Saturday, December 11, 2004

Walking feet and arching backs (a side trip)

Why do runway models walk the way they do? They don't allow each foot to fall in its own line, as most people do when they're walking, nor do they put one foot directly in front of the other, which might make some sense to avoid galumphing down the runway, but they actually cross the foot over so that it falls farther outside the line of the previous foot. It's silly looking, and doesn't, as far as I can tell, make them look sexier, because they take the walk to extremes. (They also tend to hold their arms down at unnatural angles and arch their backs too much -- my expertise comes from watching too many hours of Full Frontal Fashion runway shows on the Metro channel. For the fashions, of course, not the scantily dressed young women doing the modeling.)

This could be one of the those situations were a behavior that made some sense (walking with one foot in front of the other to avoid looking clumsy and awkward) gradually goes farther and farther until it becomes something else entirely, almost a parody of its original self. (I think this is not unusual in fashion or other cultural byways, when the lesson seems to always be that more is more: if broad shoulders are an indication of stength and virility, put in massive shoulder pads so that every man looks like a linebacker; if large round breasts are an indicator that a woman will be able to adequately feed a baby, then make breasts appear -- and be bigger by any means necessary; if small feet are desireable -- I'm not sure what the evolutionary rationale for it might be -- bind women's feet and cut away bones to make them as small as possible.)

Someone ought to mount a fashion revolution and stop their models from walking that walk. Isn't it time for the pendulum to swing back? (But not, I hope, for fashions to become less scanty again.)

(Oh, and can we also stop making gymnasts overarch their backs when they dismount from their events? What's that supposed to show?)

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/11/2004 01:18:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, December 09, 2004

A lesson from Sam

I love The Maltese Falcon, both the book by Dashiell Hammett (1929) and John Huston's masterful 1941 film treatment of it, because it's (they're) so very quotable. (And since much of the dialogue from the film is lifted almost verbatim from the novel, usually quoting one is very much like quoting the other.)

Today, this passage has been stuck in my mind. It occurs near the end of the story, when the main characters have all assembled in Spade's apartment, and Spade is trying to convince Gutman to hand over his "gunsel", Wilbur, as a fall-guy to keep the police and the D.A. satisfied:

CAIRO: You seem to forget that you are not in a position at all to insist upon anything!

GUTMAN: Now, come, gentlemen, let's keep our discussion on a friendly basis; but there certainly is something in what Mr. Cairo says.

SPADE: If you kill me, how are you going to get the bird? And if I know you can't afford to kill me, how are you going to scare me into giving it to you?

GUTMAN: Well, sir, there are other means of persuasion besides killing and threatening to kill.

SPADE: Yes, that's true, but... they're none of them any good unless the threat of death is behind them. You see what I mean? If you start something I'll make it a matter of your having to kill me, or call it off.

GUTMAN: That's an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides, because, as you know, sir, in the heat of action, men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.

SPADE: Then the trick from my angle is to make my play strong enough to tie you up, but not make you mad enough to bump me off against your better judgment.

GUTMAN: By Gad, sir, you are a character!

Much has been made of Spade's supposed amorality, which allows him to make love to Brigid and still "send her over" for killing his partner, but he clearly has his own moral code (which he later attempts to explain to her when, as they wait for the police to arrive, they carry on an extraordinary debate about what should be her fate). More importantly, he also is, as Gutman says later, a man of "nice judgment", meaning that he's got a clear and accurate take on reality, on what is possible and what is necessary, what will go over and what will sink of its own weight. (In the theatre, we might say that he knows what will play.)

It may be obvious, given our current circumstances, why this section of the book has been rattling around in my brain: it's because what we're so desperately missing in the people in charge of our governance at the moment is just that sense of what's possible, what's necessary, what's realistic, what will fly and what won't. It's not that they lack for certainty about what to do, but their absence of doubt is unfortunately based on faulty premises, inaccurate data, and facts forced into an unrealistic framework warped by ideological requirements. Thus, even if their desired outcomes were good ones (which is not usually the case with this lot), they lack the ability to get the job done because their judgment is as far from "nice" as it can be (in all senses of the word).

(Please note that I'm primarily referring here to the Bush/neoconservative foreign policy, exemplified by the failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it seems to me that they really did want to achieve many of the things they publicly announced as their goals. In domestic issues, where the announced intention is more often simply a sham, their antagonism toward the legitmate functions of government leads me to believe that they really don't care if their policies "fail", because they serve to help achieve their larger, overriding goals, i.e. channeling money and influence to their client class and, ultimately, breaking the ability of the Federal government to function in anything but a rudimentary fashion.)

I would feel so much better if I were able to say to myself about the people in charge of our destiny, as Gutman says of Spade, "You're a man of my liking, a man of many resources and nice judgment." I don't know if Kerry would have been that man, we would have had to find out, but it's a certainty that Bush is not and never will be, nor are his advisors, especially now.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/09/2004 03:30:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

What is that Great Divide, anyway? (late entry)

The urge to dichotomize, to divide the world up into mutually incompatible opposing camps (liberal versus conservative, high art versus low, religious versus secular) seems very deeply ingrained in human nature: it's one of a number of techniques we have at out disposal for making some kind of sense out of a complex and sometimes insensible world. When done with discrimination and with appropriate caveats attached, it can help us to understand the world better, but if applied lazily or with malice, it does nothing but reinforce the worst of our preconceptions and prejudices. (Stephen Jay Gould calls it our worst mental habit, but I'm more willing to give it some credit as a useful technique if it's handled with care and with proper regard for its drawbacks.)

So, with due respect for the dangers involved, let me be among the very last to attack the most recently accepted dichotomy in the lexicon of our nation's political conventional wisdom, and to offer another in its place. For me, the true division in this country is not between Red States and Blue States, the city and the country, "metro America" and "retro America" (whatvere the hell those might actually be), or even between the right and the left. The real divide we should be concerned about is between those who approach the world through the lens of fixed ideas of faith or ideology, and those who prefer to base their opinions on observations of the nature of reality as unsullied as possible by ideological bias.

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

So what I'm saying is that the divide is between people who are essentially rational and those that are irrational, communities that are faith-based and those that are reality-based, outlooks that are ideologically dogmatic and those based on some version of the scientific method -- in other words, between believers and skeptics, zealots and realists.

Unfortunately, as much as those of us on the left side of center enjoyed dancing with pleasure when Ron Suskind's article in the New York Times Magazine pegged Bush as a disdainer of reality-based thinking, the terrible truth is that there are just as many true believers on the left as there are on the right, and they're just as apt to believe what they want to believe, because they just know it's right, regardless of whether there's any real evidence to support their contentions. First, they choose what they want to be true, then they go out looking for evidence to support it, and, just like Bush's people cherry-picking data to back-up their all-too-obvious desire to invade Iraq, they eventually find something that seems to back them up.

Distilled to its essence, liberalism is the scientific method turned to the social and political realm. We do not have dogmas to guide us, we have REASON, and that is our greatest strength. -- Roger Keeling

What these folks almost never do is to first examine the available evidence, and then draw a conclusion based on it, and when more and better evidence becomes available, change their stance to bring it into line with the newer and better understanding of reality. That's a model of rational, realistic, skeptical thinking that ideologues (of all stripes, left and right) are patently uncomfortable with, and the preference is, I think, so basic that it may well be impossible for an adult to change their way of dealing with the world.

What this suggests is that if we're really interested in getting rid of the faith-based ideologues who now rule us, we had best make common cause with the realists across the aisle, our mirror-images, because, regardless of the differences in our interpretations of reality, there is still the possibility of broad agreement in principle about what reality is, a possibility which just doesn't exist when dealing with dogmatists of either side.

We'd be better off, I'm beginning to think, reshaping the Democratic party not as a centrist one (which has been the basic urge of the DLC and their allies), nor as a more forcefully liberal party (which is what most of my friends want), but instead to remake it as the party of realism, able to cogently evaluate problems, shape viable solutions for them, and forcefully implement those solutions, then assess the efficacy of the solutions and adjust them accordingly. As long as these activities are all underpinned by humanistic values, the net result is bound to be broadly liberal and basically progressive, which really should be enough to fulfill the party's status as the country's center/left option.

Clowns to the left of me / Jokers to the right / Here I am / Stuck in the middle with you. -- Joe Egan & Gerry Rafferty ("Stealer's Wheel")

The alternative, I fear, is to continue to suffer under the thumb of our faith-based oppressors. Yes, it's certainly true that we came this close to getting rid of a sitting President in wartime, but four more years of their having total control over all branches of the Federal government is certainly going to make it that much harder to get even that close next time around, unless we drastically change something. I'm not willling to jettison basic liberal principles, but I am willing to see them modified in ways that make them more palatable to more people, as long as they retain their essence.

Rationalists of the world unite, together we can rein in the ideologues! (Or something like that.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/08/2004 11:40:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, December 06, 2004

US military deaths in Iraq

[via MyDD]


US Troop Strength in Vietnam:

US Fatalities in Vietnam:

[Graphs from History Central]

Troops in Iraq Killed at Rates Approaching Vietnam War-Era Levels
by Drew Brown

April 19, 2004 | With fighting in Iraq now at its worst, the number of U.S. troops killed by enemy fire has reached the highest level since the Vietnam War.

The first part of April has been the bloodiest period so far for U.S. troops in Iraq. There have been 98 deaths by hostile fire so far this month, more than in the opening two weeks of the invasion, when 82 Americans were killed in action.

"This has been some pretty intense fighting," said David Segal, director of the University of Maryland's Center for Research on Military Organization. "We're looking at what happened during the major battles of Vietnam."

The last time U.S. troops experienced a two-week loss such as this one in Iraq was October 1971, two years before U.S. ground involvement ended in Vietnam.

There are 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Nearly 700 American troops have died since the beginning of the war. As of Sunday, 503 had been reported killed in action. At least 3,630 more have been wounded.

The Vietnam War started with a slower death rate. The United States had been involved in Vietnam for six years before total fatalities surpassed 500 in 1965, the year President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a massive buildup of forces. There were 20,000 troops in Vietnam by the end of 1964. There were more than 200,000 a year later.

By the end of 1966, U.S. combat deaths in Vietnam had reached 3,910. By 1968, the peak of U.S. involvement, there were more than 500,000 troops in the country. During the same two-week period of April that year, 752 U.S. soldiers died, according to National Archives records.

U.S. officials say that comparisons with Vietnam are invalid and reject the idea that Iraq has become a quagmire.

Update (12/8):

[Graphs from]

I've been looking for data on how support for (or opposition to) the Vietnam War progressed as the war dragged on, but I'm having some trouble finding it. Here's the closest I've found so far, which breaks support down into three age categories, based on Gallup polling data:

Support for War in Vietnam, by Age

                 Under 30   30-49    Over 49

May 1965 61 59 43
August 1965 76 64 51
November 1965 75 68 57
March 1966 71 63 48
May 1966 62 54 39
September 1966 53 56 39
November 1966 66 55 41
May 1967 60 53 42
July 1967 62 52 37
October 1967 50 50 35
Early February 1968 51 44 36
March 1968 50 46 35
April 1968 54 44 31
August 1968 45 39 27
Early October 1968 52 41 26
February 1969 47 43 31
September 1969 36 37 25
January 1970 41 37 25
March 1970 48 41 26
April 1970 43 40 25
January 1971 41 38 20
May 1971 34 30 23

My point, which would be better supported if I had the right data, is that it took a while for public opinion to turn off the war, and that we've reached the current level of disapproval with the Iraq war much more quickly than the equivalent level was reached during Vietnam.

That, at least, gives me some hope.

Update (12/28): More on this from Kevin Drum, referencing an article in Slate.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/06/2004 01:34:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Sick and vicious threats

This is really apalling:

Threatening letters critical of the interracial marriage between a Tony Award-winning white actress in the Broadway smash "Wicked" and Taye Diggs, a popular black film and TV actor, have sparked a NYPD probe and an increase in security at the famed Gershwin Theatre, sources said.

One of the letters "threatens bodily harm to Taye Diggs," according to a police source. That letter was received Wednesday by Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theaters and Producers, the industry's major trade group, with offices on West 47th Street.

Sources said that before Wednesday, two other handwritten letters were sent to the Gershwin Theatre, on West 51st Street, addressed to Diggs' wife, Idina Menzel, who stars there in "Wicked," a revisionist look at the "Wizard of Oz."

"The letters go on and on about their marriage," a second source says. "They say they're each a sellout to their race."

The case is being investigated by the NYPD's Hate Crimes Unit. As of last night, police said it was not clear who sent the letters.

One letter is postmarked Ohio, another Philadelphia and the third New York. Police do not believe the same person sent all three letters.

Bernstein did not respond to a request for a comment yesterday. Bob Fennell, a spokesman for the production, would not talk about the letters, but did say security is a top priority.

"We take the security of everyone connected to the production very, very seriously," he said.

Menzel, who won a Tony this year for her role in "Wicked" as Elphaba the witch, married Diggs Jan. 11, 2003. Diggs stars in UPN's "Kevin Hill," in which he plays the title character, a lawyer. The couple met in 1996 when they appeared in the Broadway musical "Rent."

Neither Diggs nor Menzel could be reached for comment.

[From Newsday]

A piece in the Post had more details:

A letter-writing racist mailed a hate-filled death threat to actor Taye Diggs, threatening "burn" and "castrate" the African-American actor because of his interracial marriage to Broadway star Idina Menzel, police sources said.

In addition to the malicious missive sent to Diggs, the writer has also penned at least two noxious notes making "negative remarks" about Menzel and her marriage — and threatening to burn down the Gershwin Theatre, where she stars in the musical "Wicked."

The details of the Diggs threat, which was sent to Broadway honcho Jed Bernstein, were not released.

But a police source said the letter threatened the "How Stella Got Her Grove Back" star with "bodily harm," called him a "sellout," and, most disturbingly, declared that the sick sender "wanted to burn him and castrate him."

Some years ago, I did a show (Manhattan Theatre Club's production of Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party) which featured both Taye and Idina, and I found them both to be very talented and very good people to work with. (In fact, the entire cast of that show, which also starred Julie Murney and Brian d'Arcy James, was one of the nicest groups of people I've ever worked with). For them to be threatened in this way is sick, and absolutely counter to everything this country stands for.

I certainly hope that the results of the recent election haven't emboldened the bigots and racists of this country into thinking that they can do this kind of thing with impunity.

Taye and Idina, I'm sending you all my good thoughts.

Ed Fitzgerald | 12/06/2004 01:07:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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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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2004 koufax winners
2003 koufax award
"best blog" nominees
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


take all you want
but credit all you take.

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