Tuesday, October 21, 2003

This mess of American interventionism

Michael Ignatieff (see the previous entry) is director of the Carr Center at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, which recently published Why are we in Iraq? (And Liberia? And Afghanistan?), an essay which examines the American history of interventionism, which is not in any way unique for this moment in time, but very much a part of the American character, even as Americans deny it to themselves.

Ignatieff lays out the Five Rules of American Intervention:

  1. Never pick on someone your own size: minor rogues, but never someone who can actually deliver a nuclear bomb.

  2. Never fight someone who is more willing to die than you are.

  3. Never intervene except with overwhleming force in defense ofa vital national interest.

  4. Never use force except as a last resort.

  5. When force is used, avoid American casualties.

Then came Sept. 11 -- and then came first Afghanistan and then Iraq. These two reversed Rule No. 4. (Only use force as a last resort.) Now the Bush administration was committing itself to use force as a first resort. But the Bush doctrine on intervention is no clearer than Clinton's. The Bush administration is committed to absolute military pre-eminence, but does anyone think that Clinton's military was less determined to remain the single -- and overwhelming -- superpower? The Bush doctrine is also burdened with contradiction. The president took office ruling out humanitarian interventions, yet marines did (finally) go ashore in war-torn Liberia. During the 2000 campaign, George Bush ruled out intervention in the cause of nation-building, only to find himself staking his presidency on the outcome of nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. Having called for a focused intervention strategy, he has proclaimed a war on terror that never clearly defines terrorism; never differentiates among terrorist organizations as to which explicitly threaten American interests and which do not; and never has settled on which states supporting or harboring terrorists are targets of American intervention. An administration whose supposed watchword is self-discipline regularly leaks to the press, for example, that its intervention list might include Syria or Iran -- or might not, depending on the day of the week you ask. The administration, purposefully or not, routinely conflates terrorism and the nuclear threat from rogue nations. These are threats of a profoundly different order and magnitude. Finally, the administration promises swift and decisive interventions that will lead to victory. But as Afghanistan shows (and Iraq is beginning to show), this expectation is deluded. Taking down the state that sheltered Osama bin Laden was easy; shutting down Al Qaeda has proved frustratingly difficult. Interventions don't end when the last big battle is won. In a war on terror, containing rather than defeating the enemy is the most you can hope for. Where is the doctrine acknowledging that truth?

The Bush administration, as no administration before it, has embraced ''pre-emption.'' It's a strategy of sorts, but hardly a doctrine. Where is the definition of when pre-emption might actually be justified? The angry postwar debate about whether the American public (and the British public, too) were duped into the Iraq war is about much more than whether intelligence estimates were ''sexed up'' to make the threat from Hussein seem more compelling. It is about what level of threat warrants pre-emptive use of force. Almost 20 years ago, George P. Shultz, as Reagan's secretary of state, gave a speech warning that America would have to make pre-emptive intervention against terrorist threats on the basis of evidence that would be less than clear. Since Shultz, no one has clarified how intervention decisions are to be made when intelligence is, as it is bound to be, uncertain. As Paul Wolfowitz, the Bush administration's deputy secretary of defense, has candidly acknowledged, the intelligence evidence used to justify force in Iraq was ''murky.'' If so, the American people should have been told just that. Instead, they were told that intervention was necessary to meet a real and imminent threat. Now the line seems to be that the war wasn't much of an act of pre-emption at all, but rather a crusade to get rid of an odious regime. But this then makes it a war of choice -- and the Bush administration came to power vowing not to fight those. At the moment, the United States is fighting wars in two countries with no clear policy of intervention, no clear end in sight and no clear understanding among Americans of what their nation has gotten itself into.


The Iraq intervention was the work of conservative radicals, who believed that the status quo in the Middle East was untenable -- for strategic reasons, security reasons and economic reasons. They wanted intervention to bring about a revolution in American power in the entire region. What made a president take the gamble was Sept. 11 and the realization, with 15 of the hijackers originating in Saudi Arabia, that American interests based since 1945 on a presumed Saudi pillar were actually built on sand. The new pillar was to be a democratic Iraq, at peace with Israel, Turkey and Iran, harboring no terrorists, pumping oil for the world economy at the right price and abjuring any nasty designs on its neighbors.

As Paul Wolfowitz has all but admitted, the ''bureaucratic'' reason for war -- weapons of mass destruction -- was not the main one. The real reason was to rebuild the pillars of American influence in the Middle East. Americans may have figured this out for themselves, but it was certainly not what they were told. Nor were they told that building this new pillar might take years and years. What they were told -- misleadingly and simplistically -- was that force was justified to fight ''terrorism'' and to destroy arsenals of mass destruction targeted at America and at Israel. In fact, while Hussein did want to acquire such weapons, the fact that none have been found probably indicates that he had achieved nothing more than an active research program.

The manipulation of popular consent over Iraq -- together with and tangled up with the lack of an intervention policy -- is why the antiwar party is unresigned to its defeat and the pro-war party feels so little of the warm rush of vindication. Even those who supported intervention have to concede that in justifying his actions to the American people, the president was, at the least, economical with the truth. Because the casus belli over Iraq was never accurately set out for Americans, the chances of Americans hanging on for the long haul -- and it will be a long haul -- have been undercut. Also damaged has been the trust that a president will need from his people when he seeks their support for intervention in the future.


There is a way out of this mess of interventionist policy, but it is also a route out of American unilateralism. It entails allowing other countries to have a say on when and how the United States can intervene. It would mean returning to the United Nations and proposing new rules to guide the use of force. This is the path that Franklin Roosevelt took in 1944, when he put his backing behind the creation of a new world organization with a mandate to use force to defend ''international peace and security.'' What America needs, then, is not simply its own doctrine for intervention but also an international doctrine that promotes and protects its interests and those of the rest of the international community.

The problem is that the United Nations that F.D.R. helped create never worked as he intended. What passes for an ''international community'' is run by a Security Council that is a museum piece of 1945 vintage. Everybody knows that the Security Council needs reform, and everybody also knows that this is nearly impossible. But if so, then the United Nations has no future. The time for reform is now or never. If there ever was a reason to give Great Britain and France a permanent veto while denying permanent membership to Germany, India, Brazil or Japan, that day is over. The United States should propose enlarging the number of permanent members of the council so that it truly represents the world's population. In order to convince the world that it is serious about reform, it ought to propose giving up its own veto so that all other permanent members follow suit and the Security Council makes decisions to use force with a simple majority vote. As a further guarantee of its seriousness, the United States would commit to use force only with approval of the council, except where its national security was directly threatened.

All this is difficult enough, but the next step is tougher still. The United Nations that F.D.R. helped create privileged state sovereignty ahead of human rights: a world of equal states, equally entitled to immunity from intervention. One result has been that since 1945 millions more people have been killed by oppression, abuse, civil war and massacre inside their states than in wars between states. These have been the rules that made tyrants and murderers like Saddam Hussein members in good standing of the United Nations club.

This is the cruel reality of what passes for an ''international community'' and the comity of nations. United Nations member states will have to decide what the organization is actually for: to defend sovereignty at all costs, in which case it ends up defending tyranny and terror -- and invites a superpower to simply go its own way, or to defend human rights, in which case, it will have to rewrite its own rules for authorizing the use of force.

So what rules for intervention should the United States propose to the international community? I would suggest that there are five clear cases when the United Nations could authorize a state to intervene: when, as in Rwanda or Bosnia, ethnic cleansing and mass killing threaten large numbers of civilians and a state is unwilling or unable to stop it; when, as in Haiti, democracy is overthrown and people inside a state call for help to restore a freely elected government; when, as in Iraq, North Korea and possibly Iran, a state violates the nonproliferation protocols regarding the acquisition of chemical, nuclear or biological weapons; when, as in Afghanistan, states fail to stop terrorists on their soil from launching attacks on other states; and finally, when, as in Kuwait, states are victims of aggression and call for help. These would be the cases when intervention by force could be authorized by majority vote on the Security Council.

Sending in the troops would remain a last resort. If the South Africans can persuade Mugabe to go into retirement, so much the better. If American diplomats can persuade the Burmese junta to cease harassing Aung San Suu Kyi, it would obviously be preferable to using force. But force and the threat of it are usually the only language tyrants, human rights abusers and terrorists ever understand. Terrorism and nuclear proliferation can be contained only by multilateral coalitions of the willing who are prepared to fight if the need arises.

These rules wouldn't require the United States to make its national security decisions dependent on the say-so of the United Nations, for its unilateral right of self-defense would remain. New rules for intervention, proposed by the United States and abided by it, would end the canard that the United States, not its enemies, is the rogue state. A new charter on intervention would put America back where it belongs, as the leader of the international community instead of the deeply resented behemoth lurking offstage.

Dream on, I hear you say. Such a change might lead to more American intervention, and the world wants a lot less. But we can't go on the way we are, with a United Nations Charter that has become an alibi for dictators and tyrants and a United States ever less willing to play by United Nations rules when trying to stop them. Clear United Nations guidelines, making state sovereignty contingent on good citizenship at home and abroad and licensing intervention where these rules were broken might actually induce states to improve their conduct, making intervention less, rather than more, frequent.

Putting the United States at the head of a revitalized United Nations is a huge task. For the United States is as disillusioned with the United Nations as the world is disillusioned with the United States. Yet it needs to be understood that the alternative is empire: a muddled, lurching America policing an ever more resistant world alone, with former allies sabotaging it at every turn. Roosevelt understood that Americans can best secure their own defense and pursue their own interests when they unite with other states and, where necessary, sacrifice unilateral freedom of action for a common good. The signal failure of American foreign policy since the end of the cold war has not been a lack of will to lead and to intervene; it has been a failure to imagine the possibility of a United States once again cooperating with others to create rules for the international community. Pax Americana must be multilateral, as Franklin Roosevelt realized, or it will not survive. Without clear principles for intervention, without friends, without dreams to serve, the soldiers sweating in their body armor in Iraq are defending nothing more than power. And power without legitimacy, without support, without the world's respect and attachment, cannot endure.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/21/2003 02:04:00 AM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



James Atlas in the New York Times: What it takes to be a neo-neoconservative

A war against an enemy whose threat to us remains a matter of debate. The need to commit troops indefinitely. Growing doubts at home. As the American involvement in Iraq has become a commitment of unknown duration, comparisons to the Vietnam War are more and more common.

Whether or not the comparison proves valid, there is another historical parallel to the Vietnam War, one that involves a group of intellectuals responsible for articulating the rationale for the Iraq war. Among the enduring legacies of the earlier era was the split between liberals who opposed the war and the small splinter group that would become known as the neoconservatives. The group's decision to support the Vietnam War — or at least to oppose those who opposed it — was a shift that would lead them to a new level of power and influence.

The war in Iraq has shown signs of a similar split: a pro-war faction of the liberal intelligentsia has rejected a reflexive antiwar stance to form a movement of its own. The influence of these voices isn't to be underestimated. The marginality of intellectuals is a myth; even in the resolutely hermetic world of Washington, their voices are heard.

For the liberal intellectuals of this generation, the war in Iraq has required nuanced positions.

Atlas cites the opinons and positions of Paul Berman, Michael Walzer, Christopher Hitchens and Michael Ignatieff.

A mandate of intellectuals is that they be open to changing their opinions. Skepticism, the weighing of options, "the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind simultaneously," in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, are the tools of the trade. Why should a liberal be required to be a liberal at all costs? What if historical events demand a revision of beliefs?


This generation of liberal intellectuals, like its precursors, prefers to see itself less as a political coalition than as an assemblage of writers with diverse views — which of course it is. Ideological labels are always provisional. Yet however much their attitudes toward the war in Iraq differ from those of such contemporary neoconservatives as William Kristol and Robert Kagan, they are heirs of the same intellectual tradition. Given this, can they still be classified as liberals? Or could it be that they've become . . . neoconservatives?

I think Atlas is wrong, or, at least, has yet to be proved right.

The 50's liberals who started the neoconservative movement changed their views about the world radically, to the point where they could no longer be consider to be "liberal" even by themselves. That is certainly not the case for the men he cites, who remain decidely liberal, even in their foreign policy positions. What they reject is not liberalism, which councils us to judge separately and individually every particular situation by empathetic and humanistic standards and the full extent of the available information, but reflexive and dogmatic leftist pacifism, anti-interventionism and, especially, anti-Americanism. In this, they are in the mainstream of (yes) center-left practice, as represented if not by liberal intellectuals of the academy, then by almost all politicians who are generally considered to be liberal, and in the blogging world by folks like Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias, among others.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/21/2003 01:39:00 AM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Especially for the Bush Administration

What is it with you people? You think that not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth.
Three Days of the Condor (film, 1975)
screenplay by David Rayfield and Lorenzo Semple Jr.,
based on the novel by James Grady,
directed by Sydney Pollack
[spoken by the character "Joe Turner" played by Robert Redford]

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/21/2003 01:16:00 AM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Discovery of Global Warming

The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer R. Weart, the director of the Center for the History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics, is a website which is

A hypertext history of how scientists came to (partly) understand what people are doing to change the Earth's climate.

and which complements a book by the same name, the subject of this review by Andrew C. Revkin in the New YorkTimes Book Review.

EUREKA moments are rare in science. Achievements like the deduction of DNA's structure etch our imagination precisely because they are exceptional. In most fields, research is more akin to climbing a mist-shrouded mountain of unknown dimensions. Climate science, perhaps above all, has been a perpetual ascent toward understanding. A major achievement so far is a broad consensus that beginning in the industrial era humans, by burning ancient buried stores of carbon-rich coal and oil, have liberated billions of tons of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, warming earth.

Debate persists over the extent of human-driven warming and what to do about it. But recognition that in a short span our species has nudged the thermostat of a planet remains a momentous, and sobering, finding.

''The Discovery of Global Warming'' describes the intellectual journey toward that conclusion, with all of its false starts, flawed hypotheses, inventiveness and persistent uncertainties. It reveals the effort as one of the great exercises in collective sleuthing, with pivotal insights provided by experts in fields as varied as glaciology, physics and even plankton paleontology. Charting the evolution and confirmation of the theory, Spencer R. Weart [...] dissects the interwoven threads of research and reveals the political and societal subtexts that colored scientists' views and the public reception their work received.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/21/2003 01:07:00 AM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Civilised life is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly. The trouble is, we forget after a while that they are illusions and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us.
J.G. Ballard
interviewed by Susie Mackenzie in
"The benign catastrophist" in
The Guardian (9/6/2003)

The world is experiencing technical difficulties. Do not adjust your mind.
bumper sticker
quoted by Steven Pinker in
How the Mind Works (1997)

[R]esearch show[s] that mildly depressed people are often more realistic about the world than are happy people. Emotionally happy people live to some extent by erecting false beliefs - illusions - that reduce anxiety and aid well-being, whereas depressed individuals to some degree see the world more accurately. Happy people may underestimate the likelihood of getting cancer or being killed, and may avoid thinking about the ultimate reality of death, while depressed people may be more accurate with regard to such concerns.
research of Shelley Taylor
Positive Illusions (ndg)
reported by James E. Alcock in
"The Belief Engine" in
Skeptical Inquirer magazine (May/June 95)

Consciousness is an illusion that the brain constructs to simulate the world around us. It does this so seamlessly, that we are convinced we are experiencing reality directly, even though all our information is heavily processed before we become aware of it. Colors, sounds and tastes exist only in our heads, they are the brains coded representations of important physical properties of the outside world, such as the frequencies of light waves, the vibrations of air molecules and the structure of chemicals.
Nicholas Wade
"Software for the Brain"
New York Times Book Review (12/29/96)

We are so jaded by photographs, drawings, television, and movies, that we forget that they are a benign illusion. Smears of ink or flickering phosphers dots can make us laugh, cry, even become sexually aroused. Humans have made pictures for at least thirty thousand years, and contrary to some social-science folklore, the ability to see them as depictions is universal.
Steven Pinker
"The Mind's Eye"
How the Mind Works (1997)

Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from its readiness to fit in with our instinctual wishful impulses.
Sigmund Freud
New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis (1933)

The illusion that times that were are better than those that are, has probably pervaded all ages.
Horace Greeley
The American Conflict (1864-1866)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
Philip K. Dick

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/21/2003 12:35:00 AM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, October 20, 2003

Update, including Baseball, Round 3

Things are moving along well on the production of The Violet Hour I'm working on for Manhattan Theatre Club at their beautiful new Broadway theatre, the Biltmore (and it really is quite gorgeous). We've started preview performances, and the audience response has been very nice, but there remains another couple of weeks of rehearsals before the show is "frozen" for reviewers to see, and another week or so until the official opening on November 6th.

This means that while I may have come out of the other side of my "crunch" period, I'm still going to be spending a lot of time at the theatre, and blogging will be sporadic at best.

It's interesting what one gives up when time becomes a precious commodity. As the nature of the posts below will show, I've pretty much stopped following the political scene for the last week (keeping my hand in by checking TPM, Calpundit and Daily Kos every couple of days), but I don't expect that I've missed an awful lot. I suspect that each day's revelations continued to show that the Bush administration is incompetent in many respects, dogmatic in others (with some of the incompetence rising from the dogmatism), politically opportunistic and addicted to self-serving expediency, and if not quite corrupt, certainly egregiously guilty of crony capitalism and providing client service to the rich and powerful to the detriment of the welfare of the general body politic.

I doubt that's going to change anytime soon, and certainly not in the next month, so the state of play when I return to the scene will most probably be just about the same as when I left -- except that Bush's numbers will, I hope, continue to fall, and the prospects for a Democratic recovery of the Oval Office will therefore continue to improve.

On thing I did not let slip, though, was baseball.

Although I was working during most of the last week's post-season baseball games, I saw as much of the action as I could at the end of the day, even if it meant standing out on the street watching the big-screen TVs inside a theatre district watering hole through the picture windows and glass doors (along with 30 or 40 other New Yorkers similarly interested in what their team was doing), or going into a bar (something that's not particularly usual for me, being something of a hermit) to watch the game while sipping a Glenlivet on the rocks.

So I kept up with baseball as much as I could, including following the pitch-by-pitch account on the MLB website or trying to get a pocket TV to work inside the theatre so I could check the score on breaks and pauses (never to the detriment of the show, of course -- I've learned from experience that I'm not sufficiently agile mentally to do two things simultaneously and give them both the attention they deserve). I managed to see the end of both game 6 and game 7, and even predicted (unfortunately, silently to myself) that Aaron Boone would win the last game in the 11th.

The World Series is already two games old, so it's a little late to be predicting, but I have already gone on record (to the e-mail discussion group I'm a part of) that the Yankees will beat the Marlins in 6 games. Looking back at my predictions for the American and National League Championships, I see that, once again, I was good on the AL (where I predicted the Yankees in 6, and they won in 7) and completely wrong on the NL (where I said the Cubs would win in 7).

The Yankees are my team, of course, so I want them to win, which is hard, if not impossible, to seperate from my prediction that they will win. Combine that with my really poor record at predicting the National Leage in the post-season, and I'd recommend that no one bet the farm based on my feelings about what will happen. I do think, though, that the result of Game 2 (Yankees over the Marlins 6-1) is going to be more typical of this series than the result of Game 1 (where the Marlins beat the Yankees 3-2).

Still, the Yankees are at a disadvantage for the next three games, playing without the DH. I firmly believe (but do not have the stats to back it up) that American League teams are hurt more when playing without the DH than National League teams are when they play with it. (If I had a little more spare time I'd search the SABR website to see if anyone has done a study exporing that question.)

And speaking of advantages, winning the All-Star Game was supposed to help the American League team in the World Series by giving them the home-field advantage over the National League team, but it looks to me as if that edge is more perceived than it is real. (For instance, of the 34 games played so far in this post-season, only 14 have been won by the home team.) Where the Yankees got hurt was in the scheduling of the post-season, where the Marlins got a full day of rest more than the Yankees did, even though both of their League Series went to 7 games. Maybe the advantage won at the All-Star Game should be a real one, the advantage of the schedule, and not the dubious help of playing more games in the home field. (But Fox might have a problem with that, since the games seem to be scheduled for their convenience.)

So, I expect the Series to go long, at least 6 games, and maybe even 7, but I still expect the Yankees to win.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/20/2003 09:01:00 PM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Without further comment

If this sounds like it's up your alley:

A psycho-sexual fairy tale about a multi-gender screwing toy who is purchased by a razor dominatrix and brought into her nightmarish worlds of bizarre sex and mutilation.

or this:

A twisted and surreal version of the story of Jesus Christ set in a bizarre modern day Earth that has been ravaged by war and cannibal zombie plagues, where the landscape is slowly mutating into meat and human flesh is transforming into machine.

or this:

In a world made out of meat, a socially-obsessive monophobic man finds himself to be the last human being on the face of the planet. Desperate for social interaction, he explores the landscape of flesh and blood, teeth and tongue, trying to befriend any strange creature or community that he comes across.

then I kind of wonder what the heck you're doing here, in the relatively genteel confines of unfutz -- but I guess you should check out AvantPunk.com, the website of Carlton Mellick III, "author of the bizarre". Mellick is

a cult underground author of several squishy novels with antennas and pubic hairs growing out of them. He writes about three or four of these books a year, most have something to do with surreal worlds, disturbed people, weird fetishes, nightmarish absurdities, zombies, Jesus, food, and dildos that come alive at night. His goal is to write the kind of books he wants to read, which are different from anything else that's getting published these days, and he is shooting to become a leading name in a new "bizarre" fiction genre. He looks kind of like an asshole, but that's okay. Nobody has held that against him so far.

Update: I do want to suggest to Mr. Mellick that if any of his works are turned into films, he might want to consider Masami Akita (aka "Merzbow"), of "Music for Bondage Performance" notoriety, to create the soundtrack.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/20/2003 07:36:00 PM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Going down

From Charlie Cook's Off to the Races newsletter:

The 2004 presidential election long has seemed likely to be at least
competitive, with the nation evenly divided between the two major
political parties, along with the high degree of partisan polarization,
the enormous intensity of emotions within both ranks of partisans and
the sluggish, if not downright weak, economy. But until very recently,
the downward trend in President Bush's approval numbers was really more
of a settling. His approval ratings' descent from stratospherically high
levels to lower numbers was what one would expect, given the political
and economic state of the nation.

But since Labor Day, the decline looks more like a real drop than a
settling, and the triple issues of the economy, the deficit and Iraq
have become conjoined. An Ipsos/Cook Political Report poll taken last
Tuesday through Thursday of 787 registered voters showed Bush's approval
rating had dropped four points from three weeks ago, from 55 percent to
51 percent. That was six points lower than the 57 percent approval
rating seen in both the months of July and August. His disapproval
rating jumped up three points in three weeks, to 46 percent, well above
the 39 percent in two August polls and 41 percent in two July surveys.
For the first time in 45 Ipsos/CPR surveys since January 2002, the
president's approval rating dropped to 51 percent. The percentages of
those who strongly approved and those who strongly disapproved were
virtually identical, at 27 percent and 26 percent. The error margin was
3.6 points.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/20/2003 07:26:00 PM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


How much is a billion?, and other stories

Snopes knows.

Also, check out Snopes on the five second rule, the origin of the word strawberry, and myths about hair.

And, as always, check out Daily Snopes for links to offbeat stories, like this AP piece about songs that get stuck in your head:

Unexpected and insidious, the earworm slinks its way into the brain and refuses to leave. Symptoms vary, although high levels of annoyance and frustration are common. There are numerous potential treatments, but no cure.

"Earworm" is the term coined by University of Cincinnati marketing professor James Kellaris for the usually unwelcome songs that get stuck in people's heads. Since beginning his research in 2000, Kellaris has heard from people all over the world requesting help, sharing anecdotes and offering solutions.

"I quickly learned that virtually everybody experiences earworms at one time or another," he said. "I think because it's experienced privately and not often a topic of conversation, maybe people really long for some social comparison. They want to know if other people experience what they experience."


Studying when earworms are most likely to occur is next up for Kellaris.

He said one theory is that stuck songs are "the brain's attempt to resolve missing information," and that retrieving the forgotten lyrics of a song will provide closure that "unsticks" an earworm.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/20/2003 07:05:00 PM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


More annals of the SCLM

David Olive, writing in the Toronto Star in a column titled Kid gloves for neo-con cranks, comments on the obvious double standard by which liberals are held to be strictly accountable for even the mildest criticism (no matter how justified), while the right-wing can get away with murder and not be called on it.

Noting the current crop of books by Al Franken, Molly Ivins, James Carville, David Corn and other liberals who canvass the mendacity of the Bush administration and its apologists, Slate media columnist Jack Shafer cautioned against their obsession with lying in high places.

"In excavating conservative bullshit," Shafer said, "these writers begin to resemble their colleagues on the right. Their primary mission isn't to uncover lies and reveal the truth. If it were, they'd chart the deceptions and propaganda emanating from both political wings. Their only goal is to win one for their side."

Putting aside that scales of manure are heavily tipped to one side, it's curious that the most blood-curdling rantings on the right seldom elicit such stern rebukes. Gentle tut-tutting is the standard mainstream reaction to, say, Redneck Nation author Michael Graham's observation last May on Chris Matthews' Hardball program that "anyone listening to Hillary Rodham (Clinton) in her speech last week about patriotism — that screaming, screeching fingernail — I wanted to bludgeon her with a tire iron."

Earlier this month, Maryland's Republican first lady, Kendel Ehrlich, chose the odd forum of a conference on domestic violence to disparage Britney Spears' makeover from a former member of the Mickey Mouse Club to a Rolling Stone sex-kitten cover subject.

"Really," Ehrlich said, "if I had a chance to shoot Spears, I think I would."

Erhlich's home state Baltimore Sun promptly exonerated her for "an occasional satisfying — and meaningless — remark."

I've lost track of all the people conservative pundit Ann Coulter wants to see dead. The short list runs to leaders of certain Muslim states, Al Qaeda captive John Walker Lindh, Al Gore and feckless Bush Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

Coulter also says her "only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building."

Last summer, she and her best-selling Treason were showcased in the Style section of a nonplussed New York Times.

The hypocrisy bar is set very high for conservative agitators.


[W]hat's called for in dealing with mountebanks like Limbaugh is a nuanced media response, says Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post's influential media critic. Like Shafer, Kurtz warns against stooping to the levels of the wing nuts in condemning them.

"It seems to me," Kurtz said last week, "that those who revel in kicking the guy are exhibiting some of the very excesses they criticize in ideological warriors like Limbaugh."

I don't know about kicking them. But if a gentle soul like Tim Robbins is dis-invited from a celebration of Bull Durham's 15th anniversary at the Baseball Hall of Fame for politely disagreeing with Bush's war policy, it seems reasonable to at least ask if violence-inciting nutbars should be granted continued access to the publicly owned and regulated airwaves.

The ideological extremists profit handsomely from this double standard. Which mystifies even them.

Neo-cons have "created this cottage industry in which it pays to be un-objective," Matt Labash, a senior writer at Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard told an obscure journalism Web site last May.

"It pays to be subjective as much as possible. It's a great way to have your cake and eat it, too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket. I'm glad we found it, actually."

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/20/2003 07:00:00 PM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



This story apparently originated on the Canadian newspaper the National Post (although it's no longer available on their website), and was picked up by Popbitch for their October 9th issue. Ian Covell sent it to the Fictionmags group from there, and David Pringle then posted it to the J.G. Ballard mailing list, where I saw it.

Lacking the original story, it's hard to verify the accuracy of the reporting, so take this for what it's worth:

American children get labelled like brands

More and more parents in America are naming their children after
luxury brands. In 2001, there were 273 boys and 298 girls called
Armani; 269 Chanels (all girls); 24 girls called Porsche and six male

Also popular were Nike, Chivas Regal, Champagne, Nivea, Evian,
Fanta, Guinness, Camry, Cobra Pepsi, and Lexus. (One father called
his son 'Lexxus', insisting on the extra x to make the name 'more

David Pringle's comment on this:

J. G. Ballard predicted something like that in his novel Hello America
(1981), where minor characters have names like Heinz, GM, Xerox, and Pepsodent (although the major characters have names like Wayne and Manson).

"... All of them had been illiterate for generations, and the only words they could read were the brand names on neon signs -- their friends and relatives were called Big Mac, U-Drive, Texaco and 7-Up." (p64, Carroll & Graf edition.)

A little Googling turned up this story from an Australian news source (News.com.au):

Branded anything but Unique
By John Harlow
September 29, 2003

AT age 3, Timberland is too young to be embarrassed about being named after a bestselling brand of footwear, but his mother cringes.

"His daddy insisted on it because Timberlands were the pride of his wardrobe. The alternative was Reebok," said the 32-year-old nurse, who is now divorced.

"I wanted Kevin."

The boy is not alone: five other Americans were named Timberland in 2000, according to social security records.

A trend for naming children after favourite possessions is accelerating in brand-driven America.

The records show that in 2000, 49 children were named Canon, followed by 11 Bentleys, five Jaguars and a Xerox.

There is also a Gouda and a Bologna, who are named after the cheese and the sausage rather than the places.

Foreign brands are regarded as increasingly chic: Chanel is popular among doting mothers, and several boys have been named after a Japanese family car called Camry.

Companies are ambivalent about the honour.

"It all depends on how the kids turn out, and who can predict that?" said Richard Laermer, who once represented a New York couple offering to name their child after a top brand for $US500,000 ($742,000).

The number of American parents spurning traditional first names is rising sharply. According to the most recent census, at least 10,000 different names are now in use, two-thirds of which were largely unknown before World War II.

Edward Callary, a past president of the American Names Society, said a determination to be different was the hallmark of the current generation of young parents: "The more we feel defined by numbers, in our postal codes and bank statements, the more we need to shout out a unique name into the world.

The 2000 social security records reveal that 24 children were named Unique.

The Sunday Times.
The Australian

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/20/2003 05:36:00 PM | | | del.icio.us | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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