Gonzales Resigns

Jack Balkin over over at Balkinization says it best:

As for Mr. Gonzales, he was a disgrace to the office. There are many roles he could have competently filled– and did fill– in his career. The Nation’s chief law enforcement officer was not one of them. He abused his office for political gain, repeatedly misled Congress under oath –and probably out and out lied on more than one occasion– and turned a once proud institution of government into an object of deep suspicion.

While others are wondering who Bush will appoint as the lame duck Attorney General for the next year, I am wondering how the growing exodus from the White House will unfold. Who will be next to flee the sinking ship that is the Bush administration?

Tony Soprano Did Not Get Whacked

It seems that public opinion is shifting toward the idea that Tony Soprano was whacked in The Sopranos series finale after the screen went black. That possibility can never entirely be ruled out, which is part of the brilliance of the abrupt, unsatisfying final seconds of the series.

I want to suggest, however, that the blank screen signifies something other than Tony’s death.

In fact, the final seconds of a black screen forever hold Tony’s death in abeyance. It can never happen now. But more fundamentally, the sudden disruption of the Journey song, the disconcerting jump cut to the black screen—these remind us that we are watching television, that our visit with Tony has been mediated all along. Think of the the sudden silence and black screen as a kind of Brechtian moment of estrangement, shocking the viewer out of the usual mode of passive consumption.

We might think of the entire episode (called “Made in America”) as a contemplation upon the habits of the television-watching public. Upon a second viewing, this theory seems obvious, as multiple times we either catch characters on The Sopranos watching television themselves or we the viewers are forced to watch a TV within a TV:

What to make of all this, aside from the commonplace grievance that our lives are mediated, that representation has replaced reality? I think Chase is doing something far more politically charged here. Note that the final shot of a television shows President Bush, famously dancing in April 2007. Chase is clearly mocking Bush, who becomes a Nero figure, fiddling while Rome burns to the ground. When you consider the dozens of references to the War in Iraq and the deadly SUVs in this episode (the Ford Expedition smashing Leotardo’s skull and A.J.’s firebomb of an Xterra), it doesn’t take much to imagine that Chase is making some very serious indictments about American arrogance and American hypocrisy, embodied in everyone from President Bush down to Anthony Soprano, Jr.

Add in the fact that the only things the characters watch more intently in this episode than television sets are gas stations (where Leotardo might use a pay phone), and we have an explicit political statement about Bush’s follies abroad:

The juxtaposition of the American flag and the Gulf truck is surely intentional. As is the display of the American flag every other time in the episode a gas station appears.

Chase seems to be proposing an antidote to the Bush administration’s own mediation of itself, which links Bush to patriotism by always placing him near a Stars and Stripes.

By replacing Bush with the gas station, Chase lays bare the nature of the relationship between the United States and the War in Iraq. It is about oil.

But to say this is to say nothing new. So Chase makes it fresh by making it subtle. He again catches us off guard—so focused are we on those 11 seconds of black space where Tony and his family should be at the end of the episode, we do not recognize what’s really going on. Instead of asking what happens to Tony, we should be asking why are there seven flags at this gas station?

More Political Tag Clouds

It doesn’t attempt the kind of analysis I try with the State of the Union addresses, but chir.ag has a great visual tool that builds tag clouds for hundreds of important presidential speeches and texts, all the way back to the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s State of the Union speeches.

The site has a slider, allowing you to dynamically scroll through the clouds, seeing at a glance what words stick out during what time periods. In the late sixties, “Vietnam” is very bold, indicating it was used quite frequently in presidential speeches. The word “economic” dominates the seventies.

Here’s one surprise: during the eight Reagan years one prominent word is “God.” And that’s one word that doesn’t often appear in G.W. Bush’s speeches, even though he is far more evangelical and beholden to the Christian Right than Reagan ever was.

One thing that would make chir.ag’s dynamic tag cloud even more functional would be an “anchor” feature, in which you could select a specific word, and that word would be highlighted all the way through the hundreds of clouds, whenever it appeared. It’d be fascinating to take an unlikely word (for example, “healing”–which was one of the top 100 words in Gerald Ford’s first address to Congress on August 12, 1974) and see who else uses that word and in what contexts.

Word Clouds for the State of the Union

Pattern Recognition has a word cloud for Bush’s State of the Union address, in which words are weighted according to frequency. So, “terrorism” and “security” appear very, very bold, because Bush mentioned them time and time again in his address. And the word “plan” is much smaller, indicating that it was rarely used in Bush’s speech. And some words that you would think might occur in his national address (say, “New Orleans” or “Katrina”) do not appear at all in the cloud.

While this word cloud is a great visual clue to what we might consider the president’s working vocabulary, I think more can be gleaned by comparing multiple clouds. For example, let’s look at Bush’s 2001 State of the Union, given just months after he lost the popular vote:

additional america americans billion budget care children country debt earn education energy families federal freedom fund government health hope important income increase medicare meet military money nation needs pay people percent plan programs promote rate reading reform relief save schools security social spending support tax test tonight work years yet

created at TagCrowd.com

Here you can see the top 50 words in Bush’s 2001 State of the Union. The word “terrorism” doesn’t even register. Neither does “oil”–which is one of the top 50 words in this year’s speech. Instead, we have domestically-oriented words, like “schools,” “energy”, and “budget.” Iraq isn’t on the radar screen either. So, what we have is a snapshot of Bush’s pre-9/11 policy, one that betrays no hint of the grievous domestic and foreign blunders Bush is soon to make.

Now look at Bush’s 2002 State of the Union, delivered just months after the 9/11 attacks:

11th afghanistan allies america american best budget camps children citizens congress corps country depend destruction develop evil free freedom health homeland hope increase jobs join lives months nation opportunity people protect regimes retirement security states tax terror terrorist terrorists thousands tonight training united war weapons women work workers world yet

created at TagCrowd.com

“Terror” and “Terrorism” bump up into the top 50. “Afghanistan” is there, too (note that it’s not in the most recent address, even though the war there still rages on, and bin Laden is still at large). The word “weapon” now makes an appearance too, foreshadowing the rhetoric of “weapons of mass destruction” that will soon be used to justify the war in Iraq. As for “Iraq” itself, the word doesn’t crack the top 50 in 2002, even though we now know that the idea of invading Iraq was already a routine topic of discussion behind closed doors at the White House.

Of course, word clouds on their own provide no context, so the prevalence of any given word doesn’t tell you what the speaker is saying about that word, whether it’s being used with a positive valence or negative valence. But a word cloud certainly does give you an idea of what the limits of any given text are–what it includes and excludes, and therefore, what ideas are on the table and which are not. Funny, the word–and therefore the concept–“peace” never appears on the table. Neither does “diplomacy.” It’s as if both the end and the means to what we really need to accomplish in the world are missing.

Immigration and National Security

Two implications of Bush’s proposal to beef up border security with National Guard troops:

The first is practical: it’s another instance of the militarization of civil society, which I had criticized in an earlier post.

The second is symbolic: by policing the border with troops trained for combat, Bush masterfully conflates two entirely distinct issues: immigration and national security. Illegal immigration is not a national security threat. (How many of the 9/11 terrorists were here illegally? None.) Framing immigration as a security issue obscures what it really is: a labor issue.

And what would happen if conservatives began treating immigration as the labor issue that it really is? They’d have to confront one of the contradictions of capitalism in the U.S.: we believe in “free trade,” in which corporations and products are free to move across borders, but not in “free labor,” in which the workers that produce those products for those corporations would be free to move across borders.

Total Information Awareness, Reprise

A few more thoughts on the massive NSA database of every domestic phone call, ever, in the United States…

The database actualizes what was once only theory: DARPA’s defunct Total Information Awareness project, which sought to “counter asymmetric threats [i.e. terrorism] by achieving total information awareness.”

Awareness of everything, godlike omniscience.

Is this the only way neo-cons can imagine protecting Americans from terrorist attacks?

Forget Total Information Awareness, this is Total Imagination Failure.

Another disturbing aspect of the NSA’s database is that General Michael Hayden, now Bush’s nominee for the head of the CIA, was in charge of it. Hayden is not a retired general. He is still on active status in the U.S. Air Force. So what we had here with the NSA (and what we might have with the CIA) is a military officer running a civilian organization. It is yet another chilling example of the militarization of domestic, civilian life.

There’s a reason the founders of the Constitution made a civilian (the President) the Commander-in-Chief of the military. Men with guns need to be kept in check. Because men with guns will eventually use those guns (and tanks and planes and phone records). Ironically, nobody recognizes this more than the neo-cons, who see Iran’s nuclear ambitions as de facto evidence that Iran will eventually deploy those nuclear weapons.

Again, Total Imagination Failure.

I’m sorry. 9/11? I’m responsible. It was me, I did it.

In his press conference this morning, President Bush was asked about the New York Times‘ recent revelation that the NSA was operating a covert surveillance program that monitored hundreds of Americans’ phone calls and emails without any court supervision or warrants.

Bush responded:

My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.

The fact that we’re discussing an illegal wiretap program that defies the Fourth Amendment is, right now, at this very minute, helping Osama bin Laden? The fact that I just wrote the previous sentence means that I’m helping the so-called mastermind of 9/11?

You have to admire the verve of President Bush, suggesting that the ones who question our government here are responsible for the ones who blow things up here and abroad.

Should I apologize now, finally? Should I send a Hallmark card? Sorry about those planes and IEDs, I didn’t mean it. Love will find a way, Peace on Earth and Happy Holidays?

But wait, I thought the “enemy” was Saddam Hussein. And he’s already caught and in jail. So we’re safe now, right? Or am I still at fault?

I’m so confused.

The Evil Democracy

Here is a lesson in ironic juxtaposition: A freeze-frame of President Bush delivering his State of the Union address, with the closed captioning scrolling the words “THE EVIL DEMOCRACY.”

The Evil Democracy (Larger Image) / Posted to Flickr by kunja.

Ironies abound in this photograph (which I found on the Flickr Bush cluster).

First, obviously, Bush is (purely accidently, purely coincidentally) linked to the idea of an evil democracy. Now, of course, I do not believe that America is evil. I don’t even believe that President Bush is evil. Misguided, maybe, but not evil.

The second irony is the word “democracy”–which is one thing the U.S.A. (symbolized by Bush) is not. It’s barely even the republic it formally declares itself to be.

The most subtle irony is the source of the caption. “THE EVIL” and “DEMOCRACY” come from two different lines of text, maybe even two different sentences. In Bush’s original speech the adjective “evil” does not qualify “democracy.” Because remember, DEMOCRACY = GOOD (except in the case of Saudi Arabia, where Dysfunctional + Misogynistic + Monarchy = GOOD as well).

But, with some clever cropping, we have a postmodern critique of President Bush and his foreign policies, a kind of Max Headroom for the new millennium.