Saturday, November 13, 2004

George Soros, are you listening?

Famously, George Soros attempted to help defeat George Bush by putting a lot of money into Democratically-aligned 527s -- not as much money as he probably could have, given his immense wealth, but a lot of money by any reasonable standard. I'm wondering, though, if perhaps his money was misspent. Perhaps what Soros really should do, if he's interested in breaking the conservative stranglehold on national politics sooner rather than later, is to buy up a broadcast network. Preferably one of the the big three (could Disney's bottom line might be helped by divesting itself of ABC?), but even one of the smaller nets would be OK, if aggresively expanded afterwards.

Alternately, he could look into buying up one of the cable news networks, or starting one from scratch -- it's about time we had a real counterbalance to Fox News, not mere imitators liberal only by aspersion.

The only real long-term solution is, of course, to rebuild Democratic liberalism from the bottom up, starting at the local level and percolating upwards, but that's a process which will take decades. In the meantime, we really can't afford to live for scores of years under repressive right-wing governments, so a quick fix is as important, and buying up the media seems as good a way as any to quickly flip a few million votes our way, given the apparent robotic nature of so many voters.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/13/2004 09:33:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, November 12, 2004

A soft jihad

I don't really have time to develop this right now, so I just want to throw it out there: the idea that the current (let's be honest about it) domination of American politics by the "values" crowd, for whom religious-based "morality" is of primary importance, is a kind of jihad similar to that of the Islamic extremists attempting to gain control of Muslim societies across the globe -- but a "soft jihad" by comparison. Although the specific goals are different, and the methods of operation are dissimilar, their general goals are almost precisely the same: to ultimately break down any barriers between religion and government and enforce a strict code of behavior based on reglious precepts.

It's long been recognized that the soft underbelly of liberal democracy is that it can be abused by those who have no respect for its underlying values, to gain power and scuttle it to replace it with another, less tolerant, system. Although the classic fear is that communists or fascists would be the usurpers, what we could well be seeing now is the hijacking of democracy in American by another brand of authoritarians, the theocrats.

Update (11/16): The only hits to "soft jihad" I get on Google use it to refer to the activity of Moslems in the US, portraying them as a kind of fifth column subverting our political system and our way of life. That's not, of course, what I'm talking about at all. Or, rather, subversion of the American ideal is what I'm talking about, but coming not from Islam -- Moslems are still only a small minority of people in this country, and without significant influence, especially after 9/11 -- but from the religious right-wing, the Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals now at (what we hope is) the peak of their power to control the American political process. It is from these people, whose aims are essentially theocratic (implementation of fundamentalist morality as legal standard of approved behavior, destruction of the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state) that the worst danger to our system will come, not from Moslems who live here or even from Islamic extremists abroad.

The "soft jihad" of the Christian right is what we be fearful of.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/12/2004 08:35:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


As they reap...

Every country has the government it deserves.
Joseph de Maistre

or, perhaps, more charitably for the 48% of us:

In a democracy the people get what the majority deserves.
James Davidson

When the shit really starts to hit the fan, when Iraq descends even deeper into the morass, when the economy stubbornly refuses to improve and even more people start to lose their jobs and their health insurance, when our personal liberties hit a contemporary low, when corporations have free reign to manipulate and deceive us, government regulators are toothless and emasculated, unions are powerless, the environment is raped and degraded, and we still cower in the corners from fear of a terrorist attack, I don't want to hear from any of the 60 million people who voted for "values" and "strength", and other simplistic bullshit, about their problems, because, frankly, they deserve whatever they get for their part in this election.

What I say is screw them, all 60.4 million of them, whoever they are and whatever their motivations were. They're adults, and responsible for their actions, and I'm holding each and every one of them, regardless of their own particular personal qualities, accountable for every single one of the mistakes, missteps, foul-ups, fuck-ups, screw-ups, stupidities and wrongdoings that the second Bush administrations is bound to inflict upon us and the world.

If you think I was mad before the election, take a look at me now.


When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental -- men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack, or count himself lost. His one aim is to disarm suspicion, to arouse confidence in his orthodoxy, to avoid challenge. If he is a man of convictions, of enthusiasm, or self-respect, it is cruelly hard.

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even a mob with him by the force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second or third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically the most devious and mediocre -- the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."
H.L. Mencken
The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920
[via Follow Me Here]


The problem is, how do you maintain a democracy, when there are so many millions of people who are stupid enough to believe anything?
Unidentified psychologist
quoted by Robert and Shirley Eberle in
The Abuse of Innocence: The McMartin Preschool Trial (1993)

I keep saying to everyone who will listen that you can't run a democracy with people who don't know how to argue, don't know how to think clearly, and don't know how to express themselves.
Cynthia Griffin Wolff
professor of humanities, MIT
quoted by Scott Lehigh in
"It's, like, extreme, but not gross" in the
Boston Sunday Globe (2/9/97)

What disturbs me the most is that people can be so gullible and so easily led around by the nose. It was not because they lacked intelligence. It was not because they were unable to access the best available information. It was because they abandoned the ability to doubt extraordinary claims. It was also because of the frightening and omnipresent tendency of humans to blindly follow charismatic leaders and fanatics.

There has been a very "mod" trend over the last generation to "have an open mind" and presume that one person's claims or opinions are, by some kind of natural law, just as valid as another's. This notion of personal truth is an intellectual poison which might just pollute our culture's intelligence to the point where we as a society, become crippled by it. This is democracy gone rampant. Paranormalists,political extremists, and religious cultists have taken full advantage of [it] ... and their collective influence in our society could literally destroy it.
Brant Watson
"Suicides...the Big Picture" (4/5/97)
sci.skeptic and elsewhere

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/12/2004 06:16:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


One damn shame

When I turned six, the country was nearing the end of the 1960 Presidential campaign between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Although the Kennedy administration was marked by mistakes and crises, and would end in unimaginable tragedy, his term of office was still a time of hope and expectations of greater American glory.

On the other hand, my son is 5 1/2 years old. When he turns six, we'll be in the middle of the second term of George W. Bush.

Perhaps it's just me, but I find that so sad.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/12/2004 05:51:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


SF Hall of Fame in Seattle

How is it possible for an institution to call itself the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, when the list of inductess doesn't include Philip K. Dick? Or J.G. Ballard? Or Larry Niven, Frank Herbert, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, C.J. Cherryh, Orson Scott Card, Bruce Sterling, Norman Spinrad, James Tiptree Jr., Kurt Vonnegut, Harlan Ellison, Thomas Disch, David Gerrold or John Varley? Or Rudy Rucker, John Brunner, George Alec Effinger, Jonathan Lethem, Jeff Noon, Olaf Stapledon, Roger Zelazny or Vernor Vinge? Or others that I can't bring to mind right now?

Okay, granted, some of these writers may just be my preference and not Everyman's view of the best of the best, and granted that the Hall of Fame has only been around for nine years and only inducts four people a year, but then why are Andre Norton, Abraham Merritt, Wilson Tucker and Mary Shelley included?

In any event, as much as I'd like to, I can't recommend that visitors to Seattle spend $13 on visiting Paul Allen's Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, which is stuck on the side of his Experience Music Project like a burp emanating from the undulating Frank Gehry building (and let the Gehry backlash start here as well -- I'm getting pretty tired of the same old purposeless glossy curves in building after building), unless your SF jones is all sbout costumes and props from sci-fi movies and television. People who are into the writing, the literature of ideas which the best of SF is, are bound to be disappointed, I think, and it started for me the moment I saw that Phil Dick wasn't in the Hall of Fame.

Save your money and buy more books instead. (But don't buy them at the museum shop, which is tiny and poorly stocked.)

(But by all means, come visit Seattle -- where I'm working on this production of Ionesco's The Chairs [reviews here and here] -- and which I'm finding to be a very friendly and accomodating city.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/12/2004 04:08:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Hail the 300!

With the election over, and the cessation of my Electoral College trackers survey (except for a potential wrap-up I'm still working on), my traffic has, as expected, dropped precipitously, from the 2500+ per day peak level, which drove unfutz up as high as #133 on the Truth Laid Bear rankings, down to around 300 hits per day (actually, 299 right now, but close enough), ranked at #2863!

So ... I'd like to express my thanks to those 300 folks for sticking around. I'm not certain how much I'll have to offer here, as I try to recover from the election and wait for my interest in things political to be re-kindled, but I'm reasonably sure, given the nature of the Bush administration, that I won't be allowed to withdraw completely. Sooner, rather than later, they're going to do something so utterly awful that I'll be forced to get involved again, not matter how hard I might resist.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/10/2004 05:33:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The essence of politics

All politics is necessarily complex, since its essence is the practical resolution of differences of interest and outlook which are in principle irreconcilable.
Michael Frayn
Democracy (play, 2003)

All very well and good -- unless, of course, the politician has no real interest in the practical resolution of problems, then he or she is free to follow rigid ideological precepts and the standard procedures of cronyism, and oversimplify the presentation of all issues to appeal to the ignorance and basest motivations of the electorate.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/10/2004 03:04:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, November 08, 2004

Stuff happens, things change

On Saturday night, my last night in London, I went to see David Hare's anti-Bush play "Stuff Happens" at the National Theatre. I ended up leaving at intermission (or "the interval" as the Brits say), not because the play or the production was bad, but because (in the wake of November 2nd), I felt I was just too close to the material, too raw in my emotions, and didn't have the necessary distance to properly appreciate what I was seeing and hearing.

Before I left, however, I was struck by one audience response in Act I. In a section about the worldwide reaction to 9/11, an actor representing the French newspaper Le Monde recites its famous headline, "We are all Americans now," and the audience snickered.

This epitomizes for me where the Bush administration has brought us. After 9/11, the world really did feel for us and imagine they they were all, in some way, Americans. Now, our closest allies snicker at the thought.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/08/2004 02:08:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Thirty years ago

This keeps tickling in the back of my mind.

On Election Day, November 7, 1972, Richard Nixon received 60.7% of the popular vote and 520 electoral votes to overwhelmingly defeat George McGovern, who received 37.5% and the electoral votes of only 1 state, Massachusetts, and those of Washington D.C., this despite the fact that the connection between Nixon's campaign (the aptly named "CREEP", the Committee to Re-Elect the President) and the Watergate burglers who broke into and bugged Democratic National Headquarters had already begun to break in the media (the Washington Post primarily). Obviously, the voters either didn't know about it or they didn't care --they awarded Nixon a clear cut and decisive mandate to govern (one that makes talk of a "Bush mandate" in this election ludicrous by comparison).

In the wake of the election, the hubris of the Nixon administration, already high by any standard, went through the roof, and they behaved as if they could do whatever they wanted and cover up their wrongdoings with impunity. This inevitably lead to Nixon's resignation on August 8, 1974.

The analogy is, of course, less than perfect. Nixon really did have an electoral mandate, Bush does not. (Note to Kevin Drum: winning an election doesn't automatically mean you are awarded a mandate, and especially so when the margin of victory is slim and the nation is so clearly almost equally divided. To accept such a definition is to wash all useful meaning from the word.) Nevertheless, given that the first Bush administration acted as if it had a mandate when it actually lost the election, it's not a stretch to assume that the second Bush administration will act as if it blew away Kerry, when in actuality it just barely squeaked by, and that it will behave in a manner even more high-handed, insular and self-satisfied than the first one did.

The second major disconnect in the analogy is that Congress in 1972 was controlled by the Democrats, which made an impeachment and conviction of Nixon a political possibility, something that's completely out of reach today with continued Republican control of the legislature. (We'll be lucky if the second Senate Intelligence Committee report on the failures which lead to the war in Iraq even bothers to mention the responsibility of the Executive Branch never mind presenting even a whiff of their ultimate culpability.)

Still, as things continue to deteriorate in Iraq, as it seems they inevitably must, the historical parallels are intriguing, and perhaps suggestive as to a future course of action for the Bush opposition.

Postscript: Via Daily Kos, this page will help to visualize the actual extent of the Bush non-mandate. Of course, it'll smack of intellectual trickiness to a lot of people, so don't hold your breath waiting for it be accepted more widely.

Also, Billmon connects with 1972 in another way.

Update: Matt Yglesias has related comments, as does Lyn Nofziger in the NYT. Dennis Jett in Salon as well.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/08/2004 01:04:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Back in the USA

I'm back in the States, and have reasonably-priced access to the Web again, and (perhaps) a little bit of free time as well, so I'm going to try to put together a wrap up of the Electoral College survey -- how the various sites did. I've got the data from my last full posting on 10/30, my hand-written notes from my walk-through on the morning of 11/2, and whatever information is preserved on the sites, so I'll assemble all that together and present it for analysis.

As for the results of the election -- I've been struggling for days trying to figure out what to say about it that goes beyond my obvious wrenching and soul-destroying disappointment, but nothing I've come up with so far has seemed either interesting or cathartic in any way. In point of fact, I'm rather in denial about it, and intend to maintain some semblence of that stance for a while longer. I note that prominent bloggers such as Kos and Kevin Drum and Jerome and Chris at MyDD have gotten back on the horse immediately, but they're obviously made of stronger stuff than I am, and I'm far from ready to approach any kind of dispassionate analysis of the situation or the outlook for the future.

Postscript: About my state of denial, DavidNYC has the five stages of grief in presidential politics.

One other thing -- I didn't realize until this last week that the QWERTY keyboards of British computers are different from American ones. When I got hit up for a big phone bill from my hotel after my election night web surfing (via dial-up), I started using the hotel's free computer in the lobby in the middle of the night, but I kept running into the annoyance that the quotation mark was above the "2" and not between the colon and the enter key. Strange.

Ed Fitzgerald | 11/07/2004 11:43:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right,
Here I am...
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Martin van Creveld - The Transformation of War

Jay Feldman - When the Mississippi Ran Backwards

Martin van Creveld - The Rise and Decline of the State

Alfred W. Crosby - America's Forgotten Pandemic (1989)
bush & company are...
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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
2005 koufax awards


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2003 koufax award
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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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but credit all you take.

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