Saturday, January 22, 2005


I just now passed by the PAX channel on my TV (quite by accident) and saw that the talking heads there (one of them was that asshole Cal Thomas) on a program called "Faith Under Fire" were having a discussion that was slugged as "Is God a Republican or a Democrat?"

I'm not religious -- in fact I'm an atheist -- but isn't the question itself actually a fairly major blasphemy?

Just wondering.

(BTW, The "PAX" in "PAX TV" doesn't stand for "peace" so much as it stands for the conservative Christianity and politics of Lowell "Bud" Paxson, Chairman and CEO of Paxson Communications, which owns it.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/22/2005 10:56:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Journalism roundup

Mark Kaplan, associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication, and director of the Norman Lear Center, on the larger implications of the Armstrong Williams scandal:

By and large, neither politicians nor entertainment executives regard the press as a check on the abuse of power, or as the representatives of the public. They regard journalists as nuisances -- useful idiots.

The White House is not shy about this; the president and his people have patiently explained that they view reporters as a special interest group, one constituency among many, and the administration has notoriously issued deceptive news video press releases voiced by ersatz reporters, in the hope that local stations will confuse them with news.

Some reporters take great pains not to cross lines, and to disclose conflicts of interest when they're unavoidable. Many publications and broadcasters have codes of conduct designed to prevent even the appearance of a conflict. Professional associations in journalism and public relations, and the schools that train future practitioners, post guidelines and teach standards. And, of course, there are laws against payola and domestic propaganda.

But consider the rise of the political pundit industry, driven by the insatiability of 24-hour cable news; the advent of faux think tanks funded by right-wing billionaires; the popularity of the glossy magazines and stripstrip-syndication shows that exist to flatter; the transformation of news from public interest to profit center; the conglomerates housing news and entertainment under the same roof. It's no wonder journalism's boundaries have blurred.

These days, anyone can be a pundit or celebrity correspondent; all you have to do is put up a shingle, and find someone willing to publish or air what you have to say. And in the Internet era, everyone can be a publisher.

Seems like a good enough excuse to dive into my quote file for a selection of quotes and excerpts about journalism:

If the ... press somehow vanished, and if all of us could, through the Internet or 500-channel TV, get exactly the information we wanted, we would still want some way to compare impressions, to put things in perspective, to ask other people, "What do you make of this?"
James Fallows
Breaking the News (1996)

Why get your news from seasoned professionals when you can get half-witted rumors from random strangers [on the Internet]?
Joel Achenbach
"Reality Check" in
Washington Post (12/2/96)

Network junkies excitedly tell me that self-publishing leapfrogs over publishers, editors and broadcasters. The network passes messages from your keyboard to a thousand other monitors. It's not one-to-one communication like the telephone or one-to-many broadcasting like radio. Rather it's a many-to-many medium, a garden where freedom of speech blooms.

But the reality is that with millions of users posting messages to the network, the valuable gets lost in the dross. There are no pointers to the good stuff - you don't know which messages are worth reading. You can select by subject area, but there's no way to pick only the interesting comments. With everyone able to upload their work to the network, the Internet begins to resemble publishers' slush piles. It's up to the reader to separate out the dregs. What's missing from the network are genuine editors.

Ah, editors! The bane of writers, reporters, and publishers, editors yet serve as a barometer of literary quality and advocates for the reader. Without them on the net, you simply have no way of telling what's worth reading.

By eliminating editors, our networks demonstrate their importance. There are plenty of writers on the Usenet, but few editors. It shows.

Indeed the best newsgroups rely on voluntary moderators, serving as unpaid filters. ... Their attempts to impose order on the chaos generate resentment, accusations of censorship, and occasional subversion; but it's the moderators who give shape and direction to the newsgroups. There are so few moderated newsgroups only because nobody's willing to put in the long, unpaid hours.
Clifford Stoll
Silicon Snake Oil (1995)

Michael Schudson, a professor at the University of California at San Diego who is a prominent academic theorist of the news, has used the thought-experiment of a news establishment that suddenly vanishes, in order to show the real value of journalism.

Suppose, Schudson has said, that the elite press, which filters the news in a way may people dislike, went out of business sometime in the near future. Suppose further that, thanks to imminent advances in technology, each person could get exactly the information he or she wanted, with none of the annoying "spin" from editors or commentators. With a vastly expanded system of cable TV, each viewer could watch sessions of each congressional committee, each state legislature, each city council. Through the Internet, people at home could instantly find the latest research reports about heart disease, or AIDS, or the effectiveness of different exercise schemes. Through fully indexed online version of the Congressional Record, they could find out what any congressman said about any theme. On Court TV and its many channels [sic] they could follow all the major legal battles. If they wanted to know the crime rates for each part of town or the crash rate for each commuter airline company, they could pull up that information too. The media establishment as we know it would seem to be short-circuited. And yet, Schudson wrote in his book The Power of News, "Journalism - of some sort - would be reinvented."
People would want ways to sift through the endless information available. What is more important? What is most relevant? What is most interesting? People would want help interpreting and explaining events. ... It is hard to picture the contemporary world, even in the face of a technology that makes each of us potentially equal senders and receivers of information, without a
specialized institution of journalism.
James Fallows
Breaking the News (1996)
quoting Michael Schudson from
The Power of News (1995)

Few people truly want raw data, they seek information, taste, even wisdom. Filtering the Net gusher is essential, and finder software continues to improve beyond the simple key-word seekers of today. But these still take our scarcest resource: time. Often gobs of it.
Gregory Benford
"A Scientists's Notebook:" in
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (6/96)

[The] real purpose [of journalism] is to satisfy the general desire for information to have meaning. People want to know the details, but they also want to know what the details mean. ... What we read in the papers and see or hear on TV and radio should provide context that gives meaning to information.
James Fallows
Breaking the News (1996)

At a time when people are being bombarded daily with more and more headlines and more and more information, they are, ironically, becoming less informed.
Henry Luce
prospectus for the creation of Time magazine

In a world glutted with information, constant updates are not only a diminishing asset, they are becoming a dangerous distraction. Watching could be hazardous to our health. ... Since the dawn of time, humans have constructed a quilt of community understanding out of new information. In a world of information scarcity, messenger-journalists performed the vital service of acquiring and transmitting fresh data. ... Then information came into abundance. Data is now so plentiful that consumers face the curious hazard of an information glut. We cannot keep up with the information we produce. ... Today's challenge is to manage the vast quantity of information we already have stored up ... to share this information with each other, to manage it thoughtfully, and to transform it into knowledge inside millions of individual brains. This is not so much fact-hunting as it is data-gardening.... Journalists who limit their role to news flashes are absolving themselves of their overarching obligation to the audience. In our new world, reporters must become more like teachers, and we all must learn the skills of the librarian. Information management is the fuel for our thriving civilization.
David Shenk
"More Is Less" in the "Idees Fortes" section of
Wired magazine (2/97)

When asked what they do, journalists can offer all sorts of answers. At times we'll say we're there to provide information, to report on an ongoing debate, to "keep the people informed." At other times we'll say we exist to be "watchdogs" on the people in power - to make sure they don't abuse it or lie or steal. Sometimes we'll say our main obligation is to "fairness" and "balance." Other times we'll say our goal is to push politicians beyond their normal back-and-forth and challenge their assumptions, their facts (or non-facts) and the hidden purpose behind their rhetorical gambits. Sometimes we speak in grand terms about our obligations to "the people" or "democracy" or "free speech." Other times we'll speak mainly in terms of professional ethics, focusing on our obligations to live by certain rules and well-worked-out conventions. Sometimes we'll revel in our stance as the friends of the underdog, defining our role as involving "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable." Other times we'll vehemently deny bias in favor of the down-and-out and insist that we are thoroughly fair and accurate in assessing the good and the bad in even wealthy and powerful institutions. Sometimes we'll acknowledge that the media has commercial purposes - we make our money, after all, by winning large audiences and selling them to advertisers. Therefore, we often have to entertain as well as inform. Other times we'll argue passionately that money does not affect what we do, that we report the news without fear or favor and don't care whom we might offend.

It can be argued, of course, that each of these statements is true as far as it goes. ... Yet journalists themselves, when not under fire, readily concede that there are some real contradictions in their own rationales for what they do.
E.J. Dionne, Jr.
They Only Look Dead (1996)

[R]eporters have the naive notion that if they tell some of both sides of a story, their readers will know who was lying.
Saul Green
"Pseudoscience in Alternative Medicine"
Skeptical Inquirer (Sept/Oct 97)

When distant and unfamiliar and complex things are communicated to great masses of people, the truth suffers a considerable and often radical distortion. The complex is made over into the simple, the hypothetical into the dogmatic, and the relative into the absolute.
Walter Lippmann
The Public Philosophy (1955)

The fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other.
Edward R Murrow (1965) (attributed)

The art of writing is in fact largely the perversion of words, and... the less obvious this perversion is, the more thoroughly it has been done.
George Orwell
[presumably from] "New Words" (essay, 1940) in
Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (1997)
ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus

Much of what passes for journalism is in fact mere titillation or dressed-up gossip or polite prejudice. The media have abandoned civil society for the greater profits of the private sector, where their public responsibilities no longer hobble their taste for commercial success.
Benjamin R. Barber
"Securing Global Democracy"
Jihad vs. McWorld (1995)

The confusion of fact and opinion in public debate was the focus of a powerful 1994 essay in the New York Times by Michiko Kakutani. "Throughout our culture," she wrote, "the old notions of 'truth' and 'knowledge' are in danger of being replaced by the new ones of 'opinion', 'perception,' and 'credibility.'" She argued that "as reality comes to seem increasingly artificial, complex and manipulable, people tend to grow increasingly cynical, increasingly convinced of the authenticity of their own emotions and increasingly inclined to trust their ideological reflexes. ..." In such a situation there are no arguments in the sense of an engagement over ideas and evidence but simply a clash of assertions. In this climate, said Kakutani, "the democratic idea of consensus is futile." We are witness to the creation of "a universe in which truths are replaced by opinions."
E.J. Dionne, Jr.
They Only Look Dead (1996)

The function of a good newspaper and therefore of a good journalist is to see life steady and see it whole.
Charles Prestwich Scott (attributed)

Call it the "whoops factor," a phenomenon that starts with shoddy research or the misinterpretation of solid research, moves on quickly to public outcry, segues swiftly into the enactment of new laws or regulations and often ends with news organizations and some public policy mavens sounding like the late Gilda Radner's character, Emily Latella, as they sheepishly chirp, "Never mind!" ... Underneath the embarrassing retreats from what in hindsight seems shabby research, superficial journalism or a triumph of politically motivated public relations lies a much deeper problem: Americans' willingness, almost eagerness, to accept a Hobbesian view of man as a brutish thug who if left unchecked will sow chaos and destruction. In this atmosphere, even reports like the one claiming that a quarter of all female college students are raped each year are readily believed. ... Cramped by space and time, and usually not having much knowledge of statistics, journalists are often bamboozled by "experts" bearing impressive numbers or they fail to put the numbers in historical or demographic perspective.
Steven A. Holmes
"It's Awful! It's Terrible! It's ... Never Mind"
Sunday New York Times Week in Review section (7/6/97)

Journalism is not mere entertainment. It is the main tool we have for keeping the world's events in perspective. It is the main source of agreed-upon facts we can use in public discussion. The excesses of journalism have been tolerated because no other institution can provide the benefits journalism can.
James Fallows
Breaking the News (1996)

In abandoning standards of "objectivity" or "fairness" and embracing a certain style of controversy, the press and television may have produced livelier formats without actually enlivening the public debate. The liveliness is, in some sense, artificial. It involves people tossing epithets and one-liners at one another as weapons. Combat between gladiators is not the same as an argument between citizens. Genuine argument involves a real exchange of views and information.
E.J. Dionne, Jr.
They Only Look Dead (1996)

It's absolutely correct to say that there are objectively occurring events ... Speeches are made, volcanoes erupt, trees fall. But news is not a scientifically observable event. News is a choice, an extraction process, saying that one event is more meaningful than another event. The very act of saying that means making judgments that are based on values and based on frames.
Cole Campbell
editor, Virginian-Pilot (newspaper)

Mainstream journalism proudly honors objectivity, balance and accuracy. Buts its execution often sifts these values through the filters of prevailing opinion, new knowledge, old prejudices and standard assumptions about who's worth quoting.
Abe Peck
"Don't Ask, Don't Print" in the
New York Times Book Review (11/3/96)

The press is committed - properly, though sometimes with weird effects - to neutrality on matters of policy. They confine themselves to matters of presentation, which they chew over and reduce to a single piece of consensual wisdom with astonishingly speed. ... These judgments are entirely based on style points, though, because style is a matter it has been granted to the commentators in the press and television to judge. A position may be wrong-headed, but the candidates cannot be marked down for that. He must be marked down for failing to connect with the American public, for speaking in jargon or abstractions, for repeating himself, or for looking at his watch. Positions on the issue can be brought into the equation only when they are sufficiently disreputable for the press to feel professionally comfortable about criticizing them...
Louis Menand
"Dole's Three Strikes" (10/17/96) in
New York Review of Books (11/14/96)

Even more than broadcast coverage of national or world events, local TV news suggests an environment of generalized menace that cannot really be understood but that viewers should try to insulate themselves from. ... The accumulated impact ... [is] to give citizens a nightmarish view of life in their own community.
James Fallows
Breaking the News (1996)

If it bleeds, it leads.
media consultants' recommendation to local TV news to
feature crimes, fires, autowrecks, etc (c.1990)

The nation whose population depends on the explosively compressed headline service of television news can expect to be exploited by demagogues and dictators who prey upon the semi-informed.
Walter Cronkite
A Reporter's Life (1997)

Update: Check out Kid Oakland (on Daily Kos) on "George Bush and the failure of the U.S. Press":

Our Press has failed our nation, our citizens, our Constitution and, most importantly, the truth. The problem is structural, longstanding and ongoing. The delivery of the News to our citizens....the delivery of the facts that our Democracy must debate to come to a consensus, to make our choices and our broken.

First, over the last decades the News became more and more entertainment. Then it became not just entertainment but, in the last years, it became polemical entertainment. And while this process played out, the News also became a small part of Very Big Business; our news rooms, newpapers and radio stations became the adjunct outposts of huge corporate conglomerates whose interests are closer to the Board Room and the Club House than to Main Street or Broadway where newsies used to hawk the latest editions.

Both political parties played into this environment with relentless hype and of them taking advantage of it fully, the other playing the role of the aggrieved, passive victim....both of them, however, always playing into the cutthroat game of the ever quicker cyclone politics of the news cycle.

Either way, the fact is....the context...the framework of the delivering the facts to the American public has fundamentally changed.

George W. Bush and his cohorts lie, distort and spin. Those lies and distortions get picked up and spun forward by countless AM radio jockeys and the FOX network and its Cable copycats, oftentimes using interviews with paid GOP shills....and before the American public has read a single fact check....a single piece of independent investigative journalism...a kind of national freeze has set in. A consensus has formed before the facts have hit the pavement.


The fact is, during the first term of President George W. Bush, the Press failed America. No individual reporter could stem the tide of what has been a systemic change in how our citizens perceive the truth...but, as a whole, the large organizations could have and should have taken stock of this new environment...and fulfilled their responsibilty to the Constitution, the citizenry and the Truth.

We all know, that did not happen. "The News" is everywhere, but it is more often than not... tripe about murders, disasters and celebrity.

In this context, the administration of George W. Bush has played the game of the "big lie" with impunity. Even when they are doesn't mean anything because the bulk of perception has already been shaped and spun.

It is not enough for the Press to blame the marketplace for the fact that Americans don't have their facts straight. Simply put, making sure Americans have their facts straight is their job and their moral duty.

I'm sorry, when I see George Bush spewing his palaver about where he plans to take our nation and our world...and hence, how he plans to lie and deceive us for another four years....I can only think of one thing....

where is the Press? Will they be AWOL for another four years?

Amen, brother.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/22/2005 07:19:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A little help here?

Perhaps someone can help me with this.

At some time, in some unknown book or magazine, I came across a quote which said something to the effect that bricolage (or perhaps it was "collage") is emblematic of the spirit of the current era (or perhaps it used "zeitgeist"). I didn't write the quote down, as I usually do, and I've been searching for it ever since.

"Bricolage is today's zeitgeist," "The spirit of this age is collage," something along those lines.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

While I'm at it, here's another one I've been looking for. In Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut wrote:

I had heard it suggested one time that the seasons in the temperate zone should be six rather than four in number: summer, autumn, locking, winter, unlocking, and spring. And I remembered that as I straightened up beside our manhole, and stared and listened and sniffed.

There were no smells. There was no movement. Every step I took made a gravelly squeak in blue-white frost. And every squeak was echoed loudly. The season of locking was over. The earth was locked up tight.

It was winter, now and forever.

(The scene is, of course, what happens when Ice-9 is released into the environment and all the water in the world is locked up in ice crystals.)

I'm looking for the source of the "suggestion," either in Vonnegut's own writings or in those of someone else. I recall inquiring on and someone suggesting that the originator of the thought might have been Robert Frost, but I've never been able to track down anything specific.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/22/2005 01:47:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, January 21, 2005

Filler up

People of a certain age will recall the masssive "I Want My MTV" television ad compaign, in which various rock stars were seen saying "I Want My MTV" in various idiosyncratic ways, the goal being to convince you to call up your local cable TV company and tell them that you really insisted they provide you with the new hot programming service, Music TeleVision. The idea was that MTV was going to give you 24-hours of music videos, so you could tune it whenever you liked and watch and listen to your favorite hit tunes (meaning whatever was hot at the moment).

Nowadays, it's pretty hard to find music videos on MTV. Game shows, reality shows, cartoon shows, movies, whatever, but not a lot of music videos. In fact, it's just a little harder to find music videos on MTV then it is to find news on an all-news channel.

I suspect you see the analogy coming, forced as it is. There must be some factor in television programming which pushes all-whatever channels into a more general format aimed at the demographic slice which, presumably, was first attracted by the promise of 24 hours of a certain kind of program. In the case of "all-news" channels, a significant portion of the programming day is taken up with not news, but news analysis, opinions and punditry, a trend which has resulted in Fox News which, arguably, is almost all opinions and punditry loosely linked to a small amount of objective journalism.

What's interesting is that people of a certain age can also recall the controversy that raged about what newspapers needed to do in order to compete with the increasing importance of television news -- specifically the network nightly news broadcasts, which expanded from 15 minutes to a half-hour and became the preferred source of news for a majority of Americans. The argument was made that since newspapers were no longer the first or fastest source of news, they had to do something to add value to their product to keep people reading.

And this they did -- they added a lot of magazine-type lifestyle sections and tightly-targeted geographic editions for the suburbs, hoping to give people something they weren't getting from Huntley-Brinkley and Walter Cronkite. But what they also added -- and this was highly controversial at the time -- was more news analysis (very carefully labelled as such), and the "op ed" page, where opinions and punditry reigned supreme.

In fact, I think one could make the argument that if respectable newspapers, the sine qua non of objective journalism, hadn't broken that barrier of acceptability, it's unlikely that it would have been allowable for all-news TV channels, when they came along, to carry so much non-news material. (Of course, if there is indeed a factor pushing all-whatever channels to become more generalized, it's interesting to speculate what all-news channels would have added to their line-ups if they couldn't add news analysis, opinions and punditry.)

So, as we look back on these past trends, I wonder what it tells us about how the various kinds of news media will change in response to the increasing influence of blogging as a source of information, analysis, opinions and punditry? Will all-news channels and newspapers start providing more actual news coverage, something they can do that bloggers cannot, realizing that they can't hope to compete with the range of opinions and the variety of analyses available in the blogosphere? Of course, journalism is expensive, and cost-effectiveness becomes more important as news outlets are slurped up by media conglomerates. News programs are no longer the status-providing loss-leaders they once were for the networks and local stations, they're expected to not just pay their own way, but to be a profit center. That means cutting costs, and cutting costs means fewer reporters, fewer foreign bureaus, more reliance on canned "news" etc., which are not exactly trends which lend themselves to providing more objective news.

So the news media may be in a bind. On the one hand the cheap filler they've been relying on will start to get some fierce competition from a new medium, and on the other their masters won't want to spend the money to provide the one thing they can provide in order to compete more effectively, news.

Postscript: Of course, it also occurs to me that I (and everyone else who pontificates about the effects of blogging on journalism) could be hugely overstating the influence that bloggers will have. It may well be that a taste for consuming blogs might be more similar to a taste for consuming public access television, and therefore somewhat limited as a mass influence.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2005 11:47:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Powell's queer agenda

I can't make any claim to be overly perceptive about political realities, but it does seem to me to be obvious that Michael Powell's stepping down as Chairman of the FCC was most probably forced on him by the religious right. It was during Powell's tenure, after all, that animated homosexual monsters like Tinky-Winky and SpongeBob SquarePants reigned supreme on our airwaves (not to mention Big Bird and Clifford the Big Red Dog), perverting the sexuality of untold numbers of innocent American boy and girls.

By ignoring this massive and widespread threat to our dear children, Powell was clearly furthering the Commie Faggot Junkie agenda. And, unfortunately, things are even worse than they seem:

  • On Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, the character of the pig, Hamilton Hocks, a male, is much too interested in cooking and keeping a tidy household. (He lives in a box, an obvious metaphor for a closet.) His obsession with making pumpkin muffins speaks for itself.

  • In the Elmo's World segment of Sesame Street, Elmo's pet fish is clearly meant to be a transsexual of some sort. The giveaway is the fish's name, "Dorothy." Elmo, a Muppet of sometimes indeterminate sexuality, but presumably a male, frequently expresses his affection for this gender-bending piscine freak.

  • On JoJo's Circus, the gender of the title character, JoJo, appears to be ambiguous at best.

  • The character of the Bear on Bear in the Big Blue House is affectionate, caring and concerned about the feelings of others, which obviously pegs him as a homosexual role model. Not once in any episode monitored so far has Bear sat down with a couple of buddies to drink beer, eat nachos and watch professional football on TV

  • Many of the characters on Dora the Explorer are clearly immigrants, since they do not speak American, only Spanish. (While some may argue that this complaint is unrelated to those concerning homosexual characters, this liberal relativism overlooks the fact that deviances of all types are mutually supporting, and that more widespread speaking of non-approved languages by animated characters helps to create the atmosphere of permissiveness in which gay cartoon icons can proliferate.)

  • Similarly, the relationship of the boy and his dog on Davey and Goliath seems very close to stepping onto the slippery slope so boldly outlined by Senator Sanatorium.

This small sample just barely scratches the surface of the queer and rancid landcape that has developed in the world of children's television under the regime of Michael Powell.

He had to go -- Think of the children!

Update: James Wolcott points to the disquieting relationship between Yogi and Boo Boo.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2005 10:24:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Making the cuts

Mark Durrenberger gives John Kerry a hand at implementing the Rhetoric Reduction Act of 2005.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2005 10:20:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Up and down with Little Georgie B.

Hey, here's a pop quiz:

1. What's gone up by 10.6% in the four years since Bush took office?

2. What's gone down 0.45%?

3. What else has gone down 25.15%?

4. What's down 11.76%?

5. What's gone down a big 27.36%?

6. And, finally, what's increased by a whopping 33%?

Give up?

1. The poverty rate.

2. The Dow Jones average.

3. The NASDAQ.

4. The S&P 500.

5. The dollar measured against the Euro.

6. The national debt.

Numeralist has the figures.

So, the next time someone asks you if we are better off than we were four years ago, you can say with all honesty that we're about 10 - 25% worse off.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2005 01:37:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, January 20, 2005

(this space deliberately left blank)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/20/2005 11:59:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Sleight of hand

Kevin Drum wonders about Bush's "dead horse" Social Security plan:

What's the point of loudly pushing a proposal you're going to lose? What's behind it all?

It's just a thought, but when the magician is doing something flashy with one hand, it's usually to distract you from what he's doing with the other -- and it occurs to me that while we're all agog about Social Security privitization, we're not doing a lot of talking about what's going on in Iraq. (Josh Marshall, for instance, has hardly mentioned Iraq in donkey's years, he's so focused on Social Security.)

Is it possible that at least one of the points is to distract us from our real crisis, the one that could sink Bush? (As we know, there is no crisis in Social Security.) Economic issues are important, but not terribly sexy or exciting -- but losing a war -- and, to be sure, we're losing this one -- is a damn sure way to go down, fast.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/19/2005 08:17:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Small world

It turns out the the guy who's been the director's assistant on the workshop of The Me Nobody Knows I'm working on is also a political blogger, and I just found out -- Ryan Davis, who blogs on Not Geniuses, as well as non-politically on Stage Space. [Update: He's also got a dKos Diary]

Ryan's a nice guy, and a smart one, and he's been very helpful to me, so I encourage all 50 of my loyal readers to check out his sites.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/19/2005 05:13:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Josh Marshall on what the Dems need to do:

When Bill Clinton was president, I'm not sure he had any bigger supporter than me. But many of those who worked with him in the White House got into a mindset that can easily lead Democrats astray in our present circumstances. Clinton's critics often knock him for his reliance on tactical positioning, on tacking back and forth against the wind, on finding the small rhetorical or policy distinctions, the sweet spots that could upend his opponents.

But when you hold the White House those approaches really can work -- because you have three levers of power, the executive branch, the bully pulpit and the veto pen. That power gives you control over the terms and pace of the debate. And those let you bring clever tactics and fancy footwork into play.

But the Democrats don't have any of that today. They're completely excluded from power in Washington. The only effective power they have is the ability to deny the president the cover of bipartisanship in enacting his agenda when his agenda conflicts with their fundamental principles.


This isn't 1995 or 1996 when Clinton could dance around Newt Gingrich or hoodwink him with rhetoric and policy jujitsu. To the extent this gets down to a discussion of the nitty-gritty, Bush will just roll right over the Democrats.

And in a sense, why shouldn't he? One doesn't have to see this as a matter of President Bush's excessive partisanship or divisive governing style. True negotiations are seldom possible when there is a fundamental disparity in power between the two sides negotiating, as there is today between President Bush and his Democratic opposition.

When I think about Clintonite tactics and their one-time practitioners who are still in the game, I'm often reminded of a game of 'King of the Hill'. There are tactics that work great when you're at the top of the hill that aren't worth a damn when you're at the bottom. And there's nothing sadder than seeing someone at the bottom of the hill using top of the hill tactics. Actually, there is something sadder: when that person is you.

In a sense, Clinton used the powers of the presidency to create space for what is simply 'politics' -- the organized tussle of debating and changing minds. But most of President Bush's major legislation has gone through without 'politics' in this sense ever even happening. In almost every case, President Bush had his bill, he had compliant majorities in each chamber, and he just passed it. So long as there was not overwhelming and spirited public opposition it just went through. 'Politics', in the sense I've described it, seldom even got off the ground since it didn't particularly matter which way the public debate went.

No one is saying that Democrats should meet the president with effrontery. That would be counterproductive. Nor should the Democrats be unwilling to work together if President Bush supports legislation that doesn't go against Democrats' fundamental principles. But President Bush has made explicitly clear in this case that his proposal will go against those principles and he's made clear over the last four years that he has little interest in true legislative give-and-take.

Given those facts and given that the Democrats hold neither the White House nor either chamber of Congress, the only power the Democrats have is their power to state the facts clearly and withhold the legitimacy they alone can impart through providing bipartisan cover. This isn't rude or political. If Democrats believe private accounts are wrong they should say so and vote so. No voter expects politicians to vote for bills they believe are flatly wrong.


Should the Democrats have an alternative beyond just saying 'no'. Yes, they should. And they have a very good one. But it is very much the secondary part of the strategy. And their alternative can only be comprehensible and effective if the primary part is made sufficiently clear: that Democrats don't believe Social Security is in crisis and that whatever long-term funding challenges it faces do not require a fundamental revision of the structure of the program, let alone phasing it out as President Bush wants to do.

This is what opposition parties do. State their contrary vision where they have one, vote their principles on matters of fundamental political difference, and build a clear contrast on key issues which they can take to the voters in the next election. All the more so when the facts and the people's values are on their side. That's democracy. [Boldface emphasis added -- Ed]

Part of the problem, I think, is that Congressional Democrats still have not allowed themselves to believe that they really are the opposition party, and therefore need to conduct their business in a very different way from that of a party in power. Not that I think they should totally reconcile themselves to this change of status and settle in for the long haul as second fiddles, but it does seems as if a different kind of leadership is required, and a different standard of behavior from the rank-and-file back benchers as well. (A stricter discipline, primarily.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2005 09:55:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Cut the "fuck" out

From Variety:

PBS cuts HBO pix to avoid FCC wrath

'War,' 'April' will have nudity and language removed

By Michael Learmonth

PBS will censor two upcoming films given to the pubcaster by HBO in an effort to protect local public TV stations from potential FCC fines, prexy Pat Mitchell told critics at the winter press tour.

A scene in HBO's "Dirty War" will be edited to omit a naked woman being decontaminated in the aftermath of a "dirty bomb" attack on London. In "Sometimes April," a film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, PBS will cut a salty expletive Vice President Dick Cheney used on the Senate floor.

The censored films are among the three given to PBS by HBO for airing after they run on the cabler. HBO gave the pubcaster rights to the films in order to gain a wider audience for them. HBO reaches some 30% of the American public, while PBS reaches nearly 99%.

The third film, "Yesterday," about a young African mother with AIDS, will not be censored.

"Cable doesn't have to live with those (FCC) regulations -- we do," Mitchell said.

Fines would put financially strapped local PBS stations at risk and discourage some from carrying the pics, PBS programming exec Jacoba Atlas said. Saturday.

So let me get this straight, Vice President Dick Cheney, an elected public official, tells Senator Patrick Leahy, another elected public official, to "go fuck yourself" on the floor of the United States Senate, one of the primary centers of our democratic government and a public space. Someone makes a film which includes the "go fuck yourself" incident, and PBS, a publicly-funded television organization supposedly dedicated to the public interest, can't or won't show the film intact because it fears that another organ of the federal government, the FCC, will fine it, because 6 people in Alabama will object to it.

The Guardian has more:

Fearful US TV networks censor more shows

Dominic Timms
Tuesday January 18, 2005

The panic that is gripping American TV bosses facing a puritanical backlash or exorbitant government fines has today extended to a cartoon series and a BBC drama.

Fox TV has decided to pixelate a bare derriere in a cartoon series, The Family Guy, which was originally broadcast five years ago with no complaints.


Fox TV has already been hit by fines from the Federal Communications Commission with its network of affiliate stations each fined $7,000 in October for airing Married by America, a reality series in which a female contestant was seen licking cream from a male stripper's chest.

With its affiliate stations already rapped, FCC is now considering a record $1.2m fine for the Fox network for the same offence.

"We have to be checking and second-guessing ourselves now," Gail Berman, the head of Fox Entertainment, told Variety today.


While the FCC has been accused by some groups of deliberately undercounting complaints, it has nevertheless shown an appetite for hitting stations with substantial fines.

Last year CBS parent Viacom was given a $500,000 fine for showing a sub-one second glimpse of Janet Jackson's breast during the Super Bowl half-time show.

Fearful of even the slightest protest, Fox this year turned down an advert for a cold remedy because it contained a brief flash of 84-year-old actor Mickey Rooney's bottom.

Other networks are also being ultra-cautious - late last year 66 stations in the ABC network refused to show Steven Spielberg's second world war drama, Saving Private Ryan, because of its explicit language.

Groups such as the Parents Television Council, and the American Decency Association have become increasingly adept at harnessing the power of the internet and email in particular to lobby for what they call family friendly TV.

Supporters can simply email the groups website to have their complaint sent through to the relevant sector within the FCC.

Just last week the PTC urged supporters to mount an email campaign against CBS for re-broadcasting an episode of missing person drama Without a Trace which attracted around 7,500 complaints when it was first shown because it featured scenes of a "teenage orgy".

"As if it isn't bad enough that CBS/Viacom was so irresponsible to air this rubbish once at a time when millions of children were in the viewing audience, they chose to air it again - this time on the heels of their Consent Decree in which they admitted to violating indecency laws and promised to take immediate steps not to do it again," said Tim Winter, the executive director of the PTC.

"We are urging our members and other concerned citizens to file indecency complaints with the FCC about this rebroadcast."

Things are seriously out of whack, I really don't recognize this as the country I grew up in.

Time is out of joint
All telescoped is space
I don't recognize the world
I can't remember its face
Gretchen Cryer & Nancy Ford
The Last Sweet Days of Isaac
(musical, 1970)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2005 08:16:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, January 17, 2005

What am I?

The show I'm working on is The Me Nobody Knows, which is based on the actual writing of inner-city school kids from the late 60's. As we rehearsed today, this speech in particular moved me, and I thought it would be appropriate to share it in honor of Martin Luther King Day:



(The Me Nobody Knows was adapted by Robert M. Livingston and Herb Schapiro, with music by Gary William Friedman and lyrics by Will Holt, based on the book The Me Nobody Knows edited by Stephen M. Joseph and an original idea by Herb Schapiro, with additional lyrics by Herb Schapiro.)

Postscript: Jeralyn Merritt and Kevin Drum on Martin Luther King Jr.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, even though we have the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning, "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."
Martin Luther King Jr.
Speech at the Lincoln Memorial
March on Washington (8/28/1963)

Update: Digby on Bill Clinton, MLK and the soul of the Democratic party.

And: This essay by Richard B. Woodward in the NY Times Book Review on the relationship between shopping and holidays makes an interesting point:

Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday is still largely free of ancillary merchandise. Only nonprofit and education foundations may benefit from his legacy. The King family tightly controls his image and words with regular lawsuits against unlicensed profiteers, and groups like the N.A.A.C.P. have spoken out against any hint of commercialization. Yet the absence of a full-blown consumer aura to the holiday may paradoxically prevent King from assuming his rightful place in the nation's life, alongside Washington and Lincoln. After all, you aren't an American icon until your silhouette can be slapped on a newspaper ad to sell a Toyota.

Wooward was being a little arch, I think, but it's still a valid point. When my 5 year old son woke me up today with "Happy Martin Luther King Day, Dad," it threw me a little, since MLK Day isn't the sort of holiday I've associated with that kind of greeting, but any other holiday worth its salt would have an associated greeting, so why not MLK Day? Until we in same way celebrate the day, with some kind of specific event or ceremony, even if the celebrations are a little crass and vulgar and involve shopping, it's bound to remain a second-class holiday, and its value for reminding us of the ideals of Dr. King will be limited.

(Of course, the efforts of the King family to control the exploitation of MLK's image are understandable, and the danger is that the crassification will overwhelm the deeper meaning of the day entirely.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/17/2005 08:14:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Just laugh

August J. Pollak:

In the three years I've been blogging I've seen college professors knowingly lie. I've seen gay men sell out their very soul for the sake of pretending that their President doesn't consider them an abomination. I've seen brilliant women with the most clever minds for pop culture force themselves to act stupid for the sake of convincing themselves of the infallibility of recent foreign policy. The right-wing blogosphere has removed itself from any realm of rational discourse and instead established only one principle: win the argument. It doesn't even matter to them what the fucking argument is. If some liberal said something, they're either a hypocrite, a liar, or a traitor. Don't worry, you'll make some shit up to validate that a little later.

The Daily Show has proven this: we've entered an age of satire. There is no other correct response. [...] So just laugh at them. Because both you and they know it's bullshit. And when you laugh at them, and keep laughing, they realize their attempt to snark your comments section didn't work.


The right-wing bloggers don't want to hear our rebuttals. The President doesn't want to hear the Democrats' counter-proposals. History will never look back on this time and discuss how changes were made through the art of rational bipartisan discussion. But I'm damn sure history has a chance to look back on this era... and laugh.

[via Eschaton]

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/16/2005 10:31:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A terrifying disclosure

Roger Ailes gets an attack of disclosure-mania:

George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and their respective flacks lie to you. Repeatedly. Willfully. Without remorse. And they will continue to do so. Today. And tomorrow.

And twice on Sundays. All unfortunately true.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/16/2005 09:55:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


To my representatives in DC

Dear [Senator Schumer; Senator Clinton; Representative Maloney]:

As one of your constituents, I urge you to vigorously oppose President Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security.

My own investigation of the subject has convinced me that while there may be some small need to fix certain aspects of the Social Security system, there is no grand "crisis" that requires such a dire measure as privatization. Furthermore, I've become convinced that the actual intent of the President and his supporters is not to "fix" the system at all, but to take the first steps in dismantling it completely, something that conservatives have wanted to do ever since FDR introduced the program.

In general, considering that all three branches of the Federal government are now controlled by the radicals in charge of the Republican Party, I think that the best course for the Democratic Party is to stand in firm and unyielding opposition to their destructive policies. I understand that legislators naturally prefer to legislate, and that you wouldn't have sought elected office if you didn't want to do something constructive to ameliorate our problems, but I see no particular value in the type of "bipartisanship" which requires Democrats to give up everything while getting nothing in return.

Please, stand firm on this subject in particular, and do everything you can to derail Bush's proposal.


Ed Fitzgerald

Postscript: Josh Marshall's lists: The Fainthearted Faction (Dems supporting privatization), and The Conscience Caucus (Republicans opposing it).

Update: Typos ("crises" for "crisis" and "every" for "ever") corrected.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/16/2005 09:18:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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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
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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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