Saturday, March 26, 2005

No moral clarity

This dKos diary entry by sophiebrown makes an excellent point:

For those of you still willing to think about the Schiavo matter, I wanted to offer my response to the radical right wing pundits' claim that they occupy the moral high ground on this issue, and that the response from the rest of us has been murderous (noonan) or coldly pragmatic (brooks).

My answer is that the radical right hasn't taken a moral position at all.

The radical right has not argued for reinsertion based on a moral position. Instead they are disputing the facts and claiming that Schiavo is not in a persistent vegetative state.

The pvs diagnosis really changes the moral stakes (If she is in a persistent vegetative state, then she is not feeling pain or discomfort. If she is in a persistent vegetative state then the life she is living has no quality to her.)

The radical right is not arguing, for the most part, that a person in a persistent vegetative state must be maintained forever. The rest of us do not take the position (at least in response the Schiavo matter) that it is okay to starve a conscious though impaired individual to death.

The radical right is not arguing that an individual who has expressed a desire to end their live should not have her wishes honored. The rest of us do not (at least in response to the Schiavo matter) take the position that it is okay to terminate the life of a person against their will or where they have been silent on the matter.

The radical right say there are "factual questions" about Terri's condition and wishes that are open and have not been resolved. They aren't arguing a moral position -- they are playing amatuer detectives, marriage counselors and neurologists.

But the questions have been resolved. By a clear and convincing evidence standard in impartial courts.

I guess you can say that putting credence in those decisions signals respect for the rule of law, but it is more a question of recognizing that this is the traditional, fairest and best way to have matters like this decided.

If that position is pragmatic and not moral, that's because we are making it in response to a the radical right which is essentially trying to re-litigate facts in the court of public opinion. That's not a moral position either.

If the radical right wants to come out and say --even if Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state and cannot experience pain she still should be kept alive even against her wishes, then a vigorous moral debate could be arise. But that is not the right's position. And if it were is would not have the electricity that they claim now. And most people would disagree with them.

She is exactly right, of course, but the problem is that the right's "argument" is actually an emotionally evocative web of associations, implications, memes, and inferences which cannot be directly countered with rational discussion, because it is not based on reason or logic of any kind. As noted before, the only effective way to attempt to neutralize such claims is to present another associational web which supports the opposition position -- hence the need to concentrate on the necessity to protect the marriage vow, the sanctity of a family's privacy, the essential need for self-determination, keeping the government out of these kinds of decisions, etc. The more these tropes can sound similar to and call to mind those of the other side, the better, because while disputing the bogus "morality" of the right is difficult to do via rational means, muddying the waters to take away the supposed clarity of their claims could work wonders.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/26/2005 07:53:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


What to say

Paul Waldman agrees with our previous evaluations (here, here and here) about how the Democrats should handle the Schiavo hot potato:

Despite the overwhelming public opinion against keeping Schiavo alive, Democrats who oppose the intervention of the Republican leadership in this case are still uncertain about how they should talk about this and how to deflect the inevitable attacks ("Congressman Smith wanted to starve Terri Schiavo to death. Can we trust Congressman Smith?"). One thing they shouldn't do is talk about "federalism" and the appropriate balance between state and federal power.

Because outside the Beltway, nobody cares about federalism. They need to talk about this as a case of government overreach into people's lives, not federal overreach into state power. They have to make the issue as personal as possible. Here's a sample: "When my grandmother reached the end of her life, we had to make some difficult choices. It was hard on everyone, but we got through it together, as a family. And the last thing we wanted was the government coming into that hospital room, to tell us that Tom DeLay had a different opinion about what we should do. It wasn't any of their business. Most of us will have to face those kinds of decisions eventually, with a grandparent, a parent, or even a spouse. When we do, we should be able to do it with our family, our doctors, and our clergy. But do you want the Republicans in Congress telling you what they think is best for your family?"

When do we reach critical mass on this and see the Democrats talking in this manner -- are they just waiting to unleash it after Terri Schiavo dies and the hue and cry from the right steps up to an even higher level of shrillness? Does someone have to get shot over this first?

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/26/2005 02:42:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


They know no bounds

An article in the Miami Herald (quoted by Josh Marshall) said (if I may exaggerate somewhat) that Jeb Bush's annointed Florida state stormtroopers were on their way to seize Terri Schiavo forcibly to have her feeding tube re-inserted, and that they backed off only when sheriffs and local police told them that unless they showed up with Judge Greer with them, they weren't getting into the building.

(The mistake Jeb's bully-boys made, which I assume they won't repeat the next time, was to inform the locals that they were on the way. I guess they assumed that the local authorities would simply roll over and play dead once the heavies from Tallahassee got there.)

Amazement #1 is that Jeb Bush thinks he can get away with these kind of strong-arm tactics -- but I guess all those Bush boys were absent the day they went over the limits to power in politician finishing school.

I mean, the police were there at the hospice waiting for an armed showdown with the state agents! It's like something out of a fucking western.

Amzement #2 is this, from the article:

The developments that set Thursday morning's events in motion began the previous afternoon, when the governor and DCF chief Lucy Hadi held an impromptu news conference to announce they were considering sheltering Schiavo under the state's adult protection law. DCF has been besieged, officials say, by thousands of calls alleging Schiavo is the victim of abuse or neglect.

Now, let's put politics and ideology and all that stuff aside for the moment and consider: if I work in a state agency tasked with the protection of abused people, and I get a phone call alleging absue, what do I do? I act on it, right? I go through whatever legal procedures are necessary to protect the adult involved in case the allegations are true, and I investigate to determine what the situation really is, right?

So far so good.

What if I get two complaints about the same person, or three or four, all from people with some close contact with the person? As the numbers mounted, I might start to think that people may be coordinating their complaints in order to achieve some specific end, but I probably wouldn't let that stop me from protecting the person involved, and investigating. Better, after all, to be safe than sorry.

But if I work for this state agency, and I learn that the agency has received thousands of phone calls, all alleging abuse of the same people, most of them (presumably) from people in no position at all to know if there was abuse, and most of them (again, persumably) with no standing in the person's affairs, well, then my reaction has got to be entirely different. While I may still want to investigate the case, just to be certain, I also operate on the assumption -- a very reasonable assumption -- that these are either crank calls or a coordinated effort put together by someone with a serious agenda, not by people who have real factual information about actual abuse.

(This is even more the case where the condition of the woman has already been litigated, extremely publicly for years, and where your agency has tried to intervene before and been rebuffed by the judge in charge of the case.)

I do not, most certainly, just act as if thousands of complaints are thousands of times more serious than one lone legitimate complaint, unless those thousands of people were (in some inexplicable way) seeing or hearing or otherwise experiencing that the abuse was occuring. Intuition doesn't count, nor does hearing about it on TV.

Unless, of course, I'm acting either under the orders of my ultimate superior, the Governor of the state, or else doing what I'm fairly certain he wants done.

In other words, the excuse they used to attempt to forcibly seize Terri Schiavo, going directly against the specific order of the judge in charge of the case, is a fabrication, a confabulation, an extreme exaggeration, a dissembling, a falsehood, a lie, a goddamn straight-out full-bore piece of bullshit as pure as any of the various kinds of bullshit that have emanated from the GOP and the religious right in this case.

I have to tell you, these people make me sick, they tempt me to want to do things to them that are reprehensible and unforgiveable in response to their unbridled arrogance and mendacity.

Josh Marshall calls it "Amazing", I'll go farther and say it again: their behavior is absolutely disgusting.

More: A contract to kill is put out on Michael Schiavo and Judge Greer.

And... Ralph Nader sticks his nose in where it doesn't belong -- more evidence to support Nader's presence on my "Little List" ("they never will be missed") on the sidebar. (More: Scott Lemieux: "Whatever was progressive about Nader's project was swallowed by its paranoia and authoritarian moralism long, long ago. This is just another data point.")

And... Kevin Drum sums up the latest: "Jeb Bush is now certifiably batshit insane."

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/26/2005 01:10:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, March 25, 2005

Styles of thinking

Paul Rosenberg has a very interesting analysis, posted on MyDD and dKos, of the thinking of our opposition. It begins with a typology of adult reasoning:

  • Sequential thinkers reason "by tracking the world," recognize regularities in sequences of events, but have no abstract understanding of cause and effect. The world they perceive is a world of appearances that has very little organization to it beyond the recurrence of sequences.

  • Linear thinkers understand cause and effect, limited to a one-direction, one-cause/one-effect model. The world they perceive has logical order and structure, but the structure is invariably hierarchical, causality flows top-down, and the world is divided neatly into cause and effect.

  • Systematic thinkers understand multi-faceted, multi-linear cause and effect, with mutual cause-and-effect relationships between different elements. The world they perceive is primarily a world of systems and relationships, rather than objects.

So how to sway the opinions of those who utilize the lowest form of reasoning?

I draw one simple conclusion: We have to fight fire with fire. Associational, sequential thinking has be countered with the same sort of thinking, simply because sequential thinkers can't grasp anything else. One narrative has to be countered with another narrative. Criticism--logical analysis--of a narrative will not have any effect on sequential thinkers, but a power counternarrative will.

That's why associating this whole charade with outside interference in family affairs is such a winner. Not only is that obviously true, it absolves us of having to make any more abstract arguments, and connects with a powerful well of narrative strength. Stories about families fighting to stay together in the face of outside forces are as old as Adam and Eve and as new as Veronica Mars. I'm not saying that Bush & DeLay are the Serpent, but, if the shoe fits...

It also works to bring in other associations. This is clearly grandstanding, a power-grab, a distraction from other important business, etc. It works to make these points, provided we come back to them again and again, since it is the repetition of the points, rather than the logic which appeals to the sequential mind.

Does this mean that everything in politics has to be reduced to this lowest-common-denominator level? No! Absolutely not. But for grand dramas like this--which draw in people who don't follow politics regularly--the sequential approach is absolutely required.

It's not just that a lot of sequential thinkers are watching, who ordinarily don't follow politics. It's also that the media employs sequential thinking itself. It's all about images, appearances, and relations that "are synthetic without being analytic." Logical arguments are irrelevent. "Cannonical arguments" are all that matter--and these can be utterly incoherent, it doesn't matter, as long as they are repeated and respect. They are simply a sequence of statements invoking the appearance of causality.

These are really terrific insights, very valid and in line with my observation of how the right works their magic, and the way in which our side has failed to effectively counter them. Our emphasis on policy, and especially on the minute details of our policy programs, does nothing to counter the associational grand narrative the other side rides the wave of. Their story has emotional appeal, real visceral punch, it speaks to our prejudices and preconceptions, our fear of authority and our American longing to be left alone. If we didn't engage our higher thinking functions and deal as objectively and rationally as possible with the factual evidence we're presented with, integrating it into a total picture of patterns and systems, we, too, would be tempted by their spiel. (Such thinking isn't limited to the right, we have our share of New Agers and conspiracy theorists as well.)

The entire piece is worth reading.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/25/2005 03:22:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Don't swallow the "moral values" Kool-Aid

I'm thinking of re-naming this blog "The Wit and Wisdom of Digby" or, perhaps, "Son of Hullabaloo." Not only would it presumably boost my anemic traffic, but it would accurately reflect the number of times I feel compelled to quote at length from Digby.

No matter, I'll resign myself to dwelling in blogosphere's cellar: I just can't help myself, he agrees too often with me, and he says it better to boot:

Democrats can't seem to step forward and take the mantle of straight talking common sense on issues like these. We are intimidated on these social issues because we are buying into the frame the right wants us to use --- "the Bible" and "life." I think our frame for these social issues should be "the constitution" and "freedom." And from that we defend the judiciary on the basis of the separation of powers (checks and balances)and we defend people's right to live their lives freely on the basis of the Bill of Rights. Frank Luntz wants to use the symbolism of the constitution for his side and I think we are nuts to let him do it. They treat the constitution like toilet paper and plenty of people will see that if we just point it out to them, particularly if we repeatedly invoke the constitution as the means of protecting their right to live as they choose without interference from busy bodies.

While the Democrats may still be scarred by its alleged association with 60's libertinism, as Noam Scheiber writes here, the Republicans are revealing themselves to be contemporary radicals who are far more threatening. Scheiber uses the example of Bush flouting the UN as illustrative of how they win even when they are losing. But these issues that affect everyday lives are substantially different. People may be willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt on national security, about which they acknowledge that the experts in the government know more than they do. But on issues like social security and medical care they are many degrees more confident in their own experience and many degrees more skeptical of the government's motives.

During the Clinton scandals, for instance, the Democrats came very close to taking back the congress in 1998 when the GOP went too far with their intrusion into his sex life. The public rejected the sanctimonious moralizing of the Republicans. Middle aged men having extra marital affairs is not shocking, nor is it something that most people believe is a public matter. Similarly, most people see this public spectacle of the Schiavo case for the political stunt that it is.

The problem is that Democrats failed last time to stake out for themselves the common sense argument with which people already agree and run on it. It's a terrible mistake because this is the very basis of the culture war.

These people want to dictate how you live your private life. They want to tell you who you can marry, how to raise your kids, what religion to practice (and you must practice it) and what "values" you must hold. And they want to use the strong arm of the government to do it. Sure, there are problems in our society. Yes we are living in a fast paced society in which it is difficult to raise children and the world is changing so quickly that it's hard to keep your balance sometimes. But most Americans don't wish for others to make decisions for them about how to live their day to day lives, regardless of the challenges. It's just not the American character.

That is not to say that we have no concept of the common good. Americans once came to a consensus that the government was the most democratic means of helping people to mitigate the pitfalls of capitalism and ensuring all of its citizens a fair shake. But we have never seen it as a means to legislate what people do behind closed doors or when making the most personal life decisions about their marriages, families or their own bodies. We believe that the government is far too clumsy a mechanism for such delicate matters. The individual reigns supreme over himself. All we ask is citizens pitch in for the national defense, the running of the government, social services to help the weakest among us and insure themselves against the risks they must take in a dynamic capitalistic system.

It's just this simple: The Republican party wants to tell you how to live your personal life while they systematically remove all government cooperation in ameliorating the risks this fast paced world creates. The Democrats want the government to leave you to make your own personal decisions while having it help you mitigate the social and economic risk our fast paced world creates. It is a stark choice. There is no reason we cannot begin to make the affirmative case for ourselves on this basis.

I don't know who it will be, but I think that the Democrats will win when they find a candidate who can speak in common sense terms to the American people about who we are and who they are. I think people are nervous about these guys but they don't know if we are any better. They are yearning for some clarity. If we provide it, they will come.

[Emphasis added -- Ed]

Looking at the requirements, and adding some of my own, we need someone who

  • Speaks in a clear, straightforward manner;
  • Has the "common touch";
  • Can "reach" people, and to do that has...
  • ...plenty of charisma;
  • Has some rapport with the moderate, DLC wing of the party,
  • but also is not disliked or distrusted by liberals;
  • On the other hand, isn't too liberal so as to be easily smeared;
  • Presents a populist message, without descending into demagoguery;
  • Is good-looking, presentable, and believable, even on topics he has no great expertise or credentials on.

I admit, I may have stacked the deck there, but so far that sounds a lot like John Edwards, and not much like Wesley Clark (who would be excellent VP material). It might also be Barack Obama, although I'd need some more exposure to him to be sure.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/25/2005 01:32:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Comment (0) | Trackback (0)

Just curious about that old philosophical chestnut: if a blogger blogs, and no one links to it, or comments on it, or tracksback to it, so it's neither cataloged by Google nor referred to by anyone, did the opinions in the post ever exist?

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/24/2005 05:03:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A Florida Living Will

From the blog of the editors of the American Journal of Bioethics, a suggested Living Will for those living in Florida:

I, _________________________ (fill in the blank), being of sound mind and body, unequivocally declare that in the event of a catastrophic injury, I do not wish to be kept alive indefinitely by artificial means. I hereby instruct my loved ones and relatives to remove all life-support systems, once it has been determined that my brain is longer functioning in a cognizant realm. However, that judgment should be made only after thorough consultation with medical experts; i.e., individuals who actually have been trained, educated and certified as doctors.

Under no circumstances -- and I can't state this too strongly -- should my fate be put in the hands of peckerwood politicians who couldn't pass ninth-grade biology if their lives depended on it. Furthermore, it is my firm hope that, when the time comes, any discussion about terminating my medical treatment should remain private and confidential.

Living in Florida, however, I am acutely aware that the legislative and executive branches of state government are fond of meddling in family matters, and have little concern for the privacy and dignity of individuals.

Therefore, I wish to make my views on this subject as clear and unambiguous as possible. Recognizing that some politicians seem cerebrally challenged themselves (and with no medical excuse), I'll try to keep this simple and to the point:

1. While remaining sensitive to the feelings of loved ones who might cling to hope for my recovery, let me state that if a reasonable amount of time passes -- say, ____ (fill in the blank) months -- and I fail to sit sit up and ask for a cold beer, it should be presumed that I won't ever get better. When such a determination is reached, I hereby instruct my spouse, children and attending physicians to pull the plug, reel in the tubes and call it a day.

2. Under no circumstances shall the members of the Legislature enact a special law to keep me on life-support machinery. It is my wish that these boneheads mind their own damn business, and pay attention instead to the health, education and future of the millions of Floridians who aren't in a permanent coma.

3. Under no circumstances shall the governor of Florida butt into this case and order my doctors to put a feeding tube down my throat. I don't care how many fundamentalist votes he's trying to scrounge for his brother in 2004, it is my wish that he plays politics with someone else's life and leaves me to die in peace.

4. I couldn't care less if a hundred religious zealots send e-mails to legislators in which they pretend to care about me. I don't know these people, and I certainly haven't authorized them to preach and crusade on my behalf. They should mind their own business, too.

5. It is my heartfelt wish to expire quietly and without a public spectacle. This is obviously impossible once elected officials become involved. So, while recognizing the wrenching emotions that attend the prolonged death of a loved one, I hereby instruct my relatives to settle all disagreements about my care in private or in the courts, as provided by law. If any of my family goes against my wishes and turns my case into a political cause, I hereby promise to come back from the grave and make his or her existence a living ____ (fill in the blank)

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/24/2005 02:59:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


No advantage here

A letter to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo advocates that the Democrats' strategy of not putting up any strong interference with the GOP's Schiavo debacle is a good idea:

The Democrats, for once, did exactly the right thing. By letting the Republicans do what they wanted, they have give the American public, at a very crucial time, the opportunity to see the Republicans in all their sleazy glory. The unspoken backdrop of political debate in the country will now be "Look what you get when the Republicans get to do what they want." No one will point to the Democrats to say they were in it too, but if they'd have kept the vote from taking place, some would have pointed to them as against life and none would have seen the courts' utter rejection of Republican over-reaching. Republican pronouncements from authority will e crippled by the obviously manipulative and mistaken pronouncements by Republican doctors in congress on Schiavo's condition. Even conservative Republicans are upset with Delay now. With outcomes so good, why Monday morning quarterback the Democratic leadership? What better result could you hope for?

But this, from the Times, shows the downside of this strategy:

[T]he [Florida] State Senate voted down a proposal to outlaw the removal of feeding tubes from people in a persistent vegetative state who had not left specific written instructions, and whose families could not agree on their fate. The Senate voted 21 to 18 to defeat it.

Senator Daniel Webster, Republican of Winter Garden, who sponsored the measure, said afterward that the Legislature could do no more to change the case.

" This body has spoken," Mr. Webster said. "They are not going to protect Terri Schiavo and they are not interested in doing so - at least the majority is not interested. And that's just the way it is."

It is irrelevant to the Republicans whether they look bad right now, because what they're doing is shoring up their appeal to the fundamentalists and evangelicals who comprise the most important element of their rank-and-file.

While the general public will (I'm certain) soon almost entirely forget the entire issue, and will certainly not remember it as negatively as it is polling at the moment ("Wasn't that the thing were the Republicans tried to stop the Democrats from letting that woman die?," I can hear some "undecided" voter saying once the whole issue has been push-polled and pundited to death once again, just in time for the 2006 mid-terms.), the religious right will not forget, and will once again be content to play its assigned role as the shock troops of the GOP GOTV effort.

Because the Democrats haven't effectively made an issue about it, pointing out that for Congress to interfere as it did is a massive intrusion of Big Daddy Government into the personal affairs of ordinary Americans, and have instead been mostly content to stand by, the right-wing "Culture of Life" spin will be the prevailing meme connected with this event, and that's what'll be remembered if it's remembered at all. (Quick, tell me what the whole Elian Martinez Gonzales thing was all about -- without Googling it, please!)

So what do the Republicans get out of this:

  • They firm up their connection with the religious right;
  • They can spin themselves as protecting Life over Death;
  • They get to beat up on the judiciary; (It's irrelevant whether the targets of their ire deserve it or not, at this point "liberal activist judges" is just as well-accepted a trope as the "liberal Eastern establishment" and the "big liberal media," never mind that none of them are true any more, if they ever were.)
  • Once the inevitable happens, and Terri Schiavo dies, they get to blame the Democrats for not working with them to "save" her.

And what do the Democrats get from it, having basically not lifted a finger in an effort to re-frame the issue in their own favor:

  • For a moment, the Republicans are exposed as power-manipulators to the general public;
  • To some of the more perceptive members of the public (but not too perceptive, or else they would have seen it long before), they are momentarily exposed as hypocrits;
  • A bit of fracturing of the Republican coalition, which I don't think will be enough to be fatal;
  • What else, exactly? ...

One the whole, I can see what DeLay and Company dove into this issue so completely, as the downside for them (some temporary unpopularity, which has plenty of time to dissipate) seems a relatively good price to pay for the advantages of the upside -- especially when the public's attention wanders, and they forget have much they disapproved of the GOP just weeks before.

Remember, these are the people who were able to smear a decorated war hero with a strong record on national security issues -- you think that spinning Democratic and liberal responsibility for this poor woman's death is going to be difficult for them? As long as the media cooperates (and their coverage of the whole affair indicates that its still along for the ride), they'll have plenty of ammunition to work with and plenty of vectors to work through.

As we've been saying here (and Josh Marshall agreed today), all the Democrats had to say was that the government should stay out of people's sickbeds and let families make their own decisions. That they didn't probably means that they'll get no great long-term advantage from this sorry incident.

I wish that I could say the same about the Republicans.

Update: No More Mister Nice Blog agrees:

I want someone to say flat out that what Republicans are doing is morally wrong. It stomps on spousal rights and the due process of law.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/24/2005 01:09:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Reciprocity speaks

I want to thank all the bloggers who have seen fit to include unfutz in their blogrolls:

If you're not familiar with these blogs, please give them a try.

Update: Here's some I missed the first time around:

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/23/2005 11:36:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


One less voice

To my regret, Publius, of the Legal Fiction weblog, has hung up his writing shoes.

Update: On another front, Billmon explains why he gave up blogging, why we came back using a completely different style of posting, and why he'll probably seque into something more like his old style. For me, it didn't matter: any kind of Billmon post is better than no Billmon post -- but, then, I'm a fan.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/23/2005 06:43:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Radical Right-wing Establishment

Revolution and autocracy, of course, have always proven to be merely two stages in the cycle of power: An autocrat is a revolutionary who has settled in.
Lance Morrow
Evil: An Investigation (2003)

This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy.
Christopher Shays
Republican Congressman from Connecticut
quoted by Adam Nagourney
in the New York Times

How good of Rep. Shays to notice that the Reagan Revolution has bequeathed us a new order of autocrats -- theocrats, in fact (or "theocons" might be more appropriate) -- who have become our new radical right-wing Establishment. Now, where are the voices of Chaffee, Snowe and Collins? Are they really happy to belong to a political party that governs in this fashion?

Where the heck are their consciences?

Or, more to the point, are their skills of political prognostication so dulled by disuse that they can't project the events of this week into the future, and see similar things happening over and over again, the abuse of government power in the service of theological and ideological dogma? What is there, after all, to stop them from happening, when the party the theocrats control has an iron grip on the government, and the sympathy of much of the mediacracy?

Perhaps I give these moderate northeastern Republicans too much credit when I continue to wonder why they choose to stay in the same camp as corrupt serial abusers of power such as DeLay, Bush and Frist, but I have to think that when they look at what's going on, they must feel some sense of real concern, or else I've misjudged their characters completely.

And what about their constituents? Are they satisfied to have people representing them who belong to a party that is capable of doing such terribly damaging things to our system of government, to the comity that allows Federalism to operate, to the very fabric of civil society that we all rely upon to maintain our social equilibrium?

Just what is the tipping point that pushes things over the edge and convinces decent moderate Republicans that they've lost all influence over their party, and that they need to make a positive change in the only way that's now available to them?

Damned if I can figure it out.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/23/2005 03:57:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Get Your War On:

[via Jesse Kornbluth]

Update: I blow hot and cold about Slate's William Saletan (mostly cold), but this rant is almost as good as Dahlia Litwick's.

Further: This is an excellent resource for factual information about the Schiavo case, apparently without any axe to grind.

Later: The blog of the editors of the American Journal of Bioethics examines the Schiavo case from a bioethical perspective.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2005 10:16:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



In a comment to a previous post about the Schiavo case, unfutz reader Nathanael writes:

The terrible thing, politically, is that while this should be suicide for everyone involved in this special session of congress, it sets up the simple analogy that Republicans love: Republicans = compassionate, life-affirming regular guys who will go to bat for even one person who needs their help; and Democrats just don't care and hope this woman dies. It's much more complicated than that, but this equation is the simplest (even though it's wrong) and the one that Republicans can rely on to be absorbed by enough Americans to maintain their immage as the good guys.

Republicans love these complex issues which they can paint as black-and-white to their advantage. Dems need to find out how to recast the dialogue in a simple way that will undercut the Republican image.

And KMc suggests:

How about "Republicans think the government [or "Washington", to borrow GOP language] should be in charge of the most heartbreaking and intimate decision a family can face."

On TAPPED, Sam Rosenfeld call this the "none of the government's damn business" approach, and I agree that it's clearly the best one available to us, since it's simple, clear and touches the hot-buttons of quite a few people, of widely differing ideologies.

I also agree with Ezra Klein who feels that simply waiting for the law to be struck down as unconsitutional doesn't do us much good:

What'll happen then is that the rabid pro-lifers will believe Republicans went to the wall for then only to be foiled by liberal, activist judges, thus redoubling their efforts to appoint a wingnut Supreme Court nominee and pack the courts with sympathetic crazies. And that will all occur under-the-radar.

If we publicized this fight now, while the media is attentive and congress is publicly deliberating, at least the average American will get to see how profoundly unserious and out of control the GOP is. We have to stop letting these battles be fought outside the public eye. They keep motivating their forces by supporting them in high profile fights knowing that, months later, their ridiculous bills will be slapped down and the constituencies they pleased will be all the angrier. It's the cycle of backlash politics and the only way to throw a wrench into it is to bring it out in the open.

Klein's analysis of how this will play out echoes my own thoughts from the other day:

[T]he GOP will have gotten its publicity, the Democrats will have been wedged into an awkward position, "liberal judges" will have been demonized (again), Schiavo will be forced to spend more money unnecessarily, and the situation will end up exactly where it began.

BTW, unless he had something to do with passing extraordinary unconsitutional laws in the middle of the night, Kevin Drum might want to consider stopping his apologies for blogging about the Schiavo case. We didn't want this to be a Federal issue, we didn't drag it into the spotlight, but it's there and we can't do anything about, so we've got a obligation to deal with it, don't we? Especially when it shows up our opponents as the opportunistic panderers they really are.

Update: Liberal Oasis writes that

Americans clearly would have liked to see an organized effort to defend the right of families to make difficult personal decisions without our government intruding on them. But Dems would not oblige.

Addenda: Let me go a bit further in thinking about how this will play out.

First, notice that you've already got the high muckety-muck wingnuts bitching about Judge Wittemore's decision --

"You have judicial tyranny here," Santorum told WABC Radio in New York. "Congress passed a law that said that you had to look at this case. He simply thumbed his nose at Congress."

"What the statute that [Whittemore] was dealing with said was that he shall hold a trial de novo," the Pennsylvania Republican explained. "That means he has to hold a new trial. That's what the statute said."

"What he's saying is, 'I don't have to hold a new trial because I've already determined that her rights have been protected,'" Santorum said.

"That's nice for him to say that But that's not what Congress told him to do," he added. "Judges should obey the law. And this judge - in my mind - simply ignored the law."

-- and that's right in line with my prediction that we'd hear the usual blather about "liberal judges" and "judicial activism" ("judicial tyranny" is a new one to me, and another good indication that the right has better ad men -- or are they gag writers? -- than we do).

One ruling and they're already working themselves into a frenzy -- but what's next? Appeals, this ruling either denied or upheld, emergency appeal to the US Supreme Court or else a full trial ordered, briefs filed on the unconstitutionality of the law, that issue litigated and appealed and (perhaps) taken up by the Supremes, etc. etc.

It seems inevitable that Terri Schiavo is going to die at some point in this process (unless Scalia intercedes and orders her feeding tube put back in -- not "reconnected," as I heard one reporter on CNN refer to it, but shoved forcibly down her throat [note: this assertion on my part was incorrect]), and if that happens, that Terri Schiavo dies before these "heroic" efforts to "save" her can be fully played out, the "Culture of Life" crowd is really going to go ballistic, and the right is going to go into overdrive to blame it all on Democrats, liberals and the rest of their usual demons -- and that campaign might well find some traction, in spite of the fact that the large majority of Americans don't want the Congressional intervention, wouldn't want it to happen to them, prefer to have a spouse make a decision over the government, and so on.

[Note: The conclusion of the "Addenda" was edited and re-written somewhat. -- Ed]

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2005 09:17:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Appearances deceive

Dahlia Litwick has a scathing commentary in Slate on the GOP's extraordinary (and extraordinarily bad) actions in the Schiavo case, during which she writes:

Take a peek into any chat room ... and you will find hundreds of individuals who personally know that Terri Schiavo is — despite voluminous testimony by her doctors and her guardians ad litem and the findings of multiple judges - capable of laughter and responsiveness and a full recovery. How do they know these things? The same way their elected representatives do: They watched a video clip.

I think I understand somewhat the parents' inabilty to let go of their daughter, and I can see how they could be fooled by what they see into honestly believing that she still has awareness and could, if only the right therapies were applied, recover. (I'm much less forgiving of their acceptance of right-wing funding.)

Just like our human capacity to see faces with only the smallest amount of information -- even where faces don't exist (as in grilled cheese sandwiches and on the surface of the moon) -- we are obviously predisposed to see intentional behavior wherever we can, even if it doesn't actually exist. It's easy to see why this would be, as the evolutionary advantages of understanding what other people (friends and enemies alike) are doing is apparent -- those who cannot "read" their competitors and adversaries correctly are likely to die and not procreate (and therefore do not pass on their genes), while those who correctly divine what others are going to do are more likely to survive. If that means that we occasionally see intentional behavior where it doesn't exist, as in those with severe brain dysfunction, that's a minor disadvantage compared to the benefits conferred.

(In his The Intentional Stance, philosopher Daniel Dennett points out that while the capacity for interpreting the intentions of others is probably largely innate -- and therefore evolutionarily determined -- the knowledge -- much of it presumably culture-specific -- needed to correctly "read" intentionality must come from experience and information imparted by others -- so, once again, we see a complex interaction between "nature" and "nurture.")

But while the parents' position is understandable and should provoke our sympathy (and empathy), people who jump to far-reaching conclusions about desperately important matters such as this based on 30 seconds or a minute or even 4 minutes of carefully selected videotape are inexcusable, no matter what their intuition tells them about the apparent intentionality of the behavior they see. Do they, and Senator Frist, for that matter, really think that their snap judgments are more valid than those of the doctors who have examined Schiavo, and the judges who have heard all the available evidence? If so, then either megalomania abounds in the land (which would certainly explain Frist), or else there are just too many people for whom ideology trumps rationality.

Update (3/24): This is from Martha Farah a neuroscientist and neuroethicist at the University of Pennsylvania:

Some observers of Terri Schiavo find her behavior indicative of conscious awareness and intentionality. One observer, writing on the website wrote: “I was pleasantly surprised to observe Terri’s purposeful and varied behaviors... I never imagined Terri would be so active, curious, and purposeful. She watched people intently, obviously was attempting to communicate with each one in various ways and with various facial expressions and sounds.” For me, watching Terri Schiavo in the website videos, it was difficult not feel I was seeing a person interacting with others and aware of her surroundings.

However, clinical and experimental neuroscience have taught us some surprising things about the range of behaviors that can emerge from a decorticate brain. Such behaviors include orienting with eye and head movements toward sights and sounds, generating facial expressions, and producing nonverbal vocalizations that have meaning for us, if not the person producing them, such as cries and laughter. In light of this, we must interpret the behavior seen in the videos cautiously and with a measure of skepticism.

The most natural interpretation for the behaviors we see on the video is not the only interpretation. For example, when a dozing Terri is loudly ordered to “open your eyes!” and does so, does that mean she understood what was said? Or would she have done the same thing if roused with an equally loud order to “open your mouth!” or “stand on your head!”

Humans are hardwired to interpret the behavior of others in terms of mental states. In the psychology literature this tendency is part of a suite of abilities termed “Theory of Mind” (ToM) and in most situations we apply our ToM automatically, without weighing alternative reasons for the behavior. For a particularly striking demonstration of this fact about ourselves, consider the typical response to the robot Kismet. Kismet is part of a research effort at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab to design machines that interact socially with humans. Kismet has been programmed to gaze at humans who approach it, orient to salient objects moving within its field of view, pull back avoidantly if an object is thrust forward at it, and so on. People attribute all manner of cognitive and emotional states to this robot on the basis of a fairly small set of simple behaviors, and have been known to become quite attached to it. And this is a contraption made of metal and plastic, not a human being! My point is emphatically not to liken Terry Schiavo to Kismet, but rather to suggest a similarity in our reactions to the woman and the robot.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2005 07:53:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Via The Green Knight I learned that Media Matters caught red-handed, using a graph that badly distorts the public's reaction to the GOP's Schiavo moves court decision to remove Terri Schiavo's feeding tube.

What they posted was this:

which makes it appear that many more Democrats, as opposed to Republicans and independents, were appalled by what they saw agreed with the decision, when a more appropriate and accurate representation would have been this:

It's difficult to believe that such distortion isn't deliberate. Anyone who spends any time at all with graphic representations, even amateurs like myself, would see the difference between these two, and understand that using the first is essentially lying.

Maybe we need to add another category to Mark Twain's catalog: lies, damn lies, statistics and distorted graphs.

(On a related topic, if you come across a cheap copy of Mark Monmonier's classic How To Lie With Maps, I recommend that you pick it up and read it to get more insight into how facts can be convincingly distorted when represented visually.)

Update: CNN has now changed the graph:

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2005 05:16:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Rudy Tuesday


Before Rudy Giuliani seemed on the fast track to sainthood, there was a time -- almost reeking of nostalgia at this post-9/11 date -- when his autocratic rule over Gotham ruffled more than a few feathers. Veteran cinematographer Kevin Keating remembers those days and makes them fresh again in his first-rate docu "Giuliani Time." Chock-a-block with incisive commentaries both pro and con, pic's sole drawback is its quick finish on that fateful September day without updating Rudy's subsequent rise and fall. Interest will be high in Gotham itself, but yesterday's news may not play so well in Peoria.

Keating, best known for his lensing on docus by the Maysles brothers and Barbara Kopple, spent more than five years working on "Giuliani Time" but then faced an icy reception from distribs unwilling to handle a critique of the man seen by many as the heroic face of the Big Apple. Now that the Bernie Kerik debacle has given Giuliani another shiner, the time seems ripe for this unflattering appraisal of Rudy's years in public life.

Investigative biographer and "Village Voice" editor Wayne Barrett acts as Keating's guide through Giuliani's well-hidden family past, with its ties to gambling joints, the Mob, and Sing Sing. A brief discussion of the early years leads to Giuliani's rapid promotion in the D.A.'s office and his controversial role in the deportation of Haitian boat people.

Main chunk of time is spent on Giuliani's years as mayor, when his zero tolerance policies received worldwide attention and outsiders praised the Disneyfication of Babylon-on-the-Hudson. Through well-chosen commentators ranging from lawyers, community activists and assorted politicos, Keating strips away the self-aggrandizement and analyzes the record, setting into a national context the acclaimed drop in crime and the mayor's concentration on perceived "quality of life" problems.

Especially damning are discussions of Giuliani's cold regard for racial issues, highlighted by his polarizing handling of the traumatic Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo cases. Surprisingly, Keating fails to make anything of Giuliani's orders to surround City Hall with massive concrete barriers, a move that perfectly symbolized his disdain for dissenting opinions. Former mayor Ed Koch pointedly remarks that Giuliani "uses the levers of power to punish."

All seemed to come crashing to earth in early 2001, when health issues and private scandals saw his influence plummet. But then came 9/11.

Even a confirmed Giuliani-hater such as myself had to admit that on 9/11, Giuliani was a model of stalwart leadership, helping to keep things calm and together throughout the crisis. (Of course, after the fact his decision to locate the city's emergency command post in the middle of a high-profile target like the World Trade Center drew harsh criticism.) In that moment, which Rudy has been feeding off ever since, he really did approach being the perfect leader -- but the moment didn't last. New Yorkers watched while Giuliani's devils slowly re-appeared, as he floated the idea that he shouldn't leave office when he was scheduled to, because only he could provide the leadership the city needed to pull itself back together.

The naked egotism of that attempted power play was too much even for Rudy's backers, and he swiftly fell from grace again here, even as his reputation remained in the ascendent elsewhere. (We'd see a similar misuse of the moment in Bush's dissipation of the world's feelings of empathy for the US in the direct aftermath of the attacks. What could have been a defining moment of increased global unity was ignored in favor of gross nationalism, xenophobia and disdain for the opinions of others. Both Bush and Giuliani are tragically flawed men.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2005 04:46:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


An achievement

Dear Billmon:

Having David Horowitz call you "semiotically confused" is indeed a high honor, one that every other liberal blogger will envy.


Ed Fitzgerald

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2005 03:33:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The shape of things

One of the most important things that has happened over the course of the past fifty years is that the world has increasingly become divided into three parts. There is the small, underpopulated commonwealth of peace and plenty that is North America, most of Europe, and Japan; there is the part made up of Latin America, the former Soviet Union, China and India, in which wealth and poverty coexist and where the future is unclear; and, finally, above all in sub-Saharan Africa and an area stretching from Algeria to Pakistan, there is a vast, teeming dystopia of war and want whose future no decent and properly informed person should be able to contemplate without sadness, outrage, and fear.
David Rieff
A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (2002)

Here in the US, there seems to be another dynamic at work: class warfare is fracturing the broad American middle class, skimming off those at the top to join the elite upper class, which benefits mightily from the policies of the new radical conservative establishment, while more and more of those at the bottom of the middle class, stripped of many of the underpinnings which enabled them to survive, fall into the ranks of the working poor. What's left is a middle class that's less secure, less able to pass on the benefits of bourgeois life to its children, less certain about its position in the scheme of things.

The net effect of all this is, generally, a widening of the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots", and the disempowerment and enervation of those left in-between. Trust is destroyed, security is swept away, the body politic is fractured, comity and civility are undermined by the constant exploitation of cultural wedge issues, and inevitably, social unrest grows.

As a social policy, this is extremely short-sighted, because while the elite will garner numerous short- or medium-term benefits, eventually the weight of mass discontent will lead somewhere where none of us really wants to go. Bread and circuses may have worked once, but it's unlikely to be sufficient to keep things reigned in if the current dynamic continues.

When we reach that point (if we do), it may be harder to automatically include the US in the "first world" that Rieff describes. Whether we'll go so far as to fall into the "second world" of China and India, where poverty and plenty coexist and the future is uncertain, remains to be seen, but I'm far from optimistic about our chances if we don't manage, sometime within the next decade or so, to start to reverse the damage that's already been done, and to rebuild the caring and empathetic society that's even now being destroyed.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/22/2005 03:01:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, March 21, 2005

Beam her up, please

From the Baltimore Sun:

Diana Schaub, a Loyola College professor and adviser to President Bush, is convinced that cloning and embryonic stem cell research are evil. She says this belief was formed, in part, by watching Star Trek.

The show has "left me receptive to the view that mortality is, if not precisely a good thing, then at least the necessary foundation of other very good things," she wrote in an article last year. "There is something misguided about the attempt to overcome mortality."

Her interest in mortality and Star Trek could be regarded as the quirks of an academic if not for her position on the President's Council on Bioethics, a 18-member panel that advises Bush on some of the most polarizing subjects in society.

She has likened embryonic research to slavery and has compared slacker students to lawless American soldiers in Iraq. Administration critics faulted her appointment to the council last year, saying she would push a conservative agenda.

But Schaub, a registered Republican who is chairwoman of Loyola's political science department, doesn't see her views as conservative or liberal. She says they are the logical result of studying Abraham Lincoln -- and yes, Captain Kirk.

"I find that there are good reasons to be opposed to embryonic stem cell research and human cloning," she said. "Both Lincoln and the Enterprise argue that there ought to be certain moral limits to the scientific project, and they help us articulate what those limits are."


Schaub said she would like to teach a bioethics course. While she hasn't designed the syllabus, she said she would probably include some of Lincoln's speeches, the council reports and a few episodes of Star Trek -- especially one in which the crew answers an ancient distress call and finds a planet whose only residents are children, the result of a botched scientific attempt to prolong life.

Instead of aging naturally, the children live hundreds of years before reaching puberty. When they become teenagers, they suddenly perish. The crew reverses the effects of the experiment, enabling the children to age and die naturally.

When asked whether a student could read all of Lincoln's work and watch every Star Trek episode and still disagree with her, Schaub smiled.

"Of course," she said. "I don't take it personally if people disagree with me. If they presented a good argument, I'd give them a good grade."

I'm the last person to denigrate someone who finds value in popular entertainment -- in my writing you'll find numerous references to Philip K. Dick, J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and probably some to Star Trek as well -- but given the importance of some of the moral and ethical choices we, both as a society and as individuals, have to make, I do think it would be better if the people advising the government had an understanding of the issues that was grounded in something more complex than the Wagon Train to the Stars adventures of swashbuckling Captain Kirk and his merry band. Perhaps some reference to philosophers of morality might be appropriate, or the work of ethicists who have delved deeply into these subjects?

But it hardly matters, really. The presidential bioethics council "has no specific powers but can issue advisory reports," and in any case, as we all know, the answers to all these dillemas can be found in the Bible, which is the literal Word of God, and infallible, leaving Schaub free to base her bioethics on Kirk, Spock and Scotty.

[link via Taegan Goddard and The Daou Report]

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/21/2005 11:52:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Calling one's political enemies "evil" is apparently a long-standing predilection of those on the right:

When William F. Buckley, Jr., was a young man, he knew Joe McCarthy well, and collaborated with his (Buckley's) brother-in-law, on a book defending him.

I asked Buckley one Sunday afternoon nearly a half a century later, whether he had ever known anyone whom he considered to be evil.

Buckley did not hesitate. He said, as if the case were self-evident: "Well, Gore Vidal."

He looked at me. I could see that he was serious.
Lance Morrow
Evil: An Investigation (2003)

I'm not much enamored of Vidal's political views either, but for a man of Buckley's learning and intellect to call Gore Vidal "evil" is ... stupefying. It's yet another indication of how far they've gotten out of hand, how totally divorced from reality they are -- or (looking at it another way) how they never allow themselves to depart from the acceptable framing they've constructed.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/21/2005 11:04:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A rider on the storm

The Florida state court judge who's at the center of the Schiavo case is not, as wingnut idiots would have it, a liberal activist. Instead, it turns out that he's conservative, he's a Republican, and he's a regular churchgoer.

Apparently, he hasn't drunk the Kool-Aid, though, and his intellect and ability to rationally evaluate competing claims based on factual evidence (in other words "reality-based" decision making) seem to be intact and unimpaired.

Greer, vilified by many religious protesters, is a church regular. He also is a conservative Republican in a state whose conservative Republican governor tried to overturn one of Greer's orders.

"George is the religious right," said lawyer David Kurland, a longtime friend.

Friends say Greer's intellect is perfectly formed to withstand the very tempest he now faces. Always calm, not prone to mood swings or flares of temper, unerringly polite, he is not easily ruffled, they say.

But the criticisms sting, friends say. His relationship with his church, for example, has changed.

"He's been through a lot of storms in his life," said Mary Repper, a political consultant and friend. "This is just another one. George takes everything in stride."


Greer said he is sometimes baffled by the more hateful criticism. He said his faith has not been shaken.

"What's so exasperating is that my faith is based on forgiveness because that's what God did," Greer said. "When I see people in my faith being extremely judgmental, it's very disconcerting."

But he follows the law, he said. "There are no Ten Commandments out there," he said, pointing to his outer office.

"My oath is to follow the law, and if I can't follow the law, I need to step down," he said.

Critics who condemn him in the religious press, he said, "have nothing to do with my relationship with God. They can't affect it."

He accepts the security precautions, Greer said, as a necessary inconvenience. But he acknowledges that his wife worries.

"I can't dwell on it. I'm not going to do anything stupid. But I'm not going to dig a hole and crawl into it. ... This isn't Colombia. This isn't drug lords terrorizing the judiciary. It's America."

He realizes that whatever his accomplishments, he will always be remembered for the Schiavo case.

And Greer's answer to the indignant protester who called asking if he thought he was going to heaven: yes.

[link via commenter Pudentilla on Political Animal]

(Bizarre fact: Greer was a college roommate of Jim Morrison of The Doors.)

Update: Talk Left takes a good look into the career of James D. Wittemore, the Clinton-appointed Federal judge who has now ruled against a temporary restraining order forcing Terri Schiavo's feeding tube back in.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/21/2005 09:35:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Nothing up my sleeve!

I took my kid to a magic show at the local branch of the NY Public Library the other day, and it reminded me that when the magician asks you to notice what's happening in her left hand, it's because she's doing something she doesn't want you to notice in her right hand.

With that in mind, what isn't the press concentrating on, now that the GOP has drummed up a ready-made replacement for the Scott Peterson trial:

  • Iraq. The start of the third year of the war in Iraq. The insurgency continues to kill people, civilians and soldiers alike. The new Iraqi government is slow to find its footing. People are still dying, and there are still no WMDs. On top of it all, the costs continue to mount.

  • Deficits. Huge, debilitating, structural deficits that can, in the near or medium future, potentially cripple the power of the Federal government to do anything but the most basic of activities. When's the last time some pundit mentioned them? (Liberal blogs don't count.)

  • Social Security. Bush staked a lot on driving the first wedge into the program, setting it up to be dismantled soon afterwards, but his blatant propaganda campaign isn't working so well, and his approval numbers on this issue are dragging down the party. If you're going to fail, always best to do it when no one is noticing, and if you're going to push something through that most citizens won't approve of, when they're not looking seems like an opportune moment.

  • DeLay. No one's much talking about this poster child for unethical behavior and political corruption these days.

  • Propaganda. Another topic the media's not talking about -- the administration's various propaganda efforts, paying pundits to flog the party's policies, releasing government-produced video press kits that look like journalistic reportage, but aren't, and so on. Same with the Guckert/Gannon mini-scandal (which didn't have much traction to begin with.)

  • Mandate. Under cover of darkness, all sorts of repellent things are being sneaked in under the rubric of a non-existant "mandate" from the voters, but it's easier to claim the mandate after the fact, once the legislation's been pushed through when few people are paying attention. Keep a close eye out.

  • Appointments. Negroponte, Bolton, previously rejected judicial candidates re-nominated. You probably played left drift in high school, you can figure it out.

There are more, I'm sure, and I'll probably think of them as I'm trying to fall asleep tonight, but you get the idea -- you've gotta watch the other hand if you want to figure out what the magician's doing.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/21/2005 05:35:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



It's really the only word that fits, isn't it, what the Republicans have done in the Schiavo case.

I am filled with disgust by their actions.

I can only hope that they'll feel the wrath of the people for their decision to intervene between man and wife in one of the more difficult and wrenching decisions that any of us will ever be called upon to make -- but I'm 50 years old, and I've lived through my share of disappointments that the American people can be as crass and unempathetic as I've found them to be, so I'm not holding my breath for any popular backlash against the Republican morality-mongers. It would surely be nice, but I'm in no way convinced it's going to happen.

It would be easier if I believed in God and hellfire, for surely these people would be condemned by a just God to eternal damnation -- but I guess, as an atheist, I simply have to hope that they'll merely be turned out of office, eventually.

It would be nice if they were embarrassed when that happens, but I suppose that's asking too much. I alternate between seeing their maneuvres as the most cynical and hypocritical moves possible, and wondering if they really do believe, in their simple and uncomplicated little minds, what they say. (I even entertained the thought, for a few fleeting moments, that they might really have believed, in their heart of hearts, that having consensual sex with a woman you're not married to, and then lying about it, was sufficient to qualify as a "high crime and misdemeanor" for the purposes of impeachment. Eventually, that supposition collapsed from the weight of its own absurdity, and I was forced to drop it.) Either way, they're grossly unsuited for public office. They're to be pitied, and removed from our ken.

Update: Summary of the case, by Majikthise.

BTW, some right-wing troll posted a knee-jerk dogmatic response to my last post about the Schiavo cast and, pursuant to my comments policy (see the sidebar), I immediately deleted the comment and banned the commenter.

The world is already too fucking crazy, turned topsy-turvy by right-wing mischief, which is why I intend to maintain some small semblence of sanity and rationality here. Anyone is free to add information or argue from a reasonable standpoint, but I'm simply not going to stand for unthinking bullshit masquerading as argumentation.

Other (more well-travelled sites) have other policies -- that's their business. My policy is posted and will be enforced. Here, at least, we will have the rule of law and the preeminence of rationality, even if this is not so (unfortunately) in the outside world.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/21/2005 03:04:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, March 20, 2005

A sideline issue

I haven't said anything about the whole steroids in baseball thing, because while I love baseball, I really could give a damn about what ball players do to themselves, and the Congressional hearings were a joke.

Steve Gilliard:

If Jose Canseco snorted blow of a whore's ass and shot smack, and that helped him hit home runs, I could care less. It's his health he's ruining. Steroids are bad for you. They do strange things to the body. If someone is so braindead and desperate to use them, fuck it, why should I care? Because of the intergrity of the game? Shit, all they do is steal money from localities for their stadiums and jack up ticket prices.

As Gilliard says, Congress has many, many better things to do, but apparently would rather waste its time on grandstanding bullshit.

Bill James wrote, some years ago, a wise observation about drug use in baseball:

I know I'm probably going to get hung for saying this, but has anybody considered the possibility that cocaine and amphetamines really do enhance athletic performance in certain respects? ... I don't really believe that drugs make anybody a better ballplayer. I do believe this: that the physical and emotional construct which creates a successful athlete must be understood in its entirety, and not discussed piecemeal. That, I think, is the reason that players who go on weight-training programs or health-food kicks, or players who are helped by hypnotism or other psychological counseling, or players who make a sudden leap forward after working with a batting instructor, will almost always relapse in the next season. True excellence in any field is supported by an incredibly complex structure of habits, skills, knowledge, intelligence, confidence, courage, experience and diverse abilities. ... When a player has been using a chemical substance for years, I think it often happens that that substance becomes a part of the fabric of his life - and thus, however evil it is by itself, it becomes a part of the structure that supports his success. When it is removed, that fabric is torn, and it may be years before the tear can be stitched over.
Bill James
1985 Baseball Abstract
republished in This Time Let's Not Eat the Bones (1989)

The overall point being that baseball players aren't stand-alone entities, unaffected by what's going on around them. They fail and succeed based on their performance inside a complex system which is only in small part determined by them. Baseball owners know that offense-heavy baseball -- lots of home runs, lots of slugging -- sells better than "little ball" based on pitching, defense and station-to-station offense, and they reward those who can produce it, and that sets up the market for ballplayers to bulk up and provide the slugging that's wanted.

But that's really only the tip of the iceberg, there's a whole lot more that's under the surface that people just don't think about -- such as, for instance, the effect of nutrition.

There was a time when baseball players, almost without exception, came from the lowest levels of the working class, and from the poorest parts of the country. Understandably, nutrition for people in that siuation, in those areas, was pretty damn poor. Take you basic old-time ballplayer, turn back the clock, move him to a circumstance where he can be raised with the best nutrition possible, and he'll turn out to be a better athlete -- stronger, faster, with more stamina.

That being the case, aren't modern ballplayers, many of whom come from the middle-class, some of whom go to college, and most of whom get perfectly reasonable nutrition throughout their lives, at an unfair advantage to their compatriots from the past? Should we start talking about marking all contemporary records with an asterisk?

What about ball parks? Bill James and other sabermetricians have known for a long time how to adjust performance statistics for park effects. Shouldn't records set by players in smaller, hitter-friendly ballparks be altered to account for their advantage, or, at least, marked in some way (perhaps with an asterisk), so that people would know that their achievements aren't as impressive as others on the all-time page?

The answer, of course, is no. The playing field has never been level, not during any one time, and certainly not across time periods, but that's no reason to go screwing around with the record books.

Also -- and, believe me, this comes from a long-time hard-core baseball fan -- it's only a damn game, there are more important things to focus on.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/20/2005 08:30:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


More on what Schiavo means


This issue gets to the essence of the culture war. Shall the state be allowed to interfere in the most delicate, complicated personal matters of life, death and health because a particular religious constituency holds that their belief system should override each individual's right to make these personal decisions for him or herself. And it isn't the allegedly statist/communist/socialist left that is agitating for the government to tell Americans how they must live and how they must die.

One of the things that we need to help America understand is that there is a big difference between the way the two parties perceive the role of government in its citizens personal lives. Democrats want the government to collect money from all its citizens in order to deliver services to the people. The Republicans want the government to collect money from working people in order to dictate individual citizen's personal decisions. You tell me which is the bigger intrusion into the average American's liberty?

More: I wrote this earlier today, in an e-mail to friends:

I thought that a "bill of attainder" [forbidden by the Constitution in Article 1, Section 9] was a legislative act which pronounced someone guilty or (more generally) took away a person's rights, without benefit of trial. In this case the husband's legal right under Florida state law to make life and death decisions for his incapacitated wife would be taken away from him by an act of Congress (signed by the President) without benefit of trial.

If I'm correct, I imagine that once they finish grandstanding and pass the bill, and it's signed, Schiavo will have to go to a Federal court and get an injunction against the law being enforced on the grounds that it is a bill of attainder. Somewhere along the line, some judge will grant the injunction, and the government will appeal it directly to the Supreme Court, which will (even *this* court) pronounce it unconstitutional and nullify it.

Meanwhile, the GOP will have gotten its publicity, the Democrats will have been wedged into an awkward position, "liberal judges" will have been demonized (again), Schiavo will be forced to spend more money unnecessarily, and the situation will end up exactly where it began.

More on the legal and political issues in this good round-up:

If this law is declared valid, no decision in any state court in the country will be immune from Congressional second-guessing. It would throw out of whack the entire concept of separation of powers. The constitutional law expert [Lawrence] Tribe calls it "trial by legislation" and he is right.

P.S. I apologize to Michael and Terri Schiavo for using their surname to denominate the current bout of Republican hypocrisy, but it seems inevitable to me that "Schiavo" is what we'll end up calling this episode. It's just another way in which the actions of the GOP have intruded into the privacy of these people.

(Previous post here.)

Update (3/22): More on the legal issues here, here, and here. [Links via Majikthise.]

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/20/2005 08:18:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


They have no decency, no shame

These people in Congress are walking all over my personal and private life. ... I'm telling you, the United States citizens, you better start speaking up, because these people are going to trample into your personal, private affairs.
Michael Schiavo

What more needs to be said? The hypocrisy of DeLay, Bush and the Republican party is so astounding that at times there's just nothing to be said about it -- all one can do is expose the rot, and hope that, eventually, people will begin to notice.

Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
Joseph Welch
to Senator Joseph McCarthy

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/20/2005 07:25:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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