Friday, January 20, 2006

Good for the economy

It's a commonplace that the economy does better under Republican or conservative administrations than it does under Democratic or liberal one, but that cliche is being challenged, as Jeff Madrick explains:
In his new book, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, [Benjamin M. Friedman, a Harvard economist] argues that since the industrial revolution, progressive policies have usually been associated with rapid economic growth and rising incomes in all levels of society, and not with uneven growth or economic stagnation. Friedman is concerned with the moral as well as the material effects of economic trends. He argues that economic growth—if it is broad-based—can advance such fundamental moral aims as tolerance, democracy, and equality. The first progressive age, for example, took place during the long industrial boom of the first twenty years of the twentieth century. The nation imposed income taxes, battled the trusts, established female suffrage, and adopted regulations to protect workers. John F. Kennedy's New Frontier and Johnson's Great Society were direct outcomes, Friedman argues, of the rapid growth and rising standard of living of the 1950s and 1960s. During these periods, rising productivity, or the increase in goods and services produced per hour of work, was matched by wage gains for all income levels.

By contrast, according to Friedman, during times of uneven prosperity the American government has typically cut taxes, reduced social programs, and restricted immigration. As examples he cites the "populist era" between 1880 and 1895, when real per capita income stagnated and racism and anti-immigrant sentiment were prevalent; and the two decades between 1973 and 1993—from Nixon to Reagan—which he calls the "backlash era." Friedman also identifies the 1920s, a period of expansion for many businesses, as a time of economic stress for average Americans; the resentments and anger of the time helped give rise to racist movements such as the Ku Klux Klan. [Link added. -- Ed]

Of course, even if Friedman is correct in his analysis, it'll be next to impossible to convince the media that such an apparently counterintuitive fact is true, since they "know" otherwise.

Three cheers for the rigidity of conventional wisdom.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/20/2006 05:37:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Then and now

In 1948, Edward R. Murrow commented about the political situation in Greece that the country was "in the grip of polticians who are amazingly unwilling to serve anybody except themselves."

Sounds pretty much like the current batch of Republicans in Congress.

In an article on Murrow in The New Yorker (not available online), Nicholas Lemann describes the current state of the media:
The standard today is to have smart, competent, physically magnetic people who do straight news gravely and celebrity interviews empathetically, and who occasionally, strategically, display moral passion and then retreat, as Anderson Cooper, of CNN, did during Hurricane Katrina. Everyone suspects them of beng lightweights when they first ascend, and then, when they retire, wonders if we'll ever see their like again.

And why the emphasis on Murrow at this moment?

It looks as if, once again, right-wing politicians are trampling on civil liberties in the name of protecting the country from the terrifying global threat. Commercialism and superficiality seem regnant in broadcast news. Owners avoid controversy, cut budgets, and focus on producing the profits that Wall Street demands -- we're back in the fifties.

With the fall of Communism, right-wingers lost their focus, the raison d'etre they organized their ideology around and used as a universal foil. The last thing in the world they would want is the "end of history."

If Osama bin Laden hadn't done it for them with the al-Qaeda attack on the U.S., the right would have had to invent something very much like radical Islamism, or, as some would have it, Islamofascism. It's certainly done wonders for a talentless pipsqueak like George W. Bush.

Still, I can't quite put my finger on why, but it feels like the right-wing tide is going out.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/20/2006 01:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A double standard

Incidentally, in his recent speech, Gore said this (as edited by Kevin Drum):
The most serious damage has been done to the legislative branch. The sharp decline of congressional power and autonomy in recent years has been almost as shocking as the efforts by the Executive Branch to attain a massive expansion of its power.

....There have now been two or three generations of congressmen who don't really know what an oversight hearing is. In the 70's and 80's, the oversight hearings in which my colleagues and I participated held the feet of the Executive Branch to the fire — no matter which party was in power. Yet oversight is almost unknown in the Congress today.

....Look for example at the Congressional role in "overseeing" this massive four year eavesdropping campaign that on its face seemed so clearly to violate the Bill of Rights. The President says he informed Congress, but what he really means is that he talked with the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate intelligence committees and the top leaders of the House and Senate. This small group, in turn, claimed that they were not given the full facts, though at least one of the intelligence committee leaders handwrote a letter of concern to VP Cheney and placed a copy in his own safe.

Though I sympathize with the awkward position in which these men and women were placed, I cannot disagree with the Liberty Coalition when it says that Democrats as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for not taking action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider a grossly unconstitutional program.

[Emphasis added -- Ed]

When I said something very similar to this a couple of weeks ago, I was castigated by the denizens of Daily Kos who read my diary, and called an idiot totally lacking in nuance, all for suggesting that Jay Rockefeller didn't deserve our plaudits, but instead should be criticised for placing the upholding of his position of power above the civil rights of the American people.

On the one hand, we applaud a powerless person like Rosa Parks for standing up for her rights, and encourage people to put their jobs on the line by revealing bad things that go on inside the government or big business, but we allow powerful people like Rockefeller to fall back on the "awkwardness" of their situations as an excuse for not doing anything when large scale violations of people's civil liberties are undertaken by this Administration. That's a double standard I can't approve of, and I'm glad that Gore took the opportunity to point it out.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2006 05:48:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Whatever Tony wants, Tony gets

Publius finds in recent Supreme Court decisions a new standard by which Commerce Clause laws are to be decided: Do what Scalia wants:
While this new standard is a marked improvement over our prior doctrine, we recognize that lower courts will need additional guidance in determining just what Justice Scalia likes and dislikes. Although multi-factored balancing tests are generally for commie pinkos and Justice Kennedy, there is not always a clear answer to these questions. Instead, lower courts must look at the many things Justice Scalia likes and dislikes and then determine how the law relates to them.

For instance, Justice Scalia dislikes many things – hippies, long-haired hippies, hippies with beards, long-haired hippies wearing sandals, the homosexual agenda, assisted-physician suicide, Will & Grace, long-haired bearded hippies wearing sandals, long-haired hippies wearing sandals and burning flags, the Florida Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy, Satan, the New Deal, and the equal protection clause.

On the other hand, Justice Scalia likes many things – police, police arresting hippies, laws criminalizing drug possession, laws criminalizing drug possession by hippies, duck hunting, barbeque, John Ashcroft, Jesus, and the equal protection clause in the context of presidential elections.

I have to admit, the new standard is remarkably clear, if not terribly self-consistent at the meta-level. It's good, though, to see that Scalia and the Court are so thoroughly committed to a vision of the United States as a nation of laws, and not a nation of men -- as long, of course, as the laws pass muster with a small number of Very Important Men, such as Scalia, Bush and Cheney.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2006 05:24:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Baldwin's folly

Courtesy of the IMDB, here are the films that actor Stephen Baldwin, the youngest of the Baldwin acting clan, has made since 2000:
In My Sleep (2006) .... Det. Curwen
Midnight Clear (2005/II) .... Lefty
The Snake King (2005) (TV) .... Matt Ford
Bound by Lies (2005) (V) .... Max Garrett
... aka The Long Dark Kiss (Europe: English title)
Liminality (2005) .... Caramelli
Flyboys (2005)
Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004) .... Luke
Fallacy (2004) .... Realtor
Target (2004) .... Charlie Snow
Shelter Island (2003) .... Lenny
Firefight (2003) .... Wolf
Lost Treasure (2003) .... Bryan McBride
Silent Warnings (2003) (V) .... Cousin Joe Vossimer
... aka Warnings (Europe: English title)
Greenmail (2002) (V) .... Scott Anderson
Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice (2002) (V) .... Sean Linden
Deadrockstar (2002) .... Johnny
Dead Awake (2001) .... Desmond Caine
Protection (2001) .... Sal
Zebra Lounge (2001) (TV) .... Jack Bauer
... aka Rendez-vous au Zebra Lounge (Canada: French title)
Spider's Web (2001) .... Clay Harding
Cutaway (2000) (TV) .... Agent Victor 'Vic' Cooper
The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000) .... Barney Rubble
Mercy (2000) .... Mechanic
Table One (2000) .... Jimmy
Xchange (2000) .... Clone #1/Toffler 3

One notices a certain lack of, well, hits of any kind, or even successes d'estime. So what has Baldwin's languishing career wrought? Well, for one thing, a fair amount of extra time on his hands, apparently, as he decides to harress the workers and patrons of an adult-entertainment establishment, with the expressed intent of shutting it down.

Ed Brayton has the sad story.

Fundamentalism and intolerance certanly still thrive, but trust Stephen Baldwin to switch sides just when the tide is turning. He'll undoubtedly get the message, eventually -- celebrities of his ilk can never stray far from the mainstream, their survival depends on knowing where it is, and even if they can't see it, their agents, managers and other handlers can.

Perhaps Baldwin can have some nifty dinners with traitor to liberalism and Bush-pal (and former head of my union, Actors' Equity) Ron Silver, who's doing equally well:

Call It Fiction (2005) (announced) .... Chas
Find Me Guilty (2006) (post-production) .... Judge Finestein
Xenophobia (2006) (TV) (post-production) .... President
Red Mercury (2005) (post-production) .... Sidney
Jack (2004) (TV) .... Paul
"Skin" (2003) TV Series .... Larry Goldman
The Wisher (2002) .... Campbell
... aka Spliced (Canada: English title: DVD title) (USA: video title)
... aka À froid (Canada: French title)
Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story (2002) (TV) .... Mike Fine
Ali (2001) .... Angelo Dundee
Festival in Cannes (2001) .... Rick Yorkin
When Billie Beat Bobby (2001) (TV) .... Bobby Riggs
... aka Billie contre Bobby: La bataille des sexes (Canada: French title)
American Tragedy (2000) (TV) .... Robert Shapiro
Cutaway (2000) (TV) .... Lieutenant Brian Margate
Ratz (2000) (TV) .... Herb Soric
Exposure (2000/II) (V) .... Gary Whitford
... aka Exposure - Gefährliche Enthüllung (Germany)
... aka Naked Terror
... aka Tod steht Modell, Der (Germany: TV title)

Be sure to note those movies that have not yet been released so you can make an effort to avoid them.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2006 04:38:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



I found the joint sponsorship of Al Gore's speech the other day very interesting:
Gore's speech, given at the DAR Constitution Hall here, was co-sponsored by the American Constitution Society, a liberal group of lawyers and legal scholars, and the Liberty Coalition, a group of conservatives and libertarians concerned with privacy issues.

Hmmm, liberals, conservatives and libertarians -- sounds like a very interesting coalition that just might be quite useful in the coming months.

Of course, it would require that some lefties understand that a coalition is not a Borg-like melding, that people with otherwise disparate viewpoints can work together on specific issues, and it doesn't mean that one's identity is usurped or that one's virtue is necessarily sullied.

It just may be that "conservatives and libertarians concerned with privacy issues" might have common interests with liberals, if we allow it to happen, and don't set too many barriers for joint cooperation. (That's the way, for instance, that legislatures are supposed to work, when they aren't being controlled by machine politics such as the Republicans are currently practicing.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2006 04:12:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Prohibited, but not stopped

You can make it illegal, but you can't make it unpopular.
New Orleans Mayor Martin Behrman (1919)
on the closing of the Storyville
legalized prostitution district, on the
insistence of the Federal government

Mayor Behrman was a better observer of human nature than most politicians and "reformers", who continue to insist, despite numerous examples to the contrary (the Volstead Act and the current Federal drug regime, for instance) that prohibition of "vices" like sex, drugs and alcohol is a valid means of control. It's not, simply because it does not work, has not worked, and will not work.

There's no denying that addiction to such pastimes can wreck horrible personal destruction and social damage, but there's also no denying that there's something in our natures that seeks them out, and will not be denied by laws that forbid it. Education, legalization and regulation is a more viable regime for controlling the damages, but the Puritanical and fundamentalist streaks in American culture usually won't allow that path to be taken.

I wonder when a rationalist approach will finally be tried? There aren't many Martin Behrmans around these days.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2006 03:42:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Follow me there

Besides the link to the Darwin Awards (see below), Eliot Gelwan's Follow Me Here has some interesting entries recently. Take a look at this one about neuroscience vs. religion (although I confess I don't quite understand the supposed conflict described), or this one about Japanese phenomenon of hikikomori. Don't stop there -- Eliot always has plenty of interesting links.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2006 01:15:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Evolution in action

Seed magazine reports on this year's Darwin Awards.

[via Follow Me Here]

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2006 01:06:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Deep state

In a very informative article about the state of the Kurds in Turkey (which seems to be improving as Turkey attempts to move towards membership in the European Union), Stephen Kinzer introduced me to the concept of "deep state." "Deep state" is an expression used by Turks to describe ultra-conservative nationalists within the government infrastructure (local prosecutors, for instance, or elements in the armed forces) who oppose the official liberalization efforts the government is putting into effect to bring Turkey into compliance with EU requirements, and who use their influence and power to counter it (for instance, by prosecuting dissidents "in ways calculated to make Turkey look un-European").

We've got a similar, but somewhat different problem. Here in the U.S., our "deep state" has become the state. Our entrenched ultra-conservative elements have actually taken over the government, and for years now have put all their energy into taking apart the liberal state they despise so, no matter the social or economic costs.

Fortunately, it seems as if the worm may be turning, and more liberal and rationalist elements may be poised for a comeback. Of course, I'd like to see some real progress in this year's mid-term elections to be certain, and there's plenty of ground that still needs to be recovered, but it really does feel as if we've already seen the high-water mark of the fundamentalist / ultra-conservative / anti-rationalist / neo-con resurgence. Perhaps our "deep state" will sink back into the depths where it can be controlled.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2006 12:08:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Here birdy, birdy

Photo: Tom Brazil in the New York Times

Performances of Aristophanes in Birdonia continue through the end of the week. Reviews can be found in the New York Times and the Village Voice.

More here, here, and here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2006 12:01:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, January 16, 2006

Confusing fact and faith

Ruidh, posting in a comment thread on Pharyngula:
I'm not at all surprised that an athiest and a person of faith have such completely different worldviews that conversation is not possible.

Many Christians confuse statements of faith with objective truth. Their epistemology is rudimentary. I speak as a progressive Christian with an education in the sciences and in philosphy.

Many Christians will attempt to offer statements and arguments which they construe as proofs, but which fail as logically complete. They fail to understand the essential distinction between statements of fact and statements of faith -- expressions which are accepted as true by the individual in the absence of certainty.

[Emphasis added. -- Ed]

While this is true, the generalization is not limited to some Christians: it's true about some religionists of all kinds.

Many people (religious and otherwise) also exhibit a similar kind of confusion when they mistake their inalienable right to have and express an opinion with the license to do so without having it critiqued or debunked. Saying something, especially when done without confirming data or evidence or even explicit and convincing argumentation, doesn't automatically establish its bona fides, and yet many people get very upset when their poorly-evidenced opinions are challenged or questioned.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/16/2006 04:24:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
2005 koufax awards


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2003 koufax award
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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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but credit all you take.

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