Saturday, April 16, 2005

Fair warning

I'm starting rehearsals on a new project on Monday, a workshop, so, as often happens when I first get involved in something new, posting may be a bit slow for a while, until we get going. I may be able to put some stuff up this weekend (if I come across anything that strikes me as interesting), but after that give me a few days.

In the meantime, here're a few miscellaneous quotes I've come across recently:

One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.
Kurt Vonnegut
"Cold Turkey" (4/10/2004)

For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled.
Hunter S. Thompson
The Proud Highway (1997)

Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.
Kenneth Boulding (economist)
[source undetermined]

In one way or another, we've always been juiced. When coffee and tea were new in the Western world, they were seen as powerful (and often dangerous) mind- and body-altering substances. The historical anthropologist Alan Macfarlane has recently argued for a causal link between the rise of British tea-drinking and the burst of physical energy that accompanied the Industrial Revolution. Opiated artists and coke-stoked musicians inspire both a tragic sense of damaged lives and a widespread appreciation of their chemically modified imagination and chemically managed psychic pain.
Steven Shapin
"Cleanup Hitters"
The New Yorker (4/18/2005)

Update: I find it amazing that so many of the sites on the Internet which feature quotes, aphorisms and epigrams will give the name of the person responsible for the quote, but absolutely no indication of where it originated! For me, the quote isn't complete until I know the source it came from, so I could (if I cared to) verify the accuracy of the quote by looking it up myself in the original source.

There are probably hundreds of sites which quote the Kenneth Boulding remark about exponential growth, but none of the twenty or so I checked showed where it came from. (And, unfortunately, the quote wasn't listed in any of the dozen or so quote source books I have on my desk.)

Just as it's good policy to check out claims made in e-mail circulars before sending them on to everyone in your address book (usually, a quick visit to is enough to debunk or clarify these), it should also be standard policy to check out a quote and determine its source before it's posted -- or at least indicate that the source can't be found, or that the quote can only be attributed.

(I decided with the Boulding that the very numerous sources which cited the quote with exactly the same wording was an indication that it most probably was said or written by him, which is why I marked it as "source undetermined" instead of "attributed".)

Just one of my pet peeves.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/16/2005 03:31:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, April 15, 2005


In honor of tax day:

The tax laws are designed to trick people into paying more than they have to. That way the rich people who are in the know get to take advantage of drastic tax breaks, while those who don't have such good connections and haven't yet found an accountant who does are tricked into paying ludicrously higher amounts. ... [The tax laws] are designed to protect the fortunes of [rich] people ... while throwing the main tax burden on people in much lower brackets.
Orson Scott Card
"Investment Counselor" (2000)
First Meetings in the Enderverse (2003)

Just in case anyone's going to protest, I'm aware that Card is far from a liberal. He's described in the Wikipedia this way:

Although a Democrat, Card is a vocal supporter of George W. Bush, the war on terror, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the PATRIOT Act, as well as US support of Israel.

I've never looked closely at Card's politics, but I was under the impression that he was fairly libertarian in his views, and certainly more socially conservative than I am. (He's a devout Mormom.) Still, his books are full of interesting ideas -- one of the reasons I enjoy them.

In this case, on taxes, Card is almost certainly right that the tax laws are deliberately slanted so that those well-off benefit from them more than others -- but the irony is that since he wrote this, under the administration of Card's man, George W. Bush, it's gotten, much, much worse. Nowadays they hardly even pretend to try to be fair. Their mantra is that tax cuts help everyone, but, as Card points out, the devil is in the details.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/15/2005 08:56:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Reminder: we have moral values as well, good ones

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns & Money responds to the latest Amy Sullivan crusade. Here's a key passage:

As with abortion, Sullivan's punchline seems to that there's a crucial demographic for whom cultural issues are important enough that people who would otherwise vote Democratic wouldn't, and yet can be persuaded without offering substantive policies but with minor shifts in rhetorical tone. My problem with this argument remains that these voters, for all intents and purposes, don't exist.

The argument Lemieux identifies is one that I've come up against pretty frequently, often in the form of the complaint that if Kerry had just been more forthrightly liberal (and anti-war) in his campaign, he would have won the election. Of course, there's absolutely no evidence to support that contention, certainly not in the actual vote totals (where if you add all the non-Bush votes together, Bush still wins -- the very definition of a "majority") nor in the results of the GOTV efforts. The argument assumes that there were large numbers of liberal and anti-war voters who sat out the election, but I've seen nothing to indicate that. Certainly my experience, and that of everyone I've ever talked to about it, is that liberals were extremely energized about the election, and voted for Kerry even if they weren't entirely happy with him and his stance on the war.

For me to take this argument, or Sullivan's seriously, someone is going to have to show definitively that there are large pools of untapped voters out there who either can be switched off of the Bush-track or who have been withholding their votes. I don't think this can be done, which is just another reason why we should avoid drinking the "moral values" Kool-Aid.

Lemieux has more:

Those who believe that moralizing rhetoric is the key to Democratic success have an obvious problem to explain: the 2000 campaign. That year, the Democratic candidate was someone who rose to national prominence based on a campaign against rock music. And, just to be very safe, they picked as their Veep the most moralistic windbag they could find. We know what happened, and it should be noted that Gore was utterly savaged by the same pundits who say that Democrats need to pander to people's cultural anxieties more. It's true, of course, that Kerry (who was extremely timorous on cultural issues anyway) got less of the popular vote. But in context, Kerry was much more impressive. Kerry came closer than anyone else has come to unseating a wartime incumbent in a decent economy. Gore did very poorly for an incumbent in a time of peace and prosperity. I'm not saying that Gore lost because if his identification with cultural moralism, but I am saying that it's a trivial factor.

Right, here, again, there's no supporting evidence for Sullivan's continuing (and, let me say, highly annoying) claim that embracing cultural conservatism is a winning strategy for the Democratic party.


Why do we have to play the game on their "culture war" turf? Why can't we say that the principle of free speech is more important than politics (which I actually believe has the virtue of being true.) Why can't we say that it is wrong for people to impose their religious views on others? Are these not principles worth fighting for? Do they not have the ring of clear common sense? These seem like first principles to me.

Why people continue to believe that we can convince people that we "believe in something" by validating the GOP's calumnious rhetoric about deviant liberal culture I will never understand. I think we convince people that we believe in something by well ... believing in something. How about the constitution, for a starter?

This is precisely right, and yet another reminder that one battles back on the "morals" front by emphasising what are legitimately liberal moral values.

Is the problem that these values are so well-established that they no longer seem "sexy" or relevant?

Update (4/17): My good friend Roger and I had a discussion about this in the comments thread to this post. Right now we're at a state of threadus interruptus, as I have some research to do to butress my point, but in an e-mail to me he recommends what Billmon has to say on the subject, and since a trip to the Whiskey Bar is always a good idea, I'm more than happy to pass it on.

The "values" debate fits in extremely well with the GOP's on-going propaganda campaign to paint Democrats, particularly progressive Democrats, as out-of-touch elitists who sit around sipping lattes while they gloat about the "little Eichmanns" killed in the twin towers -- that is, when they aren't high fiving each other for having pulled out Terri Schiavo's feeding tube.

The thing that has to be said -- first, foremost and always -- is that this image is complete bullshit: the modern day equivalent of a Nazi propaganda poster filled with fat, big-nosed Jewish capitalists in top hats.

Almost half of the American electorate voted for John Kerry last year. About 30% voluntarily identify themselves as Democrats, and 20-25% as liberals (despite the three-decade-long GOP campaign to vilify the word.) The idea that 49% -- or 30% or even 20% -- of all Americans are "out of touch" with mainstream American values is absurd on its face. Unless, of course, the goal is to define the "mainstream" so narrowly that no Democrat who isn't named Joe Lieberman can fit in it. But if the fallout from the Terry Schiavo case is any indication, we're not the ones who are out of touch with mainstream cultural values, at least not when it comes to the "culture of life."

And yet, the predicate of the entire "values" debate is that Democrats and progressives are amoral cosmopolitans who don't care enough about "protecting families" or "defending community standards" -- or whatever the latest catchphrase is for bashing the entertainment industry.


Do I worry about America's cultural descent into mindless vulgarity and desensitized violence? Hell yes. I think it helps condition the American people to accept the imperial status quo -- and the stupidity, corruption and arrogance that go with it. I think it breeds political passivity and the blind acceptance of authority. (There's a reason why the guy who gives us Fox News also gives us Fox Sleaze.) And yes, I think it's bad for the kids, even though the empirical evidence for any direct link between bad culture and bad behavior is still weak. ...

But I also think popular culture is primarily a reflection of a society's health, rather than the other way around. I don't believe the American obsession with violence grows out of a TV tube, and I don't think controlling what's on the tube -- or the radio, or the Internet -- will eliminate it.


I'm pragmatic enough to accept that gestures can sometimes be politically effective, even if their practical value is almost nil. But I seriously doubt they're the key to swinging the elusive married white female voter, or whatever. In the end, voters who put cultural cleansing at or near the top of their political shopping list aren't likely to find what they want in the Democratic department store. The Republicans will always make them a better offer -- even if they have no intention of actually delivering it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/13/2005 09:28:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Politics of Fear

From Variety, a review of a new film which makes the point that the neocons and radical Islamists are essentially the same, since they both use fear as a device for political power and control:

The Power Of Nightmares: The Rise Of The Politics Of Fear (Docu -- U.K.)

Produced by Adam Curtis. Executive producers, Stephen Lambert, Peter Horrocks. Directed, written by Adam Curtis.


British documaker Adam Curtis, who brilliantly connected the dots between Freudian psychoanalysis, PR/marketing and people's self-image in the 2002 "The Century of the Self," turns his attention to the politics of fear in "The Power of Nightmares." Result is a superb, eye-opening and often absurdly funny deconstruction of the myths and realities of global terrorism that is marked by a balance, broadmindedness and sense of historical perspective so absent from many recent political-themed docus, including Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." Already a television event on BBC in the U.K., pic is presently making the festival rounds, where strong buzz will fuel healthy international sales.

Pic's title refers to Curtis' assertion that, whereas politicians once offered their publics utopian visions of a better society, they now prefer to instill fear in the masses with grave warnings of imminent external threats. This thesis then serves as Curtis' foundation for an even more provocative argument: Namely, that the rise of Islamic extremism in the East and of so-called neo-conservatism in the West are two sides of the same coin -- methods of population control rooted in the exploitation of collective popular fears.

In the first of pic's three segments, subtitled "Baby, It's Cold Outside," Curtis focuses on two men: Egyptian educator and social theorist Said Qutb, and American philosopher Leo Strauss. Recounting a visit Qutb paid in 1949 to Greeley, Colo., Curtis explains how Qutb was appalled by the selfishness, materialism, isolationism and vanity he observed there.

Convinced that such behavior was the direct result of America's unchecked social freedoms, Qutb returned to Egypt resolved that such decadent permissiveness shouldn't be allowed to foster in the Islamic world.

Meanwhile, Strauss was beginning to instruct his students at the U. of Chicago in a similar line of thought: that progressive liberalism would inevitably sow the seeds of its own destruction.

As he ably demonstrated in "The Century of the Self," Curtis' chief strength as a documentarian is his ability (through newly-conducted interviews and carefully selected archival footage) to trace complex social phenomena back to their very DNA. In "Nightmares," Curtis again connects historical dots, showing how Qutb (who was executed in Egypt in 1966) influenced key individuals, including avowed Qutb disciple Ayman Al-Zawahari, who would go on to found the terror org Islamic Jihad and eventually become the mentor of Osama bin Laden.

Curtis traces Strauss' influence through his former pupils -- among them Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz -- who migrated from the world of academia to government. Pic argues they planted the seeds of what would become a popular myth: the role of the United States as the lone upholder of virtue in a world filled with evildoers. (For the record, Strauss occupied a similar svengali-like role in Tim Robbins' recent play about the Iraq War, "Embedded.")

Though pic makes it clear early on that it's headed toward a discussion of the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath, Curtis eschews Moore's reductive finger-pointing in favor of a bracingly intelligent historicism that locates the roots of those present-day tragedies in decisions made by the Reagan and Ford administrations.

Pic's second segment, "The Phantom Victory," focuses on Afghanistan's 1980s uprising of Mujahideen rebels against the occupying Russian forces and how the U.S. government inadvertently gave strength to the very champions of Islamic extremism it would take on two decades later.

Though Curtis (who also serves as pic's voiceover narrator) is hardly shy about where his own political sympathies lie, he's also deeply committed to presenting a range of viewpoints. He brings the audience around to seeing things from his p.o.v. without bullying them into submission -- a style that, at its best, recalls the classic political documentaries of the late Emile De Antonio.

Pic's third and final section, "The Shadows in the Cave," sharply debunks the idea of bin Laden as the puppet master of global terrorism. This section, however, opens itself up to easy criticism, inexplicably omitting relevant discussion points, like the 1993 World Trade Center attack and the case of American "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, that would seem to weaken Curtis' terrorism-is-but-a-fantasy position.

Still, pic's cumulative power is devastating in its portrait of a nation that must always seek out a new fearsome adversary or, perchance, even invent one to fit the bill.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/13/2005 10:05:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Driving a wedge instead of projecting a persona

A letter to the editor published in the current (4/18/2005) issue of The New Yorker, which doesn't appear to be available online:

The Trouble With Dems

Jeffrey Goldberg's account of the Democratic Party's confusion since the last Presidential election touches on a crucial reason for John Kerry's defeat ("The Unbranding," March 21st). Democrats consistenly focussed on explanations of policy, while Bush and his followers conveyed their sense of moral superiority and their toughness, which appealed to voters' emotions. Kerry didn't appear as angry, as self-confident, and as connected to his feelings as Bush did, and, speaking to Goldberg, he now seems to recognize this: "I presented stronger arguments, but there was a visceral unwillingness to change." The rest of the Democratic Party needs to wake up to the fact that they will continue to lose elections until they learn how to appeal to voters' gut feelings.
David C. Balderston
New York City
[Link added -- Ed]

Of course I heartily agree with Mr. Balderston's assesment, since it's one that I've made here before, both in specific and extended form (see, for instance, here, here and here), but I'd also point out (once again) that the Kerry loss to Bush, although heartbreaking and entirely unfortunate for the country and the world, was a slim one, with less than 3 percentage points separating then at the end. That's a win, but it's hardly a resounding one, and Democrats can get carried away in trying to learn the supposed lesson or lessons of the election, since we don't need to shift 10 or 15 or 20 percent of the voters, or even 5 percent of them, we only have to shift about 1.4 percent to win, a task that probably doesn't require any dramatic changes in the party's approach to winning elections.

In fact, it's quite possible that thatg goal can be accomplished by waging a campaign that's at least as concerned with projection of image and emotional concern as it is with presenting the broad thrusts and details of policy.

So, a candidate better able to appeal to voters' emotions would indeed be a good idea, but today's fracas (between Amy Sullivan, Noam Schreiber, Matthew Yglesias, Atrios and others [these are links to selected posts, look over the blogs for more comments]) on whether Dems need to start hitting hard on cultural issues seems to me to be a case of going too far, much farther than is necessary -- especially considering the rank-and-file supporters such a sea-change will alienate and drive away.

As is often the case, Digby says it well:

In order to gain a political majority in this country we need 51%. We have 49%. This question of where we are going to get that majority could be answered in any number of ways or any combination of ways. But, you have to settle on some sort of strategy and mine comes down on the second option. It reflects my personal values and I think it presents a stark, clear choice between the two parties now that the Republicans are being shackled by their image as the party of the religious right extremists. I think it's good policy and good politics both to embrace a "mind your own business" message in light of how far out the Republicans have become. Now is not the time, in my opinion, to blur the lines. It's time to draw them clearly. All those people who watched FOXnews in disgust during the Schiavo matter are open to the argument that the Republicans are trying to impose radical religious values on the country.

But, others disagree and think that social conservatism is where the votes are and that's where we should concentrate our efforts. I have serious doubts that attacking popular culture will be seen as anything more than pandering...


[B]y feeding into the myth that the biggest problem facing America is a decline in "values" --- a decline which is promulgated by liberal elites (who, yes work for corporate masters) --- we play into the the right wing's game plan. They have created a myth that liberal values are the prime cause of people's discontent instead of the very real pressures that people feel in the squeeze between work, family, consumerism, freedom and responsibility. Some of these things the government can help with, some of them they can't. But the problem with the current formulation is that the Right has convinced everyone that the government should interfere in the ways in which it is most clumsy and ill equipped and abdicate it's responsibility to do the things it can actually do pretty well.

Here's the thing. Everytime we expolicitly play into this "oh the country's values are going to hell in a handbasket" game, we are playing on GOP turf. I think Amy Sullivan is correct to say that we can use this issue as a way into the hearts and minds of overworked and worried parents. But not by joining with Joementum and condemning Hollywood or, as Amy Sullivan said, pulling a Sistah Soljah on Susan Sarandon. ...

The way you worm your way into this topic is by responding to people's concerns about popular culture with an empathetic, "well we live in a free country and apparently a lot of people like that stuff or it wouldn't be on. However, I think we should definitely try to find some ways for you to be able to spend more time with your kids so you can have at least as much influence as the television does."

What you don't do is allow their framing of the argument to stick. It only reinforces their message that liberalism is the cause of all evil. We just have to stop doing that. Whenever we find ourselves speaking in terms that could come out of a Republican's mouth we should ask ourselves if it's really common ground or just internalizing their criticisms of us. 90% of the time it's the latter.

And later:

The thing is that rarely have I seen in my lifetime a situation in which the Republicans have been so soundly criticized by even their own constituency for being too intrusive and imposing their own values on others as we saw in the Schiavo case. It would seem a natural that Democrats would, out of pragmatism if not principle, see this as a way to drive a wedge into the Republican coalition by capitalizing on public opinion and characterizing the Republicans as being in the grip of a mad faction that wants to impose its religious values on everyone.

Apparently not. Instead we are going to drive a wedge into our own, against the will of the majority of both Democrats and Republicans. It's an unusual strategy to say the least. Now is our chance to expose their extremism and it looks like we may just punt. How depressing...

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/13/2005 01:35:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A new series: Screw you, celebrity-type person!

From In The News (UK):

Pop diva Mariah Carey made her limo driver circle the block this week, because she would not step on the pavement.

The singer had demanded that a red carpet, lined with white candles, be laid out for her when she arrived.

But hotel staff at the exclusive Baglioni's hotel in London's fashionable Kensington region did not have the necessary paraphernalia in place when she arrived at 2:15 in the morning.

Fortunately her aides had arrived fifteen minutes early and managed to rouse hotel staff into action.

In the end Mariah was only forced to circle the block in her limousine a few times before everything was in place and she could make her stylish entrance.

The hotel operations manager commented: "It's not unheard of for us to rush out the red carpet for a guest. We're used to dealing with high-profile guests and everyone has their own requirements."

The fact that the 34-year-old singer was renting 15 rooms at £2,000 a night may well have helped.

Let's all lift a glass as we salute: Screw you, Mariah!

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/13/2005 01:22:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress

I'm sorry but I don't want to be an emperor. That's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black men, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others' happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another.

In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men's souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little.

More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these things cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say "Do not despair." The misery that has come upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to these brutes who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle and use you as cannon fodder. Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men - machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are men! With the love of humanity in your hearts! Don't hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers! Don't fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!

In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it is written that the kingdom of God is within man, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security.

By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to the happiness of us all.

Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us unite! Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up! Look up, Hannah! The clouds are lifting! The sun is breaking through! We are coming out of the darkness into the light! We are coming into a new world; a kindlier world, where men will rise above their greed, their hate and their brutality. Look up, Hannah! The soul of man has been given wings and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow! Into the light of hope!

Look up, Hannah! Listen!
Charles Chaplin
The Great Dictator (film, 1940)

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/12/2005 12:27:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, April 11, 2005

Two questions

Two unrelated questions, one trivial, one not. If anyone has any information pertinent to answering them, I'd appreciate hearing it -- opinions, too.

Let's start with the trivial, and go on from there:

  • I was watching a program on the Military Channel which compared the British Spitfire fighter to the German Messerschmidt, and I noticed (not for the first time, of course, I've seen my share of war films and documentaries) the markings on the fuselages of the airplane, a black and white cross for the Germans, and the blue, white and red concentric circles of RAF. (Which may also be familiar to fans of The Who or The Jam.) I understand that these insignia (if that's the right word) are there to make it easier for each side to tell who is who, and therefore avoid shooting at allies or compatriots, but I wondered about their placement on the fuselage. Were they placed behind the cockpit in order to attract the eye, thereby making it harder to shoot the airplane in its most vital part, the pilot?

  • In correspondance with a friend in which we shared our mutual distress about the state of the country and the nature of the people running it ("fucking assholes" being the operative description of the latter), I found myself writing that I needed a change of scenery, a change of life, a change of career, whatever. I stopped when I realized that I was just displacing my acute concern about a problem that it's impossible to see any immediate relief from -- the takeover of my beloved country by radical right-wingers -- to things that I could do, conceivably, to change my circumstances, and perhaps alleviate my suffering.

    So, I was wondering if anyone reading this -- and I know there are mental health professionals among our regulars -- has seen any kind of upsurge in cases which might possibly be ascribed to people doing whatever they can to relieve their distress over the fucking assholes who are running, and ruining, the United States?

Please feel free to chime in.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/11/2005 11:27:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Worldwide executions

Once again, we find ourselves as a country in some pretty disreputable company.


China accounted for the majority of executions reported worldwide last year, but the true frequency of the death penalty is impossible to count because many death sentences are carried out secretly, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

During 2004, more than 3,797 people were executed in 25 countries, including at least 3,400 in China, the rights group said. More than 7,000 people were sentenced to death in 64 countries, it said.

Iran reportedly executed at least 159 people, Vietnam 64 and the United States 59, the report said.

“The figures released today are sadly only the tip of the iceberg. The true picture is hard to uncover as many countries continue to execute people secretly — contravening United Nations standards calling for disclosure of information on capital punishment,” the organization said.

[Link added. - Ed]

Information on the Amnesty International website makes it clear that the total for China could be much higher -- perhaps as high as 10,000 people a year.

The report also does something really annoying. It says that "In 2004, 97 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam and the USA," but that's a deceptive statement, a misuse of statistics, really, because China contributes so many executions to the total number. In fact, China accounts for 89.5% of the total, and American executions are only 1.55% -- which really is quite bad enough. To make it appear to be worse is the kind of thing the right will jump on to try to discredit the entire report.

The unvarnished and unspun facts are a terrible report card for a country that is supposed to be both advanced and enlightened:

The death penalty in the USA
  • 59 prisoners were executed in the USA in 2004, bringing the year-end total to 944 executed since the use of the death penalty was resumed in 1977.
  • Over 3,400 prisoners were under sentence of death as of 1 January 2005.
  • 38 of the 50 US states provide for the death penalty in law. The death penalty is also provided under US federal military and civilian law.

It's truly an awful thing for us to be on the list of the world's execution leaders, and even 1.55% is 59 executions too many, but such a transparent attempt to make it seem even worse are counter-productive.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/11/2005 10:52:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Here's another story I haven't heard much about:

Opponents of Wal-Mart to Coordinate Efforts

Led by Wal-Mart's longtime opponents in organized labor, a new coalition of about 50 groups - including environmentalists, community organizations, state lawmakers and academics - is planning the first coordinated assault intended to press the company to change the way it does business.

In the next few months, those critics will speak with one voice in print advertising, videos and books attacking the company, they say. They also plan to put forward an association of disenchanted Wal-Mart employees, current and former, to complain about what they call poverty-level wages and stingy benefits.

The critics have already begun lobbying in 26 states for legislation intended to embarrass Wal-Mart by disclosing how many thousands of its employees do not receive company health insurance and turn to taxpayer-financed Medicaid.

"We recognize that we are much more likely to win the battle against a giant like Wal-Mart if we act on multiple fronts," said Carl Pope, president of the Sierra Club, which has joined the coalition. "You don't want to challenge Wal-Mart just on health care or just on the environment or just on sex discrimination. You want to pressure them on all three. This is an assault on a business model. We're not trying to shut Wal-Mart down."


Like John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil of old, Wal-Mart has become a target because of its extraordinary size and power. It has 1.2 million workers in the United States, and its 3,600 stores sell more than one-quarter of the shampoo, disposable diapers and toothpaste bought nationwide.

The new offensive by Wal-Mart's detractors is far bigger than earlier efforts. Previously, the company's main antagonist was the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which sought, without much success, to unionize Wal-Mart workers. That union, along with the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Service Employees International Union, has formed a new coalition that includes student groups, antisprawl groups and antisweatshop groups.

Showing the breadth of the new coalition, senior officials from Common Cause and the National Partnership for Women and Families have agreed to serve on the board of a new group that will coordinate the efforts. The executive director of the coordinating group is Andy Grossman, who was executive director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"We're focusing on Wal-Mart because of the huge impact it has on each of the different parts of American life it touches," said Mr. Grossman, whose coordinating group is called the Center for Community and Corporate Ethics. "They do provide goods at the lowest price, but that sometimes comes at a high cost to society."

As part of this new wave of activity, unions are working closely with the attorneys general of several states to determine whether Wal-Mart is violating laws barring child labor, off-the-clock work and false advertising. The United Food and Commercial Workers said it would announce this month a new Web site that would seek to enlist Wal-Mart critics nationwide in the pressure campaign.

A while back, PBS' Frontline did a program on Wal-Mart called Is Wal-Mart Good for America?, which the right immediately smeared as "economic terrorism". The show laid out the ways in which Wal-Mart uses its size and clout to control its suppliers, including those in China. The company is not above essentially blackmailing suppliers by threatening to take their business off-shore, where costs are lower and the profit-margin for the company is higher. American workers get hurt as a result of these power plays, as do their unions.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/11/2005 01:16:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Long before the Elian Gonzalez affair, the 2000 election recount or the Terri Schiavo mess, my wife, a native Floridian, had told me that Florida is actually two states. Northern Florida, she said, was like a part of the South. It was rural and poor and its allegiances were Confederate. The southern part of the state, on the other hand, had so many transplanted Northeners ("snow birds" who eventually transplanted themselves permanently) that it was more like New Jersey than Alabama.

Her analysis seems to be good as far as it went, but I think she left out an important third part of the state, the part that includes Miami, the population of which is heavily Hispanic, and which is, according to Joel Garreau in The Nine Nations of North America, the capital of the unofficial "nation" of The Islands.

With such a mix of populations, outlooks and allegiances, perhaps it's no wonder that Florida has taken over from California as the locale for the cultural and social fault lines across which our most public battles are fought. In the New York Times, Abby Goodnough has a short piece about the state (it can be found here):

Paradise is hard to sustain ... in a place with so many ethnic, age and class groups coexisting in ever more crowded communities. Nearly 1,000 people move to Florida each day, and the churning mix of blacks, Hispanics, retirees from other states, urban liberals, suburban moderates and conservative-leaning rural residents make for a volatile place with deep divisions and conflicting priorities.

"We have more intense collisions between gray hairs and brown hairs, Midwest people and Northeast people, money and nonmoney," said James Twitchell, a professor of English and advertising at the University of Florida. "The barriers are not very high, so the collisions can occur as if you're on one of those little electric cars at the fair, banging into things."

Lots of things go relatively unnoticed in Florida when tempests like the Schiavo case erupt, and it helps to take stock of what was missed, if only in hopes of predicting the next firestorm.

There was the abduction and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Homosassa, and the subsequent news, reported by The Miami Herald, that the whereabouts of 1,800 sex offenders registered with the state are unknown. The Legislature debated a bill that would allow law-abiding citizens to use deadly force against an attacker in public. The indictment of Orlando's mayor on a charge of paying someone to collect absentee ballots moved forward, and news emerged that a petting zoo was the likely source of a bacterial infection that sickened two dozen people, mostly children.

What will thrust Florida back into the international spotlight? And will there come a day when it cedes its sensational-news title to another state? The National Enquirer, after all, just moved from Boca Raton, where its offices were famously infected with anthrax in 2001, to New York City.

Mr. Kane, the pollster, said it was a matter of Florida, which became the 27th state in 1845, needing to mature.

"When people have lived here for a while and have roots and multiple generations, some other state will become the next Florida," he said. "Some other place where it's warm and there's a lot of land and opportunity for people to make their fortune."

Maybe Arizona, he said.

I've never really been fond of Florida -- the warmth is nice enough, but it's too humid, too flat and largely too sprawling for my tastes. Some of my family has moved there, but I doubt I'll ever join them. Still, it's not impossible. If I do, perhaps the parade will have already moved on by then.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/11/2005 12:44:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, April 10, 2005


This week, unfutz passed the 125,000 visit mark, and also had its first trackback ping. I know that for the big boys (and they are mostly all males) at the top of the political blogarchy 125,000 is a day's traffic or so, but it's a significant milestone for me, since I sometimes feel as if my blogging is just a more subtle form of onanism.

Thanks to those who hang in, waiting for the occasional interesting nugget to come along, and especially to those who post comments.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/10/2005 09:24:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Let's see them clearly

Others have suggested this in the past, I believe, but I'd like to reiterate it and renew the call: let's retire "conservative" as a description of the people in power now, the radical right-wing Republican establishment that controls the Congress and the Presidency and has a lock on the media.

After all, there is no legitmate way that they can be considered to be "conservatives" -- they are ruthless authoritarians with no intrinsic feeling for our system of government nor any understanding its design, who are absolutely bent on reshaping it to their warped (and unworkable) specifications, and to the considerable benefit of their pocketbooks and those of their patrons and clients, and the detriment of everyone else.

They "conserve" nothing. They are greedy and corrupt destroyers in the employ of the rich and the uncaring, under the sway of the most ignorant, compassionless and inhumane religious elements in our society, people whose unenlightened "morality" and knowledge of the real world is stuck somewhere in the Dark Ages.

There once was a time when there were reasonable and rational conservatives who we disagreed with, but with whom we could have a legitimate and rational debate about policies and governance, but that time is long gone. If you're a Democrat, if you're liberal or progressive or even a moderate, if you're a woman or a child, if you're black or Hispanic or Muslim, if you're poor or working class or middle class, the people running things now don't give a damn about you, except to the extent that they can sucker you into voting for them, and as long as you continue to work for their corporations for the least possible money and benefits.

To these radicals, you're not proud citizens of a democracy, the legitimacy of which flows from you and your right to vote. To them, you're cattle, and you're chattel, nothing more. They have contempt and disdain for you and your needs, although they may pay lip service to them occasionally when they want something from you badly enough. Don't be deceived by these lying snakes in the grass: they'll tempt you to sin against your fellow man, and then drop you by the side of the road like so much litter when they're through sucking the life out of you.

You won't see the truth about them on Fox, or MSNBC or, more and more frequently, even on CNN. PBS and NPR will only pussyfoot around their true nature, and your local newspapers is either owned by them or scared to death of crossing them, so don't look for the truth there either. You have to get out from behind the blinders they've managed to put on you, push aside the veil of ignorance and deceit, and take a close, hard look at them in the clear white light of reality to understand who they really are behind their masks.

What you see will be frightening, but it's better to know who you're up against than it is to be in thrall to the enemy and serve his vile lusts.

Update: Going back to Joe McCarthy, and then recently revived by Bob Dole, Republicans have delighted in tweaking Democrats by calling our party the "Democrat" party, instead of by its proper and legal name, the Democratic Party. Chris Bowers asks about this usage, and I suggested that we start calling the Republicans "republics" in retaliation.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/10/2005 10:58:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Republican hypocrisy watch

Some weblogs have been attentive to the hypocrisy of Arthur Finkelstein, the "prominent Republican consultant" responsible for virulently anti-liberal and anti-gay political campaigns (including one just starting up targeting Hillary Clinton), who married his male companion of 40 years in a Massachusetts civil ceremony. (See posts here and here.)

This story, however, I haven't seen much coverage of, perhaps because the hypocrisy (and cognitive dissonance) is much less blatant:

GOP adviser Stevens died of overdose

Republican media adviser R. Gregory Stevens, recent co-chairman of the Bush/Cheney Entertainment Task Force who died at actress Carrie Fisher's home, died from an overdose of cocaine and a painkiller, a coroner's autopsy showed.

"The cause of death was cocaine and oxycodone, but he also had hypertrophic heart disease, that's an enlarged heart, and coronary heart disease. It's an accidental death,' coroner Lt. Emil Moldovan said Thursday.


Stevens, an associate with the Washington lobbying group Barbour Griffith & Rogers, specialized in foreign campaign consulting and has advised candidates in 24 international elections, according to his biography on the Barber Griffith & Rogers Web site.

He consulted on political operations in Costa Rica, Hungary, Kenya, Macedonia, Montenegro, Nigeria, South Korea, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand and Togo.

During last year's Bush for President campaign, Stevens served as co-chairman of the Bush/Cheney Entertainment Task Force and managed the campaign's relationships with key entertainment industry leaders and film, television and music celebrities.

He served as director of Entertainment Outreach for the 2001 Presidential Inaugural Committee, where he recruited and directed celebrity involvement on behalf of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

There isn't much to say about this, really. Believing that the rules are for other people to follow is classically hypocritical, as is to say one thing and do the opposite, and we're seeing more and more instances of it among high-level Republicans and other right-wingers.

Update: Finkelstein, it is said, is a small-government libertarian and would therefore (presumably) argue that his being gay and marrying his partner is not hypocritical -- but it's not his marriage that is the basis for the charge of hypocrisy, it's his professional efforts in support of homophobic anti-gay rights Republicans. And how does he feel now, as a supposed libertarian, about being instrumental at putting into power people who have clearly shown that they have absolutely no compunctions about using and abusing governmental power to achieve their goals?

Possibly, there's no cognitive dissonance for him at all, because (as I mentioned below) "libertarianism" frequently means "I've got mine, Jack, now screw you."

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/10/2005 08:43:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Libertarian limits

How libertarian can someone be who thinks it's a good idea to force everyone to speak English? Not very, I'd think. In fact, what passes for "libertarianism" for a lot of people is a philosophy which says "Leave me the hell alone, but don't let anyone else do anything which makes me uncomfortable." It's the ultimate political philosophy of self-satisfaction and limited horizons. Screw anything I don't understand, but don't you dare stop me from doing what I want.

Libertarianism, the politics of spoiled children.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/10/2005 03:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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