From the Annals of Bad Editors

I'm not quite sure why I looked this up — I think I was verifying the spelling of Daniel Keyes' name — but this afternoon I checked out the Wikipedia entry for "Flowers for Algernon" and learned this:

In 1958, Keyes was approached by Galaxy Science Fiction magazine to write a story, at which point the different elements of Flowers for Algernon fell into place. On submitting the finished story to Galaxy, however, the editor suggested changing the ending so that Charlie retained his intelligence, married Alice, and lived happily ever after. Keyes refused to make the change and sold the story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction instead.

Keyes worked on the expanded novel between 1962 and 1965 and first tried to sell it to Doubleday, but they also wanted to change the ending. Again, Keyes refused and gave Doubleday back their advance. Five different publishers rejected the story over the course of a year until it was taken on and published by Harcourt in 1966.

Seriously?  Did these guys also tell Shakespeare that Romeo and Juliet was kind of a bummer and he really ought to have Juliet wake up just as Romeo was about to take the poison — followed by a backslapping reconciliation between the Montague and Capulet clans and a joyous wedding between the star-bless'd lovers?

Jeebus.  What the hell kind of story is it if you give it a happy ending?  What was up with these guys?

Regretfully Ours, Robert S. McNamara

News of Robert McNamara’s death this morning sparked the old hatreds and passions of the Vietnam war, just as the man himself did in life.

A comment on Ben Smith’s blog at Politico today was full of the old venom.

“I hope some of the 50,000+ young men he was partially responsible for killing are waiting to escort him to hell.”

Writing in these pages, Kevin Drum has a more sympathetic point of view, based in part on the fact that Secretary of Defense McNamara a) resigned when he realized he couldn’t convince the Johnson administration to stop the slaughter in Vietnam, b) later admitted his fundamental mistakes in prosecuting the war, and c) felt anguish for his actions.

In January 1990, before McNamara had made his mea culpas public, I was beginning research for a book about the massacre by US Army troops of approximately 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians, mostly women, children and old men, in the village of My Lai, a horrific event that took place in 1968, but which the military covered up for a year.

It was the first shock of recognition for a generation of white, middle-class Americans that our soldiers -- our nation -- was capable of committing true evil on a massive scale.

Part of my research included sending letters to two dozen prominent Americans. Some of them had been directly involved in the Vietnam War. Others were public figures, journalists and social critics whose insights into the slaughter at My Lai would, I thought, be valuable.

I posed a simple question: “What lesson(s) should America have learned from My Lai?”

I was surprised that so many individuals responded, and their answers seem even more meaningful now, given the intervening events.

General William Westmoreland, commander of military forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968, wrote that the United States needed to “continue to emphasis [stet] adherence to the letter and the spirit of the Geneva Conventions.”

Telford Taylor, who was the chief US prosecutor at the Nuremburg war-crimes trials, directed his comments to the legal response to the massacre: “The effort to punish violators of the Laws of War, when the defendants are our own soldiers, completely failed.” Taylor died in 1998, but it is easy to imagine him saying the same thing about the lack of accountability in another American war, forty years later.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Francis FitzGerald made an observation that I heard in slightly different forms, from many outside of government or the military: “I would like to remind you that My Lai was more of a symbol than anything else. Most of the civilian casualties in [Vietnam] were caused by bombing and artillery fire in populated areas. Nowadays it is generally the ‘bloodless’ techno-war that kills civilians”

Robert McNamara’s response has always been the most intriguing of the lot, for it seemed then to reveal more about his own anguish over Vietnam than he had, at that time, let on.

Hand-written in pencil in a cramped corner of my original letter were the words, "I regret I am unable to help you,” and McNamara’s signature.

Others had not answered my question, of course, but no one did it in this way. Most simply didn’t write back. Colin Powell had his secretary write that the General had forwarded my request to a military historian. Al Haig stated that he was working on a book of his own and didn’t want to scoop himself by answering the question. (His book, Inner Circles, was published in 1992 with no mention of My Lai.)

McNamara’s response was unique and significant. He could have ignored my letter, but he didn’t. He could have explained his reason for not answering the question, like Al Haig, but he didn’t go that route either.

McNamara confessed he was “unable to help,” and that his inability caused him “regret.”

Kevin Drum has it right, I think. McNamara muffled his anguish and regrets because that’s who he was. I don’t know what words they'll carve into his tombstone, but I can’t think of anything more appropriate -- or more instructive to future generations -- than the words he scribbled in the corner of that letter.

"I regret I am unable to help. Robert S. McNamara."

June 9, 1916 – July 6, 2009.

 

 

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.

Media Matters, Local Edition

In the will-journalism-take-democracy-down-with-it files, Mike has a really interesting report on advertorial worming its way into local news here over at The Riff. To whit:

 

A few weeks ago, my friend Amy Shelf got a call from San Francisco’s KRON 4, a former NBC affiliate, now independent, that bills itself “the Bay Area’s News Station.” The caller, a polite young woman, wanted to set up a meeting with Amy to talk about opportunities for her to appear on the air and speak about legal issues—Amy is a lawyer.

Was the caller a news producer? Not exactly. She wanted Amy to pay $1,000, presumably per month, to star in a five-minute monthly segment. Amy consulted her moral compass. “I was like, ‘I think that’s totally unethical,’" she tells me later, recalling the conversation. "And she said, ‘Well, it looks like the news.’ And I said, ‘That’s exactly what makes it unethical!’”

KRON's sales rep quickly added that the paid segments were identified as such, but Amy still wasn’t buying. Proper disclosure, of course, would make the whole thing just a bit less slimy. So I went online and viewed some of the segments in question. There was plenty to be concerned about.

You have to read the rest of his report to find out how bad it is out there. And once you do, perhaps you'll consider supporting journalism that reports to you. Just sayin'.

The Latest Palin Ethics Complaint

In explaining her decision to resign as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin on Friday said that she was partly motivated to pull out from public office by the flood of ethics complaints filed against her. She said that she has faced fifteen complaints. The Anchorage Daily News puts the count at 18. But whatever it is, her resignation hasn't stopped the flow. On Monday, Zane Henning, a Wasilla resident, filed a new complaint against Palin.

Henning is not a newbie at this. Last November, he filed a complaint accusing Palin of misusing state facilities when she talked to reporters about her 2008  campaign in her state office. In March, the state personnel board dismissed the matter.

Henning's most recent complaint is about an old matter: Palin collecting per diem payments from the state for living in her Wasilla home, rather than in the governor's residence in Juneau. The Washington Post broke this story in September, and Palin's spokespeople insisted she had done no wrong and that her actions had followed state rules. Not until now has it become the subject of an ethics complaint.

From a press release Henning issued:

"I am charging that the Governor has given herself a raise for personal gain by using the per diem process, which is in direct conflict with Section 39.52.120. (a) of the Alaska Executive Ethics Act," Henning said. "The State of Alaska provides housing in the state's capital of Juneau for our Governor, so there should be no extra expense if she desires to stay in her own home. More than a thousand state employees commute from the Mat-Su Valley daily and none of them get to pocket free money."

The reasons why I am filing this complaint are as follows:

* State travel regulations specify per diem can’t be claimed when travel is less than 50 miles from a state employee’s workplace. Palin works out of her Anchorage office in the Atwood Building which is a scant 45-mile commute from her Wasilla home.

* Palin is exempt from personnel and travel rules which means she does NOT HAVE to collect any per diem ever when working out of her Anchorage office.

* And most importantly, State Statute 39.20.010 distinctly stipulates that the governor’s salary is $125,000. Period. By pocketing this free money, Palin violates Alaska law by giving herself a raise that totals to thousands of dollars....

"The Governor is quitting her job and now more than ever the State of Alaska along with its residents need to be reimbursed for the per diem charges including interest and a fine. Governor Palin is setting precedent for future governors. My hope was that one of our lemming legislators would take a stand and hold Palin accountable for this act, but since that has not happened, it is up to private citizens, like myself, to hold our Governor accountable," stated Henning. 

As Palin noted, most of the complaints filed against her have been dismissed--though a handful have led to findings that she did violate state rules. There's no telling if Henning will have better luck with this complaint than his first one. But if Palin keeps her word about leaving office on July 26, ethics watchdogs in Alaska will have Sarah Palin to kick around for only three more weeks.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Toxic Foraged Fish for Dinner in NYC

New York City's Daily News reports that people who eat the fish they catch in the city's polluted waterways could be ingesting a smorgasbord of toxins, including mercury and PCBs. According to the story, health officials haven't tested the city's fish in a decade, so the paper decided to do send samples to a lab in Long Island. The results:

The News found the highest levels of mercury and PCBs in a striped bass caught off Gantry Plaza. The fish are highly prized among local fishermen for their size and flavor.

Bluefish samples from the Gowanus Harbor off Red Hook, Brooklyn, also had unsafe levels, tests conducted by Long Island Analytical Laboratories in Suffolk County showed.

A winter flounder caught off Hunts Point in the Bronx was slightly cleaner, with elevated levels of mercury but lower amounts of PCBs.

Hard times mean that a free meal is hard to pass up—fishermen at one pier told the Daily News that subsistence fishing has doubled in the past year. All the more troubling, then, that the polluted waters usually aren't marked: Health advisories about local fish's toxicity are seldom posted, even in the city's most popular fishing spots.

Of course the city should post the advisories, but if it does, that won't necessarily solve the problem. Eating potentially toxic fish vs. going hungry? Talk about a tough choice.

SF Chronicle to Open Typewriter Shop

The above apocryphal headline was more or less my initial reaction to this morning's paper, which was being handed out free downtown to tout the Chron's first issue printed on new, state-of-the-art, very expensive Canadian presses. Above the fold, a big photo of the Golden Gate Bridge poking through the fog at sunset is tailored to demonstrate just how nicely these presses work. "Today's editions usher in a brighter and more visually exciting era" for the paper, says a note announcing the changes, which include the paper's second major redesign this year. (In February, it touted the prior makeover—with its notes of USA Today—as "brighter and more modern.") But back to today's paper. It includes a special four-page section showing how the exciting new presses work. "A new era gets rolling," it promises.

Where, then, are the ads for those cool rotary telephones? Those newfangled horse-and-buggy courier services? Hot new 8-track releases, and the moving pictures?

 

Even These Guys Want to Legalize It!

In Kevin Drum's excellent "Patriot's Guide to Legalization" he estimates that "Ten years from now, as the flower power generation enters its 70s, you might finally be able to smoke a fully legal, taxed, and regulated joint."

10 years!?!? That's way too long! Too long for Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, our national forests, the overcrowded prison system, the southern border, 259 US cities, and the entire country of Mexico.

Who, exactly, are the forces aligned against the decriminalization of marijuana? Who makes it politically untenable for politicians to sign on to bills like the one California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has introduced? Somewhat surprisingly, it isn't the intellectual right. On the most recent episode of the McLaughlin Group, conservatives Rich Lowry and Monica Crowley agreed with their more liberal co-panelists in coming out for the decriminalization of marijuana. At one point during the discourse John McLaughlin rattles off a long list of prominent conservative and mainstream intellectuals—William Buckley, George Schultz, Milton Friedman, Walter Cronkite—all of whom supported decriminalization. Sure, Monica Crowley stills mouths off some BS about how pot is a gateway drug, but that's more than made up for when Lowry recalls a colleague of his for whom cannabis provided the only relief from chemo. This all comes in the wake of the Cato Institute's publication of Glenn Greenwald's report on the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal.

Watch the McLaughlin Group duke it out, and by duke it out I mean totally agree with each other, after the jump.

Turning the Screws on Iran

On Sunday, Joe Biden told George Stephanopoulos that if Israel wants to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, they can just go right ahead:

Look, Israel can determine for itself — it's a sovereign nation — what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else.

Both Robert Farley and Matt Yglesias read this as Biden distancing the administration from any possible attack.  I have a hard time interpreting it that way, especially when Stephanopoulos asked for and got this clarification:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But just to be clear here, if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?

BIDEN: Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.

The normal response from Biden would have been simply to repeat the administration's standard position: we don't expect Israel to attack, we wouldn't countenance an attack, and beyond that we won't engage in hypotheticals.  But for some reason that's not what Biden did, and the change in tone was pretty clearly in the direction of not standing in Israel's way if they decide to do something.

My guess: this is mainly intended to put a little bit of public pressure on Iran.  Everyone understands that Israel would have to overfly Iraq to get to Iran, and everyone understands that they could only do this with American permission — tacit or otherwise.  Nothing has changed in this regard.  America is plainly on the hook as a co-conspirator if Israel does anything, and always has been.

Rhetorically, though, this amps things up.  Biden is basically saying that Israel really might launch an attack, and the best way to avoid that is for Tehran to start dealing seriously with the United States.  "If the Iranians respond to the offer of engagement, we will engage," he said carrotishly — and if they don't, well, there's not much we can do to stop our crazy cousin.  You know how he is.  You're better off dealing with us.

Hard to say if this will work.  But that seems to be what's going on.  This isn't distancing, it's pressure to quit screwing around and instead sit down and talk.

Ditch the Liar's Law. Any Questions?

Conservatively, the federal government has spent $300 billion fighting the War on Drugs. And the upshot? Death squads roam Mexico, cartels operate in 259 US cities. We spend proportionately less on treatment than in Nixon's day—even though that's the only thing that's shown to reduce abuse. Is there a saner way? We're rolling out MoJo's cover package on the Drug War starting today with Kevin Drum's teetotaling look at decriminalization. Meanwhile, in the ediors' note, Monika and I ask:

Among our leaders in Washington, who's been the biggest liar? There are all too many contenders, yet one is so floridly surreal that he deserves special attention. Nope, it's not Dick Cheney or Alberto Gonzales or John Yoo. It's a trusted authority figure who's lied for 11 years now, no matter which party held sway. (Nope, it's not Alan Greenspan.) This liar didn't end-run Congress, or bully it, or have its surreptitious blessing at the time only to face its indignation later. No, this liar was ordered by Congress to lie—as a prerequisite for holding the job.


Give up? It's the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a.k.a. the drug czar, who in 1998 was mandated by Congress to oppose legislation that would legalize, decriminalize, or medicalize marijuana, or redirect anti-trafficking funding into treatment. And the drug czar has also—here's where the lying comes in—been prohibited from funding research that might give credence to any of the above. These provisions were crafted by Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and pushed for by then-czar Barry McCaffrey, best remembered for being somewhat comically obsessed with the evils of medical marijuana. A few Dems complained that the bill, which set "hard targets" of an 80 percent drop in the availability of drugs, a 60 percent decrease in street purity, and a 50 percent reduction in drug-related crime and ER visits, all by 2004—whoops!—was "simplistic" and "designed to achieve political advantage." Though the vote count was not recorded for history, it got enough bipartisan support to be signed into law by Bill "Didn't Inhale" Clinton.

And guess what? The drug czar's office has been perpetuating some crazy stuff ever since. To whit:

Since 1998, the ONDCP has spent $1.4 billion on youth anti-pot ads. It also spent $43 million to study their effectiveness. When the study found that kids who've seen the ads are more likely to smoke pot, the ONDCP buried the evidence, choosing to spend hundreds of millions more on the counterproductive ads.

So step one to a sane drug policy would be to ditch the liar's law. Read more on our thoughts here. And learn why the feds scored smack for Senator Joe McCarthy!

 

Chart of the Day

Ross Douthat says that both Sarah Palin's popularity and her notoriety are heavily class-based:

Palin’s popularity has as much to do with class as it does with ideology....Here are lessons of the Sarah Palin experience, for any aspiring politician who shares her background and her sex. Your children will go through the tabloid wringer. Your religion will be mocked and misrepresented. Your political record will be distorted, to better parody your family and your faith....All of this had something to do with ordinary partisan politics. But it had everything to do with Palin’s gender and her social class.

Well, look: Bristol and Levi went through the tabloid wringer because they were practically sent from Jerry Springer central casting.  If you're an unknown candidate for national office sprung on the American public, and a few days later that public discovers that your teenage daughter has gotten pregnant out of wedlock, the tabloids are going to go nuts.  Maybe that doesn't reflect well on America, but it's got nothing to do with class.

As for Palin's religion being mocked and misrepresented, Barack Obama got a wee taste of that too last year, didn't he?  And Palin's political record wasn't distorted any more than anyone else's.  Hell, maybe less.  When you base your whole political persona on an obvious lie about being a sworn enemy of federal earmarks — in a state that's practically the earmark capital of the country — and repeatedly claim to have opposed a bridge to nowhere that you were plainly in favor of, well, the distortion started right at home, didn't it?

Still, all that said, I'd agree that Palin's appeal is essentially based on class resentment.  She gets her biggest applause lines when she talks about liberal elites who look down on regular people; the mainstream media peddling lies and propaganda; government bureaucrats who think they know better than you; and big city intellectuals and their contempt for small town values.  That's all heavily class based.  And yet —

Then some facts intrude.  John Sides presents this chart today showing where Palin's base of support comes from.  And it turns out that there's very little difference between her support among the college educated and her support among high school grads.  That's not a perfect proxy for class, and it doesn't show strength of support, which might well be more fervent in the lower SES groups.  Still, it's not too bad a proxy, either.  Class might have less to do with this than Douthat thinks.  Maybe she's just a loon after all.