Saturday, May 13, 2006

Bennett sez

Alan Bennett, the English diarist, playwright, and sometime monologuist, came to town a few weeks ago for the New York première of his play “The History Boys”

writes Adam Gopnick in a "Talk of the Town" piece in The New Yorker, which concludes with Bennett, "one of the clearest voices in England against the war in Iraq," dispensing some advice:

“If I had one thing to say to America now, it’s don’t trust in God. I was fiercely religious as a boy, and it’s inoculated me against religion ever since. The one thing I’ve learned is that, whatever your problems are, God won’t really help.”

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/13/2006 11:59:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Braindead docs

This list of physicians and surgeons who dissent from Darwinism could be quite useful. I'd recommend that everyone check it out: if your doctor is there, then it might be a good idea to seek out another one, since any doctor who doesn't understand that evolutionary theory is the glue that holds biology together, and biology is the essential underpinning of medical science really shouldn't be trusted with a stethoscope.

Of course, as of right now there are only 42 names on the list (only one of them in New York City -- the majority are from the South), so probably your doctor is OK. (Or is at least smart enough not to publicize his or her ignorance by signing onto such a list -- you gotta give them points for that.)

[via Aetiology]

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/13/2006 01:52:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Big tent

Jim Johnson writes to say:
I write a blog titled “Straight, Not Narrow.” It promotes GLBT equality in Christianity and politics and addresses the agendas of those narrow minded people who are determined to prevent it. I am a member of Equality Maryland, a gay rights activist organization, and PFLAG DC.

I would appreciate it if you would post a link to my blog on your site. Of course, I would be happy to reciprocate. I hope to help the GLBT community by demonstrating that they have straight advocates within the church, and I also hope to reach straight people who are not as accepting and give them something to think about.

The right wing has politics and Christianity very much intertwined these days. I feel the other side needs to have a voice to counter that.

I'm more than happy to lend a hand to liberal religionists, whose voices have been squealched by the media attention given to the Religious Right. Fighting the Right, and starting to undo the damage they've done, is a big job, and we all need to work together against our common foe.

Jim's weblog is here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/10/2006 11:08:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

This dysfunctional thing

Michael Berube (sorry, don't know how to do the accent):
I’m just old enough to remember how much the Nixon Administration hated the press—but the way I remember it, the feeling was entirely mutual. Here we’ve got ourselves a dumber, more incompetent, and possibly even more malevolent version of the Nixon Administration, complete with utter dripping contempt for the press—and the fourth estate’s collective response, with a couple of exceptions here and there over the past five years, has been “thank you, sir, may I have another?” (Let’s not rehash the widespread Heather Outrage that constituted press coverage of Clinton and Gore, and that offered the Beltway punditry at their most prurient; thankfully, we don’t need to, because Digby has that one covered with two coats. But then again, if Monica’s blue dress constituted a constitutional crisis, why aren’t juicy GOP sex scandals every bit as exciting?) Honestly, folks, I’m feeling like we’re at the point where, if the Bush Administration announced that Porter Goss was killed in a bizarre gardening accident, we would be reading in tomorrow’s paper that Porter Goss was killed in a bizarre gardening accident, and the “story” would be festooned with sidebars on how little-understood the phenomenon of modern gardening accidents really is.

Everything he says, except "possibly" -- amazing as it for those of us who lived through Watergate to contemplate, the Bush Administration has Nixon's beat for malevolency, fer sure.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/09/2006 04:20:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Standing against the bully pulpit

Julie Hilden has a good column today on Findlaw which looks at the Colbert speech from a First Amnendment perspective. Her conclusion:
Colbert launched his vituperative parody when there was no forum for the president - or anyone speaking on his behalf - to reply. Again, First Amendment doctrine seems relevant: While concepts like "equal time" now seem relics of the Sixties and Seventies, and the FCC long ago junked the "fairness doctrine," we still remain more comfortable with harsh speech when the target has a chance to quickly respond.

All else being equal, the situation would seem especially unfair in First Amendment terms because the brand of irony of which Colbert is a master serves -- as Scherer points out, quoting David Foster Wallace - "an almost exclusively negative function" for which there is no easy response.

However, all else is not equal. The president, with his "bully pulpit," has a platform from which to command attention, and a national audience, as no other individual can. If he decides to address the nation, his remarks will be televised on all networks, and will pre-empt other programs.

Not only does the Bush Administration command an audience virtually at will, but this particular administration has controlled criticism and discussion to a remarkable degree. To cite but a few examples: during his campaigns and in promoting his major initiatives, the president has held scripted "town meetings" in which the audiences are carefully screened so there's little chance of critical questions; he has censored scientific reports of the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA that don't toe the Administration line about global warming; and he has held the fewest number of press conferences of any modern president.

Considering the extensive limitations imposed on the ability to question or criticize this president, it is understandable that given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to publicly roast him, Colbert seized it. Colbert's in-the-President's-face parody followed the tradition of Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century political cartoonists whose caustic renderings of public figures and officials were devastating, as the newspapers they were printed in were the near-exclusive sources for the public's news.

As the late Chief Justice Rehnquist recognized, in discussing Nineteenth Century political cartoonist Thomas Nast, "The success of the Nast cartoon was achieved 'because of the emotional impact of its presentation. It continuously goes beyond the bounds of good taste and conventional manners.'" According to Rehnquist, despite the caustic nature of such satires - ridiculing the presidents of the time - they "played a prominent role in public and political debate" and "[f]rom the viewpoint of history it is clear that our political discourse would have been considerably poorer without them."

Despite the caustic nature of Colbert's satire, it is clear that given the extent to which the Bush Administration, elected officials, the news media, pundits, and the public have continued to talk about and debate his keynote -- more than a week after Colbert delivered it - Colbert, like Nast before him, has enriched our political discourse.

That he did so with the president as a captive audience may have defied protocol, but in light of the protocols regarding public debate that this president has defied, it should be viewed as fair play.

In the end, we shouldn't so automatically accept contentions like [Democratic House Minority Whip Steny] Hoyer's claim that "He is the president of the United States, and he deserves some respect." Respect ought to be based on what one does and says, not on the office one occupies. And even when the president deserves respect, he must also be accountable. Seeking to hold a president accountable through use of a caustic parody that exploits politically embarrassing events is in the best tradition of the First Amendment and encourages the robust public debate democracy requires.

[Thanks to Jo Ann, my main source for Colbert links]

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/09/2006 01:00:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the protection of the country. Of survival. The answer to that is: survival as what? A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult. Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what we stand for: justice, truth... and the value of a single human being.
Judgment at Nuremberg (film, 1961)
written by Abby Mann,
directed by Stanley Kramer,
spoken by the character "Judge Dan Haywood",
played by Spencer Tracy

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/09/2006 04:50:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The stab in the back

The Green Knight has a very interesting post, based an article in Harper's, on the right-wing's traitors-in-our-midst myth of the stab in the back. As one of his commenters touches on, the abnormal psychology of the right is consistently perverse and bizarre. Someone ought to write a book about it someday -- the delusions, the paranoia, the rejection of objective reality in favor of ideology, the persecution complex, the frequent bouts of projecting their own attributes on their opponents. That so many people should share so many psychological quirks is, well, weird. I look forward to a social psychologist explaining it, someday, when we get out of this whole we've been dug into and have a little perspective on this Era of Right-Wing Bullshit.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/09/2006 01:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, May 08, 2006

"The Common Good"

Lots of talk these days about "The Common Good" as the necessary fundamental tenet of progressives and, more broadly, the Democratic party. (Here, for instance, but citations are many -- and the pushback against it has begun already.)

I basically agree, which is why my own slogan suggestion is Fairness, progress and prosperity, because we're all in this together, which is an extension of "the common good." However, while the common good is the right idea, "the common good" are not the right words to put that idea across. I heard Ruy Teixeira and John Podesta say the phrase on C-Span today, and it did not sound good coming out of their mouths. Here are some reasons why:
  • "Common" - Who wants to be common? Nobody in America, that's why we give our kids unique names, so they'll stand out and be different. No one wants to be part of the common mass of people, Americans frequently misapprehend their place in the country's economic just to avoid it: they think they're doing better then they are, and they have a hard time understanding that they are a part of the group which will be hurt by Bush-type economic policies that favor the rich. Instead, they're prone to believe that they will be part of the group that will benefit. No one wants to be common in America.

  • "Communism" - This is going to sound ridiculous, but "the common good" sounds an awful lot like "communism", and the concept can easily be conflated with "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Given that any even mildly progressive or redistributive program (if the redistribution is from rich to poor, that is) will be attacked as "socialist" or "communist" by the Right, Democrats, as the center-left coalition party in our system, are vulnerable to being smeared this way, and "the common good" at least partly opens the door to that.

  • At this point in our political and social history, "the common good" doesn't much sound like an American idea, it sounds vaguely foreign, probably European, in that way that "homeland security" rings as vaguely Germanic or Russian.

Obviously, the objection to these objections is that they're not in any way substantive, but about perceptions and connotations -- but isn't that the entire point of coming up with a slogan we can hitch our policies to? The claim is not just that Democrats don't have any policies, which can be easily countered, but that they don't speak well about them, they don't frame them well, and the only way to counter that is to use words and phrases which have the right feel to them, as well as the right ideas behind them.

So, my advice to all is to keep the concept, but jettison the words -- find some other phrase (such as mine, but others will do as well) which doesn't have as much dead weight attached to it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/08/2006 10:59:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Defunct advertising

So I gather from the current Immigration "Debate" (which rather amounts to squeals of nativist indignation from those whose ancestors came here conveniently long enough ago to be overlooked) that America no longer stands behind its historic advertising slogan, as on the plaque adorning the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Emma Lazarus

No surprise, I guess, considering that the current administration doesn't seem much interested in sticking by that other icon of American ideolgy, the Constitution of the United States.

Ezra Klein on Tapped links to a Washington Post overview of the history of the debate.

The Right is sticking with its standard objections, prime of which is that those immigrants were legal, while the current batch is illegal. That's true, but it overlooks the very pertinent fact that the quotas we have now would prevent most of those immigrants (the historic ones -- you know, our great-grandparents and so on) from getting into the country legally if they had been in force back then.

Update: Talk Left makes sense and The Heretik skewers Peggy Noonan's "love" for immigrants.

You know, about that plaque on the Statue of Liberty, the false advertising telling the world how much we love letting people come into our country -- I think the basic mistake made was that it didn't include any of those legal disclaimers you see on a lot of advertising these days, the ultra-fine print that you can't resolve without a magnifying glass or can't see because it flashes by too quickly on TV. The stuff that, in subtle legalese, takes back all the claims made by the ad itself (the stuff you can see and hear and read without prosthetic devices). I'm sure lawyers who specialize in advertising would be just appalled that the offer made on the Statue of Liberty* [*Liberty not available in all circumstances, please see the USA Patriot Act for details.] wasn't suitable framed by a decent disclaimer.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/08/2006 05:54:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Is Fox News getting soft?

The kind of TV I'm inclined to watch -- baseball, movies and certain specific series -- limits the number of commercials I see, especially since I use a DVR to watch almost all of it, and I skip past the ads (unless I'm preoccupied and forget to), so I'm not in the best position to judge, but I thought perhaps it might mean something when I noticed that Fox News was advertising heavily on the Yankees broadcasts on the Yes network -- they've apparently bought all the commercial time in one inning break per game. Fox used to do this to do "sneak previews" of new movies and TV series, but I think the Fox News thing is new. (I noticed because I was watching live and forgot to mute the ads in the break. I kept waiting for the obnoxious FNC ad to be over, and it just kept on going on and on and on.)

Could this possibly mean that Fox's numbers are falling? Could it have any connection with what Digby reports here?

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/08/2006 04:20:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The last Colbert report?

I presume this will be my last post on the whole Colbert fracas, but maybe not. I wrote this in response to some friends who were complaining that the mainstream media continued not to cover the Colbert routine sufficiently. In their opinion the performance itself was "Big News". I replied with this (I've very slightly reworked my response to post it here):
I think I rather disagree with this take on the Colbert thing. Certainly, his routine, the existence of it, the content of it, the fact that it confronted Bush in a way that he's not often exposed to, the negative reaction of the audience, the fact that Colbert skewered the press as well as Bush & Company -- all of that is newsworthy, and should have been a normal part of the reports about the dinner that were published immediately afterwards, but if that had happened, if those reports had simply made note of those things, honestly and in a straight-forward manner, that would have been the end of it -- and should have been. Colbert's routine wasn't, bottom line, Big News, just news -- political satirists have been making fun of politicians, sometimes right in front of them, for centuries, so for Colbert to do what is, after all, his stock-in-trade shtick, isn't really Big News, it's just newsworthy because it happened and it said things that many people would want to say to Bush and the press if they had the opportunity.

So, if the media had just done their jobs and reported accurately on what happened at the dinner, that would have been the end of it -- not Big News, just news. What made the whole affair Very Big News was that the press didn't report on it, they ignored it almost entirely, and continued to ignore it until the blogs forced them to confront it, and even then, instead of admitting their error and coming clean, the media (in general) attempted to downplay the routine, in part by claiming that it wasn't funny -- which, of course, wasn't the issue at all. Maybe it wasn't funny to a lot of people -- humor is, after all, a matter of personal taste and preference -- but the story, the original story, was about the very existence of the Colbert event and what it meant, not whether it was a successful comedy routine or not, which is a matter for critics and not for reporters. In any case by that point the story had moved on. By then, not only was it about the existence of the Colbert routine, but about the media's de facto coverup of its existence and their subsequent attempt to belittle it.

In short, if the press had merely done its job and reported what should have been reported, there would have been no scandal, no big Colbert to-do at all: a political satirist skewered the President and the press, those who agreed with what he said liked it, those who didn't, didn't -- in any reasonable theory of journalism that's a story, but not a big story -- just give the who, what, where, when, why and how of it and you're done. What made it into Big News was the consensus take of Big Media that it wasn't a story, which speaks volumes about its values and prejudices.

[Thanks to Polly and Jo Ann]

Addenda: Tune into the criticism of Digby and Atrios on Anna Marie Cox's dismissal of the Colbert routine in Time, and Mark Kleiman's fundamentally wrong-headed reply. (Atrios responds here.)

Personally, I've never had much use for Cox's Wonkette persona, and it seems to me that, like many people, she's making a category error in confusing the question of the artistic success of Colbert's routine (i.e. whether it's funny or not) with its political, social and cultural significance.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/08/2006 03:33:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A buddy for Bush

Here's how things look to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the "post-Soviet millionaire Buddhist autocrat" with a fondness for Genghis Khan, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, and the Dalai Lama, who is the near-dictator of the environmental disaster area on the Caspian Sea that is the autonomous republic of Kalmykia of the Russian Federation and, simultaneously, the president of FIDE, the international governing body of chess:
Bush is creating order, conquering countries, territories, new oil wells, he hands them over to rich oil companies, they're rich and getting even richer -- that's O.K. Bush has an army, he has Congress that doles out a supplementary hundred billion dollars, he has a Senate, he has a Court. Maybe soon there's going to be a big American state. I haven't ruled out the possibility that, in our lifetime, we will all be living in an American state. But, as long as there's order and discipline, what's the difference?

[Quoted in The New Yorker by Michael Specter ("Planet Kirsan" in the April 24th issue, not available online)]

Ignoring the fact that Ilyumzhinov is intelligent enough to have become the Kalmyk national chess champion at the age of fourteen, I think he and Bush would probably get along if they ever met, just as Ilyumzhinov got along with Saddam Hussein. Certainly, Bush would surely be simpatico with his new buddy's lack of interest in democracy and he would certainly envy the fact that when Ilyumzhimov was first elected President he abolished the parliament and re-wrote the constitution to suit himself and lengthen his term of office, goals that Bush has only partly achieved, and has to work towards almost entirely sub rosa.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/07/2006 11:13:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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03/23/2008 - 03/30/2008
03/30/2008 - 04/06/2008
06/01/2008 - 06/08/2008
09/21/2008 - 09/28/2008

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
2005 koufax awards


Carpetbagger Report
*Crooks and Liars*
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2004 koufax winners
2003 koufax award
"best blog" nominees
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


take all you want
but credit all you take.

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