Saturday, January 17, 2004

A new plan for Iraq?

Once again, The Onion hits the nail firmly on the head. The problem is that the plan that is presented here as satire is more coherent and rational than anything we can see happening in Iraq at the moment.

At a Monday press conference, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced a "change of plans" for the $87.5 billion aid package Congress approved in October: Instead of being used to fund an array of military and reconstruction operations in the Middle East, the money will be divided equally among Iraq's 24,683,313 citizens.

"Yes, we had planned to do all sorts of things with that money, like repair Iraq's power grid and construct new sewers and roads," Rumsfeld said. "But then we realized that, really, there's no reason for us to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure when the forces of free-market capitalism can do it with greater efficiency."

Rumsfeld said that, while the U.S. public's desire to hasten the end of America's presence in Iraq is growing, continued insurgence against the occupation has rendered previous initiatives for political and economic recovery untenable. The situation prompted the Bush Administration to "think more creatively" about its Iraq policy.

"I assure you that our new plan for economic recovery is not only easier, it's better," Rumsfeld said. "If we simply step back and let the market do its thing, a perfectly functioning, merit-based, egalitarian society will rise out of the ashes. Probably some restaurants or hardware stores or something, too."

During the next six months, Rumsfeld said, each Iraqi man, woman, and child will receive a one-time payment of $3,544.91. On June 30, the transaction of all funds will be complete, and the sovereignty of a "brand-new, prosperous, secular, pluralistic, market-driven nation" will be handed to an as-yet-unformed government, probably one with a president and a congressional body of some sort.

"Heck, whatever form of democratic utopia comes out of this will be great," Rumsfeld said. "Why wouldn't it be? It'll be based on freedom of individual economic enterprise, and supply and demand will maximize consumer welfare."

When the Bush administration decides to cut and run (and they will), leaving behind a complete mess, and a virtual power vacuum which will likely be filled to some extent by the very radical Islamists we're supposed to be combatting with our oh-so-effective military and (ahem) "other" means (whatever happened to that across-the-board outside-the-box program to combat terrorism through many and varied means announced by the Bush administration?), the people of Iraq might well have preferred that we had followed this plan instead: at least they'd have a bit of money to show for all their travails.

[link via Counterspin Central]

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/17/2004 05:58:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A mug's game

On Eschaton, Atrios makes a lot of sense, so much so that it's worth quoting him in full:

Nobody. Not me. Not the Dnc, not the DLC, not the RNC, not the Club for Growth, not the KKK, not the corpse of LBJ, not David Brooks, not J. Chait, not the Daily Kos, not the Poor Man, not Mark Kleiman, not Gillespie, not Dickey Cheney, and not anyone else knows "who the democratic candidate the repbulicans most fear" is.

All such speculation is silly. Stop granting the opponents godlike knowledge about the upcoming battle. They're as clueless as the rest of us. They don't have a preferred candidate. Stop interpreting every utterance by Drudge as evidence that Candidate X is the One They Want To Fight. It's silly.

Just as silly as much of the talk about "electability."

Looked at on his intrinsic merits alone, did George W. Bush really look all that "electable" in the 2000 campaign? (Put aside for the moment the incovenient fact that he wasn't actually elected.) No, not really, his talents and qualifications didn't really stand out in any significant way, and in fact were seen by many as being detriments. What made him "electable" was his huge campaign war chest, the one that sprang up practically overnight out of nowhere. (Funny how that happened.) Add in a poorly run Gore campaign, and a number of other factors, stir in a bogus decision from a captive Supreme Court, and wham, "electability".

The point isn't that the candidate with the most money wins (although to a first order of approximation that wouldn't be a bad rule of thumb in contemporary American politics) but that there are many factors, both tangible and intangible, which contribute to the number of votes a candidate receives, so making snap judgments about someone's "electability" based solely on one or two apparently obvious things, is a mug's game. Maybe it's true that people will be turned off by Dean's demeanor, for instance, but deciding this far out that he doesn't have a chance of becoming President because of it is foolish and, well, silly.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/17/2004 05:36:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


What's your law?

On John Brockman's wonderful website Edge, this year's annual question, put to their broad stable of contributers from the sciences and the arts, is "What's Your Law?".

Brockman explains:

There is some bit of wisdom, some rule of nature, some law-like pattern, either grand or small, that you've noticed in the universe that might as well be named after you. Gordon Moore has one; Johannes Kepler and Michael Faraday, too. So does Murphy.

Since you are so bright, you probably have at least two you can articulate. Send me two laws based on your empirical work and observations you would not mind having tagged with your name. Stick to science and to those scientific areas where you have expertise. Avoid flippancy. Remember, your name will be attached to your law.

There are 164 responders, and I haven't gone through them all yet, but here's a sampling of some that I found interesting or provocative. [For the sake of consistency and legibility, I've reformatted these somewhat, without, I hope, distorting the ideas. -- Ed]

James J. O'Donnell: O'Donnell's Law of History

There are no true stories.

Story-tellers are in the iron grip of readers' expectations. Stories have beginnings, middles, ends, heroes, villains, clarity, resolution. Life has none of those things, so any story gets to be a story (especially if it's a good story) by edging away from what really happened (which we don't know in anywhere near enough detail anyway) towards what makes a good story. Historians exist to wrestle with the story temptation the way Laocoon wrestled with the snakes.

George B. Dyson: Dyson's Law of Artificial Intelligence

Anything simple enough to be understandable will not be complicated enough to behave intelligently, while anything complicated enough to behave intelligently will not be simple enough to understand.

Howard Gardner: Gardner's First Law

Don't ask how smart someone is; ask in what ways is he or she smart.

John Allen Paulos: Paulos' Law of Coincidence

People often note some unlikely conjunction of events and marvel at the coincidence. Could anything be more wonderfully improbable, they wonder. The answer is Yes. The most amazing coincidence of all would be the complete absence of coincidence.

David Berreby: Berreby's First Law

Human kinds exist only in human minds.

Human differences and human similarities are infinite, therefore any assortment of people can be grouped together according to a shared trait or divided according to unshared traits. Our borders of race, ethnicity, nation, religion, class etc. are not, then, facts about the world. They are facts about belief. We should look at minds, not kinds, if we want to understand this phenomenon.
Berreby's Second Law

Science which seems to confirm human-kind beliefs is always welcome; science that undermines human-kind belief is always unpopular.

To put it more cynically, if your work lets people believe there are "Jewish genes'" (never mind that the same genes are found in Palestinians) or that criminals have different kinds of brains from regular people (never mind that regular people get arrested all the time), or that your ancestors 5,000 years ago lived in the same neck of the woods as you (never mind the whereabouts of all your other ancestors), well then, good press will be yours. On the other hand, if your work shows how thoroughly perceptions of race, ethnicity, and other traits change with circumstances, well, good luck. Common sense will defend itself against science.

Nicholas Humphrey: Humphrey's Law of the Efficacy of Prayer

In a dangerous world there will always be more people around whose prayers for their own safety have been answered than those whose prayers have not.

[Think about it.]

Art Kleiner: Kleiner's Law

Every organization always operates on behalf of the perceived needs and priorities of some core group of key people. This purpose will trump every other organizational loyalty, including those to shareholders, employees, customers, and other constituents.

Beatrice Golomb: Golomb 's Law

Everything in biology is more complicated than you think it is, even taking into account Golomb's Law.

Henry Warwick: Warwick's First Law

Art takes you out of town, and gives you a destination. Science builds the bus that takes you there.

Art, at its best, takes you out of your town, your home, your living room, your armchair, your mind, and brings you some place?a destination, a wonderful place, a new way of looking at things, a deep shift in your understanding of what it means to be human with a sense of profundity and awe at the Creation, pointing toward a new and better environment for living, smiling a new smile?all by altering your consciousness in some useful and insightful way.

Cooking up the better paint or programming didn't make the better paintmaker a better painter, or the better word processor-maker a better writer, but the great painter required the skills of the better paint makers and the great writer needs the tool of the trade. If we are to go to these grand destinations, artists need the insights and tools provided by science?the " bus" to take us there. And we need to heed Art.
Warwick's Second Law

Art tells the jokes that science insists on explaining.

Roger Schank: Schank's Law

Because people understand by finding in their memories the closest possible match to what they are hearing and use that match as the basis of comprehension, any new idea will be treated as a variant of something the listener has already thought of or heard.

Agreement with a new idea means a listener has already had a similar thought and well appreciates that the speaker has recognized his idea. Disagreement means the opposite. Really new ideas are incomprehensible. The good news is that for some people, failure to comprehend is the beginning of understanding. For most, of course, it is the beginning of dismissal.

Daniel C. Dennett: Dennett's Law of Needy Readers

is an extension of Schank's Law

On any important topic, we tend to have a dim idea of what we hope to be true, and when an author writes the words we want to read, we tend to fall for it, no matter how shoddy the arguments.

Needy readers have an asymptote at illiteracy; if a text doesn't say the one thing they need to read, it might as well be in a foreign language. To be open-minded, you have to recognize, and counteract, your own doxastic hungers.

Richard Dawkins: Dawkins's Law of Divine Invulnerability

God cannot lose.

Lemma 1

When comprehension expands, gods contract?but then redefine themselves to restore the status quo.

Lemma 2

When things go right, God will be thanked. When things go wrong, he will be thanked that they are not worse.

Lemma 3

Belief in the afterlife can only be proved right, never wrong.

Lemma 4

The fury with which untenable beliefs are defended is inversely proportional to their defensibility.
The following law, though probably older, is often attributed to me in various versions, and I am happy to formulate it here as

Dawkins's Law of Adversarial Debate

When two incompatible beliefs are advocated with equal intensity, the truth does not lie half way between them.

Philip W. Anderson: Anderson's Law

More is different.

Susan Blackmore: Blackmore's First Law

People's desire to believe in the paranormal is stronger than all the evidence that it does not exist.

Blackmore's Second Law

Humans are not in control of the web; the memes are.

Antonio Damasio: Damasio's First Law

The body precedes the mind.

Damasio's Second Law

Emotions precede feelings.

Damasio's Third Law

Concepts precede words.

Brian Eno: Eno's First Law

Culture is everything we don't have to do

We have to eat, but we didn't have to invent Baked Alaskas and Beef Wellington. We have to clothe ourselves, but we didn't have to invent platform shoes and polka-dot bikinis. We have to communicate, but we didn't have to invent sonnets and sonatas. Everything we do?beyond simply keeping ourselves alive?we do because we like making and experiencing art and culture.
Eno's Second Law

Science is the conversation about how the world is. Culture is the conversation about how else the world could be, and how else we could experience it.

Science wants to know what can be said about the world, what can be predicted about it. Art likes to see which other worlds are possible, to see how it would feel if it were this way instead of that way. As such art can give us the practice and agility to think and experience in new ways - preparing us for the new understandings of things that science supplies.

Marvin Minsky: Minsky's First Law

Words should be your servants, not your masters.

Steven Pinker: Pinker's First Law

Human intelligence is a product of analogy and combinatorics.

Analogy allows the mind to use a few innate ideas -- space, force, essence, goal -- to understand more abstract domains. Combinatorics allows an a finite set of simple ideas to give rise to an infinite set of complex ones.
Pinker's Second Law

Human sociality is a product of conflicts and confluences of genetic interests.

Our relationships with our parents, siblings, spouses, friends, trading partners, allies, rivals, and selves have different forms because they instantiate different patterns of overlap of ultimate interests. History, fiction, news, and gossip are endlessly fascinating because the overlap is never 0% or 100%.

Matt Ridley: Ridley's First Law

Science is the discovery of ignorance. It is not a catalog of facts.

Ridley's Second Law

Experience affects an organism largely by switching genes on and off. (Nurture works through nature.)

Michael Shermer: Shermer's Last Law

Any sufficiently advanced extra-terrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God.

Any ETI that we might encounter would not be at our level of culture, science, and technology, nor would they be behind us. How far ahead of us would they be? If they were only a little ahead of us on an evolutionary time scale, they would be light years ahead of us technologically, because cultural evolution is much more rapid than biological evolution. God is typically described by Western religions as omniscient and omnipotent. Since we are far from the mark on these traits, how could we possibly distinguish a God who has them absolutely, from an ETI who has them in relatively (to us) copious amounts? Thus, we would be unable to distinguish between absolute and relative omniscience and omnipotence. But if God were only relatively more knowing and powerful than us, then by definition it would be an ETI!
Shermer's Three Principles of Provisional Morality and Evolutionary Ethic

1. The ask-first principle: to find out whether an action is right or wrong, ask first.

2. The happiness principle: it is a higher moral principle to always seek happiness with someone else's happiness in mind, and never seek happiness when it leads to someone else's unhappiness.

3. The liberty principle:it is a higher moral principle to always seek liberty with someone else's liberty in mind, and never seek liberty when it leads to someone else's loss of liberty.

0. The Zeroeth principle: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

(These principles were derived from a scientific analysis of the evolutionary origins of the moral sentiments and the historical development of evolutionary ethics. The Zeroeth Principle, which precedes the three principles, first evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago but was first codified in writing by the world's great religious leaders and has come down to us as the golden rule. The foundation of the Zeroeth Principle, and the three derivative principles is, in evolutionary theory, reciprocal altruism and the process of reciprocity.)

[via Follow Me Here]

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/17/2004 04:21:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Who is helped by the economy?

Begin with the necessary caveats: I'm not in any way an economist, nor can I really claim to understand the first thing about the various theories about how economies work -- so everything I say here can be easily dismissed as the unfounded opinions of an ignoramus, the ravings of an untutored mind, and I'm opening myself up to criticism of what a clueless idiot I am. Nevertheless...

It's hard for me to understand how an economic recovery can be sustainable in the long run if there isn't an increase in jobs and a decrease in unemployment, resulting in increased spending power across the entire populace. Yes, I would guess that an economy can spike upwards if those that have money spend more of it, and corporate profits can go up because of that (and the kind of tricks and shenanigans that we've recently seen in the Enron and Worldcom cases), but in an economy based almost entirely on mass consumption, it seems to me that only increased spending by the masses can keep an economy growing and improving. (That also means that in the longer run, our economic health requires that the gap between the haves and the have-nots be lessened and not increased, as it has been lately.)

The implications of this are clear: the Bush administration's policies, which help the rich and well-off at the expense of everyone else might support a short-term recovery, but one that cannot last long because it will lack the depth necessary for sustaining the gains. The question, which is open at this point, is how significant the immediate gains will be, and how long they will last. The Bush people can (as economist Brad DeLong says here) point to any and all immediate improvements as being clear signs of a supposed full-fledged recovery, and they will be helped along in that claim by the business media -- not necessarily because of any great conspiracy to twist the news for the benefit of the GOP, but because the business media is, has been, and probably always will be pro-business, and wants to be able to report good news about business.

(There is not necessarily anything suspicious or unnatural in the bias of the business media. In my own industry, the theatre, you're unlikely to find reporters on the Arts beat who hate the Arts, and I assume the same is true of business reporters. On the other hand, what used to be a Chinese Wall (a "fire wall") between the corporate side of the media -- publishers and owners -- and the journalistic side of the media -- reporters and editors, (the vaunted "separation of Church and State" of journalism), has pretty much disappeared, and the editorial side of the media is now HIGHLY influenced by the opinions and needs of their corporate owners. In the business media, this only increases the probablity that any small uptick in the economy is going to be blown out of proportion and trumpeted as another sign of THE RECOVERY.

So I don't see a conspiracy -- what you have is something much more akin to the Stockholm Syndrome.)

The irony of all this is that it is probable that the policies of the "anti-business" Democrats, which (as compared to Republican policies) spread the wealth more evenly and reduce the gap between the haves and have-nots, are better, in the long run, for the health of the economy, and the health of our society as well than the policies of the Republicans, which are highly focused on servicing that small portion of the population which already has a great deal. When more people have more money, they spend it, and that spent money eventually goes ino the coffers of the businesses that provide the goods and the services, and thence into the pockets of the owners and managers of those businesses.

(That more business types don't understand this is either a testament to their blindness, or an indication that I'm talking completely out of my ass.)

So, the question for this election is: is the glass half-empty or half-full? DeLong indicates that both sides will have ammunition to make an argument in the upcoming election. The Dems will harp on jobs, jobs, jobs, and the GOP will harp on all those esoteric indicators -- so one might think it all comes out as a draw, but consider who each of the parties is addressing.

Speaking in broad generalities, the people with money, who are doing well now, buying houses and big-ticket items, swelling corporate coffers, are already, for the most part, in the pocket of the GOP. Putting another buck or two or three hundred in each of their purses doesn't really buy the GOP much of anything, not a single new vote, because they've already got those votes lined up. But the people the Democrats are addressing with their "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" argument are the people who are out of work, or in danger of becoming out of work, or who live in areas which have been hard hit by the low employment figures and find it hard to run their small businesses because there's less money to go around. Those people, many of them, might well be inclined to vote for Bush if things were in better shape. Instead, given the poor condition of the job situation, they're going to have to at least consider voting for someone who is offering the possibility of something better, i.e. a Democrat.

So while the GOP has little to gain with its claims, which are directed to those who are already benefiting from what small improvements we've had in the economy, the Democrats might very well be able to persuade some of those blue-collar workers, the so-called "Reagan Democrats" or "Bush Democrats" to go with something new.

The upshot of all this is that while the economy may well be improving in some respects, the improvement isn't sustainable without an betterment of the jobs situation, and the Democrats, in my uninformed layman's opinion, are the ones who are poised to benefit from this condition.

So, once again, we see that there's no reason for despair, and no real call for Cassandra warnings of doom and a slam-dunk for Bush, because things are not nearly as good as the media says, and it's the Democrats who gain an advantage from the state of the economy, not Bush & company.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/17/2004 03:10:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, January 16, 2004

A balm against despair

The two primary emotions I see in my liberal friends when dealing with the reality of the Bush administration are anger and despair. Anger, of course, that Bush stole the Presidency, and that his policies have so badly screwed up this country and our relations with the rest of the world that at times it seems almost impossible to undo the damage, and despair that he will get away with it and be returned to the White House, this time by actually being elected President by a stupid and uninformed electorate.

The despair is fed by the uncritical, almost hagiographic, coverage of Bush by the media, which makes it appear that the populace has been completely fooled and that we're therefore doomed to live in Bush Country for the foreseeable future. So, while we wait for the lies, misstatements and distortions of what we hope will be Bush's last State of the Union Address, it's good to find a balm for our despair, which is provided by Ruy Teixeira's Donkey Rising blog with a snapshot of the country's beliefs showing clearly that we are not living in Bush's America, and that we shouldn't despair of taking it back.

Also, download's State of the Union scorecard to use as a guide for judging Bush's speech.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/16/2004 04:31:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Liberal hawks reconsider

The debate about the advisibility and practicality of the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime was never as clear-cut as either the war mongers in the Bush administration or the anti-war contingent made it. It was, and remains, a complex problem, not subject to easy solution, and deserving of a more nuanced appraisal than it mostly received (and certainly in need of deeper thought than Bush & company gave it). There was a liberal case to be made for intervention in Iraq, no matter that the majority of liberals opposed the war (sometimes on well-thought-out grounds, sometimes on a reflexive knee-jerk pacifism that does no justice to liberalism or the cause of rational policy evaluation), and a number of people made that case: Kenneth Pollack, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman and others. "Liberal hawks" they came to be called, and Slate is running a dialogue between some of the more prominent ones, in which they reconsider their positions. It's interesting, and informative, and important issues are raised. One can certainly poke any number of holes in some of the arguments (I find Christopher Hitchens', for example, to be particuarly unpersuasive), but there are also good points presented there that cannot be easily dismissed.

Around the web, on the left/liberal blogs, there are a number of "Shorter" versions of these arguments, and while they are admirable crisp and entertaining, they are also, generally speaking, overly reductive and tend to bleed out all the important details -- and, as we are all well aware, God (or the Devil) resides in the details. Better to take take the time and read the originals in full. (During the debate which lead up to the war, I was astounded by the number of people who slagged Kenneth Pollack's book The Threatening Storm without ever having even taken the time to read it, relying instead on op-eds and second-hand reports, hardly the best way to evaluate Pollack's case.)

Slate: Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War

Also, Kenneth Pollack re-evaluates the arguments he made in The Threatening Storm in this article in Atlantic.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/16/2004 02:26:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Campaign Desk

The Columbia Journalism Review has started a new website to monitor press coverage of the 2004 campaign for objectivity and sign of bias. It's called The Campaign Desk, and initial indications are that it is worth keeping an eye on. I've added a link to it to the "some links" section to the right.

[via Tapped]

Update (1/17/04): Kevin Drum also recommends the Annenberg Political Fact Check website, and I've added a link to it as well.

Update: (1/19/04): And don't forget ConWebWatch, which keeps a weather eye on the conservative forces on the Web.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/16/2004 01:45:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

A pan for pan-and-scan

Although I'm posting here at the moment, I'm really not totally back up to speed, and I'm certainly not caught up on things. (The pile of back issues of the Sunday NY Times I've got to read attests to that, as do all the unread and unanswered e-mails in my filing cabinet.) For this reason, and because I can't see simply repeating things I read on other blogs unless I have something new or interesting to say about the subject (I assume that almost anyone reading this will probably also read Kevin Drum or Josh Marshall or Kos or Tapped or Atrios or others of the fine blogs listed on the right), I have nothing really substantive to post at the moment.

Which means I can fritter away my time asking frivolous questions like this one: Why doesn't AMC letterbox the films they show? What possible reason can a cable movie channel, even a basic cable movie channel, have for using pan-and-scan instead of a letterbox?

At one time, I thought the reason was that the letterbox reduced the size of the image so much that people would complain about it, but certainly the vast majority of people watching cable TV now have large, very large or really extremely large TV sets, don't they? Isn't a Big Screen TV one of the current touchstones of American consumer culture, a way to show that you're keeping up with the Jonses? My household has the smallest TV of anyone I know (21" diagonal) and letterboxing is absolutely no problem for me, so my assumption is that it's not a problem for most people. Perhaps I'm wrong about that.

What I don't think I'm wrong about is the damage that panning-and-scanning does to a movie filmed in a wide-screen format. Often, shots involving two or three people have to be almost continuously re-centered in order to get onscreen the participants in the dialogue, creating a kind of unnecessary movement which destroys the integrity of the scene, and is really annoying to boot. That's just what I saw tonight on a snippet of AMC's showing of Tora! Tora! Tora!, which is what raised the question in my mind -- Why do this when another, better, option is available?

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/14/2004 03:47:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A look into the future, from the past?

I'm just now watching on IFC the great long tracking shot that opens Robert Altman's film of Michael Tolkin's The Player. The shot ends with Martin Scorcese pitching a new movie to Tim Robbins (playing a movie studio production executive). It's a political thriller with a heart: a bad guy Senator has an accident and becomes clairvoyant, he can read minds, and when he reads the mind of the President... it's blank!

(The Player was released in 1992, which means it was filmed when George H.W. Bush was President, but perhaps it was Scorcese (or rather Altman or Tolkin) who was seeing into future and a man in the White House whose mind was empty.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/14/2004 01:52:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


Eliot Gelwan's blog Follow Me Here is one of the first I ever read regularly when I began dipping my toe into this new world (as a consumer, that is -- blogging myself came along much later, and it's still not clear if it's going to stick or not), and I still recommend it highly. I can't recall specifically, but I think he's always had some version of a compendious disclaimer on the site.

Here's the most recent:

Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Please leave as clean on leaving as you would like to find on entering.
Please note locations of emergency exits upon arrival.
No animals were harmed in the production of this page.
Satisfaction guaranteed; return for full refund.
Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Objects on screen are closer than they appear.
If condition persists, consult your physician.
Nutritional need is not established in humans.
Product is sold by weight and not by volume.
Caution! The edge is closer than you think.
Contents may have settled during shipment.
Do not fold, staple, spindle or mutilate.
Prices subject to change without notice.
Freshest if used before date specified.
Valid only at participating locations.
If swallowed, do not induce vomiting.
Do not remove under penalty of law.
No user-serviceable parts inside.
No shirt, no shoes, no service.
You need not be present to win.
Part of a daily balanced diet.
Apply only to affected areas.
Other restrictions may apply.
You must be present to win.
No purchase is necessary.
Don't try this at home.
Consume in moderation.
Your mileage may vary.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Use only as directed.
Slippery when wet.
Same-day service.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/13/2004 03:36:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


No class

May I just say that Roger Clemens is a great pitcher, one of the best in baseball history, but that he himself is totally lacking in class.

Those of us in New York who love baseball, without being blindly rabid partisans of either local team to the exclusion of the other, were aware of Clemens' deficiencies well before he threw that chunk of shattered bat at Mike Piazza, and we saw that his personal qualities were not up to his baseball talents and achievements.

I dearly hope that Mr. Clemens is roundly booed this upcoming season in every city which went out of its way to pay tribute to a great competitor on his "retirement" tour. Certainly the fans in Boston, who had every reason to hate Clemens for his leaving the team and for his joining up with the hated Yankees, and who instead cheered him as a sign of respect, deserve to feel that they've been swindled, much as the fans here in NY do.

Clemens has said that when he goes into the Hall of Fame (as he will, and as he deserves to, character not being much of an issue there) he wants to be shown wearing a Yankee insignia. Perhaps George Steinbrenner, never one to back off from a slight (real or actual), will deny him that desire. Let him wear an Astros cap.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/13/2004 02:05:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Keeping it in line

I think that all of us who inhabit the liberal/left side of the political spectrum have to be very careful about the depth of emotional distaste we allow ourselves to reach and express concerning the Democratic candidates we don't support, or don't like. After all, I think we're all agreed that every single one of them, even the worst (whoever that may be in our individual opinions) is better to have in the White House than George W. Bush, and we're all committed (I hope) to rallying behind whichever person is the eventual candidate. We can't allow partisan squabbling at this point to get in the way of total and utter unity later on, and that can get to be a difficult thing to achieve if we've spent too much energy slagging off candidates during the primaries.

And it does, I think, make a difference whether one expresses one's opinions or holds them in reserve. I think it's a fact of human nature that once we've actually come out and said something (or written it), we're in some respect committed to that opinion, and it becomes much more difficult to backtrack or re-think our position in the light of a new situation, whereas such is not the case with private opinions left unexpressed. (I've always thought this was the true reason behind the admonition to jurors not to discuss a case, not to stop private, personal speculation on the facts as the case goes along -- who can prevent that from happening in the human mind? -- but to avoid jurors cornering themselves into a position that they feel some obligation to defend later on once all the evidence has been presented.)

For me, this is all the more reason why the discussion about the candidates should ideally dwell on the policy level, with some consideration about personality and character but not an overall emphasis on it. It's not that I discount strong visceral responses (how can I, when I have just such a reaction to George W. Bush?), because I think they're part and parcel of our human judgment mechanism and therefore extremely important to pay attention to, but they can also be easily misled by irrelevant cues and erroneous impressions. (Again, the number of people who respond to Bush's faux-populist persona being an example of that.) Allowing the more rational centers of the intellect to be controlling is therefore probably the best idea, and, in the instance of W., that would in any case lead us to the same kind of response that more basic and primitive cognitive and emotional processes did. When that happens, when both our brain and our gut tells us the same thing, then we can be pretty damn sure that we're on the right track.

It's perhaps an ironic paradox that in the fight to save democracy in America by ousting Bush from a position he should never have held in the first place, we need to control the understandably strong emotions that this egregious situation provokes, at least to the extent that they lead us to denigrating the candidates we do not support. We must always keep in mind what the ultimate goal is, and regulate our rhetoric accordingly, bearing in mind that our animus should be directed in one direction only.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/13/2004 12:11:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, January 12, 2004

Bill Schneider's objectivity questionable

I just learned this from Atrios on Eschaton, and I have to say that I'm shocked (if not surprised). Maybe I've been out of the loop too long, but I really had no idea that Bill Scheider, CNN's Senior Political Analyst, and the guy who does most of the interpretations of polls and election results for them, is a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which, along with the Heritage Foundation, is the flagship of conservative think-tanks, and a major force in Washington politics.

That CNN should allow such a situation is incredible, and a major comment on their lack of sensitivity to (and interest in) questions of objectivity or the appearance of impropriety. I've written them to complain: the form is here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/12/2004 04:00:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Dancing Henry Five

The performance I'm currently working on is this:

Dancing Henry Five
By William Shakespeare and David Gordon
January 8-11 and 15-18 (two weeks)
[Thurs-Sun] at 8:30 PM
Admission: $15.00

"...the artist in question, choreographer/writer/director David Gordon is identified in history books as a founder of what is now generally called postmodernism in dance...Gordon's presence in the field has irrevocably and permanently expanded what we conceive dance to be."
--Suzanne Carbonneau, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

Dancing Henry Five: a Pre-emptive (Postmodern) Strike & Spin directed/choreographed/designed by David Gordon with Karen Graham, Tadej Brdnik, Tricia Brouk, Todd Allen, Christopher Morgan, Daniel Smith, Luis de Robles Tentindo and with Valda Setterfield. A dance/theater after William Shakespeare's Henry V using the recorded voices of Laurence Olivier and Christopher Plummer (among others) speaking sections of the text, with voice over narration by Valda Setterfield (newly composed to follow a complicated historical narrative) to the suite of music by William Walton based on his film score, eight performers will attempt to dance the characters of the French and English courts (including a new gestural duet and a duet of wooing) and to stage the sea voyage and the battle of Agincourt. A Pick Up Performance Company Production. Lighting designed by Jennifer Tipton. Production [stage] managed by Ed Fitzgerald. Produced by Alyce Dissette.

I've been pretty heavily involved in putting together the sound score for the piece, which includes parts of two different versions of Walton's Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario, excerpts from his Henry V: Suite, recordings of Olivier performing pieces of the play, and several sections of dialogue taken from the video of Olivier's film version.

(I was in rehearsal for this dance performance during the last 3 weeks of performances of Manhattan Theatre Club's The Violet Hour on Broadway, which accounts, I think, for my slackness in blogging: I went an entire month without a day off, and was working 13-hour days pretty regularly.

Not to worry, though, since after next week, I don't have a job lined up until the spring. Since my wife also lost her job 3 1/2 months ago, it'll be interesting times in our household, with both of us on unemployment.)

Performances of Dancing Henry Five are presented by Danspace Project at St. Marks Church in the Bowery (131 East 10th St at Second Avenue) through next Sunday.

Update: I've corrected the amount of time my wife has been out of work to 3 1/2 months, not 5 as I originally wrote. Kinda lost track of time there.

Update (1/14/04): Reviews from the Village Voice and the Associated Press.

Update (1/17/04): New York Times, Backstage and Dance Insider

Update (1/20/04): Another from the New York Times

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/12/2004 05:03:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


2003 Koufax Awards

The Koufax Awards (named after left-handed pitcher Sandy Koufax) are for honoring the efforts of liberal/left bloggers. I believe that this is their second year, and the nominees are listed on Wampum. I've added a blogroll section on the right for the nominees for "Best Blog." Many of these are blogs that I read regularly, others I've visited occasionally, and some are completely new to me. I plan to spend a little time getting to know the new ones, and I encourage everyone to check out as many as possible.

Postscript: Take a look also at the nominees for "Best Post."

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/12/2004 04:02:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Spam spam spam spam ... spam? [updated]

Having been quite busy with work, I (obviously) haven't posted for quite a while, but things are easing up now, and I hope to return to regular blogging quite soon.

Here's something odd. A friend of mine has gotten some strange e-mails, and is trying to figure out what they're all about. Here's one:

Subj: atria opossum incapacity
Date: 1/11/04 7:10:26 AM Eastern Standard Time
To: [deleted -- Ed]

watchmaker undergarment brae


polyhedra competitor
function race misshape
lorgnette downright tragic cipher
tower balustrade combinator
assault psychosis

Elvina Dillion

I really don't know what to make of this. I did a Google search on "Elvina Dillion," and searched also on some of the word phrases (actually unusual word combinations might be a better description) but came up with nothing interesting. Nothing on Snopes either.

When I went to the website, a screen came up with this message written in small letters at the top:

so, if you're looking for emotional satisfaction, my advice to you is... seek professional help!

It seems as if this could be an elaborate come-on for something (at least that's what I infer from the "" address of the sender), but what, exactly? And why such an obscure method, except perhaps to break through the spam clutter.

Of course, I suppose it could be some sort of poetry.

Anyone have any ideas?

Update (1/14/04): My friend received another, similiar message:

Subj: Fwd: semifluid
Date: 1/11/04 6:48:55 AM Eastern Standard Time
To: [deleted]

paunch stony wallflower


featherbedding pudding
zealotry detachment proscribe
bedazzle interline football mover
overcloud parasol peel
vessel madonna

Cole Beitzel

The address on this one is, and going to that address on the web gets the exact same message as going to "".

What's being sold here? What's the scam?

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/12/2004 01:12:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

Clowns to the left of me,
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Here I am...
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search websearch unfutz

Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


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