Saturday, June 24, 2006

Dear Santa

I want the biggest, bestest toy train for Christmas, and my little sister should get the dolly that she wants, and my Mommy and Daddy should get their Christmas wishes too, and everyone in the whole wide world should be happy and love each other so we have peace on earth and goodwill to all men and women.

Oh, yeah, for my other sister, let's have lots of really neat-o election reform too, so that nobody bad every gets elected again anymore.


Ed Fitzgerald | 6/24/2006 04:10:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Survey says

In a totally unscientific survey of 36 cities in 35 countries, Reader's Digest found that New York, the only American city included, was the most polite:
[T]he magazine's politeness-police gave three types of tests to more than 2,000 unwitting participants.

The reporters walked into buildings to see if the people in front of them would hold the door open; bought small items in stores and recorded whether the salespeople said "thank you"; and dropped a folder full of papers in busy locations to see if anyone would help pick them up.

New Yorkers turned out to be the politest: 90 percent held the door open, 19 out of 20 store clerks said "thank you," and 63 percent of men and 47 percent of women helped with the flying papers.

In short, four out of five New Yorkers passed the courtesy test.


The rudest continent is Asia, Readers Digest said. Eight out of nine cities tested there - including last place Mumbai, India - finished in the bottom 11. In Europe, Moscow and Bucharest ranked as the least polite. [AP]

No doubt about it, we're the best -- all you have to do is spend some time in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium or Shea to see that.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/22/2006 07:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



It's not all the unusual to find out that a very famous, important or talented person you admire is, in private life, a jerk, an idiot or an asshole, but with some frequency their faults can be overlooked or ignored due to their other qualities, i.e. their fame, their importance or their talent. It's quite another thing to find out that a relative of a famous and talented person, with no particular claim to make for forgiveness on their own accord, is an asshole -- and that appears to be the case with Stephen James Joyce, the grandson of James Joyce, at least according to this article in The New Yorker.
Stephen has made his presence felt on a much broader front. Most prickly literary estates are interested in suppressing unflattering or intrusive information, but no one combines tolltaker, brand enforcer, and arbiter of taste as relentlessly as Stephen does, and certainly not in such a personal way. In 2003, Eloise Knowlton, a Joycean and a novelist, asked permission to publish a fictional version of “Sweets of Sin,” the risqué novel that Bloom picks up for his wife, Molly. (“Ulysses” offers only a glimpse of its contents.) Stephen wrote back, “Neither I nor the others who manage this Estate will touch your hare-brained scheme with a barge pole in any manner, shape or form.” When turning down a request for permission from an academic whose work was going to be published by Purdue, he said that he objected to the name for the university’s sports teams: the Boilermakers. (He considered it vulgar.) Michael Groden, a scholar at the University of Western Ontario, spent seven years creating a multimedia version of “Ulysses,” only to have Stephen block the project, in 2003, with a demand for a permissions fee of one and a half million dollars. (Before Stephen controlled the Joyce estate, such fees were nominal.) Groden’s sin was to have praised Danis Rose’s edition of “Ulysses” as “confident and controversial,” in a reader’s report for Rose’s publisher; he had also helped the National Library of Ireland to evaluate some Joyce drafts prior to acquiring them. “You should consider a new career as a garbage collector in New York City, because you’ll never quote a Joyce text again,” Stephen told Groden.

Stephen’s hostility toward scholarship is striking, considering the intricate and allusive nature of his grandfather’s work. Interpreters were there at the beginning—Stuart Gilbert’s guide to “Ulysses” appeared in 1930, only eight years after the book’s European publication. And it is hard to imagine Joyce’s books without all the books that have been written about them. As Joyce told one of his translators, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”

It is also not easy for scholars to decode Joyce’s puzzles without addressing his personal life. Joyce frequently said that he drew his events from the newspapers and his observations from his life. “I’m like a man who stumbles,” he once said. “My foot strikes something, I look down, and there is exactly what I’m in need of.” In “Finnegans Wake,” Joyce describes a character whose work is written “over every square inch of the only foolscap available, his own body.”

More than a dozen Joyce scholars told me that what was once an area of exploration and discovery now resembles an embattled outpost of copyright law. Robert Spoo, who used to edit the James Joyce Quarterly, which is published by the University of Tulsa, quit the job to become a copyright lawyer. “New biographies, digital representations of Joyce’s work, analyses of Joyce’s manuscripts, and, to a lesser extent, criticism—they hardly exist,” he said. “People either despaired of doing them . . . or the demands were so high that they just didn’t feel it was worth continuing the discussions.” Although more than fifteen hundred letters and dozens of manuscript drafts have been discovered since Stephen gained control of the estate, scholars told me that no new biographies of Joyce or his family are under way. The estate has not licensed online versions of “Ulysses” and “Finnegans Wake,” seminal works for hypertext theory. Anyone who plans to study Joyce today has to wonder whether it will be worth the strain. In 2003, Thomas Staley, the director of special collections at the University of Texas, in Austin, folded the Joyce Studies Annual after twelve years, in part to avoid dealing with Stephen. “He is an almost impossible person,” Staley told me. (Buck Mulligan to Dedalus: “O, an impossible person!”)

Fortunately copyright maven Lawrence Lessig has entered the fray, filing a lawsuit against the Joyce estate for "copyright misuse" on behalf of Carol Schloss, whose book on James Joyce's daughter Stephen Joyce had tried to suppress.

Lessig is the co-founder of Creative Commons, a popular online copyright-licensing project. That effort, combined with his fight against the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, has made him a leading authority on intellectual-property issues. In the 2003 Supreme Court case Eldred v. Ashcroft, Lessig argued that the Founding Fathers did not intend copyright to become a creative straitjacket. He quoted the Constitution to the Justices: “Congress shall have power to . . . promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings.” Lessig had clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia, and he expected him and the conservatives on the Court to respond to reasoning based on the original words of the framers. “But the conservatives sat silent,” he said. “It was, in some ways, the dying moments of a naïve law professor.”

Lessig thinks that Shloss’s case is more likely to succeed. “Have you seen her?” he said of Shloss. “She’s the quintessential academic—quiet, soft-spoken, modest. The idea that copyright law is going to descend on her and turn her life into hell shows that the law has lost touch with its purpose.”


Of the two dozen people I had talked to, Lessig was one of the few who weren’t angry at Stephen Joyce. “I don’t really blame people who exercise the rights the law appears to give them,” Lessig said. “Stephen Joyce is using whatever power he has.” But he added that Stephen had strengthened Shloss’s case with the threatening letters, the calls to her publisher, the alleged spying and attempts to block her research. As Lessig saw it, the case was simple: Shloss was not trying to profit in an unseemly way off the Joyce legacy; she was an academic who was trying to make a literary argument. It was not at all important whether her argument was correct—only that it was a legitimate effort. To make her case, she needed supporting documents, and Stephen’s obstructionism had, perhaps, adversely affected the reception of the book. The Times, for example, had described it as “more like an exercise in wish fulfillment than a biography.”

“If a copyright holder misbehaves, we want people to know it’s not costless,” Lessig added. “It’s not just the tone of Stephen’s letters. It’s who the letters were sent to: researchers, archivists, and librarians, people playing by the rules. It ought to be possible for people to be good.”

Of course, the Joyce estate generates hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, so Lessig is probably in for a long fight.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/22/2006 06:38:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Sorry, world!

Because it will be needed by America's politicians, diplomats and ordinary citizens as they travel around the world, I'm starting a list of translations of the phrase "We apologize for President Bush" into as many different languages as possible. Contributions, corrections and transliterations will be very welcome.
English: We apologize for President Bush.

Arabic: ????? ?? ?????? ???.
Brazilian Portugese: Nós escusar-se Presidente Bush.
Bulgarian: ??? ????????? ?? ?? ??????????? Bush.
Chinese: ?????????.
Croatian: Mi ispri?avati se za Predsjednik Bush.
Czech: My omlouvat se do President Bush.
Danish: Vi sige undskyld nemlig Direktør Bush.
Dutch: Wij verontschuldigen ons voor President Bush.
Finnish: Me puolustella ajaksi Esimies Bush.
French: Nous faisons des excuses pour le Président Bush.
German: Wir entschuldigen uns für Präsidenten Bush.
Greek: ?????? ???????? ??? ??? ??????? Bush.
Hungarian: Mi menteget?zik részére Elnök Bush.
Icelandic: Við varnarræða fyrir Forseti Bush.
Italian: Chiediamo scusa per il presidente Bush.
Japanese: ?????????????????
Korean: ???? ?? ?? ??? ????.
Latin: Nos es rumex super Praesieo Bush.
Latin Am. Spanish: Nosotros pedir disculpa por Presidente Bush.
Norwegian: Vi ber om unnskyldning for President Bush.
Polish: My przeprasza? pod k?tem Prezydent Bush.
Portugese: Nós desculpamo-nos pelo presidente Bush.
Romanian: Noi a-?i cere iertare pentru President Bush.
Russian: ?? ????????? ? ?????????? Bush.
Serbian: Nama izvinjavati se umjesto Predsednik Bush.
Slovenian: Mi opravi?iti se zakaj predsednik Bush.
Spanish: Nos disculpamos por Presidente Bush.
Swedish: Vi ber om ursäkt för President Bush.
Tagalog (Filipino): Tayo apologize dahil sa pangulo Bush.
Turkish: Biz özür dilemek için ba?kan Bush.
Welsh: Ddiheurwn achos Arlywydd Bush.

Note: Since, like many (most?) Americans, I am monolingual, I can't vouch for the accuracy of these translations, which came from InterTran, Google Translation Tool and Alta Vista's Babel Fish as well as Systran and Free Translation. These and other translation tools can be accessed from this page.

Update: Unfortunately, the non-Roman alphabets aren't displaying correctly (at least for me, using Internet Explorer and Netscape), despite showing up correctly in the Blogger editor, so here's a screen shot of what they were supposed to look like:

Some transliterations of the non-Roman languages would be appreciated.

Update: Corrected Russian.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/22/2006 03:11:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Toasts 50 languages.

[via Wikipedia]

Addenda: Category: Stuff I never knew before --
A little known fact about sliced bread is that its origin can be traced back to a single place. Chillicothe, Missouri (USA), is the official "Home of Sliced Bread." Sliced bread was born in Chillicothe, Missouri, on July 7, 1928.


Ed Fitzgerald | 6/22/2006 02:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Don't mind the gap

[F]or the past century, political polarization and economic inequality have moved hand in hand. Politics during the Gilded Age, an era of huge income gaps, was a nasty business — as nasty as it is today. The era of bipartisanship, which lasted for roughly a generation after World War II, corresponded to the high tide of America's middle class. That high tide began receding in the late 1970's, as middle-class incomes grew slowly at best while incomes at the top soared; and as income gaps widened, a deep partisan divide re-emerged.

Both the decline of partisanship after World War II and its return in recent decades mainly reflected the changing position of the Republican Party on economic issues.

Before the 1940's, the Republican Party relied financially on the support of a wealthy elite, and most Republican politicians firmly defended that elite's privileges. But the rich became a lot poorer during and after World War II, while the middle class prospered. And many Republicans accommodated themselves to the new situation, accepting the legitimacy and desirability of institutions that helped limit economic inequality, such as a strongly progressive tax system. (The top rate during the Eisenhower years was 91 percent.)

When the elite once again pulled away from the middle class, however, Republicans turned their back on the legacy of Dwight Eisenhower and returned to a focus on the interests of the wealthy. Tax cuts at the top — including repeal of the estate tax — became the party's highest priority.

But if the real source of today's bitter partisanship is a Republican move to the right on economic issues, why have the last three elections been dominated by talk of terrorism, with a bit of religion on the side? Because a party whose economic policies favor a narrow elite needs to focus the public's attention elsewhere. And there's no better way to do that than accusing the other party of being unpatriotic and godless.

Thus in 2004, President Bush basically ran as America's defender against gay married terrorists. He waited until after the election to reveal that what he really wanted to do was privatize Social Security.

Pre-New Deal G.O.P. operatives followed the same strategy. Republican politicians won elections by "waving the bloody shirt" — invoking the memory of the Civil War — long after the G.O.P. had ceased to be the party of Lincoln and become the party of robber barons instead. Al Smith, the 1928 Democratic presidential candidate, was defeated in part by a smear campaign — burning crosses and all — that exploited the heartland's prejudice against Catholics.

So what should we do about all this? I won't offer the Democrats advice right now, except to say that tough talk on national security and affirmations of personal faith won't help: the other side will smear you anyway.

But I would like to offer some advice to my fellow pundits: face reality. There are some commentators who long for the bipartisan days of yore, and flock eagerly to any politician who looks "centrist." But there isn't any center in modern American politics. And the center won't return until we have a new New Deal, and rebuild our middle class.

I don't say this nearly often enough: what a pleasure -- a life saver, really -- it is to have Krugman out there. At least, at the very least, we know that there is one rational and intelligent voice speaking up in the mainstream media for seeing the nature of social, political and economic reality as it actually exists.

We should expect the Rovian swift-boating, anti-gay marriage, anti-terrorist, anti-illegal alien playbook to be in full force again this election, since there's nothing else the Republicans can conceivably run on, such as accomplishments, ability, integrity or honor.

[Thanks to Cathie]

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/20/2006 09:27:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Unreality TV

OK, this is bizarre, the end (as in the last show) of the Connie Chung / Maury Povich program on MSNBC. If anyone can watch it all the way through without turning down the sound, well, you're got a higher threshold for pain than I do.

It could've been fun, but it's so very badly done, in all respects, that it entirely fails to be anything but fascinatingly weird.

[via Steve Clemons]

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/20/2006 06:37:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Media discombobulation

Some things are just inexplicable: Why Coke thought it needed to be New, why Twyla Tharp added rollerskating to "Singin' in the Rain", why Mel Brooks re-made "To Be Or Not To Be," and why the media continues to swallow whole Bush's blatant attempts to pump up his approval numbers through obvious gimmicks like the surprise trip to Baghdad.

Bias is an obvious answer, but I don't think it totally explains it, there's also got to be a structural component as well.

(If you haven't already, read Jamison Foser's four-part series [one, two, three, four] on Media Matters on why the media problem is the defining issue of our time.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/20/2006 01:34:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A resonant quote

For the first time in American history, men in authority are talking about an "emergency" without a foreseeable end. Such men as these are crackpot realists: in the name of realism they have constructed a paranoid reality all their own.
C. Wright Mills
The Power Elite (1956)

[quoted by John H. Summers]

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/20/2006 12:49:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



I agree with Josh Marshall, Tristero, and whoever else is saying that the 2006 election must be about Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush.

This is the moment, in 2008 it'll be too late.

And, as I wrote 2 1/2 months ago, the Democrats don't need a plan to get out of Iraq -- in fact, having and publicizing a specific plan for Iraq would be a devastatingly terrible idea, since Bush controls so many of the parameters surrounding our inviolvement there.

Marshall's also right that Newt Gingrich's James Carville's suggestion for a Democratic slogan -- "Had Enough?" -- is better than anything the Dems are actually officially using -- although it seems to be catching on.

Addenda: Josh Marshall again:
On substance, the simple truth is that the president has no policy on Iraq. His goal is to keep everything in place until 2009 so he can leave it to someone else. Why should Democrats cower and run from this debate? The debate itself is silly. No one agrees with the president. The point of the 'debate' is to get Democrats to run from the issue itself, thus signalling their lack of 'toughness' on Iraq through their lack of toughness in domestic political debate. The president has given his opponents an albatross to hang about his neck. So why not use it? On this count, Democrats really do have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/20/2006 12:12:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, June 19, 2006

This time, it's personal (global dept.)

[updated below]
America's post-cold-war pre-eminence — and the sudden visibility of that pre-eminence — complicates our attempts to win friends. People already ambivalent about encroaching American culture and commerce can increasingly see affluent America itself via video. Masses that have long felt bitterly toward the rich in their own nations can transfer some antipathy to their new next-door neighbors, us: the globalization of resentment.

In sum, by the late 90's America was becoming a more natural target for ill will, even as its national security rested increasingly on good will. More than ever, we needed a leader of diplomatic sensibility, keenly attuned to the hopes and fears of diverse peoples, willing to help other nations address their priorities.

And in walked . . . George W. Bush. His alleged failures in this regard have been so thoroughly discussed that we can save time by evoking them with keywords: "crusade," "evil," Kyoto, Iraq, Bolton, Geneva Convention and so on. There's no proving Sweig's contention that Bush's "policies and nonpolicies . . . stripped bare the latent structural anti-American animus that had accumulated over time," but Kohut's Pew Research Center polls show that global opinion of the United States has plummeted under Bush — not just since its unnatural post-9/11 high, but since he took office.

And this time it's personal. Only a few years ago, anti-Americanism focused on government policies; the world "held Americans in higher esteem than America," Kohut and Stokes note. But foreigners are "increasingly equating the U.S. people with the U.S. government."

Kohut and Stokes argue, in effect, that these foreigners are confused, that Americans aren't in the grips of the offensive exceptionalism lately exhibited by their government. According to the polls, "the American people, as opposed to some of their leaders, seek no converts to their ideology." And they are not "cultural imperialists." Maybe not. But this reserve seems grounded less in humility (60 percent of Americans consider their culture "superior to others") than in apathy. Americans, Kohut and Stokes write, tend "to downplay the importance of America's relationship to other nations . . . to be indifferent to global issues . . . to lack enthusiasm for multinational efforts and institutions" and in general to have "an inattentive self-centeredness unmindful of their country's deepening linkages with other countries."

In other words: We're not obnoxiously evangelistic, just obnoxiously self-involved. So even if Bush doesn't reflect the real America, and is replaced by someone who does, we'll still be in trouble. At least, we'll be in trouble if much of the problem is indeed, as Sweig argues, the longstanding "near inability of the United States to see its power from the perspective of the powerless." Changing that will require not a leader worthy of the people, but a leader willing to lead the people.
Robert Wright
"They Hate Us, They Really Hate Us"
New York Times Book Review (5/14/2006)
[review of Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century
by Julia E. Sweig, and
America Against the World: How We Are Different and Why We Are Disliked
by Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes]

Update: The latest Pew survey on global attitudes is here.

Anti-Americanism in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, which surged as a result of the U.S. war in Iraq, shows modest signs of abating. But the United States remains broadly disliked in most countries surveyed, and the opinion of the American people is not as positive as it once was. The magnitude of America's image problem is such that even popular U.S. policies have done little to repair it.

Restoring U.S. prestige is going to be a decades-long project.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/19/2006 11:31:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



I haven't been posting much lately -- since I haven't had much to say -- and several of the posts I have put up have been about Ann Coulter, so it's going to look to the casual reader as if I'm obsessing about her, when actually that's not the case. Today, it's just that I happened to read a review of a biography of Adolf Eichman (Becoming Eichman by David Cesarani) in which, of course, Hannah Arendt's famous phrase "the banality of evil" was mentioned, and one thought led to another.

It occured to me (and this is hardly an orginal thought), that Coulter writes from a position of presumed moral authority created by the supposed moral superiority of the Right-wing. This position licenses her, in her view and the view of her supporters, to tell harsh truths in ways that would otherwise be considered objectionable or out of bounds, a kind of muscular morality.

Of course, when one looks at the scaffolding which holds up the supposition that the Right is morally superior, it turns out to be tumbledown and rickety -- it's not just that those of the Right arn't in any demonstrable way superior, they're actually vastly inferior in their attitude and behavior. The proverbial Anthropologist from Mars would have great difficulty harmonizing the observable behavior of the Right with their assumption of the mantle of morality.

Without having possession of the moral high ground (which they don't), Coulter's screeds can be seen for what they are: the sick and sad utterances of a warped and lost mind.

Addenda: The Green Knight has some interesting things to say on the subject of Coulter:
So what does Coulter's book say about American society? As a book, it says nothing. But as an artifact of a particular time, it says volumes, and nothing good.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/19/2006 09:20:00 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
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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


take all you want
but credit all you take.

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