Friday, October 07, 2005

"Balanced" ain't

Bob Park's What's New:
Balance is a good thing for tour boats, but it makes no sense at all applied to religious explanations of the geology of the Grand Canyon. A story in yesterday's NY Times by Jodi Wilgoren followed two expeditions down the canyon, one led by a Christian fundamentalist minister, the other by Dr. Eugenie Scott, a geologist and the director of the National Center for Science Education. The story could have been educational. It wasn't. All a non-scientist could take from the story is that there are two ways to interpret what you see in the canyon. [Link added -- Ed]

Park is absolutely right, but the bigger picture here is that the mainstream media's preferred method of achieving "balance" -- the "he said/she said" device of allowing two opposing sides to have their say -- is not a particular good way to go about uncovering what's what when one side is so profoundly wedded to ideologically-determined "truth" that it's willing to ignore well-documented facts (as in the case of creationism) or to lie outrageously (in the case of the political right-wing).

In fact, compared to the scientific method of investigation used by science, and the carefully circumscribed adversarial method employed in our criminal justice system, journalism's he said/she said methodology comes in a poor third in determining what is true and what is false.

Perhaps it's well past time for the ascendance of a new journalistic paradigm?

Update (10/11): Atrios:

[T]he press has internalized the notion that the highest ideal is not to report the truth in a way which educates people, but the ideal of appearing unbiased. This isn't balance, it is simply braindead stenography. And, more importantly perhaps, it's the kind of braindead stenography which favors views and viewpoints which are backed by powerful well-funded interests. Anyone who can "catapult the propaganda" into the press can get their views legitimized, no matter how wrong.

He also goes into Jodi Wilgoren story (see above) here.

More by PZ Myers at Pharyngula.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/07/2005 04:04:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Our choices on Miers

Scott Lemieux on Lawyers, Guns and Money has what I think is a good take on the Harriet Miers nomination:
[A]ny analysis of this question has to start with the obvious truth that a clear supporter of abortion rights (or opponent of the "New Federalism" or whatever) is not on the table. I feel like I've been having the same argument since several smart people I know decided to vote for Nader in 2000, but the belief that the Democrats can somehow stop Bush from appointing a bad judge if they just try really hard is precisely equivalent to Bush's assertion that we can have a stable pluralistic liberal democracy in Iraq if we just try really hard. The Democrats may be able to stop an individual bad nominee--maybe two--but there are no circumstances under which you're getting a nominee who clearly supports progressive jurisprudence, even if it's confined to a narrow set of issues like abortion rights. "Bush's nominee" vs. "somebody you would actually want to see on the court" is a false choice; any chance of the latter ended when Bush was re-elected. The decision to be made about Miers has to be made by weighing the probabilities involved among bad choices. So once we accept the real dilemma, what do you think is better for progressives:

1)Is it better to have an ambiguous candidate who may be thought a wingnut, or get an Owen and remove all doubt?
2)Is it better to have somebody at/over or under 60?
3)Is it better, given the inevitability of a conservative nominee, to have a lightweight who will pass without much of a mark or somebody who will write lots of persuasive opinions and leave her stamp on constitutional doctrine for generations?

In all 3 cases, I think, you have to go with what's behind door #1, and that's Miers. Spending capital to reject Miers can only lead to someone who is some combination of more unambiguously conservative, younger, and more likely to leave a mark on the court's doctrine. I can't see any way it's in the interests of progressives to pull out the stops to block Miers. Miers could, of course, be just as awful as Owen, Brown or Luttig, but even if she is you're not really any worse off.


Look at it this way. If the Court overturns Roe and strikes down the Endangered Species Act and expands its claim that state universities should have the same legal immunities as 16th century British monarchs and further guts habeas corpus, are you going to be consoled by the fact that the opinion in question is really well-crafted? I won't. And rejecting Miers can only make these outcomes more likely.

(That Scott can think so clearly as demonstrated here, despite being a Red Sox fan and picking the Angels to beat the Yankees, is very much to his credit.)

There's also a third alternative that Senate Democrats can take: not to support Miers or fight against her, but to more or less abstain from the process and let her pass on Republican votes. I'm not saying that they shouldn't press Miers at the confirmation hearings (although it looks at the moment as if the Republican contingent will do so on ideological grounds), especially on the question of her qualifications to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, but absent a smoking gun or a clear indication that she's a dingbat wingnut (neither of which are likely), there's no reason that the Democrats need to go one way or the other on this. Let the GOP take the responsibility for her, she's the creature of their President.

Update (10/27): David Corn agrees:

Here's an idea that I reserve the right to reject upon further reflection: Democrats in the Senate should vote "present" on the Miers nomination. It's not an aye, and it's not a nay. They could argue that they believe this is a sub-standard nomination that deserves no one's support but that they do not want to provide Bush the opportunity to satisfy those who are calling for a right-wing jurist who will decisively steer the court further in a conservative direction. Facing two awful options--both bad for the nation--Democrats can assert that they will be party neither to Bush's cronyism nor to Bork's crusade. Let the Republicans slug it out and bear responsibility for the consequences.

Oh, some cranky think-tankers and commentators will call this a cop-out, a dereliction of constitutional duty. But why validate--or be used by--either side in the Republicans civil war? Once in a while, the correct response to a situation is, don't just do something, sit there.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/07/2005 02:06:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I don't think Rove will be indicted

If Fitzgerald is as smart as I've been led to believe, he will not indict any higher up the hierarchy than he expects to be able to convict, and he will also anticipate that indictments which push Bush and Cheney too deeply into a corner will provoke a nuclear response from them. If this is true, than the question is not who broke the law and is technically indictable, but who can Fitzgerald get away with indicting and still survive to prosecute the indictments.

So, I suspect that indictments will not reach to the highest levels in the White House -- he'll only go as high as he thinks the administration will be willing to cut loose the indictees if necessary. That means Scooter Libby, yes, but most probably not Karl Rove, and not any higher than that (there's only one more level above Rove -- maybe not on the formal White House organizational chart, but in the reality of power and influence).

Although today's revelation that Rove will appear before the grand jury again may seem to indicate otherwise, I think it actually supports my contention. Yes, he's testifying again. Yes, he's received some sort of letter (either a target letter or a subject letter) from Fitzgerald, but those only go to reinforce my intuition that Rove won't be indicted.

Figure this: Fitzgerald knows that Rove is involved, and that he probably has enough to indict him, but he figures doing so will bring the full force of the White House down on him, potentially closing down his entire effort (i.e fire him, replace him with someone more amenable, a la Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre -- and without a Congress controlled by the Democrats, Bush has even more freedom to act in that manner than Nixon did).

So, if Rove's not going to be indicted, how to utilize Rove? Unindicted co-conspirator? Could be, that might slip by without massive retaliation (real retaliation -- there will still be a propaganda fusillade from the right).

In the meantime, Fitzgerald knows Rove's in the shit, and Rove does too, so Fitzgerald figures he can use Rove to get more information to firm up his prosecution of Libby and whoever else is going to be indicted. He sends Rove a letter, tells him that his testifying doesn't mean he's not going to be indicted, thereby keeping the pressure on. Rove's lawyer, presumably, also knowing his client is hip-deep in it, tells him that the one chance he's got not to be indicted is to testify again and give Fitzgerald what he wants.

It all makes perfect sense. (At least to me.) One thing's for sure: it's going to be interesting to see what happens.

Update: I've got more in the TPM Cafe comment thread here. (Mentioned on Digby's blog, with more in the comments.)

Update: Part of one of my comments in the Digby comment thread:

Look, I'm human, I'm a liberal, I'd give my right arm if it would somehow help get Bush out of office. I'd like nothing more than a convenient deus ex machina to swoop in and make everything better, but I've lived through a lot of shit in my middle-aged life, and it doesn't happen that way, because it's not the world our world works right now.

For instance, no matter how many bad things that Bush does that eventually come to light, no matter how serious they are and how close to treason they become, there is precisely zero possibility of Bush being impeached as long as the Congress remains under the iron control of the Republican party.

Sure, those revelations help drop Bush's popularity and his approval ratings but we might as well get used to the proposition that absent a significant change in the power structure in Washington George Bush ain't gonna be impeached -- so putting a lot of energy into trying to make that happen is just a complete waste of time. (Not revealing what's he's done, that's very useful in many ways, but in trying to rev up some kind of impeachment movement. It's a total waste.)

Similarly, seeing Fitzgerald as our savior, whose indictments are going to in some way pull down the Bush administration, cause him to resign, or render it in some way ineffective cannot be anything more than wishful thinking run amuck.

The most that can conceivably happen is that some pretty bad people and sleazy operators will be forced out -- but they will invariably be replaced by others, probably just as sleazy, although perhaps not as adept. That's a good outcome -- doing anything which substantial hurts this administration or causes its ratings to fall is good for us, but it's not, and cannot be, the fatal blow against the empire.

I go a little farther than that, in that I give Fitzgerald credit for being a lot smarter than many others do. I see people praising Fitzgerald's art and craft as a lawyer, and his balls as well, but I think he's smart enough to know exactly how far he can go without provoking Bush to retaliate, and I believe that means drawing the line just below Karl Rove.

Maybe I'm wrong about these things, maybe Fitzgerald's a complete technocrat with no feel for the realities of power politics who just indicts any ham sandwich that comes along and breaks the law, or maybe I'm wrong about where he draws the line and Rove is in his sights, or perhaps we're all wrong and he just doesn't have the goods. But whatever happens, the results of Fitzgerald's investigation are almost certainly not going to solve our George Bush problem, and to crank ourselves up to a fever pitch believing they will is a mistake, because all it will lead to is severe disappointment.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/06/2005 09:39:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

That's America, buddy!

I came across this tonight -- there's a lot here that sounds very familiar:
[P]olupragmosune [is] a concept which Athenians used as a general description of their most salient national characteristics. At its broadest polupragmosune is that quality of spectacular restless energy that made the Athenians both the glory and the bane of the Hellenic world. On the positive side, it connotes energy, enterprise, daring, ingenuity, originality, and curiosity; negatively it means restless instability, discontent with one's lot, persistent and pointless busyness, meddling interference, and mischievous love of novelty. The Athenian empire itself is a visible creation of political polupragmosune, and so too are the peculiar liabilities to which empire made the Athenians subject: the love of litigation, the susceptibility to informers and demagogues, the violent changes in national policy and, most stunning example of all, the Sicilian expedition. In political terms, polupragmosune is the very spirit of Athenian imperialism, its remorseless need to expand, the hybris [hubris] of power and energy in a spirited people; in moral terms, it is a divine discontent and an impatience with necessity, a disease whose symptoms are disorder, corruption, and the hunger for change.
William Arrowsmith
Introduction to Aristophanes' The Birds
(translation, 1961)

Energy, enterprise, daring, ingenuity, originality, curiosity, restless instability, discontent, pointless busyness, meddling interference, love of novelty, litigiousness, susceptibility to demagoguery, violent policy changes, disastrous imperialism, hubris, corruption ... America.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/04/2005 05:06:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bush SCOTUS head fake?

OK, just speculating here. What if the scenario is supposed to play out this way:

  • Bush appoints obviously unqualified personal retainer for the high court;

  • She's a woman: Bush gets points for this with some people;

  • She's not a right-wing ideologue: Bush gets points with certain people for this;

  • However, the right-wing is up in arms with vociferous objections: they want a true believer to reshape the court;

  • The manstream media latches onto the problems with the nominee (unqualified) and political problems with the nomination (not supported by powerful forces, i.e. the right-wing punditocracy);

  • The media starts talking about Harold Carswell, the Nixon S.C. nominee who was a mediocre choice at best (leading one Senator to say about him "Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?"). Carswell's nomination was ultimately defeated;

  • To avoid the "Carswell dilemma," Bush withdraws Miers from consideration (or perhaps Miers, ever loyal to the most brilliant man she ever met, removes herself "in the best interests of the President and the country");

  • Bush them nominates a stealth candidate, someone with judicial experience and a paper trail that conservatives can appreciate, but which is subject to possible innocent interpretation (on the model of Roberts);

  • Happy to have gotten somebody with more potential right-wing bona fides, the right supports this nomination, even though they're not overwhelmed with joy;

  • The Democrats object, but their objections can't find any purchase because the media, having blown its wad pontificating about Miers, can't bring itself to take arms against the new nominee (especially since those same powerful forces that dissed Miers are now supporting the new guy -- and it will most probably be a guy, perhaps even a minority -- more points for Bush);

  • The new nominee is confirmed;

  • Bush and Rove have pulled off a perfect head fake.

Update: Digby has a different take:

The Bush administration is about setting up the legal and institutional framework for a Republican majority for the next generation. That is Karl Rove's raison d'etre, beyond Junior, beyond conservatism, beyond ideology.

Harriet Miers is the official machine justice, a made woman, the one whose only committment and loyalty will be to Karl Rove and George Bush. I'm sure they would have preferred Alberto Gonzales but he is too much of a known quantity to easily finesse the varying political requirements within the base. She will do just fine. She is their creature. Her purpose on the court is to assist the Republican party in any way necessary, not to advance conservatism.

Voting for business interests is, of course, a given. Now the Texas mafia and the spawn of the college Republicans have their own seat on the highest court in the land for the next 20 years. But having one on the court for the next 10 years is crucial. With the election fixing, gerrymandering, corruption and executive power cases coming before the court over the next few years, her position will be very important to the GOP machine. It may very well be personally important to Karl Rove himself.

And from Publius:

This nomination ... is clearly all Bush. He interjected himself in the process and it shows. And the reason it shows is because it’s a reflection of his disconnect with the world around him – and of the dissent-free yes-man-ism endemic to this White House. Bush doesn’t read and isn’t curious and probably gets all his news through his staffers (see, e.g., Katrina DVD). In this sense, Bush is incapable of making sound decisions as a matter of epistemology – i.e., he lacks the information necessary to make informed decisions because he lives in a bubble.

Combined with this obliviousness we have a White House staff too scared to contradict him. My bet is that no one in the White House wanted Miers to be nominated except Miers and Bush. (I’m not sure where Rove – who does read – was on all this, but like Billmon said, he’s got a lot on his mind these days). No one wanted to tell Bush that this was a poor choice, or that his much ballyhooed instincts were wrong, or that the base would revolt. And that of course is merely another manifestation of the flawed policy-making apparatus that led to our Iraq failures. The people at the top of the hierarchy settle on a plan and no one challenges them. And that's because the White House discourages dissent - often by marginalizing or firing the dissenters. It doesn’t take long for the staff to get the message and to avoid even the appearance of being skeptical of anything that the powers-that-be decide on.

And Kevin Drum:

Here's my guess: if he had picked a highly qualified moderate with a long paper trail, it would have been way too obvious that he really was backing down from a fight. Conversely, by nominating Miers, he's got everyone convinced that he's just picking a friend. Sure, the base is temporarily pissed that he's let them down, but before long they'll convince themselves that (a) it's just cronyism and (b) she's probably pretty conservative after all (especially after Dick Cheney has spent enough time peddling her conservative cred to Limbaugh and Hannity).

Jack Balkin weighs in:

Following the Civil War, Republican Presidents placed a series of railroad lawyers on the Court with little or no judicial experience, but plenty of experience as counselors to business. That's what Miers is essentially, a Texas lawyer with lots of business connections who advised corporate clients, including, most importantly, George W. Bush. He liked the advice she gave him, and so she followed him during his career.

Presidents don't choose this kind of nominee because they want a revolution. They choose them because they will give the executive a free hand, and, perhaps most important, because the nominee will help ensure a pro-business climate.


And what, exactly, does business want? Overturning the New Deal? The Constitution in Exile? The return of God to the public schools? The end of affirmative action? Outlawing abortion once and for all? Squashing gays and lesbians underfoot? None of these things. What business wants is stability, comfort, predictability, and an agile, productive, submissive and demobilized population. It wants a powerful executive that can protect America's interests abroad. It wants a Congress freed from federal judicial oversight that is able to dish out the pork, jiggle the tax code and deregulate the economy according to its ever shifting concerns and interests. And it wants a Supreme Court that will give a pro-business President and a pro-business Congress a free hand, a Court that will protect the rights of employers over employees, advertisers over consumer groups, and corporations over environmentalists.

It wants, in short, someone very much like Harriet Miers.

Update: (10/4): Tapped picked up on my "head fake" scenario, although without attribution. This was posted there by Michael Tomasky at 1:53pm this afternoon (my post was put up at 11:55pm last night):

I SWEAR I HEARD IT. I was just talking to a conservative acquaintance who gave me the latest thinking in conservative circles: that Harriet Miers is a fake nominee. The backstory (can a theory have a backstory?) is essentially that Miers is the easy outside curveball before the fastball that comes in zipping in on the knuckles. That is, she gets sent up, everyone sees how unqualified she is, the hearings go badly, she gets withdrawn, they’re popping the champagne in the Democratic cloakroom -- and then, boom, Janice Rogers Brown! And the Democrats, having used up one more round of SCOTUS ammo, are caught flatfooted.

It’s a little implausible, of course, because it’s the Democrats who like Miers, so they won’t be using up any ammo on her. But it’s interesting, because it sounds like the kind of paranoid thing that we would make up about them, ascribing to them more strategic deviousness than they’re actually capable of. Post-Miers, they’re making it up about themselves.

It's interesting that the right has picked up on this scenario as a way of calmng themselves down about Miers. The paradox is that the head fake won't work if the right calms down -- they have to keep the pressure up in order for the thing to work.

Update (10/5): The Sphragis points me to his comment on TPM Cafe outlining the same theory, timestamped 13 1/2 hours earlier than my post. I'm pretty sure I never read it, and hope this is simply a case of GMTA. In any case, I bow to his priority of publication.

Update (10/7): I've also come across the same thought, albeit in extremely abbreviated form, on Rox Populi, timestamped at 7:37am the same day. Another example of GMTA.

Update (10/27): So, was Miers a head fake? See this.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/03/2005 11:55:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Dog bites man (SCOTUS edition)

Bush nominates loyal retainer* to Supreme Court

*Please read as toady, sycophant, minion, yes man, bootlicker, brown-noser, courtier, flunky, etc.

Whadya expect? The leopard doesn't change its spots. So much for Bush being at all concerned about his legacy.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/03/2005 11:08:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The baby blues can't see it, either

As long as I'm on about Bob Dylan, I thought the Martin Scorsese-assembled PBS documentary on him, No Direction Home, was quite good. One moment in particular struck me strongly: When Dylan "went electric" at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, the band played three songs to a lot of booing and then left the stage. Dylan was called back out to perform acoustically to appease the crowd, and his performance of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is probably the most pointed rebuke of an audience from a performer on a stage that I've ever seen. Dylan pratically spits out the lyrics to the people who just booed his attempt to move into new areas of aristry:
You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last.
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun,
Crying like a fire in the sun.
Look out the saints are comin' through
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense.
Take what you have gathered from coincidence.
The empty-handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.
This sky, too, is folding under you
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

It's a moment as electric in its own way as the three songs he had just performed.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/03/2005 02:36:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The thin men can't see the dots

Forty years ago, Bob Dylan wrote a song about a journalist who just didn't get it, "Ballad of a Thin Man." I guess not much has changed since then:
You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, "Who is that man?"
You try so hard
But you don't understand
Just what you'll say
When you get home

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You raise up your head
And you ask, "Is this where it is?"
And somebody points to you and says
"It's his"
And you say, "What's mine?"
And somebody else says, "Where what is?"
And you say, "Oh my God
Am I here all alone?"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, "How does it feel
To be such a freak?"
And you say, "Impossible"
As he hands you a bone

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To just give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations

You've been with the professors
And they've all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You've been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald's books
You're very well read
It's well known

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
And then he kneels
He crosses himself
And then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice
He asks you how it feels
And he says, "Here is your throat back
Thanks for the loan"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Now you see this one-eyed midget
Shouting the word "NOW"
And you say, "For what reason?"
And he says, "How?"
And you say, "What does this mean?"
And he screams back, "You're a cow
Give me some milk
Or else go home"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin' around
You should be made
To wear earphones

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Copyright © 1965; renewed 1993 Special Rider Music

I laugh now when I hear journalists complaining that the CIA or the FBI didn't "connect the dots" prior to 9-11, because connecting the dots is something that their own profession is supposed to excel at, and yet they just can't seem to do it. After years of Republican incompetence, corruption, malfeasance and ideological-related blindness, the media still has a difficult time seeing how it all fits together. There's nothing particularly cryptic or complex about the way the Bushies and their extended right-wing infrastructure works -- they are, in fact, either quite up front about what they're doing, or so transparent that they might as well not be lying, and yet the MSM can't seem to see what's right in front of its eyes.

There are only four possible reasons why the media is unable to glom onto what the New Right-Wing Establishment is up to: massive incompetence, gross stupidity, shameful naivete or bald complicity. We know the problem with Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, the Washington Times, the New York Post and their ilk: they're just cogs in the machine, acting under direct orders from the top via RNC talking points.

So what about the rest of the Mr. and Ms. Jones's out there? -- What's the reason for the rest of the media not to be able to see, after 5 long years of Bush misdeeds and GOP crookedness, that something is happening and it's not very pleasant, not good for this country, and not going to stop until journalists start accurately reporting just what it is.

Something is definitely happening here, and you damn well better start reporting what it is, Mr. Jones.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/03/2005 01:52:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Knight vision

The Green Knight has a vision:
I want to see a world in which all people are free to peacefully reach their own potential in their own way -- in which people of all races, religions, languages, nationalities, sexual and gender identities, and all other varieties live together in peace and freedom. I want to see a world in which we live in harmony with each other and with our planet -- a world free from both want and pointless excess, where the human species and other species live together in one healthy, vibrant community of life. I want to see a world in which our cities and towns are clean, our economy both prosperous and responsible, our peoples healthy and content, and our culture rich, vibrant, and creative. I want to see a world without a monopoly on power in the hands of a few. I want to see a green world of hope, possibility, and beauty.

Not bad as a statement of what we should be aiming for.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/03/2005 01:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


August Wilson dies

August Wilson, a major American playwright, died on Sunday at the age of 60, from liver cancer, just months after the final play in his masterwork, a 10-play cycle chronicling African-American life throughout the 20th century, opened at the Yale Rep in New Haven.

I didn't know August Wilson, and never worked on a production of any of his plays, and I didn't always agree with his ideas about the theatre (as presented in his debate with Robert Brustein), but I saw many of the plays in his cycle, and they never failed to move and entertain me.

We've lost a great dramatist, whose work, I'm sure, will only grow in stature as the years pass. Broadway will show its respect for him when the Virginia Theatre is renamed the August Wilson Theatre on October 17th. Also, I assume there will be the traditional Broadway salute, with all theatres simultaneously dimming their lights for a time before one evening's performance -- although I have yet to hear when that will happen.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/03/2005 01:30:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Xena and Gabrielle

The recently discovered "10th planet", informally called Xena while waiting for an official name, has now been found to have a moon, dubbed "Gabrielle". Xena is 20% larger than Pluto, and about 3 times more distant from the Sun. Gabrielle is less than 1/10th of Xena's size.

Xena lies in the Kuiper Belt, an area of the solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune.

Astronomers haven't yet decided whether Xena will be labelled a planet or not. Some would exclude it, and also remove Pluto from the list, to leave 8 planets in the system. Since there is no definitive scientific definition of what is or isn't a planet, the matter is open to interpretation and consensus by astronomers.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/03/2005 12:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, October 02, 2005

False controversy

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Matthew C. Nisbet and the redoubtable Chris Mooney examine the media's coverage of the Intelligent Design "controversy":
On March 14, 2005, The Washington Post’s Peter Slevin wrote a front-page story on the battle that is “intensifying across the nation” over the teaching of evolution in public-school science classes. Slevin’s lengthy piece took a detailed look at the lobbying, fund-raising, and communications tactics being deployed at the state and local level to undermine evolution. The article placed a particular emphasis on the burgeoning “intelligent design” movement, centered at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, whose proponents claim that living things, in all their organized complexity, simply could not have arisen from a mindless and directionless process such as the one so famously described in 1859 by Charles Darwin in his classic, The Origin of Species.

Yet Slevin’s article conspicuously failed to provide any background information on the theory of evolution, or why it’s considered a bedrock of modern scientific knowledge among both scientists who believe in God and those who don’t. Indeed, the few defenders of evolution quoted by Slevin were attached to advocacy groups, not research universities; most of the article’s focus, meanwhile, was on anti-evolutionists and their strategies. Of the piece’s thirty-eight paragraphs, twenty-one were devoted to this “strategy” framing — an emphasis that, not surprisingly, rankled the Post’s science reporters. “How is it that The Washington Post can run a feature-length A1 story about the battle over the facts of evolution and not devote a single paragraph to what the evidence is for the scientific view of evolution?” protested an internal memo from the paper’s science desk that was copied to Michael Getler, the Post’s ombudsman. “We do our readers a grave disservice by not telling them. By turning this into a story of dueling talking heads, we add credence to the idea that this is simply a battle of beliefs.” Though he called Slevin’s piece “lengthy, smart, and very revealing,” Getler assigned Slevin a grade of “incomplete” for his work.

Slevin’s incomplete article probably foreshadows what we can expect as evolution continues its climb up the news agenda, driven by a rising number of newsworthy events. In May, for example, came a series of public hearings staged by evolution-theory opponents in Kansas. In Cobb County, Georgia, a lawsuit is pending over anti-evolutionist textbook disclaimers (the case is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit). And now comes the introduction of intelligent design into the science curriculum of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district, a move that has triggered a First Amendment lawsuit scheduled to be argued in September before a federal judge in Harrisburg. President Bush and Senator Bill Frist entered the fray in early August, when both appeared to endorse the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.

As evolution, driven by such events, shifts out of scientific realms and into political and legal ones, it ceases to be covered by context-oriented science reporters and is instead bounced to political pages, opinion pages, and television news. And all these venues, in their various ways, tend to deemphasize the strong scientific case in favor of evolution and instead lend credence to the notion that a growing “controversy” exists over evolutionary science. This notion may be politically convenient, but it is false.


Remember what Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote: "Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution." My own personal fantasy is that in a perfectly just world evolution-deniers would be denied the benefits of modern medicine, which are based on advances in biochemisty made possible by the framework provided by evolution.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/02/2005 05:00:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


DEFCON alert!

Via Bob Parks' What's New, I learned about the formation by a group of scientists, clergy, and legal scholars of DefCon: The Campaign to Defend the Constitution.
DefCon: The Campaign To Defend the Constitution is an online grassroots movement combating the growing power of the religious right. We will fight to uphold the First Amendment's guarantee of separation of church and state and will oppose efforts to control and distort religion, education, science and culture in ways that ultimately threaten the health and well-being of American society.

Many of us are people of faith. We respect the right of all Americans to their beliefs and value their freedom to worship. In keeping with the Constitution, this Campaign will seek to ensure not that America is free of religion, but that it protects freedom of religion and freedom from religious coercion.

The framers of our Constitution struck a brilliant balance on many issues, particularly in creating a clear separation between religion and state. A cornerstone of our nation's identity, that principle has provided Americans with unparalleled freedom that has fueled our success and world leadership and enabled scientific achievements that have bettered the lives of millions.

Today, however, a fundamentalist minority seeks to tear down the wall between religion and state and make biblical precepts, not constitutional law, the highest authority governing American life.

Aided by a sympathetic Administration and members of Congress, the religious right has gained extraordinary power and influence. Their voices pervade the media, and they have pursued and attained political power with tenacity and skill, in the process drowning out real experts and credible voices of reason.

We believe these fundamentalists are completely out of step with values held dear by the vast majority of Americans – values including freedom of conscience, tolerance, reason, and moderation.

Mainstream American voices must be heard, not simply responding to the religious Right but proudly expressing their belief in the Constitution and opposing those who would undermine it.

DefCon: The Campaign to Defend the Constitution will work around the clock to:

  • Alert the public to the dangers and risks posed by the growing fundamentalist influence in our nation;

  • Build and mobilize an online community of concerned Americans willing to raise their voices;

  • Mobilize concerned scientists, political leaders, and theologians to help Americans understand what is at stake.

Through DefCon, we hope to ensure that reason, personal freedom, and the rule of law remain as guiding lights of American society.

Within the religious community, we will work with leaders who share the values on which our country was founded. We will expose the religious right who, though purporting to speak for people of faith, espouse values that run counter to the majority of people of faith and of the American public generally.

DefCon will provide mainstream America with a countervailing voice rooted in original American principles, focusing on respect for:

  • Separation of church and state as a core value in law and public policy;

  • Independence of the judiciary – safeguarding the courts from archconservatives who wish to undermine the Bill of Rights;

  • Science, medical research and technology and their crucial role in economic prosperity;

  • Individual privacy including the right to decide for oneself whether to have a baby or how to die and equal rights for all couples regardless of gender.

DefCon will become the premiere voice of Americans who are disturbed by the growing power of the religious right, and who are looking for a practical and meaningful way to fight back.

One of their first "Defcon Alerts" is in support of the teaching of science, and not ideology, in our public schools:

Here's their relgious right rogues gallery.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/02/2005 03:18:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Yankees win the Al East!

I don't often blog about baseball, which doesn't mean that following it is not an obsession for me. I'm one of those rare New Yorkers who roots for both local teams, the Yankees and the Mets -- which leads to a bit of split-personality when they play each other (I usually don't root for either team then, unless one team needs the win badly and the other can stand to take a loss). Still, because the Mets have been so lackluster in the recent past (this year they finished with a better record than any year since 2000), I've got a preference, slight but pronounced, for the Yankees.

This year, though, following the Yanks has been a trial. They started off very slowly, underachieving badly, their pitching staff fell apart with various injuries, and by the middle of the season it looked very much like they weren't going to get into the post-season this year. I kept hoping, kept following, but resigned myself to the distinct possibility of being disappointed.

So when the Yankees clinched the American League East today with a win over Boston, I was very, very pleased -- and moved to see that Joe Torre, the Yankees' manager, was actually crying in the post-game hug feast -- I guess the win meant a lot more to him this year because of how hard it was to achieve. I've been critical of Torre this year, some of his handling of the bullpen has mystified me, but I've also been a staunch defender of him against disappointed fans who wanted to dump him mid-season.

(On two other issues, I was less prophetic: I thought the team should have dumped Jason Giambi early on, when it looked like he was all washed up, and spoke up suggesting that Bernie Williams had outlived his usefull baseball life and should retire. I was wrong on both accounts, and I'm glad that the Yankees -- probably because of Torre more than anything else -- stuck with those guys until they came around, and became a big part of why the team won.)

Having won, the work is just beginning for the team. They're playing well, and can win when the starting pitching keep us in the game, but the middle relief is still wretched, and the bench for post-season will be thin, thin, thin. Still, we've got among the best closers in the game -- Mariano Rivera -- and Tom Gordon as the set-up guy is more often great than otherwise. We can win, but it's not going to be a piece of cake.

Last year at about this time (just a few weeks later) I was congratulating the Red Sox and their fans, and I sure hope I won't have to do that again (the Red Sox still have a chance to get into the post-season as the Wild Card team). For the moment, congratulation to the Yankees, and to all of us Yankees fans, who have to take so much guff from other fans (who are stuck in a long-passe paradigm of the Yankees as representative of The Big Bad Establishment).

Bottom line: you can be a liberal, and still love the Yankees -- I do.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/02/2005 01:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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search websearch unfutz

Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


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