physics, and quite useful for predicting states at points in time, and calculating rates of decay and such things. Unless you pump in more energy, or impose a fixed structure that freezes things in place, any system of anything will run down and fall apart, and entropy is how you quantify that trend. But then you get old and wonder what all the fuss is about. Your body tells you all you need to know about life being one long losing battle against things getting all random on you, and things getting rather rundown. It happens. You don’t need a mathematical model to figure that out.
And it’s not just you – friends drift away over the years, and you get the college alumni magazine, glance at the class notes for the year you graduated, and none of the names ring a bell. You can’t recall a face, much less an event that might help with your puzzlement. But it’s not your memory. You just didn’t pump in more energy or impose a fixed structure that froze things in place – you had other things to do after graduation, and those who are big on keeping one or two years in the past, the best of times and the worst of times, alive in one way or another, are pathetic. Some people just don’t move on. They’re the ones that go to all the reunions, ceaselessly fighting the long and futile battle against entropy – against the inevitable completely random steady state. They sometimes wear beanies.
But then, oddly, some friends from way back when – when there was energy to burn – stay with you. Physics and human relations may be two different things. That happened with Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta. He went his way – we all did that – but he’s still a good friend. And the way he went was odd – he took his philosophy degree and did minor work for NBC, then AP, then found himself in the news business, once working for Roger Ailes and then part of the team that started CNN back in 1980, and ran their satellite desk for years. Then he retired. But he’s still around – you’ll find his comments in these pages, like this one. And we seem to be always in the middle of an argument we’ve had for years – what is the press supposed to do, and what should they report? Do they give the public what they want, or, even if they sometimes don’t want it, do they give the public what they need to know? And who decides? This argument has been going on forever – from late 2004 see this. Entropy – there seem to be exceptions.
Of course he’s generally on the side of news editors, those who decide what runs up top, what gets buried further down, and what never gets covered, providing people the news they want, even if the policy wonks and idealists roll their eyes and moan about the sacred duty of the press to inform the people of what is really going on and what really matters – even if they don’t want to hear it. Is a major public figure dead wrong about the facts, or flat-out lying about something? It’s never that simple, and the news is a service after all – not an enema or lecture. And if people want to know the latest on what Liz Taylor is saying about Michael Jackson – who ever those two are – then you give them that. They’re paying the bills, after all.
And on Wednesday, June 24, 2009, people wanted to hear all about this:
After going AWOL for seven days, Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Wednesday that he had secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he was having an affair. Wiping away tears, he apologized to his family and gave up a national Republican Party post, but was silent on whether he would resign.
“I’ve been unfaithful to my wife,” he said in a news conference in which the 49-year-old governor ruminated on God’s law, moral absolutes and following one’s heart. He said he spent the last five days “crying in Argentina.”
Sanford, who in recent months had been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2012, said he would resign as head of the Republican Governors Association.
By leaving the country without formally transferring power, critics said he neglected his gubernatorial authority and put the state at risk. It wasn’t clear how his staff could reach him in an emergency.
There’s more at the link, if another Republican sex scandal interests you. And they have been rolling along:
Sanford’s announcement came a day after another prominent Republican, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, apologized to his GOP Senate colleagues after revealing last week that he had an affair with a campaign staffer and was resigning from the GOP leadership.
And now there are the very, very private and personal emails between Sanford and the woman in Buenos Aires named Maria. But you feel dirty reading them, like a voyeur. But the letters themselves aren’t dirty – they’re sappy and enthusiastic and romantic, and they’re not that badly written. They just don’t seem to be anyone’s business. Many guys have written such things – and many not as well. And they have no political or public policy implications at all – they just provide an opportunity to sneer at the guy, who was dumb-ass head-over-heels at the time. That happens, and it’s not always a bad thing. And it’s never hard news.
The news folks needed to figure out how to play this. John Dickerson. Slate’s senior political correspondent, tries to work it out in this column:
Mark Sanford is no longer missing, but he’s obviously lost. The South Carolina governor’s press conference was excruciating: apology, followed by self-flagellation, followed by apology. It was like watching a man light himself on fire. I thought about his kids mustering up the courage to watch it on YouTube some day. I thought about his wife having to suffer the anger and the loss. Perhaps even worse, she’s also going to have to endure the armies of pity and the people like me trying to guess at what her feelings are.
But there is the hard news part of the story:
The scandal has ended Sanford’s national political career. If the affair wasn’t enough to do in Sanford as a presidential candidate, his erratic behavior was. He may be forced to resign as governor. Even if he stays in office, Democrats will figure out how much to exploit the scandal for their advantage.
The Sanford episode makes the bad position of the Republican Party only marginally worse. The fundamental problem for Republicans is they have no leader. Perhaps Sanford could have been that guy, but I don’t think the GOP is going to solve its problems with a white man from the heart of the Confederacy. They have that vote covered.
That part of the story is easily reported. The rest isn’t so easy:
Sanford has done a horrible thing to his wife and family and friends. He seemed to know and feel this more profoundly than other politicians we’ve seen go through this familiar apology exercise before. That doesn’t excuse him. Not that he was asking that anyone excuse him. He seemed to be trying to take all the blame, as he should. Some might think his explanations were excuses. To me they seemed like a man confessing the details of a crime.
But people pounced, and that was ugly:
He was rambling, confused. He didn’t tear up enough when talking about his wife. He favored his mistress. He answered the questions too thoroughly. All these judgments seemed absurd. A man standing in front of a bank of cameras in the middle of a complete collapse is going to say a lot of things poorly.
The snap judgments failed to acknowledge a grain of the fundamental human carnage we were witnessing. You can laugh at Sanford, as you can laugh at a video of a wrecked Amy Winehouse falling all over her house. But at some point, even though they did it to themselves, you have to feel sorry for them as human beings. You can do that, I think, and not be a fan of adultery or drug use.
I’m not offering Sanford’s humanity as an excuse. I’m just marveling at how few people stopped for a moment to even nod to it.
Sanford’s human ruin was greeted with what felt like antiseptic glee. The pain he’s caused, the hypocrisies he’s engaged in, seemed like license to deny him any humanity at all.
Sanford’s fumbling efforts to explain how he’s tried to rescue himself with his faith offered some people an opportunity to make fun of his religion, as if a confused, lost, flawed person were the right spokesman for anything. People tend to think the most awful thing about a person is the most true thing. They also apparently think it’s the most true thing about his or her associations. So an e-mail arrived asking, “[I]s there any Republican not sleeping around?” Maybe Sanford should have been a presidential candidate. He apparently represents an entire party and an entire religion.
But what you saw was a guy who really seemed in love with the one woman, and horrified with what that had done to his wife and kids, and trying to work out what could possibly be the honorable way to deal with all this, if there was a way. The policy issues and implications were obvious, and they seemed secondary. Dickerson puts it this way:
What Mark Sanford seemed to be trying to say is that he screwed up, in the biggest possible way, because he lost his bearings. He lost his self-control. He was indulgent. He forgot that there were other humans in the world.
Yet in the constant flow of abuse, joke-making, and grand conclusions about his failings, it seemed everyone having a good time pointing at his self-indulgence was also engaging in a form of it.
It was just depressing, and at the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen wasn’t sure what to think:
On the one hand, just on a human level, it was tough to watch the governor humiliate himself, fessing up to a deeply embarrassing extramarital affair. Sanford didn’t make excuses – he wasn’t dodging any uncomfortable questions, and thankfully, didn’t have his wife standing there next to him. All in all, at least on the surface, the governor acted like a stand-up guy, owning up to his wrongdoing.
And then there’s that other hand. A stand-up guy doesn’t lecture others on “family values” and then cheat on his wife. A stand-up guy doesn’t secretly leave the country and blow off his professional responsibilities to more than four million South Carolinians.
Benen says he kept thinking about John Ensign’s “identical confession” the week before:
The circumstances are surprisingly similar – during the Lewinsky scandal a decade ago, Ensign voted to remove the president from office, and Sanford voted to remove Clinton from office. When other prominent politicians got caught in sex scandals, Ensign went on the attack – and Sanford went on the attack. Ensign is an evangelical Christian who’s promoted the “sanctity” of marriage; Sanford is an evangelical Christian who’s promoted the “sanctity” of marriage.
A politician’s personal problems are a private matter, but the hypocrisy here is harder to overlook.
But Benen finally comes down on the side of condemning the guy for his policy positions – refuse all stimulus money and shut down the whole state, rather than let Washington intervene in state matters in any way. Benen says Sanford’s “efforts to screw over his own constituents” was far more offensive than that other screwing.
Anyway, a fellow South Carolina Republican, Bob Inglis, comments here that Sanford’s fall may be a chance for the Republicans to “lose the stinking rot of self-righteousness.” It would be nice to be done with all the moral smugness and fix a few national problems.
Of course that’s no fun. See these screen grabs – Fox News covered the story by captioning their feed with Sanford (D). For hours they labeled him a Democrat, at least in all the visuals. It’s they’re little joke – it started with Mark Foley. They do that all the time. It’s a game. Whatever it was, it was so sleazy only a Democrat would do such a thing. Those who are in on the joke grin each time they do it.
Silvio Berlusconi has survived corruption allegations, a playboy reputation and his wife’s wrath to become Italy’s longest-serving prime minister. Now come allegations from a high-end prostitute that she spent the night at his residence and can prove it.
Berlusconi denies the claim, but there are signs of trouble ahead: Prosecutors are examining images Patrizia D’Addario allegedly took of his bedroom and telephone recordings of him allegedly sweet-talking her – and the Roman Catholic Church is warning the “limits of decency” have been breached.
A defiant Berlusconi – sometimes referred to as the “Teflon” prime minister for his ability to escape controversy – says he has nothing to be sorry about.
But the scandal engulfing Berlusconi over his purported fondness for young models and starlets shows no signs of letting up.
Still, it’s not so much the sex, in spite of the Church – being a blustering buffoon has its costs. Many are glad to see this.
And anyway, Sanford wasn’t that important – his party has settled on a 2012 ticket of Palin-Huckabee. That’s what the base wants. This may not have been a national news story at all.
And, although you wouldn’t know it, there was other news, like the confrontation near the Iranian Parliament – “Hundreds of protesters clashed with waves of riot police and paramilitary militia in Tehran on Wednesday, witnesses said, as Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted that the authorities would not yield to pressure from opponents demanding a new election following allegations of electoral fraud.”
And North Korea’s government called the United States “imperialists” and now says that the “army and people of Korea” will “wipe out the aggressors on the globe once and for all.” And an airstrike from an American drone “killed at least 60 people at a funeral for a Taliban fighter in South Waziristan on Tuesday.” Oops, again. And this – “Baghdad market blast kills 62 as US pullout looms.” It was a busy day.
And if you want to put Sanford’s romantic woes in perspective, think about Iran and see Hamid Dabashi in the New York Times:
I see the moment we are witnessing as a civil rights movement rather than a push to topple the regime. If Rosa Park was the American “mother of the civil rights movement,” the young woman who was killed point blank in the course of a demonstration, Neda Agha-Soltan, might very well emerge as its Iranian granddaughter.
If I am correct in this reading, we should not expect an imminent collapse of the regime. These young Iranians are not out in the streets seeking to topple the regime for they lack any military wherewithal to do so, and they are alien to any militant ideology that may push them in that direction.
It seems to me that these brave young men and women have picked up their hand-held cameras to shoot those shaky shots, looking in their streets and alleys for their Martin Luther King. They are well aware of Mir Hossein Moussavi’s flaws, past and present. But like the color of green, the very figure of Moussavi has become, it seems to me, a collective construction of their desires for a peaceful, nonviolent attainment of civil and women’s rights. They are facing an army of firearms and fanaticism with chanting poetry and waving their green bandannas. I thought my generation had courage to take up arms against tyranny. Now I tremble with shame in the face of their bravery.
And the Guardian reports its not pretty there, with this first-hand account from a hospital worker who has witnessed the latest state rampage:
I only want to speak about what I have witnessed. I am a medical student. There was chaos at the trauma section in one of our main hospitals. Although by decree, all riot-related injuries were supposed to be sent to military hospitals, all other hospitals were filled to the brim. Last night, nine people died at our hospital and another 28 had gunshot wounds. All hospital employees were crying till dawn. They (government) removed the dead bodies on back of trucks, before we were even able to get their names or other information. What can you even say to the people who don’t even respect the dead? No one was allowed to speak to the wounded or get any information from them.
This morning the faculty and the students protested by gathering at the lobby of the hospital where they were confronted by plain clothes anti-riot militia, who in turn closed off the hospital and imprisoned the staff. The extent of injuries are so grave, that despite being one of the most staffed emergency rooms, they’ve asked everyone to stay and help – I’m sure it will even be worst tonight.
What can anyone say in face of all these atrocities? What can you say to the family of the 13 year-old boy who died from gunshots and whose dead body then disappeared? This issue is not about cheating (election) anymore. This is not about stealing votes anymore. The issue is about a vast injustice inflected on the people. They’ve put a baton in the hand of every 13-14 year old to smash the faces of “the bunches who are less than dirt” (government is calling the people who are uprising dried-up torn and weeds). This is what sickens me from dealing with these issues.
And you want to talk about Mark Sanford’s deep conflict over two women he loves? There are bigger issues, as Hilzoy (Hilary Bok) explains:
What is true, I think, is that the current events in Islam will force a reexamination of the theological underpinnings of the Islamic Republic. I am not a scholar of Islam, so take what I say with caution (and please feel free to correct my errors), but my understanding is that those underpinnings turn on Ayatollah Khomeini’s novel reading of the concept of the Guardianship of Jurists (velayat-e faqih). As I understand it, Islamic jurists (in Shi’a Islam) are normally thought to have guardianship over various rather non-contentious things: things that are plainly within their purview (e.g., religious trusts), people who are plainly in need of guardians (orphans, the insane), and so forth. But within orthodox Shi’a theology, they are not supposed to have guardianship over whole countries. The idea that they should was an innovation of Ayatollah Khomeini’s, and in theology, innovation is generally not seen as a good thing.
Is that too wonky? Maybe you could just be mad at Obama. Melanie Phillips certainly is – “What a disgrace that this man is leader of the free world; and at such a point in history. If he had put America stoutly behind the protesters and championed them against the regime, by now they might have toppled it.”
Yep, and we’d be there with twenty divisions, doing just what we did in Iraq – babysitting the participants in a civil war, telling them to play nice, hoping one day we could get the hell out.
But at least we won’t be “engaging with Iran.” Matthew Yglesias explains:
The hope behind an engagement strategy was that the Supreme Leader might be inclined to side with the more pragmatic actors inside the system – guys like former president Rafsanjani and former prime minister Mousavi. With those people, and most of the Iranian elites of their ilk, now in open opposition to the regime, any crackdown would almost by definition entail the sidelining of the people who might be interested in a deal. Iran would essentially be in the hands of the most hard-line figures, people who just don’t seem interested in improving relations with other countries. Under the circumstances, the whole subject of American engagement may well wind up being moot.
And the White House rescinded the July 4 invitations to Iranian diplomats around the world – don’t drop by the embassy for hotdogs that day. What’s the point?
Ah well, our press is covering Mark Sanford. And people are eating it up. Perhaps the other stuff will work itself out, or just run down – entropy, you know.
And Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, may be right. You lead with what people want to know about. And sex and betrayal will do. And that stuff is always about life being one long losing battle against things getting all random and low-energy on you.